The Witch (2016)

Witch 3


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.’

Witch 5

‘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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Privacy in the Age of Zombies


The following represents my musings on the long-term effects on human society of the zombie apocalypse that happened in the Walking Dead universe, but some of it would apply to some other zombie settings too.

I sent it to Robert Kirkman but does he get back to me?

Does he send flowers?

No, he does not.



I’ve been brewing on the concept of privacy. Human beings value privacy; whenever governments seem to be intruding on our civil rights we protest (rightly) that we have a right to privacy.

It’s even one of the tenets of the Human Rights Act here in Europe.

But what happens to this ideal in the Walking Dead universe?


Simply, over time, I think it would vanish, or rather, cease to be seen as desirable.

Consider: we know that within hours of dying, every human being – barring significant damage to the brain – will become a Walker. So every time you become vulnerable (e.g. by sleeping) in the sole presence of another human being, you run the risk of them dying and attacking you as a Walker.

Not much of a risk, sure, but behavioural evolution shows us that even small dysfunctional traits will start to be punished over time and that the animals displaying the more effective behaviour will start to flourish and replace those with the less effective behaviour.

Or to put it more bluntly, can you afford the luxury of privacy anymore?


As we have seen in the comics and series, human behaviour is starting to change as a result of the new world and I would predict over time it would change even more, and that the abandonment of privacy as an ideal would be one of those changes.

Disgusted by the idea of being in the same room while your Mom and Dad have sex? That was the reality human beings lived with for thousands of years until the last couple of centuries.

I think human beings would go back to a system of living in close packs with someone awake all the time.

And I think walls would become less of a thing, too.


In reality (or in a more normal fantasy setting), you need walls as protection against the elements, against natural predators, and as a means of keeping the heat in / cold out. But walls bring with them a risk – that Walkers can get too close to you without you seeing them coming.

And Walkers are unlike almost every other predator that Man has ever faced in that they’re slower than us. Pretty much everything in our past was faster than us. So if the animal that hunts you is slower than you……what’s the point in walls? Wouldn’t you rather have things as open as you can, so that you can see them coming and either attack (on your own terms) or retreat?

I think human compounds would continue to have substantial surrounding walls (to keep Walkers out and / or prevent them realising there were humans within) but inside a compound, I think you would start to see fewer and fewer walls (subject as observed above, to weather considerations). I think humans would seek out and / or build large open buildings like aircraft hangers and live inside them, at the centre, without much privacy.


Of course that’s just what I think.

I could be dead wrong.

Do you see what I did there?








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.