horror month – day 25

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 26th, 2015

The House of the Devil (2009)

“This one night changes everything for me.”

Quick summary: Samantha is hired to babysit on the evening of a lunar eclipse. It’s in a house off the beaten track. The clients are odd. And they don’t have a child to babysit. Satanists? Satanists.

Beyond the immediate nod to 1970s and 80s films with the “satanic panic” storyline, the film feels like a recently uncovered video nasty that no-one knew about. It’s shot on 16mm, there are a lot of quiet, locked shots, zooms versus dolly moves, the pacing is deliberate and tense, the soundtrack is eighties all the way, and the credits use a strong yellow typeface against freeze frames – Ti West knows what how to do a homage – and clearly has a lot of love for this style of film-making. Maybe it’s my fondness for this sort of horror film, or maybe it’s just how successful this film is on it’s own terms, but if the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse project was half this good, I would have enjoyed it so much more.

There’s a “based on a true story” title card at the beginning that reminded me of the two Wes Craven movies I watched on the first day of this Horror Month – and this seems appropriate. The film feels like a spiritual companion to Last House on the Left while actually being a lot easier to stomach and much more tonally consistent than that film. It also reminds me of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other films of the time that used the “true story” opening.

In fact, Samantha – played by Jocelin Donahue – almost looks like Sandra Cassel – the lead in Last House.

The final, gore-filled final act comes relatively late, is surprisingly short, and could strike some as a bit anti-climatic for those looking forward to a bloody finale – but I tend to find the climb of the roller-coaster in horror films much more unsettling and satisfying than plummeting down the other side.

Enjoyed the Walkman dance interlude.

Nice to see Greta Gerwig make an appearance.

Also nice to see Tom “The Tooth Fairy” Noonan.

Lewton bus moment: Greta Gerwig needs a lighter!

Tonight: Finally going to watch Friedkin’s Bug (2006) I think.

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

racist one night stand

Posted in illustrations, news by Tom on October 26th, 2015

I was commissioned by Buzzfeed to illustrate this piece by Ella Sackville Adjei about a one night stand with a guy who turned out to be racist. Probably best to avoid the comment section if you want to enjoy the rest of your day.

Matthew Tucker, the excellent art director at Buzzfeed UK, wanted the images to work as comic panels – something that was more storytelling than illustrating. We played around with a few ideas before landing on these six images. Obviously, it all works better in context and when the images have more room to breathe, so head here to read the full piece.

horror month – day 24

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 25th, 2015

We Are What We Are (2013)

“It is with love that I do this.”

Quick summary: When their mother dies, the Parker children and their father try to pick up the pieces, with the eldest daughter – Iris – having to take on her mother’s responsibilities. Which aren’t terribly pleasant.

I was all ready to sit down and watch the 2010 Mexican original of this – Somos Lo Que Hay – because when has an American remake of a brilliant foreign language horror film ever added anything? Usually, it just leads to less effective, higher budget special effects (The Ring), a defanged ending (The Vanishing) or <insert some disparaging remark directed at Let Me In because I’ve not seen it but I bet it’s not as good as the original>. But an AV Club review of the film popped up in my feed with the headline “An American Horror Remake That Transcends The Original” – which changed my mind at the last minute.

I’m glad it did. It makes the most of it’s relocation to America – forging a backstory that plays into American gothic mythology and playing with a twisted family religion (though I’m not convinced we actually needed the flashbacks to the 18th century). And the direction is beautiful – letting the camera linger on small details of the flood that is slowly unearthing the Parker family’s secrets, and revealing the strong bond between the children in quiet, small moments. According to the AV Club piece, the film also changes the gender roles from the original – letting this version explore patriarchal themes as well.

I wish I had the time to stick the original on as well so I could compare the two properly – hopefully I can fit it in before the month is out but I’m fast running out of evenings!

It’s always a pleasure to see Michael Parks! And the rest of the actors are great too. Particularly Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner who play the teenage Parkers.

“Did you eat my daughter?”

Tonight: Time for my introduction to Ti West with The House of the Devil (2009) I reckon.

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

horror month – day 23

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 24th, 2015

Repulsion (1965)

“I must get this crack mended.”

Quick summary: Manicurist and androphobic Carole (Catherine Deneuve) becomes increasingly reclusive after her sister goes on holiday. Horrific hallucinations, murder, and madness ensues.

Considering Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favourite horror films, and Chinatown is one of favourite films period, it’s a bit silly it’s taken me this long to watch Polanski’s first English-language feature. I am now two thirds into his “Apartment trilogy”, with The Tenant still on my list (maybe I’ll fit it in before the month ends).

There’s a lot this film addresses – dealing with sexual assault, psychosis, objectification, and old-fashioned ideas of domesticity. Often, the camera is a stand-in for male character’s viewpoints, making the audience feel complicit with the male gaze. At one point, we watch as Deneuve bludgeons us to death. The camera also provides a lot of extreme close-ups – constantly making us feel uncomfortably voyeuristic.

Hands are a big visual motif in the film, with the manicurist occupation giving way to the groping wall of hands in Carole’s nightmarish hallucination. And the way in which everything in the apartment decomposes or is turned upside-down is a nice play on antiquated ideas of feminine roles at home. There’s so much to analyse in the film and I’ll probably need to watch it a few more times to really appreciate it.

Everyone carries a rabbit heart in their bag right guys?

The use of sound is so so good. That incredibly disturbing ticking clock, the pounding drum walk, the train screeching… Brilliant.

Tonight: After a few nights of sixties films, I’m going to try something modern - We Are What We Are (2013).

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

horror month – day 22

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 23rd, 2015

Carnival of Souls (1962)

“I don’t belong in the world.”

Quick summary: After a Back to the Future style traffic light race, there’s a fatal car accident and lone survivor Mary moves to Utah to try and start a new life. But Mary is haunted by a mysterious, ghostly figure.

This is the only film by director Herk Harvey (he also stars in the film as “The Man”) who shot it on a tiny budget with just five other crew members. It only became a cult classic many years after it’s release. There’s a lot of PTSD, survivor’s guilt and existential themes threaded throughout that create a real sense of isolation and loneliness. It’s in the quiet melancholy where the film really builds terror, but in the rare moments of effects driven horror it really creates some memorable images.

That pervasive organ score is incredibly unsettling.

I loved the credits at the start and the typography for the title itself.

You can see the film’s influence on Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and on David Lynch – “The Man” reminded me a lot of the antagonist in Lost Highway.

The ending wasn’t a surprise but was satisfying and again, you can it’s influence on a lot of films since. Trying to avoid spoilers here…

Tonight: Finally going to sit down and watch Repulsion (1965).

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

horror month – day 21

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 22nd, 2015

The Haunting (1963)

“You see? You haven’t a ghost of a chance.”

Quick summary: An anthropologist with an interest in the supernatural (and his hand-chosen team of specialists) investigate the haunted Hill House. But will the awfully loud banging sounds, cold spots and bendy doors prove too much for them?

This is apparently Martin Scorcese’s favourite horror film.

Based on the novel The Haunting on Hill House, this is another psychological haunted house horror along the same lines as The Innocents. Apparently screenwriter Nelson Gidding, in his research into nervous breakdowns for the character of Nell, noticed how the story could be read as a non-supernatural breakdown – where the house is the hospital, the other characters are the Doctors, and the banging and paranormal activity is the shock treatment. But original author Shirley Jackson maintained it was about the paranormal. Despite this, the film has enough in there to suggest that what we are seeing may not be real at all. I wonder if any of this was an inspiration for Shutter Island in that regard.

Director Robert Wise – who made this film as a tribute to his mentor and Horror Month favourite Val Lewton – throws so many fun camera techniques at the film. There’s a lot crossing the line and breaking the action to make the orientation of the house feel confusing, and his use of crash zooms into doors and free-roaming camera movements has a real Sam Raimi playfulness to it. He also used an experimental Panavision 30mm lens that gave distortions in the corners of the frame.

Interestingly, The Haunting is known for presenting one of the first positive portrayals of a Lesbian character – Theo – in film. Although the censors prevented any shot depicting her touching Nell in a “sensual or suggestive” way.

I really liked the title animation at the start. I’m a sucker for a schlocky animated title.

I wasn’t keen on the use of Nell’s inner thoughts as narration. It seemed, to me, that most of what was said could have been (or generally was) shown so it felt unnecessary and took me out of the film.

Overall, while it’s probably unfair to compare the two, I have to say I thought The Innocents was a much more sophisticated and chilling haunted house horror. But this was still a great watch and has so many inventive and interesting directorial choices in it.

Tonight: I think it’ll be Carnival of Souls (1962).

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

horror month – day 20

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 21st, 2015

Cronos (1993)

Quick summary: An ageing antiques dealer discovers the ‘Cronos device’ – an object that is said to prolong the life of it’s owner. But at what cost? And who else wants it?

As with Martin, this is another contemporary exploration into vampires that attempts to de-romanticise them – this time filtering them through addiction and alchemy.

It’s the first feature film by Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro’s films were often suggested to me when I started asking for horror film recommendations for this month, but Cronos was the only one I had never gotten around to watching. I’m really happy I finally filled in the gap. You can see a lot of the visual hallmarks of Del Toro in there, and there are even familiar character archetypes and thematic elements that find their way into things like The Strain.

Nineties Ron Perlman in a turtleneck people.

There’s an old AV Club interview with Del Toro I found where he talks about watching the film again 20 years on, and how he has finally fallen in love with it again - you can read it here.

Watching this has reminded me how much I enjoy Del Toro’s films and has made me very excited to see Crimson Peak. I’ll also probably try and re-watch my favourite - The Devil’s Backbone – if I can fit it in!

Tonight: Going to give The Haunting (1963) a go.

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

horror month – day 19

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 20th, 2015

The Nightmare (2015)

“And that was when the shadowman would come towards me.”

Quick summary: A documentary about sleep paralysis, focusing on eight people who acutely suffer from it.

A new documentary from the makers of Room 237. One of the things I enjoyed about that film was how it showed we can convince ourselves of anything if we want to believe it enough. The ability and willingness to make huge illogical leaps in order to arrive at very specific conclusions was astonishing. It’s probably saying something about my month of horror-watching that I actually found talk of demons or dimension-hopping doppelgangers haunting our sleep to be more believable than the Kubrick conspiracy theories.

I’ve had, as I’m sure most people have, sleep paralysis accompanied by a sense of someone else in the room. It’s only happened a few times – most often in my twenties. The idea that these people have it every night and can’t escape it is deeply unsettling.

The film creates re-enactments of the nightmares and employs several tried and tested horror techniques which, despite being described by the subjects of the documentary beforehand, still manage to provoke a jump or two. There are some nice behind-the-scenes bits too – with actors dressed as shadowmen walking between bedroom sets, or banks of screens showing green screen elements of nightmares – that give the impression of some other-worldly dream factory busily haunting their victims.

I’ve always found sleep paralysis – and it’s influence on horror films like Nightmare on Elm St. – a fascinating thing, and this was an engrossing way to hear more about it and find out how it is interpreted by the people who experience it. There’s also a suggestion that simply learning about the phenomenon could prompt one to develop the same problem, giving it a sort of Ringu virality vibe of it’s own.

Staying on the documentary lane, I also watched:

Fear Itself (2015)

Quick summary: A cine-essay about the attraction of horror and what it says about us.

As with Charlie Lyne’s previous film, Beyond Clueless, this is constructed using carefully chosen clips from (in this case) horror films, accompanied by a emotionally neutral narration which provides a prose-poem through-line. The soundtrack is by Jeremy Warmsley of Summer Camp – who provided the music for Beyond Clueless too.

I enjoyed this and it tackled a few thoughts I’ve been having as I make my way through these 31 days of horror in regards to my tolerance levels and what I get from watching scary films. I’m certainly starting to pinpoint the types of horror films I prefer and the ones that really strike a chord with me.

I’m fond of Lyne’s editing style for these films – connecting clips through minor/major thematic links, or through environment, or even just colour palettes. It adds to that hypnotic, beguiling tone that made Beyond Clueless so intriguing to watch. I’m looking forward to the inevitable Adam Curtis-esque YouTube parodies of this style that will surely follow.

Tonight: I think it’s probably time for Cronos (1993) what with Crimson Peak (2015) in cinemas this week.

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

horror month – day 18

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 19th, 2015

Housebound (2014)

“What are you gonna do against a hostile spirit? You just gonna crack jokes?” “No, I am going to smash it in the face.”

Quick summary: After a failed attempted robbery, Kylie Bucknell is sent to live with her mother for eight months with an ankle monitor which alerts the police if she leaves the house. But is her mum right that evil spirits are living with them?

*Deep, relaxed sigh*

I needed a bit of light relief after the intensity of the past couple of films, and this New Zealand horror comedy was just the ticket. It’s got an enjoyably twisty plot that keeps everything moving at a brisk speed, and the right balance of genuine scares versus laughs.

The cheese-grater armour moment is sublime. As is the laundry basket cage. In fact, everything in that final act gives it a sort of Home Alone: The Horror Years vibe.

The production design and the way technology and lived-in spaces are shot reminded me of Jeunet and Caro’s City of Lost Children and Delicatessen. I’m looking forward to seeing more by the director.

Lewton Bus Moment: Finally! A film that has one. With a fun minor car crash to introduce the mum.

One Last Scare: But of course. With a brilliantly explosive end.

Tonight: Going for documentaries this evening with The Nightmare (2015) and Fear Itself (2015) if I have the time.

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

horror month – day 17

Posted in horror month, illustrations, news by Tom on October 19th, 2015

Tenebrae (1982)

Quick summary: Peter Neal is a famous horror fiction novelist in the near future. He’s on a book tour in Rome where there also happen to be a spate of copycat murders based on the deaths in his book. Is it a super fan? A critic? A former lover?

I haven’t seen many Argento films apart from Suspiria so I was excited to watch this. I immediately felt like an idiot when the Goblin score started up and I realised French music duo Justice had lifted it almost entirely in their track – Phantom. I’m slowly catching up culture! Bear with me.

Tenebrae is much more of a giallo film than Suspiria was. It’s also probably my first proper giallo film now I think about it. I’ll have to go back and seek out Maria Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Argento’s own The Bird With The Crystal Plummage. I said bear with me culture!

Some fun meta-textual elements in Tenebrae. In one scene, Neal is questioned by a journalist for the sexism in his books and his tendency to kill off beautiful young women – which must have been a criticism of Argento at the time. I’m not sure the film ever actually tries to address that criticism beyond cheekily acknowledging it though. I enjoyed the ‘death by art’ scene. Good to see that Scream didn’t invent the use of meta in horror films.

There are a couple of extremely satisfying set-pieces in the film. There’s one crane shot that ascends one side of a house, peering into the windows as it does so, before traversing the rooftop and descending the other side of the house – all in a single take. It’s a brilliant technical achievement and one that was probably so much more difficult to pull off in 1982.

The film’s visuals focus heavily on the thematic use of mirroring, reflections, and doubles. Water, once again (I’m sure someone, somewhere, has written an extensive essay about the use of water in horror films), appears in some form after every important scene. It’s incredibly well thought through aesthetically – even if the dialogue isn’t the sharpest.

One of my favourite things to learn after watching the film is that it it is supposed to be set in the near future when there are fewer people due to some catastrophic event that no-one wants to talk about. There’s almost nothing in the film to suggest this, but I love it.

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