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Dark Floors
cast: Skye Bennett, Noah Huntley, Dominique McElligott, Ronald Pickup, and William Hope

director: Pete Riski

81 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
When rock and the horror film meet the results are commonly comic or comical. Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park, Phantom Of The Paradise, Blood Tracks, Pierce My Heart With Silver Bullets, Trick Or Treat, Rock And Roll Nightmare, Hard Rock Zombies, Rockula, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Cradle Of Fear, Terror On Tour, The Edge Of Hell, Slaughterhouse Rock... you can see a pattern emerging. Pat Higgins recently made a move on the category in The Devil's Music with great if confused results, the aversion to formula leaving viewers with a lack of clarity as to whether it comfortably sat in the preferred genre. Lordi, the 2007 Eurovision song contest winners from Finland, are a theatrical rock band in demon costumes who have taken every advantage of their shock victory. When one hears of their starring role in a feature-length horror film the immediate reaction is naturally one of low expectation but, blow me, the year is 2009 and the surprises never end. Let The Right One In, Embodiment Of Evil, Fingerprints... imagination is back on the agenda. Moments of originality continue to flit across the screen and Peter Riski's Dark Floors is another with its thinking hat on.

Interviewed about the film in the DVD's extras, the members of Lordi are revealed as expected, a naff, monosyllabic, Neanderthal if not doltish lot. But, fair play to them, as horror fans they clearly did not want to go the embarrassing route normally taken in rock horror films, particularly when real bands are involved, and Dark Floors instead goes at it professionally, impressively and very much straight. Music-promo ace Peter Riski was brought in to steer it, and with a script by Pekka Lehtogaari, the results are bewitching. The members of Lordi don't quite appear on screen as themselves, or to be more precise, their monster alter egos. Their respective images are instead given a top notch makeover and each adopts a power, including shattering screams and sandstorm creating. They are not rock musicians in Dark Floors but monsters from some hellish other place. They are guests in this horror story which could easily have been told independent of them.

Publicised as the first Finnish horror film, if that were to be true, then it is a grand start. Made with Finnish, Icelandic and Norwegian funding, it is set in an American hospital but the cast has been shipped in from the United Kingdom. Skye Bennett is treated to the first credit yet is the film's young debutante. A great bit of casting, the 12-year-old is the learning disabled daughter, Sarah, undergoing a CAT scan at the start of the film. Pale and pathetic, she whines sorrowfully: "Oooh! Not again. Ooooh! Not again." Her stranded pleas are heartrending. Her doting father, Ben (Noah Huntley), watches on while two doctors monitor, one is the Irish actress Dominique McElligott playing Emily, the other is Philip Bretherton (better known as the car dealer who first hired then bedded Sally Webster in Coronation Street). Before long we have the wheelchair-bound girl, her father and Emily enter a lift with three others, a security guard called Rich (Leon Herbert), an unwell down and out named Tobias (Ronald Pickup) and a unpleasant man name of Jon (William Hope) armed with gifts which indicate he is on his way to the maternity ward. Herbert, in a DVD extra, accidentally reveals himself... "I carry the movie for 40 minutes... I am basically the hero." He sounds like asshole... but that is a clue as is that mellifluous voice. No longer American but British, it is familiar... and, of course, I now recognise him. Herbert was the director and star of the zero-budget drama Emotional Backgammon, one of two films that were the subject of a great series on Channel Four at the turn of the decade. Pickup is an old reliable, sadly underused in the horror genre. His stint in George Pavlou's short film Gray Clay Dolls once suggested that he should be in more but it never came. Ex-pat American Hope is best known to Bradford bar-keeps for his prominent role as Lieutenant Gorman in James Cameron's Aliens.

The lift goes up but stalls mid-floor and a voice is heard: "Not six, not seven... not hell, not heaven!" The film is replete of lines like these which scream to find a t-shirt to emblazon. When the doors open again the six find themselves in a now deserted hospital and, stealing a trick from David Fincher's Se7en, the film gets darker and darker, and the corridors grubbier, as the group plough through their nightmarish ordeal. Other than this only one or two of Dark Floors' many devices are overly familiar. The J-horror image of two passing figures on a monitor is forgiveable given the eventually revealed context, but the heart torn from a chest is old hat and less preferable hokum. Otherwise, the refresh-button is hit repeatedly as the visual riddles send victims into an Escher-like obsidian puzzle. Just as in The Children the trick of dual assault ratcheted up the horror factor in an original fashion, here one of the standout scenes is the moment when a television set kicks into life and becomes stuck on the television presenter repeatedly saying "there is no time like the present," then by a radio joining in with and "It's going to get colder and colder," then a mobile phone ringing and when answered contributing to the noise with "the number you have dialled is not in service at this time." From here it just gets noisier. This is just the opening of a sequence which includes a filthy fish-tank exploding and the most impressive of the creatures, the truly terrifying Banshee Queen, ripping down corridors.

The film is not short on surprises and there is even the opportunity for an irresistible small burst of humour... when the Herbert suggests the direction of the information desk and Hope retorts that he doubts the information desk can explain this weirdness. Director of photography Jean-Noel Mustonen FSC, and production designer Tiina Anttila also both need to step forward and accept their applause. The film is dark and visionary. The effects are exceedingly good. The single peek out of a window reveals a frozen city and go-slow weather. The futile few continue to run even when they realise there is nowhere to go, it is human nature to try and outrun the inescapable, a metaphor on death itself. The literally creeping blackness swallows all. The corpses in the morgue crick into life and it is the most disturbing scene of cadaver animation since Tom Laughlin's One Dark Night. If you have been walking on by the DVD case in the local rental store, back up next time and take it to the counter. Dark Floors is deserving of classic status.
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