The name itself inspires a sort of macabre intrigue before you've ever seen or heard anything about it. Sophisticated. Archaic. Mysterious. From there you see an image of someone sallow skinned and held over from a time long past. Black and gray punctuated in a blood red cursive swoop. This was my introduction to the ghoulish world of Alfred J Hemlock several months ago when I came across the Instagram account of the short film.
The atmospheric short film by co-writers Edward and Melissa Lyons focuses on Emily (Renaye Loryman) who, after a fight with her boyfriend, ends up all alone in a dark alley reflecting on her life choices. Pulling herself together as best she can, she sets off down the dark corridor towards the bus stop at the other end. Anxiously crossing the litter and graffiti strewn path she come across a mysterious vagrant by the name of Alfred J Hemlock (Tristan Mckinnon). Dressed in like a gentleman -or maybe just a charlatan- from the 1800's Alfred offers to give Emily exactly what she's looking for: an ending.
With a 14 minute run time there's a lot of story, as well as some bizarre visuals packed into this short film. The characters are very quickly developed but, unlike other short horror films I've seen over the years, they're completely formed, not just the two dimensional space fillers thrown in to get us from A to B. Emily is clearly a woman of low self esteem, gathering her sense of personal value from whatever man is currently domineering her. Her boyfriend Guy (Christian Charisiou) is your generic bad boy, a womanizing, abusive tool who sees women as conquests and disposable properties. Meanwhile, Alfred J Hemlock is a creature masquerading as a man, preying on the weak and forgotten, the human jetsam strewn down that narrow alley and into his gaping maw.
Hemlock, as a monster, is everything I love. A dark, eccentric character whose charisma and charm are only matched by the depraved desire for murder hidden in that facade he embodies that spectral anti-life that everyone secretly fears alone in the night. A deranged mesh of Beetlejuice and Jack Sparrow in voice and personality, he has several otherworldly qualities of devils and trickster gods throughout history. Using a combination of techniques from playing on Emily's insecurities and offering her "relief" to an all out campaign of psychological and visual terrors to try and make her willingly sacrifice her life to him, Hemlock uses his full fearful retinue to catch his prey. The film ends with each of the principle characters getting exactly what they deserve.
The makeup and effects are beautifully done as is the overall cinematography. I could feel the cool dampness of the alley, that overwhelming sense that someone -or some thing- was watching me. There's something unsettling the first moment that the titular monster appears and distortions in the film whenever he's present add to that off putting sense of discomfort. If I had a single complaint about this short film it would be the run time. Quite simply, I wanted more. More development of the overall story into a feature length would be amazing as well as more time explaining the history and nature of Alfred J Hemlock himself. That said, the story is complete and wickedly entertaining with acting and directing that surpasses any expectations or prejudices you might have for a short. The film also captures a rather iconic laneway in Sydney, Australia that has since become unrecognizable through the area's gentrification.
While not as heavy on practical effects as what I normally like, the costuming, makeup, set dressing and digital effects make this one of the more visually enjoyable films I've viewed this year. It's also more proof of what horror fans have known for years. You want a big budget, CGI heavy action flick then Hollywood is the place to be. But if you want compelling, atmospheric horror then you're going to have to look beyond the glitz and glamour of the big studios. From smaller production companies like WompStomp and ProCo in the U.S. to filmmakers like David Black (another Aussie horror auteur) and Edward and Melissa Lyons are, to shamelessly plug our motto at 52 Weeks of Horror, making that scary every day. Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and France are becoming havens for horror fans and scare makers and Alfred J Hemlock is just another fine example of why that is.
Alfred J Hemlock has been making news on Decay and iHorror just to mention a few of the horror and film sites that have come to recognize this amazing film that will be making its North American debut at Dances With Films in L.A. on June 4th. Co-writers Edward and Melissa Lyons as well as Renaye Loryman and Alfred J Hemlock himself, Tristan Mckinnon will all be on hand at the red carpet event. Be sure to follow the film online through their social media outlets @AlfredJHemlock for the latest news and updates as well as production photos and behind the scenes looks. I can't wait to see what comes next from this creepy, creative group of folks.
Dan Lee is a horror fiend and freelance writer with a special place in his heart for monster movies and demonic possession stories.