Hannibal Recaps

Apologies for the lack of recaps after each episode, however the convergence of themes and characters within the three episodes since Secondo means that a recap of them altogether is better than individual looks. As a result, this entry will cover Aperitivo, Contorno and Dolce, particularly as the climax of Dolce seems to indicate the end of the Florence episodes of season three as we approach the exciting introduction of Francis Dolarhyde. Due to the stage of the season there will be spoilers, so consider this your warning.

Aperitivo is an episode that largely centres upon Dr Chilton as a linking device between the other characters as he visits them, first following the aftermath of the Red Dinner and later, approaching Mason Verger – disfigured and focused on revenge against Lecter. The episode focuses largely on the physical changes caused by Lecter’s actions during season two, but the emotional impact is never far from the surface. The reintroduction of Alana Bloom in this episode especially, focuses on how Lecter’s real power is not so much physical and violent, but rather the way in which he is able to manipulate and control others. Bloom’s injuries from the event are severe, driving her toward an uneasy alliance with Mason in order to achieve her revenge on Lecter.

Aperitivo marks a point, for me at least, in which for the first time I wanted Lecter to face some level of punishment. The scenes regarding Bella’s death and the impact on Jack are immensely touching and in a show that relies so heavily upon surrealism and far-fetched set pieces it is quite something to have a death of a character be the result of a real-life disease. The impact on Jack of this is profound – most of the death he deals with is profoundly unnatural. Bella’s death serves to force him further into the hunt for Hannibal, largely due to a card delivered to the funeral by the latter. This act is what is so compelling about Hannibal, in that the letter is likely to be mocking, but also an offering of friendship. Hannibal’s ability to manipulate and control is at odds with his inability to completely understand his position within their lives. However, the presence of the letter at the funeral marks the first time in which Hannibal needed to face some direct retaliation, something provided in Contorno by Jack himself.

While it would be easy to echo the pair’s fight from the second season, this is a far more one-sided affair, allowing Jack to physically exert his power over Hannibal, providing a cathartic moment for both character and viewer. While the attack is the focus of the episode, Contorno also provides some interesting developments between Chiyoh and Will Graham, revealing that everyone who has spent any time around Hannibal has emerged very differently. The conversations between Chiyoh and Will always refer to the similarities between Will and Hannibal. Interestingly, while Will would previously have rejected these claims he now appears to embrace and even show pride in them. In addition, despite Hannibal receiving a beating from Jack at the end of the episode, Contorno does much to further Hannibal’s methods of cruelty against others, rather easily dispatching Pazzi.

Dolce, the most recent episode (in the UK at least), provides more of a featured role for Bedelia, arguably one of the most interesting characters within the show. Her drug use revealed within the episode contributes to the dual nature of her character: simultaneously she is doing things that will contribute to Hannibal’s capture, while also caring for him and has yet to make any further attempts to flee. The “I don’t believe you” from Will to Bedelia during the questioning calls back to Bedelia’s earlier manipulation of Will. There is an argument to be made that, at present, Bedelia operates as the most important person in Hannibal’s life, a position that Will feels entitled to, making their interactions particularly bitter.

Alana Bloom and Margot Verger feature importantly within Dolce, revealing their romantic relationship and subsequent possible plots. While I’ve seen some complain that the relationship seems to have been shoe-horned in, the pairing makes perfect sense to me: two incredibly damaged women who see within each other the potential for power. Their sex scene is one of the more unusual and arty (although Hannibal excels at this sort of thing) and sets the tone for the ‘blurring’ of other characters (mainly Will and Hannibal). Joe Anderson’s turn as Mason Verger has taken me some time to adapt to and I think I’ll always wonder what could have been if Michael Pitt had reprised the role, but Dolce is really where he hits his ultimate, skin-crawling creep factor.

Dolce is the site of the long-awaited reunion between Hannibal and Will. Their scene in the gallery would be touching if it wasn’t for their tumultuous and violent past, but it does show, at least on some level, their ability to relate to one another in a way they are not able to relate to anyone else. Equally, the aftermath of their meeting is a perfect example of how Fuller et al are presenting this perfectly, as despite wanting Hannibal to face punishment in the previous episode, there was genuine panic when it appeared he may be fatally injured in this one. Similarly, despite the way in which everything goes wrong, the ‘dinner’ between Hannibal, Will and Jack does provoke a fond nostalgia for their scenes during the first two seasons and provides a nod to that before moving on.

The quality of the recent episodes and the complex nature of the show makes the cancelation all the more sad. The recent SDCC trailer previewing the Red Dragon arc for the latter part of the season may provide some of the best episodes that Hannibal has had so far. The trailer appears to be bringing in visual elements from both Manhunter and Red Dragon, both strong films in their own right, but I for one am fascinated to see how the episodes adapt and change these elements too.

Hannibal is currently showing on Sky Living HD Wednesdays at 10pm

Hannibal – Secondo

If complaints about the early part of season three have been directed at the lack of interaction between Will and Hannibal then the third episode is unlikely to stop those complaints. What it does, however, is hint at a further back story and the ‘making of’ Hannibal as he exists today. Will’s dark and spiritual journey takes him to Castle Lecter and ends in a confrontation with someone from Hannibal’s past that reveals a level of ruthlessness within Will that has so far been unseen. Secondo explores Will’s increasing darkness now separated from Hannibal, suggesting that he needed very little tempting into the behaviours of the latter part of season two. The final moments at Castle Lecter are incredibly, creating a spectacle out of Will’s fractured psyche and a calling card to Hannibal. The addition of Chiyoh as someone who is aware of Hannibal’s past and has been a victim of him herself is an interesting development.

Hannibal and Bedelia’s life in Florence continues to amuse and bemuse in equal measure. Gillian Anderson’s facial expressions within these scenes are incredible at selling the strangeness of their dinner parties. The power games between the pair are also seen to be ramping up with Bedelia contributing to the hunt for Hannibal and Hannibal attempting to involve Bedelia more within his increasingly erratic crimes. The pitch-black comedy in these scenes set against the soul-searching of the other characters perfectly exposes why Hannibal is such a varied and enticing show.

Secondo revealed the fate of another character from the season two finale, resulting in the furthering of the idea of Hannibal now being hunted. However, his power plays are already in action, with the idea put forward that as much as the other characters are seeking him out, he is also drawing them in. So far, season three is playing out as a drawn-out game of human poker, in which no one has quite revealed their hand, yet. Hannibal is a show that has never seen fit to rush, rather it takes pleasure in nuances of behaviour and intentions, so a fairly slow start to this season is unsurprising. For the moment, this slow burn is resulting in a captivating show, high on vivid, disturbing imagery and low on any resolution – a major positive if you ask me.

The quality of Hannibal makes it all the more sad that NBC have chosen to cancel the series. While the remaining episodes will continue to air on the channel and also on Sky Living within the UK, season four is now in serious doubt, despite Bryan Fuller’s outline for a seven season show. Netflix have all but been ruled out of taking the show on and therefore Amazon Prime seems the most likely home, considering their streaming rights for seasons one and two. If you want to help you can join the Twitter campaign with the hashtag, #SaveHannibal.

Hannibal – Primavera

The second episode of season three of Hannibal continued in much the same vein as the first episode, offering an exploration of Will Graham’s condition following the events of the season two finale, although moves slightly closer to a consideration of Graham and Hannibal’s relationship. For a series that has been so dependent on the interplay between those two characters, it is particularly interesting to see episodes in which they do not directly interact, aside from in flashback sequences. While Antipasto focused on the power dynamics between Bedelia and Hannibal, Primavera is much more about Will Graham’s reawakening and coming to terms with what happened. The result is a compelling, unsettling and often moving 40-something minutes.

The fantasy sequences continue with the submersion motif that has so far involved Alana (in season two), Bedelia (last week) and now Will Graham and Abigail Hobbs. The submersion either in blood or black water as a metaphor for Hannibal’s continued control over the group. This episode also revealed that this is not the first time Hannibal has played emotional chess with members of law enforcement and Will Graham appears to have found himself an ally in the search. However, Graham is clear that he is not sure what he wants to do if he finds Hannibal.

Overall, the episode uses fantasy sequences to bring us back to the shattered psyche of Will Graham, all while still concealing the fates of Jack and Alana, who receive no mention throughout. A sequence in which the dual fates of Graham and Abigail play out alongside one another is effective in detailing the destruction of the season two finale. Hannibal season three is in no rush to return to Will and Hannibal directly interacting, something which some people may find frustrating. For me, it is a slow, measured response to the chaos from before and a chance to watch all these characters start to rebuild their lives.

Hannibal is currently airing in the UK on Sky Living at 10pm on Wednesday nights.

Hannibal – Antipasto

I’ll start this article with a confession – I am a very recent Hannibal convert, having originally watched the first episode and considered it to be inferior to my first serial killer profiling love Millennium, which brought us the troubled profiler with a dark gift, Frank Black. It was only an impulse purchase of series one and two on DVD at around Christmas time that forced me to look more closely at Hannibal and really fall in love with it. I’m of the opinion that Hannibal is catered to box-set viewing, given the complicated dynamics between characters that unfold over time, however with season three to start tomorrow in the UK (Wednesday June 10th Sky Living 10pm), I’ll be writing weekly, non-spoiler recaps. These will be at UK pace, with this entry as a noticeable exception, given I was able to catch episode one on a ‘see it first’ platform through Sky. As the recaps may need to refer back to events within seasons one and two there will be spoilers for those. Now, on with the episode!

Antipasto is a departure from the usual flow of Hannibal, but with the events of the ‘Red Dinner’ at the conclusion of season two it is a much-needed change that offers little in terms of the fates of the characters involved. Rather, the episode focuses on the new, ‘borrowed’ lives of Hannibal and Bedelia as they position themselves within Italian society as husband and wife. This separation from the reality at the end of season two contributes to an uneasy, dream-like feel to the episode which incorporates lengthy flashback scenes in addition to some particularly effective tricks of the light. Throughout, the present sequences could easily have been a particularly paranoid nightmare of Bedelia’s.

The core of the episode centres on the uneasy power relations between Hannibal and Bedelia. During the first two seasons and particularly at the close of season two, viewers can safely assume that Hannibal is in complete control of Bedelia, controlling her in the same way he has exerted force over everyone else. However, Antipasto throws in further depth to Bedelia’s character, hinting that she is perhaps more dangerous than first assumed and this goes some way to suggesting that Hannibal is not in full control, although he will do anything to reassert that control. This is really the core element of Hannibal’s character within the series, in that he is able to read people so keenly and turn their flaws either on others (Tobias) or themselves (Mason Verger). This depth and character development is also accompanied by a fiercely funny moment based around a misunderstanding at the dinner table. Comedy, however unexpected in a series as gory and frequently unpleasant as Hannibal is always welcome, impeccably pitched and delivered by the actors. Gillian Anderson is a particular highlight in her delivery of some lines that others could not do justice to. If Antipasto is to set the scene for the rest of season three it may be the most manipulative we’ve ever seen Hannibal. As Bedelia references within the episode, Hannibal has allowed the others to ‘see him’ and this seems to have triggered an altogether more reckless direction of the character.

Despite the absence of the character within the episode, mentions of Will Graham still appear to hurt Hannibal and he seems to be yearning for a replacement. Hannibal and Will’s special, doomed relationship has been a compelling part of the series so far, with Will’s betrayal having ripple effects across all characters. While Bedelia has seen Hannibal and is alternating between fear and acceptance, it is highly likely that Will is motivated by revenge, particularly for the attack on Abigail and so we may get to see a quite different aspect to the Will character. Having such an isolated episode as a season opener is a rather risky strategy and some may find the lack of follow-up on the events of the season two finale frustrating, but the episode itself is perfect, immediately changing the pace and preparing for a slow build, and if the previous seasons are any indicator, a powerful payoff.

The Herd (2014)

The Herd

May contain mild spoilers.


‘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.


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.


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.


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.


 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

The Horror and Comedy Connection


“What a bloody silly way to die” is perhaps one of the best closing lines of a horror story (short or novel) and comes of course, from the Daphne Du Maurier short story Don’t Look Now.  It is fairly likely that people reading this are perhaps more familiar with Roeg’s film version – a film I consider a classic in terms of supernatural horror.  Some find the film’s climax in which Sutherland’s character John is cleavered in the throat my a malicious dwarf to be a highly unsettling, disturbing sequence and others…others laugh out loud at it.  The film, as classic as it is, doesn’t allow for the gallows humour of the book, which almost encourages the reader to laugh at John’s fate by virtue of his own awareness that as horrible as his demise is…it is still rather silly.  At odds with the seriousness of the rest of the film in which a young girl dies and her grief-stricken parents retreat to an unusual setting in order to gather themselves and rekindle their marriage, a menacing dwarf with a cleaver seems to be completely out of left field.


The scene itself and the chase around Venice that preceeds it has found a place in at least two comedy shows that I can call to mind instantly.  The first is an early work of The League of Gentlemen and their use of the reference really isn’t surprising considering their homages to 1970s horror, but a direct playing out of the scene in Highgate House of Horror demonstrates that there is comparatively very little to change about that scene in order to factor it into a comedy setting.  You can watch Highgate House of Horror in 3 parts, starting here.


So while its no surprise to see a reference like that turn up in something like The League, which wears its horror fandom on its sleeve, it is somewhat more unusual when a similar scene occurs in Absolutely Fabulous.  However, Jennifer Saunders has always utilised film parodies in her work with Dawn French and also in Absolutely Fabulous (probably the only mainstream comedy I’ve ever seen reference Repulsion for example) and she uses it to great comic effect when her dreams of chasing her daughter’s soon-to-be born child around her house is revealed as Janette Krankie, later cameoing as possibly the least supportive midwife ever committed to screen.


It is interesting how horror and comedy are seemingly so intrinsically linked and equally how the most serious situations can be adapted to win a laugh.  These two examples however do show that there are usually two camps in referencing films – one which uses it just as a reference and another which readjusts it to fit into that particular world.  Ab Fab’s Eddie is experiencing dreams about what she terms as a “Daphne Du Maurier midget” due to her stress surrounding Saffy’s baby and her small in stature but loud in voice midwife.  On the other hand, the League is relying on a horror fan’s ability to recognise what they are doing and enjoy it based on that, even when they are echoing the inherent silliness of it.  Of course, allowances must be made

During the festival season there were two films that could both be termed as horror-comedies.  Well, more than that, but only two I want to mention as what I’ve heard about them since is sort of at the heart of how sometimes a mix of horror and comedy, if not well balanced enough can cause difficulty in audience reception.  The first film is Housebound, a New Zealand film that crosses sub genres and maintains a good balance between laughter and fear.  Part of this, I’d suggest is that it treats everything seriously and the humour almost becomes incidental, despite being laugh-out-loud hilarious.  On the other hand, Kevin Smith’s Tusk has been pissing people off due to the fact that the concept is perhaps too silly to be a regular horror, but also the execution makes it too dark to be a comedy.  If an audience can’t find their footing between those two elements then, it can only lead to disappointment.


The problem is, there’s nothing that will kill a film more quickly than something meant to be terrifying ending up inadvertently hilarious, which is probably why the tactic employed by Housebound is to be admired.  By creating a slightly off-kilter environment it allows for an easy bridge between the funny and the creepy.  By contrast, Tusk fails for many people (not me, I should add, I rather enjoyed it), simply because the level of cruelty and the disturbing nature of it leaves no room for laughs, no matter how zany the concept.


To sum up then, there is a difficult relationship between comedy and horror in which both have to be treated with equal respect in order to make both aspects feel successful within one film.  In addition Housebound is probably one of the few I’ve seen that manages to maintain being a horror comedy throughout, without lapsing into all horror or all comedy at any point, which is quite an achievement.  The horror and comedy pairing is a lasting one, and for good reason – both seek to elicit a response from their audience that is in some way uncontrollable.  In the same way that you don’t think about something is funny before you laugh, you also don’t think about why something is scary when you jump or hide behind something – both reactions have happened by the time you’ve had time to rationalise them – and that is perhaps why scenes like the climax of Don’t Look Now appear to find their way into comedy – your instant reaction is a laugh…or fear.

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.