Sweet Angel Mine

UK/Canada 1996

Reviewed by Kim Newman


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Holton, Nova Scotia. Paul, a young Englishman, is touring the region on a motorcycle in search of his father, a travelling salesman who disappeared in the region in 1984. In the wilds, Paul comes across Rauchine, a teenage girl who lives in isolation with her mother Megan. Paul agrees to help the women repair their smokehouse. Rauchine shows him a path leading to a place she calls the Garden of Dead Roses which is forbidden to her. Megan intervenes and Paul leaves for a motel in the next town. Rauchine, in a red dress she has made herself, follows Paul and they become lovers. The motel-keeper recognises her as the daughter of his old friend, Billy Lee, who died before she was born. Gritley, a local lout, tries to rape Rauchine and, after a fight, Paul takes the girl back to the farm.

Megan, who has been imagining advice from her dead mother, kills a policeman who comes to investigate the motel fight. With Rauchine's help, Megan injures Paul and drags him to the Garden of Dead Roses, where the corpses of many vanished men, including his father, are strewn. Megan nails Paul to a tree and encourages Rauchine to shoot him, as Megan once shot Billy Lee. Megan remembers that after killing Billy Lee she shot her own mother, who was complicit in her husband's rape of Megan. Rauchine shoots and wounds her mother and saves Paul. Megan kills herself, letting Paul and Rauchine go free.


Though not without precedent (Bruce Campbell in the first Evil Dead movie, for instance), the most unusual plot twist of Sweet Angel Mine is that the conventionally heroic outsider/investigator is ultimately reduced to the status usually accorded a woman in this sort of melodrama. Not only does he fail to spot the obvious clue - Rauchine's red dress, copied from his father's brochure - that would help him solve his personal quest, but he also gives up on redneck civilisation too early and takes the girl back to the farm just in time to imperil her mind.

In a film which locates real strength in its mothers and daughters, Oliver Milburn's Paul, a social worker who helps drug addicts, is treated ambivalently. "A nice bike - for a pussy," sneers Gritley, who runs 'get in touch with your inner Viking' seminars for businessmen. This caring pretty boy from the city is subjected to physical and emotional abuse, and is freed only by a quixotic change of heart on Rauchine's part. The film even reverses the sexualisation of female victims played out in many a horror film by ensuring that the cruciform poses of submission Paul is forced into also expose his shirtless physique, with flowing wounds. In the climax, he is reduced to an object below even the level of Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), with a hood over his head and his hands nailed to a tree, bleating, "I don't deserve this," as the women prepare to execute him.

One of the pleasures of Curtis Radclyffe's first feature is that it reverts to a leisurely style of pacing unfashionable in horror since the 60s. Aside from a single gruesome dream sequence, the film withholds its explicit horrors until the last reel, thus giving the hero's sufferings far more impact than they would have among the rollercoaster-like pacing of most post-1968 horrors. Some may find the film frustratingly slow, but the gradual accumulation of unsettling details at the farm does work up a sense that something is disturbingly wrong: the dilapidated smokehouse (later the site of torture) with its unidentifiable hanging meats, Megan's disgust at the copulation of her stock, and the trunks full of possessions left behind by various vanished men (of whom, only Paul's father seems to have been missed). The most visually intriguing element is the long bird-watching hide that leads to the Garden of Dead Roses. Told that this place is off-limits, Paul must be the only horror movie protagonist ever to take a psycho at her word and never even try to get a look at the place where something nasty lurks.

More seriously damaging is the inevitable disappointment that comes with the mostly predictable resolution of all three mysteries: what happened to Paul's father, the status of Megan's mother and the exact nature of Rauchine's parentage. Of these, most blatant is the business of the mad Alberta Watson's conversations with a nagging Anna Massey. The incest theme, however, is capped cleverly when the expected revelation is followed by a private flashback that explains why Megan is as afraid of her daughter as she is protective. Most horror films suggest family sins are passed down forever, tainting the innocent as well as the guilty (such as The Brood, 1979). Sweet Angel Mine unusually breaks the circle of abuse so that Rauchine can escape with her mind intact. It even suggests, in her ability to drive Paul's motorbike while he fulfils Gritley's diagnosis by flopping uselessly on the pillion, that she has emerged as the strongest of her family and will be able to cope with the outside world.


Sam Taylor
Christopher Zimmer
Sue Maheu
Tim Willocks
Based upon the screenplay Love's Executioner by Tim Willocks
Director of Photography
Witold Stok
Anne Sopel
Production Designer
Maria Djurkovic
John McCarthy
©Mass Love Ltd and IMX Angel Flik Inc.
Production Companies
HandMade Films with the participation of British Screen/Telefilm Canada/The Nova Scotia Development Corporation
In association with Statescreen Productions and Picture Palace
A Mass-Sam Taylor/Imagex production
Developed with the assistance of British Screen Finance Ltd.
Executive Producer
Gareth Jones
Associate Producers
Andrew Johnson
Simon Johnson
David Redman
Gilles Bélanger
Mass Productions:
Matthew Wilson
Production Co-ordinator
Karlie Morash
Production Manager
Jonathan Finn
Location Manager
Gary Swim
Post-production Consultant
Stephen Barker
Assistant Directors
Max Keene
Shandi MacLeod
Mary Reynolds
Script Supervisor
Maggie Thomas
Liora Reich
Abi Cohen
Jon Comerford
John Dunsworth
Camera Operator
Robert Stecko
Steadicam Operator
Kelsey Smith
Digital Film Effects
Special Effects
Jim MacGillvray
Debbie Topping
Art Director
Peter Grundy
Set Decorator
Patricia Larman
Costume Designer
Ann Taylor
Wardrobe Mistress
Patricia Cowmeadow
Wardrobe Supervisor
Roberta Palmer
Make-up Designer
Betty Belmore
Special Make-up Effects
Image Animation Canada
Paul L. Jones
Sean Sansom
Hair Stylist
Norma Richard
Capital FX
Additional Music
Daniel Lanois
Leslie Stanwyck
Robert Bartolucci
Mark Shannon
John Bouvette
Additional Rhythm Section:
Crispin Taylor
Ernie McKone
Music Orchestrations/Conductor
Jim McGrath
John Timperley
Jeff McMurrich
"Crystal Punjab", "Mighty Cloud" by/performed by Daniel Lanois; "Mr Ray" by Keith Dodge, performed by Butterfield 8; "Out" by Derek Filiatrault, performed by Butterfield 8; "Dreaming" by Mitch Dalton, Anne Sopel
Jim Rillie
Dubbing Mixer
Paul Carr
Re-recording Mixer
Mike Prestwood Smith
Supervising Sound Editor
John Ireland
Post-production Sound
Movietrack Ltd
Dialogue Editor
Robert Ireland
Rocky Phelan
Stunt Co-ordinator
Steve Lucescu
Animal Wrangler
Kim Murray
Oliver Milburn
Paul Davis
Margaret Langrick
Anna Massey
Alberta Watson
John Dunsworth
Billy Lee Davis
Mike Crimp
Sergeant Taylor
Joel Sapp
John Fulton
Marguerite MacNeil
Estelle, Herb's wife
Robyn Baker
young Megan
Optimum Releasing
7,940 feet
88 minutes 14 seconds
Colour by
DeLuxe (Toronto)
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011