“The Dead should never be woken.”
Of course, we’ve learned that lesson countless times before. Stephen King might have been our best teacher with his chilling book Pet Sematary along with its not-as-successful films. Who can ever forget Fred Gwynne, beloved Herman Munster himself, uttering the line: “Sometimes dead is better”? We soon learn that while you might be able to return the dead from their graves, what comes back is usually not quite right somehow. In the end, instead of bringing life to the dead, these journeys usually bring a lot of dead to the living.
The same might be said of studios as much as people. If you’re a horror fan, you know what Hammer Studios has meant to the genre. They propelled the horror movie into a new golden age on the heels of the Universal cycle. They made stars of such greats as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Eventually that cycle ended, and when the 1980’s were gone so was Hammer, for all intents and purposes. Now a new group of investors has picked up the dead Hammer brand and have launched a new cycle of horror movies under the respected banner. The studio was off to a pretty impressive start with the English language remake Let Me In. Christopher Lee returned for a cameo in the studio’s second effort, and now they’re continuing the effort with Wake Wood. So, while Hammer has indeed risen from the dead, something isn’t quite right. The films have certainly been atmospheric and a cut above the usual stuff we’ve been getting, but this is not the same Hammer by any definition. With that said, I think there is certainly room for the new Hammer, and Wake Wood is a fine atmospheric piece that works on a more than one level. So, this is not just a story of bringing a loved one back from the grave, but an entire studio.
Patrick (Gillen) is a veterinarian, and his wife Louise (Birthistle) is a pharmacist. The two have a young daughter named Alice (Connolly), and they appear to have an idyllic family. Tragedy strikes, and Alice is killed by a vicious dog and the grieving family leaves their jobs and home for the quiet little town of Wake Wood. There they have settled into a more somber life. Before too long they discover that the little town has a secret. They practice old traditions, one of which is a ritual that can return the dead to life for three days. The intent is to allow loved ones the opportunity to say goodbye and have closure. Of course, the young couple want in, and so they bring young Alice back from the grave. But the couple harbor a secret that taints the ritual, and young Alice becomes a bloodthirsty creature that begins to kill members of the town. Now it will require an ultimate sacrifice to destroy the evil which they have brought out.
The plot’s quite simple and has been done to such an extent that on the surface one might quickly pass this film by on the video shelf or your Netflix queue. But there is tremendous atmosphere to be found here. The pace moves in such a way that we get to know these characters but don’t linger so long that it appears to take forever to get to the action. And while we already have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen here, it’s the journey that counts, and Wake Wood gets it right. The performances of Aiden Gillen and Eva Birthistle go a long way in providing a wonderful slide from family bliss to the brooding, somber existence of a couple who have lost their child. By the time they are given the chance to have Alice back, there can be no doubt that they are ready to believe anything. The ritual itself is deliciously disturbing. It includes corpse mutilation and a ton of nasty images. It’s a convincing procedure, and it’s fatiguing enough to warrant the results. Ella Connolly isn’t perfect as the young Alice. She’s not totally convincing as the normal little girl in the beginning. But her deadpan delivery makes her quite creepy once she’s given something of a resurrection.
Wake Wood is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25-30 mbps. The high-definition image presentation is plagued by some digital noise and less-than-desired black levels. Colors lean toward the warm side, and there is an orange tint to much of the darker scenes. Detail makes up for this in some ways. There is wonderful texture to be found here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio contributes significantly to the atmosphere of the movie. There is nice use of surrounds to provide creepy moments without the need for the loud false jump scares that too many films like this tend to rely upon. Dialog is clear and placed properly throughout. The score doesn’t intrude at all but provides some nice emotional moments with the parents.
Deleted Scenes: (13:57) SD There are 8 scenes with no chance to select them individually. There is an alternate version of the ritual scene that takes up more than half of the running time here.
While the resurrection of Hammer is not quite complete, it is certainly well underway. I might still be waiting for something like the studio that I fell in love with as a kid in the 1970’s, but I’m happy to hang with this version for a little while longer. While there appear to be no plans to revisit the popular Dracula series that was so much a part of the studio’s image in its heyday, there are some interesting plans on the horizon. Harry Potter fans will take delight to learn that Harry himself, Daniel Radcliff, will be starring in the studio’s interpretation of the novel The Woman In Black by Susan Hill. We might get a break from the demonic child element that has been a part of 2 of the studio’s first 3 films. Until then you should give a look-see to Wake Wood with the understanding that “What goes on in Wake Wood is not for everyone.”