Tag Archives: horror film

Film4 FrightFest 2012


Film4 FrightFest

23-27 August 2012, Empire, London

FrightFest website

Film4 FrightFest the 13th duly delivered on blood, thrills and controversy with a blast of the best and the worst of current horror film. Evrim Ersoy reports on some of the most talked about films in this year’s programme.


An interesting exercise in combining the portmanteau picture and the found-footage genre, V/H/S is the new offering from some of the hottest indie directors on the block (Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence).

Following the usual genre rules, it sets out a wrap-around concerning a bunch of deadbeat guys who are hired to break into a house and find a certain VHS for an undisclosed amount of money. As they are faced with a mountain of tapes, their attempts to find the right one are the pretext for the other stories until the very final tale, which, in an unusual touch, explains the nature of what has gone before.

At two hours, the film outstays its welcome by at least one segment and the wraparound is a muddled affair delivering none of the punch expected from such a tale. However, despite all this V/H/S works very well, with some of the segments genuinely inducing a sense of dread and unease while others create a videotape reality that just delights with its own twisted logic.

The final story also pulls out all the stops making sure the entire anthology ends on a high, sending the audience out into the night feeling as if they’ve been through on a ghost ride.

All in all, definitely worth catching – although not necessarily at the cinema given the lo-fi specs.

Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s

Director/writer Mike Malloy’s love letter to the underrated poliziotteschi genre of the 70s is an impressive magnum opus that not only serves as an introductory lesson to newcomers but also offers in-depth analysis that every lover of the genre will delight in.

Compiling clips and new interviews with cast and crew associated with the films, Mike Malloy divides his epic documentary into chapters explaining various aspects of the genre (beginnings, real-life crime, politics, misogyny, etc) and revealing the history bit by bit. This fragmentary approach works incredibly well: rather than alienate any audience member, Mike Malloy sensibly draws everyone in before weaving a tale of an era so madcap and unusual it’s almost impossible not to be enthralled.

Mike Malloy’s talent is apparent not only in the assured pacing but also in the well-conducted interviews with stars, directors and other crew members of the era: Henry Silva, Franco Nero and Enzo Castellari all make an appearance bringing with them some unusual tales that may never have been heard if not for this film.

An amazing achievement, this 137-minute bonanza is a brilliantly entertaining documentary: full of life and action, it’s a joyful tribute that fits the spirit of the genre it celebrates so well.

Tower Block

A disappointing exercise in survival, James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson’s Tower Block focuses on the residents of the 31st floor of a block of flats who find themselves the target of a sniper. As the incompatible bunch try to work together to survive the day, their numbers continue to dwindle.

Boasting a set-up that’s bound to intrigue, Tower Block unfortunately runs into the first of its many problems before long: the occupants of the tower block of the title all appear to be archetypes. Perhaps it’s writer James Moran’s intention to populate the floor with a microcosm of Britain and try to see how we all can work together, but, on screen, the entire cast appears theatrical and robotic and the relationships and dialogue are distinctly wooden.

However, there is also much to be admired in the film: the set pieces are incredibly tense, and once the action gets going, the stark terror caused by the sniper is shown without any compromise. This is a film that delivers on the visual front with plenty of gusto. Shame, then, that the final result ends up being so uneven: a third act descent into Scooby Doo territory and really does the rest of the film no favours. By the end of the film, we’re left with a sense of disappointment at the hollowness and emptness of the plot.

It’s hard to shake off the feeling that Tower Block might have worked better as a 30-minute short. In its current form it is just another forgettable urban thriller in a long line of low-budget British films.

Tower Block is released in UK cinemas on September 21 by Lionsgate.


It’s hard to tell where Federico Zampaglione’s disappointing attempt to create a neo-giallo film went wrong: Tulpa is such a strange creation full of conflicting moments that it becomes impossible to distinguish the individual good and bad points after a while.

Opening with a beautiful sequence where a bizarre S&M meeting between an unnamed man and a woman goes horrifically wrong, Tulpa centres on Lisa Boeri, a corporate financial analyst in a fast-paced cut-throat company by day, and a member of a mysterious club for spiritual and psychical release of a sexual kind at night. When someone starts to murder Lisa’s sexual partners she realises there’s a psychopath out there who has her in firmly in their sights.

While the murders in Tulpa adhere beautifully to the giallo tropes, the pacing is so uneven that any enjoyment to be gleaned from the film soon turns to boredom. Add to this a second half that grinds to an almost complete halt and it becomes impossible to understand who the film is intended for: giallo enthusiasts will not find enough visual pleasure to enjoy the film while genre newcomers will be bored stiff after a while by the awful script and the rather outrageous dubbing.

A huge mess of a film, Tulpa can only be recommended as a guide to what not to do when trying to make a neo-giallo. Here’s hoping that Mr Zampaglione’s next film fulfils the promise of his first feature Shadow and confirms him as a filmmaker to follow.


Set across a dreamy and melancholic cityscape, Franck Kahlfoun’s take on William Lustig’s notorious 1980 shocker might well be the best genre film to be released this year.

Shot largely in first-person P.O.V., it features an intense performance from Elijah Wood, who manages to portray Frank as a man both frighteningly sadistic and heart-breakingly pitiful. Frank works as a mannequin restorer and seller at a dilapidated shop in LA, which used to belong to his promiscuous mother. He has uncontrollable feeling of abject hatred and fear of women, which explode in acts of unparalleled violence. When Frank meets Ann, who wants to use his mannequins in a photography exhibition she’s preparing, the two connect in an awkward but not implausible way. However, as their relationship develops, it becomes harder and harder for Frank to control his destructive impulses.

Utilising mirrors, windows and other reflective surfaces, Khalfoun creates a glossy but emotive visual language: while the horror of Frank’s barbaric acts is never underplayed, his character comes across as a tragic figure rather than as the one-dimensional psychopath that is the stereotype of the genre. Cleverly using the soundtrack to intensify the city and Frank’s experience, Khalfoun grabs the audience when they least expect it: added into the mix are the rare appearances of Elijah Wood’s face, his eyes exhibiting a dead, hollow quality that makes his acts even more disturbing. His voice-over, delivered in a child-like whisper, speaks volumes about a man whose life has been lost for a long time: reminiscent of the protagonist Paul in Tony Vorno’s forgotten grindhouse gem Victims, Frank is equal parts abhorrent murderer and unexpected victim.

It’s hard to think of another piece of filmmaking that will manage to pack the same visual invention and emotional punch into a measly 89 minutes. Do not miss.

Berberian Sound Studio: The Sound of Horror

Berberian Sound Studio

Format: Cinema

Release date: 31 August 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Peter Strickland

Writer: Peter Strickland

Cast: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Cosimo Fusco

UK 2012

95 mins

The follow-up to the acclaimed, Berlin prize-winning rape-revenge drama Katalin Varga, Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio is a remarkable achievement. The accomplishment is amplified considering that it is a second feature. Among the most audacious European works in recent memory, Strickland’s film draws on his love of experimental film scores, sound effects and analogue recording equipment to create an elliptical, nightmarish tale that pays tribute to the Italian giallo genre and the Gothic horror of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday and Dario Argento‘s Suspiria. Juraj Herz’s The Cremator and Peter Tscherkassky are also acknowledged influences.

Set in a beautifully replicated 1976, the film hones in on Berberian Sound Studio, the cheapest, sleaziest post-production studios in Italy. Only the most sordid horror films have their sound processed and sharpened there. Gilderoy (Toby Jones, incredibly game in a discomfiting role), a naïve and introverted sound engineer from England, is hired to orchestrate the sound mix for the latest film by horror maestro Santini (Antonio Mancino). Thrown from the innocent world of local documentaries into a foreign environment fuelled by exploitation, Gilderoy soon finds himself caught up in a forbidding world of bitter actresses, capricious technicians and confounding bureaucracy. Obliged to work with the hot-headed producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco), whose tempestuous relationships with certain members of his female cast threaten to boil over at any time, Gilderoy begins to record the sound for ‘The Equestrian Vortex’, a hammy tale of witchcraft and unholy murder.

Only when he’s testing microphones or poring over tape spooling around his machines does this timid man from Surrey seem at ease. Surrounded by Mediterranean machismo and, for the first time in his life, beautiful women, Gilderoy, very much an Englishman abroad, devotes all his attention to his work. But the longer Gilderoy spends mixing screams and the bloodcurdling sounds of hacked vegetables, the more homesick he becomes for his garden shed studio in his hometown of Dorking. His mother’s letters alternate between banal gossip and an ominous hysteria, which gradually mirrors the black magic of Santini’s Vortex.

The violence on the screen Gilderoy is exposed to, day in, day out, in which he himself is implicated, has a disturbing effect on his psyche. He finds himself corrupted; yet he’s the one carrying out the violence. As both time and realities shift, Gilderoy finds himself lost in an otherworldly spiral of sonic and personal mayhem, and has to confront his own demons in order to stay afloat in an environment ruled by exploitation both on and off screen.

Named after the yellow (giallo) covers of the trashy crime novels used for storylines, this period of cinema in 1960s and 70s Italy produced numerous thrillers and horror flicks that privileged style over script. As Berberian Sound Studio makes clear, key ingredients of a typical giallo tended to include girls, daggers, blood, witchcraft and chilling screams. At the time, directors such as Dario Argento (Profondo Rosso) and Lucio Fulci (The Black Cat, Zombie Flesh Eaters) commissioned composers including Ennio Morricone and prog outfit Goblin to score their slasher films. The title of Strickland’s fictional studio, Berberian, refers to Cathy Berberian, the versatile American soprano who was married to the Italian electronics pioneer Lucio Berio, a giant of 20th-century composition. Peter Strickland himself has dabbled in sound art and electronic production as part of the trio The Sonic Catering Band.

Sound, and Gilderoy’s umbilical connection to it, is the heart of the film. To that extent the creation of the sound studio was pivotal and the film was always likely to stand or fall on the authenticity of the hermetically sealed bunker and the equipment on which Gilderoy toils. Production designer Jennifer Kernke (who worked with Berberian producer Keith Griffiths on Institute Benjamenta) has worked wonders, constructing a sound studio as it might have appeared in 70s Italy by scouring the UK for original vintage analogue sound equipment. For Strickland, an aficionado of vintage sound recording apparatus, amassing all this out-of-date gear felt wonderfully anachronistic. ‘I had to question myself. I thought, are we riffing off what these films did back in the 70s or are we taking cues from the spirit of those films? It seemed rather perverse to celebrate analogue within the digital medium.’ But it is precisely the fetishistic nature of Gilderoy’s relationship with his beloved machines – perhaps the only objects he truly understands – that Strickland is celebrating. ‘I like the idea of filling the whole frame with these strange machines as we celebrate this period when these things looked so futuristic and alien,’ the director comments.

The film’s general arcane sensibility is also enforced by the tape boxes and papers the film lingers lovingly over, all of which are designed by Julian House. A record designer whose work recently graced CAN’s The Lost Tapes box-set, House also envisioned the fake title sequence, one of the most arresting and genuinely thrilling moments in the film.

Giallo movies frequently had exceptionally advanced accompanying soundtracks that meshed free jazz with the avant-garde and high art with sleazy exploitation. The score for Berberian is courtesy of James Cargill of Broadcast (whose sleeves House has also designed), who conjures an ethereal soundscape in which sound and music cut back and forth from the reality of the studio into the giallo Gilderoy works.

Santini’s ‘The Equestrian Vortex’ may be a schlocky giallo slasher, a classic horror, but Berberian Sound Studio has a more absorbing, hauntological bent. ‘Horror was the starting point but I would never call it a horror,’ says Strickland. ‘I guess the rule was to bounce off that genre – to immediately say, no blood, no murder – but still make it scary. What was exciting about that genre was it has its own history, rules and regulations that you can manipulate and mess around with. There’s something very gratifying in taking a template and turning it into something very personal.’ While avoiding didacticism, Berberian Sound Studio also explores the fascination with violence and the potentially corrupting nature of graphic imagery. Gilderoy’s exposure to the sequences he is forced to endure slowly erodes his levels of tolerance. In the end he is quite literally ingested by the images and psychologically broken.

Despite its willingness to engage with complex and prescient issues, there is also a deep vein of black humour, most clearly during the foley sequences in the auditorium when sound artists hack watermelons and stab cabbages to imitate the sound of heads being split or witches being bludgeoned in Santini’s movie (images that are seen to be projected but which the viewer, crucially, never sees). The disconnection between the effects Santini is trying to generate and what’s causing it is often knowingly comical. As the film is so much about sound and the creation of it, Strickland was careful to bring in characters involved with exhibitions of sound and figures involved with making music. Experimental artists Pal Toth, Josef Czeres and singer Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg all appear, another example of reality imaginatively blurring with fiction.

Film4 FrightFest presented a preview screening of Berberian Sound Studio on August 26.

Jason Wood

Everybody Dies

Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb


Because of the nature of this article, it is impossible to give a spoiler alert for specific films. By simply naming the film, the spoiler is already done. So readers are hereby warned. I have made sure, however, that the most recent film I have used is from 2008 and so these are all films you have had a chance to see.

There is a definition of the difference between comedy and tragedy, which I think comes from the marvellously named Northrop Frye. It goes something like this: tragedy says ‘everybody dies’ and comedy says, ‘ah well, life goes on’. In tragedy, everybody (usually) does not die. We always have our Horatios, to ‘draw his breath in pain’ and recount the story of what happened. In cinema, likewise, Horatios abound; survivors of massacres and shoot-outs, who live on older and wiser, like on-screen audience members. Think of The Wild Bunch (1969) and Deke Thornton, played by Robert Ryan. He is the only original member of the gang to survive. Their bloody finale is a battle he witnesses, but does not participate in. His arrival also retroactively justifies their suicidal decision. Had they survived, they would have been forced into a fratricidal showdown with Deke and his bounty hunters. As is also the case in Red River (1948), a third party antagonist allows a much more painful family quarrel to be sidestepped.

Westerns and War Movies

When everybody dies in a Western, it is partly because as a genre its ruling theme is one of loss and decline. They Died with Their Boots On (1941) is still startling to watch today as Errol Flynn’s cavalry unit is wiped out. However, that was the portrait of a massacre, a massacre that itself went on to both erase and justify other much larger, much more destructive massacres: a genocide in fact. Once upon a Time in the West (1968) begins with death – the three waiting gunmen are dispatched with brilliant abruptness – continues with death – the massacre of a family and sundry hired guns – and ends with the death of the three male protagonists: Frank is killed on camera, Cheyenne’s death is indicated through the soundtrack and Harmonica’s is implied – he has in fact been dying from the very first shoot-out. As in The Wild Bunch, an old masculine way of life has died as civilisation and a new female-dominated space persist. Claudia Cardinale survives to run her business, perhaps to tell the tale, but probably secretly relieved not only that her tormentor is gone, but likewise her quasi-rapist saviours.

The West needs its men to die. Likewise war films demand high body counts, and the death of the main protagonists can be almost total. Of course, death is valued and figured differently in different genres. In a war movie, like Saving Private Ryan (1998), the meaningless deaths that begin the film are substituted with the meaningful sacrifices that conclude the film. Captain Miller’s last words insist that his death and the death of practically his whole squad be given meaning and in that way somehow redeemed. ‘Deserve this,’ he tells Matt Damon’s Private Ryan, and obviously in doing so the audience, whom Spielberg and historian Stephen Ambrose explicitly wish to remind of the heroism and sacrifice of the ‘good’ war. We are all being reprimanded. Even bad wars (Vietnam, Somalia) can be turned into life lessons. Platoon (1986) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) both succeed in turning their whey-faced young innocents into hardened real men, usually via the meaning(ful)less deaths of their comrades in arms. But here we stray. People die during a war, lots of people, but not everybody. In fact, as with Saving Private Ryan, war movies see events from the perspective of survivors.

Although not a war movie as such, Spielberg’s Schindler’s List approaches the Holocaust from this perspective. And here this emphasis threatens to distort the actual subject. If all you knew of the world was gained from watching Schindler’s List, one could be forgiven for thinking that as bad as the Holocaust was, it wasn’t difficult to survive as long as one had a kindly Nazi to hand. Spielberg’s lucky Jews even survive the gas chamber – being led to a shower room which, despite a false alarm, is actually a shower room. Compare this to the little seen The Grey Zone (2001), directed by Tim Blake Nelson. Here, the Jews who make up the subject of the film are not lucky, nor innocent. The sonderkomando are prisoners who are responsible for seeing to the day-to-day mechanics of the gas chambers and ovens under the watchful eye of the German guards. It is they who usher in the prisoners from the train to the bathhouse; they who calm fears with lies, and they who lock the doors and then loot and burn the bodies. A Jewish pathologist working with Mengele is given special treatment, but anguishes over his decisions. Quarrelling with a fellow prisoner, he says he might bring something good out of all this and is rebuffed. ‘You give the killing purpose,’ the prisoner (played by Daniel Benzali) growls. Giving meaning to death is the most immoral reaction. The same prisoner, in organising a revolt, makes it clear that his aim is not escape, but sabotage. Survival, rather than being an imperative, becomes morally dubious. As Vasily Grossman writes of a sonderkomando in the same situation: ‘he was dimly aware that if you wish to remain a human being under fascism, there is an easier option than survival – death.’

As a film, The Grey Zone insists that everybody dies. Not only the Jews in the gas chambers, but also the sonderkomando who rebel, and the sonderkomando who don’t (they are exterminated and replaced every four months). The film’s coda also informs us that the Nazi commandant is also executed and the pathologist dies. His wife dies in the 70s. This is the opposite of Spielberg’s coda, which is almost tasteless in its argument that Schindler’s survivors have had lots of babies, as if this was a problem that could be solved with arithmetic. The ending of Schindler’s List is comic – life goes on – whereas The Grey Zone refuses to give the killing extra-narrative meaning and is decidedly tragic. Everybody dies, even the survivors will die.

Gangster and Horror

The most common films in which everybody dies are gangster and horror films. In gangster films, the offing of large numbers of principal characters can easily be explained as the old studio imperative that crime mustn’t be seen to pay (but that this must only come at the end after we’ve had our vicarious vice). It did for James Cagney in White Heat (1949), Al Pacino in Scarface (1983) and the runaways of Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Going back to Jacobean tragedy for a second, Reservoir Dogs (1992) manages to kill everyone, outdoing Hamlet. Mr Pink (the weasel) appears to escape, but the soundtrack leads us to believe he was likely gunned down outside. Likewise, Mr White gets an off-screen death scene. There is no Horatio, no Deke Thornton. The film has a pleasingly classical completeness. The only speaking role who survives is Mr Orange’s superior officer and I like to think that Mr Pink got him with a stray bullet before himself falling under a hail of gunfire.

The Final Destination, Hostel and Saw franchises depend on the wholesale slaughter of their casts, making the inevitability of their deaths into something like a game. The poster line for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – ‘Who will survive and what will be left of them?’ – runs true for a number of horror films. Going one better are the films that tell you from the very beginning that everyone involved in the incidents related in the film has been killed, or ‘gone missing’. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is an early example of this. We know everyone has died. All that remains is to see how. Likewise in The Blair Witch Project (1999). Here, Horatio is the camera itself and the tapes or footage left behind. The same device is used in Cloverfield (2008).

Where this isn’t pre-agreed, the death of everyone can come as a shock. The most effective examples of this can be found in The Long Weekend (1978) and Open Water (2003). These are both revenge-of-nature films, and the genre implies that someone will ultimately survive to tell the tale. Both films involve couples rather than groups, and so this might lead to their vulnerability. Both films also imply the indifference of the universe to us, and therefore by extension to our need for narrative comfort. Despite its environmental credentials, 1972’s Silent Running shares a similarly terrifying view of the larger indifference of the universe.

Everybody Dies

There is a film where everybody really does die. Not just the protagonists – everybody. The main characters, the bit parts, the non-speaking extras, people who never appear on screen and the audience. Dr Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1964) is the opposite of Schindler’s List. Whereas Schindler’s List is a tragedy operating in a comic universe, Dr Strangelove is a comedy realised in a tragic netherworld. The implied annihilation is rendered certain by the final shots of mushroom clouds. Even the doomsday machine doesn’t condemn humanity as finally and completely as the sound of Vera Lynn singing ‘We’ll Meet Again’ does. This irony doesn’t work without our accepting our own complete destruction. Other post-nuclear films concentrate on either the fantasy or the nightmare of a splinter of humanity remaining. However unpleasant that might be, life does go on. Dr Strangelove is unique in positing that life does not go on and is even more radically interesting in suggesting that (humanity being what it is) our all ending could be the only happy ending. The often skipped-over subtitle says it all. We love the bomb because ultimately we deserve it. The laughter inherent in Kubrick’s masterpiece is wrought with pain but also indicative of relief. Finally, life does not go on.

John Bleasdale

Some of the ideas in this article were developed with the aid of a discussion thread at film-philosophy.com and I would like to thank the film scholars who made suggestions and participated in that thread.

Film4 FrightFest 2011 part 3: Sexual politics and low-key vampires

The Woman

Film4 FrightFest

25-29 August 2011, Empire, London

FrightFest website

At this year’s Film4 FrightFest, the obvious big hitters were not necessarily the most rewarding. The festival opened with the Guillermo del Toro-produced Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which has his habitual mix of real-life childhood trauma and fantasy world, although the two levels of alternate realities don’t blend as well as in his own Cronos or Pan’s Labyrinth. A young girl moves to Rhode Island to live with her father and his new girlfriend in the 19th-century house they are restoring. Boredom and curiosity lead her to discover the mansion’s hidden basement, and loneliness makes her open a bolted door she should never have opened, releasing frightening creatures from an archaic world. There are some excellent atmospheric and frightening moments; references to Arthur Machen are tantalising, and the creatures are great, but those elements lack depth and resonance, and the ending seems like a feebly convenient resolution of the problematic family situation.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is released in the UK on October 7 by StudioCanal.

Anticipation was high for Lucky McKee’s controversial The Woman, the story of an American family who take in a feral woman found in the woods by the despotic father, Chris Cleek, while he is out hunting. He chains her up in a shed and tells his family that they have to ‘civilise’ her, giving them tasks to care for her, in the same way that they have to look after their dogs, as he says. It is not long before the dubiously worthy motivation gives way to vicious abuse and the dark secrets of the family are revealed. Although it is a compelling film in some ways, it’s not as deep as it thinks it is, and certainly doesn’t give any insight into abuse or the coercion of women into submission by men, despite its director’s avowed aims (as explained in the Q&A that followed the screening). It is a film in which all of the female characters are subjected to abuse by men, and it seems to suggest that there’s essentially nothing they can do about it. The Woman is a great character who exudes ferocious power, but she’s chained up for most of the film. Belle Cleek has been battered into subservience, and although daughter Peggy is the only one who attempts resistance, she is pretty much powerless. The final revenge is far too short and simplistic to be satisfying or meaningful and just seems like a cynical excuse to show nasty violence against women for most of the film’s running time. This is made worse by the fact that in the last quarter of the film, Cleek turns into such a cartoonish caricature that the end sequence feels completely unconvincing.

Pollyanna McIntosh gives an amazing performance as The Woman, and it’s frustrating to see such a fantastic actress and a potentially great character so wasted. Angela Bettis, who plays Belle, was the eponymous heroine in May, Lucky McKee’s excellent 2002 debut about an isolated young woman and her painfully misguided attempts at connecting with other people. May was both an original, gruesome, disturbing horror film and a brilliant, sensitive, heart-wrenching study of the central female character, and Bettis’s presence in The Woman only serves to highlight how crude McKee’s new film’s view of women (and men) is in contrast. Some critics have claimed The Woman is a feminist film, which it most definitely is not. It is a frankly dodgy film that feels exploitative. Anyone who has seen May will know that Lucky McKee is not a misogynistic director, but whatever point he was trying to make in The Woman is very badly put across.

The Woman is released in the UK on September 30 by Revolver.

Alarmingly, The Woman was one of two films in the festival that featured disturbingly casual rape scenes. The other was Switzerland’s first ever horror production, Sennentuntschi, a mish-mash of folk tale and TV drama-style small-town shenanigans. It is based on the legend of three shepherds who made a woman out of a broom; she was given life by the Devil to do the domestic chores and sleep with them, but when they abused her she took her revenge and killed them. Roxane Mesquida plays a mysterious, speechless young woman sequestered by three men in an isolated mountain farm, in an echo of the story. Despite her fine performance, it is a plodding, incoherent and quite unpleasant film. The return to the casual misogyny of the 70s and the playing down of rape were also observed by our Electric Sheep correspondent in Venice (read the article). What social attitudes or anxieties this reflects is not entirely clear, but let’s hope it does not herald a return to full-on retrograde sexual politics in cinema.

It was not all unsavoury rape-and-revenge stories though, and over the rest of the weekend the main screen hosted crowd-pleasing horror comedies Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Troll Hunter and Ti West’s The Innkeepers, as well as The Wicker Tree, Robin Hardy’s follow-up to his cult film. Also screened were the eagerly awaited British thrillers Kill List and A Lonely Place to Die, and the fine recession horror movie The Glass Man. The comedies in particular were very successful and hugely enjoyable, playfully subverting the clichés of the genre.

But it was in the Discovery Screen that the richest pickings were to be found. A Horrible Way to Die was an original take on the serial killer genre, seen mostly from the point of view of the former girlfriend of a murderer. After Garrick’s arrest, Sarah is trying to rebuild her life and address her problems, attending AA meetings, where she meets a sensitive young man. When Garrick is released, the film intercuts flashbacks of Sarah and Garrick’s lives together before she found out the truth about him with his journey down to the town Sarah now lives in, and her tentative new romance. Shot in an impressionistic, elliptical style, the film paints a nuanced picture, evoking the tenderness and love Sarah and Garrick shared, making her realisation of his betrayal all the more horrifying. A well-observed, evocative, heartbreaking story, it never feels sensational despite moments of violence, and develops slowly but compellingly, until all the pieces of the puzzle sickeningly fall into place.

Midnight Son, a vampire movie with a melancholy indie feel, was the other standout film in the Discovery Screen. Jacob is a night security guard with a skin condition that prevents him from going in the sun and who starts experiencing physical changes after he blacks out at work. He meets Mary, a girl who sells cigarettes and sweets outside a bar. They are attracted to each other, but Jacob’s deteriorating condition and Mary’s drug habit conspire to keep them apart. In addition, Jacob starts getting troubling flashbacks of a young woman who was found dead in the underground car park at work. The film uses the vampire motif to evoke the tenderness, heartache and destructiveness of two outsiders’ tormented love. Like Let the Right One In, it is sweet and creepy in just the right amounts. The moody feel, the hazy look and a low-key soundtrack all combine beautifully to conjure Jacob’s strangely detached, dreamlike life in a shadowy, oddly empty LA.

The Devil’s Business starts as a tense, tightly scripted character-driven drama with some excellent performances from Billy Clarke as a hitman (delivering a particularly spellbinding monologue early on in the film) and Jonathan Hansler as his chillingly evil victim Kist. It then shifts into supernatural territory, which seems somewhat superfluous and does not fully work with the rest of the story. As in Kill List, it is the rounded characters and dramatic tension that work best in the film, not the tacked-on occult element. Also worth a mention is My Sucky Teen Romance, the third feature directed by the incredibly driven 18-year-old Emily Hagins. Lovable and knowingly silly, this nerdy teen horror comedy has bucket loads of charm and marks Hagins as one to watch.

Virginie Sélavy

Cannibal Holocaust: Interview with Ruggero Deodato

Ruggero Deodato at Cine-Excess in May 2011 (Photo by Adrian Smith)

Cine-Excess V

26-28 May 2010

Odeon Covent Garden, London

Cine-Excess website

Mark Stafford talked to legendary Italian director Ruggero Deodato at the fifth edition of Cine-Excess in May 2011, where Deodato was a guest of honour.

Mark Stafford: When I first saw Cannibal Holocaust it depressed me, it’s such a nihilistic view of humanity. Where did it come from?

Ruggero Deodato: Cannibal Holocaust was made 30 years after the concentration camps, when I saw those photos it took me several months to recover. It’s 60 years ago now, but those are the things that should be of real concern to us, that’s where the real evil is. The thing that gets me is, say, there’s 1000 people and 100 people with guns, and the ones with guns say ‘Dig your own graves’. Even if they had no weapons, 1000 against 100, why didn’t they just attack? I’ll tell you why, it was terror. And that really got me thinking of what terror does to people. It’s the same in my film, these four individuals terrorise the Indios, and their terror keeps them from mobilising.

My film is fiction. Why do people react to CH, but don’t react to an American soldier being beheaded? Forget my film for a second, do people have no recollection of what happened in history? Public executions with people being torn apart by horses, and even the guillotine! There would be an audience, people clapping and cheering. I’m not that terrible! I’m annoyed that there is a reaction to violence in my films but no reaction to the terrifying violence happening out there every day. Why do people only wake up when they see a piece of fiction, and say ‘Oh, that’s horrible’? There are horrible things that are far more serious because they’re real. Everybody wearing rose-tinted spectacles. That makes me angry.

The worst film that I’ve seen is that French film about an execution and the worst thing in that is that they don’t tell you when. You’re there and they come to grab you and that’s it. You’re gone. That’s the film that creates the worst anxiety for me.

Cannibal Holocaust is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 26 September by Shameless Screen Entertainment. Read the review.

Cannibal Holocaust presents a pretty hateful view of documentary makers, as opposed to fiction filmmakers. Is that just the logic of the film, or did you genuinely feel angry with TV journalists at the time?

It’s the media. For example, the children of a family have been horribly killed, the journalist asks the mother, ‘What do you feel?’ I think, what do you think she feels? She’s lost her kids! What do you want from her? You want sensation, you want something to increase your audience, that’s what I’m against. To get back to your question, when I wrote it I was very angry about these filmmakers. With fiction, if I do something in one of my films, everybody says that I’m an evil criminal bastard. If the press show the same thing, they are praised to the skies. I’m guilty of that as well, I understand it because if you were to throw me out of a plane with a film camera I would carry on filming. Why do we have so many views of the planes and the buildings on 9/11? If people see someone being stabbed and they have a camera, they’re going to film it.

You pioneered the faux-documentary techniques, and the ‘found footage’ idea that ages later got used on The Blair Witch Project. How do you feel about its success?

Everyone went to see Blair Witch because of what happened on the internet, which was very clever, and there are parts of how it’s shot that are very interesting. But when people leaving the cinema were interviewed they said, ‘an Italian guy made this film 20 years ago’. So everybody wanted to interview me, from Japan and everywhere, and from this Cannibal Holocaust was reborn!

Do you regret the animal cruelty scenes, if only for the effect they’ve had on the success of the film?

The same rose-tinted guys. They don’t make the connection between the food on the table that mummy has cooked from the supermarket, and the fact the animal has actually been killed. When you go to a Third World country people kill animals. I saw pigs and rabbits being killed growing up on a country farm when I was young. My son has not seen this because times have changed, he hasn’t had the experiences I have, for him it all comes pre-packed.

I’ve always been curious about Michael Berryman, he’s turned up in a couple of your films…

He’s nice. He lives with 14 wolves. He was born at five months. I love him. He’s a quiet man, a sweet man. But he has no issue with doing terrible things on screen, because he lives in the countryside.




Thanks to Ruggero Deodato, Paul Smith for setting up the interview and Shameless Entertainment for their translation duties and bearing the brunt of
Deodato’s annoyance at being asked the same damn questions over and over.

During an interview with Xavier Mendik later during Cine-Excess, Deodato went into the stuff he wanted to talk about: his father-son relationship with Rossellini (both Taurus, both realists), his debt to Cartier-Bresson, his politics (‘I am an anarchist. I am a liberal. I am a democrat. I vote.’), the nature of Italian cinema. ‘Italian film has always been dominated by formula, neo-realism dominates, dies, comedy dominates, dies, Spaghetti Westerns, comedy westerns, police films, the same. At the moment group comedy is king. Now and then a great idea for a film comes along, we wait for them to come along so we can all follow them.’

Interview by Mark Stafford

Film4 FrightFest 2011 part 2

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Film4 FrightFest

25-29 August 2011, Empire, London

FrightFest website

Tucker & Dale vs Evil was one of the films that impressed Alex Fitch at this year’s Film4 FrightFest.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

I went into the screening of Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010) expecting the film to be a guilty pleasure, as a fan of both horror-comedy and the leading man, Joss Whedon regular Alan Tudyk. But the film surpassed my expectations and proved to be one of the most enjoyable of the festival, an uproarious comedy that takes the ‘teens in peril’ slasher genre and subverts its clichés.

Tucker and Dale (Tudyk and Tyler Labine) are an amiable pair of misfits with a close homoerotic relationship that comes across as less affected than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s reoccurring schtick. Travelling into the woods to fix up a shack previously owned by cannibalistic murderers of the Texas Chainsaw variety, Tucker and Dale amble from one misadventure to another and inadvertently present themselves to a group of teens on holiday as the slasher movie style killers the kids are already expecting to find in the woods. As the hapless duo go out of their way to be friendly, the kids variously impale, burn and shred themselves to death trying to escape the innocuous pair.

Hilarious, subversive and occasionally shocking, this is a very welcome example of a spoof slasher movie, a sub-genre that has almost always proved to be unwatchable when attempted in the past, with the gruelling Scary Movie franchise being the most interminable and depressingly successful (part 5 is due in 2012) example.

With its schlocky name, seemingly familiar plot and cast of TV actors, Tucker & Dale vs Evil might struggle to find an audience among the onslaught of bad horror movies that fill DVD rental shelves, but it is to be hoped that it will attract the cult following it deserves and mark the start of a successful career for fledgling director Eli Craig.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is released in UK cinemas on September 23 by Vertigo Films.

The Glass Man

On the second day of FrightFest, the main screen’s line-up consisted entirely of movies about people killing other people, which is to say they contained no supernatural elements, only monsters of the human kind. As such, not all of the films shown were actually horror films. Preceding The Glass Man was an underwhelming thriller/drama called The Holding (along the lines of Dead Man’s Shoes). The Glass Man itself straddles these two genres, and its only horror credentials are an extended cameo by Neve Campbell, star of the Scream franchise, and the fact that director Cristian Solimeno had the misfortune of playing the male lead in Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears (2007).

The Glass Man, however, is an excellent film. A mid-recession British take on one of David Fincher’s finest movies (I won’t say which one or you’ll get the twist immediately), the film concentrates on the travails of Martin (Andy Nyman), a businessman who has been fired from his job for an unknown reason; the film implies some kind of whistle-blowing. With a mortgage to pay and a lifestyle he and his wife have become accustomed to, he has been lying to her about still going to work for some time and amassed crippling debts when a hitman (James Cosmo) comes to his front door and gives him a choice between becoming his accomplice for the night or waking up Martin’s wife and…

A belated addition to the ‘yuppie in peril’ sub-genre that flourished briefly in the mid-1980s (Into the Night, After Hours), The Glass Man‘s relentless atmosphere of impending doom and Nyman’s constant nervousness about unarticulated peril keep the audience transfixed even though not a lot happens on screen for much of the running time. A terrific directorial debut by Cristian Solimeno, who proves himself to be an actor’s director, in a film dominated by the interaction between Nyman and Cosmo, judged exquisitely well.

The Wicker Tree

Some belated sequels, which no one particularly expected or wanted to see, are actually well worth a look. These include films that see actors returning from the original, for example Paul Newman in The Color of Money (1986), or ones that revisit the title and the source material, for example Return to Oz (1985). Others, while they retain one of the original creators, for example Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010 (1984), seem ill-conceived from the start, as few directors, if any, could top Kubrick at his best.

Unfortunately, and somewhat inevitably, The Wicker Tree (2011) is an example of the latter. The original film, The Wicker Man (1973), was in many respects an example of lightning caught in a bottle – a dependable British cast at the top of their game, an unusual story and a witty script that flirts with different genres but is hard to pin down. As the original film depended on many disparate elements fitting together in a production that was beset by problems, a sequel would have to be brilliant to match its reputation. A script of ‘The Wicker Man II’ by original writer Anthony Shaffer did the rounds for decades, but this was stymied both by his death in 2001 and Edward Woodward’s in 2009. The actor, almost unbelievably, was prepared to return to the role of Sergeant Howie, following in the footsteps of Donald Pleasance in Halloween 4 (1988) as another apparently fireproof hero. With Shaffer and Woodward gone, director Robin Hardy has come up with his own thematic sequel, which takes the audience to another Scottish pagan community who enjoy orgiastic celebrations and sacrificing Christians.

Christopher Lee returns in a brief cameo as a former patriarch of the community (possibly Lord Summerisle, depending on the vagaries of copyright law), but the cast of TV actors he’s surrounded with rarely lift the material above the standard of an episode of Midsomer Murders, which in tone, atmosphere and set dressing the film seems particular keen to recreate. As in the original, there are some great uses of music, some well-judged moments of tension and some good depictions of decadent Brits taking their desires to their logical conclusion. However, the comedy moments are often forced and occasionally embarrassing to watch while the horror is never extreme enough to be particularly shocking, with more disturbing and memorable cannibalistic orgies served up in recent years by Perfume (2006) and episodes of True Blood in 2009.

The Wicker Tree isn’t unwatchable, unlike parts of the misguided American remake of The Wicker Man (2006), but adds nothing to the original. A worthy sequel to the 1973 cult movie is perhaps one best left to our imaginations.

More FrightFest reviews online next week, including Lucky McKee’s controversial The Woman.

Alex Fitch

Film4 FrightFest 2011 part 1

Kill List

Film4 FrightFest

25-29 August 2011, Empire, London

FrightFest website

Two FrightFest hits are released in early September – full FrightFest round-up coming soon!

Kill List

Ben Wheatley’s second feature was one of the most eagerly awaited offerings at Film4 FrightFest on the August bank holiday weekend. Wheatley’s debut, Down Terrace, was a festival hit two years ago, and deservedly so. Tightly written, finely observed and darkly humorous, it mixed dysfunctional family drama with criminal elements in a refreshing take on the tired British gangster genre.

Kill List similarly combines gritty realism and crime film, but adds a sinister cult to the mix, not entirely wisely. It begins like a kitchen sink drama about the life of a work-shy hitman, Jay, who has blazing rows with his worried wife Shel and a son to provide for. Over a dinner party, his friend and partner Gal manages to convince him to go back to work. But as they go through their client’s kill list, Jay is shaken by what they discover about their targets and becomes increasingly psychotic, his violent behaviour fuelled by self-righteous moral indignation.

Kill List is released in UK cinemas on September 2 by Studio Canal.

As in Down Terrace, the character study, the observation of family dynamics and male friendship, and the excellent dialogue are utterly compelling. But the introduction of the cult element seems unnecessary and unoriginal and does not quite blend with the rest of the story. It is never explained fully, and although mystery and ambiguity are entirely desirable in a film, it is not evocative enough to fire up the imagination. Despite this and an ending that feels tacked on, Kill List is thoroughly engaging for most of its running time and Ben Wheatley is clearly a talent to watch. Virginie Sélavy

A Lonely Place To Die

A Lonely Place To Die

FrightFest closed with another gripping British thriller, directed by Julian Gilbey. A party of would-be mountaineers on a climbing holiday in the Scottish Highlands make a shocking discovery in the woods, uncovering a Serbian girl buried in a box. They deduce that she is part of a kidnapping plot and resolve to get her back to civilisation. But the kidnappers are out there somewhere, and the girl may be part of something far more dangerous… Gilbey’s film works pretty well as a peril-in-the-wilderness thrill ride, with the small cast members being picked off one by one against spectacular scenery in a variety of unpleasant ways. But it’s more ambitious than it at first seems, throws in a surprise or three, and gets more paranoid and political in the final act. I’m not sure how well this all sits together, though; the dialogue is clunky at times, with characters telling each other things they’d already know. And the kidnappers’ avowed professionalism is undermined by bouts of incompetence and suicidal stupidity. But it rattles along nicely, Sean Harris adds another great turn to his portfolio of horrible bastards, it’s not dull, and the script has its moments – ‘He’s gonna go like Christian fucking Bale in there!’ Mark Stafford

A Lonely Place To Die is released in UK cinemas on September 7 by Kaleidoscope Entertainment.

A Serbian Film Censored

A Serbian Film

Once again, the British censors have made it clear that they believe not just children but adults too should be told what they can and cannot watch. Srdjan Spasojevic’s now notorious A Serbian Film was pulled from Film4 FrightFest at the weekend after the BBFC and Westminster Council demanded 3 minutes and 48 seconds of cuts. Our self-appointed guardians have kindly protected us from images that we may find disturbing. This infantilisation of the British public is shocking.

A Serbian Film is an angry, desperate denunciation of state-imposed violence and its utter annihilation of human values and spirit. It shows the most extreme acts of cruelty imaginable precisely so that its purpose cannot be mistaken: it aims to disgust, not to arouse or thrill. For that reason, it is actually an incredibly moral film, unlike the ‘torture porn’ movies it has been misguidedly compared to (sometimes by journalists who haven’t even seen the film – see the Guardian Guide on September 28).

The reason given by the FrightFest organisers for pulling it from the festival was that ‘a film of this nature should be shown in its entirety’. I believe they are absolutely right: to cut anything from this film is to risk misrepresenting it. If the violence was not so extreme, it could much more easily be seen as entertainment. To blunt the horror and mitigate the revulsion it means to provoke would make it more ambiguous and therefore morally more dubious. Just as Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, banned in the UK on its release in 1976, the film is a fierce reaction against the unthinkable sadistic brutality that those in power are capable of inflicting on others, and the censors’ response is equally confused and injudicious.

The nauseating scenes in A Serbian Film point to the vicious war crimes that have scarred the nation, to the abject corruption of abusive authorities who force individuals to commit horrendous acts, to the dehumanising nightmare of having no other choice but to be either victim or torturer, to the utter hopelessness such a trauma leaves, and to the impossibility of surviving it. It is also a film that feels directed at Western Europe, a Europe that watched the hellish disintegration of the former Yugoslavia on prime-time TV. It is a film that indicts real horrors packaged as entertainment, not one that offers visions of torture for fun. But the BBFC do not seem to think that the British public can be trusted to understand this.

Virginie Sélavy

A Serbian Film was pulled from Film4 FrightFest were it was meant to screen on Sunday 29 August. It will be shown with an 18 certificate at L’Etrange Festival in Paris on September 10. It was scheduled to screen at the Raindance Film Festival in London next month but whether the screening will go ahead is not confirmed at this point.