A Night of Horror and Fantastic Planet Film Festivals: "Borley Rectory" and "Sixty Minutes to Midnight" Reviews 

by Joseph Perry

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Sydney, Australia’s recent A Night of Horror and Fantastic Planet film festivals were loaded with incredible horror, science fiction, action, and other genre films, several of which should be of great interest to When It Was Cool’s retro-loving readers. In this article, I will look at two solid offerings from these fests: the U.K. ghost documentary Borley Rectory and the Canadian thriller Sixty Minutes to Midnight.

Carrion Films’ Borley Rectory looks at the history of what was said to be the most haunted house in England. Writer/director/animator Ashley Thorpe has crafted a gorgeous black-and-white dramatized documentary that uses rotoscope and other animation techniques along with live action. The result is a marvelous work that gives off the vibe of a movie from the 1930s, and is rich in eerie atmosphere. Originally envisioned as a short film, this labor of love has been about six years in the making and is a full-fledged, feature-length movie. 

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Thorpe’s attention to detail is evident in every aspect of Borley Rectory, from the level of historical insight that he brings, to the often jaw-dropping visual dynamics on display. His cast is costumed and made up in a style reminiscent of some of the Universal horror classics, and their acting recalls that cinematic era, as well. It is all played straight, though, and never wanders into camp territory. Julian Sands — whose long list of acting credits include the genre favorites Gothic (1986), Siesta (1987), and Warlock (1989) — does a splendid job with his narration. 

The unique look that Thorpe has crafted for Borley Rectory and the animation that he employs allows him the opportunity to craft a macabre gothic world, and he makes the most of it. Entities fade in and out of scenes to creepy effect. Though Thorpe naturally discusses the more sensationalized tales of the rectory throughout, he also gives equal time to more down-to-earth possible explanations of what may have happened there, and examines the personalities behind the residents. Borley Rectory is a gorgeous looking documentary that should prove intriguing to fans of classic horror movies, viewers interested in the supernatural, and anyone in the mood for a one-of-a-kind documentary.

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Robert Nolan is a renowned character actor whose diverse body of work includes several genre films. In the new Canadian action thriller Sixty Minutes to Midnight, set on New Year’s Eve 1999, he portrays Jack Darcy, an alcoholic construction worker with a strong concern that Y2K could bring on a societal collapse. Because of that, Darcy keeps a well-stocked shelter that includes an arsenal of weapons. What begins as a quiet night at home watching cable television turns into an unexpected nightmare for Jack when he is suddenly cast, in his own house, as the contestant of a deadly TV game show.

Director Neil Mackay, working from Terry McDonald’s screenplay, has crafted a lean actioner that combines elements of siege films and vigilante justice movies from the 1970s and 1980s, with a bit of The Running Man (1987) at play, as well. Darcy learns from the broadcast that if he can survive one hour against the highly trained marksmen and killers that come after him, he will win one million dollars. In the 10-year-history of the program, though, no one has survived to claim the prize.

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Sixty Minutes to Midnight is wonderfully shot, and Nolan is terrific in the lead role. Fans of hails of gunfire, explosions, and improvised traps will find much to their liking here. This reviewer was happy that deaths were not met with one-liners from the protagonist. In a departure from that style of writing, TV show host Bud Carson (played by scripter McDonald) instead builds up live-audience hatred toward Darcy by mourning the deceased. Most of Darcy’s dialogue occurs in the first act, where much of his back story is revealed. Once the action gets underway, Nolan has less dialogue with which to work because his character is in full-on survival mode.

A problem that I had amidst all of the wanton death and destruction was one that many action films share: The bad guys are anonymous faces who increase in skill levels until the movie leads up to the cinematic equivalent of a boss battle or final round of a video game. McDonald does provide some basic introductions for some of the hired killers, but the earlier in the film they appear, the more likely they are to be disposed of, naturally. 

Nolan’s performance is reason enough to give Sixty Minutes to Midnight a watch, but plenty more is on tap for shoot-’em-up fans. Mackay directs with confidence and is obviously a student and fan of the genre, offering a fun, grindhouse-style thrill ride. The film captured Fantastic Planet’s Independent Spirit Award, and Nolan earned the Best Male Performance Award with a unanimous jury decision.

Borley Rectory and Sixty Minutes to Midnight screened at the A Night of Horror and Fantastic Planet film festivals, held November 29–December 3 in Sydney, Australia.

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Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast (whenitwascool.com/up-hill-both-ways-podcast/) and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/).
He also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), the Gruesome Magazine horror movie website (gruesomemagazine.com), and several other print and online film critique and pop culture magazines.  

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