Monday, 9 December 2013

Oh... Have You Read My Piece in Rue Morgue Magazine?

The December 2013 issue of Rue Morgue (#140) contains an interview piece I wrote based on a fax conversation(!) I had with one of my idols - Brian Clemens, OBE. Clemens is the writer/creator of several projects of which I'm a fan, including Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, And Soon the Darkness, See No Evil, the TV series Thriller and The Avengers, and he is the writer/director of Caption Kronos: Vampire Hunter.

Clemens, now in his 80's, was approachable, engaging and considerate. We made contact via his wife's email address, and when asked what his preferred method of communication over the Atlantic Ocean would be, he chose fax as he kindly did not wish to trouble his spouse.

I ended up with much more information than would fit in the three-page Rue Morgue piece, but the content has been distilled to a nice and informative article that will hopefully turn a few new folks on to Clemens' work. To top it all off, The Exoricst, one of my favourite flicks, is the cover story of this issue.

This is my second piece for Rue Morgue (info about the first piece is here), and the whole experience has been a thrill for me. This past October, I was in Toronto and stopped by the Rue Morgue office where I met Editor-in-Chief Dave Alexander and some of the Rue Crew. Dave, Monica, Justin and Ron were great, and I look forward to dropping back into their lair where I'd love to spend weeks in both the DVD and book libraries.

For more info about Rue Morgue, check out their always interesting and always morbidly atmospheric website.

William Castle's Ghost Story (aka Circle of Fear)

I’d been slowly making my way through William Castle’s TV anthology series Ghost Story (aka Circle of Fear) over the past year. Though it originally ran on NBC from 1972-1973, I wasn’t even aware of its existence until I came across a review of the Sony Manufacture on Demand (MOD) release of the complete series.

Based on the series’ limited exposure and short on-air history (one season), it’s fair to say that it was not a hit like similar anthologies Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. It did, however, attract significant behind the scenes genre names in addition to Castle, like Hammer Horror writer-director Jimmy Sangster and I Am Legend author Richard Matheson, as well as performers such as Janet Leigh, Jodie Foster, Karen Black, and Martin Sheen, among many others.

Originally, the show was called Ghost Story and featured Hotel Manager Winston Essex (Sebastian Cabot of Family Affair) as a sort of through line who would intro and extro each episode. Towards the end of its run, however, the show’s name was changed to Circle of Fear, the Essex concept was dropped, and each episode ran without comment. A sure sign of something not quite working, but did this revamp work?

The short answer is no. The changes were made to relatively inconsequential elements, when instead Castle and company should have been making sure that they had the occasional story that really stood out – the kind that people remember long after its episode has aired. Horror anthologies live and die based on the impact that individual episodes make – two or three per season may be all it takes to succeed. Instead, Circle of Fear offers an almost consistent level of decent quality that entertains rather than scares. Seen through the rose coloured tint of nostalgia, that’s enough for a watch, but not enough to make it a classic.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Dumb Kids: A Short Story

The girl next door knocked and asked the boy to come to her house. He did, and as they approached, someone yelled, “Get him!” The group of girls grabbed the boy and pulled him to the ground. They began yelling at him, whipping him with branches and throwing stones at him. Eventually, somehow, the boy made it back home.

Years later the boy, now a man, asked the girl, now a woman, about the incident. The woman said, “We were just kids.”

The man said, “But I knew not to do that to people when I was a kid. Why did you do that to me? Was it because we were friends with (an unpopular family in the neighbourhood)?”

“I never thought that,” the woman replied. “I always thought it was because you were different."

Talking Giallo on CBC Radio

Click here to hear me talk about Giallo with Karen Mair on CBC Radio's Mainstreet.

Monday, 4 November 2013

This Image is Disgusting and Shouldn’t Be Posted - UPDATE

A couple of weeks back I posted this. I also posted a request on Facebook for comments from specific people, mostly women, involved one way or another in horror and cult films. This was the feedback I received:

BJ Colangelo
Horror Blogger; Website: Day of the Woman
It's a disgusting and horrible image made specifically to illicit that sort of response. You're supposed to find it disgusting. It's supposed to make you upset. That's the purpose of horror imagery. However, censoring it or refusing to post it will take away that power. Not everything in this world is supposed to be sunshines and lollipops. I would be more worried if someone DIDN'T find the image disgusting.

Amanda Reyes
Horror Blogger; Website: Made for TV Mayhem
I'm glad you tagged Jovanka, because I remember reading an editorial piece in Rue Morgue some time ago about a letter that I believe she received from a victim of rape who found I Spit on Your Grave cathartic (I'm sure she can expand on that better than me), but that goes into the actual content of the film and not so much the lurid poster imagery of a woman's rear that is now so infamous. But it's what I thought of. I hate I Spit on Your Grave, but I don't think it's necessarily my place to tell someone they shouldn't watch or like it. And certainly the writer of that letter got something extremely positive out of the film.

That said, I'm more sensitive now to this kind of art work than I used to be. Blame all of the gender and representation classes I take at school. However, when I see stuff like this, it's more like a personal discussion with myself as to what I dislike about what the image says. Some images are more offensive than others. And I don't think artwork for movies should be edited/censored/etc (of course, there will always be exceptions). Real images, well, those are different and we know the difference. Adults here, right?

I think I'm talking in circles though. It's an interesting question because horror has really opened itself up to females and has been attempting to do that for a while (read Nowell's Blood Money if you haven't), so it's a legitimate issue. Also, I agree that your friend should have maybe sent you a private message, or maybe opened it up to a discussion instead of a "This is disgusting, so feel bad about posting it" kind of response.

OK, and one more thing (sorry), as for the actual Corruption artwork, it's creepy and total exploitation. It's also kind of fantastic, and captures some of the old grindhouse day art. I'm more into it than not, I think.

BJ Colangelo (responding to Amanda)
I actually wrote a very, very similar article about ISOYG in that regard. Horror imagery will always have a different impact on others based on their personal experiences and beliefs.

Jovanka Vuckovic
Writer, Filmmaker; Website: Jovanka Vuckovic
Images like this are not the language of horror per se. Rather, it is the currency of exploitation cinema. The two are not mutually exclusive, yes, they have often frolicked in the same stained bed. But I'm tired of "horror" as genre taking the heat for all of the misogynistic imagery that exists in the movies. Horror is not inherently sexist. Exploitation films are. And as far as exploitation films go, this is pretty standard stuff. It's no worse than the poster for Maniac, which depicts a man with a hard-on holding a knife in one hand and a woman's scalp in the other. Or the poster for Jose Larraz's The Violation of the Bitch, and its incendiary tagline: "She asked for it." Lurid poster art and inflammatory taglines put asses in seats. While no one is particularly proud of the rampant misogyny that characterizes many exploitation films, it is a part of film history. And there will always be people that make sweeping personal judgements about you for watching these films. And that's okay, because that's their issue, not yours. As you were.

Stacie Ponder

Horror Blogger, Cartoonist; Websites: Final Girl, Stacie Ponder
Had your friend framed her issues as opening the door to discussion, I'd have no problem with her bringing it up. But making it into a personal attack is inappropriate and not particularly helpful. Then again, I'm sure everyone who's proclaimed him- or herself to be a horror fan has gotten the disapproving "How can you watch that stuff?" from someone, as if all films in the genre are exactly the same. You've got to choose your battles, I suppose.

Though I know it can often be misleading, cover art simply helps me decide if I want to go further and check out a movie or not. While this doesn't look like something I'd care to see (my relationship with exploitation cinema is a tenuous one), I find it far less offensive than the cover of I Spit on Your Grave and its sequel.

And again, while I think talking about these topics is good and healthy, context is important. Had you posted it with commentary like "aw yeah look at this bitch get it LOL" or something, that'd be one thing. But it's the cover art, and to post it within a review or discussion post is nothing to worry about. People are going to be "triggered" by all sorts of imagery, whether from horror movies or something else. Like I said, those become choose your battles scenarios. Whether or not you censor your site is up to, I think you pulled the trigger too quickly.

Maitland McDonagh
Film Critic, Writer; Website: Flick Chick
Why not? Because some people might be offended? That seems ridiculous to me. I'm offended by real life violence against women... and men and children. But one of the purposes of art is to be confrontational and to generate discussion. Cinema is an art form, regardless of what particular people think about particular movies, and promotional imagery connected to movies is as much an art form as is vintage advertising poster imagery. My feeling is, if you don't like it, don't look at it, but don't assume that your opinions should extend to limiting other people's options. I hate Jeff Koons' work, but that doesn't give me the right to prevent other people from seeing in your timeline or the middle of Rockefeller Center.

Amanda -- I should have said earlier that I think we all become more sensitive to this kind of imagery as we grow older, just because we know more about so many things, whether because of books we've read or classes we've taken or things we've experienced. But I don't believe that kind of knowledge makes us inherently more or less intolerant... at best it makes us more capable of conducting dialogues with ourselves and others about certain images disturb us and what we can and can't learn from our reactions and those of others.

Donna Davies
Filmaker; Website: Ruby Tree Films
Hey Dave. I'm loving this discussion. Refreshing to see people I truly respect sharing their thoughts here. I tend to agree with Maitland. If you don't like it don't look. Personally I find the actual artwork for this cover unappealing in every regard.

Robin Bougie
Illustrator, Writer; Websites Bougie Man, Cinema Sewer
I also would classify myself as a feminist as one of the issues I am most passionate about is equality, and like you, I am also a horror fan. On top of that, I'm an artist who creates work that could easily be classified as being the same genre that makes up that CORRUPTION cover art. There is violent imagery, both sexualized and non-sexualized in my creative output, and I stand by the work very proudly. I believe that art is a reflection of our world -- of its problems, its beauty, its horror -- not an instigator. There is an old adage that I quite like, that only censors and psychopaths can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. But more to the point... she's right. That image IS disgusting. It depicts disgusting behaviour. But I for one put a lot of value on a society where we are allowed to deal with these problems openly in this way. There is a lot to be said for exploitive imagery that may not be obvious to someone reacting to it on only an emotional level.

Leslie Taylor
I have no problem with the image in the context of Grindhouse exploitation movie art. It also makes a difference (to me) that it is painted instead of a photograph. But your friend has a right to be disgusted; I can understand someone finding it upsetting, particularly someone who parses images of female representation through feminism rather than the history of horror cinema. But reactions to visual or thematic taboos are personal. I do not agree that there can be a unilateral judgment that the image is disgusting. There is no objective, agreed-upon boundary that you chose to cross. You write about horror and you post about your nightly viewing, which is often horror. You are a buff! A pundit! It should not be surprising to friends to find images like this on your FB page. And it is YOUR Facebook page.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Dir: Tobe Hooper. Starring Marilyn Burns, Jim Siedow, Edwin Neal, Gunnar Hansen, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Allen Danziger, and Paul A. Partain. 1974

When I finally got the opportunity to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a murky VHS tape, surrounded by a group of friends, I admit I didn’t know what to think. As a nine-year-old when it was first released, I knew TCM by reputation and by the images its sensational title creates. I also knew about about it from my mother’s student admin assistant who told me too many details (which I’m sure is a form of child abuse; trust me, she succeeded in scaring me.), and from TV ads that were absolutely terrifying to me. During this first viewing as a teenager, however, I was at a loss. I remember being completely disturbed by the hitchhiker, stunned by Kirk’s demise, put on edge by Pam’s impalement, and repulsed by the dinner scene in general, and by Grandpa trying to sledgehammer Sally in particular. After many subsequent viewings, what I’ve come to believe about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in all its ferocious horror beauty, is that it’s not a movie you watch, it’s a movie you process.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Session 9

Session 9
Dir: Brad Anderson. Starring David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, and Josh Lucas. 2001

Interesting that the most contemporary movie on this list uses one of horror’s oldest standards – the spooky building – as an essential part of its eerie charm. It’s what this building is, or was, however, that adds strength to its power to scare. The Danvers State Hospital is a dilapidated mental hospital that is distressed through with the ghosts of its patients; not in the wandering spirit sense, but in the way the worn out building and abandoned furnishings offer glimpses of the suffering that undoubtedly took place there. A crew has been hired to remove asbestos from the property, each of these men contributing to a single unhealthy personality that is reflected by the building that houses them/it. As work progresses, one of the men discovers patient session tapes in the basement, and begins to listen to the case of a woman with multiple personalities, one of them a murderer. As tensions grow among the members of the crew, the session tapes also increase in intensity until the last message is delivered, warbling like something unearthly on the reel-to-reel session tape. Too subtle for some, Session 9 gives me the creeps by touching on things I sense I’ve only partly begun to understand. It's a very lonely-feeling movie.

This Image is Disgusting and Shouldn’t Be Posted

As a movie fanatic, and particularly as a cult movie fanatic, I post on Facebook every time I watch something so that I can get feedback from other cult movie fans. These posts always include either the movie poster or the DVD cover art.

Last night I re-watched Robert Hartford-Davis’ 1968 sleaze fest Corruption. The new cover art from Grindhouse Releasing accurately reflects the movie. It’s a toned down version of the art included inside the Blu-Ray package. The cover version, pictured here, features a deranged Peter Cushing with a straight razor at the throat of a female victim with the leering image of his (in-film) wife looming in the background. In a plot device that could only exist in the wild world of exploitation (or the rarified world of international arthouse sensations; see Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage), Cushing is in search of pituitary glands to ensure the success of his wife’s facial reconstruction surgery. The film is silly, sleazy, and extremely entertaining for fans of sleaze cinema.

So, the day after viewing Corruption, I posted the following:

Last night’s viewing: Robert Hartford-Davis’ CORRUPTION via Grindhouse Releasing’s perfect new Blu.

After a few positive comments from cult movies fans (all male), a friend who was formerly a key staff member of the provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and a friend whose opinion I respect, commented, stating, “This image is disgusting and shouldn’t be posted”.

Reading the comment, it felt like the bottom of my stomach had dropped out. I knew my friend was commenting from a feminist perspective, and I consider myself feminist too. I responded by saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, that I respected my friend’s opinion, I’d delete the post (I did), but that I thought she was seeing only one thing here. Then, of course, I began to ponder the matter.

Was I only seeing one thing here? The answer is an unqualified yes. The fact of what was in the lower half of the cover art didn’t cross my mind. I was focused on the post and not the image which I’d sort of accepted as just an, I don’t know… accouterment.

I love horror movies, but I abhor real violence. I don’t believe that imaginary violence causes real violence, but I do believe that how we discuss and joke about groups and individuals that have any kind of difference from ourselves creates an overall belief system about others that can have a real life, negative effect.

As a horror fan, I accept the Blu-Ray cover art as part of the language of horror, and in this case, I didn’t spend much time considering the gender of the players involved. Admittedly, I don’t mind ruffling a few feathers. Sometimes I enjoy it. In fact, I like to be offended myself sometimes. Why is that? Because it forces me to take a step back and say, “Why do I find that offensive?” It’s a chance to understand myself better, and I make it a practice to do this every time I feel offended. To me, it’s something worth analyzing, even if the answer seems obvious; it isn’t always.

But I don’t believe in promoting hate. In all honestly, whether this means I’m a prime candidate for that dubious thing known as sensitivity training, or whether I’m right, I don’t believe that’s what I was doing by posting that image.

Perhaps its simply a question of venue, and Facebook may not be the place to post these kind of things, but I want to be able to connect with fellow horror fans from around the world there. And so that’s what I’m doing here. I’m posting a link to this piece on Facebook, and I’m tagging a few people specifically – most of them women - because I want to hear what they have to say about this issue in general, but not the Corruption cover in particular. You up for it? Let’s have a levelheaded, respectful dialogue about it.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's Baby
Dir: Roman Polanski. Starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, and Sidney Blackmer. 1968

Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby was the first I read non-stop, staying up all night when I was a young teen to reach its end. Roman Polanski’s film adaptation is well documented as being incredibly faithful to its source, and happily for me, that translates into the film having the same power to fascinate as the book. A look at contemporary witchcraft and devil worship, the film is also a true feminist tale in that it clearly illustrates the way a woman can be used by men and even other women as a vessel, as well as demonstrating how society can perceive a pregnant woman as paranoid and unstable. A wholly engrossing experience, Rosemary’s Baby is the best kind of paranoid entertainment, the kind wherein everything that has come in earlier scenes gains new meaning as the plot reveals itself.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin. 1960

Where to start with Psycho? I suppose it make sense to start by stating that Alfred Hitchcock is my favourite director. He was a man who understood both fear and moviemaking. For me, his use of a camera to tell a story or to explore a theme is unmatched. Add these convictions to the fact that Hitchcock was at the peak of his ability as a director when he made Psycho, and we get a horror film that I believe is flawlessly made, save for the clunky explanation scene at the end. Much like the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its studio imposed opening and closing that softens the film's thrills, I like to think of Psycho without this scene. Luckily, the coda that follows it is immensely creepy. Over the years, however, Psycho’s ability to scare has lessened due to many factors including familiarity and conceptual appropriation, but we’re still left with an exquisitely made classic that explores desperation, paranoia, and a host of other truly dark subject matter like nothing that came before it.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:

Dir: George A. Romero. Starring John Amplas, Lincoln Maazelm, Christine Forrest, and Tom Savini. 1976

I love Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, but with Martin, the filmmaker left the undead to concentrate on a single sad, solitary psychosexual, and delivered what is, for me, his finest flick. Martin is a post-teenage blood fiend who is sent to live with relatives in industrial Pittsburgh. It’s there that the battle between folkloric horror and mental illness is fought, aided by outstanding effects from Tom Savini, who also acts in the film. This contemporary take on an ages-old monster (the vampire) works as smoothly as Romero’s updating of the zombie, and serves to (sympathetically?) advance the modern concept of the human monster among us as Hitchcock did with Psycho.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
King Kong

King Kong
Dirs: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Starring Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, and Bruce Cabot. 1933

King Kong, the movie, is legendary. Beautifully conceived, cast, directed, photographed and animated, it stands as one of cinema’s great works of imagination. And that’s to say nothing of Kong the creature, a raging beast. He’s frightening in his single mindedness and disregard for anyone and everything around him. Twice separated from his object of what… lust? love? curiosity? – Kong stomps, chews, tears, and climbs his way through Skull Island and New York City, leaving a trail of destruction behind him that is cleverly addressed in the follow up, Song of Kong. Twice remade but never matched, King Kong has earned its title as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:

Dir: Steven Spielberg. Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton. 1975

This movie still makes me nervous when I’m waist-deep in water. That’s because Jaws successfully exploits our fear of the unknown, a fear that can easily be transferred from murky water to dry land. Its simple plot, aped in countless slasher flicks – shark terrorizes holiday community – is given depth by adding interesting characters and exploring the theme of overcoming fear. For my money, Spielberg has never achieved this level of pure moviemaking again, not with Raiders of the Lost Ark and not with Jurassic Park. Here, he creates scenes that exist only to scare, and he succeeds with the help of John Williams' Psycho-at-Sea score and Verna Fields' spot-on editing.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Dir: Don Siegel. Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, and Carolyn Jones. 1956

This, the original film version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is a taut and tight horror flick that peddles that most 1950’s of flavours – paranoia. Beneath all the speculation about whether its theme is anti-McCarthyism or anti-Communism lies a stone cold tale about losing our humanity. In fact, the scene I find the most effective is the one that shows exactly what is lost when you become incorporated. SPOILER: Hiding while being pursued by pod people, Miles kisses Becky and receives nothing back but a cold stare. END SPOILER. It’s at this moment when Body Snatchers' humanity really comes across for me. When a nudge to maintain our individuality, emotion, and free thought is this entertaining, how can you refuse? As for the much lamented bookend scenes imposed by the studio, I do my best to ignore them, and just mentally fade out with the original ending as intended.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Hands of the Ripper

Hands of the Ripper
Dir: Peter Sasdy. Starring Eric Porter, Angharad Rees, Jane Merrow, and Keith Bell. 1971

Hands of the Ripper takes everything I love about Hammer Horror (but for Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee), and presents them in one glorious picture – The gothic atmosphere, the crimson, the contemporary twist on a well-known tale, the monster waiting to strike, the innocent heroine... The difference being that here, the monster waiting to strike is the innocent heroine. Never before has there been a Hammer heroine with more pathos than Anna, daughter of Jack the Ripper, whose own murderous rage is unknowingly unleashed when a perfect storm of circumstance occurs. Our hero, Dr. Pritchard, is closer to filling the role of villain as he enables Anna to commit her crimes due to his fascination with her psychiatric condition. It’s this grey area, set against a backdrop of Victorian England, séances and murder, that draws me to Hands of the Ripper time and time again, standing as Hammers’ greatest Freudian take on the gothic.

I'd previously written about Hands of the Ripper in My Hammer Horror Dilemma. Click here to read it.

Monday, 7 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:

Dir: John Carpenter. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kyes, and P.J. Soles. 1978

Written about ad nauseam, Halloween is a superb horror flick that is lovingly crafted and delivers on its scare promise. Carpenter is adept at creating tightly knit worlds that make sense in and of themselves, that focus on straightforward plots supporting characters that are knowable, and situations, no mater how outlandish, that we can relate to. He was aided, in no small part, by excellent support and co-writing from producer Debra Hill. Halloween is, in fact, an instance of all departments working at their peak. It makes our job as an audience, to sit back and enjoy, easy. From that perspective, it seems impossible to watch Halloween without wanting to yell advice to Laurie Strode, the world’s most famous final girl.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
The Fog

The Fog
Dir: John Carpenter. Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Kyes, and John Houseman. 1980

Imagine trying to follow Halloween. The pressure must have been immense, but in hindsight Halloween director John Carpenter succeeded with The Fog, a film that has gained in reputation in the years since its release. The opening with John Houseman telling kids (and the audience) the film’s backstory as they sit around a campfire sets the tone for what’s to come, but it’s the following sequence that seals the deal for me. In the dead of night, as its centennial dawns, things go haywire in the town of Antonio Bay. Bottles fall and shatter, gas pumps jump out of their cradles, car horns begin honking, and phones start ringing. It’s a truly creepy compilation of sound and image that warns of things to come. This sense of impending dread helps to make The Fog stand out against its classic ghost storytelling format – spectres appear to right a wrong – as do its abundant atmosphere, suspense, and the unusual characters with which Carpenter has populated the town. Of all my favourite horror films, this one may be (to paraphrase the Creepshow poster) the most fun I’ve had being scared.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
The Exorcist

The Exorcist
Dir: William Friedkin. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, and Jack MacGowran. 1973

"Something beyond comprehension is happening to a little girl on this street, in this house."

In a sense, The Exorcist is the hardest of my favourite horror films to write about. It has been so thoroughly discussed and it looms so large in my horror history that it’s difficult to know where to start. I truly love this movie, however, so what I feel I can add to the writing about it is this – The Exorcist was the first movie I encountered that I knew was beyond my understanding. As a 12 or 13-year old, I knew that what I was seeing was introducing me to things for which I had neither a reference nor a compass to navigate, and that quite possibly what I was seeing could have a lasting negative effect on me. That is to say that in the short term I feared nightmares; in the long term I feared scarring my psyche. My response was not unlike that of many adults at the time of The Exorcist's release. It’s this kind of reaction that most horror movies reach for, but too few achieve. Today, some complain that the absolutely necessary and beautiful prologue in Iraq is too slow moving. Today, some laugh at the film’s horrific sequences or deride them with a “that’s no big deal” attitude. Make no mistake - laughter was a response the film sometimes earned on its initial release too, sometimes as a result of its extreme imagery, sometimes as a relief after making it through another onscreen challenge, and sometimes, I suppose, because some people just don't buy into the film at all. Despite that, I'm willing to bet that each time the film is screened for a crowd today there is someone who is being terrified by The Exorcist, someone who can feel the impact of watching helplessly as a person they love is brutalized, of watching that person become someone else, of losing the people they love as Karras loses his mother and Chris McNeil loses her daughter.

To get a glimpse of audience reaction to The Exorcist in 1973, click here. For an account of my first half-viewing of The Exorcist, click here.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
The Devils

The Devils
Dir: Ken Russell. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Oliver Reed, Dudley Sutton, Gemma Jones and Michael Gothard. 1971

The Devils is Ken Russell at his most controlled and his most out of control. It’s a fever movie about fervor that kicked off the Nunsploitation craze of the 1970’s, outraged some and invigorated others. To this day, Warner Bros., the studio that released the film in 1971, has still not released a subsequent completely uncut version of The Devils, and in fact, the studio seems to regard it as some family shame to be locked away and never spoken of. That’s too bad, because it’s one of the greatest films they’ve ever produced. The major controversy surrounding The Devils relates to its portrayal of religion as cruel, vengeful, and morally repulsive, but I think there’s more to it than that. Wrapped around its central theme is a nightmare version of what can happen when love, lust and infatuation get out of control, an unsettling representation of the joy we find in punishing people for perceived arrogance, and a none too subtle look at our lust for bloodshed. These elements combined make for a strong tonic of a movie that hits its viewer on multiple levels so that you never know which wound to tend to at any given time.

Monday, 30 September 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Deep Red

Deep Red
Dir: Dario Argento. Starring David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia. 1975

I saw this - my first Argento – during the VHS boom of the 1980’s. It had all the gore that I’d come to expect from my beloved Italian horror imports, but Deep Red also had suspense, a plot with entertaining twists and turns, and sequences that have rightfully become classics of the horror genre. What perhaps appealed to me the most, though, was that this is a movie painted with broad strokes – bright colours, a first rate pounding score from Goblin, bizarre close-ups, extreme violence, ripe dialogue, broad characters – all elements that actually serve to showcase Argento at the top of his game as a director. After all, we watch Argento movies to be thrilled, to see where he’s going to take his camera next. Present too in Deep Red are some of Argento’s favourite themes – the outsider/artist involved in a murder investigation, the protagonist struggling to unravel that one piece of information he’s misinterpreted, and murder as terrible beauty. What these pieces add up to for me is the ultimate Dario Argento movie, aided in no small way by his then-wife, star, and co-writer, Daria Nicolodi.

Friday, 27 September 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Cat People

Cat People
Dir: Jacques Tourneur. Starring Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Kent Smith and Jane Randolph. 1942

Producer Val Lewton was responsible for creating a string of literate horror films in the 40’s that transcended their studio-imposed titles and delivered highbrow chills. For me, Cat People is the stand out, though all are essential horror movie viewing, especially The Body Snatcher, I Walked With a Zombie and The Seventh Victim. Here, a woman’s fear of sex and intimacy creates the belief that she becomes a wild panther whenever she responds to these impulses. Or does she actually transform when her emotions are heightened? The addition of a few seconds of film required by RKO lessens the mystery, but only does minimal damage to the film. Blurring the lines between horror and film noir, Cat People features several stand out scenes and plenty of memorable imagery in its brief 73 minute running time.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:

Dir: Brian De Palma. Starring Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving and John Travolta. 1976

Basically a contemporary fairy tale, Stephen King crafted a story with Carrie that is so solid and explores fears that so many people share that it feels like it’s been part of literature’s lexicon for centuries. Working from excellent source material, Brian de Palma edited any literary detours and added his own sensibilities to create one of horror’s classic films, featuring outstanding performances by the entire cast, but particularly by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. A bullied Carrie unleashes her blossoming telekinetic powers against her high school tormentors and religious fanatic mother in a blood and thunder fairy tale. The prank staged at the prom is one of de Palma’s best Hitchcock influenced montages, using the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much as its source.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
The Brood

The Brood
Dir: David Cronenberg. Starring Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds. 1979

A significant jump for Cronenberg in maturity as a filmmaker while still retaining his early grotty body horror. In other words, a perfect balance of Cronenberg’s arthouse and grindhouse sensibilities. As a filmmaker, Cronenberg has always been at the forefront of doing what horror does best – making metaphors – and The Brood is a prime example with its vengeful rage-made-flesh children pummelling members of a divorcing household to a bloody pulp.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

My Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically:
Blood & Lace

Blood and Lace
Dir: Philip S. Gilbert. Starring Gloria Grahame, Melody Patterson, Len Leser, Vic Tayback and, in an early and brief appearance, Dennis Christopher. 1971

A nostalgic favourite of mine, not to be confused with Mario Bava's terrific Blood and Black Lace. I saw this on the Late Show when I was approaching double digits and it scared the hell out of me. Ellie’s (Patterson) prostitute mom and a john are bashed by hammer then set on fire in a sequence that is very similar to the opening of John Carpenter’s later Halloween. Ellie is sent to an orphanage where a flame-scarred killer is on the prowl, and the directress (Grahame) is carrying out a sick little scam of her own. Orphan murders, dismemberment, frozen corpses, hammer bashings, a scary-faced killer, and stuff I can’t talk about without giving too much away all add up to create a lurid horror flick that holds a special place in my little black heart.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

What I Say When People Ask Why I'm a Horror Fan

I have loved horror movies dating back to a viewing of The Deadly Mantis at age four. Seemingly ever since passing through that creaky gateway, the uncomprehending have wondered about my love for the genre. It always seemed to me that their queries held an air of judgment, an assumption that there was something not quite right about me. These inferences made me shy away from looking deeper into my fascination with the genre until I realized that “I don’t know; I just do” wasn’t a good enough explanation. I began to reflect on my response to horror, and oddly enough, the first thing I discovered was the thing I was most afraid of:

I’m not normal.

I like the odd, the macabre, the other. I don’t necessarily learn, think and act like the majority. Once I started to accept it, though, I could go ahead and live my life, with the important caveat that I have a firm grip on the difference between reality and fantasy.

Aside from letting my freak flag fly, what else do I love about the genre?

• I love the pure physical reaction I have to horror.

• I love that horror is somehow a companion to, and commentator on, my real world experiences, grief, and woes.

• I love being part of a subversive group of fans that doesn’t typically reflect the mainstream.

• I love that most horror is a metaphor.

• I love that horror can reflect great creativity and extreme emotions.

• I love that horror can show you the unexpected.

• I love that horror has no boundaries.

• I love gazing into the forbidden.

• I love that horror reflects the zeitgeist of the times (the atomic/scientific horrors of the 50's, the personalized horrors of the 70's that reflected a fear of what was happening to our kids and to the world around us, the serial killer fears of the 80's, right up to the post-September 11 fears of torture porn).

• I love uncovering horror films from around the world, the silent era, the discount bin, and those that have been ignored.

• And when it comes to splatter, I love the effects the way I love a magician's trick.

What am I left with? Horror is my genre, and that doesn’t make me creepy, crazy, in need of shock therapy, or a threat. I’ll continue to stay cloaked in its cape as long as I’m able, and I’ll take my love of it with me into the void.

 It's directed by William Girdler, the same guy who did Grizzly, Three on a Meathook, The Manitou, and Day of the Animals. Though the movie is relatively rare, the picture and sound quality of this DVD is pretty poor. Still, it's fun for fans of this sort of thing. Like me.