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The Moth Diaries (2011)

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Written and directed by Mary Harron, and adapted from the YA novel by Rachel Klein, The Moth Diaries tells of Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), a teenager at an all-girls boarding school who begins to suspect that the new student, Ernessa (Lily Cole), is a vampire. Throughout, Harron re-works and updates many Gothic traditions and tropes, adding a rich depth to proceedings and evoking a suitably haunting atmosphere.  While the story can be read as an updated interpretation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Gothic novella Carmilla (1872), Harron’s screenplay places first and foremost the ever-shifting relationships and dynamics between the group of friends. New girl Ernessa might be a vampire, but Harron doesn’t let that detract from the realigning allegiances between friends sparked by her arrival at the school. Ernessa serves as a catalyst, driving a wedge between best friends Rebecca and Lucy (Sarah Gadon). Harron’s script delves into the intensity and complexity of the friendships forged at the boarding

Mirror Mirror (1990)

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Directed by Marina Sargenti, Mirror Mirror tells of Megan (Rainbow Harvest), a high-school student who discovers the antique mirror left behind by the previous occupants of her new home harbours demonic powers and the ability to grant her wishes… with deadly consequences. With its gothy, at times very campy sensibility, the film has rightly garnered a cult following over the years. At its heart, however, is the timeless notion of an outsider trying to find her place in the world, and with its themes concerning the corrupting influence of power and the consequences of selfishness, it unravels as a dark and spooky contemporary fairy tale.  Megan (Rainbow Harvest), who bears a striking resemblance to Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder) from Beetlejuice (1988), is a gothy outsider who despairs at her relocation from LA to small town suburbia. She can’t relate to her mother (Karen Black) and is mercilessly taunted by her classmates because of her looks and quiet demeanour. Harvest perfectly conveys

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

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A knowing blend of demonic-possession horror, teen comedy, rape-revenge narrative and coming of age satire, Jennifer’s Body tells of the complex friendship between two girls, one of whom becomes possessed by a succubus demon and begins devouring her male classmates. From its first line of dialogue, ‘Hell is a teenage girl’, it unravels as a razor-sharp and satirical dismantling of societal gender roles and stereotypes, sexual politics and an examination of the horrors and anxieties of growing up a young woman. Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, it plays with familiar tropes and offers something that still feels remarkably fresh. Indeed, since #MeToo and #TimesUp, its central themes are as relevant as ever.  At the heart of Cody's screenplay is an exploration of a complicated and toxic friendship. Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried) have been friends since they were children. There’s a strong co-dependency between them, the complexities of which becom

Lurking on the Book Shelves: Horror in Space, Queens of the Abyss & The 90s Teen Horror Cycle

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Editor Michele Brittany’s Horror in Space: Critical Essays on a Film Subgenre gathers a number of essays examining the various concepts, tropes and ideas associated with space horror. In her introduction, Brittany, book review editor for the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics and co-chair of the Ann Radcliffe Conference, sets out a definition of space horror, notes its predominant themes and discusses its evolution throughout the history of cinema, from Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) to more recent titles including Sunshine (2007) and Prometheus (2012). Elsewhere, the various contributors discuss titles including Alien, Event Horizon, John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, Jason X and Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires and how filmmakers have exploited the setting of the great unknown to probe concepts such as the Final Girl/Survivor, the ‘uncanny valley’, the isolationism of space travel, religion and supernatural phenomena. From Juliane Schlag’s Out of Space – Out of T

Dark Touch (2013)

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A dark revenge fantasy with echoes of Stephen King’s Carrie and Firestarter , Dark Touch tells of a young girl with terrifying powers that are conjured through pain and rage. When her parents die violently and in mysterious circumstances, Niamh (Missy Keating, who provides a truly compelling performance) is taken in by her neighbours whose own young daughter has recently died. Niamh insists her parents were killed when the house came alive, but authorities dismiss her claims and attribute the deaths to a violent home invasion. Before long though, her neighbours begin to sense that something unusual is now happening in their home, too.  The work of writer and director Marina de Van frequently explores themes such as the vulnerability of the flesh, body dysmorphia and psychological turmoil, and with Dark Touch , she explores the devastating effect of child abuse through the tropes of the evil/demon child sub-genre. Such films (including titles like The Bad Seed, Orphan, Village of the

The Power (2021)

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Set in 1973, writer-director Corinna Faith’s feature debut tells of student nurse Val (Rose Williams) who is forced to work the night shift in an old Victorian hospital in London’s east end. Her first night coincides with scheduled power cuts across Britain as the result of miners’ strikes. With most of the patients and staff transferred to another hospital for the night, only a skeleton crew remains to look after two wards powered by a generator. It soon becomes apparent to Val, who harbours a deep fear of the dark stemming from abuse she suffered as a child, that they are not alone. Someone, or some thing , makes its terrifying presence felt as it stalks the young nurse through the darkened hallways of the hospital...  With its brilliantly simple yet chilling premise, The Power is an atmospheric slow-burn of a ghost story. Like all good ghost stories, this too is steeped in tragedy. Faith establishes a brooding, creepy atmosphere, initially keeping everything rather suggestive. The

Shirley (2020)

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When Rose Nemser's (Odessa Young) husband attains a teaching assistant position at Bennington College, Vermont, the couple are invited to stay with Professor Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife, the infamous mystery and horror author Shirley Jackson (Elizabeth Moss), whose most recent short story 'The Lottery' is causing quite a stir. Before long, tensions mount within the house and Shirley begins work on a new novel about a missing girl...  Adapted by screenwriter Sarah Gubbins from Susan Scarf Merrell’s 2014 novel of the same name, Shirley is an unusual biopic that sidesteps the conventions of the form as it is more inspired by Jackson’s work than her actual life. Merrell’s novel, equal parts dark literary thriller and enthralling love letter to Shirley Jackson and her haunting body of work, is a fictionalised account of a period in Jackson’s life. Like the novel, this adaptation takes as much artistic licence as it perfectly evokes the atmosphere of Jackson’

I Am Nancy (2011)

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Actress and producer Heather Langenkamp is best known for her role as Nancy Thompson in Wes Craven’s classic chiller A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Directed by Arlene Marechal, I Am Nancy  is an exploration of Langenkamp's experience portraying the heroine and of the impact of the film and its antagonist, Freddy Krueger, on pop-culture. It follows Langenkamp as she attends horror conventions around the world and talks with fans about what attracts them to horror, specifically the A Nightmare on Elm Street films , and what the characters of Nancy and Freddy mean to them.  The film follows on from  Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy , a 2010 documentary chronicling the entire  A Nightmare on Elm Street  franchise, which was executive produced and narrated by Langenkamp, who felt a number of issues were not explored in enough depth. By questioning why heroine Nancy was eclipsed by villain Freddy Kreuger, Langenkamp’s own investigation touches upon wider issues about hero wo

Pet Sematary Two (1992)

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After the death of his mother, teenager Jeff (Edward Furlong) and his veterinarian father move to her hometown to start a new life for themselves. When Jeff befriends Drew, the stepson of the local sheriff, he learns of an ancient Native American burial ground deep in the forest outside of town that, according to local legend, has the power to raise the dead. When the sheriff shoots Drew’s beloved dog, the boys decide to see if there’s any truth to the lore, with mainly schlocky consequences…  Director Mary Lambert had wanted Pet Sematary Two to pick up the story again with Ellie Creed, the young daughter from the first film, and follow her as she returned to Maine to find out what happened to her parents. Alas, the studio (Paramount) didn’t feel confident that a teenaged girl could carry the film as its protagonist, so they cast… a teenaged boy, instead. Whereas the first film addressed the tragedy of death and the overwhelming power of grief, the sequel, like many other horror title

Pet Sematary (1989)

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When the Creed family move into their new home, they discover a pet cemetery in the woods behind their house. After a tragic accident, the grieving father learns through local folklore that another burial ground, much more ancient and deeper into the woods, has the power to raise the dead…  Based on the novel by Stephen King (and adapted for screen by the author) Pet Sematary is a rumination on death, grief and the darkness of the human heart when it wants something so much it doesn’t consider the consequences. King once admitted that of all his work, nothing scared him or troubled him as much as Pet Sematary . In the book’s introduction, he recounts the events that inspired it: ‘I simply took existing elements and threw in that one terrible what if . Put another way, I found myself not just thinking the unthinkable, but writing it down.’ Influenced by WW Jacobs’ short story The Monkey’s Paw , which is also about death, grief and the unspeakable horror that follows when a loved one is

Honeymoon (2014)

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Newly married Bea and Paul (Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway) decide to take their honeymoon at her family’s secluded lakeside cabin deep in the forest. Their bliss is shattered after Paul finds Bea wandering disorientated in the forest at night and soon after she begins to seem less and less like herself. To begin with, it’s little things, like forgetfulness, but before long, her personality changes and even her grasp of language diminishes, while she insists everything is fine. As Paul’s attempts to get them to leave and go back home become increasingly desperate, he realises that they are not as alone as they thought, and something lurks in the surrounding forest, its insidious grip on Rose becoming ever more powerful…  Directed by Leigh Janiak (who co-wrote the screenplay with Phil Graziadei), Honeymoon unfurls as a deeply haunting and suspenseful two-hander. The unsettling notion that the person you have married and chosen to spend the rest of your life with, suddenly changes and

Darlin’ (2019)

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Written and directed by Pollyanna McIntosh (a familiar face in horror having starred in titles such as White Settlers [2014], Tales of Halloween [2015] and The Walking Dead [2017-2018]), Darlin’ is a powerful, socially minded sequel to Lucky McKee’s 2011 film The Woman (which stared McIntosh as the formidable titular character). It picks up the story several years later, but also works well as a standalone film, as it follows the journey of a feral girl who is rehomed in a strict Catholic boarding school where a predatory bishop attempts to civilise her to gain publicity for his failing church. Meanwhile, the woman (McIntosh again, who resumes the role here with similar conviction) leaves a bloody trail of violence as she gradually tracks down her daughter, creating a further strand of tension. While McKee’s film depicted its protagonist being beaten and physically abused into submission and ‘civility’, with Darlin’ , McIntosh adopts a much more psychological approach in her explo

Sea Fever (2019)

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Written and directed by Neasa Hardiman, Sea Fever unfurls as a slow-burning, dread-fuelled nautical tale of terror. As a mandatory requirement for her studies, introverted marine-biology student Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) joins the close-knit crew of a fishing trawler as they head out from the west coast of Ireland. They become marooned out on the Atlantic when they encounter an unfathomable life-form that ensnares the boat. As members of the crew (which include Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen) gradually succumb to a deadly infection caused by contact with the parasitic creature, Siobhán must win the trust of the increasingly paranoid crew and find a solution before it’s too late.  With its central themes of isolation, infection and paranoia, Sea Fever echoes sci-fi horror classics such as The Thing (1982), Alien  (1979) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), but Hardiman’s approach - grounded in realism and science - well developed characters, and favouring of insidious unease

Lurking on the Book Shelves: Women in Horror

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Film critic, academic and author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas's 1000 Women in Horror 1895-2018 is an exhaustive love-letter to the vast numbers of women who have worked in horror cinema, both behind and in front of the camera, for over a century and whose contributions are so often unfairly overlooked in favour of their male counterparts. The work of these women has left a significant mark on the genre and helped make horror cinema what it is today. From the Classical Hollywood era to alt-Nollywood, the mumblegore movement to J-horror, 1000 Women in Horror contains a filmography of over 700 feature films directed or co-directed by women and features interviews with filmmakers including Tara Anaïse, Anna Biller, Axelle Carolyn, Aislinn Clarke, Julia Ducournau and Karen Lam.  In a recent interview with EW , Heller-Nicholas said "When we think of women in horror, we default to Janet Leigh or Texas Chain Saw Massacre, those really iconic images from horror films. We think of terror

RIP Daria Nicolodi

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Actress and screenwriter Daria Nicolodi has died at the age of 70. Her death, on 26th November, was announced by her daughter, Asia Argento.  Nicolodi was born in Florence, 1950, and made her film debut in the 1970 war film Uomini contro ( Many Wars Ago ) playing a Red Cross nurse. She came to fame in 1975 when she was cast as savvy investigative reporter Gianna Brezzi, in Dario Argento's classic giallo, Profondo rosso ( Deep Red ). This role would be hugely impactful, not only upon her career, but also her personal life, as she and Argento soon began a relationship and had a child together (Asia).  Nicolodi was integral in the conception of Argento's next film Suspiria (1977), which she co-wrote. A dark and violent fairy tale horror, Suspiria tells of a young ballet student who discovers the academy where she has enrolled is home to a coven of evil witches. Nicolodi had been inspired by tales of witches and black magic told to her by her grandmother, who claimed to have had

The Projection Booth Episode 489: The Company of Wolves (1984)

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The Company of Wolves  (1984) is a unique beast; part fairy tale, part werewolf film, part horror film, part rite of passage narrative. It was Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan’s second film, and his first foray into the realms of Gothic horror. Jordan co-wrote the screenplay with British novelist Angela Carter, and it is based upon several short stories from Carter’s  The Bloody Chamber , a collection of reinterpreted folk tales and classic literary fairy tales told from a piercing feminist perspective. The latest episode of Mike White's critically acclaimed podcast The Projection Booth features culture writer Heather Drain and author and editor of Diabolique  Magazine Kat Ellinger discussing The Company of Wolves . I was invited on to chat about my book on the film (part of the Devil's Advocates book series ) and the research and writing process. We also talk about the importance of libraries and how, like folk tales, they facilitate access to our past and help us understand and

Libraries as Safe Places in Horror Cinema – Case Study Two: Ginger Snaps: Unleashed (2004)

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As mentioned in the previous post, characters in horror cinema and literature often assume the role of information gatherer/knowledge seeker. They may find they need to conduct research in order to uncover truth. Sometimes equipping oneself with reliable information in order to obtain truth can mean the difference between life and death. Characters may visit libraries to fulfil their information needs - sometimes with the guidance and support of library staff. More than just storehouses for books, the main purpose of a library is to provide users free access to information and resources for learning (and for recreation, but that’s another blogpost). By facilitating this access, public libraries - once described as ‘street corner universities’ (Chowdhury, 2008, p147) - actively advocate life-long learning and a commitment to enabling people of all ages and walks of life to acquire new skills and knowledge they may, for various reasons, be otherwise unable to obtain. Not everyone has, fo