Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Appeal of The Wicker Man

2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the The Wicker Man's original release. In celebration of this and continuing its project to conserve, restore and release for future generations the best of Classic British cinema, STUDIOCANAL announced its intention to release the most complete version of the film possible. The now widely lauded film was released with minimal promotion in 1973 as second feature of a double bill with Don’t Look Now. The version exhibited to audiences was significantly shorter than director Robin Hardy's original vision. In what has now become an apocryphal episode in British film history, the negatives disappeared from storage at Shepperton Studios, were then allegedly used as landfill in the construction of the nearby M4 motorway, and are considered lost forever.

STUDIOCANAL are now appealing worldwide to film collectors, historians, programmers and all-round fans to support the campaign and come forward with any information relating to the potential whereabouts of original materials.

Director Robin Hardy comments: "I never thought that, after forty years, they would still be finding lost fragments of my film, we thought all of The Wicker Man had gone up in flames, but fragments keep turning up and the hunt goes on!"

STUDIOCANAL General Manager UK Home Entertainment John Rodden adds: "The Wicker Man is not only a great horror film; it is a true classic that grows in stature as the years pass. We’re now appealing to the public to help us create the most definitive version possible.”

A special Facebook page has been created to serve as a forum for the search to continue. For further updates and to join the conversation with any news please visit:

More details about the history of the various cuts of the film are below.

The Wicker Man: A Short History:

In 1973, Robin Hardy’s debut film The Wicker Man fell victim to a boardroom takeover at distribution company British Lion, and had its release temporarily shelved. A finished version of the film that director Hardy was happy with had been delivered with a running time of 102 minutes.

When it did finally reach UK cinemas that year, with little fanfare or promotion, and as part of a double bill with Don't Look Now, 15 minutes had been cut, leaving the film’s running time a trim 88 minutes. Director Robin Hardy and the other filmmakers had not been involved and did not approve of this new version.

A few years later when Hardy tried to track down his original version, he was told that all the negative trims from it that had been stored at Shepperton Studios had been thrown away, and the only “original negative” was now the 88-minute version. He finally managed to ascertain that Cult US Director Roger Corman still had a print of the full-length version, and this was used for the US theatrical release. Corman’s print has been missing since the 1980’s and only poor quality 1” video material is known to exist of this version.

Also of interest:

My article on Paul Giovanni's provocative score for The Wicker Man

Review of Robin Hardy's belated thematic 'sequel' to The Wicker Man, The Wicker Tree

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Collection

Dir. Marcus Dunstan

When a young woman is captured by a masked psychopath after attending an underground warehouse party, where the revellers were mowed, sliced and crushed to death by a macabre series of contraptions, a group of mercenaries are dispatched by her rich father to track her down. Aiding them is Arkin, a former captive of the killer who somehow managed to escape. Can they get to Elena before she becomes part of his gruesome 'collection'?

Attempting to do for The Collector what Aliens did for Alien, The Collection ups the scope of the first film from the get-go, lurching into gear immediately with a series of jaw-dropping bloody spectacles that set the scene for the large scale carnage that follows. The introduction of a group of badass mercenaries, who are attempting to hunt down the mysterious serial killer and do what 'the police can't', also establishes the action-packed ante. These guys mean business. Too bad they’re all two-dimensional fodder who blatantly don’t stand a chance. Once the scene is set (it really doesn’t take long), The Collection races along at full throttle, never pausing for breath or bothering with characterisation. Not that this is the sort of film that needs to – but hey, it never hurts - the emphasis is on violence, cruelty and suspense; which it delivers in spades. Just getting straight to the point, it works well as an exercise in pure tension and outlandish set-pieces. That it also works quite well as a standalone film is a bonus; I haven’t actually seen the first film, but after reading up on it, I was able to confirm that viewing it wasn’t strictly necessary to follow this film’s plot. Whereas The Collector blended elements of a home-invasion narrative with gruesome Saw-like slaughter, The Collection is more reminiscent of Saw II, with a sizable group of people battling their way around a vast and deadly funhouse of pain.

The location, an abandoned hotel-turned-torture-chamber, rigged with deadly traps and filled with mangled corpses, and the graphic sequences of violence, of which there are many, are all reminiscent of the Saw series. Bodies are shredded and mutilated by all manner of sharp, pointy things; intricately designed booby-traps ensnare and eviscerate victims; corpses are splayed out like morbidly exquisite art exhibits; and all manner of squelchy viscera is sloshed across the screen with alarming frequency. This is unsurprising really as The Collection was penned by the writers of Saw IV, V, VI and 3D.

An abundance of twists and turns distract from minimal characterisation and logic, while some of the startling images retain a grotesque beauty – the preserved corpses in large ornate tanks for example, are rather like a Giger update of similar scenes from The Black Cat (1934). One creepy moment involving tarantulas also seems wonderfully old fashioned and playful. It was also strangely refreshing to have a mysterious serial killer actually remain mysterious throughout – we know nothing of The Collector save for his macabre work.

If it’s slickly made mindless entertainment you want, you could do a lot worse than The Collection.

The Collection was released on DVD on 29th April, 2013.

Special Features: Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Marcus Dunstan and Co-Writer Patrick Melton; A Director’s Vision; Make Up and Effects of The Collection; Production Design; Special Effects of The Collection; Stunts of The Collection.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Don’t Go In the Backwoods: Rural Rampages & the Horror Film

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Dir. Calum Waddell

Backwoods: pl.n. (used with a sing. or pl. verb)
1. Heavily wooded, uncultivated, thinly settled areas.
2. An area that is far from population centres or that is held to be culturally backward.

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.” HP Lovecraft

The backwoods has long held a strange place of morbid fascination in the collective mind of American city dwellers. It represents escapism – somewhere to go to negate the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle; a place which grants mind-clearing solitude, fresh air and peace and quiet. It represents everything civilisation does not. There is no place for technology in the backwoods; there are no phone signals so you won’t have people pestering you. Or a way to call for help, if you need it. It is also a threatening place, home to wild animals and strange plants that can harm you; dense and disorientating forests in which to lose your way; long stretches of desolate highway along which there is no shelter, or a place to hide, should you need it; hills and craggy rockscapes from which prying, plotting eyes can peer at you; rustic, decrepit shacks in which banjo-playing, inbred rednecks skulk, their heads filled with all manner of perverse, irrational and horrifying thoughts. In other words, the perfect setting for a horror film, and the subject of Don’t Go in the Backwoods: Rural Rampages & the Horror Film. This new documentary – a bonus feature on Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever - looks at horror titles featuring city folk who leave civilisation well and truly behind in the hope of getting back to basics and seeking out pastures greener. Of course, these being horror titles, said city folk usually take a wrong turn somewhere along the way, or stray off the wooded path where they’re camping, and wind up at the wrong end of a machete, wielded by some salivating, deformed hillbilly who shares a bed with his sister.

The Burning (1981)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Titles such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Motel Hell, 2000 Maniacs, Mountaintop Motel Massacre, Madman, Friday the 13th, Just Before Dawn, Wrong Turn, The Burning and countless others feature such plots which portray the ineptitude of city dwellers and demonisation of rural-dwelling folk. Amongst the filmmakers discussing these titles, and the enduring allure of their plots, are Tobe Hooper, Adam Green, Dave Parker and Fred Olen Ray. All on fine form as usual. While they certainly provide plenty of examples, sadly they never really attempt to provide a clear definition of what constitutes backwoods horror, or an in-depth exploration of the variations of this sub-set of horror cinema. Everything is lumped together, but as with Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever, it forms an enjoyable introduction for those not so familiar with the subject matter. The focus is mainly on slasher movies, but a few titles they discuss fall into the man vs. nature subgenre, which, if you’ll allow me to get geeky for a moment, is rather different. Backwoods horror generally features subtext pertaining to class difference and socio-political snobbery – the villains are human but deemed to be ‘different’ because of where they live. They form a sub-culture which strikes fear into the heart of those who have left civilisation and encroached upon the uncontrollable wildness of the rural backdrop; they fear the place as much as those who live in it. It is the location of these titles which sets them apart, and it often plays as important a part as the killer.

Just Before Dawn (1981)
Madman (1982)
The work of HP Lovecraft is cited as a forerunner to backwoods horror – Lovecraft’s work is generally misanthropic, but he reserves a particular disdain for the rural-dwelling proletariat. Tales such as The Dunwich Horror, The Colour Out of Space and The Shadow Over Innsmouth are set in isolated places far from civilisation where the inhabitants have been left to fester and meddle in strange occultist ways. Non-US titles are also briefly explored, such as The Descent, Frontiers and Wolf Creek; there are also a number of interesting, offbeat examples cited as forerunners to what is now regarded as backwoods horror – Spider Baby (which is dissected as an 'Old Dark House' movie with elements of backwoods horror) and Night of the Hunter being two. Writer/editor Matt McAllister makes some fascinating points about how these films can be seen as growing as much out of the Western – with all its common traits of civilisation vs. the wilderness – as they do from horror. Deliverance is even discussed as a film that made backwoods horror respectable – much in the same way that Fatal Attraction and Silence of the Lambs unfurled as respectable slasher flicks. It would have been interesting to look at variations in more depth – The Blair Witch Project for example, or titles that lean more to the man vs. nature sub-genre such as Squirm and Razorback, clips of which are shown but again, these fall into the sub-genre of man vs. nature. There is even a moment when it seems they might dip into 'folk horror' (titles such as The Wicker Man), but the strand is left unexplored. These are minor grievances though; it's just great to see an entertaining documentary throwing the spotlight on this sub-genre of sub-genres with passion and enthusiasm.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
For what is essentially a (very!) generous bonus feature, this is an absorbing documentary which will reinvigorate the viewer’s love of backwoods horror tales. It’s certainly provided a few titles for this writer to keep an eye out for. As with all Rising Productions titles, it has beautifully animated sequences and titles throughout, and has just an irreverent a tone as Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever.

Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever

Dir. Calum Waddell

Ever since Alfred Hitchcock filmed Janet Leigh being stabbed to death in a shower in Psycho (1960), stories of knife-wielding madmen - stalking and slaughtering helpless, usually scantily clad victims - have become a permanent fixture in horror cinema. Hitchcock humanised the monster and made audiences think twice about being alone in the company of that nice looking, quiet guy from next door. You know, the one who lives with his mother.  

Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever takes an often irreverent look at the universally-maligned, frequently misunderstood, slasher sub-genre which came in the wake of Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Made by Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill of High Rising Productions, who have been widely acclaimed for their work with Arrow Video and other labels, it is a knowing love letter to stalk and slash cinema. Amongst those discussing the appeal of the slasher are the likes of Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Adam Green (Hatchet) Jeffrey Reddick (creator of Final Destination), Tom Holland (Child's Play), Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D), Mick Garris (Masters of Horror), Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) and Corey Feldman (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), to name but a few.

Delving into the history of hack 'em up cinema, Slice and Dice mainly concerns itself with discussing the rules and conventions of the slasher flick, which, as you know include:

• A group of teens in an isolated location
• A masked/unidentified killer who is usually avenging a past ‘misdeed’
• Drug/alcohol use
• Characters having premarital sex
• The use of knives or other sharp implements as murder weapons – killers in slashers prefer the thrill of the chase and the intimacy afforded by killing victims up close and personal. Guns are rarely used.
• Phones/cars that have a nasty habit of not working when they’re needed most
• Ineffective police/authority/adult figures
• Characters’ splitting up to look for other characters/investigate strange noises, usually in creepy woods or in dark basements.
• There is always one girl (the ‘final girl’), usually the one who doesn't have sex or indulge in drugs/alcohol, who is left standing after her friends have been bumped-off by the killer. She must use her resourcefulness to escape and stop the killer.
• The way is always left open for a sequel, should your slasher movie be successful.

Psycho (1960)
Scream (1996)
It is of course fine to highlight these conventions – it would be expected in any documentary on slasher cinema, but while Slice and Dice does this well; it never ventures far enough away from this aspect to be considered a truly serious attempt to probe and analyse slasher cinema. New comers will find much to savour and take note of throughout, however seasoned connoisseurs will not discover anything new. Waddell has seemingly used Randy’s famous speech from Scream as his template throughout. Proceedings are divided up into neat, digestible sub-categories. Genesis of a Genre briefly looks at the influence of Psycho, Peeping Tom and the gialli of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, as well as Agatha Christie’s murder mystery And Then There Were None – the blueprint for all body-count movies – as interviewees to try to describe what constitutes a slasher film. Later titles are also touched on to give an idea of how much the slasher has evolved throughout the years – Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Behind the Mask are all name checked. Between the talking head segments are clips, posters and trailers for every slasher imaginable – from classics such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and obscure gems like Just Before Dawn and Motel Hell, to Scream and the post-modern copycats and homages it inspired, such as Final Destination, Behind the Mask and the Saw franchise.

A Nightmare on Elm Street III (1987)
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
While Rules of Survival – self explanatory, really - simply rehashes the rules to surviving a slasher, it does feature Corey Feldman revealing a deep-seated understanding and love of the slasher movie when he discusses how they form cautionary morality tales for young audiences. Similarly, Emily Booth points out the parallels between slashers and fairy tales, but this notion is never picked up again. The Secret of Slashing Up a Great Villain explores the motivation behind the murders in the slasher, and the love of masks exhibited by classic slasher antagonists. Final Girl offers up more meaty subject matter as interviewees get stuck into issues such as misogyny and female empowerment, while The Gore the Merrier takes a peek at some of the more imaginative gore-gags and SFX within the slasher archives. You Can’t Kill the Bogeyman, which incidentally is another of the film’s stronger points, looks at the enduring appeal of slashers and how this has led to countless sequels and remakes. Discussions abound about how consistently diluted sequels attempted to recreate the thrills of the original and made initially threatening villains over-familiar to audiences – audiences who still clung to the life-altering experience of watching the original entry of any given classic slasher series - and how remakes – which are the new sequels - can serve as introductions to the original films for younger generations.

It would have been interesting to explore the Italian giallo, the exploits of Ed Gein and American urban legends (with their conservative moral coding - though there are nods to the ‘legend of the hook’ in the beautifully animated title sequence) instead of just rehashing rules and conventions. That may not have been in keeping with the tone of this particular documentary though, which is playful and irreverent throughout. To ponder academic analyses of the slasher, such as Laura Mulvey’s notion of ‘the gaze’, or Julia Kristeva’s writings on abjection (though Creep director Christopher Smith does touch upon the former), is not what Slice and Dice is about. It’s fun, accessible and cheeky without ever patronising its core audience.

Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)
Where it really comes into its own is by investigating the lasting appeal of the stalk and slash trend, and when it touches upon fandom and the appeal of familiarity within slasher plots. Audience participation is a core component of these films, and one that adds to the morbid entertainment garnered from watching people being cut to ribbons by a knife wielding nutter in the deep, dark woods from the safety and comfort of our living rooms; safe in the aloof assurance that we would never make such foolish mistakes as those made time and again by slasher fodder.

Slice and Dice should provide solid entertainment, and will prove indispensible for those with a latent interest in slasher films; however, for those already fanatical about them, it won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. It will reinvigorate your love for them though. Winner of the Best Documentary award at the annual South African Horror Film Festival, and given a competitive late night slot for its premiere at the Sitges Film Festival, Slice and Dice was obviously a labour of love for its director Calum Waddell. Made for a pittance and as a three year long side project, the passion exhibited by Waddell for the subject matter glints from the screen like moonlight reflected on a blood-spattered blade.

The Burning (1981)
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever is released on DVD Monday 13th May 2013.

Special Features:
Audio commentary with director/ producer Calum Waddell moderated by Justin Kerswell, author of Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut;
Additional ‘outtake’ interviews featuring Corey Feldman, Felissa Rose, J.S. Cardone, Kevin Tenney and more;
Post-screening audience Question and Answer session from the Glasgow Film Theatre featuring Slice and Dice interviewees James Moran and Norman J. Warren;
Footage from the Sitges Film Festival World Premiere;
Footage from the USA premiere at San Francisco's Another Hole in the Head Festival;
Footage from the Scottish premiere at the Glasgow Film Theatre;  
All Kinds of Twisted (Theme from Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever, performed by The Acid Fascists) music video;
Full Moon trailer park including trailers for slasher greats Tourist Trap, Puppet Master and Intruder.

Bonus Documentary: Don't Go In The Backwoods - an extensive look at the backwoods horror genre from Two Thousand Maniacs to the Hatchet series.
Trailer Park of Legendary Slasher Titles - over 22 trailers, with optional audio commentary, for classic slasher movies, including Peeping Tom (1960), Black Christmas (1974), Halloween (1978), Fade to Black (1980), Terror Train (1980), Prom Night (1980), Final Exam (1981) and many more.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Diabolique Issue 16

Issue 16 of Diabolique is now available to pre-order. In this issue we celebrate what would have been Peter Cushing’s one hundredth birthday, and inside you’ll find an overview of Mr Cushing's career, memoirs of people who knew him and highlights of some of his finest moments in genre cinema. Cushing appeared in dozens of classic horror films and is known for no less than three major character roles: Van Helsing, Dr. Frankenstein, and Sherlock Holmes.

Widely acknowledged as a kind and humble soul, Cushing’s personality seems at odds with the lurid horror titles that dominated his career. It’s fitting then that he gained the reputation as ‘the gentleman of horror.’

This issue also includes:

The Dying Game – a look at Neil Jordan’s new Gothic vampire film, Byzantium.

On The Cutting Edge: Visions Quest – in which Nigel Wingrove talks to Max Weinstein about his 23-year crusade against censorship.

Victor Frankenstein – Creator And Monster - Bruce G. Hallenbeck’s examination of the evolution of Dr. Victor Frankenstein: from Mary Shelley’s “pale student of unhallowed arts” to Hammer’s depraved mad scientist.

Hammering Vitality Into Dracula – in which Colin McCracken talks to Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby about the significance and lasting influence of Hammer’s Dracula (1958) and how Peter Cushing revolutionized the role of the vampire hunter.

It also contains my review of Peter Cushing – The Complete Memoirs, a new book which combines Mr Cushing’s memoirs.

Head here to pre-order your copy…

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Lord of Tears

Set in the remote highlands of Scotland, and inspired by the unsettling and bleak tales of H. P. Lovecraft and the creepy Slender Man mythology, Lord of Tears is a forthcoming gothic chiller that, if these striking images are anything to go by, should prove to be an immensely atmospheric and nightmarish yarn indeed. Written by Sarah Daly, it tells of James Findlay, a teacher tormented by childhood memories of a strange and unsettling entity – an owl-headed figure dressed in Victorian attire and sporting elongated limbs and sharp talons. After the death of his mother, the nightmares return and with them, a familiar, watching presence. As James faces a descent into madness, his only hope to fight his tormentor, to banish the evil that haunts him, is to return to his childhood home. He travels to the lonely mansion in the Scottish Highlands, a place notorious for its tragic and disturbing history. There, he must uncover, once and for all, the chilling truth behind the immortal stalker…

Director Lawrie Brewster claims the idea for Lord of Tears stemmed from his deep interest in the dark mythologies of ancient civilisations, old gods and legendary monsters, and classic ghost stories. "I'm passionate about telling uncanny tales that bring new nightmares to audiences. I want to create alternate realities filled with mystery, terror and suspense - fusing the ancient and modern, preying on our most instinctual fears with threats and twists we cannot foresee." While researching the Pagan folklore of the Scottish Highlands, the director discovered accounts of a terrifying stalker. "It reminded me of the chilling Slender Man and the old ones oft referred to in the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft."

Visiting the alleged haunt of this legendary creature, an isolated mansion tucked away from view in the desolate wilds and ancient woods of the highlands, Brewster knew he had found the perfect location where he could "bring to life something secret and ancient."

Brewster cites films such as The Shining, The Wicker Man, The Haunting and The Innocents, as well as aspects of J-Horror, as being particularly influential on his dark tale of ancient rites and pagan horrors. "There are literary influences too" he says, "from the Cthulu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, to the gothic romance of Wuthering Heights, and the short stories of Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe, along with modern writers such as Clive Barker."

For those who say horror cinema has nothing new to offer, I would suggest keeping an eye out for this film, the director of which claims he is "committed to making serious, alternative horror films that aim to tell genuine, emotionally-driven stories with intriguing characters set against backgrounds filled with mysterious lore and mythology." To get you in the mood, why not go here and listen to the haunting theme music.

Now draw the curtains, dim the lights (and, if you're like me, top up your glass) and hold your breath; for the Owl Man cometh…

The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears

Anyone familiar with the irresistibly beautiful, yet devastatingly violent Italian giallo films of the Seventies – made popular by Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Sergio Martino – will no doubt have wept tears of joy while watching Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s breathlessly sensual Amer. Many of the now iconic motifs, visual codes and stylistic traits from the blood drenched and vivid archives of the giallo film were present and correct throughout Amer; a virtually dialogue free film revolving around concepts of obsession, sexual desire, psychological trauma and murder…

Following on from their contribution to The ABCs of Death - O is for Orgasm – the duo are currently making their sophomore feature, tantalisingly titled The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears (L'Etrange Couleur Des Larmes De Ton Corps). They have released a teasing synopsis, describing the film thus: The Strange Colour is the story of a man who investigates the weird conditions of his wife's disappearance. It's a film which we (Hélène & Bruno) have worked on for nine years now. It is set in Brussels (where we live) which is particularly known for its Art Nouveau architecture. The film is still produced by the same producers as Amer - Eve Commenge and François Cognard - and the Flemish director / producer Koen Mortier (Ex-Drummer). Several images have also surfaced on the internetz and I couldn’t resist sharing them here… They exude the same amalgamation of sensuality and threatening violence the duo’s previous feature, and indeed their short films, were saturated with.

When I interviewed them in 2010, Hélène and Bruno said this when I asked them what they had planned after Amer

Bruno: We want to make a giallo set in Brussels, the male version of Amer.
Hélène: But this time we want to explore the detective aspects of gialli!

It’s now clear they were talking about The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears. It should be interesting to see how the duo tackle a more plot driven narrative, or, dare I say it, a giallo in the traditional sense of the term. If indeed, that's what this film is. Recently the spirit of the giallo has materialised in quite a few striking films such as Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio, Guillem Morales’ Julia’s Eyes and Ryan Haysom’s short, Yellow, to name but a few. Indeed, Federico Zampaglione made a contemporary giallo - the mesmerising Tulpa - complete with convoluted, badly dubbed dialogue and ludicrous plot twists! I for one shall wait with baited breath to see what The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears has to offer. Join me?

Italian Horror Night

Filmgoer, Belfast’s latest film night, presents an exquisitely deranged giallo-themed double bill at The Black Box, with screenings of Dario Argento’s dazzling trendsetter The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and Peter Strickland’s distressing love-letter to by-gone Italian shockers, Berberian Sound Studio.

With his strikingly shot and sadistically violent directorial debut, Argento built on the giallo blueprint laid down by Mario Bava in the groundbreaking The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood And Black Lace; effectively kick starting the popularity of the giallo movie in early Seventies Italian cinema. A slew of films combining art-house aesthetics and exploitative sex and violence followed suit. Few come close to matching The Bird with the Crystal Plumage though. Exploring traits now commonly associated with Argento’s blood-soaked body of work – such as fetishised violence and death, identity, gender, Freudian psychoanalysis, paranoia, voyeurism and spectatorship – Bird follows an American writer who witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery in Rome. When he begins his own investigation he unwittingly draws the killer’s attention and must recall a vital clue distorted by memory before his own life is taken. The plot and characters arguably come second to the style and atmosphere, but the script, loosely adapted from Fredric Brown’s novel The Screaming Mimi, seductively uncoils as an engrossing murder mystery.

Berberian Sound Studio unravels and re-ravels as a striking combination of dazzling Argento style and haunting Lynchian atmosphere. Set in the Seventies, it tells of mild-mannered British sound technician Gilderoy (Toby Jones), who is brought to Italy to work on the sound effects for a gruesome horror film. His increasingly nightmarish task slowly begins to take its toll, and before long, life begins to imitate art. Or does it? From the opening moments as Gilderoy is led into the studio – rather like a patient being led into a psychiatric hospital - an ominous dread seeps throughout proceedings and an ever dank ambiguity manifests itself throughout this claustrophobic nightmare of sound and vision. Berberian Sound Studio really pushes the boundaries of what constitutes horror, and what contemporary audiences expect from it as a genre. Far from demystifying the magic of cinema with its exploration of sound effects and cinematic artifice, Strickland’s film enshrouds it in an otherworldly allure.

Date: Wednesday 15 May
Doors 6.00PM
Adm £3.00
Venue: Green Room

The Bird with Crystal Plumage 7pm,
Berberian Sound Studio 9.15pm

Tickets on the door
£4 for both films, £3 for one

Now strip nude for your killer…

Speak of the Devil: An Interview with Sean Hogan, Writer/Director of The Devil's Business

Director Sean Hogan is known to fans of horror cinema for his quietly unsettling and eerily atmospheric tales, usually set against a backdrop of urban gloom and featuring desperate characters with shady secrets. Lie Still followed the increasingly nightmarish experiences of a lonely young unemployed man staying in a creepy, strangely deserted old boarding house. House and Home, Hogan’s contribution to the Amicus-inspired contemporary British horror anthology Little Deaths, focused on the exploits of an upper-class couple with peculiar sexual tastes, who invite a homeless girl into their depravity. With horrific consequences.

His most recent title, The Devil’s Business, tells of two hit men sent to murder an old associate of their underworld boss. To their increasing horror, they gradually begin to realise that things are not all they seem to be in their would-be target's house. The discovery of a Satanic altar - and its shocking sacrifice - sends the pair on a descent into the shadowy darkness of their own tortured souls. Chilling confrontations with their worst fears ensue... That The Devil’s Business was released around the same time as the similarly themed Kill List, speaks as to why it was so cruelly overlooked.

On the eve of its UK TV premiere on the Horror Channel, Mr Hogan talks about The Devil’s Business, the future of the horror film industry and the importance of a good script.

How did The Devil’s Business come together?

I’d been waiting a long time for another project to come together, and out of sheer frustration, I had a meeting with my producer Jen Handorf one night and proposed that we made something for very little money, just to get back in the saddle. I’d recently seen Down Terrace and really liked it, and my feeling was that you didn’t need a whole lot of money to make something, just a good script, talented actors and one location. So I sat down and wrote The Devil’s Business to be done along those lines. What happened then was, the other project finally happened, but turned out to be a nightmare experience. So once the dust had settled, I really needed to wash the bad taste out of my mouth. So Jen proposed we went back to The Devil’s Business. It came together really quickly after that, we basically pulled it all together in a few months.

Did the script take long to write?

Not really. It was short, for one thing! And I was kind of on a roll when I wrote it; I’d written about five scripts already that year so the gears were well oiled. Besides, it really was one of those times where the characters took over and wrote themselves – it always sounds horribly pretentious when writers say that, but what can I tell you, it’s true! I normally outline much more than I did on The Devil’s Business, but in this instance I just sat down and started writing with only a vague sense of what was going to happen. For instance, when I wrote Pinner’s monologue, I didn’t really know what he was going to say or how it would impact the rest of the film; all I knew was that he was going to tell a strange story. And it all just came flooding out. It certainly isn’t always that simple, so I have fond memories of writing it.

Was it a hard movie to cast?

No, we were fairly lucky in that department. We didn’t have a casting director, so it was largely a case of me and Jen scouring Spotlight and looking at showreels etc. That was how we found Billy Clarke, who played Pinner. He was the first person who read for the part and I just loved him immediately. Johnny Hansler was someone I’d auditioned for another film – he wasn’t right for that part but I made a note that if we ever did The Devil’s Business he’d be great for Mr Kist, so we just made him an offer based on that. And Jack Gordon was a recommendation via his agency, who Jen had a working relationship with. Again, he just came in and rocked the audition. Easiest casting process I’ve ever had, despite the lack of resources.

How did you go about funding for the film?

It was private money. We wanted to control the production ourselves - because we’d had enough of meddling, crooked, incompetent executives – so Jen and I invested some money to get things going. And then we approached some other people we knew to kick in some cash as well. We knew that if we tried to get it made through official industry channels it would take forever and we’d have to put up with a ton of less-than-helpful script notes, so we made a decision we’d just do it our way – for less money, but with more control. It was hard work doing it on the budget, but the actual experience of doing it with no outside interference was sheer bliss.

The film picked up some great reviews including one that stated “…smart British horror has a touch of the Roald Dahl to it." That’s quite a compliment.

We were very happy with the response, without a doubt. From my perspective, I had no idea how the film would be received; it was just cathartic to make it. I figured that it was such a small production that it might easily disappear without a trace. And besides, it isn’t really a conventional horror film in many ways; it’s quite dialogue-driven and character-based, which always puts some people off. So I was definitely steeling myself for the worst. But then we premiered it at FrightFest and got wonderful reviews, and it went on from there. So I was delighted – I’ve had bad luck with UK distribution in the past, so to get that sort of a reaction was very rewarding. And it definitely made everyone’s hard work worth it.

You must be pleased that the film is getting its UK TV premiere on the Horror Channel?

Certainly am. Again, if you’d said to me when we were shooting it that the film would eventually play cinemas, come out on DVD and then show on TV, I’d have probably asked you what you were on and where could I get some. The Horror Channel has been very supportive of me and so I’m really pleased we’ve found a home here.

What state do you think the British horror movie industry is in?

It’s very tough, certainly at an independent level. DVD sales are down and whilst I think VOD will eventually take up the slack, it isn’t there yet. But horror is reliant on those sorts of areas to make it viable. So you get a lot of distributors asking you to make something along the lines of what was successful last year. Which I hate hearing, not least because that never works. I’ve certainly been asked to make something similar to Kill List, for instance. But Kill List was successful because it wasn’t like anything else at the time, and if you just try and copy that, the audience will smell it a mile off. And anyway, we kept getting compared to Kill List, so why would I want to do that again? I honestly think a lot of it comes down to a lack of respect for the genre; a lot of industry people just see it as product and not worth any serious consideration. Therefore you get a lot of crap being made, just because it ticks certain commercial boxes. And so if you want to do something different, you run into difficulty. But there are definitely good UK filmmakers out there, so I just hope that everyone keeps plugging away and making films one way or another. Because if history shows us anything, it’s that good horror usually comes out of the independent sector anyway.

Writer/Director Sean Hogan
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become a director or work in the horror industry?

It’s obvious, but my primary point is always to pay attention to your script. The writing really isn’t worth a damn in most horror films. And yet it costs no money to get your characters and dialogue written properly. So if you can’t write, find someone who can. Similarly, cast good actors – they may not be famous names, but you can certainly find people who can act. Trust me, it’s easy if the script is good – actors are desperate for quality material. Don’t make something that’s just by the numbers – we’ve all seen the classic horror films, doesn’t mean we want to see slavish copies/homages. Figure out what really scares you and put it onscreen – because if it scares you then odds are it will scare someone else. And for god’s sake yes, please try and be scary. Rape and torture are not scary, and I’m so incredibly bored with how much of that we’re seeing right now. It’s easy to be upsetting, but it’s not easy to be scary.

So what are you working on at the moment?

Jen and I are developing a script called No Man’s Land, which is a horror movie set in the trenches of WWI. We’ve had a lot of interest over that, so I’m hopeful we can get that going this year. I’m attached to a bunch of other projects as well, but that’s where I’m focusing right now. I’m also producing a documentary called Future Shock!, which tells the story of the legendary UK comic 2000AD. That’s proving to be a lot of fun, and the response to us making it has been great. That should be ready sometime next year.

The Devil’s Business is broadcast on the Horror Channel on Saturday, 11th May, 22:55. 

If it means selling your soul, it is recommended you don’t miss it…

TV: Sky 319 / Virgin 149 / Freesat 138

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Audiodrome #16: Evil Dead

Sam Raimi’s low budget, splattery shocker Evil Dead (1981) tells of a group of friends who, while staying at a remote cabin in the woods, unwittingly unleash demonic forces which possess and mutilate them one by one. The combination of slapstick humour, inventive camerawork and splashy make-up effects ensured the film much controversy upon release - though it has since attained cult status. With the remake still riding high at the box office, I thought it appropriate to revisit Raimi’s original film – hailed by Stephen King as ‘ferociously original’ – and explore its creepy soundtrack by Joseph LoDuca.

Utilising both analog synthesizers and more traditional instrumentation, LoDuca’s score is rife with violent, Herrmannesque strings and a diabolical mischievousness, perfectly enhancing the sadistically impish shenanigans which ooze, slosh and spatter throughout the story.

Head over to to read my full review and listen to an excerpt of the score. While you’re there, why not pick up issue 19 of Paracinema Magazine? Inside you’ll find the likes of John Carpenter and the Apocalypse: A Study of Four Films by Justin LaLiberty, Aural Enigmas: Sound Design in Ti West’s The Innkeepers by Todd Garbarini and Corpse Fucking Art: A Guide to Necrophilia in Horror Cinema by Samm Deighan. There’s also What’s In A Name? The Rise and Decline of Hollywood Fall Guy Alan Smithee by yours truly.

Support independent publishing! Pick up an issue of Paracinema today, or the Deadites will get you…