Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Random Creepy Scene #767: Fire Walk With Me

Fire Walk With Me marked David Lynch’s return to his beloved Twin Peaks; albeit a return lovers of the series didn’t quite expect. Not only was it a prequel, charting the bleak and disturbing last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life, but it also marked a drastic shift in tone that left many fans out in the cold. Gone were the cherry pies and damn fine coffees, and in their place was a dark tale of domestic abuse, incest and what lurks in the sick, twisted underbelly of small town America.

As it serves as an exploration of poor Laura’s tragic demise, it isn’t surprising that Fire Walk With Me exhibits some of the most poignant, creepy and nightmarishly bizarre moments and imagery from Lynch’s work to date. All set to the strains of one of Angelo Badalamenti’s most evocative and haunting scores yet.

We follow Laura (Sheryl Lee) as she descends into an ever hopeless spiral of drugs, prostitution and ritualistic abuse at the hands of those she’s closest to. Throughout the course of the film Lynch tentatively paints a hopelessly romantic, relentlessly unsettling and doomfully tragic portrait of a vulnerable young woman who, in her darkest hours, feels she has no one to turn to in the place she calls home…

"I just know I'm going to get lost in those woods again, tonight."


The film is full of typically Lynchian moments and dream-like imagery. However, one of the most disturbing and creepy moments comes courtesy of the scene in which Laura returns home after entrusting her diary to her confidante, reclusive agoraphobic Harold Smith, and having a strange encounter with Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont and her grandson, who whispers cryptically to Laura that "the man behind the mask is looking for the book with the pages torn out. He is going towards the hiding place."

As Laura gingerly makes her way upstairs to her bedroom, the silence in her house is deafening. Only the whirring of a ceiling fan breaks the stifling quiet, and along with it comes an air of foreboding impossible to ignore. Opening her door slowly, Laura peeks into her room and is horrified to discover Bob – the filthy molester who visits her in her dreams – emerging from behind her bureau… The sight of this dirty, ravenous pervert in the supposedly safe sanctuary and domesticity of Laura's home is utterly unforgettable.

As fans know, this is also the moment when Laura soon realises who Bob really is, and that her darkest moments in life are yet to come…








Through the darkness of future past,
The magician longs to see
Once chants out between two worlds:
Fire, walk with me…


Monday, 29 August 2011

Short Film Showcase: Cold Blood

2011
Dir. Peter Ferris

Shot in and around Belfast last winter, Cold Blood is the second in an, as yet, unfinished trilogy of short films charting the exploits of the fiendish Elias Mortenson (Peter Ferris) as he travels the world forcefully recruiting vampires under the guise of an acting coach/agent. Certain scenes were also filmed in beautifully eerie locations such as the ancient stone circle of Avebury in Wiltshire, and Rennes Le Chateau in France. Working as a stand alone film, Cold Blood hinges on some fertile ideas – particularly in its exploration of the tribulations of a group of young people, unwillingly turned into vampires and attempting to resist their new blood-thirsty instincts to kill and maim (recalling the chilling plight of Claudia from Interview with the Vampire). The makeshift family they create echoes that of the clan in Near Dark – and of course the concept of vampires attempting to reform has been explored in the likes of Twilight and True Blood.

Aspects of Oliver Twist, Lord of the Flies and any number of recent vampire films in which the fanged-ones reject their thirst for blood swirl throughout proceedings. The narrative is a little unclear however, and the pacing muddled – particularly in the numerous scenes featuring the younger cast addressing their dire situation through mainly improvised dialogue. It always feels like it is only part of a bigger picture (what with it being the second instalment of a trilogy) and is hampered slightly by muddied sound quality and issues with lighting – no doubt stemming from its ultra-low budget.


The film boasts decent performances from its mainly young cast; though the scenes in which they improvise much of their dialogue could have been reigned in and tightened up. There are also a number of menacing performances from some of the older actors, particularly Eugene Hynes as the sinister and Faganesque patriarch Papa Eugene, Martin Lasch as the roguish boxing trainer (these young vamps apparently need to learn how to protect themselves in their dark new world!) and Aki Buhidma (who also shares co-writing duties) as one of the more pro-active of the tentative 'vamplings.'

The Belfast setting lends the film a gritty veneer and several scenes shot with night-vision in which the characters attempt to ‘nocturnalise’ themselves, also provide some creepy imagery. There are a number of rather interesting ideas that are never really fleshed out though – like vampires attempting to cover their tracks by making their bloodbaths look like the result of paramilitary attacks.


The deranged opening (a flashback to events in the first film?) features the character of Mortenson claiming his victims in a drama class, and hints at a juicy but never fully realised subtext of how the film industry literally sucks the life out of those desperate to become stars of the screen.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The House on Sorority Row

1983
Dir. Mark Rosman

After a prank horribly backfires, a group of sexiful sorority sisters are stalked and murdered one by one while hosting a graduating party and attempting to dispose of the body that was the result of their prank going wrong. Talk about an inconvenience!

In true slasher style, we open with a prologue - to intrigue and set the scene for the bloodbath to come – in which a woman undergoes a problematic birth in a big house during a thunderstorm and is led to believe by her doctor that her baby is dead. Cutting to years later, the house is now a sorority house and the woman is revealed to be the house mother, Mrs Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt) – a formidable and cane-wielding crone who seems overly anxious for the graduating girls to vacate the premises. The girls have no such intentions though – they want to have a party to celebrate and they decide to play a prank on Mrs Slater to show her who’s boss. She ends up dead (showed her!) and the girls are left with her body to dispose of. It seems someone knows their secret though and begins to murderlise them one by one. Well, they do keep insisting on splitting up to investigate strange noises or to fetch a car from a dark garage and such. They don’t even get to enjoy the party they so desperately wanted to throw because of the inconveniences of dispossessing of the body and being picked off by a crazed killer… Sucks to be them.


Anyway. Where The House on Sorority Row sets itself apart from many other slashers, is in its use of the dark secret bonding the girls together. Afraid to go to the police after their prank on Mrs Slater goes terribly wrong, they’re left guilt stricken, paranoid and lumbered with a body they’re desperately trying to dispose of. The group begins to disintegrate and spilt – and before long they’re at each other’s throats as bickering and panic sets in. Add to this the fact that somehow, someone knows the girls’ secret and seems intent on dishing out their own brand of bloody revenge, picking them off violently one by one, and you have a taut and pretty suspenseful – if immensely conventional – slasher flick. Of course, it being an old fashioned slasher that sticks quite closely to the now infamous conventions of the sub-genre ain’t no bad thing. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that’s pretty much why these bloody and morally conservative flicks have remained so popular with horror fans since their hey-day in the early Eighties. There’s a certain comfort to be garnered from the familiar.



The House on Sorority Row also takes time to get to the blood (and even when we do, its all fairly restrained stuff), opting to build slow-burning tension and build up an atmosphere of mystery and queasy dread. The various discussions between Mrs Slater and her doctor also fuel the mystery, especially all his talk of ‘psychotic breaks’ and ‘latent violence.’ There are a few red herrings sprinkled throughout the mayhem – not least Mrs Slater’s mildly menacing physician who knows more than he is letting on about the house mother’s dark past. The script is careful to keep us guessing, and when the revelation comes, it is suitably twisted. As well as building tension around the girls’ plight as they try to dispose of the body, we’re also thrown intriguing titbits such as the discovery of a secret bedroom in the attic; cluttered with vintage toys and creepy jack-in-the-box music boxes, its obvious something sinister happened here; or lurks here. A threat emanating from the attic of a sorority house also permeated Black Christmas.

A number of striking images sear out from the screen – notably the moment when Katherine (Kathryn McNeil) discovers the severed head of her friend in a toilet, the moodily lit-from-below pool full of floating bodies and the hallucinations a drugged Katherine has of her dead friends entering the house after the party… The killer is kept mainly off-screen, save for a few brief glimpses – a spooky one in silhouette, and a brief one over a banister looking down on him revealing his deformed face. When he emerges at the end (in a genuinely chilling moment), he’s decked out in full harlequin gear and looks appropriately deranged.



While none of the characters are that likeable, they still possess a certain old fashioned vulnerability that can only come from sexist slasher stereotyping. Characterisation is limited to the likes of ‘the alpha-bitch’, ‘the one who loses it completely and freaks out, tripping over her own feet in an empty hallway’ and the level-headed, resourceful and thoughtful ‘final girl.’ The others fall somewhere in-between but aren’t that easy to differentiate. It’s not that crucial to the plot though, and The House on Sorority Row breezes along at a fairly brisk pace. It is surprisingly elegantly lensed and the lush orchestral score courtesy of Richard Band moves gracefully between nostalgic longing and eerie menace and suspense with twisted ease.


Seven girls, a guilty secret, a big sorority house and a psychotic killer wielding sharp things. The House on Sorority Row is a rudimentary and highly conventional slasher film with a few neat twists and enough tension and chills to ensure it won’t disappoint fans of the sub-genre. While not as masterful as Halloween, or as gory as Friday the 13th, it still emerges as one of the better slasher films from the early 80s. Delta! Lambda! Death!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Pieces

1982
Dir. Juan Piquer Simón

A killer, attempting to piece together a human jigsaw puzzle made from body parts, starts cutting up the young scantily-clad/ample-bosomed co-eds on a college campus. Bad dialogue, terrible acting, gratuitous nudity, sloppy gore effects, unexpected kung-fu and nubile lovelies getting cut the fuck up ensue. Warning: contains guffaws.

Directed by Spanish filmmaker Juan Piquer Simón in his native Valencia (though set in the States), the marvellously trashy and overtly sleazy 1982 extravaganza Pieces is a scuzzy, down ‘n’ dirty slasher that ranks down there with the worst best of ‘em. Pretty damn notorious when it was released, it has gone on to garner a sizable cult following – and rather understandably so. Containing no tension whatsoever, the film still manages to be highly entertaining due to it falling firmly into that old favourite category of the so-bad-it’s-bloody-good variety. On my first attempt to watch Pieces (several years ago when I first picked it up on VHS in a bargain bin) I got as far as the first chainsaw attack and was ordered to switch it off by whichever friends had the misfortune of watching it with me. Cut to several years later (in true slasher movie style), and I’m given a boxset of 10 horror films – so cheap there’s 3 on each disc – hey, so my friends know me too well) and I’m ready to have a second go at watching Pieces. I had the sense to watch it by myself this time.



Like the tagline indicates – It’s Exactly What You Think It Is - and what with me thinking it was a cheap, sleazy, terrible piece of garbage filmmaking; it wasn’t wrong! What can I say though? I fucking loved it.

The plot, so to speak, is structured around grisly and splashy deaths, unattractive sex scenes and increasingly ridiculous scenes in which the main characters stand around and indulge in dull expositionary dialogue. The police investigation - which is carried out by a staggering array of people (some of whom aren’t even cops) including detectives Bracken (Christopher George) and Holden (Frank Brana), the Dean of the university (Edmund Purdom), professor of anatomy Prof. Brown (Jack Taylor), former tennis pro turned undercover detective Mary Riggs (Lynda Day George) and the campus stud turned undercover cop assistant Kendall (Ian Sera) - consists of trawling through files and shuffling papers looking for clues. Tension could have been mustered in a number of stalking sequences, but the direction is so bland and the pacing so devoid of momentum that it just never feels as suspenseful as a good slasher should. The victims are all women with more boobs than brain cells: case in point – the killer sneaks into an elevator with one victim who fails to notice the big chainsaw he’s hiding behind his back, while another girl, who is fished out of a swimming pool with a small net, simply reclines by the pool in terror while the killer retrieves his trusty chainsaw from the other side. The shock ending featuring a body made up of stitched together parts of all the scantily clad victims is also a depraved delight that would be echoed years later in Lucky McKee’s May – though to much more poetic and chilling effect.



“While we were out here fumbling with that music, that lousy bastard was in there killing her. Bastard! BASTARD! BAAAASSSTAAAARRD!!!


Note the 'Friday the 13th' poster behind this clearly vestiphobic young lady...
Interestingly, there is a number of tantalising giallo trimmings scattered throughout Pieces; not least the killer’s wardrobe which consists of black leather gloves, fedora hat and long dark raincoat. He also boasts some major psycho-sexual issues and is depicted in the prologue as a young boy indulging in a spot of matricide with an axe after his mommy dearest finds him playing with a jigsaw puzzle of a naked lady. When we cut to 40 years later, an unseen figure – the killer! - sporting black leather gloves fondles some obviously fetishised items in a box – including pieces of a familiar looking nudie jigsaw and bits of the dress worn by his mother when he murderlised her. There’s even a photo of her with a big red cross through it – you know, just in case we don’t get how much he hates her. Even the event which seemingly triggers the murderer’s memory of killing his mother (a young girl roller-skating into a big-ass mirror and a flashback shot from the opening scene when the mother smashes a mirror when she discovers her son’s pervy jigsaw) echoes similar devices used in giallo films when the killer sees something that reignites their dormant psychosis. A basic staple of slasher and giallo films - prowling POV camera work – is also chucked in for good measure. Similarities with Italian gialli stop here though, as Pieces unfolds as a messy, somewhat soiled and hilariously bad splatter pic with about as much subtlety as a curiously stained breezeblock being hurled through an ornate stained-glass window.



If trashy slashers with tits, gore, bad dialogue, tits, hammy acting, tits and tits are your bag, then uncork something vulgar and cheap and guzzle it while watching Pieces. Sleazy, absurd, ridiculous fun awaits…

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Wreckage

2010
Dir. John Asher

A group of friends find themselves stranded when their car breaks down while drag racing outside their home town. After deciding to try their luck at a nearby scrap yard rather than risk walking back into town, some careless horseplay with a loaded pistol leaves one of them wounded and in desperate need of medical attention. Meanwhile, the local sheriff’s office has just received notification that a serial killer has escaped from the state prison and is thought to be hiding out somewhere in the area. Alerted to the situation at the wrecking yard, the police and ambulance crew arrive on the scene only to face a long night of bloodshed and mayhem as a mysterious killer stalks the yard determined to slay everyone and leave no witnesses…

Beware. The spare parts may be your own…

Wreckage unravels as conventionally as the slasher flicks of the Eighties which so obviously inspired it. It even opens with a flashback sporting some gritty domestic drama in which one of two young boys finally snaps and shoots their wrung-out, chain smoking mother and her dodgy drug dealer boyfriend. Cutting to fifteen years later, the film begins again with its most interesting, teasing and suspenseful scene featuring an encounter between a stranded young woman and her would-be rapist/murderer, a radio broadcast boasting the revelation that a dangerous prisoner has just escaped from prison and an unexpected conclusion to events. Wreckage then shifts gears again and opens properly as we’re introduced to the main characters, all of whom seem plucked from slasher movie history: the just engaged jock/ex-soldier and his ‘resourceful’/perky fiancée, her bitchy best friend (who has just found out she’s pregnant) and the bitchy friend’s slacker/practical joker boyfriend. So far, so meh. They go drag racing, break down and wind up stranded in a wrecking yard where they’re picked off by an unseen assailant.


While it does stick to typical slasher structure and convention, Wreckage goes a little way to redeem itself with a few neat twists that throw various spanners in the works resulting in a few unexpected moments and surprises. They’re few and far between though. When his fiancée Kate (Cameron Richardson) is accidentally shot by Rick (Aaron Paul), Jared (Mike Erwin) runs into town for help. When he returns, his friends are missing and the typically ineffectual police are little help. Whilst searching the yard, they make the same dumb-ass mistakes made by their bygone slasher peers. They spilt up, investigate strange noises, don’t have phone signal, don’t call for back-up, they leave victims' bodies to come back for them later only for the body to be gone again and the like.

There is some intrigue mustered regarding the identity of the killer – a hulking brute in a welding mask who is only glimpsed briefly. Is he connected to the escaped prisoner? Who were the young boys from the prologue? As the setting is a wreckage yard, the deaths naturally feature car-wrecking themed pay-offs: various cast members are hung on tow-truck hooks, crushed inside cars and even have cars dropped on them. A couple of chase scenes add a fair amount of suspense, and the telling of tales concerning the owners of some of the car wrecks and their deathly fates provides a highly unsettling and disturbing moment, but as events just continue to plod on unevenly, Wreckage looks increasingly likely to be consigned to the low-budget, straight-to-DVD slasher movie scrap heap. Ahem.


By no means a bad film, Wreckage just isn’t a very compelling one. The script is rudimentary and the direction uninspired. There are a couple of atmospheric shots of Jared running for town through the fog-sodden forest and along the deserted highway at night, but aside from providing moodily lit respite from the main action, they don’t really enhance it. The leads’ performances are all sturdy enough, but their characters aren’t in the least bit interesting, nor do they give us any reason to care about them. A bizarre turn from Monsters star Scoot McNairy as the redneck owner of the yard fails to aid proceedings; his wacky-eyed ramblings annoy more than entertain. Where Wreckage does succeed is in how it throws us off the scent of the identity of the killer and keeps us guessing. We know of course he is linked to the prologue, but we don’t know how. There are a fair few suspects and red herrings, and it all ties together quite well by the conclusion. It’s just a shame that the journey there was so lacking in suspense and originality.

Wreckage (cert. 15) will be released on DVD (£12.99) by Chelsea Films on 22nd August 2011.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Paracinema Magazine and Beyond!

Born from a conversation about film magazines in a small Queens, New York apartment in the summer of 2007, Paracinema Magazine has been steadily garnering a reputation as a distinctive, intelligent, thought-provoking and passionately produced publication of the highest order since its first issue almost four years ago. 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 written by fans for fans on all manner of genre cinema – from Hitchcock, Herzog, Bergman and Carpenter to the likes of HG Lewis, Wiseau and Ed Wood, to name but a few. All is presented in a strikingly designed and attention-commanding publication. Paracinema is essentially for those who want to delve deeper into the lurid depths of ‘periphery’ cinema; each issue contains pieces on a staggering array of movies and genres including, horror, sci-fi, blaxploitation, exploitation, cult, Asian, giallo, pornography and B-movies… If you aren’t currently reading Paracinema, it is my duty to inform you that you’re seriously missing out.

 






















Think of the amount of times you’ve been flicking through movie magazines in your local newsagents or book shop and thought how frustrating it was that your favourite types of movies and filmmakers were often neglected or relegated to the sidelines in terms of the amount of articles about them or attention given to them. Think how fantastic it would be to be able to pick up a magazine that was SOLELY about these types of films and filmmakers; and a well written, affordable and lovingly produced one at that.

Recently Paracinema has been given the opportunity to expand; of course it’s not as simple as it sounds. Being a labour of love (read: usually in the red) their budget is quite tight. As such, Team Paracinema has proposed a bit of a fundraiser. Think of it as a donation, but instead of a tote bag you get a sweet Warriors t-shirt out of the deal. Times are tough so if you can’t afford the shirt, please, please, please just help spread the word by sharing this link everywhere you can and help Paracinema to acquire wider distribution. It is a great magazine that deserves to have a much bigger readership.

For more information about the magazine, why not head over to their site and have a look around. You can also befriend them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. For a little more insight you can check out an interview with the editor of Paracinema, Christine Makepeace, over at The Blood Sprayer and listen to a podcast with her at The Toxic Graveyard.

Support independent publishing!



















Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Random Creepy Scene #487: Quiet As A Nun

Armchair Thriller was a British television series, broadcast on ITV by Thames in 1978 and 1980. It was essentially a horror/supernatural orientated anthology series that specialised in adapting various spooky novels and stories. It consisted of two weekly 25 minute episodes, usually screened at 8pm on a Tuesday and Thursday evening. I’m too young to remember it, but a recent conversation with several (ever so slightly) older friends alerted me to one particular episode of the series entitled Quiet as a Nun

Adapted from the 1977 novel of the same name by Antonia Fraser, Quiet as a Nun was a six part dramatisation revolving around Fraser's regular sleuth Jemima Shore, who revisits the convent where she was schooled following the mysterious death of one of the nuns. The nun, Sister Miriam, was a former friend of Jemima’s and she apparently starved herself to death in a ruined tower in the grounds of the convent. Jemima soon learns from the girls at the convent about a mysterious and malevolent figure called the Black Nun - a sinister faceless spectre which allegedly appears whenever a death is about to take place. The figure was seen just prior to Sister Miriam's death, and has been sighted again…

"Oh Christ... It's the rocking chair..."

The final minutes of the third episode, aired on 18th April 1978, are regarded as one of the most chilling moments on British TV – and the very scene that ingrained itself into the mind of my friend, who spoke about it with a mixture of loving nostalgia and well-remembered terror. In the scene, Jemima, who is thoroughly engrossed in her sleuthing, gingerly enters the tower alone at night. Climbing up into the attic she is greeted with the sound of a rocking chair on old rickety floorboards… Turning slowly around she is greeted with the sight of the faceless Black Nun, who suddenly rises up out of the chair and advances menacingly towards the screaming woman… Watch the clip here. And the opening titles of Armchair Thriller here. And then imagine yourself watching them as a young child. Gah!



The series was transmitted before the traditional 9pm watershed, and was very popular with families – I guess much in the same way that Dr Who was (and still is). This is probably one of the reasons why it is still so fondly remembered – and so controversial at the time. Watching the scene now is creepy enough, but I’m sure if I’d seen this as a child, it would have had a much deeper, more troubling impact, and no doubt resulted in many a sleepless night… It ties in perfectly with the whole ‘behind the couch’ ethos – that wonderful feeling of nostalgia and safe fear in a domestic setting, linked to being scared of something as a child, and now really quite enjoying the sensation and the nostalgia it provides.

Pleasant nightmares!