Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Issue 11 of Paracinema Available to Pre-Order Now!

The latest issue of Paracinema, an independently produced, full colour genre-based, Rondo Horror Award Nominated magazine, is available to pre-order now. As this is Women in Horror Month, this issue’s contents have been provided solely by, you guessed it: Women!

Amongst a plethora of insightful and provocative features you’ll find the likes of Rape-Revenge Films: A Guide for the Faint-Hearted by Chelsea Suarez; The Degrading Last Days of Laura Palmer: A Backwards Glance at Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me by Christine Hadden (of Fascination with Fear); Mental Illness in Horror Films: Lifting the Stigma with Let’s Scare Jessica to Death by Andre Dumas (of The Horror Digest) and Frankenhooker: Titular Commodification of Women by Lisa Cunningham.

Plus much more…

It costs $7 to pre-order a copy, and you can do that my visiting the official Paracinema website, here.

And don’t forget to vote for Paracinema at the Rondo Awards!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Wine of the Month

Another month, another Rioja to tjuzs up your palette. Vega Roja is a cheap and cheerful ruby-red wine. As well as being irresistibly inexpensive (less than £5) it also contains all of the familiar characteristics of a typical Rioja: slightly spicy and smooth finish with hints of fruit and stuff.

This wine does come with an allergy warning though: like all wine it contains sulphur dioxide in various forms, collectively known as sulphites. Even unsulphured wine may contain up to 10 milligrams per litre. Red wine does not need any added sulphur dioxide because it naturally contains anti-oxidants from the skins and stems of the grapes. Commercial winemakers add some anyway. So be careful.

This is the perfect accompaniment to wafting forlornly around your crumbling garret whilst listening to the latest Philip Glass or watching a stately Boris Karloff chiller…


Vital stats for quaffers:

* This wine is produced in the Rioja region of Spain
* The vintage is, erm, 'Non Vintage'
* The alcohol percentage is 13% (woo hoo!)
* The predominant grape variety is Tempranillo

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

An Evening With Nosferatu At The Ulster Hall: 1920's Style

Last night saw the Ulster Hall in Belfast play host to a very special screening of FW Murnau’s undisputed classic of German Expressionist cinema, Nosferatu.
The film was accompanied by an improvised score courtesy of renowned organist, Martin Baker, who has since 2000 been the Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral. Baker was granted the rare honour of being allowed to play the world famous Mulholland Grand Organ, one of the oldest examples of a functioning classic English pipe organ. The Organ is named after former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Andrew Mulholland, who donated it to the hall in the 1860s.

Patrons of the sold-out event were encouraged to dress in typical 1920s garb and though many didn’t, this writer was impressed by those who did; particularly an enthusiastic couple dressed as the undead. Before the screening, there was an insightful introduction by local film historian, opera fanatic and all round film buff, George Fleeton, who lovingly dissected the historical significance of Murnau’s chilling classic and pointed out how radical a film it was for its time. Fleeton also pointed out that with its embracement of concepts and ideas by the likes of Freud and Jung, Nosferatu unfolds as “a heady mix of Victorian sexual repression, virgin sacrifice, the world of our unconscious and imagination, dreams and nightmares, the undead, plague and contagion and blood as the elusive elixir of youth."

The Ulster Hall, Belfast
The enormous Mulholland Organ, situated at the front of the hall
A wider shot of the hall for context (this photo isn't of the event). The giant screen onto which Nosferatu was projected, was positioned in front of the organ.
Fleeton also considered the significance of the time in which the film was made, the early 1920s, between Germany's defeat in the First World War and Hitler's rise to power. As such, Nosferatu bears the marks of cinema at the time; bound up in experimental Expressionism, which externalised internal conflict and anxiety. Its obsessions with death and the spread of plague now stand as a chilling harbinger of what was happening in Germany after the publication of ‘Mein Kampf.’

Baker’s improvisational score packed a powerful punch, moving from tender love themes to high gothic atmosphere and otherworldly menace with deceptive ease. He even included a number of motifs and recurring themes and didn’t hold back from whipping himself into a suitably deranged frenzy as the film came to its shattering conclusion; all the while the music from the organ vibrating, rippling, crashing through the floor of the building and up into the spines of the audience.

Nosferatu holds the honour of being the first ever cinematic adaptation of Irish writer Bram Stoker’s bestselling chiller, 'Dracula' – the ultimate and most renowned of vampire novels. However, we should count ourselves lucky that this adaptation is actually available for us to watch at all today. Stoker’s widow, Northern Irish born Florence, found out about Murnau’s ‘plagiarised’ adaptation and successfully sued his production company for copyright infringement. Without having seen the film for herself, and well after its sparkling German premiere – at which it was accompanied by a full orchestra to provide a score – she demanded the negative and original prints be destroyed. Luckily they weren’t – someone who saw the groundbreaking film for what it was – a future classic – hid them away for safe keeping.

Nosferatu retains so much of its power today, and can easily hold its own against other adaptations such as Tod Browning’s Bela Lugosi staring 1931 version, Terence Fisher’s sumptuously gothic take in 1958 and Francis Ford Coppola’s over blown and fever-hewn 1992 version. These are but three of countless adaptations. Despite the increasing, or perhaps because of it, romanticisation of the figure of Dracula, and vampires in general – they’re now portrayed as misunderstood, tragic (sometimes sparkling) and deeply lovelorn individuals - Max Schreck’s undeniably sinister performance and appearance as the Count still resonates with unsettling power. With his bat-like face and ears, and protruding fangs, he meshes together feral ferocity with a gaunt phantom-like frame. His introduction in the film is amongst the most effective in horror cinema, and Murnau litters the film with memorable, strikingly ominous and downright iconic shots of the Count…

The screening of Nosferatu and its accompanying live score by the inspired Barker, unfolded as a magnificent evening; the success of which will hopefully ensure it was the first of many more to come. I will certainly treasure the experience.

Fangs for the memories, Belfast City Council. *ahem*

Pleasures of the Damned

Before there was Isle of the Damned, there was Antonello Giallo’s Pleasures of the Damned, soon to be available on DVD for the first time ever in a re-mastered and restored “European Cut,” just in time for the DVD format to die!

In July of 1979, Italian director, Antonello Giallo, completed work on his debut feature. Shortly after the film's premiere, he was brought up by the Italian government on 17 charges of indecency, and all copies of the film were presumed destroyed... Until now!

When a group of Satan worshipping bikers seek out a book that purportedly holds the secrets of eternal life, they accidentally resurrect an ancient evil that manifests itself in the zombified forms of cult members who sacrificed themselves to Satan some 200 years ago. Private Investigator Jack Steele, while on a mission to help rescue Evelyn Crane’s brother Tommy from the psychotic cult, may be the only one that can lay the curse to rest for good!

DVD BONUS FEATURES: 20 Minutes of Deleted Scenes, Full MP3 Score, Carl Cephas Interview, Antonello Giallo Bio, A Drinking Game & Trailers

Here’s what people are saying about it…

"There isn't enough water in my shower to wash the filth from my soul."
- Carl Cephas, Washington Psychotronic Film Society

"Pleasures of the Damned is a gloriously excessive homage that is well worthy of being included alongside the ancestors that inspired it. Simply put, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie." - Jason Pitt, Critical-Film.com

"I’ll keep it short and sweet: this movie rocks and is essential viewing for fans of trash.” – Grimly Fiendish

Refreshing… goofy fun!” - Greg Goodsell, Screem Magazine

"We decided to take it upon ourselves to restore Pleasures of the Damned because Antonello Giallo makes Ed Wood Jr. look like Orson Welles. He deserves to be a household name." - Mark Colegrove, Dire Wit Films

Check out the trailer here and visit www.direwitfilms.com for more info, madness and inards…

I interviewed Antonello Giallo’s alter-ego Mark Colegrove a while back about his follow up to Pleasures, Isle of the Damned, a movie that also shamelessly wears it influences on its badly dubbed, deliberately amateurish and bloodily soiled sleeve; lovingly parodying the entrails-saturated genre that inspired it. Namely, the insanely violent and graphic Italian cannibal movies from the Seventies and Eighties.
Head over to The Blood Sprayer to check out the interview.

Pleasures of the Damned is available on DVD from 22nd February!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Random Women in Horror #31: Marina De Van

Body dysmorphia. Existentialism. Cannibalism. Psychological disintegration. Identity crisis. Murder mysteries as musicals.

The film work of French writer/director/actress Marina De Van veers between enchantingly enthralling (8 Women) and brazenly confrontational (In My Skin). After making a name for herself as a regular collaborator with François Ozon (she’s starred in See the Sea and Sitcom, and she wrote 8 Women and Under the Sand), De Van has since branched out with her own brand of fiercely intellectual and visceral cinema.

Born in 1971, De Van studied Philosophy at Sorbonne University before enrolling at the prestigious film school FEMIS. Here she would meet and befriend future filmmaker Ozon, forming a bond that would fertilise some of the most important and interesting films to ride the crest of the latest New Wave of French cinema.

Her own feature debut In My Skin, is an unsettling, Cronenbergian descent into one woman’s frenzied psychological break-down and body mutilation after she suffers a disfiguring accident that leaves a massive gash in her leg. The film is an early addition to the current trend of dark and aggressive genre cinema coming out of France at the moment.

Like Cronenberg, De Van approaches her recurring concerns with the philosophical precision of a scalpel. Her work falls firmly into the sub-genre of cinema du corps/cinema of the body/body-horror, and it is in this most unsettling field of horror where she contemplates her twisted fantasies and preoccupations – mainly the increasing schism between mind/soul and body. In My Skin approaches this difficult subject matter head on and unflinchingly. The increasing dislocation the protagonist Esther (De Van at her feral best) feels from her own body, is shot in unnerving close up and in as matter of fact a way as you like. She soon becomes obsessed with opening the wound on her leg and creating new wounds all over her body. Before long she’s also eating slices of skin she removes from her own body. It wasn’t enough for De Van to write and direct this feverish nightmare of self-cannibalism, she had to star in it, too – further cementing her status as one of the most fiercely original and down-right astounding French filmmakers of the last few years. Or self-indulgent narcissist. It’s a fine line!

De Van’s strange obsession with the idea of an individual becoming increasingly estranged from themselves, was taken to another level in her follow up film Don’t Look Back. Sophie Marceau portrays a nervous writer whose first work of fiction is rejected by her publisher. She becomes increasingly cut off from her family and friends. She soon stops recognising her own face in the mirror and eventually sees those around her as being different looking too. She believes there is another world in the mirror, and before long she becomes the strange woman reflected back at her from the mirror (Monica Bellucci). Psychogenic fugue or eerie tale of possession – Don’t Look Back intrigues, chills and showcases De Van’s shrewd aptitude for spinning twisted, brain-teasing yarns.

Love her or loathe her, you can't deny that Marina De Van makes downright provocative genre films that blow many of her other horror contemporaries out of the water.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Dying On Film: 5 Movies About Snuff Movies

Whilst certainly not a bad film, Terror Trap wasn’t exactly the grindhouse shocker I thought it would be. The central premise, a creepy motel used as a front for a snuff movie studio, is instantly charged with so much potential. While not a wildly original idea (Vacancy did this a few years back), it is still a provocative one, and the fact that the residents of the small rural town the motel is situated outside, are aware of what it is used for, adds another perverse level to an already sinister set up. And hey, ever since there was some nasty business at the establishment of Norman Bates and his ‘mother’, the humble motel, haven and sanctuary to weary travellers in transience, has been a reliably sinister location in horror movies.

While lamenting the mediocrity of Terror Trap, I got to thinking about other films that revolve around the idea of ‘snuff movies’; films that are said to depict the actual death/murder of someone, without the use of special effects. Here are five films that draw on the urban legend of snuff movies…

Mute Witness (1994). A deliriously taut exercise in sustained tension and suspense, Mute Witness is about a young mute woman who works as a special effects artist on a low budget horror movie. Staying late at the studio one night, she witnesses the filming of a snuff movie and is relentlessly pursued around the sprawling studio buildings by the filmmakers. Add to the already twisted premise the fact that the main character can’t speak – therefore she can’t call for help or alert anyone to her whereabouts – and you have a deliciously thrilling and prolonged game of cat and mouse that builds to a shockingly violent climax.

My Little Eye (2002). Whether you view this as a barbed critique of contemporary society’s obsession with voyeurism and ‘reality TV’, or a tightly wound, slow-burning chiller, My Little Eye is an effective shocker that succeeds admirably on both levels. A group of strangers audition for a Big Brother style web-series in which they stay at a remote house in the middle of snowbound nowhere, while their every move is recorded by myriad CCTV cameras throughout the house. Events take a turn for the sinister when the group realise the site they’re being broadcast on is a snuff site… Bloody murders, paranoia and bleak denouements ensue.

Vacancy (2007). The premise of Terror Trap sounds a lot like that of impressively named Hungarian director Nimród Antal’s gritty survival horror, Vacancy. A young married couple are stranded at an isolated motel and after the discovery of hidden video cameras in their room, they realize – to their horror, natch - that unless they escape, they are set to become the reluctant stars of a snuff film. Also like Terror Trap, this begins with much promise as Antal piles on the dank suspense and panicky feeling of helplessness before descending into conventional clichés and bland shocks with wild abandon. The briefly glimpsed snuff movies in this one are dark, despairing and surprisingly disturbing for such a diluted Hollywood horror.

Tesis (1996). The debut feature of Alejandro Amenábar, director of Open Your Eyes and The Others, Tesis (Thesis) focuses on a film student who, while researching her thesis on violence in cinema, inadvertently watches a real snuff movie and is drawn into the hellish world of a snuff film ring. Taking a highly reflexive approach to its subject matter – the effects of cinematic violence on audiences – Tesis addresses thorny issues head on and unflinchingly. That it is also a tension-fuelled thriller as it does so, is no mean feat. While it dares to ask why audiences are so enthralled by scenes of violence and bloodshed, it doesn’t hold back on treating us to a disturbing trek into highly unsettling territory. Inspired Nicolas Cage starring 8MM.

Peeping Tom
Peeping Tom (1960). Critically panned on its release, this film effectively ended the career of its director, Michael Powell. It was only years later that Peeping Tom was given the reverence and respect it deserved. Unfolding as a Hitchcockian thriller in which a disturbed young man murders various women and films their terrified faces as he does so, Peeping Tom also serves as a disarming investigation of the voyeuristic nature of film audiences and their fascination with fear and death. Placing the audience firmly in the place of the killer (he uses a spiked tripod leg of a film camera to kill his victims as he films them), Peeping Tom had an overwhelming influence on the work of Dario Argento and sundry slasher movies in which the audience, the voyeurs, are implicated in the onscreen murders through incriminating point of view camera work.

Terror Trap is released on DVD from February 28th.

Cert: 18
Running time: 83:10
RRP: £15.99
Special Features: Trailer
Cat Number: ABD4921
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Terror Trap

Dan Garcia

When bickering couple Don and Nancy’s car is forced off the road when they pass through a small, rural Louisiana town, they are taken to stay at a nearby motel by the somewhat inhospitable sheriff. They soon discover that the motel is used by a gang of twisted individuals to produce snuff movies. And Don and Nancy are to be the unwitting stars of their latest film!

Beginning promisingly with a menacing scene in which a young women is stopped by a gruff sheriff in the middle of nowhere, hauled out of her car, has her keys confiscated and told she must either spend the night in a jail cell or a nearby hotel because she’s in ‘no fit state to drive’, Terror Trap sadly goes down hill from here on in. The taut uneasiness created in this scene, depicting a helpless woman powerless to do anything when a corrupt authority figure abuses his power, could have lent the film real suspense had writer/director Garcia incorporated more instances like it throughout. What exactly do you do when a cop, someone who is supposed to serve and protect, behaves so unreasonably and no one is around to witness it or help? This concept wields so much potential. Sadly though, events soon just degenerate into repetitive clichés and a subplot involving Michael Madson that doesn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the film.

Once our intrepid protagonists have bickered their way to the motel and discover that a group of people have gathered there to make a snuff movie, the film finally gets going and features a number of mildly suspenseful chase sequences. However the repetitive formula wears thin very quickly: couple try to run to one of the cars in the car park, they are intercepted by a gang of masked thugs wielding big sharp things, they run back inside one of the motel rooms and fret about how they’re gonna get out of there: lather, rinse, repeat, ad nauseam.

Jeff Fahey is suitably menacing as the bent sheriff and seems to be having fun playing such a grimy bastard. Elsewhere performances are fairly standard; Michael Madson plays his usual gruff tough guy, but is wasted in a role that doesn’t really feature in proceedings much. Don is something of a wet blanket and David James Elliot struggles to gain much sympathy for his character. Heather Marie Marsden injects a little humour into bitchy Nancy, but when she comes under threat from Fahey’s sheriff, we find it difficult to care.

A number of shots of the deserted highway at night from inside the couple’s car are effective enough to convey their vulnerability and isolation, but as soon as they check in to the motel, the film struggles to maintain its air of dread. Any tension mustered is swiftly dispelled by scenes featuring the group of people gathered together at the motel to watch the tortures and killings. They consist of greasy trucker types, sweaty businessmen and a lone woman who is obviously into ‘fucked up shit’ as she seductively licks her lips when viewing scenes of carnage. They pass each other tissues and masturbate (!) while watching from behind a two-way mirror as Don and Nancy run around the place. A last ditch effort to blur boundaries and introduce a moral grey area comes when one of the group seems to be experiencing doubts as to the pleasure he garners from participating in the production of these snuff movies. Too little too late.

An interesting idea, a couple of retro-cool actors, a creepy location, but Terror Trap still manages to lack the spark it needs to become an engaging, suspense filled thriller.

Cert: 18
Running time: 83:10
RRP: £15.99
Special Features: Trailer
Cat Number: ABD4921
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Friday, 4 February 2011

Short Film Showcase: Smoke

A young man (Grzegorz Golaszewski) has moody visions/flashbacks to a series of increasingly macabre and downright bizarre incidents that may be his interpretation of a love affair gone wrong.
Adopting the role of Charon-like driver, he chauffeurs a dodgy looking man to some sort of private club where people sit around immaculately laid tables and seemingly indulge their dark fantasies. A young woman (Marta Szumiel) reappears fleetingly throughout his visions and the introduction of a mysterious Dictaphone seems to threaten him with truths he’d rather not hear…

Meanwhile, people stare pensively and longingly at one another and writer/director Grzegorz Cisiecki, who hails from Minsk, Belarus, rummages through themes and concepts such as paranoia, desire and longing with myriad beautiful images that waft about each other like some spectral puzzle slotting into place.

Are these dreams? Fears? Cryptically significant moments blurred by the skewed logic of memory?

A languid cacophony of striking images, and a deeply ominous soundtrack, courtesy of Rashid Brocca and Aleksandr Poroch, which easily recalls the eerie rumblings and reverberations of David Lynch’s films, holds sway over proceedings, enhancing the dreamlike state the story exists in. Indeed, Lynch’s influence appears to trickle, nay, gush throughout Smoke, as the narrative becomes increasingly abstract and the atmosphere denser with surrealism. Everything seems caked in meaning and is elegantly captured by Dawid Rymar's cinematography.

You might not know, or even care, what is going on in the wafting narrative, but you can’t deny that Grzegorz Cisiecki has an eye for perversely beautiful imagery and the ability to evoke an atmosphere pregnant with foreboding and intrigue.

Check out Smoke here.

Random Women in Horror #12: Ida Lupino

Trailblazer Ida Lupino was to moody, suspenseful film noirs and taut thrillers in the 40’s and 50’s, as Jamie Lee Curtis was to low budget slashers throughout the 80s. Born in 1918 and beginning her acting career in the 30s, Lupino starred in many noirs and thrillers such as They Drive By Night, The Hard Way and On Dangerous Ground. She eventually went on to become a pioneering figure amongst women behind the camera in cinema. She was the first American woman to ever direct a film noir (The Hitch-Hiker) and her other feature directorial offerings, such as Outrage and The Bigamist, were concerned with such shocking social issues as rape and bigamy. No mean feat considering she was making films in a post Hayes Code Hollywood. And was a woman, to boot.

While her directorial offerings can’t really be described as straight ‘horror’, they still contain moments fraught with suspense, violence and unsettling moodiness and she dabbled in the sorts of genres usually associated with men; that is, hard boiled noirs and gritty B-movies. The Hitch-Hiker, one of Lupino’s most significant films, is about a couple of pals heading off to Mexico on a fishing trip who pick up a sinister hitchhiker along the way. Turns out, the mysterious stranger is a psychotic serial killer who casually reveals to the men in the car that he’s going to kill them when they reach their destination. In his book ‘Hollywood Directors’, writer Richard Koszarski praised Lupino’s film work, claiming “Her films display the obsessions and consistencies of a true auteur... Lupino was able to reduce the male to the same sort of dangerous, irrational force that women represented in most male-directed examples of Hollywood film noir.

Her later directing career mainly consisted of TV work, but much of this was also genre based. She directed episodes for series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, The Fugitive, Colombo and she was the first woman to ever direct an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Lupino’s episode of The Twilight Zone, The Masks, was part of the fourth series of the show. It revolves around the tale of a selfish family gathering at the house of their ailing patriarch for a reading of his will. One of the stipulations of his will is that the family wear creepy masks that reflect their inner corruption. When it comes time to take the masks off, well, I’m sure you can guess that the story doesn’t end well…

Carrie Rickey wrote an article for the Village Voice, ‘Reel Women’ and in it she praised Lupino as a 'model of feminist moviemaking', stating “Not only did Lupino take control of production, direction and screenplay, but each of her movies addresses the brutal repercussions of sexuality, independence, and dependence.”

Lupino passed away in 1995 but her legacy, and her contribution to genre cinema remains, marking her as one of its most daring, innovative and important directors; let alone female directors.

Women in Horror Month

February is Women in Horror Month. It is also LGBT History Month and in the States, Black History Month. That’s a whole lot of celebrating/commemorating going on right there.

Over the next few weeks, as well as the usual film reviews and wine appreciation, I hope to follow the herd and post a few articles about people who happen to be women and have made important, unusual or interesting contributions to Horror and genre cinema. There’ll also hopefully be a few doffs of the hat to the fact that it’s LGBT History Month; hopefully this won’t consist of me just re-watching A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge

That’s all for now. Happy Women in Horror Month!

And remember: Only women bleed. Only women conceive. Offer your seat.