I had the pleasure of meeting English writer/director Frazer Lee at the Horrorfind Weekend (2006) in Hunt Valley, Maryland. We exchanged pleasantries, "talked shop" for a bit, and discussed some of Frazer's past and upcoming projects (including a film adaptation of his screenplay/novella "Urbane", to star Doug Bradley). Lee struck me as an amiable chap with a sly wit and keen sense of humour. Beyond that, of course, he struck me as having a working, conversational knowledge of the "language of film"...particularly horror film...so I was happy that he agreed to take our conversation "offline". A week or so later, he sent me a lovely package, which included a stack of promotional postcards hand-autographed by himself and Doug Bradley, an autographed copy of his short story/screenplay collection "Urbane" (which includes the titular work), and a handsome DVD featuring his critically acclaimed (in the UK) short films On Edge and Red Lines. It's worth noting that the DVD packaging was also autographed by Doug Bradley. I had heard of Frazer Lee before we met, and had certainly heard of his short films, but I really had no idea what to expect. I watch a lot of horror movies; particularly short horror films, ya' know? It's easy to get cynical. Luckily, I'm pleased to report that I was not only pleasantly surprised by On Edge and Red Lines, but I'm also confident in saying that these are films (along with his screenplays and short stories) that truly announce a new powerhouse of British horror. I'm not just spewing hyperbole when I say that, if you're one of those folks who thinks that Clive Barker has been "slipping" in the last several years, you'll be absolutely delighted with Frazer Lee's compelling, disgusting, and altogether horrifying work. Now, on with the reviews...
Let's start this one off by making one thing perfectly clear: On Edge is not a movie to watch if you've got an innate fear of dentists. I'm fuckin' serious. Don't believe me? Well fuck you, then. Just don't say I didn't warn you. Obnoxious, self-absorbed yuppie Peter Thurlow (Charley Boorman...son of director John "Excalibur" Boorman) takes precious time out of his day to make an emergency visit to his dentist's office. Seems Mr. Thurlow cracked his tooth on a nut, and he wants to be seen immediately. So, this boorish (if you'll pardon the wordplay) snob stampedes his way into an unoccupied operating theatre, where he is met by one Dr. Matthews (Doug Bradley). Dr. Matthews agrees to treat Thurlow immediately, and soon, Thurlow is trips-up and under the complete control of Dr. Matthews. The problem is, of course, that Dr. Matthews has a highly unusual bedside manner, and we sense that Thurlow is in for far more than the typical dentist visit. In the space of a mere fifteen minutes (give or take), Frazer Lee manages to do for dentist offices what David Cronenberg did for the OB/GYN industry with Dead Ringers. Without giving anything away, there are certainly echoes of that film in On Edge, as well as the infamous "Is it safe" sequence from Marathon Man. Still, it's a highly original, shocking, and terrifying short film that will definitely put you on the titular edge. There are two very specific reasons why On Edge works as well as it does. First and foremost is Doug Bradley's understated, wonderful performance. That voice. That casual, almost too casual demeanor. That presence. Bradley simply exudes creepiness in just the right dosage to make him an all-too-human and wholly believable villain. The other key to the film's success is Frazer Lee's direction, notably his extensive use of "first person" perspective shots during key moments of the film. We literally become the patient in this situation, and by the end of the film, being this particular patient is an exceedingly uncomfortable place to be.
This short film is quite simplistic. That simplicity adds weight and tension to the story, which concerns a schoolgirl put in after-school detention by her schoolmaster, again essayed here by Doug Bradley. Seems our heroine has a bad habit of running in the school hallways, so her punishment is to write "lines" over and over again. "I must not run" say those lines. The schoolmaster exits the room, leaving the girl to her highly repetitive punishment. Soon, after writing a few dozen "I must not run"s, the girl begins to see things. Are her visions of dead classmates a portent? Are these "ghosts" trying to warn her? Against what? Soon, we find out, as the schoolmaster returns to the classroom to check on the girl's progress. Again, Doug Bradley's understated performance adds ghoulish creeping fear to every frame in which he appears, but what's really scary about Red Lines is how reality-bound it is. Despite some supernatural overtones, the film is firmly based in the realm of distinct, horrific possibility.
So Frazer Lee knows what he's doing by way of crafting short horror films. On Edge and Red Lines leave lasting impressions. Let's just say you'll never look at a dentist's office or a deserted classroom quite the same way ever again. If you're anything like me, you'll also see Doug Bradley in an entirely new way. Certainly, Bradley's two-decade-long association with the character "Pinhead" is noteworthy, but honestly, his performances here are proof positive that the man can do all kinds of creepy...not just the "horribly disfigured torturer of souls" characterization as typified by the well-known Cenobite. In Frazer Lee's hands, Bradley is equal parts Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and a conservative dash of good ol' Edward Woodward of Wicker Man fame. In one scene, he's amiable and even a bit shy, and then he shifts personae to the creepy middle-aged guy next door. Suffice it to say that I left Red Lines and On Edge with a newfound respect for Bradley.
Short films, particularly short horror films, are a tough craft to master. The filmmaker must get his point across in an absolute bare minimum of time. So, short horror films can be...and often are...minimalist to the point of total ineffectiveness. Luckily, that's not the case here. Frazer Lee clearly has control of his craft, and he has made two excellent...textbook, even...examples of short horror film that never feel particularly abbreviated. My only criticism is for Red Lines, which sacrifices a bit of narrative clarity for the sake of generating suspense. Perhaps it can be chalked up to "intentional ambiguity", but Red Lines feels a bit more rushed than it should. Small critique, I suppose, for a film that still quite effectively manages to frighten.
This disc, which contains not only the two short films, but also a handful of interviews with Frazer Lee and Doug Bradley (separately) isn't exactly a "special edition". Frankly, though, it's no big deal. While I would have enjoyed hearing a full commentary for each of the two films, the films themselves are so short that the interviews serve nearly as well. The prints are non-anamorphic widescreen, and while they betray the low-budget origins of the films, they're still quite "pretty" and clear. Sound-wise, the presentation is nothing to write home about...the sound merely serves its purpose of carrying the dialog and other sound to your ears. So, while it's not the uber-edition that a major distributor might well have given the release, it's not exactly bare-bones either.
It's quite difficult, logistically, to arrange an interview all the way across the proverbial pond, but I'm trying to ensure that Frazer Lee "makes good" on his promise to submit to an interview. Clearly, the guy has talent to spare, and I'm sure all the readers of Atrocities Cinema.com would be quite interested to hear what he has to say about not only On Edge and Red Lines, but also his association with Doug Bradley, and his upcoming feature film Urbane. In the meantime, I recommend to all of you to find this release and buy it. These are two sterling examples of very professionally-made short horror films that truly manage to shock and unnerve the viewer. Plus, like I said before, any filmmaker that has the balls to so effectively exploit most people's innate fear of dentistry deserves our utmost respect and support. Highly recommended!
The Atrocities Cinema Scoreboard
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