Friday, 30 March 2012

Cine-Excess VI

The Cult Film Archive is the world's only research centre devoted to the study of cult film. The Archive is run under the directorship of Xavier Mendik, one of cult film's great academics, and each year hosts a conference in London. This year's looks to be especially interesting.

Titled Transglobal Excess: The Art and Atrocity of Cult Adaptation, the conference focuses on 'global adaptations of cult narratives, genres, themes and icons across a broad range of media and fiction formats. From pulp novels into pulp horror films and recent big budget blockbuster remakes of marginal midnight movies, to nationally defined interpretations of the pre-established extreme, the cult image remains a fascinating index of adaptation, whose wide array of remakes, renditions and realisations frequently reveals fascinating issues of nation and narrative, as well cultural, regional and historical distinction.'

Of particular interest to cult film fans are sure to be the two guests of honour, none other than Italian schlockmeisters Enzo G. Castellari (Keoma, The Inglorious Bastards, Bronx Warriors) and Sergio Martino (Torso, The Violent Professionals, Mountain of the Cannibal God) whose work 'both trades on themes and national traditions of cult adaption'.

Also taking part is Texas Chainsaw Massacre scriptwriter Kim Henkel who will be judging a competition for new screenwriters and reading their pitches for horror films.

The conference takes place 24 to 26 May 2012 at the Odeon Covent Garden & The Italian Cultural Institute, London

For more details go here

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Demons Within: Exorcism Movies

To tie in with the UK release of The Devil Inside, Starburst has published an article I wrote on exorcism movies – Demons Within: a history of possession films from The Exorcist (1974) to The Devil Inside (2012). Along the way it stops off to look at some rare pea-soupers like The Sexorcist (1974) and Magdalena, Possessed by The Devil (1976) as well as the more mainstream fare like Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and many more besides. I had a lot of fun writing it. Starburst is pretty pleased with it and I think you will enjoy it too. In fact it might even turn your head around! Head over to Starburst for a read.

While you’re over there why not order issue 375 of Starburst? Just look at the goodies in this month’s issue:
Game of Thrones / Exclusive Interview with George R R Martin / Exclusive Interview with 'The Cabin in the Woods' Director Drew Goddard / Hunger Games / Interview with Josh Hutcherson / Doctor Who / Interview with 'Wrath of the Titans' Director Jonathan Liebesman / Bond / Interview with New 52 'Batman' & 'Swamp Thing' Writer Scott Snyder plus News, Views & Reviews from the Worlds of TV, Film, Comics, Games & More…

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Strippers vs. Werewolves (2012)

Strippers vs. Werewolves is not the usual kinda stuff that I go to see. But I gritted my fangs for Starburst Magazine and off I went to a screening...

You can read what I thought here.

Book Review: Hammer Fantasy and Sci-Fi by Bruce G. Hallenbeck

Hammer Fantasy & Sci-Fi is one of the latest books from Hemlock Books, a new independent publisher specialising in genre-related film titles. Best-selling author Denis Meikle (A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, Vincent Price: The Art of Fear) set up Hemlock only a few short years ago and already has an impressive list of titles under the company’s belt including David Tappenden’s Fright Films, Mind Warp (an account of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures) by Christopher Koetting and Bruce G. Hallenbeck’s The Hammer Vampire. With more quality titles in the pipeline (include X Cert - a retrospective of 1960s and 1970s British Horror Cinema by Beasts in the Cellar author John Hamilton) Hemlock is rapidly becoming one of the best genre film publishers around.

You can read my review of Bruce Hallenbeck's book here.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Vanishing on 7th Street (2010)

Brad Anderson is, for me, one of the best – if not the best – director working in psychological horror today. The Machinist (2004) is already an acknowledged classic.  Session 9 (2001) continues to disturb, intrigue and mystify. Sounds Like (2006) was, along with John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns (2005), the best of the Masters of Horror series. Anderson combines the best of Hitchcock and Polanski in his ability to use pure cinema to unsettle and unnerve. He is, in fact, so good at psychological horror that the social commentary in his films often passes unnoticed by critics. It is there. In Session 9 there is the abandoned asylum, a relic from a time when people would be incarcerated against their will simply because they were considered too burdensome to remain in broader society. Dozens of huge asylums like the one in Session 9 stand abandoned in the United States and Britain, a shameful reminder of our less-than –tolerant-past when it came to treating mental illness. In Session 9, this sense of horror and shame – akin to that one senses in concentration camps – pervades the film.

In Vanishing on 7th Street, a group of characters band together in a Detroit bar to fight against an inexplicable enemy. When darkness comes, those who are not protected by a light source – such as a torch - simply vanish, leaving only their clothes behind. The film opens in a cinema. Projectionist John Leguizamo, is changing the reels when the lights suddenly go out. When he goes to investigate he finds the entire cinema suddenly empty, except for clothes and possessions left on the seats and in the aisles. Where has everyone vanished to? It is a surreal premise - one that begs a metaphorical or even philosophical meaning. The setting of Detroit, in particular, has allegorical resonance. In real life as well as film the once thriving ‘motorcity’ is now a ghost town; industry has ended there. Houses stand empty. People have left. Like in Vanishing on 7th Street only shadows remain. And the creeping darkness threatens to encroach into other cities, with similar results.

Indeed in Anderson’s films, the inexplicable only happens to the workers: the blue collar stiff in The Machinist, the office drone in Sounds Like, the tradesmen builders in Session 9. In these films, the workplace itself becomes a site of horror. The personal insanity of the characters is possibly caused by their working environment, certainly is made worse by it. The mundane yet highly stressful job of the machinist, Christian Bale, seems, at first to be the thing that is tipping him over the edge. In Session 9, the impossibly short timescale of the building contract pressures the men unduly, making them increasingly tired and disorientated –and susceptible to the influence of the asylum and the malignant forces it holds within its walls. In Vanishing on 7th Street all the characters are separated from loved ones because of the pressures of work. Thandi Newton is a junior doctor forced to leave her baby at home while she does her shift. Hayden Christensen is a news reporter whose job takes him away from home, only to find his girlfriend vanished once he returns. For these characters, their lives are vanished and now their very existence is at stake. In fact their final line of defence against vanishing is to protest their existence, as John Leguizamo attempts to. As the workers in real life Detroit tried to.

Vanishing on 7th Street borrows heavily from Night of the Living Dead in this sense. A small group of characters are besieged by an inexplicable, even absurd, apocalypse (that are filmic allegories of real world events). Both films share the absurdist tragedy of the playwright Eugene Ionesco, whose The Chairs featured only two characters in a post-apocalyptic world proliferated by threatening chairs. Ionesco’s play spoke to the absurdity of the nuclear age in 1952, Romero’s film to the absurdity of intergenerational conflict in the 1960s, and Anderson’s films seem to speak increasingly to the absurdity of economic collapse in present day America.

Anderson has an uncanny ability to take the familiar environments of American towns and cities and make them impersonal and strange. In Vanishing on 7th Street the abandoned streets of Detroit take on an unreal sheen. In The Machinist,  West Coast American details – cars, phone kiosks – were added to Barcelona Streets (where the film was shot) to disorientate the viewer. The film is set in America and it looks like America - and yet it doesn’t quite.

This sense of jet-lagged disorientation is heightened by Anderson’s masterful use of sound. Anderson often drops out the atmosphere track, leaving only a single sound source in isolation. The effect is to create a dislocated state of mind like that of descending in a plane when your ears pop, leaving everything slightly surreal. In Sounds Like, Anderson made this sense of heightened sound the basis of the story.

Even in an indifferent Anderson film like Vanishing on 7th Street all of these characteristics are present. Despite the lacklustre script, Anderson’s gift for subtle psychological horror – and his peerless ability to render it on film – shines through. For that alone It is worth seeing.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A Report from Frighten Brighton

Hammer fans were in for a treat at Frighten Brighton last Saturday. Centre-piece of the mini festival was a screening of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1973) introduced by Shane Briant biographer, Richard Kenchington , followed by a specially recorded video introduction by the man himself.

Shane Briant Biographer, Robert Kenchington
Robert and Shane shared some terrific anecdotes about the making of the film, especially concerning the legendary star, Peter Cushing. At the time of filming, Cushing was in poor health after the recent death of his wife and asked for reduced involvement in the film. Briant’s role, as the idealistic Dr Simon Helder, foil to Cushing’s unscrupulous Frankenstein, subsequently grew as many of the scenes originally written for Cushing were adapted for him. Briant more than holds his own in the film; both he and Cushing give strong performances. However, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was to become – as Robert rightly commented – a film of ‘lasts’; Hammer, by 1973, were beginning to ail as a company. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was shot in 1972 but would not be released until two years later due to distribution problems that Hammer were having with EMI at the time.
Good news is that a Blu-Ray of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is due for release later this year, and will feature a fully uncut version of the film restored from a newly unearthed pristine print. Robert revealed that an uncensored print was recently discovered in a vault in Los Angeles and is forming the basis of the restoration. What’s more, the Blu-Ray disc will feature commentaries from Shane Briant and Marcus Hearn, author of the recent Hammer Vault. Hearn is overseeing the Blu-Ray.

Also at Frighten Brighton were Hemlock Books, an independent publisher specialising in genre-related film-titles. Author Denis Meikle set up Hemlock to distribute books, magazines, comics and collectables and they have an impressive back catalogue. Hemlock also publish their own titles including David Tappenden’s Fright Films, Mind Warp (an account of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures) by Christopher Koetting and Bruce Hallenbeck’s The Hammer Vampire. Future publications include X Cert - a retrospective of 1960s and 1970s British Horror Cinema by Beasts in The Cellar author John Hamilton. I came away with a copy of Hallenbeck’s Hammer: Fantasy and Sci-Fi which I will be reviewing for Starburst Magazine.

Frighten Brighton organisers Scare Sarah and Cyberschizoid
On Sunday 4th March there’s a triple bill of Shane Briant movies – Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (1972) + Picture of Dorian Gray (1973) + Beyond Dorian (short, 2010) at the Roxy Bar and Screen in London Bridge, London. (Doors open at 2pm).
The screening has been organised by Frighten Brighton’s Richard Gladman and Sarah James as part of their Classic Horror Campaign. Richard set up the campaign to persuade the BBC to bring back their iconic Saturday night classic horror double bills which were so popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. The campaign has grown from an online petition and now includes a website, a Facebook page and a regular series of classic horror double bill screenings around the UK. The campaign is being  fronted by UK Scream Queen Emily Booth and is currently supported by various celebrities including Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman, Reese Shearsmith, actress Eileen Daly, best-selling author David Moody and Hammer Horror stalwarts Caroline Munro and, of course, Shane Briant.

The next Frighten Brighton event is due to take place in August. I’ll be there!