Saturday, 19 July 2014

Livid

2011
Dirs. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo

With Livid, the makers of Inside, one of the most intense and shocking of a recent slew of New Wave Gallic horror films, venture down a more fantastical, though no less traumatic route for their sophomore offering.

When Lucy (Chloé Coulloud) begins training as a care worker for the elderly, she visits the imposing and isolated home of an ancient, barely alive former ballet teacher called Madame Jessel. The young woman hears rumours of forbidden treasures hidden within the house, and when she tells her boyfriend and his brother, the three decide to break in, steal the treasure, and leave town to begin anew somewhere else. Needless to say when they enter Madame Jessel’s vast and eerie abode, things don’t go according to plan, and the three find themselves at the mercy of a powerful witch with vampiric tendencies…

Maury and Bustillo’s screenplay takes time to introduce and establish the three friends. They’re from a small fishing town where young people don’t have many prospects; Lucy’s boyfriend Will (Félix Moati) reluctantly works on the fishing boats, while his brother Ben (Jérémy Kapone) works in their mother’s tavern, The Slaughtered Lamb; the first of several interesting references to other horror titles. They are bored, restless and slightly rebellious. Lucy has a strained relationship with her father, and still grieves for her mother (the ever captivating Béatrice Dalle), who took her own life, while the boys try their mother’s patience in the absence of a father-figure. The family dynamics recall various fairytales in which parents are absent or uncaring, highlighting the sense of abandonment the three friends feel, as well as enriching the film’s strange fairytale aura.



Livid is one of the most striking looking horror titles of recent years. Its commanding imagery evokes a dark, fairytale-like atmosphere, particularly the beautiful old house in a state of decay in the middle of nowhere. The images of ballerinas, graceful and haunting, not only recall the witch-infested dance academy of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, but also speak of the fragility of the body. Later, when the characters are stalked through the house by mysterious figures unknown, several are pulled inside mirrors to glimpse grotesque wonderlands before being brutally slain. Another aspect of Livid’s unique look stems from its blending of the ancient with the modern – the old hag on her deathbed using an unusual breathing apparatus; the creepy, clockwork ballerinas on pedestals in darkened rooms. As soon as the characters enter the house its like they’ve stepped back in time. Indeed, even their journey to it in the middle of the night conveys a sense of entering an otherworldly place. The Gothic imagery, such as the large cross looming up from the mist-enshrouded crossroads, and the appearance of odd ghostly lights in the forest, and the conversation about how chasing will-o'-the-wisps awakens the grim reaper, harks back to old Gothic horror films, specifically Dracula.



Like Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, Livid offers a thoroughly unique interpretation of the figure of the vampire. Jessel is revealed to be a vampiric witch who feeds on the young who intrude upon her domain. She has minions collecting blood for her; indeed, the various posters of missing children seen around town hints at just how long this has been going on. Her ballerina daughter is also a creature of the night, though a strangely tragic one, who in life was unable to understand or quell her blood-thirst. In death she is immortalised in the form of a music-box ballerina, doomed to forever turn on her pedestal when wound-up. The image of Jessel lying comatose upon her bed is an unnerving one, and Maury and Bustillo dip into Freudian notions of the uncanny as they wring out every drop of tension from these moments. It seems that at any moment the old hag will open piercing eyes and set about shedding blood.

One of the most exciting moments comes when Livid references Dario Argento’s Suspiria, not only with the central presence of an ancient evil witch (who in life was a ballet teacher) preying upon the young who venture into her domain, but with a glimpse of a certificate indicating Madame Jessel attended the Tanzakademie in Freiburg – the dance school in which Suspiria was set. Livid can arguably be viewed as a spin-off of Argento’s Three Mothers films, enriching that series’ particular mythology. With its profane and dark occult practices, the staff at Tanzakademie could have revealed dark secrets and powers to many of its students, including Madame Jessel, who after graduating, continued to practice wicked and bloody principles. Maybe Jessel was even taught by Mater Suspiriorum herself. Jessel was a formidable ballet teacher in her younger days and her home, like the abodes of the Three Mothers, conceals macabre secrets.


The cheeky reference to Halloween III may initially appear as a mere tribute to a favourite film of the directors, but it’s actually quite a precise reference that enhances the themes of Livid. Halloween III may be the odd man out when it comes to that particular film series, with its plot involving a crazed toymaker who, using ancient druidic magic, attempts to restore the original sacrificial aspects of the season – long ago called Samhain – but with its creepy mysticism and central theme of the destruction of youth, it shares more in common with Livid than you’d initially think. An American Werewolf in London is also referenced, first through a glimpse of a pub sign, then with its ideas of straying from the path and into primal and chaotic places, and later through several characters’ painful transformations into bestial, primal things with a ravenous thirst for blood.



These references to other horror titles not only betray the directors’ love of the genre, and widen the self-contained mythology – particularly the references to Suspiria – but also help bolster the subtext. One of the most prominent themes of Livid is the corruption and destruction of youth, with the old feeding off the young, figuratively and indeed literally. This is aptly conveyed through Lucy’s profession as a care worker and the character of Mrs. Wilson (Catherine Jacob), who has spent much of her life in the charge of Madame Jessel and the other elderly patients she must sacrifice her time for. She has grown jaded and detached, bitter even. When Lucy sees her she catches a glimpse of what her own future in this tiring, thankless profession might bring.

Livid’s ambiguous ending, with its images of butterflies and ideas of rebirth and reincarnation, may be a little fanciful for some, but it wields power with its tragic reveal. Lucy’s uncanny understanding of Jessel’s daughter’s plight, mirroring her own in many ways, informs her bid to escape this world with its responsibilities and burdens. She witnesses untold beauty and wonder before death, and indeed, in death.


As a side note, should the oft-touted remake of Suspiria ever get off the ground, Maury et Bustillo should really be in the running to direct it. With its astonishingly beautiful imagery, plethora of unusual ideas and concepts, ferocious violence, dark fairytale atmosphere, and its knack for twisting and doing interesting and unexpected things with the vampire genre, Livid is a truly unique and fascinating horror film that, while sometimes feeling fragmented and never the sum of its many wonderful parts, is a truly unforgettable film.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Inch Abbey

While staying with friends in Ballykinler, County Down, last weekend, I paid a visit to the ruins of Inch Abbey outside Downpatrick. Looming out of a hollow betwixt two drumlins (from the Irish 'droimnín', meaning 'little ridge') on the north bank of the River Quoile, Inch Abbey was founded by John de Courcy in 1180. De Courcy was an Anglo-Norman knight who invaded Ireland in 1176. During his conquest he destroyed Erenagah Abbey, and in an attempt to atone for this act, he established Inch Abbey on the same site. The site on which Erenagah Abbey stood, and where the ruins of Inch Abbey still stand, was originally an island in the Quoile marshes, and was plundered by the Vikings in 1002 and 1149. Inch is the Anglicised word for 'inish', meaning 'island.'

The layout of Inch Abbey is in the shape of a cruciform and the east wing, still standing today, features striking examples of early Gothic architecture - particularly the arched windows. Inch Abbey was inhabited by monks who came to Ireland from Furness Abbey in Lancashire, and they enforced strict laws that actually forbade the Irish from entering the abbey; in 1318 the monks were allegedly accused of hunting local people with spears in an attempt to keep them from straying too close to the Abbey.

Throughout the years there have been stories of odd occurrences around the Abbey, and many locals believe it is haunted. Spectral monks have been glimpsed in the mist as it rises over the banks of the river. It is thought there was once a causeway across the river, linking Inch Abbey to the Mound of Down, and there are various accounts from locals of shadowy figures seen moving in the mists offshore, as though walking on the surface of the dark water…















A View from a Hill: Down Cathedral as seen from Inch Abbey

The Parish Graveyard by Inch Abbey

In more recent times the Abbey and parts of the surrounding area have been featured as locations in Game of Thrones; most notably in series one and two when it provided the backdrop for ‘The Twins’, Walder Frey’s castles in the Riverlands. It is here that Lady Catelyn Stark learns of the execution of her husband Eddard and vows revenge...



While exploring the ruins, my friends and I encountered a local man walking his dog. He took pleasure in telling us about the time he was walking around the ruins in the ‘wee hours’ (very early morning, just after midnight) and came upon a child’s doll. As a joke he hid it in one of the windows of the tower but was chilled to the bone when, returning to the ruins the following night, he noticed the doll had moved and was now peering out of the window at him… He added that while he didn’t believe in spirits, spectres, fairies or 'little men', the place holds something of a creepy reputation amongst those who live nearby, and people avoid it after dark.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Camp Dread

In a desperate attempt to reboot his flailing slasher movie franchise, a shady film director gathers a group of troubled young adults to participate in a reality TV show at an isolated and long abandoned summer camp.

Inane dialogue, tensionless murders and convoluted plot twists ensue...

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.

While you're there, why not pre-order a copy of Exquisite Terror issue 4? Inside you'll find essays and articles on the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Jim Van Bebber, Berlin’s newest horror production outfit, The Silence of the Lambs, and my own essay on the folkloric and literary heritage of Count Dracula.

All for only £1.50. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Exquisite Terror 4

Exquisite Terror is an independently produced periodical, the intention of which is to take a more academic, analytical approach to the genre of horror. Exquisite Terror 4 has been quite a while in the making, thanks mainly to the burglars who broke into our editor’s home and, amongst other things, made off with the laptop that contained a pretty much ready-to-go issue 4. This meant that the issue had to be completely started from scratch. A true labour of love, indeed.

The saying that all good things come to those who wait must be true, because lo, Exquisite Terror 4 is finally in the bag and available to pre-order. And it’s really been worth the wait…

Now featuring even more content than before, inside you'll find in-depth essays and articles on the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Jim Van Bebber, Berlin’s newest horror production outfit, an examination of The Silence of the Lambs from page to screen, my own essay on the folkloric, literary, and cinematic representations of Count Dracula, exclusive hand-drawn artwork by the likes of Caroline Ryder and Leonardo Gonzalez, and much, much more. All for only £1.50. Click here to pre-order your copy today. 

Print isn't dead – please support independent publishing.

For international sales, please contact info@exquisiteterror.com prior to order.

"Exquisite Terror is something rather different… genre fans looking for interesting, sometimes provocative features on the fringe elements of the genre will find much to enjoy here." Strange Things Are Happening

"An academic look at the filmic horror genre incorporating unique artwork and photography alongside often thought-provoking writing. They say the best things come in small packages… Exquisite Terror proves that rule. If you haven't yet dipped your toe into Exquisite Terror's murky waters then I advise you to do so today." Cyberschizoid

Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, here's a sneak peek at some of the beautiful artwork lurking within this issue's pages...

"Buffalo Bill" by Caroline Ryder

"Nosferatu III" by Leonardo Gonzalez

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Audiodrome #22: Ravenous

Released in 1999, Antonia Bird’s gruesome, satirical horror-comedy Ravenous tells of a group of soldiers descending into a nightmare of murder and cannibalism while snowed in at an isolated fort in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Referencing the plight of the infamous Donner party, aspects of Native American folklore, specifically the figure of the Wendigo, and the weird tales of Algernon Blackwood, Ravenous was initially criticised for its ‘uneven’ tone, but has since garnered a cult following. Owing to its reputation as a horror oddity is its rich and unusual score, born from the inspired pairing of minimalist classical composer and ethnomusicologist Michael Nyman, and Damon Albarn, front-man of experimental British indie bands Blur and Gorillaz.

To celebrate Scream Factory’s recent release of the film on Blu-ray, and because it’s just an incredible score, Matthew Monagle and I have written separate pieces on it; Matthew ponders Damon Albarn’s contributions and how the score can be seen as a bridge between Blur and the later experimental sounds of Gorillaz, while I contemplate Nyman’s more classical contributions, which draw inspiration from American composers such as Aaron Copland and John Cage.

Head over to Paracinema to read ‘em. Matthew's is here, and mine is here.

You can read Matthew’s other Paracinema articles and reviews here. Follow him on Twitter, too. He tweets about cool stuff. 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Exquisite Terror Sale

Exquisite Terror is an independently produced periodical, the intention of which is to take a more academic, analytical approach to the genre of horror. For a limited time only, while the finishing touches are being made to the splendid Exquisite Terror 4, why not purchase some bargainous reading material in previous issues? Only a handful of copies are left and you can grab ‘em here. For international sales, please contact info@exquisiteterror.com prior to order.

"Exquisite Terror is something rather different… genre fans looking for interesting, sometimes provocative features on the fringe elements of the genre will find much to enjoy here." Strange Things Are Happening

"An academic look at the filmic horror genre incorporating unique artwork and photography alongside often thought-provoking writing. They say the best things come in small packages… Exquisite Terror proves that rule. If you haven't yet dipped your toe into Exquisite Terror's murky waters then I advise you to do so today." Cyberschizoid

Issue I includes an essay on actor Donald Sutherland and his career in the 1970s; an interview with Spanish director Guillem Morales (Julia’s Eyes); How to survive vampirism, according to Bram Stoker and Stephen King; The obligatory ‘more’…


Issue II includes an examination of the relationship between fairy tale and horror film (by yours truly); Dalliances with the dead, by an occultist; Upper-class dining with a difference; And, by popular demand, the analysis of both classic book and film…


Issue III includes an essay (by me) on the cat and his presence in horror; Jörg Buttgereit; The enduring ability of The Exorcist to frighten the viewer (by author Jon Towlson); Examination of Stephen King’s It from page to screen; Script analysis of Cannibal Holocaust...


The forthcoming Exquisite Terror IV will feature articles and analyses on the likes of Silence of the Lambs and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and mine own essay on the Irish ancestry of Dracula…

For more information visit www.exquisiteterror.com, follow Exquisite Terror on Twitter and Facebook, and check out this interview with our editor, Naila Scargill.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Willow Creek

2013
Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait

When young city couple Jim and Kelly venture into the wilds of Bluff Creek, California, in search of the legendary Sasquatch, they find much more than they bargained for in this lean, mean tale of man vs. nature.

While ‘found-footage’ horror has been much maligned of late, a few titles have proven the effectiveness of the formula — most notably The Blair Witch Project; [REC]; Lake Mungo; The Last Exorcism; and more recently Trollhunter and The Borderlands. Willow Creek also demonstrates that the format, when utilised effectively, can still offer a downright chilling viewing experience. Even though writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait never strays far from a well-trodden path, his subdued approach and subtle direction result in some rather nerve-shredding moments of tension.

Much like The Blair Witch Project, the tension and dread here is established largely through a reliance on sound, shadows and suggestion, and after the initial slow-burn approach, Goldthwait eventually lets rip with the grim and nasty, as the couple stray off the path into uncharted territory, only to suffer the bloody consequences...

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review. 

After

2012
Dir. Ryan Smith

Bus crash survivors Ana and Freddie (Karolina Wydra and Steven Strait) awaken to find they are the only people left in their small town, and their attempts to leave are thwarted by a towering wall of impenetrable fog completely encircling the place. Before long they discover that all is not what it seems, and as the sinister fog continues to encroach upon them, they realise their time is running out…

Incorporating elements of sci-fi, horror, comic books and fairytales, and conveying a strong influence from the likes of The Twilight Zone and Carnival of Souls, Ryan Smith's feature debut is an intriguing genre hybrid that, despite revealing its major twist early on, unfurls as a quietly powerful and compelling yarn. With striking visuals, twisting plot, assured direction, strong lead performances, and engaging ideas concerning destiny, fate, and redemption, After is a strangely touching and haunting film.

Head Over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.