My favourite scene from the 1973 film The Wicker Man. Love everything about this. As its May 1st, a revisiting is definitely in order.
My favourite scene from the 1973 film The Wicker Man. Love everything about this. As its May 1st, a revisiting is definitely in order.
My review of The ABCs of Death is now live on AllHorror.net
Would be awesome if people could check that out, plus the other quality reviews, news and audio shows over there.
OK, so during January myself and Hayley (of Hayley’s Horror Reviews) sat down to have a conversation about our favourite subject – horror. Now, due to my technical incompetence some of this has been lost, but as just a little example of the kind of stuff we did (and will be doing in the future) here is a link to a 15 minute clip from our recording session.
I apologise in advance for potentially dodgy edits and also be warned that it is pretty spoiler heavy for The Woman in Black (new version). Hope you enjoy! If you do, or don’t, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and let us know.
I really wanted to put an extra little sub-heading on that to say, ‘and other mainstream horror’ but that would have messed up my alliteration and also, this theme tends to do weird things to punctuation that alarms and confuses me, so yeah, I hope you like the title if nothing else….
Apart from Abertoir Horror Festival, I very rarely see horror films in the cinema meaning that I kind of miss out on a lot of mainstream horror until I see it when it comes out for rental. Of course, thanks to my local Blockbuster shutting down (much sadness for this) I will likely see even less. To be honest, I’m not all that bothered by missing out on it. While I like to see the sorts of films coming out and look at them in terms of trends, etc, the majority leave a lot to be desired. The last mainstream horror I saw was Mama, which judging by its continued presence in the UK box office top ten (currently at number 7 as of the time of writing) is doing pretty well in terms of bums in seats. I have to be honest and admit I haven’t read many reviews on it so I don’t know how much others have enjoyed it. For me, it was almost everything I hated, despite having some great restrained scares and even some pretty good noisy ones. I always jump at horrors, because I jump at loud noises. Very few leave me actually frightened afterwards and Mama was no exception, owing largely to heavy CGI effects allowing the titular character to be seen up close too often and for far too long. Don’t even get me started on the whole ‘a mother’s love’ text within it because one: it’ll head very swiftly into spoiler territory and two: I can’t roll my eyes that much this time of night.
Part of the allure of Mama is likely to be the banner of ‘Guillermo Del Toro Presents’. While a good tool for the promotion of new writers and directors that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t get such a big opportunity to show their film in multiplexes and is certainly an easy way for such directors to be constantly relevant I’m not sure how much it actually detracts from the film by putting fans of that director into the mind set that they are about to see a film that is equal in quality. I often wonder if the banner of first time director/writer would mean these films would be more appreciated than something essentially being compared to far more experienced and in many cases, beloved directors.
To avoid this piece being completely anti-mainstream horror (because let’s face it, there’s plenty of nonsense on the independent scene too) I’d like to throw in my two pennies on the Evil Dead reboot. Yes, I’m quite late in offering any opinion on it, but having seen the trailer before Mama and read a script (although pretty sure it isn’t a legitimate one) I’m actually far more interested in it. It looks like I’ll have the same complaint of it being the same colour as every horror remake/reboot/regurgitation but that’s just a personal dislike I’m going to have to get over. From what I’ve seen/read it is a very different film that gives the characters a valid reason to be in a cabin in the middle of nowhere beyond wanting to get high and fuck and that’s far more interesting than that bog standard tale. It also looks pretty damn gory and has managed to achieve the elusive R rating for US audiences. The constant rating of horrors as PG-13 has turned a lot of people off, so perhaps the ultra-gross-out nature of Evil Dead, if a success, may bring forward a new set of films following suit. Even if it’s not so good…at least it’s a little different and sometimes, that’s all you can hope for.
If you’ve made it all the way through this ramble, I salute you and I’ll see you at the end of the next one. As always, you can contact me on Twitter – @caitlynmdowns
Director/Writer: Brad Rego
Starring: Morgan White & Brandon Beilis
The Killing of Jacob Marr revolves around a group of friends heading to a rented cabin. Despite the construction issues the new owner has had, group leader Ted (Morgan White) is assured that everything will be perfect upon his arrival. However, when the group arrive there is food in the cupboards and toiletries in the bathroom, despite the fact that there is no one in the cabin. The group consider the gesture to be an apology for the delays in construction but there is something far more sinister at work.
Lately I’ve been sort of concerned about the amount of independent horror coming out declaring itself to be low-budget above all other possible selling points, largely because it sounds, to me, like an excuse for anything lacking within the film. I understand that working with a low budget is appealing to many, but often this comes (rather ironically) at a cost – be that a lack of acting talent, poor production values or lazy scripting that is often hand-waved as a consequence of having less money than big studios. Of course, big studios too have been responsible for some real turkeys and they’re the ones throwing huge money around, so clearly money isn’t the answer to everything. So, while this may appear to be a totally unrelated complaint I’m really just stating that when confronted with a screener stating its budget status I don’t expect much and The Killing of Jacob Marr has made me think that I should perhaps not be so damning of everything choosing to carry that label.
Yes, the premise is an all-too-familiar one, although I have omitted some of the content in my plot description because I’m always concerned about giving too much away about a film’s plot so it is a little more unique than it may seem at first glance. The acting is nothing too special, but solid enough that it doesn’t become too much of an issue. The dynamic between Ted (Morgan White), Dan (Brandon Beilis) and Claire (Alyssa Mann) is a fun one, helped along by an often witty and involving script. There is some character development along the way without taking up too much time or detracting from the main plot. Some of it – like Ted’s ill-fated crush on Claire feels clichéd and maybe a bit tacked on but is forgivable by being essentially an afterthought – mentioned once, then left with little further pining after her. Dan is possibly my favourite of the characters with his dislike of friend Doug’s (Chris Keating) girlfriend Ellie (Elizabeth Drake) gradually giving way to a realisation that they both want the same thing and is ably played by Brandon Beilis.
Despite a few moments of gore it is a relatively restrained film, exchanging ‘jumps’ and scare chords for far more quiet and eerie options, making it all the more effective. The film is somewhat self-aware with its characters able to name horror characters and tropes but holds back on becoming a reference-fest. What is really refreshing about it however, is the characters don’t do anything that could be described as painfully stupid and this makes the scenario all the more unsettling. After all, if you have characters making silly decisions (as honestly, all horror relies on) then it becomes very easy to work up a high body count and get the blood flowing, but when you have people making fairly rational decisions and that danger STILL finds them? THAT is far more effective and interesting.
Overall, it is a decent enough film that, while not all that original uses some interesting techniques in its story-telling to separate itself from the many other independent horrors out there. While it won’t change anyone’s world, it is a fun enough time to spend an hour and a half or so and I can safely say I enjoyed it.
The Shadow of Death (2011)
Director/Writer: Gav Chuckie Steel
Starring: Dan Bone & Sophia Disgrace
Independent film-making is becoming more commonplace and certainly achieving a wider audience through the use of Twitter (other social networks are available). The funding isn’t there right now for determined small-time directors, but the interest from film fans certainly is. Perhaps the most important thing for independent film is to know and find its audience. Director Gav Chuckie Steel has produced a film that will please an audience wanting a stoner slasher with some good practical special effects thrown in with humdrum name-checking of films close to the director’s heart. It’s a film to be watched with beer (or other substances if you’re so inclined) but it left me cold and at times, annoyed.
The film follows Debra (Corinna Jane), Jamie (Jane West), Nancy (Sophia Disgrace) and Dan (Daniel Carter-Hope) who go into the English countryside in search of Dan’s dealer. They are soon lost and begin sharing urban legends in a small remote cabin, but a killer is on the loose. Their only hope for survival is that hapless, fake policeman Craven (Dan Bone) finds them before the killer does.
My main problem with the film is that it feels jumbled – introducing people at random within the forest to be bumped off and never referred to again. While this seems to be a device for showing off some well-crafted effects for rather inventive deaths, it does disjoint the film as these things have no relevance on the rest of the plot. Now, this can be said for other slasher films, although many are at least a part of the main cast and have more than a twenty second introduction before being done away with. It leaves the film looking unfinished, unpolished and more like a show reel than a film for audience enjoyment.
The other major flaw I found with the film was the character of Dan, whose constant use of the slur ‘lesbo’ as an insult to another character was annoying, unnecessary and at times, uncomfortable. I suspect (and hope) that this was used to make him irritating and unlikeable because frankly I was gritting my teeth the whole time he was on-screen. If he was meant to provoke that sort of reaction, then mission accomplished. Dan Bone does a bizarre Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz impersonation throughout as idiot policeman wannabe Craven, although never reaches the comic standard of the man he is trying to copy. The performances were passable, helped along by their shared dedication to Steel’s vision.
These complaints do not mean that there is nothing worth seeing in The Shadow of Death however, as a segment in which one character relays her dream to the others is dripping in tension and suspense. It teases the possibility of Steel perhaps turning his hand to a story relying less on gore and often lazy references to past horror films (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that) to one concerning more psychological scares.
The film’s sound design and music is good, particularly in scenes where characters are walking over leaves in the forest and every satisfying crunch can be heard. This is a nice surprise, as in low budget films, the sound design is one of the first elements to suffer. Before turning his hand to directing, Steel composed music for other films and his expertise in this area shines through with a noticeable and enjoyable, but not intrusive soundtrack. The photography makes the most of the location, swirling through trees and creating some interesting images.
In closing, while The Shadow of Death did not do much for me, it will find an audience that really enjoys and ‘gets’ what the director set out to do. I get the feeling that the director made the sort of film that he and his friends would enjoy and while that is certainly not a problem, it certainly limits the audience for it.
I’m working on a blog for February relating to the expectations for males and females within the horror industry. The Storify link is the Twitter conversation that really sparked this interest for me. I’m also looking for experiences from those involved in the industry in hopes of putting together a fairly in-depth look at the subject.
Happy New Year everyone and I know I’m a little late with this as most had their ‘best of’ lists out by the end of December, but I’m ridiculously indecisive and I know as soon as I post this I’ll immediately think of others that should have been on here or it should be in a different order but such is life. So with no further ado, my top 10 horror films of 2012…
10 – Manborg
At just over an hour long this frantic, 1980s video-game look and sound alike makes for the perfect midnight movie. Some brilliant, endlessly quotable one liners make it a great one to watch with friends and the fairly short run time means the film ends before the joke wears too thin. It is hugely enjoyable and its impressive to see a film without a big budget utilise it to create a ‘look’ that escalates the film into something more interesting.
9 – Resolution
With horror fans crying out for original additions to the genre I’m expecting Resolution to be one of the most talked about horror films of 2013 despite it not really fitting into any sub-genre. Much of the film’s appeal for me rests on the incredible chemistry between drug-addled Chris (Vinny Curan) and well-meaning Michael (Peter Cilella) as it is their unlikely yet believable friendship that carries the film for the most part. I must see it again.
8 – Citadel
The first film on this year’s list to make me cry, which is, regrettably, becoming more and more common. Taking an altogether more sentimental take on ‘hoodie-horror’ ‘Citadel’ rests on the shoulders of Aneurin Barnard as a father traumatised by the death of his wife and it is his performance at the centre, despite a great turn from James Cosmo as a rather sweary priest. I do have my complaints about the film in terms of it relying a lot on loud noises as opposed to genuinely scary moments (which it does have) but this film was a great surprise with its ability to maintain a claustrophobic atmosphere throughout.
7 – Chained
Chained was probably the most uncomfortable film I saw this year and I definitely left the cinema feeling a little grubby for it. Although disturbing it also allowed for some incredibly uplifting moments as Rabbit is repeatedly conditioned to become a killer by his serial-killing captor Bob. Eamon Farren has a strangely beautiful screen presence used to full effect and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Bob intimidates through the screen. Jennifer Lynch has created a haunting film about the ways in which damaged people cope. Wonderful, but so glad I did not have to get a taxi home after watching it.
6 – Errors of the Human Body
Body horror was something I was really unsure of before attending Abertoir this year due to being unaware of my own limitations in terms of watching gore. Turns out, I’m quite a fan as this and a higher entry on the list will show. Errors of the Human Body is a heartbreaking tale of genetic modification, mad scientists and failed relationships backed up by slick production, dark laughs and a steady, if slow for some pace.
5 – Before Dawn
One of a few feature debuts on this list – this one is from husband and wife team Dominic Brunt and Joanne Mitchell. This was a film I was interested to see, but honestly did not expect that much from it and I was so glad to be proven wrong. Zombie lore meets romantic drama as a troubled couple (played by Brunt and Mitchell) head off to a remote cottage in an attempt to save their marriage, blighted by husband Alex’s drinking problems brought on by losing his job. There are some wonderful touches in this in relation to zombie mythology but at its heart remains a study of love and ultimately, despair (Aww..sweet). The second film on this list to make me cry too.
4 – The Cabin in the Woods
I think the marketing for this film was one of the things to let it down. The posters proclaimed it to be a ‘game-changer’ for the horror genre and this likely appealed to many fed up of the constant found-footage films, remakes/reboots and sequels being churned out. However, ‘Cabin’ is not a game-changer at all. What it is though, is great fun and this is probably the way it should have been sold to cinema goers. The conventions and cliches being played with have already been tackled and some of the ‘you get the horror films you deserve’ points are a little heavy-handed, but it had me glued to my seat the first time I saw it and every time since too. The only word I can ever use to describe it as is fun, and isn’t that enough sometimes?
3 – Sightseers
Ben Wheatley’s ‘Kill List’ took the number one spot in my top ten last year and the teaser clip for this had me very hopeful, with its tone very similar to British comedy series like Nighty Night – dark, biting and delightfully absurd. Of course, last year the film I was looking forward to seeing most was The Wicker Tree and we all know how that one turned out, so I was prepared for disappointment. Luckily, Sightseers did not disappoint and while probably not strictly a ‘horror’ film, work of this quality should be welcomed into the genre. Amy Jump is fast becoming one of my favourite screen writers and her collaboration with stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram for this film is hilarious. I am strongly looking forward to Wheatley and Jump’s next project ‘A Field in England’, starring Julian Barratt, Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley, among others.
2 – Antiviral
Brandon Cronenberg’s first film is bleak, clinical and every bit as invasive as the needlework undertaken on-screen as it explores celebrity culture, cosmetic surgery and the obsessions surrounding both. Caleb Landry Jones has a brilliant on-screen presence and often it seems like the environment has been built around him as the centre point. It is beautiful, captivating and I still can’t believe it is Brandon Cronenberg’s feature debut. It feels far more sophisticated than that.
1 – American Mary
American Mary could have won this simply with its soundtrack, which is honestly one of the best I’ve heard in a while and needs an official release. While I’m mentioning the sound (without giving anything away like some of the latest trailers…grrr) there is a moment of sound in this film so well designed that it sounded like it was coming from inside the cinema. Some fantastic prosthetic work, lashings of dark humour and not ignoring the seriousness of their story make it a very strong follow up to ‘Dead Hooker in a Trunk’. I’m already interested to see what the Soska Sisters will tackle next as their first two films couldn’t be more different. Katherine Isabelle is a compelling leading lady, but for me the star was Tristan Risk as Beatress, who ably switched from confident and comedic to tragic and fragile. With any film as highly anticipated and praised as this one its bound to have its detractors, but for me its blend of ‘Nip/Tuck’-esque stylised surgery and snarky revenge film worked very well.
So there you have it! I realise that no top 10 list will have everyone nodding in agreement so welcome others to submit their ideas about the films that maybe should have been included, or anything I’ve missed out that I should have seen. I’m on Twitter @caitlynmdowns for any discussion. Thanks for reading and I’m hoping to be able to announce a pretty cool project fairly soon…maybe even during this week.
As you’ve seen from the videos posted direct from the festival I had an awesome time at Abertoir 2012, but I still felt like there was room for a further write-up on it now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the whole thing.
What is wonderful about Abertoir is the fact that you don’t have to choose between screenings as you might with some larger festivals so its easier to take a chance on films that you’re not sure about or would probably not normally make the effort to see. As a result, you can stumble upon some real gems and in some cases, even change your mind about certain sub-genres. This was certainly true for me this year as before attending I had it set in my head that I was not a fan of body horror – however the cold and heartbreaking Errors of the Human Body and Brandon Cronenberg’s stunning debut Antiviral have changed my mind about that and I definitely want to find more films like them. Suggestions via Twitter always welcomed.
There is truly something for everyone at Abertoir and that was certainly highlighted this year through the wide selection of classic and newly restored films showing alongside new projects from experienced and up and coming directors. This is without even mentioning the wide range of sub-genres on offer, including musicals, thrillers and monster movies, as well as short films.
Another thing that Abertoir has is an incredible sense of community. The organisers are incredibly welcoming and this obviously extends to the guests they are able to secure for Q&As. Even those who are unable to attend send videos (some hilarious introductions like the directors of Resolution) and are usually well-received by the audience. I would challenge anyone to find such a selection of films, talks and special events for as little as Abertoir charges.
So with all that said, I’ll discuss my personal favourites from the festival. I had several favourites throughout the festival that changed in order throughout the week, but all remain very strong contenders and certainly future additions to my DVD collection. Ultimately American Mary was my favourite film, closely followed by Sightseers (which was shown with wickedly funny short Him Indoors) with Errors of the Human Body, Antiviral, Resolution and Citadel close behind. An honorable mention has to go to Sleep Tight, which actually had me checking under the bed after I saw it! I’m hoping to have some full reviews of some up pretty soon.
A short introduction to day three’s events and activities. A further round up of the day is to be filmed soon.