Posts

Childer (2016)

Image
Nominated for Best International Short at the International Women in Horror Festival and the Nightmares Film Festival, Childer (an Irish colloquial word for children) is written and directed by Aislínn Clarke ( The Devil’s Doorway , 2018). It tells of Mary (Dorothy Duffy), an introverted single mother, who suspects she and her young son are being stalked by feral children living in the woods surrounding her home. She spends her days obsessively cleaning, trying to maintain order, and preventing her son from playing with the forest-dwelling children. Clarke’s screenplay explores ideas concerning parenthood, obsession, loneliness, and mental illness. The spectre of Shirley Jackson drifts throughout proceedings as domestic, homey spaces become veiled in quiet menace and the seeming innocence of childhood takes on sinister qualities. The beautiful photography by Ryan Kernaghan and art direction by Claire Fox help imbue the story with an eerie fairy tale quality: the little house, neat and

Chained (2012)

Image
Held captive by a serial killer since the age of 8, a teenaged boy must choose between escape or becoming his captor's unwilling protégé. Written and directed by Jennifer Lynch (based on a screenplay by Damian O'Donnell) Chained is an unflinching exploration of how monsters are made. As with her earlier titles Boxing Helena (1993) and Surveillance (2008), Lynch invites us to explore the darkest corners of human psychology, and the violent depravities people inflict upon one another. Shot in two weeks on a very low budget, Chained at times resembles a stage play, with its singular location and story driven by two characters. After a queasily suspenseful opening in which a woman (Julia Ormond) and her young son are abducted in broad daylight, the story, like its young protagonist Rabbit, becomes bound to the grim interior of the killer’s house, with its boarded-up windows, yellowing wallpaper, and harsh lighting. Lynch conjures a moody, ‘homey nausea’* which speaks to the rot

Master (2022)

Image
Written and directed by Mariama Diallo, and inspired by her own experiences as a student at Yale, Master tells of two Black women struggling to navigate life at a predominately white university ‘as old as the country.’ Their experiences of casual racism, micro-aggression, and tokenism, play out against a backdrop of whispers of an ancient vengeful witch who haunts the campus… With its combination of shivery supernatural horror and real-life horror, Master is a powerful, unsettling and at times distressing watch. Gail (Regina Hall) and Jasmine (Zoe Renee) not only encounter suggestive supernatural menace lurking in the dark corners of the vast, spooky university buildings, but every-day menace in the form of racist adversity from colleagues and fellow students. Gail has been appointed the first black 'Master' (while it has uncomfortable connotations of slavery, it's an esteemed faculty position overseeing halls of residence) of the university. Tellingly, when she arrives

Amulet (2020)

Image
Written and directed by Romola Garai, Amulet tells of a troubled, displaced ex-soldier who is offered a place to stay at a decrepit old house in London, inhabited only by a young woman and her dying mother (who resides in the attic, no less). Before long, he begins to suspect something sinister is afoot... Flirting with various tropes from demonic possession and haunted house films (warnings to stay out of the attic, things heard moving in the walls, horrifying discoveries in the decaying plumbing), Garai masterfully sets the scene and creates a portentous, gloomy atmosphere before eventually lifting the curtain to reveal a truly original and terrifying fable of feminist revenge. With its exploration of forbidden spaces, depictions of the monstrous in its myriad forms and reflections on trauma, abuse and gender, Amulet is a highly unsettling and atmospheric work that wields a strange, undeniable power. Throughout, Garai maintains an insidiously creepy approach, her deliberate directi

You Are Not My Mother (2021)

Image
When her missing mother reappears, teenaged Char begins to suspect she is an otherworldly imposter. Written and directed by Irish filmmaker Kate Dolan, You Are Not My Mother taps into some truly primal fears – parental abandonment, being harmed by those meant to protect us, and being ostracised from our community. The carefully nuanced screenplay ensures an enthralling ambiguity throughout. Char’s mother has a history of depression and mental health issues – are the changes she exhibits due to her ill health? Her medication? Or something more unnatural ? Dolan’s writing and direction are bolstered by incredibly strong, compelling performances, particularly from Hazel Doupe as Char and Carolyn Bracken as her mother Angela. Char is a subdued, quiet girl with no friends. Doupe’s ability to convey so much internalised emotion, worry and pain is especially captivating. Bracken also delivers a memorably striking performance, the physical aspects of which create a sense of unease and eventu

Labyrinth (1986)

Image
Written by Monty Python’s Terry Jones and directed by Jim Henson, Labyrinth tells of fairy tale-obsessed Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a young woman who must venture through the ‘dangers untold and hardships unnumbered’ of a nightmarish other-realm to rescue her baby stepbrother from Jareth (David Bowie), a cruel Goblin King. Along the way she befriends an array of misunderstood, misfit creatures who inhabit the labyrinth, and overcome attempts to thwart her journey by Jareth’s many meddling minions. The eighties produced a plethora of spectacular and oddly edgy fantasy films which, while aimed at younger audiences, possessed certain adult sensibilities and a curious darkness which would feed into their later cult status. Titles such as The Dark Crystal (1982), The Never-Ending Story (1984), Dragonslayer (1981), The Princess Bride (1987), Return to Oz (1985), Willow (1988) and Legend (1985), invited audiences to join valiant underdog protagonists on perilous quests to defeat evil

Lurking on the Bookshelves: The Diving Pool by Yōko Ogawa

Image
This collection of three novellas by Japanese author Yōko Ogawa is a deeply unsettling and atmospheric work. As subtle as it is quietly powerful, Ogawa’s brand of psychological horror explores the ‘horrific femininities’ of daily life, conjured by a gentle, sparse prose frequently serrated by striking, disturbing imagery. 'The Diving Pool' tells of a lonely teenage girl who falls in love with her foster-brother as she watches him leap from a high diving board into a pool - sparking an unspoken infatuation that draws out darker tendencies. 'Pregnancy Diary' follows a young woman who records the daily moods of her pregnant sister in a diary, but rather than a story of growth the diary reveals a more sinister tale of greed and repulsion. The final story, 'Dormitory', involves a woman who visits her old college dormitory on the outskirts of Tokyo, where she finds an isolated world shadowed by decay, haunted by absent students and the figure of a lonely caretaker. Og

Lurking on the Bookshelves: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed & Things We Lost in the Fire

Image
These collections of short stories by Argentine writer and journalist Mariana Enríquez feature creepy, sad, and unsettling tales of spectral homeless children, witches and black mass ritualism, domestic abuse and violence against women. They feature deeply flawed, at times downright unsympathetic characters - usually troubled, lonely, and marginalised lost souls - and self-harm and abuse are recurring themes throughout. Described as ‘a writer whose affinity for the horror genre is matched by the intensity of her social consciousness’ (1) Enríquez’s stories are largely set in present-day Argentina, a backdrop of corrupt government regimes and police brutality haunts proceedings. The political undercurrent speaks of a society haunted by its past, ghost stories informed by poverty, institutional violence, and economic ruin. Among all the very real horror, Enríquez subtly introduces otherworldly, supernatural elements, situating her stories in recognisable reality and mundane domestic set

Black Roses (1988)

Image
Directed by John Fasano and written by Cindy Cirile (credited as Cindy Sorrell),  Black Roses tells of the eponymous metal band, fronted by the darkly charismatic Damian (Sal Viviano), who begin their world tour with several special concerts in the small town of Mill Basin. Naturally the local teens are psyched to see their favourite metallers, but their parents and the town authorities are concerned because of the band’s reputation as heavy metal hell-raisers. Turns out these parental fears are not unwarranted, as the band are actually demons whose music corrupts listeners and transforms them into minions of chaos and evil. As the town’s youth run wild and succumb to the band’s diabolical influence, it’s up to an open-minded, down-with-the-kids high-school teacher to crash the concerts and try to save the day.  Stage-diving onto screens hot on the heels of  Hard Rock Zombies  (1984),  Trick or Treat  (1986) and director Fasano’s own feature debut  Rock‘n’Roll Nightmare  (1987),  Blac

Lurking on the Bookshelves: Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country & I Who Have Never Known Men

Image
Described as ‘a unique and elegiac meditation on grief, memory and longing, and of the redemptive power of stories and nature’, Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country is author Edward Parnell’s exploration of the links between place, stories and memory. Revisiting various locations throughout the British Isles where he and his family visited in his youth, Parnell confronts his grief over a family tragedy. He explores how these landscapes of ‘sequestered places’ (lonely moors, moss-covered cemeteries, stark shores and folkloric woodlands) not only conjured and shaped memories of past loved ones, but ‘a kaleidoscopic spectrum of literature and cinema’, including many of the ghost stories and weird fiction he loved as a boy, and subsequently returned to for comfort in his grief. Many of the authors whose work he references (including M. R. James, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, W. G. Sebald and Graham Swift) attempted to confront what comes after death th

Relic (2020)

Image
When Edna is reported missing, her daughter and granddaughter travel to the remote family home to search for her. They discover the house locked from the inside, strange noises from within the walls, and a black mould quietly spreading throughout. When Edna returns the next day, disorientated and bruised, unable to remember where she has been, and claiming someone has been coming into the house, her daughter Kay is convinced she can no longer take care of herself. Over the next few days, strange events, and Edna’s worsening condition, plunge the three women into a living nightmare. With echoes of a ghost story, a haunted house film, a tale of possession, Relic is a terrifying and moving meditation on coming to terms with dementia and the gradual acceptance of decline and death. Written and directed by Natalie Erika James, and co-written by Christian White, its use of various tropes and images associated with haunted house films - an ominously overflowing bathtub, a lone figure standin

The Cursed (2022)

Image
With a truly uncommon approach to the figure of the werewolf, The Cursed is a mean and moody shocker with a haunting, weirdly lyrical undertow. After their father, a cold-hearted land baron, ruthlessly slaughters a camp of Romani who staked a claim to his land, young Charlotte and Edward begin to have ominous dreams of a human scarecrow and silver teeth. The dreams draw them and other children from the nearby village to the site of the massacre, and soon after, Edward goes missing. The discovery of grisly remains attracts the attention of a grief-stricken pathologist (Boyd Holbrook), who suspects something supernatural is lurking in the surrounding forest and vows to hunt it down and destroy it. Head over to Eye for Film to read my full review. 

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Image
Co-written by Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan and British novelist Angela Carter, and based on several short stories from her collection, The Bloody Chamber , The Company of Wolves is a werewolf film quite unlike any other. A provocative reinterpretation of the fairy tale of Red Riding Hood, it unravels as a feverish exploration of a young girl’s sexuality as she crosses the threshold into adulthood. It was Jordan’s second film, and his first foray into the realms of Gothic horror. Entwining metaphor with striking visuals and grisly effects, The Company of Wolves was released in the early Eighties, in the wake of The Howling and An American Werewolf in London ; it set itself apart from the pack, however, with its literary roots, feminist concerns and art-house execution. The folk tales it draws upon and the significance of oral storytelling itself are woven into the very fabric of the film. Its unusual narrative structure, which unfurls like a Chinese puzzle box, begins as a young girl,

Censor (2021)

Image
After examining a particularly gruesome video nasty, the plot of which shares eerie parallels with a traumatic event from her childhood, film censor Enid (Niamh Algar) becomes convinced the actress in the film is her missing sister. Determined to track her down, Enid is drawn into a murky world where the line between fiction and reality becomes ever unstable. Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, and co-written by Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher, Censor is a darkly mesmerising tale of grief, guilt, fear and perception. A period piece, its dark, dreary locations speak to the dank austerity of Thatcher’s England, a time when Mary Whitehouse was on a crusade to clean up the morals of the nation, especially when it came to violence in entertainment. The 1980s were a time when boundaries of on-screen violence, special make-up effects and what was considered ‘acceptable’ to present onscreen, were pushed in ways they had never been before. Certain films, mainly horror and exploitation, were brande

Surveillance (2008)

Image
From its deeply unsettling opening scene in which the two sleeping occupants of a lonely motel are brutally murdered by masked intruders, to its stark, haunting denouement, Surveillance is a taut and twisted piece of nightmare cinema. Directed by Jennifer Lynch and co-written by Lynch and Kent Harper, it tells of two FBI agents (Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman) who arrive at a remote police station to interview the three survivors of a horrific roadside massacre, whose contradictory statements offer fragmented recollections of the same harrowing incident. As tensions mount during the interviews, and the events of what happened are slowly pieced together, it soon becomes clear that not everyone is telling the truth, and not everyone is who they appear to be… Surveillance was Jennifer Lynch’s second feature film (following on from her directorial feature debut, Boxing Helena , 15 years prior) and it is a masterwork of understated dread and unbearable tension. From the sense of unease whi

Return to Oz (1985)

Image
As far removed as imaginable from the candy-coated, technicoloured, ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ Judy Garland-starring classic The Wizard of Oz (1939), Return to Oz , Walter Murch’s belated, somewhat 'unofficial' follow-up, is a beautifully dark, brooding and deeply melancholic work. Indeed, many critics at the time claimed it was too dark and frightening for its young audiences. While it features more of Dorothy’s fantastical adventures in Oz, a host of colourful characters and a plethora of astoundingly realised effects, at the heart of Return to Oz is the story of a courageous and resilient child who has endured hardship and tragedy, and of the weary, ineffectual or cruel adults responsible for her care. It is of course a sort of sequel, but is perhaps more accurately described as an adaptation of several other L. Frank Baum Oz novels that followed on from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), as Murch and Gill Dennis’s screenplay carefully amalgamates plotlines from The Mar