Showing posts from 2020

The Projection Booth Episode 489: The Company of Wolves (1984)

The Company of Wolves (1984) is a unique beast; part fairy tale, part werewolf film, part horror film, part rite of passage narrative. It was Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan’s second film, and his first foray into the realms of Gothic horror. Jordan co-wrote the screenplay with British novelist Angela Carter, and it is based upon several short stories from Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, a collection of reinterpreted folk tales and classic literary fairy tales told from a piercing feminist perspective.
The latest episode of Mike White's critically acclaimed podcast The Projection Booth features culture writer Heather Drain and author and editor of Diabolique Magazine Kat Ellinger discussing The Company of Wolves. I was invited on to chat about my book on the film (part of the Devil's Advocates book series) and the research and writing process. We also talk about the importance of libraries and how, like folk tales, they facilitate access to our past and help us understand and navigate…

Libraries as Safe Places in Horror Cinema – Case Study Two: Ginger Snaps: Unleashed (2004)

As mentioned in the previous post, characters in horror cinema and literature often assume the role of information gatherer/knowledge seeker. They may find they need to conduct research in order to uncover truth. Sometimes equipping oneself with reliable information in order to obtain truth can mean the difference between life and death. Characters may visit libraries to fulfil their information needs - sometimes with the guidance and support of library staff. More than just storehouses for books, the main purpose of a library is to provide users free access to information and resources for learning (and for recreation, but that’s another blogpost). By facilitating this access, public libraries - once described as ‘street corner universities’ (Chowdhury, 2008, p147) - actively advocate life-long learning and a commitment to enabling people of all ages and walks of life to acquire new skills and knowledge they may, for various reasons, be otherwise unable to obtain. Not everyone has, f…

Libraries as Safe Places in Horror Cinema – Case Study One: Carrie (1976)

Characters in horror cinema and literature often assume the role of information gatherer/knowledge seeker. There is usually a mystery at the heart of the story that needs to be solved, a truth uncovered. There frequently comes a moment when research is required in order to find out what the hell is going on, and sometimes equipping oneself with reliable information in order to obtain truth can mean the difference between life and death. Characters may visit libraries (or indeed archives or public halls of records) to fulfil their information needs and obtain truth - sometimes with the guidance and support of library staff. Of course, libraries are more than just storehouses for books; they provide a crucial (free) service by connecting people with information, and also people with people. They enable individuals to access and acquire knowledge they may, for various reasons, be otherwise unable to obtain. 
The role of library as a safe place for individuals to seek knowledge and informa…

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018)

Adapted from Shirley Jackson's 1962 Gothic novel of the same name, director Stacie Passon's sophomore feature film tells of the intense relationship between two sisters who, along with their ailing uncle (Crispin Glover), live in a large, lonely house on a vast estate outside a small New England town. Several years prior, the older sister, Constance (Alexandra Daddario), was acquitted of the murder of her parents, by poisoning, and the sisters are shunned by the townspeople. When their estranged cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) arrives unannounced for a short stay, his prying presence shatters the sisters' claustrophobic little world and threatens to unearth long buried family secrets.

Admirers of Jackson's novel, and her literary work in general, will find much to appreciate here. The screenplay by Mark Kruger is a very faithful adaptation, and, true to the source material, its main themes also centre on isolation, familial dysfunction/disintegration and the persecuti…

The Devil’s Doorway (2018)

Northern Irish film director Aislinn Clarke’s feature debut tells of two priests sent to investigate an alleged miracle at a remote Magdalene laundry in the Irish countryside. As well as witnessing the shocking mistreatment of the young women incarcerated there, the two men uncover sinister happenings that suggest occult practices and diabolical rituals are afoot. Before long, they realise they are dealing with a genuine case of demonic possession.

Magdalene Laundries were state endorsed workhouses, sanctioned and ran by the Catholic Church. They were cruel and secretive places where Ireland’s ‘fallen women’ were locked away and subjected to forced labour. Many also suffered sexual, psychological and physical abuse at the hands of their custodians. Prostitutes, unmarried pregnant women and mothers, orphans, women with mental health issues or physical disabilities, and women who had suffered abuse were all locked away, deemed to be society’s shameful, ‘dirty secrets’. With the devasta…

Libraries & Information Seeking in Horror

“As gateways to knowledge and culture, libraries play a fundamental role in society. The resources and services they offer create opportunities for learning, support literacy and education, and help shape the new ideas and perspectives that are central to a creative and innovative society. They also help ensure an authentic record of knowledge created and accumulated by past generations. In a world without libraries, it would be difficult to advance research and human knowledge or preserve the world’s cumulative knowledge and heritage for future generations.” 
Ben White, Head of Intellectual Property, British Library

“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” 
Ray Bradbury

As a Library Assistant and an avid fan of horror films, I am always delighted when a character in a book I am reading or film I am watching visits a library in search of information, sanctuary and, ultimately, truth. Characters in horror cinema and literature often assume the role of information…

Book Review: The Unnatural History Museum

Described by John Waters as “a sick orchid who seems like the perfect man”, Viktor Wynd is an artist, author, lecturer and the proprietor of The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History in London’s East End. His latest book, The Unnatural History Museum, not only provides a catalogue of his museum’s contents, but acts as a portal through which the reader may pass into another world, the world inside Viktor Wynd’s head: a magpie’s nest of the bizarre and the absurd.

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.

Diary of the Dead (2007)

As the director of Night of the Living Dead (1968), George Romero will be remembered as one of the major pioneers of the modern horror film. A truly groundbreaking work, it was released just eight years after Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and like that film, Night of the Living Dead similarly suggested that monsters can live right next door to us. Indeed, Romero took this notion one step further by suggesting that it is us who are the monsters. Several sequels followed, all of which provided socio-political commentary against the backdrop of a world where the dead return to life and consume the living, an examination of the human condition, and how ordinary people faced with extraordinary, unprecedented events struggle to survive. The horror in these films stems from the things people do to themselves and each other when the world as we know it comes shuddering to an end and humanity fragments and literally eats itself.

Following on from Romero's previous Dead film, the ambitious La…

Lurking in the Stacks

Boris Karloff will forever be remembered for his portrayal of the tragic man-made 'monster' in James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s immensely influential Gothic novel, Frankenstein. The star of many classic titles of horror cinema, including The Mummy, Bride of Frankenstein, The Body Snatcher, The Old Dark House and Black Sabbath, Karloff's commanding presence upon the silver screen, coupled with the frequently dark characters he portrayed, earned him the nickname ‘Karloff the Uncanny’. Forrest J. Ackerman’s The Frankenscience Monster looks at the actor’s career and legacy as an icon of horror cinema. Ackerman met Karloff ten times during Karloff’s life and this book shares those experiences. It also gathers the experiences and anecdotes of others who knew and worked with Karloff, including the likes of Ray Bradbury, Sir Christopher Lee, Robert Bloch, Vincent Price and Lon Chaney. Ackerman notes “As the Chaney of the Silents was ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces”, Karlof…

The Wind (1986)

When pulp-mystery author Sian Anderson (Meg Foster) needs seclusion to write her next bestseller, she rents a villa on a lonely, picturesque island off the coast of Greece. Before she’s even managed to draft her initial outline however, she finds herself caught up in the plot of a real-life murder-mystery when she witnesses the local handyman burying a body. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, as Sian is menaced in her isolated villa by the unhinged killer who is hellbent on ensuring there are no witnesses to his crime.

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.

Why Don’t You Just Die? (2018)

The debut feature film from writer-director Kirill Sokolov takes a familiar scenario - various characters gathered in one location, all of whom have motive for wanting to kill a specific person in their midst - but approaches it in a fresh and idiosyncratic way. Resembling a sort of Grand Guignol sitcom, Sokolov's filmhits the ground running and opens with an incredibly tense scene - in which a young man, with a hammer secreted in his back pocket, visits the home of his girlfriend’s parents for the first time - and only pauses for breath when the end credits roll.

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.

The White Reindeer (1952)

The debut feature film by Finnish documentary filmmaker Erik Blomberg, The White Reindeer is a heady amalgamation of Scandinavian folklore, Sámi shamanism, societal gender inequality and sexual anxiety. When newly married Pirita (the film’s co-writer, Mirjami Kuosmanen) begins to feel lonely and frustrated as her reindeer-herder husband must spend long periods of time away from home, she visits a shaman for a remedy. He concocts a potion to ensure Pirita is so alluring that her husband will be unable to leave her. However, the potion, combined with Pirita’s emerging latent powers (she was born a witch), transforms her into a bloodthirsty, vampiric shapeshifter who, in the form of a white reindeer, lures men out into the snowy wilderness where she consumes them.

With its story unfolding amidst vast snowy vistas and within cosy log cabins (the interiors of which are filled with long shadows cast by glowing hearths) Blomberg’s film is awash with striking imagery and enshrouded within a …

Society (1989)

The 1980s were a great time for horror cinema. The emergence of ground-breaking make-up and special effects work enabled filmmakers to depict unimaginable horrors in ways never possible before. When effects were used to enhance gripping stories, the results were frequently memorable and powerful. The likes of An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Thing (1982), with their astounding depictions of lycanthropic transformations and unspeakable terrors from beyond the stars, respectively, thrust audiences headfirst into all manner of visceral, eye-popping imagery. Brian Yuzna’s satirical body-horror Society is another of these titles. It tells of a teenager who begins to suspect his wealthy family are part of a mysterious elite cult and have dubious intentions for him. As the story unfolds, we’re given hints here and there of the weird, almost otherworldly nature of the cult and its members, before it is finally revealed at the jaw-dropping climax in all its gory, body-melting glo…

RIP Stuart Gordon

Cult film and stage director Stuart Gordon has died at the age of 72. Famed for his Lovecraft adaptations, including Re-Animator(1985), From Beyond (1986), Dagon (2001), Castle Freak (1995) and Dreams in the Witch House (2005), Gordon was also a playwright, and began his career producing experimental, frequently controversial stage plays before moving on to film in the 80s.

Born and raised in Chicago, Gordon majored in theatre studies at the University of Wisconsin, where he founded the theatre company Screw Theater. Together with his wife and collaborator, actress and writer Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, he formed the Organic Theater, described by a friend of the director’s as “the take-off-your-clothes, scream and bleed theater.” The company quickly garnered a reputation for radical, politically charged, anti-establishment productions, including an anti-Vietnam war re-telling of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, which actually resulted in the arrest of Gordon and Purdy-Gordon on charges of 'obsc…

London in lockdown

Earlier this week the prime minister announced strict new measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus in the UK. People may only leave home to exercise once a day, travel to and from work when it is "absolutely necessary", shop for essential items and fulfil any medical or care needs. Shops selling non-essential goods have been closed and gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together are prohibited.

As we're currently still allowed to leave the house once a day in order to exercise, I was thinking about places I could go for a walk where I would not only encounter as few people as possible (I’m trying to be careful and responsible when I go outside at all) but could also take a few photos of London’s eerily deserted streets. One of my housemates and I decided to leave early in the morning when we thought there would be (even) less people around. Exercising caution and social distancing when we did (infrequently) encounter other people, we walked…

My Book on the films of Dario Argento Turns 10 (!)

On this day, ten years ago (!), my book on the films of Dario Argento was published by Kamera Books (part of the Oldcastle Books group). I initially pitched the book at the beginning of 2008 and was commissioned to write it in March. My aim was to write an accessible introduction to Argento’s body of work – much had of course already been written about his films, but generally speaking, it was very academic (which is fine, obviously, but I wanted to bridge a gap) – and to examine each of his films and identify key themes and motifs throughout. I was able to look at everything up to Giallo (2009), the premiere of which I checked out at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June 2009. Argento's last film, to date, was Dracula 3D (2012), so it remains the only film not included.  

Initially the book was intended to be part of the Pocket Essentials series, however that series was later transformed into 'Kamera Books', in part as a response to bookshops commenting that the Pocket Es…