Monday, 18 January 2016

Diabolique Magazine - Issue 25

Diabolique is a bimonthly magazine covering every aspect of the horror genre, including film, literature, theatre, art, music, history and culture. Lavishly illustrated in full colour, each issue is packed with entertaining and thought-provoking articles.

Issue 25 is now available. A very special issue indeed, it is entirely devoted to celebrating the life and work of Sir Christopher Lee.

Inside you’ll find essays and features such as:

A WICKER MAN’S MAN - Jennifer Blair examines Christopher Lee’s iconic role as Lord Summerisle in Robin Hardy’s 1973 folk horror masterpiece, The Wicker Man.

COUNT PERVERSION, THE WHIP AND THE LIVING DEAD - Kat Ellinger champions Christopher Lee’s oft-overlooked mainland European genre films, from Uncle Was A Vampire to Horror Express and everything in between.

CHRISTOPHER LEE: METALHEAD - Joseph Schafer speaks with Luca Turilli of the symphonic power metal band, Rhapsody of Fire, on Christopher Lee’s headfirst dive into the world of Heavy Metal.

Also included is my essay THE LIFE-BLOOD OF DRACULA, in which I explore the sex, sin and sensations of Christopher Lee’s unique spin on Dracula and the vampire archetype.


Indulge your passion for the macabre and pick up issue 25 of Diabolique Magazine here.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Interview with 'Suspiria' Author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Dario Argento’s Suspiria needs little introduction. A nightmarish, hallucinatory carousel of a film, it is known to admirers of horror cinema for its exquisite cinematography, ear-shattering score, opulent production design and fiendish violence. Any sense of conventional narrative or characterisation takes a back seat to a full-on assault on the senses as the viewer is plunged head-first into a neon-Gothic nightmare of light, colour, sound and shadow.

Regarded (and rightly so) as a horror classic, Suspiria is the subject of a new book by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, a film critic from Melbourne, Australia. No stranger to extreme cinema, Alexandra is the author 'Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study' (2011), and 'Found Footage Horror Films: Fear and the Appearance of Reality' (2014). She is also co-editor of the film journal Senses of Cinema, and a critic on Radio Triple R’s film programme, Plato's Cave.

Alexandra very kindly agreed to a quick chat about her new book on Suspiria.

What influenced your decision to write a monograph on Suspiria?

This sounds like such a straightforward question, but it oddly demands quite a complex answer. I am sure it's not just me, but as a critic I often find it hard work to draw a line between the films I find interesting from an objective, professional perspective, and those I love on a deep, instinctive, personal level. Sometimes these of course overlap - we often love an interesting film precisely for the unique ways it finds to hold our interest. But there are other films that for me personally at least I never wanted to think about or attempt to unpack on that kind of critical level: I love them for what they are, and almost dread the idea of opening the intellectual Pandora's Box in case it metaphorically 'kills' the mystique.

If you had asked me even a few years ago where Suspiria fitted into this picture, I would have comfortably answered that it was - along, perhaps, with Andrzej Żuławski's Possession - exactly the kind of film I meant. But over time it was the precise slipperiness of Suspiria that kept drawing me to it as a potential large-scale writing project. As many have argued - including myself - there is something about this film on a molecular level that demands we engage with it in different, and sometimes quite challenging new ways, approaches strikingly different from how we've been culturally 'trained' to understand cinema, particularly in terms of things like the dominance of narrative and character. In this sense, then, to answer your question I guess that writing at length about Suspiria was for me in many ways almost inevitable for precisely these very reasons.  


You said that with this book you really wanted to take a step away from the more academic style of your first two books: Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study and Found Footage Horror Films: Fear and the Appearance of Reality. How did you approach writing it and how much did your method of approach differ from your earlier projects? 

In practical terms regarding the basic research mechanics, both of my previous books were surveys of categories or subgenres. This involved a lot of work on the hunter-gatherer front - sourcing primary and secondary material and, more time consumingly, watching literally hundreds and hundreds of films. The Suspiria project was quite the opposite, focused as it was on a single film. My previous books were about not only just looking for patterns but - more interestingly for me from a critical perspective - finding the glitches, and exploring where patterns deviated and what that might mean in a broader context. These formations form historical narratives, and it is from these that the 'stories' I tell in those books found their shape.

But aside from focusing on one film as opposed to hundreds of them, Suspiria itself is a film that warns us about over-investing in narrative, and a dizzying, intoxicating reminder of the supremacy of our senses. It wasn't simply a case of changing the focus of my critical gaze from a broader category of film to a specific one, but more significantly, about finding new ways to write, watch, think and feel.  


You mentioned to me a while ago that you had built your monograph around something Argento once said: “When you watch a movie, you understand your truth.” What truth does Suspiria hold for you and why is it a film you hold so close to your heart?

I believe on a fundamental level that Suspiria demands a kind of intense subjectivity from us as viewers: it is an unrelenting incitement for us to let go of the previous way we have been taught to watch and understand cinema. These "truths" that Argento talks about here are to me vital not just to our relationship with culture, but to the experience of being human: that deep, indefinable sense of personal sensory experience is something so unique to our own individual lived experiences that language often struggles to capture it.  

Suspiria boasts a largely female cast of characters which, as you point out, is built on 'robust personalities rather than cup size and age'. How do you think Argento’s difficult reputation has maybe over-clouded this, and do you think it’s fair to say that he doesn't get as much recognition or attention for his strong female characters as he does for the way in which he murders them? Where would you rank Suspiria in terms of feminist horror?

I have a pretty major bugbear with the broader tendency in cultural discourse to draw binary distinctions between categories of "progressive" and "regressive": I honestly feel that these ideas are too complex and important to allow a successful and productive simplification. Take, for example, Brian De Palma, who has long been on the receiving end of accusations of misogyny: while I absolutely would not be prepared to go on record as stating that this particular director is 100% ideologically progressive in terms of gender representation especially, for me he's a hugely important filmmaker. Carrie might be for many a textbook case of the problematic 'monstrous feminine' category, but for me it was the first film I ever saw where a woman menstruated: this was - and still is - radical cinema for me, and it made me really sit up and think well beyond notions of positive or negative representation. The question for me then, as it is now, is "this is such an ubiquitous, everyday thing: why don't I see this more in cinema?"

So back to Dario Argento. I argue quite forcefully in the book that this same tendency to define an artist in terms of a clear-cut binary distinction between "progressive" and "regressive" is just a dead-end when it comes to Argento. Absolutely he has said some pretty ghastly things about the representation of women in his films, but he has also said some remarkably insightful, profound and important things, too. As I discuss in the book at length, what I think is perhaps just as important - and is often ignored - is how important Argento and a film like Suspiria has been to female audiences. Famous fans of the film like Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto, who I interviewed for the book, and feminist icon, writer Kathy Acker are not alone in their love of Suspiria: Argento has said himself that most of his fans are women, and I can back this up just anecdotally. A large percentage of women I know who are really into horror got into it through Argento and Suspiria in particular.

Is Suspiria feminist then? Again, I hesitate with a simple "yes" or "no" answer, because I don't believe feminism is a singular, stable concept: there are absolutely no doubt women out there who self-identify as feminists who would find the depiction of violence against women in this film offensive, and I don't want to dismiss their right to those opinions. But what I will say is this: Suspiria is almost solely a female ensemble film, with only a few very minor male characters. Women are shown to be weak and strong, good and evil, old and young. As an early example of Carol J. Clover's so-called "final girl" figure, Jessica Harper's Suzy doesn't end the film shaking, traumatised and distraught like later examples, such as Laurie Strode in Halloween or Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Suzy doesn't merely just survive, she is victorious: the last shot of the film is her leaving the burning school in the rain, grinning. Suzy's story is one of strength, determination and triumph.  

"Suspiria exists in a sphere beyond mere language" - Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Was there a common thread of any kind that ran through all the things you’ve read about Suspiria and all the things people have said to you about it?

Absolutely: its intangibility. There's a real hunger I've seen manifest in almost all my conversations about the film and my book project. People really share my almost obsessive drive to try and put their finger on precisely what it is that makes Suspiria so special. This book is at its core I guess a declaration of the fact that we can never fully articulate this in words, because Suspiria exists in a sphere beyond mere language. I often return to this incredible quote from the remarkable film theorist and academic Patricia MacCormack, who articulated this idea so beautifully on the 2010 Cine-Excess DVD release of the film: "Suspiria is one of the most radical horror films that has ever been made, and the precise reason for this is that it is unapologetic in the way it expresses horror and the way it demands the opening up of the viewer to take pleasure in things that they cannot describe".

What is it about horror cinema, and, given your prior book titles, other forms of 'extreme' genre cinema, that appeals to you so much? 

Initially I guess at first it was that this was the kind of stuff that was forbidden for me as a kid: I remember seeing these movies on the shelves of the video store near the house where I grew up, and they had a kind of mystical aura to them, extending from their taboo status as 'dangerous' movies. From a research perspective, in many ways I am still unpacking this precise idea: what precisely makes these films so dangerous, why are they considered such volatile cultural artefacts? What do they do that is so threatening, and how do they do it in a mechanical, formal sense? What are the legacies of this volatility, what are their histories? These are the kinds of questions that I find reveal a lot about the broader workings of the cultural imagination well beyond cinema. In terms of pure subjective taste, however, I also find that the kind of low-budget aesthetic these films tend to adopt is just beautiful: when people are strapped for cash, they can often find breathtaking alternatives to create their impact. I find a lot of exploitation and b-grade film comes as close to the idea of pure cinema as anything more highbrow or canonical.  



In your conversation with Luciano Tovoli you reference the absolutely beautiful moment when Argento went up and physically touched the screen upon which Tovoli was projecting some tests he’d filmed. How much do you feel Suspiria owes its groundbreaking reputation to Tovoli’s cinematography?

I cannot speak more highly of Luciano Tovoli, both in terms of his impressive career*, and as a person. He took a lot of time to speak to me when I was writing this book, and his insight opened up new ways into this film for me.

One of the most striking things about Sig. Tovoli was that unlike a lot of cinematographers I have spoken with, he used a language less technical than it was poetic. That moment you describe is one I first read about in an interview with renowned Argento expert Alan Jones, and it devastated me - this idea of Argento walking up and touching the screen when seeing Tovoli's initial colour tests is to me still one of the most poignant descriptions of what it 'feels' like to watch Suspiria, this immersive, bodily attraction through the senses.

That being said, I was very moved by Sig. Tovoli's unrelenting praise of Argento in our correspondence: his acknowledgement of Argento as the driving creative force behind the film was a constant drumbeat, and he continually voiced gratitude to Argento for allowing him an opportunity to experiment the way he did on the project. I have no hesitation at all to suggest that Sig. Tovoli was a key creative force in this project and in part responsible for its remarkable legacy, yet I would emphasise, as he himself did so many times, that his achievements were the result of constant positive encouragement from Argento himself, the true visionary of the project. This might also be an important place to flag the huge importance of Daria Nicolodi to the project, also, who co-wrote the film and played a major part in its development - her important work on Suspiria sometimes unfairly gets lost in discussion about her well-publicised personal relationship with the director.  

What’s next for you?  

Something similar yet different! I'm currently finalising my first draft on a monograph about Abel Ferrara's 1981 cult film Ms. 45 for Columbia University Press' Cultographies series. A very different film than Suspiria, it is one that I hold a similar affection for, particularly in terms of its gender politics. In 2011 I wrote a book about rape-revenge films and of course talked about Ms. 45 there; Zoe Lund's character Thana is even on the cover. But a few pages wasn't enough to get this film out of my system, and writing an entire book about it is an extraordinary privilege.


'Suspiria' by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is available now and can be purchased here. It is published by Auteur, a leading independent Film and Media Studies publisher, and part of the Devil's Advocates series devoted to exploring the classics of horror cinema. 

Contributors to Devil's Advocates come from the worlds of academia, journalism and fiction, but all have one thing in common: a passion for the horror film and for sharing that passion. 

*Read Alexandra's in-depth essay on Tovoli's career here

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Interview with 'Dead of Night' Co-Author Jez Conolly

Released just days after the end of the Second World War and a dozen years ahead of the first full-blooded Hammer Horror, the Ealing Studios horror anthology film Dead of Night featured contributions from some of the finest directors, writers and technicians ever to work in British film. Since its release it has become evermore widely regarded as a keystone in the architecture of horror cinema, both nationally and internationally.

A new book from Auteur Publishing, written by Jez Conolly and David Owain Bates, marks the first time a single book has been dedicated to an analysis of the film. Co-author Jez Conolly has also written a monograph on John Carpenter’s classic chiller The Thing and is co-editor, with Caroline Whelan, of three books in the World Film Locations series (Dublin, Reykjavik and Liverpool) published by Intellect. He regularly writes for The Big Picture magazine and website and has contributed to numerous other cinema books and journals. He very kindly agreed to have a quick chat about Dead of Night.  

What made you decide to write a monograph on Dead of Night?  

Even before I wrote my first book in the Devil’s Advocates series (on John Carpenter’s The Thing, published 2013) I’d thought that if I were to get a second bite of that cherry I’d pick Dead of Night to write about. In fact I remember having a conversation with David, co-author of the Dead of Night book, in which we both thought it would make for a great entry in the series. I think we felt that it really deserved its own volume, it’s such an important film in the horror genre and we discovered that surprisingly little had been written about it previously, at least not in the form of a substantive dedicated monograph.  

What is your method of approach to each writing project?

In the case of the Devil’s Advocates books I have to love the film I’m writing about, so my starting point is consciously subjective. I do seek to avoid taking an ostensibly academic approach, that way lies a dry read. Not that the books lack rigour or research, but I guess I try to capture as much of my emotional response to the films as possible. My aim is to either encourage people who haven’t seen the film to seek out their first viewing of it, or to help devotees of the film find something new in it.  


You’ve co-authored a number of books. What do you enjoy most about collaborating with other writers? 

I co-edited three books in another series - World Film Locations published by Intellect - with my wife, Caroline. Those books were highly collaborative, using the talents of dozens of writers. I really liked the community feel to those projects; each book focused on a city location, in the case of our three books 'Dublin', 'Reykjavik' and 'Liverpool', and each provided an opportunity for people actually living in those cities to write a little bit about their home in relation to film. It also felt right to work with David on the 'Dead of Night' book, partly because the process reflected a little of the multi-director collaborative nature of the film itself. It also proved expedient to share the process of writing it to ensure completion within the timescale that we had to work to.  

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this monograph?

Lack of time. I have a full-time job and tend to allot myself an hour of writing time between 7am and 8am each morning, Monday to Friday, before my day job hours begin.  

Is it fair to say Dead of Night is a film you hold close to your heart? What is it about the film that most appeals to you? Can you remember your response to it the first time you watched it?

We talk quite a bit about our first time with Dead of Night in the book's introduction. For both of us it was one of those old movies screened late on a Friday or Saturday night during our early teens when staying up late to watch the midnight movie was a rite of passage. Without revealing our ages, that was back in the days before video recorders, so we were watching these films 'live' as it were. It was one that clearly made its mark on us all those years ago. I remember the film's 'Moebius strip' story loop freaking me out a little bit!  

Given the various segments they’re comprised of, portmanteaux films can be tricky, and they’re often criticised for their uneven tones. What does Dead of Night get right in this respect? 

Crucially, its linking story works brilliantly. In fact it’s arguably the strongest story element in the film. Without wishing to be unkind to the numerous Amicus horror anthologies of the 1960s and 1970s, which were hugely inspired by Dead of Night, the link stories in those films were frequently fairly routine affairs that served to glue the succession of nested stories together. By comparison, Walter Craig’s story in Dead of Night is sustained brilliantly. Each time we return to it between the other characters’ stories, our understanding of Craig’s predicament is enriched and each link propels us forward.  

Is there a particular segment within the film you find to have the most impact? 

People usually say either the 'Ventriloquist’s Dummy' story or the 'Haunted Mirror' story, with good reason, but my favourite has always been the first individual story, 'Hearse Driver'. It’s very brief compared to the other stories but it sets up the kind of scares that we then expect from the rest of the film. It has the film’s first real ‘goose bump moment’, when time seems to freeze and the protagonist has his strange vision. The creepiness starts there.


What is it about horror cinema that appeals to you so much?

My father was a cinema manager for many, many years, which meant that I got in to see quite a lot of films for free from a very young age. I recall once seeing a trailer for one of the later Christopher Lee Dracula movies - I couldn't tell you which one although I vividly remember a close-up of his bloodshot eyes - I couldn't have been much more than 9 or 10. I can't remember what the main feature was that I was there to see, probably because I couldn't stop thinking about that Dracula trailer! So from then on it was horror all the way. I got given a copy of Denis Gifford's 'Pictorial History of Horror Movies' soon after - some of the images in that flipped my lid - and I was down the joke shop most weeks buying stick-on scars and various other horror make-up effects. I had a whole collection of lopped off plastic body parts; from memory I had a finger, a thumb, a hand and even a whole arm, which I used to brandish in front of my easily startled aunties! I do have a broad and abiding interest in most areas of cinema but I keep coming back to horror. For many it will never provide anything other than lurid cheap thrills, but I think horror movies reveal a great deal about the times in which they were made.  

Do you feel the influence of Dead of Night has been particularly strong on any horror titles throughout the years?

I mentioned the Amicus anthologies previously, which owe a great deal to Dead of Night. It's not so easy to spot a link to the Hammer horror films that started appearing a dozen or so years after Dead of Night, although the dark Gothic sumptuousness of 'the room in the mirror' in the 'Haunted Mirror' story has elements of typical Hammer set dressing. You can certainly see aspects of the film in more recent horror films; the idea of cheating death in 'Hearse Driver' is there in the Final Destination films, the horror of sleep and dreams informs the Nightmare on Elm Street series, haunted mirrors keep cropping up - check out Oculus for a good recent example - as do dummies - directly in Richard Attenborough's Magic, but also, in a way, through the Child's Play/'Chucky' films, Annabelle and very recently, The Boy. We also suspect that Hitchcock was influenced by Dead of Night when making Psycho; dual personality and mirrors feature prominently, but also the whole 'Ventriloquist's Dummy' story is a big influence. Look at the way that story ends and compare it to the ending of Psycho.  

In his recent review of your monograph, Stephen Volk described Dead of Night as “An unforgettable classic of the genre.” In your own opinion, what elements of the film combine to give it its ‘classic’ status? 

Coming out of the Ealing Studios stable doesn't hurt its reputation. Many of the people who made it either already were, or subsequently became synonymous with a golden age of British filmmaking. Within the horror genre it deserves to be highly regarded as a major precursor of what would come later. So we'd certainly argue that any budding horror film historians should recognise it as a key stone in the architecture of not just British, but also world horror cinema.  

What’s next for you?

I've just pitched a proposal to Auteur, publishers of the Devil's Advocates series, to write a monograph about a specific film for a forthcoming companion series of books that will focus on Science Fiction Cinema. Early days on that one but I'm keeping my fingers crossed!  


'Dead of Night’ by Jez Conolly and David Owain Bates is available now and can be purchased here. It is published by Auteur, a leading independent Film and Media Studies publisher, and part of the Devil's Advocates series devoted to exploring the classics of horror cinema. 

Contributors to Devil's Advocates come from the worlds of academia, journalism and fiction, but all have one thing in common: a passion for the horror film and for sharing that passion.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Reading Ghost Stories at Christmas...

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house 
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse... 

I recently stumbled upon this beautifully old-fashioned advice* on the proper way to consume ghost stories at Christmas:

"If during the Yule-tide you wish thoroughly to enter into the spirit of the season, procure a good tumblerful of creature-comfort, steaming, with a trifle of powdered nutmeg in it, some thin lemon peel, and a grain of sugar, place it on a small stand beside your old arm-chair, in which you will have comfortably deposited yourself, and well gently inhaling the Virginian fumes in the presence of a cheerful Yule-log fire commence reading the 'Ghost Stories of an Antiquary', by M.R. James… On rising to retire to bed, say, when the clock is striking the hour of midnight, you will be heartily glad of a brave companion, who will assist you in ascertaining that all bolts and bars are scrupulously fastened, that all doors are locked, that there are no weird arms coming out from behind any curtains."

*This advice was originally printed in the Special Collections’ edition of James's 'More Ghost Stories' in 1911. I read about it, and other spooky reading recommendations for Christmas, here.

Behind the Couch Turns 7 Years Old!

Behind the Couch turned seven years old this month.

Celebrations have been somewhat sedate though, as it’s been a pretty quiet year in terms of blogging. That said, looking back over the last twelve months, it looks like I enjoyed some damn fine slasher films and rejoiced in some new titles which were lauded as ‘future classics’.

Away from blogging, I reviewed DVDs aplenty for Exquisite Terror and was lucky enough to interview a couple of fantastic film composers for Paracinema: I chatted to Rich Vreeland (aka Disasterpiece) and Jonathan Snipes about their scores for It Follows and Starry Eyes, respectively. I also contributed essays to the likes of Eurohorror fanzine Fang of Joy and was nominated for a Rondo Hatton Award in the Best Article category. The article, 'Family Man' (a look at Tobe Hooper’s meaty representations of the family unit in all its deadly, dysfunctional and dynamic forms), was published in issue 20 of Diabolique Magazine in March/April, 2014. 

Things will continue to be fairly quiet around here as I’ve just started working on another book. I shan’t say too much about it now, except that it’s a monograph on a film I love dearly; a film that features many of my favourite things, including werewolves, fairy tales, gender issues and folklore…

To everyone who has dropped by over the last year - thank you! I hope you'll continue to do so. 

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Women in Horror Annual

As a literary genre, horror was primarily written for and read by women. As a cinematic genre, horror has always drawn a large female audience. And yet, in popular media and culture, horror is often branded 'male'. The Women in Horror Annual is an anthology of horror fiction and non-fiction authored by female writers. While there are of course plenty of horror anthologies out there, none are exclusively authored by female writers, meaning this annual is a first-of-its-kind. The goal of its editors - Christine Makepeace (author and former editor of Paracinema Magazine) and Rachel Katz (former contributing writer for Paracinema Magazine) - is to celebrate female voices, opinions and scholarship, and to provide a showcase of women’s contribution to horror literature, culture, and entertainment. 

The works have been submitted, selected and edited. The next step is publication, and that's where you come in. With your assistance, the WHA will be made available in electronic and hard copy formats - all the editors need is $5000 to cover printing and advertising costs. Selling a book can be tough, and the horror market is large; ad space in magazines and copies for reviewers cost money. Any donation is greatly appreciated, and all monies (whether the goal is reached or not) will be put towards bringing this book into the world and into the hands of readers.

If money is tight, there are other ways to help. A Facebook post, a tweet, smoke signals, an announcement over the PA system in the subway, whatever you can do to help reach more readers, is gratefully appreciated.

The WHA is a labour of love, a passion project for the writers and editors involved.

Check out the IndieGoGo page for further details on how you can help.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Interview with Lawrie Brewster

Filmmaker Lawrie Brewster once claimed he was “committed to making serious, alternative horror films that aim to tell genuine, emotionally-driven stories with intriguing characters set against backgrounds filled with mysterious lore and mythology.” With his feature debut, Lord of Tears, he lived up to this promise, co-creating, with writer Sarah Daly, one of the most atmospheric, strangely moving and unsettling filmic ghost stories in quite some time. His latest film, The Unkindness of Ravens - which tells of an army veteran besieged by a legion of demonic ravens in the highlands of Scotland - looks set to further establish him as a creator of unique and striking horror cinema…

You’ve just completed filming The Unkindness of Ravens. When will it be released? 

Using Kickstarter, we're hoping to get some finishing funds to complete the soundtrack for the film, produce DVDs and launch a marketing and distribution campaign. All going well, the film should be complete and ready for release in the summer of 2016.

What inspired you while working on The Unkindness of Ravens

We've really worked hard to try and make The Unkindness of Ravens feel like something totally unique, but that said we've drawn some influences from other horror movies I love. Some of them might almost seem like contradictory influences too, for example the film has the claustrophobia of The Evil Dead, but the epic and nightmarish visceral quality of Hellraiser. It also has a serious drama side that might remind folks more of films like Kill List and Jacob's Ladder. We also have a very hard edged pagan influence to the film that definitely will remind some people of The Wicker Man... Basically imagine The Wicker Man and Hellraiser combined into some kind of heinous screaming beast and you'll be about there. Besides film, a massive influence comes from ancient mythology, I'm something of a literature and ancient history geek, so our films always find strange and unsettling horrors to bring back to life.

The Ride of the Valkyrs (1909) by John Charles Dollman


Where did the inspiration for the Raven Warriors come from? 

We've always been fascinated by theology and mythology, it's where we drew the Owl Man from and also where we found inspiration for the Raven Warriors, who, if you watch the film closely, you will find have a strange connection to the Owl Man. In mythology, ravens and crows are often associated with death and also with the battlefield, from the Norse Valkyries to the Celtic Morrigan. By sheer coincidence - or strange fate - the only catering available near our shooting location was at a restaurant called the Blackbird Inn and the adjoining Raven Lounge pub! We drew from these mythological sources but created our own rich mythos, which you see glimpses of in the film, but which we'll go into in more detail in the literature we'll include with the film. With Lord of Tears we produced a 400 page digital Production Diary and we plan to do the same for The Unkindness of Ravens so there'll be plenty of lore for fans to delve into!

The Unkindness of Ravens stars Jamie Scott-Gordon


Were there any particular challenges with making the film? 

Well, shooting out in the Scottish wilderness will always have its challenges. We never stopped shooting because of the weather, but often had to adapt... or just get drenched. We also didn't have a huge budget to work with so we had to be very clever with how we shot things, making every penny count, and also using our VFX skills to elevate the look and style of the film as much as we could. Since we're a small, independent outfit, many of our crew had to multi-task on the production. For example Michael Brewster, our cinematographer, had a plethora of roles including VFX artist, T-shirt model, amateur taxidermist, as well as appearing in the film as a mad, eyeless ghost. Every film has its challenges though, whatever the budget. Putting the best story you possibly can on the screen is what you always strive for and with a lot of hard work and a great team, I think we've managed to do that here.



Did you experience any creepy occurrences on the set? 

Driving back to our location after a feed at the Blackbird Inn one misty night, on a country lane in the pitch black Scottish winter, we happened upon an old lady, standing in the middle of the road. No one else around, no lights or other cars for miles. We stopped to see what she was doing out there all alone, wandering along the road in the absolute darkness, pretty certain we'd stumbled on some local ghost. But it seemed the poor old dear's car had broken down on her way to see a friend and she'd been looking for help for hours. We managed to get her car started and saw her safely on her way. Relief all round! We make and love horror movies, but we're all wusses when it comes to the supernatural creeping into real life! Also, while shooting outdoors one night at 2am, the sky lit up with a massive fireball coming from the hills opposite. A series of loud explosions followed. We were terrified, thinking in our sleep-deprived state that we were under attack, and planning our apocalypse survival strategy. Turns out it was some kind of military training exercise...



Why Kickstarter? 

The mainstream is becoming more and more narrow in the kinds of films it produces. To recoup their huge budgets they need to tell stories with mass appeal - and that's fine - but it means that mainstream cinema no longer creates risky, original content. More than ever, it's up to independents to tell those kinds of stories. Kickstarter allows niche audiences to decide what they want to see, and lets them help bring those projects to life. It's an important source of funding for stranger, riskier films, and I think its success proves that audiences do feel starved of original content. If it weren't for places like Kickstarter, films like ours that don't have big named actors or well-known branding would really struggle to get funded and produced. So, that's a big reason. Also, we love the way that Kickstarter lets us connect more closely with our audience – you find a lot of kindred spirits who are hungry for the same kinds of stories as you are, and it really bolsters you through the often lonely and difficult process of making and marketing a movie to know that they're on the journey with you, supporting what you're trying to do. Finally, since The Unkindness of Ravens is in post-production, we feel like we've minimised any risk to our backers, so they can feel good about pre-ordering the film, and in the process, helping the film get finished.

Director Lawrie Brewster and writer Sarah Daly
What's next for Lawrie Brewster and Hex Media?

Well, we're currently producing a slate of films in conjunction with Dark Dunes Productions. The next of these is Automata, which we've actually already shot and hope to finish some time next year. We'll also be shooting two more films next year as well as working with other directors to produce an anthology of horror shorts. So, no rest in sight!

To support Brewster and co, and check out the trailer for The Unkindness of Ravens, visit their Kickstarter page.

The Unkindness of Ravens

With Lord of Tears, director Lawrie Brewster and writer Sarah Daly created a truly haunting piece of work; one that marked them as a creative team to keep an eye out for. With its striking imagery, spooky Gaelic-Gothic atmosphere, intriguing folklore and creepy-as-hell antagonist, it was a rich and full-blooded ghost story, perfect viewing for these dark winter nights. For those who have seen, admired and been quietly unsettled by Lord of Tears, there is good news: Brewster and Daly have just finished work on their follow up film, The Unkindness of Ravens.


Shot on location in Fife and Perthshire, Scotland, the film seeks to explore the effect of the horrors of war on the human mind through the media of beautiful poetry and brutal violence. It tells of Andrew Alburn (Jamie Scott-Gordon), a homeless veteran suffering from PTSD. Plagued by flashbacks of the traumatic events he witnessed while serving in the armed forces, he is persuaded to venture out to a retreat in the remote Scottish Highlands in order to overcome his fear of ravens, the dark creatures that populate his terrifying visions. In this bleak wilderness however, his nightmares manifest into an enemy more powerful than he could ever have imagined, and he must battle monstrous entities and inner demons alike in order to keep his life, and reclaim his sanity.


Much like Lord of Tears, The Unkindness of Ravens looks set to be an imaginative and original horror film that blends the psychological with the supernatural in a nightmarish tale of one man's journey into hell. Despite its low budget, The Unkindness of Ravens is extremely ambitious. Aside from featuring original practical effects and tastefully-used CGI to give life to its sinister antagonists, it also takes a serious, artistic approach to its subject matter.; by exploring the human cost of war, it puts the audience in the mind of a man desperately fighting for his life long after the war has ended.

The filmmakers are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help them raise funding to finish the movie. You can help out by going here. You can also keep up to date with the filmmakers’ work on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, 30 October 2015

In Conversation with Alan Howarth

Perhaps best known for his collaborations with filmmaker John Carpenter, sound designer and composer Alan Howarth has contributed to some of the biggest genre films of the ’80s. His work with Carpenter on films such as Escape from New York, They Live and Prince of Darkness, resulted in some of genre cinema’s most striking and atmospheric scores. An award-winning sound designer, Howarth has also provided effects for the likes of Poltergeist, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and many of the Star Trek films.

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my interview with Mr. Howarth.

Readers in and around London might be interested to know that Alan is performing live at Union Chapel on 31st October. Go here for more information.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Night of the Living Deb

2015
Dir. Kyle Rankin

If there’s one subgenre of horror that has surely reached saturation point, it’s the zombie film. Yet time and again, it proves to be a robust and continually relevant aspect of horror cinema, with its ability to speak of various social and political issues and its knack for cross-pollination with other genres.

Following on from the likes of Warm Bodies (2013), Boy Eats Girl (2005) and Shaun of the Dead (2004), Night of the Living Deb is the latest amalgamation of typical zombie movie conventions with those of the romantic comedy. A zom-rom-com, if you will. While it doesn’t really offer viewers anything they haven’t seen before it still endears with its misfit characters, witty script and quirky sense of humour. 

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Some Kind of Hate

2015
Dir. Adam Egypt Mortimer

Part ghost story, part slasher film, Some Kind of Hate is an interesting if at times slightly formulaic tale of revenge. However, with its bleak karmic mantra and themes concerning the unique pain of adolescence, the devastating impact of bullying, self-harm and revenge, it’s a frequently intense viewing experience.

Mercilessly tormented by bullies, troubled high-school loner Lincoln (Ronen Rubinstein) eventually snaps and violently retaliates. He’s packed off to a desert commune for young misfits, only to again suffer at the hands of bullies. His rage summons an undead avenger, herself the victim of bullying, who begins to wreak bloody havoc on his behalf...

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Fang of Joy #3

Fang of Joy is an independently published zine that focuses on European horror and gialli. The brainchild of the insanely prolific Richard Schmidt (Hello, This is the Doomed Show; Cinema Somnambulist; Doomed Moviethon), it’s a labour of love that should appeal to admirers of European horror cinema. From Argento, Bava, Naschy and Ossorio, all the way to Laugier, Bustillo et Maury and Wheately; if you like your horror with a European flavour, this is a zine for you. 

Issue 3 contains articles, reviews and features on the likes of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Beyond the Darkness, The Black Belly of the Tarantula and The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism. There’s also an interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Stage Fright, City of the Living Dead), an introductory guide to the films of Jess Franco, my own humble contribution - an essay on Irish horror cinema - and much, much more.

Pick up a copy here.

Also, if you’re the sort of person who just can’t get enough of Italian gialli (understandable), Mr. Schmidt has just published a book on the subject, which can be obtained here

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Exquisite Terror Sale

Born from a love of horror, ponderous thoughts and meandering topics, Exquisite Terror is a periodical that takes a more academic approach to the genre, featuring exclusive art, script analysis and in-depth essays. We're having a sale at the moment, so if you'd like to pick up a copy, while stocks last, head here to do so. See below for further details on each issue...

STARBURST “Fascinating and informative”

BRUTAL AS HELL “Intelligent and enlightening”

STRANGE THINGS ARE HAPPENING “One of the best horror zines out there”

SEX GORE MUTANTS “Highly recommended”





Monday, 31 August 2015

Waking Nightmares: The Visions of Wes Craven

Throughout his career, Wes Craven created some of the most arresting, disturbing and genuinely haunting moments in horror cinema. That they were contained in some of the genre's most provocative and striking titles, is testament to his power as a filmmaker and a weaver of unsettling dreams... Very unsettling dreams.

Last House on the Left (1972) was Craven's intensely brutal debut

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) demonstrated what happens when you stray from the path

Deadly Blessing (1981) featured some of Craven's most unnerving imagery and ideas. And starred a fresh-faced Sharon Stone

Swamp Thing (1982)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) redefined the slasher film

Fred Krueger, a boogeyman for the Eighties

Freddy stalks a sleeping Nancy

Another haunting vision...

Feverish sexual connotations mix with primal fear

Nancy turns her back on fear and denies it power over her

Deadly Friend (1986) was a disappointing remix of 'Frankenstein' for Eighties' teens 

The Serpent & The Rainbow (1988) combined political subtext and voodoo shocks

Shocker (1989) was Craven's attempt to create a new horror icon/franchise

Bloody visions in Shocker (1989)

The People Under the Stairs (1991), a terrifying exploration of class, race and familial strife

Alice through a bloody looking-glass...

Family problems and monstrous mothers in The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) a postmodern spin on the series and a prelude to Scream

A nod to Tina's death scene from the original film

Krueger appeared 'darker, more evil' in New Nightmare

For Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Craven paired up with Eddie Murphy, who wanted to make a straight horror film, whereas Craven wanted to explore comedy. 

Scream (1996) re-wrote all the rules...

Scream 2 (1997), a fine sequel

Scream 3 (2000) favored chuckles over chills

Scream 4 (2011) proved there was still life in the series

Music of the Heart (1999), surely Craven's most terrifying film...

My Soul to Take (2010) explored familiar themes...

...and images