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Showing posts from December, 2008

Black Christmas

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1974
Dir. Bob Clark

Bob Clark’s seminal seasonal slasher fest is often unfairly overlooked by audiences and critics of the genre. Clark essentially concocted the blueprint for the American slasher movie with Black Christmas, predating the cinematic carnage courtesy of the onslaught of slasher films post John Carpenter’s Halloween (1979) a whole five years later. In directing Black Christmas, Clark should be given credit for much of the visual grammer and codification of the slasher film.

The residents of a sorority house are preparing for the Christmas holidays. Many of the other students have already dispersed leaving behind a small group overlooked by the affable and partial-to-a-wee-drink house mother, Mrs Mac (Marion Waldman). After a number of extremely unsettling obscene phone calls, someone breaks into the house and hides in the attic, killing off the girls one by one.
The tale unfolds at a shuffling-through-the-snow pace, ensuring the tension builds steadily to a genuinely s…

X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes

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1963
Dir. Roger Corman

After his exquisite, highly literate Poe adaptations (House of Usher, Premature Burial and The Pit and The Pendulum) Corman returned to directing with this cautionary tale of dangerous curiosity and existential crisis. Dr Xavier (Ray Milland) is a scientist who has concocted a serum that allows the human eye to see through anything! Against the advice of his colleagues Dr Brant (Harold Stone) and Dr Diane Fairfax (Diana van der Vlis), he experiments with the serum on himself. Sure enough, he is able to see through things! Walls! Paper documents! Clothes! However, this being a cautionary tale about the dangers of venturing into scientific realms we probably have no business venturing into, things inevitably turn bad for our intrepid doc. After accidentally pushing Dr Brant to his death from a window, Xavier goes on the run and winds up as a fairground sideshow act, looking into people’s minds and reading their thoughts and social security numbers and being all ‘m…

Carnival of Souls

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1962
Dir. Herk Harvey

This obscure and oddly affecting horror film from the sixties was directed by Herk Harvey and shot on a ridiculously low budget in Lawrence, Kansas. It showcases Harvey’s vivid imagination and grandiose aspirations, despite the shoestring budget.

After a drag racing accident, resulting in a car being forced off a bridge into the murky depths of the river below, church organist Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) seemingly emerges as the sole survivor. She appears dazed and soaked on the river bank before wandering off to begin a new life for herself in Utah.
However, she soon finds her daily chores increasingly interrupted by the spectre of a cadaverous man (portrayed by Herk Harvey) who stalks her every move. Eventually she is mysteriously drawn to an eerie amusement park on an abandoned pavilion outside town, where she realises the full horror of her fate.

The film successfully creates a veneer of normality which the otherworldly intrudes upon unassumingly at firs…

The Horrible Dr Hichcock

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1962
Dir. Riccardo Freda

This slice of quintessential Italian Gothic horror is a darkly beautiful and disturbing rumination on the most forbidden of desires… the love for the dead…

Robert Flemyng stars as the tormented titular doctor, a respected surgeon with a morbid secret. Dr Hichcock has a pathological fascination with dead bodies, and harbours a deep desire to engage with them in sexual activities. He and his wife Margaretha (Maria Teresa Vianello), indulge in dark and sordid sexual encounters together: he sedates her with an anaesthetic he created, and as she slips into unconsciousness, he copulates with her deathly-still body. Margaretha eventually slips into unconsciousness, seemingly for the last time, when her husband administers too much anaesthetic during one of their macabre liaisons. Inconsolable, the doctor is unable to continue living in the house with ‘too many memories’ of his beloved wife, so he moves away.

Cut to twelve years later and Hichcock returns with a new …

Mother of Tears

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2007
Dir. Dario Argento

After 27 years Argento finally returned to the sinister figures of the Three Mothers to complete his trilogy that began with Suspiria(1977) and Inferno (1980).

While wildly different in tone and style from the previous two instalments, Mother of Tears contains some of Argento’s cruellest, most sadistic imagery yet. And that’s saying something. The film follows the outrageous journey of art restoration student Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) who, after witnessing the brutal murder of her colleague by three mysterious figures, soon realises that a powerful witch known as the Mother of Tears has returned to Rome and intends to unleash evil and untold heartache throughout the world.

Argento teamed up with writers Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch to pen the shocking and psychedelic Mother of Tears. Anderson and Gierasch also wrote Crocodile, The Toolbox Murders and Mortuary for Tobe Hooper. Argento insisted that Mother of Tears be as different from Suspiria and Inferno a…

Outpost

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2008
Dir. Steve Barker

In a nameless war-torn eastern European town, mysterious businessman Hunt (Julian Wadham) hires ex-marine DC (Ray Stevenson) to recruit a team of ex-soldiers to protect him on a somewhat risky journey into deepest, darkest, undisclosed ‘eastern Europe.’ His dubious plans are to scope out an old military bunker.
The hard-as-nails gang of cynical, battle-worn veterans and mercenaries (including Richard Brake and Michael Smiley) are rather unsavoury to say the least, and assume that their shifty employer is in search of buried Nazi gold. Once at the outpost however, the men make a horrific discovery that turns their entire mission on its head and pits them against a force of unimaginable, and apparently supernatural, evil.

Outpost is the latest military themed horror film in a sub-genre that includes The Keep (1983), Deathwatch (2002), The Bunker (2001), Shock Waves (1977) and R-Point (2004). It is a concept that appears to be infinitely more interesting and provo…

Crocodile

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2000
Dir. Tobe Hooper

Take some annoying, buffed and polished ‘hawt’ characters (thirty-somethings playing teens). Add some mind-numblingly stupid dialogue, a cute dog, a soundtrack full of rock music. Throw in an artery-hardening dose of really bargain-bin and shoddy-even-for-a-low-budget-film ‘special’ effects. Hey presto, you have just concocted the shameful wonderment that is Crocodile.

The only thing that had me hiding behind the couch during this one was the fact that it was just so head-achingly, mind-deadeningly, heart-breakingly bad. Characterisation is beyond redundant – most viewers will probably just want to see nubile young bodies being chewed on by a giant crocodile with a dubious modus-operandi (said nubile bodies stole croc’s eggs for a laugh, you see). We don’t care if the guy with less spiky hair than the other guys is in love with the girl called Claire. We don’t care if Annoying Jock #2 is like totally flunking his mid-terms, and thinks ‘Pizza is like sex’. One of…

HellBent

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2004
Dir. Paul Etheredge-Ouzts

Slasher movies nearly always feature a group of teenagers being menaced and murderlised in gory fashion by a hulking brute in a mask. As a sub-genre, the slasher film can be relied upon to stick closely to a familiar structure and a set of conventions established by the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th - oblivious teens are picked off one by one as they seperate and wander off to investigate strange noises or look for someone who's gone missing. Eventually only one (usually a young woman - the 'final girl') is left to defeat the killer alone. The only variation is the location in which the mayhem unfolds (summer camp, quiet suburban neighbourhood, sorority house, college campus etc). It's a rare thing for a slasher to deviate much from this template.

In a post-Scream landscape however, is there anything that can be done to refresh and bring something interesting to the slasher film? 

Enter Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, director of HellBent

Botched

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2007
Dir. Kit Ryan

Le pantomime du grand guignol…

Botched is a rather fitting title for a film that seemingly revels in its own brand of absolute anarchy. Largely shot in Ireland and Eastern Europe, it boasts an eclectic cast of credible character actors who lick up their absurd characters with perverse relish. And Stephen Dorff. But a Stephen Dorff on top form.

Beginning as something of a slick heist-caper complete with Ocean’s Eleven style car chases, jewellery-thieving, a groovy David Holmes-like soundtrack and talk of ‘one last job.’ However in a film called Botched, as its name may just suggest, you know that there is going to be some serious fuck-upedness and all will not go as planned. Sure enough, Richie (Dorff) is shipped off to Russia by his sadistic boss (Sean Pertwee) to retrieve a jewel-encrusted cross from a swish Moscow penthouse to compensate for messing up the last heist.

However, events soon bleed into something else entirely ala From Dusk til Dawn. That ‘somethin…

The Abandoned

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2006
Dir. Nacho Cerdà

This deliciously dark and broodingly stylish horror follows the sombre journey of film producer Marie Jones (the beautifully haggard and weary looking Anatasia Hille) as she chain smokes her way to bleakest Russia in search of her biological parents. This being a moody horror film though, things don’t pan out as she hopes and she ends up spiralling into an abstract nightmare of spooky, bloodied doppelgangers, haunted houses, man-eating pigs, domestic abuse and creepy siblings.

Rather low on plot but high in haunting atmospherics, The Abandoned is another production from Fantastic Factory sibling, Fantastic Discovery: a Spanish Hammer House of Horror-type company specialising in moody and subdued horror flicks such as Darkness and The Nameless. Their house style seems to consist of highly atmospheric and lushly shot films that have somewhat meandering and loose plots. That’s a nice way of saying that they are often all style over substance. But what style!

An int…

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

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2008
Dir. Jonathan Levine

A group of teenaged friends head off to a backwoods holiday ranch to party, with devastating and splashy consequences, as they are picked off one by one by a mysterious killer. Sound familiar? Well, that's coz it is. But! Though its title sounds more like a rom-com, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a pretty effective slasher movie, with more than a few nods to its Friday the 13th influences.

A lengthy, languid opening evokes memories of The Virgin Suicides, with a dreamy soundtrack, sun-kissed photography and a hint of tantalizingly forbidden sexual awakening. Connotations of soon to be lost innocence, idyllic memories of highschool sweet-hearts and burgeoning romance come thick and fast as teens frolick in slow motion by swimming pools, and smoke joints in playing fields. The stifling atmosphere of hormonally charged sexual exploration is explicitly conveyed and hangs thick in the air, as is the manipulative nature, pettiness and hurtful interactions mo…