Friday, 30 October 2009

Wilderness

2006
Dir. Michael Bassett

After the suicide of one of their dorm-mates, a group of juvenile delinquents are sent to a remote island off the coast of Scotland for some character/team-building exercises. Once there, the wardens are viciously slaughtered by a mysterious assailant commanding a pack of fierce hunting dogs. The young offenders must work together to stay alive and find a way off the island before they too fall prey to the stealthy stalker.

A grim prologue unspools in the young offenders’ centre where we are introduced to the eclectic bunch of mainly unsavoury sorts. The use of young offenders as main characters adds a dark and interesting element to the mix and the prologue expertly introduces us to the volatile, unhinged and aggressive young men.

Once the story moves to the island location, it navigates into very familiar Slasher movie territory, and utilises an abundance of that genre’s conventions - right down to the use of a killer extracting revenge for a past misdeed, picking his victims off one by bloody one. The most interesting element of the story is the fact that these are not your average run of the mill teens pitted against a savage killer – this lot have already proved that they can be ruthless and violent and could potentially be more than a match for their tormentor. Perhaps this is supposed to reflect just how determined and bloodthirsty the killer is; if he can whittle down such a group of unruly delinquents?



The dynamics of the group are now brought to the fore and initially they all try to remain together to survive. The main problem here is who we are supposed to root for and identify with – if anyone? This motley crew serve as one of the strengths of the film – the various arcs that each character traverses – but the script settles for painting them with ever broader strokes at they each succumb to ever bloodier demises – both at the hands of the killer and each other.
As Calum, Toby Kebbell delivers an outstanding performance that transcends the often rudimentary material, conveying so much through facial expressions and body language. The rest of the uniformly strong cast deliver sturdy performances, especially Stephen Wright and Lenora Crichlow as Steve and Mandy.
And of course, to begin with anyway, we also have Sean Pertwee and Alex Reid . No strangers to the horror arena, and veritable veterans compared to the rest of the cast – Pertwee and Reid had roles in contemporary classics such as Dog Soldiers and The Descent respectively. It would seem no British horror film these days is quite complete without the presence of Pertwee.



Elements of Deliverance, Scum and Lord of the Flies pepper Wilderness. Notions such as vigilantism and delusions of justice also crop up sporadically, but the lacklustre script courtesy of Dario Poloni, fails to address them with any degree of depth and merely flirts with them. Wilderness sticks a little too rigidly to pre-conceived convention. Not that this is detrimental to the enjoyment of the film, but with such good actors portraying such multi-faceted and interesting characters - and such an initially interesting villain - it seems a shame to waste them amidst the abundance of clichés we are presented with. Having said that, the young deliquents are certainly afforded more substance than the average slasher cast.

The isolated and highly moody location – actually Tollymore Forest in Northern Ireland, is pilfered for all its worth and Bassett goes all out to showcase its potentially inhospitable and ever menacing climes.

Events become increasingly nasty – even when the group aren’t attacked by the predator, they still have each other to contend with. An attempted rape and its repercussions lead to yet more bloodshed and splashy FX. Wilderness is extraordinarily gory – notably in the scenes where Pertwee is torn to shreds by attack dogs – and for the most part, the violence is realistic and dirty.
The first glimpse of the killer echoes the feral slayer in The Final Terror - another uneven though pretty engaging backwoods slasher – covered in foliage and blending into the forest with creepy ease. However once he and his motives are revealed, he is stripped of all menace and the once ominous and intriguing figure commandeering a pack of killer dogs is a distant memory.



Whilst Wilderness is certainly edgy and entertaining, its reliance on tried and tested horror clichés lets it down somewhat and what we are left with is a merely average and moderately engaging thriller.

Why not head over to Eat My Brains and read the interview I carried out with the director, Michael Bassett.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Triangle

2009
Dir. Christopher Smith

Troubled single mum Jess (Melissa George) takes some much needed respite from taking care of her severely autistic son to join her friend Greg (Michael Dorman) on his yacht for the day. They are joined by a group of Greg’s friends. Their day is shattered when the boat is capsized in a freak storm. They eventually see a huge ocean liner and board it to seek help. Once on board though, it gradually dawns on the group that all is not what it seems and something very ominous is afoot...

Director Christopher Smith is no stranger to horror, having already directed Creep - a genuinely chilling and taut horror set in the London Underground that eventually descends into ludicrous ‘monster-movie’ mayhem - and Severance – a morbidly humorous and very splashy horror about a corporate team building excursion that goes very, very wrong. With Triangle though, Smith keeps things very sombre and gradually builds an overwhelming mood of quiet dread and foreboding before unleashing a highly suspenseful – and equally perplexing – series of events that grasp one’s attention in a vice like grip all the way to the bleak, heart-shattering, head-wrecking denouement.



The opening scenes depict a distracted Jess trying to get ready for her sailing trip. At this early stage we are given a brief glimpse that leaves no doubt as to how much her son means to her. He is seemingly her world and before leaving she hugs him in a moment that sets the strangely upsetting and doomful mood of the film. It is obvious from the outset that things are NOT going to end well. On board the yacht we are acquainted with the other characters before all hell breaks loose in the freak storm - a genuinely panic-inducing scene. Jess is strangely detached and can’t shake the feeling of déjà vu. To begin with the others believe this is just because she is exhausted and feeling guilty for leaving her son for the day. However, as soon as the survivors board the ocean liner after their yacht is capsized, it becomes clear that events are not going to dissolve into sub-par slasher territory. As they explore the vast, creaking behemoth, it initially appears they have been thrust into some paranoid nightmare with people suddenly turning on one another, doppelganger sightings and numbers quickly dwindling. Without wanting to give too much away – though the trailer arguably already does this – Smith morphs fleeting elements of films such as Donnie Darko, Primer, Memento and The Shining into a moody, mind-meltingly twisted film. Apparently it took the director four years to write Triangle – and an abundance of post-it notes, no doubt. Not surprising really, given the film’s complex plot that winds and snakes around and back on itself with deceptive ease.

The scenes depicting the group exploring the ship are genuinely unsettling: the soundtrack is full of menacing creaks and moans and the camera appears to stalk and glide after the group, switching every now and then to sneak glances at them from around corners and over railings. The interior of the ship at times bears a striking resemblance to the Overlook Hotel, with its labyrinthine corridors and gloomy atmosphere – there is even a blink and you’ll miss it reference to The Shining in the number on the door to a room where unspeakable things will happen.

Indeed the similarities to The Shining don’t stop there, as Triangle unfolds offering up ideas of history repeating itself and characters wandering through a veritable purgatory; doomed to relive ghastly memories and ghoulish happenings over and over again. At one stage the group discuss the name of the ship – The Aeolus – giving those with a penchant for Greek mythology a clue as to what is unfolding. Even if you aren’t familiar with the myth of Sisyphus, it shouldn’t hinder your enjoyment of a genuinely engaging, provocative and very troubling film.
As soon as the scene has been set and our group have been cast into the nightmarish bowels of the ship, Smith kicks events up a notch with startling and genuinely ‘sit-up-in-your-seat-to-pay-attention’ twists that continue to twist evermore throughout the course of events. The film’s strong point is its willingness to engage audiences and attempt to make them think and follow events closely to ascertain a possible outcome as situations double back on themselves to reveal alternate viewpoints and timescales - the fractured pieces eventually bleed into a concise and disturbing whole. Bewildering at times yes, but all the more rewarding and enriching the experience because of it.

Having said that, Triangle does flounder ever so slightly towards the end as the abundance of ‘signposts’ come thick and fast, and events become arguably a little predictable, and dare I say it, convoluted; but it soon slinks back into its stride to throw up yet more surprises, revelations and a distressingly intense and ultimately bleak finale.



As the distraught Jess, Melissa George gives an utterly flawless performance – displaying the right amounts of vulnerability and determination to survive, as well as providing a deeply troubling portrayal of a psychologically scarred woman simply coming apart at the seams. She is our anchor in a constantly shifting space and thanks to an astounding performance we are constantly drawn into the increasingly complex web of events as the stakes rise ever higher. A number of moments that occur and subsequently throw light on the sheer magnitude of Jess’s predicament are as chilling as they are shocking. The film is peppered with arresting images, such as the shot of a shadowy figure standing on the bow of the ship looking down at the up-turned yacht and the revelatory shot of Sally’s eventual fate. The sense of isolation and eeriness that comes from watching Jess wander the deserted, gargantuan vessel – a place that should be bustling with people – simply drips with tension and uneasiness.

A provocative, compelling and disturbing horror that attempts to engage with its audience on an intellectual level as well as a visceral one – Triangle will prompt much debate, discussion – and perhaps most importantly – nightmares for some time to come…

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Death Line

1972
Dir. Gary Sherman

AKA Raw Meat

When students Alex and Patricia (David Ladd and Sharon Gurney) find a dying man on the London Underground, naturally they go for help. However, when they return the man has disappeared. Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance) launches an investigation which leads them into London’s murky Underground system, where they make a grisly discovery – a group of cannibals that have been feasting on the flesh of London commuters!

Death Line is one of the more interesting and unusual British horror films from the Seventies, with its tale of cannibalism in the London Underground and a scathing, scarily accurate commentary on the bygone British Class system. No mean feat for a film written and directed by an American.

The sleazy opening follows a distinguished looking gentleman on a trawl through the seedy, neon-drenched streets of Soho, as he wanders through various peep shows, smut-rag stalls and propositions various women before venturing into the London Underground where he is attacked by an unseen assailant. The grimy demeanour of the Underground is milked for maximum effect here and sets the moody tone of the film. As recent films such as Creep and Midnight Meat Train have demonstrated – Underground rail systems make for suitably atmospheric locations in horror films. By day they are bustling with preoccupied commuters and there is rarely a quiet moment. However at night, when things quieten down – and the imagination goes into morbid overdrive, they become vast, empty expanses where potential threats lurk and creep about every dark corner and just-out-of-sight space.



Sherman’s script is razor-sharp and delivered with aplomb by Pleasance, who relishes his snarky role. As the tea-obsessed Inspector Calhoun, Pleasance commands attention with droll delivery that is at times comically off-kilter as he sprays his fellow cast with sarcastic one-liners, barbed with spiking wit and vitriol. The film is his and he provides what is arguably one of the best performances of his career. His banter with Detective Sergeant Rogers (Norman Rossington) provides the otherwise grim, bleak film with a warm core and light, unobtrusive comic relief.

As ‘The Man’, Hugh Armstrong is initially a gruesome figure of fear. His loathsome, pustule-flanked visage incites disgust and repulsion. However, after a rather lengthy and really quite impressive camera trek around his dingy, eerily lit underground lair – taking in an abundance of rotting corpses, rats and blood-soaked paraphernalia – we are eased into his world to steal a momentary glimpse. And what we see is quite surprising. A strangely sad and lonely figure, The Man tends to his dying partner and eventually mourns her passing. We later discover that he and ‘The Woman’ were the last descendents of a group of workers buried alive during a cave-in in 1895, and left to die by rich employers who went bankrupt. Surviving on the dead and breeding amongst themselves for generations, this clan has eventually died out. Its last survivor, The Man, now ventures into the surrounding tunnel systems looking for food. And now that his partner has died, he needs a new one. He now appears to be a tragic victim, and becomes strangely sympathetic – despite the ‘monstrous’ acts he has carried out. It is all he knows and he represents a form of humanity whittled down to its pure essence that will do anything to survive.



The film isn’t really hampered by a number of plot holes: the caved-in workers were able to reproduce before being eaten by one another? For five generations? And if they have been surviving on the odd London commuter here and there, for this long, wouldn’t that bring attention to them? And if they can move around in the tunnel system in order to get at the commuters, why not just leave and go to the surface? These are just a few questions the script fails to answer, however, with such a compelling story they are not the hardest inconsistencies to overlook.

As mentioned, the film also takes pot shots galore at the British Class system. The Civil Servant trawling Soho for cheap kicks to sate his lust is feeding, figuratively, off the needy. The ‘showdown’ between Calhoun and a shady Upper-Class MI5 Agent (Christopher Lee in a memorable cameo), plays on the vast class differences between the two men. And of course there is Calhoun’s initial distain of the students. Each faction of society feeds off the other to further their own gain and social standing – including the cannibals – who literally feed off society – but do so indiscriminately.



Whilst the film does begin to plod in a few places, Sherman continuously draws us into the story with consistently fresh dialogue and the cast provides a number of sturdy performances – notably Pleasance. The sound effects that occur throughout proceedings also create a dank, unsettling atmosphere and things are rarely quiet – even in the forgotten underground lair with its constant dripping, echoing and distant clacking noises. A highly unusual score courtesy of Wil Malone, which is by turns sleazy, funky and sufficiently brooding, also adds to the overall despairing feel of the film. As events move, albeit in their own sweet time, towards the genuinely suspenseful climax, Death Line proves to be a memorable, strangely moving and thoroughly captivating ride.

A grimy jewel in the jostled crown of Seventies British horror cinema.

Click here to check out the rather raunchy opening theme music to Death Line...

Mind the doors!

Monday, 26 October 2009

The Ten Steps

2004
Dir. Brendan Muldowney
Duration: 10 mins

Young Katie (Jill Harding) is left to babysit her brother in the family’s new house in rural Ireland while her parents dine out with her father’s new boss. There is a power cut and Katie calls her father who tells her to go down into the cellar to flip the fuse switch. He attempts to keep her calm as she descends the stairs – only a few weeks prior she had a panic attack in the cellar after a classmate told her the Devil was once seen down there…

Director Brendan Muldowney may employ familiar conventions to tell this sinister tale – a young babysitter, an isolated and spooky house, a power cut, rumours of morbid events from the past and a candlelit descent into a dark cellar - but he keeps things suggestive, creepy and offers us something genuinely memorable and deeply unsettling by the end. Carefully building an atmosphere of mounting dread, he slowly but surely cranks up the tension and distress to almost unbearable levels before the chilly payoff – which will no doubt linger long to wander the viewer’s mind afterwards.

Muldowney obviously favours the Lewton 'less-is-more' approach and sets about creating a creepy atmosphere that gradually pervades the cosy, makeshift domesticity of the family’s home, rendering it uninviting, unfamiliar and potentially very unsafe. The opening shot of the house elevates it to the ranks of similarly sinister abodes such as Hill House and 112 Ocean Avenue. Use of music is kept to a minimum – Katie’s descent into the cellar is accompanied by eerie sound effects and a constant otherworldly draft. Muldowney deftly creates tension cutting from Katie making her way down into the cellar, to her increasingly anxious parents. As soon as the mother becomes insistent they leave, it is obvious something is very wrong. The throwaway remark from their fellow diner about the Devil’s supposed appearance in the cellar of their new home is effective, understated and indelibly creepy.

A healthy dose of ‘fear of the dark’, the use of old stories and local folklore – a house where the Devil was once seen – combined with a contemporary twist – the use of a mobile phone - creates an effective, suspenseful and disturbing little chiller. The final moment comes like a breath of cold air shuddering down your neck, sickeningly caressing your spine…

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Interview with Ivan Zuccon: Director of Colour from the Dark

Italian director Ivan Zuccon is no stranger to the cosmic terrors of H.P. Lovecraft, having already adapted various narratives for the screen in his anthology The Shunned House (2003). Indeed some of the director’s other work such as The Darkness Beyond and Nympha are indelibly imbued with a distinct Lovecraftian feel.
Zuccon’s most recent film, Colour from the Dark (an adaptation of HPL’s short story The Colour Out of Space) really hits the mark and effortlessly transfers that tale of insanity and other-worldly intrusion upon humanity from page to screen. Few other directors who have tackled the oft regarded ‘unfilmable’ work of Lovecraft have done so with such respect and understanding of the source material. Zuccon deftly creates an atmosphere saturated with dread and foreboding, and effortlessly conveys the insanity and darkness that perforates Lovecraft’s tale. Behind the Couch felt very privileged to have the opportunity to talk with Zuccon about his work, his love of horror and the difficulties in adapting HPL for the screen.

Why did you decide to adapt Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space? What drew you to this specific story?

The Colour Out of Space is one of my favourite Lovecraft stories, so it was natural for me to try and adapt it for the screen. The most interesting aspect to me was the story of a family struggling with many increasing problems. At the beginning of the story they struggle with the hard life of farming in the cornfields during WWII, and then they have to fight against the strange and dangerous entity that wants to suck out their life-force. It's a family drama, and this is the kind of story I really like. It's great stuff for a filmmaker.

Was it difficult to adapt for the screen?

Yes it was. The problem when you adapt a writer’s work you admire is that you don’t want to betray him. I can say that I have never felt I've betrayed Lovecraft. Never. I have the maximum respect for him and his work and I think I have always respected him with my adaptations. Of course in adapting The Colour Out of Space I have changed some points of the story - I was forced to do this in order to fit it for the screen, but the atmosphere I've created is very close to what he wrote. When adapting Colour I didn’t just focus on the facts, or only on the characters, but also on the mood of the tale. From this point of view I would say my adaptation could be considered very close to Lovecraft’s idea.


Why did you decide to set it in the period of WWII?

Well, Lovecraft's tales are usually tied to the past or to a love of things from the past, so I thought it was the right decision to set my film in the past. Then I decided to set the film during WWII because this choice gave me the chance to analyze the aspects and the differences of the two kinds of evil presented in the tale: the Nazi-fascism and the strange creature from the heart of earth’s womb. I must say I don't know which is the most dangerous. Sometimes they are similar, sometimes they are different. Probably the evil created by man is the worst. The entity from the well has to survive, needs to eat, it follows its instinct just to survive - like all of us.

Do you have any favourite Lovecraft based films?

In the past some good directors have made some nice adaptations of Lovecraft's ideas. One of my favourite HPL inspired movies is John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness. It's the kind of film I like, with a multi-layered story, a complex plot and a lot of scary moments.

Who or what has been your major influence (if any) as a filmmaker?

When I was a kid I was fascinated by cinema. I really loved Sergio Leone's westerns. I remember planning to shoot a sci-fi western, and starting to write an outline. The real passion however, came years later when I got acquainted with the horror genre. I had always been scared to death of horror movies, but one day I decided to face my fears and watch the movies of the horror masters. I rented ten movies and closed myself in a room, alone with my VCR. I was impressed by Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Sam Raimi and John Carpenter. I was mostly interested in the technical side of Raimi's films and the visionary approach of Bava's work. I decided I would make horror movies, because they would allow me to use more creative shooting techniques. I fished out my father's old super-8 camera and shot some very short movies, which I edited myself. It was fun, and very gratifying. Since then I've never stopped thinking about and making films.

What other filmmakers do you admire and why?

I love David Cronenberg a lot. He was my hero. I think he made more than just one film you could consider a masterpiece. Unfortunately I don't like his last two movies, they are standard thrillers and are so distant from the genial works he created in the past. His last film I really loved was Spider, a true masterpiece. I still admire him a lot. He has his reasons for his most recent films, but these choices don't fit my taste anymore.

Do you think Lovecraft can still appeal to modern cinema audiences? What do you think is it about his writing that remains so effective and influential today?

Lovecraft created chaotic worlds that scare all of us. Day by day the real world is becoming more similar to the scary and chaotic worlds of HPL. For this reason his work is even more immediate and appealing to cinema audiences.

Marco Werba scored Colour from the Dark. How did you go about involving him with the film?

Usually films are scored at the end of the whole process, but this is a modus operandi I don't like. For this reason I asked Marco to compose different tracks for all the moods of the film. I selected the tracks I liked and asked Marco to compose material according to the taste of the selected tracks in order to do something similar. It's a very simple path and gave me the chance to work immediately with the final music of the film instead of working with provisional music, a method I've found very frustrating.

What do you think of modern horror films at the moment?

If by ‘modern’ horror you mean those hyper-violent action movies with just few true horror elements, like the Saw saga for example, then I really don't like them.

What scares you?

Italian politicians.

Apart from Lovecraft, what other horror writers do you like? What is it about their stories that appeal to you?

I've grown up reading William Burroughs and James Ballard, and these two writers have really influenced me as a story teller. This is the reason I like complex plots and multi-levelled stories.

Is there anything in particular that you’d like to adapt for film? What is next for you?

The next project? Honestly I don't know right now. I have a couple of scripts I would like to realize but still nothing in the immediate future. I think I will start working on a new film in 2011. I'm busy as hell right now working as an editor for Pupi Avati.
One thing I can say for sure, my next movie will have nothing to do with Lovecraft. I want to do something different.



Visit Ivan's website for more information on his work, and why not drop by his myspace page for regular updates on forthcoming projects.

(All images courtesy of Ivan Zuccon's official website)

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Argento Book Update

I received an email from the publishers (Kamera Books) to say they’ve had to stall on the publication of ‘Dario Argento.’ I’ve been assured that all is well and the book will be available soon.

Apparently this is quite normal in the world of publishing. A bit last notice, to say the least, so all I can do is apologise for getting hopes up.

Keep checking back here at Behind the Couch for updates – which I shall post as and when I receive them.

Thank you for your patience.

Sanguis Gratia Artis!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Shameless Self Promotion AKA My book on the films of Dario Argento - due out THIS WEEK!

As Chuck Norris Ate My Baby and Paracinema have rightly pointed out, my first book - a guide to the films of Dario Argento - is due out this week courtesy of Kamera Books.

It is my hope that it will act as an accessible introduction to a general readership of Argento’s work – and will also appeal to his hardcore fan base.

If you feel inclined, you can pick up a copy by visiting amazon.co.uk, or indeed amazon.com, if you are on the other side of the sea.

Written last summer, the book is the result of painstaking research that involved watching, and re-watching, Argento's entire back catelogue (yes, even THAT one) along with a plethora of other stylish and badly dubbed Italian Horror films that he was involved in the making of. Or just mentioned in an interview once. It was tough going, as I am sure you can imagine... And that was only after I managed to track down some of his more obscure titles. There was also the reading, and re-reading of a flurry of academia-soaked tomes by the likes of Maitland McDonagh and Chris Gallant (which incidently contains a damn fine chapter on Argento's misunderstood masterpiece Phenomena by Carvax Abbey's Matthew Coniam). The compilation of notes and very important opinions followed. This then bled into actually writing the thing. All of this was sustained by a passion for Argento's blood-drenched work; matched only by a feverish appetite for red wine.

So by the end of this week, the fruits of my labour will finally be available for Argento fans to devour and hopefully enjoy.

Some further information follows...

release date: 22 October 2009
price: £12.99
ISBN13: 9781842433188
binding: paperback
format: 194 X 135mm with flaps
extent: 160
images: + 8pp colour images
rights: world
BIC code: APFB

Deep Red regards.

House of Whipcord

1974
Dir. Pete Walker

A young woman finds herself incarcerated in a privately owned prison run by sadistic, self-appointed Daily Mail readers wardens who deal out torturous lessons in 'good old fashioned' morality…

Peter Walker is arguably the greatest unsung hero of British Horror cinema. His grubby, sordid and darkly mischievous films usually form scathing social commentaries rigorously attacking British institutions such as class, family and the legal system. Unapologetic, shockingly violent, strangely thoughtful and extremely anti-establishment in their outlook, Walker’s films were always controversial; indeed the director openly admits his work was deliberately shocking because he wanted to jolt conservative British audiences out of their own skin and raise high his middle finger to ‘The Man.’ A goal he certainly achieved with his tenth film House of Whipcord.

Walker doesn’t so much skim the surface, as plunge us face first into the murky, dank and unsavoury depths of this sordid little tale of young French model Ann-Marie Di Verney (Penny Irving) as she is incarcerated in a prison masquerading as a country clinic. She joins a number of other women forcefully imprisoned here because of their ‘loose’ morals. The prison is domineered by a monstrously psychotic and completely self-appointed governess, an ailing and senile judge and several sadistic and predatory wardens whose unwavering devotion to the Law means certain death and gruelling torture for the inmates.



Whilst essentially a ‘Women in Prison’ film – complete with all the sadistic mayhem and ‘titillation’ of that particular subgenre - Whipcord is also one of the director’s most thought provoking, challenging and political films. Walker himself commented: ‘Prison wardens must have an in-built sadism, otherwise why would they do that job? Judges do a holier-than-thou act every day. How dare these people pontificate to the rest of us? They’re getting off on it.’ It stands amongst Walker’s collection of sleaze-coated, grim-infested films as still being extremely relevant today.

Tension is mustered as the tyrannical brutes deal out their idea of appropriate punishment, impervious to the fact that they're breaking both moral and penal laws themselves. And they do so with salivating relish. Heightening the film’s perversity and unsettling power is the fact that the source of horror stems directly from the very laws of society that were established to maintain order and structure and protect its citizens. No amount of pleading or protesting helps – as soon as the women enter the prison, not only are they stripped of their clothes, but also of their human rights. When we are introduced to her, Anne-Marie is a feisty, free-spirited and good natured individual. Even as she is duped into accompanying her dashing ‘suitor’ to an old country estate that she discovers to be an illegal correctional facility, we are invited to invest in her as a character. She initially stands up to the wardens and makes various demands, protesting her unlawful incarceration. However as the story develops we watch in horror as she is systematically broken down to become a whimpering shadow of her former self.

Notions of fascism, oppression, psychosis and a social system Walker aligns with the criminals it judges, infest every scene as the director condemns those who see themselves as purveyors of justice. House of Whipcord is the director’s expose of a culture that now, as then, is almost always far too quick to condemn. All of this is presented in the grainy excesses of an exploitative exercise in pure sadism – one which viewers won’t escape easily from. Nihilistic and bleak, House of Whipcord is one of the director’s most dank and gruelling films to endure. At times the tension is suffocating, particularly in the scenes when Anne-Marie attempts her escape and for the brief while things seem to be going her way… The various torture scenes also strike a pretty gut-wrenching blow and are as frequent as they are effective. Amongst those dealing out the barrage of floggings and psychological torture is Walker regular Sheila Keith (Frightmare). Whilst obviously relishing every moment of her screen time, Keith is rather akin to the likes of Price and Karloff, in that she is able to impregnate an obviously deranged character with a distinct underlying pathos, which greatly adds to the disturbing aura of the film.



It is interesting to note just how well Whipcord holds up compared to certain similarly themed films today – I’m thinking along the lines of Hostel, Saw et al. While it was shot on a remarkably low budget, contains some uneven acting and couldn’t possibly compete with today’s sophisticated special effects, House of Whipcord has at its heart a compelling story around which swirls a plethora of ideas concerned with authority, the penal system, human rights, prisoners’ welfare and free will. When viewed in this context, Whipcord wields an uncanny power and still feels completely relevant today.

When it was initially released, Whipcord launched a scorching assault on the BBFC, and encapsulated Walker’s preoccupation with out of control authority figures, generation gaps, morality and sadism. In retrospect it serves as a fitting allegory about censorship and the Mary Whitehouse regime (Whitehouse campaigned for the Christian values of morality and decency and constantly attacked the media for their ‘corruption of the youth’) – a satire of Britain’s right-wing who wished to see the return of capitol punishment. The satirical nature of this film is obviously lost on those who kicked up such a fuss about the film when it was released.
In fact, Walker dedicates the film “to those who are disturbed by today's lax moral codes and who eagerly await the return of corporal and capital punishment". An ironic statement of course, as it is these very people and their extreme views Walker is scrutinising and undermining.



House of Whipcord is a deliciously dark, violent and provocative slice of vintage British Horror. It manages to retain its cutting edge thanks to Walker’s no frill’s direction, and a gripping, disturbing and potent story that seethes with burning issues and shark-eye wit.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Gay Bed And Breakfast Of Terror

2007
Dir. Jaymes Thompson

Making their way to the biggest LGBT Festival of the year, five couples consisting of every gay and lesbian stereotype imaginable stop over at a creepy hotel for the night - unaware that the proprietor is a God-fearing homophobic Republican intent on whittling down their numbers. Mainly by feeding them to her cannibalistic mutant son Manfred...

To call The Gay Bed And Breakfast Of Terror 'trash' would be stating the obvious. This is not a subtle film. It is cheap, exploitative and more than happy to wallow in its own mire of perverse charm. The title alone should alert you to what to expect, really! Which in a nutshell is Mommie Dearest-theatrics, George Bush-baiting jokes, complete irreverence and the deployment of every gay stereotype to increasingly hysterical effect. Kind of fun in a schlocky, dreadful kind of way.

Head over to Eye for Film and check out my full review.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Halloween II (2009)

Dir. Rob Zombie

One year on from her ultra-violent and blood-drenched encounter with her psychotic brother Michael Myers, and Laurie Strode is still trying to come to terms with the trauma. With her brother’s body still missing and All Hallows Eve just around the corner, Laurie soon realises that the terror she experienced the previous year was just the beginning. Like the tagline states, and because slasher villains are just too darn lucrative to kill off: Family is forever. We learn that, unsurprisingly, the supposedly dead Michael Myers has actually been living a hermetic existence in the countryside, and as the anniversary of the massacre approaches, he returns to Haddonfield once more to ‘reunite’ his dysfunctional family.

With his remake of Halloween, Rob Zombie attempted to explore the man behind the mask - Michael Myers. Delving into Myers’ troubled childhood and dysfunctional family Zombie attempted to address the issues that made Myers the relentless killing machine he grew up to be and show how someone could potentially commit such atrocities. This aspect of his remake was perhaps its most original and compelling segment before it eventually plummeted into repetitive, mindless violence and tensionless cliché. With his follow up, Zombie maintains this trajectory and not only probes Myers’ mindset again (as he experiences vivid visions of his spectral mother (Sherri Moon Zombie) with a white horse urging him to ‘reunite’ their family) but also the fragile and damaged psyche of Laurie Strode as she attempts to get her life back on track and cope with the devastating events of the previous Halloween.
As the self-destructive and lost Laurie, Scout Taylor-Compton delivers a nerve-wrecking performance. Unfortunately she is usually reduced to just screaming and crying, but she musters the ability to do this with aplomb. Elsewhere, Malcolm McDowell returns as Dr Loomis, now getting rich off of the sales of his new bestseller – a sensationalist book about Myers and his family. McDowell layers the ham on thick and renders his Loomis a dislikeable hot head who serves no purpose other than to offend people.

Zombie’s Halloween II is not a remake of Rick Rosenthal’s inept 1981 slasher, though he does explicitly reference it’s hospital setting in the opening scenes of this film *spoiler alert* that are later revealed to be one of Laurie’s recurring nightmares.
Zombie opts to focus on Laurie as she continues on her downward spiral into depression, reckless abandon and despair. She now lives with her friend Annie (Danielle Harris) – another survivor from the first film, and Annie’s father Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) in a modest house on the outskirts of Haddonfield. She works in a café populated by Alice Cooper loving Goths and confides everything in her counsellor Barbara (Margot Kidder).

To say Halloween II is brutally violent doesn’t really do it justice. Zombie truly outdoes himself with the gut-churning, sweat-inducing and relentless violence he depicts throughout this twisted tale. Heads are pummelled into the dirt, flesh is eviscerated and blood doesn’t so much flow as feverishly erupt from the plethora of broken bodies that lay in the wake of Myers’ murderous rampage. The violence eventually has a numbing effect: none of the characters are particularly likeable anyway and each attack has no tension leading up to it – it soon wears thin as Myers shows up, usually out of nowhere, and mindlessly slaughters two dimensional hick-ville stock-types. The special effects and make-up are strikingly realistic though and at first they create an uneasy and powerful impact – however as mentioned, the violence soon begins to throw up a numbing and distancing wall. The plot lurches spasmodically and violently forward as the bodies pile up and Myers closes in on the unsuspecting Laurie.

Where Zombie does undeniably excel though is in his astute ability to create a creepy, dank and memorable atmosphere. The scenes where the hooded Myers converses with his dead mother and his younger self (Chase Vanek), while a little silly, are ethereally lit and exude a dreamlike quality, with Sherri Moon Zombie resplendent in moon-white robes and resembling some Shotgun Wedding Bride of Frankenstein. Moon Zombie delivered a competent and strangely touching performance as Myers’ mother in the first film, however she isn’t really given a lot to do here except look forlorn and spooky – but it sort of works and goes some way to realise Myers’ unhinged outlook on the world and provide the film with some truly striking visuals.

The production design by Garreth Stover really enhances Zombie’s sleazy, grimy and downright grainy aesthetics; sets are cluttered with all manner of bizarre bric-a-brac and lurid lighting. Laurie’s bedroom is strewn with the remnants of her shattered life, her walls are adorned with EMO-dark paintings and soul-purging graffiti. Haddonfield has never looked so ramshackle or dilapidated – so far removed from Carpenter’s cosy suburban vision in the late Seventies. The lurid Halloween party scene in ‘Uncle Meats’ is another showcase for Zombie’s off-kilter, carnivalesque style and it features an array of weird, freakish costumes worn by even more grotesque caricatures, sorry, characters. We also venture once again into the squalid Red Rabbit strip club for one of Myers’ more disturbing attacks. No one does creepy, soiled and nauseating like Zombie – who also makes atmospheric use of old Moody Blues song Nights in White Satin - with its eerie beauty and deep melancholy.

Halloween II is a truly visceral film that while not note-perfect, still proves that Zombie is an imaginative filmmaker with genuinely disturbing and discomforting vision and more than capable of creating an atmosphere crawling with grit, sleaze and gut-churning anxiety.

Rogue

2007
Dir. Greg Mclean

A group of tourists are forcefully nuzzled down the food chain when they encounter a giant crocodile whilst exploring the lush and eerily beautiful backwaters of Australia’s outback.

Director Greg Mclean is well known to horror audiences for his grim and ultra-sadistic feature debut Wolf Creek. With Rogue, a tense and nasty giant crocodile Creature Feature, the director has turned from the horror of man to that of nature – and proves it is every bit as harrowing.

With a cast of likeable characters (including Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan and Sam Worthington), a sturdy script, seductively lush cinematography, a haunting and evocative score and a very realistic monster, Mclean has deftly side-stepped the quagmire of horrendously bad giant croc films such as Primeval and Crocodile to deliver a genuinely pulse-pounding and effective chiller that begins as an ominous ripple and ends with an almighty, blood-soaked tidal splash.
Intrigued? Head over to Eye for Film to check out my full review…

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Vinyan: Lost Souls

2008
Dir. Fabrice Du Welz

The lives of Jeanne and Paul Bellmer (Emmanuelle Béart and Rufus Sewell) are thrown into chaos when they think they see their son, thought drowned in the Southeast Asia tsunami in 2004, in a film about orphans living in the jungles of Burma. They set off into an impenetrable heart of darkness in search of an elusive and perhaps unattainable truth, aided only by human traffickers who are intent on exploiting their heartache. Stranded in the middle of a strange and hostile country, the couple are besieged by a band of feral children and begin to lose sight of the hope they once so desperately clung to.

‘When someone dies a horrible death, their spirit becomes confused and angry. It becomes…Vinyan.’

Vinyan unfolds as a strange reflection of Don’t Look Now in its exploration of a couple’s grief, denial, hope and obsession as they try to come to terms with the death of their child. The story tracks Jeanne and Paul’s personal descent into the maelstrom as they frantically search for a child she still believes to be alive and now a victim of illegal human slavery. Paul however isn’t so sure. Emmanuelle Béart gives a staggering performance as a grief-stricken mother holding on to the last fading shards of hope with all she has. The sense of helplessness and isolation that dogs the Bellmer’s movements through Burma is permeable. Strangers in a foreign, hostile and inhospitable land, they are completely at the mercy of a group of human traffickers, whose only purpose in offering to ‘help’ the couple is to extract as much money from their loss as they can.



A beautiful looking and evocative film, Vinyan is lensed by Benoit Debie (who was also director of photography on Dario Argento’s The Card Player and Gasper Noe’s Irreversible), who pays an unparalleled amount of attention to lighting and atmosphere, ensuring the visuals are quite often disorientating and disquieting, yet utterly compelling. An astounding array of breathtakingly haunting and strangely beautiful images lace the film; from the strange series of islands the ship sails past evoking Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead, to the shot of Béart standing on the bow of the mist-shrouded ship at night, backlit by an ominous glow and staring in awe and quiet dread at the figures of small children standing on the dock – a moment that is as immensely creepy as it is beautiful.
The spooky and sadistic feral children featured in Vinyan are amongst the most haunting, and haunted, in horror cinema.
Another dreamlike and rather ethereal scene features Béart wandering along the beach the night before they set off into the jungle, watching locals light lanterns in a memorial service for the dead – the eerily beautiful lanterns float up into the dark night sky and are supposed to guide the spirits of the dead to the afterlife. The man who is to guide her through the jungle in search of her son, asks her to light a lantern so his soul may pass into the after-world; a sinister sign of things to come? Or his way of asking for her forgiveness for knowingly exploiting her pain? It is also during this moment that he explains to her what happens to the confused and angry spirits of those who die a horrible death...



The film’s sound design ensures there is never a quiet moment: from the frenetic and flinchingly unnerving techno music in the infernal nightclub scene to the spooky noises that permeate the jungle Jeanne and Paul wander through, to the times it even seems to echo the blood rushing through their heads in moments of creepy solitude.
The score, courtesy of François-Eudes Chanfrault does a fine job of enhancing the hallucinatory visuals and creating a nightmarish and at times ethereal atmosphere. Even the film’s opening credits prove alarming, with their manic soundtrack of ‘something’ building to an all-consuming crescendo of destruction.

The stifling and troubling images that stalked through Lord of the Flies and Who Could Kill a Child? are evoked here in what unfolds as a metaphysical voyage into the dark heart of a marital breakdown, brought about by the death of a child. Director Fabrice Du Welz takes his time and slowly lowers us into the midst of the carefully unfolding drama. The languid pacing serves to further embroil us in the film’s clammy clutches, making it all the more difficult to forget. Welz is astute at building and maintaining an air of unease and tension throughout. The first two acts use a subtle approach to accentuate the quiet menace and mental anguish that surrounds the couple as they each deal with the situation in their own individual ways. Once into the third act however, the film goes for the jugular with scenes featuring a small army of feral youngsters surrounding and pursuing the protagonists. Events culminate in a, quite literally, Romeroesque gut-wrenching moment that startles events out of the contemplative approach they had yielded, and into more visceral territory. However the film’s power is more evident in the aftermath of this scene, in a quiet moment where Jeanne seems to give herself over to a strange force that has been with her since the start of this story and allows herself to be absorbed completely into a heartrending and dangerous new existence.



A beautiful, blood-dark and haunting film that is at times as impenetrable as the jungle in which its heart-bruising story unfurls. Some viewers may find it overly ponderous; however those who stick with it and allow themselves to be immersed in its darkness will find themselves in a curiously moving and rather unsettling space afterwards.

Zombieland

2009
Dir. Ruben Fleischer

A small group of people team up to seek sanctuary in a world overrun by zombies.

Zombieland, unsurprisingly is a zombie film. The title sort of gives it away. In a similar vein to the likes of Shaun of the Dead however, it’s a comedy zombie film dealing with the aftermath of a global event that has turned the world’s population into maurading living-dead.

Zombieland, again like Shaun of the Dead (note the comparison - yes, its actually THAT good) and unlike so many other zombie flicks, doesn’t concern itself with why or how the world’s population have become slathering, flesh-hungry, blood-thirsty zombies. There is no subplot about environmental issues, global pandemics or chemical warfare. It’s not that kind of film. Instead, it plonks us down in the midst of a small number of survivors already in the thick of this dark new world and whisks us off with them as they travel across the States to find a safe haven amidst the carnage and apocalyptic mayhem. Whilst not completely original (can any zombie film be completely original anymore?), the approach director Fleischer utilises to tell the story is fresh and appealing - he isn’t so much concerned with the situation as he is the characters thrust into it and how they deal with it. While he favours chuckles over chills, make no mistake – there is still an awful lot of bloodshed in this - usually courtesy of Woody Harrelson's character Tallahassee who has a penchant for slaughtering zombies in the most graphic way he can - but it’s all so over the top it sits comfortably within the overall tone of the film.



The focus of the film is the dynamics between a likable bunch of characters that have severe trust issues with each other – not helped by the two girls tricking and conning the guys during their first encounter with them in a deserted supermarket. To begin with the group don’t want to get too close in case they form emotional attachments and subsequently suffer a loss. They don’t even know each other’s real names but have given each other nicknames: Columbus Ohio (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). The characters are perhaps so amicable because of the sturdy cast portraying them. They eventually realise that they kind of enjoy each other’s company as it can get quite lonely on the road when you’re in the minority and everyone else you come in contact with is dead. And hungry for your flesh. The cast are of course strongly aided by sharp, witty dialogue, amusing character traits and deft one-liners and observations – particularly the neurotic and nervous Columbus as he narrates proceedings whilst accompanied by amusing onscreen graphics.



I dare say most fans of zombie flicks have a contingency plan for when zombies attack. I know I do. Columbus is obviously of a similar disposition, and throughout the film he constantly refers to his list of survival rules and wittily explains how he came to compile such a list. His survival tips appear as little comedic interludes, but also go some way to convey how the world ended up as it is, as does the opening title sequence, in all its slow motion glory. Indeed, the dystopian landscape they traverse throughout the film is littered with the remnants of civilisation before the zombie invasion - these images convey so much without the need to have it explained to us through exposition: vast, empty motorways piled high with burnt-out vehicles, eerily deserted towns and charred corpses lining the roadsides.

A few cool cameos – including a completely unexpected one that I won’t give away because hopefully it will pleasantly surprise you as much as it did me – include Mandy Lane herself, Amber Heard and Mike White as Victim in Bathroom, and are sure to spread a wide smile across your face.

At times events are genuinely touching, such as Tallahassee’s flashbacks and Columbus’s observations on how he is really only starting to live his life now that everyone else is dead. Luckily, these moments don’t become immersed in second-rate saccharine-coated sentimentality, instead they shed some more light on the characters backgrounds, heap more flesh on their bones and move on before becoming indulgent.



When the group eventually flee their little Beverly Hills utopia, things begin to become quite tense and the film thunders towards a surprisingly taut, yet still crowd pleasing climax that unfolds in an amusement park. By placing certain characters in danger and cranking up the tension, Fleischer ensures viewers will remain gripped throughout proceedings, all the way to the candy-coated, blood-spattered finale.

An irresistibly good natured, feel-good zombie film that simply exudes a sweet, geeky charm.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Boris Karloff Blogathon

Beginning on November 23 — Karloff’s 122nd birthday — and on through the 29th, Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog is inviting bloggers far and wide to post something about Boris Karloff, his life and his wide-ranging career.

Karloff is perhaps best known for his work in the horror genre, particularly his Universal horror films such as Frankenstein, The Mummy and Bride of Frankenstein. With an impressive career spanning over 50 years, Karloff collaborated with a staggering array of acclaimed filmmakers such as James Whale, Val Lewton, Mario Bava and Roger Corman to name but a few.

Why not head over to Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog for more info... And stay tuned throughout November for all things 'Karloff The Uncanny.'

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Dead Snow

2009
Dir. Tommy Wirkola

AKA Død Snø

A group of medical students on a skiing holiday in deepest, whitest Norway come face to face with marauding zombie Nazis…

Yes. Zombie Nazis.

Dead Snow is every bit as preposterous as it sounds. In a similar vein to Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, Wirkola’s striking looking film is an outrageous comedy-horror that deftly mixes chills with chuckles and gore with guffaws. The film sets its tone in the opening scene as a young woman flees in terror across a desolate snowscape accompanied by the strains of Dukas’s mischievous symphony The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Director Wirkola wisely keeps her pursuers to the shadows and we only catch the briefest glimpses of them before they set upon the unfortunate woman and tear her asunder.

The film’s cine-literate characters are an amiable bunch and the script (by Wirkola and Stig Frode Henriksen) takes time to establish group dynamics and ease us into the company of the group before all hell breaks loose… And unlike the vast majority of their fellow horror-genre teens, this lot at least make an attempt to work together and fend off the attacks, remaining as level-headed and practical as the situation allows. To begin with anyway.



Whilst the film exhibits its fair share of horror clichés and doesn’t really cover any new ground, Dead Snow manages to tackle a familiar story in a frantic and irreverent manner that ensures it remains entertaining throughout. Besides, there are enough shots of blood on snow to make up for the clichés that speckle the script, including the inclusion of a slasher stock character akin to Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th, whose sole purpose is to tell the students about the area’s dubious and blood-soaked history and gloomily extol warnings. A gripping scene involving the demise of this nomadic doom-laden wanderer occurs early on as he sets up camp in the middle of the night. Sensing he is not alone, he looks outside his isolated tent. In a haunting, atmospheric and utterly tense few moments we follow his torch light across the dark, snow covered ground to reveal the startling vision of a figure in unmistakable WWII garb looming out of the snow-flecked night… What follows is brief, but memorable. And red. Very red.

When we eventually see them in all their glory, the Nazi zombies are indeed a sight to remember. Standing resplendent and domineering, albeit bloodily so, in the midst of the snow covered landscape, they cut an imposing swath, particularly the ghoulishly grinning Colonel Herzog (Ørjan Gamst).



References to the likes of Evil Dead abound throughout Dead Snow, and not just because the characters discuss Raimi’s spooky gore-fest with salivating relish whilst staying in an isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere. The film’s warped and outrageously grotesque sense of humour is very knowing and whilst it blatantly nods to other genre classics it successfully negates the sort of patronising, ‘we’re-all-just-so-fucking-post-modern-aren’t-we’ humour of say, Kevin Williamson. The banter between Erlend and Chris (Jeppe Laursen and Jenny Skavlan) is particularly entertaining from an avid horror fan’s point of view. Their conversations about old slasher movies and zombie flicks don’t seem forced or contrived, after all, what fans of horror don’t discuss their favourite films with newfound kindred spirits? In light of their obsession with the likes of Friday the 13th and April Fool’s Day, its interesting to see how these characters fare when they realise they are soon to face horror on a more first-hand basis…

The savagery of the attacks on the students is at times quite astounding given the film’s tongue-in-cheekiness. The amount of blood that splashes across pristine snow is astounding. The special effects are overtly splashy and gross and will no doubt sate the appetite of even the most ravenous gore hound. All manner of implements are used to comical and shocking effect as the stand-off between the increasing numbers of Nazi zombies and ever depleting group of students mounts; including chainsaws, hammers, snowmobiles, axes and guns… Apparently 475 quarts of fake blood were used during the making of this film. That is a LOT of red stuff. Events veer even further into Evil Dead territory when an impromptu amputation occurs, whilst another particularly outlandish moment features someone dangling over the edge of a precipice, grimly hanging on to the still attached intestine of a recently gutted zombie. Splat-schtick indeed.

Dead Snow is a novel and tongue-in-decomposing-cheek zombie-fest with a wicked sense of humour boasting slick production values that belie its low budget. Wirkola makes effective use of the startlingly beautiful location of Øksfjord in the far north of Norway. Sweeping snow strewn vistas encroached upon by the blackest, densest forests in which it would be all too easy to get lost, are lusted after by Matthew Weston’s chilly cinematography.

Bloody good fun.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Random Creepy Scene # 443: Lost Highway

While not strictly a horror film, David Lynch’s beautiful, nightmarish and deeply unsettling Lost Highway contains more than its fair share of intense and disturbing moments. The opening scenes alone are, in my opinion, amongst some of the most uneasy, upsetting and creepy moments of cinema. Lynch effortlessly creates such a feeling of anxiety in these opening scenes, and all without anything much really happening. Unhappily married couple Fred and Renee Madison (Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette) blankly wander around their dark and foreboding home. Fred appears to suspect Renee of being unfaithful and she does nothing to alleviate his suspicions. Videotapes containing footage of the outside of their house begin arriving. Eventually one of the tapes contains footage shot inside the house and reveals Fred murdering Renee. A bizarre encounter with a mysterious man at a party flings events further into overtly abstract territory. The mystery man tells Fred they've met before. Where? "At your house, remember? In fact, I'm there right now." Where? "At your house." The mystery man then tells Fred to dial his own house, which he does, and the man picks up on the other end. Creepy.

To progressively complicate matters, Fred is then arrested and just before his execution he appears to morph into Balthazar Getty (we’ve all been there) as Pete Dayton, a young mechanic with sporadic amnesia and a penchant for gangster’s moll Alice (Arquette again).


The lives of Fred and Pete seem indelibly linked and strangely cross-referenced.
To try and provide a somewhat ‘succinct’ synopsis of this film would be to do it a great injustice. Lynch is primarily an artist and he often views his film work as an extension of his canvas. As such, Lost Highway is a dark and bleak voyage into one man’s depths of despair as he attempts to understand the workings of a world seemingly against him.

As Fred and Renee view the videotapes and things become even more steeped in anxiety a most discomforting and downright disturbing sex scene occurs. Seeming to highlight Fred’s unease and paranoia with his own wife, the scene plays out as he unsuccessfully attempts to make love to her. She rather patronisingly pats him on the back and says ‘its ok.’ As Fred turns to look at her he sees, for a split second, the face of the mysterious man who will confront him at the party…
What serves to make the scene even more perturbing is the soundtrack: a seemingly constant low rumbling drone that seeps into the subconscious and nestles there with dreadful intent...


Sex in the films of David Lynch appears to have an underlying sense of creepiness and despair and is nearly always revealed as an insidiously sinister situation. Never is this notion highlighted so much as in the opening scenes of Lost Highway that depict a marriage in crisis and unfurl as one of the most upsetting examples of marital strife and anxiety in film. Lost Highway is guaranteed to perplex, disturb, inspire and provoke with each successive viewing…

Baron Blood

1972
Dir. Mario Bava

Headstrong student Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) travels to his ancestral home Castle Kreuzenstein in Austria to take a break from his studies. Peter has become obsessed with Baron Otton von Kleist, a distant relative whom the locals nicknamed Baron Blood due to his masochistic and murderous tendencies. Our foolhardy student sets about resurrecting his ancestor by reciting an incantation on an ancient scroll and before long the Baron is up to his old tricks, wrecking bloody havoc and slaughtering anyone who stands in his way… Can Peter and art restoration expert Eva (Elke Sommer) put a stop to his murderous rampage before its too late?

Baron Blood was filmed after Bava’s stylish and grisly slasher opus Bay of Blood and was one of the director’s last films. It delivers what one might expect of a Bava film (or perhaps any Italian horror film) from this period – stylish camerawork, uneven pacing, evocative score, lack of plot and dazzling atmospherics. While certainly not one of Bava’s finest films, Baron Blood still contains many visually striking moments courtesy of Bava’s ability to conjure up an indelibly haunting atmosphere with his unequalled use of eerie lighting and masterful camerawork. Great use is made of the limited locations, particularly the scenes that unfold within the confines of the Gothic castle and as a result the film is imbued with an unshakable sense of claustrophobia and stifling dread.



One of the most memorable scenes occurs when Eva is pursued by the bloodthirsty Baron through the moonlit, foggy streets of the town. Bava’s use of atmospheric lighting and imaginative camerawork really heightens the tension in this nightmarish scene. Even though it takes place outside the castle, it still feels as claustrophobic and suffocating and plays out like a twisted Escheresque nightmare. No matter where Eva turns the Baron is always close by...

As with the majority of Bava’s film work within the horror genre, Baron Blood is also rife with moments of jaw-dropping sadism and sexually charged elements. It eventually transpires that the Baron was cursed by a woman he had burned as a witch, to suffer the same torture and pain as his many victims. The scene in which the spirit of this woman is invoked by a medium plays out as a weird and exotic dream, with her haunting and enraptured features appearing in a fire to give guidance to Peter and Eva.




Vincent Fotre’s screenplay does well to elevate the Baron to the status of Vlad the Impaler – the mere mention of his name is enough to drive fear into the hearts of those who hear it. The atrocities he committed during his reign are legendary in this area of Austria. His appearance is striking to say the least and he exudes a strange menace whenever he appears. Decked out in a flowing cloak and wide-brimmed hat hiding his horribly charred and mutilated features, his horrific visage contrasts rather provocatively with the contemporary wardrobes and attitudes of the other characters. A couple of vicious murders pepper the story and one in particular, involving a gruesome hanging, still packs a nasty bunch.

Aside from the astounding atmosphere and artful approach of Bava in his direction, the film flounders slightly and is nowhere near as compelling as say Black Sunday or Kill Baby Kill. Events soon become a little repetitive as the Baron offs someone meddling in his affairs and Peter and Eva try to figure out how to stop him. Having said that, Baron Blood is still an entertaining slice of Italian Gothic and provides yet another example of Bava’s exemplary ability to create stylish, atmospheric and nightmarishly beautiful films that look and feel as unique today as they did when he produced them.