Sunday, 27 December 2009

Paracinema Issue 8

Issue 8 of Paracinema is now available. Hard to believe that the magazine is actually now on it's eighth issue (scary how time flies)! Not so hard to believe is that it's still as great a publication as it's ever been and just as lovingly put together, designed and compiled by a dedicated and passionate hard-core of individuals.

Amongst the staggering array of mouth-watering pieces included in the pages of issue 8 are the following features: War May Be Hell, But a Sequel Is Purgatory: Thematic Combat With Battle Royale II: Requiem by Emily Intravia, Love, Loss, and Astounding Growth in The Incredible Shrinking Man and Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman by Jessie Robie and The Serial Killer’s Mind: Comparing and Contrasting the Male Psyches in Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer by Brantley Palmer.

If that isn't enough to whet your appetite, click here to check out more...

Support our independent film magazines and help publications like Paracinema to continue producing quality material that you'd be hard pushed to find elsewhere. Click here to pick up a copy of issue 8. It's a done deal.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Argento Book Update

A brief email from my publishers, Kamera Books, informed me that my Argento book is to be published on 25th March 2010. Once again I have been assured that all is well and the book will definitely be published.

Apparently a certain amount of 'dues' (that's pre-orders to you and I) need to be obtained from commercial outlets; something that has proved more difficult than usual given the current recession and the recent closure of book store chains such as Borders. Keep checking back here at Behind the Couch for updates – which I shall post as and when I receive them.

I recently set up a page on Faceache for the book, so if you have an account on there and fancy dropping by to say howdy, please feel free to do so - just click here and show some love or go to Facebook and type 'Daro Argento (Kamera Books)' into the search bar......

Sanguis Gratia Artis!

RIP Brittany Murphy 1977 - 2009

Actress Brittany Murphy, star of films such as Clueless, Girl, Interrupted and 8 Mile, has died after collapsing at her home in Los Angeles.
According to the coroners report, Murphy, who was pronounced dead in hospital, appeared to have died from a cardiac arrest. She was 32.

I’m not one to follow ‘celeb’ news or trends, but I was saddened to hear of the death of Murphy, who for me was an interesting character actress yet to tap into her full potential. Murphy will be remembered for her portrayals of oddball, cookie-cutter cuties in films such as Clueless, Freeway, Girl, Interrupted, Don’t Say a Word and Spun before she went on to star in the likes of 8 Mile, Sin City and various rom-coms. Her last screen appearance will be the Sylvester Stallone ensemble action flick The Expendables.

Whilst no stranger to dark and disturbing films, Murphy made a number of quirky forays into outright genre territory in her too-short career with roles in the darkly comic slasher Cherry Falls and the anaemic though atmospheric chiller Deadline.

For me, she will always be the kooky girl who uttered the immortal put down: ‘You’re a virgin who can’t drive’ in the charmingly ditzy comedy Clueless.

RIP Brittany Murphy.

Friday, 18 December 2009

RIP Dan O'Bannon 1946 - 2009

Dan O'Bannon, the screenwriter of classic genre films such as Alien and Total Recall and cult favourites Dead and Buried, Dark Star and Return of the Living Dead, has died at the age of 63 in Los Angeles following a short illness.

O'Bannon attended USC film school in the early '70s where he met director John Carpenter and the pair collaborated on Carpenter's debut feature Dark Star. O'Bannon co-wrote, edited, supervised the special effects and portrayed Sgt Pinback in this existential sci-fi comedy.

O'Bannon soon quit his job on the visual effects team on Star Wars to begin screenwriting full time. His first project after Dark Star was a script titled Star Beast - co-written by Ronald Shusett - which would later be filmed as Alien by Ridley Scott. The writer would also go on to work with Tobe Hooper on Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars.

O'Bannon is survived by his wife Diane Louise Lindley and their son Adam. He made significant contributions to the genre and will be sadly missed.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Short Film Showcase: The Sandman

1992
Dir. Paul Berry

A young boy who stays up past his bedtime receives a nasty visit from the sinister Sandman…

The usual notion of the Sandman as a benevolent character from European folklore who sprinkled 'sleeping' dust into children’s' eyes to send them to sleep, is darkly subverted in this beautifully realised and highly stylised animated short. The filmmakers have instead opted to base their titular character on a menacing creature that brings horror and suffering to children inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann's novella The Sandman. Hoffmann’s richly textured and harrowing tale abounds with psychoanalytical readings such as the Jungian notion that sleep equals a denial of life, therefore the state of unconsciousness is an invitation to death.

Berry clearly draws influence from early Expressionist classics like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, M and Nosferatu to create a dark and anxiety-ridden atmosphere, awash with nightmarish colours and a distinctly gothic feel. The look of The Sandman is quite similar to several Tim Burton animations such as A Nightmare Before Christmas (a film Berry would later work on) and Vincent, and the characters have that same slightly startled and sad expression on their faces. The creepy music and eerie, bloodcurdling sound effects add to the sinister atmosphere and Berry's use of lighting to create startling shadows and pools of glowing light is highly effective. The Sandman is a cold and upsetting story - the little boy’s mother seems unsympathetic to his plight and her actions of returning him to his bed ultimately seals his dark fate.




The Sandman himself is a truly haunting spectre, with a twisted, crescent-moon face, huge piercing, beady eyes and a fierce, beaklike nose. His movements, while wonderfully theatrical, are also distinctly spidery, as he looms up out of the darkness like some unspeakable thing of the night and skulks between the shadows waiting to pounce. He is a sadistic predator, toying with his pray. The final moments of this cat and mouse game result in the unveiling of the little boy’s shocking fate and the final image in The Sandman is a haunting one, tinged with sadness and guaranteed to upset.

The Sandman was nominated for an Oscar in 1992. Berry would go on to work on James and the Giant Peach as an animation supervisor and on Monkeybone as supervising animator. He sadly passed away on June 26, 2001 due to a brain tumour. He was 40 years old.

Click here to check it out (the only high quality version I could find has disallowed embedding). Pleasant nightmares...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Random Creepy Christmas Scene # 442: Deep Red

When English jazz musician Marc Daly witnesses the murder of a renowned psychic, he teams up with fiesty reporter Gianni to find the killer. They soon must evade attempts on their own lives by the mysterious killer who is seemingly intent on keeping a dark secret buried - the catalyst of which was a bloody murder carried out at Christmas many years ago...

Tenuous I know, but you just can't beat a bit of vintage Argento at Christmas time. Well, you can't really beat a bit of vintage Argento at any time of the year to be quite frank... So sue me.

Seasonal Shockers

Traditionally, Christmas is a happy time associated with joy and happiness. It is also a time of year that, despite all the cheer and joviality, also has something of a dark side to it and holds a distinct chill. There is many a ghost story connected to Christmas such as A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and several ghoulish tales by MR James were actually written specially to be read at Christmas. Even the idea of Santa Claus has a few creepy connotations – the thought of someone snaking and shimmying their way down your chimney and into your home is actually quite sinister when you think about it. This notion certainly hasn’t been wasted on a few filmmakers who set out to sabotage the ‘seasonal cheer’ of Christmas with violence, blood on snow and all kinds of savage ‘slays.’ Below are a few of the best Christmas themed shockers to check out if you fancy giving yourself a fright this Christmas. You know, just to balance out all that bloody cheeriness.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse… They were all DEAD!

Black Christmas (1974). The residents of a college sorority house are terrorized by a stranger who makes frighteningly obscene phone calls and then murders the sorority sisters during Christmas break. Preceding the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th, Bob Clark’s seminal seasonal shocker took inspiration from several Mario Bava body-count films and essentially laid out the blueprint for all subsequent American slasher movies. The unsettling atmosphere is enhanced by the use of Christmas carols and a bleak snowy landscape. Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey are amongst the fresh faced cast of likeable, strangely sympathetic characters. The real terror comes when we learn exactly where the phone calls originate from. The film’s original tag line had a point – ‘If this movie doesn't make your skin crawl... It's On Too Tight!’ An immensely creepy, atmospheric and underappreciated chiller. Pledge 'Delta, Kappa, DIE!'

Black Christmas
Jack Frost (1996). This is the positively delightful and heart-warming tale of a serial killer who genetically mutates into an evil snowman after being involved in a traffic accident and some dodgy toxic waste, only to continue his killing spree with various ‘Christmas’ themed novelty deaths. If the themed deaths aren’t enough to get you into the Christmas mood, Jack Frost churns out some priceless Kruger-esque one-liners whilst despatching idiotic characters, including Shannon Elizabeth in an early role that really showcases her, erm, prowess. Director Michael Cooney displays some flair and innovation despite his ridiculously low budget and ridiculously ridiculous concept. It’s all played for laughs and proves to be a fun deliberately-so-bad-its-good romp. Cooney would go on to write the mind-melting psychological slasher Identity.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). Another seasonal ‘stalk and slash' shocker - with bells on. Silent Night Deadly Night sparked a bloody wave of controversy on its original theatrical release thanks to its unforgettable premise: a seriously unhinged (is there usually any other kind?) serial killer dressed as Santa Claus has deep and dark issues with ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ due to the fact that he saw his mother and father touched inappropriately and then murderlised by a Santa impersonating psycho when he was a kid. The concept proved a bit much for some, and prompted a pitchfork wielding mob of angry parents, film critics and movie industry insiders to protest against this ‘immoral and indecent’ film, calling for it to be boycotted. Spoil-sports. The sight of ‘Santa Claus’ advancing towards his victims with an axe is memorable to say the least, and of all the psycho-dressed-as-Santa-slashers this one is by far the best. ‘Naughty!’

Curse of the Cat People
Curse of the Cat People (1944). This daring sequel to the Jacques Tourneur directed/Val Lewton produced moody classic Cat People (1942) revolves around Amy, the young daughter of Oliver and Alice Reed – survivors from the first film. Amy is a strange, lonely child who often becomes lost in her daydreams. She has trouble differentiating fantasy from reality, and has no friends her own age as a result. She makes an imaginary friend in the form of the ghost of her father's dead first wife, Irena. Unfolding more as a delicate and emotionally fraught study of child psychology and arguably not even a ‘Christmas’ film, Curse of the Cat People still has a story that takes place in part at Christmas time. Indeed some of the film’s most memorable and striking moments feature Irena (Simone Simon) standing in a snow-blanketed garden and the film’s climax unfolds on Christmas Eve as Oliver and Alice desperately search the neighbourhood for their missing daughter.

Don’t Open ‘til Christmas (1984). A murderer is causing havoc and panic (and maybe the occasional wry smile) on the streets of London, as he begins a killing spree solely targeting anyone dressed as Margaret Thatcher Santa Claus. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Harris has been given the unenviable task of tracking down the psychopath. It would seem that he's going to have his work cut out for him. This somewhat dreary horror is a seemingly endless series of scenes in which men, and maybe even a woman, dressed as Santa Claus are cut up, stabbed, emasculated, burned and generally just fucked up in increasingly grisly ways. Tension is as scarce as an Australian white Christmas and after a while it all begins to fade into one repetitive Santa massacre full of horrible characters and ridiculous ‘twists’ that you won’t even care about it. Not even Caroline Munroe in a bizarre cameo can save this film. If Santa leaves this in your stocking, throw it back up the chimney after the bastard.

Tales from the Crypt
Tales from the Crypt: ‘All Through The House’ (1972). Five people get lost and become trapped in a mysterious crypt. Events become increasingly creepy when they encounter a strange crypt keeper who relays to them stories of how they died. One of the tales concerns a young woman (Joan Collins) who makes the mistake of murdering her husband at Christmas time while an escaped mental patient dressed in a Santa Claus outfit is on the loose. She attempts to cover up her husband’s murder by making it look like an accident. Little does she know said mental patient has sneaked into her home and has a nasty surprise for her… Basically, she needn’t have gone to all that bother covering up her husband’s murder.

Gremlins (1984). Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is given a small creature called a Mogwai by his father for Christmas, with strict instructions to keep it away from bright light, never get it wet and perhaps most importantly - never, EVER feed it after midnight. Of course young Billy and his clumsy pal Pete (it’s the 80s so it must be Corey Feldman!) accidently soak poor Gizmo who spawns a litter of similarly cute fur-balls. Billy accidentally feeds them after midnight and before he knows it, they’ve mutated into mischievous and dangerous critters that wreck havoc throughout the small town Billy calls home, ruining Christmas for everyone. Can Billy and his sassy girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) stop the gremlins before the town becomes a bloodbath!? Perfect nostalgic Christmas viewing from Joe Dante, which at times is pretty darn scary – (well it was when I was 12. OK, I was a wimpy 12 year old. Leave me alone) especially when Billy’s mother searches the house when she hears strange noises - only to be attacked by 'something' in her Christmas tree. Playful, devilishly funny and fun to watch at any time of the year, Gremlins will always have a place in my DVD player at Christmas time.

Nightmare Before Christmas
Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween. When he discovers Christmas Town he is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he persuades the residents of Halloween Town to help him put on Christmas instead of Halloween. Alas, they don’t quite grasp the concept and as a result some rather ‘alternative’ gifts are delivered to unsuspecting children at Christmas. Can Jack put things right before the idea of Christmas is tarnished forever?! Equal parts macabre and joyously sweet, Nightmare Before Christmas is a visual delight that is creator/co-writer/producer Tim Burton through and through. Undead reindeer, a coffin sleigh and gruesome toys that attack their recipients maybe aren’t features you’d associate with the usual Christmas movies, but this is a smart, delightful and compelling little Christmas movie that unabashedly states that we should be proud to be who we are no matter what time of year it is. 'Gawd bless us, every one'.

Christmas Evil aka You Better Watch Out (1980). Christmas Evil is the story of a young boy who is scarred for life when he sees his mother give ‘Santa Claus’ more than a little peck on the cheek. When he grows up, a nerdy/creepy loner, he becomes the foreman of a toy factory and is obsessed with the quality of his toys. He tries to keep up the Christmas spirit and maintain Christmas’s magical atmosphere, but when all he is met with is hypocrisy and cynicism, he loses his mind and goes on a yuletide killing spree. Played more for laughs than for scares, Christmas Evil is a low budget blackly comic no-brainer with a few nods to other genre classics thrown in for good measure. John Waters adores it.

For more choice holiday faves, why not head on over to Paracinema... The Blog and remind yourself why Home Alone 2, Die Hard and Batman Returns are just so darn watchable at this, the most wonderful time of the year...

Merry Christmastime!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

I Sell the Dead

2008
Dir. Glenn McQuaid

The night before he is due to face the guillotine, young grave robber Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) confides in Father Duffy (Ron Perlman), recounting his years of misadventures in the ‘resurrection’ trade. Beginning as a young boy stealing trinkets from corpses, Blake eventually became involved with seasoned ghoul Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) and the dastardly duo set about making a living by selling the dead. And as it turns out, sometimes the not-so-dead…

Dublin born Glenn McQuaid’s directorial feature debut, a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric period horror-comedy, follows on from and expands upon his short film The Resurrection Apprentice, which charted a young boy’s entry into the murky but oh so lucrative world of grave robbing. The same boy, Arthur Blake, is now grown up and has been imprisoned for his dubious career choice. The film opens with Blake’s former partner in crime Willie Grimes being executed with the guillotine as Blake waits for the same fate. The majority of the film is told through flashbacks constructed around the framing narrative featuring Monaghan and Perlman in a jail cell as the former recounts his adult life as a body snatcher, eventually revealing to the curious priest that it was far more more lucrative to dig up vampires, monsters and other undead creatures of the night and sell them to mad scientists like the sinister Dr. Quint (Angus Scrimm), than just plain old regular dead corpses.

 
I Sell the Dead has a real comic book feel to it and at various times throughout, certain shots are held for a few moments and dissolve to comic style stills, highlighting the off-kilter, quirky nature of the film. The film is played for laughs much of the time, although its obvious McQuaid still has a penchant for creating creepy imagery and is fairly astute when it comes to conjuring up genuinely nightmarish moments. The film unfolds as a sentimental throwback to the fog-shrouded gothic ambience of old Hammer horror films, Amicus films and the atmospheric work of Val Lewton. The gloomy, eerily lit studio bound sets create a real feeling of nostalgia as well as being refreshingly effective in their own right. The film references the likes of The Body Snatcher, Brides of Dracula and Eyes Without a Face to name but a few. Apparently McQuaid was particularly influenced by Freddie Francis’s Paranoiac, and this is especially evident in his expertly crafted framing and exquisite shot composition.


McQuaid’s fondness for these devious but likeable rapscallions is obvious, and quite infectious. Monaghan and Fessenden have a wonderful onscreen rapport and flesh out their characters effortlessly, portraying them as strangely loveable rogues. As well as indulging in heinous crimes against the dead, they are also a witty, warm and entertaining pair who we can’t help but care about. They form the most appealing horror-comedy duo since Shaun and Ed (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) graced our screens in 2004. As the film progresses their misadventures become increasingly absurd and irreverent. It’s a treat to wait with baited breath every time they visit a cemetery to dig up graves, just to see what horror they unearth next. Vampires, zombies, unnameable creatures and things that are definitely not of this world are the order of the day, and with every coffin lid prized open, comes a gasp of delight and horror from those onscreen, and indeed, those off screen too. Even though these undead ‘things’ are quite cartoonish, a few of them are still pretty gruesome. Blake and Grimes also have a few run-ins with a rival grave-robbing gang, the ghastly House of Murphy, whose evil members include a man with razor sharp dog teeth and a woman whose masked face is so hideous it chills even the dead to the core. A climatic confrontation with this motley crew on a strange island inhabited by the dead serves up a few effective twists and turns and some of the film’s most memorable visuals.


Testament to the conviction and talent of McQuaid is the fact that, although set in 18th Century Ireland, the low budget film was actually shot in New York. However, because of neat camera work, graphic effects, clever utilisation of existing locations and various backgrounds added in during post production, the result is a film that retains a seamless and distinct visual aesthetic. The Elfman-esque score courtesy of Jeff Grace, enhances the spooky atmosphere, adding a distinct cartoonish fairground feel to proceedings and at times actually helps sustain a genuinely dark and foreboding mood that vaguely recalls Wojciech Kilar’s score for Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

An atmospheric, darkly charming and irascibly funny horror comedy.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Cover your ears. It's Deep Red. The Musical...


What's up with poor Daria Nicolodi? Why is she so distraught? Could it be she's just seen the trailer for a musical adaptation of Dario Argento's seminal giallo masterpiece Profondo Rosso/Deep Red...?! Yes, that's right, musical adaptation. All singing, all dancing. All shitting. Apparently the Maestro himself was involved as an artistic supervisor... Watch at your own risk.

THIS TRAILER CONTAINS SCENES OF MILD PERIL, SUSTAINED THREAT AND SHIT SINGING. IN ITALIAN.

You've been warned.

Happy Bloody Birthday Behind the Couch


Behind the Couch is One Year Old today!
It is hard to believe that it was a whole year ago today I decided to venture into the Canis lupus familiaris eat Canis lupus familiaris world of blogging. And now, one whole year later and Behind the Couch has grown into a fairly beautiful bouncing baby blog. And what a year it’s been, too. The only thing that beats the amount of wine I’ve drunk whilst blogging my very important opinions about horror/cult films, is the number of films I’ve actually watched. There have been some great films over the course of the last year. There have also been some really great films. And of course some not so great films. Obviously there have also been some downright shit films and the films that have been so bad they’ve been really rather amazing. And my own personal favourites – the films with Vincent Price in them.

Thanks to all who have dropped by over the last year – it has been lovely to make your acquaintance – please continue to share your thoughts and feelings and to not be a stranger. Though maybe you should think about bringing your own bottle next time? Just kidding. I guess all that remains to be said is cheers! Here’s to the next full bodied and juicily plump year. Hopefully it will prove every bit as robust, aromatic and have just as smooth a finish with the faintest hint of oak as this year.

Right, I’ve a year's worth of recycling to catch up with. I’ll maybe have one little glass of something red and cheeky afore I go though…

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Random Creepy Scene # 673: The Blair Witch Project

1999
Dirs. Ed Sanchez and Daniel Myrick

In a film peppered with spine-tinglingly creepy moments, it still wasn’t difficult to select the very creepiest. Just the thought of it sends shivers down my spine as I type this.

Josh, Heather and Mike travel to Burkittsville (formerly Blair), Maryland, to interview locals about the legend of the Blair Witch for a documentary Heather is making. The locals tell them of a hermit named Rustin Parr who lived in the woods surrounding the town. He kidnapped local children and brought them to his house. It is said Parr brought the children into his basement in twos - he could apparently feel their eyes staring into his soul, so he would kill one child while making the other face a corner. He would then kill the child – rooted to the spot in fear - in the corner. Parr eventually turned himself in to the police, claiming that the spirit of the Blair witch convinced him to kill the children.

After a couple of harrowing days and nights lost in the forest, Josh disappears and Heather and Mike come upon an old house in the middle of the forest. Searching frantically for their friend inside the house, they become separated and increasingly panicked. Eventually Heather follows screams into the basement where she is greeted by the sight of Mike standing stock still, facing a corner… Something attacks her from behind and she drops her camera.


The sight of Mike standing in the corner is so simple and uneventful, yet because of the story of Parr and his bloody exploits – and the fact that something so wilful and terrifying ensures he doesn’t move from his post in the corner – so incredibly affecting. We know what’s coming and its immense creepiness lingers long in the mind afterwards…

What’s On Your DVD Shelf?

This month we take a peek at the DVD collection of The Thick of It’s scary, filthy-mouthed political spin doctor Malcolm Tucker.

The Thick of It is an exceptionally dark and rather brilliant political comedy set in the corridors of British government. Throughout the series we are given a satirical behind the scenes glimpse highlighting the struggles of the media and spin doctors against civil servants in government. The Director of Communications at Number 10 Downing Street is the aggressive, coarse and feared Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). He serves two main roles: acting as the Prime Minister's enforcer to ensure the cabinet ministers all follow the party line, and managing the government's crisis management PR- usually in the form of spin. He regularly uses smears or threats of violence to achieve his ends. You don’t want to mess with him.

Whilst usually seen shouting, nay, SCREAMING profanities and threats into the faces of his inept colleagues, Tucker is really the only character in this series that has a clue about anything. He likes the fact that people don’t like him and is often seen with a throbbing vein on his forehead and an evil glint in his eye. We are given a rare glimpse into his private life in series 3 when he takes a holiday. Inviting a few friends over to his rather plush home, he cooks dinner and appears a little more relaxed than usual. One of the scenes features a shot of his DVD collection in the background as he and one of his guests chat… I couldn’t help but pause to sneak a closer look at his collection and begin to think how this would make for an interesting and new regular feature at Behind the Couch: inspecting the DVD shelves of various TV and film characters. What kind of films does Malcolm Tucker watch to unwind after a stressful day keeping the government from self-destructing? Let’s have a look. And let’s be honest – we’re obviously going to judge him on the basis of his taste in film.


A love of British crime caper/thrillers is exhibited thanks to the presence of The Italian Job and Layer Cake, whilst a softer side is also hinted at by the inclusion of Atonement – or perhaps Malcolm is just really into beautiful cinematography. Tucker also appears to appreciate ‘proper’ cinema with titles such as Citizen Kane and the modern classic head-fuck Memento – which goes some way to excuse the fact that he actually paid money for a copy of The Day After Tomorrow. Hey, I’m as big a fan of Emmerich’s intimate-epic apocalypse porn-fest as the next guy – I watch it almost every time it’s on TV and even know some of the lines by heart – but I would never, EVER pay money to own a copy of it. Other big budget disaster extravaganzas include the extremely conspicuous Titanic. This is perhaps the most shocking revelation of Malcolm’s taste in film. Or is it? Titanic is one of the most successful films ever produced. Laden with ground breaking special effects and worryingly neurotic attention to detail, it topped the box offices for what seemed like an eternity. Perhaps Malcolm’s morbid curiosity just got the better of him?
The foul mouthed Director of Communications evidently enjoys a laugh and maybe even has an iota of ‘fan boy’ hidden away behind his surly demeanour – I spy copies of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

Horror doesn’t really have much of a presence in his collection – perhaps Malcolm’s day to day life is horrific enough without his means to escapism becoming soiled with viscera too. His taste in horror seems to be represented by lone horror title The Thing – kudos! If you only own one horror title, it may as well be something as cool as John Carpenter’s seminal classic.

And there we have it. Malcolm Tucker, you have been judged on account of your eclectic DVD collection and found guilty of owning some really shit titles and also some really good ones. And ones that are just so innocuous they don’t even register. I’m reckoning he is a casual fan of films and goes with whatever people are talking about. But I could be wrong.

Friday, 4 December 2009

De Lift

1983
Dir. Dick Maas

Lift technician Felix (Huub Stapel) is called in to repair an elevator that has been at the centre of several bizarre deaths. As the deaths continue to mount, Felix begins an obsessive investigation that causes ructions with his family and colleagues. Joining forces with sassy, straight-talking reporter (is there any other kind?), the marvellously named Mieke de Beer (Willeke van Ammelrooy), he uncovers the involvement of shady Multi-national Corporation Rising Sun, who have installed an experimental computer chip in the elevator. An evil computer chip! An evil computer chip that can reproduce!

Take the stairs, take the stairs. For God's sake, take the Stairs!!!

I assumed that De Lift was going to be one of those films that are so bad they’re good. It’s about a killer lift! It's a Dutch horror film from the early Eighties - about a killer lift! It’s got a lift that kills people! Surprisingly, it’s a competently put together little thriller that, after plodding around for about an hour with too many exposition-heavy scenes and bland characters having bland affairs, settles down to become a taut and suspenseful ride - albeit one with a very silly premise. Helping set the mood is an atmospheric score, courtesy of writer/director Maas, full of synthesizer drones and electronic blips and bleeps that could only ever have been produced in the Eighties. You just know something bad is going to happen when you hear a sustained synthesizer cord in the key of John Carpenter.

The machine/technological horror sub-genre is a strange one. It exploits the idea of everyday machines that suddenly and inexplicably turn hostile and deadly; eviscerating our delicate flesh and crushing bones in metallic, vice-grips. If handled well, this can be very effective. Case in point – the scene in The Machinist when Michael Ironside gets his arm caught and mangled inside a machine and the brutal sun-bed deaths in The Final Destination. Yup, technology can be a real bitch – there’s just no reasoning with it. Transferring this notion to screen can be difficult though and often doesn’t work – The Mangler anyone? Let’s face it; it usually just looks preposterous when someone is being murderlised by their toaster. Lifts are different though, they have the potential to become dreadful places that can induce real fear and panic: claustrophobia, confinement, heights, lack of air – all fears that director Maas unfortunately doesn’t really do much to exploit in De Lift.



Four socially lubricated party guests take their clothes off in De Lift, only to be suffocated when the AC 'stops working'. A blind man plummets to his death when he walks into the lift shaft in a moment that shouldn’t really be funny (he had a cane…) and a tap dancing janitor (that’s just asking for it, really) also fall victim to De Lift. And that’s it, really. One of the stand out scenes features the nasty decapitation of a security guard. The build up and the pay off are expertly handled, save for a very brief glimpse of a very fake looking head. Another pretty creepy moment occurs when the little girl whose mother is having an affair with the building’s manager plays in the lobby by the lifts. One by one the doors open and the enthralled kid happily plays peek-a-boo until De Lift takes a disliking to her doll…
The rest of the film is about Felix’s ‘investigation’ and features a load of scenes with really badly dubbed people talking. A LOT.

Things become a little ludicrous when Felix realises that an old work buddy, who had also been working on the same lift, must have discovered something that drove him insane, and he eventually begins to suspect that the problem originates from the lift’s electronics – all that ectoplasm must have given it away. When he and Mieke realise the electronics are supplied by Rising Sun, they decide to snoop around and see what they can find out. They discover that, quite worryingly, Rising Sun install electronics systems all over the world – lifts, hospitals, factories, military installations and nuclear reactors. They’re everywhere! The dubious company have also been involved in international espionage and the bribery of many a politician. Crikey.



 
De Lift is unnecessarily talky. Add to this the fact that everyone has been really badly dubbed with mismatching voices that exhibit all the enthusiasm of Tommy Lee Jones eating a slice of toast. A DEAD slice of toast. The dialogue heavy scenes really cause the pace to drag. There is also a sub-plot in which Felix’s wife Saskia (Josine van Dalsum) suspects he is having an affair and leaves him, taking their brats with her. Much talk is given over to subjects such as the devastation caused when technology fails to do what it’s supposed to. Maas is obviously trying to play on the fact that society, even back in the early Eighties, is heavily reliant on technology and machines – and if anything were to go ‘wrong’ with them, we’d really be in for some trouble. A particularly snooze-inducing scene throws a distinct sci-fi element into the mix as a professor lectures our protagonists on molecule-sized protein computer chips and computers that can reproduce and then had to be buried ‘alive’ because they started to omit their own brain waves or something. A statistician relays elevator facts such as ‘250,000 people are trapped in lifts every year.’ And this was 1983! In the third act though, the dialogue all but stops, allowing the tension to rise quite effectively as Felix ditches his sassy sidekick and enters the lift shaft by himself…

A conventional thriller with a quirky twist, prone to plodding but still enjoyable. Its got a killer lift! Its got a lift that kills people. Wine might be necessary.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Hunger

1983
Dir. Tony Scott

Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) and her shoulder pads become acquainted with the mysterious and beautiful Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve), a centuries old immortal vampire. Over the years Miriam has had many human companions to ease her loneliness. Unlike her however, they eventually begin to age rapidly until they are withered, but still conscious, corpses. Unable to do away with her lovers, Miriam keeps them in coffins in her attic for all eternity. With her current partner John (David Bowie) rapidly withering away, Miriam now has her sights set on a new partner: Sarah Roberts.

The Hunger is a film seriously at risk of being crushed under the weight of its own pretension, ponderous pontificating, stylish aplomb and the extraordinary amount of dry ice it uses to achieve its beautiful look. Having said that, The Hunger is also a film which was arguably one of the first to attempt to deconstruct the ‘vampire film’ and bring it out from under the shadow of more familiar cinematic depictions proffered by the likes of Hammer and filtering it through the ‘dark, sexy and oh so dangerous’ representations favoured by the likes of Anne Rice. It would seem The Hunger was definitely a forerunner of the likes of Twilight, True Blood and any other currently popular depictions of vampires as sexualised, freakishly seductive and semi-tragic individuals. With a healthy dose of moody lighting, fluttering doves, Ridley Scott-aesthetics and pop-promo editing chucked in for good measure, this film is a visual feast - if a little skimpy on plot.

With a lugubrious tone matched only by its somnambulistic pacing, The Hunger was adapted from the novel by Whitley Strieber and was Tony Scott’s first feature film. Released a year after his brother Ridley’s film Blade Runner (1982), Tony’s film also boasts a distinct visual style which seems to elevate its content to a meditative loftiness. Further parallels can be drawn between The Hunger and Blade Runner as both films feature non-human characters that inhabit a story about mortality.

The vampire condition is presented under purely scientific terms; it has often been suggested that The Hunger was a response to the burgeoning AIDS crisis of the 80s. A number of the characters in the film are scientists studying blood and its connections to mortality. The ‘condition’ is passed from one person to another in a bite and subsequent exchange of body fluids. Like David Cronenberg’s The Fly, The Hunger also serves as a chilling examination of the horror of getting older and coming to terms with one’s own mortality. This is highlighted in the plight of Bowie’s character John, Miriam’s lover who has begun to age uncontrollably courtesy of remarkable make-up effects.



A great deal of screen time is given over to watching the characters waft around various rooms as doves flitter about in slow motion and curtains billow seductively – also in slow motion – whilst David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve look moody, mysterious and cool; chain smoking in hazily lit rooms, listening to Bauhaus and wearing sunglasses in the dark. Practically every shot appears to hang heavy with ‘symbolic significance’ and ‘deep meaning’ – an aspect of the film that so often renders it overwrought and highly camp - as do some of the typically outrageous Eighties fashions on display. Big hair, PVC jackets and shoulder pads, oh my! Which is no bad thing, I’m sure you’ll agree.

As mentioned, The Hunger is incredibly self-indulgent and ponderous, but the more seriously Scott takes things, the more unintentionally hilarious they can become. Case in point – just before Sarandon is seduced by Deneuve, she slinks into a chair to watch the fascinating French woman play the piano and – oops – throws her drink around herself. Deneuve being the perfect host helps Sarandon remove her soiled top to dry herself off, and before you know it, the two are locked in an oh-so passionate session of lady-love-making as curtains and sheets and various other billowy things billow around them. Its all just soooo sexy. Actually, it is quite sexy. Really.

Upon its initial release the film was criticised for layering on the style at the expense of plot and narrative, but because everything just looks so damn cool, the airy plot can be forgiven. Indeed one of The Hunger’s main appeals is its look, heavily inspired by the likes of Flashdance and Blade Runner, it often resembles a really striking and eerily beautiful music video. This is perhaps highlighted most obviously in the opening scenes as Bowie and Deneuve skulk around a punk nightclub looking for potential victims, as Bauhaus flail around in cages singing ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ whilst strobe lights induce epilepsy. Elsewhere the soundtrack combines the likes of Delibes, Bach and Iggy Pop to overwrought yet staggering effect, perfectly enhancing the grandiose tone and decedent nature of the story. Despite uniformly strong performances from all involved, especially from Deneuve and Sarandon, it is still difficult to really care what happens to these characters. Yes they are all tragic and its very sad about the whole mortality thing, but the film seems cold and detached, with no real emotional core. Despite this mere trifle, it’s still an absolute pleasure to watch The Hunger unfold onscreen – it makes an excellent double bill with Blade Runner.

An art-house vampire noir film with a distinct style and provocative message (which is that its ok for films to have flimsy plots sometimes - just so long as they look cool and have lesbian vampires in them!).

Here's that tres cool opening scene... Turn it up... And just keep repeating to yourself 'It's only the Eighties. It's only the Eighties. It's only the Eighties. It's only...'

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

House on Haunted Hill

1959
Dir. William Castle

Eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren (Vincent Price) has invited five carefully selected strangers to the house on Haunted Hill for a ‘haunted house’ party, much to the chagrin of his lusty wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). Loren promises to pay whoever stays in the house for the whole night $10,000 dollars. With no electricity, no phones and no way of contacting the outside world, the guests are locked in the house at midnight. As the night progresses, it becomes very obvious that this will be a night to remember! Ghosts, ghouls and murder – oh my!

Darkness. A woman’s scream. Creepy moaning. Rattling chains and creaking doors. A disembodied head ponders the restless ‘ghosts’ on the prowl. Nope, its not just another Saturday night in your local pub – it’s the opening minutes of William Castle’s lovably daft House on Haunted Hill; a clunky, if not thoroughly enjoyable ghost-train romp through every creaky, hoary old cliché in the book – stopping off only to thud into a few ‘old dark house’ conventions and marvel at some of the, erm, ‘special’ effects as it effortlessly works its way into your heart.

House on Haunted Hill is constructed as the cinematic equivalent of a fairground haunted house complete with pop-up ghosts, disembodied heads, vats full of acid, dangling rickety skeletons and disappearing bodies. Indeed, director/producer/mastermind William Castle is perhaps more famed for the gimmicky promotional ploys he utilised to accompany his films, than for his actual films themselves. He is the man responsible for dreaming up publicity stunts such as offering audiences ‘life insurance policies’ in case they died of fright during Macabre (1958); he also wired theatre seats with electric buzzers to mildly ‘shock’ audiences at appropriate moments throughout The Tingler (1959). The now legendary gimmick that accompanied House on Haunted Hill was known as ‘Emergo’ - a large fake skeleton attached to a wire that was winched across the movie theatre during key moments in the film, such as when a skeleton appears to rise from a vat of acid and ‘menace’ Carol Ohmart.


The film begins with introductions all round (Castle is nothing if a splendid and considerate host). The guests arrive at the house in a spooky convoy of funereal cars– the sight of five hearses slowly winding up the Hollywood hills is a memorable one and sets the morbidly gimmicky tone immediately. Hunky lug Lance (Richard Long) is a test pilot, opinionated Ruth (Julie Mitchum) is a gossipy, liquor swilling gambling-addicted columnist and Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook) is the drunken schlep who seems to know quite a bit about the house’s sordid history and slurs stuff like ‘Only the ghosts in this house are glad we're here’ throughout proceedings. Shifty looking shrink Dr Trent (Alan Marshal) and impressionable and demure Nora (Carolyn Craig) complete the group of eclectic guests. The characters aren’t given much to do throughout the film, except Craig, who runs around screaming a lot and Schroeder, who has to come to her rescue. The acting borders on downright hammy, however the sincerity and conviction of all involved keeps events ticking over nicely. A couple of well oiled ‘jump’ moments prove reliably effective (one in particular gets me every time) and some of disembodied heads are actually pretty gruesome.


The spooky atmosphere is enhanced by suitably vintage organ music that instantly evokes the kind of creepy old ham-fisted horror films that House on Haunted Hill is one of. The rather striking looking house used for the exterior shots has a bizarre modernist feel – with architecture that falls somewhere between 50s kitsch and Aztec Temple. It doesn’t resemble the usual ‘traditional’ haunted house at all. Until we get inside. Things become much more familiar then, with their spookily swinging chandeliers, secret passageways behind curtains/bookshelves and cob-webbed filled basements, which despite the creepy vibes that emanate from them, people still insist on ‘checking out.’

The plot twists and turns, and then twists and turns again, ensuring events are never dull.

Vincent Price is on top form as the decadently suave and sophisticated Fredrick Loren, throwing himself into the role with the all the melodramatic relish you’d expect; though he actually plays down his customary theatrics in House on Haunted Hill, ensuring Loren remains a dubious character we are never really sure about. Of course we ARE sure about him and by the final reel our instincts are proved right, as sure enough, he is revealed to be a seductively menacing and diabolically scheming individual who plotted the WHOLE thing! And he would’ve got away with it too, were it not for those pesky kids. Sorry. Wrong outrageously diabolical scheme.
He and the ravishing Ohmart (in another variation of her ‘conniving bitch’ role from Spider Baby) exude untrustworthiness and are clearly having a ball in the scenes they share – taking swipes, barbed retorts and verbal clumps out of each other.


Although he claimed to have been influenced by Alfred Hitchcock – Castle’s own directorial efforts were nowhere near as taut, effective or well constructed. His direction throughout House on Haunted Hill is quite unremarkable, though to be fair, he gets the job done in a rudimentary enough fashion. The film falls into a casual and repetitive stride almost immediately, with Carolyn Craig running into a ghoulish situation in a dark room, screaming hysterically, running back to join the others only to have them patronise and disbelieve her stories while Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart spit their vitriolic lines at each with vindictive relish. Lather, rinse, repeat.

House on Haunted Hill is steeped in an irresistible nostalgia and it consistently proves immensely entertaining and even more endearing every time I watch it – its perfect viewing fodder for those dark, wet and windy winter evenings; and works equally well on a Sunday afternoon if that’s how you like to watch your old creaky horrors films.

A deliciously morbid, delightfully camp and full-blooded romp-fest that never fails to entertain every time it’s wheeled out of the crypt and plonked in the DVD player. Hoorah!