Monday, 23 October 2017

Hallowe'en Movies - Anthology Horror

Or, if you like, portmanteau horror. Horror films with lots of stories in them, that's the point. It's a genre that was invented in Britain and perhaps the best examples were produced here. But there are some cracking examples from overseas. So, here goes...

DEAD OF NIGHT - Made immediately after World War II by Ealing Studios (far better known for comedy) as a bit of pure entertainment. Horror was explicitly banned during the war in Britain, so DOF represented a return to normality for the film industry. It was also an opportunity to showcase acting and directorial talent. The stories are variable in terms of chills, but all have their virtues. The adaptation of E.F. Benson's 'The Bus Conductor' is pretty good, the comedy interlude based on Wells' 'The Inexperienced Ghost' is pleasant. Those two old faithfuls, the country house ghost and the haunted mirror, are both handled well. But of course the most memorable sequence concerns Micheal Redgrave's ventriloquist that stands out, especially as it leads to a rather good pseudo-twist ending.



KWAIDAN/KAIDAN - Very different from Dead of Night in almost every way, but undeniably an anthology horror movie based on tales by Lafacadio Hearn. The title means 'ghost story' and all four tales are supernatural. 'Black Hair' is an effective start, a tale of the samurai who abandons his faithful wife, then returns to her years later only to find her apparently unchanged. 'The Woman of the Snows' is my personal favourite, a cruel tale of a simple man who encounters a kind of vampire. 'Hoichi the Earless' is steeped in folklore and bloody Japanese history. The tricky vignette 'In a Cup of Tea' offers a playful conclusion.



TALES FROM THE CRYPT - No list of anthology horror films would be complete without an Amicus production. While ASYLUM, VAULT OF HORROR, and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE are very enjoyable, this one is arguably the best of the bunch. Yes, it's the one with Joan Collins. Also Roy Dotrice, Ian Hendry, Peter Cushing, and no lesser thesp than Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper. It's wondrous hokum, with five strangers getting lost on a tour of Somewhere Spooky and being told that their futures are to be reviewed. Guess what? None of them are going to live to a ripe old age, and one of them is going to be done in by Santa.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Hallowe'en Movies - Folk Horror

Here are some folk horror movies that aren't THE WICKER MAN, BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW, or WITCHFINDER GENERAL. Such strange entities do exist. Perhaps the best examples were created for British TV in the Seventies, but there are a few films out there that use folkloric ideas and/or imagery.

ABSENTIA - A relatively low-budget chiller with the premise that monsters lurk in dark places, waiting to ensnare unwary travellers. In this case the lair of the entity is an underpass near the home of a woman whose husband vanished seven years before the film begins. While low key for most of its length, this one has at least one moment of visceral horror.



THALE - A Norwegian tale of huldras, mysterious forest-dwelling entities. The film begins when a clean-up crew go to the house of an apparent suicide and find a secret basement room, complete with weird equipment. They also discover what seems to be a beautiful young woman, Thale, who soon turns out to have strange powers. It''s pretty good for a low-budget film and offers a new take on the old question, 'Who are the real monsters here?'



NIGHT OF THE DEMON - Well, why not? Here we have a witch-cult active in rural England, complete with rituals, symbols, horrific deaths. The very idea of casting the runes is rooted in magical tradition. All of the adaptations of M.R. James stories are to some extent folk horror because they are rooted in landscape and rural beliefs in a way that most Gothic fiction is not.




Saturday, 21 October 2017

Hallowen'en Movies - Lovecraftiana!

Yes, old Howard P. has inspired a shedload of movies, some good, some bad, some a bit meh. Here are a few that range from respectful adaptation to thematic homage to... well, silly but fun.

THE CALL OF CTHULHU - A silent film by the HPL Historical Society, this is a spiffing effort. It succeeds in recreating the essence of early Hollywood, complete with stop-motion effects and old-school studio-based action sequences. A faithful adaptation, and a fun one, this is a labour of love that works damn near perfectly.



SPRING - About as different from the above as you can imagine, yet still replete with Lovecraftian themes. Like tentacles, ancient secrets, and weird miscegenation. Overall it's not so much a horror film as an offbeat love story with a whacking great obstacle for our hero. It's also rather beautiful - it's Italian setting is about as far from HPL's Vermont as you could get, but it works, not least when the star-crossed lovers visit Pompeii.



DIE FARBE (THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE) - This German film tackles the obvious problem with the original story - how to show a new colour on screen? The solution is simple - make it a black and white movie, have 'normal' colour represent the cosmic tint. The German setting works well and the acting is never less than passable. No tentacles, though.



DAGON - Here's a contentious one. For some this Spanish-set version of 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth' is just plain wrong. For me it's a fun version of a tale that is obviously pulpy in more than one sense. Stuart Gordon is good value and the overall 'feel' is right - the Spanish fishing port has a dank grimness that is pure Innsmouth. Plus, we get a veritable ton o' tentacles!




Friday, 20 October 2017

Halloween Movies - A Mixed Bag

Here are a few suggestions for viewing over the spooky season. I'll probably think of some more in due course. I'm like that.

CITY OF THE DEAD - aka HORROR HOTEL, a cheap and cheerful movie starring Christopher Lee. It sets out to create an atmosphere for witchiness, or witchitude, in a New England town in the post-war era. It succeeds, despite its tiny budget. Lee is excellent, of course, but the cast is rather good overall. Splendidly atmospheric.



GHOST STORY - as recommended to me by no lesser authority than award-winning author Steve Duffy. A starry adaptation of Peter Straub's novel, this is again an atmospheric small-town America story. Here the supernatural force is not something conjured up deliberately but created as an avenging force by wrongdoing of a very familiar kind. This theme plus excellent performance by the young Alice Krige makes it a far from simple tale of good v. evil.



CARNIVAL OF SOULS - cheap and cheerful amateur production, this is the sort of film Ed Wood thought he was making. The moment when the star emerges from the river (three hours after the car she's in goes under water, oo-er) is splendid. It hovers somewhere between B-movie and art-house.



STATIC - not everyone's cup of tea, I admit. This one offers a twist on the conventional ghost story and, for me, does it quite well. It is, on the face of it, a tale of a bickering couple who take in a strange woman who claims to be lost. But her story has holes, and her behaviour is disruptive and just plain odd. Who are the strange masked figures lurking around the house? Why can't the besieged couple get help to combat what appears to be a home invasion?



HALLOWEEN - well I could hardly ignore it. Any of John Carpenter's early figures are of course great fun, but this one is inevitable. And it is rather good, you know - far less conventional than you might think. The definitive slasher movie is not just a slasher movie. Also, Jamie Lee Curtis is allowed to be a warm, believable character - the definitive 'final girl'.



All the Rage




Thursday, 12 October 2017

The White Road


One of the great rarities of modern weird fiction is The White Road by Ron Weighell, It was published in 1997 by Ghost Story Press. Many enthusiasts have tried in vain to obtain a copy. And now Sarob Press is bringing out a new edition of the book! Details are on the Sarob blog here. This is a major event by any standard. The striking cover (see above) is by Nick Maloret,  and here's a hint of what is in store for the eager multitude.
This 384pp (approx) hardcover containing 24 stories and 2 novellas has been a massive undertaking by the author, the artist and by Sarob Press ... a true labour of love. The original stories have mostly only minor revisions/corrections etc and appear in the author’s preferred order ... and the overall feel and concept of this new volume is wholly different to the GSP edition.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories is a nice, on-the-nose title for a film, is it not? This particular British portmanteau film was adapted by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson from the hit stage show of the same name. There's a very good, detailed review here in the Guardian.
It’s not a film that wants to be subtle – and, as I say, its unsubtler flourishes and jump scares may have been more potent in the theatre, like outrageously startling but cleverly managed stage illusions. But there’s a tremendous atmosphere to this picture, a dream-like oddness and offness to everything. Nyman and Dyson have created a weird world of menace, despair and decay.

All good fun, then. And impressive that they've got hot property Martin Freeman as one of the leads. I look forward to this, as Jeremy Dyson is a huge fan of classic horror movies, as he explains here.
This was one genre in particular that we in this country seemed to do well. A disproportionate number of the finest examples of the supernatural horror film were British productions (although sometimes, as in the case of The Haunting and Night of the Demon, with American directors). This expertise accords with the written ghost story, many of whose finest exponents have been British, too. Maybe it’s something to do with our climate - fog and rain and long winter nights are effective stimulants to the fantastic imagination.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Readers Poll - Issue 35

Image result for victoryWell it's a triumph and a half for Andrew Alford, whose story 'A Russian Nesting Demon' ran away with the poll.

Congratulations to Andrew, who will be receiving the almost unimaginable sum of £25 British pounds as a prize. (I know, it's a puny sum really, but I can't help currency fluctuations.)

Thanks to everyone who voted, and commiserations with all the runners up. I was pleased to see that nobody failed to trouble to the poll-ometer. If you want to check out the issue and have not yet obtained a copy, well, you can do so here. And there are back issues, too. It's a veritable cornucopia of stuff.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Innkeepers (2011)


What makes a good ghost story on film? Setting, characters, central idea, basic plot - lots of things, in fact. The Innkeepers is an interesting example of a film that seems to have everything going for it, but somehow failed to win over this ghost story lover. Why? It just lacks clout.
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The setup is good. The Yankee Pedlar Inn (a real hotel in Torrington, Connecticut) is closing down because it's losing money. It's a quaint old place, allegedly haunted, and in its final days under the care of Luke and Claire. Luke (Pat Healy) is a classic pretentious dropout type who has set up a website cataloguing supposed paranormal events at the hotel. Claire (Sara Paxton) is young, perky, not quite sure what she's going to do with her life. When the film begins there are only a handful of guests and the innkeepers are planning a long weekend of ghost-hunting. They are seeking to contact the ghost of tragic Madeline O'Malley, who hanged herself after being jilted on her wedding night.

The setting looks good, the premise is fine, the lead actors are more than competent. Luke and Claire have a slightly spiky chemistry and - as the film goes on - it becomes clear that he has more than friendly feelings for her. During her night shift Claire has a series of strange experiences, including the old 'piano playing itself' gimmick. This is nicely done but nothing special. Conventional methods such as EVP recordings are used but not to any great effect. In fact we do not hear most of the really weird stuff, which seems an odd choice by writer-director Ti West.

The arrival of Leanne, a faded TV star (played by Kelly McGillis) who is now a spiritual healer, throws another ingredient into the mix. Luke is contemptuous of Leanne but Claire asks for her help. The resulting quasi-seance foreshadows later tragedy. Things move towards a climax, but not at any great pace or with much conviction. There are shocks, now and again, but most of the time there is a lack of energy, a sense that we've seen it all before. At times I felt The Innkeepers might be a tribute to old-school TV movies of the Seventies, which were low-budget and seldom high concept. West's The House of the Devil was, after all, a homage to early Eighties horror.

Without giving too much away, I was left thinking 'Is that it?' The Innkeepers is too thin for a feature film and might have worked better as an episode in a TV series. It also contains too many hackneyed ideas, especially the 'Oh I'll just go down into the spooky dark place for no good reason' moment. It is a film that promises a reasonable quantity of unpretentious chills and fails to deliver. It's a flat-footed attempt to do something old-fashioned well. It passes the time. It's not too bad.