Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Fell

2009
Dir. Marcus Koch

Devastated by his breakup with Jenny, a manic-depressive and heavily medicated Bill rapidly descends into a hellish world in which the lines between reality and blood-fuelled nightmares become increasingly blurred. Bloody visions, ghosts from the past and bodies in the bath all conspire to push Bill ever closer to breaking point…

Opening with a fractured series of shots of Bill sopping blood off the kitchen floor and listening to a radio whilst in a seemingly catatonic state, Fell starts as it means to go on: nightmarishly, hazily and disorientatingly. Koch films such mundane actions and activities as Bill cooking eggs, shuffling around the house, talking on the phone and sleeping on the couch so that they seem ripe with an undercurrent of dread. They take on a hellish, threatening glean and are filmed in tightly constructed close-up shots which better serve to thrust us further into Bill’s rapidly fraying mindset.

The script, co-written by the cast (Katie Walters, Kristian Day and Jeff Dylan Graham), doesn’t shy away from a realistic, somewhat grubby depiction of a man suffering from mental anguish, heavily medicated, languishing alone in his home, ever-spiralling into hopeless depression. His restless routines and lying around flesh out his purgatory existence. Fell is not always comfortable viewing – some viewers may find it too wallowing or relentlessly grim - but it is always engrossing. At the dark heart of the film is a compelling performance by Jeff Dylan Graham as Bill. Graham appears vulnerable and eventually desperately unhinged, and whether he is lying on the kitchen floor tightly clutching a transistor radio, sleeping through the day on his couch or seething with inarticulate rage, Graham’s stark and raw performance ensures we feel for Bill. Are these horrors real or imagined? The product of a fevered, drugged up mind, or the result of bloody rage? Either way, our unreliable narrator is one we grow to care for throughout his dark descent into psychological chaos.



The production design proves effective too, as Bill’s initially just comfortably messy home, strewn with personal possessions and homely bric-a-brac soon spirals into squalor, becoming more claustrophobic and ominous. The film’s obviously low budget actually works in its favour – the digitally shot grainy images enhance the gritty realism Kock strives to attain. The one location is utilised to dramatic effect – the viewer soon becomes as imprisoned within its walls as Bill is. Snow-coated flashbacks of Bill and a friend 'snow-angeling' on the lawn provide cool respite from the stifling confines of his house. A cautious descent into his basement when Bill hears groaning serves as one of the more taut and intense moments in the film, as composer Kristian Day’s echoic and discordant electronic noise-scape slow-burns and ignites to match Bill’s mounting paranoia.

Fell is a challenging, relentless exploration of psychological turmoil, the fragility of the human mind and a startling depiction of tragic mental breakdown that evokes memories of Polanski’s Repulsion. There may be one or two nods to Taxi Driver, but whereas Travis Bickle took his psychological turmoil out into the streets, Fell’s Bill stays indoors to quietly, broodingly implode within his dark dreams and shocking visions.

Fell will have its UK premiere in Belfast on Sunday 29th August as part of the 2nd Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival.

The Sky Has Fallen

2009
Dir. Doug Roos

A mysterious and highly contagious virus spreads throughout the earth’s population. Those who survive have fled to remote locations, but before long they begin to catch glimpses of mysterious black-cloaked figures, carrying away the dead and experimenting with them. When strangers Lance and Rachel cross paths, they begin to fall for each other and in doing so, realise that despite everything, hope should never be lost and life is worth fighting for. They set out to kill the leader of the creatures in a last ditch effort to save humanity.

The opening credits of Doug Roos’ mainly dialogue driven, character-centric film unspool beneath statically charged radio reports of an airborne pandemic spreading pandemonium across the globe. When the film begins, events are set a while after the earth’s population has been almost completely eviscerated. The two protagonists are amongst only a tiny amount of survivors, their initial detachment and wariness of each other indicating the high risks they want to avoid in forging friendships or relationships.


The story centres on Lance and Rachel – two reluctant survivors - who are attempting to come to terms with their new reality and the dangers it possesses. The weary, somnambulistic performances of Carey MacLaren and Laurel Kemper add to the dream-like tone of the film, as does the languid pace with which it moves. They move and speak with a quiet sense of purpose. It is through their cautious exchanges that we learn who they are, where they’ve come from and eventually what their fate will be. Roos works a number of unsettling, provocative and bleak ideas into the script such as the death of God and mankind’s quest for unattainable knowledge and salvation. Love, companionship, loss and the horror of sadness are also addressed throughout the surprisingly thoughtful story. The discovery of a dead priest’s blood-spattered diary adds a distinct Lovecraftian/Fulcian dimension to events as Rachel reads about the priest’s efforts to save his daughter from possession and death. His increasingly feverish and desperate scribblings describe how he eventually begins to see ‘eyes under her skin, watching.’ Horrors are often described as much as they are actually depicted. That’s not to say The Sky Has Fallen is wanting for any viscera – the tale is peppered with wet, bloody flashbacks, buckets of blood and close-ups of elongated fingers stitching ragged needles through tender flesh.


The creatures featured throughout the story are barely glimpsed – mysterious black-cloaked figures moving wraith-like through the woods. An eerie stillness pervades proceedings and Roos builds and sustains a bizarre atmosphere that at times resembles the warped dreaminess of a Lucio Fulci ‘living dead’ film. Indeed the zombies featured throughout The Sky Has Fallen could be distant relatives of those featured in Fulci’s work – shambolic, almost stately and strangely sad – they appear and disappear ghost-like and exhibit bizarre modifications made to their almost faceless bodies by the black-cloaked figures. Blades protrude from limbs, eyes and mouths are stitched shut and almost all appear to have been flayed. They may move slowly but their advancements are relentless.

Roos shoots much of the events in tight close-up shots, most likely due to budgetary restraints, but also because of the intimacy of the story and to sustain the eerie mood he so deftly creates. The unnerving angles ensure an abundance of moments in which characters are shocked by something moving into shot seemingly out of nowhere. The numerous fight scenes are well handled and tightly edited. The special make-up effects are also striking in their appearance and weld much more power because they are shown so fleetingly.


Described as a post-apocalyptic love story, The Sky Has Fallen weaves together a number of genres and conceptual motifs to create an engaging, thoughtful and highly atmospheric film. The atmosphere is enhanced by the unusually lush and poignant string based score courtesy of James Sizemore.

An interesting concoction of visual and thematic ideas akin to Hellraiser, City of the Living Dead and The Road; the whole of which is a highly unusual, compelling and strangely poetic film.

The Sky Has Fallen will be screened in Belfast on Sat 28th August as part of the 2nd Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival

For more info on how you can help promote the film, head over to The Blood Sprayer... 

Monday, 26 July 2010

Rejected by the Devil - An Interview with Bill Moseley

Bill Moseley is no stranger to portraying psychotic redneck ‘hellbilly’ types, having breathed life into several of the most memorable and downright nasty horror movie characters in recent memory - including the deranged Chop-Top from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and the mercilessly sadistic Otis Driftwood from Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects and House Of 1000 Corpses.

With the release of Tim Sullivan’s 2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams, Moseley looks set to add yet another barnstorming oddball to his already engorged menagerie of freaks.

Head over to Eye for Film to check out my interview with Mr Moseley, in which he discusses his career to date, including his latest role in 2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams, as well as his love for horror movies and how he deals with playing such usually very dark and disturbing characters.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

How To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse

Most people will have their own contingency plan in place in preparation for the possibility that our world should one day be plunged into post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden chaos. But just how well stocked up are you? Would you know how to deal with the inevitability of destroying a loved-one who returns from the dead? And should you hold up in your local shopping mall or head to the nearest off-coast island resort? These are just some of the points you’ve no doubt considered.

And you’re not alone. Last year the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, amongst others, played host to a series of ground-breaking seminars introduced by the leading expert in his field, and ‘zombology’ guru, Dr Dale Seslick. The seminars are your one stop shop to the world of zombie survival techniques. Aided by a dedicated team of specialists from the School of Survival, attendees will learn everything they need to know when coping with the undead as they rise from their graves and begin eating their way through the world’s population.

After the phenomenal success of the seminars in Edinburgh during last year’s Festival Fringe, Dr Dale and co. are heading out into the wider world, taking How To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse on a national tour in 2010. As such, I thought it was high time I caught up with Dr Dale Seslick himself! Well, the man responsible for playing him and for writing the show – Mr. Ben Muir – to chat about the impending apocalypse, fending off the undead and the challenges of producing a low-budget, award winning stage show. Read on ladies and gentlemens, but don’t let your guard down. Not for one second. That zombie apocalypse is still impending!

How did the idea for How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse come about?

Every year at After Dark HQ we have a planning meeting about what projects we’re going to do and I wanted to do a show about zombies. And because I’m kind of in charge, I tend to get my own way and everyone agreed with me! Job done! It’s good to be the king!

Yes. Quite! Was it difficult developing the idea for stage? What made you decide to use the format of the show as a seminar?

When we were in the planning stages the one thing I made very clear was that I did not want to do a straight play about what life would be like surviving once the apocalypse has begun. For one, it has been done so many times before and secondly – you need the money to spend on great make-up and special effects if you’re going to make a convincing show on stage. So, after deciding what we didn’t want to do we had to decide what we did. If you look around the internet you’ll find a massive community of people discussing what they would do when the zombie apocalypse begins and at the time we were putting the show together back in early 2009 no-one other than Max Brooks had really tapped into that market – so we came up with the idea of survival training shows – after that, with a penchant for interactive theatre and also larger than life characters in bizarre situations it wasn’t a big leap for us to come up with the idea of parodying the cheesy seminar style with a fake American zombology guru in charge of a ramshackle and frankly insane group of experts who never quite seem to get things right and once we’d got the style and the characters everything fell into place.


How did you go about writing the show? 

We don’t write the shows, so much as make them up! For the original seminar we picked out the most important things people would need to know when the apocalypse began and from that the main actors got together and worked out set pieces for each training segment. Then, in between each segment we open up the room and allow the audience to throw questions at us regarding zombie training – anything they want to ask – and, as I say, we make it up from there. The new show is slightly different in that we’re running it as a simulation where we find out how many of the audience would actually survive should the apocalypse begin at the exact time that we are performing.

How difficult was it to adapt the piece for stage? What were the most challenging aspects?

The most challenging aspect of the show is trying to keep everyone happy. When you’re doing a show about zombies you are going to get people who come and watch you because they are big zombie fans and the show is about zombies – but right at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got audience members who’ve come to see you because you’re a successful comedy show and have no idea about the genre. That’s why I think the seminar style works well for us because as well as the in jokes and open debates that ensue in the questioning segments that appeal to the zombie geeks, like me, we’ve also got the four characters whose ineptitude always ends up with something going wrong to keep the comedy junkies happy.

You’ve gone done published a book recently too – Dr Dale’s Zombie Dictionary! Can you tell me about it?

As part of the advertising campaign for when the show first came out in July 2009 I began a page on our website called ‘The Dictionary of Survival’ where I would put up a new letter every couple of days explaining certain things that you probably wouldn’t have considered to be useful during the apocalypse. On a whim I sent the link to the pages to some publishers and much to my surprise got two offers for publication. The book is out on the 1st Aug to coincide with the new seminar and then we’re touring the UK in the autumn to promote it. The book itself mirrors the style of the show in that it uses film references a lot and also a bizarre strain of logic.

Why do you think zombies have become and remained so popular over the years, particularly with regards to cinema?

I think it’s because no matter what spin you put on zombies – when they’re used in horror they are truly terrifying. A lot of other horror has been diluted – look at how vampires are being treated at the moment and to the same extent werewolves. They’re pretty much having the evil zapped out of them. Where as zombies are an almost unstoppable force that has no other motivation other than to kill. Plus – you can also be more inventive with your zombie killing. With vampires it’s stakes or sunlight. Werewolves – silver. With the undead, as long as you take out the brain you can pretty much use anything, from a katana to a piano.

There is a myriad of zombie-related entertainment on offer at the moment, from movies to computer games, zombie walks to comics and fiction. How does your show approach the subject matter in a fresh and different way?

When any of this zombie-related media sets out they have to lay down the rules of their particular zombie: How is the virus passed on? Where did it all start? We don’t have to do that. The seminars are set in the present day – which means the apocalypse hasn’t happened yet and that we are privy to the same information the audience is and we can reference it to our hearts content. We’ve actually been in touch with medical practitioners, crime scene analysts and university professors to get the proper information on related diseases, how a body rots, how viruses spread and all sorts of related information in order that we can answer questions regarding the undead convincingly – the amount of research we’ve put into getting the show right is immense!

Obviously you’re doing something right, as the show has been a big hit, particularly on the Edinburgh circuit. Why do you think audiences engage with it so well?

We never take ourselves seriously. We love what we do and I think that shows, especially when we get to the part of the show when we open up to audience questions. People really take the leap of faith and engage with the characters and the whole bizarre concept of the School of Survival – I think they love the fact that they can sit and have a serious discussion with other people about how best to defeat the undead!

What is it about zombies that appeals to you so much?

They used to scare the hell out of me. I think that’s why I wanted to do a show about them to help overcome my fear! But it’s not so much the zombies as it is the fans – we’ve met loads of people through the show who run fan sites, blogs, pod-casts and make films, and they are fantastic people. I’ve made loads of great friends through the zombie community, and I have the undead to thank for that.

What has been the most challenging aspect about the production?

The make-up! If I’d have known that I’d be playing the character of Dr Dale so much I would never have given him such a horrendous fake tan. Every show I have to pile it on and then it is a nightmare to get off afterwards and you get strange looks in the pub after the show when you’re bright orange.

Nice. And the most rewarding?

I’m doing a show about zombies to earn a living – I don’t think things could get any more rewarding than that!


How To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse will make its Irish debut at the 2nd Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival in Belfast, August 30th.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Someone’s Knocking At The Door

2009
Dir. Chad Ferrin

A group of young medical students begins to experiment with bizarre pharmaceutical research drugs while listening to therapy session tapes from the Seventies. On the tapes are interviews with homicidal couple John and Wilma Hopper (Ezra Buzzington and Elina Madison) - psychotic sexual deviants who claimed to be possessed by demons. Soon the group of students are pursued and raped to death by the shape-shifting Hoppers and their monstrous genitalia.

If the above synopsis sounds fucked up to you, you’re not alone! Someone’s Knocking at the Door is part of a new breed of horror flicks in which the source of the horror stems from the human body: monstrous, warped and shockingly mutated bodies featuring all manner of grotesque orifices and appendages. Essentially riffing on the likes of Teeth, Dead Girl, Ginger Snaps, Bad Biology and to an extent Jennifer’s Body, all of which actually follow on from where Cronenberg started off, Troma graduate Ferrin’s fourth feature also boasts all manner of horrific scenarios derived from the human body. Particularly during the act of sex.


While those films followed events from the confused and hapless protagonist’s (whose body it is raging out of control) perspective, Someone’s Knocking at the Door approaches similar subject matter from a different angle. Boasting graphic and sickening imagery not really seen since the outrageous viscera of Argento’s Mother of Tears and Jenifer, it features a couple of sexually deviant, shape-shifting psychos whose method of murdering their victims involves the utilisation of their monstrous genitalia to rape them to death. Barbara Creed must be positively cart-wheeling. The source of onscreen horror in this movie is no different from the others mentioned in that it is derived from aberrant bodies. Ravenous vaginas, alarmingly engorged penises and deadly libidos are the order of the day. Throw into the mix experimental drug use, relentlessly trippy visuals, head-meltingly psychotropic imagery, filthily black humour and a break-neck pace, et voila: Someone is indeed knocking on the door. And they’re not using their hand.


The ‘sex kills’ mantra of so many slasher movies throughout the years is taken to its shockingly graphic conclusion in this film. While not an exploration of the horror of the human body and what happens when it begins to change into something else, Someone‘s Knocking at the Door can still be considered a variant of the ‘body-horror’ sub-genre, and a memorable and shocking one at that. Opening with a highly disturbing and quite graphic male rape scene that immediately sets the nasty and bizarre tone, SKATD doesn’t hold back when it comes to visually arresting, eye-popping SFX. Unfolding as a deliriously ferocious throwback to 70s grindhouse splatter movies, it exhibits a genuinely hallucinatory and twistedly raw feel - aided by its low budget - as all manner of carnal and abhorrent sexual acts culminate in bloody death. As well as boasting plenty of its own ‘what the fuck!?’ moments, the film also finds time to slyly reference a few classics such as Evil Dead, Jacob's Ladder, Suspiria and Session 9.

A number of scenes prove particularly shocking and may even induce a little nervous laughter, especially the scene in which Meg (Andrea Rueda) is pursued through florescent-lit hospital corridors by the very naked and grossly obese Fuller (Terence Z. Stamp) who appears to have been resurrected from the dead complete with a grotesquely gigantic waggling penis. To add to the nightmarish nature of this scene, Ferrin accompanies it with an up-tempo and twisted pop song. Also rather shocking is the scene in which Annie (Silvia Spross) is chased through the woods after being abandoned by her boyfriend, only to be confronted by Wilma Hopper and her toothy clunge… Ouch. What happens next must be seen to be believed. In fact all of the furiously charged murder sequences possess an odd quality that may make the audience question how seriously they’re supposed to be taking proceedings. With every attack, and glimpse of a massive dick or chomping lady-place, the ludicrous factor receives another boost.


Blurring the boundaries between dreams, hallucinations and reality, the audience is also constantly thrown off balance by increasingly deranged events and a warped perspective that is never really reliable - all the way to the ever-so-slightly disappointing ‘twist’ ending. Testament to the movie’s effectiveness though, this doesn’t detract from the sleazy, wanton and downright provocative power it welds.

The dreamier than thou Noah Segan (who also served as producer) heads up a uniformly competent cast of sexy, nihilistic college kids and cameoing horror stalwarts such as Joe Pilato and Lew Temple, while Ferrin directs events with deranged glee. The off kilter, feverish and wholly appropriate score is courtesy of Brad Joseph Breeck and it incorporates, amongst other things, warped industrial soundscapes which add to the undeniable splatter-punk ethos of proceedings.

Nasty, twisted and unforgettable.

Someone’s Knocking At The Door is set to premiere in Ireland at the 2nd Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival in Belfast, Saturday 28th August.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Psychosis

2010
Dir. Reg Traviss

When horror novelist Susan (Charisma Carpenter), relocates to the rural English countryside from sunny California to recover from a nervous breakdown, her life begins to slowly unravel as she experiences unsettling and horrific visions. Could the blood-spattered sights be real, or the result of her increasingly fragile and unhinged mindset?

A multi-layered, frequently engrossing contemporary horror story, Psychosis successfully combines many of the elements that made British horror films of yore so memorable – off-beat mystery, hints of supernatural threat, quirky characters, psychological intrigue and bloody murder. Director Reg Traviss attempts to evoke twisted classic chillers from British cinema past, combining an off-kilter and edgy energy reminiscent of more contemporary horror fare with a classic British sensibility which draws on the old ‘Hammer House of Horror/Tales of the Unexpected’ school of terror.

Head over to Eye for Film to read my full review.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing director Reg Traviss and various other key members of the cast and crew of Psychosis. The feature I scribbled appears in this month's issue of Gorezore (issue 58). You can pick up a copy here, or from all well stocked newsagents, for a more indepth look at the making of this film. Huzzah!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Curtains for Bray Studios?

Fans of Hammer Horror will no doubt be familiar with and aware of the important role Bray Studios played in the history of the production company throughout the 50s and 60s. Situated next to the River Thames at Water Oakley, Berkshire, Bray Studios was also where Ridley Scott filmed Alien in the late Seventies.

The studio has recently come under threat. The current owners have applied for permission to carry out refurbishment work on the Grade II listed Down Place - the building at the centre of the studio complex. It is also their intention to demolish all of the existing Bray Studios buildings and convert the listed Down Place house into private residence (which will be lived in by the owner of Bray Management Ltd. and his family). If this happens, the character of the Bray Studios site will be irreparably altered and a piece of British film history will be completely eviscerated. Bray is actually set to celebrate its 60th year as a film studio next year, and is one of the few surviving studios from the era of classic British cinema. It’s also the only one of the Hammer House studios that survives to this day as a working studio.

The studio came into existence when Hammer Films/Exclusive Films moved into Down Place from their temporary home next door in Oakley Court (now a hotel) in 1951. Taking on a one year lease before buying the site, Hammer converted the main house into a workable studio space eventually building purpose-built studios in the grounds. Known for a while as Exclusive Studios, it would soon be renamed Bray Film Studios and Hammer would remain there until 1966, finally selling the property at the end of the decade.

During this time, Hammer made some of their most fondly remembered and important cult British films at Bray Studios. Titles such as The Quatermass Xperiment, The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Camp On Blood Island and Plague of the Zombies were all filmed on location at the studios, just outside Windsor. The last Hammer production made at Bray was The Mummy's Shroud, which ‘wrapped’ on 21 October 1966.

Since then the studio space has also been utilised by outside productions throughout the years. The Errol Flynn Theatre filmed there in the 1950s, The Who recorded and rehearsed at Bray during the 1970s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was made there, and TV series like Inspector Morse and Doctor Who have also used the space.

The buildings in which the studios are housed have also appeared in numerous Hammer titles throughout the years, too. For a detailed look at these appearances, check out this site.

With Hammer set to up its profile again with the release of the forthcoming remake of Let the Right One In (Let Me In), surely an appreciation and re-evaluation of its past merits and contributions to horror cinema is due. With Bray Studios playing such a major role in the history of the company, its unsure fate should be addressed and the appropriate actions undertaken to ensure its preservation.

When one takes into consideration the amount of genre work produced at Bray Studios, it stands to reason why it should be considered an important cultural and social landmark in the history of British cinema. As such, a new campaign has been set up to raise awareness of the studio’s plight.

To find out more information and get involved to help spread the word – drop by the official Save Bray Studios site. You can also keep up to date with the campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Short Film Showcase: Nightshadows

2004
Dir. JT Seaton

Matthew Coburn is a young man who would like nothing more than to stay young and attractive forever. On the eve of his 30th birthday, he invites David, a young man he meets in an online chat-room to his home. In the middle of the night, Matthew wakes up to find himself alone. Or is he? He soon begins to realize that someone, or something, is lurking in the dark in his home. Is it David? Or someone else, skulking in the shadows? As Matthew is plunged into a waking nightmare, he comes to realise that the price of vanity is high… Very high.

Has your past ever come back to haunt you?

Unlike Hellbent - which came out the same year as this short film, and whose gay angle is its raison d’ĂȘtre - Nightshadows doesn’t need to rely on its ‘queerness’ to make it stand out. The characters in this dark tale of obsession and guilt could be of any sexual orientation. They just happen to be gay. What director Seaton is really concerned with is weaving together a number of elements to create an atmospheric, suspenseful and strikingly shot film. Nightshadows begins as it means to go, full of sinister forebodingness and implied threat, as two men hooking up for sex briefly exchange formalities and discuss the dangers of anonymous sex. They both comment that the other could be a killer, waiting until the other falls asleep before he strikes.

You don’t know anything about me. You’ve invited a complete stranger into your house. I could be a serial killer, using the internet to find my victims, getting them to invite me to their houses. And then killing them in their sleep. You never know."



The thrills and titillation of the chase and the anonymity of one night stands is exploited to create an uneasy atmosphere, in which the audience are fed just enough information to know that something isn’t right and this is a tale that is not going to end well. When Matthew awakens to find himself alone, in much the same way as John Carpenter's Halloween did, Seaton’s film also effectively conveys the terror of having the safety and sanctity of one’s own home invaded by an outside force. The lighting is incredibly atmospheric and recalls moody, shadowy locations from Val Lewton’s quiet 40s era chillers such as I Walked with a Zombie and Isle of the Dead. The soundtrack boasts an eerie wind that moves through the apartment, and even renders the usually comforting sound of wind chimes ominous. As Matthew wanders around the dark apartment, Seaton films the increasingly claustrophobic events from around corners and reflected in mirrors, as the shadows on walls constantly move and dance about, and the dark figures closing in on Matthew begin to gradually reveal themselves: all white eyes, rippling-torsos and slit throats. Come the revelation and the full realisation of why Matthew is being pursued by these semi-naked figures, the tension becomes unbearable and Seaton creates a number of immensely creepy images.


A highly atmospheric, suggestive and downright unsettling film, Nightshadows explores madness, guilt, obsession, mortality and the downright shocking acts people carry out in the name of vanity, to haunting effect.

Nightshadows is to be screened as part of the Gay of the Dead night at the 2nd Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival in Belfast on Saturday 28th August.

George’s Intervention


2009
Dir. JT Seaton

George's friends have all gathered for an intervention... George's intervention. You see, George is a zombie and his friends have come to realise that he has been snacking on his neighbours. They attempt to convince him to stop eating people and to enter 'zombie rehab'. But the intervention doesn't go quite as planned, and George’s monstrous appetite gets the better of him. Blood, mayhem and innards – lots of innards – ensue, as George’s friends, various gatecrashers, door-to-door salesmen, Mormons and strippers all end up on the menu.

Ever wonder what happened to the likes of Ed from Shaun of the Dead, Bub from Day of the Dead or Colin from, well, Colin – zombies who somehow retained an element of what it was that made them human – after the credits rolled? What if a zombie was able to retain all of their personality, and everything that made them who they were as a person while they were alive? That is precisely the angle this satirical and bitingly witty comedy approaches its subject matter from. Zombism is essentially a ‘disease’, much like alcoholism, and zombies are now a normal part of society. These zombies however, are sentinel, self aware people – albeit people who are treated with quiet caution by most other people.


A crudely animated cartoon in the style of an old school educational programme informs us of the now common place zombies have attained in society. After a bizarre star was seen in the sky, weird spores appeared on earth and were unknowingly breathed in by the populace. Appearing fairly harmless, it was only after people died that the full effect of the dormant spores was discovered. The spores reactivate dead tissue. In this world the living and the dead exist side by side and, the dead – with the exception of an aversion to sunlight and the occasional pang for human flesh - more or less go about their daily existence as everyone else does. They even have jobs and friends and families. Occasionally however, some zombies can’t, or won’t, abstain from following their gut instincts to feast on the flesh of the living. This soon becomes the case with affable slacker zombie George, whose best friend Ben (Peter Strickles), overbearing sister Francine (Shannon Hodson), ex-girlfriend Sarah (Michelle Tomlinson) and her new boyfriend Steve (Eric Dean), come to realise he has been having problems adapting to his new lifestyle (deadstyle?). Content to while away the hours lounging around his apartment watching gory movies and TV shows depicting gruesome injuries, George is unable to stop himself from snacking on the occasional neighbour who drops by.


A mainly dialogue/character driven film, George’s Intervention shuffles along amicably, content to allow us to enjoy the company of its cast of quirky characters, before George’s appetite gets the better of him and he starts chewing them up, one by one, in increasingly bloody fashion. The splashy red effects are obviously of the low budget variety, but the film exudes so much charm and demented sweetness, it’s hard to fault it on its lack of budget. It more than compensates with its wit, humour and imagination. The strong ensemble cast, consisting of several cult/genre veterans including Lynn Lowry (I Drink Your Blood, The Crazies, They Came From Within/Shivers) as Barbra, a not very helpful professional interventionist and cameos from the likes of Brinke Stevens (Slumber Party Massacre, Body Double) and Lloyd Kaufman, treat the subject matter with just the right amount of tongue in cheekiness. They fling themselves into portraying their quirky characters, with noticeable relish and their exuberance is infectious.


As the eponymous protagonist, Carlos Larkin delivers an irresistibly droll performance. Shuffling around in his bathrobe and slippers, with his hair in bunches; he seems more like a benevolent stoner than a flesh hungry zombie. Much of the film’s charm is derived from his dryly manic, Bill Murray-esque performance.

The more familiar imagery associated with zombie flicks comes later on when the butchered cast members return as zombies. We also discover that it is the zombies with head trauma who are the really dangerous ones – so shooting zombies in the head won’t resolve a sticky situation as it does in most other zombie-saturated situations – as these guys find out – it only makes matters much worse. Chuck in some nifty ideas like Tofu flesh, zombie tech support hotlines and ZA meetings, and you have yourself one highly enjoyable, zany and eventually, one very wet and red zombie comedy, with a lot of brains and heart. Sorry – couldn’t resist.

George's Intervention is set to have its UK Premiere at the 2nd Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival in Belfast, 27th August. To book tickets for the screening, go here.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Mega Piranha

Just when you thought it was safe to rummage around in the bargain bin of your local video store, the latest ‘mockbuster’ offering from the ‘so-bad-its-good’-centric studio The Asylum, raises its shameless head from the dank depths of straight-to-DVD hell for a brief release on the big screen. Mega Piranha features a ‘plot’ involving a mutant strain of genetically modified giant piranha that escape from the Amazon and make their way towards Florida, leaving a trail of poorly realised, miniscule-budgeted destruction in their wake. Cheap CGI, copious explosions, absurd pseudo-science, baffling technical jargon, 80s popstress Tiffany and much mindless entertainment ensues. Huzzah!

Head over to Eye for Film to read my full review.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Interview With Paracinema Magazine Editor, Christine Makepeace

Born from a conversation about film magazines in a small Queens, New York apartment in the summer of 2007, Paracinema Magazine has steadily been making a name for itself as a distinct, intelligent and left-of-centre publication of the highest order. Taking its title from a phrase coined by film scholar Jeffrey Sconce, the independently produced, quarterly magazine focuses primarily on all facets of cult and genre cinema.

Each issue contains accessible in-depth analytical pieces, critiques, interviews and academic articles on all manner of genre cinema – from Hitchcock to Ed Wood – all presented in a strikingly designed and attention-commanding magazine. Paracinema is for those who want to delve deeper into the often murky depths of ‘periphery’ cinema; each issue contains pieces on a staggering array of movies. Works by everyone from Herzog and Bergman to Carpenter and Wiseau, to name but a few, are analysed in enthusiastic articles written by fans, for fans.

The types of films the magazine lovingly dissects – b-movies, cult classics, indie, horror, science fiction, exploitation, underground and Asian films from past and present – are usually dismissed outright by critics, as they fall outside of the mainstream. However they have proved time and again – as the contents of Paracinema will obviously attest – that they lend themselves well to critical analysis and sub-textual study. With the magazine’s forthcoming 10th issue (!) in the works, I thought it high time I caught up with Paracinema’s co-founder and editor, the delectable and rather inspirational Christine Makepeace for a chat about the magazine, the appeal of cult movies and the challenges of producing an independent magazine.


Can you tell me a little about yourself and your writing regime? 

I’m actually kind of terrible at talking about myself. I’m a girl. I like movies and TV. Oh, and kittens. As far as a regime goes, I’m flattered you would think I have one! I kid. Sort of. I love to write and I do so whenever the mood/inspiration strikes. As of late I have adopted something of a copyeditor role for the magazine, so the time to actually write has been shortened significantly. I try to do a lot of reading. I think it’s just as important as the writing.

Where did the idea for Paracinema come from and when did you take the initial steps to start putting the first edition together?

It really came together on a whim. I like to use the term “organic” when speaking about the process. I had been doing some writing for an independent horror mag that shall remain nameless. After awhile I became more and more disillusioned by their practices. I would lament and whine and one day my partner, (in life and in magazines) Dylan, declared we could do a better job. So we decided to create the magazine we wanted to read. And that’s what we did. Our motives were quite selfish.

Good for you guys! How challenging was it to eventually set up the magazine and run it?

Again I will over use the term “organic.” Sure it was challenging because we had NO CLUE what we were doing, but it really came together all on its own. I think we were blessed to be so ignorant. I mean, the printed word isn’t really what’s hot right now. I adore it, obviously, but magazines have been folding for awhile now. We flew in the face of what “made sense.”

Running the magazine out of your home would suggest to me that it’s a labour of love – how fair is it to say this? What are the most rewarding aspects?

Labour of love for sure! This magazine is our baby. We put all our extra time and money into it. Just holding the tangible product is reward enough. We have managed to meet so many amazing people because of this. I truly feel blessed to be a part of this community.


What is it about the kind of cinema covered in the magazine that you find so compelling and engaging?

The types of films that end up in the magazine span every genre. The only thing they have in common is that they aren’t necessarily “mainstream.” That being said, I have always been a fan of cinema that is a little obscure or left of centre. My first love is horror and it’s no secret that films of that ilk tend to be rich with allegory and symbolism, and I love that! I love digging deep into subtext and I hope that desire comes across in the articles we put out there.


It sure does. Why do you reckon cult/genre cinema provokes such critical/academic analysis and garner the huge cult followings it does?

There is just so much to be found in these films. They are all fascinating snapshots that evoke feelings in the people who view them. For instance, one of my personal genre favourites is I Spit on Your Grave. And I’m not alone. Hoards of people adore and dissect this film. There are these levels of feminism and violence that simply begs to be discussed. I always wonder if these filmmakers realized what they were creating. Sometimes I think it was just a subconscious reflection of the time, i.e. Dawn of the Dead. SO much more can be said in these cult films than can be expressed in a literal drama.

What can Paracinema offer readers that other genre publications cannot?

The answer to this question goes hand in hand with the one above. We are trying to offer pieces that take a deeper look into film. They range from narrative to academic, but they always take a serious look at “genre” film. I’m rambling, so in short, we are the magazine for film lovers who want to delve deeper into cinema.

Do you think there is still a market for genre publications such as Paracinema, given that there is such a wealth of online publications about the sorts of films the magazine focuses on? 

It has become a very niche market, but yes, I believe there still is one. There is a group of people out there who want to have a tangible product to hold on to. Most of our readers keep the magazine and refer back to it. It isn’t a disposable product for them. And that is exactly the person we want to reach.

How difficult is it producing an indie publication in the industry today?

I’m sure it’s much more difficult than in the pre-blogging days. But we have been lucky. People really seem to respond to what we’re offering and view it as a welcome alternative to online media.

How has the magazine evolved over the past couple of years? What are your future plans for it?

The process for putting together an issue is pretty much the same now as it was with issue 1. It just takes shape much more smoothly. Our goals are modest in that we just want to continue what we are doing. I think a crazy mainstream success is unrealistic. But as long as readership continues to grow, we’ll be happy.

What films/filmmakers in particular have had the greatest impact on you, with regard to what kinds of films you like to watch/write about? 

Christine Makepeace: My two big loves are Hitchcock and John Carpenter. My taste in film was basically created by these two men.


Who or what has inspired you most as a writer? 

Other writers. When I read a well written, thought provoking article it makes me want to sit down and create something spectacular.


Issue 9 of Paracinema is available now – within its lurid pages are all manner of fleshy features to sink your teeth into, with titles such as The Death and Life of Cinema: An interview with Joe Dante; Emmanuelle, Transnationality and the Cannibalisation of Cultures; Devastating Color: Horror and magic in Herschell Gordon Lewis’s The Wizard of Gore and How Hannibal Lecter Helped me Through a Difficult Time in my Life; its one of their best issues yet…

Check out Paracinema’s website for more cult cinema appreciation…

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Random Creepy Scene #846: Friday the 13th - Part VII: The New Blood

The Friday the 13th franchise isn't exactly renowned for its subtlety. It is a series of movies essentially repeating a very familiar pattern: teens in secluded backwoods by Crystal Lake fall victim to hulking and very repressed killing machine Jason Voorhees. After they’ve indulged in copious amounts of booze, drugs and premarital sex, naturally. It’s generally held that the higher the number of the sequel, the lesser the quality of the film. This has never stopped me from enjoying each instalment though. With a nice Sauvignon, natch.

In part seven of the series the filmmakers actually attempted to take the franchise in a slightly new direction – as well as all the usual stupid teens wandering around in the dark woods investigating strange noises and getting murderlised by Jason, a pretty girl with latent telekinetic powers is also thrown into the mix. It’s essentially Jason vs. Carrie and was intended to directly compete with the successful and overtly supernatural A Nightmare on Elm Street Series – in fact The New Blood started out as the first attempt to face Jason off against Freddy Kreuger. This fell through though. It’s all as subtle as its director’s initials imply… (The director was John Carl Buechler - go figure).

Years after Tommy Jarvis seemingly defeated him and chained him underwater at Camp Crystal Lake, everyone’s favourite hockey-masked hulking killer Jason Voorhees returns to stalk and slash nubile teens when he's accidently released by a teenager with psychic powers…

The film does exhibit one moment of genuine creepiness and subtlety. After David and Robyn have had a wee bit of sex, he ventures downstairs to indulge in a midnight snack. As the power is out, he takes a torch. Moving through the darkened house – lit only by his torch and sporadic lightning – David enters the kitchen and fails to see the hulking brute standing stock still in the corner behind him (visable in top right-hand corner of fourth still below). Just standing there. Watching. Waiting. In the dark. We only see him briefly when lightning momentarily lights the entire room. This is one of the few instances in the series where we get a genuine hint of Jason’s sadistic and darkly calculating nature. There is something supremely creepy about him just standing there, so out of place in the cosy confines of this secluded holiday cabin home… With balloons.






The creepiness ends here and the usual in-your-face and breeze-blocky bloody carnage associated with Friday the 13th soon recommences... Go Jason! Etc.



Thursday, 1 July 2010

Goblin: Audio Imps Of The Perverse

What usually comes to mind when one thinks of the films of Dario Argento? Is it the ravishing, ceaselessly prowling camera work? The lurid, stylised colouring of his cinematic canvas? Perhaps it is the rhapsodic and fiendishly elaborate violence that perforates his morbid tales? Or the bounteous beautiful victims swirling the boundaries between bloody orgasm and sensual death throe? Chances are that no matter what the director’s name conjures up, the music that accompanies his striking images will surely rank highly in terms of what we associate with his brand of lavishly sadistic cinema.

Whilst Argento has worked with some of the most original and unusual composers throughout his career, from the great Ennio Morricone and prog-rocker Keith Emerson, to jazz musician Giorgio Gaslini and most recently, Marco Werba, his most distinct musical collaborations have without a doubt been with psych/prog-rock horror outfit, Goblin.

Argento’s long-lasting and highly distinctive relationship with Goblin began when Giorgio Gaslini, who had worked with Argento on Door Into Darkness and The Five Days of Milan presented his somewhat chic lounge-jazz score for Deep Red and Argento was dissatisfied with it. The director wanted a score that he felt would reflect how progressive he believed the film to be. He turned to up and coming prog-rock outfit Cherry Five, headed by Claudio Simonetti and Massimo Morante. Heavily influenced by Pink Floyd, King Crimson and early Genesis, Cherry Five were challenged to score the film in one night and record it in one day. They changed their name to Goblin and rewrote most of Gaslini’s score, including the famous main theme. When it was released the film, and indeed the soundtrack, were huge hits both in Italy and abroad and horror movie history was made.

The band would go on to score Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead respectively, proving once again that they were the darlings of the horror soundtrack world in the late Seventies/early Eighties. Unfortunately, despite their success, the band was rife with personal strife and the line up was perpetually changing. The original members of the band consisted of Claudio Simonetti (keyboards) and Massimo Morante (guitars), and they were usually aided by Fabio Pignatelli (bass guitar) and Walter Martino (drums). Throughout the years however, members came and went but what was left of the band continued to work mainly on soundtracks. There was a partial reunification for Argento’s Phenomena and Tenebrae, though the musicians were credited separately, and not as Goblin. The sound they produced of course was Goblin through and through in everything but name. The last collaboration with the master of Italian Horror took place in 2000 when the original members reformed at the director’s behest to score his contemporary giallo and much heralded ‘return to form’, Sleepless.

It is hard to imagine that Argento’s earlier classics such as Deep Red, Suspiria and Tenebrae would wield anywhere near the same amount of power they do were it not for the music contributed by Goblin. Here’s a look back at some of their best moments…


Deep Red: Goblin’s throbbing, bass-heavy, pulsating organ score incorporates elements of prog-rock, jazz and a touch of gothic punk, effortlessly complementing the beauty and disquieting nature of the imagery conjured by Argento. The pounding piano riff, which would in no small way inspire John Carpenter when he came to score his own movies – most notably Halloween – is mesmerising in its hypnotic rhythm and seemingly whips the killer into a frenzy as much as the baying audience. A few of Gaslini’s efforts still remain in the film; light jazzy pieces more reminiscent of Morricone’s contributions to Argento’s Animal Trilogy.


Suspiria: The mesmerising drones, twisted melodies, rasped vocals and sinisterly twinkling lullaby that creates the excessively nightmarish score of Suspiria, almost ousts the grandeur of Argento’s visuals in terms of sensory impact. Eerie winds, maniacal battering of drums and the shriek of strings builds to an almost unbearable climax before settling into the sinister tinkling of a music box lullaby – and all this before the film’s opening credits have even rolled! Discordant guitar melodies and wizened synthesizers mark a repetitive rhythm that mercilessly drives the narrative forward, consuming everything in its dark cacophony. A rough cut of the soundtrack was allegedly played full blast on the set to unnerve the actors and get them into the appropriate mood.


Dawn of the Dead: Dark, moody and unsettling, the score for Dawn of the Dead is one of the most evocative in horror movie history. Gloomy synths, heavy bass and a steady beat enhance Romero’s doomful tale, adding an atmosphere of hopelessness to proceedings, despite the satirical aspects of the script. Veering between kitsch Seventies appeal and stately, sombre darkness, this score is perhaps one of the bands most underrated. Dario Argento edited the international cut of Dawn of the Dead, and fully utilised the band’s compositions. Romero used three pieces of their score in his version, preferring to score the movie with generic stock music, thereby adding an element of humour (absent from Argento’s cut) to the film.


Tenebrae: Heavily reliant on synthesisers and electronics, the score for Argento’s self-reflexive deconstruction of the giallo movie, is credited to the band members separately – Goblin had essentially split at this stage. Getting rhythmical with a vengeance, Tenebrae’s soundtrack exhibits dance floor-filling Italo-disco grooves, boasting delirious organ riffs, rolling drum beats and vo-coded vocals, to foot-tapping, nerve-throbbing effect. In the scene where Tilde yells at her girlfriend to turn off the music, which we had assumed was merely the soundtrack of the film (and been enjoying immensely!), Marion reluctantly crosses the room and lifts the needle from her record player stopping both diegetic and non-diegetic music instantly. Bloody chaos ensues.