Director: Robert Pratten
review by Paul Higson
Twenty years ago there was an alternative magazine called Positive Reality which advertised using the strap-line, "the magazine that fucks
with your mind... till you come to your senses." It was a line that I wished I had come up with. Halfway through
Robert Pratten's Mindflesh, the protagonist, Chris (Peter Bramhill), catches up with
Verdain (Christopher Fairbank), an incredibly rattled authority in "threshold phenomenon" and demands his assistance. Verdain dips in and out of
tight alleyways seeming to prefer them to the comparatively open space of the shopping streets and accuses Chris of bringing something dangerous
in their general direction; "guardians that police the planets multiple plains of reality."
"You've upset them... well done," he continues. "Have you fucked anyone special recently?" Then observing the reticence of his fellow paranormal
surfer runs on: "A-ha! Congratulations! You've been fucking your own mind." He's been giving himself head. But unlike Doctor Pretorius and company
in Stuart Gordon's From Beyond, our hero doesn't have to locate and tickle his pineal gland. "You and I are born with a supernature," blasts
Verdain, semi-confessional, "..and a large dose of childhood trauma." The mental shock sustained by abuse is the defining factor that has ruptured
a portal with another perverse dimension.
Chris has flashbacks to a childhood by the sea with a mother who feeds him baked beans and maggots and whips him with a hairbrush when he gets
on the wrong side of her. The past is summoned up to the sounds of the wash of the sea and a subtle visual effect suggesting the pattern of those
lapping waves. The presence of the police and a possible crime scene hint that the horrible childhood ended on an even more miserable note, which
may be the reason for the adult Chris' interest in actual bloody crimes, which he channels into his fiction as a struggling author of murder
His best friend is an unsavoury character, a police detective named Slade (Roy Burrell) who we first see masturbating to gruesome crime scene
photos (a ripper-style mastectomy). He leaks the photos to his friend for inspiration. Retrospectively, we will wonder how depraved Slade actually
is, whether he might be a serial killer himself or whether his debased behaviour is the result of his friendship with Chris - who in corrupting
the barrier between this domain and the even more sexually charged neighbouring dimension - has sprung an infectious perverting leak which taints
those within the most immediate radius of relationship.
"The disease of your mind is contagious," Verdain tells him, further telling him that if he does not find a way of returning their irresistible
goddess to them then "it is going to start killing your friends." Chris makes a living as a London cabbie, and his fellow driver Tate (Steven
Burrell) becomes unreasonably paranoid that his beautiful wife Mary (Isabella Jade Fane) is cheating on him, literally seconds after leaving the
house, if not even while sharing the bed with him.
Comically, Chris is a lapsed Buddhist who has sailed one relationship onto the rocks in pursuit
of the female phantom that favours flashing her nude self to him on his taxi runs. Chris is caught between 'the knowledge' and the unknown. Chasing
the phantom, recording and mapping out the sightings, takes him away from his shift, and his boss, Lyn (Cordelia Bugeja), is losing her patience
with him. Then the naked blood-drenched goddess turns at his flat and the relationship becomes more complex, satisfying and frustrating in turn,
until the psychokinetic arousal and literally tempestuous orgasms ripple out threateningly.
The rupture awakens in his nearest and dearest the potential to materialise their obsessions, and when the terror imperils the life of his
ex-girlfriend Tessa (Lucy Liemann), he seeks harder to resolve the trauma that warped the plains of existence to finally curtail the threat.
In a vampire movie, the prop cupboard spills out the Christian paraphernalia, but for this predominantly Buddhist circle of friends it is a Zen
armoury to which he turns as the monstrosity now controlling his fate and the lives of his friends commits him to face his trauma or fatally
lose a friend with each trip of a 'timer'.
The 21st century British horror film scene has several times veered into surreal noir or weird-shit horror with often pleasing results. Susannah
Ghent's Jelly Dolly, Andrew Parkinson's Venus Drowning, and Stephen W. Parson's Wishbaby (which also came via 4 Entertain),
were each as deliriously strange. Those films may have been more illogical, hysterical, or strived with less involving characters, respectively,
and though entertaining may have been a little less involving and satisfying than Mindflesh, which is as alive with characters as it is
delirious with imagery.
Effects that accompany the supernatural sexual assaults give the film an original sensorial note and this is a world away from the director's
first film, the more traditional if not downright rudimentary horror exercise, London
Voodoo. Pratten was purportedly very pleased with London Voodoo, but Mindflesh suggests that he knew it was nowhere near
enough and has sought to improve with his second feature in every aspect. No concessions this time and no waste, the unconventional plot packing
a lot into a mere 71 minutes.
Pratten collects together the talent necessary to realise his vision and cinematographer Patrick Jackson is of key importance. Each shot is
intrinsically-framed and within beans pulse with colour, neon signs refract in a broken zigzag on the car door and the unnatural is repeatedly
made real. The sound effects (and editing) of Matthew Jessee and the Arban Severin score add indubitably to the strangeness. Mindflesh is
adapted from the novel White Light by William Scheinman and was shot largely in the London boroughs of Southwark, Lewisham and Westminster.
The cast is solid with Cordelia Bugeja and Christopher Fairbank as the best known faces in the cast. Fairbank, in particular, not only continues
to add to his curiosity cabinet of a filmography, but also takes full advantage of his limited screen time with a ferocious performance, half-crazed,
defensive, self-preserving, intellectual and insulting. He steals the show as it is, and with more screen time might have completely obscured a
film even as bizarre as this. It is a great return by Pratten and one that has been taken in the right direction. Whether a surreal horror like
this can get him the deserved attention is, however, another question. Mindflesh is not quite the all-out magical mind-fuck that it purports
to be, as it ultimately invests itself with a logic, but this is still a well above par fascinating and an intelligent imp of a treat.