Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Abney Park Cemetery

On a recent trip to London to visit friends I also took the opportunity to visit Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, in the London borough of Hackney. It is one of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries and a peaceful Saturday afternoon was spent exploring the place. It’s no secret I love cemeteries (the older the better) and wouldn’t think twice about spending an afternoon wandering around one and taking photos.

In 1840 Abney Park became a non-denominational garden cemetery and semi-public park arboretum, and today it is used by local residents who walk, jog, picnic, hang out and drink there.

Amongst the dark delights I discovered were an abandoned gothic chapel in the middle of the grounds and various catacombs amongst the overgrown and hauntingly beautiful walkways; themselves flanked by landscaped woodlands. Everything is wildly overgrown and atmospheric.

Amongst the dead interned in Abney Park are William and Catherine Booth, founders of The Salvation Army. Here are (but a few!) of the photographs I took whilst wafting around there on a strangely mild November afternoon... 















Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Audiodrome#2: Eraserhead


Head over to Paracinema's online lair to check out my article on the soundtrack of David Lynch's “dream of dark and troubling things”, Eraserhead; a surreal and nightmarish meditation on the horror of parenthood.

"You're in very bad trouble if you won't cooperate..."

Why not pick up the latest issue of Paracinema while you’re there? Amongst its lurid delights are articles such as 'Blood Is Thicker Than Fear: Maternal Madness in Horror Cinema'; 'Dreams That You Could Never Guess: Bela Lugosi on Poverty Row, 1940-42' and 'Censoring the Centipede: How the BBFC are Sewing Our Eyes Shut.' All great stuff, written by hardcore fans of genre films for hardcore fans of genre films.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Woman

2011
Dir. Lucky McKee

Social satire or horror movie? Misogynistic or an attack on misogyny? Feminist tract or manipulative glorification of violence? These are the kinds of questions that The Woman has raised with audiences and critics. Whether the film is viewed as a powerful portrait of misogyny, a thinking man’s torture-porn flick or simply a brutal and nasty gore-fest - The Woman proves to be an uncompromising and memorable ordeal. More a film to be endured than enjoyed, it has left audiences divided, devastated and immersed in deep debate. Frenzied viewers were left shocked, dazed, horrified, angry and outraged in its wake as it blazed through festival screenings and cinemas. Interestingly, apathy wasn’t something experienced by most viewers – The Woman demands that you have a strong opinion one way or the other. Of course, the danger with having such a fearsome and provocative reputation so adamantly preceding it is that it will fail to live up to the hype.

Does it? Well, it does and it doesn’t. It is shocking, gripping and well directed, but it is also very manipulative and morally black and white; the thinly veiled points it makes about gender relations, familial dysfunction, spousal abuse and contemporary morality are all hammered home with unwavering intensity.

Based on a screenplay by Lucky McKee and horror writer Jack Ketchum, The Woman works both as a stand-alone film and a sequel to the pair’s previous backwoods shocker The Offspring. It follows family man Chris Cleek’s (Sean Bridgers) attempts to civilise a wild woman he encounters in the forest and subsequently chains up in his cellar. He forces his submissive family to partake in his attempts to tame her, but unsurprisingly, it turns out to be he who is far from civilised. The Woman leads viewers along a frequently shocking and emotionally draining trail, twisting and turning but always leading unavoidably to that haunting and unforgettable climax. From the outset, it is one of those films in which everything indicates it won’t end well. At all well.



While it does serve as an exploration of the darkness in humanity and the atrocious, barbarous things society does in the name of civilization, it is a fairly simplistic depiction of such. It takes barbed jabs at conservative patriarchal family values revealing them to be inherently corrupt. While unquestioningly provocative and commanding, The Woman isn’t quite the feminist allegory it has been made out to be. Perhaps best viewed as a pitch-dark sitcom, if you scratch the surface there isn’t really that much more going on. Everything is loud and blatant – but it is conveyed with enough vigor and conviction to ensure it remains pretty damn compelling.

While its obvious button pushing is clear, it remains strangely effective. Its depiction of domestic abuse is unflinching and overwhelming in its matter of fact and abrupt execution. Even though the sporadic bloodletting will sate gore-hounds in its alarming intensity, it is actually the psychological horror and quiet degradation of the family unit that packs the weightiest punch. The female characters all live in fear of Chris. Tension comes from his unreasonable nature, his family’s inability to stand up to him and his tyrannical brand of patriarchy. He has no redeeming qualities – he has no moral grey area or ambiguity – he is presented as a clean-cut monster we’re actively encouraged to despise. He views his actions as morally righteous, and simply sees women as weak and deserving of such harsh treatment. Were these misogynous values instilled within him by his own father? Society? Or something broken, dark and damaged in his own soul?
Add to this the deliberately languid, slow-burn approach masterfully handled by McKee and you’ll get some idea of the stifling tension the film exudes.



One of the most disturbing aspects of the story is how Chris’s son begins to exhibit signs of following in his father’s footsteps, and is actively encouraged by Chris to do so. When Belle (Angela Bettis) chastises him for sexually assaulting the woman, Chris beats her unconscious and props her up at the kitchen table for daring to question their son’s actions, basically saying there was “no harm done.” It is in these moments when Chris condones violence and hatred towards women that get the blood boiling most of all.

The performances hold the increasingly extreme story together and all are highly effective. Pollyanna McIntosh is addictively compelling as the titular feral woman. Equal parts threatening and vulnerable, the wash of emotions exhibited by her is startling; everything is conveyed through her eyes, body language and guttural gurglings. As the dominating patriarch, Sean Bridgers is unnervingly calm and manipulative; behind closed doors he treats his daughters and wife with disdain and contempt. The mask he wears is that of an upstanding pillar of the community, a respectable business/family man who attends barbeques and partakes in the All-American pastime of hunting. As awkward teenager Peggy, Lauren Ashley Carter quietly commands attention as she implodes in fear and distress at the events unfolding in her own family home. Angela Bettis meanwhile provides yet another reliable performance as the downtrodden, soul-broken wife Belle. Fragile and fearful, the frustration she feels as she helplessly watches her family be psychologically abused consistently simmers behind her watery weak eyes.

The crowd-pleasing and blood-soaked climax enthralls as much as it frustrates – and the fate of one character in particular boasts a distasteful ‘blame the victim’ slant. Otherwise The Woman is a very well made and commanding film – McKee’s best since May


The Woman (cert. 18) will be available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray from 17th October 2011 courtesy of Revolver Entertainment.

Special features include: The Making of ‘The Woman’, Deleted Scenes, Short Film – ‘Mi Burro’, Meet The Makers, Music track ‘Distracted’ by Sean Spillane and 5 Exclusive Limited Edition Art Cards (HMV only).

The UK Blu-ray release also features an exclusive extra 'The Film4 FrightFest Total Film' panel with Lucky McKee, Andrew van den Houten, Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Ti West and Larry Fessenden.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Kaboom

2010
Dir. Gregg Araki

Director Gregg Araki has never been one to shy away from controversial subject matter. His work usually explores the dark side of teenage life, where bad things happen ‘unexpectedly' and the lines between life and death, reality and nightmare are increasingly blurred. As a director he lingers somewhere between amateur and auteur. His 2005 film Mysterious Skin looked at sexual abuse and its aftermath through the eyes of two teenage boys – one of whom is convinced he is the victim of alien abduction. The Doom Generation was a gloomy, ultra-violent and nihilistic 'Generation X' for the soulless Nineties. His work usually features various depictions of the apocalypse as an almost mundane, matter of fact event and drugged-out characters wander through hyper-retro candy-coloured sets and broodingly dark cityscapes.

His latest film, Kaboom is a fantastical, mind-altering, sex-charged romp through the fickle world of college life that gradually morphs into an increasingly oddball, horror-tinged and absurd story about the onset of a global nuclear holocaust brought about by a sinister cult. Part comedy, part horror, part sci-fi, the range of tones Araki adopts throughout this head-melter shouldn’t really work, though everything holds together well enough to form an off-kilter and intoxicating film that is anything but boring.


The lives of Smith (Thomas Dekker), his arty, sarcastic best friend Stella (Haley Bennett), kooky free spirit London (Juno Temple) and pretty but dim surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka) are turned upside when Smith is convinced, while tripping on hallucinogenic cookies he ate at a party no less, that he has witnessed the brutal murder of an enigmatic red-haired girl he’s seen before in his dreams. His investigation leads him deeper into a sinister mystery that looks set to alter not only his own life, but the destiny of the entire world.

Rather unfortunately, the intriguing central premise all too soon falls into the background and becomes a mere backdrop, and the narrative is propelled by various sex scenes in which Araki’s characters explore their sexualities with each other while discussing everything from pop culture to the meaning of life. Cue much bed-hopping between couples and copious close-up shots of ecstatic faces during orgasm. The colourful and dysfunctional characters are typical of those who inhabit Araki’s film work; disaffected, bored, tedious and cynical; they indulge in copious amounts of drugs and sex while waxing lyrical about the state of the world. While Araki’s attempts to flesh out his creations are admirable, Kaboom might have benefitted from more attention to the story. When the central mystery eventually comes to the fore and Araki builds a fair degree of tension rather seamlessly, it’s all arguably too little, too late, as the film suddenly ends in a moment that will make some audiences feel utterly cheated and others – maybe those more familiar with the director’s bleak, absurdist humour – just smile wryly.


The ethereal score by ex-Cocteau Twins member Robin Guthrie and Austrian ambient-electronic composer Ulrich Schnauss is suitably moody and swirls throughout the movie headily, enhancing the tripped-out, hallucinogenic feel.

Araki’s meshing of sci-fi, horror, queer cinema, road movies, dark drama, full on sex, magic-realism and quasi-religious foreboding may not be everyone’s bag – especially as it all feels so detached – but those seeking genuine oddness with humour by turns both madcap and absurd, may find what they seek in this spaced out oddity.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Maniac Cop

1988
Dir. William Lustig

Innocent New Yorkers are being brutally murdered by a uniformed police officer. As the death toll mounts, officer Jack Forrest finds himself accused of the slaughter. With few friends, powerful enemies and a psychopathic slayer still at large, Jack teams up with hardboiled Detective Frank McCrae and blonde-bombshell rookie Theresa, to prove he’s not guilty and bring down the killer.

You have the right to remain silent… Forever!

Boasting a cult-tastic cast of 80’s exploitation veterans including Tom Atkins, Richard Roundtree, Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon, Maniac Cop has so much going for it. The script, by Larry Cohen, coupled with William Lustig’s bruising direction, ensures the film unravels as an entertaining and riveting suspenser. Cohen has made a career out of subverting normal, everyday things into objects of terror: babies (It’s Alive), ice-cream (The Stuff), paramedics (The Ambulance), and public phone boxes (Phone Booth). Maniac Cop subverts the notion of the police as a bastion for law and order, and twists it around to create something more sinister and unsettling. By taking a figure usually associated with safety, security, law and order and capsizing it, Cohen and Lustig are able to create effective scenes involving innocent people seeking help from the police, only to come face to face with a ruthless, psychotic killer.

Maniac Cop meshes together standard slasher movie tropes with police procedural movie trimmings. As well as the plethora of stalkings and murders, the film also boasts an engrossing central mystery; who is the cop and why is he killing people? As the eponymous cop, Matt Cordell comes complete with a tragic back-story and a thirst for revenge. That he is also a hulking brute who never speaks, is severely disfigured and wears a rather iconic garb means he could sit comfortably alongside other slasher villains of the 80s such as Jason, Michael or Freddy. The ways in which he kills his victims are both brutally violent and slyly humorous, particularly the scene involving a handcuffed man and a pool of just poured concrete. An especially taut scene features one woman handcuffed to a dead man and trying desperately to escape as the psycho-cop bashes down her door…


The central theme of the film seems potently relevant today, given the increasing instances of police brutality in society; the most prominent one in recent memory being the case of Ian Tomlinson, who on April 1 2009, was passing through the G20 summit protests in London and was pushed to the ground by a policeman. He died soon afterwards and the officer responsible for pushing him – demonstrating disproportionate force - has been charged with manslaughter. Another instance of contemptible police brutality that I couldn’t help but recall when watching Maniac Cop was the case of Jody McIntyre, who was dragged from his wheelchair by police during a student protest over tuition fees in London, 2009. What happens when police abuse their power and the trust we have in them? Who do we turn to then? This notion is exploited perfectly throughout Maniac Cop, most obviously in the opening scene where a woman, fleeing through a darkened park from a pair of muggers, spies a cop ahead of her and runs to him for help, only to receive a crushed throat for her trouble.


It is ingrained within us as a society not to question the police, and there are a number of suspenseful scenes where the titular cop exploits the authority his badge gives him – notably in the scene where he yanks a guy from his car as the dumb girlfriend looks on with weak trepidation, realising something isn’t quite right but feeling powerless to protest. Cohen’s witty script also finds time to take a few side swipes at the media – particularly at its ability to whip up frenzied panic by sensationalising stories, resulting in people panicking and acting without foresight or rational thought - perfectly conveyed in the scene where a lone woman in a broken down car listening to the news with increasing anxiety, shoots the cop who comes to her assistance, believing him to be the killer.

The New York City depicted is gritty, sleazy and menacing and the dank atmosphere is perfectly enhanced by the score, courtesy of Jay Chattaway; a typically 80s horror movie affair – all pulsing synths, taut strings, creepy atmospherics and a haunting Goblinesque lullaby theme that echoes throughout the flashbacks.

If you’re looking for a trashy, though well written and tightly executed exploitation flick with major slasher tendencies and some Tom Atkins AND Bruce Campbell action thrown in for good measure, you really can’t go wrong with Maniac Cop.


Maniac Cop (cert. 18) was released on Blu-ray (£27.99) by Arrow Video on 31st October 2011.

Special Features: Brand new High Definition transfer of film presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio; exclusive UK introduction to the film by star Tom Atkins; Doomed Detective: Tom Atkins on Maniac Cop; Lady Of The Night: Laurene Landon remembers Maniac Cop; Scripting A New Slasher Super-Villain: Larry Cohen on Matt Cordell; trailer; collectors’ booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by author Troy Howarth and “The Original Maniac: An interview with William Lustig”, adapted from Calum Waddell's book “Taboo Breakers”; reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork; double-sided fold out artwork poster; original Stereo 2.0 audio; optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Exterminator

1980
Dir. James Glickenhaus

After returning home to the US from fighting in Vietnam, a traumatised soldier attempting to rebuild his life turns vigilante when his best friend is paralysed by a group of thugs.

While it may unfold as a brazenly violent, exploitative and at times trashy revenge fantasy, Glickenhaus’s The Exterminator is also at times a strangely thoughtful commentary on the difficulties of Vietnam soldier reintegration, post-war trauma and government corruption. The socio-political subtext about the plight of Vietnam vets and how their own society and justice system failed them on their return home, isn’t just a front for the exploitative violence – the film does make some genuinely stark points – some of which, particularly those about the ordinary working man’s dissatisfaction with greedy, corrupt governments who make us pay for their mistakes – have never been more prevalent. John Eastland (Robert Ginty), like so many other soldiers, fought because they felt they were protecting the ideals of democracy and the hardworking US people. Upon his return to New York he finds a city overrun by corruption, vice and crime – a society devouring itself through greed and debauchery.

While Glickenhaus’s script never seems to overly condone Eastland’s violent actions, it never really condemns him either. Aside from the overly elaborate methods of death he employs (dropping a gang boss into a mincing machine; tying up a couple of gang members in a basement for rats to chew their faces off) Eastland is never really presented as an unreasonable madman – if anything, he’s presented as a thoughtful intellectual kinda guy (a copy of Sartre’s 'Critique of Dialectical Reason' can be spied on his coffee table) who just wants to get on with living his life in peace. In fact it is actually his humanity and his loyalty to his paralysed friend Michael (Steve James) that eventually gives him away. The film’s closing line “Washington will be pleased”, is unsettlingly sinister, and screams of political corruption and desperation.


It isn’t all doom and gloom though – The Exterminator is a good old fashioned vigilante justice flick with an ‘everyman pushed to the edge’ as its protagonist. The likes of Street Trash and Hobo With A Shotgun would riff on similar themes later on; with their depictions of ordinary decent people neglected and pushed to extremes by the corrupt nature of society. That Eastland vents his anger and vigilantism on such lowlifes as child pornographers, rapists, paedophiles, pimps and various other underworld denizens adds to the ‘right on’ sense of trashy entertainment the story emits. For a film with such bleak events depicted in it, The Exterminator still has moments of warmth that lend it some heart – especially the burgeoning romance between Detective James Dalton and Dr. Megan Stewart (Christopher George and Samantha Eggar), and Eastland’s friendship with Michael and the support he gives his friend’s wife and children.

From the denim-flaunting, headband-wearing thugs (The Ghetto Ghouls) complete with chains, spiked accessories and bad attitudes, to the sleazy squalid atmosphere of a New York that could only have been filmed in the Eighties – seediness brimming with rat-infested menace – The Exterminator oozes atmosphere. An irresistible Abel Ferraraesque New York City provides the backdrop for the story; all sleazy neon, grimy sidewalks and steamy back alleys, while the film’s opening – a red lit and hellish Vietnam ‘trench’ featuring a gruesome decapitation that still looks pretty effective and disturbing to this day – and explosions galore, is all beautifully rendered in HD.



The Exterminator (cert. 18) will be released on Blu-ray (£24.99) by Arrow Video on 7th November 2011.

Special Features: Introduction to the film by director James Glickenhaus; Fire And Slice: Making The Exterminator - an interview with James Glickenhaus; 42nd Street Then And Now – a tour of New York’s former sleaze circuit with director Frank Henenlotter; audio commentary by Mark Buntzman, producer of The Exterminator and writer-director of The Exterminator II, moderated by Calum Waddell; collectors’ booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by critic David Hayles; reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork; double sided fold out artwork poster; original 1.78:1 aspect ratio; original uncompressed LPCM mono audio.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Tyrannosaur

2011
Dir. Paddy Considine

After killing his dog in a fit of rage, violent alcoholic Joseph heads toward psychotic meltdown. Stifled by his past and his own anger with the world, Joseph thinks he finds redemption in the form of local charity shop worker Hannah. However Hannah has a dark secret of her own which threatens to shatter both their lives and plunge Joseph deeper into deadly despair.

In Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park there’s a famous moment when the audience and characters are alerted to the oncoming danger of an approaching T-Rex by water rippling in a paper cup. Paddy Considine’s assured and commanding feature directorial debut doesn’t have man-eating monsters in it, but it does feature a one-man rampage against life and the same sense of impending doom and menace ripples throughout it.

Considine is an actor who made a name for himself with his intense performances under the direction of Shane Meadows. Appearing in films such as Dead Man’s Shoes (which he co-wrote) and A Room For Romeo Brass, Considine soon secured a reputation for playing dark ‘n’ disturbed characters, the likes of which would easily be at home in his directorial debut. From Tyrannosaur’s opening scene in which the protagonist, walking time bomb of internalised rage Joseph (Peter Mullan – Session 9), explodes violently and kicks his dog to death, all the way to the shattering denouement, Tyrannosaur pulls no punches and unfolds as a gritty, at times bleak and unrelenting slice of life. A ‘kitchen-sink horror’, if you will.



Considine’s direction is unobtrusive and unfussy, and he allows his characters to just live and interact and for the story to tell itself. The director exhibits an astute knack for revealing horror in the everyday, the mundane and the ordinary, as his broken, damaged characters that have had the shit kicked out of them by life, lead fractured and lonely existences on a seemingly unstoppable collision course with tragedy. But there is also heartbreaking beauty in the breakdown; a little boy’s drawing left at Joseph’s doorstep, a dying dog’s fragile glance and the bond that materialises between Joseph and Hannah. Testament to Considine’s skill as a writer and Mullan’s powerful performance, we feel nothing but pity and sympathy for Joseph, despite the atrocious things he does. Rampaging around his council estate snapping and snarling his way to personal extinction, a few violent outbursts reveal what Joseph is really capable of. But we also see him in his quieter moments, despairing at the world and with himself.

Desperately seeking redemption, this domestic monster whose brutality and anger has completely ostracised him, encounters hope in the form of Christian charity worker Hannah (Olivia Colman). A chance meeting initiates a tentative friendship, but as time goes on, Joseph realises that his assumption that everyone ‘has their own shit to deal with’, is true and Hannah has a few demons of her own to face in the form of her abusive and chillingly sadistic husband. As the quietly despairing Hannah, Colman, renowned for comedic roles in the likes of Peep Show and Hot Fuzz, delivers a disarming and utterly jaw-dropping performance. In some of the later scenes she’s barely recognisable; her face a swollen and bruised mess.


An immensely powerful film that showcases the talents of all involved, and while much of it will knock the wind out of your sails, it will also let you believe that maybe, just maybe, everything will be okay in the end.