Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

Häxan (1922)

Dir/Wri: Benjamin Christensen | Doc, Silent, Denmark 97′

An amusing horror curio made in Denmark in 1922 that aims, in an episodic style, to tell the story of witchcraft through the ages. In conclusion director Benjamin Christensen attributes the black arts to female hysteria, as diagnosed by Freud. Some may find the lewd nude sequences a sinister representation of the occult others merely view them as the slightly crude behaviour of a bygone era. But the evocative score in some versions certainly adds to the film’s creepy allure along with the sonorous narration provided by Willian S Burroughs delivered in an offbeat style that somehow dumbs down the film’s more outlandish pretensions. @MeredithTaylor


Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Dir: Rowland V Lee | Cast: Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Béla Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Josephine Hutchinson | US Horror 99′

In Gods and Monsters Ian McKellen (playing the director James Whale) derisively barks “I only directed the first two, the rest were made by hacks”. This is a bit hard on Roland V. Lee who delivers an extremely atmospheric addition to the canon, and derives full value, aided by cameraman George Robinson, from Otterson & Riedel’s ‘psychological sets’, complete with a portrait of Colin Clive.

Billed as ‘A Roland V. Lee Production’, to add to its credibility, this was the last Frankenstein movie of the thirties, and marks the final appearance of Karloff’s monster – who had apparently lost the ability to speak since we last saw him – flanked by a memorable performances from Basil Rathbone in the title role. Lionel Atwill also star as the police inspector deliciously spoofed by Kenneth Mars in Young Frankenstein, and Bela Lugosi as the vengeful Ygor (possibly the last role he ever played that counted for something). @RichardChatten


The Exorcist: Believer (2023)

Dir: David Gordon Green | Cast: Leslie Odom, Jr., Ann Dowd, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz, Lidya Jewett, Olivia O’Neill and Ellen Burstyn | US Horror 111′

Exactly 50 years ago this autumn, the most terrifying horror film in history landed on screens, shocking audiences around the world. Sadly The Exorcist: Believer is not a patch on the original just an attempt to attract a ‘younger audience’ by garnering traction from William Friedkin’s far superior outing.

In this often ludicrous ‘sequel’ Angela (Lidya Jewett) plays the girl, and the single parent is Victor (Leslie Odom Jr), a photographer who refuses to allow his daughter to play with her friend Katherine (O’Neill) during downtime. And he’s not stupid, because after school the two girls secretly sneak off to the nearby woods to stage a seance in the hope of contacting Angela’s late mother. Days later they reappear having no memory of their ill-judged escapade.

David Gordon Green certainly succeeds visually, character and mood wise: his horror film is subtly sinister and supernatural in its autumn settings and all goes well until midday through when the project nosedives: it’s as if Gordon Green has taken leave of his own senses possessed by the producers to churn out yet another franchise.

Victor decides to track down the only person he knows with any experience of the previous affair, and – back for another turn – it’s Ellen Burstyn, as splendid as she was in the 1973 original. Thence the film loses its way and its new plot lines in a melodramatic maelstrom of jump scares, speeches and sentimentality. The master Friedkin will be turning in his grave.




Hatching (2022) Sundance London

Dir.: Hanna Bergholm; Cast: Suri Solalinka, Sophia Heikillä, Oiva Ollila, Reino Nordin Jani Volanen; Finland 2022, 87 min.

The debut feature of Finnish writer/director Hanna Bergholm is an intelligent blend of family dysfunction, female powerplay and horror.

The setting is a dream house in the countryside for a family divided: mother (Heikillä) is the driving force. Unsuccessful as an ice-skater, she is now a social media influencer and wants her daughter Tinja (Solalinka), a budding gymnast, to become a success story to make up for her own failure. Tinja goes along with her, but her husband (Volanen) turns avoids conflict, supporting his wife, even though she is cheating with handyman Tero (Nordin). Young Mathias (Ollila), is, like his father, very much in the shadow of the female of the species. But Tinja finds the long hours of training arduous, and lacks her domineering mother’s grit. But when a new female rival enters the fray, in the shape of her new neighbour and gym buddy. Tinja’s competitive edge kicks in with the family pets take the brunt along with a huge bird. The animal is something like Tinja’s Alter Ego: doing all the bloody stuff for her, and punishing mother and lover for their illicit affair. Solalinka is brilliant as the meek little girl betraying a brutal Dr. Hyde personality. Bergholm breathes new life into this ingenious genre thriller perfectly pitched at 90 minutes running time AS


Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Dir: George A Romero | Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman | US Horror, 96′

A cult film (actually similar in mood to Daphne du Maurier’s original short story ‘The Birds’) that still packs a punch over half a century later and richly deserves its cult reputation; despite having a lot to answer for, since it spawned so many gorier, inferior sequels. Needless to say, Night is one of the most successful independent movies ever made, grossing USD 30 million – over 263 times its budget, although none of the money – as usual – went to the people who actually made the film, due to a poor distribution deal and a copyright technicality waiving their rights to the proceeds.

It starts quietly, with the dialogue between two bickering siblings establishing from the outset the grimly black humour (like the rednecks who find an opportunity for sport in hunting ‘ghouls’; the word ‘zombie’ is never used).


Night of the Living Dead is actually extremely realistic for a horror film as every attempt made by the cast to escape fails. The handsome, level-headed hero is black (a fact never mentioned); a mixed blessing as every decision he makes is the wrong one and they’d actually have been better advised to have taken the advice of unattractive loudmouth Mr Cooper (played by co.producer Karl Hardman).

If one wanted to be really pretentious the film also contains it’s own Shakespearean ‘double time’ scheme, as it’s supposed to be charting the events of just one night yet the news bulletin from Washington – in which director Romero appears as a reporter – takes place in broad daylight.@Richard Chatten


The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (1962)

Dir: Joseph Green || Cast: Jason Evers, Virginia Leith, Anthony La Penna, Adele Lamont | US Horror, 82

This is one of those films that makes me wish you could rate it with an exclamation mark rather than just a numerical score. That truth often surpasses fiction in strangeness is attested to by the fact that clients for cryogenic freezing who haven’t the funds to have their entire bodies frozen can have just their heads placed in storage; so after sixty years this film (like plenty of cheap sci-fi movies) isn’t as far-fetched as it might have seemed at the time.

I have no intention of ploughing through all the 168 reviews so far posted on the IMDb, but no one seems to have noticed that our latter day Frankenstein spends most of this film engaged in the same activity in earnest that Steve Martin later did (with the aid of cleaning fluid; where did I come across that recently?) for laughs in ‘The Man with Two Brains’.

With obviously post-synced dialogue (the scene in a dressing room culminating in a cat-fight sounds as if recorded in an aircraft hanger), but enhanced by location work in Manhattan and Tarrytown in upstate New York and an eerie jazz score arranged by Ed Craig, it was shot in 1959 (and bears a 1960 copyright date) under the title ‘The Black Door’, after which it took a couple of years to briefly hit screens.

It’s attitude to women may seem antediluvian now, but most of the men are a creepy bunch too (especially the photography club and burlesque audiences we see). You expect the heroine to be just a victim; but Virginia Leath shows a remarkable capacity for vindictiveness as the film proceeds to it’s gruesome finale. @Richard Chatten


Ganja & Hess (1973)

Dir: Bill Gunn/Lawrence Jordan | Cast: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam L Waymon | US Horror 112′

The confused and contradictory comments and descriptions among reviewers of both the quality and the content of this film was probably the desired effect of this laconic semi-underground conversation piece which vaguely appropriated aspects of vampire film iconography to satisfy the film’s financiers without actually making one. It doesn’t have the noisy razzmatazz of the blaxploitation film the druggy-sounding title suggests, or the visual fussiness of a continental seventies vampire movie; while the scenes depicting wrapped up bodies being carrying across a field for disposal rather recall comedies like The Old Dark House and Arsenic and Old Lace. Quite a bit of blood gets drunk, but in circumstances that suggest psychosis rather than authentic vampirism; although only a genuine vampire would be able to drain the glass of red fluid Hess offers to Ganja at one point (blood in that quantity is actually an emetic).

The liberal amounts of both sex and violence are handled in a generally deadpan fashion (the spectacular stabbing of Dr. Green with an infected knife referred to in several reviews, for example, is merely described in an opening caption, not shown), and the characters rarely seemed fazed by much that happens. Duane Jones of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ as Dr. Hess Green has acquired a beard in the intervening five years and like any self-respecting screen vampire lives in an enormous country house with servants. As Ganja Meda, Marlene Clark is enjoyably venal and grasping, her steely beauty (no afro!) contributing the seductive female component without which no seventies vampire film could possibly have possibly been complete. Richard Chatten


Shepherd (2021)

Dir/Wri: Russell Owen | UK Horror 103’

A little bit style over substance, Shepherd is an effective but rather overwrought third feature from Welsh writer/director Russell Owen, with Greta Scachi as the star turn and Tom Hughes as angst-ridden widow Eric Black.

Devastated after the mysterious death of his wife, who is pictured teasing him in menacing early flashbacks, Eric takes a job as a shepherd heading for the solitude of ramshackle  house on a remote island with only his faithful Collie Baxter for company.

Front-loading the narrative with foreboding tropes and jump scares before really establishing Eric’s grievances with his wife makes it difficult for us to really feel for him or appreciate his troubled state of mind. So Owen keeps things ambiguous with a recurring motif of gloomy mountains and a roaring soundscape, an ominous tolling bell driving the narrative forward in this wind-beaten setting. The island is purportedly uninhabited but soon after arriving on a lighter steered by a gaunt boatsman, Eric spies a sinister hooded figure darting around a disused lighthouse, and discovers human remains in a stream.

Trauma from the past resurfaces in a scary vignette from Greta Scacchi as his widowed mother who has somehow tracked him down and was clearly not a fan of Rachel. But is she alive or dead, a nightmare or reality?  Then Baxter goes missing and Eric’s state of mind down-spirals into a glowering night of the soul as the truth comes back to haunt him. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 26 November 2021

The Severed Arm (1973) Plex TV

Wri/Dir: Tom Alderman | Cast: Deborah Walley, Paul Carr, Marvin Kaplan, John Crawford | US Horror, 89′

Thomas S Alderman’s exploitation movie sees five trapped miners on the bring of starvation resort to butchering one of their mates, before rescue brings retribution for all concerned. The Severed Arm follows that old chestnut about a group of men haunted by a guilty shared secret, who receive a nasty surprise in the mail followed by scary nightly visits.

Dated by the seventies haircuts and moustaches, constant zooms and a synthesised score, and seemingly edited with the same axe their nemesis employs; it’s all played straight (including by veteran comedy actor Marvin Kaplan as nighttime D. J. ‘Wild Man Herman’) and reasonably effective on what was plainly half a shoestring.

Although top billed, early sixties teenage actress Deborah Walley is largely absent for most of the duration; although she certainly makes up for lost time at the conclusion. Richard Chatten


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





The Skull (1965) TPTV

Dir; Freddie Francis | Peter Cushing, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigerl Green, Patrick McGee, Christopher Lee | UK Horror

Shrewdly packaged from a 1945 short story by Robert Bloch for his recently formed company Amicus by Milton Subotsky, vividly designed in Technicolor and directed by Freddie Francis when he still cared. The film also follows Hammer precedent by employing a classy British composer, Elizabeth Lutyens, whose music carries the long sections without dialogue.

Although headlining Hammer alumni like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Michael Gough, the cast includes many others of Britain’s finest, including Patrick Wymark and Nigel Green (both of whom died not long afterwards) and Patrick Magee fresh from Corman’s Masque of the Red Death. The fanciful use of colour, weird visuals and general mood suggest familiarity both with Corman’s Poe pictures and the Italian horrors of directors like Bava & Freda. @Richard Chatten


Picture Mommy Dead (1966)

Dir: Bert I Gordon | Wri: Robert Sherman | Cast: Don Ameche, Martha Hyer, Susan Gordon, Zsa Zsa Gabor | Fantasy horror, 82

“The Past is Like a Tiger, and No Matter How You Pet It or Pretend That It’s Tame One Day It Will Turn…”

If I’d missed the start and hadn’t caught the director credit, I would have taken this for the work of William Castle rather than sci-fi and horror specialist Bert I. Gordon briefly venturing into Psycho/Baby Jane territory. The production values are in fact rather more impressive than one would have got with Castle. Greystone, the Beverly Hills mansion in which most of the action takes place is well served by Ellsworth Fredericks’s elegant photography, which gives the film the feeling of an Italian ‘giallo’ (complete with spooky close-ups of dolls, portraits and various childhood relics) produced as a glossy sixties TV movie. Unfortunately, shorn of Castle’s gimmicks Gordon’s direction manages to be even more pedestrian than Castle’s would have been; and fails utterly to energise a talky script in which things are constantly spelled out through dialogue rather than conveyed visually.

In an interesting cast of has-beens, Ameche is wasted as the heroine’s weak and corrupt father; but as the ghastly stepmom – who having already maxed out hubby’s nest egg is now making absolutely no secret of her desire to have her stepdaughter committed so she can gets her mitts on HER inheritance too – Martha Hyer rises to the challenge of convincingly playing a wife even more high maintenance than her predecessor Zsa Zsa Gabor must doubtless have been. (If she hadn’t been busy at the time making ‘Green Acres’, it would have been interesting to see Zsa Zsa and her sister Eva in the role played by the not dissimilar Hyer squaring up against each other in the same movie.) Signe Hasso pops up ominously in a nun’s habit, Wendell Corey is obviously drunk (he died from cirrhosis of the liver two years later) but enjoyably intimidating as the family lawyer; as is Maxwell Reed, who does justice to some wonderfully fruity dialogue as a male Miss Danvers. Anna Lee’s role as a family friend promises to be nicely bitchy too, but she unfortunately disappears almost as soon as she appears. @Richard Chatten



Karloff at Columbia 1935-42


Boris Karloff was born in London as William Henry Pratt on 23 November 1887. His parents shared Indian ancestry and his mother’s maternal aunt was Anna Leonowens whose writings inspired The King and I musical. Pratt was tall and well built but suffered from a lisp which adds a rasp to his deep, melodious voice. The youngest of nine children, he was privately educated at Uppingham and went up to King’s College, London with a view to joining the Foreign Office, but eventually ended up travelling to Canada where he fell into acting adopting his stage name of Boris Karloff. He would marry six times, clearly his big break in Frankenstein in 1931 at the age of 45 didn’t put women off.

As one of the legends horror cinema he made six horror films during his time at Columbia, three with Nick Grinde, one with Robert Dymtryk and a final comedy spoof, joining forces with Peter Lorre: The Boogie Man Will Get You directed by Lew Landers.

The Black Room (1935)

Writing for The Spectator in 1935, Graham Greene described Roy William Neil’s thriller as “absurd and exciting”, and “wildly artificial.” praising both the acting of Karloff and the direction of Neill, and noting that Karloff had been given a long speaking part and “allowed to act at last”, and that Neill had “caught the genuine Gothic note” in a manner that displayed more historical sense than any of Alexander Korda’s films.

In the early 19th century twins are born to the DeBerghman family who rule a Czech province from their majestic medieval castle, bizarrely located in the Tyrol and designed by Stephen Goosson (Columbia art director who won an Oscar for Lost Horizon). A curse on the family states that the birth of twin boys will destroy the dynasty forever, the younger will murder the elder one in the infamous Black Room, betrayed by the family dog.

Made for Columbia Pictures at the height of his career, an eloquent Karloff has  fun here fleshing out the characters of the gallantly endearing gentleman Anton and his arrantly fiendish older brother Baron Gregor (who women both fear and detest). Magically captured in Allen G Siegler’s luminous black and white camerawork, it’s fascinating to see Karloff getting his teeth into a fully formed, non horror role. The pet mastiff Tor is terrific in support.

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Columbia’s prescient sci-fi themed riff on the Old Dark House theme sees Karloff directed by Nick Grinde in the first (and arguably most intelligent) of his ‘mad scientist’ roles as Dr. Henryk Savaard a kindly and convincing psychopath bringing the dead back to life through the use of an artificial heart, twenty five years before reality. But when his healthy patient dies in a ‘failsafe’ experiment Savaard is tried in a pithy courtroom procedural (“I offered you Life, but you gave me Death”) and condemned to swing. Using the doc’s same methods his assistant, Lang (Byron Foulger), revives him, but Savaard is bitter for revenge.

The Devil Commands (1941)

Karloff really brings out the humanity of a bereaved husband mourning his beloved wife in Edward Dmytryk’s Gothic horror outing based on William Sloane’s novel The Edge of Running Water. It’s a convincing beast from the ‘mad doctor’ stable that explores the afterlife where science meets the surreal in a sorrowful romantic love story stylishly captured by Allen G Siegler’s spooky shadowplay making Karloff look raffishly sexy.

Nick Grinde collaborated with Karloff in two other ‘mad scientist’ films: The Man with Nine Lives (1940) and Before I Hang (1940). MT


The Snorkel (1958) Blu-ray

Dir: Guy Green | Cast: Peter van Eyck, Betta St John, Mandy Miller, Gregoire Aslan | UK Psycho Drama, 90′

In 1968, when I was nine years old, I was about 10 minutes from the end of this gripping Hammer psycho-thriller on Anglia Television when my father amused himself by suddenly packing me off to bed. It’s taken me forty-nine years, but I finally got to see the ending of this film.

Hammer’s psychological thrillers of the early sixties are usually deemed sub-Hitchcock copies of Psycho; but since The Snorkel was released a full two years before Psycho their inspiration is more obviously Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955), from the mystery novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narjejac, who also wrote the book on which Vertigo was based. (Peter van Eyck, the evil stepfather in The Snorkel, actually starred in Clouzot’s previous film, Le Salaire de la Peur.)

The Snorkel was the last film lead played by the unique Mandy Miller, then 13, whose dramatically arched eyebrows and full lips render her still recognisable as the pretty little deaf & dumb girl from Ealing Studio’s classic Mandy (1952). Already convinced that her mother is simply the second of her two parents to be murdered by Van Eyck, a poster of Cousteau’s ‘Le Monde du Silence’ provides her with the clue she needs as to how he did it, and she enters with gusto into a game of cat and mouse with her wicked stepfather. Thus provoked, van Eyck puts on his striped jersey and rubber gloves again, slips her a Mickey Finn, seals off all the windows and doors and turns on the gas, and then…

It’s taken me nearly fifty years to find out what happened next, but it’s a beaut! ©Richard Chatten


Peeping Tom (1960)

Dir: Michael Powell | Leo Marks | Cast: Anna Massey, Karlheinz Bohm, Moira Shearer, Maxine Audley | Brenda Bruce, Miles Malleson | UK Horror, 101′

Raymond Durgnat later observed that this glossy colour thriller made Free Cinema’s brand of realism look like “expurgated Enid Blyton”. It’s casual acceptance of prostitution and pornography as parts of everyday life (not to mention that we hear someone else’s bath running in the background in one sequence) must have made it an uncomfortable experience for the few people in 1960 who saw it; as it remains today. Hopefully it didn’t reach Manchester, where it would have given Ian Brady ideas.

Based on a story by London-born writer and actor Leo Marks, Peeping Tom centres on a filmmaker and serial killer (Karlheinz Bohm) who records his victims’ dying expressions of terror on a movie camera. Unaware of their content, his neighbour Helen (Massey) becomes fascinated by these documentaries and secretly decides to watch them.

The stunning opening sequence with Brenda Bruce is described by David Pirie in ‘A Heritage of Horror’ as “one of the few genuinely Brechtian moments in the history of the cinema. Every component – the reduced frame, the clicking of the camera motor, the whirr of the tape recorder (sic) and the clumsiness of the camera technique – is designed to enforce our awareness that we are watching a film.” But am I the only person in sixty years to have noticed that we also see the shadow pass over Ms Bruce of what is obviously TWO people, one with the camera mounted on their shoulder (not hidden under their duffle coat as per the plot)? This moment is seen twice since it’s repeated when we then see the film projected. Every time I see the film I hope this goof won’t still be there; but it always is. Richard Chatten.


Night of the Eagle (1962) *** Talking Pictures

Dir: Sidney Hayers  Wri: Fritz Leiber Jnr | Cast: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Kathleen Byron | UK Horror, 90′

Two years earlier Anglo Amalgamated had realised the horrific potential of modern technology in Peeping Tom. This smart British shocker shows how telephones and tape recorders. as well as tarot cards. are employed by a twentieth century witch to cast spells (aided naturally by a cat) in a terrific Freudian version of ‘Bewitched’, played for chills rather than laughs (just as director Sidney Hayers’ early use of zooms and a hand-held camera anticipates the much clumsier later use of these devices by other directors).

Having already portrayed an evil spirit in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), a pre-Jason King Peter Wyngarde is here beset by them himself; and, like any average man, is bewildered and embarrassed when he investigates the contents of his wife’s handbag (her bedside reading is ‘The Rites and Practises of Black Magic’). Meanwhile a bunch of very average men are oblivious of the office politics seething behind their backs amongst a poisonous coven of spitefully ambitious faculty wives (including a tart little cameo from the wonderful Kathleen Byron).

Based upon A.Merritt’s 1932 novel ‘Burn Witch Burn! (its US release title), the triumvirate that adapted it include the venerable fantasy writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, with one sequence of a THING attempting noisily to gain entry worthy of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, but with a spool of magnetic tape instead of a pagan relic working its malign magic. 

The perpetrator wears an enormous fur collar creating the impression of a bird of prey that’s had a stroke, and also adding another layer to the traditional superstition that physical disability was the price paid for striking a pact with the devil. Richard Chatten.


The Vigil (2019) ****

Dir: Keith Thomas | Cast: Dave Davis, Lynn Cohen, Menashe Lustig, Malky Goldman, Fred Melamed | US Horror, 89′

A malevolent spirit is the suggestible unseen character in this Keith Thomas’s unique horror debut set amidst Brooklyn’s Hasidic community.

A religious practice known as ‘sitting shiva’ is the premise of the claustrophobic funereal spine-chiller. Jewish family members are required to provide comfort and protection to the deceased by sitting with the body and saying prayers for a seven days and nights. Sometimes a ‘shomer’ is paid to do the honours, as is the case here with Yakov (a convincing Dave Davis) a young Jewish guy who is ingratiating himself back into the tightly-knit community and finds this a respectable and fairly easy way of making money. But clearly a deeply unsettling if redemptive one, as we soon find out.

Thomas creates a palpable sense of terror with his seriously spooky soundscape and nauseous colour palette soaked in ghastly dried bloods and neon greens all shrouded in deathly shadows. Much of the dialogue is in Yiddish adding an exotic twist to proceedings delivering a unique cultural experience. It soon turns out that the deceased, Ruben Litvak, a Holocaust survivor, was himself haunted by a dybbuk (or evil spirit) who followed him back from wartime Buchenwald. Meanwhile his ageing wife Mrs Litvak (Lynn Cohen) is a menacing character who has also suffered in concentration camps and is now scratching around on the foothills of Alzheimers. All this feeds on Yakov’s own mental instability over a tragic event in his past forcing him to make a midnight call to his psychotherapist for some emotional support. Or at least he thinks he’s talking to Dr Kohlberg.

DoP Zach Kuperstein must get some of the credit with his spooky camerawork and lighting techniques during this night of terror and spiritual retribution. This is an intelligent piece of filmmaking that shows how trauma can feed on itself and actually perpetuate mental anguish and paranoia until eventually this scenario becoming hard-wired into the brains of those affected and their descendants. MT



Reborn *** Digital release

Dir: Julian Richards | Cast: Barbara Crampton, Kayleigh Gilbert, Michael Pare | Horror US, 77′

This convincing horror movie is actually a tragedy in disguise: one that pays tribute to all aborted babies that many years ago were thrown into the clinical waste and eventually forgotten. But in Julian Richard’s latest feature an act of God sees the past haunting the future, causing one such abandoned life to be reanimated when a lightening bolt hits the cot of a moribund baby and kickstarts her heart – a grisly scenario that plays out in the film’s opening moments.

All very plausible and with its campish Lynchian overtones – Mulholland Drive springs to mind – Reborn is a very watchable B movie horror story. And this is largely down to the serious underlying theme of conflicted motherhood that makes this believable and strangely moving. As mother and daughter, Barbara Crampton and Kaylieigh Gilbert feel like real women who actually care for each other, and we feel for them in their emotional pain.

Barbara Crampton holds it all together as Lena, an actress whose career has seen better days and is now falling apart. Her therapist (Monty Markham in fine form) cuts to the chase and suggests this is down to her not gaining ,closure after losing a baby sixteen years previously, putting her current predicament down to guilt at not giving her daughter a proper burial, instead of simply burying her memory and getting back to work.

When Tess, the daughter in question, finally reaches the ripe old ago of sixteen she is still living with the mortuary assistant who raised her – rather abusively as it emerges – when he makes a pass at her in celebration of her coming of age. Tess uses the electrokinetic powers she has honed over the years, escaping her ‘father’ in the process, and eventually tracking down her mother.

Not surprisingly, Tess has a few other tricks up her sleeve: apart from her sparky schtick, she also has a split personality, due to her weird upbringing as a captive of her lurid ‘father’. Capable of being sweet one minute and demonic the next, she turns on anyone who threatens her security, and it is at this juncture that the film finally has a psychotic outburst of its own.

Short and sleek, this classically styled riff on the Frankenstein theme is a good one, and is well performed with the exception of Michael Pare who makes for a rather cartoonish cop, somehow working to further the film’s dystopian Lynchianism. Gilbert is astonishing as Tess, exuding a surreal vulnerability that really works well in making her a sympathetic antiheroine. Crampton is mesmerising as the vampish actress with unknown depths. The whole endeavour has a cultish retro feel that is enhanced by Brian Sowell’s spectacular nighttime scenes of Los Angeles and the suggestive sinister score. Even the ending is elusive, with its open interpretations. Julian Richards has triumphed once again with a mini cult classic. MT






The Grudge (2020) ***

Dir: Nicolas Pesce, US. 2020. 94mins.

Nicholas Pesce had finally sold his soul to the Devil – the Hollywood franchise brigade – along with the cursed characters in his third feature – another inferior take on the popular 2002 Japanese film Ju-On (which has already spawned two American remakes). Gone is the edgy arthouse styling, the thoughful writing and the intriguing characterisation. The only thing that remains of his impressive sophomore outings are the widescreen panoramas and overhead shots that hover menacingly over cars and other vehicles unsuspectingly making their way to doom in the foggy dankness of their North American landscapes.

The atmosphere of unsettling dread is also still there, giving this bloodless horror outing an unmistakable shot in the arm along with an impressive cast that includes John Cho and Andrea Riseborough who looks wan and forlorn in her role of a recently widowed police detective investigating a weird haunted house that puts a curse on anyone crossing its threshold.

Slithering backwards and forwards in time yet mostly set in 2006, the film pictures Muldoon (Riseborough) newly arrived in town and putting her best foot forward with her self-contained little son (who would have made a much better Danny in the recent Shining-reboot). Work leads her to a forbidding mansion in a leafy boulevard where, in flashbacks to 2004 and 2005, it emerges that an estate agent (Cho) has been trying to sell the house for some mysteriously nebulous inhabitants who have also employed the services of an end of life counsellor (Jacki Weaver) to give compassionate support in an assisted suicide. Muldoon’s colleague (Bichir) has already reached a dead end with the case, but she is soon on the receiving end of macabre visions that haunt her day and night.

Pesce rose to fame with a bewitching black and white fable The Eyes Of My Mother that showcased his talent for creating stylish thrillers dripping with atmosphere and gripping storylines. Piercing followed two years later, a psychodrama with cinematic credentials and clever writing that captivated the arthouse crowd and critics alike, marking him out to be a distinctive auteur in the making. Pesce still writes and directs The Grudge with its morose and sorrowful undercurrent of profound loss – but brings nothing new to the gruesome party and few narrative surprises. The film actually feels cliched and tedious despite a modest running time, and the fractured narrative detracts from the suspense leaving us bewildered and bored when new characters suddenly appear in the shape of the odd couple in their seventies (Lin Shaye and Frankie Fasion) whose suitability as marriage partners fails to convince despite their best efforts .

Andrea Riseborough is delicate and believable as a mournful single mother dedicated to her profession, but the other characters are cyphers going through the motions in trying to add resonance to a series of bland provincial Pennsylvanians who don’t make us care if they live or die or escape their dreadful curse. Mr Pesce, please go back to your roots. MT

The Shining (1980) *****

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Cinematography: John Alcott: Script: Stanley Kubrick/Diane Johnson | Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd | 144′  | Thriller US

Cold, hypnotic and profoundly disturbing, this tale of a family who come to grief during the isolation of one Colorado winter is burnt into the memory and will remain a standout film of the 20th century.

Based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel, some see Kubrick’s tale of a family man who takes a job as winter caretaker in the Overlook Hotel as a psychological drama, some a ghost story.   The film’s enduring success is partly due to its ability to be whatever to whoever experiences it. The endless fascination with the film and its different interpretations for cinemas goers and critics alike has even spawned a documentary: Room 237: a mishmash of strands examining esoteric codes and arcane theories behind the screen original, with appeal largely to the anorak brigade.

Stanley Kubrick seeded his 14th feature with so many elements that build tension and spark off an unsettling reaction in the viewer before the action has even started.  In other words, we’re actually ‘spooked out’ in anticipation. The desolate forests of snowbound Colorado in the awesome opening helicopter sequence; the weird emptiness of the brightly-lit hotel interiors; Danny’s unnerving psychic gift and his visit with a child psychologist (a new scene); a spine-chilling score; the talk of a previous tragedy in the hotel and the fact that the family are an unknown quantity add to its strange power,

Kubrick’s exacting standards often meant 50 takes to get the scene right and get the cast to give their all. Jack Nicholson was even said to remark: “Just because you’re a perfectionist, it doesn’t mean you’re perfect”. That said, he gives one of the most memorable turns of his career as Jack Torrance, a frustrated wannabe writer with anger-management issues whose metamorphosis from decent guy to demon has its amusing moments as in the scene with bartender Joe Turkel (extended here).  Shelley Duvall, is perfect as a simpering homemaker and mother who was forced to remain ‘hysterical’ for nearly four months to comply with Kubrick’s demands on her.  Danny Lloyd is extraordinary as a sensitive 7 year-old boy with psychic potential who has an imaginary friend Tony who speaks to him of impending tragedy.

Veteran actor Scatman Crothers had never heard of Kubrick until he was cast as Halloran, the kindly hotel chef who shares Danny’s extrasensory perception and calls it “shining”.  Barry Nelson gives a suave and polished turn as Ullman, the hotel manager; and Philip Stone, who plays Grady the former caretaker and is the only character to dominate Jack Torrance (in a status switch in the mens’ room scene), is supremely in control of his chilling performance.  Scored with a dissonant soundtrack using existing recordings by Bela Bartok, Gorgy Ligeti and Polish modernist Krzysztof Penderecki that presage doom from the title sequence until the credits roll, Kubrick creates a malevolent dystopia that will shine out for eternity as a signpost to horror. MT.

THE SHINING is now on re-release in selected arthouse venues


The Dark Half (1992) *** Bluray release

Dir: George A. Romero | Horror 

George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) adapts his intelligent chiller from the bestselling novel by Stephen King, who wrote the novel as a nod to his own literary pseudonym, Richard Bachman. It stars Timonthy Hutton as small town tutor author and horror writer Thad Beaumont who kills off his own literary doppelgänger as a publicity stunt to distance himself from the killings in his own novels and from George Stark, the pseudonymous name he has used to author them. But things don’t go according to plan. And when people around him start dropping dead in macabre scenarios – and his own fingerprints appear at the crime scenes – Beaumont is bewildered until he learns that Stark is back with a vengeance.

The Dark Half is now on Blu-ray

Eureka Store


In Fabric (2018) ****

Writer/Director: Peter Strickland | Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Gwendoline Christie, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Julian Barratt, Leo Bill, Fatma Mohamed, Richard Bremmer | Horror | UK | 118′

Peter Strickland follow-up to his lesbian frolic The Duke of Burgundy is a sinister 1970s sartorial satire which gets sillier the more it wears on. This fourth bizarre entry is another of those richly entertaining and quirkily fascinating films we’ve come to expect from the British director, now at the top of his game.

A dress is the antiheroine of IN FABRIC. Vampishly voluptuous in scarlet silk and satin, it is a garment to die for, and that is both a blessing and a curse for those who slip it on. For the dress in question possesses strange qualities that no-one can vanquish, because no-one is clever enough to interpret its power. This dense but simply plotted Giallo-inspired erotic thriller conjures up dread, horror and even disgust through its inventive visual aesthetic, and a signature atmospheric soundtrack that recalls Berberian Sound Studio and channels the bizarre human obsessions of sales shopping and stag nights.

It all starts in Dentley & Soper’s fashion emporium back in the day where the January sales were a post Christmas bonanza. In a choppy collage of archive photos of garish retro ad campaigns, Strickland quickly establishes the furore of price slashes and the adrenaline rush of queue barging – the public baying for bargains in anticipation of the fray, long before couch-based internet shopping saw daily discounts.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays 50 year old Sheila who’s back on the dating scene, through the small ads – fraught with weirdos, even back then. Sheila is sick and tired of her teenage son’s in-house love-ins with Gwendoline Christie’s woman twice his age, so under the spiky guidance of a crinoline sporting sales woman (Fatma Mohamed speaking in Romanian-accented riddles) she is tempted and then urged to buy ‘the dress’.

Although her date is a disaster, strange things start to happen to Sheila once she gets the red dress which takes on a slinky life of its own, hovering over her bed at night and causing her washing machine to self-combust. The garment’s next owner (Leo Bill) gets to wear it at his stag party, and the next morning his irritating wife (Hayley Squires) takes a fancy to it too and rapidly develops a skin rash. Meanwhile, in the backroom after hours, Fatma Mohamed turns weird and witchy, wearing a wig and wickedly caressing her shop mannequins to the erotic delight of the Dracula-like manager Mr Lundy (Richard Bremmer). The humour lies in the contrast between the banal and the bizarrely erotic – or just plain weird. Images of sumptuously stewing peppers in Sheila’s kitchen give way to those of sexy underwear in her son’s bedroom; Julian Barratt’s hilarious turn as Sheila’s boss is as cliched as Fatma Mohamed’s grotesque Victorian vendeuse is uncanny.

The sad hope that a mere garment will satisfy in our human need to be loved and unique (and if not, recycled to the next person) is echoed in the film’s themes of obsession, superficiality and consumerism. Sidse Babett Knudsen, the submissive lover in The Duke of Burgundy, is revealed as the dress’s original owner, who modelling the garment in the shop’s catalogue, under the lofty spiel: “ambassadorial function dress, canapé conversation” – a promise that aspires more to James Bond rather than the Thames Valley. But by the time the victims begin to realise that the dress is damned, it’s already too late. And as much as we aspire to creating a good impression, we’re also guilty of judging a book by its cover. Meanwhile Peter Strickland will be saying at the Q&A: “the film means nothing, I was just having a bit of fun”. MT


Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) ***

Dir.: Michael Dougherty; Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Famiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Ken Watanabe; USA 2019, 132 min.

Godzilla goes out for walkies for the 35th outing for Godzilla since Japanese director Ishiro Honda created the dinosaur’s debut feature in 1954. Nowadays, Godzilla doesn’t only trample all over global cities, but has morphed into humankind’s helper – luckily still destroying everything in sight.

Michael Dougherty (Krampus) works hard with his co-writers Shields and Borenstein to find a storyline that joins up the intervals between Godzilla’s fights with less human-friendly titans, like the three-headed King Gidorah, but his family-friendly plot is dwarfed by the mammoth action set pieces.

Doctors Mark (Chandler) and Emma Russell (Famiga) have co-invented the Orca sonar device, which enables them (and their employer Monarch, a worldwide technology giant), to synthesize the cries of various titans, so that they can communicate with them. Their teenage daughter Madison (Brown), complains about their parents, still hankering after her older brother, who died in some titan related accident. Her parents are divorced and Madison lives with her mother, a firm believer that the titans should “clean up the world”, so that the planet can heal itself – never mind its denizens, who are after all responsible for the mess!.

This sounds like Thanos from the Avenger, but eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Dance), wants the same, and it is not quite clear why he has to kidnap mother and daughter. Anyhow, the latter escapes, and via the sound-system of Fenway Park Baseball Stadium in Boston, communicates on her own with the titans, Dad leading a team of international scientists to help Godzilla in his fight against his enemies like Rodan, the dragon and Morah, a larvae, who turns into a luminous super moth.

With Godzilla down and out on the bottom of the ocean, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) takes it on himself, to save humankind, getting Godzilla back to life with a shot of nuclear radiation. Well you might guess where all this is leading…

The family saga not withstanding, this is a great action feature, which has to be seen on a very big screen. The production values are as stunning as the logic of the scientific troupe. And to make everyone happy, we overhear the scientists whispering to another,  “thank heavens, Godzilla is on our side – but for how long?” Might this lead to the return of the bad monster of old in the next instalment?  For everyone reliving their childhood an absolute must! AS


The Dead Don’t Die (2019) Cannes 2019 ****

Dir: Jim Jarmusch | Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray | 103′ US Fantasy Horror

The peaceful town of Centreville finds itself up against it when the (un) dead start rising from their graves in Jim Jarmusch’s first zombie escapade.

THE DEAD DON’T DIE is the first festival opener to also vie for the Palme d’Or in the main competition this year at Cannes. Jarmusch has won all sorts of awards in previous editions – The Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award (Broken Flowers); Best Artistic Contribution (Mystery Train); The Golden Camera (Stranger than Paradise); and Coffee and Cigarettes III was awarded the Best Short film in 1993 , but he’s never actually taken home the top prize. And it’s possible he will with this flip but fun affair with its slim but subtle undercurrents.

Most of the starry cast are ripped apart and end up thoroughly the worst for wear by the time we get Sturgill Simpson’s catchy title tune on the brain for the journey home. But this audience pleaser will certainly go down in history with the best of them – but my money’s still on Shaun of the Dead for sheer deadpan weirdness of the cult classic kind.

The police are the first to notice untoward goings on. Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) are alerted to local power cuts and watches going awry in sleepy Centreville. And Jarmusch brings the same deadpan humour to bear as did Edgar Wright, the dead coming alive in the eerie torpor that many claim is due to climate change.

The town’s cop trio is made up by token female Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny), and Danny Glover’s Hank Thompson is the token black resident who makes it possible for Buscemi’s Farmer Miller to add the requisite element of racial abuse. Other denizens include Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), who gets to flex her Scottish credentials with a hefty samurai sword. The younger generation are there in the shape of Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Austin Butler and Luka Sabbat who roam around their numbers gradually multiplying as the story staggers on. Then there’s a classic village loner (Tom Waits) who seems to go under the zombies’ radar, perhaps because he’s so like them.

But a wry nonchalant bonhomie permeates this dozy undead drama and maybe Jarmusch is alluding here to the dumbed-down society we live in nowadays – their unaware, don’t care attitude is the most darkly worrying aspect. Crafty old Jarmusch is using his zombie outing as a wrapper to satirise all our current ills. Even the authorities seem brain dead with Tilda giving the only sparky thrill to the piece as the slightly unhinged oddball. MT


Greta (2018) Netflix

Dir. Neil Jordan. US/Ireland. 2018. 98 mins.

Neil Jordan’s latest drama Greta has the basis to be something much greater, but  chooses the silly route, becoming creepy too soon. Luckily Isabelle Huppert’s blood-curdling turn as a lonely widow saves the day.

Falling between comedy and horror this enjoyable pulp thriller throws a spanner into the works of seriously gripping psychodrama  – instead we get an over-baked absurdist potboiler with one or two electric shocks that will have you screaming out loud. The moral of the story is: one good turn doesn’t lead to another.

Jordan and Ray Wright (The Crazies) have co-written a script that melds Hollywood slickness with European arthouse subversiveness deftly rendered in DoP Seamus McGarvey’s eye-popping visual wizardry, with a small role for Stephen Rea. Chloë Grace Moretz is naive Ivy League graduate Frances who shares a comfortable Brooklyn brownstone with her more savvy friend Erika (Maika Monroe). One days she finds a smart-looking handbag on the subway and duly heads to the home of its owner – one Greta Higed – who inhabits a small secluded house in a Manhattan backwater. A soignée Isabelle Huppert (Greta) opens the door to a cosy French country interior, although it later transpires she is originally from Hungary.

It turns out that well-meaning Frances has recently lost her mother and is feeling isolated emotionally and unhappy with her father’s new relationship. She is instantly drawn to Huppert’s faux bonhomie and the two bond, Greta missing her own daughter, who apparently lives in Paris. A few espressos later they are swearing undying allegiance to each other, all too much too soon. To add further credibility to her caring side, Greta adopts a dear old dog (Morton) on his last legs in a nearby sanctuary. Alarm bells ring. Huppert does her best not to let this descend into a schlocky psycho-scenario but it does, and she knows it, but is having a lovely time with her role. She is also the only woman with normal lips, the others having blown theirs up with fillers. Jordan is having fun with his soundtrack – a blend of classics from Vivaldi to some smaltzy French chansons, just the right background for a ‘girls only’ night in where the femme fatale cooks up some recipes Frances hadn’t bargain for: “Good, no?” says Greta, an evil glint in her eye as she morphs into mean mummy – spouting fluent Hungarian – just to add menace to the mix.

Jordan occasionally makes some bad decisions disrupting Huppert’s subtly crafted character performance and misjudging the mood. One example is the restaurant scene that starts with chilling elegance and is ruined by cack-handed melodrama. Greta is a surprising departure from Jordan’s usual fare and will certainly appeal to the mainstream crowd with its devilish humour and slap in the face thrills. MT


Pet Sematary (2019) Netflix

Dir.: Kevin Kölsch/Denis Widmayer; Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jete Laurence, Hugo and Lucas Lavoie, John Lithgow; USA 2019, 101 min.

Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is not by his most enduring novel by chance: Even 36 years after publication it is still quietly overpowering. Directors Kölsch and Widmayer have triumphed (with writer Jeff Buhler) where Mary Lambert’s 1989 film version failed. They have taken out the cheese, included some wry humour and concentrated on the overlaying guilt and redemption theme. Apart from a ten-minute hiatus of near parody at the end, this would have been a neo classic.

Dr Louis Creed (Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Seimetz) move away from their hectic life in Boston to a rural home in Maine. Their two children Ellie (Laurence) and Gage (H. and L. Lavoie) just as enchanted as their parents with the rural idyll. Louis even jokes that it beats the graveyard shift at Boston General – but soon the graveyard for pets,  in the grounds of their 50-acre property, takes over their lives. Having watched a procession of children bury their pets, the Creed’s cat Church (short for Churchill) is run over by a speeding truck, and Rachel, still traumatised by the death of her sister Zelda from spinal meningitis, tells her daughter their feline friend simply ran away.

After Church’s burial, the purring pussy comes back as an aggressive predator. And their neighbour Jud is reminded that the native Americans deserted the area because the reincarnations of their own dead. But tragedy strikes again on Ellie’s birthday when she is run over by a petrol tanker. Once again, Louis buries her in the cemetery, ignoring what happening to Church. Ten minutes of spectacular schlocky bad taste nearly ruin this stylish arthouse horror, before the closing shot resets the tone and saves the day.

British DoP Laurie Rose works magic with his overhead shots to produce intense images of the woods, conjuring up terrifyingly claustrophobic shots of the Creeds’ house. Particularly gruesome are the scenes with Rachel’s sister Zelda, who gets stuck in a food lift. Rachel is somehow the main protagonist and catalyst, guilt makes her overprotective of her daughter and drives the action on into the past. Somehow, the American dream family comes unstuck, as it often does with Stephen King. John Lithgow again convinces with a truly frightening performance, with solid support from the others. AS 



Cujo (1983) *** Bluray release

Dir: Lewis Teague | US Horror 88′

A loveable family pet becomes a ferocious killer in this terrifying cult horror outing from Lewis Teague. Atmospherically adapted for the big screen from Stephen King’s novel, the film sees parallel’s between wounded male pride and a rabid St Bernard who turns on its family after being bitten near their pleasant suburban home in California. In the meantime, the dog’s owner has gone off to lick his own wounds having discovered his wife’s affair. Who knows why dogs get such a bag time in small independent films. Whenever a dog appears, it is almost certain to have a tragic ending, and this is certainly the case for the titular St Bernard Cujo who is all friendly and bushy-tailed in the opening scenes and gradually descends into a raving monster after sticking his head into a bat cave. Ironically, a we feel pity for the dog rather than the family – had Teague picked a pit-bull or a Rottweiler things may have worked out entirely differently, and perhaps this was the reason for the film’s poor box office. That said, Teague pulls out all the stops on the terror front, keeping the bloodied mother and child trapped in a car being menaced by the angry dog for most of the film’s mileage. MT

Making its UK debut on Blu-ray on 15 April 2019 , with over 7 hours of extra content, Eureka Classics on a special Limited Two-Disc Blu-ray Edition, featuring a Limited Edition Hardbound Slipcase, with artwork designed by Graham Humphreys, a Limited Edition Collector’s Booklet and Bonus Blu-ray disc [4000 units ONLY].



Border (2018) *****

Dir : Ali Abbasi | Fantasy Drama | Sweden | 104’

BORDER is one of those bracingly original films. Melding fantasy and folklore while teetering on the edge of Gothic horror it manages to be cleverly convincing and unbelievably weird at the same time. Fraught with undercurrents of sexual identity and self-realisation this gruesome rites of passage fable is another fabulous story with enduring appeal for the arthouse crowd and diehard fans of low-key horror. Based on a short story by Let the Right One In creator John Ajvide Lindqvist it is Ali Abbasi’s follow up to Shelley and his first with writing partner Isabella Ekloff.

Tina (Melander) has always been an outsider because she suffers from her neanderthal physical appearance of flaring nostrils and a facial gurning movement that marks her out to have the heightened sensory perception of an animal. She feels a particular affinity to the wildlife near her comfortable cabin in the heavily forested woods between Finland and Sweden, and can sense when deer or moose are about to cross the country road. As a customs officer, she also has a keen awareness for criminality but feels diminished by her ‘otherness’ and is desperately lonely, Meanwhile, her live-boyfriend Roland (Jorgen Thorssen) treats her like a pair of old carpet slippers and is more interested in his pack of dobermans.  

One day Tina spots an unusual traveller going through customs. He looks like her male double and Tina feels a palpable attraction to Vore (Eero Milonoff). Judging from the contents of his luggage he could be an entomologist, but on further examination this is not all he appears to be. Has Tina found love for the first time, or just somebody who feels familiar? There’s a tone of optimism on the romantic front, and also workwise as Tina’s sensory talents see her becoming the key investigator in the hunt for a local paedophile.

Abbasi masterfully manages the subtle strands of his storyline while keeping the tension taut and a dark humour bubbling under the surface. Melander’s Tina is a gentle and almost submissive character who keeps her tale between her legs, and we feel for her even when her confidence makes her more assertive after meeting Vore. This confidence enables her to confront her elderly father – who has clearly duped her since childhood – and her useless boyfriend. A rare curio that keeps you guessing all the way to its unexpected finale. MT


The Hole in the Ground (2018) **

Dir: Lee Cronin | Writer: Lee Cronin, Stephen Shields | Cast: Kati Outinen, Seana Kerslake, James Quinn Markey | Horror, 90′ Ireland

The fabulous Finnish actor Kati Outinen lends her screen presence to this rather threadbare thriller about mother and son’s search for a fresh start in life.

A Hole in the Ground certain looks atmospheric but Lee Cronin and his scripter’s slim storyline makes it feel more like an extended short than a full blown horror feature, A more imaginative narrative would have lend this the life blood to wake up and scare us senseless, but not even Kati and an able can re-animate this tired corpse with not enough meat on its bones, so we have to contend with the usual clichés, a hackneyed score and jump scares that have been round the block too many times before.

Mother Sarah (Kerslake) and her son Chris (Marley) fetch up in a village but fail to heed a strange woman’s warnings of doom and gloom. When things go bump in the night, Chris runs off to hide in the titular hole in the woods, but that’s not the only void. Sarah is told that “her child does not belong to her”, and soon finds out this is true. She fights to get her son back – we don’t know where from exactly, but all’s well that ends well (apart from the feature). MT



Crucible of the Vampire (2018) **

Dir: Iain Ross-McNamee | Cast: Neil Morrissey, Charles O’Neil, Katie Goldfinch, Angela Carter | 96′ | UK Horror, Vampire.

Crucible of the Vampire is a rather pale attempt to re-create the traditional fare made by Hammer in the 1960s and early 1970s. The plot is familiar (but required three writers, Ross-McNee, Darren Lake and John Wolskel, who penned Blonde, Busty & Keane) – a naive, young blond (Goldfinch) goes to a 17th century Manor House in rural Shropshire. This time the blond’s clever too, some kind of minor archeologist sent there by her boss to examine the remains of a broken 17th century pot whose owner, a putative sorcerer we witness being accused of all sorts of Devilry, and strung up, in the opening scene. Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch) is apparently oblivious to the goings on in the house where she is made to drink a potion on her first night with the resident couple and their coquettish daughter, who appears to be lesbian, and later has no trouble seducing Isabelle, who has so far resisted the advances of her boyfriend, wanting to remain ‘pure’ until marriage. Clearly, it was just his technique that was lacking, rather than her resolve. More dark revelations unfold with Neil Morrissey’s friendly local farmer offering his manly protection to our heroine, who is seemingly unaware of the dangers surrounding her, until it’s too late. A nice try, and quite watchable. Iain Ross-McNamee certainly succeeds to a degree. But where’s the tinkly organ music, and some of the acting is predictably as twee as the premise. But that’s the whole point, I guess. MT






Suspiria (2018) ***

Dir.: Luca Guadagnino, Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Cloe Grace Moretz, Lutz Ebersdorf; USA/Italy 2018, 152 min.

Luca Guadagnino follows his much praised Call Me By Your Name with a rather confused and overloaded vision of Dario Argento’s horror classic, using the original script by Argento and Daria Nicoldi, re-written by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash). 

Unfortunately the Kajganich has added new material, setting the narrative in Berlin at the height of the Baader Meinhof crisis. A running time of 152 minutes also tests the audience severely.

In the dank Autumn of 1977, Susie Bannian (Johnson) arrives from Ohio at the famous Dance School TANZ, near the Wall in West Berlin. There is an unsettling atmosphere at the academy, the two leading teachers Blanc (a luminously sinuous Swinton) and Markos are fighting for supremacy, the conflict a battle of life and death. Susie soon becomes the lead dancer, relegating Patricia (Moretz) and Sara (Goth) to the lower echelons of the troupe.

When dancers start to disappear, the sinister infighting turns more and more bloody. Enter Dr. Joseph Klemperer (Swinton in a miraculous double act spoof), a relict from WWII, who is still searching for his Jewish wife sent to the Concentration Camp Teresienstadt, where she was killed. The psychiatrist feels deep guilt over her death. As the nastiness at the Academy unfurls, a Witches’ Coven is uncovered and Klemperer’s role becomes more and more murky – in tune with this muddled affair. 

DoP Sayonbhu Mukdeeprom creates magnificently macabre images, but in the long run this is not enough to save Suspiria from emerging an awkward mixture of two films, both competing for our attention. The acting is also mixed, with Swinton being head and shoulders above the rest (quite literally) in achieving visionary eminence. In the end the German history lesson loses out to the horror strand, but the brake comes too late. A needless remake where less would have been so much more. AS


The Evil Dead (1981) ***

Writer/Dir: Sam Raimi | Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker | Richard DeManincor | | US | Horror | 85′

The woods come alive with the sound of..laughter, or that’s how the cinema audience reacted to a screening of this cult classic that’s back in cinemas for a Halloween treat. Sam Raimi’s first feature is more disgusting than scary, and so blood-soaked it’s even downright hilarious. But back in the day, Tom Sullivan’s terrific make-up effects and gory details must have truly horrified its target viewers: teenagers and college grads. Long on bad taste and booming sound affects, but woefully short on narrative and characterisation, we care nothing for the group of five preppy kids on a budget who fetch up with the intention of partying all night in a ramshackle cabin in the wooded heartland of Tennessee. Well, they certainly have a riot all night, and most of them die painfully – then come alive again, and again! A heady brew of witchcraft, demonic possession and exorcism THE EVIL DEAD is sure to spook-out the faint of heart, others may just feel like throwing up. And an early scene involving female bondage and savage rape by tree branches adds a touch of misogyny to the heady mix. You have been warned. MT


Mandy (2018) **

Dir.: Panos Cosmatos; Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache; USA/Belgium 2017, 121 min.

MANDY is a corruscating cosmic ‘boy’s own’ blow-out fuelled by Nicolas Cage’s well-known powers as the hell-raiser in the cultish extravaganza. But that’s about all. Panos Cosmatos dresses up a mundane script with some alarming visual effects driven forward by two dynamite performances. Cage is Red, a lumberjack who shares his woodland cabin with his shop-assistant girlfriend, the etherial Mandy (Riseborough). At night they watch cheesy TV-fiction. On her way back from work one night, Mandy is spotted by Satanic cult leader Jeremiah Sands (Roche), who immediately decides “he has to have her”. Living nearby with his mother and disciples in a ramshackle hut, Jeremiah then abducts Mandy, but when she laughs at his advances (in spite of being drugged), he has her burnt alive, forcing chained-up Red to look on, livid. Whilst Jeremiah can actually summon demons, there’s no matching righteous Red’s fury, who not only turns his skill to making lethal weapons, but is also handy with the chainsaw.

Using coloured filters, DoP Benjamin Loeb tries to pretend that this time-honoured story of a woman being abducted, drugged, tortured and killed has something to do with Art. Cage does his best to give an impersonation of an unleashed male, helping to make this reactionary charade a colossal success at the box-office. Watch it for the thundering score from the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson. AS


Foam at the Mouth | Ar Puma uz Lupam (2017) *** | Cannes Market 2018

Dir.: Janis Nords; Cast: Vilis Daudzins, Ieva Puke, Raimonds Celms, Indra Brike; Latvia/Poland/Lithuania 2017, 80 min.

After tackling the thorny subject of child crime in his Berlinale Grand Prix winner Mother I love You, Janis Nords comes to Cannes Market with an atmospheric thriller that scratches at the edges of horror set in a remote Latvian community where women are the only civilising influence in a community where man and beast converge.

The women here are a tough bunch and none more so than physiotherapist Jana (Puke), whose ex-cop husband Didzis (Daudzius) has lost part of his left leg is and only employable as a dog handler. To makes matters worse, the challenge to his masculinity has reduced Didzis to an hostile neurotic who feeds off his three Alsatians’ aggression, showing them affection in return, particularly his favourite Gina. The neglected Jana is surprised by her own sexual frustration that surfaces while treating seventeen year old Roberts (Celms) at the gym where she practices, and this incident provides a inventive vein of dark humour and tension to the intriguing narrative. Driving home one night, Jana and Didsis collide with a rabid boar which leaves its infected blood dripping from their truck bumper, and the dogs sniff this out. What follows is a harrowing hunt for the rapid beasts, which attack some students of the school. Meanwhile, Didzis tracks down an enemy of his own, in the shape of Roberts, whose mother soon emerges as a repressive zealot, as the grim storyline reveals that everyone’s life in danger from either from the animal kingdom or the human one.

Matthew A. Gossett’s script is taut and mischievous complimented by DoP Tobias Datum suggestive images, mainly shot at night and in the gloaming when the difference between dogs and humans is distinguishable only by their form. This is a thriller where testosterone driven males and infected dogs seem to be at war at all costs. Foam is more than just symbolic: under the superficial veneer of civilised society, men are deteriorating into atavistic creatures, just like local wild dogs. Made a shoestring, and none the worst for it, FOAM is really frightening at times, as Nords plays on the darkest fears of the human psyche in this tense little B-picture, which would make Sam Fuller proud.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | MARKET SECTION | Winner of the Moscow Critics’ Award

Foam at the Mouth | Ar Puma uz Lupam (2017) *** | Cannes Market 2018

Dir.: Janis Nords; Cast: Vilis Daudzins, Ieva Puke, Raimonds Celms, Indra Brike; Latvia/Poland/Lithuania 2017, 80 min.

After tackling the thorny subject of child crime in his Berlinale Grand Prix winner Mother I love You, Janis Nords comes to Cannes Market with an atmospheric thriller that scratches at the edges of horror set in a remote Latvian community where women are the only civilising influence in a community where man and beast converge.

The women here are a tough bunch and none more so than physiotherapist Jana (Puke), whose ex-cop husband Didzis (Daudzius) has lost part of his left leg is and only employable as a dog handler. To makes matters worse, the challenge to his masculinity has reduced Didzis to an hostile neurotic who feeds off his three Alsatians’ aggression, showing them affection in return, particularly his favourite Gina. The neglected Jana is surprised by her own sexual frustration that surfaces while treating seventeen year old Roberts (Celms) at the gym where she practices, and this incident provides a inventive vein of dark humour and tension to the intriguing narrative. Driving home one night,  Jana and Didsis collide with a rabid boar which leaves its infected blood dripping from their truck bumper, and the dogs sniff this out. What follows is a harrowing hunt for the rapid beasts, which attack some students of the school. Meanwhile, Didzis tracks down an enemy of his own, in the shape of Roberts, whose mother soon emerges as a repressive zealot, as the grim storyline reveals that everyone’s life in danger from either from the animal kingdom or the human one.

Matthew A. Gossett’s script is taut and mischievous complimented by DoP Tobias Datum suggestive images, mainly shot at night and in the gloaming when the difference between dogs and humans is distinguishable only by their form. This is a thriller where testosterone driven males and infected dogs seem to be at war at all costs. Foam is more than just symbolic: under the superficial veneer of civilised society, men are deteriorating into atavistic creatures, just like local wild dogs. Made a shoestring, and none the worst for it, FOAM is really frightening at times, as Nords plays on the darkest fears of the human psyche in this tense little B-picture, which would make Sam Fuller proud.


The Isle (2018)

Dir: Matthew Butler Hart | Fantasy Horror | Conleth Hill, Alex Hassell, Tori Butler Hart, Fisayo Akinade, Alix Wilton Regan, Emma King, Graham Butler | 96′ | UK

Matthew Butler Hart crafts a beautiful and believable horror fantasy set in nineteenth century Scotland and exploring a mythological folk tale of sirens and succubi. Although lacking the weighty social themes of Robert Eggers’ The Witch this is an impressive period piece that delivers an ominous sense of dread throughout its well-paced and compact running time.

On a remote island off the Scottish coast three sailors find themselves washed ashore after a mysterious shipwreck. They soon meet the four remaining islanders who are living with a terrible secret history that has haunted their dwindling community. Clues to the mystery are telegraphed by eerie sound effects and subtle visual cues, and a satisfying conclusion is delivered in the film’s final reveal.

Tori Hart’s imaginative script conflates Greek mythology with British folkloric tales such as The Wicker Man and nautical literary fare such as James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pilot (1824) to develop its own distinct narrative based on a community struggling to survive its unsettling past. This is a classically-styled quality British production with convincing performances from Alex Hassell (Suburbicon) as Captain Oliver Gosling, and Tori Butler Hart who plays the enigmatic female lead Lanthe, one of the island’s four remaining residents who holds the key to the weird goings on, along with her father Douglas (Games of Thrones’ Conleth Hill). Peter Wellington makes atmospheric use of the misty, wind-swept seascapes of Scotland and Suffolk to create an affective fantasy horror story. MT


Truth or Dare (2017) **

Dir.: Jeff Wadlow; Cast: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violette Bene, Hayden Szeto; USA 2018, 100′.

Director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow is behind the popular Purge franchise with together  Blumhouse Productions, and has tried the same thing with Truth or Dare with an that ending hints at a sequel, but is its audience gullible enough. On present form, the answer is probably yes.

On their final Spring Break, a group of college students take a vacation in Mexico, where they are lured into a Truth or Dare game by a mysterious stranger in a spooky church cellar. Retuning home, they soon discover that the game has followed them. If any of the participants refuses a challenge; lies or fails a dare task, she/he is dead. The first victim, Ronnie sets the tone: he is dared to show all, standing up on the pool table, but chickens out. The demon punishes Ronnie with sudden death: he falls of the table and crashes his head in. Perhaps not the most sensational start to a killing spree; but even though blood is not spared, it soon turns out that Truth or Dare is more interested in the hidden secrets of its participants. Does goody-two-shoes Olivia (Hale), who rather would have rather spent a week doing humanitarian work than go to Mexico, really fancy Lucas (Posey), the philandering boyfriend of Olivia’s best friend Markie (Beane)?. And has Olivia also a hand in the suicide of Markie’s father? And then there is Brad (Szeto), who can’t confess to his homophobic cop-father that he is gay, and is duly killed by his Dad’s fellow-cop. Finally. Olivia gets on a trip to Mexico to interview a mute ex-nun, the sole survivor of a massacre in the church where the ordeal first started.

Symbolic for the whole enterprise is a scene where one of the afflicted has to drink a bottle of spirits whilst walking on the roof of the house, spikes looming, and her helpers running along the house with a mattress. Truth or Dare is anything but frightening – very much Scooby Doo meets Gossip Girl. AS


Raw (2016) | Bluray release

Dir: Julia Ducournau | France/Belgium | Horror Fantasy Thriller | 99′

RAW has a distinctive visual style that made it one of the most refreshingly gruesome watches of 2016, scooping awards at Cannes, Sitges and London for Franco Belgian auteur Julia Ducournau. Often gory but never schlocky, her debut feature sees a young vegetarian woman struggle with an identity crisis as she completes her training to be a vet, while gradually growing obsessed by meat.

Justine is desperate to conform to her family’s expectations and fit in with her new friends but a freshers’ night hazing ritual forces her to sample raw rabbit liver, awakening her tastebuds to the temptations of flesh of all kinds – not just the animal variety. Previously committed to a diet of free from beast protein she suddenly finds herself drooling over the lusty bodies of the male students and the blood dripping from the severed finger of her close friend during a particularly challenging bout of bikini waxing.

There are echoes of Cronenberg’s body horror and Belgian cult outing Alleluia to Ducournau’s compelling mix of horror and fantasy thriller, which she describes as “a modern ancient tragedy about too much love”, Raw is both grim and bracing in its originality with a dynamite central performance from Garance Marillier (star of Ducournau’s 2011 short Junior) as Justine, the wide-eyed fresher student we first encounter spitting out a piece of sausage during a family lunch on the way to the Vet college, where they also trained decades before. An unsettling scene featuring a horse’s anaesthesia is then followed by a gruesome initiation ceremony where students are drenched in blood before their exams begin – is this from the horse? All very visceral and disturbing. The scenes that follow in her Vet college are steeped in motifs relating to bestiality and brutality.

Ducournau nips between the genres with the help of her cinematographer Ruben Impens who takes us down into a claustrophobic world of sweaty bodies and frightening procedures including one scene where Justine is plagued by a mysterious seeping rash, while mobile phones capture the zeitgeist of the student milieu echoed in a well chosen score that includes the Orties’ aptly named: Plus Putes que routes les Putes. “An animal that has tasted human flesh is not safe,” How true. This clever filmmaker has since returned to the small screen with the series Servant now on AppleTV+. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON limited BLURAY from 19th April 2021 |AMAZON.CO.UK

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



The Borderlands (2014) Interview with Gordon Kennedy

Scottish actor Gordon Kennedy’s appearances have been somewhat few and far between in cinema, his latest endeavour on the silver screen has been something of a critical hit amongst the horror community, with a starring role in Elliot Goldner’s The Borderlands. Kennedy discusses the differences in working in film compared to television, while also letting us in on the fresh challenges that come with the found footage genre. He also explains why his comedic background was beneficial to this piece, and whether or not he believes in the supernatural himself…

Q:So what attracted you to the project?

Well they offered me the job, is my stock reply to that. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before and I liked the idea of staring in a film, I don’t get offers for big Hollywood movies! I’m not a massive slasher horror fan, but films like The Evil Dead, funny, disgusting horror films, I love that. The humourless stuff that followed that wasn’t of much interest to me. The story in this is interesting, that whole thing of doing a horror film but about the people who are rubbishing, you’re starting from quite a cynical standpoint. I liked that idea.

Q:Your cynical character almost represents the viewer in that regard…

Completely. What I liked about him, and what we pushed quite a lot, was this idea of him losing his faith. The tortured holy man who is beginning to question what he’s sacrificed his life for, which is why he’s very open to the idea of miracles. We talked about that a lot during the film of it.

Q:You mentioned before your joy in doing a film, as most of your previous work has been on television. These days the line between the two mediums is so blurred – did this feel different though, like a movie?

Yeah it felt very different, especially in the bank balance! First of all it was a genuinely low-budget, independent British film, and those tend to be populated by very young, very enthusiastic, incredibly talented people, which is fantastic. I’d never seen that. The world of television tends to be populated by those who have done it for a long time. These guys are girls are coming out of film school. It was a real learning experience to see how these people work. They’ve only grown up in the digital age, they’re wondering around with SD cards all the time, that’s it. It’s an obvious thing, but it belies a huge difference in approach, but incredibly knowledgable about film and characters. They’re big fans of filmmaking right the way through, they can pick out their favourites from any genre and any age – and that’s just really interesting.

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Q:So despite being in the industry a lot longer than Elliot – you still learnt a lot from him as a director?

Completely, I learnt a lot. But not just from Elliot, but all the crew. The D.O.P. Eben Bolter too, who is a really clever guy. Obviously with a found footage film, when one of the cameras is on your ear you get a fairly intimate relationship with the cameraman. I felt like I’d almost been unfaithful by the end of some days. I felt dirty, I had to go and have a shower. As did Eben. Again, that was learning for me because I hadn’t done found footage. I’m not sure if Elliot or Eben had either, but they’d really worked out how they were going to do it. It just brilliant and so interesting to work in that way.

Q:Did shooting a found footage movie bring about some new challenges you hadn’t faced before as an actor?

It’s a completely different environment. You have these head cams so it becomes really important to look at each other, if you look up or down you won’t see anyone. Things like that, there’s a lot more collaboration between camera crews, and lighting and props and actors and director than there might be otherwise. All these practical things are really interesting, but honestly it’s quite liberating. You don’t have to relight, you don’t stop and move the set around – you just film it and keep going, and you can try lots of different things. That was great fun, you really felt like you were part of the process, whereas there’s a danger in bigger films where you feel more like a mannequin. Ewan McGregor was very funny when he did Star Wars, he was so disappointed with the process. He said, ‘I spent six months staring at a green screen, I have no idea what my enemies look like. You’ll know before me’. Whereas this isn’t like that at all. It’s all real, and you’re constantly working with the whole team, and I really like that. I’ve stared in comedy and stuff like that, it’s a team game, not individual.

Q:Found footage films encourage a more naturalistic approach to acting, and provoke improvisation. Did that serve you well as an actor?

Yeah it really did. First of all, Rob [Hill] and I just got on, right from the off. It was one of those weird things, we just had a laugh, we trusted each other. It meant that we could push things, he really could say outrageous stuff and know I would come back, and that helped with us getting to know the characters, as well as each other, and it helped the film. The first 20 minutes could be dull exposition, but we worked on making the characters believable, and you like them and like being around them. Rob will be saying something stupid or I’ll be being grumpy and it works. It also means that when the characters go into jeopardy, the audience are taken along on an emotional level as well. That’s always good. The reaction at screenings is fantastic, I love it, because people are genuinely going ‘oh no!’ and that’s good, because you don’t do that in Saw. You just go ‘oh he’s got his leg cut off, fuck it, I don’t know him, I don’t care’.

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Q:Improvisation serves the horror and comedy genres best I think, and this strikes a nice balance between the two. You’ve got a background in comedy, so I imagine that was pretty beneficial?

Yes it was. Rob is the funny man, but that’s good, I knew I could relax and I knew when to come in, when to shut up and let him get the laughs. Also, horror is very similar to comedy, in a sense that you have an audience reaction. It’s really black and white, and very simply whether you’ve got it right or wrong. In comedy the audience laugh, in horror they scream, and if they don’t scream at that moment you want them to, you’ve done something wrong, it’s not their fault. Same if people don’t get a joke, you’ve written it wrong or delivered it wrong. Those things are very similar, the timing of how you do things. With horror you’ve got the benefit of sound. We don’t have massive CGI, special effects budgets, so sound is so important.

Q:As someone who knows the project inside out, are you still able to get immersed in the film when watching it back? Do you feel tense?

You do, but it’s more from feeling it around the audience. When I’m watching something I’m in, it’s much more to do with the atmosphere, you can feel when the audience are absolutely there, and obviously you get the physical response, when the audience jump up in their seats. But I don’t get completely immersed in it, because I can’t see The Borderlands without seeing me in it. Most of the time I just sit there thinking, ‘Jesus, why did you do that?’ so I tend to concentrate more on the audience – that’s the important thing.

Q:Do you ever get used to seeing yourself on the big screen? Do you scrutinise over it a lot?

Yeah you tend to look at stuff, but I’m terrible. My wife constantly shouts at me when we’re watching something on television, and I’m being cynical. That’s the devil’s pay you have when involved in the business, you can’t look at something as a punter. That’s the sign of a good show – when I watch something completely as a punter. Like Line of Duty recently, I absolutely loved that, it’s fantastic. But with myself, yeah I’m not very good at watching, ‘who’s that handsome hunk in the background?’ is not what I do. I’m not sure many actors do, contrary to popular opinion – I think most hide their head in their hands.

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Q:So do you think this film has an appeal to films fans in general, outside of horror aficionados?

Yeah completely. When this first went out on the festival circuit, for the horror reviewers, the opening lines to so many of their reviews were, ‘this is a found footage film, but…’. We argued about this when making the film, I think it’s a genre, I think there’s enough examples of it being used, and it’s a way to tell a story, that’s all. Perhaps it’s more a style than a genre, it’s a way of telling stories, like shooting a film in black and white. So a lot of people were a bit tired of it because of the success of things like Paranormal Activity, you get Paranormal Activity Four and pay just think, I’ve had enough of this. But in this instance it really works, it’s embedded in the story and there’s a really good plot reason why we’re doing it, so you don’t worry about it. As soon as you’ve done that, and set it up properly, nobody worries about it and it’s fine. That was important, and a good example of how to do something like this. If there’s a good, competent reason why you’re doing it in a certain way, the audience relax

Q: So you think it’s important the audience go in without any preconceptions of this genre?

Yeah absolutely. It’s a horror film and it’s low-budget, but it’s really nicely scripted and there’s some good themes, leading, inevitably, to a really scary end. You’re on a real journey. People who don’t like horror films, well they’ve been ambushed a bit, so they think they’re watching Final Destination or something. This is different, this obeys the laws of film, gives you characters, you like them, and you go on a journey with them.

Was it a challenge for you to find a strand of realism in the role and story, when dressed up in such supernatural surroundings?

No, because the crux of his doubt and his anguish, is whether you’re prepared to take this leap of faith or not, so it’s about that. Which is great, because I could have that inner turmoil, externally. That added a bit to the character, that’s why it’s interesting.

Q:Do you believe in the supernatural yourself?

No. No. I don’t. I was talking to someone the other day, and there was one time we were filming in a haunted house and the camera went from colour to black and white in this haunted room, and everybody was convinced that was a ghost.

Q: You were filming in derelict churches at the dead of night – it must have been quite eerie at times to shoot?

Yeah, and that really helped. Definitely, there were a couple of times when I go back to church a couple of times on my own and when we’re filming that, because it’s wide shots, supposedly the CCTV cameras from the church, nobody could be in there, so it’s 2am, it’s dark, it’s a derelict church and I’m in there on my own, so you can use whatever you can to make the realism a bit more real, and it certainly was a little spooky in there. It definitely helped.

Q: So are a big fan of horror as a genre? What state do you think it’s in at present?

What’s really interesting, is that British independent films and the horror genre, and inextricably linked, because there’s a massive tradition of British horror films, from pre-Hammer to now, with people like Ben Wheatley. It’s great going round to these festivals like FrightFest, where a lot of British filmmakers are cutting their teeth by making a movie in the horror genre, because they know they’re going to get a lot of exposure and it’s good fun. If done well, it can really show your skills off as a filmmaker. So I think it’s pretty good, and every now and again people reinvent the wheel. Like Paranormal Activity just moved found footage to a different level, deliberately setting it in the one place where you think you’re most secure – a bedroom. A sensational thing to pull off, and to pull off like they did. Cloverfield too, that took found footage into a massive, special effects movie and that was really interesting. All of that stuff is great because it broadens the field.

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Q:Not to take anything away from The Borderlands, but have you been surprised at the level of acclaim it’s been receiving so far? Across the world.

Yes, yes I have. It’s been a real positive surprise to me. Partly it’s because it’s an entirely new field so I have no critical compass here. Obviously I’m in it and I want it to be really good and I know how hard everyone worked – so I’m the worst person in the world to look at it in perspective because obviously I’m going to say it’s great. But it’s been really interesting how people, and not particularly horror fans, have loved it. That means there’s something in the script, in the acting and in the characters is obviously working, otherwise that wouldn’t have happened. People my generation are not necessarily horror fans, but they seem to like it and that’s been a heartening process to go through, and it makes me very proud of it and of all the people who worked so hard to make it as good as it is. That’s been fantastic. It’s also really interesting, because there’s a huge amount of positivity in this area I never expected. Because you generally see film critics slagging off Hollywood blockbusters, you feel there’s a spikiness about film criticism and the film world. But what’s been interesting is watching the warmth of other filmmakers and critics to this film, who are saying, ‘this is a low budget film that you should see.’ Empire magazine put it in their top 20 films you should have seen but probably didn’t watch in 2013, and that’s been a real shock to me, but a brilliant one. It shows there’s a proud tradition of filmmaking in this country, and people in charge of bringing that, like you, the critics, are very mindful of the idea that British film is very important, so when you see something worthy of merit, you are looking at something and saying, ‘this is very good’. Not, ‘it hasn’t got Ewan McGregor in it, so fuck off’. Stefan Pape


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The Borderlands (2014)

Director/Writer: Elliot Goldner

Cast: Gordon Kennedy, Robin Hill, Patrick Godfrey

90min   UK  Horror/Thriller

Making a funny horror movie is quite a feat but Elliot Goldner has pulled it off in his debut Britflic, The Borderlands.  After The Blair Witch Project, found footage films are always going to raise an eyebrow of contempt, but here the crackling chemistry of the leads and the well-paced sparky narrative never take the ghoulish theme too seriously, until the horrific finale eventually bites back with a nasty sting in the tail.

Made on a shoestring budget, but none the worse for it, The Borderlands stars TV regular Gordon Kennedy and Robin Hill (of Ben Wheatley fame) as spirited sparring partners: a Vatican investigator and a recording technician, who fetch up in a remote West Country village to explore the truth behind suspected paranormal activity in the medieval Parish Church, as reported by the disturbed and deeply sinister vicar Father Crellick (Luke Neil). Combining a strong sense of place in the lush English countryside with some genuinely spooky happenings, this is a film that cleverly keeps us sceptical yet on the edge of our seats right up to its devastating denouement. MT


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