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Questions I have about the world after viewing Satan’s Baby Doll (1982)

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

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1) How is it that dead bodies don’t decompose, or get a coffin, or indeed so much as a shroud to protect their dignity in this castle? Is this treatment extended even to the non-nubile dead?

2) Do novice nuns really wear colour-coordinated stockings? And do they really keep them on in bed?

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3) How is it that a paraplegic gentleman can make his own way to the bedroom of the writhing bestockinged nun, but can’t make it back? Oh, wait. Actually I might already know the answer to that one.

4) Is injectable heroin really the colour and consistency of rice pudding?

5) Does a bedbath really take that long? And did she really have to dry THAT bit of him as long as she did?

6) What the hell is that guy doing with the chicken?

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7) Who fell asleep on the synthesiser?

…And finally…What did Satan have to do with it, actually? It seems a bit part for Old Nick at best. Perhaps he was the executive producer?

Horror Art…

Monday, February 28th, 2011

A painting I did on commission for a friend…Who’s Laughing Now? Acrylics.

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Flyboy, pencils.

…and a couple of Karloffs. One in watercolour (no, really) and one in pencils.

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Panic Button

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Psst: fancy a look at the first trailer for Panic Button?

See the PANIC BUTTON trailer here…

Living Doll (1990)

Friday, February 18th, 2011

A low budget horror featuring romance, mental disintegration, a dash of putrefaction…and Eartha Kitt? That is indeed what you get from weird gem Living Doll (1990), a film which somehow conflates black comedy elements with some decidedly unsavoury themes and scenes.

Howard Adams – a hospital morgue attendant – really likes Christine, who works in the hospital’s flower stall. Thing is, lovely Christine doesn’t even know Howard exists. Such is life…that is, until Christine is involved in a fatal ‘accident’ and arrives on Howard’s slab.

Howard, already a very unstable man, finds that he just can’t say goodbye to his dream girl – and being asked to witness her autopsy seems to send him spiralling over the edge (although, frankly, this ghoulish turn of events isn’t much weirder for Howard than hanging out with his wise-cracking colleague Jess, or enduring the awkward double-dates he sets up. Plus, his apartment is already decaying around his ears, so falling in love with – and quickly, ahem, moving in with – a dead body is almost the next logical step.)

Christine and Howard set up home, and they both start to go to pieces, in their own ways. Howard, still blissfully infatuated with Christine, can only ever see her as she was; we, on the other hand, get to see the unpalatable truth. However, the truth will eventually out when a man’s career, home and friendships go to the wall – and doubly so when Christine starts making some pretty serious requests…

What starts out as a black comedy with an irreverent script and an almost ‘made for TV’ feel becomes gradually more and more gruesome, and more about mental disintegration than anything else.  In fact, this is a film quite unlike any other in tone: there’s a grisly overarching theme, sure, but lots of odd touches of pathos throughout. This is all brought together with some decent performances by Mark Jax as Howard – who can be simultaneously sympathetic and creepy – Eartha Kitt as the prying landlady – and let’s not forget Katie Orgill as Christine, who really earns her stripes in a fairly horizontal but no doubt challenging role in terms of SFX (brought about by the hugely-talented Paul Catling, who does some absolutely sterling work here).

Living Doll is strangely watchable for a film which is such uncomfortable viewing at times, with a sadly-blinkered man going to any lengths to preserve the illusion of a love affair – albeit with plenty of blood-curdling effects along the way. It’s not a pacy film (indeed, when one of the central characters has shuffled off the mortal coil it would be rather difficult to deliver pace) and so may not be for viewers who seek high action – but this is a lesser-known film which deserves to be watched. As an aside, I couldn’t help but be struck on this particular viewing by the similarities between this film and the equally good, equally discomforting Cold Storage (2009) – it seems Howard isn’t on his own in his delusions…

Look out for Living Doll – new release coming soon to DVD and Blu-ray from AP Films…

The Horror of Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Monday, January 31st, 2011

The slow-burn thriller Rosemary’s Baby (1968) well-deserves its status in the history of horror cinema. It’s one of the most successful tales of threat ever to be committed to celluloid; with good performances, characters ranging from sympathetic to garish, cleverly-building tension and that ending, it has been often emulated, but never bettered.

It must be a good fourteen or fifteen years since my first viewing, and it continues to make an impact on me when I watch it. However, it isn’t the main premise – that Satan himself has fathered a son, and that the world will never be the same again – that continues to unsettle me. Nope; with some of the holier-than-thou nutjobs we have had and continue to endure in the modern world, I find it hard to believe that ‘Adrian’ would be any worse than the worst of ‘em. The element which I think is the most sinister derives from Rosemary herself. Namely, her maternal instincts, and how they govern her behaviour, to horrific effect.

I should probably elaborate here: I will freely admit that I am ultra-sensitive to the unquestioning status given to unquestioning maternal instinct – to parents, children, and family. Don’t get me wrong: some of my best friends are parents, I’m not advocating a (complete) cessation of the human race, and I understand the joy many folk get from their kids. However, as a woman in her thirties who is electively childless, I’m acutely aware of how society views the noble lifestyle choice of childrearing at the expense of almost anything else, and – let’s make no bones about it – how they view me for rejecting it. Childrearing is supported, lauded and promoted by the common consensus, and for a lot of women, how they come by this laudatory condition is secondary to the thing itself. Once the biological clock starts to tick, rationality (and in may cases, selfhood) goes out of the window. For me, Rosemary’s Baby derives much of its impact from just that, operating as a grotesque enactment of something recognisable. Rosemary’s biological clock is ticking, and regardless of who, how and why, she remains a slave to her biological impulses.

…And she’s prepared to take any treatment coming to her in order to satisfy them. Before she’s aware that her husband has arranged her rape at the hands of a Satanic cult, she’s delighted that he agrees that they can have a baby – despite his mean, often aggressive behaviour beforehand (as he mulls over the Castevets’ proposal, we imagine). Success for himself at the expense of his wife being used as a brood mare for the Devil? Why not, eh! And, when Rosemary wakes up after the hallucinogenic rape sequence, she seems to accept Guy’s explanation that he had sex with her when she was unconscious because he ‘didn’t want to miss baby night’. Hmmm. Smooth, Guy. Rosemary’s a lucky gal, and no mistake.

Of course the Devil fires no blanks, so Rosemary is overjoyed to find herself soon afterwards pregnant, quickly forgetting flashbacks to her rape and the fact that hubby (apparently) knocked her up in a way that was ‘sexy, in a necrophile kind of a way’. Things don’t go smoothly, though. Pregnancy isn’t the warm, glowing experience she was hoping for. She grows sick, painfully thin, and frequently finds herself in a lot of pain. Her attempts to deal with this are thwarted by her neighbours’ insistence that she sees their preferred physician Dr. Sapirstein, a man who encourages her not to worry herself with the finer details of what is happening to her (“Don’t read books, Rosemary”) and is disparaging of the intense physical anguish she is experiencing, assuring her it is all ‘normal’. When Rosemary reaches out to her friends for support, she is hemmed in on all sides by Guy, the Castevets and all the other neighbours involved with her unwitting role (with Guy getting physically aggressive towards the impertinent female friends who offer their help). Only old friend Hutch is able to warn her, before his impertinent helpfulness is disposed of by a hex.

As she grows bigger, Rosemary is more and more scrutinised by those around her whose focus is definitely not on her wellbeing. Although she discovers the truth about the Casevets and tries to escape from the cult, she is prevented by her condition: not only is she repeatedly fobbed off by her loved ones but it is a hot, hot summer in New York, and she simply cannot keep herself alert when she finally returns to her preferred doctor, Dr. Hill, where she tries to explain her situation and how paranoid she feels she is being. Hill, of course, betrays her, and the sleeping woman is next kidnapped, taken back to her apartment and tranquilised, so that her friendly neighbours can finally get at their precious cargo…

After which point, Rosemary is kept prisoner – sedated, and (literally) used as a food source by her gaolers. Charming. As she recovers, she begins to quietly rebel against this treatment, storing the medication which is keeping her subdued, and asking questions about the baby’s cries she can hear. Again, of course, she is lied to – so she takes matters into her own hands, arming herself and looking for her husband, his cronies and – her child.

The conclusion of the film is its apex, its greatest moment of flair. The conflation of middle-class chit-chat with the presence of a very unnatural event works so brilliantly…and at first, it looks as though Rosemary has retaken her personal volition. She approaches the crib, ignoring the protests of the gathered clans, with knife in hand, to protect herself and possibly to do something else…

Then she flounders. Despite the child having ‘his father’s eyes’, Rosemary’s initial shock quickly gives way to concern. ‘You’re rocking him…too fast,’ she declares to the feisty old maid Laura-Louise. Roman, seeing a window of opportunity, dispatches the child’s erstwhile nurse. ‘Let Rosemary rock him’, he orders, before appealing to the (recently raped, imprisoned, drugged) new mother. ‘Be his mother, Rosemary…you don’t even have to join, if you don’t want to…’

Does Rosemary maintain her rebellion, after everything? Nope. She folds. She starts to rock the child with an expression of benign consideration on her face.

And so the film comes to a close. Guy’s assertion that ‘you haven’t been [harmed], not really’ carries very little water – but what does it matter? After it all – her betrayal, her brutal, witnessed rape, her exclusion, her kidnap, her sedation and ultimately, her exploitation, she is a complete slave to her instincts. A thinking person would have thrust the knife into this future destroyer of worlds – but Rosemary is a mother. Even after everything which has been done to her, everything – she is still prepared to ‘be a mother’ to her child. Roman Castevet trusts in her intrinsic idiocy, and we’re appalled by it – although, for varying reasons it seems…

Book Review: In The Blood by Miranda Luna

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

In The Blood is the first novel by Oregon-based author Miranda Luna: it’s been a while since I sat down to read horror fiction, much less horror fiction which takes the form of such a bloody love letter to the Goth subculture – and, with In The Blood, I was definitely pleased I’d taken a break from the film-watching.

The novel follows the fate of a novelist called Zoë Starr: existing both at the heart of the goth scene (as a popular writer) and on its periphery (as someone gradually pulling back from the world), Zoë is sinking into an oblivion of cheap-cut heroin and painful memories, despite the best efforts of those left around her who still care. She remains fixed in the here-and-now for one real reason – the welfare of her adopted daughter, Spider – but this, too, is problematic, and Spider obviously nurses a cool disregard for the ‘care’ she gets from her aunt.

But, for all the chaos and unhappiness, Zoë still thrives on her imaginative life – and finds herself more and more drawn to her old life in New Orleans, with her former love, Paris. They parted ways twelve years before, but Paris seems to be in the ascendant again – not just in her thoughts and dreams, though. He’s back in town, and this time he wants to see to it that their paths stay inextricably linked…

This is a novel which screams insider knowledge of the late 90s goth scene, particularly on its darker fringes – fetish, bloodplay, and so on. Scarred skin and bloodletting are constants here, and graphic depictions of self-harm and drug use are at the core of an understanding of the lead character – which may not be for every reader, though this seems born out of a genuine attachment to the subject at hand, rather than any wish to alienate. The novel is also very firmly-rooted in specifics of place, namely San Francisco and New Orleans. In fact, I think a few less markers – less specific mentions of subculture-specific bands, magazines, teeshirts, and so on – would have sufficed, because one of the strengths of the novel is that it feels like it belongs to its setting very early on. That said, in terms of the lead characters – Zoë especially – it was very easy to visualise them, and some of this is down to strongly-described appearances and mannerisms, as well as their internal worlds.

I also found it very easy to empathise with Zoë, because of that nicely-drawn internal dialogue. Even when her behaviour is damaging or desperate, it is possible to understand her motivations and accept her on her own terms. Luna also has a talent for depicting dream states and unreality in a convincing manner, and this is fundamental in making the plot hang together. There is also, as you might expect in a book themed around blood, flesh and lost loves, a fair amount of sex depicted – and mostly, these descriptions work (though not invariably; good sex is difficult to write and some of the descriptive terms start to trip over each other a little awkwardly in some parts of the story).

As for the ending – I wouldn’t spoiler anything, but I did wonder if it was left open to a degree…it would certainly be interesting to revisit these characters in future, or if not, an ambiguous close to the story fits in with the rather shadowy types of lives led by our protagonists.

So, some minor issues don’t prevent In The Blood from being an absorbing and heady story, with solid, interesting characterisation and evidence of a real love & knowledge of the realms wherein these characters dwell.

To buy a copy of the book, click here (Amazon.com)

Jean Rollin RIP

Friday, December 31st, 2010

2010, as with any year, hasn’t been all good news for horror.

It is with great sadness that the horror community received word of filmmaker Jean Rollin’s passing earlier this year. Rollin – so beloved of both horror and arthouse fans – had been in poor health for years, but was never discouraged by this. Redemption founder (and curator of the Rollin legacy) Nigel Wingrove told me, “He’d been like that all the time that I’d known him, at death’s door one minute, fit as a fiddle the next. He usually just needed the company of a pretty girl and some money in his pocket and he was fine.”

Pretty girls, usually bloodied pretty girls, are perhaps what Rollin is best known for with titles like The Nude Vampire, Lips of Blood, Two Orphan Vampires and Dracula’s Fiancée to his name. His career didn’t entirely consist of vampire movies, but they were definitely a huge part of his output, and definite favourites with fans. However, his films were very nearly lost to obscurity. Had a certain Mr Wingrove not been leafing through a book on cult cinema – noticing the stunning stills which we’ve probably all noticed too – then those stills might have been our only clue to Rollin’s best work. “I discovered his films from a 1970′s book on vampires by David Pirie called Vampire Cinema. He had devoted pretty a whole chapter to Rollin’s films and it was filled with amazing pictures,” said Nigel. “From there it was a case of tracking down Jean Rollin and doing a deal with him to release his films which at that time (1992/1993) had never been commercially available.” Undeterred by a certain mentality within the UK horror scene which thought that Rollin’s work wouldn’t be appreciated or understood by fans, Redemption repackaged and released a host of hitherto lost films and the rest, as they say, was history. Redemption and Rollin are inextricably linked for many of us genre buffs. “Despite the problems Jean and I had over the years, and we had a lot, Jean always said ‘Thank god for Redemption’,” adds Nigel.

Rollin’s health issues never stopped him taking an interest in filmmaking – in recent years working with female alt-porn directrix Ovidie in 2007’s La Nuit des Horloges and directing his wife Simone in Le Masque de la Méduse last year – and it is a great shame that this enthusiasm has been cut short. However, we have some great examples of his unique brand of Eurohorror still due to us, and Rollin’s relationship with Redemption Films will continue. “I always felt though that he was one of those people who would be more famous dead than alive. Worse though would be that his work just reverted back to a rarefied clique to paw at again,” Nigel explained. “Luckily as Redemption now owns the copyright to all his work, I’ll make sure that Jean’s work is seen by as many people as possible, as I know he would have liked that.” Jean Rollin, RIP, and thank-you for the movies.

2010 Horror Highlights…

Monday, December 27th, 2010

…This doesn’t refer to my favourite films of the year. Nope, I’ve already covered that – please scroll down for proof. This is a brief run-down of what really enthused me, or otherwise made me happy this year, as filtered through my fairly-fucking-obvious taste for the horror genre.

  • My continued work for www.sexgoremutants.co.uk as a reviewer (and sometimes-interviewer). Al Sex Gore (proprietor of aforementioned website) was the first guy to take a chance on my writing, and a little over a year ago featured my review of ‘mockumentary’ Resurrecting The Street Walker. After that, we stayed in touch, and I was happy to take on more and more reviews – with screeners kindly provided by Mr. Sex Gore too. As a nice twist, my review of Resurrecting the Street Walker got quoted on the DVD cover; not only do I stand by my high opinion of that film, but I’m really proud of my involvement with SGM and happy to be part of the team. Long may it continue!
  • Twitter. I cannot go on without mentioning Twitter; a lot of the following highlights are not just tangentially, but directly due to my involvement with this website. It is amazing what you can do in 140 characters or less; I have found a community of miscreants who share my tastes in film, and miraculously some of these folk even share my puerile sense of humour. Add both together, and I’m happy to say I have made Real Life Friends (more on this later), as well as taking on further stints as a reviewer. I have really enjoyed getting to know people who use the site; I like its immediacy and the ability to tailor your involvement towards people you have something in common with, as opposed to an army of numbnuts you happen to have known for a long time and continue to ‘network’ with for the sake of lazy diplomacy (cough*Facebook*cough).
  • Ghouls on Film (February 2010, The Mixing Bowl, Birmingham). This event took place as part of the initial Women in Horror Recognition Month. Now, it’s fairly well-known that I have had some seismic differences of opinion with the WIHRM ‘party line’ in the last year. That does not for one second mean that I wouldn’t support, or enjoy supporting decent film events – especially when, as with Ghouls on Film, the event is self-funded, self-organised and self-promoted. This sort of gutsy support for genre film is what makes a lot of the best of it happen in the first place and for that I am going to be forever impressed by the efforts of Ms. Nia Edwards-Behi, who did all of the above! I got to see some interesting short films, as well as the diehard maverick first movie by the Soska twins, Jen and Sylvia – Dead Hooker in a Trunk – and, since seeing the film, I have made contact with and interviewed the sisters. I’m happy to have done my own small part to promote their work and I can’t wait til their next feature, American Mary, which is coming soon!
  • horror-extreme.com: part of my time spent on Twitter threw me into the path of a certain fan site, and a certain webmaster who continues to make me laugh on a regular basis. After a certain amount of opinions on horror films were exchanged, I agreed to review some films for the site. The rest, as they say, is history: as you may notice, my blog is now hosted by the self-same site…@HorrorExtreme is one of the nicest, most decent blokes on my internet radar (though he hides it well with a lot of necrophilia jokes) and he is a diehard horror fan; I enjoy the ethos and enthusiasm behind horror-extreme, and I love the guys/gals who have also been taken on as reviewers this year!
  • Bram Stoker International Film Festival (October 2010): We first attended the maiden voyage of this quirky, ambitious festival last year, and this year all the prerequisite stops had been pulled out as the festival went for a Hammer horror theme (in the awesome setting of Whitby, North Yorkshire). Mike Sr and Mike Jr have a hell of a lot going for them and I really look forward to seeing what next year brings – especially as BSIFF has booted the Whitby Goth Weekend from its usual spot…
  • Abertoir (November 2010): I cannot easily express my enthusiasm for this festival – a real one-off, set in beautiful coastal West Wales. I’ll start though by saying that it is unequivocally my favourite horror festival of the year. The programming is inspired and imaginative; the team are friendly; the venue is great and I always treat this as my year’s holiday. This year was especially brilliant as so many of my newfound friends (again, via Twitter) could be there. Huge kudos to @dpm74, @HorrorExtreme, @stonecypher (that Nia again!) and @DJDellamorte to name but a few; every day brought great new and old films and events – every night was a blur of excess and evenings out at the improbably-debauched Inn on the Pier. I think I am just about through apologising for the sheer levels of drunkenness involved. What an amazing holiday! Same time next year!
  • brutalashell.com – I have long held a huge respect for this knowledgeable, well-written horror site. Needless to say, having contributed to it in the last couple of months has meant a great deal to me, and I appreciate the good faith shown by @ben_bussey and @marcpatterson – UK editor and editor-in-chief respectively. Thankyou, you rule, I’m thrilled to be on board, and here’s to many more ‘women in prison’ screeners…
  • Diabolique Magazine. Last, but by no means least; this new venture (which elects to show a more studied interest in the horror genre than some other print media) has very kindly included one of my articles, on the use of Celtic myth in horror cinema. I am currently preparing a new piece, and I’m childishly happy to be involved in a good, old fashioned print magazine in such good company.

Many thanks also to those of you who I have chatted to, shared laughs with, contributed for, and bought fan-tastic handmade jewellery from (including a Baphomet pendant, a Cthulhu pendant and one of the infamous Human Centipede necklaces c/o the lovely Ms. Lipstattoo – do look for her on Etsy). You know who you are, and it’s been great talking to you all.

(And those of you who have been, shall we say, more hindersome than helpful?  I’ll just refer you to the old refrain, ‘people are their own punishment’.)

…and that, as they say, was that…now, bring on 2011!

Veerana (1988)

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Yeah, we Western audiences might be au fait with horror comedies but, when it comes to India’s horror output – films which frequently mix horror, comedy, family drama and musical – we’re on less familiar ground. This is what makes films like Veerana so utterly entertaining: they’re not only wacky, they’re cultural artefacts! It’s to the immense credit of the Mondo Macabro label that they have sourced, cleaned up and released so many otherwise unknown examples of world cinema for our screens.

Veerana plumps for occult-themed horror – mixing it with surprise dance routines and, by the standards of the place and the day, quite a lot of flesh. We start with a beautiful, insatiable blood-drinking witch named Nakita, and the devil cult which worships her (including a great, improbably-eyebrowed priest called Baba leading the ceremonies). When Nakita is captured and hanged by a group of disgruntled villagers, the priest vows vengeance on the village’s most influential family. And how? Why, by imbuing the wealthy Thakur Mahendra Pratap’s niece Jasmin with Nakita’s evil spirit, duh.

In a scene which was probably pretty scary to its earliest audiences, Jasmin is kidnapped by Baba and his miscreants, has her hair used to create an effigy of her, and is forced into the coffin of the Evil Dead-reminiscent witch in her true form. By the time her uncle saves her, it’s too late. Jasmin is a little more wild-eyed than she was…

Years pass. Jasmin has grown up, become hot and, when she’s not channeling Nakita’s Supreme Evil, she’s singing about love (you can be the judge of which is the more sinister). When Nakita is in the ascendant, however, Jasmin heads off and has her wicked way with garage attendants, draining their blood in the process.

Meanwhile, Jasmin’s cousin Sahila – whose father, Jasmin’s uncle, disappeared on that fateful day when Jasmin and Nakita became one and whose mother mysteriously died not long after – is called to return to the village. This is much to the chagrin of Baba, who has since wormed his way into the Pratap household by pretending to be a servant. Fuck knows why he’s so bothered, as Sahila, her accompanying cousin, wannabe horror director ‘Hitchcock’ and Hemant, a young man who she picks up along the way, seem fairly inept! Baba mobilses his ‘dark forces’ to prevent the other family members from arriving, but it’s no use. Even allowing for Hemant’s nearly-bissecting trousers, they all make it unscathed. Tough luck, Baba…

After this comedy of errors, the newly-arrived family members can’t help but notice that Jasmin is, well, a bit weird. They have to solve the problem of her dangerous dual life before a plot-bending twist reveals her true fate…and theirs! But not before a bit more singing and that.

Ah, Veerana. This is such an enjoyable film. Yes, there are plot holes you could drive a minivan through, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll be far too engrossed in why the Ramsay Brothers begin important scenes by focusing sharply on inexplicable portraits of alsatians, or who made the decisions on which scenes became song-and-dance numbers. This is also a very long film – 2 hours and 15 minutes in all – but it makes the most of its action and it certainly never feels dull. It’s so lurid, so over the top – and I have to give especial kudos to the cultists’ hiding-place, which looks like a cross between the video game DOOM and Blood on Satan’s Claw (and just who are the dudes with wooden heads? Give them their own film!)

Part of me feels I’m being a bit unfair towards the film by just cackling at it – it wasn’t made just to be mocked, and a lot of (slightly mad) care and attention has evidently gone into Veerana. The Ramsay Brothers were renowned for their gaudy work within the Bollywood horror tradition and you have to remember that there were a lot of very silly films coming out of Hollywood in the 80s too. They also seem quite self-aware – Hitchcock’s character sends up the horror genre at several points – and they do reference other films, even if it’s to steal some scenes (look out for scenes lifted wholesale from The Thing!)

As with so many films out on the Mondo Macabro label, this is a viewing experience which’ll stay with me. There’s just nothing like it in our cinematic tradition – even though we do have some horror-comedy-musicals, they aren’t even close to this in effect, being either nastier or more all-out pastiche. It’s also always interesting to see what goes for sexy and scary in other parts of the world, too – though, cultural lesson though this may be, it’s also a bloody entrancingly odd, entertaining movie.

Here ‘s the trailer!

Top 5 Horror Films of 2010

Friday, December 10th, 2010

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Take Two.

I had originally planned to put together a top 10 list of films; I even made a start on it, before I realised it was going to be harder than I thought. Hell, I even found myself cheating – like adding in films which came out last year… in other words – and I freely admit I’ve missed out on a couple of films which others amongst you have rated highly – 2010 was a slow year for horror films. That said, some clever, thought-provoking, well-executed films have appeared this year too – so, here are my top 5.

5) VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP AND VIDEOTAPE


A documentary rather than a straighforward movie, true, but this for me absolutely has to make the list. As I said in my full review (which you can read here), Jake West’s film strikes a balance between the ever-relevant history of the ‘video nasties’ hysteria, and the sheer exuberance of the fandom. He also keeps it fairly well-balanced: although you might have an inkling of where West’s sympathies lie if you know anything of his work, he makes a real effort to speak to and understand those who eventually implemented, or helped to implement the ban. An exhaustive resource and great fun too, this really feels to me like the last word on the debacle. But will it be the last time we feel the effects of hysterical censorship? Perhaps forewarned is forearmed, and if so, you have to own this film.

4) A SERBIAN FILM


‘Hysterical censorship’ brings me neatly to the next film on my list. To be honest, I’m half-surprised I find myself listing A Serbian Film here. I saw a screener of the film earlier in the year and I initially had a mixed response to it: actually, I still have that mixed response. However, and without including the shock and awe which the film has generated since I saw it (including being pulled from UK horror festival Frightfest and having a record amount of footage cut by the BBFC to render it fit for a release), A Serbian Film is one of the only films I have seen in a very long time which has really stayed with me – and no, not for what has come to be spoken about in hushed tones as ‘that scene’. What sticks to my bones is its overarching intensity: it has a bleakness of atmosphere I’ve only ever felt in one other film, Nacho Cerda’s Aftermath. There’s an aggression and a hopelessness in A Serbian Film which is quite like anything else.

The director, Srdjan Spasojevic, has gone on record in the press recently to explain that he considers his film to be a political allegory, for the years of warfare and their fallout in his homeland. This still feels unconvincing from my own point of view of an audience member – like a means of political explication to justify the film’s content after the fact – but obviously, it ain’t my film and I can only ever guess at this. A Serbian Film for me is an exploitation film with a whole new remit in terms of style and tone, and it even has the gall to throw in some very, very dark humour too.

3) DREAM HOME


I’ve never been much of a slasher fan, but Dream Home is such a gem of a film that it got under my radar. Perhaps this is because it is one of a new breed of slashers which just feel so much smarter than their predecessors; of course, not all slashers were mindless, but they were frequently formulaic, and Dream Home disrupts that familiar form to bring us not a mindless killing machine, but a fallible, reluctant murderess who feels driven to act as she does for a complex, long-standing and – for some – recognisable reason. I found it impossible not to empathise with her – even as she was butchering her way through the (previously) lucky few in her des-res. A neat, engaging structure holds the film together well and the lead actress Josie Ho’s performance is sterling. Hong Kong, the horror community has missed you!

2) F


Good modern horror can give to us the sort of unease and terror associated with archaic times & places, bringing the Gothic – and I definitely mean my use of the term  – bang up to date. These new films can make the lightest, airiest modern spaces become horrible. F does just this with a school environment, using this familiar space as the backdrop for a story of familial and personal redemption – with actor David Schofield turning in a brilliant performance as a damaged, disillusioned, but ultimately resilient father.

The threat here initially seems to stem from a timely paranoia about feral youth, or ‘hoodies’; this is a theme which has been used in other horrors of recent years, but F doesn’t develop this in the same way that, for example, Eden Lake does. Here, they lose even the shreds of humanity which they have in Eden Lake – operating almost as supernatural entities – and this makes for a very different sort of film, one which balances the real and the unreal in an interesting, savage way. With a gutsy ending (which took some thinking on my behalf before I could accept it) and a good cast, F is a stylish, often nerve-wracking horror.

You can read my full review of F here.

1) THE LOVED ONES

Quite simply, the enthusiasm and skill which Sean Byrne and his team bring to The Loved Ones makes it the stand-out genre film of the year for me. That skill starts with the most important of basics, developing a likeable protagonist in Brent (Xavier Samuel) together with a ‘demented family’ schtick whose main character Lola (Robin McLeavy) moves easily from pitiable, to odd, to deserving of her very own place in the horror canon of scary females.

The Loved Ones happily acknowledges its influences from existing horror films – with Carrie as an obvious example, though there are more – but good writing, a real warmth and some brilliantly-handled shifts in pace do more than enough to maintain interest. But, more than all that, the skill behind this film is demonstrated by how it lays on all that nastiness and still manages to be heartwarming at the end of it all. Brent’s transformation as he goes from hating his life to fighting for it might not be (and was probably never intended to be) heavily-drawn or sentimental, but it’s there alright, and adds something interesting and worthwhile to the film as a whole. I’d say this is a cult horror of the future – and I loved this.

You can read my full review of The Loved Ones here.