horror week – day 5

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 26th, 2016


When Animals Dream (2014)

“I’m transforming into a monster, but I need to have a lot of sex first. Do you think you could help me?”

Quick summary: Marie, a young woman on a remote island in Denmark, is perturbed by new physical changes that appear to unsettle her father, the local doctor, and the island’s small community. What do they know that Marie doesn’t? And does it have anything to do with her mother’s debilitating illness?

I wanted to watch some contemporary creature feature films tonight and this – a quiet, beautifully shot, Danish werewolf film – hit the spot. At the time, I think the film was compared a lot to Let The Right One In and I can understand why. The film prioritises atmosphere and and quiet restraint, the script has enough faith in the audience to allow most of the story to unravel without the aid of dialogue, and the audience’s empathy is carefully directed towards the “monster” of the film.

As with films like Jennifer’s Body, Teeth, The Company Of Wolves and Ginger Snaps, the film strongly ties the supernatural mythology to the character’s sexual awakening and treats the male fear of this as the real monster. The way this small fishing town treats Marie develops from casual suspicion to sexually menacing “pranks” leaving me desperate for Marie to go full Carrie.

The soundtrack, like the film, is subtle and smart too. Thumbs up all round.

I also watched:

The Roost (2005)

“I won’t let the bat out of the bag just yet.”

Quick summary: Some horror fodder/young adults are on their way to a wedding when the car breaks down near a barn full of aggressive zombie bats.

I thought I’d go for a contemporary vampire film for my second creature feature – and Ti West’s The Roost felt like the right choice. I enjoyed House Of The Devil and had since caught up with The Innkeepers and The Sacrament (both are great, I think The Innkeepers might be my favourite of West’s so far). While this does indeed have bats in it, it’s more of a small scale zombie film than something like Near Dark.

This is West’s first feature and as such, it has a noticeably lower budget than his other films. But it’s still a recognisably Ti West joint – with aggressively long takes and a steady ramp-up of tension. There’s also a nice appearance from Tom Noonan as a creepy presenter of “Frightmare Theatre” – a black and white Tales From The Crypt style show that bookends the main feature (as well as interrupting the film when the characters make the mistake of displaying some affection for each other. The monsters).

It struck me that the film was made and released at the height of the “torture porn” era of horror at the turn of the century. In that context, I can see The Roost being an almost subversive statement of intent from West.

It’s a Glass Eye Pix film so there’s, of course, a cameo from Larry Fessenden. Long-time collaborator Graham Reznick (who wrote Until Dawn with Fessenden) does great work on the sound design too.

I also watched West’s student film Prey which was on the DVD. It’s a strong, lean five minute chase sequence.

Ti West’s next film should be out soon – a western revenge movie with Ethan Hawke – In A Valley Of Violence – should be interesting.

Tonight: I’m thinking The Hallow (2015) and The Battery (2012).

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

horror week – day 4

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 25th, 2016


Southbound (2015)

“Tonight might just be the night you finally outrun those wicked demons once and for all.”

Quick summary: Five interweaving short stories set on or around a desert highway which may or may not be some sort of purgatory (but is almost definitely purgatory).

I love a good portmanteau horror anthology despite their tendency to be inconsistent in quality. This one works better than most and benefits from a sort of directorial house-style that doesn’t make huge tonal jumps between stories.

From the opening tale, where a run-down diner is playing clips from Carnival of Souls, we’re given clues as to where we are and what’s happening to the protagonists in each short. There’s also a nice cameo from Larry Fessenden as a radio DJ at the start of each story – giving us some on-the-nose philosophical thoughts that happen to relate directly to each tale. He acts as our Cryptkeeper in this Tale from the Crypt or Creepshow.

I found the second and third stories were the most successful: a playful and menacing short by director Roxanne Benjamin that followed a female-fronted punk group getting aid from creepy Rockwellian Satanists, and an excruciating, gory short about a man trying his best to fix a costly mistake. That second one – from director David Bruckner (who did The Signal) – had me squirming in my seat for the duration. Hospital scenes tend to have me on edge at the best of times and Bruckner really turns the knife (so to speak) here.

It’s a shlocky, enjoyable watch.

I also watched:

Trick ‘R Treat (2007)

“Charlie Brown’s an asshole!”

Quick summary: Four short stories set on the same night – Halloween.

A very glossy horror film which clearly had a decent budget – possibly due to being produced by Bryan Singer (which may also explain the presence of Anna Paquin and Brian Cox).

Rather than have individual directors for each short, this was directed in its entirety by Michael Dougherty who went on to do Krampus.

It’s a decent enough horror anthology. Brainless enough that it’ll be enjoyable to watch with friends on Halloween. The narrative is connected by a mini Jack-o’-lantern headed “Spirit of Halloween” and in some ways the film seems to be commenting on the crass commercialisation of the holiday. And yet a lot of the scares and a lot of the stories feel exploitative and cheap so it seems to be trying to have it’s pumpkin-spiced cake and eat it too. The Anna Paquin tale in particular, seems to be aiming for a female empowerment twist ending while also having lots of gratuitous nudity. It’s absurdly misjudged.

In a way it’s like a Christmas feel-good movie, with the final story focusing on the Scrooge-like Brian Cox character being hounded by the ‘lil Halloween chap (with some overt nods to the Evil Dead 2). But we’re far from the damning, wry satire of Gremlins. Essentially, as with Krampus, this movie can’t decide if it wants to make a satirical comment about the holiday season, go for the darkness, or just give in to the easy genre conventions that will satisfy a mainstream audience. In the end, it goes for something in the middle and ends up feeling unsatisfying.

Tonight: Creature feature night with The Roost (2005) and When Animals Dream (2014).

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

horror week – day 3

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 24th, 2016


The Shallows (2016)

“I’m not dying here.”

Quick summary: Blake Lively, in an attempt to get over the death of her mother, goes surfing in a secluded beach in Mexico. But there’s only a bloody shark there! After being attacked, she finds safety on some nearby rocks which will soon be submerged at high tide…

A fun, solid b-movie. The camera is pretty pervy though and seems intent on having Lively fight the shark in a bikini. Still, the tension is well crafted and the short run-time means it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

After seeing the synopsis I thought it might be a little bit like Tremors in the water (though Tremors was essentially Jaws on land, so I guess I was just expecting Jaws?). It’s more a survival thriller along the lines of Black Water or even Open Water127 Hours feels like an influence too.

I liked that the final act takes place on a buoy – I’m assuming the association with the opening five minutes of Jaws was intentional there.

“Steven Seagull” was a great addition.

The dialogue was pretty poor with a lot of “hey sis!” expository clunkiness. This sort of b-movie doesn’t need much character growth anyway. There were some interesting techniques used to show smart phone use – though I have to say it started to get a bit obnoxious.

I also watched:

The Bay (2012)

“I mean, look at that – that’s entirely made of chicken shit.”

Quick summary: A fake found footage documentary about what happened at a seaside town in Maryland that the Government tried to keep silent.

Hello found footage my old friend. In fairness, this is an after-the-fact documentary using existing footage so it feels fresher than the usual found footage fare. I guess the closest comparison is Lake Mungo.

The main narrator and protagonist is Kether Donohue – who will be familiar to You’re The Worst fans as Lindsay! Great to see her in something else.

This is directed by Barry Levinson – the guy behind Tootsie, Wag The Dog, and Rain Man (he also helped produce TV shows like Homicide and Oz). Interesting to see a horror film from him. Apparently he was approached to direct a straight documentary about the environmental impact of dumping waste in the sea. He thought most people knew the basic facts already and that the best way to make an impact would be to heighten everything into a horror film. In that sense I guess this would be my second Eco Horror of the week after The Last Winter.

Enjoyed this. Felt myself getting increasingly itchy as the film went on.

Those bloody corrupt New England seaside mayors… “Amity, as you know, means friendship”.

Tonight: Anthology horror night with Southbound (2015) and Trick ‘r Treat (2007).

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

horror week – day 2

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 23rd, 2016


The Witch (2016)

“Did ye make some unholy bond with that goat?”

Quick summary: A family in 17th Century New England are struggling on their own after being banished from a Puritan plantation. Are their subsequent ill-fortunes due to some evil presence in the wood? Do they have a witch in their midst? Or are they suffering some mass hallucination?

The Witch (or VVitch – based on a Jacobean pamphlet spelling) received a huge amount of praise earlier in the year but I failed, as I often do, to catch it in the cinema. I remember there was a lot of talk at the time about first-time director Robert Eggers’ faithfulness to historical detail, and that a lot of audiences felt disappointed by the film after all the hype. People argued over whether or not to call it a horror film, and the marketing was partly blamed for leading people to expect a more explicitly jump-scare type of horror experience instead of the slow unravelling of familial trauma.

I absolutely loved the film. Followers of my horror illustrations will probably already know I generally favour atmospheric, deliberately paced, suggestive horror over gore-fests and cheap jump-scares (as much as I enjoy those as well from time to time) – so this film flew by for me and it is, of course, a horror film. Whether the shocking/creepy supernatural elements in the film are real or some sort of shared hysteria doesn’t really change that. I was, and remain, chilled by the film.

The cast, including Finchy from the British Office, are superb and deliver the heavily-researched and delicious dialogue with a subdued naturalism. The strained strings of the soundtrack kept me tense and on-edge throughout, and it’s beautifully shot.

The film aims to work as some sort of undiscovered, ageless, universal folktale – no specific, deliberate allegory – you get out what you take in. I think it’s successful in that – I can see myself returning to it and reading different things into it with each viewing. I’m looking forward to doing that.

I also watched:

Witchfinder General/The Conqueror Worm (1968)

“Witchfinding? Oh, that’s nice. That’s very nice”

Quick summary: A witchfinder and his assistant travel around England during the Civil War “interrogating” suspected witches and executing them. Until a young Roundhead decides to bring him to justice.

There’s a lot to say about this film – so much so it probably deserved it’s own night. It’s largely viewed as one of the first “folk horror” films of the era and was directed by Michael Reeves – a 25 year old who died nine months after the film’s release due to an accidental overdose. The film met with a lot of controversy due to it’s depiction of brutal torture and upsetting violence and ended up having a lot of edits. I watched the Director’s Cut which reinstated a lot of those scenes.

Vincent Price, as the witchfinder, is a lot more subtle and understated than usual here. Apparently, he and Reeves didn’t get along during the shoot (Price: “I’ve made 87 films, what have you done?”, Reeves: “I’ve made 3 good ones.” BURN).

The film is undoubtedly hard to watch. Despite modern horror pushing further than this does – it still manages to make it’s point – that these are horrific acts and we, as a desensitised cinema-going audience, should feel appalled when we watch.

It was released in the US as The Conqueror Worm to tie-in with the Edgar Allen Poe series of films he did with Roger Corman.

The production company – Tigon – went on to make Blood on Satan’s Claw as a successor in spirit to Witchfinder General.

Some more choice dialogue: “I saw them consort with their familiars.” “And what were these familiars?” “A black cat and a stoat.”

Tonight: I’m thinking The Shallows… If I have time, I may try The Bay as well.

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

horror week – day 1

Posted in news by Tom on October 22nd, 2016


The Last Winter (2006)

“What if the very thing we were here to pull out of the ground were to rise willingly?”

Quick summary: A drilling crew, working on behalf of an American oil company, are looking to build a pipeline in the Arctic and create “energy independence”. They’re joined by environmental analysts who begin to suspect that nature may not be entirely okay with this.

Larry Fessenden – the writer, director, actor, producer, editor, caterer, gaffer, best boy etc. of Glass Eye Pix – came to my attention last year when he popped up in Jug Face/The Pit.

Since then, it seems I can’t watch a contemporary horror film without finding him make a cameo or seeing his name involved in the production somewhere (Pod, We Are What We Are, You’re Next, Stakeland, The Innkeepers, We Are Still Here, and the PS4 horror game Until Dawn – which he wrote – to name just a few).

Fessenden has established himself as a huge presence in modern horror. And yet I hadn’t watched any of the films he’d written and directed.

As such, I wanted to kick off this week of horror with a Fessenden double-bill. To start – The Last Winter – or An Inconvenient Horror. Fessenden’s 2006 parable about climate change.

It’s set in a remote camp in the Arctic with Ron Perlman, Connie Britton, and Kevin Corrigan among the ragtag bunch of people who will slowly start mistrusting each other and their own sanity. Being someone who would count The Thing among my favourite films, this suits me down to the ground. There’s something particularly scary about the bright, white, isolating Arctic environment – it reminds me of The Others which successfully encouraged the audience to fear the light more than the shadows. And Fessenden, with his cinematographer, makes the most of the location. Using long, smooth pans and zooms to create a disorientating sense of space while building a tense feeling of impending doom with some patient pacing. The soundtrack’s quiet, gentle piano refrains also add to the thoughtful, poetic tone it wants to set.

As the apocalyptic ending ramps up, it perhaps feels a little unsatisfying. But overall I enjoyed the contemplative ambiguity. Nice to see a horror film tackling climate change too.

“This ground’s been frozen for over one thousand years; we have no idea what’s coming out of it!”

I also watched:

Wendigo (2001)

“It can fly at you like a sudden storm without warning, and devour you, consume you, with it’s ferocious appetite.”

Quick summary: A family from the city (passive aggressive dad, Patricia Clarkson! and the creepy looking kid from Malcolm In The Middle) have escaped to rural upstate New York for a quiet holiday, only to ruffle the feathers of some local hunters.

Two thirds of this movie deals with the fall-out of that early run-in – giving this a very Straw Dogs/Deliverance feel. While the other third involves the Spirit of the Wendigo (which is a term used in The Last Winter and seems to be something of a recurring theme for Fessenden). But threaded throughout, Fessenden makes us much more interested in the dynamics of this dysfunctional family. The uptight, workaholic dad with anger issues, the quiet, sensitive kid with a growing inner life that may or may not be seeping into the real world, and the patient and pretty much perfect Patricia Clarkson.

The film makes a smart move by focusing on scaring the kid, which kept me empathically on edge. Some really inventive editing and camera techniques. And the direction feels assured and confident despite the low-budget and ropey effects at the end.

I’m impressed that Fessenden seems intent on creating contemporary American horror myths. Almost as if he’s trying to single-handedly make American folk horror films in the British tradition. Overall, while both movies lost me a little in the third act, I’m a big fan of Fessenden’s style of horror here and plan to seek out the rest of his work.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in Wendigos, there’s a good episode of Lore here that’s worth a listen.


Tonight: Going to go for a witch theme with The Witch followed by Witchfinder General/The Conqueror Worm.

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

horror week

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 7th, 2016


I really enjoyed last year’s Horror Month and wanted to return to it this year despite the hefty workload it turned out to be. But, after moving home from London to Edinburgh in September, the timing wasn’t quite right to dive into a month-long Horror binge. Internet needed to be set-up for starters.

Still, I couldn’t let Halloween 2016 pass without doing something, so I decided I’d try and do a shortened version of my Daily-Horror-Film-Plus-Illustration challenge in the final week (or more accurately, the final 10 days) of October. Starting on Friday 21st and finishing on Halloween.

The plan, like last year, is to try and watch double bills each night, then draw an accompanying illustration for one of the films the following day.

I saved the list of film suggestions from last year as I hadn’t managed to work through them all (there were hundreds). It’s here with some new additions – throw me more suggestions on twitter if you think I’m missing anything.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook where I’ll be posting updates and what films I’ll be watching if you fancy following along.

for the fallen

Posted in comics,news,poem comics by Tom on October 4th, 2016

Here’s the artwork for a three page illustrated adaptation of Walt Whitman’s Dirge For Two Veterans. You can read the full poem here. This was commissioned by Oxford University Press for their For The Fallen and other poems book. The book is part of their Graphic Texts series that encourage children to read and learn with comics.

You can pick up a copy of the book here.



Posted in comics,news,other by Tom on July 7th, 2016

Eleri Harris at The Nib asked if I’d like to write a short reaction piece to the Brexit result. After taking a week to finish my tennis comic and get some perspective, I produced a short 12 panel piece which you can read here. Huge thanks to Eleri for her help on this. Short preview below:


Needless to say, it’s been a tough fortnight here.

If you didn’t see my piece about the EU Referendum before the results, it can be read here.

the year in tennis

Posted in comics,news,other by Tom on July 7th, 2016

I grew up watching Wimbledon and it would always coincide with the start of my summer holidays. I think, largely because of that, I’ve always had a soft spot for the sport. It’s only been the past few years that I’ve really tried to follow the tour throughout the year, but my love for the sport has grown the more I learn about it.

I was recently talking with my friend, and fantastic writer/journalist, Alex Macpherson – who is much more knowledgable than I am about tennis – and we tried to devise a way for us to collaborate on something tennis related.

This piece for Vox is the result. A 29 panel look at tennis in 2016. Vox don’t cover sport so the we tried to reign ourselves in from the more obscure stories and keep the summary as news-focused as possible.

I really hope we get more opportunities to work together on tennis comics as I had so much fun drawing this. I want to draw an entire comic about Serena Williams. And one about all the up and comers. I also hope I can do some tennis illustrations in the future too. Basically, more drawing about tennis!

Here’s a sneak peek at the piece – the whole thing can be read here. Huge thanks to AD Javier Zarracina for all his help on the piece.


Other tennis related things I’ve been enjoying: The collection of David Foster Wallace essays about tennis – String Theory – is a delight, Alex invited me along to the Roehampton Wimbledon Qualifiers a couple of weeks ago – which I didn’t realise was free to attend – and it was brilliant – loads of new faces and exciting stories, I’m currently reading Love Game: A History of Tennis, from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon which is very interesting, I subscribed to this lovely looking tennis magazine – Racquet, and the Serena documentary on the BBC was great. I’ve also ordered a couple of ESPN 30 For 30 docs – one about Navratilova and Evert’s rivalry, and one about Jimmy Connors. Speaking of 30 For 30 – have you been watching the OJ: Made In America doc? It’s great right? Seek it out if you haven’t!

doctor who cover

Posted in comics,illustrations,news by Tom on June 23rd, 2016

I was asked by Titan if I’d like to illustrate the September Doctor Who cover. I couldn’t say no to that. It was such a fun commission and I hope I get to try my hand at more in the future.

The solicitations for Titan’s September comics are listed here. I think the order code for this is STL015068.

This is for the finale issue of year two of the Eleventh Doctor – written by Si Spurrier and Rob Williams with art by Simon Fraser.