Posts

Diary of the Dead (2007)

Image
As the director of Night of the Living Dead (1968), George Romero will be remembered as one of the major pioneers of the modern horror film. A truly groundbreaking work, it was released just eight years after Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and like that film, Night of the Living Dead similarly suggested that monsters can live right next door to us. Indeed, Romero took this notion one step further by suggesting that it is us who are the monsters. Several sequels followed, all of which provided socio-political commentary against the backdrop of a world where the dead return to life and consume the living, an examination of the human condition, and how ordinary people faced with extraordinary, unprecedented events struggle to survive. The horror in these films stems from the things people do to themselves and each other when the world as we know it comes shuddering to an end and humanity fragments and literally eats itself.

Following on from Romero's previous Dead film, the ambitious La…

Lurking in the Stacks

Image
Boris Karloff will forever be remembered for his portrayal of the tragic man-made 'monster' in James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s immensely influential Gothic novel, Frankenstein. The star of many classic titles of horror cinema, including The Mummy, Bride of Frankenstein, The Body Snatcher, The Old Dark House and Black Sabbath, Karloff's commanding presence upon the silver screen, coupled with the frequently dark characters he portrayed, earned him the nickname ‘Karloff the Uncanny’. Forrest J. Ackerman’s The Frankenscience Monster looks at the actor’s career and legacy as an icon of horror cinema. Ackerman met Karloff ten times during Karloff’s life and this book shares those experiences. It also gathers the experiences and anecdotes of others who knew and worked with Karloff, including the likes of Ray Bradbury, Sir Christopher Lee, Robert Bloch, Vincent Price and Lon Chaney. Ackerman notes “As the Chaney of the Silents was ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces”, Karlof…

The Wind (1986)

Image
When pulp-mystery author Sian Anderson (Meg Foster) needs seclusion to write her next bestseller, she rents a villa on a lonely, picturesque island off the coast of Greece. Before she’s even managed to draft her initial outline however, she finds herself caught up in the plot of a real-life murder-mystery when she witnesses the local handyman burying a body. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, as Sian is menaced in her isolated villa by the unhinged killer who is hellbent on ensuring there are no witnesses to his crime.

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.

Why Don’t You Just Die? (2018)

Image
The debut feature film from writer-director Kirill Sokolov takes a familiar scenario - various characters gathered in one location, all of whom have motive for wanting to kill a specific person in their midst - but approaches it in a fresh and idiosyncratic way. Resembling a sort of Grand Guignol sitcom, Sokolov's filmhits the ground running and opens with an incredibly tense scene - in which a young man, with a hammer secreted in his back pocket, visits the home of his girlfriend’s parents for the first time - and only pauses for breath when the end credits roll.

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.

The White Reindeer (1952)

Image
The debut feature film by Finnish documentary filmmaker Erik Blomberg, The White Reindeer is a heady amalgamation of Scandinavian folklore, Sámi shamanism, societal gender inequality and sexual anxiety. When newly married Pirita (the film’s co-writer, Mirjami Kuosmanen) begins to feel lonely and frustrated as her reindeer-herder husband must spend long periods of time away from home, she visits a shaman for a remedy. He concocts a potion to ensure Pirita is so alluring that her husband will be unable to leave her. However, the potion, combined with Pirita’s emerging latent powers (she was born a witch), transforms her into a bloodthirsty, vampiric shapeshifter who, in the form of a white reindeer, lures men out into the snowy wilderness where she consumes them.

With its story unfolding amidst vast snowy vistas and within cosy log cabins (the interiors of which are filled with long shadows cast by glowing hearths) Blomberg’s film is awash with striking imagery and enshrouded within a …

Society (1989)

Image
The 1980s were a great time for horror cinema. The emergence of ground-breaking make-up and special effects work enabled filmmakers to depict unimaginable horrors in ways never possible before. When effects were used to enhance gripping stories, the results were frequently memorable and powerful. The likes of An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Thing (1982), with their astounding depictions of lycanthropic transformations and unspeakable terrors from beyond the stars, respectively, thrust audiences headfirst into all manner of visceral, eye-popping imagery. Brian Yuzna’s satirical body-horror Society is another of these titles. It tells of a teenager who begins to suspect his wealthy family are part of a mysterious elite cult and have dubious intentions for him. As the story unfolds, we’re given hints here and there of the weird, almost otherworldly nature of the cult and its members, before it is finally revealed at the jaw-dropping climax in all its gory, body-melting glo…

RIP Stuart Gordon

Image
Cult film and stage director Stuart Gordon has died at the age of 72. Famed for his Lovecraft adaptations, including Re-Animator(1985), From Beyond (1986), Dagon (2001), Castle Freak (1995) and Dreams in the Witch House (2005), Gordon was also a playwright, and began his career producing experimental, frequently controversial stage plays before moving on to film in the 80s.

Born and raised in Chicago, Gordon majored in theatre studies at the University of Wisconsin, where he founded the theatre company Screw Theater. Together with his wife and collaborator, actress and writer Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, he formed the Organic Theater, described by a friend of the director’s as “the take-off-your-clothes, scream and bleed theater.” The company quickly garnered a reputation for radical, politically charged, anti-establishment productions, including an anti-Vietnam war re-telling of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, which actually resulted in the arrest of Gordon and Purdy-Gordon on charges of 'obsc…

London in lockdown

Image
Earlier this week the prime minister announced strict new measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus in the UK. People may only leave home to exercise once a day, travel to and from work when it is "absolutely necessary", shop for essential items and fulfil any medical or care needs. Shops selling non-essential goods have been closed and gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together are prohibited.

As we're currently still allowed to leave the house once a day in order to exercise, I was thinking about places I could go for a walk where I would not only encounter as few people as possible (I’m trying to be careful and responsible when I go outside at all) but could also take a few photos of London’s eerily deserted streets. One of my housemates and I decided to leave early in the morning when we thought there would be (even) less people around. Exercising caution and social distancing when we did (infrequently) encounter other people, we walked…

My Book on the films of Dario Argento Turns 10 (!)

Image
On this day, ten years ago (!), my book on the films of Dario Argento was published by Kamera Books (part of the Oldcastle Books group). I initially pitched the book at the beginning of 2008 and was commissioned to write it in March. My aim was to write an accessible introduction to Argento’s body of work – much had of course already been written about his films, but generally speaking, it was very academic (which is fine, obviously, but I wanted to bridge a gap) – and to examine each of his films and identify key themes and motifs throughout. I was able to look at everything up to Giallo (2009), the premiere of which I checked out at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June 2009. Argento's last film, to date, was Dracula 3D (2012), so it remains the only film not included.  

Initially the book was intended to be part of the Pocket Essentials series, however that series was later transformed into 'Kamera Books', in part as a response to bookshops commenting that the Pocket Es…

XX (2017)

Image
Featuring stories by and about women, XX is a potent horror anthology written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama and Sofia Carrillo. It features four distinctive segments and an interstitial piece, which, amongst other things, explore themes of motherhood, familial dysfunction, loss and social isolation.

By their very nature, anthology films can vary greatly in content, style, structure, tone and pacing, particularly ones involving contributions from several filmmakers, and the constant interruption of the narrative flow when we pull back to the framing story can be jarring. When done well though, we get the likes of XX, which unfurls as a macabre collection of unsettling stories that leaves a deeply haunting impression.

Written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic (The Captured Bird, former editor of Rue Morgue), and adapted from a short story by Jack Ketchum, The Box is a dark, upsetting tale that delves into parental fears of helplessness. Wh…

Lurking in the Stacks

Image
Loosely based on Guy Endore’s novel The Werewolf of Paris (also adapted by Hammer as The Curse of the Werewolf in 1961) Legend of the Werewolf was produced by Tyburn Films in 1975 and starred Peter Cushing. Edward Buscombe’s exquisitely detailed account of the making of this British cult-horror classic contains interviews and accounts from cast and crew involved in every aspect of the filming process. Published by the BFI, this book was the first to recount the making of a British horror film. And it does so with so much enthusiasm and attention to detail. Every stage of the film’s production is delved into, from finance to casting, shooting and editing, scoring and special effects, to marketing and distribution. The making of the film is pieced together through accounts from the cast and crew, including director Freddie Francis and star Peter Cushing. It’s a jolly delightful glimpse into how British films were made in the 70s. There’s also a section on Tyburn Films, the sadly short …

Titles in the library

Image
Kier-La Janisse’s fabulously titled House of Psychotic Women: an autobiographical topography of female neurosis in horror and exploitation films, is an examination of ‘female madness’ in horror. Janisse asserts that unlike her male counterpart, the female neurotic lives a shamed existence, and that the horror genre – unlike any other genre - provides a platform for women characters to express particular destructive, ‘shameful’ emotions. Paranoia, loneliness, masochistic death-wishes, obsessiveness and hysteria are given space to be expressed and play out. Film history, academic analysis and painstaking research are deftly woven through personal anecdotes, memories and experiences to form a compelling exploration of psychological turmoil and breakdown. Titles covered include Possession, Repulsion, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, The Entity, The Piano Teacher, The Brood, Antichrist and Black Swan.


The influence of folk and fairy stories on horror cinema is the subject of Sue Short’s Misf…

New titles in the library

Image
According to the t-shirt Madonna wore in the video for Papa Don’t Preach (1986), ‘Italians do it better’, which was obviously a reference to horror films. Two new additions to the BFI’s Reuben Library delve into the dazzlingly stylish, brutally violent world of Italian horror cinema: Roberto Curti’s Blood and Black Lace and director Dario Argento’s autobiography, Fear.

Part of the Devil’s Advocates series, Curti’s book explores Mario Bava’s seminal giallo, which tells of a faceless killer stalking the halls of a luxurious Roman fashion house. Curti explores the production history of Bava’s cult film, contextualises it within Italian cinema and analyses the director’s unique approach to aesthetics and genre. He also gives consideration to the film’s historical impact (particularly in terms of its depiction of violence), its influence on future filmmakers and its impact on the giallo, the tropes and conventions of which it helped congeal.


In his autobiography, Dario Argento - aka ‘the …

A Brief History of the Necronomicon

Image
After my recent viewing of Evil Dead (2013), I found myself thinking about the subtle (and not so subtle) Lovecraftian elements, particularly the creepy arcane tome found in the cellar of the cabin. A prominent feature of the earlier Evil Dead films too, the Necronomicon is an ancient (fictional) grimoire containing summoning spells, incantations, the laws of the dead and various accounts of an unknowable pantheon of cosmic deities known as the Great Old Ones. The Necronomicon was created by HP Lovecraft and appeared in many of his stories. According to Lovecraft scholar ST Joshi, the author was likely inspired to create a fictional grimoire that could drive its reader insane and unleash incomprehensible cosmic horrors from the beyond, by a collection of short stories by Robert Chambers, The King in Yellow (1895). In his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927), Lovecraft describes this collection as: “a series of vaguely connected short stories having as a background a monstro…

Evil Dead (2013)

Image
Fede Álvarez's remake of Evil Dead (1981) throws out the splat-stick humour of Sam Raimi’s original shocker and ups the ferocity to nearly unbearable levels to create a dark, surprisingly bleak and frequently horrifying film. The basic plot – a group of friends fall prey to demonic forces while staying at an isolated cabin the woods – remains largely the same, but Álvarez introduces a compelling element involving addiction and grief to really flesh things out.

The screenplay – co-written by Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues – is an exercise in stripped back storytelling with minimalist plot. There is a welcome emphasis on the use of practical effects instead of CGI, which results in some truly startling make-up and gore, further enhanced by a raw physicality from the actors who all throw themselves into proceedings with grim aplomb. While the violence is certainly outlandish, it is grounded in a gritty realism quite far removed from Raimi’s original, which makes it all the more unsettlin…

New Titles in the Library

Image
Basil Glynn’s The Mummy on Screen: orientalism and monstrosity in horror cinema explores the history of the Mummy film, analysing lost, half-forgotten films alongside chilling classics. By focusing on the Mummy's development from the silent era, all the way through its myriad incarnations in classic Universal and Hammer films, Glynn suggests the cinematic Mummy needs to be understood in terms of ‘changing discourses of race (in particular Orientalism), trangressive romance and monstrosity’ in order to truly appreciate its continued appeal to audiences.


When it was broadcast by the BBC in 1974, Penda’s Fen startled audiences with its tale of an English village rector’s son coming of age amidst folkloric visions of pagan wonderment and anguished sexual awakening. Edited by Matthew Harle and James Machin, Of Mud & Flame: The Penda’s Fen Sourcebook is a deep-map of the film containing contributions from scholars (including Adam Scovell, William Fowler, Beth Whalley and Yvonne Sal…