The rise of a religious cult takes a turn for the apocalyptic, and it’s down to David to try and get his vulnerable dad to safety. However, with advanced dementia complicating an already overwhelming disaster, David may not be able to save his father from the growing zombie horde. A country manor in the middle of nowhere holds the promise of safety, but the secrets found within may be worse than the carnage outside.
Dead Mouse Productions are better known for their detailed horror documentaries such as Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser, but for some years now have been working on their own horror anthology show. This instalment is the 5th episode in the series, with a 6th to come soon looking to tie everything so far together. Dark Ditties tend to have modest budgets to work with, but Dad feels like it is taking a stride forwards in scope and ambition. It is also the first feature length entry in the series, which was a pleasant surprise.
The opening certainly gives a grander sense of scale with a worldwide scenario brought into play, although it does narrow down the focus again once it picks up with the main characters of the story. As with previous Dark Ditties Presents the team knows how to find an awe inspiring location to focus on, so once the ultimate destination for the action to take place in is found you’re in for something special. The country manor they managed to find for Dad adds a significant boost to the overall production value.
The anthology series ties together in a way which rewards ongoing watchers, but you can happily hop right in to Dad for a starting point. A regular treat for horror fans is the frequent use of Hellraiser alumni returning to perform new roles, a little like a British American Horror Story. Former Cenobites from the first two Hellraiser movies, Barbie Wilde and Simon Bamford, make appearances; Barbie primes the set up of the story and Simon, who has featured in every episode with some capacity, is here as a major role. Another Dark Ditties regular, Corin Silva, takes the lead role here as David, getting a solemnly sweet turn as a hero instead of his usual villain roles. He brings a lot of depth to his character of a dutiful son in an impossible situation, taking care of his “Dad” to carry the emotional core of the story. Ian Gelder has the role of David’s father Terry and delivers a painfully effective turn as a dementia sufferer who is helpless, unable to understand what is happening to him in an already extreme situation. However, among a cast filled with notable performances, Mark Wingett stands out, performing a righteous anger with underlying menace in his role as Reverend Alistair O’Brian. I don’t want to spoil what the good Reverend gets up to, but you won’t be able to miss his domineering presence from the second he’s introduced.
Dad is light on spectacle, however, and instead focused on dialogue centering around witty banter along with dramatic stakes, likely due to the budget constraints the Dark Ditties must work within. Not empty of spectacle, mind you, as there’s a degree of zombie apocalypse carnage to be had here. Furthermore, once it’s time to get gory, the SFX crew are having buckets of fun with fake blood and, although sparingly used, there’s some impressive detail in the practical effects of gore. Very vividly raw veins, and some low key yet disturbing vomit chunks come into play for some later costuming – all appropriately repulsive.
There is a benefit to stripping down a story to a character focus, however, especially this type of apocalyptic storytelling which frequently devolves into empty by-the-numbers action. Consequently, Dad sits somewhere between Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later with a distinctly British feel, which gives a frequently entertaining tone to the cast’s interactions. While like most good zombie fiction the undead here are the setting instead of trying to carry the story, there’s an extra edge to their take on the now familiar formula. There’s a welcome dash of folk horror in the mix, too, thanks to the cult element, elevating the subject matter to an extent, even if the focus remains character dynamics for the most part.
The most effective horror here is not from the undead, but instead in the relationships of the multiple dads present in this story. There are layers to this setup, as supporting characters also fulfil fatherly roles exploring these paternal relationship during the end of the world, but it’s the leading relationship succeeding the most. The desperation of David, as he tries to cope with his dad’s dementia, is far scarier than the zombies. Dealing with mental deterioration is always a powerful subject matter when it appears in horror. If it’s done well, it can make for an uncomfortable watch and the execution here is striking with some emotional gut punches to be had. The moral dilemma of how much of a duty of care you have towards someone, versus the utilitarian assessment of someone having become a “liability” in a crisis, makes for compelling storytelling. Additionally, the fraying emotional connection of the two leads is at times heartbreaking.
On a surface level, Dad is just another zombie apocalypse, but Dark Ditties Presents has found some interesting new things to say. The familiar scenario is made full use of to dig down into multiple relationships and makes full use of an impressive British cast. Failures, tragedies, and attempting to do the right thing, despite all odds and with little hope to be had, are all on display. While there’s plenty of fun to be had here, be warned that it can be a hard watch at times, especially when concerning David trying to cope with his dad’s dementia. This Ditty is definitely a Dark one.
Dark Ditties Presents Dad releases on October 28th
Luke Greensmith is an Editor at the Grimoire of Horror and an active folklorist as well as working in film across a few roles. While this can cover quite a wide range of things, he’s a dedicated horror fan at heart and pretty involved with horror communities both online and local to him. You can find their folklore work on the Ghost Story Guys Podcast, their own LukeLore podcast, and accompanying the artist Wanda Fraser’s Dark Arts series as well as on the Grimoire of Horror itself.