Grim (1995): Trolling the Depths

It ain’t a classic, but Matty thinks Peakviewing Transatlantic’s monster movie is an interesting footnote in the history of modern British horror.

Beginning as a construction company, Peakviewing Transatlantic shifted to film production in 1994 after realising there was money in the home entertainment arena. Based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, Peakviewing was a British, family-ran firm founded by patriarch George Matthews, and spearheaded by his producer/writer/director son Paul and daughter Liz, the operation’s chief executive. They had a hand in three movies — trite kiddie pic The Christmas Stallion (1992), and OK-ish TV westerns Trigger Fast (1994) and Rebel Rousers (1994) — before gaining a modicum of mainstream exposure with their fourth feature, GRIM. Shot in Clearwell Caves on a £650,000 budget, the Matthews’ bandied Grim about the Cannes market in May ‘95. It sold incredibly well — so well that the film’s American distributor, Robert A. Baruc, greenlit a sequel prior to the original even landing on video store shelves.

While those convinced low-budget British horror begins with 28 Days Later (2002) and Dog Soldiers (2002) will wonder what the hell Baruc was thinking acquiring Grim let alone commissioning a part two, more discerning and esoterically-minded genre fans should get a kick out of this endearing cheapie. At times, it’s nearly very good. Scripter/helmer Paul Matthews aims for classic monster movie convention and almost succeeds, building an impressive, vaguely Alien (1979)-esque atmosphere. Initially, he keeps his titular beast — a troll terrorising the caverns beneath a new housing estate — hidden, giving us snatched glances of claws, muscular arms, and glowing red eyes. When the snarling creature is revealed he’s an impressive sight; a hulking behemoth brought to life via a physical performance from record-breaking powerlifting champion Peter Tregloan, and some terrific effects designed and created by Neill Gorton (Funny Man (1994), Doctor Who). Sadly, things take a hit when it becomes apparent that Gorton’s wizardry doesn’t extend to ol’ Grimmy’s tacky costuming, and several narrative developments stretch credibility to breaking point — chiefly, the troll suddenly being able to teleport through stone walls; the endless bickering and know-it-all attitudes of the supernatural investigators/spelunkers (!) tracking him; and several extraneous narrative strands that drift in and out with little rhyme or reason. 

Still, perpetual contradictions of its own inner logic notwithstanding, it’s fun watching Grim play hot potato with bits cribbed from a multitude of other British horrors, be the swipes intentional or not. Its pleasing, pulpy tone feels like a homage to the work of Guy N. Smith (particularly the author’s 1988 novel, Cannibals), and several trace elements of plot prefigure what’s arguably the best Brit shocker of the last twenty years, The Descent (2005). Elsewhere, a few scenes set in the Rawhead Rex (1986)-style creature’s lair appear to be modelled on similar sequences found in Gary Sherman’s gritty classic Death Line (1972), and the film’s English-American sheen is at once hilarious and very much of its period. In regards to the former, I had a ball laughing at the bright spark who thought a bunch of Bellway builds would ever pass for homes in rural Virginia; and in regards to the latter, I love that Grim clearly unfolds in the same mid-Atlantic netherworld as Hellraiser (1987), Split Second (1992) and Death Machine (1994). Happily, the bulk of Grim’s cast — Paul Matthews regular Kadamba Simmons among them — make a decent fist of their American accents. Tragically, Simmons — a talented model/actress and London ‘it’ girl — was murdered by her ex-boyfriend on 13th June 1998. She was twenty-four years old.

Moodily lensed by Alan M. Trow (a cinematographer no stranger to U.K. DTV upstarts, having worked extensively with Richard Driscoll and John Eyres), Grim was released on tape in the U.S. by Baruc’s A-Pix Entertainment on 13th February 1996 — by which point Peakviewing had twisted the intended follow-up into Breeders (1997). Curiously, Grim didn’t surface here, on the Matthews’ home-turf, until summer ‘99.

UK ● 1995 ● Horror ● 88mins

Emmanuel Xuereb, Kadamba Simmons, Peter Tregloan ● Dir./Wri. Paul Matthews

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