Monday, 26 May 2014

Willow Creek

Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait

When young city couple Jim and Kelly venture into the wilds of Bluff Creek, California, in search of the legendary Sasquatch, they find much more than they bargained for in this lean, mean tale of man vs. nature.

While ‘found-footage’ horror has been much maligned of late, a few titles have proven the effectiveness of the formula — most notably The Blair Witch Project; [REC]; Lake Mungo; The Last Exorcism; and more recently Trollhunter and The Borderlands. Willow Creek also demonstrates that the format, when utilised effectively, can still offer a downright chilling viewing experience. Even though writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait never strays far from a well-trodden path, his subdued approach and subtle direction result in some rather nerve-shredding moments of tension.

Much like The Blair Witch Project, the tension and dread here is established largely through a reliance on sound, shadows and suggestion, and after the initial slow-burn approach, Goldthwait eventually lets rip with the grim and nasty, as the couple stray off the path into uncharted territory, only to suffer the bloody consequences...

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review. 


Dir. Ryan Smith

Bus crash survivors Ana and Freddie (Karolina Wydra and Steven Strait) awaken to find they are the only people left in their small town, and their attempts to leave are thwarted by a towering wall of impenetrable fog completely encircling the place. Before long they discover that all is not what it seems, and as the sinister fog continues to encroach upon them, they realise their time is running out…

Incorporating elements of sci-fi, horror, comic books and fairytales, and conveying a strong influence from the likes of The Twilight Zone and Carnival of Souls, Ryan Smith's feature debut is an intriguing genre hybrid that, despite revealing its major twist early on, unfurls as a quietly powerful and compelling yarn. With striking visuals, twisting plot, assured direction, strong lead performances, and engaging ideas concerning destiny, fate, and redemption, After is a strangely touching and haunting film.

Head Over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Mount Jerome Cemetery

While staying in Dublin for a couple of days last week, I took the opportunity to visit Mount Jerome Cemetery in the suburb of Harold’s Cross in the south of the city. With the second highest number of burials of any cemetery in Ireland, Mount Jerome is one of the biggest cemeteries I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Opened in 1836, the sprawling cemetery features all manner of exquisite Victorian funerary art including ornate memorials, tombs, angels, shrouded urns, vaults and crypts. Due to a population boom, and therefore increase in mortality rate in Dublin in the early 19th century, the British government set up commercial cemetery companies throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland to deal with the need for burial grounds. The land upon which Mount Jerome Cemetery stands was acquired by the General Cemetery Company of Dublin from the Earl of Meath, as their first choice – a section of Phoenix Park – was declined by local authorities. According to Vivien Igoe, author of Dublin Burial Grounds & Graveyards, the land was described as "being on a gently elevated ground embellished with lawns and shrubberies, and wholly surrounded with lofty trees of venerable growth, giving it an air of seclusion and a solemnity of aspect peculiarly appropriate."

In the Seventies the number of burials in Mount Jerome began to decline, and by the 1990s the cemetery had fallen into a state of neglect, much of it becoming enshrouded with ivy and creeping vines. In 2000 the crematorium was opened and the funding this provided allowed proper care and maintenance of the cemetery.

Much like Belfast City Cemetery, the first people to be laid to rest in Mount Jerome were infants – twins of one Matthew Pollock. Also buried here are the likes of author and anthropologist William Carleton, the author of several novels detailing Irish peasantry, the horror of the famine and violent secret societies. William Wilde, the father of Oscar, is also buried here, as is author and playwright John Synge, writer on mysticism and clairvoyant AE Russell - who claimed to paint the spiritual beings he communed with - and renowned surgeon Abraham Colles, who studied his trade at Edinburgh in the midst of the infamous body-snatching, resurrectionist trade era. Also entombed within this labyrinthine necropolis of grandeur and beauty is 'the Father of the English Ghost Story' Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, known to admirers of Gothic fiction as the influential author of such chilling tales as Uncle Silas, the short story collection In A Glass Darkly (which contains Green Tea, The Room in the Dragon Volant, The Familiar, and, of course, Carmilla), and The Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter. Given his reputation and renown in the studies of Gothic fiction, le Fanu’s final resting place is not what I was expecting. Buried alongside his wife Suzanne, and her father and brothers, their grave is marked by a simple stone slab, the inscription on which has become so eroded it is no longer readable. For shame. After double checking in the office beside the church, and being given a map of the cemetery and a brief biography of le Fanu, it was confirmed that yes, this most simple of monuments marks the spot where 'The Invisible Prince' (so called because of his reclusive tendencies) rests.

According to Eugene Tuohey, author of A Favour of the Dead, and one of Ireland's foremost authorities on spooky Victorian lore, the pathways of Mount Jerome are stalked by a spectral hound. Tuohey claims the dog belonged to one William Weir, who died while swimming off the coast of Wicklow. His faithful companion, Caesar, refused to move from the spot where Weir had left his clothes on the deserted beach. Shortly afterwards Caesar died, seemingly of a broken-heart, and when Weir’s body was recovered from the cold embrace of the sea and his vault eventually erected in Mount Jerome, a carved stone dog was mounted on top of it.

The grave of Sheridan le Fanu

Weir's faithful hound, Caesar.

The Crypts of St Michan’s, Dublin

Located on Church Street in Dublin’s North Side, just a stone-throw from the dark currents of the Liffey, stands St Michan’s Church; the oldest parish church on that side of the city. Founded in 1095, and named after a Danish Saint, the present church dates from 1685 and still retains many of the features from this time, including its galleried interior and intricately decorated organ; upon which, according to local lore, Handel practised for his first performance of Messiah

The crypts beneath the church are thought to have been created around the time of the 1685 renovation and they are the final resting place for many of Dublin’s most prominent and influential families from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A combination of the limestone walls and methane seeping up into the air from the earth below is thought to have created the constantly dry atmosphere perfect for ensuring the preservation - mummification - of the bodies resting here. It is also believed that the church stands on the site of an ancient oak grove, and many myths attribute the preservation of the bodies to remnants of oak wood in the earth. While these conditions have preserved the bodies, the coffins haven’t fared so well and are in a slow state of decay. The church believes it would be inappropriate to break open the coffins, so it does what it can to preserve them. If and when one should open as it disintegrates, it is said that the body within has chosen to reveal itself…

Of course, a few of the eternally slumbering residents have indeed revealed themselves. Four bodies, collectively referred to as The Big Four, can be seen in the vault at the far end of the passageway; The Crusader, The Thief, The Nun and a woman spookily referred to by our guide as The Unknown. As her title would suggest, not much is known about her. Next to her lies The Thief, minus both his feet. It is believed his feet were removed so he could fit into his coffin (reminiscent of the grisly events in HP Lovecraft’s short story, In the Vault), and the reason he is called The Thief is because his right hand is also missing. In olden times this was a punishment for stealing. Given that he is buried under the church alongside some of Dublin’s most esteemed families and individuals however, it is thought he may have later atoned for his crimes and become a priest. Next to him lies The Nun, and like her fellow female crypt dweller, not much is known about her.

Set slightly apart from these three is the 800 year old body of The Crusader. Believed to have either died in the crusades of the 4th century, or shortly thereafter, The Crusader was, in his day, considered a giant among men. At six and a half feet, he was too tall for his coffin, and his legs were rather unceremoniously broken and folded underneath him in an effort to fit him into it. His hand appears to reach out of his coffin, revealing a grotesquely elongated finger pointing into the darkness. According to our guide, visitors were encouraged to shake the hand of The Crusader upon entering this section of the crypt. Nowadays, while shaking his hand is not encouraged, visitors are still invited to touch his pointing finger. Which of course, I did. Apparently it’s good luck, which is all well and good; I simply wanted to make contact with a mummy.

In one of the neighbouring crypts - there are five in total, all accessed through heavy iron doors in the graveyard above – lay the remains of the Earls of Antrim and the legendary Sheares brothers, prominent lawyers and members of the United Irishmen. Entombed along with the siblings is a parchment upon which is scribbled the gruesome instructions for their executions. For their part in the rising of 1798, the brothers were hanged by the British, but not until death. While still just barely alive, they had their intestines ripped out and set alight before their eyes. Only then were they put out of their misery by being quartered.

The Nun

The Thief (left) & The Unknown (right)

Since Victorian times the crypts have been something of a macabre attraction for visitors. Various skulls and bones still lay scattered on the dusty floors of some of the vaults; at one stage I noticed a jaw bone sitting upon a stone shelf next to my head in the shadowy passageway. It is believed Bram Stoker himself visited the crypts, and based on the fact that he makes specific reference to St Michan’s mummies in his short story Lost Hearts, I think it’s safe to say MR James also descended the cold, uneven steps into those darkened vaults to gaze upon the faces of the dead. In a particularly chilling passage in Lost Hearts, the young protagonist dreams of looking into an empty room on the attic floor of his cousin’s house, and catches a glimpse of a figure wrapped in a burial shroud lying in a bathtub. He suddenly awakens, only to find himself standing right outside the room from his dream…

That night he had a curious dream. At the end of the passage at the top of the house, in which his bedroom was situated, there was an old disused bathroom. It was kept locked, but the upper half of the door was glazed, and, since the muslin curtains which used to hang there had long been gone, you could look in and see the lead-lined bath affixed to the wall on the right hand, with its head towards the window.

On the night of which I am speaking, Stephen Elliott found himself, as he thought, looking through the glazed door. The moon was shining through the window, and he was gazing at a figure which lay in the bath. His description of what he saw reminds me of what I once beheld myself in the famous vaults of St Michan's Church in Dublin, which possesses the horrid property of preserving corpses from decay for centuries. A figure inexpressibly thin and pathetic, of a dusty leaden colour, enveloped in a shroud-like garment, the thin lips crooked into a faint and dreadful smile, the hands pressed tightly over the region of the heart.

As he looked upon it, a distant, almost inaudible moan seemed to issue from its lips, and the arms began to stir. The terror of the sight forced Stephen backwards and he awoke to the fact that he was indeed standing on the cold boarded floor of the passage in the full light of the moon…

When next you find yourself in Dublin's fair city, where the dead are so pretty, go to St Michan’s and set your eyes on the mummies there ‘neath it. And should you awake to find yourself still clutching the pointing finger of one of those ancient slumbering denizens, fear not. It’s good luck.