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Despite the Gods (2012)

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Penny Vozniak’s documentary follows filmmaker Jennifer Lynch as she spends 8 months in India navigating culture clashes, overbearing studio execs and personal demons while directing "creature feature-love story-comedy-musical" Hisss (2010). Despite the Gods was initially planned as a behind the scenes 'making of' feature to appear on the DVD release of Hisss , several weeks into production, however, Vozniak asked Lynch if she could stay and continue to film as she felt there was more going on and could see a whole other story emerging from the production. The resulting film is as fascinating as it is compelling.  Lynch is such an interesting individual. As an artist and storyteller, she is concerned with the darker side of human nature, her work is full of serial killers and psychologically scarred individuals. After working as a production assistant on her father David’s film Blue Velvet (1986), she authored The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (1990) in her early twen

Lucky (2020)

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Self-help author May (Brea Grant) is stalked and attacked in her home one night by a masked figure. The intruder returns to attack her again the following night. And again. And again. He returns, without fail, night after night. The authorities are unable to help and the people in May’s life appear weirdly indifferent. With no one to turn to, May is forced to take matters into her own hands to regain control of her life.  Written by and starring Brea Grant, and directed by Natasha Kermani, Lucky is not only a tightly wound chiller, it also serves as an arresting social commentary on violence against women; specifically attitudes to violence against women in wider society. Recent research disturbingly reveals there is a woman killed every three days in the UK. A news feature in The Guardian earlier this year described an ‘epidemic of violence against women’ in England and Wales, and said a radical shift was needed to address this deeply rooted problem and how police tackle these cri

The Black Dreams: Strange Stories from Northern Ireland

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With its title echoing Louis MacNeice’s poem 'Autobiography' ( When I was five the black dreams came / Nothing after was quite the same ), this anthology of Weird fiction from Northern Ireland brings together new and established literary voices, and weaves together the modern and the Gothic. The stories present a Northern Ireland that is by turns recognisable, yet oddly unknowable; a place of bewitching stories, strange secrets, and where the eerie softly encroaches upon the everyday, the mundane, the domestic. An in-between place, a purgatorial place, internalised and unstable, nothing here is as it seems. Stories unfold in uncertain realities and are told by unreliable narrators. Streets trod countless times in real life are rendered unfamiliar, homes and havens harbour dark secrets, family and neighbours become strangers, and past actions and words seep deeply into the landscape to leave spectral traces of those who have gone before. A dreamlike essence pervades, beautifully

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

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Written by feminist author Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, this fun, deceptively unconventional slasher follows a group of teenaged friends menaced by a power drill-wielding maniac during a sleepover party. On the surface, The Slumber Party Massacre is an exploitative, low-budget, trashy B-flick. However, throughout its duration, a slyly subversive edge becomes apparent. While directed completely straight by Jones, with a brisk pace and no-nonsense style, it was originally written as a parody of morally conservative slasher films. Released during the hey-day of the 1980s slasher, during which time the subgenre’s tropes and conventions had well and truly been established, Brown’s knowing screenplay adds a few wee rebellious elements to the mix by skewing the conventional use of the male gaze in slasher films, touching on social pressures experienced by young women, and generally highlighting everyday misogyny and violence against women. And it does so in a really fun,

The Manor (2021)

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After suffering a stroke, former dancer Judith Albright (Barbara Hershey) moves into a nursing home, only to discover a supernatural entity is preying on the residents. Written and directed by Axelle Carolyn, The Manor is not only a creepy and compelling work, but is also a sensitive examination of themes concerning old age, independence, and vulnerability. Carolyn’s screenplay demonstrates, in an unforced way, how unsettling and frustrating it can be for older people to move into a care home, experience a loss of independence, and be (however well-intentioned) treated like children by those who care for them. The story is familiar: upon arriving in a new home, a character suspects that not all is as it seems. She gradually becomes aware that something sinister and possibly supernatural is invading the space, yet no one believes her, citing her recent traumas and overactive imagination. During her first night, Judith glimpses a dark figure lurking over the bed of her roommate. Before

Saint Maud (2019)

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With elements of possession and body horror, Saint Maud unfolds as a moody, unsettling exploration of trauma, loneliness, guilt, and misguided religious conviction. Written and directed by Rose Glass, it tells of palliative care nurse Maud (Morfydd Clark) who is assigned to look after terminally ill dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). Their relationship becomes increasingly intense and obsessive as Maud believes she has been tasked by God to save Amanda’s soul. Rose’s screenplay and suggestive direction carefully evoke the insular worlds these women have shut themselves up in. They live their lives in darkened rooms and solitude. Amanda quietly rages in her lonely house upon a hill, where the curtains are constantly shut to block out the light. Struggling to come to terms with her own mortality, she drinks heavily and reminisces on her glory days. Maud meanwhile drifts unanchored in an internalised world searching for meaning. A purpose. As a care worker she knows all too well the fragilit

The Invitation (2015)

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While attending a dinner party thrown by his ex-wife, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) starts to suspect that she and her new husband have sinister plans for the guests. Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, and directed with glinting precision by Karyn Kusama, The Invitation is an incredibly taut and haunting work underpinned by ideas concerning grief, trauma, and the falsities of social conventions. An early warning sign and tone-setter comes when Will and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) hit a coyote in the road on the way to the party. This bloody encounter is a doomful harbinger of what is to come. Their conversation during the drive reveals neither of them – for their own reasons - are particularly keen on attending the party, which will reunite a group of friends for first time since Will and Eden (Tammy Blanchard) divorced after the tragic death of their young son. As Will wanders from room to room in his former home, he finds reminders and ghosts of his previous life. Th

Hellebore: Writings and essays devoted to British folk horror & the themes that inspire it

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The small press magazine Hellebore is a collection of writings and essays devoted to British folk horror and the themes that inspire it: folklore, myth, history, archaeology, psychogeography, witches, and the occult. The publication takes its name from a poisonous plant strongly associated with witches and the water element – it is also said to have the power to alter perception and open portals to the Underworld and the subconscious. Founder and editor Maria J Pérez Cuervo’s fascination with archaeology, mythology, anthropology and magic stems back to her childhood, and led her to study Latin and Ancient Greek at school before embarking upon a MA in Archaeology for Screen Media. Her writing regularly appears in publications such as Fortean Times, Spirits of Place, The Ghastling, Rituals and Declarations , and Folklore Thursday . According to Maria, she decided to create Hellebore because “The idea of creating something that included all the themes I love was very appealing. Becau

The Babadook (2014)

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Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, and based upon her earlier short film Monster (2005), The Babadook is a creepy, powerful meditation on grief and the effects of trauma. It tells of Amelia (Essie Davis), a woman struggling to come to terms with the tragic death of her husband, and whose young son begins to behave erratically, claiming a monster is hiding in their house. Kent utilises a striking expressionistic style throughout to convey the inner turmoil and fear of the characters, and explore themes concerning loss, grief, and motherhood. Her direction is careful, unhurried, and her pacing deliberate, all of which allows the audience to be slowly, surely submerged in the gradually increasing horror. Tensions are already high when Samuel (Noah Wiseman) asks Amelia to read him a mysterious pop-up storybook she has never seen before. The book tells of a weird creature called Mister Babadook, who torments anyone who discovers his existence. The children’s book, and the dark power i

American Psycho (2000)

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On the surface, handsome investment banker Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) appears to have it all. Behind the façade of his immaculately groomed and besuited physique, however, lurks a narcissistic psychopath with an increasingly uncontrollable bloodlust. Directed and co-written by Mary Harron and based upon the controversial 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho is a dark, satirical examination of the heartless, capitalist excess of 1980s America. Harron, who co-wrote the screenplay with Guinevere Turner, opts to tone down the intense violence of the novel and up the satire, as they focus attention on ridiculing the Wall Street executive lifestyle, social conformity, toxic masculinity and the mindless consumerism of the time. Harron’s cool, detached direction not only ensures the seemingly disparate elements of horror, comedy and satire effortlessly blend, but allows the excess of the period to speak for itself. Violence, when it occurs, is either offscreen or shocking en

Fear Street Part Three: 1666 (2021)

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When Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) reunite the severed hand and skeletal remains of the witch Sarah Fier in an attempt save Deena’s ex-girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), Deena experiences a vision which reveals the origins of the curse that has plagued her town for centuries.  After introducing audiences to the doomed residents of the cursed town of Shadyside ( Part 1 ) and exploring fragments of the town’s grisly curse in more detail ( Part 2 ), director Leigh Janiak and her co-writers Phil Graziadei and Kate Trefry, now take a deep dive into the origins of the curse, flashing back to 1666 and introducing us to the alleged instigator, the witch Sarah Fier. As with the previous films, viewers can expect twists and revelations – and, finally, some answers – regarding the dark history of Shadyside. Many of the actors from the previous two films return to portray characters from the town’s past, direct ancestors of the characters they previously played. Rather aki

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 (2021)

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With a darker edge than its predecessor, a stronger sense of inevitable doom and a deeper dive into the witchy mythology established in the first film, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 continues the story of Shadyside’s imperilled teenagers, flashing back nearly 20 years to explore an earlier massacre brought about by the witch’s curse and how these past events might help Deena and Josh save Sam in 1994. Fear Street was always intended to be a trilogy, and this instalment works to expand the mythology established in the first film and explore more of the backstory of various characters, notably the mysterious C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), who back in the 70s survived an encounter with the witch and her possessed minions, and therefore offers hope to the teens in the 90s. Most of the film is a flashback to her youth when she, her sister and other Shadyside youngsters face off against an ancient evil at an isolated summer camp. Like the first film, parental figures are conspicuous by their abs

Fear Street Part One: 1994 (2021)

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After a series of brutal murders, the lives of a group of teenaged friends are turned upside down when they discover an evil force has plagued their town for centuries. Based on the series of popular Young Adult horror novels by R.L. Stein (famed for his Goosebump series) Fear Street Part One: 1994 is the first instalment of a trilogy charting the dark, violent history of a small American town cursed to relive tragedy and horror. Directed and co-written by Leigh Janiak, 1994 takes time to reveal itself, from its opening scene in a deserted shopping mall after dark, which suggests a straightforward slasher movie, to the gradual onset of more supernatural events. Before long there’s a whole mythology alluded to. Like its source material, it feels very much geared towards younger audiences, but older generations of horror fans will also find much to enjoy, not least the intriguing story, diverse and sympathetic characters, insanely stylish execution, and references to other horror clas

The Moth Diaries (2011)

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Written and directed by Mary Harron, and adapted from the YA novel by Rachel Klein, The Moth Diaries tells of Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), a teenager at an all-girls boarding school who begins to suspect that the new student, Ernessa (Lily Cole), is a vampire. Throughout, Harron re-works and updates many Gothic traditions and tropes, adding a rich depth to proceedings and evoking a suitably haunting atmosphere.  While the story can be read as an updated interpretation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Gothic novella Carmilla (1872), Harron’s screenplay places first and foremost the ever-shifting relationships and dynamics between the group of friends. New girl Ernessa might be a vampire, but Harron doesn’t let that detract from the realigning allegiances between friends sparked by her arrival at the school. Ernessa serves as a catalyst, driving a wedge between best friends Rebecca and Lucy (Sarah Gadon). Harron’s script delves into the intensity and complexity of the friendships forged at the boarding

Mirror Mirror (1990)

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Directed by Marina Sargenti, Mirror Mirror tells of Megan (Rainbow Harvest), a high-school student who discovers the antique mirror left behind by the previous occupants of her new home harbours demonic powers and the ability to grant her wishes… with deadly consequences. With its gothy, at times very campy sensibility, the film has rightly garnered a cult following over the years. At its heart, however, is the timeless notion of an outsider trying to find her place in the world, and with its themes concerning the corrupting influence of power and the consequences of selfishness, it unravels as a dark and spooky contemporary fairy tale.  Megan (Rainbow Harvest), who bears a striking resemblance to Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder) from Beetlejuice (1988), is a gothy outsider who despairs at her relocation from LA to small town suburbia. She can’t relate to her mother (Karen Black) and is mercilessly taunted by her classmates because of her looks and quiet demeanour. Harvest perfectly conveys

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

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A knowing blend of demonic-possession horror, teen comedy, rape-revenge narrative and coming of age satire, Jennifer’s Body tells of the complex friendship between two girls, one of whom becomes possessed by a succubus demon and begins devouring her male classmates. From its first line of dialogue, ‘Hell is a teenage girl’, it unravels as a razor-sharp and satirical dismantling of societal gender roles and stereotypes, sexual politics and an examination of the horrors and anxieties of growing up a young woman. Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, it plays with familiar tropes and offers something that still feels remarkably fresh. Indeed, since #MeToo and #TimesUp, its central themes are as relevant as ever.  At the heart of Cody's screenplay is an exploration of a complicated and toxic friendship. Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried) have been friends since they were children. There’s a strong co-dependency between them, the complexities of which becom

Lurking on the Book Shelves: Horror in Space, Queens of the Abyss & The 90s Teen Horror Cycle

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Editor Michele Brittany’s Horror in Space: Critical Essays on a Film Subgenre gathers a number of essays examining the various concepts, tropes and ideas associated with space horror. In her introduction, Brittany, book review editor for the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics and co-chair of the Ann Radcliffe Conference, sets out a definition of space horror, notes its predominant themes and discusses its evolution throughout the history of cinema, from Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) to more recent titles including Sunshine (2007) and Prometheus (2012). Elsewhere, the various contributors discuss titles including Alien, Event Horizon, John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, Jason X and Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires and how filmmakers have exploited the setting of the great unknown to probe concepts such as the Final Girl/Survivor, the ‘uncanny valley’, the isolationism of space travel, religion and supernatural phenomena. From Juliane Schlag’s Out of Space – Out of T

Dark Touch (2013)

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A dark revenge fantasy with echoes of Stephen King’s Carrie and Firestarter , Dark Touch tells of a young girl with terrifying powers that are conjured through pain and rage. When her parents die violently and in mysterious circumstances, Niamh (Missy Keating, who provides a truly compelling performance) is taken in by her neighbours whose own young daughter has recently died. Niamh insists her parents were killed when the house came alive, but authorities dismiss her claims and attribute the deaths to a violent home invasion. Before long though, her neighbours begin to sense that something unusual is now happening in their home, too.  The work of writer and director Marina de Van frequently explores themes such as the vulnerability of the flesh, body dysmorphia and psychological turmoil, and with Dark Touch , she explores the devastating effect of child abuse through the tropes of the evil/demon child sub-genre. Such films (including titles like The Bad Seed, Orphan, Village of the

The Power (2021)

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Set in 1973, writer-director Corinna Faith’s feature debut tells of student nurse Val (Rose Williams) who is forced to work the night shift in an old Victorian hospital in London’s east end. Her first night coincides with scheduled power cuts across Britain as the result of miners’ strikes. With most of the patients and staff transferred to another hospital for the night, only a skeleton crew remains to look after two wards powered by a generator. It soon becomes apparent to Val, who harbours a deep fear of the dark stemming from abuse she suffered as a child, that they are not alone. Someone, or some thing , makes its terrifying presence felt as it stalks the young nurse through the darkened hallways of the hospital...  With its brilliantly simple yet chilling premise, The Power is an atmospheric slow-burn of a ghost story. Like all good ghost stories, this too is steeped in tragedy. Faith establishes a brooding, creepy atmosphere, initially keeping everything rather suggestive. The