Fear and Fantasy: The Electric Sheep Film Show is back tonight with a packed programme. Virginie Sélavy talks to Secretary director Steven Shainberg about his new film Rupture and takes part in a Q&A with director Guillermo del Toro about the documentary Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex, recorded at Fantasia Festival, Montreal. Plus, Alex Fitch discusses the comprehensive history of Tarzan on Film published by Titan Books, with author Scott Tracy Griffin.
The Electric Sheep Film Show is broadcast every third Wednesday of the month, 5.30-6.30pm at Resonance FM 104.4. Next date: Wednesday 19 October 2016.
This show was first broadcast on Wednesday 21 September 2016.
The festival opened with the poetic and brutal Southern Gothic tale My Father Die, kicking off a father-child theme that bookended the festival, being also the focus of closing film Train to Busan. Although director Sean Brosnan went somewhat overboard with the Gothicness, My Father Die compellingly tells the tale of Asher, a deaf young man traumatised by the events of his childhood, who must fight off the ogre-like figure of his monstrous father (the child-eating Titan Kronos, father of Zeus, is referenced at the beginning).
At the other end of the festival, and in a completely different genre, Korean zombie action film Train to Busan was concerned with a career-obsessed father and his unhappy little girl. Representing everything that is wrong with capitalist big business, the father is forced to reassess his ruthless, selfish principles as the passengers of the train they are travelling in become infected with a virus that turns them into rabid zombies. The father-daughter relationship provides the emotional core of this efficient action horror film, but develops in a way that is far too sentimental. Surprisingly, this big Korean box-office success was directed by Yeon Sang-ho, who gave us one of the harshest, most harrowing films of recent years, high school animé The King of Pigs, which, although it centred on young boys, had not one ounce of sentimentality about it. Yeon Sang-ho also made another zombie film this year, this one in animation form, Seoul Station, which sounds closer to The King of Pigs in its themes and approach than Train to Busan.
Parental anxiety dominated the festival, with mothers taking centre stage in the disappointing Argentine thriller White Coffin (particularly marred by its puzzlingly ill-judged sound design), the atmospheric Danish pregnancy horror Shelley, and the excellent Iranian tale of evil Under the Shadow, which mixed political and otherworldly terrors in a tightly wound-up and emotionally charged feminist drama. A different type of feminist enquiry was found in The Love Witch, in which director Anna Biller plays the title character, who has fashioned herself into what men want using magic in order to find love. The film is a gorgeous-looking, meticulously designed throwback to 1960s cinema that revisits that period from a female angle, but its extremely self-conscious approach does not produce any truly challenging or fresh commentary on sexual politics.
From families to houses: another theme that emerged from this year’s festival was the mazes of the mind, with Laura Casabé’s convoluted plunge into the artistic mind Benavidez’s Case, Darren Lynn Bousman’s Abattoir and French TV mini-series Beyond the Walls. In Abattoir, a journalist begins to investigate when whole rooms where crimes have been committed are removed from houses recently purchased. The premise was very appealing, the idea of mixing up eras was nicely disorientating, but the hotch-potch of ingredients failed to cohere into a meaningful whole and the acting and direction had that lifeless, sanitized slickness that has become typical of American horror productions these days. By contrast, Beyond the Walls intelligently constructed an oppressive labyrinthine architecture of the mind that worked both as a psychological space and as a nightmarish world of dread.
Other types of confined spaces explored transgressive relationships, as in American psychological thriller Pet and psychedelic Mexican delirium We Are the Flesh. Pet had the merit to try to do something different but that was also the problem: it tried too hard and some of the twists in plot and characterisation were too self-consciously contrived. At the other end of the scale, Emiliano Rocha Minter’s debut, while inspired by literary masters of transgression, was made with the guts and delivered an intensely visceral punch that few films can equal. It was by far the most accomplished, imaginative, coherent and radical film of the festival.
Step into the safety of the magic circle as Mark Pilkington explores how the myriad Western esoteric magical practices and traditions have been represented, enacted and portrayed on film.
As one might expect, depictions of magic on film have tended towards the lurid and sensational rather than the spiritual or the sublime but they also provide a useful reflection of popular attitudes and ideas about magic and, on occasion, the unorthodox beliefs and practices of the film makers themselves.
From the grit of medieval grimoires and spellcraft to the closeted exoticism and eroticism of early modern hermetic orders and the spiritual liberation of mid twentieth century witchcraft, we will look at a number of representations of magic on film, from the silent era, through Expressionism, B-movies, the avant garde and into the mainstream.
In doing so, we’ll also learn something of the history of Western magics and their symbiotic relationship of influence with popular culture, and enjoy blood and fire, sex and sacrifice, great costumes, freaky dancing and all the spirits and demons that lurk in the heart of man. And remember, whatever you do, don’t break the circle!
About the instructor:
Mark Pilkington is the author of the book and documentary film Mirage Men and Far Out: 101 Strange Tales from Science’s Outer Edge. He has written for The Guardian, The Wire, Sight and Sound, Electric Sheep, Fortean Times, Frieze and The Quietus amongst others. He founded and runs Strange Attractor Press and regularly speaks on esoteric and fringe culture topics.
About the Miskatonic Institute:
Named for the fictional university in H.P. Lovecraft’s literary mythos, The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies is a non-profit, community-based organization that started in Canada, founded by Kier-La Janisse in March of 2010. The school currently has branches in Montreal and London, with Miskatonic London operating under the co-direction of Kier-La Janisse and Electric Sheep Founder/Editor Virginie Sélavy.
All classes take place at the historic Horse Hospital, the heart of the city’s underground culture. Season ticket is £35 and will be available shortly. Individual class tickets are £10 advance / £11 on the door / £8 concessions and will be available 30 days in advance of each class.
For full details of the next courses please check the Miskatonic website. For all enquiries, please email Miskatonic.london[at]gmail.com.