The Witch (2016)

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This is a distinctly unusual and original horror – it has little in common within its DNA with other horror films, certainly modern ones, and as one reviewer rightly observed, it ‘gets under your skin.’

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‘Wouldst thou live deliciously?’

Hard to imagine how as innocuous a sentence as that could be as chilling as it is, within the context of how it is placed within the film.

Writer / director Robert Eggers is a New Hampshire native who grew up with a fascination about witches. He took a number of plucky decisions in the filming –

• Shooting in a deliberately remote location in Ontario;
• Despite it being an American /Canadian film, casting exclusively with English actors, so as to get as authentic accents as possible;
• Filming with only natural light for exteriors and candle light for interiors;
• Ensuring costumes were made with only authentic fabrics of the period i.e. wool, linen and hemp

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Narratively, we start with William and his family – wife Katherine and children Thomasin, Caleb, Mercy, and Jonas – exiled from a Puritan community in New Hampshire in the 1630s over a religious dispute.

They build a farm on the outskirts of a forest and try to make a new life for themselves.

Guess how that goes?


What this film does so cleverly and seductively is demonstrate how the extreme fundamentalist beliefs of that particular sect of Christianity could descend into rampant paranoia, given an isolated location. In that, it has some strands in common with, ‘the Shining’.

I say, ‘paranoia’ – that would suggest there wasn’t actually any devilry going on to fear.

Spoiler- there is.

As increasing manifestations of Satanic magic start to surround the family, they are plunged into wild accusations against each other.

Who is the Witch?

Is it one of the family?

Prime suspect is teenaged Thomasin – for not much more reason than she is female, pubescent, and unmarried – and there are some marvellously vicious examples of inter-generational tension between her and her mother.

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There is also an ominous unsettling quality to the film as we are drawn into the same sense of all-pervasive dread that the family are.

Oddly effective in delivering this dread is the family’s ever-present goat, Black Phillip (boss goat) and a curiously watchful hare.

The ending when it comes is climactic, brutal and as unpredictable as the rest of the film.

IMDB gave this 6.8 out of ten. I’d give it 8 or over. It’s not often that you come across a horror film that’s almost incomparable to any other. A directorial debut for Eggers too.

Smart aleck.


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Bone Tomahawk (2015)



Given how intrinsically compatible the Horror and Western genres are, it’s surprising how infrequently they’re combined.

And unlike combinations like Comedy and Horror (see my blog post entitled, ‘No Laughing Matter’), neither aspect. has to be compromised to accommodate the other. Thus, Bone Tomahawk is both a really good Western and a really good Horror.

Shot across 21 days in Malibu, California in late 2014, the film has a nice raw low-budget feel to it.


We start off with a cameo from Horror icon Sid Haig who obligingly gets murdered by a savage tribe of Native Americans, the Troglodytes. Its previously shown that Haig and his partner-in-crime make a living by murder themselves, killing and robbing travelers, though, so he probably has it coming.

From there we move to the town of Bright Hope, where we get a swift introduction to tight ensemble cast, Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell); Deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins); local womaniser and dandy, Brooder (Mathew Fox); foreman O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson); and his wife, doctor’s assistant, Samantha (Lili Simmons).

When Samantha and deputy Nick are abducted by the Troglodytes overnight, Hurt, Chicory, Brooder and O’Dwyer undertake a rescue mission to the clan’s dwelling place, the Valley of the Starving Men.

Despite a warning from a local Native American that the Troglodytes are savage cannibals.


What ensues is a grittily brutal journey into a barbarous and deadly wasteland from which only three of the main cast will return.

There is a grisly sequence towards the end that has earned the film some notoriety – deputy Nick is scalped and then bisected alive by the tribesmen, in front of his fellow captives. All Hunt can think to do as it happens is promise bloody vengeance to the dying man.


But actually, for me, there is an image that is arguably even more chilling right at the end – the escaping protagonists pass by some of the Troglodytes womenfolk…pregnant, blinded, and missing their arms and legs reduced to nothing more than breeding machines.

IMDB gave this 7.1 and three and a half stars – I’d go closer to 8 stars.















Muck (2015)



I will say that the title tells you very much what you’re about to watch.

This is not just the worst horror film ever made- and bear in mind, I’ve watched, Razor Blade Smile – it may actually be the worst film that has ever been made.

I really am going to struggle to express how mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly bad it is.

Let me try:

  • If aliens saw this and it convinced them to attack planet Earth I would side with them;
  • If I had the choice of throwing only one of Stephen Sommers, Michael Bay, or this film into a live volcano, I would choose this film;
  • If I took this film to a beach on a Sunday afternoon, and threw a stick, I am pretty sure it would fetch it.


Where to begin?

Okay, so its premier was at the Playboy Mansion and it stars former Playmate Jacklyn Swedberg; does that give you a hint of one of the things that may be wrong with it?

It’s basically a soft-core porn film dressed up as a horror film.

And it’s a really really bad soft-core porn film, too.

The opening sequence is some busty young wench, topless, covered in dirt – so there is a thematic reference to the title there – wandering around pouting, being terrified, and caressing herself.

That goes on for about five minutes, and she doesn’t even get a credit in the titles.


And there is an ongoing theme throughout of people’s sexuality displacing their sense of fear.

When initial protagonist Noah goes for help, after two of his friends have been killed, he stops for drinks in the first bar he finds…..because a cute girl chats him up.

Well you would, wouldn’t you?

Before long we meet his cousin Troit, who is clearly supposed to be an ass-kicking all-American maverick hero.

He’s not; he’s a massive tosser.

His girlfriend is the afore-mentioned Swedberg – who nips off to the ladies at one point to try on and model a range of lingerie, as you do in life and death situations -but his bessie is Chandi.

Because she’s Asian American, he repeatedly calls her a ‘terrorist.’

Inexplicably, rather than kicking him in the balls and calling him a bigot, she finds this endearingly funny and explains that she is a Hindu.

He repeats that she is a terrorist and when they do cocktails, he suggests the bartender provide her with a ‘curry.’

She thinks that’s funny, too.

I’m not sure which of them needs counselling most.


Later on, when they have had their first encounter with the white-skinned marsh marauders (don’t ask), he gropes her arse. When she rebukes him, he points out that he’s saved her life, so now he’s allowed to molest her.

Rolling her eyes, she concedes that, ‘I hate it when you’re right.’

Did I mention that just before this sequence, his girlfriend has been crushed to death under a car?

The characterisations are not that good, really.

The final battle is between the team of Noah / Troit and Kane Hodder (of WWE fame) as the generic monstrous killer. I was totally rooting for Hodder and disappointingly he loses.

Noah gets killed in the process, though neither Troit nor Chandi seem especially bothered, keen as they are to return to sexual flirting and quips.


I assume director Steve Wolsh is a thirteen year-old, who’s been bullied by his sisters, and has really bad acne. Otherwise there are no excuses.

This is the first of a trilogy too, so I assume humanity is now doomed.

Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 0% and frankly I think that’s ludicrously generous.

If you have the choice of watching this film or having your face eaten off by piranha, choose the latter.

You will thank me for it.







Horns (2014)



This contains a fair amount of surprises, not least of which that despite the superficial elements of mythology and religious satire, it is at heart a powerful love story about the sacrifices people will make for the one they truly love.

So that was unexpected.

I was aware of French director Alexandre Aja’s reputation, having been very impressed with his New Extreme film, ‘Haute Tension’ (see my blog post entitled, ‘L’Horreur’ for more details).

Set against that was the god-awful performances that star Daniel Radcliffe routinely turns in – but based on this, young ‘Arry is actually showing signs of starting to be able to act.

So that was unexpected, too.


Aja takes the wise decision of taking a mythic approach to the subject matter, such that we never get an explanation for why protagonist Ig grows Satanic horns, following his becoming the prime suspect in the rape and murder of his girlfriend, Merrin.

He grows horns – that’s not even a spoiler, okay, because you’ve already seen that in the promotional material.

What is a spoiler is that the horns convey upon him the power to elicit from anyone their darkest secrets and desires.

He doesn’t even have to ask and he usually doesn’t, as a string of people tell him things he doesn’t want to know and the screenplay relishes in the everyday depravities of ordinary people:

  • Veronica, the waitress whose ‘evidence’ looks likely to convict him gleefully admits to making it all up to become famous
  • A bunch of reporters are easily goaded into a brutal brawl, initiated by their unscrupulous ambition
  • A pair of cops who he has known since childhood admit to a lifelong sexual infatuation with each other
  • Ig’s mother confesses that she doesn’t want him as her son, whilst his father asserts that Merrin was actually the better part of him

It’s all a bit harsh.


There is a very competent plot twist around the end of the second act (which I’m not going to disclose because I’m not all about the spoilers) and a satisfactorily dark conclusion.

Oh, watch out for Heather Graham as Veronica – didn’t she used to be a big star rather than a bit player?

IMDB gave this 6.5 and three stars – I think I’d go for 7.0 and three and a half stars, but then I likes my myth and I likes my demons…..








Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)




This little Australian gem gleefully discards a whole load of classic zombie conventions and invents a handful of new ones.

Firstly, we have the cause of the outbreak being a meteor shower (which is later tied in with the Biblical prophecy of the Wormwood fallen angel);

Secondly we have transmission via air (rather than the usual bite) – these zombies breathe out a contagious gas;

Thirdly, we have a record-breaking speed of conversion – forget the Walking Dead’s period of hours, or even 28 Days Later’s thirty or so seconds…..zombie conversion in this film happens mere seconds after infection (and indeed a plot device in the final scene relies upon that).

Fourthly, at the same time that all existing fuels cease functioning, zombie blood is discovered to function as a flammable gasoline substitute (leading to zombie-powered vehicles).

Except not at night.

I didn’t say it made sense.


Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead cleverly makes a virtue of its micro-budget (officially £160,000), eschewing big scenes and special effects in favour of well-considered set piece scenes, an example being a scrape between heroine Brooke and two just-converted zombies in the cramped confines of her photographic studio.

And speaking of Brooke, W:ROTD (like Jeepers Creepers before it) gives us the more unusual dramatic pairing of brother / sister protagonists (Brooke’s brother, Barry, is the other lead) although the two of them do not meet up until over an hour into the film.

There are clear nods to Mad Max here (or the Road Warrior, if you’re in the States), from the cobbled-together armour made of sports gear to the bloody, gritty combats to the stark setting of the Outback.

We also have some areas of commonality with television’s Z Nation, in that Brooke, having been subjected to experiments, becomes a part-zombie herself, with the ability to telepathically control other zombies (like Z Nation’s Murphy).


Congratulations to Writer / Producer / Director / Editors brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner on an original and distinctive contribution to the zombie genre and one that I heartily recommend – but then I would, as I have A Negative blood (watch the film to find out the significance of that).

Oh and a sequel is scheduled for 2017.
















Rarer than a Blue Moon


Why are there so few good werewolf movies?

No, seriously, think about it.

I know, you’re saying, ‘What about An American Werewolf in London?’ So yes, American Werewolf in London is a great movie.

But how many others can you come up with?

Or put it a different way, think about great vampire films: you might cite Interview With The Vampire, Lost Boys, Salem’s Lot; Near Dark, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, From Dusk Till Dawn, Thirty Days of Night; Blade; or if your taste is more contemporary, Let The Right One In, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Byzantium, or Thirst.

Can you make a list anything like as long for classic werewolf films?

I can’t.

So before I go through the ones that would make my list, let’s examine the ways and extent to which Hollywood changed and refined the old European myths into what we now think of as a ‘werewolf’.


Being bitten

….was never anything to do with it in the original legends.

The Hollywood idea of contagious lycanthropy never made much sense to me, on two fronts: firstly, as a werewolf, why would you want to turn your victim, someone who would presumably hold a considerable grudge against you, into a monster exactly as powerful as you? Secondly, if a werewolf bite automatically turns the victim into a werewolf themselves, then logically, over time, the entire human population would end up being converted. And then werewolf would just mean ‘ordinary person’.

Now there’s an idea for a film….

Anyway, in medieval European folklore, there were a number of ways to become a werewolf and none of them had anything to do with being bitten by another werewolf:

  • Probably the simplest was to get naked and put on a wolf-skin or even just a belt made of wolf-skin (no laughing at the back!)
  • Or you could apply a magic salve which would then transform you (said salve was usually to be obtained from the Devil)
  • Or you could drink rainwater out of the footprint of a wolf
  • Or, if you were Swedish, you could do it by drinking a mug of specially-prepared beer (I’m not making this up)
  • If you were French, you could become a loup-garou by sleeping outside on a summer night with the full moon shining directly on your face.


Being cursed

There is some truth here – going back to ancient Greece, Lycaon was turned into a wolf by Zeus as punishment for murdering his own child.

In the Christian faith, saints occasionally had the power to inflict the curse of lycanthropy: Saint Patrick was supposed to have transformed the Welsh king Vereticus into a wolf.

But it was never curses from gypsies or witches (witches were actually commonly linked with werewolves and the hysteria, folklore, and trials often became intermingled).


Full Moon

Nope, your lycanthrope of legend was a shape-shifter, able to transform at will, not only at specific times.


No connection here, either; the werewolves of the original myths had no special vulnerability to silver.

It is perhaps testament to how fully the Hollywood version has taken over our conception of what a werewolf is that the following poem is often quoted as a genuine medieval saying:

‘Even a man who is pure in heart, And says his prayers by night May become a Wolf when the Wolfbane blooms And the autumn Moon is bright’

It isn’t.

It was written by Curt Siodmak, the script-writer of, The Wolf Man.

And speaking of that, let’s get onto that list….


The Wolf Man (1941)

You have to love the original classic, right? This wasn’t actually Paramount’s first werewolf movie; that was Werewolf of London (no connection to the Warren Zevon song), six years earlier, but Wolf Man was the one everyone remembers and rightly so.

As well as Lon Chaney Junior’s epic tortured performance as Larry Talbot, this film introduced several of the movie conventions mentioned above – infection by bite and vulnerability to silver.

The four sequels were largely forgettable but this first one remains the Grand-daddy of werewolf flicks.


The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

The British Hammer classic and Oliver Reed’s first credited film appearance.

The action moves from Wales (in the Wolf Man) to Spain, where strapping young vineyard worker Leon (Reed) is the titular lycanthrope, cursed for being born out of wedlock on Christmas Day (bit harsh).

A large amount of the success of the film must be attributed to Reed’s brooding screen presence – it is also worth noting how much make-up effects had progressed in the two decades since the original.


The Howling (1981)

Probably my favourite werewolf movie and fully-deserving of its cult status.

Bringing werewolf mythology sharply into a contemporary setting, the film starts in a porn theatre and swiftly follows traumatised heroine, reporter Karen White to the secluded resort of eccentric therapist, Dr. George Waggner.

Which turns out to be a werewolf colony. Bummer.

The Howling ticks a lot of my personal boxes, in that I like my werewolves bipedal and long-faced (as opposed to quadrupedal and/or flat-faced).

Don’t judge me!

Also, the Howling’s werewolves are massive; tall, shaggy, imposing beasts that tower over their human prey.

They are also something subtly new in the movies – werewolves who want to be werewolves (rather than feeling cursed or damned). These guys wouldn’t have it any other way!

The transformation effects were also revolutionary for the time – Eddie Quist’s face starts to bubble like pea soup before sharply jutting out as his snout emerges, and his body grows….

The one negative point is the design of Karen’s final were-form – for reasons unknown, she transforms into what can only be described as a were-Ewok (who is rightly then put out of her misery by colleague Chris).

But never mind, immediately after that, we get werewolf colony nymphomaniac Marcia Quist, alive and well, and ordering her steak rare….


An American Werewolf in London (1981)

1981 was a good year for werewolf films – as well as these two, there was The Wolfen (a far better book than film, but still).

Another cult classic, An American Werewolf in London gives us a transformation to rival the Howling, as new werewolf David painfully and dramatically changes on the floor of girlfriend Alex’s flat. The fully-transformed beast is pretty impressive too.

There is gore aplenty, a load of cameo’s, and a delicious streak of gallows humour, not least of which in the soundtrack (there are a succession of moon-referencing songs throughout).


Ginger Snaps (2000)

Those clever Canadians really nailed it with this tale of two death-obsessed teenager sisters; Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald.

Cleverly paralleling the coming-of-age transformation of Ginger – it is her period that attracts the werewolf that attacks her – with her ongoing transformation into a lycanthrope, the film is full of clever little touches.

For example, the dead werewolf is identified as such….simply because someone notices it had been circumcised.

The sisters, no strangers to horror, know all about werewolves, and try a series of strategies to ’cure’ Ginger, including a silver navel-piercing.

None of it works and predictably a transformed Ginger ends up dying at the hand of her sister, Brigitte.

We get plenty of death, gore, and humour along the way.

Respect also goes to Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, and Ginger Snaps Back: the Beginning, two very creditable sequels.


Dog Soldiers (2002)

I remember seeing director Neil Marshall on Film 2001, the year before the film came out, pitching it as ‘soldiers versus werewolves’ and thinking, ‘Yep, you’ve got my six quid, mate, where do I to see this….?’

It didn’t disappoint when it arrived either – powered by the considerable acting talent of Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, and Liam Cunningham, we got a dark tale of six British squaddies running into a predatory pack of lycanthropes in Scotland.

The werewolves are clearly related to the ones in the Howling because they are big lads.

The action is handled well, as is the gore, and there is also an unexpected thread of black humour e.g. Pertwee trying to fight off the small dog that is determinedly trying to drag out and eat his innards, like sausages.

Everything ends with a bloody great explosion.

Job done.


Wer (2013)

I’m going to put aside my pedantic concerns that since the ‘Were’ part of ‘Werewolf’ actually means, ‘Man’, this is a film about a werewolf, called ‘Human’……because this is really very good.

Shot in a faux-documentary style, the film cleverly walks the line between a supernatural and a mundane conception of a werewolf. Is accused murder suspect Talan Gwynek suffering from porphyria or something more?

It’s something more, needless to say.

The faux-documentary style works particularly nicely when a rampaging Gwynek starts working his way through an armed police response team.

The denouement is nicely handled with an appropriately open-ended conclusion.
























How I Made a Horror – Part Two


The second installment of how I produced an award-winning sixty-eight minute horror film on a budget of three hundred pounds in 1994.

Following a couple of months of rehearsal and preparations, on the 1st May 1994 the embryonic film unit that was 3DF Films – named after the initials of the Director, Composer, and two Co-Producers – Duquemin; Davison; Denton; Feely – gathered for the first day of actual photography.

We had a shooting schedule – yay us! – and even in my naivety I had realised that location needed to be the determining factor for shooting, not script order. Not only were there organisational considerations – getting film equipment, people, and props into a location takes time and once you’re there you want to shoot everything you can, in one go – but there were also access issues. The script called for shoots in some locations e.g. a bar and a library which we could only access on Sundays.

So on Sunday 1st May 1994 we arrived at Baloo’s – a local bar owned and run by a friend who had kindly agreed to let us shoot there (thanks, Neil!) We all hung out there most of the time anyway, so it was almost like shooting at home.

The scenes in question were from about twenty minutes into the script, with protagonist Jim celebrating inheriting a fortune with his friends Patrick and Leo. It was a night scene but we would be shooting during the day so the first order of business was blacking out the windows.

We got very used to doing this, as you do when you shoot a horror that is mostly night scenes, but necessarily shot during the day.


In terms of difficulty, it was a baptism of fire – being a bar scene, it required a lot of extra’s which necessarily made shifting equipment for different set-ups more time-consuming and awkward. We also had a lot of material to cover, a lot of angles and dialogue, and all with an entirely new and untested crew.

Oh and the first death in the film had to happen, a fatal stabbing in the street outside.

Yeah, that was a stressful day, but we got through it and for the first time we had some basic footage to show for it.

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Some memories and reflections from the ensuing six-month shoot:

  • It went on forever. God, it felt like we would never be finished. Whereas we had a shooting schedule that broke up the script into specific chunks, there were inevitably lots of changes to when those specific chunks would actually get filmed. Things got in the way.
  • We were pretty ambitious with visual effects, considering we had sod-all money. We wanted the Drell Vorgora (the vampires) to have a non-human facial appearance, something the Buffy television series hit on a few years later. My friend Tenpole had drawn a fantastic sketch, incorporating spiralling grooved patterns into a partially bestial face. He then produced rubber casts which we glued onto the actor’s faces- what we hadn’t anticipated was that because the casts were glued air tight, and covered the nose, we could make them ‘pulse’ slightly by breathing in and out. That was cool.
  • Meanwhile, my friend Jon produced individually-fitted vampire teeth for the three vampire actors, triangular knives that looked like they were made of slate, and a severed head matched to the actor who got killed at the finale of the film. Said severed head was painstakingly individually threaded with hair; said actor then got his hair cut down to a number one during shooting, meaning the whole thing with the hair had been a waste of time. Hmmmmm.
  • When you’re doing a B movie vampire film, you want gore and you want blood. And as we discovered, fake blood is not as easy to manufacture as you might think. It has some odd qualities, being dark, sticky, and viscous. Ordinary shoots use professional fake blood – yeah, that’s a thing – but remember we had no money. We ended up with some bizarre concoction of coffee, syrup, and food colouring in the end.


  • We learned on the job how different film acting is to theatrical acting. When you’re on the stage, you have a live relationship with an audience sat at least twenty feet away from you; on a film-set your audience is effectively that box sat on the cameraman’s shoulder! And crucially the actor does not determine what the audience does and doesn’t see, via his positioning – the cameraman does that, too. Also there is a critical difference in terms of distance – when you shoot a film the audience may be as far away from you as twenty feet but equally they may – and usually are – much much closer. This means that filmic acting calls for a much more subdued subtle style. All of my actors were from a stage background so this was a big adjustment for them.
  • We also learned about the limitations of acting ability. Had we been making a slasher, all your antagonist needs to do is pull on a mask and pick up a chainsaw / axe / machete / razor blade etc. But our antagonists were conceived as ‘thinking animals’, both simple and complex, hundreds of years old and possessed of superhuman strength, dexterity and senses. A bunch of twentysomethings struggled somewhat to put that across. I’m allowed to say this – I was one of those actors.
  • I had no idea how important lighting was, I thought it was….well, just the process of lighting so you could see what you were filming. I had no idea that lighting actually shaped, changed, and determined the terrain of a scene. I came to think of lighting as ‘sculpting in space’ and to this day I think my co-producer Chris is a bit of a genius at it.


It is worth adding that we learned a lot about timing, scheduling, and the discipline of filming. When we made our second film in 1995, we got the shoot down to two and a half months, and films three and four were shot over sixteen-day continuous shoots.

Anyway, sometime around November 1994 we finished principal photography and moved into the post-production phase. For me, the big thing that came out of that was the importance of music. I had a sense that it was important of course and I had my own list of favourite movie themes. But to see an edited scene before and after the score is added…makes you understand the enormous contribution of the music to the overall emotional impact of the scene.

Our composer, Nick, did a brilliant main theme which runs over the closing credits. It was called, ‘Retreat From Nature’, which links beautifully to the central concept of the film on two levels – firstly, our protagonist, Jim is literally retreating from nature (as symbolised by the Drell Vorgora), but beyond that, there is a general idea in the script that mankind itself has retreated from nature, with its cities and technology.

And on a personal note, I always chuckle at the lyrics of, ‘You’re Gone’, one of the pop songs that Nick composed to play in the background of the bar scenes:

‘Oh no

You’re gone

Back to the wanking’

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The finished version of, ‘Blood Hunt’ was finally screened to the public in January 1995 – it’s on You Tube and IMDB if you want to take a look:









The Wizard of Oz


In praise of Mick Taylor.

It’s not an easy thing to create a horror icon.

Leatherface; Freddy; Jason; Pinhead; Michael Myers; Ghostface; Sadako….

Many films have aspired to add their villain to those illustrious ranks, but rarely have they succeeded.

But in 2005 Australian writer-director Greg McLean offered us just such a candidate, in the Outback horror, Wolf Creek (followed by a sequel in 2013).

Step forward Mick Taylor.

Both films were marketed as being, ‘based on true events’ which was somewhat spurious in that they were only very vaguely inspired by the, ‘backpacker murders’ of the 1990s, along with the abduction of British tourist Peter Falconio and the assault of his girlfriend Joanne Lees in 2001.

The first film throws two British tourists, Liz and Kristy, along with their Australian friend Ben, into the path of Mick Taylor, a rough Outbacker who initially appears to be their saviour when their vehicle breaks down and he offers to help them.

But his depraved nature quickly emerges and the trio awake from a drug-induced sleep to a nightmare of Taylor’s creation.

Liz is tortured and then paralysed; Kirsty is sexually assaulted and then murdered; Ben eventually escapes but only at the cost of terrible injuries and psychological damage.

The second film delivers a similar fate to German tourists Rutger and Katarina, and British tourist Paul.

Here are my thoughts then as to why Mick Taylor qualifies as a truly great horror villain:


He is truly a serial killer

The first film gave strong hints as to how many victims Taylor may have had but the second makes it explicit; as Paul flees through Taylor’s underground dungeon complex, he comes across the bodies of numerous corpses and one emaciated woman, begging for her freedom.

Cleary Taylor has been plying his deadly trade for years, on countless innocents.


He doesn’t look like a monster

Pinhead, Leatherface, Sadako…..all look like monsters, they’re immediately recognisable as such. Part of what makes Mick Taylor so chillingly effective is that he looks….completely normal. He is as much a monster as any but that is concealed behind a mask of utter ordinariness.


He has no code

Many horror villains have codes (especially Clive Barker’s), they have rules and boundaries which shape their behaviour.

Not Mick Taylor.

And this is chillingly illustrated in Wolf Creek 2, wherein he makes a game of sorts with captured tourist Ben. He proposes to ask Ben ten questions about Australian history and if Ben does well enough, he’ll let him go. What Taylor doesn’t know is that Ben is a history major, and when he continues to answer the questions correctly, an annoyed Taylor goes back on his word and cuts off two of his fingers anyway.

Later in the film, Taylor seems to attempt to define his credo, saying to Paul that, ‘It’s up to my kind to wipe your kind out’. But he’s shown earlier that he’s equally as happy killing Australian policemen as he is killing foreign tourists.

There really are no rules nor reasons for him.


He is relentless

Taylor is like a force of nature – in the pursuit of his victims, he will kill random passers by, slaughter law enforcement agents, steal and crash trucks and more.

It is his implacable nature that makes him such a blood-chilling adversary.

And both films stress his unstoppableness by ending with Taylor calmly walking away, rifle, in hand, prepared to carry on his reign of carnage.

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He is master of his domain

Freddy has his dream realm, Pinhead the Labyrinth, Sadako her well – all have their lairs.

Mick Taylor has the unforgiving and vast expanse of the Western Australian out-back, and he rules over it like a lord.


He is a sadist

Slasher icons like Jason and Ghostface want to kill you, sure, but that’s not nearly enough for Mick Taylor.

He wants you to suffer, preferably for a long time.

And actually, he may not kill you at all if he thinks your suffering will be greater alive – hence him allowing Paul to escape at the end of the second film, albeit totally mentally broken.

Like some depraved predator hunting his prey, it is the chase and the terror that creates that is as important to Taylor as the eventual capture or killing of his victims.

And his most chilling sadistic moment? Probably the ‘head on a stick’ moment in the first film, where he cuts through Liz’s spine with a knife, paralysing her, and meaning that she will be helpless but conscious for the atrocities that follow.


It is a testament to writer / director McLean and actor John Jarratt – who apparently went to extremes in preparation for the role, spending significant time alone in the isolated outback and going for weeks without showering – that they have managed to create such a memorable and original horror icon.

Finally, it has been announced that there will be a six-part television series of Wolf Creek, set to screen later this month (August 2016).

Mick Taylor’s reign of terror is not yet over, it seems.






No Laughing Matter

Does combining horror and comedy ever work?

No, it doesn’t.

So there you go, I’ll give you my conclusion right from the off, rather than make you wait for it, so if you want, you can storm off, going, ‘What about Ghostbusters? What about An American Werewolf in London?’ (I’ll address those two, specifically, and others, later on).

Horror doesn’t combine well with comedy; there, I’ve said it.

I would caveat that by saying a horror comedy can be a great film….but the introduction of a comedy element will inevitably be to the detriment of the horror element.

Films are like emotional drugs; we watch to experience one or more emotions, artificially stimulated by the narrative. And this is the problem with horror and humour – they are essentially opposite emotions.

Horror derives from alarm; comedy derives from re-assurance

Horror works by creating tension and suspense; comedy works by releasing tension and suspension.

So you cannot illicit one without diminishing the other.

Still don’t agree? Let’s look at some examples.

Since the whole cross-genre thing in films really kicked in in the Eighties, I thought I’d look at some of the most popular horror comedies of the last forty years – with my respective horror / comedy rankings allocated to each- starting with:


The Evil Dead (1981)


Horror 9 / Comedy 3

Let’s start with one of the greats.

The fact that the title page image for this blog comes from the sequel should indicate how fond I am of Ash and his adventures. So much to praise about the Evil Dead, not least of which Sam Raimi’s ingenuity in getting it made. Starting with a micro-budget of $1,600, Raimi made a short version, ‘Within the Woods’ in 1978, and that eventually led to the funding of, ‘The Evil Dead’ , three years later.

And it’s bloody brilliant.

So good that no one would ever try to re-make it. No they wouldn’t.

From the enduring image of the demon-possessed cellar zombie chanting, ‘dead by dawn’, to the iconic low-to-ground racing-through-the-woods shots, the Evil Dead is a marvellously atmospheric, original, and innovative horror film.

But is actually all that funny?

The comic moment most people probably remember is Ash containing his rebellious severed hand under a bucket and weighing it down with a copy of, ‘A Farewell to Arms.’

But aside from that, when you stop to think about it, there are not that many genuine laughs.


An American Werewolf in London (1981)


Horror 7 / Comedy 3

Cracking film, not least of which for a werewolf transformation scene which still rates as one of the best ever (along with the subsequent, ‘Howling’).

The humour comes in three main forms:

Firstly, the ironic use of music- there are three versions of, ‘Blue Moon’, along with versions of, ‘Bad Moon Rising’, and, ‘Moondance.’

Secondly, there are a number of cameo’s, from Landis himself to Frank Oz and even a young Rik Mayall.

Lastly, there is a delicious thread of dark, gallows humour that runs through the movie, such as the deceased Goodman imploring his friend Kessler to commit suicide so that his spirit may rest.

Of all the variants of comedy, black humour like this clearly sits easiest with horror.


Ghostbusters (1984)


Horror 1 / Comedy 8

That rare beast, a mainstream film that enjoys a cult status as well.

Just thinking about it, you’re now humming, ‘I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost,’ right?

And you don’t have to tell me how funny it is – in my social group even now, the line, ‘dogs and cats living together…’ is used to indicate something undesirable and catastrophic.

But it’s not a horror film is it? Which bits are genuinely scary? Some of the CGI ghosts are admittedly well-rendered and quite ominous….but the potential fear value of these spectres is immediately nullified by the over-the-top reactions of the Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters is a great comedy film, but that’s all it is.


Fright Night (1985)


Horror 7 / Comedy 1

‘Welcome to Fright Night…..for real.’

I had to start with Jerry Dandridge’s chilling taunt, I hope you understand.

First off, it’s worth saying that Fright Night is under-estimated as a horror film. It’s vision of vampires was unique and new, and has continued to influence subsequent films (such as Robert Rodriguez’s, ‘From Dusk Til Dawn.’)

Previously, vampires had usually been suave, sexy, seductive immortals (aside from the Nosferatu variants, like the Master in ‘Salem’s Lot.’). And indeed, Fright Night’s Jerry Dandridge starts out exactly like that.

Except before long, we get to see that Dandridge – like his offspring – are proper monsters.

When they transform, they do not reveal a set of enlarged incisors – their mouths break open into horrendous shark’s maws of jagged teeth.

This was a genuinely scary film in places, and the ending- wherein unlikely heroes Brewster and Vincent hunt down villain Dandridge inside his own house – is tense and effective.

But the comedy element is very limited, deriving almost entirely from Roddy McDowell’s comedy-cowardly portrayal of media vampire hunter Peter Vincent.

It’s not so much funny as…..mildly amusing.


Brain Dead (1992)


Horror 8 / Comedy 2

Years before he made the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson was making brilliant gross-out gore films in his native New Zealand and none are better than Brain Dead.

An entirely ludicrous – and brilliantly entertaining – ‘plot’ that involves a rat-monkey infecting a small coastal town with a virus that makes them zombies, is mainly just a back-drop for a number of splendid blood and guts set pieces that culminates in our hero, Lionel, despatching a mob of zombies using a lawn mower.

There are laughs here, for sure, but they are more surreal than standardly funny. The two lines that stayed with me are:

  • Father Jon McGruder (the inexplicably Kung Fu skilled Priest) declaring, ‘I kick ass for the Lord!’ before launching himself at a horde of zombies, and
  • Heroine Paquita plaintively complaining to Lionel that, ‘Your mother….ate my dog,’ to which he replies, ‘Not all of it…’

Splendidly surreal, messily entertaining, and completely unlike anything else ever made.


Scream (1996)


Horror 7 / Comedy 2

Never really understood why this is considered a horror comedy.

The humour – such as there is – derives entirely from constant references to the Slasher sub-genre. Indeed, the film manages to simultaneously be a kind of love letter to Slasher horrors whilst being a pretty decent Slasher horror itself, not that one would expect anything less from a director with Wes Craven’s CV.

He also managed to create an entirely new and distinct Slasher villain in Ghostface.

The knowing in-jokes and genre observations certainly illicit smirks but it’s not what I would call actual comedy.


Shaun of the Dead (2004)



Horror 1 / Comedy 9

I love Simon Pegg and Simon Pegg loves zombie films and it shows.

He and long-term collaborator Edgar Wright are big fans of George Romero’s films and even managed to land cameos in, ‘Land of the Dead.’

It’s all classic Pegg / Wright stuff, fast-paced and slacker-centric, with the usual references to other movies, television series and video games.

And it’s extremely funny, but that’s just the point – this is a comedy film that uses a horror setting – it’s never scary and it’s not a horror film.


The Cabin in the Woods (2011)


Horror 7 / Comedy 1

Joss Whedon  – who produced this film – described it as a ‘loving hate letter’ to the Slasher sub-genre and it is that and more.

It really is an extraordinary movie.

It manages to examine and dissect the elements of several different horror genres, while still being itself an exceptional and original horror film.

But as with Scream, the humour is subtle and sly, mostly arising from the recognition of the memes and conventions that are being illustrated then subverted throughout.


So in summary, we have no equal ratings in the above. You have to do one or the other to do either justice.

Horror and comedy just don’t play well together.







My Hellbound Heart or Why I Love Hellraiser

I didn’t see Hellraiser when it first came out in 1987; I remember it being on my radar, of course; the (eventually) iconic Pinhead staring out from the VHS cover but there was nothing about it that really appealed to me. At the time, the horror genre was dominated by slashers (the Halloweens; the Friday 13ths etc) and the monster-supernaturals (Day of the Dead; Evil Dead; American Werewolf; Nightmare on Elm Street etc).

Hellraiser wasn’t either of those but when I did eventually catch up with it in the early Nineties, it instantly became my favourite horror film, and to this day, possibly my favourite film. It also established Hellraiser’s creator, Clive Barker, as one of my favourite writers (his Books of Blood series are really unlike anything else written in the horror genre).

Hellraiser had an advertised budget of a million dollars (though it’s an open secret within the industry that budgets are routinely lied-up and lied-down). The inside gossip though is that the original budget was much lower and Barker tactically chose to blow a huge amount of it immediately when shooting started, on the Cenobites and their dark dimension (as created by effects designer Bob Keen). When the dailies went across to New World Pictures in the States they immediately saw the potential and agreed to expand the budget.

Even so, the budget was severely limited for a story that was so ambitious in scope, and the limitations show through in places (for example the sketchyanimation of the skeletal dragon at the end that hardcore fans will know to have been the fifth Cenobite, the Engineer.)

We have such sights to show you!

There’s no denying that a lot of the power of the film comes from the visuals. The production design of their home dimension – explored more extensively in the sequel – is a master-class in creating powerful imagery on a low budget – creaking rotating columns, decorated with strips of skin, blood spattered everywhere, body parts scattered on the floor, ominous chains hanging in the blue-black gloom. But it is the Cenobites who are the real visual hook of the film. A mixture of punks, fetishists (the film’s working title was, ‘ Sadomasochists From Beyond The Grave’), bikers and torture victims, each is depicted with injuries that would cause extreme pain if they were alive.

But of course they’re not.

Interestingly, none of the names by which they have become known – Pinhead,Butterball, Chatterer, and the less imaginatively-named Female Cenobite – derive from the source material; all are the creations of fans , subsequent to the release of the film.

The iconic Pinhead is played by Barker’s childhood friend and long-time collaborator, Doug Bradley, and it is his mesmeric performance and curiously-idiosyncratic voice characterisation that gives the character the eerie gravitas he needs. The origins of the character were laid in an improvised performance of a South American despot that Bradley created while he and Barker were in a travelling theatre company in the early Eighties.

But the real genius of the Cenobites is not in their appearance or their performance, it is in their concept. Like all Barker’s ‘monsters’ (Candyman, even Rawhead Rex), the Cenobites are creatures with a rationale, a raison d’etre, a perspective. They are not evil for evil’s sake, they are, as Pinhead says, ‘explorers in the further regions of experience -demons to some; angels to others’. They offer enlightenment through agony and crucially only to those who seek them out (in the sequel, when a mute girl is tricked into summoning them, Pinhead leaves her alone because she didn’t want them to come).

And a consideration of what sort of person would want to contact the Cenobites leads us to consider the rest of the cast……

No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering 

Much of the power of a horror film is in how strong the human characters are. How much do you care if Janey the Cheerleader gets chopped up by Lenny the Lunatic if she seems vacuous, one-dimensional and uninteresting? And Barker presents us with a deliciously rich supporting cast here: Kirsty Cotton, our heroine, is for me one of cinema’s great, and under-rated, female leads. She is by turns feisty, moody, sexually-assertive, resourceful, loyal, spirited, and brave. When first confronted by the Cenobites (having accidentally summoned them in hospital), despite being terrified, and traumatised by the experience of having her fleshless Uncle Frank make a pass at her, she has the wit not only to work out that they have a connection to her uncle but also to bargain with them for her own release. A true survivor!

Then we have the duo of villains – for me, it is Frank and Julia who occupy this position, rather than the Cenobites. Frank Cotton, experience-junkie, a man for whom no experience, neither of the flesh nor the mind, can ever be enough. His insatiable desire for sensation leads him to the Cenobites, but his subsequent actions prove him to be far more of a monster than they. Deprived of the majority of his flesh (which has presumably been flayed off him by the Cenobites) he has no qualms about recruiting his brother’s wife, Julia, to murder a series of men to provide him with the materials to remake his body. And ultimately even his own brother makes an acceptable sacrifice to his needs. He’s not bothered much when he accidentally kills Julia either. And Julia herself makes for a refreshing villain, particularly in her motivation: lust. She has nothing to gain from betraying her husband and murdering innocent men, other than Frank himself. And her sheer desire for him blinds her to what a monster he is. Lust is a really unusual motivation, especially for a female antagonist and kudos go to Barker for deploying it.

We’ll tear your soul apart!

The finale of the film sees Kirsty’s Faustian pact with the Cenobites starting to fall apart: Frank is returned to Hell – ‘Jesus wept’ he says, partly smiling, as chains rend him apart – and Hell starts to leak into the real world. Again showing her resourcefulness, Kirsty works out that the Lament Configuration (the iconic box that both starts and finishes the film) is a device capable of dismissing, as well as summoning, the Cenobites. But Barker offers us no happy ending: Kirsty survives (though with what memories!) but her father is still dead. And when she seeks to destroy the box, it is reclaimed from the fire by a tramp-like figure who transforms into a skeletal dragon and flies off. Clearly the Cenobites will continue to perform their dark work!

Your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell

It is perhaps disappointing that none of the material that followed Hell-Raiser quite lived up to the initial film’s potential (though I was quite fond of HellBoundand some of the stories in the comic series). But for me, the original remains aclassic, one of the best horror films ever made. Barker is currently involved in a re-working, so we will shortly see if he can improve on his own masterpiece: personally I doubt he can.

At the time of Hellraiser’s release, Stephen King hailed Barker, saying ‘I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker’.

For me, he still is.


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