Talking Movies

July 20, 2018

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part VIII

As the title suggests here are some short thoughts about the movies which aren’t quite substantial enough for each to merit an individual blog posting.

Did you just ask me who I am?…

Humphrey Who?

Patrick Doyle asked an unnerving question on his Sunday Breakfast show a couple of weeks ago. How many people know who Grace Kelly is anymore? … How could people not know who Grace Kelly is?! Then I started to worry… I am interested in history in general, and this extends into burrowing with curiosity and sympathy into the back catalogue of cinema. But I have to admit that for many people, probably I fear the vast majority, they frankly couldn’t give a damn. (And would only have the faintest idea that that was a reference to the most popular film ever made) A particularly dispiriting display of wilful ignorance of the past came at the Lighthouse Hallowe’en screening of Hallowe’en back in 2016. The very young, very very drunk audience, mostly in party later on fancy dress costume, was hooting in derision from the get-go. At anything and everything, any detail of dialogue or costume or reality (like a 70s car) that revealed the movie as having been made in 1978. I couldn’t understand this attitude of unbridled contempt then, and still struggle with it now. Do they not think people as yet unborn will hoot in self-same derision in 2046 at the films they hold precious now? For heaven’s sake most of these people were sporting the Snowflake hair-do whose sheer omnipresence and ostentation means, as I wrote some months back, that it will be as embarrassing on Jan 1st 2020 as bell-bottomed jeans were on Jan 1st 1980.

Censor and be damned!

Channel 4 has got my goat recently by showing films too early for its own purposes. Dante’s Peak saw a trio of deaths removed, presumably for fear of upsetting younger viewers. But then why show it in early afternoon?! Instead we got the build-up to the trio of grisly deaths, and the emotional fall-outs of the other characters reacting to the grisly deaths, and but no actual deaths so people seemed to be reacting to nothing. It’s all too reminiscent of the time that RTE decided to cut Raiders of the Lost Ark, and left out Indy getting shot, but kept in Indy in great pain attempting to bandage the bloody wound that he’d acquired mysteriously while driving without incident. Channel 4 also decided to censor Romancing the Stone. They snipped the full bloody detail of the animatronic alligator pulling off the villain’s hand, but then kept in his sustained agonised screams and fumbled frantic one-handed bandaging of the bloody stump where his left hand used to be. I don’t know whether it could be said to be more disturbing to show consequences after eliding the actions, but it is frustrating. Channel 4 should take a page from the book of the censor in Malaysia; who banned a film altogether after he’d had to make so many cuts it was left an incoherent mess that did nobody any favours. Show these films later in the day or just don’t show them!

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February 15, 2018

Ecuador plots daring escape for Julian Assange

A drunken Ambassador who is shamelessly junketing in South Korea to support Ecuador’s sole entrant in the Winter Olympics has accidentally let slip an elaborate long-term plan to get Wikileaks founder Julian Assange out of their London embassy without being arrested by the Met, writes B. Bradley Bradlee from Pyeongchang.

Julian Assange met with Noam Chomsky to discuss the ethics of selling the movie rights to his forthcoming escape. Mr Chomsky insisted he be played only by philosopher Sam Harris.

Hugo de Bradias, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed over his seventeenth tequila that the Ecuadorean embassy in London had had enough. “You think we really had a package delivered of mysterious white powder last week? Mystery white powder?! We were just, testing, hiccup, the response time of the Met. All our white powder comes from the Bolivian embassy’s chauffeur. Don’t print that. I’ll deeeny I shaid shit.” Ambassador de Bradias then flourished a piece of paper which was headed ‘Julian Assange Escape Plan’ ™. When pressed on why it was trademarked he mumbled about various copyright infringements, and ‘out-chutzpah’.

The document, which will no doubt be of especial interest to London’s Metropolitan Police, details an elaborate escape plan for Julian Assange – to take place on Hallowe’en night 2018. Ambassador de Bradias laughed so hard he fell off his barstool explaining that the final version of the plan had come together after Assange had gone to bed for the night and the embassy staff stayed up and watched recent episodes of Longmire and Blindspot after Olly Murs had caused chaos on Twitter by implying Oxford Street’s Selfridges had become Nakatomi Plaza with Murs himself as an all-singing all-dancing John McClane.

The plan involves a huge amount of simultaneous Tube platform altercations and minor vandalism on busy shopping streets to divert police resources all over London. The Ecuadorean embassy will be hosting a masked ball for some 10,000 partygoers, flooding the building and grounds. Assange will make a speech from his usual balcony, and get a coughing fit mid-tedious tirade. He will duck inside to get a glass of water, a light bulb will blow, but he will soldier on, giving the speech in half-light. But, and Ambassador de Bradias hooted with glee – this will not be the real Assange.

The real Assange will have disappeared when he went for his glass of water, replaced by a double. At this moment of subterfuge all 10,000 partygoers will flood out of the Ecuadorean embassy; and the mask that everyone is wearing will be revealed to be the face of – Julian Assange. The real Assange escapes because the Met are stretched too thin from all the mayhem to search so many civilians without probable cause. That at least is the plan. Obviously such a massive subterfuge, requiring so much materiel and so many personnel, and, strictly confidential, an outlay for a fake party and gunbattle in Harrods to inspire panicked tweets from an influential useful idiot like Kim Kardashian, would be hugely costly for troubled Ecuador.

When pressed on how the embassy would pay for all this Ambassador de Bradias tapped his nose and alluded to the presence in Pyeongchang of Kim Jong-Un’s diabolical sister, the Livia of North Korea. He was more forthcoming on the plan’s urgency, “This man, Assange, he must go. At first, yay, stick it to the Americans. Now, no. Now he pain in ass. BBC 2 make sitcom about him. What do we get? Nada. We try to interest Aaron Sorkin. Hey, come do research, make movie, Assange he is like Man who come to dinner, no? No. Sorkin, no.” When asked if he was not concerned that Assange, a digital Tom Paine, could end up being beaten with sticks about the kidneys in a floating black site not unlike the prison in Stallone/Schwarzenegger vehicle Escape Plan, the Ambassador gave me a withering look and called for more Ferrero Rocher.

B. Bradley Bradlee is fictional editor emeritus of The New York Times. He is currently covering the Winter Olympics for the German weekly Die Emmerich-Zeitung.

December 13, 2015

Speed-reading towards illiteracy

Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller gave an interview recently to BBC Radio 4’s The Film Programme, which poses some intriguing questions about how new cinemagoers experience the medium.

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Miller cited Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By as a seminal text; the entire language of cinema was defined pre-sound. Miller was intrigued by the notion that there was a pure film language not reliant on the spoken word, and he decided to tell stories through that language; going so far as to describe Mad Max: Fury Road as a silent movie with sound – what matters is that one shot leads into the next shot to a purpose. As Miller notes this kind of cine-literacy is an acquired language, and a recent one; but it is one that can be mastered, in all cultures, before we’ve got a handle on actual literacy. But it’s his remark that we’re now all speed-reading stories (backed up by some statistics), that is a lit match tossed into a powder keg… Mad Max 2 had 1,200 shots, Mad Max: Fury Road had 2,900 shots, while Miller was told Jurassic Park had 950 shots, and Jurassic World by his estimation had more than triple that.

If we’re speed-reading stories, are we speed-reading into illiteracy? Back in 1997 Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese bemoaned the cine-illiteracy of young audiences:

ALLEN: I was talking to some college kids the other day, and they were bright kids who were going to a good college, and they had no idea about great directors. These bright college kids have no knowledge whatsoever of Truffaut’s films or Fellini’s films. And yet the universities do encourage them to read Mark Twain and Flaubert and Melville. … So many film students are film illiterate. They’re not unsophisticated. They probably know more about steadicams and special effects than the average audience. The guy who drives your cab will use those terms when talking about a film, but they’re illiterate in terms of —

SCORSESE: The lineage.

ALLEN: They’ve never seen any of these films. I think they have a different attention span. [My italics]

I admit my culpability in having that different attention span Woody Allen fretted over. I saw Scream as a teenager and was blown away by it. When I subsequently saw Hallowe’en I was inevitably bored by its slow pacing compared to its younger rival. I knew that without Hallowe’en there would be no Scream, I understood the lineage, I respected the execution, but I couldn’t stop myself wishing Carpenter would hustle things along a bit. As a result I’ve never re-watched Hallowe’en, while Scream remains one of my favourite and oft re-watched films. In 1997 Scorsese bemoaned his inability to be influenced by younger film-makers: “The young people today are the 21st century. I’m 20th century, I can’t help it. It’s hard to let new stuff in.” And there’s an equal generational problem in film criticism. The New Hollywood has been so valorised by audience that Bret Easton Ellis and Quentin Tarantino bemoan the 1980s to each other as the nadir of American movies. Whereas Back to the Future Day demonstrated the impact that decade’s movies had on their audience.

Miller extols the virtues of Buster Keaton and the montage technique of Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike, but will the youngsters who lapped up Mad Max: Fury Road delve back into cinema history to watch the movies that inspired Miller’s visual storytelling? No. If you are used to 2,900 shots a movie something that’s less than a third of that will bore you senseless. What was already a problem in 1997 is only going to get worse. ‘Jurassic World is a mere inept retread of Jurassic Park’ howl we who saw the original in the cinema. But, like a dead owl, the kids going to Jurassic World don’t give a hoot. They probably haven’t watched Jurassic Park all the way through because they find it unbearably slow-moving. This might explain the Russos’ baffling belief that the execrable Captain America 2 deserved an Oscar for casting Robert Redford and throwing 1970s paranoia shapes.

1970s paranoia was an organic cinematic response to the mood engendered by Watergate and Vietnam, and, like all movements that begin organically, when it became a commercial affectation it died a horrible death. The idea that Captain America 2 in rehashing a trope that was valid and original 40 years ago somehow itself becomes pertinent and (coughs in disbelief) original is as absurd as Gareth Edwards believing that his 2014 Godzilla is a good parallel for the trauma of Fukushima. If Sion Sono’s 2011 Himizu can react almost instantaneously to Fukushima in a valid and original cinematic fashion what makes Edwards think that Hollywood rehashing its interpretation of a 60 year old Japanese response to an entirely different national trauma is anything but a crass attempt to attach spurious relevance (via some extremely patronising cultural voiceover work) to the commercial imperative of rebooting a dormant franchise. But here’s the kicker – it doesn’t matter. None of the fulminations of film-makers or critics or punters of a certain age matter. My complaint that Jurassic World is not as good as Back to the Future doesn’t matter. Logic doesn’t even matter. The 12 year olds who go to Captain America 2 and Godzilla will likely never watch All The President’s Men or The Parallax View or Gojira because they’re too slow-moving and boring. 2045 will see Jurassic World as fondly remembered as Back to the Future is now, and all us haters will be so many Bret Eastons moaning that the 2010s were the nadir of American movies.

Perhaps we’re not speed-reading into illiteracy so much as into an eternal kinetic present. The past is a foreign country, they edit films boringly there.

October 2, 2015

9 Days of 90s Horror

Hallowe’en comes to the Lighthouse with 9 days of 90s horror films from 23rd to 31st October culminating in a Scream-themed party before a screening of the late Wes Craven’s third reinvention of horror cinema.

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While the IFI’s Horrorthon unleashes a slew of new genre entries, the Lighthouse will hark back to the 1990s; the origin of the ‘ironic slasher’ sub-genre which was murdered by torture porn, and found-footage, which, like many a horror bogeyman, just won’t die. In association with the Bram Stoker Festival the 90s Vampire strand brings Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of Stoker’s text back to the big screen, placing it beside other 90s vampire movies Blade, From Dusk Till Dawn, and the original iteration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The most important film being screened, however, is Scream. Wes Craven redirected the current of horror cinema three times: Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream. Teamed with razor-sharp screenwriter Kevin Williamson he delivered a totemic movie well worthy of a Scream-themed Hallowe’en night costume party.

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FROM DUSK ‘TILL DAWN

Friday 23rd October 10:30pm

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s first blood-soaked collaboration is presented in a digital restoration; that won’t make QT happy… A grimy, violent B-movie about a seedy Mexican bar that happens to be crawling with vampires this had its origins in VFX guys wanting a showcase script for their handiwork. So, after some quintessentially Tarantinoesque build-up, with fugitives George Clooney and Tarantino trading taunts and riffs with their hostages Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis, Rodriguez’s aesthetic takes over: Salma Hayek and energetic mayhem.

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BLADE I & II – (Double Bill)

Saturday 24th October 9:00pm

Never let a high concept get in the way of a good double bill! Guillermo Del Toro’s 2002 sequel sees humans and vampires form an uneasy alliance to defeat the mutated vampires known as ‘Reapers’, who threaten to infect and/or eat everyone. But first we have to see Wesley Snipes’ vampire superhero take down Stephen Dorff, with some help from Kris Kristofferson, in the 1998 debut of the ‘Daywalker’. All together now: “Some motherf****** are always trying to ice-skate uphill.”

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BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

Sunday 25th October 10:30pm

Nothing bad is ever Joss Whedon’s fault. That trope began here. His script for this 1992 teen comedy was apparently neutered in production, leading Whedon to dream it all up again for TV; where, even as show-runner, season 4 was also somehow not his fault. Buffy’s cinematic origin story isn’t a patch on the TV development, and, while Donald Sutherland’s Watcher and Rutger Hauer’s Master Vampire add class to proceedings, this is more interesting as a time capsule (Look! It’s Luke Perry!).

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BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA

Monday 26th October 3:30pm

Director Francis Ford Coppola’s screenplay differs wildly from Stoker’s book. Coppola fixated on a ‘true love never dies’ doppelganger love story between Gary Oldman’s Count and Winona Ryder’s Mina Murray, that shaped Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ recent steam-punk TV adaptation. Cast adrift amidst outré sets that bellow their obvious artifice, Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing and Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker try to ground things, but the best verdict remains Winona Ryder’s acidic “I deserved an Oscar for the job I did promoting that movie…”

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SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – (Cinema Book Club)

Tuesday 27th October 8.00pm

The Halloween edition of the Lighthouse’s Cinema Book Club is Jonathan Demme’s film of Thomas Harris’ best-selling chiller. Harris’ universe has been thoroughly mined, most recently in Bryan Fuller’s hallucinatory series Hannibal, but this 1991 Oscar-winner was the breakthrough adaptation. Jodie Foster’s FBI rookie Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins’ imprisoned cannibal Hannibal Lecter are indelible performances. It’s become fashionable to disparage this in favour of Manhunter, but there’s a reason few people ever saw Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter…

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THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

Wednesday 28th October 8.30pm

The greatest horror producer of the 21st century Jason Blum passed on this at Sundance, and has been kicking himself ever since. Some people at early screenings in 1999 thought that this was real; giving its unnerving ending enough power to create a buzz that made it a sensation. It wasn’t real. It was, however, the moment where found-footage horror stomped into the multiplex and declared it would never leave, all because of an unsettling walk in the woods in Burkettsville, Maryland.

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WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE

Thursday 29th October 8.30pm

Wes Craven wrote and directed this late meta-instalment in the franchise he had kicked off with his original vision of Freddy Kreuger. Heather Langenkamp, Nancy in 1984’s Nightmare on Elm Street, plays herself; plagued by dreams of a Freddy Kreuger far darker than the one portrayed by her good friend Robert Englund. Featuring cameos from several of the original cast and crew Craven produces a postmodern musing on what happens when artists create fictions that take on a life of their own.

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CANDYMAN

Friday 30th October 8.30pm

Bernard Rose’s cult classic, an adaptation of genre legend Clive Barker’s The Forbidden, follows a thesis student who is researching urban legends. Unfortunately for him he discovers the terrifying world of ‘Candyman’, the ghost of a murdered artist who is summoned by anyone foolish to say his name out loud into a mirror five times. Masterfully made, still absolutely terrifying, and the reason we all cheer whenever Tony Todd makes a cameo ever since, this also features the unlikely bonus of a Philip Glass score.

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HOCUS POCUS, Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, 1993

HOCUS POCUS

Saturday 31st October 3.00pm

A token film for the kids is 1992’s Hocus Pocus. Why the misfiring hi-jinks of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy’s trio of Salem witches is perennially on TV is a mystery, but to present it as the essential kids’ Hallowe’en film is an enigma wrapped inside a riddle. Especially when Nicolas Roeg’s film of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, starring a scary Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch, dates from 1990…

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SCREAM I & II – (Double Bill & Party)

Saturday 31st October 9.30pm.

Neve Campbell confidently carries this 1996 classic, a blackly hilarious self-aware dissection of slasher clichés which is also a brilliant slasher filled with tense sequences. Williamson’s delicious dialogue (“Movies don’t create psychos, they just make psychos more creative…”) is brought to memorable life by an ensemble on truly top form, with star-making turns from Jamie Kennedy, David Arquette, Rose McGowan, and Skeet Ulrich. 1997’s sequel isn’t quite as good, but Kevin Williamson’s dialogue remains a joy, there are some nail-biting moments, it’s as subversively self-aware as 22 Jump Street of its sequel status, and uses Timothy Olyphant, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jerry O’Connell, and David Warner to great effect.

‘9 Days of 90s horror’ ends with a Scream-themed Hallowe’en party preceding the Scream double bill, beginning at 8pm. Dress as your favourite 90s horror icon and enjoy the ironically-named cocktails, soundtrack of 90s hits, and general japery all related to Wes Craven’s classic slasher.

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TICKETS FOR 90S VAMPIRE FILMS:

http://www.lighthousecinema.ie/newsarticle.php?sec=NEWS&_aid=8323

 

TICKETS FOR 90S HORROR FILMS:

http://www.lighthousecinema.ie/newsarticle.php?sec=NEWS&_aid=8455

February 26, 2015

It Follows

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s acclaimed indie horror finally arrives, and its gut-knotting sense of dread proves well worth the wait.

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Early morning in a normal suburban street, the camera pans around and observes a young woman fleeing her house, it pans as she warily crosses the road and then dashes back into the house for her car keys, before driving away. At the beach she calls her father to apologise, before reacting in despairing horror to something we don’t see. We do see her mangled corpse. As cold opens go it’s very startling, and introduces a sense of unease that never quite leaves us during innocuous scenes of our heroine Jay (Maika Monroe) swimming in her backyard pool, hanging out with sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), and friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi). It also underscores the bizarre reaction of boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) to a childish game during a date. And then Hugh passes something on to Jay…

‘It’. ‘It’ follows you. You must never let ‘It’ touch you. And you can only get rid of ‘It’ by passing it on to someone else… David Robert Mitchell’s first movieThe Myth of the American Sleepover was acclaimed for its originality. It Follows displays admirable directorial precision on his part, but influences are everywhere in his script. ‘It’ has a touch of the Terminator, as well as a Romero zombie, and even seems like a nod to Cronenberg’s horror of sexual infection Shivers. Rich Vreeland’s fantastically menacing synth score tips its hat to John Carpenter, as does a key element of ‘It’. But Mitchell isn’t overwhelmed by all these touchstones. He plays around with archetypal nice guy Hugh and bad boy Greg (Daniel Zovatto), as they aid and hinder Maika’s attempts to escape from being relentlessly pursued by ‘It’.

It’s hard to give a flavour of It Follows without ruining part of its appeal, the slow drip-feed of information about ‘It’. The uncertainty over the nature of ‘It’ allows a number of bravura sequences of agonising suspense, the highlight being the camera panning 360 over and over as ‘It’ steadily approaches an oblivious Jay. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis creates such a dreamy atmosphere in early scenes with Jay that Mitchell is able to sustain for a very long time a knife-edge balance between suggesting that Jay is merely hallucinating in response to a trauma, and the white-knuckle ride that this horror is very real. White knuckle are needed to prevent niggling questions like if an implied foursome and threesome don’t pass it on far enough, why not just drive to O’Hare and sleep with someone about to fly to Europe?

It Follows features another strong performance by Maika Monroe, makes great use of decaying Detroit locations, and is powered by spine-tingling dread and terror, but loses its way slightly towards its grand showdown finale.

4/5

October 24, 2014

Bram Stoker Festival 2014

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You may have noticed something odd about O’Connell Street. Something a bit off about the statues: red eyes, little Dracula capes. It can only be Bram Stoker Festival 2014 time!

The Performance Coporation aka Big House have been given the reins of the Bram Stoker Festival this year – and are goth-ing it up!

Film premières focus on the Goth music movement of the 1980s with Beautiful Noise  and The Cure in Orange, the Abbey Theatre’s on-site costume store is providing capes for the unmissable Shapeshifters Ball by Body&Soul at IMMA in association with Bram Stoker Festival. There’s an unusually anarchic literary event with the Literary Death Match on Saturday night. And go under the city with Gothic Underground… There are whispers of a mysterious tunnel under the Phoenix Park, but some of us have heard more than we dare let on… Is it real?  Where does it go?  Now is your chance to find out the truth… With music by Tom Lane and directed by Maeve Stone, this unique performance rattles under the city for one night only.

The Zombie V Goth Dance-Off has recruited dancers online to work with Megan Kennedy of junk ensemble. Dressed in their finest bloody threads and having to chosen to dance with the goths or walk among the dead.  This will be a dance off unlike anything seen before.  And possibly the most demented feature of all – fall with style across the city centre: The Vampwire is a golden ticket offering – register here for the chance of a free caped flight. The Vampwire is a real and slightly scary opportunity to make like a Count transformed into a bat and zip over the city. Suitable for most ages (if not all constitutions) tickets for Dublin’s first city-centre zip wire are free, but in high-demand, and golden tickets will be allocated by ballot.

The opening film première is the extraordinary Curse of Styria featuring Stephen Rea and Eleanor Tomlinson. Directors Mauricio Chernovetzky & Mark Devendorf will be in attendance at this “suspenseful, secretive, sexy and sinister” film. Inspired by Carmilla, the seminal 19th Century vampire novella by Dublin writer Sheridan LeFanu, this film plunges the viewer into a haunted world of fantasy & obsession. Near Gone is a beautiful show which just won a Total Theatre Award in Edinburgh. Two performers have a difficult story to tell… Delivered in English and Bulgarian, with pounding gypsy-inspired music, this beautiful performance fills an empty space with two performers, hundreds of fresh flowers and a storm of emotion. And The Performance Corporation (proper) is reprising The Judge’s House  for Marsh’s Library – already fully booked already, but there may be returns on the door.

The closing event is an encounter with the extraordinary Macnas, who take to the streets of Dublin as mercurial tailors with a glee for stitching laughter to darkness, summoning monsters and marvels from drains, lanes and street corners.  Creatures, characters, contortions dissolve and are remade and revealed.

Full details on www.bramstokerfestival.com

October 31, 2013

Danse Macabre

I thought I’d mark Hallowe’en this year not by unveiling a list but by quoting one of my favourite passages from Stephen King’s Danse Macabre.

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Danse Macabre is a fascinating book from the early 1980s in which King throws in a good deal of anecdotage as he unveils his own Apollonian/Dionysian theory of how horror works, and dissects classic horror across media from novels, short stories and comics to television, radio and film to show how that binary dynamic operates. Horror cinema is always slightly disreputable, except at this time of year. But there’s a good argument for it being closer to the Hitchcockian ideal of pure cinema than any other genre. So, if someone tells you tonight that they’re not scared by horror films – just think of this paragraph.

“I tell people who say that horror movies don’t scare them to make this simple experiment. Go see a film like Night of the Living Dead all alone (have you ever noticed how many people go to horror movies, not just in pairs or groups, but in actual packs?). Afterwards, get in your car, drive to an old, deserted, crumbling house – every town has at least one (except maybe Stepford, Connecticut, but they have their own problems there). Let yourself in. Mount to the attic. Sit down up there. Listen to the house groan and creak around you. Notice how much those creaks sound like someone – or something – mounting the stairs. Smell the must. The rot. The decay. Think about the film you have just seen. Consider it as you sit there in the dark, unable to see what might be creeping up…what might be just about to place its dirty, twisted claw on your shoulder…or around your neck… This sort of thing can prove, by its very darkness, to be an enlightening experience. Fear of the dark is the most childlike fear. Tales of terror are customarily told ‘around the campfire’ or at least after sundown, because what is laughable in the sunshine is often harder to smile at by starlight.” (212)

Happy Hallowe’en…

October 5, 2012

Sinister

The producers of Paranormal Activity eschew their look for a more classically shot horror that has odd echoes of recent art-house oddity Berberian Sound Studio.

In the name of research true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves into a house where a family was murdered. He neglects to tell his wife their new home is a crime scene… Law & Order fans will get a kick out of some minor roles as Ellison is brusquely welcomed by Fred Dalton Thompson (That’s Senator Thompson of Tennessee to you!) as the local Sheriff who wants him gone, and later he gets research help from an expert on the occult (Vincent D’Onofrio). He needs that help after stumbling over some old 8mm films in the attic, which turn out to be the home movies of a serial killer that include many other massacres besides the one Ellison’s researching, all just dripping occult symbols. Ellison gleefully believes this discovery will propel him back into the limelight. But then strange things start to literally go bump in the night…

Ethan (Training Day) Hawke as a man trying to re-scale the heights of a hit from the early 2000s seems like cruel casting that would do Veronica Mars proud. He’s very effective though as there’s an unexpectedly meaty emotional throughline with Juliet Rylance as his long suffering English wife Tracy; who’s worried about the malign effect his work has on their two children. There’s also great comedic relief from Deputy “So and So” (James Ransone); embarrassingly eager to assist Ellison’s research. Director/co-writer Scott Derrickson displays flair in building dread thru the effect the horrors of the 8mm films have on Ellison’s psyche. The idea of a serial killer who slaughters families before abducting one child, and who has been this doing since the late 1960s, is chilling, and Derrickson stages some wonderful scares as an increasingly paranoid Ellison chases shadows.

But even a truly terrifying sequence involving the night terrors of Ellison’s young son has not involved anything ghoulish. And then a spectacular scare moment loudly announces that this serial killer’s methods are supernatural; and he is now after Ellison… Sinister doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Woman in Black because Derrickson cheats a good deal. Ellison has a bizarre preference for working in the dark. He never switches on a damn light in the house at night, making it easier for the audience to fill the shadows with all kinds of scary monsters; which Derrickson takes advantage of for one heart-stopping supernatural jump scare. A brace of central ideas are also lifted from Doctor Who and American Gods. Gripes aside, this is tense stuff that patiently, inexorably builds towards a suspenseful, traumatic finale.

I don’t understand why Sinister is being released this early in October, because it is by way of being the perfect Hallowe’en scary movie.

4/5

October 26, 2011

Top 10 Scary Movies

Hallowe’en is almost upon us! This weekend Contagion, Demons Never Die, Paranormal Activity 3, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and others will all contend for the horror audience at the multiplexes, while the Screen’s Monster Mash and especially the IFI’s Horrorthon with special guest (and cult hero) Michael Biehn (Aliens, Planet Terror) will cater for the hardcore ghouls. But if you’re staying in for TV or DVD scares instead here’re quality shockers to get you thru the horrid holiday.

(10) Psycho
Hitchcock’s 1960 low budget classic influenced all the other films on this list as it dealt a tremendous hammer blow to restrictions on cinematic violence. Hitchcock’s direction is almost parodically showy as the first act of the film is essentially an enormous shaggy-dog story, setting up a number of prolonged blackly comic sequences. Anthony Perkins’s Norman Bates is a terrific resonant villain, especially in the chilling final scene scored by Bernard Hermann with full-on Schoenbergian atonal serialism, while the shower scene with Janet Leigh being slashed to Hermann’s bravura stabbing violins orchestration remains an iconic ‘pure cinema’ scare.

(9) The Host
You may not have heard of this one before but this recent Korean effort is already well on its way to classic status. A hilariously dysfunctional Korean family try to save their abducted youngest member from a mutated monster created by American polluters. Brilliant special effects create scares aplenty while the script is both scathing of American power politics and sublimely absurdist. This pre-dates Rodriguez’s Planet Terror in collecting misfit characters with useless skills, like a hesitant Olympic archer and a Molotov cocktail flinging former student radical, and paying off those set-ups in hilarious and unexpected ways.

(8) Halloween
John Carpenter was probably gazumped by Black Christmas to creating the slasher flick but he certainly codified the conventions of the genre with this 1978 movie. I’ve long thought Carpenter a deeply over-rated director but this film, powered by his deceptively simple yet still creepy music, features numerous sequences of nerve-rending suspense as Jamie Lee Curtis’s baby-sitter is stalked by the homicidal madman Mike Myers in his William Shatner mask. Treasure Donald Pleasance as the psychiatrist Loomis as he dead pans his reply to Curtis’ question “Was that the boogieman?” – “Yes, as a matter of fact it was”.

(7) Night of the Living Dead
George Romero usually gets far too much credit for what is tangential social satire in his Dead films, but there’s no doubt that he invented the modern zombie genre with this piece. By not cutting away when the undead started munching human flesh, and concentrating the action in a claustrophobic setting where the mismatched survivors turn on each other under the constant strain of both repelling the zombies and dealing with the ticking time-bomb of their infected, he gave us the still resonant archetypal zombie set-up. The ending is as chilling as in 1968.

(6) The Exorcist
This 1973 shocker, scored by Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and directed by William Friedkin at the short-lived height of his powers, remains one of the highest grossing movies ever made. Stephen King thought its secret was that it struck a nerve with parents concerned that they had somehow lost their children to the dark side of the 1960s, while simultaneously attracting those self-same kids eager for transgressive thrills. It’s equally likely that such frighteningly realised demonic possession just freaks people out, especially when Max Von Sydow’s stalwart priest realises he’s once again facing the originating villain, Lucifer.

(5) The Evil Dead
The Evil Dead is not a comedy-horror classic like its acclaimed sequel Evil Dead 2, but an extremely gruelling gore-fest that bookends the extreme horror tendencies of the 1970s. Director Sam Raimi made his name directing his school friend and subsequent cult legend Bruce Campbell as plucky college student Ash, fighting off evil spirits inadvertently summoned by his friends by reading an arcane tome at a remote cabin in a forest where even the trees turn out to be evil, damn evil, and prone to doing things that are still controversial. Prepare to lose your lunch.

(4) 28 Days Later
Alex Garland’s first original screenplay was blatantly a zombie reworking of The Day of the Triffids, but there are worse templates than John Wyndham’s particular variety of realistic sci-fi. The post-apocalyptic concerns of that classic became horror gold through Danny Boyle’s customarily frenetic direction of the terrifyingly energetic Infected pursuing Cillian Murphy thru an eerily deserted London. The obligatory survivors turning on each other motif is enlivened by the quality of rhetoric given to Christopher Eccleston’s barking mad soldier, while the climactic eye gouging is perhaps the most horrific act ever committed by any screen hero.

(3) Don’t Look Now
1973 classic Don’t Look Now is on the surface an art-house study, rendered in editor turned director Nicolas Roeg’s typically disjunctive style, of a couple consumed with grief over the death of their daughter trying to forget their loss and begin again by travelling to Venice. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland though begin seeing a red coated little girl tailing them at a distance thru the streets, and become convinced that it may be their dead daughter, leading to an ending so genuinely nightmarish that it will freak you out even if you’ve seen it before.

(2) Alien
Alien is a great horror film which skilfully masquerades as sci-fi, including the score from Jerry Goldsmith at his most dissonant. Ridley Scott firmly establishes the characters before bumping them off in his Gothic space-ship full of dark shadows and dripping roofs. Stephen King has noted that the absence of almost any action for the first hour leaves the audience extremely nervy for when events finally occur. The alien attacks are superbly orchestrated and you’d need nerves of steel not to do a sitting high jump at least twice in the final 20 minutes. Don’t watch while eating…

(1) Scream
Neve Campbell confidently carries this 1996 classic directed by rejuvenated horror maestro Wes Craven from Kevin Williamson’s razor sharp script. Scream is a blackly hilarious self-aware dissection of the clichés of slasher movies which is also simultaneously a genuinely brilliant slasher flick filled with gory attacks and jump out of your seat moments. Williamson’s delicious dialogue is brought to memorable life by an ensemble cast on truly top form, including star-making turns from Jamie Kennedy, David Arquette, Rose McGowan and Skeet Ulrich. Enjoy, oh, and please do remember, “Movies don’t create psychos, they just make psychos more creative…”

September 21, 2010

The Hole 3-D

Joe Dante, director of The Howling and Gremlins, helms a kid’s film as scary as most adult horror films…

Nietzsche’s “And remember, if you stare long into an abyss, the abyss also stares into you” is a more apt tag-line than “What are you so afraid of?” which implies a jokey approach to the material largely absent from the film. Sure, Dante inserts parodic “Ha! Made you jump…” moments where people unexpectedly pop out of nowhere to deliver their lines, but he’s such a good horror director that he’s achieved the jump in technique that Anne Radcliffe defined as the difference between horror, make an audience jump and groan with buckets of gore, and terror, the purer feeling induced by sheer dread, which is infinitely more disturbing for a young audience. Whether such pure gore-free scares are suitable for children at all is a very serious question and one which the Irish censor has answered with a definitive ‘No!’ courtesy of a 15s cert.

Sullen teenager Dane (Chris Massoglia) and his younger brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) move into a new house, dragged 2,000 miles from their beloved Brooklyn by their flakey single mother (Teri Polo). It’s not all bad though as they quickly strike up a friendship with the cute bookworm next door (Haley Bennett). Exploring a mysterious hole in their new basement together, however, proves a very bad idea. Life-lesson: if you find something heavily secured with pad-locks for no apparent reason, for the love of God trust whoever put them on and lock them again when you’re finished gawking. As Bennett surmises “You have a gateway to hell in your basement”. Her next line “Cool” is quickly retracted when it unleashes a dead girl, dripping blood from one eye, who limps after her in unsettling digitally manipulated motion. Gamble meanwhile follows up playing Gordon’s son who was terrorised by Two-Face in The Dark Knight by being terrorised by a court-jester puppet – a mini-Joker. This puppet moves when he’s not looking, before winking, and eventually traps him in the basement and chuckles maliciously as it slowly walks towards him….

Impressive sound design makes the scenes where the unseen stalking puppet’s bells ring absolutely terrifying as they rattle all around and even behind you. By contrast the third dimension is as superfluous as always and lends an air of unreality to proceedings which only becomes interesting in the funhouse set at the end where the outsized and crazily twisted furniture leaping off the screen enhances the perilous mental state of the hero finally sucked into his worst nightmare. Massoglia’s endearingly mumbly hero leads an impressive central trio of performances by young actors who hold their own against Bruce Dern’s scenery-chewing cameo.

The Hole is a very well constructed Hallowe’en chiller that sadly falls between two target audiences by virtue of its own effectiveness.

3/5

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