‘A passionate tribute to the cinema of Fulci’? It’s words like these which act like bait to writers like us, so when this statement was attached to the press release of a new film, Sexual Labyrinth, my curiosity was piqued. That the press release also mentioned paying homage to Joe D’Amato (ah yes, he) and Luigi Atomico (no idea) only made me wonder more what the film could possibly have in store. Well, spoiler alert: this ‘vision of female sexuality’, again words used in the press release, has nothing whatsoever to do with Fulci that I can see, from his early sex comedies all the way through to his horrors. Nada. Joe D’Amato? Not an expert on his stuff, though I’ve seen a few D’Amato films, and I suppose the rough-shod human flesh on display throughout wouldn’t have looked too amiss in some of his work – though I’m not sure that this is particularly ambitious on the current filmmaker’s part, or complimentary on mine. I think the best thing to do here is to say a bit more about what is on offer.
By Marc Lissenburg
Sleep deprivation aside, I prefer a clear head when treating my senses to horror based cinematic pleasures. Conversely, I personally find that my other passion, heavy-as-hell metal, is often better savoured while somewhat imnebriated. With this in mind, I’ve often pondered the curious instances whereby these two leisurely pursuits collide, pitching staunch sobriety against medicated blissfulness.
My disclosing ramble basically alludes to the fun that can be had with trying to identify the sound-bytes of sampled dialogue from our beloved horror genre that are cunningly interwoven into the heaviest music on the planet. This endeavour does have a varying scale of complexity, however. Whereas on one end of the scale, Regan McNeil’s profane howls are the proverbial no-brainer, the other end of the spectrum contains dialogue from flicks whose degree of obscurity make it down right infuriating to identify!
By Keri O’Shea & Nia Edwards-Behi
Keri: It’s no great surprise that Herschell Gordon Lewis, pioneer of so many infamous gore and exploitation movies, sustained another life as an advertising guru both before and after the 1960s heyday of his filmmaking career. In a number of ways, his films probably had a similar impact to his direct marketing strategies down through the years. Direct marketing has to land an immediate impact on the potential client, or else it’ll be ignored; it has to stand out against a raft of competition, but if it’s successful, then even a modest hit can pay serious dividends. On the flip side of all that, of course, this kind of tactic can irritate or even infuriate the people on the receiving end, who may not enjoy having their attention diverted by something quite so in-your-face and crass…
For HGL, the parallel must have been clear and intuitive, and so he made the best of both worlds throughout his lengthy career – sometimes landing a hit, sometimes not, but always keen to move on to the next thing, the next possible big break. Perhaps being born right at the start of the Great Depression would have taught him that you just worked at whatever presented itself in order to survive: this he did, and his entry into the shady world of low-budget cinema simply came about because it was the right move at the right time. HGL, by now working with legendary huckster David F. Friedman, first turned his hand to a number of softcore nudism movies (the only way to get that much flesh past the censors in those days) and these made back more than he’d spent; so far, so good, but when this all started to seem a little tame for audiences, HGL decided to move into horror.
Of course, he kept all avenues open, continuing to make sexploitation and even kids’ films during his career, but seeing a gap in the market for shock, Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast, released in 1963, is widely-credited with being the first true ‘gore’ movie. Whilst those of us who grew up decades later may be well-used to splatter, indifferent to it even, back in the mid-sixties this was something radical – and, judging by the rise and rise of gore and mondo cinema in this era, people soon had the taste for it. Keen to deliver while the going was good, HGL stuck with the gore and churned out several more titles such as Color Me Blood Red and The Gruesome Twosome. The powers-that-be were, of course, dismayed at all of this censor-baiting, but there’s no such thing as bad publicity when you’re trying to make a living from film.
It is largely thanks to the DVD renaissance of the 1990s and in particular the likes of Something Weird Video, who have made it their business to bring us a whole host of otherwise lost lowbrow movies from the 20th Century, that we can now acknowledge HGL as the ‘Godfather of Gore’. Around half a century since they were made, his gore movies are still gloriously good fun – grisly, inventive, but also wryly humorous and self-aware. It meant that I, years after first seeing a still from The Gore Gore Girls in a copy of The Dark Side magazine, got to see the films in motion – and it turns out, they’re as zany and bold as you’d hope from such titles. If ever you ask yourself ‘Should I be laughing at this?’ whilst watching a HGL movie, then the answer is almost certainly ‘Yes!’: HGL never set out to make Doctor Zhivago, and he wanted us to have fun. And as we do so, we can also take in the ingenuity which delivered special effects clearly far before their time.
It was after a lengthy hiatus of thirty years (!) that Herschell Gordon Lewis, by now a marketing executive again, was tempted back to cinema, releasing a sequel to Blood Feast and making a few cameos in new films made by a new generation of fans. Then, in 2009, it was announced that HGL had made a brand new film of his own – and it would be premiering at Abertoir, Aberystwyth’s yearly horror film festival, with the man himself in attendance. The Uh-Oh Show, a bloodthirsty skit on the reality TV shows which had sprung up as the new face of exploitation during HGL’s absence, was so new at this screening that all the TV screens and monitors in shot were still in green-screen. As for the guest of honour Herschell Gordon Lewis, who did a Q&A after the film, he was everything I’d hoped he’d be: a realist, affable, good-natured and modestly proud of his lengthy career. Ever the pro, when asked by an audience member about what to do if you wanted to sell a film that had languished for years, his advice was straightforward: “Tell them you just wrapped!” It was a real pleasure to hear him speak, and over the next few days of the festival the shine never went off the fact that The Godfather of Gore was just walking around, Mrs Gordon Lewis in tow, happily mingling and chatting with his fans.
HGL had a long, industrious and remarkable life. He saw a lot of changes, and he drove a lot of them too. Without meaning to revolutionise low-budget cinema, he still did it, and the resulting films have lost nothing of their power to entertain during the intervening years. He will be greatly missed, but he will always keep that moniker, ‘The Godfather of Gore’, which he wore so well and with such reserves of natural charm.
Nia: I have great memories of Herschell Gordon Lewis attending Abertoir Horror Festival in 2009, back when I was only setting out on helping out with the festival after being a dedicated attendee since its beginning in 2006. Lewis was an absolutely charming guest – happy to talk to attendees, sign DVDs and posters, and just generally attend the festival, enjoying the films and events as much as anyone. That year there were old trailers programmed in front of features and naturally several trailers for Lewis’ films were included. I fondly remember being sat near Lewis as he exclaimed at one of the trailers ‘is that really one of mine?!’ I wish I could remember which particular trailer that related to! He gave a talk on his career, a filmmaking masterclass, and it was so full that people were having to stand at the back – and this in small-town Wales! I can only imagine the sorts of home-crowds he could draw. Like so many gore-meisters, in real life Lewis was an absolute delight.
One of my favourite things I’ve read about H G Lewis is in Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford’s book Sleazoid Express, wherein they note that one of the few early, exploitation gore filmmakers to emerge the other side relatively successful and happy was Lewis, having left the filmmaking career behind him for a career in marketing. Even so, it seems obvious that, even though he seemingly left exploitation behind him, he never resented those films nor the people who still enjoy them to this day; indeed, he really revelled in it. He will be sorely missed.
By Ben Bussey
Up until this moment, BAH may have been the only horror-related site to have not published anything on the subject of Stranger Things. Plenty of Netflix original films and TV shows have become talking points, but few if any have made quite the same sensation as this 1980s-set drama which manages to homage countless movies of that era without ever coming off as a direct rip-off of any of them. Series creators Matt and Ross Duffer have worn their influences like band patches on their stonewashed denim jacket sleeves, yet the story they have told has still managed to feel wholly fresh and original.
As such, it’s interesting – though not necessarily too surprising – to learn that things could have been altogether different, as the Duffer Brothers have revealed that the series was born out of their disappointment at being denied the chance to direct a movie adaptation of a story to which Stranger Things clearly owes a significant debt: Stephen King’s It.
Here’s how the brothers break it down to The Hollywood Reporter:
Matt: We asked, and that’s why we ended up doing this, because we’d asked Warner Brothers. I was like, “Please,” and they were like, “No.” This was before [director] Cary Fukunaga. This was a long time ago.
Ross: When we asked to do it was before, then he got on it afterwards because he’s established. So, he got on it and we were excited just because we’re huge fans of what he does, and one of the few people who hasn’t made a bad movie. So, that was exciting to us, but also, we were seeing trailers for True Detective, we’re like, “I kind of want to see. How do you do It in two hours? Even if you’re separating the kids, how do you do that right?” You don’t really fall in love with them the same way you’re going to when I read that book. So, how much more excited would I be if Cary Fukunaga was doing that for HBO or he was doing that for Netflix?
There were a lot of different discussions we were having around this time, and a lot of it centered around how exciting TV was becoming and how cinematic it was. Certainly one of those discussions brought us back to It and how we wish it was an eight- or ten-hour miniseries.
Matt: It’s like, “Could you be truer to the sensibilities of It if you had eight or ten hours?” We thought that you probably could more than if you were confined to two hours. At least that’s how we made ourselves feel better about not getting the movie adaptation. We still would have done it, obviously. I’m really excited about that movie. I think it will be cool.
Fukunaga has since left It, to be replaced by Mama director Andy Muschietti, and we can look forward (hopefully?) to the It movie in 2017. But for our purposes right now – this surely stands as a great an example of any of how not getting what you wish for can prove to be a very good thing.
Other instances come to mind, of course. George Lucas’s inability to secure the film rights to Flash Gordon led him to create his own little story called Star Wars. Steven Spielberg later agreed to direct Raiders of the Lost Ark for Lucas out of his frustration at being turned down to direct a James Bond movie. Sam Raimi couldn’t get the rights to The Shadow, and so instead he made Darkman.
So it is for Matt and Ross Duffer – and so it is that they are now revered not only as excellent screenwriters, directors and showrunners, but as bona fide creators in their own right. And isn’t that a hell of a lot better? Isn’t that what everyone who sets out to make movies and TV really wants – to create something of their very own?
Of course, at the multiplexes we’re seeing less and less of that of late. Almost every new major film that comes along is a sequel or remake of some description – even when, as is often the case, the end results bear little more than a passing resemblance to the earlier material. Fans of the original are invariably wind up incensed if it strays too far or if it adheres too closely to what went before, which begs the question – why not just do something new?
Stranger Things demonstrates that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking influence and borrowing liberally from properties you love (and they really did borrow heavily, as this article at Vulture details), so long as you do it right; put the characters first, treat them seriously, and concentrate on telling their story, allowing your reference points to be part of the language of the piece, but not the be-all and end-all.
Put simply – if you haven’t watched Stranger Things, you really should. Trust me, the hype is warranted in this instance.
By Ben Bussey
I don’t mean to be a killjoy, honestly I don’t. However, when I see the bulk of online horror fandom losing their shit over something I just can’t get fired up about, I feel like I need to voice the opposing view. If you’re among the excited ones, then good for you, honestly. But I’m not, and I can’t believe I’m the only one.
Allow me to elaborate.
Well actually, first of all I should make sure we’re all on the same page. If you’ve been anywhere near any movie news-related sites this weekend, you’ll know we just had the mighty San Diego Comic Con – and while horror news coming out of the event was fairly thin on the ground, there was one pretty massive revelation. We’d known for some time that director Adam Wingard had a new horror movie coming up entitled The Woods; little was known about this beyond the fact that it’s a found footage centred on some young folks who get lost in some woods and are swiftly swept up shit creek, and there were a few accompanying quotes declaring it to be a major event for the genre. The signs may have been there (quite literally, as Brian Collins points out at Birth Movies Death), but it still came as a massive surprise to all of us that The Woods is in fact Blair Witch, a direct sequel to the 1999 smash hit The Blair Witch Project.
Now, I can absolutely understand why this news has got a lot of horror fans frothing at the mouth. Anyway you look at it, The Blair Witch Project was bona fide game changer, and one of the most distinctive, unique horror movies of the last twenty years. That having been said, it’s also long been hugely divisive – and I’ve always been on the naysayer side of that divide. Many people, our own Keri included, went into the film for the first time relatively blind, and were left shaken to the core. As for myself, I made the same mistake that I keep telling myself not to make all these years later: I paid way too much attention to the hype, read far too much about it beforehand, and went in fully expecting to figuratively if not literally shit myself – and was left monumentally underwhelmed. And struggling with motion sickness, but that’s another matter.
And here’s the problem: even before it was revealed that The Woods was in fact Blair Witch, I was getting a sense of deja vu (and I’m not suggesting I guessed what it really was, by the way). All the trailers and pre-publicity for The Blair Witch Project declared in a stark and straight-faced fashion that it was truly THE most terrifying film ever made – and, lo and behold, all the pre-publicity for The Woods/Blair Witch has done exactly the same. Given that, for this horror fan at least, these declarations proved utterly untrue the first time around, surely I can be forgiven for feeling sceptical this time.
But that’s not even the worst of it. What makes me feel even sadder about Blair Witch is seeing Adam Wingard become a franchise guy. Now, I’m by no means Wingard’s biggest fan (quite enjoyed You’re Next and The Guest, hated his entries in V/H/S and The ABCs of Death, haven’t seen any of his earlier stuff), but I respected that this was a horror filmmaker who was climbing the ladder and making a name for himself off the back of original material of his own creation. Too often we see filmmakers of this calibre relegated to stuff that’s beneath them once they break big: I remain hugely disheartened that Starry Eyes directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer are following up that brilliant breakthrough with a sequel to Mama, and even though I have high hopes for Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, it still stinks that one of the best horror filmmakers of our time is making a follow-up such a subpar film. Of course, we can’t really accuse Blair Witch of being a quick cash-grab as we might those other sequels, given it’s been almost sixteen years since the last film in the series – 2000’s unforgettably awful Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 – but it still can’t help but feel like a safe play based around a marketable title. (Side note here: both Wingard and Flanagan have been linked to the in-development Halloween reboot, but to the best of our knowledge nothing’s confirmed there yet. It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.)
Quite apart from all that… neither the earlier ‘The Woods’ trailer nor the new Blair Witch trailer give me much hope that we have a truly scary movie on our hands, and certainly not one that breaks significant new ground the way the early hype has suggested. It seems clear the film will be considerably more visceral and traditionally horrific than The Blair Witch Project, in which a great deal more will be seen; and I can’t deny a begrudging curiosity about whether or not Wingard which actually reveal the witch herself this time.
Of course, we’ve had a hell of a lot of found footage movies since 1999 (another reason to not hold The Blair Witch Project in the highest regard), and while the vast majority of them have been unspeakably awful, there have been at least a few truly great, truly scary ones – and my gut tells me Blair Witch will borrow heavily from these. The moments that most jump out from the trailer below, (aside from those which point to the original of course) remind me of the most heart-thumping moments from the [REC] movies, and the wince-inducing climax of The Borderlands. Of course, a lot of the wider audience that heads into Blair Witch will be unaware of those films – and call me a cynic, but I can’t help suspecting that Wingard and Lionsgate may be counting on just that.
Please believe me when I say I hope I am proven wrong. Like any sensible person, I hope every new movie I go see will be good. I just can’t get as excited about Blair Witch as so many seem to be, and can’t shake the feeling that the hype will once again prove empty.
By Nia Edwards-Behi
In cinemas soon, The Lighthouse is Chris Crow’s fourth feature as director, and his second feature collaboration with producer David Lloyd. Following Devil’s Bridge, Panic Button and The Darkest Day, The Lighthouse is a chamber piece, a psychological drama based on a real life event in Welsh maritime history. Chris and David very kindly took some time to answer some questions about the film for us.
BAH: So, is Welsh maritime history something that particularly interests you?! Where did the idea to adapt this story come from?
Chris: Very much so, maritime history in general in fact. As a species we’ve been at sea for a long time and I really love the mythology and folk superstition that has grown around it. The Smalls Island tragedy is such an incredible story anyway and the fact that it took place in a period of Welsh history that is in itself really quite fascinating made it a very attractive idea for a film.
When we were shooting Devil’s Bridge, Vern Raye (who produced DB with us) told me the story and I was hooked, we talked about it as a film idea, then on the same shoot Mike Jibson brought it up. We talked about if for years and actually took it in a few directions; Mike tried a more modern ghost story set on the newer (stone) Lighthouse, I actually transplanted it to a space station, then I read about Gravity being in development and thought ‘bugger’. Eventually we all decided that it was pointless in doing anything with it other than telling the actual story.
David: I’d always had an interest in maritime history and culture and first came across this story in a book on the history of Welsh lighthouses, which Chris had bought me as a birthday present many years ago. I’d forgotten about it till it was brought up again as a possible next project, and with that connection it was a given – we had to make this film!
BAH: How much historical material did you actually have to work with in terms of adapting the story?
Chris: Fragments really, bare bones. A lot is lost to history however this particular tragedy did change the way in which Lighthouses were kept (from 2 to 3 men) which in itself is a fairly important shift. I did find some great accounts from other lighthouses from the time (British, American and French) which I used to flesh out the daily grind and routine of the keepers, their tasks, duties etc. What was lovely about tackling the bare bones was that you could fill in the blanks, imagine what happened, extend things.
David: Filling in the blanks meant we could take this somewhere that interested us, beyond a more factual historical retelling. Whilst we tried to remain as faithful to the small amount of information there was about the event, it also meant we could take some major artistic license with the story and fashion the world and events of The Lighthouse to suit our own tastes and ideas.
BAH: The project was funded by Ffilm Cymru Wales’ Cinematic project, chosen as one of three successful projects from many other strong contenders. How did you go about pitching the project?
Chris: I created a wealth of visual materials – mood boards, concept art etc. We also shot a mood reel/teaser, I think that gave the backers a feel for what we wanted to achieve. We were confident that we could achieve a fairly ambitious project on a tiny budget and we were extremely single minded in our pursuit of getting that green light. We’ve got a great relationship with Ffilm Cymru Wales, they’ve been really supportive of us and so it was great to actually fit this film to that particular funding scheme and work with them and the other backers on the film.
David: At all stages of the pitching process we wanted the backers to be able to visualise the look and the feel of the film, to make it feel like a finished and fully realised entity. Chris’ visuals and the mood trailer we submitted along the way went a long way to helping win the backers attention. At one point we made up fake DVD cases and covers to hand to the backers to solidify the idea in their heads. Our previous experience in film making also went a long way to help us answer the tricky questions about how we’d make the production work on our limited means, safe in the knowledge we knew we could do what we were saying.
BAH: Once you had secured funding, what was the process of planning the shoot like?
Chris: It is always relentless – exciting, terrifying at the same time. We had an exceptional crew and so putting everything together was a joy. There was a much bigger set build and CGI element for The Lighthouse than anything I’ve done before so everything really needed to be planned and budgeted for within an inch of its life. We had a fantastic production crew before we brought the HOD’s in too, so there really were months of nailing the approach and balancing the budget to put as much money on screen as possible.
David: Ideally we’d have had another month or two to plan, but given the scale and budget we had to shoot when we did and have it all ready for that. The planning was furious and demanding. The big things fell into place quite quickly, but some smaller elements took a lot longer to bring together, and even with all the planning that was in place, things happened.
Our first day’s shooting location backed-out less than 48 hours before principal photography began. This left us with a real headache and need to reschedule and rearrange so we didn’t lose that valuable first day. Thanks to the team’s work, an alternative plan was quickly made and the day was saved.
Whilst the big things like the studio and set were there and ready
on time, a couple of smaller elements were a real battle that didn’t come together till the very last moment. Given the scale of the production, you would be amazed at the problems securing a small pilot gig and church caused us in comparison!
BAH: Tell us a bit about building the lighthouse set – what an achievement! Were you using the original architectural plans?!
Chris: The lighthouse was based roughly on the original but we had to create something that would also work as a fully functional set. Tim Dickel designed the set and did an incredible job, Wild Creations (recently famous for the rugby ‘Ball In The Wall’ in Cardiff) did an amazing build and they worked closely with the VFX team who created the 3D CGI Lighthouse. We knew that the set had to look 100% authentic, lived in, filthy and claustrophobic but we also had to be able to swing a camera about and light it. They all did an incredible job of that set. I wanted to live in it after we’d wrapped. I even measured up my living room to see if it would fit, sadly it was too big and eventually followed its original counterpart to the big sea in the sky.
David: Whilst they look very similar in their outward appearance, the original and ours had differences that were made out of budgetary necessity and shooting practicality. I think the original was either 8 or 10 sided, but ours was 6 sided, and our internal layout was difference. Given the way the film is shot, you never see the whole layout for any length of time, our six sided one feels as real as the original.
BAH: You shot some scenes on location too – where was this?
Chris: We worked closely with Atlantic College with the boat sequences, we shot the Island sequences there, the rowing scenes in Cardiff Bay the Chapel and Tavern just outside Cardiff. The lighthouse was actually built in a warehouse in Splott which we essentially tuned into a sound stage.
David: It was important to keep everything fairly contained in terms of travel. We didn’t have the budget to put up cast and crew at locations so had to be able to travel from base. Luckily for us Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan offer everything we needed for the shoot, with stunning exterior locations at Llantwit Major and St Donats, perfectly aged interiors like those we shot at Gileston and Penced House and the unit base right next door to Splott Market, which led to a few interesting noise related moments and the ability to nip out and pick-up a top notch breakfast roll on market days. We were also a 100m from our post house, which meant we could easily go back and fore during the shoot with rushes and rough edits.
BAH: How did you go about casting – you’ve worked with both Jibson and Jones before, did you always have them in mind for these parts?
Chris: Yes, we developed the film with Mike and Mark was perfect for Griffith, PERFECT. Both are incredibly gifted actors, both fantastic character actors. I knew that they’d do a great job and both can grow admirable beards! They were the perfect casting for me, I also love working with them both, we have fun and we collaborate.
David: Both Mike and Mark went above and beyond in their services to this film, their performances are top-notch and I think they were born for these roles. Given the seriousness of the roles, you’d be amazed at the laughs we had during the making of the film.
BAH: How long was the shoot? What was it like working in such as small space? Presumably you had space to manoeuver outside the structure as you built it in a larger space.
Chris: It was a 4-week shoot, but we really could have done with 6. It was claustrophobic and cold (especially when the rain and wind machines were going). We designed the cabin so that each wall came off. So we could really get coverage. Even with the walls off you felt like you were abandoned it a bleak wooden lighthouse. We shot through Oct – Dec, that warehouse was cold and gloomy.
David: The warehouse was huge, but with the sets built and the green screens hung it felt a lot smaller than it was. And trying to heat a space that big in the midst of winter was impossible. But the freedom that studio set-up gave us to move around and dis-assemble parts of the set was essential to getting the shots we needed.
BAH: How did you make the storm? Were you working with much water, or was it mostly VFX work?
Chris: We used rain machines (indoors) that Tim our designer had actually built and wind machines, really that was just to effect the actors. The rest was pure CGI. Vern did an amazing job of working out the green screen logistics, I think at the time we had one of the biggest green screens in Wales. The CGI was actually hellish to be honest, really difficult to create a storm without the Hollywood budget. I actually designed a particle rain system in after effects that matched the rain machines, but the stormy sea almost killed all of us! We had a fantastic VFX team (I also worked on a lot of the VFX) but it was tough on a low budget.
David: Seeing the torrential rain happen indoors was both a moment of pride and panic, but the systems we had in place worked a treat and the end effect was well worth the effort. With the wind machines going too, it was really a bizarre experience to be in the eye of a storm whilst indoors.
BAH: What has reaction been like to the film so far? What do you expect people will make of the film?
Chris: We’ve only really done a few test screenings, so we’ll need to see what the wider world thinks. People love it or hate it, we really wanted to make a film that felt like an ordeal, like you’re stuck with them in that terrible place, lost in that storm. It is a fairly dark film, a very personal film. Starburst were the first to review it and they gave us a fantastic 8 / 10 so hopefully the right audience will get the film and enjoy that darkness.
David: We know this film won’t be to everyone’s taste, but saying that people that I wouldn’t expect to have liked it have done. I think at its heart is a very human story and ordeal that everyone of us can relate to and take a stake in as it unfolds. That was always our intention, to leave the audience feeling like they’d spent months stuck on that lighthouse in those extreme conditions, battered, bruised and on-edge. A couple of screenings we’ve been at end with a very palpable silence once the end credits role, which for me is the kind of reaction I’d hope we’d get.
BAH: Is there anything you would have done differently, either in the content of the film or how you went about making it?
Chris: When you finish a film you look back and see so many things you could have done differently. At the end of the day it is what it is, it is what you achieved at that time with that budget. I try not to look back these days, only learn from each one.
David: I can’t look at the films I’ve been involved in without spotting the mistakes we made along the way. I won’t point them out because most of the time they’re irrelevant to other people watching the film with no idea of what’s gone on behind the scenes. There are a few things we’d liked to have done if we had the money, but chances are they wouldn’t have worked out as planned. As it stands, for what we did and had to do it with, the whole cast and crew can hold their heads up and feel proud of what they achieved with The Lighthouse. I know I am. [Nia agrees!]
BAH: I believe you’ve got another medieval project in the works, called Conquest – is this something that we might see in the near future?
Chris: ‘Conquest’ has a lot of interest, I love that project so hopefully yes. Probably a film or two down the line though as it needs a big, big budget.
David: We’re still actively developing ‘Conquest’ and it would be a dream project for us to get our teeth into next. However, given its scale and the current film-making distribution and financing climate, we’ve made the decision to make something a bit smaller first. That said, the next thing we do will be considerably bigger than The Lighthouse, for our own experience and the peace of mind of the backers too. I mean, look what we did with £300,000. Imagine what we could do with a million!
BAH: Any other upcoming projects?
Chris: Yes, but none that we can quite announce yet. We’ve actually got a great little slate coming together.
David: There’s a number of very commercial and exciting projects in development at the moment, once The Lighthouse gets out there we’re hoping we can use the momentum built to bring these new films on and get them made. The next couple of years will be an exciting and busy time for Dogs Of Annwn.
Huge thanks to Chris and David for talking to me about the film and their work. To keep up to date with the film, give The Lighthouse a ‘like’ on Facebook and for more on Chris and David’s work visit www.dogsofannwn.com.
Soda Pictures release The Lighthouse in UK cinemas on 8th July.
We all know I love Danger 5, the alt-history surrealist TV series by Dario Russo and David Ashby. Though there’s no sign of any more Danger 5 in the near future (I know, I’m sad too, but pastures new, and all that), the men collectively known as Dinosaur Worldwide have unleashed their latest creation online.
Computer Man is as much a short film as it is a recreation of point-and-click computer games of old, like if people in the past live-streamed their gaming at 3am on a dial-up era equivalent of YouTube. Was there a dial-up era equivalent? I’d blame my ignorance on youth, but given that both Russo and Ashby are younger than me, that shit’s not really going to fly, is it? Anyway – watching Computer Man on a computer is probably the most suitable way to watch it, entertainingly the reverse of what I’d say about most films. I’ve seen Computer Man on a big screen too, and while that was essentially something of a transcendent experience, now seeing the cursor wave about the screen watching the ‘shareware version’ is even better: it’s confusing and discomforting, not dissimilar to when you hear someone else’s phone go off when they’ve got the same ringtone as you.
Ashby gets the star role here, magnificently supported by Russo and Michael Crisci (that’s John Product to you, D5 fans). All three actors demonstrate the comedic chops well-established in Danger 5. The tone of humour, as you would expect, is entirely irreverent and surrealist, though it successfully feels like something entirely removed from Danger 5, despite its lineage. If you’ve enjoyed the nostalgia of films like Manborg or Turbo Kid, then you should get a much more direct kick out of Computer Man (which, if you ask me, is better than both, at barely 9 minutes long).
It’s very pleasing to see creators as talented as Russo and Ashby continue to work on new material off their own backs and in their own spirit of creativity. I genuinely hope someone soon has the guts to support their utterly mad ideas with wads of money, so that we can all be further subject to riotous bouts of breathless laughter and sheer disbelief.
Relatedly, you can also download Dario Russo’s latest EP, Confidence, from Bandcamp, which includes what might be the most discomforting song ever recorded, Deluxe Suite, the perfect tune to crack out at house parties when you want people to leave.* You can also visit dariorusso.com for absolutely nothing useful, but a ruddy good laugh (go on, click on the ‘I love your website’ link).
(*that’s meant to be a compliment)
By Ben Bussey
There are undoubtedly far worse ways to start your weekend than with this rather tasty short film from UK directorial duo Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton of Bloody Cuts. At barely four minutes, The Birch is very short, but it’s oh-so sweet, centring on a put-upon teen who, it turns out, has a tremendous power at his disposal to deal with a bully. It’s gorgeously shot (kudos to cinematographer Jonny Franklin), has a nicely old-school atmosphere, and boasts a truly impressive practical FX creation.
This is the first I’ve seen from Franklin and Melton, though it’s their eighth directorial credit to date, and on this evidence I’d say they’re most definitely filmmakers worth keeping an eye on. I rather doubt The Birch needs much help reaching a broader audience, however, given that since it premiered at Facebook page Crypt TV this past Tuesday, it’s been viewed over 596 thousand times (and that’s just at the time of writing on Friday).
Watch it below, and learn more at the Bloody Cuts website.
I’ve held onto this story for quite some time, waiting for just the right moment to share it. With The Conjuring 2 in cinemas, revealing another case from the files of the famous ghost hunting Warrens, I thought it the perfect time to share with you my own journey into their haunted home, including a face-to-face with the dreaded Annabelle.
Many years ago, I was sent an invite (I no longer remember the source) to see Ed and Lorraine Warren speak at a college somewhere in the New England area. The two of them were touring and giving lectures about some of their most famous cases, Annabelle, Amityville, etc. around Halloween time. I wasn’t able to go that year, but for a long time I planned on taking the trip out, hoping to get a glimpse into these fascinating cases, which have been the basis for many a horror film since. However, Ed Warren passed away in 2006 and I thought the opportunity would never come again.
In the following years however, The Warren home was again opened up to visitors, and I was able to secure time as part of a small group to meet Lorraine Warren, speak with her over dinner, and enter the Occult Museum that is kept under her modest home in Monroe, Connecticut. I went during a chilly spring weekend in March of 2015.
Some have asked since why I would want to go into a place even allegedly so full of haunted artifacts. I have to say I was excited by the prospect. Though I’m skeptical of haunting accounts, I still have been on many ghost hunts and have done much research into different aspects of the occult, psychic phenomena, cryptids, etc. in the hopes of finding something interesting, something fantastic in the mundane world. Even if I didn’t find proof of haunting in this home, I at least was excited to find interesting artifacts from the legendary couple who shared my own fascination with the supernatural, and who had claimed to touch it. It wasn’t quite what I expected.
The Warren home is a simple house at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. Cars were lined up in the circle drive, with a few small groups of curious fans waiting to be received as the sitting room was being prepared. After a short time, we were invited in, and found the living room supplied with a few tightly packed rows of seats, which were quickly taken. The room was humming with tense excitement as we awaited our hostess for the evening, no one knowing quite what to expect. There were lots of jumps and nervous laughs as glass suddenly shattered somewhere behind the crowd, and everyone turned to find Mrs. Warren’s cat staring us down, angrily pushing tchotchkes off of the cabinets. Other cats came out seeking attention from the room of strangers over time. Somewhere in the background, a chicken freely roamed the house.
At last we were greeted officially by Mrs. Warren, who came out and took a seat in her favorite armchair joined by Tony Spera, her son-in-law and Director of the New England Society for Paranormal Research. Standing in the back was family friend and archivist Reverend James Anzianno. Mrs. Warren shared some first hand accounts of how she claims her psychic powers manifested themselves in her early childhood, and then of a few of her cases with her late husband Ed. There were many interjections by Spera, who seemed to really like to punch up details for dramatic effect. A Q&A session followed, including the typical questions about Amityville and Annabelle and some of the more famous cases people know from media. This living room session was concluded by the showing of a video from the Warrens’s archives of what they claim to be an exorcism.
From this point, I’ll admit, the part of me that was engaged solely with the joy and chills of ghost stories went away, and my bullshit detector came out to do inspections. When you start tossing things out like ‘video evidence of demonic possession’, I can’t help but go into analytical mode. The video showed a Hispanic man presumably bound to a chair, the video framed tightly on his face, as the Warrens spoke to him and tried to drive out the supposed demon with their sermonizing. The man growled, his eyes rolled back, the rest of the audience shuddered in terror. “Now look here and you can see,” added Spero, “where the man is bleeding from his mouth, but as it hits his shirt, the blood simply vanishes.” Everyone ooh’d and ahh’d as what seemed to clearly be saliva, not blood, hit the man’s white T-shirt. As clearly as could be perceived from a 30 year-old VHS tape, anyway.
Nonplussed as I was by this video evidence, I was happy to finally move past story time, and down into the Occult Museum beneath the house. This was, after all, the real reason we were all here. Father Jim stood first and said a prayer over us and blessed the house and the spirits within, to contain any demons that might be lurking about. The lights were dimmed, and we lined up single file to descend into the cool basement to meet our destiny. Godzilla roared… GODZILLA!? Down the stairs and through the hallways lined with paintings and Halloween decorations is the museum’s entryway, complete with a Godzilla roar motion sensor on the door. It went off 30 times or so as we crowded into the museum, taking much of the ambiance with it. Nevertheless, we were finally here.
Having watched The Conjuring, I was familiar with the image of the room, laden with statues, tomes and artifacts from the various cases of The Warrens, Annabelle herself locked in a glass case in the back. However the film’s version does vary somewhat from the real thing. The actual museum was kept dimly lit with red bulbs during our visit, and while we were given free reign to explore, a creepy Halloween FX tape played in the background. The room itself was full of fake cobwebs, and had rubber bats and spooky ghosts strung from the ceiling throughout. In fact, the whole place was full of simple rubber masks, toys, and other oddities which could be gotten from pretty much any Halloween store.
Spero warned us that, despite the ordinary appearance of the items in the room, all of the things here had been used in some dark way in the past and any of them could potentially kill us if we touched them or mocked them. Father Jim’s blessing would help with that, but it would still be bad for us to get too close. As we wandered through the room and pointed at different items, Spero would give us the tales behind them. A toy T-Rex with its head removed once belonged to a boy, and if the head were attached it would speak vile things to us. Halloween masks were supposed to have been used by cultists to make their faces alter into the same monstrous form. A mirror on the wall has a demon trapped within it, and perhaps if we took a picture, we would see it in the developed photo.
Perhaps my favorite and the most puzzling selection in the room was the selection of occult books on the shelf. While I am vaguely familiar with several famous grimoires in the world, I recognized very few of the tomes presented here, with the exception of Simon’s Necronomicon (available from Amazon books), and an impressive selection of Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition handbooks. On the shelf, and indeed scattered liberally through the room, were posters and soundtracks for The Conjuring, now a major motion picture. Lorraine Warren was present during this time as well, though she was more interested in showing off the paintings that Ed left behind, as he was an avid creator of ghostly portraits and pictures of old Victorian homes.
During this time, right about when I bumped full on into a crudely crafted demon statue, which they claimed was the second most dangerous item in the room after Annabelle, did I realize how little this Occult Museum matched my particular expectations. To a degree, I can excuse the Halloween kookiness in the room, as I’ve found since then that Ed was a very avid Halloween collector in his day. But between that, the ads for The Conjuring movie, and the lines of people bumping into supposedly haunted artifacts as we crowded around for pictures with Annabelle, I was struck by the incredible lack of reverence for anything in the room. What was in the museum looked like a collection of thrift store junk, and frankly it was treated as such. In a room where anything that we touched could result in demonic possession or an untimely death, there was nothing to stop anyone from touching something, taking something, or falling accidentally into a demon statue. I couldn’t help but liken it to decorating the contents of a missile silo with Easter pastels in full disregard for the lethal payload on display, or letting a school tour group of children run unhindered through a dangerous factory. Why would you not take something like that more seriously? This was either incredibly fake, or I was being led around by the most irresponsible group of demonologists I was ever likely to meet.
When our museum tour concluded, we all went together to the nearby cemetery to say a prayer over the grave of Ed Warren, and then went to dinner further down the road at an Italian restaurant. To any who take future tours of the museum, I recommend the eggplant parmesan.
During dinner I nursed a Jack & Coke and ruminated bitterly over the Warrens’s collection. Most of the rest of the audience seemed to be distinctly pleased, discussing how they could feel energy in the room, or how they though they felt something playing with their hair. Others looked through copies of the Warren casefile book, The Demonologist, and wondered how the world remained unconvinced at the proof of hauntings, when the photos in the book so clearly showed a bottle knocked on its side “by a ghost”, or a chair hovering in the air, mysteriously half out of frame. I suppose in the end I’m not sure what I expected to find. Proof of haunting? Kindred spirits? A real sense of wonder and amazement at the idea of the supernatural? I suppose that last one was definitely present, if only in my fellow audience members.
Still, as I spoke briefly with Mrs. Warren at the end of the night and thanked her for letting us into her home, I couldn’t help but think that she was a very polite and sweet lady, one who very genuinely missed her late husband. Whenever she spoke of Ed her voice became quite soft, and there was a definite admiration in her tone, as well as a good deal of loneliness. She also seemed quite earnest in her assessments of her haunting cases, even if those around her were avid about making a profit from the experience. There’s a strange disconnect between the aspects of Lorraine Warren, a very sweet New England lady, a self-proclaimed psychic and demonologist, and one of the controversial masterminds behind dozens of money-making haunting cases that many have described as elaborate frauds.
To those still on the fence, take the trip out to explore the Warren home. Appointments can be made through the NESPR group via Warrens.net. Though if you’re looking for concrete proof of ghosts and demons, the trip might fall short; rather you may find something more akin to a walk through a Halloween fun house. Regardless, what you’ll really find on display is the way in which humans so easily see what they want to see when looking into the unknown.
Since its premiere at last year’s Film4 FrightFest, Abigail Blackmore’s short Vintage Blood has played countless festivals and received rave reviews. It’s finally being released online from 12pm on Monday, May 30th and I heartily recommend giving it a watch. It’s easily one of my favourite short films that I saw last year.
The film concerns Liv, a woman who’s recently bought a flat above some shops. When visited by her friend she explains the eerie story about the abandoned shop over the road, where a woman was once obsessed over the destruction of a Ouija board which may otherwise result in the death of her fiancé…
What’s really great about Vintage Blood is that it’s a horror-comedy that’s actually really funny. Blackmore’s comedic chops are evident not only in her performance in the film as Liv, but as director and writer as well. It’s also a breath of fresh air as far as the plot is concerned, and the tone of the humour is delightfully, well, dark and British – the irreverence and sarcasm is exactly the sort of thing I like, and I’m not big comedy fan, generally speaking. The phrase ‘shit the bed!’ has never been put to better use than it has here.
Vintage Blood is really also an excellent calling card for Blackmore, who’s in the early stages of working on her first horror feature. So give the film a watch, and keep an eye out for much more from Blackmore in the near future!
By Nia Edwards-Behi
I have no qualms in saying that Melanie Light is, to me, one of the most exciting people working in the British horror scene. Vastly experienced as a production designer and art director, Light has demonstrated with her short film work both dedication to the genre and growth in her own craft. The Herd, Light’s most recent short film which played to great acclaim at many festivals last year, is her best work to date, a superb combination of horror and politics.
It’s a film that’s going to piss people off. Anything that mildly suggests that maybe going vegan might be a good idea tends to piss people off, and The Herd damn well rubs your face in the suggestion. That’s no bad thing – this is an unashamedly political film, and it doesn’t shy away from making that clear. Having said that, Light and writer Ed Pope have managed to make an aggressively political film without being clumsy with their message. Instead, that message is distilled, and transformed into an excellent short horror film.
Watch The Herd in full below.
The Herd doesn’t waste any time throwing us into its horrific world, as it opens with a woman, prone and legs in stirrups. We immediately find ourselves right in the dark heart of a farm which breeds women for their milk. We are shown the horrors they suffer and endure at the hands of their captors – men to do the heavy lifting, and a woman who performs medical check-ups and procedures. Amongst the herd of women, we follow one who manages to attempt an escape, witnessing the further extent of the facility she’s been kept in.
The film’s production design is truly excellent, the real location making a world of difference to how believable this world is. Great sound design and casting contributes effectively to the overall feel of the film too. Light’s direction is wonderfully confident here, fluid in a way that gets us up close to the women and their captors without ever feeling like non-sensical shaky-cam. The way her camera moves contributes to the sense of unease and discomfort that the film so deftly elicits. The cast is excellent throughout, but Pollyanna McIntosh (perhaps expectedly) stands out. She plays her role ice-cold, but it’s never in the realm of pantomime. There’s just enough human left under her professional veneer that when the tables turn, her screams are just as horrifying as those we’ve heard throughout the rest of the film.
The film’s final reveal impressively ties the main concern of the film – milk farming – into broader concerns about animal welfare. This isn’t just about the consumption of milk, but its use elsewhere (with milk, of course, also working as a stand-in for just about any other animal by-product you can think of). The very end of the film literalises what we’ve seen play out, with real farm footage forming the backdrop to the credits. It might be a bit much for some – either because it’s too hard to watch or because it hammers home the message – but it’s an important element in the film’s overall message-making.
Even if the vegan message of the film is not to your liking – though it’s one very worth considering, as far as I’m concerned – The Herd stands on its own two feet as a horror film. That it’s got a passionate message behind it only strengthens it, and it’s to Light’s credit that she’s so strongly stuck to her guns and made her lifestyle part of her art too. With a feature film in the works, I’m really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
Happy new year everybody! So, 2016 is here – and with it, the seventh birthday of Brutal As Hell, which first went live all the way back on New Year’s Day 2009. As such, my customary end of year review is perhaps a little overdue, but I’ve found myself struggling with it even more than usual this year. This is at least in part down to the recurring concern that I just haven’t seen enough of the year’s most talked-about horror movies for my opinion to really matter: to name but a few, Goodnight Mommy, Deathgasm, Aaaaaaaah!, Bone Tomahawk, Maggie, The Invitation, The Visit, Victor Frankenstein, The Nightmare, Creep, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night were among the ones I didn’t see in 2015.
But another key reason I’ve been struggling to look back on 2015 is that – well – it’s been a pretty fucking shit year in many respects. For one, the horror/cult movie world lost a lot of greats, with Christopher Lee, Wes Craven, Gunnar Hansen, Richard Johnson, Betsy Palmer, Robert Z’Dar and Roddy Piper among those who passed away. And of course, rather closer at home, Brutal As Hell suffered a personal loss with the death of our writer Stephanie Scaife – something which I will not deny hit me pretty hard.
Beyond this, though, I can honestly say there hasn’t been much new horror that’s really made an impact on me these past twelve months. Yes, I missed plenty of new movies, but a great deal of what I did see – including many movies which had garnered widespread praise – wound up leaving me cold. It Follows, Turbo Kid, Housebound, We Are Still Here, Crimson Peak, Krampus, The Witch, Tales of Halloween: I didn’t hate any of these movies by any stretch of the imagination, but none of them made half the impact I’d expected them to.
As such, taking a leaf out of Keri’s book, I’m not going to attempt a full top ten this year. Instead, here’s a few of the movies that made the most impact on me in 2015, in very specially designated categories which I made up as I went along while writing this.
My choice of top image might have given this one away. Sometimes you sit down to watch a new movie and just know within the first few scenes that it’s going to wind up your favourite of the year: that happened for me in 2014 with The Demon’s Rook, and it happened again this year with He Never Died. A wonderfully unexpected genre-bender, as hilariously funny as it is tense and unsettling, it really marks out Jason Krawczyk as a writer-director to look out for – and I’ll say it again, who knew Henry Rollins had such great leading man chops? (My review.)
“It doesn’t work on chips.” Just one of the many, many quotable lines from this wonderfully, wonderfully funny movie. I missed this at the 2014 fests, and as a result sat down to watch it on DVD almost prepared to be disappointed – such heavy buzz often builds movies up far too much. Happily, What We Do In The Shadows was everything I’d hoped for. Just hysterical, but also a very smart and in its own way sensitive take on vampire lore. Comparisons with This Is Spinal Tap are entirely warranted. (Steph’s review.)
My affection for the subject matter is obviously a key component in how much I enjoyed this one, but Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed director Mark Hartley has done it again, crafting a documentary that is both hugely informative and phenomenally entertaining, and leaves you with a list of must-see movies longer than your arm. (My review.)
I really don’t think this movie got the credit it deserved. Yes, we’re all shit sick of found footage movies, mainstream or otherwise – but I can’t help feeling Unfriended was dismissed offhand as being just another one of those, with no consideration given for what a fresh and inventive approach it took to the lamented subgenre. No, it’s no major game-changer, and it might have helped if the characters had been a little less detestable, but overall I found it a wonderfully immersive experience, and one of the few horror movies to get a wide cinema release this year which really took some chances – well, okay, we could say that of It Follows as well, but I had more problems with that one. (Read the discussion piece between Keri and myself.)
Now, I was by no means 100% won over by this recent release from prolific no-budget indie writer-director Dustin Wayde Mills, but I feel it warrants mention here for the simple reason that I don’t see nearly enough no-budget filmmakers taking the kind of risks and striving toward the kind of unique vision that Mills does here. So often all we get are generic slasher/zombie/torture films from cash-strapped amateurs trying in vain to beat Hollywood at their own game, when they’d surely be better off aiming for something genuinely fresh and unique. As a silent black and white movie with a constantly mask-clad cast acting out various unsettling psychosexual scenarios, Applecart might come off at least a little pretentious, but it’s often very effective – and above all, it’s nothing if not a concerted effort toward making a truly different kind of horror movie. (My review.)
And, because these kind of things are never complete without naming and shaming the worst of the worst…
Crappiest horror film of the year: Some Kind of Hate
This is another mention I feel almost honour-bound to make, as I’ve been flabbergasted to see how well-reviewed this unspeakable piece of shit has been in some quarters. To an extent, I understand why it’s garnered some praise; it does boast an effective opening half hour, and makes an admirable effort to breathe new life into the slasher format whilst seriously tackling the problem of bullying. However – it completely, utterly fails to do this, and rapidly descends into outright idiocy by the final act. This alone would be enough to give director/co-writer Adam Egypt Mortimer a big thumbs-down – but then Mortimer earned even bigger dipshit points for his attempt to create a new label for modern horror in ‘deathwave.’ If that whole storm in a tea cup (prompted by an ill-advised article at Blumhouse.com) passed you by, don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything; happily, fans and filmmakers alike wasted no time dismissing it as hollow and stupid – much in line with my feelings about Some Kind of Hate. (My review.)
That about wraps up 2015 for me, then. A disappointing, often truly sad year for horror in many respects – but still with more than a few real jewels in its crown. Let’s hope there’s more of what glitters in store for us in 2016.
(PS – yes, I loved Mad Max and Star Wars too. Not to mention Big Hero 6, Jurassic World, Inside Out and Ant-Man – and Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t that bad either. But the less said about the Minions movie the better. Gah.)