Sunday, 13 December 2015

Reading Ghost Stories at Christmas...

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house 
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse... 

I recently stumbled upon this beautifully old-fashioned advice* on the proper way to consume ghost stories at Christmas:

"If during the Yule-tide you wish thoroughly to enter into the spirit of the season, procure a good tumblerful of creature-comfort, steaming, with a trifle of powdered nutmeg in it, some thin lemon peel, and a grain of sugar, place it on a small stand beside your old arm-chair, in which you will have comfortably deposited yourself, and well gently inhaling the Virginian fumes in the presence of a cheerful Yule-log fire commence reading the 'Ghost Stories of an Antiquary', by M.R. James… On rising to retire to bed, say, when the clock is striking the hour of midnight, you will be heartily glad of a brave companion, who will assist you in ascertaining that all bolts and bars are scrupulously fastened, that all doors are locked, that there are no weird arms coming out from behind any curtains."

*This advice was originally printed in the Special Collections’ edition of James's 'More Ghost Stories' in 1911. I read about it, and other spooky reading recommendations for Christmas, here.

Behind the Couch Turns 7 Years Old!

Behind the Couch turned seven years old this month.

Celebrations have been somewhat sedate though, as it’s been a pretty quiet year in terms of blogging. That said, looking back over the last twelve months, it looks like I enjoyed some damn fine slasher films and rejoiced in some new titles which were lauded as ‘future classics’.

Away from blogging, I reviewed DVDs aplenty for Exquisite Terror and was lucky enough to interview a couple of fantastic film composers for Paracinema: I chatted to Rich Vreeland (aka Disasterpiece) and Jonathan Snipes about their scores for It Follows and Starry Eyes, respectively. I also contributed essays to the likes of Eurohorror fanzine Fang of Joy and was nominated for a Rondo Hatton Award in the Best Article category. The article, 'Family Man' (a look at Tobe Hooper’s meaty representations of the family unit in all its deadly, dysfunctional and dynamic forms), was published in issue 20 of Diabolique Magazine in March/April, 2014. 

Things will continue to be fairly quiet around here as I’ve just started working on another book. I shan’t say too much about it now, except that it’s a monograph on a film I love dearly; a film that features many of my favourite things, including werewolves, fairy tales, gender issues and folklore…

To everyone who has dropped by over the last year - thank you! I hope you'll continue to do so. 

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Women in Horror Annual

As a literary genre, horror was primarily written for and read by women. As a cinematic genre, horror has always drawn a large female audience. And yet, in popular media and culture, horror is often branded 'male'. The Women in Horror Annual is an anthology of horror fiction and non-fiction authored by female writers. While there are of course plenty of horror anthologies out there, none are exclusively authored by female writers, meaning this annual is a first-of-its-kind. The goal of its editors - Christine Makepeace (author and former editor of Paracinema Magazine) and Rachel Katz (former contributing writer for Paracinema Magazine) - is to celebrate female voices, opinions and scholarship, and to provide a showcase of women’s contribution to horror literature, culture, and entertainment. 

The works have been submitted, selected and edited. The next step is publication, and that's where you come in. With your assistance, the WHA will be made available in electronic and hard copy formats - all the editors need is $5000 to cover printing and advertising costs. Selling a book can be tough, and the horror market is large; ad space in magazines and copies for reviewers cost money. Any donation is greatly appreciated, and all monies (whether the goal is reached or not) will be put towards bringing this book into the world and into the hands of readers.

If money is tight, there are other ways to help. A Facebook post, a tweet, smoke signals, an announcement over the PA system in the subway, whatever you can do to help reach more readers, is gratefully appreciated.

The WHA is a labour of love, a passion project for the writers and editors involved.

Check out the IndieGoGo page for further details on how you can help.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Interview with Lawrie Brewster

Filmmaker Lawrie Brewster once claimed he was “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.” With his feature debut, Lord of Tears, he lived up to this promise, co-creating, with writer Sarah Daly, one of the most atmospheric, strangely moving and unsettling filmic ghost stories in quite some time. His latest film, The Unkindness of Ravens - which tells of an army veteran besieged by a legion of demonic ravens in the highlands of Scotland - looks set to further establish him as a creator of unique and striking horror cinema…

You’ve just completed filming The Unkindness of Ravens. When will it be released? 

Using Kickstarter, we're hoping to get some finishing funds to complete the soundtrack for the film, produce DVDs and launch a marketing and distribution campaign. All going well, the film should be complete and ready for release in the summer of 2016.

What inspired you while working on The Unkindness of Ravens

We've really worked hard to try and make The Unkindness of Ravens feel like something totally unique, but that said we've drawn some influences from other horror movies I love. Some of them might almost seem like contradictory influences too, for example the film has the claustrophobia of The Evil Dead, but the epic and nightmarish visceral quality of Hellraiser. It also has a serious drama side that might remind folks more of films like Kill List and Jacob's Ladder. We also have a very hard edged pagan influence to the film that definitely will remind some people of The Wicker Man... Basically imagine The Wicker Man and Hellraiser combined into some kind of heinous screaming beast and you'll be about there. Besides film, a massive influence comes from ancient mythology, I'm something of a literature and ancient history geek, so our films always find strange and unsettling horrors to bring back to life.

The Ride of the Valkyrs (1909) by John Charles Dollman

Where did the inspiration for the Raven Warriors come from? 

We've always been fascinated by theology and mythology, it's where we drew the Owl Man from and also where we found inspiration for the Raven Warriors, who, if you watch the film closely, you will find have a strange connection to the Owl Man. In mythology, ravens and crows are often associated with death and also with the battlefield, from the Norse Valkyries to the Celtic Morrigan. By sheer coincidence - or strange fate - the only catering available near our shooting location was at a restaurant called the Blackbird Inn and the adjoining Raven Lounge pub! We drew from these mythological sources but created our own rich mythos, which you see glimpses of in the film, but which we'll go into in more detail in the literature we'll include with the film. With Lord of Tears we produced a 400 page digital Production Diary and we plan to do the same for The Unkindness of Ravens so there'll be plenty of lore for fans to delve into!

The Unkindness of Ravens stars Jamie Scott-Gordon

Were there any particular challenges with making the film? 

Well, shooting out in the Scottish wilderness will always have its challenges. We never stopped shooting because of the weather, but often had to adapt... or just get drenched. We also didn't have a huge budget to work with so we had to be very clever with how we shot things, making every penny count, and also using our VFX skills to elevate the look and style of the film as much as we could. Since we're a small, independent outfit, many of our crew had to multi-task on the production. For example Michael Brewster, our cinematographer, had a plethora of roles including VFX artist, T-shirt model, amateur taxidermist, as well as appearing in the film as a mad, eyeless ghost. Every film has its challenges though, whatever the budget. Putting the best story you possibly can on the screen is what you always strive for and with a lot of hard work and a great team, I think we've managed to do that here.

Did you experience any creepy occurrences on the set? 

Driving back to our location after a feed at the Blackbird Inn one misty night, on a country lane in the pitch black Scottish winter, we happened upon an old lady, standing in the middle of the road. No one else around, no lights or other cars for miles. We stopped to see what she was doing out there all alone, wandering along the road in the absolute darkness, pretty certain we'd stumbled on some local ghost. But it seemed the poor old dear's car had broken down on her way to see a friend and she'd been looking for help for hours. We managed to get her car started and saw her safely on her way. Relief all round! We make and love horror movies, but we're all wusses when it comes to the supernatural creeping into real life! Also, while shooting outdoors one night at 2am, the sky lit up with a massive fireball coming from the hills opposite. A series of loud explosions followed. We were terrified, thinking in our sleep-deprived state that we were under attack, and planning our apocalypse survival strategy. Turns out it was some kind of military training exercise...

Why Kickstarter? 

The mainstream is becoming more and more narrow in the kinds of films it produces. To recoup their huge budgets they need to tell stories with mass appeal - and that's fine - but it means that mainstream cinema no longer creates risky, original content. More than ever, it's up to independents to tell those kinds of stories. Kickstarter allows niche audiences to decide what they want to see, and lets them help bring those projects to life. It's an important source of funding for stranger, riskier films, and I think its success proves that audiences do feel starved of original content. If it weren't for places like Kickstarter, films like ours that don't have big named actors or well-known branding would really struggle to get funded and produced. So, that's a big reason. Also, we love the way that Kickstarter lets us connect more closely with our audience – you find a lot of kindred spirits who are hungry for the same kinds of stories as you are, and it really bolsters you through the often lonely and difficult process of making and marketing a movie to know that they're on the journey with you, supporting what you're trying to do. Finally, since The Unkindness of Ravens is in post-production, we feel like we've minimised any risk to our backers, so they can feel good about pre-ordering the film, and in the process, helping the film get finished.

Director Lawrie Brewster and writer Sarah Daly
What's next for Lawrie Brewster and Hex Media?

Well, we're currently producing a slate of films in conjunction with Dark Dunes Productions. The next of these is Automata, which we've actually already shot and hope to finish some time next year. We'll also be shooting two more films next year as well as working with other directors to produce an anthology of horror shorts. So, no rest in sight!

To support Brewster and co, and check out the trailer for The Unkindness of Ravens, visit their Kickstarter page.

The Unkindness of Ravens

With Lord of Tears, director Lawrie Brewster and writer Sarah Daly created a truly haunting piece of work; one that marked them as a creative team to keep an eye out for. With its striking imagery, spooky Gaelic-Gothic atmosphere, intriguing folklore and creepy-as-hell antagonist, it was a rich and full-blooded ghost story, perfect viewing for these dark winter nights. For those who have seen, admired and been quietly unsettled by Lord of Tears, there is good news: Brewster and Daly have just finished work on their follow up film, The Unkindness of Ravens.

Shot on location in Fife and Perthshire, Scotland, the film seeks to explore the effect of the horrors of war on the human mind through the media of beautiful poetry and brutal violence. It tells of Andrew Alburn (Jamie Scott-Gordon), a homeless veteran suffering from PTSD. Plagued by flashbacks of the traumatic events he witnessed while serving in the armed forces, he is persuaded to venture out to a retreat in the remote Scottish Highlands in order to overcome his fear of ravens, the dark creatures that populate his terrifying visions. In this bleak wilderness however, his nightmares manifest into an enemy more powerful than he could ever have imagined, and he must battle monstrous entities and inner demons alike in order to keep his life, and reclaim his sanity.

Much like Lord of Tears, The Unkindness of Ravens looks set to be an imaginative and original horror film that blends the psychological with the supernatural in a nightmarish tale of one man's journey into hell. Despite its low budget, The Unkindness of Ravens is extremely ambitious. Aside from featuring original practical effects and tastefully-used CGI to give life to its sinister antagonists, it also takes a serious, artistic approach to its subject matter.; by exploring the human cost of war, it puts the audience in the mind of a man desperately fighting for his life long after the war has ended.

The filmmakers are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help them raise funding to finish the movie. You can help out by going here. You can also keep up to date with the filmmakers’ work on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, 30 October 2015

In Conversation with Alan Howarth

Perhaps best known for his collaborations with filmmaker John Carpenter, sound designer and composer Alan Howarth has contributed to some of the biggest genre films of the ’80s. His work with Carpenter on films such as Escape from New York, They Live and Prince of Darkness, resulted in some of genre cinema’s most striking and atmospheric scores. An award-winning sound designer, Howarth has also provided effects for the likes of Poltergeist, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and many of the Star Trek films.

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my interview with Mr. Howarth.

Readers in and around London might be interested to know that Alan is performing live at Union Chapel on 31st October. Go here for more information.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Night of the Living Deb

Dir. Kyle Rankin

If there’s one subgenre of horror that has surely reached saturation point, it’s the zombie film. Yet time and again, it proves to be a robust and continually relevant aspect of horror cinema, with its ability to speak of various social and political issues and its knack for cross-pollination with other genres.

Following on from the likes of Warm Bodies (2013), Boy Eats Girl (2005) and Shaun of the Dead (2004), Night of the Living Deb is the latest amalgamation of typical zombie movie conventions with those of the romantic comedy. A zom-rom-com, if you will. While it doesn’t really offer viewers anything they haven’t seen before it still endears with its misfit characters, witty script and quirky sense of humour. 

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Some Kind of Hate

Dir. Adam Egypt Mortimer

Part ghost story, part slasher film, Some Kind of Hate is an interesting if at times slightly formulaic tale of revenge. However, with its bleak karmic mantra and themes concerning the unique pain of adolescence, the devastating impact of bullying, self-harm and revenge, it’s a frequently intense viewing experience.

Mercilessly tormented by bullies, troubled high-school loner Lincoln (Ronen Rubinstein) eventually snaps and violently retaliates. He’s packed off to a desert commune for young misfits, only to again suffer at the hands of bullies. His rage summons an undead avenger, herself the victim of bullying, who begins to wreak bloody havoc on his behalf...

Head over to Exquisite Terror to read my full review.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Fang of Joy #3

Fang of Joy is an independently published zine that focuses on European horror and gialli. The brainchild of the insanely prolific Richard Schmidt (Hello, This is the Doomed Show; Cinema Somnambulist; Doomed Moviethon), it’s a labour of love that should appeal to admirers of European horror cinema. From Argento, Bava, Naschy and Ossorio, all the way to Laugier, Bustillo et Maury and Wheately; if you like your horror with a European flavour, this is a zine for you. 

Issue 3 contains articles, reviews and features on the likes of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Beyond the Darkness, The Black Belly of the Tarantula and The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism. There’s also an interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Stage Fright, City of the Living Dead), an introductory guide to the films of Jess Franco, my own humble contribution - an essay on Irish horror cinema - and much, much more.

Pick up a copy here.

Also, if you’re the sort of person who just can’t get enough of Italian gialli (understandable), Mr. Schmidt has just published a book on the subject, which can be obtained here

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Exquisite Terror Sale

Born from a love of horror, ponderous thoughts and meandering topics, Exquisite Terror is a periodical that takes a more academic approach to the genre, featuring exclusive art, script analysis and in-depth essays. We're having a sale at the moment, so if you'd like to pick up a copy, while stocks last, head here to do so. See below for further details on each issue...

STARBURST “Fascinating and informative”

BRUTAL AS HELL “Intelligent and enlightening”

STRANGE THINGS ARE HAPPENING “One of the best horror zines out there”

SEX GORE MUTANTS “Highly recommended”

Monday, 31 August 2015

Waking Nightmares: The Visions of Wes Craven

Throughout his career, Wes Craven created some of the most arresting, disturbing and genuinely haunting moments in horror cinema. That they were contained in some of the genre's most provocative and striking titles, is testament to his power as a filmmaker and a weaver of unsettling dreams... Very unsettling dreams.

Last House on the Left (1972) was Craven's intensely brutal debut

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) demonstrated what happens when you stray from the path

Deadly Blessing (1981) featured some of Craven's most unnerving imagery and ideas. And starred a fresh-faced Sharon Stone

Swamp Thing (1982)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) redefined the slasher film

Fred Krueger, a boogeyman for the Eighties

Freddy stalks a sleeping Nancy

Another haunting vision...

Feverish sexual connotations mix with primal fear

Nancy turns her back on fear and denies it power over her

Deadly Friend (1986) was a disappointing remix of 'Frankenstein' for Eighties' teens 

The Serpent & The Rainbow (1988) combined political subtext and voodoo shocks

Shocker (1989) was Craven's attempt to create a new horror icon/franchise

Bloody visions in Shocker (1989)

The People Under the Stairs (1991), a terrifying exploration of class, race and familial strife

Alice through a bloody looking-glass...

Family problems and monstrous mothers in The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) a postmodern spin on the series and a prelude to Scream

A nod to Tina's death scene from the original film

Krueger appeared 'darker, more evil' in New Nightmare

For Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Craven paired up with Eddie Murphy, who wanted to make a straight horror film, whereas Craven wanted to explore comedy. 

Scream (1996) re-wrote all the rules...

Scream 2 (1997), a fine sequel

Scream 3 (2000) favored chuckles over chills

Scream 4 (2011) proved there was still life in the series

Music of the Heart (1999), surely Craven's most terrifying film...

My Soul to Take (2010) explored familiar themes...

...and images