The Herd (2014)

The Herd

May contain mild spoilers.

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‘True horror isn’t found in the movie theatre, it is found in reality’

The above quote appears at the very end of the credits of Melanie Light’s short film The Herd, serving as a powerful parting shot to the audience. Billed as a vegan feminist film, The Herd has been on my watch list for some time now.

While there’s been plenty in mainstream news regarding slaughter house brutality (particularly when those brutalities are carried out by those of different ethnicities or religions), the dairy industry has been relatively ignored by mainstream news. While vegetarianism is now more largely accepted, it often feels like veganism is viewed as something still reserved for red paint-throwing extremists like PETA rather than a lifestyle choice that’s surprisingly easy to implement. As a result, many don’t realise how much cruelty is actually present in the industry.

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What The Herd does is transfer this into a film in which LV Industries is housing women in cages, subjecting them to repeated inseminations, rough treatment from guards and even having new-born babies taken away from them. The guards are gleeful while carrying out their duties, employing electric shocks when the women don’t comply while the female captor (played by genre-favourite Pollyanna McIntosh) carries out her work with a cold indifference. Somehow the fact that a female character is complicit in the abuse of other women makes it all the more disturbing.

During the film one of the women is able to escape and the film focuses on her attempts to free herself from the compound where she makes further horrific discoveries about what the company is using the women for. What LV Industries as a business actually trades in is kept a secret until the very end and the high-gloss advertising of the company is excellently contrasted with the grungy and unpleasant industrial side that has come before it. This reveal also critiques the beauty industry and the onus on women using products in order to stay young and wrinkle-free.

Technically speaking, the film looks fantastic, with the grading and lighting adding a lot to an already incredibly dressed set. Stains of bodily fluids are present in every scene, giving a sense of history about the place – the abuses in the film are not temporary but a constant cycle. As a result, the film feels like the smells might seep through the screen which is a clear indicator of thoughtful, considered design.

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The Herd is a difficult film to review – partly because there’s nothing quite like it already on the market and shorts are notoriously hard to review without giving too much away, but mostly because it is a staunch political statement, punctuated brilliantly with the use of real imagery of treatment of cows over the credits. While this does make for upsetting viewing it is an exceptionally important aspect of the film – hopefully snapping audiences out of complacency by turning the film they’ve just seen into something all the more real and troubling.

Women in Horror Month 2015

wihmWomen in Horror Month is upon us yet again!  A time to celebrate, publicise and discover female talent both on screen and behind the camera.  If you want to find out more about Women in Horror Month please click on the heart above to be sent to the Facebook page.  This year I’ve decided on a list of my favourite Women in Horror scenes in post-2000 movies.

I am terrible for deciding on a “TOP 5/10!” list and then backing out last minute when I can’t quite find it in myself to rank one over the other, so we’ll just do away with that straight away. Mainly I want to just celebrate some scenes where relationships between women are explored – given the rate at which women are pitted against one another within the genre, it felt important to include a few that involve women working together or finding common ground. In addition, the idea of women taking control of their situations is also explored. There will be some spoilers, so if you see a title you’ve not seen, maybe skip to the next one, or else risk some potential plot points spoiled.

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Martyrs (2008)

Let’s get this one out of the way first – Martyrs is an incredible film, but one that is very often lauded for its strong themes of torture and inclusion of a great deal of gore. This is often at the expense of talking about the film’s more subtle sequences where the themes of torture give way to that of human nature and protection of other human beings. It is also an incredibly female-centric film. There are few men in the film and even less have any influence. The entire thing appears to be orchestrated by Mademoiselle, using men only as unnamed ‘muscle’ for breaking the girls’ spirits and engineering surgeries. Everyone who knows me knows I’m capable of crying all the way through Martyrs and the scene with Anna and a girl she finds in the hidden compound is probably the point at which crying becomes full-on sobbing. Anna, at this point in the film has discovered a killing spree undertaken by her best friend, been forced to make a decision about protecting the mother while preparing a mass grave and then lost said best friend in horrific circumstances.

At this point, it would be so easy for Anna to become an emotionally closed, stoic, revenge-machine, ignoring anything else that doesn’t further her own need for answers. However, when Anna is met with the sight of another girl who has been imprisoned, she does not ignore her, choosing instead to run a bath and comfort her. The horror first achieved by the decayed appearance of the girl soon gives way to an incredibly touching moment in which the girl grasps Anna’s hand – an extraordinary act of trust considering the torture she has been through and the fact that she is blinded by her metal bindings. The scene where Anna begins to remove the metal staples is excruciating viewing and punctuated by the girl reaching out for her throughout. It is a scene of Anna transferring her care to another woman as transference for her lost Lucie and also of foreboding for what is to happen to her.

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 Chimères (2013)

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of this scene in particular and as it is a new film, want to avoid too many spoilers. The film is currently on iTunes however, so if this whets your appetite, you can go check it out pretty much immediately. At the centre of any vampire film there seems to be a romance and Chimères is no different in this respect – however, many of these romances tend toward seeing the female as needing protection from a suddenly stronger, often more dangerous lover. In the case of Chimères, Alex is the one who needs to be protected from his new condition and even the outside world by girlfriend Livia. Chimères views vampirism as inducing the usual tropes of strength and voracious sexual appetite, but maintains Alex as a fragile character, struggling to deal with the changes.

There are several moments in which Livia shows her support, ranging from gentle, thoughtful measures like meal preparation to taking more desperate (and kick-arse) measures. The scene in question, however, is one where Livia takes matters into her own hands and offers herself as a source of blood for Alex. Again, it’s a familiar trope in vampire lore – perhaps most famously dealt with in Buffy where in order to save Angel, the titular Slayer offers her blood to him, but Chimères is all the more effective for the fact that Livia is a normal girl. The whole film features a knock-out performance by Jasna Kohoutova as Livia – a woman who is shown as immensely complex – simultaneously lost and fiercely in control. I really hope to see more work by Jasna within the genre.

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American Mary (2012)

Another film that was pretty much a given on this list and one with plenty of scenes to choose from. For me though, the most powerful is Ruby Real Girl’s surgery and her discussion beforehand with Mary Mason – a medical student starting to take on body modification work to make more money. While Beatress provides some comic relief beforehand, when it is just Ruby and Mary together, the scene becomes all the more serious and features talk about female objectification. At first glance, Ruby’s desire for surgery seems to be a novelty, even fetishistic, but the conversation soon reveals that it is something far deeper.

Through the act of removing her nipples and sewing her private parts to change their appearance to that of a doll, she explains that she is aiming to stop being sexualised and by choosing to be a doll, even regressing to a childhood state. This scene is also perhaps the first step to Mary understanding more about the world she’s entering into and the reasons why people choose to alter themselves in such extreme ways. The ensuing surgery scene is also masterful in its execution, utilising extreme close-ups and careful placement of props to obscure the surgery and in doing so, avoids it becoming too graphic. All except for a few small flaps of skin being discarded to the floor.

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The Woman (2011)

Admittedly, I’ve written about this scene before as part of the Ghostface Girls in a debate article about our most disturbing scenes (link here). Still, I’d like to include the same scene here as I feel it makes an impact about the relationship between two women. Unfortunately, or fortunately, perhaps I couldn’t find a video of the moment itself so you’ll just have to use your imagination, or watch the film first. Spoilers ahead…

The Woman is perhaps one of the most bleak films I’ve watched, with various acts of torture and sexual violence against the titular character who is ripped from her feral existence and kept captive by the husband of a family of women he is also abusing. His teenage daughter is pregnant, and there are hints that he may be the father, such are his levels of abuse and depravity. His long-suffering wife, Belle (played to perfection by Angela Bettis) is almost a sympathy figure, until it is made obvious that her fear has made it so that she has allowed the abuse to continue onto her own children.

While this is played as a subtext throughout the film, the climax makes things very clear about how the Woman feels about her. The Woman is protective over the two daughters, yet when face to face with Belle, attacks her violently. It is a vicious display of how Belle has, albeit inadvertently, contributed to the abuse by not seeking to free her. It is a controversial point, as no one could expect Belle to intervene for fear of the fallout from her husband, but still illustrates how bad things happen when fundamentally good people fail to help.

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Ginger Snaps (2000)

Last but not least – Ginger Snaps and a second appearance for genre-favourite Katherine Isabelle. This scene is perhaps less impactful than many of the others, but what is important about it, to me at least, is that it takes what can be a rite of passage during teenage years, yet twists it into a further example of a girl trying to save her sister. Piercing, particularly DIY ones (although I’d heavily advise against anyone trying it…just don’t, see a proper piercer), seemed to be pretty common when I was in secondary school so the scene holds some realism. It also serves as a brilliant way of modernising the silver for killing werewolves mythology for a thoroughly modern tale.

More than that though, even when the sister’s bond is really established by the fantastic opening sequence of gory photographs the pair have created, this is the point at which they are trying to maintain the relationship through doing traditionally ‘teenage’ things. The spiralling of Ginger’s condition is contrasted with Brigitte’s panic and desperation, culminating in the delivery of the single word, “wicked” – an indication that all attempts to ‘fix’ Ginger are ultimately futile.

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All in all, these scenes are those which have made the most impact to me and the fact that they are all post 2000 and feature a few different female identities give me hope that the diversity in horror as a whole will continue to grow and soon a list like this will be impossible to narrow down to just five examples. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and you can contact me on twitter (@caitlynmdowns) with any comments or even film recommendations.

Top 10 of 2014

We all know that in terms of top films of the year I was already decided on The Raid 2 because it is simply one of the best film-watching experiences I have ever had in a cinema and since at home. In saying that, this is a genre blog and so my actual top 10 of 2014 will focus on horror cinema, especially as there’s a lot of diversity in this list anyway. I’m also increasingly concerned that I’m going to forget something really obvious and brilliant, so starting next year I’m going to keep a little diary of the things I see, complete with a few key words to remind me of what I saw and my instant reaction to it. With no further ado, here is a top 10 list of horror titles that made me forget about The Raid 2, if only for a little while.

10) Cheap Thrills

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I realise this one was released last year, but only recently had chance to see it and simply had to put it on this list if only for the final shot of the film. It also holds the somewhat difficult achievement of making me feel quite queasy while watching. Ethan Embry and Pat Healy play desperate frenemies Vince and Craig who run into sleazy rich Colin (played to perfection by David Koechner) and wife Violet (a very different starring role for Sara Paxton) and repeatedly up the ante in order to win increasingly twisted competitions for the entertainment of the wealthy couple. The film is tense, grotesque and unfortunately feels all too real as the rich use the desperate to entertain and embarrass. But yes, that final shot says absolutely everything it needs to and more than I ever could.

9) Tusk

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From my first viewing of the trailer I wanted to like this film – however the final product is actually much different from what I expected and probably better as a result. Going in, I thought it would be heavily inspired by The Human Centipede, featuring long surgery scenes, which while would have been something of a spectacle, would have taken away from the human tragedies at the centre of the film. There is a great deal of comedy in the film, although the line between comedy and the outright disturbing is so blurred I was almost ashamed of myself for laughing so much at one scene in particular. Ultimately Kevin Smith goes a different way, forgoing the majority of the transformation in favour of more character interaction. It pays off and heads toward one of the most cruel endings I’ve seen in a film all year, perhaps ever.

8) See No Evil 2

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This one I really did not expect to have on my top 10 list, but upon seeing it recently I actually enjoyed it a lot. While its nowhere near as subversive as some might expect from a film helmed by the Soskas (probably largely down to them not writing on the film), it is an entertaining slasher – my enjoyment of which is probably enhanced by not really watching a great deal of slashers. Katherine Isabelle strays from the performances I’ve most enjoyed her in (Ginger from Ginger Snaps and Mary from American Mary and delivers on a self-aware obnoxious and off-kilter characterisation of your archetypal slasher ‘slut’ (god I hate that term) who just happens to have altogether too keen an interest in serial killers. The rest of the cast are likeable (unusual in my experience for a slasher), plus Kane is in it and I really do love me some Kane.

7) House of the End of Time

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A last minute entry into the Abertoir 2014 schedule, HATEOT was a real treat, combining time travel and the ghost story/haunted house sub-genre and probably more endearingly, featuring an older woman at the centre of the story. An often touching and yes, frequently scary (although some jump scares are too clichéd) Venezuelan genre piece that excels by not hiding any of its secrets from the audience, instead allowing them to develop and become important rather more organically. Also, this film serves as proof of my increasing tolerance of sci-fi elements within my horror.

6) Coherence

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In another instance of sci-fi invading the horror genre with all the right notes is Coherence, a film I was admittedly initially only attracted to because of the presence of Buffy’s Nicholas Brendan, but happily had way more to offer. I’ve already written a full review of the film here, which explains more about why more people should see this low key but exceptionally thoughtful film.

5) What We Do In The Shadows

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New Zealand scored big this year on the horror circuit thanks to this and other horror/comedy Housebound. However, WWDITS scored higher with me in terms of rewatchability (ssh, it is a word) and so makes it on to this list. It is also probably the most broadly entertaining film on the list in the sense that I would choose to show it to people who had little to no interest in the horror genre. Packed with quotable one liners and hilarious sight gags it is hard not to fall in love with this mockumentary about vampire flatmates.

4) The Canal

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Ultra-spooky and pretty damn stylish for a low budget feature, The Canal was another that really stood out to me. Combining Ringu and older British horror styles director Ivan Kavanagh has created a film that really creeps under your skin. Most horror fans will know where the story is headed, but the journey is so well done that you’ll remember the unsettling set pieces long after you’ve left the cinema. I always have to bring up the standard of the child actor in this film because he’s a little powerhouse and so at odds with the oft-cringeworthy kids in other films.

3) Spring

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I’m still way overdue for a rewatch of Resolution, Benson and Moorhead’s debut feature and the viewing of Spring at Celluloid Screams has only enhanced that, given the duos ability to create their own horror mythologies and transform their films from standard horror concepts into something much more elaborate that stays with you for far longer. Spring has a rare, ethereal quality that draws you in, but holds you at arms length, never fully allowing you the full story, but giving you enough that you want to immerse yourself within that world – no matter how unpleasant it might be. A meandering, meditative love story, Spring is a rare film and I’m thrilled that it finds a place within the horror genre.

2) Faults

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My expectations were high for this film, given my fandom for films about cults, but Faults delivers something altogether more satisfying. As soon as the end credits rolled I was gripped by a desire to see it again immediately – to fit all the pieces together and perhaps immerse myself even further into the game of emotional chess at the centre of the film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivers a performance I never expected from her and is a total delight, but equally her co-star Leland Orsor is pitch-perfect as a desperate man determined to recover from past mistakes. Stunning is the only word I can ascribe to the film, at least until that much need rewatch.

1) The Editor

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Yeah, call me predictable but I love The Editor and there was no question that it was my stand out film of 2014. Brilliant soundtrack, spot on parody of often garbled Italian 1970s horror, men fighting off chainsaws in the nude with a rubber tree – The Editor has it all. Having seen it twice already I can’t wait to see it again as the jokes are so fast that by the time you’ve finished laughing at one, you’ve missed 4 more. There are standout performances from everyone involved, which at first sounds like hyperbole, but seriously, name me one featured character in that film that doesn’t get at least one strong laugh. The quality of the film however has made me question what a serious Astron-6 film could be like – if only they weren’t so damn funny! Full review here.

So there you have it, my top 10 of 2014. I realise there are a few omissions from this list and I’m looking forward to 2015 for opportunities to see films like The Babadook and Digging Up The Marrow, which I really wanted to see, but sadly missed the chance to. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from scaredsheepless.com – feel free to contact me on Twitter @caitlynmdowns for any discussion of any of the films on this list.

Abertoir Day 6

There’s always a tinge of sadness in writing the last day of any festival coverage.  Revisiting it now is just making me want to go back and do it all again.  Aside from the first film of the day, which was Starry Eyes, a film I’d heard a lot of hype for going into Celluloid Screams, but didn’t massively love.  I’ll keep my thoughts very brief here and direct you to my full review instead.

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Skipping Starry Eyes meant that my first horror exposure that day was a far more gentle one with Paul Shallcross’ silent horror shorts with live piano accompaniment.  It is no wonder that this event won best event of Abertoir 2014 with Shallcross’ incredible knowledge and keen eye for fine details guiding us all through some early and often rare shorts.  A thoroughly lovely way to kick off the last day.

Given that some appreciation of film had taken place, it was then time for Nicko and Joe’s Bad Film Club – an event that normally takes place at midnight during one of the weekdays when everyone is considerably well sozzled by a day of drinking in a dark room.  However, the event still worked wonderfully on a Sunday afternoon with Nicko and Joe’s humour holding everyone’s hand through a screening of RatsRats is particularly awful if you’re at all fond of rats, given the amount of them that seemingly get pushed around by terrible actors.  The great thing about Bad Film Club is that it allows everyone to relax and just laugh along with all the terrible goings on on-screen.

An Evening with Ian McCulloch was the last of the events and featured an evening of songs, stories and clips from his earlier work which showed there was much more to an actor who featured in three video nasties altogether.  While the majority of his talk strayed away from his horror work it was still incredibly interesting to hear about his life and career.

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The closing film of Abertoir 2014 was Dead Snow 2: Red or Dead, which, as I covered in my Celluloid Screams coverage, does away with all the build of its predecessor and throws you straight in at the end of the first film into all the zombie carnage and gore.  While I still feel like I favour the first one, Red or Dead is a real crowd-pleaser and definitely a good way to bring a festival to a close.

Given the success and high praise for Abertoir from everyone I spoke to I’m imagining that Abertoir 2015 will be their biggest one yet and will celebrate 10 years of horror in Aberystwyth in exactly the right way.  I’m already counting down the days.

For more information on Abertoir please visit their official site: www.abertoir.co.uk

Abertoir Day Five

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With the partying done on Friday night Day Five kicked off with a far more sober affair in the form of Faults – an economically shot film about a washed-up cult deprogrammer taking on one more case in the form of a young girl whose parents desperately want her to leave the cult she’s joined.  Now, you only have to whisper the word cult to me and I’m there – something about it terrifies me and intrigues me.  Faults may be the strongest of that kind of film in a long time and its hard to compare it to anything else.  For large parts of the film the action is confined to one room and features an emotional game of chess between Mary Elizabeth Winstead (in the kind of performance I never expected) and Leland Orser.  It is so difficult to discuss this one without including important details, so I’ll just leave it with a final thought that it was stunning and the second the credits rolled I wanted to see it again.

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Up next was one of the films I’d really been hoping to see on the festival circuit from the moment I saw the Comic Con trailer – Tusk.  Despite some apprehension after watching Red State (bleh that was awful), I was still excited for a film that had emerged from possibly the strangest GumTree advert in existence.  The casting of Justin Long is really inspired with him able to drift seemingly effortlessly from simple, thoughtful Wallace into mean-spirited podcaster mode.  Again, very little I can say on this without adding spoilers but I laughed myself insensible during at least one point of this film, but that’s not to take away from how disturbing it all is when you consider the logistics later on.

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In order to do justice to remembering the video nasties, it seems only right to show one.  With that said, and Abertoir’s guest of honour being Luigi Cozzi, it stands to reason that Contamination would be the film to show.  In addition, another guest Ian McCullough starred in the film (plus Zombie Flesh Eaters and Zombie Holocaust) and so another double Q&A would follow the film, just as Fabio Frizzi and Richard Johnson had done last year on Zombie Flesh Eaters.  Watching Contamination now, its hard to imagine it being banned.  It doesn’t contain any of the more objectionable or taboo material from other nasties and its effects are very good, but not overly convincing.  If anything, this screening really summed up how completely ridiculous banning films was and how films with conspicuous names could be plucked from a line up and said to be dangerous.  The Q&A was also packed with somewhat sordid details on how many of these films were funded, on-set fights and other stories of being involved in the nasties.

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Closing off the penultimate night of Abertoir was a very special event and one I’ve not seen attempted by much larger festivals and really showcases Aberystwyth itself as a great place for horror.  First it was onto buses headed for the Vale of Rheidol steam railway, where we then made our way onto an authentic steam train headed for Capel Bangor.  Upon arrival some ghost stories were told outside, although a few hiccups with acoustics meant I missed some of them.  After some hot drinks, it was back to the platform to watch Horror Express in a specially erected screening room, which while very cold, provided a great experience for watching a horror classic.  For me, Horror Express stands up very well to this day with some great effects.  The whole experience was one of the best I’ve seen advertised at any festival and Abertoir’s organisers should really be commended for pulling it off so smoothly.

Abertoir Day Four

Day Four kicked off with a continuation of the video nasty theme, with a talk by Mark McKenna and Johnny Walker, who spoke about collecting the VHS tapes (with some eye-watering figures involved) and also how the nasties have impacted on current genre cinema, particularly on the British scene.  A lively talk with plenty of clips and references kept everyone entertained.  It is always interesting to see how such a potentially damaging scandal actually gave so much life to films that would be otherwise forgotten.

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The second screening of the day was also the second foray into foreign language film – this time a Dutch production – De Poel (or The Pool).  While the synopsis of a family going into the woods and one member’s sanity gradually unravelling is a well-worn path in horror The Pool has a good balance of humour in the early stages and reveals hidden sides of the characters in well-paced fashion rather than prolonging the discoveries past the point of anyone caring.  The Pool brings a more interesting and far less well-travelled mythology that you’re expecting and is an entertaining, if not-overly challenging film.

canalThe Canal followed The Pool, seemingly in some attempt to convince us all that water is evil and half price beer is better (it is and we all know it) and takes the prize as the film to really get under my skin for this year.  The gradual decline in sanity of main character David is compelling, uncomfortable viewing, propped up by a genuinely brilliant child performance (and you won’t hear me say those words very often) and enough spooky action to keep momentum going without ever throwing too much at the screen at once.  The Canal also features Steve Oram in a small role and he was on hand to answer questions about the film afterwards, even though many of the questions centred around his past work on Sightseers.

Now, on our pre-Abertoir podcast myself and Hayley said we would definitely go to the theatre performance and we totally were until just before.  So, yeah I failed on that one I’m afraid in order to prepare myself for perhaps the most uncomfortable viewing experience I would face throughout the whole festival.  Gremlins.  Yes, Gremlins.  I’d never watched the whole thing after being far too upset by one meeting its fate in a blender-type contraption (I was both a strange and sensitive child) so while it was a nostalgic screening for most of the audience, it was pretty much my first exposure to it.  In the end, I was able to make it through this time and thankfully really enjoyed it, although still don’t support the dispatching of Gremlins in blenders.

The light, crowd-pleasing screening was the perfect introduction to the Last Night a DJ Took My Life party that had been gradually assembled throughout the day, including a light-up dance floor and various unnerving doll and VHS displays.  Plus a little ET…ET scared me as a child too – I obviously wasn’t built for 80s children’s films.  The party is another example of how Abertoir really goes the extra mile to provide an experience, rather than just a festival and this was no exception.  Many cocktails were sampled and many dodgy dance moves were showcased.

Abertoir Day Three

Following the late night of Japanese splattery fun on day two I was somewhat grateful I’d already seen the first film on the schedule: Housebound.  The super fun and oft-creepy New Zealand film proved a hit in Sheffield and I thought it would do similarly here too.  Housebound at the moment feels slightly one of a kind in its ability to hit both funny and scary notes, sometimes within seconds of one another.  It really is a triumph and it was only stubborn tiredness that prevented me from taking a second look.

Now Day Three was interesting because it showed that sometimes at film festivals things can go wrong, but it also showed the class and experience of the Abertoir organisers in that even though one film was unable to be shown, they had an option waiting in the wings that I’m sure is better than some programmed at other festivals.  Instead of Fires on the Plain we were treated to Venezuelan ghost story The House at the End of Time, which Abertoir had programmed for Halloween night at Chapter, but happily was seen at Abertoir itself too.

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The House at the End of Time is fantastic. Really it is, even with my slight complaint that it relies a little too much on loud noises.  The concept is well thought-out and executed with its various twists and turns present from the outset so it never feels like events are being pulled out of someone’s arse late into the runtime.  What is wonderful about HATEOT is that it gives you all that information and leaves you to do what you want with it.  What it does conceal is usually for good reason, combining scares with a few incredibly touching moments that hold it up over other mainstream ghost story films.  As a side note, it is also incredibly refreshing to see a horror film where most of the screentime is occupied by an elderly lady.  It is to Abertoir’s credit that a film this strong was a back up plan.

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At this stage it almost feels like I should slate something given how nice I’ve been but while I wasn’t a fan of this next one, I don’t even feel the need to slate it.  However, The Forgotten is the closest thing to a social-realist ghost story we have…and it is possibly for good reason.  Everyone who knows me knows I’m a fan of a slow-burning ghost story, but for me The Forgotten didn’t quite work, largely because I failed to connect with the characters.  At times I felt like a lot had been cut from the film as there seemed to be large chunks of characterisation and events removed or unexplained when they could have been without detracting from the central mystery of the film.  While there are a few creepy moments toward the climax of the film, nothing has really stayed with me.

The Q&A session with director Oliver Frampton and writer James Hall after the screening was actually far more interesting as they covered facts about the locations, the benefit of shooting with mostly handheld equipment and what their collective experience in television had taught them.  What is also interesting about these Q&A sessions is that someone will often bring up an element of the film that you didn’t see, which is always interesting to discuss.

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Martin Barker’s highly anticipated talk was next.  Some of you may know Barker from the Video Nasties documentary by Jake West, who spends a lot of his time almost inadvertantly sticking up for the nasties and becoming embroiled in many public television discussions on the subject.  Hearing about that era from the man himself (and his wife, who was in the audience and had also dealt with her fair share of trouble during the period) was illuminating, particularly in reference to the duelling groups attempting to ban films during this time.  During the talk, Barker maintained that he was now going to study something more ‘safe’ and spoke about his new project – The World Hobbit Project, which if you’ve seen The Hobbit films you can go to http://www.worldhobbitproject.org and fill out a survey to be part of the largest research of its kind.

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The UK Premiere of Takeshi Miike’s new film Over Your Dead Body proved to be a fitting film to follow Barker’s talk, given its emphasis on art imitating life and life imitating art as a danger throughout.  This one did not score as highly with the Abertoir audience as I’d expected, but I think many probably felt slightly off-kilter by not knowing the source material of the play within the film and therefore lost the thread of what was happening.  I have no prior knowledge of the source material either, but was simply absorbed into the film’s stunning visuals and inventive set design so much that I forgot to care that I didn’t really know what was going on….

Last for the night was the pre-cert VHS screening of A Bay of Blood, which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t stay for, instead choosing a slightly earlier night.  I did, however, sneak a peak at the quality of the VHS and was very impressed.

Abertoir 2014 Day One

Abertoir Day One

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The 9th Abertoir Horror Festival kicked off particularly stylishly with a remarkable remaster of Vincent Price’s 1953 classic House of Wax. In full, glorious 3D we were treated to Price’s well-known wit and some great special effects that were sure to delight modern and traditional horror fans alike. Given Abertoir’s special relationship with Price (his daughter Victoria officially named him Abertoir’s Patron Saint a few years back) this seemed an apt start to the festival.

The second film of the night was The Editor and to avoid repeating myself, please go read my review here.

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Next up was more comedy in the form of Danger 5 – an Abertoir crowd-pleaser for the past few years with its farcical team of spies attempting to track down and, as always, Kill Hitler. Thanks to midnight screenings the audience was familiar with all of series one, but the second series is actually a completely different animal, or at the very least a completely different anthropomorphic animal head. If you’ve not seen Danger 5 that will be lost on you, but don’t worry…and go watch it.

Series 2 replaces the single-episode platform of series 1 with a narrative, but without allowing the structure of it to dull the strange antics of the characters and the often even stranger surroundings. If anything this new focus on a continuous story for the group allows for even more non-sequiturs as the mission rolls along and the group are distracted by personal demons and hang ups. As part of Abertoir we were also lucky enough to be joined by one of the creators of the show – Dario Russo for a Q&A following the screening which tackled the difficulties in casting Hitler and working with partly government-funded television channels.

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The final film of the night was the ABCs of Death 2, which if you’ve followed my Celluloid Screams coverage you’ll already know that I’ve seen it and found it a huge improvement over the first instalment. As a result, I didn’t stay for this one, instead opting for a slightly earlier night and extra sleep, which as we all know is essential at festival time.

Starry Eyes Review

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Starry Eyes (2014)

Directors: Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer

Writers: Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer

Starring: Alex Essoe

Sometimes the best thing you can do before seeing a film is read as little about it as possible and I’d say that is certainly the case for Starry Eyes, mainly because the film frequently defies an easy classification within any sub-genre. It is also exceptionally difficult to make a comparison such as Famous Film A meets Famous Film B. Instead, Starry Eyes repeatedly switches gears, ideas and often tones, often making it a fairly difficult film to stay on board with.

Sarah (Essoe) is a troubled, struggling actress who copes with her repeated disappointments by tearing chunks out of her hair – a behaviour she keeps private from those around her. However, after yet another failed audition she is found in the bathroom by a casting agent and asked to repeat her audition while incorporating her dark impulses. Further auditions follow, but they seem to be for a far darker role than Sarah first imagined.

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First off, the central performance by Alex Essoe is strong and probably one of the main reasons for sticking with the film to the end. Her initial fragile appearance allows for a powerful transition as the film progresses – she critiques her looks in the mirror and doesn’t really seem comfortable around her ‘friends’ who live around her who seemingly exist just to put her down. Essoe however takes the whole film’s progression into stride with a confident performance for a relative newcomer.

Secondly, the way the film is put together stylistically really works with a great soundtrack and some very effective lighting techniques. Where the film fell down for me is the numerous direction changes, meaning the film ceases to be one thing or another, but without a seamless enough blend to make it completely work as a solid piece. Given a more seamless transition between the different elements the film would be much stronger, but the balance is a difficult one.

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Overall, Starry Eyes is a film with plenty of ideas and ambition that will find an audience with people looking for something with some interesting twists and turns. However, I’d liken it to a patchwork piece in which there are several convincing and impressive pieces that perhaps don’t always work together as intended.

Starry Eyes is showing at the Abertoir Horror Festival on November 16th at 12pm.

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