Plot: supernatural murderer spreads terror in metropolitan Newcastle.
Great Britain has a rich and storied history in horror and cult cinema spanning several decades. In the fifties and sixties Hammer Film dominated the market. Amicus and Tigon came close behind but only flourished when Hammer began ailing in the seventies. Independent producers as Peter Walker and Norman J. Warren went for a sexier, bloodier route updating the horror conventions that the old houses had used so well for the new times. In the late eighties and nineties Nigel Wingrove (from Salvation and later Redemption Films) and Alex Chandon were tipped as the next greats of British horror. What do these two very different men have in common? They both were involved with emerging extreme metal band Cradle Of Filth at one point or another. Wingrove had provided artwork and art direction to the Filth’s “The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh” and “Dusk… and Her Embrace” albums as well as the “V Empire” EP. Wingrove made a name for himself on two seperate occassions. First with his 18-minute short Visions of Ecstasy (1989) that was banned on release on charges of blasphemy and would remain so until 2008 when blasphemy laws were finally repealed. Secondly with his irreverent nunsploitation romp Sacred Flesh (2000). Since forming Redemption Films in 1993 it has specialized in obscure Eurocult and hard-to-find erotica.
Compared to the more cerebral Wingrove, Alex Chandon was cut from a different cloth entirely. Chandon made a name for himself in the micro-budget, shot-on-video school of filmmaking and picked his players coming from various counterculture scenes. He debuted with the 7-minute short Chainsaw Scumfuck (1988), inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Friday the 13th (1980), and from there graduated into the 36-minute long Bad Karma (1991) and the futuristic Drillbit (1992). Before Cradle Of Fear there was the lovably bonkers Pervirella (1997) and four years later Chandon would at long last debut proper with this feature. In 1999 Chandon directed the Cradle Of Filth music video ‘From the Cradle to Enslave’ as well as the home video “PanDaemonAeon” and two years later the videos for ‘Her Ghost in the Fog’ and the Sisters Of Mercy cover ‘No Time to Cry’ plus another home video in the form of “Heavy, Left-Handed and Candid”. That collaboration was extended with Chandon offering Cradle Of Filth frontman Dani Lloyd Davey the starring role in the similarly named Cradle Of Fear with other then-members in cameo parts.
Allegedly an anthology inspired by the Amicus production Asylum (1972) from director Roy Ward Baker, Alex Chandon’s Cradle Of Fear is a showreel for the Creature Effects team who have since become an institution in modern Hollywood. Cradle Of Filth have since the most successful British metal band since Iron Maiden, if Metal Hammer is to be believed. Meanwhile Alex Chandon remains in London and is as much of an obscurity and humble unknown as he has ever been. Cradle Of Fear is, for lack of a better description, an extension and expansion upon Chainsaw Scumfuck (1988), Bad Karma (1991) and Drillbit (1992) - and, sadly, suffers from pretty much the exact same defects as those earlier shorts did. Even by forgiving standards of micro-budget, shot-on-video splatter-horror Cradle Of Fear has little more to offer than a veritable gallery of gratuitous gore and wanton depravity with the absolute thinnest veneer of story.
Roaming the streets of Newcastle upon Tyne is The Man (Dani Lloyd Davey, as Dani Filth) in search of a number of very specific (and other quite random) victims. In a goth nightclub he spots sex kitten Melanie (Emily Booth, as Emily Bouffante) and before long they retreat back his place and the two spent the night together. The day after Emily wakes up back in her apartment, not sure how she got there and what exactly happened to her the night before. She starts to have strange hallucinations walking around town and asks her friend Nikki (Melissa Forti) if she can sleep at her studio. Mel takes a sleeping pill (with more booze, of course) and starts to have stomach cramps and strange belly bulges. Mel has Nikki examine her stomach and the two girls meet their gruesome end as the demon spawn from The Man bursts from Melissa’s belly. First at the crime scene is low-rent and disgraced police inspector Peter Neilson (Edmund Dehn) who immediately feels up the lifeless body of Melissa. Supposedly because he has a supernatural gift of some kind (which is, of course, never mentioned again), but more pressingly because it reminds him of an old case. One he very much would like to forget…
In another part of town small-time crooks Sophie (Rebecca Eden) and Emma (Emma Rice) decide to burglarize the apartment of an old man (Al Stokes). The two bicker back and forth so much that they ignore the obvious fact that the elderly man is still very much at home. The world’s worst prepared robbery goes horribly, terribly awry when Sophie and Emma are attacked by the man defending his property and end up killing him in the fracas. Instead of checking the state of their victim they decide to take a bath on the premises. Once the two have soaped each other up Sophie - apparently the more upwardly mobile of the ditzy dames - turns on Emma and kills her in cold blood. Thinking the spoils of the robbery are hers for the taking Sophie gets her comeuppance from beyond the grave as she’s beset by the reanimated corpses of the studio’s occupant as well as her former partner, neither of whom are prepared to let bygones be bygones. At this point Neilson finds enough circumstantial evidence to link the current spate of homicide to Kemper (David McEwen), a detainee in Fenham Asylum in Kettering, but he has no solid proof to substantiate his findings. His superior officer chief inspector Roper (Barry Lee-Thomas) is none too pleased with his performance and urges him to crack the case.
Nick (Louie Brownsell) has erectile problems ever since losing his leg. His girlfriend Natalie (Eileen Daly) is accomodating to his disability but Nick wants nothing more than to be “a whole man” again. One day he does find a donor. His doctor operates on him and Nick is restored to his former state. Nick and Natalie have never been happier, until one day Nick’s donor leg starts having a mind of its own. The leg kills Nick and Natalie in a violent car crash. Meanwhile Inspector Neilson has taken to Kemper’s cell in Fenham Asylum where he finds a list of all his targets, himself included. Kemper is going after everybody who was behind his conviction and incarceration. Richard (Stuart Laing) works for an internet monitoring company and investigates dubious web content for a living. One night Richard happens upon The Sick Room, a live video service where customers can order custom-made homicide within the room. Richard is apprehensive of The Sick Room but soon is addicted to the sheer depravity of it all. One day he’s not ordering a custom-made murder from the web, but thanks to some intervening from The Man he IS the custom-made murder. It’s revealed that Richard was in fact Neilson’s son. Things come to a head at Fenham Asylum when Neilson confronts Kemper with The Man hiding in plain sight disguised as an armed guard leading to a bloody stand-off. Neilson is able to kill both Kemper and The Man but not without suffering a (very much implied) bloodsoaked, graphic demise himself. To nobody’s surprise, The Man (who has been orchestrating all the carnage up to this point) is Kemper’s son…
While Cradle Of Fear is superior to anything Chandon had done at that point, the writing - or lack thereof - is still the biggest sore point. All of the characters (except maybe Emily Booth and Melissa Forti in the first vignette) are unlikable to say the least. Dani Lloyd Davey’s The Man is so much of an abstract that the last-minute revelation that he’s Kemper’s son begs the question why the relationship wasn’t explored to any degree during the preceding two hours. The Man is central to the plot and there isn't a single motivating factor behind anything he does. He's a harbinger of doom, certainly - but there's nothing to go on. Not a name, or a backstory. Chandon’s screenplay offers the bare minimum in terms of story and what little plot there is exists merely to facilitate a number of gory setpieces in an anthology format. The four vignettes, lest we be remiss to mention, barely seem to have any connection to the main story. The framing story remains unresolved and goes nowhere. At no point during its two-hour runtime does Cradle Of Fear bother to explain why Kemper goes after a goth girl, two small-time crooks, a disabled person, and an internet addict; nor how The Man figures into his masterplan. Neither inspector Neilson nor The Man, the nominal leads in the feature, are given any kind of identifiable character traits, let alone that they undergo any development. Most ancillary characters aren't even named and those that are barely exist for any other reason than to be killed in some far-fetched fashion.
Despite its low-budget nature and grimey aesthetic there a few well-known faces to be found in the cast. Stuart Laing is a regular on British television with roles in Berkeley Square (1998), Cambridge Spies (2003), Holby City (2004-2008), and EastEnders (2006–07). Al Stokes was in the Aphex Twin video ‘Come to Daddy’. Eileen Daly appeared in music videos from Soft Cell and from there out carved a place in low – and micro-budget cinema with Nigel Wingrove’s Sacred Flesh (2000) as a lone highpoint. Emily Booth appeared in Event Horizon (1997), Pervirella (1997), and Sacred Flesh (2000) and was one of the hosts of video game show Bits (2000). One of Booth’s career highlights came with an appearance in the “Don’t” trailer of the Robert Rodriguez-Eli Roth exploitation homage Grindhouse (2007). She worked with Chandon again on Inbred (2011), his first feature in a decade, and a homage to the backwood horror of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977).
Cradle Of Filth fanatics will recognize Emily Booth and Eileen Daly from the ‘From the Cradle to Enslave’ music video and David McEwen (with the voice of Doug Bradley) from the ‘Her Ghost in the Fog’ video. Cradle Of Fear was as much a promotion tool for Alex Chandon as it was for Cradle Of Filth who contributed the instrumentals ‘At Gates Of Midian’ and ‘Creatures That Kissed in Cold Mirrors’ as well as ‘Lord Abortion’ and ‘Danse Macabre’ to the score. Anna Haigh has since become a much in-demand costume graphic – and concept artist in Hollywood. The same goes for Creature Effects who have worked on some of the biggest blockbusters in recent memory. Director Alex Chandon hasn’t produced a feature since Inbred (2011). It's not that Cradle Of Fear was in any short on ideas, but the anthology format didn't permit for any to be developed in any meaningful way. We'd love what could have become of the body horror vignette with Emily Booth, or the Tesis (1996) and 8MM (1999) inspired piece of found footage and torture-porn that the The Sick Room vignette could have been.
Empire Magazine called Cradle Of Fear “the best British gore film since Hellraiser.” While there’s certainly an abundance of gore to be found in Cradle Of Fear to put it on the same plain as Hellraiser (1987) is just a tad too hyperbolic to do justice to either. Hellraiser (1987) was a clever and imaginative piece of subtextual horror full of arresting imagery and introduced iconic master villain Pinhead to the world. Cradle Of Fear has slumming actors, buxom babes in the buff, and a slew of unknown non-actors dying overwrought, excessively bloody deaths in a barely coherent screenplay that at no point manages to establish a narrative the way it’s typically understood. At no point does Cradle Of Fear provoke any sense of dread or tension, let alone that it inspires fear of any kind. Certainly there’s plenty of tedium to be had. It’s a farcry from the Victorian finesse of Hammer, the knickers-and-knockers exploitation of Peter Walker and Norman J. Warren and this is the last place to look for a heir apparent to Barbara Steele or Candace Glendenning. If only this was as entertaining as Pete Walker’s proto-slasher The Flesh and Blood Show (1972). Had Cradle Of Fear been half as long, twice as fun and functioned as the special effects showreel and investor prototype it ought to have been, then Alex Chandon would’ve been able to produce the feature this was probably meant to be.