Recently Nigel Bach came out with the ninth movie in his insanely low-budget, cult-favorite series, and since I’m in a reviewing mood I thought I’d give it a go.
Reason for filming: It’s Tom Riley, that’s why. Honestly if you’ve made it to film 9 you don’t even question these things anymore.
What’s the horror: More ghosts.
Does the dog die? No way. Bad Ben steers clear of animal cruelty, even when the occasional dog or cat makes an appearance on screen.
Gore factor: Another no.
Re-watch scale: Regular rotation, as are all Bad Ben movies. Letting them play in the background by now is like having a family member chatting away while I do dishes or something.
SPOILERS BELOW -DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW
Tom Riley is back after meeting what appeared to be his demise in movie #8, titled Pandemic. Tom’s appeared to meet his demise many times throughout this series, so this was never a reason to be concerned. We knew he’d be back.
And he is back, and his bullet wound has magically disappeared. And there are all these random items in his house that don’t belong to him, along with a strange cat and a lot of phone calls asking for someone who doesn’t live there. There are some fun tricks Bach pulls as Tom Riley wanders around the house trying to re-orient himself to his surroundings; the old trope of the ball that bounces down the stairs is enhanced by having about 18 of them bounce down all at once, mysterious brownies appear on the kitchen cabinet (that Riley, of course, eats), and a great gag where he takes his ghost meter all over the house and determines it is clear since it never went off, only to realize it didn’t have batteries in it (of course it goes off as soon as he replaces them).
There’s also some really fun Tom abuse – another Bad Ben staple – such as a ghost chucking a full-sized pumpkin at him, getting smacked yet again by the attic door (you’d think by now Tom would have figured out a way to get around having to walk under that thing), and getting yanked off the floor and smashed against the ceiling. None of these effects are done with a Hollywood-level of quality, and some of them are fake looking as hell, but at this point that’s not just part of the charm of these movies, it’s a selling point. Tom getting smashed against the ceiling wouldn’t be half as funny if it was done realistically. With each movie, though, Nigel Bach expands his repertoire and tries to add new things to the mix; in this one we see a demon with more clarity than we ever have, and even though it still appears to be just a dude in a black cloak Bach works some magic to make it more effective than previous attempts have been. He’s got a few good jump scares up his sleeve, and a new clown in a jester cap, and he takes a stab at more physicality than he ever has before – fighting off invisible demons and getting knocked down by them repeatedly.
We also get Tom at his wise-cracking best, with cranky comment after comment that’s really the cohesive glue holding every Bad Bad film together. Where the visuals are weak, Tom’s self-dialogue is strong; where the story lags, Riley’s there with a wisecrack to fill in the gaps. And Bach is never above making fun of himself – he rags on his weight (“did I never think of eating a fuckin’ carrot?” he chastises himself as he tries to squeeze through a window), walks around naked (with proper -albeit probably exaggerated-pixilation), and falls down stairs. He also adds a lengthy Tom Riley butt-shot and some twerking this time around, but more about that later.
Some of Bach’s new effects are fun, like the severed hand that casually strolls around the house, soon to be joined by the floating head of a dead priest who engages in mostly casual conversation with Tom about the ghostly goings-on (“my body was chopped to pieces and distributed across the land,” the head tells Tom. “Well the good news is, I think I found your hand,” Tom quips back). And if there’s one thing Nigel Bach knows how to do by now, it’s provide a movie with a bang-up ending. He sticks another landing here, with Tom Riley getting his dance on to cheer up and clear up the negative vibes in his house, which he’s been told will cast the evil demon away. And it’s no slouch of a dance either – he runs from room to room, spinning and skipping and yes, occasionally twerking, for basically an entire song before throwing a load of roses at the demon to send him away. Bach knows what his fans want, and what they want is a full-length Tom Riley dance number.
There’s also some explaining to do about why there are so many unfamiliar items and animals around his house, and just what happened with that gunshot that should have killed him at the end of Bad Ben 8. But that’s all I’m going to say about that, because you get the idea by now. This is another solid Bad Ben installment that fans will love and others may or may not like at all; such is the nature of low-budget found footage horror – but by this time, it’s clear Nigel Bach is a master of this subgenre, and he’s doing it better and more prolifically than just about anyone else.
My one and only complaint about Bad Ben: Benign is that as packed as it is with sight gags and sarcastic quips, it still drags in the center. There’s a bit too much walking around and wondering aloud about what may or may not be going on, and a book-reading sequence that goes on way too long. For that reason, this may not be the best movie to use to introduce someone to the Bad Ben-iverse. That’s best done with the original, in my opinion. And while the last two Bad Ben installments have taken Tom out of the familiar format and into some different situations – Bad Ben 7 takes place entirely in Tom’s car, and in 8 he’s in his basement for the whole movie, reacting to what takes place on Zoom – Benign puts Riley back where he’s been many times before, all by himself in the house on Steelmanville Road, settling scores with spirits on his own.
Some may see this as a step back due to his recent experiments with different settings, but for me this is Tom Riley at his best (even though I enjoyed both 7 and 8 immensely) and is a well to which he’s likely to continue to return. And why not? Nigel Bach’s instincts have been dead-on so far (for the most part), and his formula, which he tweaks and twiddles with each time out, is one that works. I personally hope he never runs out of ideas for this series, even when Tom Riley has to ride around his house in a wheelchair to scare the ghosts away. For however long these movies are being made, I’m going to show up for them.