Fear Itself

fearitselfFear Itself by filmmaker Charlie Lyne is essentially a 90 minute thesis on the nature of fear in film that uses clips from films like Suspira, Night of the Demon, Altered States, Halloween and dozens upon dozens more horror/SF films that are designed to discuss the nature of fear itself.

Lyne made the interesting, if sometimes rambling, Beyond Clueless which oddly enough I caught up with on Netflix at the start of this month and it is a very good film, bar the occasional bit of rambling as mentioned that sometimes crops up thanks to the narrator device used by Lyne and voiced by Amy E Watson.

That said, it’s an interesting discussion of the horror film and there’s some nice manipulation of footage to induce a feeling of dread most of the time during the film’s running time. It is something I’ll need to see again, but I recommend it highly, just make sure you’ve got the lights out…

It’s available on the BBC’s iPlayer for the next year here.

Here’s a clip from The Creature From the Black Lagoon to cheer up your day

I’ve been far too busy getting angry, annoyed and frustrated so as it’s a Monday and the start of a new and horrible working week, here’s a clip from one of favourite horror films, The Creature From the Black Lagoon for no other reason than it’s fantastic.

My Worst Five Horror Films Ever

I did a list of my top 20 horror films but some things were missing. This is going to plug at least one of those gaps as I run as painlessly as possible through the worst horror films I’ve had the misfortune to endure.

Let’s start at #5 with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

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At this point I reckon most people are going ‘WHAT???!You can’t call The Shining a bad film?”. I’m not calling it a bad film, in fact in this short list of my worst horror films it’s by far the best made film by a country mile, but as a horror film that adapts a book by Stephen King it’s a sad failure.

Why? It’s just a very simple film that uses horror cliches to make you jump because Kubrick seems to be confused as to whether he’s making a horror film featuring characters you can believe in (which is the case with the book) rather than broad caricatures. It’s also the film that saw Jack Nicholson  play up the ‘Crazy Jack’ persona to such a nonsensical degree that you’re taken out of the film, and in fact, I’m constantly taken out of the film as there’s no sensible reasoning used by any of the characters in this film.

It’s a wasted shout at what should have been a great film but I can’t stand the film. It’s cold. It’s false and it doesn’t fill me with dread. I love Kubrick as a filmmaker but the sense of crushing disappointment I felt upon seeing this for the first time has never left me.

As we move on from #5, all sensible criticism gets blown away in the wind as we hit the shitefest of #4, it’s the craptastic Zoltan, Hound of Dracula.

Zoltan

 

It’s Dracula’s dog. Really. It bites people on the neck and everything. It’s fucking awful.

Moving on swiftly to #3 it’s the even more fucking awful I Know What You Did Last Summer.

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Why is it awful? Well, it’s the film that gave us the genre of horror films made for people who really don’t like horror films. It’s the date horror film which gives minor scares and features amazingly glamorous, nubile American teenagers being murdered in a variety of boring ways. Even the Friday the 13th films were more fun than this and I fucking hate those films, but they at least allowed the audience in on the gag. This is smug, offensive patronising cookie-cutter filmmaking by fucking wankers for fucking wankers.

It also introduced a look for modern American horror films with this palate of grey/green/black colours that make all films looking identical. It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible film.

At # 2 it’s not just one film, but a number of them. It’s crappy inferior remakes of better films, so for an example let’s kick the crap out of the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street.

The original is a classic little horror that ok, has dated badly, but stands up still. The remake is a dismal little thing that should have been never made. So also, Last House of the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and even remakes of naff films like The Amityville Horror show how incredibly desperate Hollywood is for ideas. Calling something A Nightmare on Elm Street and making it all ‘dark’, ‘broody’ and aimed at again, the sort of person who really doesn’t like horror films that much but recognises these names through the general drip of culture.

All you need to do is get a director who’ll churn out one of these remakes in what’s become a house style and hey presto! You’ve got a minor hit at the box office and a success on DVD as they market them to people who really do think a film can be made better by ‘up to date’ effects.

I hate these films so much I’m not even going to link to a trailer as they’re hateful crap.

And lastly, at #1 it’s The Purge/Insidious/Sinister. These films annoy me in a way few other films do, except of course the films of Michael Bay, the wanker!

Take Sinister as an example of how they annoy. It takes bits of the Slenderman meme with bits of the Found Footage genre, and should be a gripping horror film rather than something that constantly relies on the Lewton Bus for scares, that is, when the scares start to happen as the film is so amazingly dull thanks to cardboard characters you don’t care about from the start.

The Purge is the worst example of these current trend of film. It could have been a clever little exploitation film in the hands of say, Roger Corman back in the 60’s or 70’s rather than the deadly dull and serious piece of crap it actually is. It’s a decent enough idea but from the off it’s so badly executed with characters doing ridiculous things because the plot needs them to do ridiculous things that again, I couldn’t care less.

These films are contemptuous. They’re insulting and are made for people who really don’t care for horror films, or indeed, good filmmaking but want 90 minutes of mindless crap rather than search out something actually worthwhile.  Making a good horror film is tough, but there’s now a trick which is to hack out these films because they play to a dumbed down audience who think something like The Purge is ‘edgy’ when in fact, it’s badly executed, boring wank with a messed up set of politics.

Nihilism doesn’t make something edgy. It just makes you a moody teenager sitting on your bed playing too much Emo and wanking too much, which is in my mind, what these films are. They’re the cinematic version of moping around being moody because you once heard an Ayn Rand speech once.

So there you go. I feel better now that’s out. Next time let’s find out why there was no Hammer Films in my top 20 list…

 

My Top 20 Horror Films-1-John Carpenter’s The Thing

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man, 9Halloween, 8, The Blair Witch Project 7Hellraiser, 6, The Evil Dead series 5, The Exorcist, 4, Suspiria, 3George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead and, 2, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

We come in screaming to the number one film on my list, and it’s John Carpenter’s The Thing.

JohnCarpentersTheThing1982

 

I could just wrap this up with one sentence: I fucking love this film. I won’t, so here’s the blunt synopsis from IMDB for those of you who haven’t seen this sheer work of genius.

Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills.

The film adapts the John W. Campbell story, Who Goes There? for the second time after the Howard Hawks film, The Thing From Another World, a great film in it’s own right but it only loosely took elements from Campbell’s story whereas Carpenter goes back to the story and uses it to virtual perfection.

It’s a story about paranoia, plus it serves as an allegory for the then relatively new stories about the AIDS virus, but most of all it’s a brilliantly made horror film with spectacular effects from Rob Bottin with help from Stan Winston.

It’s also this work as well as the creepy paranoid atmosphere that helped doom the film at the American box office, though I do remember it doing better here in the UK. In fact it was one of the first X certificate films I saw at the cinema which is one reason why I love the film so much as if this is your first X film, it’s a cracker to start off with.

Why is this so good? Well, it’s smart. Locating the film in a remote part of the Antarctic means there’s no escape, and also, making the characters a mix of scientists  and civilians who seem to have some sort of military experience  means it’s not a bunch of naive teenagers we’re watching but experienced educated men making as informed a series of decisions as possible. It’s all logical as the survivors try to outsmart the alien creature which isn’t to say there’s no people walking into dark rooms, but it’s because they have to. Now there’s better critiques out there of the film and this isn’t really a critique rather than it’s me telling you, the reader, to go watch this film.

It’s got everything; good characters, great acting, fantastic direction, astonishing effects which look better than most film made today and a great score by Carpenter and Ennio Morricone. I should also say that I don’t think Carpenter has topped this film and he’s made some great films before and after The Thing, but this was a perfect storm. It’s just a pity there was such a negative reaction to it at the time of it’s release in 1982, though history has shown those of us who thought it was brilliant at the time to be right.

Go watch this film again. In the dark. Alone.

So here I am at the end, or am I? After all there’s no Hammer? No Cronenberg? No Alien, and where exactly was The Shining?

The answer to one of those questions is for next time with My Worst Five Horror Films Ever.

My Top 20 Horror Films-2-The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man, 9Halloween, 8, The Blair Witch Project 7Hellraiser, 6, The Evil Dead series 5, The Exorcist, 4, Suspiria and 3George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead.

I’m nearly at number one but before we get there lets go for a trip in Texas in Tobe Hooper’s amazing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

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The plot is simple; a group of young people visiting a relatives grave after a series of grave robberies and worse, decide to visit one of their families old homes on the way back, but after picking up a bizarre hitchhiker the group are picked off one by one by a family of cannibals.

Sounds all fairly fun for an exploitation film but this isn’t a safe journey for the viewer, though the film does have a great streak of black humour that’s so dark that most people will miss it as they’re too busy being freaked out by what’s happening on the screen.This isn’t to say it’s splattered with gore; it’s not. In fact it’s pretty much lacking in gore, but it is violent. It’s the mood, feel and general atmosphere Hooper creates in the film that comes from a mix of some wonderfully bizarre performances, some inspired direction and a relentlessly disturbing soundtrack that all comes together with the truly twisted set design straight from a Graham Ingels story from an EC Comic, mixed with the story of Ed Gein.

Sadly the film suffered unbelievable censorship in the UK with the BBFC refusing it a certificate for decades, and when the Video Nasty fiasco happened and all uncertificated films endured the BBFC’s wrath with Texas Chain Saw Massacre suffering because of it. So for year the only way to see it in this country was by watching a grainy VHS copy, or smuggling a copy into the country on import on laserdisc.

Thankfully after the relaxation of censorship in this country post 1997 meant the film slowly seeped out to be appreciated for the remarkable work it is, not to mention it’s a massively influential one too as this was the film Ridley Scott watched to inspire him for Alien, and it shows.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an experience. It makes you doubt your own sanity at times as one disturbing image follows another so you can see why censors have a problem with the film as there’s nothing especially explicit to cut out. It’s the total package that grotesque and horrific so by the time you get to the image of an insane Leatherface dancing in the sun you’re so drained emotionally in a way I’ve rarely experienced.

Forget the sequels. Forget the remakes. Especially forget the remakes. This is all that matters. It’s an extraordinary film which is uncompromisingly brilliant. You’ll never want to hear a metal door slam shut again in your life after this..

And this means I’m about to reveal what my number one film is. Why have I not had any Hammer Films? Where’s the Cronenberg films? What about The Shining?

Well, next time you’ll find out………………………

My Top 20 Horror Films-3-George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man, 9Halloween, 8, The Blair Witch Project 7Hellraiser, 6, The Evil Dead series 5, The Exorcist and 4, Suspiria.

At #3 I take the opportunity to cram three gore packed zombie classics in, so lets dive in to the entrails of the first of George Romero’s zombies films,not to mention one of the most important and influential films ever, Night of the Living Dead.

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The plot is simple/ A zombie outbreak threatens America and a group of strangers hide in a remote house in the country trying to survive and escape the zombies that surround the house.

I grew up with this as a film I only read about in books about horror films which wasn’t because it was banned in the UK, rather it was a film I somehow missed until late into my teens. I’d always read about how important it was in relation to horror film history, not to mention what a great film it was and it is, but you need to see it for yourself to understand how an important a film this is. This is the film that launched modern horror which eventually replaced the more Gothic form of horror that’d dominated til then. This is the film that changed the zombie in film from a mindless slave, to a flesh-eating ghoul straight out of EC Comics. It also influenced generations of people to make horror films. Of course it did help spawn endless amounts of really bad zombie films, but that’s not the fault of George Romero.

Romero’s stroke of genius was to throw a load of social commentary in the film to beef up the EC Comics gore and horror, so Night of the Living Dead was especially subversive for featuring a black man in the lead role, something not common at all in 1968.It’s also a good script with some decent acting considering most people weren’t professional actors at the time.

Like all successful exploitation films it spawned a sequel, but unlike most sequels the sequel Dawn of the Dead, improved and I think is actually better than the first film.

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I managed to see this for the first time as part of a double bill with The Brood, a splendid David Cronenberg horror film,

 

This would have been around late 1982 or so, but this wasn’t my first X certificate film, that’s still to come in my list. However this was an experience as Dawn of the Dead, (or Zombies:Dawn of the Dead as it was here in the UK) lived up every bit to my expectations. Dawn of the Dead is everything a good horror film should be; it’s well written, well acted, it’s shot well and it’s got something important to say about consumerism, capitalism and society as a whole. Of course it’s also amazingly gory, thanks to some amazing work from Tom Savini.

 

It’s a great film, and although the film has dated in places it’s basically the template for virtually every zombie film made in the last few decades-survivors defend themselves against zombies and gangs of human survivors. What most zombie films nowadays forget to do is actually be as clever as Romero was, so it’s just gore which is essentially quite boring if it’s the same scenes over and over again.

Dawn of the Dead is a classic of film. There’s few horror films which can touch it. This includes the third film in Romero’s zombie trilogy, Day of the Dead.

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Day of the Dead isn’t a bad film, far from it but coming after two of the best films ever made it had a lot to live up to and it doesn’t quite get to where it needs to be but when it works it works brilliantly, especially during the various scenes of carnage but it’s the revelations that the zombies aren’t quite as brainless as we thought that Romero uses to great effect with the character of Bub.

There’s also the fact that the humans aren’t really the victims in this film, rather they’re just on the whole, mainly evil fucking bastards but they all get their exceptionally gory comeuppance.

All three films are classics of the genre, but the first two are more than just horror or exploitation films as they’ve got much, much more to offer. Their delights should be savoured as much as possible.Watch them this Halloween again and you’ll see what I mean..

We’re nearly at the end as we take a wee trip to Texas…

 

 

 

My Top 20 Horror Films-4-Suspiria

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man, 9Halloween, 8, The Blair Witch Project 7Hellraiser, 6, The Evil Dead series and 5, The Exorcist

Now it’s a film which in a different week, and a different mood would be # 1. It’s Dario Argento’s utterly fucking glorious Suspiria.

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A brief synopsis from IMDB.

A newcomer to a fancy ballet academy gradually comes to realize that the school is a front for something far more sinister and supernatural amidst a series of grisly murders.

 

The ‘newcomer’ is played by Jessica Harper, an actress who really, really, really should have been a massive star but somehow never made it to the A List, but she did make three great genre films, The Phantom of the Paradise, Shock Treatment and of course Suspiria.

The plot is again just a skeleton to hang on a series of amazingly constructed murders that are all stunningly gory in their execution, not to mention framed like works of art as Argento composes his frames brilliantly.

 

There’s a lot of red in this film. An awful, awful lot of red and it’s not just the stylised blood but the lighting, set design and pretty much everything as Argento uses the colour to unsettle the viewer.

It’s probably the most stylised film I’ve picked, not to mention the film that’s the most beautiful to look at even when the violence (and there’s a lot of violence) is happening on screen to the sound of a pumping Goblin soundtrack.

I first saw the film when I was living in Glasgow at some late night double bill with something else, but I don’t remember what the other film was as by the time I’d finished watching Suspiria the other film didn’t matter. the film utterly won me over from the start to the insane finish that really needs to be seen to be believed.

I adore the film as you’re all smart enough to have worked out by now. It’s a much, much better film than some more celebrated horror films. Why? Because it’s not scared to be a horror film rather than a psychological thriller or anything the media likes to dress horror films up because they’re the bastard genre of cinema.

Suspiria is almost the perfect distillation of what a horror film should be, or at least, what a very European horror film should be. Sadly after this Argento only made a few more good films before slipping into decline with only the odd thing popping up that harks back to former glories. Nothing though tops Suspiria. It’s nearly perfect. There are however three more positions to go…

Next time, let’s spend the night together…

My Top 20 Horror Films-6-The Evil Dead series (1981-2013)

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man, 9Halloween, 8, The Blair Witch Project and 7, Hellraiser

At #6 I’m going to cheat a bit and have not one, not two, not even three films, but four as I slap all four Evil Dead films in one blog.Lets start at the beginning..

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Everyone reading this knows the plot. Five kids go to a cabin in the woods, unleash demonic forces and carnage ensues. That’s it. Doesn’t sound much but the first Evil Dead film is simply one of the most fucking enjoyable times you’ll ever have watching a horror film, and yes, much of this is due to the sheer sadism that the director Sam Raimi inflicts upon his young cast, including a young Bruce Campbell. Yes, the effects are cheap. Yes it looks cheesy but it doesn’t matter. It’s wonderfully directed even as there’s all manner of sticky horrible things being thrown at the screen.

Sadly this also suffered at the hands of the moral campaigners as one of the most famous Video Nasties, but it had a prodigious life in the cinema and if memory serves me right, ran continuously in a cinema somewhere in Glasgow for something like three years In London it was a regular late night show at the sadly departed Scala in Kings Cross. As soon as it hit video in a sadly butchered form it still managed to go from strength to strength but it took until 2001 or so before a full uncut version was released on DVD/video in the UK which seems so insanely censorious now because, well, it fucking is!

In 1987 Sam Raimi gave us Evil Dead II.

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What can you say about this apart from that if you don’t like this film, or indeed love it then you’re dead from the scalp down. From the moment it opens to it’s barking mad ending it’s just a mix of Raimi’s comedy and horror with some of the best sight gags, physical horror and sheer slapstick you’ll see in a horror film. It also elevates Bruce Campbell very, very firmly into the role of a cult hero

There’s two scenes in particular that rank as among my favourites in any genre of film. Please feel free to take a wild guess as to what these scenes are…

Moving forward to 1992 we find Army of Darkness. At this point the series moves away from horror towards a more jokey tone, mixed in with the sort of fantasy epic Ray Harryhausen used to do.

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In the UK it has the subtitle, The Medieval Dead, which I still think is a great title for the film, but Army of Darkness it was. It’s a good film, not great as it suffers from a middle section which is frankly padded out far too much, plus it’s not quite got the edge of the first two films. This isn’t to say it’s a bad film, it’s not, but it’s a missed opportunity.

There’s also two endings to the film. One clearly wraps up the series while the other leaves things open for more, and for years there was always a feeling that Raimi and Campbell would return, but Campbell seemed to rule out a return while Raimi became a huge success thanks to the Spider Man films.

This all changed this year when the reboot/sequel Evil Dead was released.

Evil-Dead

 

I was prepared to hate this. Ok, Raimi and Campbell were producers, but it looked like every single other ‘reboot’ of classic horror films, so that would mean cynical CGI violence, a rape scene, crap actors and all of would be shot in the same sort of deep grey tones that would hide the seams not to mention the shoddy CGI.

Evil Dead isn’t that. It glories in it’s violence (very nasty with little CGI getting in the way) in such a way that it makes other reboots seem like the half-arsed efforts they are. It’s also made clear it’s a continuation of the original films through a few subtle hints throughout the film, but you really, really have to stay to the end to have the biggest hint laid in your lap.

I won’t spoil it, but the end is a glorious frenzy of red which hints of a sequel and of a connection to Bruce Campbell’s Ash character from the first three films. Give it a chance, seriously. As you’ll find out soon enough I have no time for reboots of classic horror films but this was a pleasant surprise.

The best news is that not only will there be a sequel to this year’s film, but Army of Darkness 2 is coming, to be followed by one last film which unites both strands together. Done right these could be very special films so lets hope shall we?

Next time, your mother knits socks in hell….

My Top 20 Horror Films-7-Hellraiser

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man, 9Halloween and 8, The Blair Witch Project.

Number seven on my list is Clive Barker’s insanely brilliant Hellraiser, which gives me an excuse to share one of my favourite film posters ever….

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This poster was actually banned by some cinemas which is a pity as it’s a brilliant poster.

Anyhow, the synopsis from IMDB gets it wrong.

An unfaithful wife encounters the zombie of her dead lover, who’s being chased by demons after he escaped from their sado-masochistic Hell.

There’s no zombies in this. There are however reanimated bodies after they’ve been torn to pieces, demons and monsters, and in fact this lot in particular.

Hellraiser_Cenobites

 

These are the Cenobites, the angels of Hell that the writer/director Clive Barker uses as little as possible in the film to great effect. Looking at them now it’s amazing how fresh the designs look, especially Pinhead is still an astonishing image as they don’t look like any monsters we’d seen in cinema up until then and although these designs have been used to ‘inspire’ a number of lesser monsters (including in the multiple and mainly shite sequels to Hellraiser itself) it still doesn’t diminish how great these creatures look.

They aren’t the main villains though. That would be Uncle Frank, the filthy auld pervert, and Julia, an equally filthy auld pervert who take advantage of Frank’s brother Larry’s good nature to rebuild Frank after his disastrous encounter with the Cenobites by hiding in his attic killing men that Julia has lured there on the promise of sex. This is not a nice easy horror film, it’s seedy, dark, twisted and hugely fun as Barker lets the film crack along at a storming pace.

Unfortunately Barker couldn’t film in New York, so the film is shot in London which is bloody obvious, especially in the scene with Kirsty walking along the disused London docks, and pretty much every external shot in the film. This adds a weird atmosphere as people speak with American accents but we can see it’s clearly London. It’s amazingly confusing but adds to the weirdness of the film.

I first saw the film at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1987 with a crowd of people buzzed up to the hilt and it didn’t disappoint.  I remember shaking the hand of an exceptionally relieved Barker after the film. Barker was someone I’d met a year or so earlier at a SF convention in Glasgow but that’s a story for another time…

Hellraiser is a fantastic film. Forget it’s sequels apart from the brilliantly mental Hellraiser 2, and the third one is watchable. After that it’s rubbish. The original is the best.

Next time it gets groovy…

 

My Top 20 Horror Films-8-The Blair Witch Project

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man and 9, Halloween.

We now go for a wander in the woods in The Blair Witch Project.

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It’s a simple plot which has now become far too familiar as the Found Footage genre became overused but in 1999, it was still fairly new.

Three film students go missing after traveling into the woods of Maryland to make a documentary about the local Blair Witch legend leaving only their footage behind.

 

The film starts with an opening text telling us about the three student documentary makers going missing before launching us right into their lives before going to film their documentary about the Blair Witch.  Not a lot happens for this early part of the film, but in fact this is the most important part of the film as it’s during the interviews with the people of Blair and the telling of it’s history that we as the audience get told what exactly is going to happen to our three protagonists. These scenes need to be watched closely as it’s all about mood, and also, because most of the people are acting naturally they present a convincing tale so by the time our filmmakers are hopelessly lost in the woods being stalked by something, we’re unsure and thrown off balance by the events on screen.

At the end we get what I think is such a simply terrifying shot that was set up in the film’s opening ten minutes or so.

Assuming we’ve been paying attention then we should be sitting in a cooling pool of piss by now. If you’ve not been paying attention then you’ll find all of this boring, and frankly, that makes you worse than Hitler.

The Blair Witch Project is a spectacular horror film even though it’s made for around a fiver and some orange peel because it does everything right, while remembering that without any money the best thing you can do is get the audiences imagination working overtime. This creates a genuinely unsettling experience as the mounting doom of our three main characters looms closer and closer we don’t know how they’ll meet their fate, but as said, we actually do. It also helps if you’ve seen The Curse of the Blair Witch, the mockumentary which was shown on TV just before the cinema release of the film. That gives a lot of background only hinted at in The Blair Witch Project, plus it’s an effectively creepy little film in it’s own right that deserves it’s place with the best of it’s genre.

I adore The Blair Witch Project. I first saw it at a late night showing at a cinema in Leicester when I was living there, and to this day the reaction of that audience sticks in my memory because it was amazing. Having a few hundred people breathe in deeply at the same point as the remaining two characters explore a derelict house is an amazing feeling.

Also, this was the first film to really, seriously use the internet to market itself properly, as well as use the online campaign as part of the film itself.  You can see the legacy of the Blair Witch in virtually  every marketing campaign for every film released today, and that’s not bad for a film that cost just over 20 grand.

However it’d be remiss of me at this stage to not point out The Last Broadcast and the huge similarities between that and The Blair Witch Project.

lastbroadcast

 

I won’t give too much away about The Last Broadcast but I will say that everyone has one good film in them then this is that film for the people who made this. It’s a bloody brilliant piece of horror that is probably the first film of any sort to effectively use the internet within the plot without it seeming awful. Considering The Last Broadcast was made a full year at least before production on Blair Witch started I’ll leave it to you to decide who copied who, but both films owe a lot to Cannibal Holocaust, not to mention there’s a wee bit of Ghostwatch in both films.

At the end of the day I don’t care. Both films are wonderful. Both films should be enjoyed. Watch them both.

Next time, I have such sights to show you!