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Heartstopper
cast: Meredith Henderson, Nathan Stephenson, James Binkley, Robert Englund, Laura De Carteret

director: Bob Keen

81 minutes (18) 2006
widescreen ratio 16:9
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
There are obviously many reasons to dislike a film like Heartstopper... Low production values; a derivative plot with holes in it so large that you could pass your hand through them; dodgy special effects; an underdeveloped antagonist; a weak ending, and the fact that it's, basically, very silly. Despite all this, there remains a single valid reason for actually quite liking the film: it's pretty good fun.

There must be hundreds of titles like this released straight to DVD every year now - unpretentious horror potboilers, films that set out not to break any new ground but are designed simply to entertain people (like me) who enjoy this kind of honest schlock. B-movies. Midnight movies. Popcorn movies. Call them what you will, there's a place in someone's heart for pictures like these - ahem, pun certainly not intended...

The thing that made me realise that I was going to enjoy Heartstopper (some minutes after the terrible opening credits), in all its grimy, low budget, gratuitously violent glory, was the revelation that it was being played straight. No god-awful attempts at self-referential humour, no 'witty' one-liners from the killer, no sense that the filmmakers were afraid to have a shot at making a straightforward horror film. Despite its shortcomings, there's a feeling of integrity here. The cast and crew know that they're not going to win any awards, they are aware that we've seen it all before, so they just go for it with gusto and try to deliver a straight-faced throwback to the late 1980s. And that goes a long way with this reviewer.

The film begins with serial killer Chambers (James Binkley) being executed during a thunderstorm. He is eventually electrocuted, and Sheriff Berger (Robert Englund) takes the body of his old nemesis to a nearby hospital that is conveniently slated for closure in a few days time. On the way there, the sheriff's car hits a suicidal teenager called Sara Wexler (Meredith Henderson), and they decide to take her to the same hospital. Lying next to Chambers' dead body, Sara's outstretched hand touches his arm, and one of his tattoos is transferred onto her skin.

At the hospital, a skeleton-staff attend to a classmate of Sara's who they assume has been stabbed. The boy, Walter (Nathan Stephenson) is transferred into the same room as Sara. She tells him that she saw Chambers' body come back to life, and he thinks she's crazy - he also recognises her as the weird kid who gets bullied at school, which adds credence to his opinion.

Meanwhile, Chambers' reanimated corpse goes on a rampage, literally ripping the hearts out of the hospital staff with his bare hands - starting with the unfortunate coroner (Michael Cram) and Sheriff Berger. The hearts keep him alive as he drains life force from them, and he is soon on a mission to pass his spirit into another body. Sara, due to their newfound psychic link, is the ideal candidate, and Chambers hunts her down through the deserted hospital. Teaming up with the skittish Nurse Grafton (a solid performance by Laura De Carteret), the two wounded teenagers try to fight back and escape the locked-down hospital building.

Basically, the first half hour of the film is a rip-off of Wes Craven's Shocker, and what follows is a combination of 1980s' slash-fests Halloween II and Visiting Hours. There's nothing new here: everything has been done before. But it's the tiny quirks that make the film mildly interesting. Sara spends the entire duration limping about in a heavy leg brace. Walter gradually loses more and more blood from his wounds as the minimal plot develops, eventually passing out and becoming no help at all to Sara. Nurse Grafton is, bizarrely, the most well developed character here. The serial killer, instead of searching for his prey, busies himself tidying up the corpses of his previous victims. The two young leads acquit themselves surprisingly well in such weak material, and are not afraid to dive right in and look as pale, wasted and exhausted as the script demands.

If the film's ending is ludicrous, it is almost redeemed by what has gone before (some genuine tension, a showstopper of a scene in an operating theatre, likeable characters, and a cast-against-type Robert Englund lending a touch of class to proceedings). While certainly no classic, I found Heartstopper to be a decent, brainless way to relax after a hard day's work.
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