25th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Features: Gavin Baddeley, Tom Baker, Ingrid Cranfield, Kat Ellinger, Steve Haberman, Benjamin Halligan, David Huckvale, Ian Ogilvy | Written by Kat Ellinger | Directed by Dima Ballin

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The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves is a documentary film directed by Dima Ballin (A Taste of New Blood: New Directions for Hammer’s Dracula) and written by Kat Ellinger. The two also produced this project, released through Diabolique Films.

The film itself talks about, in some detail, the career of Michael Reeves, the groundbreaking folk horror filmmaker who gave us Witchfinder General and The Sorcerers, and talks about his life, the mark he left as a director and his premature death at the young age of just 25. With a variety of exclusive interviews we learn about the things that Michael loved, his passions in his life, including his obsession with film, as this analysis of his career and the situation surrounding his death are discussed. It’s riveting stuff, and as someone who was admittedly unfamiliar with Michael Reeves, his story and his experiences, I found the information packed into this 85 minute documentary to be very compelling indeed.

The interviews are really interesting and we hear from an array of individuals, from Ian Ogilvy, the star of Reeves’ films and a close friend to Tom Baker, his childhood pal and scriptwriter, as well as his former girlfriend Ingrid Cranfield and a selection of film historians. It truly does delve into the life of this cult film symbol, and does so in a humanistic manner, considering the themes in a personal and warm way, without much of the frosty and facile elements we can see in biographical documentaries that often tend to speak only with people who really never knew the subject. It makes a huge difference and makes this portrait feel much more intricate and real. More personal.

Ballin and Ellinger’s obvious passion for the subject matter shines with the focus on celebrating the legacy of the director, and the interviews constantly offering insight that is not only intriguing and entertaining, but often moving too. The clips used, and photographs we see, all add to the narrative. There is a whole bunch of detail, facts and figures to be heard here from the line-up of interviewees. I found the discussions of his early career and how he started out to be especially absorbing. The stories of the sorrowful circumstances surrounding Michael Reeves’ death are really very sad. There’s a complex and emotional tone to much of this documentary, which can be a rare thing, and a lot of the reason for that is the passionate way he is spoken about by those who had a relationship with him in life, and those who are fans and analysts of his career to this day.

A deep, enthralling documentary about a cult figure in the history of genre film, The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves is a compelling project that ought to be seen. I learnt a great deal here, and I imagine many others will too. It really does open your eyes about a director who tragically passed away before his time and left behind a legacy remembered fondly by many. Well made, researched with a fine-tooth comb and presented in a high-quality and uncluttered way, it’s poignant and gripping stuff.

**** 4/5

The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves screened at Arrow VIdeo Frightfest on Sunday August 25th 2019.

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