Tag Archives: horror

Crazies, Creeps and Living Dead: Interview with George A. Romero

Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead

In autumn 2013, acclaimed horror film director George A. Romero visited London to conduct an on-stage interview and special screening of Night of the Living Dead as part of the BFI’s Gothic season. Alex Fitch caught up with the director to talk about his career so far, concentrating on his genre-defining zombie hexalogy, which began in 1968.

Alex Fitch: This year is the 45th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead.

George A. Romero: Don’t remind me! (laughs)

It’s astonishing how influential and continuingly popular the film is from generation to generation. I wonder if part of that is the political resonance that the film has, whether that was something you intended in the first place or not. If you look at the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s, the students’ strike and other political unrest, these are themes in society that keep coming back, even in the present day.

Yeah. Certainly the racial aspect was not intentional, it was purely accident, because of the actor. He was the best actor from among our friends who we could get on the phone, and when he agreed to do it we consciously didn’t change the script. When we wrote the script, we never described his colour, and exactly the same things would have happened to him if he was white. So there’s that aspect of it…

Right when we finished the film, we were actually driving the first answer print of the film to New York, and that night we heard on the car radio that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. So, obviously, it then resonated that much more. When we were working on the film with Duane Jones, he was sensitive to it. We were all saying: ‘Come on, it’s 1968, we don’t have to worry about that’, but he was conscious of the fact that putting a black man in a role that wasn’t written for a black man was unusual. He thought it was bold, and we never recognised any of those issues, except only in conversation with him.

After Dr King was shot, did you think at all about changing the ending, or actually whether that happenstance made the film more powerful?

We had conversations in the car that night. We never talked about changing the ending, but in fact Columbia – who were the first ones who were interested in the film when we screened it on that trip, and wanted to distribute it – insisted that we change the ending, and we boldly said: ‘No! Of course not!’ We left New York without any distribution and then it took us a while to find some. We had to hire a producer’s representative to represent the film and he only found Walter Reade after Dr King was no longer in the headlines. I guess they weren’t as sensitive to it.

Most of the atrocities that were taking place in Vietnam at the time wouldn’t come to light until 1969 and beyond, but I assume you still felt that you were tapping into the zeitgeist.

It did, it felt that way. The documentary The American Nightmare (2000), puts the relevance right in there. There are some interesting parallels. There were some things we recognised, were conscious of. When I was shooting hand-held stuff, everyone was talking to us about the film as if it were like a newsreel. I was actually completely encumbered by the fact that we were using a ‘Blimp’ 35mm camera that you couldn’t move at all. We had no Dolly, so I think it’s a very static film, but that same camera would come out of the Blimp and you could hand-hold it with a pistol grip in one hand. In the posse scenes at the end of the film, that was where I was running around like a newsman, and consciously trying to make it look like news footage – the stuff with the dogs coming out of the wagons, the posse coming across the fields and all of that. I was conscious that I wanted those scenes to look like news footage, but that’s the only part of the film that looks that way.

You finally got to realise the idea of doing a movie in the style of cinema vérité when you made Diary of the Dead in 2007 – shooting it as if it was found footage that might have been distributed on the internet. Was it that new technology finally got around to bringing you the kind of equipment that would allow you to make a film that way?

No, it wasn’t that. The idea came from doing a piece on ‘citizen journalism’, which is something I find dangerous! So, that’s really where that came from. The second thought was, ‘let’s actually shoot it that way,’ and I developed the concept that these kids are out shooting a film and that’s how the plot develops, through their use of portable equipment.

Watch the original trailer for Diary of the Dead :

But since you have been cast as a political filmmaker, whether by intent or design, it seems that some of the found footage that you also included in that film – such as bombs being dropped on people in the Middle East and so on – is commenting on how on the internet you can quickly go from channel to channel and have someone’s self-aggrandizing YouTube video be followed by horrendous atrocities from across the globe.

Yes, and we were conscious of that. We were cherry-picking from archives all over the place – Getty and all the standard images that we could afford on our budget. Unfortunately there are too many of them out there, but we were very conscious of trying to do that. I’d say that I get too much credit for being a political filmmaker, but I do care about that. I also want to have something to say, even if it’s just simplistically said.

Not with the first film: with Night we were only concerned with the disintegration of the family unit – things like that. That’s what we were rapping about. We were living in that farmhouse. It was never about race, and largely I think that was the big thing that made Night noticeable.

Based on the success of that though, you cast another charismatic black lead in Dawn of the Dead (1978).

Oh, I did. That was conscious! Dawn of the Dead I had resisted doing – people were already writing about Night as if it was ‘important’, so I thought, ‘I’ve got to have some kind of an idea before I think about trying to make a second one’. The idea came from the shopping mall. I knew socially the people who developed that mall, and it literally was the first one, the first indoor temple to consumerism that we’d ever seen, the first one in Pennsylvania.

When people talk about malls in Britain in the present day, they’re regarded as a bit of a scourge – they open these things on the outside of towns and then the town centres start to disintegrate.

Like Milton Keynes! (laughs) That is a mall, a city that became a mall!

That sort of potentially malign influence, was that something already present at that time?

Not at all. Like I said, this was the very first one. Once it was up and operating, that was the very beginning of young people hanging out there instead of on street corners. Soda shops disappeared then and everyone started to hang out at the mall. Even within the film, the characters don’t know what it is. When they’re looking down on it from the helicopter, one of them says: ‘It’s one of them new shopping malls, or something’. None of us had any idea that the mall culture was going to develop the way it did. I was responding to just the idea of this. Instead of a small farmhouse, it was all about having people holed up in a supermall – at that time it was a supermall, nowadays some of them are way more elaborate than that one – where you can buy anything you ever wanted.

It’s interesting that people mainly credit Night and Dawn in creating the modern zombie movie, but I think The Crazies (1973) also, in its own way, is responsible for some of the more recent films that use the idea of a pathogen spreading, of the enemy being a fast, mutated people. Do you think that film is appreciated for its legacy as much as your Dead movies?

Not that much. It’s amazing that my films have such a shelf life! When I go to these conventions – horror conventions and so forth – there are fans of all of the films, and that’s really great. I love talking about them with people, people who are discovering films that no one went to see in the first place. I don’t know about The Crazies… It has its fans – people who really like it a lot – but I don’t know about its legacy. Certainly the remake, that was a zombie movie, but I never thought of it that way. Thematically, I was sort of doing the same thing with The Crazies as Night – people responding to a situation, except there I made them mad!

Watch the original trailer for The Crazies :

It’s not easy from our modern standpoint to think of the cultural resonances that might have influenced The Crazies at the time. Were there concerns in the media about bioweapons, chemicals and the spread of diseases?

No more than at any other time. I would say that it was heightened, there was Vietnam and all that going on, so it was about Agent Orange, napalm, that kind of stuff. There wasn’t any particular concern at that point, as there is today, about dirty bombs, sarin and whatever else.

But, in terms of the military and scientists being responsible, or at least exacerbating a bad situation, Day of the Dead (1985) seemed to pick up on some of the themes of The Crazies and develop them still further: this is all that’s left and we’re stuck with the people who were responsible for it in the first place.

Yeah. Well, that’s exactly what the idea for that film was. Originally I had written it bigger in terms of the script, but the finance company wouldn’t do it unrated. They said, ‘we’ll pay to shoot this, but it’s going to cost a little bit too much to risk releasing it without a rating’, so they asked if we could do it for $3 million. They’d go for $3 million without a rating and there were negotiations based on the ratings, so I said, ‘sure’. I chose then to go for the unrated version and cut the script back. It’s essentially exactly what it was and that’s the theme of it: that the military that caused the infestation are preventing the people who were trying to cure it from solving the problem.

I think the claustrophobia really works in the film’s favour. If the apocalypse happens, it is just going to be handful of people in a hole in the ground…

…somewhere! Unfortunately, it’ll probably just be the President and his cabinet!

In the 80s, you got into adaptation as well, particularly stories by Stephen King, films like Creepshow (1982), Creepshow 2 (1987), and The Dark Half (1993). What was it about his books that attracted you?

I think it was being comfortable with Stephen himself, and we became friends. We were introduced by Warner Bros., years before, because they had seen Martin (1976), and in typical studio fashion they reasoned that Martin was about a vampire in a small town, Steve had just written Salem’s Lot, which was vampires in a small town, so they thought we should meet! They sent me up to Maine and we hung out. My doing an adaptation of that book never happened, but on that visit Steve gave me a copy of The Stand and said: ‘Let’s make this!’ and I said, ‘sure…

…but how many movies is this going to be?’

Quite. So, I never did make The Stand, but at that time, Steve didn’t want to do it for television because they’d water it down too much, and he never made a film deal to produce it. In the end he did do a television version, with my ex-producing partner – Richard P. Rubinstein – who we’d worked with on the Creepshow films. So, it was just really being comfortable with Steve and having access to him. When he wrote Pet Sematary, right away he called Richard and me, and said: ‘What do you think about this?’ That’s how that relationship went.

Watch the original trailer for Creepshow :

The Creepshow movies are the first obvious example of your interest in comics in your career. Had you been interested in EC Comics’ horror comics in the preceding years?

Under the covers, with a flashlight! They were the forbidden fruit! Of course that’s before the 1950s Comics Code Authority came in. The censorship code busted EC Comics and turned Mad into a magazine instead of a comic book. At least that lived on, but Tales from the Crypt and other comics like that were thought to be amoral! Stephen, in fact, wrote a tagline for Creepshow: ‘A Laurel Comic is a Moral Comic’!

In them, I always thought the bad guys got their comeuppance, good basically triumphed over evil, even though the Crypt Keeper always was there to chuckle, and there’s that dark humour… It’s funny, the humour was an important part of those comics. Even though it’s so hard to convince people today that humour is the flipside of the same coin as horror – they don’t like to mix it.

You’ve had elements of that mix of horror and slapstick comedy in your more recent zombie films. A particularly memorable scene in Diary shows an Amish character stabbing himself in the head with a scythe! It seems that when you can put in a gag, there’s no reason not to…

There is no reason not to, and I can’t resist doing it! Also, there’s that fire extinguisher gag in Survival of the Dead (2009), with the eyes popping out; that’s completely like a comic book. I love comics, and actually as a defence against all of these zombie things that are out there now, I’m writing a 15-issue Dead story for Marvel Comics right now. Hopefully when the zombie furore dies, if it ever does, I can come back and turn the comic into another film.

I certainly can’t do what I used to do. I used to be able to hide in the corner somewhere and bring the zombies out once in a while, when I had something I want to talk about. But for now, it doesn’t work. In order to sell a zombie film these days, you have to promise that you’ll spend $250 million at least!

…and with a comic book you can show what a $250 million zombie film looks like…

That’s right!

Interview by Alex Fitch

Hell Is a Teenage Girl

Carrie (1976)

Though the words ‘hell is a teenage girl’ may have been the first line of dialogue in the 2009 Diablo Cody-penned horror movie Jennifer’s Body (directed by Karyn Kusama), it was over 30 years before in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) that Hollywood’s penchant for depicting damaged, dangerous and deadly female teens began to make its mark on the genre. Previously fodder for all manner of monstrous villains, the teenage girl began to transform on screen into a character to be feared with the arrival of Carrie White, whose tormented existence was so memorably portrayed by Sissy Spacek. The ugly duckling outsider possessed of supernatural powers, who wreaked a terrible revenge on the peers who made her life a living hell, opened the doors for future representations of teen killers of the female persuasion. Of course, Carrie White also engendered feelings of pity, sympathy and lust, muddying the waters in regard to audience identification. She was monstrous, but she was also lonely, put upon and wholly insecure. The female teen killer in horror movies flits between naivety, cruelty, seductiveness, deceptiveness, awkwardness, hormonal angst and outright murderous aggression. Are they projections of a patriarchal fear of females becoming more powerful in society? A humorous riposte to the countless depictions of females being helpless damsels in distress and/or objectified, sexual playthings? Do they break down the gender barriers, allowing for identification across the male/female boundaries? They’re a mixture of all of those things, and they make for complex, fascinating ‘monsters’.

On screen, the menstrual cycle, peer pressure and social status, bullying, sexual awakening, pushy parents and good old teen angst have driven a motley collection of adolescent girls to explode with vengeful fury. Off screen, second-wave feminism, tired genre conventions, changing cinema-going demographics and a growing fascination with the ‘cult of youth’ have all played their part in teen females morphing from always being the victim to just as easily being the victimizer perpetrating the horrors depicted. Sure, it hasn’t been a wholesale change by any means; teen girls still get slaughtered by the dozen in horror movies, but now there are a sizeable number of witches, psycho-bitches and the supernaturally gifted ready to seek revenge, cause chaos and generally flick the bird to the notion of adolescent females being any kind of weaker sex. Whether they are seen in TV movies, low-budget oddities, cult hits, slashers, body horror comedies, sequels or remakes, these contemporary daughters of darkness critique, reflect and exaggerate the fears, fantasies and troubles experienced by female adolescents in the modern world.

Watch the trailer for Carrie (1976):

Within two years of Carrie hitting the screens, producers eager to cash in on the unexpected success of De Palma’s breakout hit had given us the TV movies The Spell (Lee Philips, 1977) and The Initiation of Sarah (Robert Day, 1978; remade by Stuart Gillard in 2006), as well as the low-budget, big screen offering Jennifer (Brice Mack, 1978), with all three revolving around supernaturally gifted outsiders. A bullied, overweight teen, a belittled fresher and a poor girl among rich peers respectively may all be cardboard cut-out Carrie-lite figures bent on righting the wrongs inflicted on them, but they reflected the wider changing representations of females of all ages on the silver screen. The other unifying factor between them was that audiences related to them, not to their violent actions you’d hope, but certainly to the alienation, peer pressures and insecurities they displayed and experienced. Damningly, aside from Carrie, The Spell and Jennifer are two of the only films where the central figure genuinely looks like an ‘outsider’ or someone who doesn’t conform to the idealised ‘look’ that a patriarchal media is so keen to push on us, as most directors still cast pretty young starlets in the leading roles.

The 1980s were a fallow period for the female teen killer, in a decade dominated by alpha male action heroes and dream stalking killers, but in Sleepaway Camp (Robert Hiltzik, 1983), social misfit Angela (Felissa Rose) blew a complex hole in the gender balance of male/female killers and slasher genre conventions by being… well, if you’ve seen it you know, and if you haven’t I won’t spoil it. Two decades later, in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Jonathan Levine, 2006), the slasher genre’s conventions were again toyed with, as Amber Heard‘s popular, titular figure proved to be less wholesome than she first appeared.

Watch the trailer for Sleepaway Camp:

Fast forward to the early 1990s, a few years after Winona Ryder’s Veronica Sawyer helped cause chaos in Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1988) and Drew Barrymore, then a 17- year-old hellraiser in real life, turned up in the lead role of Poison Ivy (Katt Shea, 1992). [SPOILER] Though not a horror movie, Poison Ivy deserves a mention, as Barrymore’s Machiavellian teen, a poor white trash ‘bad’ girl, inveigles her way into the affections of a wealthy family before offing the mother, attempting to kill the daughter and seducing the father. [END OF SPOILER] Ivy was a ‘monster’ in very human form; seductive yet deadly and a cold-blooded killer bent on getting what she wants, when she wants it. Ivy fits the mould without possessing the telekinetic powers or gifts/afflictions seen in other killer teen girls, her actions are grounded in reality, and that makes for a very dangerous ‘monster’ indeed.

Two more non-horror movies, Swimfan (John Polson, 2002) and Suburban Mayhem (Paul Goldman, 2006) continued in Poison Ivy‘s vein. Swimfan gave us Erika Christensen as Madison going into full blown Fatal Attraction mode after a one night stand with the object of her affection/obsession, while Suburban Mayhem, loosely based on a real Australian criminal case, saw Emily Barclay’s manipulative single mum Katrina plot to have her father killed. Ivy, Madison and Katrina stand out from many of the other unhinged characters seen across the spectrum of genres specifically because of their age and gender. What demons push ones so young, and ostensibly of the ‘fairer’ sex, to the edge and beyond? Though the real life rise in violent crime committed by adolescents (especially against other adolescents) is largely male driven, their onscreen female counterparts still reflect the unease at this grim statistic.

Perhaps the queen of the psycho-teen females, Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy), crashed onto our screens in 2009’s Ozploitation horror The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne). A demented, vicious and tongue-in-cheek spin on teen horrors and high school movies, The Loved Ones placed Xavier Samuel’s Brent in the, very dangerous, hands of Lola and her equally twisted father. Ivy, Madison and Katrina are mere amateurs in comparison to Lola Stone, whose monstrous behaviour stems from her father’s besotted, incestuous, attitude towards his ‘Princess’. An equally disturbing vision of female adolescence gone awry came in 2012 with Richard Bates Jr’s Excision. Replacing The Loved Ones‘ dark comedy with an hallucinogenic, nightmarish tone, Excision also flips its parent/child power play, as the desperately troubled Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) sinks to horrific, surgical-based lows, to win the approval of her cold, domineering mother.

Watch the trailer for The Loved Ones :

Though the psycho-teen females are a striking bunch, those with supernatural abilities or body horror issues are more sizeable in number, in some cases proving to be catnip for both genre fans and academics. As the horror genre evolved, the representation of witches and witchcraft eventually moved away from traditional period pieces and into the modern world, and Andrew Fleming’s The Craft (1996) presented us with a coven of high school girls embracing their new found supernatural powers. The high school or college is, understandably, a central element to many of the films featuring adolescent females going gonzo, as it is often their whole world; a status-conscious battleground, fashion catwalk, tangible psychological minefield and potential mating ground.

Seductive and deadly, the girls in The Craft were no white witches, but ones putting their powers to use for their own selfish, sometimes murderous, gain. A spate of similar movies followed in its wake, including Little Witches (Jane Simpson, 1996), Kill Me Tomorrow (Patrick McGuinn, 2000), Birth Rite (Devin Hamilton, 2003) and Tamara (Jeremy Haft, 2005). Tamara upped the ante somewhat by having its central figure, a vengeful witch, carry out her monstrous acts from beyond the grave; in Haft’s movie even a dead teen girl is something to be feared. Veering in quality from OK to awful, these low-budget offerings all riffed off teen girls being ‘evil’, manipulative and selfish. Ostensibly disposable entertainments they may be, but the view of female adolescents as inherently dangerous is both troubling and intriguing.

Lucio Fulci returned us to the realm of telekinesis and psychic powers in 1987 with Aenigma, which nods its trashy, Euro-horror head to both Carrie and Patrick (Richard Franklin, 1978). Comatose teen Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic), victim of a prank at the girls school she attends, uses her telekinetic and psychic abilities to control the mind of fellow pupil Eva (Lara Lamberti), compelling her to carry out Kathy’s vengeful bidding. Kathy may have virtually disappeared from our collective movie-going consciousness but Carrie White is still very much alive. To underline the lasting resonance – culturally and financially – of Carrie (both King’s novel and De Palma’s adaptation of it), Katt Shea directed the less than stellar The Rage: Carrie 2 in 1999. Three years later a TV adaptation of King’s novel, starring genre regular Angela Bettis in the lead role, appeared, and last year Kimberly Peirce updated the story for the smartphone generation in a wholly unnecessary quasi-remake-cum-adaptation with Chlo&#235 Grace Moretz, somewhat miscast, as the outsider telekinetic teen.

One of the few horror movies, other than Carrie, to overtly place the menstrual cycle as a key narrative element was 2000’s Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett). The psychological and bodily effects of the transition from childhood to maturity are symbolically aligned with lycanthropy in Fawcett’s movie, as Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins’s sisters discover that ‘the curse’ is worse than they could possibly have imagined. More bodily horrors were experienced in Mitchell Lichtenstein’s Teeth (2007) and the movie which kicked off this piece, Jennifer’s Body. A teen with vagina dentata in Lichtenstein’s comedy-horror and a possessed cheerleader in the Cody-Kusama movie cut a bloody swathe through their respective male gene-pools as sexual dominance and appetites, high school cliques, gender stereotypes and adolescent anxieties played out in both films in bloody, graphic fashion.

Watch the trailer for Teeth:

In a world where ever younger females are bombarded by ‘ideal’ body images by an unscrupulous media, social media sits in ever more savage judgement and society’s corrosive fascination with youth continues, these slices of pop culture remain pertinent and provocative. If hell is a teenage girl, then society as a whole has made her that way, and the movies in which teen girls go loco do a good job of reminding us of that.

Neil Mitchell

Big Bad Wolves: Interview with Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado

Big Bad Wolves
Big Bad Wolves

Format: Cinema

Release date: 6 December 2013

DVD release date: 28 April 2014

Distributor: Metrodome

Directors: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado

Writers: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado

Cast: Guy Adler, Lior Ashkenazy, Dvir Benedek

Original title: Mi mefahed mezeev hara

Israel 2013

110 mins

An intelligent, thoughtful film that lingers long in the mind, Big Bad Wolves is writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s follow-up to the excellent Rabies, which had the distinction of being the very first Israeli horror film. With their second feature, Keshales and Papushado continue their subtle exploration of their country’s mood through the story of a suspected paedophile and murderer, and the men who hunt him. Avoiding any heavy-handed allegories, the film examines a macho culture in which men think they can solve everything through violence; the complex intricacies of guilt and responsibility; and the troublingly easy role reversals between victim and persecutor. Opening with a beautiful, haunting credit sequence set to a gorgeous score, the film mixes fairy tale and political subtext, black humour and disturbing subject matter with skill and assurance.

Virginie Sélavy talked to Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado at Film4 FrightFest in August 2013, and discussed victims and victimisers, corrupt politicians, and taking revenge on your parents.

Virginie Sélavy: Big Bad Wolves seems much more ambitious than Rabies. Is it because you developed your filmmaking skills, or had more money or better production?

Navot Papushado: All of the above! Rabies was a shoe-string-budget, guerrilla kind of film. It was shot over 17 days using only available light in a forest, in one location, and a bunch of the crew were Aharon’s students. Aharon was a film a critic and a university lecturer. Still, we are very pleased with the result. For Big Bad Wolves we worked with the top people in the industry – we got the best cinematographer and the best production designer. We were much more prepared, and we had more shooting days. The budget was bigger, although still not big in terms of Israeli film. Rabies was in the middle of what we could achieve and what we wanted to achieve. Big Bad Wolves is the kind of film that we are aiming to do.

Rabies was described everywhere as the first Israeli horror film. Did that feel exciting or was it a lot of pressure?

Aharon Keshales: Both! The good thing is that you have the opportunity to become a pioneer, you’re building the path for future generations. The bad thing is that if you do a crappy job that’s the end for you and for the entire genre. If you don’t collect prizes and you don’t do well at the box office, that’s it, because Israel is a small industry and it doesn’t like to take big chances on new stuff. So it was a lot of pressure. But when we did Rabies we were these young people who didn’t think about this kind of stuff. We just wanted to make the first Israeli horror film and to have fun. When you ask us now, we’re a bit older so we know what that meant.

Horror films have always worked very well as allegories for social or political issues, which potentially makes it a rich genre for Israeli films. This is something you do in Big Bad Wolves, but very lightly and suggestively. It feels more like you tried to evoke the mindset and atmosphere of the country, rather than specific issues. Is that fair to say?

NP: Yes. We both feel that most Israeli cinema is very heavy-handed and deals with political subject matter in a way that feels like they’re trying to educate you about the wars of Israel, the conflict with the Palestinians, or the memory of the Holocaust, and it’s always so serious. And sometimes you think, I didn’t come here to be educated. We have no fun at the movies, we cry all the time – and we cry in reality too. And we thought, wouldn’t it be nice to give Israel the gift of entertaining cinema? So people would go to the cinema and forget real life and tragedy, even though we are talking about it. We tried to do this a little with Rabies because it’s a movie where Israelis kill other Israelis and the real killer goes to sleep, so you see the allegory in that film. But with Big Bad Wolves, we tried to look at the macho, male-dominated Israeli society, but not upfront. First of all, it’s a revenge comedy thriller, and once the tone of the movie has been set, you start to think about what you’re seeing. What you’re seeing is three guys who were in the army and all their instincts from that time just come to life when the girl’s life is in peril. So it’s not in your face, but it’s there. And I think you’re willing to get this kind of subtext more easily because it’s not in your face.

Watch the trailer for Rabies:

There is also the idea that despite their violence and belligerence those men are unable to protect their loved ones.

NP: I think that growing up as Jews in Israel we carry this weight, first of all for being Jewish – and we don’t need to go back far into the past, we can just go back to the Second World War and the Holocaust. The instinct for survival is very strong in our people and we brought this with us to Israel. We are a small country surrounded by Arab countries, some of which we were at war with, some of which we’re at peace with, and we have the Palestinians within us. So you grow up in an environment where there is war in the air, you absorb it, you develop this survival instinct which is so strong, and sometimes can lead you to do horrific stuff in the name of survival, in the name of our children. Sometimes these moral questions need to be raised. In the name of our kids, in the name of surviving, are we allowed to do certain things? We’ve never been in a war or a combat situation, but as teenagers in the 80s-90s we were walking the streets of Tel Aviv and buses were exploding. It’s a very strange environment to live in – life goes on, it’s a very complex situation. And a lot of the film is about us growing up in Israel, but it’s filtered through an entertaining film.

AK: There’s a strong debate about torture these days, and the film by Kathryn Bigelow put it out there. I think that when you’re talking about torture you have to ask yourself, is this violence justified? Even if it’s justified by the fact that they will tell you where Bin Laden is, did you just create another enemy inside the guy that you’ve just tortured, maybe for his entire life and that of his family? It’s like a big circle of blood. That’s how we see things. It started with Rabies and it’s evolved to be this idea of a circle of death, a big dance that you can never stop.

You also seem to lay some of the responsibility for what happens to the girl at her father’s feet – and he’s not the only character in that position. Do you think that ideas of guilt and responsibility are more complicated than just pointing the finger at one man?

NP: When we wrote the script the idea was that we were writing a revenge thriller that was upside down. You have the avengers and the suspected victimiser, but the suspected victimiser is also a victim, and we wanted to have that kind of flip in the film. You see a lot of revenge films that end with the triumph of the vindictive hero. But those films support this kind of behaviour – people who take the law into their own hands, who do horrific stuff. We didn’t want to make that kind of nihilistic movie. We wanted to do a Dirty Harry movie where Dirty Harry gets punished for his deeds – personally, not because someone he knows dies. Stick it to him. That’s what we tried to do with Big Bad Wolves.

AK: We had a few arguments with our producers about the moral questions we tried to raise at the end. They wanted a lighter ending, a slightly funny, uplifting final scene, even though everything that happens is terribly wrong. But we wanted to have a heavy, serious ending, because you can never foresee the consequences of violence, you never know when or why it ends. That was very important to us. With this subject matter it was important for us to infuse some more moral layers into the film.

Watch the trailer for Big Bad Wolves:

Both Big Bad Wolves and Rabies show the Israeli police in a very negative light, they are consistently brutal and abusive of their power. Are they really that bad?

AK: I think it has to do with authority, because when you want to do a movie that questions the patriarchal society – and Israel is still patriarchal – you have to deal with authority figures, so the best thing to do is to make fun of the military or the police. We decided to do this one with the police, but that doesn’t mean that in the next film we won’t make jokes about the army.

NP: There have been a few rumbles with the police in Israel lately. The police have not had a very good reputation in the last two years. At the time when Rabies came out there were huge protests on the streets of Israel, and the police reacted very violently.

AK: And it was a very peaceful protest, they were students, they weren’t doing anything, but the police turned violent in order to smash their spirits. But I don’t think it has to do directly with the police, I think the authorities in Israel are corrupt these days. You have prime ministers under suspicion, a president who is a rapist and is doing time in jail now. So when we wrote the script for Rabies we had this scene with the cop who’s molesting the girl, and the producer came over and said, ‘This kind of thing doesn’t happen in Israel,’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about? We have a president who’s just been tried for molesting women inside his chambers’. So I think we have a problem with authority figures, a lot of people are under investigation in the government.

NK: I think we can call ourselves a bit patriotic because we love Israel, but we don’t love the way that things are run over there. It’s a complex thing to say, because a lot of movies that come out of Israel only criticise the country in the way they treat Palestinians, and we’re saying that first of all we have to question ourselves. And the movie is also about that, because you have a corrupt policeman, a man who is a politician or a lawyer, very high up, and a teacher who is suspected of being a paedophile. So they’re all the authorities that we grow up with in life, and something really needs to change. But they should do more popcorn films in Israel, that’s the first thing we’d like to change.

There is also a strong fairy tale element in the story. Do you see the film as a dark fairy tale?

AK: Yes. We decided to take revenge on our parents, because they told us horrific stories before we went to sleep, and they were all about wolves, which are really paedophiles. That’s what we were told as children – stay away from the wolf, they will lure you in with candy. And we wanted to take revenge on our parents with a nice story before they go to sleep, and now my mother can’t sleep. That was the idea, to make a grown-up fairy tale, and that’s what’s happened, because every spectator who’s a father or a mother takes it much harder than young kids, who just like it because they see it as a violent genre movie.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

Film4 FrightFest 2013 – Part 2


Film4 FrightFest

22-26 August 2013

London, UK

FrightFest website

We follow up Part 1 of our Film4 FrightFest 2013 coverage with more reviews of some of the most notable films in this year’s line-up. Below, Evrim Ersoy looks back at his highlights from the programme.

Cheap Thrills (E. L. Katz, 2013)
One of the best films to grace the screen at Film4’s FrightFest, E.L. Katz’s debut feature is a heady concoction of morality tale and unrestrained thrill ride. Pat Healy plays Craig, a sometime-writer who’s down on his luck, working blue-collar jobs to make ends meet for his wife and kid. On the day he’s going to ask for a raise, Craig finds himself fired. Too depressed to head home, he stops off at a local bar only to run into Vince – a high school buddy who works as a collector for a loan shark. Before you know it, the two are having a drink, and it’s not long before they’re joined by a couple, Colin and Violet, who are out to celebrating her birthday.

How the story proceeds is half the fun in this unexpected, impossible-to-guess tale, which marries strong characters with plausible plot developments and creates its own odd, offbeat rhythm. As the stakes get raised further and further, the whole debacle becomes more and more difficult to watch – however, it is to the credit of the excellent script and brilliant direction that it’s almost impossible to tear your gaze away from the screen. Boasting perhaps the most brilliant final shot of any film this year, Cheap Thrills is an incredible opening gambit from a clearly talented and promising creative team. Do not miss it.

Watch the trailer for Cheap Thrills:

Dark Tourist (Suri Krishnamma, 2013)
Michael Cudlitz stars as Jim, the titular ‘dark tourist’ who spends his holidays visiting a serial killer’s locations, including the murder sites. However, Jim is much more than who he first seems, and as he gets closer to two women – one a waitress at the diner and the other a prostitute who occupies the room next door at his hotel – his dark nature is slowly and shockingly revealed. Suri Krishnamma’s exploration of one man’s tortured soul can be, by and large, considered a failure: although Michael Cudlitz gives a decent performance, the material itself is so weak and fractured that nothing can really save this mess of a movie.

Mistaking general stereotyping for character study, Dark Tourist goes through the clichés of every descent-into-hell study and comes up with even more hollow statements to make. Fitting every impulse neatly into black and white categories, the film is nothing more than a glorified TV movie, with perhaps some of the worst insights into human nature seen on film. All in all, there’s nothing new in the world of Hollywood’s understanding of the whys and hows of the creation of monsters – the answers are still simplistic and banal, even with the wealth of information and resources available.

Watch the trailer for Dark Tourist:

Odd Thomas (Stephen Sommers, 2013)
In the tradition of Hollywood thrillers of the 80s like The Burbs, Odd Thomas is a delightful, offbeat yet mainstream film that will be sure to please those looking for some old-school thrills. Anton Yelchin plays Odd Thomas, a short-order cook with the ability to see dead people, who uses his powers to bring killers and murderers to justice. Addison Timlin plays Stormy Llewellyn, while Willem Defoe is Chief Wyatt Porter, who knows about Odd’s powers, and helps to keep them hidden.

Stephen Sommers keeps the whole film lighter than a ball of marshmallow, while the set-pieces and special effects are impressive enough for a film clearly not made on a big budget. The central mystery is simple – for once it’s nice to see a thriller where there aren’t complicated layers after complicated layers – it’s a true Hollywood case of good guys vs. bad guys, and Odd Thomas is not a lesser film for it. Clearly trying to attract as wide an audience as possible, this is a breezy, fun-ride reminder of how good Hollywood mainstream can be when it chooses to. Delightful.

Watch the trailer for Odd Thomas:

The Last Days (David Pastor, &#192lex Pastor, 2013)
Taking the typical apocalypse scenario, but putting it through one of this year’s more unique reincarnations, The Last Days is a glossy, character-driven drama with some real heart.

The time is now. Humanity develops a severe form of agoraphobia overnight, with those daring to venture outside immediately dying. Everyone is stuck exactly where they were when the illness struck, with people trying vainly to access the subway tunnels to be able to travel. Marc is an office worker who is desperate to get back to his girlfriend, who he is sure is still alive. He finds himself teaming up with new colleague Enrique, a corporate downsizing expert. The two men form an uneasy alliance, which will see them confronting the very best and worst of human nature through a fallen Barcelona.

With a threat that is almost completely internal, The Last Days eschews the usual horror of the infected or zombies for something a bit more cerebral. While the descent into unruly behaviour apes those seen in other apocalyptic films, directors David and &#192lex Pastor keep the story moving quickly enough for the audience not to become irritated by these similarities. Terrific central performances from Quim Guterrez and Jose Coronado keep the audience rooting for these two everymen, who also seem to represent figures from Spain’s recent economic downturn. Only a divisive third act threatens to derail what has been an engaging series of set-pieces; however, the film is assured enough to let the audience determine the meaning of the final 20 minutes. All in all, it’s an admirable and terrific effort, definitely worth seeking out.

Watch the trailer for The Last Days:

V/H/S/2 (2013)
If the first film was a tentative but flawed attempt to breathe some life into the well-worn anthology format by combining nostalgic longing and creepy storytelling, this second instalment represents a coming-of-age of the most over-the-top kind: like the unruly brother who bursts in the door at the most importunate moment, V/H/S/2 is loud, brash and brilliant.

V/H/S/2 will be released in UK cinemas by Jade Films on 14 October.

Veering from the sublime to the outrageous, V/H/S/2 is a terrific combination of talent and ambition. Most of the stories are not only technically impressive, but also combine terrifying scares with laugh-out loud moments. Without spoiling any of the storylines, suffice it say that the four segments vary from alien abductions to strange cults, with eye transplants and zombies in between. Standout segments from Gareth Evans and Jason Eisener impress and astonish in equal measure, however, the talents of other directors (especially Adam Wingard’s tender Carpenter tribute) must not be ignored. V/H/S/2 is an engaging, brilliant sequel, which deserves a huge audience to enjoy it loud and big at the cinema – an almost perfect Saturday evening film.

Watch the trailer for V/H/S/2:

Snap (Youssef Delara, Victor Teran, 2013)
Although it seems far too lazy to define a film in terms of its music, there’s no other way of explaining Snap, a psychological thriller deeply settled within a dubstep rhythm.

At first glance, the story is familiar: Jim Whitman is a shy musician who spends most of his time alone at home. When he finds himself drawn to Wendy, a social worker, and Kevin (played by the brilliant Scott Bakula), it seems that he might be able to step outside his comfort zone for the first time. However, Jim’s inner demons are not willing to let go without a fight, and the scene is set for a distraught showdown.

None of the elements are new, but it’s what the film does with them that surprises. Snap treats the audience as equals, and rather than relying on unnecessary twists to make the narrative seem interesting, it focuses instead on the characters, slowly painting portraits of lonely, isolated and damaged people thrown around by the waves of life. Jake Hoffman excels as Jim Whitman, at once charming and yet sinister, while his battle with his own psyche might be one of the better portrayals on the screen for a long while. The sound design also deserves a mention, with the loud and disruptive soundtrack affecting the very nature of the film, with the abrupt jumps and the sudden cuts adding to the overall atmosphere. This is a very assured effort from two young directors and is well worth a watch.

Watch the trailer for Snap:

Evrim Ersoy

Film4 FrightFest 2013 – Part 1

We Are What We Are
We Are What We Are

Film4 FrightFest

22-26 August 2013

London, UK

FrightFest website

It was a welcome surprise to see so much diversity in the programme of this year’s Film4 FrightFest, which ranged from fun thrill ride You’re Next to sweet teen fantasy Odd Thomas, deeply affecting, horrific Spanish Civil War tale Painless to bleak serial killer study Dark Tourist, not to mention the great retrospective screenings, including the extraordinary, gut-wrenching tale of outback isolation and savagery Wake in Fright. Not everything was an unmitigated success, but there were enough ideas and oblique takes on horror tropes to keep things fresh and interesting throughout.

Dark Touch (Marina de Van, 2013)
Expectations were high for In My Skin director Marina de Van’s first English-language film. Set in Ireland, Dark Touch centres on Niamh, a troubled young girl who is terrified of the isolated countryside house where she lives with her parents and her baby brother, believing it’s alive and murderous. But even after she leaves the house following a terrible tragedy, she continues to be surrounded by violent manifestations. With clear echoes of Carrie, Dark Touch has moments of greatness, including a chilling inverted family dinner and a startlingly poetic scene of jaw-dropping horror, but its intense, resonant tale is marred by clunky dialogue and an occasionally clumsy script.

Dark Touch will be released on DVD in the UK on 13 October 2014 by Metrodome.

Watch the trailer for Dark Touch:

Big Bad Wolves (Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado, 2013)
Undoubtedly the richest and most accomplished film in the programme, Big Bad Wolves is the second feature by writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, and their follow-up to the excellent Rabies, the very first Israeli horror film, made in 2010. Keshales and Papushado continue their subtle exploration of their country’s mindset through the story of a suspected paedophile and murderer and the men who hunt him. Avoiding any heavy-handed allegories, the film examines a macho culture in which men think they can solve everything through violence; the complex intricacies of guilt and responsibility; and the troublingly easy role reversals between victim and persecutor. Opening with a beautiful, haunting credit sequence set to a gorgeous score, it mixes fairy tale and political subtext, black humour and disturbing subject matter with skill and assurance. An intelligent, thoughtful film that lingers long in the mind.

Big Bad Wolves will be released in UK cinemas on 6 December 2013 by Metrodome.

Watch the trailer for Big Bad Wolves:

Cannon Fodder (Eitan Gafny, 2013)
The third Israeli horror film in existence, although well-meaning, was only worth seeing as a foil to Big Bad Wolves, and as a crude representation of the exact same culture so shrewdly scrutinised in Keshales and Papushado’s film. The idea of a horror movie about an Israeli mission against Hezbollah sounded so promising. Alas, the script was dreary, the dialogue dire, the execution poor, and dumb, gun-toting heroism unquestioningly celebrated.

The Desert (Christopher Behl, 2013)
One of the great discoveries of the festival, this Argentine film was a brilliant demonstration that fresh takes on the zombie movie are possible – although maybe that’s because it is, arguably, not really one of them. After an unexplained catastrophe, Axel, Jonathan and Ana live locked up in an impenetrable house that they have armed and fortified. Completely isolated from the hostile world outside, they entirely rely on one another for physical and emotional survival. But the love that has developed between Jonathan and Ana leads to frustrations and tensions, and when Axel and Jonathan bring back a zombie to the house, their intensely close bond and the possibility of continuing their existence in this no man’s land are dangerously threatened. A wonderful, melancholy study of the poignant human need for sustained love, friendship and intimacy, and their impossibility.

Watch the trailer for The Desert:

The Borderlands (Elliot Goldner, 2013)
Rural Britain was a place of dread and mystery in two UK thrillers, The Borderlands and In Fear. Following two priests and a technology expert (the inimitable Ben Wheatley-favourite Robin Hill, star of Down Terrace), who are sent by the Vatican to an isolated country church to investigate reports of ‘miraculous’ activity, The Borderlands begins in starkly realistic mode before weaving an increasingly disquieting, creepy atmosphere around its characters. The unhinged local priest, the sinister villagers, a sickening incident outside the investigators’ house, an eerie walk through the fields at night, the supernatural manifestations, and the descent into the ancient church’s subterranean vaults, all unnervingly racked up the tension, sustained in no small part by a terrific sound design, before culminating in a startling, inventive, horrific ending.

In Fear will be released in UK cinemas on 15 November 2013 by Studiocanal.

In Fear (Jeremy Lovering, 2013)
Although it also effectively drew on moody British landscapes, In Fear was not as successful overall as its compatriot. On their way to a music festival, young couple Lucy and Tom plan to spend a romantic night at a countryside hotel. But misleading signs pointing in contradictory directions lead them in circles, and as night falls they seem unable to find their way back to the main road. Lost in an infernal maze in pitch-black darkness, they begin to believe that there is someone out there threatening them. Unbalanced by frustration, fear and paranoia, Tom and Lucy are pushed to their limits by the taunts of their invisible tormentor, and what they believe is their fight for survival. The two leads’ intense, raw performances, as well as Roly Porter and Daniel Pemberton‘s excellent soundtrack, contribute much to the atmosphere of terror. The cruel games theme, the chilly manipulation of the characters’ emotions that leads them to extreme behaviour, and the surreal set-up are all great, but the film feels too slight to sustain these, and requires a fair amount of the audience’s good will in order to work. Ultimately, the film is let down by an unsatisfactory ending that feels like a cop-out.

Watch the trailer for In Fear:

Haunter (Vincenzo Natali, 2013)
Young girls forced to face difficult situations appeared in three of this year’s films, starting with ghost story Haunter, the latest offering from Cube and Splice director Vincenzo Natali. Teenager Lisa is stuck in a temporal loop, forced to relive the same day over and over again with her family, her boredom compounded by the fact that her parents and little brother are blissfully unaware of their situation. Soon she discovers that she is not the only one caught in this plight. The idea is interesting and the plot nicely convoluted, but the film remains oddly uninvolving, possibly because its angle on the ghost story is not new.

We Are What We Are (Jim Mickle, 2013)
It was a pleasant surprise to find that the American remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s 2010 We Are What We Are is very different from the Mexican original, to the extent that it is less a remake than an entirely new film based on the same premise. Grau’s film was gritty and realistic, with a few staggeringly visceral, gruesome scenes. Through the portrait of a family of cannibals, it hinted at the brutality of survival among Mexico’s poorest, and observed the shifting family dynamics after the death of the father, mixing in intimations of incest and awakening homosexual desires.

Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are will be released in UK cinemas on 28 February 2014 by Entertainment One.

Jim Mickle’s version intelligently places the story within the context of American history, making the family’s cannibalism a twisted tradition going back to the hardships of their pioneer ancestors. And where in Grau’s film the men were in charge even though the women were by far the fiercest members of the family, here it is up to the delicate, pretty blond daughters to continue the tradition, under the oppressive control of their tyrannical father. Dreamy and sad, Mickle’s We Are What We Are exerts a spellbinding charm that is unfortunately broken by a jarring, unneeded, excessively grisly end.

Watch the trailer for We Are What We Are:

A couple of the shorts deserve a mention too. Dominic Brunt’s Shell Shocked set up a brilliant, tense face-off between a British and a German soldier in a bombed-out bunker. It is so rich with conflicting human emotions – wavering between fear, paranoia, careful camaraderie and survival instinct – that it doesn’t need the zombies that make a belated appearance.

Screening on the final morning of the festival, Can Evrenol’s BaskIn was an astounding assault on the senses – especially so early in the day. The film follows a team of Turkish policemen into a Satanist den, where macabre horror after macabre horror is uncovered. What makes the film so shockingly effective is the way it constantly disorientates the audience, with (what appeared to be) mutilated victims leading gory attacks and bags of body parts seemingly coming back to life, throwing both the policemen and the viewers into sweaty, panicked terror. Disturbing and nauseating in the best possible way.

Virginie Sélavy

James Smythe is Brundlefly

The Fly
The Fly (1986)

James Smythe was born in 1980 in London, and now lives in West Sussex. After gaining a PhD from Cardiff University, he’s gone on to teach creative writing and work as a writer and narrator on video games. He’s the author of The Machine (Blue Door/Harper Collins, £12.99) and The Explorer (Harper Voyager, £7.99) and his novels have been described as ‘an episode of Star Trek written by J. M. Coetze’. He is also re-reading Stephen King for The Guardian website. Eithne Farry

I am Brundlefly/Seth Brundle from Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). Bzzzt.

David Cronenberg is a genius. I don’t use that word lightly, either. He’s been responsible for some of the greatest pieces of cinema ever made, and he’s done it all while carrying themes and ideas from film to film, always moving forward while constantly nodding backwards. The Fly is maybe my favourite of his (fighting it out with Dead Ringers). It’s based on a story of the same name by George Langelaan, and it’s… Bzzzzt.

Sorry. It’s one of those great sci-fi stories where the main character reaches too far, hubristically heading too deeply into a thing that they don’t understand, and the repercussions are enormous. In The Fly, that character is Dr. Seth Brundle. He’s got a teleportation device that he’s invented, meant to transfer the molecules of something from one portal to another.

There’s a rush of invention for him: as soon as it works on inanimate objects, he wants more. He tries animals, and he loses track of his own safety measures. And, all the while, he’s entering a relationship with Veronica, a journalist. He gets distracted, and drunk, and then… Bzzzzzzt.

Then he decides to teleport himself across the room, despite not knowing if it’ll be safe. A fly gets caught in the device with him, and he starts to change. He becomes Brundlefly. And so, welcome to me as a writer. I get caught up. I find things that are shiny and I try to explore those, and I probably dive in before I’m ready. (Some writers are methodical and take their time. Not me. Blast out a first draft, then worry about making it work. I’m eager, probably over-eager. I write too much, and I throw away and start again.) Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzt.

I’m pretty sure that a fly got trapped inside my keyboard at some point, and he’s what’s helping me write now. Typing words when I’m not looking. I’m not changing physically, maybe – grey hair? Do flies have grey hair? – but still. Sometimes I feel like I know what I’m doing when I write something. But sometimes? Sometimes I’m clinging to the walls, and I do not feel like myself at all.

More information on James Smythe can be found here.

The Many Lives of Laurie Strode


Although the Halloween franchise is mainly associated with indestructible serial killer Michael Myers, six of the 10 films (and by next year, seven of the 11) in the saga also feature returning ‘final girl’ Laurie Strode – the ultimate objective of Michael’s murderous rampage. The final girl, as observed by Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, is a common fixture in the slasher genre, the female character who survives a killing spree and often turns up in the next instalment, only to be dispatched by the monster then. The final girl is often asexual and straight-laced in contrast to the teenage victims, who, in most slasher films, are seemingly punished for having pre-marital sex, drinking and taking drugs. Because of this, according to the documentary Halloween: 25 Years of Terror (2006), Jamie Lee Curtis, when approached by John Carpenter and producer/co-writer Debra Hill, would have preferred to have played one of the other girls in the film who did have ‘fun’. But by being cast as the more innocuous Laurie, Curtis helped create an iconic character that she would be asked to reprise in various sequels, not to mention similar parts in another three horror films – The Fog, Terror Train and Road Games – all made between Halloween and Halloween II (1981). Being a fan of Hitchcock, Carpenter also found the idea of casting the daughter of Psycho star Janet Leigh (one potential final girl who didn’t survive the second act of her brush with a serial killer) as the lead irresistible, something that would be commented on explicitly and awkwardly in Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998).

In Halloween: 25 Years of Terror, Carpenter mentions that when Michael Myers first sees Laurie, through the ageing net curtain of his abandoned family home, he sees something sisterly in her aspect. This familial attachment to his victim(s) of choice would form the backbone of the sequels, but here it carries a double meaning. First, Laurie’s bland femininity negates her as an object of desire – she would only be allowed a (doomed) relationship belatedly in Halloween H20 – but it also bears comparison to Michael’s first victim on screen, his sister, whom he voyeuristically stalks pre- and post-coitus through the window and doors of his family home, before stabbing her to death in the film’s memorable prologue.

The characters in the film refer to Michael as the ‘bogeyman’, a word whose etymology comes from an old Celtic word for ghost, and Celtic mythology becomes increasingly important in the sequels. In this first instalment, Michael is at his most ghost-like, his featureless (well, William Shatner-esque) white mask removing any emotion from his face and his drab boiler suit being at odds with his ability to appear and disappear like a wraith, who moves slowly when observed, but like lightning when off screen. One other Celtic reference makes it into the first instalment: Michael leaves the word ‘Samhain’ scrawled in the shop where he steals his iconic mask, a reference to a festival associated with legends of adventurers fleeing monsters in order to be proved worthy (which Laurie does in the films) and connected with the slaughter of mammals to allow people to survive the winter months, also applicable to the residents of Haddonfield as Michael only massacres on his favourite feast day and the days before.

Lead characters Michael, Laurie and Sam Loomis – Laurie’s erstwhile doctor, who spends the sequels in a Cassandra-style role, warning the residents of Illinois against their itinerant bogeyman, and who is always ignored until the bodies start piling up again – survive the end of the first instalment, but Carpenter and Hill hadn’t intended a sequel until the financiers revealed they had a massive hit on their hands. Fuelled by beer and sleepless nights, the workmanlike and generally pointless sequel written by Carpenter and Hill does Curtis/Laurie a great disservice by keeping her sedated in a hospital bed for half the running time of the film while Michael stalks the corridors of the institution failing to find her (Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween II in 2009 condenses this down to 25 minutes). In writing the sequel, Carpenter came up with the idea of actually making Laurie Michael’s long-lost sister, who was brought up by foster parents, and retrofitted the original film with this idea, by having the killer write the word ‘sister’ on a wall in an additional scene filmed for the extended TV version made for ABC in 1981. Why Michael wants to murder all the younger members of his family is never really explained, but when Jamie Lee Curtis didn’t reprise her role for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) the killer went on to stalk his niece, cousins and daughter respectively in the next four instalments of the saga, as well as any other young person who got in his way.

The killer generally doesn’t change from film to film beyond the stuntman playing ‘The Shape’, as Michael is referred to in the end credits of each film, and the directors of some of the sequels even forget he should have third-degree burns covering every area of his skin whenever we see his hands on screen after his return in 1988. Laurie, however, goes through as profound a change as sci-fi final girl Ellen Ripley in the Alien saga, who goes from blue-collar space miner in Alien (1979), to maternal soldier in Aliens (1986), to shaved prisoner in Alien 3 (1992) to resurrected half-alien clone in Alien: Resurrection (1997). In Halloween, Laurie is an asexual senior high-school student, in Halloween II, a traumatised, drugged hospital patient, in Halloween H20, an alcoholic headmistress with separation anxiety, and in Halloween: Resurrection (2002), she’s back in hospital, borderline psychotic, awaiting the inevitable return of her nemesis. Perhaps in order to survive against an implacable foe, the final girl is the one who has to change, both in her approach to each return of the killer and to provide another instalment of a franchise with a degree of freshness as well as familiarity.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) is only a thematic instalment of the saga, featuring cursed masks, another hospital immolation and references to Samhain, but none of the original main characters. However, the mystical cult it introduces, which wants to kill all the children of America (not just the ones who do pot or are related to Laurie Strode), makes a return to the screen in part 6, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (2005), in a confusing plot that mixes astronomy, black masses, genetic manipulation and incest! Before this narrative dead end, which along with parts 4 and 5 would be ignored by the script of H20, Halloween 4 starred a much younger final girl, Laurie’s daughter Jamie Lloyd, who would also go through similar transformations to her mother – becoming a killer herself in the final scene of part 4, being variously catatonic and telepathic in part 5 and a rape/cult victim in part 6…

In Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Laurie is only present in the form of a photograph, at which her abandoned daughter gazes forlornly after she has apparently died off screen. This plot element is retained for Jamie Lee Curtis’s return to the franchise in H20, where it is revealed that Laurie faked her own death and moved to California to bring up her son, though why she left her daughter behind is anyone’s guess. Like Jamie in the previous instalment, she was perhaps impregnated by Michael off screen between sequels and she was separated from her first child for nefarious reasons…

Sequels generally follow patterns, and every third sequel to Halloween is largely quite good. Part 4, while a retread of the original with Michael stalking his niece rather than his sister, is atmospheric and has a terrific ending where Jamie re-enacts the beginning of the first film. Part 7 (H20) brings Laurie back to the franchise in a film that gives the characters genuine depth and should have brought the entire narrative to a close. Part 10, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (2009), finally allows Laurie to have some fun and adds a touch of David Lynch/Oliver Stone-style surrealism to the proceedings.

In contrast, part 6, The Curse of Michael Myers, is almost incomprehensible and exists in two different versions. The bootleg ‘producer’s cut’ ends with a child Laurie babysat in the first film, now an adult played by future comedy actor Paul Rudd and the first ‘final boy’ of the series, who immobilises Myers by surrounding him with Celtic runes (!). The recut theatrical version had 40 minutes of different/alternate scenes mixed into the film and tones down the black magic angle (which offers some explanation for Michael’s indestructibility) while some mumbled lines and briefly glimpsed computer screens add genetic engineering to the plot… Donald Pleasance died before they shot these new scenes, so his exit from the series is off screen, only represented by a scream he recorded for the original cut.

However, The Curse of Michael Myers still turned a profit and producer Moustapha Akkad, who once joked he’d stop with part 22 (!), managed to convince Jamie Lee Curtis to reprise her role for the next film in the series, which brought the saga back to basics. The seventh instalment of a long-running franchise is often interesting, as following a pair of trilogies, filmmakers who take on a convoluted narrative have to come up with a new angle to keep the fans coming back and bring new audiences to the saga. This can mean a new, younger cast – the successful casting of Roger Moore in Live and Let Die (1973) following six performances by Sean Connery as James Bond, or Patrick Stuart taking command of the USS Enterprise in the seventh Star Trek film, Generations (1994) – or a gimmick that sets apart the new instalment from its predecessors – Jason Voorhees coming up against a psychokinetic final girl in Friday the 13th part VII: The New Blood (1988), ‘Saw VII’ being retitled Saw 3D (2010) – or the return of the star from the first film, as in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (on Elm Street, 1994) with original final girl Heather Langenkamp, and in this case Curtis in H20.

Having continued for 20 years at this point, the Halloween franchise, having helped create the slasher genre, also became influenced by its peers. The original film in the series was relatively bloodless, but following test screenings of Halloween II, John Carpenter had to shoot additional scenes of gore to shock an audience who had already seen Alien (1979), Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Alligator and Dressed to Kill (all 1980). By 1998, the genre had also been dismantled by director Wes Craven, writer Kevin Williamson and editor Patrick Lussier in the first two Scream films (1996-1997), and Williamson was called in to come up with a first draft of Halloween H20. Although his credit had been reduced to co-executive producer by the time the film was released, the writer’s fingerprints are all over the production, from the clip of Scream II showing on a TV in the film (replacing the classic black and white horror films of previous instalments), Lussier in the cutting room, the presence of Dawson’s Creek star Michelle Williams as a student, and the references to other horror films, including the casting of Janet Leigh as the secretary of Laurie Strode (now Keri Tate), who has moved to California, where the first film was actually shot. Leigh’s casting could have been a subtle in-joke, but it is heavily underlined: while the rest of the film creates fairly realistic characters, Leigh states she always felt ‘maternal’ to Curtis’s character, leaves the film to the strains of the score from Psycho and drives Marion Crane’s car!

However, Curtis is given plenty to do in this film: raise a son, cope with her post-traumatic stress disorder, run a school, hide her alcoholism and finally dispatch her murderous brother. H20 is the best sequel to date and it’s just unfortunate Curtis agreed to cameo in one more instalment, the lacklustre Halloween: Resurrection, which sees her killed off in the pre-credits sequence by the ‘real’ Michael Myers, as opposed to the impostor she unwittingly decapitated at the end of the previous film. Channelling Linda Hamilton’s muscled up and institutionalised Sarah Connor from Terminator 2: Judgment day (1992), Laurie Strode’s final scene wastes the character who has been with us on and off screen since 1978.

Post-Resurrection, the franchise was rebooted yet again with Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween in 2007. Reasonably entertaining, the new Halloween is as pointless as the first sequel was in 1981 as it’s just more of the same but not as good, with the only noticeable addition being that Michael’s childhood is explored, and his abuse by a poor white trash family removes much of his mystique. The new Laurie Strode is a more traditional teenager, swearing and listening to loud music, which also makes the contrast of the ingénue versus the monster less interesting, and while a capable actress, Scout Taylor-Compton isn’t a patch on Jamie Lee Curtis. However, as the eleventh instalment of the series has been announced – the inevitable Halloween 3D in 2012 – we can only hope for a female killer (as teased but not followed up on in the endings of Halloween 4 and H20), since Zombie’s Halloween II ends with Myers downed in a hail of bullets and Laurie Strode picking up her brother’s knife…

Alex Fitch

Deadly Role Reversals: Birds Eye View’s Horror Shorts

Short Lease

Birds Eye View

8-17 March 2011

BEV website

As part of its focus on girls who do gore, the Birds Eye View Film Festival programmed a selection of new horror shorts by female filmmakers. Screening at the ICA in London, the seven films revealed what happens when women take on a historically male-orientated genre. Namely, they take their revenge.

Nowhere was this more keenly felt than in Melanie Light’s Switch. Set against a lovingly shot snow-swamped English landscape, the film opened with a fairly familiar set-up: a lone female jogger running down a deserted country lane; an obvious victim-in-waiting. Spotting the lonely figure, a male driver slows down his car, calls his girlfriend to say he’ll be home late and hangs up (‘Bitch!’ he shouts). Putting on his leather gloves, he heads off to follow the girl but in a skewed reversal of roles, the poor murderer-in-waiting is given no time to enact his crime; the female jogger gets in first, launching a horribly vicious and bloody attack in the pure, white snow. The victim has switched and, in turn, the genre switches towards black comedy. Leaving him for dead, the jogger dusts herself off, unperturbed, to continue her run. The twist is cleverly handled, playing nicely with audience preconceptions of the male attacker and the female victim.

Male victims were common across the board. In Helen Komini Olsen’s Daddy’s Girl, an angelically blonde, ringlet-ed woman serves up her own dead father to a party of dinner guests. In Kate Shenton’s Bon Appetit, a woman sits down to eat a plate of male genitalia, making her partner squirm as he sits opposite her (granted, he is tucking into a Salome-style offering of his girlfriend’s head). In Sun Koh’s Dirty Bitch, a wild, pregnant, pigtailed girl ties up and attacks a male acquaintance after she finds his diary of sexual fantasies. In Laura Whyte’s stop-motion animation, Nursery Crimes, we may not see violence against male characters but we do get a strong female instigator of violence: a kick-ass and utterly satanic Little Bo Peep. These were all women on a mission.

And it is with American director Devi Sniveley’s I Spit on Eli Roth that we learn what might lie behind this female offensive. There’s the misogyny of the slasher genre but there’s also a certain chauvinistic culture in mainstream horror circles. The film follows an angry group of women seeking to protest against Eli Roth’s ‘chick vision’ feature on the DVD release of his film Cabin Fever by finding new and exciting ways to torture Roth. The action comes to a halt when the fairy godmother of horror, The Bride of Frankenstein, appears and makes the women understand that they are acting no better than Roth himself. Seeing the error of their ways (‘We’ve become our own worst nightmare’), the women instead offer an impassioned plea to horror fans: ‘This didn’t have to happen, y’ know – horror can be an intelligent, socially conscious genre. It’s made us laugh. It’s made us scream. It’s even made us piss our pants and vomit. It’s even made us think… Friends, don’t let friends denigrate the horror genre.’ While there’s a throwaway, DIY feel to the film, it’s an astute point about the problems that can plague some, but not all, horror films.

Singaporean filmmaker Sun Koh also uses her film to raise questions about cinema and filmmaking. Commissioned by the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the work was inspired by a heavily censored video copy of Claire Denis’s Nenette and Boni, which Koh rented from a library in Singapore. Feeling appalled that the censors had edited out teenage fantasies about dirty talk, Koh decided to embrace the topic. The result is a bonkers whirlwind of filthy talk set to music, ultra-violence and dancing baby dolls. The film concludes with the female lead meeting with a board of censors. As she sits opposite these imposing figures of authority, she slowly realises that they are no different from herself or anyone else; but by pretending to be above others, they have become hypocrites.

As might be surmised from these descriptions, the films chosen for the programme do not strictly adhere to conventional definitions of horror; in fact, they are quite circumspect in their approach to the genre. Most involved violence of some sort but chose to move away from being a straightforward horror film and, watching the films, it was actually easy to forget that this was a horror screening at all. Some involved a lot of gore without much build-up (the bloody meals of Bon Appetit, the vengeful attacks in Switch and Dirty Bitch); some detached themselves from the material enough to create black comedy (Switch, Daddy’s Girl and Nursery Crimes) and some acted as polemics on filmmaking (I Spit on Eli Roth and Dirty Bitch). Only one of the shorts was a direct horror film in the traditional sense: Prano Bailey-Bond and Jennifer Eiss’s Short Lease. While the other films offered food for thought, Short Lease seemed to be the only one to stick to its brief for its entire duration. Bailey-Bond and Eiss’s film was incredibly effective in creating tension with classic horror tools: a lonely, isolated setting; a big, deserted house; and a supernatural, inexplicable force haunting and tormenting its human victims. Following in the mysterious, gothic style of M.R. James, the film left a lot of questions unanswered and a strange, lingering feeling of discomfort in the viewer. But while the haunted staircases left a chill, it was heartening to see an example of intelligent horror, with a female victim but without the misogyny, directed by women filmmakers.

Listen to the podcast with Jennifer Eiss, Melanie Light and Kate Shenton, read Jennifer Eiss’s article, ‘Do Women Prefer Psychological Horror?’ and Eleanor McKeown’s ‘Warped Women: The Emergence of Female Horror Directors in the UK’.

Eleanor McKeown

Ingrid Pitt: Scream Siren

The House that Dripped Blood

Ingrid Pitt, who died late last year aged 73, was a beacon of bravura ghastliness, a frequent onscreen bather and Hammer’s most celebrated female star. With her fierce, distinctive beauty, trailblazing sexuality and formidable flair for conveying psychological complexity in even the most flimsy of material, she leaves an indelible impression on the horror genre. Off-screen, she survived a harrowing childhood – during which she was interned in a concentration camp – embraced her infamy as a horror icon and was a prolific writer and friend to her fans.

Her parents were fleeing Nazi Germany for England (via Poland) when Pitt (born Ingoushka Petrov) arrived on 21 November 1937. Her father was a Prussian scientist whose expertise the warmongering Nazis were eager to harness – despite his resistance – and her mother was a much-younger Lithuanian Jew. Born amid this global turmoil and into great personal danger, Pitt spent her infancy in hiding and on the run, before she and her mother were eventually captured, separated from her father and imprisoned in the Stutthof concentration camp for three torturous years. She said later: ‘Without doubt my entire life was overshadowed by my childhood and the tormenting acts of violence and hate I had to witness.’

Pitt’s acting career began post-war when, as a young woman, she talked her way into the prestigious Berliner Ensemble (based in East Berlin), where she was taken on to prepare hot drinks. The experience was short-lived, however, as she was forced to flee the Volkspolizei ahead of her first significant performance, a dramatic episode that culminated with her being fished out of a river by a US Lieutenant – a man who she eventually married. When her new husband was transferred back to America, Pitt followed. After giving birth to baby Steffanie and seeing her husband volunteer to fight in Vietnam she decided to give acting another go and joined the Playhouse, a touring American theatre company.

The experience was ultimately a miserable one and the desperate, virtually penniless single mother moved to Madrid. When a photograph of her sobbing at a bull fight was published in El Pueblo it was spotted by Ana Mariscal, one of the top Spanish directors who – unfazed by Pitt’s inability to speak Spanish – cast her as a boozy nymphomaniac American in Los duendes de Andalucía (1966). While working in Spain she also secured small roles in the English-language productions A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) and Dr Zhivago (1965).

After a stint working in a restaurant she was befriended by Willy Wilder (Billy’s brother) and offered the lead role in The Omegans (1968). After some TV work, including Ironside (1967), she won a role in Where Eagles Dare (1968) alongside Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton, a duo who had a (rather un-gentlemanly) bet as to which of them would bed her first. When they revealed this to her later, the provocative Pitt confounded and amused them by asking, ‘Who won?’

It was in England in 1970 with Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers that Pitt really found her niche. The Vampire Lovers was made towards the tail-end of Hammer’s horror film production (though the company has been recently revived, of course). Hammer had been known and loved for their horror output since the late 50s, after the success of titles such as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), and it had built on this reputation with its mastery of the macabre throughout the 1960s.

However, by 1970 Hammer was suffering the knock-on effect of the introduction of colour television and an audience fatigued with its Gothic horror shtick. In an effort to reinvigorate the brand and its fortunes the studio decided to go all out, so to speak, with one element always simmering fairly unsubtly under the surface of its productions – namely, sex. The Vampire Lovers was the first Hammer film to see whether upping the ante in this way would indeed sell. The Hammer publicity machine went into overdrive and Pitt was dubbed the ‘Queen of Horror’ and ‘The Most Beautiful Ghoul in the World!’

In The Vampire Lovers, Pitt plays Mircalla Karnstein, a lesbian vampire who tricks her way into the homes of aristocrats and preys on their daughters. She is quite the fervent seductress, as she says to one of her perky victims, ‘I want you to love me for all your life’. Despite the incessantly prurient nature of the piece and the frequent nudity, Pitt manages to bring sophistication and depth to the role, eliciting sympathy for the murderess and deftly conveying her loneliness and longing.

That same year, she also sent up her burgeoning scream queen persona by starring in Amicus Productions’ The House that Dripped Blood, Peter Duffell’s hugely enjoyable portmanteau picture, which brought together Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joss Ackland and Denholm Elliott in a quartet of vignettes. Pitt is a billed star and features in the final (and the only comic) segment ‘The Cloak’ alongside Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee. She plays Carla, a trampy horror actress and on/off-screen love interest of Pertwee’s veteran horror star Paul Henderson, who delivers the vignette’s suitably bloodthirsty punchline.

Shortly afterwards, Pitt was expected to reprise her role as Mircalla in the sequel to The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire (1971), but, as she describes it: ‘I was lined up for Countess Dracula and after seeing the script for Lust [for a Vampire] with [my] character little more than a means for titillation I was glad of the excuse to get out of it.’

It was a fortuitous conflict as Ingrid Pitt’s most memorable role was to be that of the bloodthirsty Countess Elizabeth in the aforementioned Countess Dracula (1971). It’s a slightly misleading title as she doesn’t play a vampire as such – rather a fantastical version of real-life 16th-century murderess Countess Elizabeth Báthory. Branded a ‘devil woman’ and a ‘witch’ by the villagers, in Peter Sasdy’s film the ageing Countess is a depraved, conscienceless killer who discovers that the blood of young women has the power to restore her youth and beauty.

Armed with this knowledge, she callously slays her chambermaid and hurriedly arranges for her right-hand man and lover Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) to kidnap her long-absent daughter Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down) so that she can, without suspicion, assume her identity. Unfortunately, the de-ageing effects quickly wear off and her insatiable appetite fuels a desperate, murderous campaign. Fully exploiting the advantages of youth, she quickly takes a young lover, Imre Toth (Sandor Elès), much to the annoyance of Dobi.

Pitt is terrific in a multi-shaded role that allows her to develop her villainess into a full-blooded, nefarious icon, rivalling those of her male Hammer peers. She is alternately zealous, wanton, vivacious, pathetic and grasping. However, despite her charismatic, committed performance she suffered the indignity of having her voice dubbed in post-production.

Pitt’s most famous horror film is probably The Wicker Man (1973), although her role in it is very small. She plays, rather amusingly, a petulant employee of the office of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. However, despite her limited role and screen-time she still manages to appear sans attire in one farcical sequence where, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) bursts in on her during his search for a missing girl, and is startled by the sight of her lying provocatively in a bath (a recurring motif in her horror films).

It is for these four films – The Vampire Lovers, The House that Dripped Blood, Countess Dracula and The Wicker Man – that Ingrid Pitt is best remembered. She wholeheartedly approved of being cast as baddies saying, ‘Being the anti-hero is great – they are always roles you can get your teeth into’.

Pitt continued working in less memorable film and TV roles (in such fare as Doctor Who, Wild Geese II and Smiley’s People) virtually up until her death on 23 November 2010, and was a regular and enthusiastic participant at fan conventions. Pitt was also a hard-working and accomplished author and columnist, publishing several books, including a frank and eventful autobiography Life’s a Scream in 1999, as well as The Peróns, Katarina and The Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers, among many others.

Ingrid Pitt is and will remain one of the great female horror stars – a comely, unconventionally beautiful villainess who was smart, wickedly witty, compassionate and determined.

Emma Simmonds

Terracotta Festival 2010


Terracotta Far East Film Festival

6-9 May 2010

Prince Charles Cinema, London

Terracotta website

The Electric Sheep team reviews the highlights of the 2010 Terracotta Far East Film Festival.

Accident (Soi Cheang, 2009)
The term ‘high-concept’ was coined to describe Hollywood blockbusters that can be summarised in a single sentence; however, it could also be applied to Accident, a Hong Kong thriller about a team of assassins led by the intensely disciplined Brain (Louis Koo), who disguise their hits as ‘accidents’ so that nobody realises that a crime has actually been committed. Produced by the prolific Johnnie To, Accident exhibits an icy aesthetic that keeps the audience at an emotional distance but serves to maintain suspense during the sustained set-pieces. The unexpectedly romantic score by French composer Xavier Jamaux, who previously collaborated with To on Mad Detective (2007) and Sparrow (2008), aims for a tragic resonance that is undermined by the comparatively one-note characterisations of Brain’s crew, but Cheang’s psychological approach towards pulp material ensures that Accident has a meditative quality that is rarely found in upscale action cinema. JOHN BERRA

Vengeance (Fuk sau, 2009)
Vengeance marks a return to what Johnnie To does best – stripped down gangster stories with a hard-boiled edge and slickly executed stand-offs. The plot is simple – a woman barely survives the assassination of her family and demands that her father Costello (Johnny Hallyday), a French chef, take revenge on those responsible. Costello employs a trio of hitmen (played by To favourites Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Gordon Lam and Lam Suet) to track them down, but there are a number of twists and turns as the group make their way to Simon Yam’s unrepentant crime lord. As usual, To provides some memorable set-pieces that are both playful and fraught with tension. It’s their simple poetry that gives To’s films a distinctive mark, with a touch of the bizarre and the humorous that sets his work out from the crowd. RICHARD BADLEY

Antique (Min kyu-dong, 2008)
When arrogant yuppie Kim decides to open a cake shop, assuming that such establishments will offer plenty of opportunities to meet available women, his search for a pastry chef leads him to former high school classmate Min, who has become known as ‘The Gay of Demonic Charm’ after being sacked from numerous bakeries following flings with co-workers who find him irresistible. Somehow, this simple set-up serves as the springboard for multiple narrative strands to the point that there are three films competing for audience attention; Antique is ostensibly a comedy about the unusual professional relationship between Kim and Min, but it also takes a darker detour into thriller territory and flirts with the form of the musical through dizzying montages. There are some hilarious moments scattered throughout this adaptation of Fumi Yoshinaga’s popular manga, and the themes of friendship and forgiveness are effectively conveyed amid the colourful chaos. JOHN BERRA


Cow (Dou niu, 2009)
In Chinese director Guan Hu’s Cow, set in 1940, a village simpleton emerges from hiding to discover that his fortress home has been destroyed by Japanese soldiers. The narrow lanes are eerily quiet; the dirt in the square stained with blood. Confused and terrified, he discovers that the only other survivor is a ‘foreign’ cow that he’s promised to care for. Cow unfolds in a series of flashbacks, mixing humorous scenes of village life with the simpleton’s harrowing struggles to keep himself and the cow alive as his home is overrun by returning Japanese soldiers, the Kuomintang, and fellow refugees. The result is a tragic black comedy about the futility of war, told from a unique point of view in an already crowded genre. Initially curious and captivating, it’s a shame that the film starts to drift in the second half once the novelty of the plot and set-up start to wear thin. SARAH CRONIN

Summer Wars (Samâ wôzu, 2009)
This new animé from director Mamoru Hosada is more satisfying than his previous offering, The Girl Who Leapt through Time, although its promising beginning and beautiful animation are equally marred by a fairly simplistic message. The story revolves around a young boy, Kenji, who, while staying with the family of a classmate he has a crush on for the summer, accidentally helps a hacker crack the code to the ‘OZ’ network, a Second Life type of virtual world used by everyone, from private users to government and military institutions. As the mysterious attacker wreaks havoc in OZ with potentially disastrous consequences in the real world, Kenji has to find a way to stop him. The animation is excellent, with two contrasting styles used to represent real and virtual worlds, and the tone is charming and humorous. But while the story is initially captivating, it quickly descends into a basic good versus evil battle underpinned by an unsophisticated, conservative belief in traditional values. VIRGINIE S&#278LAVY

Phobia (See prang, 2008)
As with most horror anthologies, Phobia is a mixed bag. A quartet of ghost stories from Thailand that vary in stylistic tricks and genre clichés, they seem like extended 10-minute shorts hastily jammed together with no particular format. Some of the stories are linked by references to other characters but there’s no common theme or central thread, and the title itself is misleading: this isn’t an exploration of different phobias, just a straightforward play on people’s understandable and natural fear of ghosts. Last Fright is the most technically accomplished of the bunch, a slow-burning chiller that doesn’t rely on ropey effects, just old-fashioned storytelling. But the anthology’s stand-out is In the Middle, not because it’s particularly scary but because it keeps a tight, coherent plot, revolving around a group of lads on a camping holiday who are haunted by a friend after he’s drowned. RICHARD BADLEY

Read full reviews of Vengeance and Phobia, out on DVD in May 2010.