Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #691
Also known as Dark Ditties Presents ‘The Offer’
Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 1, 2017
Sub-Genre: Short Film
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 48 minutes
Directors: Chris Griffiths, Gary Smart
Producers: Stuart Conran, Adam Evans, Neil Morris
Screenplay: Adam Evans, Gary Smart, Neil Morris
Special Effects: Stuart Conran
Cinematography: Terrence Wilkins
Score: Sean Schafer Hennessy
Editing: Nicholas F. Helmsley
Studio: Cult Film Screenings
Stars: Kenneth Cranham, Oliver Smith, Barbie Wilde, Simon Bamford, Nicholas Vince, Danny Stewart, Bruce Jones, Gemma Gordon, Siobhan Kilmartin, Stanley Rawlings, Ray Skeemer, Darnell Spence
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Luigi Boccherini “Minuetto”
 The Dillinger Escape Plan “One of Us Is the Killer”
verb: present or proffer something for someone to accept or reject as desired.
Always read the small print. It’s here, at the very foot of the page and in the teensiest of text, that the real fuckery goes on. Just as you begin to suspect you may be onto a winner, the bastards sneak in the one line that nobody wishes to hear – terms and conditions may apply – and deal of the century is swiftly transformed into scam of the millennium. I’ve never been one for inspecting long drawn out contracts with a fine toothed comb and would much rather skip to the signature than read reams of unapproachable jargon that most likely isn’t even applicable. However, I’ve never been randomly selected to compete for a hefty cash prize, then ferried off to some sinister looking stately home off-the-beaten track to compete against a group of complete strangers, so what do I know?
Thanks to the latest offering from Dark Ditties, The Offer, I’ll be sure to exercise extreme caution from now on. Having already cut their teeth with such flavorsome fan-service documentaries as Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night, this is Chris Griffiths and Gary Smart’s first foray into the fictitious arena that can afford more freedom for growth. Curiously perched between short and feature-length territory at 48 minutes long, it provides an eventful appetizer to what the pair hope to develop into a fully fleshed episodic venture and I wouldn’t bet against them achieving just that, provided a little fine tuning can be applied to the formula. That said, what they manage to prise from a skimpy purse of just £15,000 suggests they’re already well on the primrose path.
One thing’s damned to the skippy – they certainly know how to lay on the guests. Should you be familiar with your Hellraiser origins, then you should already be well versed on the following creeptastic collective – Kenneth Cranham, Oliver Smith, Barbie Wilde, Simon Bamford and Nicholas Vince. However, you may know them better by their alter-egos – Dr. Channard, Skinless Frank, Female Cenobite, Butterball Cenobite and Chatterer Cenobite. Indeed it’s something of a thirty-year homecoming for the fiendish five and that, in itself, makes for a devilishly alluring proposition.
Among those making up the numbers is Bruce Jones, who British audiences will forever recall as Les Battersby from long-running soap Coronation Street. Jones slips effortlessly into the same gloriously grating persona he’s been comfy in for years already like a pair of carpet slippers and brings no end of red-faced enthusiasm to his role.
The story centers around seven complete strangers who are extended invites to a palatial mansion in the countryside to vie for the sole stake in a £10,000,000 cash jackpot. Details are sketchy as to why their benefactor has selected them at this point and also what will be required of them to scoop this generous prize. We join festivities as the last of our guests Gabbie (a highly creditable Gemma Gordon) arrives fashionably late and is shown to the “V.I.P. Lounge” by the rather shifty looking hired help (Smith only this time with his skin on). Naturally, the guests are afforded a fleeting opportunity to mingle before their host, Maximilian Francis Benoit (Cranham with relish), introduces himself posthumously via pre-recorded instruction videos.
It appears the old bastard may have misplaced his last remaining marbles towards the end there as his thoroughly (in)decent proposal is about to land one lucky nobody special the kind of obscenely overbloated nest egg that only a bout of senile dementia could ever hope to account for. With all nondisclosure agreements signed off to the dot and therefore mortally binding, it’s time for the real fun and games to commence. In order for the winner to take all, each player will be required, not only to get the lowdown on their opponents, but also turn the spotlight back on themselves for the ultimate in home truth. This cunning twist will serve us decidedly well over the next six rounds of what is essentially murder in the dark via gimps, greebs and chainsaws. I mean, really – what’s not to buy into?
Alas, it is here that I must don my critical hat, only momentarily mind. You see, with the entirety of transactions playing out in a single closed in location, the success of The Offer hinges on the dynamics of the group in question. That means zero places to hide and additional scrutiny placed on the dialogue each is provided. While the screenplay is seldom anything less than serviceable, it fails to make the most of its eclectic cast, leading it to hang together somewhat awkwardly. Duration is also an issue here as there’s precious little time to get better acquainted with our petulant pawns before they’re picked off unceremoniously. With a dash more time in the oven and additional fleshing out, this could easily have passed as a full-length feature as it happens to have plenty else going for it.
Once such sweet spot is the game of death itself. Taking its competitive cue from the seven deadly sins, it delves into each in turn, while our ill-fated house guests attempt to jostle one another out of contention; by pointing the finger each time the next card is revealed (under considerable duress I might add). The stereotypes are here in abundance, with the usual suspects ranging from motor-mouthed used car salesman and unscrupulous banker to gay actor and homophobic urban homeboy. Watching them spar together is fun and naturally expectations are subverted at every twisting turn; raising red flags around the age-old suggestion that we should judge a book by its cover. But the schizophrenic tone won’t appeal to everyone as it rapidly descends into outright chaos.
When all is said and done, The Offer gets far more right than wrong. Given that Cult Film Screenings had such a meager kitty at their disposal, what they’ve managed to achieve is no less than spectacular. The end product may be lacking the delicate touch required to elevate it to a higher plateau, but one area where it could never be accused of deficiency is good old-fashioned spit and polish. Dark Ditties are onto something here if you ask me and I wish them well as they continue to build on some fairly notable early momentum. If I were to offer a solitary suggestion, by way of small print ironically; then how about inviting fellow Hellraiser favorites Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence and Imogen Boorman to the party too and taking this rowdy reunion to the next level. You see, with more hands on deck and the right kind of padding out, this really could be one offer impossible to refuse.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Considering the tight budgetary restrictions and distinguished company being kept, you’d be forgiven for keeping your expectations realistic with regards to the grue and, initially at least, will feel justified in not predicting riot. That is until the lights go out, freaks come out and chainsaw revs its intent. Suddenly the emphasis is on more, more, and a darn sight more. Though the scene in question is a tad too frenetic and overcooked, we are presented some mirthfully macabre imagery as the guest list continues to dwindle. With the man responsible for the monstrosities of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Stuart Conran, manning the deep red pumps; we’re never in danger of becoming parched. How’s that for hospitality?
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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