Format: Cinema (UK)

Release date: 12 July 2013

Distributor: Metrodome

Format: Cinema (USA)

Release date: 1 March 2013

Distributor: Revolver

Format: DVD (Region 2)

Release date: 4 March 2013

Distributor: Revolver

Format: DVD (Region 1) + VOD

Release date: 29 January 2013

Distributor: Mongrel Media

Director: Ciaran Foy

Writer: Ciaran Foy

Cast: Aneurin Barnard, James Cosmo, Wunmi Mosaku, Jake Wilson

Ireland 2012

84 mins

Numbing, gnawing and sheer unrelenting fear is the primary element driving this creepy, terrifying dystopian shocker. Citadel, which without question was one of the best films of 2012, trains its lens upon the fears of the disenfranchised – those eking out their existence amidst poverty, crime and societal indifference in blasted-out housing projects – Citadel plunges us into a reality that is as recognizable as it is fantastical. Indeed, given the constant state of bleakness brought about by financial crises and war, these could well be all our fears.

Ciaran Foy’s Citadel resembles an approach to fantastical genres that began in the 1940s American studio system. This particular brand of cinematic horror is inspired by a myriad of artistic influences from fairy tale through to classical literature, with much of it based on European sources, the fact remains its beginnings are as American as apple pie (drenched, of course in noir-like shadows). In the past decade or so, we’ve seen films with a similar temperament, like The Others (2001) or The Sixth Sense (1999), reach heights of critical and box office success but, while these works are not without value, they always felt to me like kinder, gentler horror films, rather than something designed to leave you quaking in your boots. Citadel stands well apart from these films and blends traditions of Val Lewton’s 1940s horror masterpieces and the heightened, raw realism of the best of 1970s horror.

Read Greg Klymkiw’s interview with director Ciaran Foy here.

Val Lewton was the first person within Hollywood’s mainstream studio system to tell real stories, about real people with real fears, mostly within contemporary settings and yet, all against the backdrop of genres designed to bring much-needed returns to a near-bankrupt studio.

In his view, what really scared people were those things they had to deal with every day. He believed that setting the wheels of reality in motion against a fantastical backdrop yielded a much better chance of scoring at the box office. Without Lewton, one wonders if we’d have ever seen certain classics of both genre and cinema as a whole.

Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961) followed in Lewton’s footsteps to explore mental illness within the context of seemingly straight-up ghost stories and, lest we forget, Nicholas Roeg’s extraordinary Don’t Look Now (1973), which begins with a child’s accidental death, moves through parental grief and eventually into territory of the most horrific kind. Those are all pictures Citadel shares its worthy pedigree with.

With the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the increased likelihood of apocalypse as America ramps up its greedy desire to control oil in the name of fighting terrorism and the obvious New World Order desire to cull the world’s population, we are living in dangerous times. So much so that writer/director Ciaran Foy’s Citadel definitely feels like it is forging similar territory introduced to the genre and cinema itself by Val Lewton some 60 years ago.

Foy’s picture is, first and foremost, a film about a palpable fear brought on when the film’s young protagonist watches – not once, but twice – as those he loves are brutalized and/or snatched away from him. His fear intensifies so unremittingly, with such grim realism, that we’re placed directly in the eye of the storm that is his constant state of terror.

Contributing greatly here is lead actor Aneurin Barnard as the young father Tommy. He delivers a performance so haunting it’s unlikely audiences will ever shake its full impact. Off the top of my head, I can think of very few (if any) scenes he does not appear in. We follow his story solely from his point of view and given that the character is almost always in a state of intense apprehension, the whole affair could have been utterly unbearable. He breathes such humanity into the role that we not only side with him, but I frankly defy anyone to NOT see aspects of who they are and what they feel within this indelibly overwrought character. (It’s such an extraordinary performance that in my 2012 round-up of the year in cinema over at my site Klymkiw Film Corner, I was compelled to bestow my own Best Actor accolade upon him.)

As the film progresses, Tommy lives alone in a desolate housing project – a single father alone with his baby. On the few occasions he must leave the house and enter a world of emptiness, squalor, constantly grey skies and interiors lit under harsh fluorescents, his head is down, his eyes only occasionally looking around for potential danger and/or to literally see where he is walking (or rather, scurrying to). Just as Tommy is constantly in a state of terror – so, unnervingly, are we.

There are seldom any points in the proceedings when we feel safe and when an occasional moment of warmth creeps into Tommy’s existence, the effect is like finding an oasis in the Sahara. Unfortunately (and brilliantly), Foy’s screenplay doesn’t allow safe harbour for too long. Dramatically, we’re almost constantly assaulted with natural story beats that yank us from our (and Tommy’s) ever so brief moments of repose.

Tranquillity is a luxury and Foy fashions a living hell that plunges both the audience and Tommy into the here and now as opposed to a very near future. Citadel sadly reflects a reality that pretty much exists on many streets in every city of the world. This is an increasing reality of contemporary existence and like all great science fiction, the film’s dystopian vision acts as a wake-up call that hopefully will touch many beyond the converted.

Things must change or more and more of us will be experiencing this. We can, like Tommy does for a good part of the film, shove our heads, ostrich-like, into the false safety offered under the sand, but sooner or later we/he will be ripped out of the temporary safety of darkness to face two distinct realities: the horror of the world and, even worse, the horror of his/our own fear and cowardice. Neither are happy prospects to be emblazoned upon anyone’s hearts and minds when the meeting of one’s maker is not far behind.

Tommy will have to make the right decision. He’ll need to become proactive in finding his inner strength to fight for what is right. The options are black and white. Fight and die trying, or just die.

Now, before you think I’m suggesting the film is more starkly depressing than Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light (1963), first remember that this is, indeed, a horror film and Foy jangles our nerves with the panache of a master. Have no doubts going in – this movie will scare the living bejesus out of you. It is, on that level, one hell of a ride.

The other happy element at play is a character rendered by the phenomenal actor James Cosmo. Now if you thought Gene Hackman was suitably two-fisted as the stalwart man of the cloth in Ronald Neame’s The Poseidon Adventure (1972), he is, in the parlance of louts the world over, a ‘pussy’ compared to Cosmo. Cosmo plays the most mentally unbalanced, kick-ass, foul-mouthed priest I’ve seen on film in some time – possibly of ALL time.

The Good Father knows the score, and then some. To paraphrase the tagline from the delightfully ludicrous Stallone cop picture Cobra (1986): ‘Fear’s a disease. The Good Father is the CURE!!!’ The few people left of good character in this world of empty, battle-torn housing projects all believe The Good Father is completely off his rocker.

Cosmo’s performance is stellar and, as The Good Father, he adds one extremely salient detail to Foy’s film – humour. Great genre pictures always have some element of humour – not of the tongue-in-cheek variety, but the kind that’s rooted in the central dramatic action of the narrative. The other great thing about The Good Father is his sense of Faith – and, believe me, it’s not necessarily residing in honour of the God of Abraham. He really only has faith in one thing amidst the dark dystopian days Foy etches so indelibly: survival.

At first, Tommy is intimidated by the curmudgeonly bonkers priest, but over time, it becomes obvious this slightly fallen Man o’ God is the only one who makes sense. Something is rotten to the core and Our Father has a plan to root out the pestilence.

You see, there is an infection.

Have I mentioned the infection yet?



I’ll let you discover it yourself.

As my regular readers are aware, I do everything in my power to know as little about a movie before I see it. I was so happy to know NOTHING about this movie prior to seeing it save for the title. The fact that I saw it at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival was also, by osmosis, a tiny giveaway since this stellar event’s programmers are delectably twisted sick puppies. That said, I knew nothing – just as I hope YOU will attempt to keep things before seeing Citadel.

The script, as well written as it is, hits a few (perfectly acceptable) marks that telegraphed a handful of items to me (and no doubt to a select few others) while watching the film, so there is little gained in pointing in their direction. In spite of this, I was quite unprepared for the full, heart-stopping, scream-inducing (yes, I screamed like some old grandmother), vomit-inspiring, drawer-filling (with, of course, your excretion of choice – I demurely keep mine to myself), flat-out dizzying, jack-hammering appalling climax of pure, sickening, unadulterated terror.

This is one mighty mo-fo of a scary-ass picture. The mise en scène is dazzling and the tale is rooted in both a humanity and reality that will wallop close to home for many. There’s nary a misstep in any of the performances and as the movie inches, like Col. Walter E. Kurtz’s ‘snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor’, Foy plunges us into an abyss at the top of the stairs.

In Apocalypse Now (1979), Kurtz (with Marlon Brando’s expert nasal intonations) summed up the image of the snail on the straight razor thusly: ‘That’s my dream!’

Frankly, Citadel is MY dream of one great horror movie.

Fuck it!

It’s no dream.

Citadel is a bloody nightmare!

Greg Klymkiw



Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 25 February 2013

Distributor Eureka

Director: Kaneto Shindō

Writer: Kaneto Shindō

Cast: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Satô

Japan 1964

100 mins

Kaneto Shindō’s Onibaba (1964) is an allegorical tale of transformation and uncovered deception. The narrative is set in rural 14th-century Japan during civil war between rivalling shogunates. Two women, a middle-aged mother (played by Shindô’s business partner and future wife Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law, (Jitsuko Yoshimura) scavenge to survive. Their modus operandi is to lie in wait in towering susuki fields (Japanese pampas grass) until unsuspecting samurais exhausted by the war pass. Then the women attack. They spear and kill the warriors then strip them for their clothes and swords that can be traded for meagre bags of millet. Systematically they work together to drag their prey to a deep hole and fling them in. Back at their hut they eat, rest, exchange their goods with a covert vendor and await new victims.

This stark austerity is caused by a war that is not the women’s but the generals’ and emperors’ higher up in the social order. But it is the overlooked world of the women that becomes Shindō’s focus. They are not condemned, after all they are doing what their male compatriots are doing a few miles away on the battlefields. Instead, their actions are portrayed as part of a world turned upside down where morality mutates, frost in summer ruins crops, a horse gives birth to a cow and the sun rises black in the sky. It is into this strange yet matter-of-fact cycle that Shindō injects a surreal depiction of erotic desire and a seemingly supernatural twist.

Tension in the film arises when this need for physical survival is met with erotic desire. When Hachi (Kei Satô) returns from fighting in Kyoto without the younger woman’s husband her mother-in-law is forced to consider life without her when she predicts she might leave with Hachi. The consequences are life-threatening, and a game of cat and mouse begins as the mother tries to keep her close. Here, Shindō moulds a childhood Buddhist fable warning against duplicity for his own means. In Onibaba, truthfulness is about finding the limits of your own freedom in an unfathomable moral sea.

The bleak brutality and violence is echoed in the stylistic choices for the film. The soundtrack scored by long-time Shindô collaborator Hikaru Hayashi provides minimal drum rhythms that are remindful of a racing heartbeat or blood pumping through the body. They harness a sense of survival of the fittest or the shrewdest. Like the sound, the mise en scène is pared down to eerie glimpses of sky, smothering fields of pampas grass, small stretches of water and caves. Close-up shots of the reeds make the most of their animistic qualities. Taller than a man or a woman, they seem to move of their own volition, animated and magical. Filmed from overhead they become an uncanny engulfing swell that can carry you along to meet concealed malign forces. This is where exhilaration and terror meet: what will these enigmatic grasses reveal?

Nicola Woodham



Format: Cinema

Release date: 22 February 2013

Venues: UK wide

Distributor: Universal

Director: Andrés Muschietti

Writers: Neil Cross, Andrés Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse

Spain/Canada 2013

100 mins

Guillermo del Toro is fast becoming the Steven Spielberg of horror. The emphasis, at the end of a number of the films he has directed or produced, on the rescuing of some sort of family unit, whatever the cost, is more worrying than any of the terrors unleashed on the audience. Mama, directed by Andrés Muschietti and produced by del Toro, is a case in point: its conclusion conveniently gets rid of the member of the family who can’t be made to fit in – just like the del Toro-produced Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark effected some sort of reconciliation between two relatives by sacrificing the extra person in the family.

Like many of del Toro’s films, Mama is a dark fairy tale – maybe even more explicitly so than his previous offerings, opening as it does with ‘Once upon a Time’. When his two missing nieces are found in the forest after five years, Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his rock-chick girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) take them in, under the supervision of their psychologist, Dr Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash). But the adults gradually begin to realise that Mama, the imaginary carer the girls had invented to survive in the forest, may not be so imaginary after all.

Although the film has its moments (the discovery of the feral children in the cabin; the dream sequence that reveals the tragic events of the past; the scene, both sinister and humorous, in which Lilly, the younger girl, plays with an off-screen Mama), it is marred by implausible plot developments and, most importantly for a horror film, fails to deliver any scares. Despite telling a story that should pull on the audience’s heartstrings, the film is unable to generate any strong emotional attachment to the characters. This may be partly due to the misjudged casting: Chastain is not credible as a rock chick, her character is embarrassingly clichéd and contrived, and there is a total lack of chemistry between her and Coster-Waldau. The best actor in the film is the youngest: Isabelle Nélisse is ambiguous and troubling as the six-year-old Lilly, disturbingly animal-like as she scuttles on all fours, and both creepy and sweet in her attachment to Mama.

It does not help that the film echoes other motifs and character types already seen in films bearing del Toro’s name. As in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Mama features a woman forced to take on a maternal role to children who are her boyfriend’s responsibility. Like Julia’s Eyes, it has a scene in which a character uses the flash on a camera to see their attacker – in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the same device is used to keep the monsters away. The recurrence of motifs in a creator’s work is natural, but here the effect is less of stylistic and thematic coherence than of unimaginative repetition.

Virginie Sélavy

The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress

Format: DVD

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Writers: Ryûzô Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa

Cast: Toshirô Mifune, Misa Uehara, Minoru Chiaki

Japan 1958

126 mins

Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 action adventure The Hidden Fortress belongs to a swashbuckling genre of heroic derring-do: jidaigeki. Its main innovation was to concentrate its interest on the plight of a pair of quarrelsome cowardly peasants, Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara), who, in the aftermath of a large battle, are forced to bury the dead. The largely comic figures owe their mismatched comedy not only to Laurel and Hardy, but, going further back, Pistol and Bardolph in Shakespeare’s Henriad. They quarrel over gold, they are lazy, greedy, disloyal and potential rapists, always looking to get the upper hand and only ever thinking of rectifying their ways when in danger of imminent death. ‘Let’s be kinder to each other,’ they cry, only to go back to arguing once the danger has passed.

Kurosawa’s film is a straightforward action film on one level. Tahei and Matashichi meet up with an important general (Toshiro Mifune) and a princess in disguise, Yuki Akizuki (Misa Uehara), in the hidden fortress of the title. They are lured to helping the pair by the promise of the hidden Akizuki gold, which everyone is searching for. The motley band make their way with the gold disguised as firewood through enemy territory, hunted by soldiers, and heading for the safety of their own land. Like Kurosawa’s later masterpiece Ran, The Hidden Fortress also has within it the imprecation ‘take physic pomp’, as the verities of feudal loyalty are interrogated and the princess sees through her own eyes the unfairness and cruelty of the system of which she is a leading representative and beneficiary. She is made aware of the sacrifices – including the ultimate – that others are willing to make on her behalf and sees the sufferings of those who are not as fortunate as her in the nature of their births, particularly the position of a poor peasant’s daughter who is about to be sold into slavery when she is rescued by the princess. Notions of honour break down quickly when it is obvious that what everyone is really searching for is the Akizuki gold, and therefore many of the nobles are no better than Tahei and Mataschichi, who if anything, retain at least their knockabout honesty.

For the first time Kurosawa films in the Tohoscope widescreen format, and he uses it to great effect, showing a precarious Japanese landscape full of perpendicular steepness. A slave revolt tumbles down a steep set of Odessa-like steps, and our comic duo are constantly clambering up and down the sides of the gravelly hills in their attempts to elude capture. The fortress itself is no more than a ring of steep hillocks, surrounding a small redoubt. The characters’ difficulties are occasionally liberated by scenes of wonderful actions such as Mifune’s duel with an old enemy and the fire festival, which turns from an obstacle to a moment of revelation. Apparently, a 1970s science fiction film was influenced by it as well, but there’s plenty to enjoy without recourse to that.

John Bleasdale

Lisa and the Devil

Lisa and the Devil

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 4 February 2013

Distributor Arrow Video

Directors: Mario Bava, Alfredo Leone

Writers: Mario Bava, Alberto Cittini, Alfredo Leone, Giorgio Maulini, Romano Migiorini, Roberto Natale, Francesca Rusishka

Original title: Lisa e il diavolo

Cast: Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Alessio Orano, Alida Valli

Italy 1974

92 mins

In all of Mario Bava’s weird career, there may be nothing as peculiar as Lisa and the Devil, his 1974 fantasy starring Elke Sommer and Telly Savalas, and the project’s history is as bizarre as the experience of watching it.

Bava had bounced back from late-career doldrums with the Gothic hit Baron Blood (1972) and that film’s producer, Alfredo Leone, offered him the chance to do whatever he wanted: a poisoned chalice few filmmakers can resist. Bava knew enough to stick to the horror genre: his recent sex comedy (Four Times That Night, 1972) and Western (Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, 1970) had been interesting divertissements, but didn’t really allow him room for the full-on delirium of his best work.

Bava’s recent work in the giallo field he practically invented, the wonderfully titled Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), had shown less interest in inventive and bloody homicide, and more in chic interiors and glamour. Hatchet for the Honeymoon, the same year, was nastier, but impressed mainly by the sheer craziness of its plot, which leaves the audience bewildered and frustrated almost to the last frame. Lisa would be an attempt to take that derangement even further…

Essentially a dream-film, it plucks its tourist heroine, Sommer, from her Spanish package holiday and strands her at an eerily out-of-time villa, where Telly Savalas may be Satan, collecting the souls of the dead, and both necrophilia and serial murder may be part of the evening’s entertainment. Though it features a hammer attack so vicious that it was trimmed in Italy (the only country where the film saw release), the movie is far less interested in killing than in disorientation, kitsch surrealist beauty, off-kilter humour and throwing together a lot of weird elements. At times it’s as if Bava had set himself the game of confusing matters so thoroughly that no coherent outcome is possible; then he manages a last-minute expository splurge that more or less tidies away the more radiant red herrings; and then he decides he has a few minutes left and uses them to gleefully screw the whole affair up beyond all chance of recovery.

The necrophilia subplot leads to one of the strangest scenes not only in Bava’s scrambled oeuvre, but in all of cinema, as badly listing dreamboat Alessio Orano tries to molest a drugged Sommer, his decomposing former love arranged in rotting fragments on an adjacent bed. Finally, despite the plangent musical accompaniment, he screams at the deceased, ‘I can’t, while you’re there!’ One can see his point, though perhaps shovelling up the remains before attempting date-rape would have improved the odds of carrying the whole thing off without a hitch.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bava’s oneiric labyrinth of severed plotlines struggled to find distribution: The Exorcist had just come out, and the market was not hungry for a mixture of Alice in Wonderland and The Exterminating Angel. Leone took desperate measures, re-titling the film House of Exorcism and adding an embarrassment of new footage in which Sommer vomited pea soup at guest star Robert Alda.

Happily, Lisa and the Devil is now appreciated for the demented, soft-focus, Spanish-guitar-inflected masterpiece it is, and Leone’s commercially minded revision is reduced to the status of extra on Arrow Film’s new Blu-ray. It’s a welcome addition: devoid of artistic merit in its own right, the garbled re-edit adds yet another layer of weirdness to a truly odd film: it’s like an alternative pathway through Bava’s world, where one minute we’re in his Gothic hallucination, and then we round a corner and find a whole different scene that was never there before. It’s like walking through an idiot’s dream about a genius’s dream.

David Cairns

Black Sunday

Black Sunday

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 4 February 2013

Distributor Arrow Video

Director: Mario Bava

Writers: Ennio De Concini, Mario Serandrei, Mario Bava, Marcello Coscia

Based on the short story ‘Viy’ by: Nikolaj Gogol

Original title: La maschera del demonio

Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi

Italy 1960

87 mins

Mario Bava was not only a clever genre specialist, but one who helped kick-start nearly every commercial genre in Italy in the 50s and 60s with the exceptions of the Spaghetti Western and the sex comedy, though he eventually did those too. He photographed (and part directed) I Vampiri, the first real Italian horror film, and Caltiki the Immortal Monster, a science fiction monster movie. He also shot Hercules, the first of the mythic muscleman epics of its day. His Blood and Black Lace (aka Six Women for the Murderer) is arguably the first true giallo movie, or at least the one that crystallised the various elements of the genre into a single film. And Black Sunday, aka The Mask of Satan, began the tradition of supernatural Gothic horror than ran luridly amuck over Italian, and then international screens throughout the 60s.

Following the success of Hammer’s Dracula, Bava (working as director and cinematographer) took a less famous literary source, Nikolai Gogol’s ‘Viy’, which he and his screenwriters adapted pretty freely, slathering it in morbid and sadistic imagery. Filming in black and white, Bava pays more attention to grotty or dribbly textures than his English precursors, with bubbling fluids around a freshly branded letter S in leading lady Barbara Steele’s back, the waxy, eyeless visage of her corpse, crawling with tiny scorpions, and the pale, viscous blood/paint that slowly drops from a glinting shard of glass…

Steele is the film’s star twice over, playing the innocent heroine and her vampiric ancestor. A graduate of art college and the Rank Charm School, she spent the early 60s filming in Italy, her native land having proved incapable of recognising the potential of her porcelain features and huge heavy-lidded eyes. The most important eyes in horror cinema since Karloff’s – augmented by Bava with lighting tricks and special effects, even replaced at one point by a pair of poached eggs!

As a jobbing filmmaker, Bava could make good use of available locations, but he excelled at studio work where he could absolutely control the lighting and create wholly artificial worlds. Black Sunday’s Moldavian countryside is almost entirely artificial, alternating between spacious, ornate interiors and exteriors that sometimes barely exist apart from foreground twigs and dry ice fumes – and Bava’s atmospheric lighting.

Though not notably sophisticated as a piece of screenwriting – his films generally rely more on lighting, composition, movement, sound and design, rather than dialogue or acting – Bava’s first movie as sole director shows his wide cinematic knowledge, visually quoting everything from White Zombie to David Lean’s Oliver Twist and Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (crossed with Jacques Tourneur’s The Leopard Man). He also layers the film with visual motifs and rhymes, deploying eyes, windows, reflections, and long, tense right-to-left pans, which sometimes come full circle to their point of origin, Bava’s crew presumably crouching on the floor to stay out of shot, or else trotting around the camera ahead of the advancing lens.

While Bava’s films don’t usually scare me much, the wandering corpse in Black Sabbath, popping up everywhere like Droopy, frightens the blue Jesus out of me, and there’s a sudden transformation from child to zombie in his last film, Shock, accomplished without any special effects, which caused me to leave fingerprints in the cat. Black Sunday strikes me as more pleasurably Halloweeny, spooky and fun and gorgeously eerie, with just enough sheer nastiness to give it a slight edge.

Arrow’s sumptuous Blu-ray comes with intros, interviews, commentary by Bava scholar Tim Lucas, and a whole movie as extra: the aforementioned I Vampiri, a testing ground for some of the tricks Bava perfected in Black Sunday. It’s quite a package.

David Cairns

The Keep

The Keep

Format: Cinema

Screening date: 21 February 2013

Venue: Prince Charles

Director: Michael Mann

Writer: Michael Mann

Based on the novel by: F. Paul Wilson

Cast: Scott Glen, Ian McKellen, Alberta Watson, Gabriel Byrne

UK 1983

96 mins

Info and tickets from the Prince Charles website

If anything deserves the label film maudit, it’s The Keep, Michael Mann’s 1983 adaptation of F. Paul Wilson’s 1981 novel. A box office failure in the US, it was one of the first expensive, major studio productions to be released only on (pan&scan) video in the UK, though a (scratched) 16mm print was screened at the Gothique Film Society and the ICA in the mid-80s. A laserdisc release was at least letterboxed, but it is one of the few films of its vintage and reputation officially unreleased on DVD or Blu-ray – though it is available for streaming on Amazon instant video (US) and will receive a rare 35mm theatrical outing courtesy of Electric Sheep and Cigarette Burns at the Prince Charles Cinema in February.

Mann, who evidently had a bad experience on the rainy Welsh Romanian sets and with Paramount brass who insisted on several recuts, tends to skip from Thief to Manhunter when listing his filmography. Manhunter, also based on a major genre novel and a radical experiment in style, was also a flop on first release, but has been rehabilitated and valued as a significant, influential film. The Keep hasn’t, and the only cultural weight it seems to have is via its Tangerine Dream soundtrack. Wilson likes the film even less than Stephen King likes Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, labelling it ‘visually intriguing, but otherwise utterly incomprehensible’. In Wilson’s short story ‘Cuts’, a novelist aggrieved at the butchery of his work by the movies uses voodoo to torment and dismember filmmaker Milo Gherl.

And yet, there’s something about The Keep which fascinates. I’ve seen it in a succession of formats, from blurry bootleg VHS to pristine print, and I find it improves, becomes more dreamlike and disturbing, with each viewing. During World War II, a detachment of German soldiers commanded by sensitive Captain Woermann (Jürgen Prochnow) occupies an ancient stone structure in Romania, only to have an age-old monster loosed from within its stone walls awaken to slaughter the storm troopers. Drawn to these events are an ambitious SS officer (Gabriel Byrne), a Jewish professor hauled out of a concentration camp (Ian McKellen) and a mysterious Highlander-type immortal warrior (Scott Glenn). Dark bargains are struck – though, as Wilson notes, the narrative collapses along with any moral certainties. It’s a film which opts to be eerie, allusive and overwhelming rather than exciting, frightening and shocking – a high-risk strategy.

With its dreamlike narrative discontinuity, archly stylised dialogue (‘All that we are is coming out in this Keep. You have scooped the many diseased psyches out of the German gutter. You have infected millions with your twisted fantasies. What are you meeting in the granite corridors of this Keep? Yourself?’) and expressionist imagery (almost entirely in black and white, except for the red of the monster’s eyes and the swastika armbands), The Keep is a worthy successor to a mode of horror, as morally unsettling as it is spiritually devastating, that threads through films like Murnau’s Nosferatu and Lewton and Robson’s Isle of the Dead.

Kim Newman



Format: Cinema

Release date: 1 February 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Micha&#235l R. Roskam

Writer: Micha&#235l R. Roskam

Original title: Rundskop

Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy

Belgium/Netherlands 2011

129 mins

It’s all about meat.

Then again, why wouldn’t it be?

Michael R. Roskam’s unique and harrowing crime melodrama Bullhead is a dark, classic tale of friendship and betrayal against one of the most original backdrops ever utilized in a gangster picture. Hallmarks of the genre – double crosses, filthy brute force, intimidation of the worst kind – are transplanted to Belgium, with Goodfellas-styled hoods in the roles of two-fisted laconic farmers, veterinarians and feed suppliers.

It’s film noir crossed with a sprawling, operatic, Visconti-like virtuosity, yet tinged with the earthy stench of cow shit mixed with the sour metallic odour of blood.


A super-buff stud works out maniacally in the dark after plunging steroids into his firm, sleek buttocks.

A cow’s belly is sliced open without painkiller. A calf is ripped from the gaping cavity of viscous fluids. The dazed newborn, covered with glistening viscera, is tossed violently into a filthy metal tub.

An ecstasy-and-booze-filled ladies’ man is dragged out of the glare of a lone street lamp and hauled into the shadows of night, so viciously beaten he’ll live the rest of his life as a vegetable.

Covert dinner meetings between thugs – fuelled by booze and sumptuously prepared steaks – occur surreptitiously on farms, in barns and within feed warehouses. Deals, deliveries and alliances are discussed as forks and knives dig savagely into slabs of meat on platters garnished with little more than boiled potatoes – soaking up pools of blood and fat that ooze from the steroid-enhanced comestibles.

Bucolic Belgian farmlands at dusk and twilight mask an evil criminal world of organized steroid users and purveyors – peddling livestock pumped to the max with growth-and-fat-enhancing drugs.

A brick lifted high in the air, touching the heavens before slamming down repeatedly, smashing a pair of testicles to a pulp – forcing the owner of the mashed potato nuts to begin a life that’s an uphill Sisyphean climb.

Bullhead is one great and original gangster picture.

From the innocence of childhood to the corruption-tarnished cusp between youth and middle age, writer-director Michael R. Roskam charts the friendship between Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Diederik (Jeroen Perceval). As kids they are groomed for a life in illicit meat manufacturing and their lives are as inextricably linked as they are estranged after an early tragedy results in a dizzying criminal ascension and a downward-spiralling fate.

Roskam’s screenplay brilliantly lays out a myriad of crooked relationships, complex and virtually impenetrable ‘business deals’ and friendships that are as intense as they are fraught with guilt mixed with immoral layers. The ins and outs of the ‘mysteries’ become as obtuse as those in The Big Sleep. At times, we think we have a grasp on what’s happening, but the layers of plot are ultimately too thick to follow. It almost doesn’t matter. What we know for certain is that bad shit is coming down. That’s all we really need to know.

Through it all is the staggering performance of Matthias Schoenaerts – brooding, physical and steeped in humanity. His eyes are extraordinary – shifting in one moment from soulful to dead like a shark.

Roskam’s mise en scène is first rate. His compositions are painterly and the cinematography manages to capture a sense of dreariness so that it’s positively exciting – etching night exteriors like masterly impressionist paintings and dramatic picture compositions that are as thrilling as they’re simplistically evocative in terms of both spatial geography and the ever-shifting dynamics of the characters. The pace weirdly evokes country life – it’s slow, but never lugubrious. Roskam hooks us like a master and leads us where he needs to and wants to – on HIS terms and those that the story demands.

Early in the film, we hear a life manifesto that boils down to one thing:

‘Everything is fucked!’

And so it is in Bullhead. It’s gloriously, deliriously and viciously fucked – an amoral, cynical, nihilistic and narcissistic 70s style of nastiness brought miraculously to life in a contemporary world of cow shit and gangsters.

We even get some redemption, but a steep price is paid for it.

As it should be.

Greg Klymkiw

A Place in the Sun

A Place in the Sun

Format: Cinema

Release date: 1 February 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: BFI Distribution

Director: George Stevens

Writers: Michael Wilson, Harry Brown

Based on the novel by: Theodore Dreiser

Based on the play adapted from the novel by: Patrick Kearney

Cast: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters

USA 1951

122 mins

An attractive young man in a leather jacket stands by the side of road, hitchhiking. He’s George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), the impoverished nephew of an extremely wealthy upper-class business owner, who has recently offered to give George a job. As he waits, a white convertible whips past, a beautiful and oblivious woman driving the car, leaving him behind in the dust. Finally, a battered pick-up truck picks George up and delivers him to his uncle’s factory, where he’s eventually given a lowly, menial job.

This opening sequence establishes the whole tone of A Place in the Sun (1951). George may share the same last name as his successful relatives, but he’s grown up without any of the privileges they enjoy. Despite his ambition and dreams of working his way up through the company, he ignores the rules about not dating co-workers and quickly finds himself involved with Alice (Shelley Winters), a plain, homely girl who seems willing to settle for her place in the world. But when, on a visit to his uncle’s palatial home, George runs into the same gorgeous owner of the convertible, Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), he’s plunged into a love triangle, caught between two women, one working-class, the other a wealthy socialite; one his current reality and the other a dream of wealth and success.

Winner of six Oscars, A Place in the Sun, based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel, An American Tragedy, (the book title gives away a bit more of the story), is a bruising mix of melodrama and romance with touches of film noir. The on-screen chemistry between Clift and Taylor is notorious; Angela is all soft focus as she gazes adoringly at George, who is breathtakingly handsome yet almost child-like, sensitive and touchingly insecure. Their love is immediate; at first the obstacles of class and wealth seem surmountable. But although Angela can briefly rescue George from his everyday life, she can’t save him when he makes a fatal error after he discovers that Alice is pregnant.

Stevens’s incredible attention to detail and perfectly thought-out mise en scène mean that much of the drama and the tension is built up wordlessly through clues and reoccurring motifs. Seen through the window of George’s tiny apartment, a neon sign flashes the name ‘Vickers’ – a reminder of Angela, but also her status. A news report he listens to on the radio details a number of accidents due to the sultry summer weather, warning listeners to be cautious near open water. A reproduction of John Everett Millais’s romantic, pre-Raphaelite painting Ophelia hangs on the wall. The first dark thought seemingly seeps into George’s consciousness at the same time as it does in the minds of the audience. From this point on, the audience is complicit.

The decision by Stevens to make Alice’s character so unappealing, and to focus instead on Angela’s radiant beauty and the amazing chemistry between Taylor and Clift, introduces a degree of moral ambiguity into the film. Rather than condemn George for his behaviour towards Alice, it’s easy to find yourself hoping that he and Angela can somehow find a way to be together, even if that means committing questionable, even criminal acts.

With some excellent performances, and William C. Mellor’s gorgeous black and white cinematography, Stevens crafted a compelling, textured film that is much richer than a searing on-screen romance.

Sarah Cronin