Dark Endings

THE WOMAN IN BLACK

Quick heads up – this article will be full of spoilers for the novel and both 1989 and 2012 film versions.

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The Woman in Black is probably one of the most famous horror novels out there and has even found its way onto GCSE courses and so is being steadily introduced to more and more people. Helped in no small way of course, by the monumental success of the rebooted Hammer Studio film in 2012 and the continuing legacy of the stage play. A perhaps lesser known, but much loved made-for-TV production was also brought to the screen in 1989, meaning that the story has been taken on in a variety of mediums.

Somewhat shamefully, I’d not read Susan Hill’s novel until…well, yesterday, but I really loved it and after a bit of research concerning the television version I’ve come to a conclusion. Screen just really doesn’t ‘get’ what the story is all about or how to come to a suitable ending for it. Whether the ending of the novel is too dark for producers to want to stick with (given the 2012 Woman in Black was most complained about to the BBFC regarding its 12A rating, this is probably fair) or whether they want a more spectacular climactic set piece there is always a crucial part left out and here is your first spoiler for everything: Jennet is not interested in killing whole families, yet at the end of both screen versions the whole of the Kipps/Kidds family is dead.

imagesThe reason this doesn’t work and loses sight of the core idea of the novel is that Jennet seeks revenge for her son being taken away from her and given to Alice Drabrow to care for, given that she comes from a far more respectable position within society. She is allowed some contact with her son, provided their connection is not revealed, but things take a turn for the worse when an accident occurs, resulting in the death of her son as she watches from the window of Eel Marsh House. Her malevolence is spurred on by this intense grief and she gradually seems to go mad, but also becomes increasingly ill with a condition that turns her face white and gaunt. This condition also ostracises her from the community and contributes to her death, which is somewhat poetically referred to as ‘heart failure’. Jennet does not seek to kill children because she wants children dead – she does it to tear families apart. Within the confines of the book her haunting of Arthur continues long past his departure from the house as she is able to isolate him by killing his wife and young son, leaving him to deal with the same grief that she endured and thus, continuing a cycle of grief and anger.

Now, I get that the ending of the book is pretty damn traumatic considering it concerns the violent death of a baby after it is thrown from a horse carriage, but surely there must be something between the schmaltzy family-reuniting Hammer version and the whole family dies via tree crushing as both remove that essential element of revenge, which is to have someone live within an unbearable situation. Death ends every part of that story until someone else has to go to Eel Marsh House and pretty soon people are going to avoid it completely so Jennet will have no more revenge. The strategic stripping of everything Arthur has is what continues to disturb his sleep even though he has never returned to the house or even seen the woman in person again. It is even highlighted to some degree in Spider’s close call in the marsh – an indication that Jennet is out to hurt anything that Arthur forms a bond with.

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I’ll come out in support of the screen versions in some ways though in that they elevate certain moments in the book. Here I’m mostly referencing the TV version where Jennet appears floating over Arthur’s bed during the night – in the book there’s maybe a sentence given over to him seeing the woman above him. On screen, the moment is turned into a genuinely unsettling, if slightly dated memorable moment. Hammer’s 2012 version too has a few good moments but is dragged down by increasingly loud scares as opposed to anything substantially creepy. However, they also shy away from venturing too far into Jennet’s physical illness that changes her appearance, which I’d consider to be a pretty important element of the story.

What I’d say is key here though in the treatment of the ghost story in film is that ghosts are often treated as lighter, softer fare and more suitable for a few generations to see together. As a result, it becomes increasingly unlikely that a genuinely tragic end can play out given that the 12A and even sometimes 15 shy away from downbeat endings. The lack of violence required in the telling of a ghost story tends to keep it at the lower end of the ratings system whereas things like demons, serial killers and other beasts end up being allowed endings where there is no hope and everything is destroyed. I’m not suggesting that every ghost story should have this level of tragedy at its close, but for The Woman in Black, it seems only right to retain the central point of revenge as a damaging and damning entity stronger than any ghost.

Thanks for reading! As always I’m on Twitter @caitlynmdowns

The Strange Case of UK Distribution

Recently I’ve been struck by just how much a horror film changes from its showing at a horror festival to its arrival on a UK supermarket shelf, not in content but through its cover art. Now, it could be said that with the rise of VOD platforms that cover art is becoming less and less important with apps offering tailored lists to users of what to watch next rather than offering interesting covers to entice audiences. While the online viewing experience is no doubt a far easier option and offers film’s exposure to a far wider audience, I feel like it would be a sad thing to lose out on genuinely inventive designs to accompany often very inventive horror films.

It is this ease of access though that I feel is contributing to a decline in cover art. I’ve found myself that the majority of my DVD buying is now done in the supermarket, rather than paying out for postage costs for online specialists or even travel to a genuine media shop like HMV. Of course, in order to gain purchase in a supermarket – that most general of shops, everything must become comparable to something else in the hopes of attracting people to it. Perhaps the most obvious example of this, to me anyway, is Wither. Yes, the film is pretty much a direct homage to Evil Dead, and honestly, a pretty decent one. However, is there really any need for the cover art to be so different in the UK and US?

I mean, US cover art – pretty nifty looking scary demon:

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UK cover art….really, really familiar:

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So, you take the colour scheme of the Evil Dead remake and use the template of The Cabin in the Woods cover and hey presto! Instant success:

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Frankly, the US cover art in this instance isn’t really that much better, but it at least pretends to be its own thing. I’m also aware that having things on display in a supermarket does somewhat limit your options in horror, because yeah, there’s always the idea that some child is going to walk past and be completely traumatised by a Wither, but still, is there nothing that can be done without mashing two previous covers together? Some might say that this is more forgivable considering the debt that Wither has to the Evil Dead, but there are other, even more perplexing examples.

Take Jug Face for example. A wonderfully inventive, original film with the kind of title that really makes you lean forward. What is a Jug Face? What does it mean? I really want to find out. So, of course, when it comes to UK distribution, that fantastic title falls away and the film becomes The Pit. Now, for me a title like The Pit is too simplistic and places far too much emphasis on that as the point of the film rather than the original Jug Face. By calling it The Pit it reduces it, particularly when the back refers to it as Jug Face anyway. The cover art between these too, is problematic given the US release shows the lead female character in full trance mode, a striking image that directly relates to the film and the UK release again highlights the role of the pit. For anyone who has seen the film, it is obvious that the pit is not the main focus of the film, instead focusing on the complex moral decisions at work within the film’s community.

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On a purely aesthetic appeal there seems to be a tendency toward coding horror DVDs in black, adorning it with skulls and calling it a day while other regions enjoy cover art that is directly related to the film and also something that stands out. For example, Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem, a colourful and inventive piece concerning a spiral into madness (although many aren’t fond, I generally am), that in the UK was represented by a plain black background and skull motif. Compare this to the US version that uses imagery from the film to create a striking piece that really attracts the eye.

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These decisions seem strange as surely the aim of selling any film is that it should stand out. By placing near identical, dark, uninspired cover art a serious disservice is being paid, particularly to lesser-known films without the budget afforded to more mainstream releases.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this.  Please get in touch with more baffling cover art decisions or even your favourite covers.  As always, I’m on twitter @caitlynmdowns and also on Facebook through Ghostface Girls.

The Second Death

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The Second Death is my first exposure to Argentinian ghost story films and if others are even half as strong as this, then I’d happily sit through a thousand more. For me, The Second Death does everything a really effective ghost story should do – it is cyclical, confronts very real, human emotions and concerns like belief, grief and the desire for revenge while packaging it within a uniquely creepy treatment of spirits on film.

The Second Death stars Agustina Lecouna as police detective Alba, a woman settling in a small town in an attempt to escape her own dark past who is suddenly tasked with finding an explanation for burnt corpses turning up within the town, left in a prayer position, but nothing burnt around them. Her investigation is made all the more difficult by a reluctance from the townspeople to get to the bottom of it, until child medium The Wizard arrives and she sees a chance to expose the culprits.

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The film is that most strange of genre meshes in the way it fuses the detective genre, complete with hard-boiled, troubled detective at odds with everyone else, with the ghost story, containing discussions on the ethics of mediumship and faith itself. From its opening crying baby The Second Death is an unsettling piece, underpinned by a spectacular soundscape and a meandering narrative. In many cases meandering could be considered as a criticism, but certainly not in this case. The pace of the action is exactly right and the reveal of information even extends into the credits (a fact likely missed by a few cinema goers who left as they started rolling).

It is then, a real credit to a film that tries to do so much within a relatively short run time that nothing feels unresolved or under explained and is testament to the skilful handling of director Santiago Fernández Calvete, who also creates some effective, often gothic, biblical imagery within a modern-day setting. As already mentioned the soundscape on this film is incredible, with increasingly discordant notes contributing to the suspense without ever really telegraphing a scare.

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Certainly, I’ve found myself increasingly fond of the film the more I’ve thought about it, which is always a good sign. The worst thing I think anyone can say about a film is they left the cinema without thinking about it afterwards and this definitely will not happen with The Second Death. It has given me hope that the ghost stories I love to watch can be handled in wonderful ways, providing scares without deafeningly loud noises and weaving a strong, intricate plot.

Please, if you have the chance to see it, do and totally contact me because I need someone to discuss it with!

The Understudy

ImageThis review of episode five of Inside No 9 could easily be a very short one: 5 out of 5.  So far, every episode has been able to hit a stride very quickly, seemingly never affected by the anthology format that can require a lot of character and situational awareness to be condensed into a small space of time.  Thankfully Pemberton and Shearsmith have managed to offer detailed characters without presenting caricatures so that the viewer is completely aware of that character from the very beginning without being force-fed it their motives.

This week’s episode The Understudy offered a mix, I would argue, of the previous two episodes – the dialogue-reliant Last Gasp and the disturbing tone of Tom and Gerri, to great effect.  By mixing the two this episode feels like the complete package and honestly, one of the episodes I would be most likely to show to someone unfamiliar with their work to showcase just how well they can balance comedy and horror.

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While this episode certainly leant more to the horror genre, with one effect being particularly nasty, even when viewed by a hardened horror fan, there are still some of the funniest lines from the writing duo I’ve heard.  I won’t spoil any of them here so as not to spoil the inevitable ‘mood whiplash’ that viewers will undergo during the episode. 

Again, The Understudy is confined to one location, in this case the dressing room of performer in Macbeth, the boorish Tony (Steve Pemberton) who makes loud remarks about assistant Kirstie (Rosie Cavaliero) bringing him his juice and also about hating his neighbours visiting the show.  Waiting in the wings, quite literally, is Jim (Reece Shearsmith) as Tony’s understudy patiently watching every show in case he is ever given the chance to perform the lead role.  However, Jim’s self-doubt is never far from the surface and it seems like fiancé Laura (Lyndsey Marshal) is tiring of it.

In addition to an already stellar cast, I must make mention of Julia Davis, who despite being confined to an almost cameo role in this, shines as bossy and uptight Felicity.  The wonderful thing about the episode is everyone is given at least one moment to ‘shine’ and the benefit of such a wonderful cast is that this is immensely entertaining and rewarding.

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If the comedy comes mainly from dialogue it is the sound and direction that swings toward the grim.  The sound in particular was very effective in this episode, with situations unfolding on stage made all the more bleak and disturbing by only listening to the event whereas seeing it would take too much away.  If there is one thing I really love about Pemberton and Shearsmith it is that they want their viewers to work and engage with their writing and this is further evidence of that.  The direction too does much to switch from the everyday to the macabre, often jarring the viewer with some wonderful visuals that really stay in the mind.

All in all, The Understudy may not have overtaken the initial impact of Tom and Gerri, which is still inspiring a multitude of theories (something rather confusing to me considering that all the necessary information is there in the episode and pretty simple to get), but it will remain a marker of some of Pemberton and Shearsmith’s writing: deliciously dark and disarmingly witty.

A Personal Look at Women in Horror Month

For horror fans February is far less about sickly sweet Valentine’s Day and more about Women in Horror Month, a time for a celebration of women involved in both the creative and business elements of horror.  Like any movement it has passionate supporters and detractors, but for me, I’ve always fallen into apathy.  I’ve never hated the movement, nor particularly loved it and while there have been certain elements that have annoyed me (like the seemingly indiscriminate handing out of the title Scream Queen) I’ve retained a mostly neutral stance on the matter.  Despite considering myself a feminist I’ve never incorporated my horror experiences into this, often pretty much considering myself genderless while watching, only really making the connection when presented with outwardly misogynistic texts or behaviour.  It wasn’t until Nia’s fantastic article for Brutal as Hell (link here) about the month and a tweet I read afterwards that it really ‘clicked’ for me what the movement was all about.

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For whatever reason, while growing up, I tended to be the only girl or one of few involved in the things I was interested in.  As a result, it was always really cool for me to see another girl come along that I could talk to, not have the awkwardness of being the only girl around and have someone to talk to that maybe had the same experiences as I did.  There’s always one event I think about when I consider being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated area – when I fractured my wrist during professional wrestling training (I don’t do it anymore as I’m too scared haha).  It felt like an event horizon for me.  Someone had fallen on my wrist from a height and I heard it crack in my ear.  I’d never broken anything before but I was pretty sure I had then.  I got up, was asked if I was OK, said yes and then went pale. 

Thanks to my face betraying me I felt like somehow I’d failed.  I was pretty sure anyone else who’d just fractured their wrist would have been quite open about how much it hurts, yet there I was running it under a cold tap then going back to try more stuff.  Only when I couldn’t actually put any pressure on it anymore did I sit out.  I watched one bloke in particular watch and wait for me to cry.  I managed to get out of there and all the way to the diagnosis at the hospital before crying, now finally with nothing to lose.  It was my status as a woman in that class that made me feel I had to be tougher and prove myself.  I think this is much the case in horror (or film at large, in fact), where women are in a minority and have to work harder for opportunities and have rather more limited lengths of careers than their male counterparts.

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It was the connection of this experience with Nia’s article that finally made Women in Horror Month ‘click’ for me.  Women are still forced (or feel they have) to try harder and subject to far more criticism than their male counterparts, as evidenced in the article using the example of the similarity between Adam Green and the Soskas, that somehow only saw one side criticised.  It soon occurred to me that WiHM wasn’t about overestimating the contribution of women in horror, but rather bringing it in line with the regular celebrations of male contribution.  It was also about women engaging with how they are represented on-screen and offering a safe space in which this could be discussed without some of the more spiteful commentary that can come with female representation.  It is exceptionally sad to me that women still need a safe space to express their fandom, but having read the vitriol levelled at female cosplayers and gamers by some men it is definitely necessary.  In addition to this, after reading the article I went to Twitter, where BJ Colangelo had posted this tweet:

<blockquote lang=”en”><p>Just found out a &quot;friend&quot; has only been supportive of my writing because he hoped I'd fuck him. This isn't a humble brag, this is insulting.</p>&mdash; BJ Colangelo (@bjcolangelo) <a href=”https://twitter.com/bjcolangelo/statuses/429266808290287616″>January 31, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Now, this really brought it home to me that women need to work together and support one another in their genre ventures, as there are some male reviewers and writers that assume female writers are only worth supporting in the event that sex is on offer, despite the thoughtful and powerful writing that BJ consistently produces.  Do male writers and reviewers experience this?  Women in fandom are still being treated as outsiders or that they’re involved for ‘the wrong reasons’ (whatever they are).  Male cosplayers as far as I’ve seen (and happy to be proven wrong) aren’t criticised for their costumes being inappropriate and male gamers aren’t told that they are only playing because they are looking to be worshipped.  While slightly outside of the horror sphere, it just goes to show that there is inequality in fandom and if WiHM can even address a little of that, then I’m all for it.

 

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In addition to this, I’ve also learned that WiHM is about education – particularly in terms of considering not only the representation of white women, but also exploring the representation of different ethnicities and LGBT issues.  At first, I did consider WiHM to be a little white-centric, but thanks to a few tips directly as a result of talking about the month I’ve found that there are women involved in the movement dedicated to raising awareness of all kinds of representations – far more inclusive than I originally thought.  So, with all this said, I’m more than happy to join the celebrations and be quietly ashamed of my previous apathy and might even put together a post about my favourite female influences in horror at some point.

Top Horrors of 2013 Part Two

In an attempt to avoid too-long-blog-post fatigue here is part two of my top horror films of 2013, again in no particular order.

 

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A Field in England

I was so excited for this.  Excited to the point that I nearly chased the postman down on the morning of its release.  Luckily for me and the postman, it was not a disappointment and is a great example of a film where everyone involved is working towards one particular vision.  Everyone knows I’m a big Ben Wheatley fan and it is exactly because of films like this – daring, dynamic and not easily forgotten.  It also contains the tent scene….oh the tent scene.  My review is on the blog and also at AllHorror.net

 

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Stoker

Some may argue that Stoker is more of a dark drama than a horror but there are some tension-filled sequences within it that for me, more than qualify it for inclusion in a horror list.  The piano scene in this, although one more fitting with drama than horror, is one of the most well-crafted scenes I’ve ever witnessed

 

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Chiméres

One of the films on this list I could totally write a very long (and spoilery) essay on, having seen it twice so far and am pretty much sure I’d get even more from it on future viewings.  The romance at the heart of the film feels like a genuine romance and the character development and actor chemistry adds an extra punch to an action-packed, tragic story.  Some wonderful, yet fairly subtle vampiric make up grounds the tale in a gritty reality.

 

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Big Bad Wolves

A morality gut-punch with a side of dark comedy that deserves all the praise it has received and more.  Really one of those films that hits you so hard that you can’t adequately discuss it until much later on…and then you can’t really stop talking about it.  Fantastic comic and emotive performances combine to create a film about torture that takes the consequences of vigilante justice very seriously

 

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Jug Face

Speaking of gut-punches, Jug Face delivers a frank discussion about acceptance of consequences and the restrictions that secluded cultures and rituals place on those within them and at no point backs out.  Everyone knows that I love a film that sets something up and no matter how unpleasant it is, follows through rather than backing out for a more favourable outcome and this does exactly that.  Worth watching for fans of The Woman to see Sean Bridgers and Lauren Ashley Carter reunited.

 

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The Borderlands

The scariest film I’ve seen all year.  Genuinely unnerving and a fine departure from the glut of found footage films out there.  By using a Peep Show POV shooting style you are thrown right into the thick of the action, yet are still allowed to see things that the characters themselves don’t.  At times, this is wonderfully subtle, but maintains enough tension that the big scares truly scare.  For further evidence, check out the Abertoir video where I look most like I need a pint.

 

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All Cheerleaders Die

Out of all the films on this list this one is probably the one I’ve recommended most to people, simply because it is so different.  A little bit late 90’s witchcraft movie wrapped up in an innovative, exciting, yet ultimately cynical Lucky McKee coating.  Bookended by one of the best opening and best closing moments All Cheerleaders Die is one I can’t wait to see again.

 

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Discopathe

First, a confession: I was not sold on this film upon starting to read the synopsis before Celluloid Screams.  Second, another confession: by the end of that synopsis I was in love with the idea and wanted a theme song.  Another one on this list that I’ve seen twice, Discopathe is a grubby, occasionally very darkly funny film that will get its infectious soundtrack and gory imagery stuck in your head.  My full review is just a few entries ago so feel free to check it out for more details.

 

So that concludes my favourites of this year. What are yours?  Anything else I should be checking out?  As always, my twitter is @caitlynmdowns, or you can just comment here. Thanks for reading!

Top Horrors of 2013

For the past two years I’ve done the conventional top 10 horror films of the year gimmick, but this year I’m passing up the ranking system because I simply can’t decide on any order for the films I’ve enjoyed most this year.  Much of this is because 2013 has been a somewhat strange year for horror with some of the bigger names absent from festival schedules giving way to some new and some re-emerging talents which can only be good for the genre. In addition, all of these films are so different that I’m finding it hard to rank them as each pretty much do what they want to do comfortably and confidently.  I did initially start to rank them but it turned me into such a conflicted mess I just had to abandon the idea.  I’m also aware that some of the films in this list were probably out last year but that is often the case so we won’t worry about that (am seeing a good few of my last year’s choices on lists this year – mainly the mighty American Mary and Antiviral.  As it is a pretty big list I’m going to split this into two parts…

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Yep…I was not expecting this to be anywhere near a year-end list of mine when I first saw the DVD cover and took a chance on it being so bad it might be entertaining.  However, it is a super fun reimagining of the Hansel and Gretel tale that really hit all the right notes with me.  Sometimes that’s all you need, but at the same time, it lacks the substance to be any further up the list.

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Evil Dead

This one may be slightly controversial, given the fairly negative response from many genre fans, but I enjoyed it.  Plenty of gore and enough small references to the original to keep me happy and some great imagery toward the end too.  My only complaint really is that maybe it would have benefitted from not being associated with The Evil Dead as it was bound to be compared unfavourably to it and perhaps could have been given more creative freedom if not under the Evil Dead banner.

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Chantaly

A deserving entry on any list considering the fact that it is the first horror film made in Laos and also the first film made by a woman there too.  However, that is not the only reason it appears here as it is a strong, haunting ghost story in its own right with its own spiritual background woven into the film by director Mattie Do.  Ooh, and an awesome whippet who greatly appeals to a crazy dog lady like myself.

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Lords of Salem

After many years of only mentioning Rob Zombie’s film efforts in a disgruntled mumble (Halloween grrrr) he is finally back in my good books with a more original project that includes some genuinely creepy moments that is satisfying enough before something of a drop-off toward the end.  Still, a nice turn away from his previous work and one of the most interesting on-screen depictions of witches in recent memory.

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Bad Milo!

Funny, touching and with frequent arse jokes Milo! is a really fun film, ideally enjoyed with friends and beer.  The titular Milo is very cute, but also very deadly and is off-set by some wonderful performances.  The easiest way to describe it would be something like a horror version of Ted, which looks at growing up with the help (or should that be hindrance?) of an unusual ‘friend’.

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Painless

Superb Spanish film that I’ve already expressed my appreciation of in a full review.  A stunning study of a country coming to terms with past brutalities wrapped up in a personal story about children who have no concept of physical pain.  It kept me gripped from its sinister opening to its emotional conclusion – a tall order during the festival overload. My full review is up at AllHorror.net

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Maniac

The Maniac remake has to be on this list for having the dubious achievement of making me feel genuinely, physically sick during one particular kill.  It is relentless both in its violence and the style behind it, culminating in the closest thing to a fevered nightmare I’ve seen on screen in some time.  Doesn’t Elijah Wood do creepy so well?!

Part Two is coming soon…

Discopathe

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Discopath (2013)

Director: Renaud Gauthier

Starring: Jérémie Earp-Lavergne

Discopath (also known as Discopathe) is a rather strange film to try and pin down for a review, largely because upon first viewing you’re not really sure what you’re getting yourself into.  The synopsis reads as a primarily comic one, but anyone going in expecting a straightforward comedy will be disappointed, as I think the case has been with some audiences.  As a result, Discopath demands at least a second viewing – one to get to grips with it and one to really enjoy it.

Discopath is set in the 1970s (and later the early 80s) and concerns a young man, Duane Lewis (Jérémie Earp-Lavergne) living in New York who hears disco music for the first time, but far from being moved to dance…the music motivates him to kill.  But his world and potential relationships are becoming ever more saturated by this new musical genre that turns him into a psychopath. 

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The initial premise does sound like a generic slasher with a quirky reason for the killer’s motivation, but Discopath, with it’s incredible 1970s design (if I’d not seen the date I would have easily considered it to be from that time period), high levels of gore and of course, a great soundtrack, becomes so much more.  It is of course, funny throughout, including a few segments that had the whole cinema howling with laughter but there’s an exceptionally grubby overtone to it all.

For one, Jérémie Earp-Lavergne, playing Duane Lewis (or any of the other alias he takes on through the course of the film) utilises his somewhat stilted and unusual accent to great effect in earlier scenes, simultaneously balancing the naive and the sinister.  This also positions him as an outsider during early scenes in New York – Duane is not like everyone else around him and so he does not experience life in the same way as them.  The other actors deliver their deliberately hokey dialogue with straight faces, further adding to the effect that you’re watching a decidedly ropey 1970s slasher.

Secondly, the song that repeats throughout the film, while initially seeming a straightforward disco song soon changes to something at a near-shriek, spiralling into a madness along with the character.  Perhaps more interestingly is that the music itself doesn’t change, just the circumstances around them but the film is honestly so engaging it really does seem to sway the viewer into the frame of mind they need to be in.  Another well-known song is used to great effect later in the film, but I don’t want to spoil it.  The poster gives a great big hint though.

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Thirdly, and perhaps the largest element detracting from the moments of genuine humour are the effects.  Largely produced by Remy Couture, who some may recognise as having faced legal action over his potential to cause ‘moral corruption’ (sounding eerily similar to the Video Nasty nonsense of Britain which I will never tire of ranting about) and was tried under Canadian obscenity laws for the graphic nature of the short films and effects he had made.  Shorts so effective in their design they had convinced one viewer that it simply couldn’t be fake and so Couture had to provide evidence that all his actors and actresses were over 18 and that no one was hurt during their production.  Good publicity for an effects maker you might think, but no one needs the massive legal costs that come with such a thing.  As you can imagine, however, the effects in the film are really good, and pretty sick.

Overall, I would say Discopath is an incredibly dark, but occasionally very funny film that will divide an audience – delighting some and alienating others.  I’m very glad I’m in the first camp and I look forward to more of Renaud Gauthier’s work, particularly if it is as inventive and well-designed as this.

Delivery

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Delivery

Director: Brian Netto

Starring: Laurel Vail and Danny Barclay

Delivery is another entry into the seemingly never-ending found-footage sub genre that is showing no signs of letting up, with Paranormal Activity 5 and a spin-off The Marked Ones arriving next year alongside many others attempting to cash in on the easy-scare capabilities and relative cheapness of the form.  I’m not quite sure why a first-time director would choose a found-footage film to launch their career (other than it being cheap and easily marketed) as the medium doesn’t really allow for any great showcasing of skills, largely relying on shaky-cam or static surveillance cameras but that is another rant for another time.

Delivery opens with the announcement that first-time parents to be Kyle and Rachel Massy had agreed to take part in an MTV-style programme to chronicle their journey to parenthood – something the pair have struggled with.  As with most found-footage films before it, it also foregrounds that all was not well with the production and this is displayed through news footage and also interviews with the show’s producer and the Massy’s families, including one important fact – Rachel’s body was removed from the house on October 20th 2009.

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During a Q&A with the director Brian Netto immediately following the screening he explained that he had been writing the film before the first Paranormal Activity came out so it is fairly likely that there have been some development problems for it to have taken so long to make it to the screen.  Unfortunately, the release comes at a time where found-footage is used so often it has lost a lot of its initial punch and the buzz that surrounded early screenings of Paranormal Activity.  The same tropes are employed here as in every other found-footage film with nothing new or different to offer aside from the show that makes up the first act, shot in an ultra glossy, fast paced MTV style, complete with emotionally manipulative musical cues as Rachel’s pregnancy progresses.  Of course, this is totally at odds with the usual, dark setting of horrors and makes for a nice change.  It is a shame really, that this style is abandoned for the rough-cut footage that comes later, although it is incredibly difficult to imagine how it could have been sustained as the subject matter becomes more intense and dark.

It does serve a purpose in positioning Kyle and Rachel as a likeable enough couple, both played well by Vail and Barclay.  Vail in particular has the most to do as Rachel’s pregnancy begins to inspire sinister paintings and sleepwalking and her performance is convincing, as is Barclay’s as the increasingly suffering and protective Kyle, who is angered by the intrusion.  However, my problem is that there is very little ambiguity surrounding whether Rachel is suffering from a mental illness or there is a demon involved, although this is mainly down to the writing not allowing for there to be any real doubt.  The unfortunate-looking demon is revealed via an illustration with a small explanation of his purpose, although this fails to explain his presence amongst the Massy’s.  A small side-plot rumbles on throughout the film whereby the interviewer repeatedly questions the producer about his intentions in keeping the filming going, even when Kyle wanted to remove the cameras and how much he was motivated by potential profits and infamy but never really goes anywhere apart from a few harsh words between the two.  Indeed, given the subject matter the in-universe reasoning for the editing together of unaired footage from the incident would indeed be exploitative, so it isn’t hard to see where the interviewer is coming from.

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Now, something about the film really annoyed me, far more than it just being a generic found-footage film was the constant camera interference in the latter part of the film, cutting out during dialogue and then restarting loudly with a hiss.  I have no idea how many times this happened, but I know it grated on me every time as loud isn’t scary and I found it constantly broke me out of watching what was happening on screen.  It isn’t scary in Paranormal Activity where seemingly hours of inactivity and crushing boredom pass before something goes ‘BANG’ and it isn’t in this either.  Also, can we stop the inclusion of animals whose sole purpose is to be brutally killed?  Seriously, every single time I see an animal in one of these films it may as well have a flashing siren on its head indicating its impending doom.

However, I suppose I say this as someone who is definitely not a fan of found-footage and its conventions.  I’m sure that people who aren’t burnt out by the found-footage phenomena and just want something easy to follow will enjoy this – it certainly received a good reception during the Q&A from some and I would imagine would be a prime candidate for a possible sequel down the line, or maybe even a franchise thanks to a message at the end of the film.  Overall, I can’t really find anything in this to hate (irritating camera cut-outs aside) because it isn’t doing anything more than following a set of codes and conventions set out by multiple films before it but it did leave me with a feeling that I’d seen it all before.