TIFF 2016. Shadow Shorts. Review of “The Mill at Calder’s End” by Kevin McTurk

Kevin McTurk’s second short, “The Mill at Calder’s End”, is a compelling and authentic Victorian ghost story film about family, cursed inheritances, monsters and madness, that screened in the “Shadow Shorts” competition program at this year’s Transilvania International Film Festival after having had its first festival bow at the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival.

In the remote village of Calder’s End, there is an old mill, a depot of dark secrets. Nicholas Grimshaw has just learned that his father, Harrisson Grimshaw, has gone missing, thus inheriting his family estate and a mysterious box discovered by his grandfather. The box contains a contract of dark obligations that has bound his ancestors to Calder’s End for generations and had finally driven them all to madness. And so, Nicholas returns to this haunted place – his childhood home – intent on breaking the curse. Grimshaw’s journey takes him deep below the decaying mill, into forgotten catacombs, where he must face the source of Evil that has tormented his family.

Deeply influenced by the classic Hammer Horror Films of the 1960s as well as those of Mario Bava – most notably his gothic masterpiece, “Black Sunday”, and inspired by the haunted worlds of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, “The Mill at Calder’s End” was directed by Kevin McTurk, a professional creature effects artist of the Stan Winston Studios, model maker and puppeteer.

“The Mill at Calder’s End” comes after his first puppet short film, “The Narrative of Victor Karloch”, that he had made thanks to a Project Grant from the Jim Henson Foundation and a Filmmaker’s Grant from the Handmade Puppet Dreams, a short film series curated by Heather Henson, Jim Henson’s younger daughter. The film enjoyed a tremendous success, played at numerous international festivals, and won the 2012 Best Animated Film at the DragonCon Film Festival. The follow-up film – the one we are reviewing here – was a very successful Kickstarter project.

The brief plot, however conventional, is effective, never coming across as dull and always maintaining a charm throughout its fourteen-minute run. Rich in atmosphere and truly eerie, the horror in “The Mill at Calder’s End” does not lie in making the audience jump but rather in the creation of an escalating feeling of dread; making the viewers fear the inevitable. But, its charm comes from the fact that the director decided to tell his story with the traditional Japanese theater puppetry technique known as Bunraku. Each puppet figure is 30 inches tall and is controlled by three puppeteers dressed in black and hidden behind each character. The color palette and the puppets have a certain dark and forbidding cruelty about them, typical of the gothic genre.

Moreover, “The Mill at Calder’s End” is a film that celebrates the traditional in-camera practical effects.

Indeed, the creator of “Hellboy”, Mike Mignola, designed one the parchment while Guy Davis, who has worked under Mignola on the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense spinoff series of comics and later for director Guillermo del Toro on “Pacific Rim”, created the Bramblegor that Grimshaw has to face in order to rid his family line of the curse. Alex Palma was in charge of the concept. In that regard, the design work is truly meticulous. DoP Kenton Drew Johnson captures the action gorgeously; Adam C. Sager, the visual effects supervisor, and his VFX artist staff providing him with plenty of stunning imagery to work with. Sound designer Eric Skodis does a wonderful job and is assisted by Meredith Yayanos and Will Thomas who composed a genuinely haunting score. As far as the voice acting is concerned, Barbara Steele, Jason Flemying, Piotr Michael and John Alexander all do an amazing job in bringing the splendid characters to life.

“The Mill at Calder’s End” is brilliantly executed creepy and atmospheric short horror film with a captivating story and beautiful to behold. I highly recommend it to fans of horror, gothic fiction, puppetry, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and Guillermo del Toro. An absolutely phenomenal masterpiece.




Production: The Spirit Cabinet (USA 2015)

Executive producers: Heather Henson, Sultan Saeed Al Darmaki, Brian Ellis, John Cody Fasano, Scott Kerschbaumer, Cindy Okumoto and Guillermo del Toro

Director: Kevin McTurk

Screenplay: Kevin McTurk and Ryan Murphy

Cinematography: Kenton Drew Johnson


Production Design: Guy Davis (The Bramblegor), Mike Mignola (Parchment) and Alejandro Palma (Concept Artist)

Editing: Michael Fallavollita

Cast: John Alexander (The Bramblegor), Jason Flemying (Nicholas Grimshaw), Piotr Michael (Harrison Grimshaw), Barbara Steele (The Apparition at the Mill)

 Color – 14 min.

Premiere: 22/05/2015 (Seattle International Film Festival)

Latest from Reviews