Category Archives: Horror
Variety has called The Eyes of My Mother ‘an exquisite waking nightmare’, and I must admit that while viewing Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut, I was reminded of David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman and even 1974’s Deranged.
If you like your horror slow-burning and artfully shot, then Pesce’s American Gothic-fused tale of depravity and dread will draw you into its monochrome-lensed folk horror world, while also setting your nerves on edge with its extreme violence, that’s more often implied than actually shown.
In a remote rural setting, young Portuguese farm-girl Francisca (Olivia Bond) witnesses the horrific murder of her surgeon mother at the hands of a travelling salesman called Charlie (Will Brill). When her father (Paul Nazak) arrives home, he knocks Charlie out and holds him captive in the family’s barn where he removes his eyes and vocal cords.
Psychologically damaged by the traumatic experience, Francisca begins to see Charlie as her only friend and a plaything that she can torture using her mother’s surgical instruments. Fast forward a few years, the adult Francisca (Kika Magalhães) has isolated herself from the real world and constructed her own morbid morality – which leads her to commit her own atrocious acts of murder and dismemberment…
With her quirky Paula Rego-esque features, Kika Magalhães reminded me of the British actress Angela Pleasence, she of the elfin-like countenance who gave weirdly unsettingly performances in films like José Ramón Larraz’s cult horror Symptoms (1974).
Indeed, such is Magalhães’ strong and nuanced performance, that her Francisca belongs in that pantheon of movies featuring women descending into madness, alongside its ice maiden queen, Catherine Deneuve, as seen in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965).
For me, its Zach Kuperstein’s monochrome photography that impresses the most – much more so than the story, which can be read as a nature vs nurture debate on the nature of evil – as his lighting and composition evokes the stark and sterile cinema of Ingmar Bergman and true crime films like The Honeymoon Killers (1970) and the Conrad Hall shot In Cold Blood (1967).
There’s also an exploitation vibe going on, recalling Alan Ormsby’s Ed Gein-inspired serial killer thriller Deranged (1974), while also paying homage to William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill featuring Vincent Price – which, along with Strait-Jacket, Psycho and Night of the Hunter, informs the film tonally. And there are other influences in there too, including Polanski and David Lynch, but also the extreme French horror cinema of the 2000s (Marytrs is one that comes to mind).
There are alot of ‘WTF?’ moments that will leave you in shock, but also baffle. Like, how does Francisca support herself when she’s clearly incapable of connecting with the outside world and can’t speak the local lingo? Having the film span decades also leaves questions unanswered, but if you take it that we are experiencing mere fragments of Francisca’s memory then it might help paper over the cracks.
Now, without going into detail, much of what happens in the second half will have you wondering what the hell you have you been watching – but those artfully conceived visuals, Magalhães brutal performance, and the nerve-wracking use of sound are saving graces. Oh, and thanks Pesce for making me never hear Amália Rodrigues the same way again. This is a brilliant, but bewildering debut.
The Eyes of My Mother is out in cinemas in the UK and Ireland from Friday 24 March from Park Circus
The Love Witch (2016) | Prepare to be seduced, bewitched and beguiled – just watch out for the jimsonweed!
A deliciously visual confection that pays loving homage to vintage Hollywood glamour, melodrama and Technicolor, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is a beguiling and bewitching feminist exploration of pathological love, desire and narcissism.
She Loved Men… To Death
Wiccan convert Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is determined to find a man to love her entirely. Fleeing San Francisco after the death of a lover, she takes up residence in a gothic Victorian apartment in a quaint town northern Californian, where she begins her search for the man of her dreams.
But her sex magic – which requires the use of the hallucinogenic jimsonweed – is so powerful it sends her suitors to an early grave, and when she does meet her perfect match in a detective (Gian Keys) who is investigating her, Elaine’s desperation to be loved sends her over the edge…
With its purposefully stylised look, drenched in a ultra vivid colour palette, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch certainly took my breathe away and reminded me of how excited I felt when I first laid eyes on the hyper-real styling’s of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle, James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus and Todd Haynes’ Poison and Velvet Goldmine.
Praise be Biller for taking over seven years to bring her feminist opus to cinematic life – and doing all the writing, direction and editing herself (as well as the sets, songs and paintings), while also working closely with cinematographer, M David Mullen (Jennifer’s Body and TV’s Extant), to achieve her desire to create a fun movie that uses her own cinema fantasies to ‘penetrate the visual world of an iconic witch’.
It’s certainly exciting for cinephiles like myself to catch all the references that Biller channels into the film: like the opening sequence that’s an intentional nod to Hitchcock’s The Birds – complete with retro rear-screen projection; Douglas Sirk’s soapy 1950s melodramas; and female-driven pictures like Mildred Pierce and Leave Her To Heaven.
And when it comes to the borrowed music, Biller cleverly chooses some evocative 1960s giallo scores by Ennio Morricone. Now I might be mistaken, but I think I also heard a mock-medieval melody from David Lee’s Masque of the Red Death score from Roger Corman’s 1964 Pathecolor horror classic – another film that made masterful use of a primary colour palette courtesy of Nicolas Roeg.
For me, the heavy use of reds, purples and blacks and the witches’ coven sequences reminded me of some other psychedelic American International Pictures-produced horrors like Count Yorga, Vampire and The Dunwich Horror. But Biller has gone on record to say that she was never influenced by what she calls these ‘exploitation movies’ as they were made purely for ‘male pleasure’.
Playing the deluded femme fatale, Samantha Robinson is totally bewitching as Elaine, who is part Stepford wife, part Samantha from Bewitched, but with the darker shades of Sandy Dennis in That Cold Day in the Park and a couple of Hitchcock heroines lurking behind inviting deep hazel eyes that stare directly at the camera in almost every shot. It’s a clever technique that effectively seduces the viewer into being drawn into Elaine’s deluded candy-coloured world.
Here’s how Biller viewed her intentions: ‘I wanted to make a movie about a witch, because I think that every woman is made to feel like a witch by the men who don’t understand her: that is, mysterious, dangerous, different, abnormal. Elaine is monstrous, wreaking havoc wherever she goes, but she is also sympathetic, because she has essentially been driven mad by being a woman, and is struggling to find love and acceptance in a world that has disappointed her at every turn.’
The gender politics of Biller’s The Love Witch is certainly ripe for closer examination and comment, and I look forward to revisiting the film when it gets its UK Blu-ray release on 13 March from ICON Entertainment. In the meantime, do yourself a favour and catch this on the big screen – you NEED to see it in all its 35mm glory.
Oh and for those of you who are film location fanatics (like me), Elaine’s Munsters-like Victorian mansion can be found at 916 13th St, Arcata, CA 95521.
The Love Witch is out in selected UK cinemas now.
Having learned his trade from the likes of Joe D’Amato, Dario Argento and Terry Gilliam, Milan-born film-maker Michele Soavi went on to direct a quartet of Italian horrors in the late 1980s and early 1990s that have their fans and their critics.
1987’s Stage Fright was a well-executed slasher that paid homage to Argento; 1989’s supernatural shocker The Church looked great, but was a bit of a bore; 1991’s The Sect revisited Rosemary’s Baby theme with trippy results, and 1994’s Cemetery Man aka Dellamorte Dellamore combined black comedy and horror to great effect that it became the director’s finest hour.
Given Shameless’ lovingly-restored, re-mastered release of The Sect (which follows their release of The Church last year and Dellamorte Dellamore back in 2012), I thought it ripe to pay Soavi’s underrated horror a revisit…
Kelly Curtis (daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, and sister to Jamie Lee) plays American schoolteacher Miriam based in Frankfurt, where a satanic cult is making headlines for a series of grisly murders being carried out across the German city.
When she knocks over the elderly Moebius (Herbert Lom), she takes him home to recuperate. But her good deed results in her being drugged with some ominous-looking fluid.
Kelly then finds herself in a waking nightmare involving a dark well and a giant demonic bird that are all linked to the Charles Manson-like cult leader Damon (Thomas Arana) – who is seen in the film’s 1970’s-set prologue in which he is promised a child born from the seed of Lucifer himself…
The Sect is certainly as imaginative as Soavi’s other features, and it benefits from some surreal visuals and hazy cinematography (by Raffaele Mertes who’d go on to do Argento’s Trauma), as well as another cool score from Pino Donaggio (Don’t Look Now, Carrie, The Howling), and, as you follow Kelly’s modern-day Alice down the rabbit hole, the film plays like a really weird acid trip – which is made all the more insane by the runaway script (in which Argento had a hand in writing).
Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are certainly major influences, both in regards to the storyline and the themes (the Satanic Panic phenomenon was in full swing when this film was made), but Soavi does conjure up the odd cool ideas – like the demonic bird. In the end, however, it’s the score and those visuals that help paper over the cracks, while Curtis makes for an engaging heroine.
For me, however, the big highlight was Herbert Lom. Hearing his elegant gravelled tones and seeing him give a really honest and restrained performance as the mysterious Moebious was a real treat, and it was great to see him back in the genre that knew him best one last time (he retired after 1993’s Son of the Pink Panther).
THE SHAMELESS UK RELEASE
The new UK Blu-ray and DVD release from Shameless features a new 2K scan from the original negative with a running time of 117-min. It also includes the original English language audio, as well as Italian in stereo LPCM or 5.1 audio with new English subtitles.
The main extra here is Beauty and Terror, a 29-minute interview with director Michele Soavi, who discusses his association with Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato and the making of The Sect. Also included are trailers for The Church, Dellamorte Dellamore, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
In the US, Scorpion Releasing are scheduled to release The Sect along with The Church later this year.
US short’s director Jackson Stewart makes his directorial debut with Beyond the Gates, a nostalgic tribute to 1980’s horror films and board games that’s like The Big Bang Theory meets Jumanji and Fright Night.
Seven months after their drunken dad’s latest disappearance, estranged brothers Gordon (Tales of Halloween’s Graham Skipper) and John (The Guest’s Chase Williamson) have the task of clearing out his video store. Coming across a vintage VHS board game, the brothers decide to play the game for laughs, but are shocked to learn from its mysterious host Evelyn (Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton) that it is in fact a portal to an inter-dimensional world where their father’s soul has been trapped. With the help of Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Dexter’s Brea Grant), the trio set out to save him…
The DVD cover art makes this indie shocker look on par to Stranger Things. But while it can’t touch the thrilling heights of that Netflix sensation, it’s still an enjoyable ride. Now, not much actually happens when the trio are lured into the board game, but suspense and a sense of dread seem to be the name of the game here. And apart from an exploding head, there’s not that much in the way of gore.
Despite the lack of all-out shocks and action, I was drawn in by the story (which is basically about two geeky chalk-n-cheese brothers reconnecting) and the solid performances of the cast, especially Williamson as the moody John (he’s my one to watch, by the way) and everyone’s favourite scream queen Crampton as the spooky black-eyed host.
The shots of Crampton staring immobile, waiting for the lads to play their next move, really sent a chill up my spine, while her breaking the fourth wall inside the TV reminded me of 1986’s Escapes, in which an elderly Vincent Price played a similarly sinister role. The cool synth score is by Wojciech Golczewski, who also did Crampton’s 2015 horror We Are Still Here.
We all know Rupert Everett for his foppish roles in a host of costumes romps, being GBF to Julia Roberts and Madonna in a couple of rom-coms, and for pulling on a frumpy dress to play an eccentric headmistress in the St Trinian’s movies, but did you know that back in the 1990s he also tried his hand at horror? It was in 1994’s Dellamorte Dellamore (aka The Cemetery Man), a strange brew of Italian arthouse cinema, horror comedy and Terry Gilliam-style absurdist humour, is director Michele Soavi’s adaptation of a novel by Dylan Dog comic book creator Tiziano Sclavi.
Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the complacent world-weary caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery, where the dead come to life seven days after burial. Francesco’s job is to terminate these ‘Returners’ before they escape over the walls. Cynical, amoral and fearful of an outside world where falling in love only ends in rejection, Dellamorte prefers the company of the (un)dead and his routine existence in the cemetery which he tends the help of his faithful assistant, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro).
But when Dellamorte does allow himself to fall in love – with a young widow whom he accidentally kills – his enchanted world is suddenly thrown into total chaos. What follows can only be ‘experienced’ as it’s a real rollercoaster ride of quirky and surreal happenings – a sort of Groundhog Day set in a graveyard.
Dellamorte Dellamore is stunning to look at – filled with the kind of light and colour that’s reminiscent of Mario Bava’s Italian horrors of the 1960s, while the use of an actual cemetery (in Guardea, Umbria) makes it even more fantastical. Everett is a bit wet as the titular hero (he’s certainly no Bruce Campbell), but Hadji-Lazaro is a revelation (his side story is a real treat). The humour might be a bit hit and miss, but it’s the visuals that will stay with you (my favourite – the talking head in a broken TV).
Back in 2012, Shameless Screen Entertainment re-released this mini-masterpiece onto DVD and got director Michele Soavi and writer Gianni Romoli together to share their thoughts (in Italian) as a special feature. I’ve been watching it over and over every since, and revisited it again last night after checking out Shameless latest additions to their Soavi collection The Church and The Sect (check out my review real soon).
Out on DVD through Shameless Screen Entertainment
‘I loved this film. It takes over our waking thoughts, like a recurring dream we try to forget,
because we are fearful of finding out it may be a memory.’
Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
‘We Are the Flesh is a very personal, very powerful film that deeply impressed me.’
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu (The Revenant)
From Mexico comes writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter’s surreal fantasy horror feature debut We Are The Flesh (aka Tenemos la carne), which gets a UK Blu-ray and DVD release from Arrow Video.
Stumbling on the filthy lair of hermit Mariano (Noé Hernánedez), homeless brother and sister, Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (María Evoli), are given shelter in return for helping Mariano to create a womb-like structure out of scrap, and are then forced the siblings into having sex with each other. But incest isn’t the only taboo that the youngsters face as they are propelled towards self-awakening…
With its graphic displays of unsimulated fellatio, masturbation and menstrual blood licking, this is not for the faint-hearted, and most viewers (who do last the distance) will simply cast it off as pervy arthouse porn, but devotees of transgressive cinema will be primal screaming with delight as Emiliano Rocha Minter’s powerful head-fuck hums to the transformative beat of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s magick cinema and the unrestrained morality of the Marquis de Sade. Death, rebirth and the liberation of the soul is at the dark heart of the surreal journey which culminates in a cannibalistic orgy and a gender-blending metamorphosis.
Beautifully shot, with a haunting drone-like score and featuring an utterly compelling physical performance from multi-award winning Noé Hernánedez (Miss Bala) as the prophesying hermit, We Are the Flesh is a visceral cinematic experience like no other.
Highly recommended (after watching the film) is author Virginie Sélavy’s illuminating video essay on Minter’s theatre of cruelty, which puts the director’s vision in perspective and certainly made me revisit this surreal surprise a second time.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) & High Definition digital transfer (DVD), with 5.1 surround and uncompressed stereo 2.0 audio options, and optional English subtitles
• Video essay by critic Virginie Sélavy
• Interviews with director Emiliano Rocha Minter and cast members Noé Hernández, María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel
• Two short films by Emiliano Rocha Minter; Dentro and Videohome
• Illustrated collector’s booklet
When Under the Shadow had its UK cinema run late last year, everyone was raving about it and comparing it to the masterful Australian psychological horror The Babadook (you can read about that film here). Well now I’ve finally gotten to watch it on DVD and it’s every bit as good as those reviews, and so deserving of its – to date – 11 awards, including the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards and the Douglas Hickox Award at the 2016 British Independent Film Awards. Hickox, as some may know, was the director of my all-time favourite Theatre of Blood. And more awards are set to follow, as the horror thriller has also been nominated for two gongs at this year’s BAFTA’s taking place on 12 February.
Making his feature debut, writer and director Babak Amvari has crafted an outstanding piece of work. It follows mother Sideh (Narges Rashidi) struggling to cope in a post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. After being blacklisted by the authorities from continuing with her medical studies, Sideh finds herself reduced to playing housewife and exercising to Jane Fonda work-out videos on a contraband VHS machine. When her husband (Bobby Naderi) is called away on military service, Sideh refuses to take her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) to her in-laws despite the very real threat of a bomb attack on the city. And when one such bomb crashes through the family’s apartment block, it doesn’t so much as detonate, as bring with it something far more deadly – malevolent spirits called djinn that begin to haunt her home.
It’s a little unfair to compare Amvari’s thriller with The Babadook, as its a very different entity indeed. While writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Aussie howler was about how grief, guilt and loneliness can manifest the monster inside us all, Under the Shadow is much more subtle affair – but one that’s not lacking in two seriously unnerving sequences. The ‘monster’ in question in this Tehran-set chiller (that was – unsuprisingly – shot in Jordan) is an unseen malevolent force that is felt not only by Sideh and little Dorsa, but also their neighbours. But we see little of that, as everything happens behind closed doors. It’s all very much a metaphor for the country’s new world order under the Khomeini regime. And Amvari is certainly using his ghost story for some social subtext – especially with regards to the role of women following the revolution that toppled the country’s more liberal monarchy and replaced its with a islamist republic.
Narges Rashidi brings a wide range of emotions to her role as an educated young woman at war with her own internal demons – she wants to rage against the machine and motherhood. And once her husband leaves, we are left pretty much with a two-hander, as Rashidi and Manshadi’s Dorsa soon come to blows over a missing doll and VHS tapes. And its their chemistry together that is so engrossing to watch. So much so, that the film’s ending is a huge let down. I won’t reveal it here, but I was begging to know what happens next. One final point is the Farsi language spoken throughout – it’s a wonderfully clear and melodious delight to the ear.
Under the Shadow (15) is out on DVD in the UK from Precision Pictures from Monday 20 January 2017
One of the most iconic masterpieces in cinema history, Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari shook filmgoers worldwide and changed the direction of the art form.
Incalculably influential, the film’s nightmarishly jagged sets, sinister atmospheric and psychological emphasis left an immediate impact in its wake (horror, film noir, and gothic cinema would all be shaped directly by it).
Back in 2014, Eureka! released the definitive restoration on dual format as part of their Masters of Cinema Series, now the expressionist masterpiece is back in a special Steelbook Blu-ray edition, which includes the 2014 documentary, From Caligari to Hitler, a two-hour exploration of German Cinema during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). Plus, there’s a host of brand-new bonus extras to savour.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
• High-definition presentation, from the extensive FWMS restoration
• Option of Stereo and 5.1 surround scores
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
• From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses
• You Must Become Caligari: Video essay by film critic David Cairns
• Exclusive audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
• Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War: 52 minute documentary on the cultural and historical impact of the film
• On the Restoration: three short video pieces on the film’s restoration
• Trailer for the release of the new restoration of the film
• Booklet featuring vintage writing on the film by Lotte H Eisner; an original Variety review of the film; and rare archival imagery
SCREAM With Guests From The “Other World” When You Ring For DOOM SERVICE!
Professor Driscoll (Christopher Lee), is an authority on the occult who persuades one of his students (Venetia Stevenson) to research his hometown, Whitewood, once the site of witch burnings in the 17th century. Booking herself into the Raven’s Inn, she soon learns that devil worship among the locals hasn’t been consigned to the past…
Produced by future Amicus founders Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, and beautifully shot by Desmond Dickinson (whose credits ranged from Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet to Horrors of the Black Museum), The City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) is a wonderfully atmospheric and still shocking slice of horror that stands firmly alongside with its Hammer contemporaries.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• New 4K digital restoration by the Cohen Film Collection and the BFI
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of two versions of the film: The City of the Dead and the alternative US cut, Horror Hotel
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM Audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentary by film critic Jonathan Rigby
• Newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Vic Pratt
Crawling, Crushing Colossus of Terror!
A team of archaeologists led by Dr John Fielding (John Merivale, Circus of Horrors) descends on the ruins of an ancient Mayan city to investigate the mysterious disappearance of its inhabitants. However, the luckless explorers get more than they bargained for when their investigation of a sacrificial pool awakens the monster that dwells beneath its waters – the fearsome and malevolent god Caltiki.
Though Riccardo Freda received sole directing credit, a significant portion of the film was in fact the work of Mario Bava, who also served as its cinematographer and was responsible its striking special effects. Drawing on a diverse array of influences, from The Quatermass Experiment to the works of HP Lovecraft, Caltiki the Immortal Monster is a unique and unforgettable sci-fi chiller which showcases these two legendary filmmakers at their most inventive.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
• Audio commentary by Italian Giallo cinema author Troy Howarth
• From Quatermass to Caltiki: a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman
• Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master: an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa
• The Genesis of Caltiki: archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi
• Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa
• Alternate opening titles for the US version
• Newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti