Posts Tagged ‘Cult Horror’

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Kier-La Janisse | US, Doc 193’

Everything you wanted to know about horror films: this immersive three hour documentary is an expansive study of the macabre genre of “folk horror”  from the lurid to the surreal and downright ghastly. A gruesome and immersive trip to Hell signposted by the trilogy of cult classics: Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968) Piers Haggard’s  Blood of Satan’s Claw and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man. 

Canadian filmmaker and scholar Kier-La Janisse embellishes her film with insightful talking heads and over a 100 clips from the archives, to explore how “Folk horror” came into being relatively recently, casting a spell over a growing audience with enigmatic qualities often escaping definition yet firmly rooted in the countryside with local mores and primitive superstitions providing its down to earth life blood, sustained by a fear of the unknown. This “juxtaposition of prosaic and uncanny”, coined by author and actor Jonathan Rigby, lies at its heart.

A must for genre fans Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched also provides a valuable potted history for newcomers, divided into six chapters, for ease of reference. Commentatory from occult experts, historians and cult filmmakers enriches the informative brew.

The only two surviving directors from the unholy trilogy also give their pennyworth on their rural cult outings: Robin Hardy’s terrifying ‘pagan meets pious’ tale The Wicker Man (1973) and Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) a tale of villagers fearing possession by the Devil in 17th century Christian England.

Britain has always harked back to past socially and architecturally, and so UK folklore provides a particularly rich trove to draw with its rural  traditions and literary heritage of ghost stories and the supernatural. American directors can mine the puritan sensibilities of the pilgrim fathers onwards for their source of folk horror. Here Robert Eggers talks about his breakout revivalist features The Witch and The Lighthouse. Janisse then skates more broadly over the international scene showing how folk horror in countries such as Australia and South America is largely influenced by Colonialism and its literary traditions of magic realism. Canadian cult filmmaker Guy Maddin also makes an appearance talking about his surreal, award-winning work.

Janisse has crafted a worthwhile and entertaining compendium film that can be enjoyed in an afternoon, or dipped into from time to time. MT

ROTTERAM FILM FESTIVAL | SUMMER SEASON June 4-6 2021

 

 

 

The Inner Sanctum Mysteries (1940-) ****

Lon Chaney Jr is the stars in this fantasy horror compendium of six cult classic features that dabble in Death, dementia and the dark arts. Based on the popular radio shows of the 1940s, Chaney, Jr. (The Wolf Man), gives a timeless performances alongside his leading ladies Anne Gwynne, Lois Collier, Patricia Morison, Jean Parker, Tala Birell and Brenda Joyce in these spooky chillers.

Calling Dr. Death (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1943) – A doctor is not sure if he murdered his wife and has his nurse uncover the truth by hypnotising him.

Weird Woman (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1944) – While on a trip, a professor falls in love with an exotic native woman who turns out to be a supernatural being.

Dead Man’s Eyes (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1944) – When an artist is blinded, an operation to restore his sight depends on another person willing to donate their eyes.

The Frozen Ghost (dir. Harold Young, 1945) – A stage mentalist and a discredited plastic surgeon are involved in mysterious goings-on in an eerie wax museum.

Strange Confession (dir. John Hoffman, 1945) – Flashbacks reveal the events leading up to a man’s revenge on the racketeer who took advantage of his wife.

Pillow of Death (dir. Wallace Fox, 1945) – A lawyer in love with his secretary is suspected of suffocating his wife, among others.

INNER SANCTUM MYSTERIES: THE COMPLETE FILM SERIES starring Lon Chaney, Jr; on Blu-ray as a part of the Eureka Classics range from 18 January 2020.

Masque of the Red Death (1964) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Roger Corman | Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee | Horror, US 89′

The Masque of the Red Death is the seventh in the series of Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe adaptations produced by AIP in the 1960s. These visually handsome films were praised for an integrity of tone, laced with dark humour; and a careful – though not over-reverential – respect for the period horror genre.

Atmospheric widescreen colour sets and costumes complimented intelligent scripts and sensitive direction. Of course, there were earlier Poe films yet it was only with the Corman features that we experience a remarkable grandeur faithful to the tone of Poe’s writings, which greatly appealed to critics and audiences.

For his ninety minute version of The Masque of the Red Death Corman takes a sparse storyline and makes it rich in atmosphere. Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell worked on a plausible treatment and also added material from Poe’s tale Hop-Frog. As with the earlier Corman film The Pit and the Pendulum (an even starker one prisoner/victim situation) further characters and sub-plots needed to be created.

Alongside the Masque’s hooded figure of the Red Death (often seen as a reference to Bergman’s death character in The Seventh Seal,  those monks surfacing in Bunuel’s films and the callous Prince Prospero (malevolently performed by Vincent Price) we also have a selection of court people, dwarf actors and dancers. A rival villain is provided by Patrick Magee’s Alfredo, although Magee gets short shrift in this rather underwritten role, and would have fared better as Prospero, for he conveys much darker undercurrents of evil with his bitter cracked voice and cold stare.

It made sense to move out of the hermetic court and include some villagers. Those chosen are a virtuous peasant girl Francesca (Jane Asher, ideally pure but never sentimental), her lover and her father. The men are kept inside the dungeons while Francesca, against her will, has to join the company of the court. Francesca is probed by the Satan-worshiping Prospero. He sees her belief in Christianity as equalling his attachment to the powers of darkness. Like Prospero’s mistress Juliana (Hazel Court) the peasant girl is ideal for an apprenticeship with the Devil. A quasi-initiation scene, where Vincent Price leads Jane Asher through a series of highly-coloured rooms is fascinating. Like the doors in the legend of Bluebeard’s castle, a diabolic temptation is being presented to the curious, though resistant Francesca.

These new characters are perfectly serviceable although The Masque of the Red Death tends to make them secondary to the sheer beauty of the film. And although the cast do their best, the photography, set design and costumes create an even stronger note, adding to the visual allure of the picture. Of all the Corman/Poe outings Masque is the most opulent, containing some of the most magnificent colour photography to be found in the genre (perhaps only the colour filtering and lighting in the restored Mario Bava, Kill Baby, Kill achieves a Gothic intensity equal to The Masque of the Red Death).

Nicholas Roeg won a BAFTA for his terrific work. His seductive photography is not just skin deep, it offers brilliant texture that lights up the horrible cold decadence of Prospero’s rooms, divorced from reality, and the misty presence of the village – not forgetting the hill and tree where the ominous figure of death lays out his tarot cards. Dan Haller’s set design is remarkable (they are re-used and re-decorated sets left over from the film Beckett) and so are the costumes supervised by Laura Nightingale.

Corman reportedly gave his cameraman a lighting “theme” and said that ‘Nic lit everything really very beautifully.’ So where does that leave Corman’s direction in this intense artefact? Well he directs with a fluid and elegant touch that glides you through the film. None of the performances seem obviously grand guignol. They’re very natural. And given Vincent Price’s tendency to sometimes be hammy, his Prince Prospero is as restrained as his Mathew Hopkins in Witchfinder General.

There’s a sense that Corman trusted his actors to deliver. However The Masque of the Red Death’s danse macabre scene slightly disappoints and is  somewhat underwhelming. There’s a feeling of it not being adequately choreographed. Roger Corman has said he thought this sequence was a failure and he’d wished he’d had more filming time. It lacks a sense of pain and ritual, a dress rehearsal for everybody’s dreadful fate rather than the real thing.

This new blu ray comes uncut – so the flesh branding scene and Julia’s satanic hallucinations are intact. And the quality of this restoration does justice to its production values. My personal best of the Poe films still remains The Tomb of Ligiea but The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher are not far behind.

According to the opening lines of Poe’s short story: “The “Red Death’ had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal – the redness and the horror of blood.” The partnership of Roger Corman and Nicholas Roeg gave such glorious style to this allegory, and combined with ideal casting they achieved a heightened realism to communicate the tale’s poetically despairing descriptions of both a very real, and at the same time, dream-like plague. It’s a classic horror film that’s splendidly stood the test of time. ©ALAN PRICE 2020

The Sadist (1963) *** Prime Video

Dir/Wri: James Landis | Cast: Arch Hall Jr, Richard Alden, Marilyn Manning, Don Russell, Helen Horvey | US Horror 92′

The ingenuity applied by Samuel Colt to developing his first revolver in 1835 is once again abused when one of its descendants finds a way into the clammy little mitts of grimacing psychotic Arch Hall Jr.; automatically transforming him into the person who gives orders instead of taking them. (Unlike dashing young Martin Sheen in Terrence Malick’s Badlands ten years later, sneering, monobrowed Hall actually resembles the original spree killer Carl Starkweather upon whom both films are loosely based).

An innocent trip to Los Angeles for a Dodgers Game ends in a terrifying nightmare for three naive teachers who encountering car trouble, pull into an old wrecking yard where they are held at bay by a bloodthirsty psycho and his girl friend. The lunatic is none other than Hall’s Charlie Tibbs, (loosely based on serial killer Charles Starkweather), and his girlfriend Judy (Manning). Accompanied by a seething score the ensuing ordeal is a slow-burn trip to Hell that is slim on plot but fraught with atmosphere and nuanced performances – particularly from Hall – his goofy appearance adding a twist of dissonance to the unfolding terror.

Following in a long tradition that dates back at least as far as the hostage-taking drama The Petrified Forest, this nihilistic little exploitation film made in black & white for just $33,000 in two weeks, was ironically the first American feature film shot by Hungarian-born cameraman Vilmos Zsigmond (billed as ‘William’) who was later behind the camera in Deliverance, with which it has more in common than Malick’s dream-like fantasy. Richard Chatten. 

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

 

Magnetic Pathways (2019) | **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir.: Edgar Pera; Cast: Dominique Pinon, Alba Baptista, Pauko Pires, Ney Matograsso, Albano Jeronimo; Brazil/Portugal 2018, 90 min.

Avant-garde Portuguese auteur Edgar Pera follows his weird and wonderful adaptations of Rio Turvo and O Barao with this mystery drama screening as part of a retrospective of his work here at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Again he indulges in the creation of a Lynchian universe, where past and future amalgamate in an anarchic dance of loss and angst, all held together by the overwhelmingly monstrous images of DoP Jorge Quintela.

Elderly Raymond (Pinon) lives a nightmarish life without escape: he is either drowning in his dreams, or running helpless and disorientated through a dystopian Lisbon. His main obsession is his daughter Caterina (Baptista) who is getting married to Danio (Pires), one of the henchman of the autocratic regime, which runs on the lines of Orwellian surveillance, the TV anchor giving out the orders for the day. During his nightly sorties Raymond encounters the past and present Portugal, meeting among others General Spinola (Jeronimo), who was one of the Generals in the successful revolution of 1974, before he turned against the socialist government and joined Ex-president Caetano and his fellow generals in exile. Raymond is never quite sure if he is living through the period of post- or past revolution. Raymond falls under the spell of Andre Leviathan (Matograsso), a mixture of religious leader and revolutionary. But Raymond develops a jealous obsession with Caterina and Danio. When the couple have sex, Raymond kills Danio with a knife, only to wake up with a feeling of joy despite realising that Caterina would have never forgiven him. 

Whilst the couple are on a barge, Raymond jumps into the water, but is rescued. Fearing the worst, he is amazed not to land up in prison, but back home, which by now resembles a brothel.

Dissolves dominate this spectacular poem of male madness: Raymond is straight out of L’Age d’Or, and Lisbon is a rather drab background, the city’s modern architecture An emblem for the soul destroying world of the Regime. The religious fanaticism of the President echoes Bunuel; Raymond’s hallucinations are the reflection of male impotence. Some music by Manoel de Oliveira embellish this unique feature, directed by a masterful and uncompromising Pera. AS

SCREENING as part of the EDGAR PÊRA Retrospective | IFFR 23 January – 3 February 2019

Salem’s Lot (1979)

Director: Tobe Hooper  Writer: Stephen King, Paul Monash

Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Bonny Bedelia, Clarissa Kaye-Mason, Ed Flanders, George Dzundza, Lew Ayres

183mins  | Horror | US | Warner Home Video

In SALEM’S LOTnovelist Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to his hometown of Salem to find that things have changed. In fact, the previously warm and friendly community is now rather sinister and he suspects that the bizarre behaviour of his old friends and neighbours is the work of oddball antique dealer, James Mason. But Salem has a rich history of witchcraft dating back to the time of its New England, Pilgrim Fathers, and this adds a twist of historical intrigue to what is clearly one of the best known horror outings of the 1970s.

The innocuous title sequence presages doom but only due to Harry Sukman’s menacing theatrical score that attempts to elevate this massive TV outing to theatrical level. When Ben arrives in his Mini Moke (a nice seventies touch along with his signature blond tousled locks) Richard K Straker (James Mason) is already there to meet him on the stairs of his large mansion, The Marsten House, a doomladen edifice that dominates the small hamlet of Salem, near Boston, Massachusetts (the locations are actually California). And the dreaded house with its ferocious black dog, continues to looms large in the narrative, floodlit on the hillside. Ben has come home from Mexico to work on his novel that examines whether true evil can actually be embodied in the rafters and fabric of a mansion such as Marsten.

But Ben has other things to discover on his return, namely the young Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedalia) and she is just as interested to examine him. For a made for TV outing, Tobe Hooper’s SALEM’S LOT is expertly dirested, well-mounted and deeply horrific – as far a TV can be. Small town politics, haunted mansions, wild dogs, James Mason’s bloodshot eyes, and a collection of very suspect local denizens: all those well-oiled horror tropes are wheeled out for an airing. Tobe Hooper does his stuff well on a budget that exceeded that of Texas Chain Saw by a cool 4 million dollars, although, to be fair the latter was a good deal more scary.

The arrival of a ice cold package from Europe is the another sinister element to rear its head: along with coffins and of course vampires. The scene of the vampire Glick floating up to his brother’s closed bedrooms windows is one that will remain seared to the memory, impossible to eradicate, however hard you try. SALEM’S LOT runs for three hours  and is well worth the watch, if you’re looking for an unforgettable HALLOWEEN experience. MT

SALEM’S LOT is AVAILABLE FROM WARNER HOME VIDEO ON AMAZON.CO.UK

 

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