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The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves Movie Review

Written by Rachel Knightley

Released by Diabolique Media

Magnificent Obsession Of Michael Reeves Poster Large

Directed by Dima Ballin
Written by Kat Ellinger
2019, 86 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest World Premiere on 25th August 2019

Starring:
Gavin Baddeley as Himself
Tom Baker as Himself
Ingrid Cranfield as Herself
Kat Ellinger as Herself

Review:

In a career of barely a decade before his untimely death at twenty-five, director Michael Reeves earned the title of “one of genre cinema’s most elusive cult visionaries”. The world-premiere of this feature-length “definitive biopic”, directed by Dima Ballin and written and produced by Diabolic’s Kat Ellinger, does justice to the unwavering drive behind Reeves’s career from his decision at eight years old to become a film director, through early and difficult excursions to Hollywood, to an in-depth analysis of his three major works and uncompromising rise and fall, culminating in the sad circumstances of his death in an accidental drug overdose.

A well-researched collection of new and exclusive interviews leads us through Reeves’s life story – these include childhood friend and scriptwriter Tom Baker, former girlfriend Ingrid Cranfield, Reeves’s biographer Benjamin Halligan and particularly his childhood friend and the star of all his films, Ian Ogilvy with whom he made his first home-made films. Ogilvy and writer/producer Kat Ellinger create a thoughtful and affectionate balance of personal and critical reflection. A particular strength of this film is the humour and clarity with which versions of apocryphal stories in the Reeves canon are balanced and told together as one narrative. Key footage repeats somewhat distractingly over the eighty-six minutes of the documentary, but with a career so short and a story so well and clearly told, Ballin does manage to get away with that.

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The documentary pivots on explorations of Reeves’s three great 1960s shockers – the multi-titled Revenge of the Bloodbeast, his working relationship with Boris Karloff in The Sorcerers and his fraught stylistic and ideological battles with Vincent Price in Witchfinder General resulting in Reeves drawing out a performance Price would recognise one of the greatest of his career. Gently compelling, respectful links are also drawn between the real Mike Reeves and “Mike” (Ogilvy) in The Sorcerers as his alter ego: a man who will walk out of social situations to go and read film reviews, who is only lightly in any place or conversation he finds himself and will always go where the art in his head takes him, no matter the cost. Briefly but effectively, Ellinger and Ballin also explore Reeves’s work from the perspective of his strongly disliking violence: wanting to depict it as realistically as possible for that reason; as testament to what humanity is capable of, rather than enjoyment or sensationalism. This is particularly interesting in the context of where he would have pushed himself next, had he lived to explore his stated ambitions of moving beyond his artistic beginnings in horror. Where he would have taken his exploration of fear next is the well-posed, open question.

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The uphill struggle of Reeves’s professional life and battle for artistic recognition is mirrored in his personal life and potentially lifelong struggle with depression. Consistently presenting the case for a man who was uncompromising in his dedication to his films, the fact of the overdose that killed him being so slightly over the recommended level, and his lifelong drive so absolute – making films and putting his psychological and emotional needs second to the needs of his art – is offered as further evidence his death was accidental. Indeed, Ellinger and Ballin also draw on compelling evidence as to why more famous voices suggested the contrary.

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The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves makes no attempt to sanctify but to engage and celebrate, which it does with style and affection. Reclaiming ‘obsession’ as something more practical than madness – the clarity of vision and the strength, talent and intelligence to make one’s dreams into reality – more than justifies ‘magnificent’. A vivid portrait of a director who was never satisfied to dream, but only to put his whole effort into making his dreams a reality, and a successful documentary not just preaching to the converted but rousing curiosity in a wider cinema audience. While there is enough repetition of key shots to pass the sensible level of emphasis and suggest a lack of material, this remains a pacey, good-humoured documentary that is never apologetic for the more difficult elements of the story, full of knowledge, positivity and affection for the genre and the man.

Grades:

Movie: Fourstars Magnificent Obsession Of Michael Reeves Poster Small
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