Nine Lives (2002)

Rating: E

Dir: Andrew Green
Star: David Nicolle, Amelia Warner. Ben Peyton, James Schlesinger

I think it’s a long while since a horror film has made us so angry. So many, so much better movies are unable to find an audience while this poorly-conceived and badly-executed piece of boredom gets distribution because it’s got fucking Paris Hilton in it. She’s basically playing herself – an immensely annoying rich bitch – and is rapidly killed off, not even in an interesting way (see House of Wax for that). Doesn’t stop her from being front and centre on the sleeve, of course, which will add to the sense of betrayal for anyone dumb enough to pay for this, which largely predates her rocket trip to infamy on The Simple Life. A group of friends head off to a remote Scottish castle for the 21st birthday of one of their number.

After bland chit-chat, one of them breaks a bookcase and discovers behind it an old volume detailing how the castle was given to the current English owners, for their support against the Jacobites in the 1745 Rebellion. The previous owner, Lord Murray, had his eyes gouged out and fed to him. Opening the volume releases the spirit of Murray, who infects the members of the group in turn, leaping from body to body as he wreaks his revengs on the evil English members of the party. Yes, folks: this is the world’s first-ever Scottish Nationalist horror film, where the key to survival, rather than “remaining a virgin” or “being smart”, is simply “not being from South of Hadrian’s Wall.” In the right hands, this could have been a lunatic, fun concept. Andrew Green is not those hands: there are reasons this film is solidly ranked in the IMDB Bottom 100 as I write (#73, currently between Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace and Baby Geniuses).

Even as a slasher film, the movie is an inept failure, with half the deaths taking place off-screen, and consisting entirely of a single, almost bloodless stab wound to the abdomen. Characters creep around the house, singly or in pairs, engage in pseudo-philosophical discussions about reality while there’s a killer stalking them, and do nothing to make you give a damn about their fate. We wrote off any last hope for humanity’s survival when members of the Brains Trust here manage to break the last (inexplicably) working cellphone, by dropping a bed on it. Read that last sentence again. Aloud, for emphasis. Cinematographer Robin Vidgeon (who was DP on Hellraiser and Parents, among others) does make this look better than its poverty-row budget. And Nicolle, as the only Scot in the bunch, may be slightly less aggravating than some. But given his co-stars include Hilton, that’s pretty much the definition of “damning with faint praise”.

However, it’s still better than can be said about the plot which fails to achieve any standard of internal logic. The spirit attacks people, or not, apparently at random, and Warner, playing the “smart girl” manages to leap straight to the correct conclusion, with a brilliance which suggests she should have been working at CERN, rather than weekending with Paris. The overall effect is like something a third-rare school drama club might cook up, and it doesn’t even have the balls to film in Scotland, being shot in the wilds of Hertfordshire. Though I guess immense marketing credit is due to Green – who has not apparently directed anything else – for leaping on the Hilton bandwagon and somehow getting her to cross the pond for this. I’m thinking blackmail of some kind, though given her subsequent, ah, straight to video release (if you know what I mean, and I think you do), one dreads to think what that might have involved. I hope the Shetland pony is okay.