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Review: ‘The Rizen’ is a Retro Sci-Fi Success

Matt Mitchell’s The Rizen (releasing on VOD  2 February) is a curious movie, it’s part of a recent blip of retro 1950s British sci-fi that also included Andrew Martin’s Capsule (2015), but where Capsule is a solid space hardware story, The Rizen is a far darker affair that nods towards the other worlds of  HP Lovecraft.

So it’s 1955 at the height of the Cold War and a group of British scientists have been directed to create the ultimate weapon of mass destruction to scare the pants off those pesky Communists hiding behind the Warsaw Pact. They have an underground bunker guarded by National Service conscripts, the most modern medical equipment and a whole stash of occult literature possibly captured from the Nazis. What could possibly go wrong?

Well pretty much everything has, as Frances (Laura Swift) discovers when she wakes up being dragged along a dark fetid corridor strewn with rubble and bloody body bits. As if that isn’t bad enough she’s also lost her memory and the uncommunicative fellow dragging her through the lumps of concrete and offal has his head wrapped in bloody bandages.  Oh yes, and everyone else appears to be dead. Fortunately, one thing Frances can remember is unarmed combat and pretty soon she’s giving her tormentor a good walloping.

One down and Frances finds some bunker allies, teaming up with the sole surviving research scientist Baughman (Christopher Tajah) and Private Soldier Briggs (Patrick Knowles). As they dodge their formerly human colleagues Frances finds her memory coming back. It turns out she may not be the simple kitchen assistant that her ID papers say she is. As Baughman reveals what the scientists were up to, Frances realises that she may just be the only person who can shut the experiment down before the gathering occult forces destroy the world.

The Rizen was partly shot in the disused Cold War nuclear bunker near Kelvedon in Essex and as such it provides a suitably dank and claustrophobic background for the action. With the underground setting, a hero with memory loss and most of the bunker folk being reduced to zombies the obvious parallel is Resident Evil (2002), however The Rizen is grittier and far more dirty, It’s also resolutely British, perfectly evoking that golden age of Brit Sci-fi when the government in Westminster could just throw National Servicemen at a threat whether an alien jelly monster (1955’s The Quatermass Xperiment, or X-The Unknown 1957), a massive dinosaur (Gorgo, 1961) or an outrageously huge gorilla (Konga 1961).

Swift, Tajah and Knowles maintain their stiff upper lip demeanour throughout the film no matter what dreadful fate presents itself or self-sacrifice demanded, their cut glass accents, enunciation and mannerisms as perfectly replicating those of 1950’s British film actors as the spot on props, wardrobe and hairstyling do. The SFX and creature prosthetics are nicely restrained, although there are gallons of gore and body bits splashed about. Some gruesomely realistic Foley effects let your imagination complete the job when Frances gets busy with a crowbar.    

A strong supporting cast populate the flashback sequences includes many actors who are more familiar from British TV comedy and romcoms including Adrian Edmondson (The Young Ones, Bottom), Sally Phillips (Smack the Pony, Miranda) and Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing). Phillips is particularly creepy as a sinister government fixer, she really should make more horror movies!

Fabulous piece of restrained retro Brit Sci Fi. I give The Rizen four out of five!

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About Simon Ball

Simon is a child of the 1960s, his marmie liked Alfred Hitchcock and he grew up on a diet of classic Dr Who, Hammer Horror, Heavy Metal, Goth and Spaghetti Westerns. He cut his journalistic teeth in 1976 interviewing the bass player from an unknown band called Motorhead, now what was his name? Since then he wasted several years in corporate PR, edited heritage products and got an MA in the History of Science before he fell off the truck and returned to the world he loves best. Simon is Editor in Chief of the Horror Hothouse website and a regular contributor to the Spooky Isles.

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