Friday, March 28, 2008

The Horror Bus – review


Director: Pieter Kuijpers

Release Date: 2005

Contains spoilers

This Dutch movie, based on the novel series by Paul Van Loon, is dubbed as the “Dutch Harry Potter” – slightly unfairly to my way of thinking. Whilst it is a kids dark fantasy film we are not in the realm of witches and wizards, the novels came about (I believe) before the Potter novels and there is a better simile than suggesting a Potter connection.

Imagine a cinematic version of Goosebumps. What we get is an atmospheric film with a beautiful cinematic vista that falls back on effects that are of a lower budget, perhaps, and thus reminiscent of the Goosebumps series. It carries a complex story, character wise certainly, with a conclusion that is simplistic like a Goosebumps episode also.

Onnoval (Serge Price) is the sensitive, poetic soul of his class. His family situation is strange, his mother Gerda (Sylvia Poorta), seems hard – perhaps in an attempt to toughen Onnoval up – and more concerned with her art work than her son. His father Sok (Theu Boemans) is much more caring but is also an aging rocker still trying to write one good song.

Tom Jansen as Nol van PauloAs the film begins Onnoval is trying to catch the eye of a girl from his class, Liselore (Lisa Smit). She does actually seem interested in him but she used to be the girlfriend of classroom bully Gino (Jim van der Panne), who seems unwilling to give her up. That day, in class, the teacher Mr Vriend (Romjin Conen) has arranged for horror novelist Nol van Paulo (Tom Jansen) to speak to the class. As Onnoval aspires to be an author this is of particular interest to him.

projection of storyThe story telling is marvellously shot. At first it is just van Paulo reading. Then Onnoval sees the story projected in shadows upon the blinds. Suddenly he is alone within the classroom and then we see the story as a film. The story concerns a woman loosing her child to a wolf and the child being found by a couple. In Onnoval’s mind’s eye the couple are his parents. Afterwards he asks if the story was true, a question that is not answered, and Van Paulo gives him some advice – never show his stories to Ferluci (Fred Goessens), a name that means nothing to Onnoval, as Ferluci can make them come true.

Onnoval has gained top marks for a poem he wrote but doesn’t want to read it out in front of the class – it is personal. Gino steals it and reads it aloud in the playground – it is a love poem to Liselore. She smacks Gino but calls Onnoval a coward for not defending himself. On the way home Onnoval catches her and tells her his secret, he can’t fight as he is a werewolf. He claims that the story told in class was essentially his story - though the wolf bit him. Gino overhears this and gets a gang to get him. Gino makes out that Liselore told his secret and Onnoval runs away.

Ferluci comesIn the woods he runs headfirst into a tree, mist surrounds him, green and choking, and he is visited by the cowl wearing Ferluci. Ferluci tells him that stories can become real and he can get revenge on his tormentors through them. What I did like about this is that Ferluci is an anagram, but it isn’t immediately obvious. I’ll let you work out who he is.

Liselore does a deal with Gino to get him to leave Onnoval alone. The deal means she has to kiss Gino and the bully manipulates the situation to ensure that Onnoval witnesses the kiss. Heartbroken he starts to write and then gives the story to Ferluci. However he is wracked with regret and needs to find a way to stop the terrible scenario playing out (which involves vampires and a school trip to Horror Land).

giving crossesConfessing to Liselore, they contact van Paulo. He takes the situation seriously and offers them items to help and some advice. He gives them crosses to ward off vampires and stakes with which to fight (though in fairness the stakes are never used). He also tells Onnoval that the only way to stop things is to steal his book back from Ferluci’s agent and change the ending of the story.

Gino on route to Horror LandThus the trip to Horror Land begins and Gino, unbeknown to himself, will find himself in mortal danger from the vampire(s) out to get him. His only hope is for Onnoval to overcome his own fears and steal the story back to change the ending. I potentially pluralized vampire as there may be two.

Willem Nijholt as VlaponoThrough the early part of the film we see both a crow and a white cat hanging around. The crow becomes the tour guide and then turns into Vlapono (Willem Nijholt) – the main vampire of the tale. He has a Nosferatu fang effect going on and we do see him drinking blood, albeit through a straw from a bottle.

Onnoval brandishes a crossThe only other main vampiric trait we see is when Onnoval produces a cross and holds him back with it at one point. Other than that his vampiric activity is somewhat lacking – most probably due to the fact that this is a kid’s film. He is going to suck the soul from Gino, using a soul sucking device – but that is part of Onnoval’s story.

Would Ursula bite?The white cat becomes Ursula (Angela Schijf). Unlike Vlapono she has side fangs. Is she a vampire? Well, it is likely. Both make noises similar to their animal form, we do not see her reaction to a cross and we do not see her drink blood. We do, however, see her looking to Gino and it appears that she might bite him – until Vlapono intervenes as it is not scripted within the story.

the horror busBudget wise this seems self contradictory. The look of the film clearly carries the mark of budget and there is some very nice, and rather atmospheric, cinematic moments. On the other hand some of the effects look rather cheap, Goosebumps cheap to be honest. The bus driver becoming a skeleton looked very cheap but then that effect became self effacing as Gino declares to the class just how fake it looks.

inspecting the stakeActing wise it all worked and the kids did very well indeed. The story started off very dark but kept within the 'kids film level'. The darkness makes this more accessible to an adult but perhaps it isn’t as fulfilling as it could have been – but we must never forget just what level the film was pitched at. Perhaps, however, a child viewing this would want the horror a little more pronounced themselves and certainly the simple way in which this ends is somewhat unsatisfying to an adult viewer and could be equally so for a young viewer.

Angela Schijf as UrsulaThe DVD I have is a Thai release. This means that the language is in the original Dutch and dubbed Thai but the film has Thai or English subtitles. The only problem with that, of course, is that, for the English speaking market, the age group the film is aimed at probably cannot be bothered with a subtitled film. If this is in a language the kid speaks, or gets a wider international release in other dubbed languages, I can see it being a firm kid’s favourite despite any issues.

6 out of 10 is from an 'adult looking in' perspective. The more children orientated areas can be off-putting and the film could have done with some more budget thrown at the effects.

The imdb page is here.

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