horror month – day 8

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 9th, 2015

Lake Mungo (2008)

Quick summary: In an after-the-fact faux documentary, we meet a family who, in grieving the death of their daughter, started to experience ghostly shenanigans around the house.

Interesting choice to do the horror mockumentary. It removes any possibility of mortal jeopardy as we know all the characters come out of the story alive, but the filmmakers are less concerned with that style of horror than they are with a slow, unsettling build-up of doubt and sorrow. The film is very much a story about grief and it’s effect on the family, friends and community of the woman who died – Alice Palmer – whose secret life we learn more about as the story unfolds. I’m sure the naming similarity with Twin Peak’s Laura Palmer is no coincidence.

Weirdly, the film Lake Mungo reminds me of most is The Imposter – a documentary about an arguably creepier story, but which uses cinematic reenactments and interesting twist reveals halfway through in much the same way Lake Mungo does. The Imposter came 4 years later – I wonder if it was inspired by this film.

I also watched:

The Canal (2014)

Quick summary: Film archivist and jealous husband David starts hearing and seeing things that have something to do with a film he found – of a crazy jealous husband who killed his family in 1902 – in the very same house he and his wife live in. And then David’s wife disappears.

More of a traditional possession horror here. Interesting this came out the same year as The Babadook. And this is now the third film in a row that involves some use of spirit photography. These ghosts really need to figure out a way to hide from film-stock.

I liked the unsubtle colour palette of this going from an even yellow/blue to almost entirely red towards the end. It also had some nice nods toward Lynch and Ringu. But the dialogue was fairly flat, and it sort of descended into unintentionally hilarious territory towards the end.

Lewton Bus moment: David’s co-worker, who in the previous scene talked about staying up late to watch Cat People, only went and did a Lewton Bus on David!

Tonight: Might give The Innocents (1961) a go. If I have time, and to follow this horror-documentary tangent, I’d also like to watch The Nightmare (2015) (from the makers of Room 237).

Check out the archive of the horror month so far here.


horror month – day 7

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 8th, 2015

Dark Water (2002)

I remember the first time I watched Ringu. My housemates were out, the weather was suitably grim, and I’d recorded the film off TV onto a blank tape. I didn’t know what the plot was. When the movie finished, my phone rang. It was pretty terrifying. It was perfect.

Dark Water, from the same director – Hideo Nakata – and from source material from the author – Koji Suzuki – uses familiar techniques to get it’s scares. There’s a constant pervading tension and creeping dread that makes every environment feel unwelcoming. Nakata is a master of atmosphere. There are so many beautiful shots in this film and the green-blue-yellow cinematography helps make everything feel alien and oppressive.

Quick summary: A divorcee in the midst of a custody battle for her daughter, moves into a cheap apartment. But there’s only a bloody water leak which may or may not be related to a ghostly presence!

I love a good ghost story. While the plot’s pretty slight and easy to predict (perhaps betraying it’s origin as a short story) I found this compelling and very satisfying. I cared about the characters and felt they (and I) had something to lose, which helped make the disquieting pace and direction one hundred per cent more effective than any big scares. It’s a very melancholy film. Dealing with divorce, single-parenthood, mental illness, loneliness and abandonment. Thematically, it feels very similar to The Babadook.

I also watched:

Shutter (2004)

Quick summary: College photography students accidentally run someone over and then promptly scarper. But oh-oh – all their photos have weird smudges and ghostly images on them…

This was alright. Some really memorable and creepy imagery regarding stairs and shoulders. And filmmakers Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom move the camera around with a Scorsese-like energy. But I couldn’t shake the feeling it felt more like a dumb, if serviceable, American horror where college kids get picked off one by one. That’s unfair to Shutter – it has a little more going on than that, and the spirit photography stuff is fun.

Tonight: Probably going to stick with the water theme a bit longer and give Lake Mungo (2008) and The Canal (2014) a try.

Check out the archive of the horror month so far here.


horror month – day 6

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 7th, 2015

Hellraiser (1987)

Quick summary: Garak from Deep Space Nine’s sexually adventurous brother Frank seeks further heights of pleasure/pain from a box that can open a portal to pioneering S&M hell-demons. Also, a chap who resembles Alan Moore walks around eating insects and intimidating Garak’s daughter before revealing his true winged skin demon form. So pretty standard, seen-it-all-before stuff…

A welcome change of pace today. A man’s chest got impaled by hooks from a mystical box within 3 minutes of the film starting. I found this oddly comforting after the grim, harsh realities of Threads.

Apparently, the film’s working title was Sadomasochists From Beyond the Grave. And a 60 year old female production member suggested it should be called What a Woman Will Do For a Good Fuck. So there you go.

I burst out laughing when Kirsty – Garak’s daughter – finds herself playing slapsies with a weird dog-like flesh creature in the final act.

Glad I’ve finally watched it – it’s always been one of those horror films we’re all meant to have seen. It’s got a playfulness and imagination that I can definitely see the appeal of. If nothing else, it’s responsible for one of the most iconic creature designs in horror – Pinhead (or “Priest”) – who was surprisingly barely in the film. Ultimately, not sure I enjoyed it enough to chase down the other films in the series, but we’ll see. October’s only just got started.

Lewton Bus count: Really should just abandon this tally as I’ve realised no movie has more than one Lewton Bus as that tests the credulity of the audience. But I had to give a shout out to the great monkey screech sound cue when Kirsty’s friend puts his hand on her shoulder.

Tonight: Time for a bit of Asian horror I think. Going to start with Dark Water (2002) – yet another embarrassing gap of mine – and follow up with Shutter (2004) if I get the chance.

Check out the archive of the horror month so far here.


horror month – day 5

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 6th, 2015

Threads (1984)


That was one of the grimmest cinematic experiences I’ve had. A film that, correctly if bleakly, presents the best-case scenario of a nuclear attack as getting caught in the initial blast.

It’s an astonishing film. Starting out as a kitchen-sink drama about two families in Sheffield, and steadily becoming a very realistic, public information film of what would happen to the UK in the event of a nuclear attack. The occasional, documentary style, matter-of-fact narration is sometimes the creepiest part. Presenting dire statistics in an even, uncaring tone as we watch the characters suffer unending horrors.

While the threat of a nuclear war may not be as pressing in 2015, what the film really hits home is how quickly “normal” life can crumble away.

I had a re-listen to this episode of Film Fandango (in which they discuss Rock of Ages and Threads – an unlikely double bill) while doing the above drawing – it was like listening to a Threads support group.

Tonight: I’m going to need something a little sillier I think, so Hellraiser (1987) it is.

Check out the archive of the horror month so far here.


horror month – day 4

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 5th, 2015

The Borderlands (2013)

“Have a cracking day mate! Good luck with Edward Woodward!”

Quick Summary: A reopened church in the secluded English countryside. Three employees of the Vatican need to investigate claims that a miracle happened there. But was it a miracle or something more sinister? You are correct. It is of course, the latter.

Another found footage movie – which can often get in the way of suspension-of-disbelief toward the latter half of a horror film. But this quickly tackles that with a couple of lines about the Vatican and time discrepancies and then you forget about it by and large. Also, go-pro headsets really do solve the “just put the camera down!” problem.

This was really good fun. Rec meets The Wicker Man. It has a nice, steady, slow build and a genuinely chilling final act which largely succeeds because the filmmakers invested enough time in making the relationship between the main characters, Deacon and Gray, work. There was a little too much of the main characters unthinkingly throwing themselves into dangerous situations – which pulled me out of it at times – but in fairness, these are characters who spend their time debunking “miracles” so they probably wouldn’t be all that concerned about rocking up to a clearly haunted/demonic church. At night. Alone. With one barely functioning flashlight.

Genuinely didn’t see that ending coming.

Lewton Bus count: 1 use of a character playfully scaring another.

Tonight: Think I’ll stay this side of the pond for another evening and watch the apocalyptic TV movie Threads (1984). If I have enough time, I might try to fit Peeping Tom (1960) in too.

Check out the archive of the horror month so far here.


horror month – day 3

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 4th, 2015

Cat People (1942)

Quick Summary: The Forties! When men were men, and women were cursed Serbian cat people who can’t walk into pet stores.

This was always one of those classic horror films on my to-do list that I had never managed to make time for and I’m so glad I finally did. The lighting and use of shadows is excellent, I loved the animated cat dream sequence, and there’s a reason the famous set-pieces in it have stood the test of time – they’re perfectly paced and remain genuinely tense. I also liked how the “monster” of the story was ultimately the protagonist – it seemed like the film had more sympathy for her than it did for the “heroes”.

I’d really recommend this episode of the always excellent podcast You Must Remember This about Val Lewton, the director. I listened to it while drawing the illustration above and it’s a fascinating look at his life in the studio system, his legacy on cinema in general, and his artistic ambitions with horror. It’s definitely encouraged me to seek out the rest of his work at some point – especially with the comparisons to Preston Sturges.

Favourite period dialogue that makes me want to watch films like this all day: “I sure could, but this coffee’s been working so long it’s got muscles!”

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention – the swimming pool set-piece – I’m sure I’m the very last person to notice this, but it definitely feels like It Follows was referencing this scene for it’s final act (which makes me like that film even more).

Lewton Bus count: 1. The actual Lewton Bus!

Tonight: I’m a little fragile today after a friend’s birthday party so thought I’d give British found footage film The Borderlands (2013) a try as that looks like it’ll be fun.

Check out the archive of the horror month here.


horror month – day 2

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 3rd, 2015

Honeymoon (2014)

I liked this. It has the look and feel of a low-budget indie relationship drama. A Duplass brothers film with scares. In fact, it has a lot in common, thematically, with The One I Love, though the relationship is closer to the beginning here than the end.

Quick summary: a newly wedded couple go on their honeymoon to a cabin in the woods by a very picturesque lake. One evening, the wife (Rose “You know nothing Jon Snow” Leslie) is found sleepwalking in the woods, and starts to exhibit unusual behaviour.

Some nice paranoid, is-our-relationship-going-to-be-different-now? stuff in there. Very well shot by director Leigh Janiack. And I liked the genre-hopping conclusion.

Favourite ridiculous line from paranoid, over-sensitive husband: “You’ve never forgotten how to make French toast.” (Kill her! She’s obviously possessed or INSANE!!!! Get out man! ALL is FUCKING lost!)

Lewton Bus Count: 0.

One Last Scare? No. Very understated, Wyndham-esque end.

I also watched:

Unfriended (2014)

Quick summary: Playing out entirely on one character’s laptop screen, we watch a bunch of teens skyping with each other after a mutual schoolfriend committed suicide. But someone else is on the call with them.

Yeah, this was great. This generation’s Blair Witch Project – in that low-budget, high-concept, zeitgeisty way – but I think this was a more successful film. I felt this actually had things to say – about bullying and online harassment. And it was structured very smartly. I bet we’re going to get a rash of similar films to this in the same way found-footage movies became a staple after BWP.

As fun as they were, it’s a shame they decided to go for a few OTT Final Destination style deaths as they felt tonally very different to the rest of the film which built up the suspense with expert timing (I bet this film was a nightmare for the editor).

Best “Yes, I work here too” moment: Teenagers explaining to each other what an online troll is.

Lewton Bus Count: 0. Starting to think this tally thing was a bad idea.

One Last Scare? Nope. Two very different contemporary horror films keeping the clichés to a minimum! Oooh, and neither purported to be based on true events.

Tonight: Think I’ll give an RKO studios horror a try this time with Cat People (1942).

Check out the archive of the horror month here.


horror month – day 1

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 2nd, 2015

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Or “Bill Pullman and his Jaguar Spirit Animal”. This is an odd one. Based on a book, made after Craven’s success with Nightmare on Elm Street, and after Romero’s Dead trilogy had reinvented the zombie film. This goes back to the sub-genre’s Haitian roots, with raffish young Pullman trying to discover how ‘zombification’ works so his employer, BioCorp (I love a good sci-fi/horror evil corporation), can market it as an anaesthetic. So it has the same problem those dodgy X-Files episodes with voodoo have – in that there are some distinctly problematic elements in here. But it’s handling of voodoo and it’s relationship with Christianity is pretty good.

Because a lot of the film’s horror moments take place in dreams or while hallucinating, there are some parallels with Nightmare. Craven really knows how to deliver on these.

There’s a great hand reaching through soup moment. And Bill Pullman gets chased by a chair. Yep. There’s also a prolonged black-screen buried alive scene that reminded me of that bit in Kill Bill 2.

Lewton Bus Count: 1.

One Last Scare? Yes. Leading to a very bizarre fist fight with the antagonist’s smoking body.

I also watched:

The Last House on the Left (1972)

This was thoroughly unpleasant.

I suppose I’m sort of glad that I’ve seen it, considering it’s place in cinematic history, but that was a really nasty watch. There’s some truly inventive direction and sound design in there, and I like that it’s this small exploitation movie inspired by a Bergman film (and media images of the Vietnam war). But all the impressive ideas about violence begetting violence gets lost, for me, in those weird tonal shifts into slapstick after something incredibly disturbing happens. I can see it’s influence on a lot of movies. I bet Eli Roth fucking loves it.

There’s a good Kermode take on the original and the remake here.

Interestingly, both this and The Serpent had the ol’  ”Based on true events” horror staple at the start. Maybe I should keep a running tally of this too.

Lewton Bus Count: 0 (it’s not that kind of film).

One Last Scare? No, just one last tonally jarring sound cue over a depressing freeze frame.

Tonight: Probably going to go contemporary tonight with Honeymoon (2014). Might double-bill with Unfriended (2014) if there’s time.

Check out the archive of the horror month here.


horror month – introduction

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 1st, 2015

TLDR: I’ve decided to spend this October attempting to watch a horror film a day + accompany each movie with a quick drawing.

Since retiring my New Statesman comic – In The Frame – earlier this year, I’ve spent the majority of my time securing illustration work and making sure the next year of freelancing was going to be as comfortable as I could make it. I also set-up the Artists Fight Back list, co-edited and designed a book about Poetry Comics with Chrissy Williams, and drew a Phonogram b-side – so while I have been working on really fun and exciting projects, I still haven’t really worked on anything just for myself this year.

So this is me setting some time aside to do something creative, fun, and with no expectation to do anything with it afterwards.

And to watch a whole load of horror films.

The idea is that I’ll watch a horror film every day during October (usually in the evening, but maybe over lunch depending on how my workload/schedule looks) and then draw an illustration/sketch the next morning as a warm-up before tackling other projects. My hope is to experiment with each drawing and try something different – but we’ll see how I get on and what my time allows. I don’t want this side of the project to become a chore or get stressful, so I’ll aim to spend no more than an hour or two on each drawing.

When I came up with the idea a couple of weeks ago, I asked Facebook and Twitter for recommendations and was overwhelmed with brilliant suggestions. In the end, there were about 90 movies that made the list and I’ve gone through and made a rough plan regarding which 31 I’ll try and watch this month (who knows, maybe I’ll do this again if it goes well). You can see this list here, along with a list of films I’ve already seen and enjoyed so if you have a suggestion that isn’t on either list, I’d love to hear from you. The selection isn’t set in stone and I may change my mind last minute depending on what’s easily accessible via Netflix/getting a lot of endorsements/I’m just in the mood for.

I’ve always loved horror movies and while I consider myself a fan, I have so many blind spots and embarrassing cultural gaps so I’m really excited about filling some of these in. But when I decided to do this, I’ve had people ask “what is it about horror films that you actually find enjoyable?” which is a tough question to satisfyingly answer, but one I should probably try to before I get started, so:

  1. Horror movies are often low budget affairs which generally make their money back and, more often, make a profit – so it tends to be a genre where a lot of interesting and unique directorial voices make their debuts away from too much studio interference. Which often means, even if the movie isn’t perfect, there are some beautifully directed and ambitious horror films to be discovered.
  2. It’s a bit of well worn truism, but catharsis. It’s not always comfortable during the running time, but facing your fears and being allowed to experience or explore your worst nightmare (from a place of safety) is a really exhilarating way to spend a couple of hours. Horror films are usually trying to craft a story/mythology around deep-rooted fears or things completely outside of our control. It’s a really comforting thing when you think about it. Right guys?
  3. Related – it’s an opportunity for a cowardly, shut-in artist like me to pretend to be brave for a little bit.
  4. There’s something enticing about the purity of the horror film and it’s success or failure largely resting on it’s ability to genuinely scare or disturb despite our knowledge that it’s just a movie.
  5. On that note, as someone who studied movies for a while, and spends a lot of time watching and reading about them, it can sometimes be hard to turn the analytical side of the brain off when watching a film. When there’s a horror movie that scares me into doing just that, it’s like going straight to the source and feeling like a kid again.

To get me in the mood, I’ve made a little horror playlist. Seeing as my earliest memories of horror films are from this era, all the songs are things that sound like they’d be playing in a club in an 80’s film while the main characters are trying to find help. The playlist is here.

I also re-watched the Mark Gatiss History of Horror doc which can be found on youtube here (I assume it’s okay to link to it if no dvd exists?). Worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. Watching it led to this quick Karloff’s Monster sketch:

In honour of horror maestro Wes Craven, who died earlier this year, I’ll be kicking off the month tonight with The Serpent and the Rainbow – a 1988 zombie film starring Bill Pullman which Craven took on after the success of Nightmare on Elm Street. If I have enough time, I may also watch the more well known Last House on the Left which I’ve also somehow managed not to have seen.

It also only seems right that my first illustration for this is of Craven himself:

If you fancy joining in and watching along with me, or if you have a suggestion – follow me on Twitter here and get in touch!

Similarly, follow my Twitter or subscribe to this blog if you want to be notified when new illustrations have gone up.

The archive of the Horror Month drawings will be here if you want to bookmark it.


poppy magazine – banks

Posted in illustrations, news by Tom on September 28th, 2015

I was commissioned by Poppy Magazine to illustrate a piece about technology and banks and Apple Pay. The first image required a large portrait of Steve Jobs:

And the image for the turn:

And here’s the first image as part of the layout. I think it came out really well.

You can read Poppy Magazine online here. This piece can be found in Issue 3.