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Lurking on the Bookshelves: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed & Things We Lost in the Fire

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These collections of short stories by Argentine writer and journalist Mariana Enríquez feature creepy, sad, and unsettling tales of spectral homeless children, witches and black mass ritualism, domestic abuse and violence against women. They feature deeply flawed, at times downright unsympathetic characters - usually troubled, lonely, and marginalised lost souls - and self-harm and abuse are recurring themes throughout. Described as ‘a writer whose affinity for the horror genre is matched by the intensity of her social consciousness’ (1) Enríquez’s stories are largely set in present-day Argentina, a backdrop of corrupt government regimes and police brutality haunts proceedings. The political undercurrent speaks of a society haunted by its past, ghost stories informed by poverty, institutional violence, and economic ruin. Among all the very real horror, Enríquez subtly introduces otherworldly, supernatural elements. Described by the Guardian as ‘a South American Shirley Jackson’ (2) E

Black Roses (1988)

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Directed by John Fasano and written by Cindy Cirile (credited as Cindy Sorrell),  Black Roses tells of the eponymous metal band, fronted by the darkly charismatic Damian (Sal Viviano), who begin their world tour with several special concerts in the small town of Mill Basin. Naturally the local teens are psyched to see their favourite metallers, but their parents and the town authorities are concerned because of the band’s reputation as heavy metal hell-raisers. Turns out these parental fears are not unwarranted, as the band are actually demons whose music corrupts listeners and transforms them into minions of chaos and evil. As the town’s youth run wild and succumb to the band’s diabolical influence, it’s up to an open-minded, down-with-the-kids high-school teacher to crash the concerts and try to save the day.  Stage-diving onto screens hot on the heels of  Hard Rock Zombies  (1984),  Trick or Treat  (1986) and director Fasano’s own feature debut  Rock‘n’Roll Nightmare  (1987),  Blac

Lurking on the Bookshelves: Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country & I Who Have Never Known Men

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Described as ‘a unique and elegiac meditation on grief, memory and longing, and of the redemptive power of stories and nature’, Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country is author Edward Parnell’s exploration of the links between place, stories and memory. Revisiting various locations throughout the British Isles where he and his family visited in his youth, Parnell confronts his grief over a family tragedy. He explores how these landscapes of ‘sequestered places’ (lonely moors, moss-covered cemeteries, stark shores and folkloric woodlands) not only conjured and shaped memories of past loved ones, but ‘a kaleidoscopic spectrum of literature and cinema’, including many of the ghost stories and weird fiction he loved as a boy, and subsequently returned to for comfort in his grief. Many of the authors whose work he references (including M. R. James, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, W. G. Sebald and Graham Swift) attempted to confront what comes after death th

Relic (2020)

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When Edna is reported missing, her daughter and granddaughter travel to the remote family home to search for her. They discover the house locked from the inside, strange noises from within the walls, and a black mould quietly spreading throughout. When Edna returns the next day, disorientated and bruised, unable to remember where she has been, and claiming someone has been coming into the house, her daughter Kay is convinced she can no longer take care of herself. Over the next few days, strange events, and Edna’s worsening condition, plunge the three women into a living nightmare. With echoes of a ghost story, a haunted house film, a tale of possession, Relic is a terrifying and moving meditation on coming to terms with dementia and the gradual acceptance of decline and death. Written and directed by Natalie Erika James, and co-written by Christian White, its use of various tropes and images associated with haunted house films - an ominously overflowing bathtub, a lone figure standin

The Cursed (2022)

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With a truly uncommon approach to the figure of the werewolf, The Cursed is a mean and moody shocker with a haunting, weirdly lyrical undertow. After their father, a cold-hearted land baron, ruthlessly slaughters a camp of Romani who staked a claim to his land, young Charlotte and Edward begin to have ominous dreams of a human scarecrow and silver teeth. The dreams draw them and other children from the nearby village to the site of the massacre, and soon after, Edward goes missing. The discovery of grisly remains attracts the attention of a grief-stricken pathologist (Boyd Holbrook), who suspects something supernatural is lurking in the surrounding forest and vows to hunt it down and destroy it. Head over to Eye for Film to read my full review. 

The Company of Wolves (1984)

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Co-written by Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan and British novelist Angela Carter, and based on several short stories from her collection, The Bloody Chamber , The Company of Wolves is a werewolf film quite unlike any other. A provocative reinterpretation of the fairy tale of Red Riding Hood, it unravels as a feverish exploration of a young girl’s sexuality as she crosses the threshold into adulthood. It was Jordan’s second film, and his first foray into the realms of Gothic horror. Entwining metaphor with striking visuals and grisly effects, The Company of Wolves was released in the early Eighties, in the wake of The Howling and An American Werewolf in London ; it set itself apart from the pack, however, with its literary roots, feminist concerns and art-house execution. The folk tales it draws upon and the significance of oral storytelling itself are woven into the very fabric of the film. Its unusual narrative structure, which unfurls like a Chinese puzzle box, begins as a young girl,

Censor (2021)

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After examining a particularly gruesome video nasty, the plot of which shares eerie parallels with a traumatic event from her childhood, film censor Enid (Niamh Algar) becomes convinced the actress in the film is her missing sister. Determined to track her down, Enid is drawn into a murky world where the line between fiction and reality becomes ever unstable. Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, and co-written by Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher, Censor is a darkly mesmerising tale of grief, guilt, fear and perception. A period piece, its dark, dreary locations speak to the dank austerity of Thatcher’s England, a time when Mary Whitehouse was on a crusade to clean up the morals of the nation, especially when it came to violence in entertainment. The 1980s were a time when boundaries of on-screen violence, special make-up effects and what was considered ‘acceptable’ to present onscreen, were pushed in ways they had never been before. Certain films, mainly horror and exploitation, were brande

Surveillance (2008)

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From its deeply unsettling opening scene in which the two sleeping occupants of a lonely motel are brutally murdered by masked intruders, to its stark, haunting denouement, Surveillance is a taut and twisted piece of nightmare cinema. Directed by Jennifer Lynch and co-written by Lynch and Kent Harper, it tells of two FBI agents (Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman) who arrive at a remote police station to interview the three survivors of a horrific roadside massacre, whose contradictory statements offer fragmented recollections of the same harrowing incident. As tensions mount during the interviews, and the events of what happened are slowly pieced together, it soon becomes clear that not everyone is telling the truth, and not everyone is who they appear to be… Surveillance was Jennifer Lynch’s second feature film (following on from her directorial feature debut, Boxing Helena , 15 years prior) and it is a masterwork of understated dread and unbearable tension. From the sense of unease whi

Return to Oz (1985)

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As far removed as imaginable from the candy-coated, technicoloured, ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ Judy Garland-starring classic The Wizard of Oz (1939), Return to Oz , Walter Murch’s belated, somewhat 'unofficial' follow-up, is a beautifully dark, brooding and deeply melancholic work. Indeed, many critics at the time claimed it was too dark and frightening for its young audiences. While it features more of Dorothy’s fantastical adventures in Oz, a host of colourful characters and a plethora of astoundingly realised effects, at the heart of Return to Oz is the story of a courageous and resilient child who has endured hardship and tragedy, and of the weary, ineffectual or cruel adults responsible for her care. It is of course a sort of sequel, but is perhaps more accurately described as an adaptation of several other L. Frank Baum Oz novels that followed on from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), as Murch and Gill Dennis’s screenplay carefully amalgamates plotlines from The Mar