Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Old Graveyard & Church Ruins Outside Clogherhead

Last weekend my parents and I took a drive across the border into County Louth. We drove through the parish of Togher, which lies on the coast betwixt Dundalk and Drogheda, and ended up in the tiny fishing village of Clogherhead, which borders Togher. When driving back from Clogherhead we happened upon the ruins of an abandoned church along a small dirt road. This being Ireland, the countryside is laced with little winding lanes – some said to be haunted, naturally - and trails that date back to famine times, and many boast ruins of churches, abbeys and chapels. Despite trying to find out more information about the place online, research proved fruitless and I’ve been unable to ascertain the name of the church and the graveyard that surrounds it. As such, I’ve also been unable to find out if there are any interesting (i.e. spooky) stories connected to the history of the place, but I did uncover a couple of creepy stories regarding the nearby fishing village of Clogherhead.

Owing to the colour of marine life there, part of the headland has been dubbed Red Man’s Cave. Sometimes it is also known as Dead Man’s Cave… During Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland in 1649-50, British soldiers were said to have put to death a number of Catholic priests hiding in the cave on the coast at Clogherhead; the name Red Man’s Cave is said to have derived from the sight of the slain priests’ blood on the walls within the cave. Apparently, until very recent times – the cave is now inaccessible from the land - the inside of it was painted red to commemorate the event.

A much more fantastical tale associated with the area is that of the ghastly Captain Redman. Local lore has it that Redman helmed a small ship to Ireland from Spain. The journey was plagued by ill luck, odd occurrences and, as most of the crew succumbed to a deadly bout of scurvy, death. By the time the ship reached the coast of Ireland, only the Captain and six crew members were left alive. Taking shelter from stormy weather along the coast at Clogherhead, the remaining crew members and Captain Redman came ashore at the cave to seek sanctuary. With no sign of the storms abating, the men were forced to camp at the cave for several nights. It is said that each night, one of the crew died in mysterious circumstances, and eventually, the two remaining men came to the conclusion that Captain Redman must be responsible. They ambushed him and chopped off his head, sticking it on a spike at the mouth of the gaping cave entrance. Legend has it that anyone who ventures to the cave at night, might catch a glimpse of the headless spectre of Captain Redman in search of his head; which has been heard whistling at the mouth of the cave…

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Borderlands

Dir. Elliot Goldner

The Borderlands tells of a small team of Vatican-sanctioned investigators who are charged with proving/disproving an apparently paranormal presence in an isolated church in a remote part of Western England.

While the found-footage horror film has been much maligned of late, Goldner’s offering intelligently amalgamates rational scientific investigation with the hint that something otherworldly is stirring within an ancient church, proving that when it’s done right, this format still has the power to unsettle. The found footage angle is actually convincing given the basis of the plot; Vatican-sanctioned investigators needing to ensure their documentation of events is as stringently methodical as possible so they can prove/disprove events. It makes sense then that the church they're investigating and the cottage they're staying in are fitted with cameras, and each team member wears a head-cam.

Goldner incorporates elements of occult and folk horror into the shivery mix, as it becomes obvious the site the church stands upon was once a place devoted to pagan ritualism. With a shuddery nod to Bram Stoker, and heavily influenced by the atmospheric tales of MR James, and indeed HP Lovecraft, The Borderlands proffers that maybe, just maybe, outside of our realms of perception and comprehension, unknowable things exist and they are intent on wreaking chaos. This notion is underpinned by the various theological conversations between characters, which add further unease, as they ponder the possibility that there is much in our universe that man has yet to comprehend. James’ influence is also present in the rational, academic and reasonable protagonists who obsessively, and always level-headedly, probe into the dark corners of the everyday, seeking unattainable knowledge that can only bring about their demise. The script carefully fleshes out the characters and their evolving dynamics, as agendas and various dark secrets are revealed. The chemistry between the world-weary and initially cynical Deacon (Gordon Kennedy) and the Agnostic, eager-to-prove-something Gray (Robin Hill) helps evoke sympathy for them, makes us invest in them; especially when things become very grim. Before long, the psychological strain each man feels as the group delves deeper into the dark, becomes palpable.

Goldner’s approach to revealing the horror is much the same as MR James’ own quiet, suggestive methodology; the foreboding atmosphere of dread is effortlessly sustained until it reaches fever pitch, at which point the director lets rip with the chilling terror. The atmosphere and tension is enhanced by strikingly effective sound design; disembodied scratchings in the church pews by night, something moving behind the ancient walls, the distant sound of a baby crying, lights suddenly shattering... While The Borderlands is peppered with jump scares, they are never cheap, one or two are even of the light-hearted variety to help alleviate the dread. All add to the clutching, all-consuming tension. Of the many stand out scenes, a panicked run through the woods in the dead of night is particularly unnerving. When you add glimpses of a dead priest, things become downright spine-chilling. The isolated location also enhances the disquieting mood, and the ancient church in which the creepy occurrences unfold, is fittingly eerie; particularly at night. It’s gradually revealed that the history of the church is connected to creepy local traditions, folklore and ancient legends. While certain moments threaten cliché – the investigators stopping to ask for directions, only to be met with hostility by suspicious locals – Goldner maintains his course along a path less trodden. When the tight knit community closes ranks, it’s more to do with them feeling exploited, than hinting at their possibly sinister intentions.

The Borderlands is genuinely terrifying. Its slow-burn, modern vs. ancient approach becomes unbearable as events jolt towards a particularly macabre and daring climax, which taps into some very dark primal fears indeed. Don’t spoil it for yourself, go into this one cold. And preferably alone, in the dark…

Sunday, 6 April 2014

When There's No More Room In Hell...

...The Dead Will Deafen You!

Last night saw Belfast’s Waterfront Hall play host to a special screening of George A. Romero’s satirical zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead. The screening was part of the Belfast Film Festival and featured a live score performed by none other than Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin.

Dawn of the Dead tells of a group of people caught up in an ever-increasing pandemic of the dead returning to life and devouring the living. Seeking refuge in a shopping mall, they attempt to fortify the place while they await rescue. Events take a turn for the worse however, when their sanctuary is pillaged by malevolent humans and the group soon realise they have more to worry about then the marauding zombies outside…

Describing the experience of seeing Claudio Simonetti and his band perform the score for Dario Argento’s Suspiria live last year as 'sensory overload', doesn’t do it justice. Nothing can prepare you for the experience of hearing the band perform live, and their rendition of the score for Dawn of the Dead, while not quite as intense as Suspiria, was all kinds of bombastic. Doomful, moody and unsettling, it utilises gloomy synth cords, heavy bass and a relentless, trudging beat to enhance the atmosphere of increasing hopelessness, despite the overtly satirical script. Veering between moments of kitsch Seventies electronica and stately, sombre darkness, this score is perhaps one of the band's most underrated. At times the music drowned out some of the dialogue, and there were a few issues with the volume of the film’s soundtrack itself, but the band could not be faulted. With the volume cranked up to 11, the very foundations of the hall shook. No spine was left un-tingled, no ear left un-split. After the film screening they performed a selection of greatest hits (including the main themes from Phenomena, Suspiria, Tenebrae and Deep Red) to rapturous appreciation. It’s testament to the sonic-visions of Simonetti and co that these themes still sound as strong and evocative when ostracised from the films they feature in.

Famed for their collaborations with Italian horror director Dario Argento, Goblin started out as prog-rock outfit Cherry Five, headed by Claudio Simonetti and Massimo Morante. Heavily influenced by Pink Floyd, King Crimson and early Genesis, the band was invited to score Argento’s giallo classic Deep Red, as the director wanted a score to reflect the progressive nature of the film. Changing their name to Goblin the musicians created what is arguably one of the most atmospheric and influential scores in horror cinema. When it was released, Deep Red, and indeed its soundtrack, was a huge hit both in Italy and abroad, and horror movie history was made. Unfortunately, despite their success, the band was rife with personal strife and the line up was perpetually changing. The original members consisted of Claudio Simonetti (keyboards), Massimo Morante (guitars), Fabio Pignatelli (bass guitar) and Walter Martino (drums). Throughout the years however, members came and went, but what was left of the band continued to work mainly on soundtracks. There was a partial reunification for Argento’s Phenomena and Tenebrae, though the musicians were credited separately, and not as Goblin. The sound they produced of course was Goblin through and through in everything but name. Their last collaboration took place in 2000 when the original members reformed to score Argento’s contemporary giallo, Sleepless.

Since the original split, Simonetti has formed other bands inspired by the original Goblin: Daemonia, BacktotheGoblin, Goblin Rebirth and New Goblin, all featuring original members of the band in one combination or another. Now, with two members of New Goblin, Titta Tani (drums) and Bruno Previtali (guitar), and Daemonia member, Federico Amorosi (bass), the newly formed Simonetti's Goblin have been on the road, deafening audiences with their live film scores. If you get a chance to go see them, it is recommended that you do. Thanks to the Belfast Film Festival, I’ve been lucky enough to see them twice (in six months!), both times in appropriate venues with large, appreciative audiences; and while their performance of Suspiria was by far the more intense experience, both concerts were unforgettable.

These photos aren’t great, but hopefully they provide a little context...

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Tingler

Dir. William Castle

Esteemed pathologist Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price!) discovers that the tingling sensation experienced in the human spine during states of extreme fear is caused by the growth of a creepy parasite that every human plays host to. During particularly lengthy moments of terror, the creature, which he dubs the "Tingler", can grow to such size and strength it can kill its host, and the only way to weaken the creature is by screaming. During the autopsy of a mute woman, whose death-by-fright came about because of her inability to scream, a Tingler escapes and wrecks havoc in a nearby cinema. Cue Dr. Warren urging the audience to scream for its life…

While The Tingler is essentially a camp B-horror, nestling amongst the trite dialogue and wooden acting are some interesting ideas which would later be explored in grisly detail in what would come to be known as the sub-genre of 'Body Horror.' Central to the plot is the notion that our bodies play host to a parasite, which feeds on fear. When the host is frightened, the parasite grows and makes the spine of the host ‘tingle.’ There is a creepy effectiveness in the scene in which Dr Chapin shows his assistant various x-rays depicting an engorged parasite latched onto a spinal cord. For all the guffaws and derisive sniggers it elicits, The Tingler also demonstrates a knack for sly reflexivity throughout, with the on-screen audience (and the actual audience) being prompted to scream for their lives, and snippets of dialogue pertaining to the cathartic release offered by the experience of being frightened. Scary horror films provide a release from the daily stresses of reality, they create the same ‘safe fear’ as rollercoaster rides or ghost trains – somewhere for people to experience extreme emotions and remain unscathed. Of course, none of these ideas are explored in any sort of depth, but they still offer food for thought in what is otherwise a fun and fickle little creeper of a film. The Tingler climaxes in a cinema, with an unsuspecting audience being terrified by the creature as it scuttles amidst the aisles, breaches the projection booth, and scurries across the film – and eventually our screen – which cuts to black while the inimitable voice of Vincent Price booms from the darkness, beseeching us to scream.

Director/producer William Castle is of course infamous for the various gimmicks he devised to promote his films. Screenings of The House on Haunted Hill for instance, treated audiences to 'Emergo' – skeletons dangling on wires over the heads of the audience during key moments of the film. Spooky! For The Tingler, Castle had electronic devices installed underneath random seats in the theatre which were activated during specific moments of the film and vibrated, tingling the spines of the audience. This was called 'Percepto.' I watched The Tingler at Belfast Film Festival’s Beanbag Cinema, and while the beanbags weren’t rigged with Percepto devices, there was a specially designed soundtrack which played during certain moments of tension, throbbing out of huge speakers on the floor and building so intensely it could be felt vibrating up from the floor and along the spine. This was particularly effective during the prolonged scene where Martha, the unfortunate deaf-mute lady, is scared to death by spooky occurrences in her home – including having an axe flung at her by a disembodied arm, finding her bath overflowing with bright red blood (another gimmick-tastic moment), and discovering a cleaver-wielding living-corpse in her bed.

The Tingler is a cult classic for admirers of Vincent Price – whose scenes with Patricia Cutts, as icy adulteress Mrs Chapin, are tinged with gleesome vitriol - and fans of director William Castle’s campy oeuvre.

"Ladies and gentlemen, just a word of warning. If any of you are not convinced that you have a tingler of your own, the next time you are frightened in the dark... don't scream..."

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Diabolique #20

Issue 20 of Diabolique is now available to order. The overriding theme of this issue is Family...

The Family. What is it? How does it shape us? Strengthen us in the face of horror? Scar us? Destroy us? The mysteries and dysfunction of the family unit have been ripe for examination in countless contemporary and classic horror releases.

Diabolique 20 takes a look underneath the surface of the family, featuring exclusive interviews with acclaimed filmmakers Adrian Garcia Bogliano (Here Comes the Devil), Mike Flanagan (Absentia, Oculus), Jim Mickle (We Are What We Are), and Navot Papushado (Big Bad Wolves), as well as my own ‘meaty’ exploration of familial themes in the films of Tobe Hooper.

All this and more rounds out this fresh look at a crucial trope of horror culture. Diabolique 20: it’s a family reunion, and you’re invited…

Pick up a copy here.

12th Rondo Hatton Awards

The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award nominations have just been announced. Now in their twelfth year, the awards honour ‘the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation.’ Much to my surprise and delight, I’ve been nominated for an award in the Best Article category. The article, 'From Alpha to Omega: Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and its Cinematic Incarnations', was published in issue 18 of Diabolique Magazine in November, 2013.

If you feel like it, please vote for me. You can vote in as many or as few categories as you like.

Check out all the nominees here.

Please also consider voting for these fine folks; then just copy and paste the below into an email to taraco@aol.com. Remember to include your name to ensure your vote counts. Polls close at midnight on Sunday 5th May.

12. BEST MAGAZINE OF 2013 - Paracinema  

13. BEST ARTICLE (Please select two; one will win) - ‘From Alpha to Omega: Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and its Cinematic Incarnations,’ by James Gracey, Diabolique #18. How Matheson’s outsider motif shifted, sometimes dramatically, with the adaptations of his work.

15. BEST THEMED ISSUE - Diabolique #16, Peter Cushing tribute

17. BEST MAGAZINE COVER - Diabolique #16 by Robert Aragon

19. BEST BLOG OF 2013 - Fascination with Fear. Horror from a female point of view.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Hellraiser: Revelations

Dir. Victor Garcia

While on a pleasure-seeking road trip to Mexico, teenagers Nico and Steven discover and open the Lament Configuration, unlocking the gateway to a hellish dimension presided over by sadomasochistic demons known as Cenobites, who abduct and torture Nico. When Steven finally returns home to his family, dark secrets are unveiled and souls are at stake as the Cenobites close in on their prey…

Based on a story and screenplay by Gary Tunnicliffe - who had provided the special effects and make-up for many of the Hellraiser sequels - Revelations was rushed into a three week production at the behest of Dimension, who were apparently at risk of losing the rights to the franchise. At this stage the studio was still struggling to get its long touted Hellraiser remake/reboot/reimagination off the ground. Seemingly stuck in development hell, the remake has had many recognisable genre names attached to it since it was announced several years ago, including Patrick Lussier (Wes Craven’s regular editor, director of My Bloody Valentine 3D) and Pascal Laugier (House of Voices, Martyrs). The searingly brutal Martyrs, with its graphic depictions of human flaying and strangely philosophical subtext, marks Laugier as an obvious and appropriate choice to helm a revision of Barker’s shocking classic. He backed out however, citing creative differences, as Dimension wanted a teen friendly, highly commercial (re. diluted) hit, whereas Laugier wanted extreme cinema with no mercy. In lieu of a remake, Revelations was hastily thrown together. At least it was actually written as a Hellraiser film, unlike its immediate predecessors. Don't get your hopes up though...

Incorporating elements of the found-footage and home invasion sub-genres, as well as some recognisable slasher movie troupes, Revelations emerges as an uneven and vacuous work. With its teen protagonists and their only slightly older parents, it has the look and feel of a really dark episode of The OC. Copious scenes involve the parents sitting around a plush hillside home, drinking fine wine and discussing their feelings, while flashbacks, and the boys’ recovered video footage, fill us in on what happened to them. None of it is remotely scary, suspenseful or disturbing. The wine looks nice though. When one of the boys returns home, it soon becomes obvious that all is not as it seems and the stage is set for a hellish showdown that never quite materialises. We’re in familiar slasher movie territory when someone realises that the phones are dead and all the cars are missing from the driveway, effectively stranding the group at their plush but isolated locale. Garcia attempts to inject something resembling tension into proceedings, but his efforts are thwarted by awful dialogue, overwrought performances and uneven pacing.

A sizable chunk of its thankfully brief running time basically reworks the plot of the first film, as the boys, eager to experience new sensations and extreme pleasures, find and open the puzzle box and summon inter-dimensional demons who want to do things with their flesh. When Nico eventually escapes their hellish clutches, revived by blood spilt on the mattress upon which he died, he sets about trying to obtain a new skin for himself. Whereas Clive Barker’s original chiller featured a discontent and lusty housewife committing whatever ghastly acts of murder and mutilation necessary to provide her resurrected lover with a new skin, Revelations throws in a spot of blackmail to explain the dreadful deeds Steven commits to help Nico. In one of many throwbacks to the original, they even encounter a sinister vagrant who offers them the box, and the unsettling suggestion of incest evident in Barker’s film (the moment when Frank makes ungainly advances towards Kirsty while wearing the skin of her father) is also briefly revisited, foreshadowing the 'big reveal.' The only remotely interesting element is a vague subtext pertaining to America’s bored, disenfranchised youth seeking extreme forms of escapism to help them feel alive, as the boys gradually reveal a dark, Columbine-esque nihilism.

Much controversy surrounded the fact that Doug Bradley declined to reprise his role as head Cenobite, Pinhead. Replacing him is Stephen Smith Collins, who exudes about as much menace as a wet flannel. Some of the make-up is quite impressive, particularly that of Nico in Cenobite form as ‘Pseudo-Pinhead’, but any power it could have imbued the film with is lost amidst the myriad scenes of people talking. The narrative, which cuts back and forward in time, could have helped create tension if proceedings hadn’t have been conveyed in such an anaemic manner. Oh, and apparently the most effective way to open the Lament Configuration is to do so sitting atop an expensive coffee table surrounded by candles, wearing a low-cut dress and pouting seductively. An eternity of mediocrity!

Wine of the Month

This month’s Hellraiser marathon was brought to you with (a lot) of Rioja Reserva Cepa Alegro, 2007. Not only is it currently on offer in Sainsbury’s, it’s been described as a good quality Rioja for a meaty dinner table. The perfect accompaniment then, to all those visceral, wet scenes of meat, flayed flesh, red-raw body-modification and blood in Hellraiser.

A medium bodied, spicy, and acidic wine, it boasts blood-red berry aromas, a smidgen of tobacco, woody tannins and a long, hint-of-vanilla finish. Tannin-tastic reds such as this go really well with rare meat. Meat is high in protein you see, especially the blood in rare meat, and protein softens tannins. A match made in bloody heaven. Or hell. It’s also great with meaty dishes such as roast lamb or game; its acidity cuts through the fat as efficiently as Pinhead skinning a doomed pleasure-seeker. A ‘modern’ Rioja, whatever that means, it proves complimentary with manchego cheese too, so it should complement the acrid, rubbery qualities of the later Hellraiser sequels...

Made from a delicately balanced blend of hand-harvested Tempranillo grapes from a sixty year old vineyard in the small, isolated town of Haro, and Graciano grapes from thirty year old vines, the wine is then aged in American oak barrels for twelve months. Just to make absolutely sure, it's then aged for a further six months in French oak barrels. The winery its produced in is family owned, and apparently the family has four generations worth of experience making wine, so you know you’re in good hands. Plus, I'm sure there's a great origin story in there, a la Bloodline.

Rioja to some, pish to others, Cepa Alegro Rioja would also go well with a nice vintage Hammer Horror, such as Taste the Blood of Dracula, or Frankenstein Created Woman. All that flesh and garish viscera on display could help soften its astringent flavour just as well as a decent Hellraiser flick. It might even help numb the pain if you drink enough of it…