Rise of the Dead
ROTD is a low budget indie horror film shot on location in Athens and
Marietta Ohio, employing many actors and actresses with limited film
The story centers around Laura, a young woman who delivered a baby a
few years earlier then gave it up for adoption. The adoption didn't work
out well for the baby. The first couple who adopted him were some kind of
religious nuts who determined that the baby was evil because of his
mother's sinful ways, and ended up giving him up. Worse than that, they
placed a curse on him - a rather effective one at that, because the baby's
next step father left a loaded gun on an table and ... well, you can use
Unfortunately for the baby and everyone in Athens, Ohio, the curse was
not the kind that expires upon death. It's was one of those eternal curses
and, hoo-boy, is that dead baby pissed off about that. He is now using his
dead baby ghost powers to rise from the dead and get revenge on all three
sets of his parents. He is able to do this because he can completely take
over any human body, and after he does so he uses that body's familiar and
trusted countenance to get near his potential victims, then rip them to
shreds with sharp objects. Although he is trapped inside a normal human
body with no superpowers, he is more or less unstoppable because if his
potential victim turns the tables and kills him, he just moves to another
body, and if his attacker manages to bind him somehow, he just commits
suicide with that body and moves on in that manner.
After some initial confusion, Laura finally figures out what's going
on, but of course nobody will believe her, much to their eventual regret,
so the body count multiplies quickly. The only really intriguing element
of the film is the mystery of how Laura can defeat such an apparently
The production is a typical microbudget straight-to-disc effort: only
72 minutes long, with minimal character development, mundane dialogue, and
performances which are sometimes weak enough to break the fourth wall. On
the other hand, the direction is not so bad. The grey ambience of a
Northern winter and some spooky music combine to lend an ominous tone, and
some of the scenes are edited effectively enough to maintain the
appropriate amount of suspense while the ghost baby lurks somewhere in the
shadows. It's not a very good film, but given that it comes from a
first-time director, it's good enough to make you wonder what he might do
with some money, a decent script, and a competent cast.
On the guilty pleasure genre scale:
(1) The gore is insignificant. There's some blood and a knife
occasionally penetrates skin on camera, but it's basically done in the
1970s style, and not with modern explicitness. I doubt that they had the
budget for convincing gore effects.
(2) On the other hand, nudity is within everyone's budget, so there's
some nice skin in this film. A actress named Jaime Whitlock, playing
Laura's roommate, walks around naked for quite some time and flashes some
very attractive buns and breasts before being killed. (Jaime also did
make-up and costumes for this mini-budget film, and I assume she performed
those functions fully clothed in an Ohio winter, but she has the kind of
healthy young body that should be naked as much as possible.) A second
actress named Jamie Lewis shows her breasts in a spirited sex scene which
knocks off her glasses. After the coitus is interruptus, she is possessed
by the killer ghost baby and comes after a victim carrying an axe, still
stark naked, thus finally delivering the coveted full frontal scene.
Give a decent effort by the director and the clear nudity, I'd call it
a C- on our scale. Mainstream viewers should stay away, but genre buffs
will probably find it watchable, or at least find some scenes to be worth
watching for one reason or another.
Jaime Whitlock film
clip. Collages below.
Jamie Lewis film clip.
The Last Hangman
On a scale of 1-10, how interested are you in a biopic of a famous
hangman? About a three? Maybe lower? Yeah, I guess that would be typical.
The premise certainly offers the potential for a morbid, depressing film
which lapses into proselytizing for one point of view or another.
Surprisingly, that is not the case. Oh, it's not a feel-good movie. It
must dramatize a couple dozen hangings in real time, and you can guess how
pleasant that is, but it is a consistently interesting true story.
Albert Pierrepoint was a second generation hangman who prided himself
on his work. He developed an efficient system of weights and rope lengths
which allowed him to kill the condemned person instantly, and he had a
purely businesslike approach to his job. He never employed gallows humor
to break the tension. He believed that all those executed should be
treated with as much respect as possible, and after the execution he
insisted that their bodies be given the same treatment one might give the
body of a beloved family member. His theory was that the criminals had
been sentenced to death to pay for their crimes; therefore, their account
was fully paid as soon as they died, and from that point forward they were
entitled to the same treatment as any other Englishman.
He remained anonymous from 1932 to 1945. Even his wife didn't know what
he did on the weekends, at least not officially. That's the way the system
worked in England. A hangman was not a full-time professional from within
the penal system, but a part-timer who was trained and hired in secrecy,
then summoned by the state when his services were required. There would be
several such people "on the list" at any given time, and their assignments
were rotated. They would travel to the place of execution on a Friday
evening, receive a meal and a bed, and conduct the execution the next
morning, leaving them free to pick up their stipend and return to their
normal lives with a minimum of disruption while attracting a minimum of
suspicion. Albert was just a grocer so far as anyone knew, and that's
exactly the way he liked it. Even under the shroud of anonymity, it was
difficult enough to be a hangman, bearing the psychological burden of an
endless string of face-to-face encounters with those about to die.
His secret was revealed after the war when the British government
needed to execute a vast number of Nazi war criminals. Field Marshall
Montgomery asked the penal experts for their best man, and Pierrepoint was
their choice. On behalf of England, Montgomery personally asked
Pierrepoint to take the job. For a humble grocer turned pub owner, a
personal audience with the legendary Monty himself, coupled with recognition as the nation's best
at his "other" job, was an exhilarating honor, but the ultimate price of it
was dear. As a result of the Nazi executions, the press learned Pierrepoint's identity, and he became quite a national celebrity, often
treated to a spontaneous "he's a jolly good fellow" when recognized. Being
a celebrity hangman was all well and good right after the war, but the
supply of Nazis was not unlimited and when all the war crimes had been
adjudicated, Pierrepoint went back to life as usual, absent his former
cloak of anonymity. Those last six or seven years of his career proved to
be distressing. Knowing who he was, mothers would come to him to intercede
on behalf of their sons. Protestors would parade outside his home to
demonstrate against capital punishment or the execution of some specific
person whose cause might attract attention. Being a superstar hangman is
not an enviable position. A sizeable chunk of the populace pictured him as
a medieval executioner or as the avatar of Death himself. And Albert was a
simple, fundamentally moral man with a good heart. He reasoned that his
efforts did not add or subtract a single execution from the record.
Somebody would do the hangman's job, and it was better to have it done by
an efficient professional than by a hack who might blunder and leave a
live person dangling on the gallows in pain. It was difficult for him to
reconcile the man he knew himself to be with the man described by the
demonstrators outside his door.
To keep his sanity, Pierrepoint had to remain detached and aloof during
the hangings, to "leave himself outside" during the process, and to
complete his task as rapidly and efficiently as possible. That all changed
during the climactic incident of the film, the moment when Pierrepoint
loses his professional detachment and looks deepest inside himself, when
he is called upon to execute one of his mates.
This really happened. The man's name was James Corbitt, and he had sung
"Danny Boy" as a duet with Albert Pierrepoint on the very night he
murdered his girlfriend in a fit of jealousy.
In my mind, that is one helluva good story. Almost every single detail
is fresh and original and instructive. The ultimate bar for a truthful
biopic to clear is to become so fascinating that people would declare it
contrived if it were fictional. The Last Hangman clears that bar. It is a
rare to watch a film that has such a great story and is so edifying at the
same time. And the cast is excellent. A hearty "bravo" for Timothy Spall.
An unattractive, overweight, middle-aged actor rarely gets a role like
this, with a chance to be on screen during virtually every minute of a
film. Unromantic character actors may wait an entire lifetime and never
land such a role, but every once in a while fate requires the services of
someone like F. Murray Abraham in a starring role. The role of Pierrepoint
is Timothy Spall's Salieri, and he absolutely nails it.
If there is anything negative to say about the film, other than the
obvious point that the subject matter is relentlessly bleak, it is that
the film lacks sufficient tonal contrast between Pierrepoint's life as a
hangman and his life as a working class urbanite. Even at home he seems
like a particularly wretched Dickensian invention. His domestic
surroundings are just about as miserable and dingy as the prisons where he
works. Even a night at the pub with the lads seems to be a dark and
generally funereal endeavor. I think I would have liked to see him
outdoors on a sunny day surrounded by bright colors once in a while. He
seemed to need that kind of healthy stimulus to help decompress after a
particularly gut-wrenching execution, and frankly, so did I, because the
film put me into his point of view.
In fairness, I believe that the lack of atmospheric contrast between
the two halves of the hangman's life is not some kind of error made by the
director, but a calculated and deliberate statement. That interpretation
is supported by some obvious parallels as, for example, when both his wife
and a prison warder offer him his evening meal in a comparably joyless
But, dammit, I needed some relief from the constant morbidity.
Setting that aside ... this is an excellent film. Brilliant,
interesting, educational, and thoughtful ...
... just really, really grim.
By the way, Pierrepoint was not literally "The Last Hangman" in the UK.
He resigned in 1956, eight years before capital punishment was abolished.
The "last" were actually two hangmen who presided over simultaneous
executions in different prisons in 1964. Pierrepoint was, however, the
last hangman to execute a woman, and the last man to hold the official
title of Chief Hangman for the United Kingdom.
After his resignation Pierrepoint eventually became an outspoken
opponent of capital punishment, and outlined his reasons in an
autobiography, "Executioner: Pierrepoint":
(1) Capital punishment was not an effective deterrent. The Corbitt
incident drove home the fact that hanging was no deterrent to crime
because Corbitt, like most of the people Albert executed, killed in the
heat of the moment without having planned it. Corbitt's actions, like so
many others, could not have been affected by the possibility of
punishment. Pierrepoint argued that capital punishment is not designed as a
deterrent, but as revenge. "Executions solve nothing," he wrote, "and
are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which
takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to
(2) The appeal and reprieve process was unfair. Some men executed by
Albert turned out to be pardoned posthumously, but they were denied
reprieves, although at least one of those cases (Derek
Bentley) prompted a vast outcry for clemency. On the other hand,
several reprieves were granted in accordance with political expediency
or other motives unrelated to the merits of the cases.
As you might imagine, the nudity in this film is not titillating in any
way. I didn't make a film clip for reasons you can probably guess after
you see the collage below.