Sunday 24 March 2013

Night of the Hell Hamsters (2006)

Director: Paul Campion
Stars: Stephanie Ratcliff and Paul O'Neill

After watching and enjoying The Devil's Rock, I just had to follow up with Paul Campion's previous short films. How can anyone resist titles like Night of the Hell Hamsters and Eel Girl? Well, they're an interesting pair, two very different pieces that each point to The Devil's Rock in their own way. Night of the Hell Hamsters is the more fun of the two, with a surprisingly well defined story built around a tiny cast and a confined setting. Eel Girl is far more accomplished technically, not only because of the outstanding creature effects but through excellent costumes, sets and a capably subdued colour palette. Yet what it has in tone it lacks in story, to the degree that it's more like a small slice of a much bigger picture that doesn't exist. More directly, it's centred around a naked non-human female creature and there's a shared gruesome effects shot. Looking back, it's clear that the two films are two halves of the bedrock that Campion needed to make his first feature.

Night of the Hell Hamsters is surprisingly solid for a debut director. It even kicks off with a neat bit of distraction, the scream that opens proceedings not sourced from Julie, the Williams' babysitter, but from some cheesy movie about giant zombie rabbits on the TV. She seems comfortable and capable, very much the trustworthy girl next door, even when her boyfriend Karl shows up. She's disappointed only because she wanted him to bring a ouija board but he only brought the box. He sissied out, which fits the perhaps unintentional feminist tone. She improvises though, setting up her own with a kids' alphabet puzzle and a shot glass, the crowning touch being a drop of blood from Karl's finger after one of the Williams' hamsters bit it. He plays along and fakes a spiritualist conjuration, summoning the almighty Spozgar, which name he found spelled out on the letter blocks left by the kids Julie is babysitting. As you can imagine, Spozgar turns out to be real.
It's easy to slate this film for terrible effects, as the giant zombie rabbits are clearly crew in giant rabbit suits and the hell hamsters with their glowing red eyes couldn't be cheesier, but I'm pretty sure Campion was aiming for the level of cheese he reached. Certainly the film is technically solid; the camera angles are capable, the lighting is fair and the sound is fine, though the hamsters do sound as cheesy as they look. Rob Hall's editing is especially solid, everything flowing together so efficiently that it's a short sixteen minute ride to the finalé. Campion gifts us with some very well phrased shots too, not least a superb gore scene that will have every male viewer cringing in his seat. Yet what it depicts is a stereotypical male fantasy shot, very possibly exactly what Karl was aiming at for his evening in with Julie, but with a simple change of liquid that turns everything on its head, pun very much intended. And yes, it's probably popular in Japanese porn.

Paul O'Neill does a fair job as Karl, though he's cut off in his prime in more than one meaning of that phrase all at once. Mostly he's there to be a slightly dorky but decent boyfriend for Julie, but he adds a lot of grounding to the film and he delivers a simple and clichéd line impeccably. 'Make it stop,' he pleads in a small voice and Julie's response underlines why she's the lead, not only in this picture but in their relationship too. While Stephanie Ratcliff is not a great actor, she delivers everything that Campion needed her to do here. She believably takes Julie through the story arc that Karl could never have managed, all the way to the iconic final line which underpins the film. Even though we're hauled through cheap Exorcist knockoff lines and cheesy hell hamsters along with her, we never lose sight of the moral of the story which is surely to never piss off Kiwi chicks because they can take care of anything. Either that or ouija boards and hamsters don't mix.

Night of the Hell Hamsters can be viewed for free at Vimeo.

1 comment:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

If you take the letter "s" off of the end of the word "hamsters" it becomes the word "hamster" which also happens to be my surname, pretty cool huh ! ! !.