Some horror films have the look of what is thought to be yesteryear. Many employ this for the story, the actors to be a certain style of the time for nostalgia. One of the moments you notice when viewing these is the Directorial choices that often are too modern for the time. The lighting is not for black and white photography that was often done by Europeans fleeing trouble in their countries. Casting your mind back to the days of Dead Of Night (1945), and The Ghost Train (1941) and sprinkling in the crime work of Director Basil Dearden you have the wonderful experience of Sean Hogan’s folk horror short film To Fire You Come at Last (2023)
Evocatively photographed in early Mario Bava ‘Black Sunday’ style in black and white you find a group of men who have been coerced into walking a coffin to the local graveyard for burial. However, the path they must tread is menaced by a hellhound and other supernatural entities after dark. The body is an accident victim who is the son of Squire Marlow (Mark Carlisle). The men contracted to help are Ransley (James Swanton) a drunken, ribald peasant Pike (Richard Rowden) and Holt (Harry Roebuck) the best friend of the deceased.
The journey begins with a few moments of quarrelling amongst themselves plus violence and intervals to ‘pass water’. Abruptly strange things begin to happen all around them that they barely notice till too late. As darkness surrounds them so does the uncovered family secrets, illicit love and revenge burst forth perpetrated by an unseen force.
An unseen hound according to folk legend brings of ill-fortune – seems to be following them, along with a spectral figure. Panic quickly sets in amongst the group, despite the Squire’s increasingly brutal attempts to maintain order. Will any survive? There is no portrait to retreat into or mirror to break to stop the unrelenting terror of the night. No shelter from the storm of thoughts and impending doom that takes its toll.
This is an age when demons dwell at night and where corpses must be carried ‘feet first so they do not find their way back.’ Likely suicides are buried at crossroads, so they do not find their way back to their loved ones.
In a short film, all actors must be strong, distinctive and have a purpose. The cast is brilliant in this picture, working together with distinctive speech patterns and intonations. The Squire with his bombastic, voice commanding all and saying he will double their fee to continue. Pike with his articulate wordy speech with the right amount of uneducated local twang you would find in a local tavern or making an appearance in a ‘Universal Pictures’ torch-carrying mob. Ransley and Holt who as the Squire’s men to maintain order and blindly try to keep the lid on their fears and revelations.
Eerie moments of darkness, fog and still my personal favourite to see the breath of people at night when it is cold out makes this a top-notch little atmospheric ghost story.