Ben Bids Farewell To 2015

By Ben Bussey

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.


Overall favourite – He Never Died

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.)


Best horror comedy – What We Do In The Shadows

“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.)


Best documentary – Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

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.)


Most underrated mainstream movie – Unfriended

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.)


Most inspiring indie – Applecart

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.)

 

Nia's End of Year Round-up 2015

By Nia Edwards-Behi

It’s that time of year again, when I put my memory to the test and realise, once I’ve finished, that I’ve left dozens of titles out of the running for my round-up of favourites of the year. It’s always going to be a subjective list, and almost certainly arbitrary – I admit I don’t keep an on-going list throughout the year (you’d think I’d have learned to do so, by now), so I have to do a lot of picking through documents to try and remember what I’ve seen in a year. The list covers what I’d broadly term ‘genre’ films, rather than just ‘horror’, which hopefully makes the list a bit more varied and interesting. I’ve included some also-rans on this list, and I’ve tried to focus on pre-release films in the hope that they make it to cinemas or DVD in 2016. Many of the runners up could easily have been in the top ten, if I’d compiled it on a different day, or thought about it in a different mood. Like I say: there’s a certain arbitrariness to this.

The second part of this end of year round-up is a look forward to 2016: the films I’m most looking forward to. Again, knowing my luck I’ll end up forgetting to include something really obvious that I’m looking forward to. Hopefully this time next year some of the films here will be rounding off the year!

2015 FAVOURITES

Mad Max Fury RoadMad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

After I submitted my review of Mad Max: Fury Road back in May, I had a feeling I might have been a bit overly enthused directly following an early-morning advance screening of the film. However, having since re-watched the film on several occasions (though admittedly only on a cinema screen), I can safely say that it’s glaringly, predictably my absolute favourite film of the year. There’s very little I could say that hasn’t already been said, by myself or others, but regardless it would be insincere of me to downplay just how much I adore this film.

Bone-TomahawkBone Tomahawk (S. Craig Zahler, 2015)

Sometimes you see a film a just think, ‘yes, that’s a proper film’. That was much my thinking part-way through Bone Tomahawk (released in UK cinemas Spring 2016), never mind at its end. A horror-Western hybrid of the first order, the film excels as both. Bone Tomahawk takes its time to establish an ensemble cast of distinct, well-rounded characters that drive the simple narrative. It’s ultimately a character study, but its reverent use of genre makes it hugely enjoyable and entertaining. (Tristan’s review.)

The InvitationThe Invitation (Karyn Kusama, 2015)

My overwhelming memory from first seeing The Invitation is finding myself, at the film’s close, sunk into the wall I was sitting next to, having tensed up my body while watching the film. It’s a thoughtful, subtle and intense chamber film, with Logan Marshall-Green heading up a naturalistic and believable cast. Though the film has rightfully been making waves at ‘genre’ festival, it’s also accessible enough that it should have a very broad appeal.

Deadman InfernoDeadman Inferno (Hiroshi Shinagawa, 2015)

Back in April I saw Deadman Inferno at BIFFF in Brussels, and I could not have been happier, seven months later, to see it win the audience award at my own Abertoir Horror Festival. A knowing, affectionate and immensely funny film, Hinagawa’s zombie-comedy really shows other comedies how it should be done.

RobberRobbery (Fire Lee, 2015)

I think if I had to pick the most exciting film I saw this year it would be Robbery. Arriving in my lap as a screener and with no other expectation than ‘black comedy’, this gem turned out to be so much more. It’s certainly an extremely dark comedy, balancing slapstick violence and toilet humour in equal measure, alongside some astute and cutting social commentary. And to boot: it’s got a gorgeous visual palette.

the-chronicles-of-evilThe Chronicles of Evil (Baek Woon-Hak, 2015)

Baek Woon-Hak’s The Chronicles of Evil doesn’t seem to have had much of a release outside of its native South Korea, but it’s a thrilling account of guilt and bad decisions. A newly-promoted police officer accidentally kills a taxi driver who attacks him and decides to cover up the death. The next day the same man is discovered hanging from a massive construction crane. It’s a thrill-ride, full of deceptions and betrayals and twists and turns as you might expect from a Korean crime thriller. I’m hoping it sees light of day on DVD over here soon, as I really want to see it again.

Bg9mwk_HELLIONS_01_o2_8734960_1438738095-1024x574Hellions (Bruce McDonald, 2015)

I’ve already had my say about Hellions back in October as part of BaH’s Trick or Treat Halloween feature. I seem to be one of the few people to have truly enjoyed the film (I’ve already seen it appear on a couple of ‘worst of 2015’ lists!), and to what extent my enjoyment of Hellions is increased by the fact that I haven’t see McDonald’s apparently ‘superior’ Pontypool, I can’t possibly say. Even so: I adored Hellions, and it’s certainly stood out as one of the more unique and interesting films I saw in 2015.

Fatal FrameFatal Frame (Mari Asato, 2014)

Another film to take me by surprise in 2015 was the ostensible computer game adaptation Fatal Frame. I approached it expecting something splattery and cheap (more fool me, even though I expected to enjoy it!), and instead found an under-stated, thoughtful and beautiful film. This feminine and female-focused film features some of the most striking images I’ve seen this year, and although the narrative unravels somewhat towards the film’s close, it’s easily a film I will re-visit over and over again. (Keri’s review.)

The Dead LandsThe Dead Lands (Toa Fraser, 2014)

The Dead Lands was one of the films I was most looking forward to this year, so it was an absolute pleasure that it did not disappoint. As I wrote in April, it’s a fascinating film for its various cultural specificities, but most of all it’s a truly great action film. If you want to see burly blokes beat each other up in a way you’ve never seen before, this is very much the film for you!

Star-Wars-7-Force-AwakensStar Wars: The Force Awakens (JJ Abrams, 2015)

A late contender to this list, given as I’ve only just seen it on Christmas Eve, it would be entirely inauthentic of me not to include Star Wars: The Force Awakens in my list. A grin was plastered on my face from start to finish, and while future viewings may dampen that enthusiasm, or reveal plot or character niggles, there’s no denying that seeing this film was an absolute, magical pleasure.

2015 SPECIAL MENTIONS

The Terror Live (Kim Byung-Woo, 2013) – an exceptionally inventive thriller, set almost entirely in a television studio.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (Francis Lawrence, 2015) – a satisfying end to the franchise, including a truly horrific action sequence.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn, 2015) – just about scraping into 2015, this was a charming and thoroughly entertaining film.

SPL2: A Time for Consequences (Cheang Pou-Soi, 2015) – bone-cracking action with Tony Jaa and a star-making turn from Max Zhang.

Tag (Sion Sono, 2015) – worth a mention just for the gloriously over-the-top opening scene, though there’s pleasure to be had in the increasingly incoherent film that follows.

The Target (Chang, 2014) – who would have thought a remake would show up in this list? Non-stop, breath-taking, twisty-turny action.

The Silenced (Lee Hae-Young, 2015) – the other great spooky all-girls school film I saw this year.

Hollow (Ham Tran, 2014) & Aaaaaaaah! (Steve Oram, 2015) & Attack on Titan Parts 1 and 2 (Shinji Higuchi, 2015) & The Ninja War of Torakage (Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2015) & They Look Like People (Perry Blackshear, 2015) – look, basically anything we showed at Abertoir 2015, obviously.

2016 MOST ANTICIPATED

The RevenantThe Revenant (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2015) – I recently finally saw the trailer for this much-talked about film and I’m looking forward to it being one of the early films I see in 2016.

The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015) – I’m not Tarantino’s biggest fan, but I can’t deny that this film looks marvellous (and if Kurt Russell pulls off two great Westerns in quick succession that’ll be quite the achievement).

The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2015) – high-brow lady-assassin martial arts film? Yes, yes, yes please. I’m not sure how much this film will even qualify as ‘genre’, but we’ll see.

High Rise (Ben Wheatley, 2015) – the recent first trailer for the film has cemented my desire to see it, a bit further than ‘Tom Hiddleston’s in it’.

Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, 2015) – I managed to miss this one when everyone around me was raving about it (serves me right for choosing to go watch a Thai zombie film instead, I guess), so this is very high on my films to see in 2016.

Shin Gojira (Shinji Higuchi, 2016) – the team behind Attack on Titan doing the new Godzilla? Get in my eyeballs!!!

Captain America: Civil War (Joe and Anthony Russo, 2016) – given the strength of the Russo Brothers’ previous outing with Marvel, it’s safe to say this is likely going to blow my mind.

Baskin (Can Evrenol, 2015) – gore, gore and more gore.

Evolution (Lucile Hadzihalilovic, 2015) – this sounded like one of the most interesting films I missed from its festival screenings last year, and so I really hope it receives a UK release in 2016.

The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016) – Refn takes on the evils of a beauty-obsessed society. I’m intrigued by the often macho-centric director’s take on the world of modelling.

The Piper (Kim Kwang-Tae, 2015) – the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin re-imagined in rural, post-war Korea. I’m really looking forward to this one.

 

Quin's Top 10 (Plus 1) of 2015

By Quin

For months now, I’ve been listening to Bret Easton Ellis prattle on and on about how he (and some of his filmmaker friends) believe 2015 was the worst year of all time for movies. For the record, he wasn’t too fond of 2014 either. He’s absolutely wrong about both years. But, I must admit that 2015 was a weird one for horror and the other things that we cover at Brutal as Hell. I saw a ton of movies this year and so many of them were really good. But there were only a few where, as I was watching them, I made a mental note that it would probably make my end of the year best of list.

On a stronger year, at least half of these wouldn’t even be on my list. As always, there are the glaring titles that I missed, but will undoubtedly see in the next few weeks and that movie will forever be missing from my list – thus, rendering the list useless. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but still. I wish that these lists could be accurate. My favorite film of 2014 ended up being A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but no one knew except me, because I didn’t see it until after my list was complete. So, now I have a new list that’s probably all wrong, but I have it nonetheless. It’s mine, until I disown it. I swear, I want to start doing my end of year lists a year late. That’s the only way they would ever have a shot at being complete. 2015 popularized a new phobia known as FOMO (the fear of missing out) well I think I suffer from the fear of missing movies. Here’s my list, let me know what I missed so I can un-miss it.

Before I get to my official top 10, I have one honorable mention that could have easily gotten on the list depending on my mood. So, if you want to call this my top 11, I wouldn’t be mad:


The Boy

This movie actually surprised me and drew me in with its downbeat and humorless tone. In fact, Rainn Wilson’s performance as a drifter, stranded because of a car accident, is so understated and mysterious. He has completely purged Dwight Schrute, although that character was also pretty creepy when you think about it. The rest of the acting in the film is great as well. The film is super slow, but it will get under your skin.

And now the real top 10:


All Hallow’s Eve 2

I bet there are very few lists out there with this title on it. But I unashamedly love this movie. It’s better than its predecessor (which I enjoyed) and I think it’s way better than the other holiday themed anthology films that came out this year. I finally saw Tales of Halloween and apart from a great performance from Barry Bostwick and some cool cameos by John Landis and comedian Dana Gould, it’s very disjointed and disappointing. All Hallow’s Eve 2, on the other hand, is cohesive and beautiful and so much fun. (Read my review.)


Maggie

Western director and legend John Ford famously said of John Wayne after seeing him in Red River, “I never knew the big son of a bitch could act.” That’s what I said when I saw Maggie. This is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best performances and definitely his calmest and possibly most challenging screen presence. This film has an interesting take on the zombie genre too. (Read Dustin’s review.)


Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I couldn’t not include this film. On a more comprehensive and less specialized list this would be closer to the top. Of course it’s not a perfect film, but it did perfectly rinse the bad taste out of our mouths left from the prequel trilogy. I may still be on a Star Wars high since seeing this on opening day, but it really satisfied my Star Wars needs and got me all excited for the places Disney is going to take the franchise. It seems to me like it’s in good hands. Less than 12 months until we get to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which if the rumors are true, will take place between Episodes III and IV and will feature Darth Vader. YAY!


Kumiko the Treasure Hunter

This is a weird one that was quietly released and already seems to be forgotten. It’s about a lonely, unhappy woman in Japan who finds an unmarked VHS tape. The tape’s contents are a snowy, staticky recording of the Coen Brothers film Fargo. The woman doesn’t realize the movie is fiction (In her defense, it does have that bit at the beginning about how it’s based on true events) and she becomes convinced that there really is money buried in Fargo, North Dakota. Her adventure is filled with some honestly touching human interaction and at the same time a frustrating lack of communication. Despite the bizarre story (which is actually based on an urban legend that seems to be only partly true) this movie is also incredibly depressing.


It Follows

I saw this movie at the beginning of the year and loved it. I really thought it would be my favorite of the year, but I knew there were a lot of months left for new releases. As expected, it dropped lower on my list. It’s gotten a fair amount of negative criticism this year (including from our own Keri and Ben), but I don’t really care. In spite of its flaws in logic, it’s a visually stunning film that gets that wonderful creepy tone 100% right from beginning to end. (Also read Tristan and Nia’s reviews.)

Goodnight Mommy

This is another one where the craft of great filmmaking usurps a weak setup and flimsy plot. Normally, if a film has a big twist, I want to be left in the dark until the bomb is dropped. Like so many people are saying about this one, I had the whole movie figured out in the first scene. The great thing is that I don’t even care. This movie was mesmerizing. Sometimes if you know what is going to happen, it’s still surprising to see how it’s going to happen. Goodnight Mommy did not disappoint me. (Read Nia’s review.)

Creep

I loved everything about this movie. It’s easily the best found footage movie of the year. It’s also very funny and very scary. (Read my review.)

Bone Tomahawk

Apart from Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, I can’t remember seeing any westerns with horror leanings. That said, I declare Bone Tomahawk the best of its sub-genre. Unlike the other two I mentioned, it takes itself seriously and commands a ton of respect. As a bonus, gore hounds should note that there is a crazy burst of intense violence near the end that will make you cringe or grin with delight depending on your tolerance for such visuals. (Read Tristan’s review.)

What We Do In the Shadows

As a rule, I am against horror/comedies. What We Do in the Shadows drives a stake through that rule, because this is up there with the all time classics like Young Frankenstein. It also holds up to repeated viewings – in fact, I think I like it more every time I watch it. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi co-wrote, co-directed and both starred in the film and they are both absolutely brilliant. It’s looking like Rhys Darby and his group of werewolves (not swear wolves) are getting a sequel. Let’s hope that’s just as good, I think shifting Darby to a lead role is an excellent start. (Read Steph’s review.)

Ex Machina

I moved my top three around quite a bit before finally settling on this. In fact, I should just have three number ones. Ex Machina is another flawed but beautiful film. It’s predictable at times, but it’s so well-paced, well-acted, well-shot… the whole thing from top to bottom is just so impressive and awe-inspiring. I also love that in a year where we were blessed with a new Star Wars movie, we got this movie that is actually science-fiction. It asks all of the tough, philosophical questions and keeps you on your toes. It does this all in a world that is gorgeous, terrifying, and very Kubrickian. I would love to see Alexander Garland get a best director Oscar nomination. I also think Alicia Vikander should get a best actress nod and Oscar Isaac (what an amazing year for him) should get a best supporting actor nomination.

Well, I guess that’s that. Happy New Year, everybody!

 

Interview: Axelle Carolyn, Producer/Director on Tales of Halloween

Interview conducted by Nia Edwards-Behi

Axelle Carolyn is the mastermind behind the massive Tales of Halloween anthology film, soon to be unleashed by Epic Pictures. Big thanks to Axelle for taking the time to answer a few questions for us about the film!

BAH: Anthology films are experiencing a bit of a comeback, in the horror genre and beyond. What was it about the format that made you want to give it a go?

Axelle Carolyn: The format was a means to an end, in a way. The spark was that when I moved to LA, I found this awesome group of friends, this community of horror fans who all live and breathe horror and make movies for a living – actors, writers, directors, and thought it’d be fun to make something together. The anthology format seemed the most appropriate to get a lot of filmmakers involved. The success of recent anthologies like ABCs of Death and VHS, which all gave the sub-genre fresh new twists, helped make the idea more appealing commercially, which helped us set it up fast.

BAH: Can you tell us a little bit about how the project came together?

AC: Well I knew I wanted this anthology to be about the LA horror community, and celebrate the genre that brought us together, but it wasn’t until I thought of Halloween as the central concept that things really started to happen. It seemed like a natural fit because it’s the one time of the year where the whole world catches up with our obsession, and I’ve been crazy about Halloween since I was a kid. I pitched the idea to Neil Marshall, and Mike Mendez, then Adam Gierasch and a bunch of others and everyone was very excited. Mike brought on his Big Ass Spider! producers and when they came on board, we started developing the scripts.

BAH: Were there any particular anthology films or Halloween-themed films that were inspirational when putting this project together?

AC: We watched a whole lot of anthologies to see how they’d been done. Specifically I wanted to see how to make ten stories fit together without a wraparound story. At the end of the day, because the idea of ten stories, as opposed to the usual 3 or 4, was pretty unique, we made up our own rules. But of course I’m a big fan of Creepshow, Trick ‘r’ Treat, Black Sabbath – I’d say for this specific project those were my top 3.

BAH: Tales of Halloween stands out from many recent anthology films due to its slightly different format: the segments work together as one, giving us snapshots of a street on Halloween night, rather than offering a string of separate segments on a theme. Was this deliberately done to stand out from other anthologies, or was there more practical rationale?

AC: It seemed like a good idea, to make the best use of the fact that we’d be working together from start to finish. Writing the scripts around the same time (with me collecting them into a reasonably coherent feature), scheduling the shoot like a feature, helping each other out on set – that all helped ensure all the films would fit into the same universe. I thought from the start that with ten different stories, a wraparound would be too heavy, we’d be better off moving quickly to avoid viewer fatigue. So instead, we concentrated as much as possible on making it all seem part of the same coherent world, with some characters, like the cops or some trick or treaters, come back, and using Adrienne Barbeau’s voice as a host of sorts. And the opening sequence introduces the town and the world the stories take place in.

BAH: As producer of the film can you say little about what it was like wrangling such a large roster of directors? Did that ever pose any problems?

AC: Hahah, every once in a while. Adam Gierasch said recently that my official title should be cat herder. We wanted it to be a collective effort, so most decisions were submitted to the group and debated. But beyond the decision making process, just the fact that every time you have a meeting or a location scout or an event you have to get 11 people involved was already complicated.

BAH: What was it like working with so many people that you’re also friends with?

AC: I like to say that working with my friends was both the best and the worst part of the process… The worst, because sending friends script notes and playing the part of a producer isn’t always easy. You don’t want to be seen as an asshole. The best, because having your friends around to support you, to be a sounding board, to give you advice when needed, to recommend crew members they trust… all that is invaluable. You share the stress, the tough times, and the successes. If we hadn’t been such a tight knit group to begin with, it wouldn’t have been possible.

It was also awesome to get to see what everyone is like on set; there’s as many ways to direct as there are directors and it was really interesting for me to spend time on set for each episode, seeing how each of them preps, uses resources, addresses their crew, etc.

BAH: Your own segment, Grimm Grinning Ghost, is one of the scariest of the film. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with it?

AC: After my first feature Soulmate, which also deals with a ghost but is very much a drama, I thought it’d be fun to make a ghost story that was just pure tension. My DP Jan-Michael Losada and I gave it a bit of a Gothic fairy tale touch, but it really is a 7-minute setup to a jump scare. It’s a technical exercise: it only works if the framing, pacing, performances, sound and music all come together. It was great fun to pick up the challenge, and I love seeing audiences jump and scream!

BAH: Your segment features some excellent cameos too – how did these come about?

AC: Again, we’re lucky enough to be surrounded with friends who are fantastically talented, so I wanted to include as many of them as possible. Barbara Crampton came all the way from the Bay area for her cameo, and she brought Lisa Marie; they’d just worked together on We Are Still Here and I love her work. Stuart Gordon and Mick Garris are close friends and directors I hugely admire. Lin Shaye is not only a dear friend, but also an extraordinary actress, perfect to bring to life the campfire story which opens the segment. And then of course there’s Anubis, who I’ve vowed to cast in each of my movies because she’s so photogenic and she so loves working on set. The scene wouldn’t have worked without her!

BAH: The film has been playing many festivals across the world. Have you had any interesting responses to it from countries which don’t celebrate Halloween in such an elaborate way?

AC: Surprisingly, it seems the concept has worked in countries where Halloween isn’t really a thing. I went to a screening in Portugal and asked who celebrated Halloween, and not a lot of people raised their hand, but the reception to the movie seemed really good. In Mexico of course they have Dia De Los Muertos, but it’s not quite the same, and yet they really got into it. I think that while the holiday itself may not be super familiar to everyone, the idea of paying homage to the genre we love and the people who make it great is something that horror fans around the world understand and appreciate.

BAH: Are there any further collaborations in the pipeline with the people you worked with on Tales?

AC: Nothing planned so far, but if people go see the movie when it comes out and there’s a demand, who knows? We’d certainly love to work together again in the future!

Thanks again to Axelle for taking the time to chat with us about the film. Tales of Halloween is available on VOD from October 16th, and there are still chances to see it on the big screen (recommended!) in the UK: at Fanomenon, Leeds, and at Abertoir Horror Festival.

Con Report: Son of Monsterpalooza 2015

Son-of-Monsterpalooza-Sept-2015

By Dustin Hall

Welcome boils and ghouls! Tonight, ol’ Dustin is going to break formality to give you a first person account of horror. This tale takes place in Burbank, California, normally a place of sunny days and frolicking youth, turned instead, for one weekend, into a place of monsters and mayhem. In this place, the Masters of Horror come together to play, and to share their own haunted histories. I call today’s terror tale Son of Monsterpalooza.

September 20th I took a very nice girl to Disney Land. In exchange, the 19th was mine, all mine, to run and play at the Son of Monsterpalooza convention. Now, I haven’t gotten to go to more than a handful of horror cons in my years, so I don’t have a ton of examples for comparison, but personally I had a blast at the con, and hopefully a few of you dear readers might make it out yourself one of these days to take in what was a pretty damn good time. This particular convention is based around showcasing special effects and mask-creation skills from a number of very talented artists, many of whom have had their works showcased in the television series Face Off and numerous classic horror films. Of course, while the origins of the con lay with special fx and make-up, it has grown to include plenty of horror merchandise and iconic actors and directors over time.

My personal experience began with me walking in the door past the ticket-taker, and turning to realize that Sid Haig was behind me in line, waiting to have his booth space opened up by the convention attendees. Turning back around, I almost immediately run right into Tom Savini, who wasn’t even a guest at the con, but rather just walking for his own pleasure, and undoubtedly seeing what other FX geniuses had been engineering lately. This was just the beginning of many sightings of some of my heroes throughout the day.

The dealer hall isn’t huge, but has plenty of stuff to look at. Of course, given the nature of Monsterpalooza, many of the pricetags are out of the range of casual collectors. Statues, custom masks, FX and make-up equipment, props, and crafts all command a high price that people not creating their own horror film might not be able to pick up. However, even if you can’t afford the services of a world class monster sculptor, being able to see them create new fiends on the spot is still worth the time. And when you’re done reminiscing with the likes of the Chiodo Brothers, the impoverished among us can still go hunting for the usual fare of T-shirts, DVDs, posters, and action figures.

For myself, the highlight of the day was checking out the Masters of Horror reunion panel, which brought back four of the directors from the series, Mick Garris (The Stand), Tom Holland (Fright Night), Larry Cohen (The Stuff), and William Malone (The House on Haunted Hill) to reflect not just on the series, but also on their time in the world of horror cinema, and how it’s evolved over time. This was followed up with a long conversation with Tom Holland, who I found to be a very gracious speaker, open about the craft, both the art and the business behind it.

In fact, this was really the greatest asset of the convention. It wasn’t the biggest convention I’ve been to, by any means. And yeah, the guests were all typically selling something or charging for autographs and all that. But at the same time, it being a small con allowed for a lot of personal interaction that I’m not used to at most cons. The directors were happy to tell stories about creating scares for audiences, Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps) was calling out weirdly to passersby, Lance Henricksen (Alien) was sharing hard boiled stories from hard sets, and Juliet Landau (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) was deep in conversation about her personal beliefs about the meaning of vampire mythology. Unlike most cons, there was time to sit and chat with your favorite creative minds. You could just run into Doug Jones (Hellboy) and Garris and Savini on the floor and say hello and strike up a conversation. It was, honestly, one of the most open and friendly convention experiences I’ve had in a while, compared to the cold and business-like demeanor that so many comic conventions have these days, and I recommend everyone to check it out before it grows into something more commercial and loses that unique charm.

For those interested, the original Monsterpalooza meets this spring in Pasadena, California April 22-24 of 2016, before the Son rises again next fall. Check out their Facebook or webpage, and watch for updates on guests and times!

 

BAH Comics – The Clown Queen of Crime: the Life of Harley Quinn

By Svetlana Fedotov

She is a symbol of unyielding impulse, a gun-toting bad-ass, and one terrible pun after the other. She’s the pro-feminist to your anti-feminist and the anti-feminist to your pro-feminist. She is a sex symbol, a wild child, an icon; women want to be like her and men name their kids after her (looking at you Kevin Smith). She’s Harley Quinn and she’s here to chew gum and crack jokes.

Harley is a bit of an enigma when it comes to superstardom. Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm as a sidekick to the Joker in Batman: the Animated Series, she was only intended for a few episodes of the show and then to gracefully disappear into the Batman vault. But something about her heavy Brooklyn accent and penchant for violence struck a chord with the audience (and probably kick-started puberty for more than a few tweens). She soon became a series regular, frequently rubbing elbows with Gotham’s criminal elite and even got her own episodes, albeit shared with Poison Ivy. During the run of the show, a graphic novel was released titled Mad Love that explored her origins as an interning psychiatrist who fell in love with the Joker during a trip to Arkham Asylum and tied back seamlessly into the cartoon.

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Following the success of Batman: The Animated Series, our heroine soon broke into comics and became a staple in the DC universe. Although she had been peppered into other comics in the years prior, her first continued appearance was in Batman: Harley Quinn, a mini-series attached to the No Man’s Land arc in 1999. This led to her first solo series from 2001 to 2003 which gave Quinn her own gang and plenty of wacky adventures. After it ended, she made more sporadic appearances throughout the DC catalog such as Birds of Prey, Gotham Cities Sirens, and 52’s soon-to-be-movie, Suicide Squad. In November 2013, Harley returned in her own series once again following a psychotic breakdown with the Squad and Joker’s skinned face and, to this day, can be seen running around Gotham with a giant hammer and cheeky attitude. Also, she’s super into roller derby now.

Harley has proven to not only be a success in the comic world, but also in the toy and movie market. Her Bruce Timm-era toys have become one of hottest selling DC items and she’s pretty damn close to dominating the female cosplay market. Also, her appearance in the Suicide Squad movie will mark Ms. Quinn’s first foray into movie theaters and she has become a staple character in every Batman game (Lego and normal) that has been released since 1994. She even managed to stir ups some controversy with the DC contest titled “Break Into Comics with Harley,” where fans were encouraged to draw her attempting suicide.

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But what is it about this unstable lump of humanity smooshed into a sexy, gymnast blonde that has set the world on fire? How, despite her obviously abusive relationship with the Joker, has she become the quintessential ‘Ride or Die Chick’? I like to think it’s because of what I call the Deadpool Attraction. Deadpool, at his core, is an unstable idiot who has probably blown off more toes than he has brain cells. He’s a joke character that’s only there to make the other heroes look better and smarter by comparison. He’s flawed and kind of dumb, which makes him one of the most relatable characters in the Marvel universe. You see where I’m going with this? Harley is the closest to a human being that any DC hero is ever going to be. She’s made some stupid decisions and is a slave to her emotions but she manages to survive despite it. She’s an outcast in both the hero and villain world, which, let’s be honest, a lot of us can understand. It’s because of her problems that she has become so popular and has become a complex, conflicted bag of a person that real people are. We all have a little Harley inside of us.

Anyway, if you want to read some of her adventures, her newest series is currently on its 23rd issue. She’s also in a one shot special titled Harley Quinn Road Trip Special with Catwoman and Ivy, and an upcoming team-up series called Harley’s Little Black Book. Also, Harley is currently wrapping up another team-up with Power Girl which will be ending in November. Whew! She’s a busy gal! The previous issues of her solo comic have been collected for those that want to catch up on her stories, and even her earlier 2000s series has been graphic noveled and is readily available.

Come join the fun with us. Just remember to bring the Joker Venom.

 

RIP Stephanie Scaife

Stephanie
By Ben Bussey

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. On behalf of all of us at Brutal As Hell, I am devastated to announce that Stephanie Scaife, one of our longest-serving writers, committed suicide last Wednesday.

Steph began writing for BAH in 2010. The first thing she wrote for us, unless I’m mistaken, was a review of Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are; the last thing she wrote for us was the conclusion of her report on FrightFest 2015, only last week. I met her in person only once, at FrightFest 2011.

Her contributions to the site throughout the past year had been sporadic; she told me in her e-mails that she’d needed to take a break due to both her busy work schedule, and personal matters which she didn’t divulge and I didn’t press her on. However, in her final e-mail to me, she said she was ready to start writing more regularly again, and feeling in a much better place personally. In her FrightFest report, she talks about plans to attend London Film Festival. She gave every indication of looking forward to the future. Less than 24 hours after I received that e-mail and published her final article, she hung herself.

I really can’t say it any better than my co-editor Keri O’Shea did on Twitter the night we heard the news: “RIP to an acquaintance who should have been a friend.” Although she had been part of our team for five years, the sad reality is that none of us really knew Steph personally at all, and I know this is something I will always have personal regrets about. What little we knew of her was gleaned from her now-deleted social media profiles, from which we knew she was a committed vegan and atheist, a firm advocate of animal rights and equality, and of course, a passionate writer and devotee of film.

Of course, all of us at BAH are well aware that whatever pain we feel right now dims in comparison to that of Steph’s mother and everyone else who was close to her. To them, we express our deepest sympathies. And to Steph herself, if there was any way I could say one more thing to her, it would just be to tell her that she was valued, she was admired, and she was respected, and she will be very sadly missed indeed.

To anyone who may be going through what Steph went through – please do not suffer in silence. Reach out to friends. Help is available.

http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

 

Festival Report: FrightFest 2015 (Part 2 of 2)

Road Games

By Stephanie Scaife

Click here to read part one of Steph’s FrightFest 2015 report.

Abner Pastoll’s Road Games was a pleasant surprise, an interesting UK/French production that is not (as I’d thought) a remake of the 1981 Jamie Lee Curtis film of the same name. Instead Road Games is about Jack (Andrew Simpson), an English tourist that finds himself stranded in rural France with little more than his passport to his name. Whilst trying to hitchhike to Calais, Jack comes across Véronique (Joséphine de La Baume), a fellow traveller and kindred spirit. They decide to travel together for safety as there have been stories of a serial killer in the local area. When Grizard (Frederic Pierrot) stops and offers them a lift Véronique is apprehensive but reluctantly agrees, he informs them that there is a strike at Calais so they won’t be able to get a ferry to England and offers to put them up for the night. Grizard lives in an isolated mansion with his American wife Mary (Barbara Crampton) who seems more than a little unhinged and things quickly go downhill for Jack and Véronique. Despite the fact that it’s fairly obvious where the narrative is going quite soon into the film, it didn’t necessarily detract from my enjoyment as the atmosphere that Pastoll creates is incredibly tense at times, and the twists the narrative takes to its somewhat inevitable conclusion are still intriguing because, although I knew where it was going, I never knew how it was going to get there. Simpson and de La Baume have great chemistry too, and both Pierrot and Crampton are as excellent as you’d expect. I think that it is so important when making a small, low budget movie that the script and the actors are good as so many of the films I saw at FrightFest this year fell victim to having neither of those things. Road Games though worked surprisingly well and it definitely works best the less you know going in.

I was looking forward to Inner Demon as it has been labelled as the next big Australian film since The Babadook; however, the only two things these films have in common is that they are Australian and both have a female director… it is a stupid comparison to make. The Babadook is of course a very good film and Inner Demon really is not. In fact if I’d been responsible for naming this film it would’ve been Inner Bore. It’s a shame really because it started out pretty well: Sam (Sarah Jeavons) and her little sister are abducted by demented couple Karl (Andreas Sobik) and Denise (Kerry Ann Reid) and driven out into the woods. Sam manages to escape, in an admittedly ingenious way, only to find herself trapped in the home of her captors. She takes shelter in their closet, which is where the majority of the film takes place, and yes, it’s as dull as it sounds.

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Slumlord definitely wins for the most nausea inducing scene of the festival – I won’t spoil it but I will say that it involves a toothbrush. Written and directed by first time filmmaker Victor Zarcoff, Slumlord is about a creepy landlord, Gerald (Neville Archambault), who sets up hidden cameras all around his house before renting it out to unsuspecting couple Ryan (PJ McCabe) and Claire (Brianne Moncrief). Gerald is just about the most repellent character that you can imagine; sweaty, crazy eyed and monosyllabic, he sits watching his monitors surrounded by piles of used tissues and becomes so frustrated when he notices blind spots that he returns to the house to fit even more cameras. Thankfully this is not a found footage film and we only get the occasional glimpse through Gerald’s cameras at what he is watching. Another plus is that both Ryan and Claire and believable and flawed characters, and although at times unlikeable (Ryan in particular) they still manages to illicit sympathy. The main problem with Slumlord is that it is very slow and it covers very well-trodden ground that we’ve seen numerous times before so nothing is ever much of a surprise, and although the general ick factor is quite high it is mostly just a bit of a slog to get through; I definitely came close to nodding off a few times.

The Nightmare

I was a little disappointed by The Nightmare as I’d heard good things about it and thought there was great potential in the subject matter to make a fascinating documentary. Directed by Rodney Ascher (Room 237) The Nightmare explores sleep paralysis and the experience of those who suffer from this terrifying affliction. Sleep Paralysis is a condition where you become conscious during REM sleep, when your body is paralysed to stop you acting out your dreams. During this state of waking it is very common to suffer from hallucinations such as the feeling of someone being in the room with you, and these episodes can last for a few seconds to a few minutes before you wake up. It’s not something I’ve ever suffered from myself, but a close friend has and the experience she’s described to me sounds terrifying. I think it’s an intriguing subject, and as the condition isn’t widely known it could really help those out there that may not understand what they’re going through. However, instead of speaking to a broad range of subjects, the documentary focuses on people who suffer from the condition that seem to have had little professional help, and who instead keep referring to demons, spirits, alien abductions and different dimensions. What we are faced with is a lot of very confused people who have found their solutions in religion and the paranormal, and who in turn pretty much just sound insane. There are no interviews with any professionals or doctors, or seemingly anyone who has successfully found a way to treat the condition. I found this to be a very biased documentary and I really struggled to take anyone seriously who describes themselves as having found Christ as a result of sleep paralysis.

The Lesson

From actor turned director Ruth Platt comes The Lesson, a micro budget (£28k) British thriller that was one of the surprise highlights of the festival for me. Fin (Evan Bendall) and Joel (Rory Coltart) are fairly typical teenage boys; bright, but failed by the education system and their negligent parents, they act out as a result of boredom and frustration. Their English teacher Mr Gale (Robert Hands) one day snaps and takes the two boys hostage before proceeding to “teach” them under the threat of physical violence. It turns out to actually be a pretty successful tool, and with a nail gun to the hand Fin is certainly quick to learn! For such a small film The Lesson is incredibly well written, and both Bendall and Hands are excellent in their roles; it’s a real credit to Platt as a filmmaker that she’s managed to do so much with so little. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its flaws, as some of the acting from supporting characters is patchy at best, and there are a few all too convenient moments and plot holes that took me out of the story. But overall this is a tense and surprisingly naturalistic (considering the subject matter) film that is well deserving of your time, and Platt is definitely one to watch.

Mark Murphy’s Awaiting, another low budget British offering, was perhaps troubled by immediately following The Lesson which was similar in scale but infinitely better. The always excellent Tony Curran is Morris, a reclusive psychopath who lives in a remote farmhouse with his daughter Lauren (Diana Vickers). After a car accident, businessman Jake (Rupert Hill) is taken in by this odd pair and finds himself in the centre of a rather bizarre family who aren’t too keen on him leaving any time soon. Morris has some funny ideas, not least of all the fact that they celebrate Christmas in September, complete with a tree and a dinner of roast pork. Insisting that Jake stay to celebrate Christmas with a promise to drive him to town the following morning they settle down for a meal and a few drinks, only for things to take a turn for the worst as Morris’ behaviour becomes more erratic and unpredictable. There’s definitely a good idea in there somewhere, even if the film does feel very familiar, and Curran and Vickers are both good as the bizarre father and daughter, but the major weak link here is Hill who is just awful as Jake; perhaps it’s the script, but I just found everything that came out of his mouth to be ridiculous, and the situations he was in also pretty unbelievable. After a fairly creepy opening Awaiting loses its way in the second half as it becomes painfully obvious what is going on, and you’re stuck watching Jake run around in circles trying to escape.

Emelie

The last film I saw at FrightFest this year was Emelie, the first feature from director Michael Thelin, who is perhaps better known for directing live concert films. The entire film plays out over the course of a single evening, with Joyce (Susan Pourfar) and Dan (Chris Beetem) going out to celebrate their anniversary whilst a babysitter looks after their three young children. After having seen the genuine babysitter get kidnapped at the start of the film we know that the girl claiming to be Anna is someone else; in fact her name is Emelie (Sarah Bolger) and her motivations are unclear for the majority of the film, which works in its favour. Initially her behaviour is just a little odd, but when she shows the kids a sex tape of their parents and feeds their hamster to the eldest son’s pet python you get the idea that she’s pretty messed up. The acting is great, and all three of the main kids manage to avoid being too annoying, whilst Bolger is genuinely unsettling as Emilie. I think where the film falls flat is that there is no real sense of danger; this isn’t Michael Haneke after all, and nobody ends up particularly worse for wear by the end.

FrightFest 2015 was a very mixed bag for me, there were a few good films but nothing I’ll be rushing to see again, and for the most part I saw a lot of very forgettable films. As I’d said before, I feel that this is a combination of FrightFest falling victim to its own success, and also with the way the film industry works at the moment. There is no money out there anymore for midrange movies; everything either has to have a huge budget or a shoestring one. You either have the $20 million budget of The Conjuring or $1 million dollar (or even much, much less) movies like Unfriended, with very few in between. As a result you see a lot of films that have clearly been made for very little indeed. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I sat through so many films where it was just two or three characters in a single location that it has become almost as boring as all the found footage films from a few years back. As with The Lesson and Pod, a lot can still be achieved with limited resources, but overall I started to feel like I was seeing the same film over and over again. Having now seen the line-up for The London Film Festival my fears have been confirmed, and all of the strongest genre outings this year are now to be found there, with the likes of Green Room, Bone Tomahawk and The Witch all appearing on the schedule. From now on I think I may just pick a few choice films to see at FrightFest and focus more on the LFF. I’ve had a lot of fun over the years at FrightFest but as the line-up becomes weaker and more packed with films I just don’t really want to see, not to mention being inundated with titles soon to be released via Icon on the new FrightFest Presents label, I feel like the festival is more like a business than just a group of genre fans getting together for a weekend.

 

They Have Changed Their Face – Details on Cigarette Burns Screening, plus Q&A with director Corrado Farina

They Have Changed Their Face

By Tristan Bishop

I’ve been a fan of Italian genre cinema for around 25 years – every since I caught a TV showing of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday as an impressionable youth – and as such I tend to believe I’ve seen most of the best that the Italian golden age (around 1960-1986) has to offer. Very occasionally, however, a film will slip through the cracks – often due to it previously not having been available in English, and my understanding of Italian being very poor. They Have Changed Their Face (sometimes translated as They’ve Changed Faces – a title which I prefer) is one of these. Director Corrado Farina only made two feature films – One, the sexy, psychedelic comic book adaptation Baba Yaga (1973) is fairly well known to English-speaking fans due to a release by Shameless, but They Have Changed Their Face has previously remained only available in, I believe, Italian and German. Thankfully, Cigarette Burns, who have arranged screenings of all sorts of exploitation gems (often on original prints) are bringing this film to show on the big screen in the UK for the first time.

Alberto Valle (Giuliano Disperati) works at Auto Avio Motors on the tenth floor. On arriving one morning he finds himself summoned to his boss’s office, who informs him that the vice president has asked to see him, and that all his other meetings for the day have been canceled. Somewhat surprised, Alberto heads to the 19th floor, whereupon the Vice President takes him on to the 20th floor to meet the CEO. After asking him to pour himself a drink (surely a little early?), the CEO asks Alberto if he is able to leave straight away to meet the owner of the company, one Mr Giovanni Nosferatu (seriously, the warning bells should be ringing at this point) at his villa in the mountains. Alberto agrees, and sets off straight away. The villa is a little difficult to locate, however, and the locals in this forlorn, misty part of the world don’t seem to be keen on speaking to Alberto – especially when the name of Nosferatu is mentioned. However he soon stumbles across a strange, topless girl, who offers to give him directions to the nearest petrol station in exchange for a lift. On discovering the entrance to the villa, the girl decides to wait for Alberto as she has ‘fallen in love with him’.

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Nosferatu’s villa is a strange proposition – from the outside a rundown mansion, but inside an ultra-modern (for the early 70’s), minimalist pad, surrounded by a huge park patrolled by voiceless men in tiny cars. Alberto is greeted at the door by Nosferatu’s secretary, Corinna (Geraldine Hooper from Argento’s Deep Red) , who takes care of Alberto (in more ways than one). When he finally meets Nosferatu, the company owner turns out to be a welcoming older gentleman (Played by Adolfo Celi, best known as Emilio Largo in Thunderball, who was astonishingly only 48 at the time) who is working on food technologies (‘I have invented gastronomic socialism’) and is keen to promote Alberto to the CEO of Auto Avio Motors – but at what price? And is that a dead body that Alberto spies in the grounds of the villa?

If you hadn’t already worked it out, Farina’s debut feature is a modern twist on the vampire story – but with capitalism instead of literal blood-sucking. On one hand the angry, paranoid message of the film is very much of the early seventies, but on the other hand there could be nothing more fitting with the mood of the world today than an anti-globalization parable – and it’s hard not to see the figure of, say, Rupert Murdoch in Celi’s portrayal of Nosferatu. That’s not to paint They Have Changed Their Face as just a sharp political satire however – it’s also a wonderfully atmospheric gothic horror movie. The scenes set in the mountains where Alberto is searching for the villa have a foggy, moody look that matches the most poetic moments of Georges Franju or Jean Rollin, whilst the bright whites of the interiors point more towards the stark science fiction of 2001 than the saturated colours of Mario Bava and his imitators. In fact the contrast between the old, mountainous world of mists and terrified villagers, and the gleaming technological ‘present’ serves to underline the themes of the film – that the monsters are no longer controlling us by traditional means.

Special mentions must be given to the performances of Celi – who gives a wonderfully bland yet menacing portrayal of total evil, and Geraldine Hooper, whose strange looks are convincingly bewitching, and fans of early seventies soundtracks will get a real kick out of the proggy, organ and choir heavy music by Amedeo Tommasi. But the film as a whole is quite unlike anything else you’ve ever seen – intelligent, creepy and, at times, wryly humorous, so do yourself a favour and get to the Barbican on the 16th September (tickets available here).

Read on for Tristan’s Q&A with Corrado Farina…

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BAH: Hello Mr Farina. Since we’re discussing the first showing of They Have Changed Their Face in the UK, I wonder if you can tell me about the original release of the film. Did I do well? Did the critics like it?

Corrado Farina: The film won the Locarno Film Festival but really divided opinions. There was much negative criticism, especially from left-wing newspapers, which accused the film of making up problems and of substantial connivance with the “system”. In the cinema it was released, but did badly, and at the time no-one saw it. Only years later, thanks to VHS and DVD, it began to circulate among fans and gradually became a small cult.

BAH: The film steadily Has Been Gaining a cult reputation among English-speaking audiences on the Internet in recent years (despite it having never Been released in English before, to my knowledge). Have you been aware of this or is it a surprise?

Corrado Farina: It was a pleasant surprise, especially considering that no one has ever made a version in English.

BAH: Adolfo Celi is a familiar face to fans of European cinema, and gives a wonderful, subtle performance here. What are your memories of working with him?

Corrado Farina: Excellent. Adolfo was a very nice man and a serious professional, very well-known at the time thanks to the character of Largo (…from Thunderball) but he wasn’t afraid to take a project as “at risk” as ours. And that speaks volumes about his character.

BAH: Were you influenced by any other films or filmmakers making When They Have Changed Their Face?

Corrado Farina: Yes of course. Terence Fisher and Mario Bava first of all, but only for their first films. But the myth of the vampire was just a starting point to get to say my opinion on the contemporary world. Do not forget that we were in 1970, in the middle of protests, and I arrived from advertising – just like the star of “I’ll never forget what’s His Name”, (A Michael Winner film from 1967 starring Orson Welles and Oliver Reed) another film which at the time was seminal for me.

Corrado Farina

BAH: Both They Have Changed Their Face and Baba Yaga are very individual films, made at a time When most Italian film was either a spaghetti western, a giallo or a crime thriller. Was it hard to get such unusual films made?

Corrado Farina: Very, very hard. In fact they would not get made at all today.

BAH: Finally, Which is your favourite of your two feature films, and why?

Corrado Farina: In my opinion They Have Changed Their Face – it is rougher but also, to its budget and its meaning, more successful. Maybe because it’s my first-born, it is also what I love most. With Baba Yaga my intention was to go much further in the search for a common language for “film-comics”, and therefore I consider it only partially successful, a bit because of me and a little because certain graphics solutions would become possible only after years , thanks to computerized special effects.

BAH: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us, Mr. Farina!

Corrado Farina: You’re welcome, my friends! Thank you for your esteem to my movies.

THEY HAVE CHANGED THEIR FACE (Corrado Farina, 1971) from Spectacle Theater on Vimeo.

Festival Report: FrightFest 2015 (Part 1 of 2)


By Stephanie Scaife

Since I started attending FrightFest all the way back in 2003, it’s always been a real mixed bag – for all the awful to middling films you sat through, you were always guaranteed at least a few gems. Over the years these have included such titles as Oldboy, Wolf Creek, Pan’s Labyrinth, Let the Right One In, and The House of the Devil to name but a few. However, it’s beginning to feel like the festival has fallen victim to its own success, as the bigger its gotten, the overall quality has lessened. Held at ransom by sponsors and studios we’ve been inflicted with the likes of I Spit on Your Grave 1 & 2 (2010 & 2013 respectively), Inbred, Fright Night (2011), Hammer of the Gods, Sin City 2, Shockwave Darkside etc, all on the main screen with the best films of the festival tucked away in early morning or late night slots, and in the smaller discovery screens, where getting tickets can sometimes be tricky as there aren’t that many to go around. It’s a shame really that the days of seeing Guillermo del Toro and the cast of Hellboy on the stage at the intimate Prince Charles Cinema have given way to straight to VOD/DVD titles (often released days or weeks after the festival) on huge screens in a fairly soulless multiplex. I’m not sure what has changed over the years regarding the London Film Festival, but I understand that if a film is to be shown there then it has to be the first UK screening, and many titles which I would usually associate with FrightFest are now to be found at the LFF instead. Recently the likes of It Follows, The Sacrament, Under the Skin, Sightseers and Snowtown all premiered there, when in years past they would’ve been a sure bet for FrightFest. I don’t know enough about the industry to be 100% on any of this, but it just feels like FrightFest is missing out on the very best in genre cinema.


2015 was off to a depressingly shaky start with Cherry Tree opening the festival. David Keating had impressed with the Irish Hammer Horror film Wake Wood a few years back, so I was actually looking forward to what looked to be a female-centric witch fest, both things you don’t see often enough. I have to say, Cherry Tree just wasn’t very good at all. Faith (Naomi Battrick) is about to turn sixteen, and if that wasn’t bad enough that the school bullies are taking exception to her being picked to be on the hockey team and her best friend has a crush on the guy she likes, whilst her dad has terminal leukaemia. Bummer. However, when her creepy new hockey coach Sissy (Anna Walton) offers to make everything better Faith finds herself in a position that she can’t refuse. I have to say all of this happens rather quickly, leaving no time to really empathise with any of the characters, or understand why Sissy targets Faith, or why Faith is so quick to agree – it all happens in the matter of a day or two. Inexplicably for a film shot in Ireland with an Irish cast they all seem to be talking with incredibly posh English accents, and I’m really not sure why. But that was the least of my concerns when it came to this poorly paced, overwrought non-thriller that both tried to be funny and scary yet did neither, succeeding only at being sporadically silly but mostly boring. What the witches were doing and why was pretty much a mystery to me, and what the cherries or the centipedes had to do with anything is anyone’s guess. One to be avoided.


Thank goodness then for Turbo Kid, a New Zealand/Canadian co-production written and directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Originally a short for The ABCs of Death, T for Turbo, that didn’t make the final cut (instead going to Lee Hardcastle’s T for Toilet), but clearly undeterred they instead developed it into a feature. Think Tank Girl meets BMX Bandits with lashings of gore on a level with Braindead and you’ve probably got a pretty solid picture of what Turbo Kid is going for. It’s set in an alternate history where in 1997 the world has become a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by a sadistic one-eyed leader named Zeus (Michael Ironside) and his gang of BMX riding ne’er-do-wells. The Kid (Munro Chambers) is a loner that quietly scavenges the wasteland in search of items to trade for water and comic books, that is until Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) shows up and becomes his first and only friend. When she is captured by Zeus, The Kid sets out on a mission to rescue her armed with little more than dumb luck and a View-Master to protect himself; that is, until he comes across a turbocharged power glove that lets him blast his enemies into smithereens! Turbo Kid is really rather ridiculous, but with a sweetness and sense of humour that enables it to pull it off with ease, even if it does on occasion take the whole 80’s pastiche a step too far. This is the perfect film to watch with a group of friends and some beers – a lot of fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously.


Next was Pod from writer-director Mickey Keating (Ritual), a super low budget slow burner that is essentially a two-hander between brother and sister Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) and Ed (Dean Cates). Lyla is off the rails, drinking and partying and generally not really looking after herself or giving a shit, when out of the blue her white collar brother Ed turns up on her doorstep asking her to stage an intervention for their other brother Martin (Brian Morvant), a reclusive and unhinged war vet that is living in their families lake house in Maine. When they arrive it soon becomes apparent that things are far worse than they could have imagined, as they are faced with a gun wielding, incoherent, ranting Martin who claims to have captured a “pod” in the woods. For the majority of the run time you’re never sure if there really is something in the basement or if it’s just the imagination of a madman driven insane by his time serving in the military. Considering that Pod looks like it was made for small change and the acting has a tendency to get slightly hysterical when not burdened by a clunky script, it’s actually pretty good. After I saw the film I looked it up online and I have to say the poster doesn’t do it any favours, making it look like an extra-terrestrial sci-fi, whereas whilst watching the film I didn’t necessarily get the impression that it was definitely something to do with aliens – it’s very oblique when it comes to what is actually going on. It also has perhaps the most intense don’t-go-in-the-basement scene I’ve seen in a very long time!

I think my favourite thing about FrightFest this year is the return to The Prince Charles, which is known as the spiritual home of the festival, as one of the Discovery screens. It’s been eleven, yes eleven, years since the FrightFest proper (excusing a few one off specials) has been located there and boy does it feel good to be back! Although I loved The Empire, you can’t really beat The Prince Charles, maybe it’s because almost all of my favourite FrightFest memories took place there, but I hope this is a tradition that will continue. This brings me to my favourite film of the festival so far, the admirably perverse Argentinian oddity The Rotten Link directed, written, produced, edited and starring Valentín Javier Diment (Memory of the Dead). Clearly a man of many talents. Gosh, where to start with this one… I’d be the first to admit that this won’t be for everyone but it certainly appealed to my sensibilities; think John Waters meets Fabrice Du Welz’s Calvaire. Set in a remote village that is so small there are only about 20 residents, so to say that they are close-knit would almost be an understatement. The film focuses on Roberta (Paula Brasca) who spends her time caring for her dementia-ridden elderly mother and her older brother who has severe learning difficulties, whilst also moonlighting as a prostitute for, well, pretty much everyone in the town. A local superstition comes into play however, turning everyone against each other and forever putting an end to their, frankly creepy, closeness. Incest, bestiality, witches, and excessive gore all come into play in this pitch black comedy, all played with a certain assured frankness that can only really be found in South American cinema.


Friday went from the sublime absurdity of The Rotten Link to the bewildering absurdity of AAAAAAAAH!, the directorial debut of Steve Oram (Sightseers). Now if someone handed the outline of this film to you you’d think they were having a laugh, or maybe just insane. I am still struggling to comprehend how it got made and how the cast were talked into taking part. First off, there is no dialogue in this film, none at all. For 80 minutes the cast communicate with each other in grunts, howls and screams, because even though these are people they sound and act like apes. This involves lots of pissing, pooping, throwing food and sex. What there is of a plot revolves around an alpha male played by Oram and his beta (Tom Meeten) who move into a new town and set their sights on taking control of a larger established group led by Julian Rhind-Tutt. This is the perfect example of a film that would make a great short, but stretched out to feature length it becomes tiresome and dull. Although very amusing for the first 20 minutes the joke wears thin very quickly and I spent the remainder of the running time wishing it would end. I suppose there is a reading that could be made regarding humans as being little more than apes, primal and egocentric, but overall it’s merely an exercise in tedium. If you ever want to see Julian Barrett redecorating with a Battenberg however, then this is the film for you.


I’d heard mixed things about Final Girl, the directorial debut of photographer Tyler Shields, but I actually kind of liked it. There isn’t much set up and the ambiguity may infuriate some. Veronica (Abigail Breslin) is taken in as a child by William (Wes Bentley) and trained up as an assassin to wreak vengeance on the men who killed his wife. As Veronica is put through arduous tests to face her worst fears and to survive in the wilderness, all the while she takes the word of William as gospel and complies with a certain level of teenage indignation. A group of four privileged white males like to take hunting trips, and what they like to hunt are pretty blonde girls. Who these men are or why they do what they do is never explained, but once they set their sights on Veronica their fortunes are undoubtedly about the change. As you would expect from a world renowned photographer this is beautifully shot, and there are some beautifully surreal hallucinogenic scenes. On the whole the film may not be more than the sum of its parts but overall this is a throwaway and fun little film with some great performances and some unsubtle social commentary on the patriarchy.


We Are Still Here is the directorial debut from writer and producer Ted Geoghegan, and it was perhaps one of the strongest offerings at FrightFest this year – a homage to the Lucio Fulci films of the 70’s with certain nods to Americana fables and myths akin to the likes of The House of the Devil. A creepy haunted house set-up with a fantastic cast, We Are Still Here dives straight in at the deep end. Paul and Annie Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig and Barbara Crampton) move into a remote house following the death of their son Bobby, and when spooky goings on start to occur Annie becomes convinced that Bobby is still with them, so she calls on her friends Jacob (Larry Fessenden) and medium May (Lisa Marie). Throw in some creepy locals and a seemingly bottomless bottle of J&B Whiskey and you’ve got all the trappings of a classic retro horror film. Although it stumbles in the final act, We Are Still Here is an effective little shocker with some decent scares and an awareness of the genre that it more than happily wears on its sleeve.

Bernard Rose’s Frankenstein is a difficult film to love, the original story itself being unparalleled in its sadness and contempt for humanity. No matter which way you look at it, the monster is a tragic being and it is a difficult task to bring something new to this well-worn story. Rose manages just about, relocating the story to modern times, with a 3D printed monster (Xavier Samuel). It works to a certain extent; Carrie-Anne Moss and Danny Huston are the doctors that create the monster, a perfect replication of a human male that they instantly become enamoured with. Only the experiment is flawed, and the more the monster deteriorates the less its “parents” care for it. Fleeing the lab, the monster befriends a dog, a little girl and a blind man (Tony Todd), proving that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that human kindness is merely a façade that we evoke for those that we deem worthy on a surface level. None of this is played out with any sort of subtlety and I really could’ve done without the voiceover, but overall Frankenstein does a good job of modernising an already universal story.


As always I try to see as many female-made films as possible, and Another Me is written, directed and produced by an almost entirely female crew. Based on the novel of the same name by Scottish author Cathy MacPhail and directed by Isabel Coixet (My Life Without Me), Another Me starts out pretty strong but unfortunately dwindles into eye rolling levels of hokum towards the end. Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) is Fay, a teenager with more problems than most; her dad is terminally ill and her mum is having an affair, not to mention the fact that she’s recently been cast as Lady Macbeth in the school play and can’t seem to remember her lines. A doppelganger has imposed on Fay’s life, but is it the manifestation of her current problems or something altogether more sinister? Turner gives an excellent performance as Fay and you sympathise with her, regardless of whether or not it’s all a figment of her imagination. The supporting cast of Rhys Ifans, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Claire Forlani are all excellent, but this doesn’t altogether save the film from being an above average supernatural affair that wouldn’t look out of place on ITV.


I was very much looking forward to The Hallow, the feature film debut from Corin Hardy (who will soon be taking the helm of the latest attempt at a reboot of The Crow), as I’d heard good things from its Sundance screening earlier in the year. Seemingly the hot ticket of FrightFest, which sold out in record timing, it seemed very much like the place to be. Tree surgeon Adam (Joseph Mawle) and his wife Claire (Bojana Novakovic) have recently relocated to rural Ireland with their young family so that he can work in the surrounding woodland. Almost immediately the locals take exception to these outsiders and quickly become hostile, breaking windows, making threats and giving them creepy gifts – most notably an old book of folk tales about The Hallow; malevolent faeries and child snatchers. The Hallow starts out very strong, benefiting enormously from an original premise and strong performances, from Mawle in particular. The monsters are great too; using mostly practical effects Hardy has created some of the creepiest beasties that I’ve seen in a long time. However, I found the final act to be a little disappointing; the story went from intriguing and unexpected to a very formulaic ending that all too neatly tidied everything up. Overall The Hallow is an enjoyable and creepy little film and I’m very intrigued as to what Hardy will do with The Crow.


Deathgasm was one of my most anticipated films of the festival, having heard many excellent things about it as it screened at other festivals across the world. A heavy metal comedy splatter film from New Zealand has got to be good, right? Thankfully it really was! Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is a music loving teen that is sent to live with his ultra conservative uncle in a small town after his mother is arrested for giving a Santa Claus a blow job at the mall. He finds solidarity in local metal head bad boy Zakk (James Bake) and together they decide to form a band called Deathgasm. When Brodie finds some mysterious music that claims to be able to summon demons and grant power he decides that Deathgasm should play it, in the hopes of getting revenge on the school bullies that torment him on a daily basis and perhaps enable him to win over the girl of his dreams, Medina (Kimberley Crossman). Directed by Jason Lei Howden (better known as a VFX artist on the likes of The Hobbit films) Deathgasm is unapologetic in its outlandish carnage; ever wanted to see someone beat a demon to death with some anal beads or shoot them with multi-sided roleplaying dice? If the answer to those questions is yes then this is definitely the movie for you. Add to that an excellent soundtrack and some genuinely hilarious moments and you’ve got a winning combination, the perfect film to watch with a few beers and as big an audience as possible. This went down a storm at FrightFest and I can see it doing the midnight movie circuit for many years to come!

Click here for Part 2 of Steph’s Frightfest 2015 report.

 

FrightFest 2015: Nia's Top Picks & Must-Sees

FF 2015 - poster artwork - WEB-1By Nia Edwards-Behi

FrightFest is the place to see the largest array of horror and genre films on the big screen in the UK. Any film festival can be a marathon feat of endurance, but it’s always even more painful when you’re trying to decide between films and squeezing as much as you can between the schedules of various screens. Whether you’ve already got your pass or just planning on buying the odd ticket, a bit of help is at hand.

I’ve picked out my recommendations for the fest (based on those films I have seen) and picked the films I personally most anticipate (that is, those films I have not seen). I’ve only picked out new films, as frankly I would go watch any of the classic films, so take that as a given! Naturally the following selection is just based on my own taste, so do make sure you have a thorough trawl of the full festival line-up to make up your own mind! I’ve kept this to a total of six films, so consider these are only the very tip of my personal iceberg.

Top Recommendations

There are clear three top films for me that I would recommend out of the FrightFest line-up (again, this is of those films that I have seen for myself). My personal top three are Miike Takashi’s Over Your Dead Body, Bruce McDonald’s Hellions and Steven Oram’s Aaaaaaaah! – and it might be testament to my often contrary taste that these films will undoubtedly be crowd-splitters.


I know from last year’s Abertoir that Over Your Dead Body, a film I absolute adored, was one of the least popular with our audience (still, a healthy 3/5 score ain’t bad either). It’s a slow burn of a film, part-domestic drama, part-traditional kabuki play and part-vengeful splatterfest. The powerful central performances from Ko Shibasaki and Ebizô Ichikawa drive the human drama of the film, while Miike’s obviously adept hand drives the creeping dread that builds throughout. The film’s irresistibly gorgeous visuals beg to be seen on a big screen, from the play-within-the-film’s set design to the suitably unnerving sequences of bloodshed. (See Karolina’s review.)

HellionsBruce McDonald’s Hellions is another one which I know others haven’t enjoyed all that much, but despite a certain level of incoherency and pacing issues, I really loved it. I’ve seen it more than once now and I still really enjoy the central drive of the film: teenager Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose) has to survive Halloween night while being terrorised by demonic trick-or-treaters. There’s a dream-like quality to the film that I really enjoyed, and the sense of unreality to proceedings really appealed to me. This nightmarish quality is there both in the stark cinematography and in the interesting sound design (and the main theme music still gets stuck in my head). The whole film is a fairly obvious metaphor, but the way in which it unfolds impressed me. It’s an atmospheric exploration of its subject matter, and it features an effective performance (and necessarily so for it to work) at its core.

aaaaaah-poster1Steve Oram’s directorial debut Aaaaaaaah! is a film which is honestly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. It’s an avant-garde film in the mode of British absurdity at its most, well, absurd. The lives and loves of an average family play out on screen in a relatively kitchen-sinky way, except for the fact that they communicate, behave and interact in the manner of apes. If you think it sounds weird on paper, wait until you see it, but Oram’s crafted a genuinely original, compelling, funny and bizarrely moving film. It’s one you’ve really got to see for yourself.

Most Anticipated

The three films I most want to see from the FrightFest line-up are again a broad bunch, which is testament to the wide variety of films on offer. Turbo Kid, Tales of Halloween and Remake, Remix, Rip-Off are my top three most anticipated films of the fest, and I’ve good faith they’ll all be ones that will go down a treat.

turbo kidTurbo Kid’s been a film I’ve been following for a while now. Borne of the Froniteres genre market at Fantasia, the film follows a boy called The Kid and a girl called Apple in a post-apocalyptic wasteland as they fight for survival against the sadistic Zeus. The film promises to be a bloody, anarchic throw-back to 80s action flicks, almost an ideal companion piece to the rather more slick and modern Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s had rave reviews from its festival screenings so far, so I think by far Turbo Kid is a film not to miss.

tales-of-halloween-1I’ve had a small glimpse at Tales of Halloween when Axelle Carolyn presented her segment and the film’s trailer at this year’s BIFFF. This is a huge anthology picture, and it’s testament to the talent involved that it stands out from countless other anthology or portmanteau projects as the format falls back into fashion. Carolyn’s produced the film, as well as directing a segment, and the other directors involved are an impressive bunch: Darren Lynn Bousman, Mike Mendez, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Adam Geirasch, Andrew Kasch, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, John Skipp and Paul Solet. No mumblegore nonsense here! There’s good pedigree here, and I do so hope that Tales of Halloween turns out to be a modern seasonal favourite. Carolyn’s segment, Grim Grinning Ghost, is a wonderfully traditional scare, and is simplicity at its finest – you bet I jumped right out of my seat. What’s particularly exciting is that with filmmakers like Lucky McKee on-board, you can almost guarantee that there’ll be some really stand-out weird segments to this film too.

Remix Remake Rip-OffThe final film I would most like to see from the line-up is a documentary, another format which seems to be experiencing something of a heyday in the field of genre filmmaking at the moment. Remix, Remake, Rip-off takes us on a trip through the golden era of Turkish cinema, wherein a group of relatively amateur filmmakers were persistently and successfully ripping-off big-budget or better known films – anything from Star Wars to Straw Dogs goes! The subject of this documentary covers many of my interests – non-English language filmmaking, god-awful rip-offs, the concept of remaking…so I’ve no doubt that I’m going to have a real blast with this one when I finally see it.

Are you off to FrightFest this August bank holiday? What are you most looking forward to seeing? With a film selection that big, you can almost guarantee that there’s something for everyone there. BaH’s Steph will be attending, so expect much more on the gems of the fest next month!

 

Horror in Miniature: Five Terrifying Tabletop Experiences You Should Own

By Dustin Hall

Gencon 2015 is next week, that’s the world’s largest tabletop and role-playing game convention, and with it will come a bevy of new offerings to the gaming world, including several fine new horror entries. While the filmic world of Horror may be languishing in a found-footage induced funk at the moment, Horror themed board games are just as powerful as ever. Whether you’re new to tabletop or looking to expand, here’s five favorites that should be in every collection, and with them a few recommendations for further expansion.


1. Arkham Horror

The fiction of H.P. Lovecraft has continued to grow and thrive long beyond the life of the man, thanks to many devoted fans and an open source merchandising license. While there is certainly a glut of mediocre Lovecraft products in the world, his Mythos has done rather well in the gaming world. Arkham Horror has long been the crown jewel in the Cthulhu gaming collection, and remains a fan favorite.

The game takes place in the titular city of Arkham, where Miskatonic University and many cults reside, along with many other beasts that come spewing out of portals. Taking the roles of different investigators, players work together solving mysteries, visiting other worlds, sealing portals and, hopefully, keeping the Great Old One who slumbers beneath the city from waking up. The game and its mechanics are unique, and somewhat obtuse, but the weird happenings and feeling of impending doom only add to the flavor. Town expansions allowing you to add Dunwich, Innsmouth, and more to the board ensure that no corner of Lovecraft’s literary world, or of the apocrypha such as The King in Yellow, is left untouched, as nearly every character, creature, and demonic denizen of the Mythos can be played with or against.

Though Arkham remains a personal favorite of mine, there are many other good Lovecraft games to hunt out, if you want to delve further into the madness. Eldritch Horror is an updated version of this game that sends players globetrotting as opposed to being stuck in town, and Elder Sign is more of a hellish, Lovecraftian Yahtzee. The truly obsessed can hunt down a copy of the recently released Cthulhu Wars, featuring tremendous, statue quality pieces of the Great Old Ones as they battle over a map of the Earth for world domination.


2. Betrayal at the House on the Hill

This old Avalon Hill game was recently brought back from the dead by Wizards of the Coast, and happily so. If you have any love for Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods then this game is screaming for your attention. The sheer variety of horror scenarios that come out of this game is astounding, and draws from dozens of your horror favorites for inspiration.

The game drops players, as a squad of typical horror protagonists, into an old haunted mansion. At first, only the entryway can be seen by the players. As each player moves through the rooms, tiles are flipped, and the house built, creating a fresh, chaotic maze of madness with each playthrough. At first the game is all about exploration, but with a name like Betrayal, that can’t last long. Eventually one of the players will be possessed, and the exact circumstances of that is what determines which of the 50 possible horror scenarios will be used by this betrayer to hunt down his former pals. Was the player secretly a wolfman? Will it be firebats or cenobites today? It all depends on what Macguffin is found where, and when. The remaining players have to think fast before they find themselves axed by their former friend.

Aside from offering a lot of variety, Betrayal at the House on the Hill offers a fairly lighthearted, yet creepy vibe, much like a Halloween spook show, and is mercifully easy to pick up and play. If you want to initiate friends into games that require more than going in circles and building hotels, this is a great place to start.


3. Zombicide

First off, its worth acknowledging that there are, literally, hundreds of zombie games on the market. Zombies have essentially taken over the horror film and merchandise market, and board games offer no exception. Everybody has taken a shot at making the definitive zombie game. While there are definitely other contenders, and often cheaper, Zombicide has my vote as the best.

This squad-based tactical game has lets 1-6 players team up and try to survive in a world already ravaged by the undead. Yes, you can play the game solo, as the zombies run on autopilot, and they are brutal! The game provides dozens of scenarios for teams to fight through, city streets, malls, prisons, and more, as hordes of zombies attack, each one represented by its own delightfully gory miniature. The game has a grisly sense of humor, and throwbacks to not just popular zombie lore, but every aspect of pop culture. To top it all off, this is just one of the most playable, smooth, well designed games you’ll ever play. And if you want a change of scenery, this year Zombicide also unleashes a medieval companion game that lets crews of Knights Templar go dungeon delving to save their township from the hordes of undead that crawl beneath their streets.

If that’s not enough to scratch your zombie itch, or its just out of your price range, consider also Zombies!, the original undead shoot-em-up game (which I personally dislike, but it does have throngs of fans), Last Night on Earth, another beautiful homage to the genre, City of Horror, which is great in that it allows players to stab each other in the back and leave one another for dead to escape the zombies, and lighter fare like Zombie Dice and The Great Brain Robbery.


4. Fury of Dracula

Long has this horror classic been out of print, and long have gamers watched helplessly as copies sold for $150-200 each on ebay. But no more! Happily, Fury will be reprinted this year by Fantasy Flight Games, with new art and revised rules. Much like Christopher Lee’s legendary Drac, this game will be revived again, and again, and again until it rules the Earth!

This game pits one player against all others, as they play the immortal Dracula, and they the hunters. The game is set during Bram Stoker’s novel, at the climactic point where Mina has been bitten, and Van Helsing, having chased Dracula from Carfax, now leads a team to intercept the vampire before he can reach his home, and again take rest in his native soil. Fury of Dracula is a cat and mouse game, where players try to guess the movements of the Dracula player as he maneuvers through Europe, feeding to regain strength, and leaving behind him vampire spawn, wolves, and the occasional false clue. The game includes a sun dial to track when the team finds Dracula. If they guess correctly they can find him in the day and will likely dispatch him, but if they cross the Count at night, they’ll find a truly fearsome foe instead.

Relying more on a game of wits and bluffing than action, Fury of Dracula offers a great cerebral challenge for players, and has a great deal of flavor pulled from Stoker’s original work. For any who aren’t a fan of vampires, or simply can’t wait for the reprint, Letters from Whitechapel offers the same general game mechanics, but pits the players instead against the infamous Jack the Ripper.


5. Vampire: The Masquerade

The only role-playing game to have an entry on this brief list, The Masquerade has become, unfortunately, very hard to find. However the game is legend for its flavor and its rock-solid world building. The rule book’s chapter headings read like prose from a fine novel, and the version of the vampire legend that it created became, for many, the definitive mythology for the creatures, inspiring further pop culture entries such as the Legacy of Kain video game series and the Underworld films, which were sued by the game makers for infringing upon their fictional setting. This game series survived the negative notoriety it received in the 90s for a group of its players creating a vampire cult and killing their parents, and endured to become a powerful gaming icon of the Goth-infused decade. It spawned novels, a collectible card game, a computer game, and a short-lived television series, Kindred, the Embraced. White Wolf, the publisher, essentially ended the series in the early 2000s, but the (expensive but worth it) definitive edition can be special ordered from them, for any who still want to play.

Players will find the game to have an unforgiving combat system that, against another vampire, will quickly kill their characters. But this game was never about the combat. Vampire is a game about story-telling, about living in and adding to the rich setting, and about pushing the personal buttons of your players to craft a living horror story for them to exist in. The game’s focal point is partially about survival, but also about players struggling to maintain their humanity after losing a piece of their soul to their macabre transformation, and struggling to remember that the regular people around them are individuals, not just morsels for them to feast upon. If they lose their humanity, they become feral beasts, and will soon be put down by other vampires who strive to keep their secrecy.

While Vampire: The Masquerade is not a current, featured title by any means, it remains one of the greatest story-telling tools any horror-loving group could ask for. However if the book seems just a little too 90s Goth for your taste, there are other offerings. Look to the Call of Cthulhu RPG for other story-centric, player torturing games, or All Flesh Must be Eaten if you prefer zombies over vamps. You can also never go wrong with the weird world of Deadlands, a radioactive steam punk western, reminiscent of Bioshock and Fallout as far as flavor goes, featuring mutants and zombie gunslingers in a new era of western lawlessness.

We’ve only scratch the surface here. Still out there are hundreds of wonders, like Games Workshop’s paranoid, alien dodging classic Space Hulk, or Panic Station, which is a throw back to The Thing, where one player is infected and threatens to turn all the other players, secretly, into biological terrors. Whatever your taste in horror, there is something out in the gaming world to suit it. Keep an eye on this year’s Gencon reports to see what new monstrosities await your dining room table.