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Movie Review: Ol’ Hag

Tribal medicine woman with bone through her nose

Ol’ Hag is a moody B&W short film directed by Lyndon Cassell about an old fisherman’s fable, the kind of tale best told over a dimly-lit campfire. The film is an evocative whisk back through time to the 1600s when creepy old superstitions actually sound quite believable.

Cassell himself stars as the film’s narrator, a salty, eye-patch wearin’ seaman who swears he’s been visited by the Ol’ Hag herself several times over the course of his life. And by the time he’s finished his account of the hag’s secret origin, you might find yourself fearing a visit by this spectral, ungodly visitor in your own bed.

Shot on Super-8mm Tri-X Reversal Black and White Film stock, Ol’ Hag is clearly a no-budget affair. However, what’s truly engaging about the film is the way Cassell creatively uses his limitations to effectively recreate the time period the story is set during and to use those same limitations to spark the perfect spooky mood.

Really, what Cassell does is to dress his actors in the appropriate costuming, keep them fairly brightly lit within the frame, while obscuring their surroundings in deep darkness. For one thing, this saves the need for overly detailed, and expensive, set decorations. But also, the lighting gives the film a shadowy, haunting look, as if the film is being shot all at night and lit just by the candlelight that would have been available back them.

The fisherman’s story is concerned with a much in-demand midwife who is more-or-less shanghaied to assist a native woman going into labor. The baby is the result of her being raped by an important Navy officer. The officer wants the baby to live, but no one must know of its existence, which is similar to the set-up of From Hell, the brilliant graphic novel about Jack the Ripper by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. (Actually, had the film version of that been done in the darkly illuminated style of Ol’ Hag, it may have been a faithful adaptation of the original source rather than the abomination that the Hughes brothers churned out.)

The baby is born, but complications ensue and one of the women will become the Ol’ Hag, a curse that will bedevil and end the lives of innocent fishermen.

Cassell’s storytelling is fairly straight-forward for the most part, with a few creative visual flourishes sprinkled throughout. Like a good ghost story, the film has some comic reprieves to relieve the tension. These are all mostly visual jokes also born out of budget restrictions, such as the midwife humorously riding the back of a sailor in lieu of an actual boat.

But there are also some other non-humorous visual tricks, typically involving the use of superimposition. Some times this is done to create a spectral illusion and other times simply as a means to condense the plot and action, but both cases give the film an overall ethereal, supernatural atmosphere.

Cassell manages to fit a lot of story into the film’s eight-minute running time, but it never feels rushed or overloaded. It all just ends up making for a fun little effective spooky yarn.

Watch the Ol’ Hag movie trailer: