Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema Podcast

A few weeks back I was invited to make a podcast with the delectable Aaron Duenas of The Death Rattle infamy. We chatted for a couple of hours over Skype - Aaron in Hawaii, myself in Northern Ireland - about Italian horror cinema, my book on Dario Argento and the little seen Italian-shock oddity, The Spider Labyrinth.
The podcast is now online for your listening pleasure, so why not head over to The Gentlemen's Blog to Midnite Cinema to check it out and see if Aaron lived to regret asking me to participate!

For great appreciations and critiques of everything from Seventies Ozploitation to lesser spotted Eurocrime titles, plus a slew of in-depth interviews with the likes of Laurence Harvey (The Human Centipede II), Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks, Boxing Helena) and John Jarratt (Wolf Creek, Picnic at Hanging Rock) to name but a few - don't forget to check out Aaron's fine blog The Death Rattle.

Adios!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Audiodrome#9: The Devil In Miss Jones

Gerard Damiano’s moody 'porn-chic' title The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) straddles an odd divide between art house and hardcore pornography. Upon release it was described as "More morality play than masturbation aid." It follows the tragic story of virginal spinster Justine Jones (Georgina Spelvin), who commits suicide only to end up facing an eternity in Hell because she took her own life. She insists that if she’s given another chance she can ensure she lives a life that truly warrants such eternal damnation. So begins an X-rated and oddly emotional odyssey of lustful licentiousness. The lush piano driven score courtesy of Alan Shuman highlights the melancholy at the heart of the story and negates typical conventions of kinky Seventies porn soundtracks.

Head over to Paracinema.net to read my review of Shuman’s wistful score. Feel free to leave a comment over there too if you're up for chatting about it.

While you’re there, why not pre-order a copy of issue 16 of Paracinema Magazine? It’s packed with in-depth critiques and articles on the likes of The Devils, Assault of the Killer Bimbos, found footage/mockumentary horror, French Sci-Fi, porn parodies, the ideology of disaster movies and horror producer Val Lewton’s last film Apache Drums.

Team Paracinema are also attempting to obtain some funding so they can make the magazine EVEN better. YOU can help. Just head here, log in via Facebook, search for 'Paracinema' and vote. We'd really appreciate it. Thank you.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Ginger Snaps

2000
Dir. John Fawcett

When film critic and writer Laura Mulvey said that ‘Monstrosity is explicitly associated with menstruation and female sexuality... woman’s monstrous nature is inextricably bound up with her difference as man’s sexual other', (Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema) it's like she was specifically referring to John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps; a film about a young woman who is attacked by a werewolf on the night she begins to menstruate. Links between the menstrual cycle and lycanthropy cunningly swirl together to form a twisted tale of monstrous pubescence filtered through a chilling body-horror narrative. The result is a dark, savagely funny and haunting film that staggers blinking and bloodied into the unkind light of day as the most significant ‘menstrual horror’ since Carrie (1976).

In classic horror cinema, the figure of the werewolf is used to signify a collapse of order and the boundaries between animal and human. Lycanthropy has been used as a metaphor for the onset of puberty in a number of films before (I Was A Teenage Werewolf, 1957 and Teen Wolf, 1985), but aside from Neil Jordon's lyrical The Company of Wolves (1984) - which utilised a complex narrative structure of dreams within dreams and stories within stories within dreams to convey the anxieties of a young girl's burgeoning womanhood - it is rarely presented from a young woman's point of view. The Company of Wolves was of course inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, a cautionary morality tale warning young girls of the dangers of straying from the conventions of conservative society. In Ginger Snaps, Little Red Riding Hood IS the wolf. Karen Walton's screenplay slyly highlights the parallels between menstruation and lycanthropy, with Ginger's (Katherine Isabelle) transformation into a werewolf serving as a darkly humorous and eventually horrific metaphor for the on-set of menstruation and adulthood. Captive to the wax and wane of the moon, and with much talk of 'the curse', Ginger's body gradually transforms, unfamiliar hair sprouts and aggressive sexuality flows free in a frenzy of bloody mood-swings and uncontrollable primal impulses. In a way that is strikingly original and yet so obvious in hindsight, Walton has penned a cutting commentary on the very real horrors and anxieties of growing up female. She deftly highlights the alienation, humiliation and often violent disruption caused by the onset of puberty. Two curses for the price of one.



While moping about with her broody sister Bridgette (Emily Perkins) one night, Ginger is attacked and mauled by a large beastie in a moonlit playground (corruption of innocence, anyone?). Soon after she begins to change in strange ways. Her sister is convinced she is transforming into a werewolf, but Ginger insists it's just part of growing up and entering womanhood. With no one to turn to, Bridgette befriends the local intellectual slacker/pot dealer (Kris Lemche) and the two brainstorm ways in which they can help Ginger and stop her transformation before it's too late. Meanwhile Ginger is embracing her new found confidence, blossoming sexuality and the attention it enables her to command from her male peers. She becomes what psychoanalyst and film critic Julia Kristeva describes as an 'abjection' of female sexuality; 'something which does not respect borders, positions, rules… that which disturbs identity, system, order', (Powers of Horror). A few fumbled sexual encounters turn bloody, the distance between Bridgette and Ginger grows and things get very nasty indeed when the high school bitch sets her jealous sights on Ginger...



In most horror films, and arguably in conservative society as a whole, women are pigeon-holed and marked out as various 'types', by men and each other. Ginger Snaps acknowledges this when Ginger states that ‘a girl can only be a slut, a tease or the virgin next door’, while her female school mates are portrayed as petty and insecure and are constantly harassed by men, their own bodies, and each other. Tori Amos eat your heart out. As well as coming to terms with her burgeoning sexuality, and all the isolation, humiliation and loneliness that can bring, Ginger and her sister also struggle against conventional traditions imposed upon them by ‘normal’ society, especially their doting mother (a fantastic comic turn from Mimi Rogers). They appear to embrace the fear that manifests itself when they see themselves as 'different.' They actively go out of their way to set themselves apart from their dull, stiflingly conservative surroundings. This is perfectly highlighted in the way they dress, the morose conversations they have, the fact that they've made their basement their bedroom and in their class photography project which unspools beneath the opening credits. It depicts them in various staged death poses, as they live out their morbid fantasies of ending their lives when they feel like it. The ultimate 'fuck you' to their peers.

‘I get this ache. And I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces…’

Isabelle and Perkins deliver believable and strong performances as the troubled siblings whose relationship is disintegrating as fast as Ginger's body and personality. We feel nothing but sympathy for them, particularly as matters draw to a dark close and things become fraught and desperate. Their private little world has been torn apart forever and that alone ensures Ginger Snaps is a harrowing and haunting tale that lingers long after the credits roll. Its emotional resonance creates as much of a wallop as that of Carrie. As Ginger's transformation develops at an alarming rate, and as the realisation that she's essentially trapped in her own body as it morphs and changes into something unfamiliar settles in, the film races towards its grim denouement as Bridgette realises what she has to do to help, and stop Ginger. A highly suspenseful climax ensues as Bridgette comes face to face with her sister in full wolfen form... She's relegated to the shadows for the most part, just as the werewolf that attacked her at the beginning of the film was. Ginger Snaps is not about special effects, the drama is pushed along by the characters and the increasingly horrific situation they find themselves in. Throughout the film, both sisters undergo a transformation. Bridgette's may be the least horrific, but its no less traumatic as she finally finds it within herself to step out of her sister's shadow and stand on her own two feet. By the end, both sisters are killers and the concept of the female castrator/vagina dentata is strongly evoked.

Robin Wood said it best when he stated: ‘The release of sexuality in the horror film is always presented as perverted, monstrous and excessive; both the perversion and the excess being the logical outcome of repression.’

Ginger Snaps succeeds admirably as both an edgy metaphor and as a moody werewolf tale with more bite than most.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Paracinema 16

Issue 16 of Paracinema Magazine is now available to pre-order. Amongst the myriad articles (written by genres fans for genre fans) lurking breathlessly within its pages just aching to pleasure your glassy orbs are This Ain’t Hollywood XXX: The Cultural Significance of the Porn Parody by Justin LaLiberty; “Images of Horror and Lust” in Ken Russell’s The Devils by Samm Deighan; Rehabilitating Daddy, or How Disaster Movies say it’s OK to Trust Authority by Jon (Shocks to the System: Subversive Horror Films) Towlson; The Films of RenĂ© Laloux: Notes on the Golden Age of French Science Fiction by Derek Godin; plus much, much more.

There’s also a little something by yours truly entitled Shadowy Suggestion in the Weird West: Val Lewton’s Apache Drums. 

Sound good? Fancy picking up a copy? Of course you do! You’re only human. Head over to Paracinema.net and pre-order one now.

Support independent publishing! 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Dead and Buried

1981
Dir. Gary Sherman

This original and atmospheric horror flick comes courtesy of the director of cannibals-in-the-London-Underground shocker Death Line and the men responsible for penning such classic genre titles as Alien, Return of the Living Dead and Total Recall (Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett). It should come as no surprise then that it unravels as a rather unconventional and off the wall yarn with more than a few surprises up its bloodied sleeve.
When a number of vicious murders occur in the sleepy seaside town of Potter’s Bluff, Sheriff Gillis (James Farentino) suspects that something sinister is afoot. The further he submerges himself in the investigation, the more he realises that all is not what it seems in Potter’s Bluff, nor has it been for some time…

Opening with a shot of a black and white photo of the town that dissolves into live action, Dead and Buried immediately evokes contemplative notions of yesteryear and its roots in the past. This concept underpins the sense of loss and creepy nostalgia that becomes clearer as the narrative progresses and eventually reveals its true depth in the dark, downbeat finale. An eerie, mournful piano tune plays over the credits, which adds to the sense of mourning and remembrance of fonder times. The opening scene depicts a photographer meeting a young woman on a beach (Lisa Blount) and photographing her after a strange, oddly-uncomfortable-though-we-don’t-quite-know-why conversation. Just as she disrobes and offers herself to him, the hapless chap is seized by a group of locals brandishing pointy things, beaten senseless and then set on fire. The shots of him desperately writhing under heavy fishing nets are quite distressing to watch and the almost ethereal reaction of the detached mob adds to the unsettling atmosphere. They appear to absent-mindedly smile while they photograph the carnage, and the film instantly establishes intrigue and queasy suspense.



Echoes of The Wicker Man drift throughout, as it soon becomes clear that the inhabitants of Potter’s Bluff are all in on something and when outsiders are unfortunate to pass through the town; they don’t tend to last long. As mentioned, the fact that all is really not as it seems is obvious early on, as we catch glimpses of the people from the beach-burning going about their every day routines in the quiet town. Those present at the murder of the photographer are apparently just regular townsfolk, including a waitress and several dock workers (including a young Robert Englund). What adds to the eeriness is their false concern when they hear of the murder from the sheriff.

Just as it seems to be unfurling as a sort of ‘town full of occultists who sacrifice outsiders’ narrative, a number of things occur which really open up the story and heap more intrigue into the plot; including the WTF!? moment when the photographer’s charred body shows up inside a smouldering car and he’s still very much alive. What makes matters even more interesting is that after he is eventually bumped off in a stressful hospital ward scene, he shows up again seemingly alive and well and working as a gas station attendant in the town…



The quaint seaside town takes on a much more foreboding atmosphere after daylight, and the film gradually exudes a creepy Lovecraftian atmosphere; fog shrouded docks and piers, lone fog horns and cosy suburban homes in which devastatingly violent murders occur. At times the film also echoes Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, particularly in its atmospheric and fog-enshrouded depiction of the town at night. When they occur, the murders are effectively disturbing, in part because of the sudden violence, but also because of the cold detachment of the killers as they photograph the violence, juxtaposed with the frantic and futile struggles of their victims. It is also incredibly suspenseful at times, particularly during one scene when a young family stop off in town to ask for directions, are run off the road in a strange accident and wind up seeking refuge in a seemingly abandoned house with shadowy figures congregating at the windows. When they realise the extent of their predicament, with increasing numbers of townsfolk gathering outside with flood lights, cameras and sharp things, a deftly constructed chase scene unfolds.

Dead and Buried also proves immensely satisfying because of its wit and sly humour. A wry conversation between two characters about the murders plaguing the town ends with one noting how it ‘Just kills the tourist trade.’ Geddit? There is also a darkly humorous moment when the sheriff is involved in a hit and run only, to discover the injured party is missing an arm which is revealed to be writhing around on the grill of his jeep.

Spoiler Alert 


In the third act when things really begin to hurtle towards the climax, an interesting twist reveals the sheriff’s wife Janet (Melody Anderson) has a book on witchcraft which opens the story out and thickens the plot nicely. There’s some talk of the necessity of violent death, Voodoo, and ancient religious practices. School teacher Janet even conducts a class on zombies for her young pupils. Far from being the reanimated, flesh-eating corpse-ghouls popularised by George Romero, the zombies in Dead and Buried are something altogether more ‘traditional.’ Yes, they’re dead, but they are still conscious, if not entirely in control of their own actions. By going back into the traditions of zombie lore, with witchcraft and Haitian voodoo and a zombie revealed to be someone whose will is totally subjugated by another, the film feels different, offbeat and original. Even the last twist, which you may or may not see coming, in no way diminishes the impact made by this unique, strikingly original and weirdly touching film.

Monday, 11 June 2012

A Mummy Aboard the Titanic?

The Titanic Mummy
On a recent visit to the newly opened Titanic Belfast®, I’m sure you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that one of the myths revolving around the sinking of the ill-fated vessel concerns a mummy that was secretly stowed away onboard. There was even a creepy mummy on display in the centre. Naturally I took pictures.

The mummy has been a popular stock figure throughout the history of horror cinema and literature, and it has long been associated with a terrible curse that brings about the untimely deaths of those who dare to enter its sacred burial place and disrupt its slumber. This belief probably stems from the supposed curse on the tomb of Tutankhamen and the death of Lord Carnarvon who was present during its excavation. Six weeks after his involvement in the project, Carnarvon died from blood poisoning caused by a mosquito bite.

From Bram Stoker’s 1903 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars, (later adapted as the 1971 film Blood from the Mummy's Tomb) to Universal’s Boris Karloff starring The Mummy, to the woeful Brendan Frazer action-horror series; mummy movie narratives rarely deviate from the central idea that a curse will destroy the lives of those who encounter the mummy and desecrate its tomb.

You have to admit, the idea of a mummy shuffling around the chilly, moonlit decks of the doomed Titanic is an irresistible one that evokes all manner of wonderfully nightmarish imagery. Somewhat typical of the eerie tales of mummies, the myth of the one aboard HMS Titanic is also riddled with curses and gruesome deaths.

After reading up on the subject, it would appear there are several variations of the tale, most involving a foolish rich Englishman who purchases an Egyptian mummy. Before it is hidden within the bowels of the Titanic, it causes the mysterious deaths of everyone involved in its journey from Egypt to England; everyone from the Englishman’s social circle to the night-watchman of the museum where it was briefly exhibited, reportedly suffered horrific deaths.* Another version of the tale tells of how a shady art dealer smuggled it onboard the ship by bribing crewmembers…


Further research would indicate that the myth of the Titanic mummy stems from the twisted imaginations of two men; ghost story enthusiasts William Stead and Douglas Murray. The macabre-minded; you gotta love ‘em. William Stead was a journalist, a believer in mysticism and a frequenter of mediums. A passenger aboard the Titanic, Stead revealed to other passengers that he had actually been warned by a spiritualist not to make the trip as the ship was doomed. He also reportedly regaled them with the story of a mummy's curse that he and Murray had previously concocted concerning an art collector friend of theirs who, after displaying a mummy in his parlour, experienced 'odd' occurrences around his house. There was also talk of the lid of a sarcophagus from the British Museum that depicted the terrifying face of its occupant; a tormented soul determined to bring misery to those who encountered her.

This was most likely the lid of the Priestess of Amen-Ra’s coffin, an artefact which is on display in the Bristish Museum. It has often been referred to as the 'Unlucky Mummy', even though it isn't actually a mummy, but an inner-coffin lid. 

After the ship sank and Stead perished with thousands of others, a survivor allegedly recounted the tale of the mummy in an interview with an American newspaper. Stead’s presence on Titanic and his ‘cursed mummy’ tale were swirled together by a salivating press who lapped up the story and inadvertently created one of the most darkly fascinating myths surrounding the Titanic.

*Various people involved in the transportation of the mummy from Egypt to London were said to have died from various mysterious diseases, freaky car accidents - a photographer killed himself because he was so disturbed by a photo of the coffin lid he developed - others were last seen wandering into the desert never to be seen or heard from again. The more 'fortunate' ones didn't die but either went insane, were involved in shocking accidents or lost their fortunes and suffered life-altering bad luck. Once the mummy reached London and the Englishman who bought it 'failed to arrive' to collect it, it was eventually donated to the British Museum. Staff reported hearing strange noises coming from inside the coffin, and violent noises echoed throughout the museum in the night. As soon as they could get rid of it, the mummy was stowed away on the Titanic and, depending on which story you read, either made it to America on a lifeboat after the ship sank, or joined those who perished in the sinking at the bottom of the ocean...