Friday, 20 March 2009

Oirish Horror...

Shrooms
With this week’s St Patrick’s day celebrations still ringing in your ears, why not spend the weekend unwinding and descending into the darker side of Irish culture and indulge in a few Gaelic tinged horrors… While some of these aren’t exactly Irish films, they do have connections (some more tenuous than others) to Ireland and creepy Irish folklore.

Dead Meat (2004). Mixing chills with thrills, Conor McMahon's Dead Meat is an Irish comedy horror in the same vein as Shaun of the Dead or Boy Eats Girl. The first horror film to be funded by the Irish Film Board, it features a twisted tale of zombies, mad cows and cannibalism, oh my. After accidently hitting a man with their car, Helena and her husband bundle the body into their car and continue on their way. What with this being a zombie movie though, the body doesn’t stay dead and attacks Helena’s husband. Making a run for it, Helena stumbles across an isolated farm and battles a few of its undead inhabitants before teaming up with a local farmer and a small group of survivors to try and stay alive through the night. With quite a dark and unnerving opening, Dead Meat soon veers into overtly comedic territory, but that shouldn’t put you off. This is a film that wears its fun loving and bloodied heart plainly on its sleeve all the way to its surprisingly downbeat ending that recalls the best of George Romero.

Isolation (2005). Luckless and struggling farmer Dan (John Lynch) is so desperate for cash he allows a scientist to perform ‘cutting edge’ experiments on his cattle that will ensure they breed more copiously and speedily. The experiments have horrific side effects however and Dan and a small group of people including a vet, a scientist and a runaway couple find themselves facing something more deadly than just your average ‘mad cow.’ Sounding rather like an Irish and more bovine-orientated version of Black Sheep, Billy O’Brien's Isolation plays out as a dark cautionary tale warning against the dangers of venturing too far into the murky realms of science. Taking itself quite seriously the film does manage to muster a fair degree of tension and shocks, given the potentially laughable premise. The slow-build, dread soaked atmosphere eventually segues into a high-octane monster movie-esque final act, with a genuinely creepy beast picking off an ever diminishing cast. One by bloody one.

Isolation
Winter’s End (2005). Another Irish horror film featuring another sordid farm with dark secrets, Patrick Kenny's Winter’s End does NOT however feature any form of mutant cow or zombie infection. Instead, it unfolds as a taut and deeply unsettling thriller about a young man who is taken captive by a crazed farmer who wants to use him as an unsavoury means to continue the family name. Jack (Adam Goodwin) enjoys himself, a little too much, at a music festival in deepest, darkest rural Ireland. Drunkenly making his way back to the field where he parked his car, he discovers it has been stolen and seeks help at an isolated farm house. His initially amiable host, farmer Henry (Michael Crowley) soon turns nasty though and after smacking Jack around, chains him up in the barn. Turns out, Henry wants to use our hapless hero to impregnate his sister Amy so their family can continue to run their farm like they have done for over 150 years. Well written and acted, Winter’s End has quite a few surprises up its sleeve. With a refusal to stereotype or simplify its villain, events become increasingly claustrophobic and desperate. The underlying theme, which was also apparent in Dead Meat and Isolation, addresses the desperation of traditional Irish farming communities left forgotten in the dust of the burgeoning Dublin-centric Celtic Tiger boom and the dark times they find themselves dwelling in.

The Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy (1998). A lose adaptation of Bram Stoker’s ‘Jewel of Seven Stars’, The Eternal was Michael Almereyda’s follow up to the haunting vampire pic Nadja. Troubled alcoholic couple Nora and Jim, together with their son Jim Jr., leave their New York home to go and stay with Nora’s Irish relatives in, you’ve guessed it, Ireland. They go to stay at Nora’s childhood home and are welcomed by her bedridden grandmother and her blind uncle Bill (Christopher Walken, sporting a rather dubious Oirish accent). Uncle Bill is in the midst of studying a centuries old Druid priestess whose bog-preserved corpse is kept in the family cellar. After Bill revives the corpse, she begins to appear to the other family members as an eerie doppelganger of Nora. With an emphasis on atmosphere and characterisation, The Eternal has a rather languid pace that ensures it creeps under your skin all the more effectively. Substituting Egyptology for Celtic Druidry, Almereyda successfully evokes a strangely ethereal atmosphere. The bog-stained priestess makes for an unusual antagonist and an interesting alternative to the more typical Egyptian mummy wrapped in bandages. An atmospheric and hauntingly melancholic film.

The Eternal
Leprechaun (1993). Aw, Jay-sus. Truly shocking, in every sense of the word, this twisted little flick takes the notion of Ireland’s favourite representative of the ‘wee folk’ and turns it on its head, resulting in some nasty violence and inappropriate splat-stick humour. Starring a fresh-faced Jennifer Aniston, who looks sufficiently embarrassed to be involved in such trite, this film spawned way too many sequels that (not shockingly) spiralled into further ridiculousness, including instalments that take place not only in the tough urban LA ghetto, but also in space. When Dan O'Grady returns to America from the Emerald Isle after stealing a leprechaun's pot of gold, he thinks he can retire and live the good life. Wrong. The leprechaun (Warwick Davis) catches up with him and O'Grady barely gets away with his life, just managing to imprison the ghastly creature in his basement. Ten years later, J.D. and his free-spirited daughter Tory (Aniston) move into O’Grady’s old house, which also happens to be in the middle of nowhere, handily enough. The leprechaun is accidently released by idiotic characters who only exist to provide him with some splattery fodder. Cue much running around and bad limericks. As luck would have it, the leprechaun can only be defeated by a four-leaf clover…

The Company of Wolves (1984). Ok, quite a tenuous connection here as this isn’t, strictly speaking, an Irish film, but it is directed by Neil Jordon, who is perhaps the closest thing Ireland has to a resident genre director. Having dabbled in horror several times throughout his career, Jordon directed the likes of Interview with the Vampire and In Dreams. Neither of these can match the eerie beauty or disturbing high Gothicism of The Company of Wolves. Co-written by Angela Carter and based on several of her short stories from The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves provocatively unravels as a feverish metaphor for the blossoming of a young girl’s burgeoning sexuality and her subsequent loss of innocence. After the death of her sister, Rosaleen stays with her Grandmother (Angela Lansbury) who tells her cautionary tales of strange mono-browed men who turn wild during the full moon, and the dangers of cavorting with such gents.
The film unfolds as dreams within dreams and stories within stories. The studio-bound locations enhance the surrealism and fairytale imagery. Breathtaking and utterly atmospheric.

The Company of Wolves
Shrooms (2007). This film follows the misadventures of a number of American students, visiting a friend in Ireland and hunting for a fabled crop of magic mushrooms for the ‘trip of a lifetime.’ Once the gang find the elusive fungi, they experience terrifying hallucinations (or do they?) as the lines between reality and drug-fuelled visions disintegrates rapidly. Not only battling their ‘trip’ the students also come up against ghostly figures prowling through the forest. Or do they? Featuring a predominantly American cast, Shrooms was filmed in Ireland by an Irish crew. While some of the visuals on display are incredibly striking (or are they?!) and more than a little disturbing, the story begins to straggle as events become progressively warped. Shrooms is essentially a run-of-the-mill slasher film with some hallucinogenic imagery and creepy Irish lore thrown in for good measure. It’s an interesting concept that remains frustratingly unexplored as Paddy Breathnach rarely strays from a formulaic path. Or does it!? Well, yes, actually.

I interviewed Shrooms’ writer Pearse Elliot a while ago. Click here to read the interview over at eatmybrains.com

For even more Oirish chills, check out Francis Ford Coppola's debut film, Dementia 13... Its really rather good. Cheers.

3 comments:

Cody said...

Oh, I love The Eternal! And The Company of Wolves, of course. I think I'm going to have to check out Isolation. But I'm not going near Darby O'Gill and The Little People. Great round-up!

Marie Robinson said...

I love Darby O'Gill and the Little People...

James Gracey said...

Hee hee. It's been YEARS since I've seen it, but it was a fave when I was a wee young thing. :)