Bone Tomahawk (2015)

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WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Recommended.

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Muck (2015)

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WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

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.

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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.

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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…..

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Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)

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WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Bonzer!

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.

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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).

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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.

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Rarer than a Blue Moon

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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’.

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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.

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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).

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Full Moon

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

Silver

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….

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here Be Fear

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An examination of the genre-essentials of horror.

So what are the essential elements, what is it that makes a horror a horror?

The following will be my attempt to dissect the core DNA of horror….

 

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Fear

Start with the obvious, then.

It pretty much goes without saying that the emotion of fear sits right at the centre of a good horror although it may veer more towards revulsion in the case of body horrors.

Horror takes basic primal human terrors – death, the dark, vermin, disfigurement, the unfamiliar – and dramatizes them.

But it must also make them relatable to the audience, establishing empathy so that the audience shares the fear.

For example:

Whereas Alien is ostensibly a sci-fi horror about a predatory xenomorph, what’s it really tapping into is the core human fear of the insect. Giger’s Alien is in every way an insect – except made larger, more monstrous, and deadly.

The original Poltergeist was a master-class in identifying childhood fears….and then magnifying them. So you had the clown doll, innocuous during the day, but gaining a sinister quality at night, so that the child had to throw a dressing gown over its face, to hide it. Hands up who remembers doing something like that? And then the brilliant use of the tree outside the window, transformed at night into a malign entity that reached into the house, its branches turned into twisted limbs.

2003’s Open Water not only spoke to our fear of being adrift at sea but also our general species fear of sharks (one of our ancestors’ natural predators).

Lastly, 2013’s brilliant cult short, Lights Out perfectly exploited our basic human fear of the dark (and what we imagine might dwell within it).

 

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Suffering

Superficially, it’s easy to think that horror films require blood, gore and death and that is very often the case.

But not always.

No one bleeds in the Ring, for example.

No one dies in the Blair Witch Project.

Doesn’t mean they’re not terrifying.

It is suffering that is the genre essential here – someone has to go through a lot of suffering (and pain in the case of body horror).

 

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Suspense

A lot of film genres make use of the ancient dramatic technique of suspense but it’s absolutely crucial in horror films.

And getting it right is quite an art.

Alfred Hitchcock – who knew a thing or two about creating suspense – illustrated the difference between surprise and suspense by using the analogy of a scene wherein two people are having a seated conversation and there is a bomb under the table between them.

When it explodes unexpectedly that creates surprise in the audience.

But when the audience knows the bomb is there, and the characters do not, that creates suspense.

And it is indeed in the audience’s imaginations that suspense is created – all the film can do is provide the prompts and circumstances – the magic all happens in the viewer’s mind.

It is worth also adding that suspense works differently in different horror sub genres.

In body horror it is often almost entirely missing.

In slashers, the suspense is usually of the ‘jump’ variety – sudden startling shocks that follow a period of built suspense and act to release it. Increasingly, horror films are starting to employ a ‘double step’ trick to deliver their fear-jolt – building suspense and then revealing a non-result – ‘There’s no one there!’ – before almost immediately delivering the actual shock.

In supernaturals, suspense really is key, and often the suspense will continue unabated for the entire film, creating a relentless atmosphere of malign dread (the first two Rec films are a good example of this approach).

 

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Myth

Of all the filmic genres, it is probably horror that is most solidly-rooted in the mythic story traditions of history.

Think European fairy tales, think Greek myths.

These were not only stories designed to inspire and excite, they also served as warnings, cautionary tales to warn against forbidden behaviour.

What was it the almost killed Little Red Riding Hood? That she broke the rules and strayed from the path!

In the same way the monsters and dangers of horror films tend to operate within limits, rules, and / or constraints. Often they are reactive nor pro-active.

In Hellbound, Pinhead makes it clear that the Cenobites will not inflict their terrible tortures on anyone who enters the Labyrinth. When an unsuspecting innocent is tricked into opening the Lament Configuration and summoning the Cenobites, Pinhead rejects her, saying, ‘It is not hands that summon us; it is desire.’

Equally the Candyman will not come for you unless you repeat his name five times in a mirror.

Even the ultimately ruthless and sadistic predator Freddy Krueger can only pursue you in your dreams.

There are rules here.

Myth is much stronger in supernaturals – think of the defined structures and process that apply to Sadako in the Ring and less so in slashers – whereas Jason and Michael Myers may operate within limits (Crystal Lake and Halloween respectively), Wolf Creek’s Mick Taylor strikes wherever and whenever he chooses.
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Budget

A controversial one this one, but for me, horror is not only a genre that can operate effectively at low budget….it actively thrives on it.

And often suffers with a surfeit of budget.

Consider the difference between the original Hellraiser (official budget a comedically-low £1m) and its sequel Hellbound – emboldened by the much larger budget, the sequel moved away from the gritty, close-range intoxicating mix of supernatural and body horror of the original and attempted to conjure a vision of the entirety of a Hell dimension.

Not very successfully, unfortunately.

For a more recent example, turn to 2013’s, Mama. For most of its duration, ‘Mama’ employs the complete range of low-budget horror techniques for building suspense, from the gradual revelation of the titular monster’s back-story to half-glimpses of the creature to a very clever sequence in which a long shot initially appears to show a girl playing with her sister….only to have her real sister appear in the distance, thereby revealing that her playmate is actually the monster.

But then in the end, we have a full CGI manifestation of Mama, rising up in all her glory over the edge of a precipice. And impressively as she is rendered she is not as scary – cannot be as scary – as her previously glimpsed and implied appearances made her.

 

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Music

Often horror film music becomes as iconic as the films themselves.

Think of John Williams’s Jaws theme. Just two notes, repeated, that built suspense and came to establish the presence and even proximity of the approaching Great White Shark.

Think of the tinkling haunting Halloween music.

Think of the music from the Exorcist or the Shining.

Music collaborates with the visuals to build and maintain the essential element of suspense.

 

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Twists

Twists are a useful tool in the horror’s pocket because they assist with shock and surprise – an audience cannot prepare for something that don’t see coming!

The twist will often come at the end but not always – for example, the French New Extreme masterpiece, Martyrs gives us the revelation that the scarred creature that pursues the two protagonists is actually a figment of one of their imaginations, only twenty or so minutes in.

As a side-point, it is also worth mentioning that horror is one of the few genres that regularly allows a ‘negative’ ending, in which the antagonist triumphs (as is the case in, ‘Martyrs’).

A classic example of a horror twist ending can again be found in French New Extreme cinema – in High Tension (Haute Tension) wherein we discover only in the end, that it is Marie, one of the two protagonists, who is actually the murderous villain.

 

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As we’ve seen, different films, in different sub-genres, will vary the mix and extent of these various ingredients…but together they are elements that make horror work.

 

How I Made a Horror – Part Two

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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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:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2408286/?ref_=fn_al_tt_5

 

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