HaHalloween 2: The Revenge

Because anything can happen on HaHalloween

Because anything can happen on HaHalloween

You didn’t ask for it. And yet, it came back! My spooky joke challenge has been resurrected for another year, following last year’s ordeal (and previous Christmas-themed monstrosities). Behold 31 truly terrifying ‘jokes’, ‘quips’, ‘puns’ and non-sequiturs (as originally posted on Twitter) to baffle and bemuse your friends this All Hallows’ Eve, and beyond. Please scare (share) and die screaming (enjoy).

Q. What sprouts a red and white jumper every full moon?
A. A WereWally (or WereWaldo for our North American friends).

Q. Medusa stars in which David Fincher film?
A. Gorgon Girl.

Q. What do satanists buy from the candy store?
A. Beelzebubble gum.

Q. What is Sadako’s favourite potato snack, packaged in an appropriate tube?
A. P-Ring-les.

Q. What is the largest amount of memory that can be stored on a USB stick from Hell?
A. A Cenobyte (CB).

My girlfriend is totally into giallo, she’s my tenebae.

Q. Why did the ghost throw the clock out of the window?
A. Because he wanted to see time fly. Plus he’s a poltergeist. They love throwing things.

Q. How do you inspect a witch for internal maladies?
A. A cauldronoscopy.

Q. Why did the insurance company pay out more for Shrek’s claim?
A. They were ogre-compensating.

Q. What is the wimpiest pasta dish?
A. Fettucinne Afraido.

Q. In which horror film does Mia Farrow give birth to a sheep-herding pig?
A. Rosemary’s Babe.

Q. Where does Satan buy his sweatshirts?
A. Jersey Devil’s.

Q. Who is the spookiest graffiti artist in the world?
A. Ban(k)shee.

Q. Why did the witch call the plumber?
A. Double double toilet trouble.

Actually, Honey was the name of the creator, NOT the Monster.

Q. Which company makes the best soaps in Texas?
A. Imperial Leatherface.

“Waiter, waiter, there’s The Fly in my soup!”
“Err, hi, I’m Jeff uh Goldblum.”

Q. Which ghost always looks like they are shouting when they write an e-mail?
A. CAPSLOCK THE FRIENDLY GHOST.

My toothbrush does an amazing impression of the final scene from The Blair Witch Project. [PRESS REVEAL]

Q. Which girl band member only performs with the rest of her group around Autumn time?
A. Pumpkin Spice.

Q. Where do you go to buy the most terrifying costumes for Halloween?
A. Your local scaremonger’s.

Q. In which film is it revealed that Liberace drank the blood of goats?
A. Behind the Chupacabra.

Q. Which classic  ‘Universal Monster’ was kicked out of the club for not being scary enough?
A. The Visible Man.

Q. Why did the Mummy not want to go on the rollercoaster?
A. He didn’t have the stomach. Or the guts. All his organs were in jars.

Q. Where do most UK witches hail from?
A. Coven-try.

Q. What is the most frightening Bond film?
A. James Bond Versus the Spooky Ghost.

Q. Why was the phantom desperate to see the new Mission: Impossible movie?
A. He was a TomPhan.

Q. Why is Zombie Mozart no good at his job?
A. He is decomposing.

Q. What is the best substitute for eyeballs in the ‘Witch’s Body’ game?
A. Sheep eyes probably – just ask your local butcher.

Q. Which cartoon dog investigates Haitian dark magic?
A. Scooby-Voodoo.

Q. Why is Dracula allergic to crucifixes?
A. He’s an atheist.

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Triple Feature of Terror!: The Babadook, The Innkeepers, and It Follows

For a time, horror was my default genre of choice, but recently my interest has fallen somewhat by the wayside, so it was a nice coincidence that in the past couple of weeks I watched three contemporary examples that offered modern and/or alternative takes on familiar tropes. They’re not exactly linked in any way, but they rekindled my passion for spooky movies.

The Babadook

The most acclaimed horror film of last year, The Babadook, certainly warrants its acclaim and attention, though it is its emotional impact that has garnered most praise, and rightly so. As a mother struggling with her increasingly disruptive and seemingly disturbed son (Noah Wiseman) and burdened with grief following the tragic death of her husband, Essie Davis gives a superb performance, believable and raw in the face of unexplained events, tied to a fiendish character from a mysterious pop-up picture book, that push her to breaking point. You can certainly see how We Need To Talk About Kevin has been raised as an interesting parallel. Debut feature director and writer Jennifer Kent succeeds in conjuring an atmosphere thick with dread, playing with shadows and sound in a house designed to discomfort, and Mister Babadook himself feels like a boogeyman for the ages. Yet, the film itself is unlikely to cause much in the way of sleepless nights – my strongest reaction came when Daniel Henshall appeared in a supporting role, though that says more about how much Snowtown has stuck with me than anything (the director of which – Justin Kurzel – is married to Babadook’s Davis, fact fans). But the pervading sense of despair and melancholy is what lingers longest, setting it apart from the other monsters-in-my-closest fair. As strong a calling card as you’re likely to find.

While James Wan, Leigh Whannell, Oren Peli, Jason Blum, Scott Derrickson et al have been the key figures responsible for shaping the landscape of American horror at the box office (with the likes of Saw, Insidious, Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring, Sinister, etc. to their names), another close-knit group of writers/directors/producers/actors have been bubbling away just beneath, carving out their own identity. Often sharing DNA with ‘mumblecore’ movies (to the extent the term ‘mumblegore’ is a thing), the likes of Adam Wingard, Ti West and Joe Swanberg have been knocking out low-budget horror films together (though in Swanberg’s case more indie dramas than anything) with varying results, though still often interesting and efficiently put together. They all contributed to found-footage anthology V/H/S, Wingard directed West and Swanberg in You’re Next, West directed Swanberg in The Sacrament…you get the picture.

The Innkeepers

But it is West’s The Innkeepers from 2011 up for discussion today, with Sara Paxton and Pat Healy (who would more recently appear again together in the grimly comic Cheap Thrills) as staff in a soon-to-close hotel, waiting out their time spooking themselves silly by investigating the supposedly haunted establishment’s dark past and trying to record paranormal activity. But of course it’s all fun and games until things start to get really freaky.

Both Healy and especially Paxton excel in their roles which, while not comic, are imbued with a natural sense of humour and well-observed character traits. Their dialogue exchanges are what makes The Innkeepers feel different and enjoyable and the characters feel like living, breathing people rather than simple slasher-fodder or audience ciphers (to give you an idea of how it’s pitched, there’s even a Lena Dunham cameo). But at the same time, as nice as these moments are, they slow the pace of the story. Given the things that go bump in the night aren’t anything especially new, even if they are effective, the film starts to drag before it really gets going, failing to really satisfy either the ‘mumble’ or ‘gore’ camps, or meld the two together. Which is a shame, as there are still very good elements of both here, but had the whole film been leaner and snappier, it would be easier to recommend.

Finally, my pick of the three is a new release, the much talked-about It Follows. As with the best of its kind, it is reverential and referential, but offers a new twist or take on established horror formulae. In this case, a sexual encounter leaves Jay (Maika Monroe, last seen in Wingard’s The Guest) with an apparent curse in which she is pursued by an unknown entity that takes the form of different people, strangers and familiars alike, but only she can see what’s coming after her. And she must pass it on if she is to survive.

It Follows

From the set-up to the execution, there are clear antecedents. The curse itself shares similarities with the tape from Ring, the unseen predator (and the presence of swimming pools) recalls Cat People, and the sex = life/death motif runs deep throughout so much of the genre it’s hard to know where to start. But It Follows is knowing enough to play with these influences, indulging them some times and subverting them others, without winking to camera.

Perhaps the most obvious influence is John Carpenter’s Halloween, primarily in its cinematography and music. Mike Gioulakis is responsible for the former, beautifully framing and filling each shot such that it feels like a widescreen movie with a capital WIDE. It also plays with perspective, as you are sometimes viewing the action through Jay’s P.O.V. but not always (like the phantasmagorical gimmickry of William Castle’s 13 Ghosts), but mostly the camera feels removed, dispassionate, even voyeuristic, forcing you to scan the margins for when a slowly walking presence might emerge to track down Jay. Anything that can make scenes set in broad daylight unnerving is doing something right. And with Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpeace (probably best known for the soundtrack to twisty platform-puzzle game Fez) providing a gorgeous, haunting, squelchy synth score, it feels both like a clear harking back to the late 70s/early 80s, while also feeling strangely timeless.

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell knows his horror onions and is clearly technically accomplished, but he also does a fine job at making his teenage characters sound and behave like teenagers. The cast handle the dialogue and emotional beats in a way that feels authentic, and far removed from your typical scream teens, but Mitchell also understands a balance needs to be struck, and this is a more successful melding of indie sensibilities and spooky goings-on than The Innkeepers. With its stripped back approach, it may disappoint audiences more used to the ‘boo-scared-ya’ blockbusters. And there’s a case to be made that it is the least out-and-out scary of the three. But It Follows is certainly the one that has lingered around in my mind the longest and the one I feel I will return to most often.

 

An Introduction to Classic Hammer Horror

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Originally posted on Tumblr

Over the festive period, and tying in nicely with the BFI’s Gothic season (now in its final month), the BBC showed a bunch of Hammer Horror classics, so for the past four nights I’ve caught up with them on iPlayer – and enjoyed them all a great deal. Even to this day, over 50 years later, they have the power to shock and creep you out, but above all else entertain. I was expecting kitsch and camp but, some rather dated comic minor characters aside, they all stand up remarkably well and are all good films in their own right.

The posters above, with their superlatives, exclamation marks and heaving bosoms suggest pure exploitation, but the reason they remain effective is because the restraint in deploying their more lurid elements. When a stake is driven through a vampire’s heart, or the face of Frankenstein’s creature is revealed, it’s genuinely gruesome, but if it was all blood and killing, not only would it have fallen (more) foul of the censors, it would seem pedestrian in these days of “anything goes” excess (I can like both!).

What sets them apart from typical B-movies of the period is the importance of the emotional and dramatic side in all these stories. The victims of Dracula and The Mummy are not just a gang of identikit teens, but the nearest and dearest of the protagonists, experiencing revenge from beyond the grave. The films still move at a fair pace, under 90 minutes them all, but by establishing the necessary relationships efficiently, it just adds that extra weight to make you care a little bit about what’s going on.

While the combination of writer Jimmy Sangster and director Terence Fisher on The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy, cannot be overemphasised, it’s Christopher Lee’s breakthrough performances as the respective monsters that leave such an impression. With his imposing frame, mute lurching and penchant for strangulation, he proves a menacing adversary in The Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy, but it’s Dracula that really seals the deal. Just standing in a door frame, at the top of staircase or at a window is spooky enough, but after an eloquent introduction, he turns into a sexy hissing blood-sucking animal. It’s really something else. But what keeps it all together, and keeps it classy in the process, is Peter Cushing. Playing an academic who through his quest for knowledge is partially, sometimes wholly, responsible for unleashing such horror, he’s the master touch. Even when playing someone as blinded by curiosity and frankly terrible as Baron Frankenstein (though I did like Melvyn Hayes – most notable, to me anyway, as Skeleton from Superted – in a brief appearance as the young Baron), he takes it seriously and with real charm.

Of the four, The Abominable Snowman is the odd one out, as it is more typical of the period, closer to many of the B-movies of the 50’s in its execution than the deliberate spooky castles and misty swamps of the other three, but with a screenplay by Nigel Kneale, it is far more interesting than a simple “let’s go find a Yeti” pic might be. Ever the learned man, Cushing butts heads with Forrest Tucker’s brash yank, on the mission for purely commercial rather than research reasons, and its environmental message and downbeat conclusion, as well as some creepy mountain madness, make it certainly worth watching, particularly with a remake forthcoming from the recently reinvigorated Hammer studio.

While I suspect more blood and boobage, but diminishing returns as the studio moved into the 60’s and 70’s, I’d certainly like to continue working through some more Hammer Horror classics. So recommendations of what to watch next would be welcome!

FILM REVIEW: The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods has had a torturous journey from concept to screen to say the least. That production wrapped in May 2009 only for its release to be shelved until April 2012 suggests an unloved bastard of a film, but the reality is far more complex. Its original release of 2010 was pushed to 2011 so it could be converted to 3D, but then that was dropped altogether when production company MGM filed for bankruptcy, and its only now that after Lionsgate swooped in and rescued it for release that director and co-writer Drew Goddard and producer and co-writer Joss Whedon’s comedy horror has become available for public consumption.

It’s heartening that now it’s out there in the ether, that not only is praise for it near unanimous, but seemingly everyone has gone to great lengths to keep their thoughts as free from spoilers as possible (and all equally understanding the inherent hypocrisy in writing about a film to explain why you shouldn’t read up about it before seeing it). So to add to this symphony of appreciation, here is my brief chorus, for The Cabin in the Woods is the most entertaining horror film since Drag Me To Hell.

And the reason your instant reaction is to gush your guts rather than spill the beans is not because there is some grand central twist. We’re not in Shyamalan rug-pulling final reel territory. Indeed, the very first scene (with the superb Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) should instantly signal that things are not what they seem. Nor is it a film that will necessarily lose its impact through multiple viewings once the surprises are known. Rather, the craft and consideration that has gone into making the plot machinations click so wonderfully should be experienced fresh and untainted.

The clichés Goddard and Whedon stick slavishly to – a group of stereotypical college kids on a weekend trip to some run-down backwoods holiday home – seem so tedious at first, I thought my mind was made up 20 minutes in. So far, so Tucker and Dale Vs Evil. But just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, another layer is revealed with expert timing and execution, and the scope of the story just gets ever wider and more interesting, building and building to an insane climax which will be talked about for years to come, mark my words.

If there are criticisms to be had, they’re minor. There is a murkiness to the night-time scenes where the action is barely comprehensible (it’s just as well the 3D conversion was dropped as it would have made half of the film impenetrably dark a la Fright Night). And having not really gotten into Buffy or Firefly, some of the trademark Whedon zingy dialogue left me a little cold (am I the only one who cringes every time they hear that “We have a Hulk” line in The Avengers trailer?).

But the joy of The Cabin in the Woods is that it’s meta but never ironic or overly cynical. The gags are broad enough in their frame of reference so as not to alienate the casual cinemagoer, but with enough nods to get fanboys and gorehounds all a flutter. It is clever but never tricksy. It breaks the rules, but never breaks its own rules. Even a title as generic as The Cabin in the Woods is as much a commentary on the film as the film’s own commentary on the film itself. I think.

As effective and hilarious a skewering of horror convention as Galaxy Quest was to Star Trek, or Starship Troopers was to macho jingoistic bullshit, the Evil Dead remake is going to have a very hard time seeming in any way relevant in its sizeable genre-busting wake.

The Cabin in the Woods is released on 13th April.

FILM REVIEW: Fright Night

Let’s face it, vampires are pretty boring. Everyone’s got their own take on the standard nocturnal immortal undead blood-sucker mythos, but for such key players in the movie Monster Mash, they are very rarely scary. However, being that it’s played more for yuks and gags than genuine terror, Fright Night understands it is hardly going to keep you up at night, positioning itself closer in tone to Joe Dante’s underappreciated The ‘burbs and, of course, the original 1985 film, of which this is an effective update.

Teenager Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin)’s new neighbour Jerry (Colin Farrell) keeps to himself and only comes out at night – nothing too unusual when living in the suburbs of Las Vegas. However, when a friend goes missing, Charley’s former best buddy ‘Evil’ Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is convinced Jerry is in fact a vampire and tries to enlist a reluctant Charley to investigate. When the evidence becomes overwhelming, Charley goes to occult-inflected stage magician and self-proclaimed ‘vampire expert’ Peter Vincent (David Tennant) for help.

From a purely technical level, Fright Night is something of a mess. I had unfortunately forgotten the film was to be presented in 3D, and wish the filmmakers had too. It’s left to some very silly ‘things thrown at the camera’ to try and explain why there’s any need for it at all. Coupled with some very poor CG, it all proves majorly distracting. A car chase sequence in particular is practically incomprehensible with a rotating camera, dodgy computer effects, and the added darkness of the 3D glasses to the night-time setting making it largely open to the reactions of the cast to work out what’s going on (a la this 2012 re-edit). And a question: is there some Adobe After Effects program where you can just copy and paste a pre-made ‘vampire turning to burnt ashes’ sequence? Because it seems it hasn’t really changed since Blade.

However, director Craig Gillespie’s strength is in character, and thanks to an interesting cast, Fright Night delivers some fine performances. Yelchin, the best thing in Terminator: Salvation and an endearing Chekhov in the Star Trek reboot, is a likeable lead, ably supported by Imogen Poots and Toni Collette on girlfriend and mother duties respectively but with a lot more to them than their roles would suggest. It’s Farrell and Tennant in particular though who get the best roles, and both make the most of them.

Jerry is menacing and creepy, with a sly unsettling confidence that makes his exchanges with Charley snap and crackle. Farrell clearly has a good time toying with his prey, but it’s Tennant who gets the opportunity to really cut loose, and steal the scenes too, in his first big Hollywood role (and don’t give me that Harry Potter crap, he’s barely in that). Pitched as a cross between Criss Angel and Russell Brand, Peter Vincent is a drunken husk of a man, accounting for roughly 90% of the foul language and a fair chunk of the laughs too (particularly in his verbal sparring matches with his girlfriend/assistant). And while there’s little ostensibly in common with Roddy McDowall’s original version of the character, a late night horror movie TV show host, he certainly still provides the comic relief with a degree of heart and soul.

Though the script has its fair share of plot-holes and narrative leaps, it mostly works and feels surprisingly fresh despite its cultural baggage. It manages to surprise and subvert more than could be realistically expected, and the relationships between the main characters are well-drawn.

In the grand vampire horror film tradition, Fright Night is ultimately a footnote of a footnote, adding very little to what’s come before. But that doesn’t stop it from being an entertaining romp despite its flaws – just avoid the 3D version.

7/10

FILM REVIEW: Who Can Kill a Child?

Variously titled (as 70’s European horror movies tend to be) Island of the Damned, Trapped! and Death Is Child’s Play, Who Can Kill A Child? (¿Quién Puede Matar a un Niño?) is a somewhat forgotten entry in the grand tradition of paedophobic horror. A hodgepodge of Village of the Damned, Night of the Living Dead and The Birds, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s 1976 film is nonetheless a tight and interesting work which retains the power to shock, though not necessarily always in a justifiable context.

Tom and Evelyn (Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome), a British couple on holiday, travel to the island of Almanzora off the coast of Spain, a chance to get away from the busy beaches and streets packed with crowds for the local festival. However, upon arriving, the place appears practically deserted – all the grown-ups have vanished, leaving only a smattering of children. As they explore the town in search of adult life, they discover the town has not been abandoned – the children have risen against their parents and will now stop at nothing to make sure Tom and Evelyn never leave the island alive.

What sets the evil children in Who Can Kill A Child? apart from the evil children in most other similarly-themed films is that they are not creepy moptop orphans adopted by trusting parents, or possessed with supernatural powers, or expressionless brainwashed minions. The niños here all look normal, and giggle and frolic and play, except to them it just so happens that killing has become a game. And their power is not just in their numbers, but by simply being kids, parental instinct not to harm them wins out.

Another key point is how no direct explanation is given to how and why the children of Almanzora suddenly turn. We see children ‘enlisting’ others to their cause, we learn about the moment they began their murderous activities, but there is no virus, alien incursion or diabolical force here. Rather Serrador implies that this is a metaphorical rebellion of sorts. With dead bodies turning up on the beach and wars raging in other countries and Evelyn pregnant, questions are raised whether the world is too dangerous in which to bring up children. Who can kill a child? Well, the film argues adults are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of them every day anyway.

Unfortunately, while the film proper is wise enough to keep these hints simply that, Serrador adopts a far more heavy-handed approach in the film’s opening credits – a lengthy montage of conflicts, famine and the Holocaust, complete with casualty statistics. It’s largely the same archival footage we’ve seen before, but it’s still incredibly upsetting, and attaching it to a hokey psychological thriller is emotionally manipulative, exhibiting an Uwe Boll degree of poor taste. Serrador has since suggested he wished he had included this sequence at the end of the film, but really it would have been better left removed all together (as it was on its original US release). It’s cheap, exploitative, and undermines rather than enhances what elsewhere is a strong and effective film.

A key part of its success is its setting. Horror usually resides in the shadows and darkness, so to set one largely under the oppressive Spanish sun amid bright whitewash buildings is certainly different, yet the blazing heat can be just as atmospheric as a spooky mist or fog. The location filming in and around Toledo, Menorca and Sitges (itself home to one of the world’s premier fantasy and horror film festivals) really pays off.

As for our two leads, Ransome is a likeable presence, with a grace and dignity which transcends the film’s cornier elements. And although the director originally wanted Anthony Hopkins for the role, Fiander does a good job in portraying Tom as not always the most sympathetic of characters. This may be as a result of my Anglo-centric viewpoint, or perhaps it’s actually a European comment on British tourists, but Tom is a quintessential Englishman abroad. He’s been to Almanzora before, he knows his way around, he speaks a bit of Spanish, and generally acts a little superior – in contrast to Evelyn, who’s only concerned with enjoying herself and is happy to go with the flow. So when the situation turns ugly, he takes it with a mix of stiff upper lippedness and cold rationality in an attempt to keep his own panic under wraps. His reactions and actions are not based on typical Hollywood heroics, but not having a goody-two-shoes swooping in to save the day is both unconventional and reinforces the ‘war with adults’ motif.

35 years on, Who Can Kill a Child?’ still remains a highly evocative film, owing to its simple chilling premise, undercurrent of dread, and short sharp stabs of blunt brutality. Its overwhelming and underhanded opening is frankly unforgivable and threatens to kill the film stone dead. But once you skip past that, Who Can Kill a Child? is worthy of your attention.

7/10