Saturday, 30 March 2013

Audiodrome #15

With its groundbreaking amalgamation of cyberpunk aesthetics and film noir conventions, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is one of the most revered and influential sci-fi films of all time. Just as central to its continuing appeal as Scott’s breathtaking visuals and its provocative themes of identity, is Vangelis’s ‘symphonic electronic’ score. Given that Blade Runner is essentially a story about what it means to be human; his music underpins the more spiritual aspects of the narrative, and serves as the heart of the film. It’s synthesised, effervescent soundscapes effortlessly convey the alienation and longing of the characters - ‘human’ or otherwise.

Head over to Paracinema.net to read my full review of this immensely evocative soundtrack and listen to an excerpt.

While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the latest issue of Paracinema Magazine, now available to pre-order. Issue 19 includes essays and articles on films such as Kill Bill, John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, The Innkeepers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and a little something by yours truly on the career of Alan Smithee. Support independent publishing!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

RIP James Herbert

British horror author James Herbert, whose blood-curdling novels include The Rats and The Fog, passed away last night at the age of 69. The writer died at his home in Sussex, and is survived by is wife and three daughters. The cause of death has yet to be disclosed.

Herbert exploded onto the horror scene in 1974 with his debut novel The Rats - the nightmarish tale of mutant, flesh-eating rats and the bloody havoc they wreck throughout a squalidly depicted London. It sold 100,000 copies in the two weeks after it was published. His follow up, The Fog (completely unrelated to the John Carpenter film) told of a mysterious fog that spreads across Britain mutating those unfortunate enough to encounter it into homicidal maniacs. Often bleak and downbeat, Herbert’s stories were uncompromising in their depiction of the violent demise of humankind in the face of unspeakable evil - often of an environmentally created bent.

Born in London in 1943, Herbert studied graphic design at college before going on to forge a career in advertising. He began his first novel, The Rats, at the age of 28, completing it within 10 months. With a background in graphic design and advertising, the author usually designed his own book covers. The Rats was one of four Herbert novels adapted for the big screen, along with The Survivor, Fluke and Haunted. His novel, The Secret Of Crickley Hall - an unsettling ghost story in the same vein as classic MR James - was adapted by the BBC and broadcast last December.

I first came across Herbert’s work when I was about 14 or 15. Having just read Stephen King’s Carrie and Misery (and feeling the need to further prepare myself for Blatty's The Exorcist), I thought I’d investigate Herbert, whose titles weighed heavily upon the shelves of my local library. With increasing caution I turned the pages of The Dark and The Fog, becoming more and more disturbed with every grisly line my wide eyes skittered across; while also becoming more and more aware of the fact that I just couldn’t stop reading… Some of the ghastly, depraved images those books conjured in my mind, are still as vivid today as they were then.

Herbert's last novel, Ash, was published last year.
Herbert’s 23 novels - published in more than 30 languages - have sold over 54 million copies worldwide, and the legacy he leaves in his wake is a formidable one. According to the BBC, his editor of ten years, Jeremy Trevathan, described the writer as “One of the keystone authors in a genre that had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. It's a true testament to his writing and his enduring creativity that his books continued to be huge bestsellers right up until his death. He has the rare distinction that his novels were considered classics of the genre within his lifetime.”

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Paracinema 19

Issue 19 of Paracinema Magazine is now available to pre-order.

Inside this strikingly covered issue – which includes not one, but two features on Quentin Tarantino’s bloody revenge saga Kill Bill (It’s Complicated: An In Depth Look at the Evolution of Bill and The Bride’s Turbulent Relationship by Matthew House and The Devil’s in The DeVAS: The Many Foes of Beatrix Kiddo by Zachary Kelley) – you’ll also find the likes of John Carpenter and the Apocalypse: A Study of Four Films by Justin LaLiberty, Aural Enigmas: Sound Design in Ti West’s The Innkeepers by Todd Garbarini and Corpse Fucking Art: A Guide to Necrophilia in Horror Cinema by Samm Deighan.

There’s also What’s In A Name? The Rise and Decline of Hollywood Fall Guy Alan Smithee by yours truly.

If you desire to pick up a copy (and why wouldn’t you!?), head over to Paracinema.net to do just that. Support Independent Publishing! It's what Bill would want.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Mama

2013
Dir. Andrés Muschietti

Imagine, if you will, that Hansel and Gretel were too little girls who were saved by the wicked witch before their father – utterly unhinged because of the stresses and strains of the recession – could kill them. Surviving for five years in the witch’s house deep in the dark woods, they are eventually discovered by their uncle and his rock-chick girlfriend, who bring them back to civilisation and attempt to lovingly reintegrate them back into society. Imagine then, that the witch, who had reared them as her own feral offspring, was having none of this, and followed them into suburbia to claim them back. This is the central premise of Andrés Muschietti’s darkly beautiful fairytale horror, Mama.

The matriarch has always been a central figure in fairytales. Sometimes she is a protective, loving figure, willing to go to any lengths to protect her young. Usually though, in the shape of a step-mother, she is cruel, wicked and intends to harm the helpless innocents in her charge. When a mother turns against her young, it’s rich ground to explore in horror. The central antagonist of Mama - the feature-length expansion of a three-minute short – is a monstrously maternal figure, simultaneously terrifying and nurturing the little girls she rescues from their suicidal father before he can kill them. While it is guilty of regurgitating a plethora of horror clichés, Mama’s heart-rending emotional core, strong cast, fairytale underpinnings and spooky atmosphere ensure it is elevated above and beyond its peers.

The guiding hand of Guillermo del Toro is obvious, and certain themes and motifs that populate his own oeuvre are present here, too. Mama echoes the likes of The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, with its young protagonists encountering threats not only from the real world, but from the otherworldly. A good ghost story should have tragedy, sadness and grief at its core and with its exploration of ideas surrounding maternal instincts and unconditional love, Mama slowly unveils itself as a moving lament on the loss of childhood and corrupted innocence. That said, it still manages to chill the blood with its haunting imagery and insistent jump-scares.



Ambiguity is discarded early on, as Muschietti reveals the presence of the spectral creature, though he carefully relegates her to the shadows. To begin with anyway… Long, slow, lingering shots of darkened hallways, brief glimpses of the hunched and scurrying children, and just-out-of-focus glances of a dark, hovering form establish the moody suspense before the maternal monster is revealed in all her grotesque glory. Her spindly look - all flowing hair, elongated fingers and disjointed limbs created by a mainly subtle amalgamation of practical effects and CGI – evokes memories of various Japanese horror titles; as do some of the alarming dream sequences. The sounds 'Mama' and the girls make when conversing are also incredibly creepy and add to the already eerie atmosphere.

As the young couple who find themselves responsible for the girls, Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau generate audience sympathy from the get-go; as Annabel and Lucas, they are likeable, relatable and their performances really help flesh out their characters. The two girls are pitiful little creatures, true innocents who have been thrust into a nightmarish situation by those who should be caring for them. Ably matching their adult co-stars, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse deliver truthful performances, perfectly capturing the fear they experience in their new surroundings, their tentative acceptance of their new mother Annabel and their unwavering loyalty to ‘Mama.’ As the girls slowly come back from the brink, Annabel eventually lets her guard drop and her maternal, nurturing side comes to the fore (the scene where she warms the hands of the youngest girl is incredibly moving, and manages to be so without a shred of schmaltz), just in time for her to fully emerge as a fiercely protective lioness by the denouement. The majority of the film concerns her tender-footed investigation into the mystery surrounding the girls’ survival in the woods, and what she gradually pieces together is a surprisingly touching and tragic back-story. Meanwhile the girls continue to sing lullabies to something lurking in their wardrobe…



Just when you think you’ve figured out how events will conclude, the ending, when it comes, proves to be a hauntingly powerful one; the kind that lingers long in the mind after the lights have gone up in the theatre and you’re rudely plunged back into reality, reeling and blinking into the harsh light of the foyer. As harsh as those lights are though, you might still find that Mama continues to clutch at the hairs on the back of your neck; and at your heartstrings.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Dracula

1958
Dir. Terence Fisher

Perfectly epitomising the brand of lurid horror Hammer is now famed for, Dracula is one of the most important titles in the history of British horror cinema. Despite its low budget, it boasts a rich gothic atmosphere, impressive production design and iconic performances from Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay, coupled with Fisher’s agile direction, not only streamlines Bram Stoker’s original novel, but accentuates the underlying sexual themes evident within it. Lee’s incarnation of Dracula emerges as a sexual predator, stealthily corrupting the morals of those he encounters. With feral ferocity he pierces the heart of polite Victorian society, unveiling repressed desires and creating lustful, hideously grinning she-demons in his wake...

This new cut of the film includes previously excised moments such as Dracula’s bloody seduction of Mina and his decomposition in a shaft of sunlight at the film’s riveting denouement. Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.