American novelist and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis on his popular and provocative podcast has recently decried the rise of what he calls ‘Indie Arthouse horror’. Among the films that form the vanguard of what Ellis wants to see as some kind of new wave (although in a pejorative sense) is the 2014 Austrian film Goodnight Mommy (original title Ich seh, Ich seh). Continue reading
The news today (the 31st August 2015) of the death of the director Wes Craven came as something it was hard not to characterise with gallows humour as a ‘Shocker’, of all the directors classed as ‘Masters of Horror’ Craven was the one that had kept a candle burning for the horror genre. Whilst others either fizzled out after initial promise (Hooper), gradually got stuck in a genre rut (Romero), suffered a gradual decline (Carpenter), or left the genre for pastures new (Cronenberg), Craven demonstrated a remarkable resilience. Continue reading
A group of scouts venture into the countryside in search of adventure and find a much more real and visceral threat stalking the woods than scary campfire tales. Continue reading
Made in 1982 when director Dario Argento was recovering from the commercial failure of Inferno, many fans expected Tenebrae to be the final part of the Three Mother’s trilogy (the title leads one to expect that), instead the film sees the director return to the Giallo tradition in which he had made his name over a decade before (with The Bird With the Crystal Plumage).
Bestselling American mystery novelist Peter Neal (a fine performance by Anthony Franciosa in a part originally intended for Christopher Walken) travels to Rome to promote his latest book “Tenebrae”. He arrives to a hostile reception from a feminist book critic and an interview with the police. A woman has been found murdered. The victim’s throat slit and mouth stuffed with pages from Neal’s novel. When further murders follow, the crime novelist starts to investigate his ego unable to resist the prospect of solving a real mystery.
Stylistically Tenebrae is quite different from previous Argento films. Moving away from the deeply saturated comic book colours of Suspiria and Inferno, Argento and his director of photography Luciano Tovoli bathe the film in light. Nighttime scenes seem to be lit by industrial floodlights. When there is a thunderstorm in the film, the lightning flares the whole screen white. Where most horror films shroud their suspense sequences in darkness, Argento exposes every detail.
Stunningly art directed, the film is as much an artefact and document of the 80s as Miami Vice. Argento chooses striking angular modernist buildings as locations; characters dress in whites and pastels colour coordinated with the sets. These muted white and pastel colour schemes look terrific when they are then sprayed in bright sticky arterial crimson.
Stunning set-pieces are staged that seem to exist for no more reason than to let Argento’s visual imagination go wild. In one celebrated single shot a camera prowls the exterior of a building, discovers the killer entering, then crawls up an exterior wall, through a bedroom window where a victim awaits, back out the window, over the roof and down the other side of the building to the ground floor where a second victim awaits. This sequence has no real narrative reason for being. It doesn’t advance the plot and there are easier ways of establishing a killer entering a house. But oh my god, does it look amazing!
Immeasurably enhancing the visuals is an incredible score from Simonetti-Morante-Pignatelli (unable to use the band name Goblin at the time for legal reasons). The score mixes prog rock and disco elements and in keeping with previous Argento/Goblin collaborations is placed as high in the mix as possible.
Tenebrae finds Argento in a playful mood, his plot slyly raising the accusations of misogyny and sadism that had been levelled against him by critics of his previous films only to then paint the screen red with ostentatious glee. Although ostensibly featuring a realistic narrative, the film is completely absurd in the most captivating fashion. Random occurrences break the narrative; characters do the most illogical things; everyone lives in amazingly opulent apartments (even shoplifters); there is even a strange sci-fi subtext that no one understands except Argento. None of this matters a jot, in fact it just adds to the fun of one of the director’s more neglected masterpieces.
Following on from my previous re-blog about I Spit On Your Grave, I thought I’d follow that up with a second post about another notorious ‘video nasty’ known for its shocking and transgressive use of sexualised violence. In this case it is a film I think is considerably more artful in execution, as well as explicitly political in subtext, the 1980 Italian film The House on the Edge of the Park. This was originally written in 2012 comparing the film to a Chilean horror film called Hidden in the Woods which had been presented with some fanfare as the latest thing in shock at that year’s FilmFour London FrightFest festival. Needless to say, Hidden in the Woods has been quickly forgotten (although predictably there is a US remake mooted) but The House on the Edge of the Park is still notorious.
The news that Anchor Bay has taken the rights to a second sequel to the 2010 remake of I Spit on Your Grave first made me despair that anyone would wish to franchise rape revenge. Then it made me reach back a few years and dig out a piece I wrote on the first blu-ray release of the original 1978 film. I’ve given this a light rewrite from the version first put online in 2010.
I should forewarn you that this isn’t really a review, more an essay/comment piece and as such will thoroughly spoil the film’s plot (such as it is possible to ‘spoil’ I Spit on Your Grave). Also while the majority of the original video nasties are now rather quaint, this one and a few others (Cannibal Holocaust, Last House on the Left, and House on the Edge of the Park spring to mind) retain their power to shock and appall. As such the plot details may offend. If in doubt, do not read on. Continue reading
Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) – a prideful classical actor who refuses to act in anything but the works of The Bard – is professionally and personally destroyed by a scornful group of theatre critics who refuse to award him the Critic’s Circle Award he covets. Never knowingly prone to underselling a performance Lionheart apparently commits suicide in the wake of this humiliation. Unbeknown to the critics who savaged his reputation with glee in newsprint, Lionheart survives and plots elaborate revenge, murdering the Critic’s Circle members in gruesome and baroque scenarios derived the work of Shakespeare. Continue reading