Darklands (1996)

"You are the messiah! The old flesh is dead - long live the new!"

(He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy - with a foul Cockney mouth...)

It would be easy to see Darklands as a Welsh, sweary version of The Wicker Man, because… erm, that's exactly what it is.

It's also a stupid, pointless and frankly annoying (although occasionally unintentionally hilarious) waste of lottery money, which once again proves that the best thing chunky Craig Fairbrass ever did was get brutally killed in Cliffhanger.

Darklands is set in a Welsh industrial town rife with nationalistic fervour due to the high unemployment levels and the general drabness of the area. This at least is an intelligent way of updating the Wicker Man ethos of a place turning to darker things to improve its lot, but as far as intelligence goes, that's about it for the film. Fairbrass is Frazer, the local newspaper reporter. And here the film makers encounter their first problem. Frazer is Welsh, it says so in the script. Fairbrass is definitely not Welsh, unless there's a part of East London where they wear flower pots on their heads, play rugby and indulge in close-harmony singing whilst crocheting quilts and setting fire to holiday cottages. This is explained away quite simply - Frazer was born and bred in the town, but went away for a bit to London where he developed a cockernee accent and enormous pectoral muscles.

At the beginning of the film moody shots of industry and interspersed with images of a strange ritual going on, where a pig's throat is coat as a bunch of Siobhan Fahey look-alikes (ever wondered what Shakespeare's Sister were up to in the 90s? Some kind of cloning experiment, by the look of it) dance around a bit.

The dead pig turns up in the local church, and it's not long before the vicar is banging on Frazer's door, demanding he come and cover the story. Frazer being the kind of reporter who never actually has to be in the office or actually typing anything, is there in a flash - espousing his theory that it's the druids at it again (druids, eh?), wanting to reclaim the land the church is built on.

Next stop in his busy workload takes him to the circus, to which he carts Rachel (Rowena King), the new work experience girl. Strangely, the circus folk look remarkably similar to the pig-fanciers association we saw at the beginning of the film (who's for a quick chorus of "Stay"?). Shortly after this, Rachel announces to Frazer that her brother died in mysterious circumstances just after joining a "mysterious society", and she needs Frazer's help to bring his killers to justice (or something). Our man starts his investigation at the steel works where her brother worked and then moves on to the local gipsy camp, where he gets a particularly hostile reception.

Rachel's work experience placement seems to include the obligatory "sleep with a reporter" clause, and it's not long before there a torrid sex scene, during which Fairbrass seems intent on eating her face off.

The next ritual slaying involves a goat. The audience are left wondering what the next animal will be, in a vain bid to get the noises and images from the last scene out of their heads.

Fully satiated after his meal, Frazer carries on his investigation. He meets the local Nationalist MP (Jon Finch), who gives him a book about druids. The vicar then tells him he's actually adopted and should leave, before it's too late. It turns out that the dead steelworker didn't have a sister, so Rachel was lying. Frazer breaks into her house (he's a resourceful chap) to find out what's going on, and hides in the cupboard as she meets with her boss (who we saw earlier bossing the gipsies about), and discovers that she's only sleeping with him to get pregnant with his baby.

She discovers Frazer and kicks him out, her boss comes back and murders her (following a not entirely terrifying cat and mouse chase through her tiny house).

Now, all the clues are there. If I hadn't mentioned the name of a certain classic film at the beginning, do you think you could have worked it out yourselves? Just in case you haven't, in the next scene the friendly vicar explains that Frazer is part of a cycle of sacrifice to help improve the fortunes of the area (aha!). Yet still the dolt doesn't run away screaming.

Actually, he can't - because he's been arrested for Rachel's murder. But then he gets released…

The rest of the film involves several deaths (the most interesting one by chainsaw, but there's a car crash, too) and lots of sweaty Fairbrass-style running about. Things move on to their inevitable conclusion with someone (guess who) waking up after being bitten by a dog and arrested (again) to find a huge-breasted, naked woman straddling him (now that's what I call custody visiting). The close-ups on the poor unfortunate's face as he mugs to the camera are absolutely hysterical, and worth the price of the film alone.

There's more shenanigans until the last few scenes, which are pretty much what everyone expects. Although I for one can't imagine Edward Woodward screaming "No, you fucking cunts! You can't fucking do this! Cunts!"

Potty mouth.

So, what we're basically talking about here is a filthy version of The Wicker Man, even down to a certain character being told "You came here of your own free will…" (well, not exactly).

There are a few more twists in the film than I've let on in the above, so if I've whetted your appetite (how?) or you're a fan of Fairbrass (to give him his due, I enjoyed his performance in Eastenders), or if you don't know what happens at the end of The Wicker Man, you might get some sadistic enjoyment from Darklands. But I doubt it.

Last updated: February 22, 2010

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Darklands 1996

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