Mild Spoilers ...

10. May, 2015

Le Masque de la Meduse (2009)

French director Jean Rollin’s final film, and one that was not released theatrically. It is very difficult to track down. Whereas it seems his previous ‘La Nuit des Horloges’ was intended to be his final picture – indeed, it survives as a fine retrospective to his years in cinema - Meduse tries something new, not entirely successfully. As ever, though, that depends entirely on what one’s views of success actually are.

The legend of the modern day Gorgon is covered here, starring the director’s wife Simone. Featured in many deeply unflattering close-ups, she provides a typically enigmatic and frightening figure, even walking the sunny Père Lachaise Cemetery, where the very limited amount of location filming was recorded.

Possibly as a cost-cutting exercise, most of Meduse seems to be shot at the Theatre du Grande Guignol. This sadly limits the usually rich visual elements of a Jean Rollin film, and yet his two main actresses go some way to make up for that: Marlène Delcambre (Stheno) and Delphine Montoban (Cornelius). Although Montoban doesn’t appear until the second ‘act’, she and Delcambre present the most memorable ‘twins’ since Marie Pierre and Catherine Castel some thirty-five years earlier. Stheno is an apple-faced, feral creature, while Cornelius is more assured and worldly-wise in her demeanour. Together, they create something that lifts the often slow pace of the story, and – it goes without saying – it is a great shame they weren’t able to feature further in Rollin’s filmic vision.

Rollin appears briefly in this, to bury the head of the gorgon. He appears very frail, and died shortly after this was premiered at the Extreme Cinema Film Festival.

9. May, 2015

La Morte Vivante/The Living Dead Girl (1982)

Possibly buoyed by the success of his grisly ‘Grapes of Death’ feature four years earlier, French director Jean Rollin eschews his dislike of gore to produce a film that, within the first few minutes, features a face being burnt off by radioactive acid, and two eyes being clawed out.

Whilst not quite as graphic as his earlier film, ‘The Living Dead Girl’ nevertheless piles on the blood effects – somewhat at the expense of Rollin’s usual poetic atmosphere, which proves slightly detrimental to the end result. Ever the experimentalist, it is nevertheless good to see Rollin approach his horrors with a variant in emphasis, and there are certainly a couple of scenes that blur the line between real and dreamlike.

This will be remembered (by me at least) as the Rollin film with the most enthusiastic deaths. From the wonderful demise of the rascals who bring about the resurrection of the titular female to the final inevitable death of the far more evil Helene, it seems that the actors have been directed to give it their all when it comes to expiring.

I enjoyed this, as I enjoy the vast majority of the Rollin films I have seen. The idea of a beautiful blond girl despising her need for blood and longing for death makes me wonder if this was inspirational to Chris Alexander’s wonderful ‘Blood for Irina (2012)’, which can be seen as a successful modern take on the theme.

7. May, 2015

Les Raisins de la Mort/The Grapes of Death (1978)

When settling down to watch a Jean Rollin film, the viewer is fairly sure it will contain either nude/semi-nude vampires, a beach scene, two young girls as main characters and/or much surrealist atmosphere. Such things are the staple of the prolific French director.

It’s something of a surprise then, to find none of these elements here. At first, two girls appear to be the film’s main double act, but one of them is killed a couple of scenes later in one of many shock twists this tale has to offer.
This is Rollin’s most straightforward horror film. And it is truly frightening. Of course, there are scenes that border on the dreamlike, such as a blind girl dressed in white tiptoeing unknowingly into the path of many zombie-like creatures that literally stumble out of the shadows.

There also appears to be a decent budget here, one that provides a realistic beheading (another unexpected moment), many explosive effects and some truly repellent make-up for the many characters infected by the ‘grapes of death’. The scenery is breath-taking and beautifully shot – often in conditions so cold, that apparently the putrefaction make-up would freeze to the actors’ faces.
Through it all, seemingly immune to the virus, is Elisabeth (Marie George Pascal) – well, until the final scene; the film is open-ended, open to interpretation. I would recommend this to anyone new to Rollin’s work.

My favourite scene involves a decaying man who chases Elisabeth back into her parked car, which naturally fails to start. As she locks the doors, he head-butts the glass to the front door, leaving much of his dissolving forehead on the glass as he recoils to butt it again. Truly stomach churning.

4. May, 2015

Yeux Sans Visage/Eyes Without a Face (1960)

What an incredible experience this is. A story that deals with such revulsion and bleak desperation emerges as a haunting thing of beauty. This is largely due to the performance of Edith Scob as the gracefully tragic Christiane, whose face is destroyed in a car crash caused by her father. She is condemned to flit through the prison her family home has become, equally imprisoned by the mask she wears to hide her ravaged features. The mask itself is simplicity itself, yet almost appears to emote at times – it is quite incredible how lifelike it can be in some scenes, and coldly sinister in others.

The music is a major factor in this film’s feelings of unease. Some scenes – such as Christiane visiting the latest ‘victim’ strapped down in her father’s surgery – are accompanied by nothing except the howls of the many guard-dogs caged outside. Other scenes, including the story’s opening, are scored with a deceptively jolly carnival suite. This deeply inappropriate music could rob the film of any horror atmospherics, instead it enhances the feeling of perverse unease.

Filmed with slow deliberation, fitting for a story involving the intricacies of surgery, the style is reminiscent of other films of the time, notably Hitchcock’s Psycho (another major horror contribution from 1960). It also brings to mind the more recent horror shocker The Human Centipede, which caused a similar reaction in cinemas in 2009.

Two scenes stand out as being remarkably, repulsively powerful. One is the unflinching sequence involving the removal of a human face, and other is the gruesome attack on Christiane’s father, Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), by the dogs – ironically rendering his face to pulp too.

As for Christiance’s fate – who knows? She frees the dogs, and drifts off into the night like a ghostly apparition, framed by the flitting of the pet doves she has also freed. We can only imagine what becomes of her – throughout, she has longed for death, sickened by her father’s attempts to save her face, so her future is bleak. We will have to make up our minds.

1. May, 2015

The Last House on Cemetery Lane (2015)

It is doubtful that the similarities between the title of this film and House by the Cemetery and Last House on the Left are coincidental. After all, any way to attract attention makes good business sense. Yet, fans of those more visceral tales would probably be disappointed by the tameness of the horror on display here, which may explain why this release has attracted little attention.

John Davies (Lee Bane) is a somewhat reclusive writer who rents a large country house, whereby he meets the charmingly old-fashioned Cassie Konrad (Georgina Blackledge) and also discovers he is sharing the house with an even more reclusive old blind woman (Vivian Bridson).

This is a beautifully shot, low-budget, ‘gentle’ horror (if there is such a thing). It is slow moving, but never ponderous due to the appeal of the very small cast. The relationship which develops between Davies and Conrad is delightful – two isolated people who simply enjoy each other’s company – and it is that which provides the backbone of the unveiling mystery. There is very little gore or effects, but such things aren’t necessary in what is essentially a human take on a familiar haunting theme. This isn’t Evil Dead or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but doesn’t ever try to be.

26. Apr, 2015

Salem Witch Hunters (2013)

A film with a twist at the end is often judged on that twist. Reading a number of online reviews of Salem Witch Hunters (or The Secret Village, as it has been known), it was predictable. I am happy to say I didn’t find it so. I felt the audience was successfully lead to believe a couple of red herrings before the truth was finally revealed. That’s not to say I found Salem Witch entirely satisfactory.

As a horror, it was lacking any real chills. Instead, we get a thunderously urgent musical soundtrack accompanying tension-lite scenes, furiously trying to convince us that very solid, tangible, cowled figures walking around in broad daylight is endlessly terrifying. Equally, the two heavies in constant pursuit of heroine Rachel (Ali Faulkner) bungle her capture every time, meaning that the next time they show up, the viewer is hardly given cause to be overly concerned.

Ponderous though some of the scenes may be, all performances are fine. Faulkner excels, as does Jonathan Bennett as Greg – truly we don’t know where his allegiances lie, and this is communicated very well.

Yet the revelation at the end which really sells this. The viewer is left to trace the various clues throughout the film. Hardly incongruous at the time, they are given new meaning in retrospect.

25. Apr, 2015

If a Tree Falls (2010)

Not to be confused with the 2011 Earth Liberation Front documentary of the same name, this very low budget horror treads the kind of woodland ground previously visited by the Wrong Turn films, and similar. As far as I can tell, there is no direct reference to any timeline, but the appealingly grainy imagery and hallucinogenic interruptions of colour suggest either a ‘found footage’ approach (a genre which this film doesn’t exploit) or a story set in the 60s/70s (modern day trappings would indicate this isn’t the case either). So, the scratchy, stuttering film-work is an artistic decision, it seems. I think it works very well on two levels. Firstly, the approach deliberately obfuscates some of the more graphic moments so you can’t quite see what manner of violence is being inflicted on the four hapless travellers, and secondly, it makes things more visually interesting than they might otherwise have been.

Such a style of suggestion also helps mask the lack of budget. The six assailants that terrorise the travellers on their road-trip, all wear stocking masks. The rips in the masks suggest some deformity beneath, leading to speculation they are inbred outcasts, or the result of some failed genetic experiment. This is not elaborated on. Still, the effect is successful.

The travellers – Brad, Lisa, Will and Vanessa – are hardly flawless, and have their own secrets to tell, but are fairly likeable, and certainly don’t deserve the bizarre treatment they are subjected to. Describing themselves as ‘the ones who can’t be found’, the attackers treat their victims with a sick mockery of fascination and torture – followed, without warning, by death (at least for most). Whether these outsiders are looking to increase their army by torturing ‘normal’ people into joining them isn’t made clear, but feint rumours of a sequel promise to expand on this. The story may not be hugely original, but the execution of it certainly is, and I would welcome a revisit.

14. Apr, 2015

Les Deux Orphelines Vampires/Two Orphan Vampires (1997)

French director Jean Rollin worked on the storyline to for this film whilst undergoing lengthy dialysis treatment. The extra time enforced on the project results in one of his most polished work, in my view. We have Louise and Henriette (Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Taboul), two girls (sisters possibly) who are blind by day and fully sighted vampires by night. The reason seems to be that they are Aztec Gods, or descendants thereof, and as such, can never really die.

Much is made of their night-time activities. Their blue-tinged journeys are either seen as sinister hunts or the mischievous naughtiness of two young scamps. This balance between schoolgirl killer and playful sinner is achieved very well. The actresses exude an other-wordly charm that makes them strangely appealing, despite their misdeeds.

Of course, there is the opportunity to pick out plot holes - why did the girls kill the good Dr Dennery after he provided them with a home, and whom they had just convinced of their good intentions? And why did the passer-by in the cemetery, after noticing they were not really blind, assume them to be demons from hell and threaten to beat them with a stick? – but why bother? It would, as always, be like trying to dissect a dream, a place where the usual rules either don’t exist, or simply don’t matter.

14. Apr, 2015

The Babadook (2014)

This Australian film tells the story of a single mother (Essie Davis) and her ‘troubled’ young son Robbie (Daniel Henshell). Since the death of her husband, Amelia finds it increasingly difficult to justify Robbie’s misbehaviour – and it is easy to sympathise with her, so powerful is Davis’ acting. So too is Henshell’s performance. In fact he is almost too good. Even when it is revealed the fabled ‘Babadook’ is responsible for the crimes the child is blamed (not punished) for, he is so precocious and uncontrollable, he gives us no reason to be sympathetic.

The Babadook isn’t encountered until Robbie has caused most of his mother’s friends to distance themselves from her due to her son, and it comes into being through various rhymes and images present in his story-book, a book that refuses to be destroyed. It also announces, through these rhymes, that it is indestructible. In a strange and not very satisfying conclusion, the ethereal creature is kept prisoner/pet by a mother and son now reconciled to each other’s miseries. Some viewers like this open-ended non-closure, feeling gives the story an on-going sense of bleakness. Whilst I can appreciate that, I nonetheless find this last development simply bizarre.

‘Mr’ Babadook is superbly brought to life, and sparingly too, which makes his appearances more effective (although it is the character of Robbie who emerges as the most horrifying of all). It manages to balance wonderfully a child’s nightmare and a palpable threat. The creature is not given any real kind of backstory other than the scant details it reveals about itself and again, this helps with the kind of enigmatic creature it is. Possibly its existence is brought about by the coincidence of Amelia’s husband dying as he drives her to the hospital to give birth (the end of an existing life/the beginning of a new one) to Robbie, but this is left purely for the audience to ponder.

6. Apr, 2015

La Nuit des Horloges (2007)

As films go, the work of French director Jean Rollin is hard to categorise. As films by Jean Rollin go, La Nuit des Horloges is hard to categorise.

Financed by Rollin himself, this was filmed over a long period of time. Leading lady Ovidie became thinner throughout, having recently had a child at the start of recording, and dyed her hair blonde from black (the resultant wig looks less convincing as the film goes on). The elongated breaks between recording the various segments came about while Rollin found ways of raising more money – much the way his first major film (Rape of the Vampire) came about. That’s one reason why, even though Rollin made one more film after this (Le Masque de la Meduse), I think of this as his final work (a 'kind of will', as he describes it). He wasn’t even sure he would finish it. It is a retrospective, and very self indulgent – something the director is more than justified in creating.

It is fairly ponderous at times, possibly as a result of its fractured creation. Also, it is not recommended for any who are not familiar with his various works, because interspersed with Isabelle's (Ovidie’s) travellings and experiences (discovering various artifacts from times gone by – the Iron Rose, for example), various clips from early films are inserted as she wanders around the estate left by her late Uncle, film-maker Jean Michel. Sometimes the grainy imagery gives their age away, and sometimes the flashbacks dovetail seamlessly with the modern day action. This, as ever, permeates a surreal, confusing imagery.

Also, there are lengthy cameos from original actors from his earlier stories. Watching these actors alongside their younger selves in the clips is somehow life-affirming; a celebration that we/they are still here, that there is hope after all, even for vampires. My only disappointment is that clips of either or both of the Castel twins, who featured in many Rollin films, are not accompanied by their modern-day selves. They were two of the more haunting of the director’s repertoire and it would have been nice to see one or both of them one final time.

Ovidie is a notable real-life pornographic celebrationist and writer/director/producer. The final chapter of the film has her exploring the anatomical wax museum La Specola in Florence, a grand backdrop dripping with gothic morbidity. It is also a fitting final setting for Rollin, as it presents macabre subject matter and makes it compelling, beautiful even.

Rollin’s films may be criticised for stilted acting, incomprehensible plots and no budget, but each and every one creates for its duration, a world entirely removed from reality, yet in familiar – and spacious – surroundings. Remembering each film is like recalling a dream, one in which there are no rules for storytelling, or how various characters should act or react. So any criticism is invalid – in dreams, surrealism seems entirely reasonable and often intertwines with reality. The same can be said for the films of Jean Rollin.

3. Apr, 2015

La Rose de Fer/The Iron Rose (1973)

After the success of 'Requiem for the Vampire', this is Jean Rollin’s fifth directed film. Instead of ending on a freezing, deserted beach as usual, the location actually features in one of the first scenes in this, before the two main characters (who aren’t given names as far as I can tell) arrive in the lush, autumnal cemetery which is where the remainder of the film is set.

Even by Rollin’s standards, little actually happens here. They find themselves hopelessly lost, a predicament that seems to drive the girl mad. Her madness maybe brought on in part by the aggressive and unsympathetic behaviour of her boyfriend. It is his idea to visit the cemetery, his idea to explore and remain there, and when they get lost and she becomes frightened, his behaviour is such that I wonder if he is deliberately driving her to despair. As ever, this isn’t made clear.
What the film has though, is the usual beautifully shot location work, lending the sinister, dark-magical events a feeling of existing in a kind of dreamlike half-reality where little needs to make sense.

The Iron Rose was not successful. The male lead (Hugues Quester) had his name changed to Pierre Dupont following the release, he was so embarrassed to be part of it, while Françoise Pascal, his co-star, went on to have a successful acting career in a number of UK comedy and variety shows in the 70s and early 80s before taking a lengthy break from acting (rejoining the profession in 2011). Mireille Dargent returns from Requiem for the Vampire for what is little more than a cameo as a clown, another Rollin staple.

I like the mixture of revulsion/comfort the cemetery represents against the occasionally glimpsed ‘outside world’, and the fact that the girl appears to succumb completely to it. Although this is not my favourite film by the director, it’s still hugely powerful mainly due to the location work.

28. Mar, 2015

The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

The highly successful run of Universal horror films was coming to an end by this time, before it finally spluttered out in the mid-1940s. It had made household names of Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy. First played in 1932 by Boris Karloff, the titular character – or Kharis, as he had become known, had been portrayed in the last three films by Lon Chaney Jr, who reportedly hated the part.
It’s not difficult to see why. Unrecognisable to the degree that fans now sometimes doubt whether Chaney actually played the role, or whether a stuntman bore the brunt of the punishing schedule. These films were recorded in the height of summer and the Mummy, by its very nature, required an intense and lengthy make-up, although by this time, a mask had been created to lessen the burden.

Whereas his horror stable-mates were starring in monster get-togethers like House of Frankenstein, the Mummy was never invited to the party, but at least he was the solo star of each of his outings. Having said that, emerging from the swamp-soil in Louisiana (a location far removed from the finale at the preceding film) is Princess Ananka, who is also mummified. Played by Virginia Christine, the emergent Princess is incredibly effective as she struggles to stand, her blind eyes searching for sustenance from the sun, her dried limbs reaching out to the warmth. This scene is one of the most effective in any Mummy film, before and after. After wading through a nearby pond, she emerges attractive and fully made up!

Despite a few continuity issues (we notice these things because of instant access to these films that wasn’t available when they were made) it is business as usual: Kharis is after the girl. And he’s great. A painfully shambling, limping monstrosity that nevertheless gets to brutally murder a number of people before being seemingly destroyed in an effective finale. His demise seems to be permanent this time, because this is the last serious entry in the series.
The supporting cast comprises of a very appealing selection of Cajun characters, Kharis’ two interesting disciples and in Dennis Moore, a leading man more lifeless than Kharis has ever been.

25. Mar, 2015

Not Like Others/Vampyrer (2008)

I love the classic idea of vampires, the grand, cape-swirling children of the night. But I also really enjoy films that suggest that vampires are perfectly ordinary people you would pass in the street.

This Swedish vampire story deals with two sisters who make the mistake of killing and draining a key member of a biker gang (which could easily be seen as self defence as he was trying to rape one of them at the time). Suddenly our sympathies are with Vanja and Vera and the remaining bikers – the ordinary people – are very much the aggressors as they follow them relentlessly through streets and town centres.

This isn’t an eventful film, but I get the impression it is deliberately low-key. It’s just one event in the day-to-day (or night-to-night) existence of two vampires in the modern world, and as such it it worth watching – not least for the performances, which are excellent, and the night-time filming, which really puts over the loneliness and desolation the two sisters have to deal with.

25. Mar, 2015

Dracula/Horror of Dracula (1958)

Having grown up watching the old black and white Universal (and related) horror films, I was very used to Count Dracula being portrayed as a weird alien bloodsucker who lived in a vast, decaying castle in the heart of Transylvania.
Hammer films, by comparison, were often seen as the young pretenders; garish gore fanatics who placed shocks above character development.

So in this first film, when Dracula first emerges in front of a very staid Jonathan Harker and canters down a light of stairs, his initial appearance – that of a clipped-spoken, elegant nobleman who greets his guest with a welcoming half smile and lashings of courtesy, I have to admit to a little disappointment. And yet such a demure entrance is necessary, ensuring that the next time we see him – bloody fanged, animalistic, with furious red eyes – the shock is palpable.

Apart from the bright red blood, of which there is plenty, Dracula is really quite a mannered film. Directed methodically by Terence Fisher, it nevertheless builds up a macabre tension. Lucy falling under Dracula’s spell, for example, and her transition from innocent to seductress moments before his night-time visits, silhouetted against the moonlight, autumn leaves falling around him, is highly charged.

The performances are tremendous. Admittedly, Michael Gough (who wasn’t hugely galvanized by the recordings) is very theatrical (even hammy at times) as Arthur Holmwood, and John Van Eyssen is a little melodramatic as Harker. But Lee’s Dracula is terrific, and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing provides his perfect rival – no-one else has ever come close.
A word too for Melissa Stribling, who provides the character of Mina with a rich sexuality once she has come under Dracula’s spell. This performance is a far cry from her subdued nature beforehand – hardly surprising, really, being married to wooden Holmwood!

25. Mar, 2015

Les Démoniaques/Demoniacs (1974)

I would usually describe the Jean Rollin films I have seen as ‘delightfully strange’. Despite the nudity and seductive nature of evil on display, they also have a kind of perverse innocence to them. No quite so much with Demoniacs.

Introducing the main characters in the opening credits, we get to know The Captain, Le Bosco and Paul are wreckers, Godless men who lure ships to the rocks and then plunder the wreckages. And there is also the voluptuous Tina, who enjoys great amusement at the deadly antics of her three friends/lovers.
[Plot spoilers]Two young blond women who survive the latest crash stagger, bedraggled onto the beach where the wreckers are up to no good. They ask for help but are instead repeatedly beaten and raped. After this, they escape the wreckers and enter into a kind of relationship with a human demon trapped in the picturesque ruins of a hidden city. The power they are given as a result of this allows them to appear to haunt the wreckers and taunt them before they are again captured and beaten (the Captain is now quite mad) and they all drown.

I point out these plot elements because I was left feeling unhappy about this film. The many beautifully shot, moody locations and occasional bouts of surreality (the inclusion of a clown as the demon’s ‘keeper’, for example) don’t detract from what is a pretty distasteful story that leaves a rather nasty taste in the mouth.

25. Mar, 2015

Raised by Wolves (2014)

Teen slasher films are often tainted for me by portraying the teens as unlikable arrogant loudmouths. The perversion is that when they die in a variety of brutal, graphic ways, I am quite pleased to see them go, but saddened that the film didn’t make them more sympathetic – that way, there would be some emotional investment in them and their deaths would be far more tragic and effective.

Raised by Wolves doesn’t feature any wolves. And yet it does relate to the above by making the teens represented deliberately abhorrent. There is not one decent soul amongst them. These are the ‘young people’ who terrorise neighbourhoods and cause all manner of distress and then justify it by claiming to be ‘bored’.

Raised by Wolves also boasts the inclusion, at the head of the cast list, of pornographic star Jenna Haze, who in reality, features in little more than a cameo at the beginning.

The action takes place amid the blazing sunlight of an abandoned plantation in a remote desert, where many years earlier a cult of similarly disaffected youths went on a violent killing spree. Of course, their ‘spirit’ still remains. What we get, therefore, is more of the same.
The results are occasionally spooky and highly enjoyable. As viewers, we are free from being annoyed by these brats simply because they are deliberately played AS brats. That way, when horrible things happen to them – and they do – we don’t feel uneasy about enjoying it. Great fun.

25. Mar, 2015

The Casebook of Eddie Brewer (2012)

There are many possession-style stories out there, where the spirit of previous residents of a house hang around long enough to curse successive inhabitants. There are masses of low-budget horrors which attempt to mask their lack of finances by concentrating on slamming doors, shadows and figures appearing in the corner of the viewers' perception to create an unnerving effect.

'The Casebook of Eddie Brewer' has a sprinkling of the above, but it tells a story that doesn't need to resort to using such well-worn themes. Although the idea of a socially misunderstood 'ghost hunter type' has been done before, such personalities are usually peripheral. As the title suggests, Eddie Brewer (Ian Brooker) is the main character here, and it is his determination and quiet strength that provides the lifeblood of the story. He is immediately easy to like, especially when his gentle manners are ridiculed by those he meets. It's impossible not to sympathise when callers to the radio show on which he regularly guests call on his paranormal skills to answer questions of mind-numbing mediocrity.

Fans of (UK television shows) 'Most Haunted' and the BBC's ground-breaking 'Ghostwatch' will be intrigued and thrilled with this story, which uses familiar-looking workplaces and homes as possible targets for spirits (Eddie's inadvertant meeting with one in a cellar is really quite unnerving).

Eddie is ably supported by a variety of well-rounded characters, played by actors who's faces that are well-known on British television. Free from spectacle and any CGI intrusion, this is a very enjoyable, eerie slow-burner.

25. Mar, 2015

The Legend of Harrow Woods (2008)

Here’s fun: a horror film starring Rik Mayall, Robin Askwith, Christopher Walken, Norman Wisdom and Jason Donovan. It appears to have three titles. Apart from the above, this has also been known as Evil Calls and Alone in the Dark (not least on the DVD extras). Investigating this online, the film seems to have a real-life history just as bizarre as anything contained in the fiction.

My guess is that Harrow Woods is actually two films spliced together to create a rather delirious whole. The bulk of it is set in Harrow Woods, New England (inexplicably meaning that the predominantly British cast – as well as Donovan – have to struggle with wavering American accents), while there are the scenes set mainly in a hotel washroom that feature Mayall, Askwith, Wisdom and Richard Driscoll. Driscoll wrote, directed and produced this, as well as starred in it, just as he did in his other two released films.

With a few more plot explanations, this would have been a much more enjoyable exercise. However, it seems Driscoll isn’t overly concerned with clarifying every single plot point – something I have no problem with usually. But there is too much left unsaid. Walken’s contribution is a narrated reading of Poe’s The Raven over many early scenes – but (apart from brief flashes of raven eyes in segue-ways between various scenes) there seems to be no relevance between this and anything we actually see.
Mayall and Wisdom appear to be playing versions of the same character; they have identical dialogue which they share with Driscoll’s character, George Carney. And it is the disappearance of Carney that propels the story. He appears to have stayed in a hotel that was built on a site of land where a witch was burned to death many years ago, and her ‘spell’ fuels his paranoia (that leads to a Jack Torrance-like madness) that his wife is having an affair with the character played by Robin Askwith. This is not plainly detailed, we have to work to come to this conclusion, amidst impressive scenes of sepia-toned parties, gallons of blood, a demon baby and plenty of topless women. Oh, and some old feller watching events on a computer screen who doesn’t have anything to do with anything. And this is the problem – there’s too much going on here, as if there were too many ideas being injected into the production. If some of these ideas had been left for another film, and more time allowed to clarify what is actually going on here, then this would have been compelling. Some skilful production values are on show here, it’s a shame they couldn’t have been streamlined to create a more coherent whole. And not insisting on American accents that drag down many of the cast’s performances would help too.

The Legend of Harrow Woods took a long time to complete. Almost ten years in fact. And clearly it has been a labour of love for Driscoll, who returned to the project regularly when finances allowed, to insert extra footage and moments that both clarify and further obfuscate the narrative. The ending suggests that none of the events in the film have actually happened yet, which doesn’t help make sense of anything.

27. Mar, 2015

Requiem pour un Vampire/Requiem for a Vampire (1971)

French director Jean Rollin continues to indulge his fascination with the undead with his fourth film. Whilst not quite as rampantly weird as his previous Shiver of the Vampire, this nevertheless provides a very nice contrast between events in the ‘normal’ world as they drift into those of a hidden ‘other’ world.

In his career, he has demonstrated a liking for young female double-acts, and for clowns. Unsurprising then, that this opens with two young girls – apparently lovers – dressed as clowns, hopelessly on the run. Much time is spent with them as they survive various mishaps before stumbling on the biggest of all – a deserted chateau housing 'the last vampire' and his clan. Much chasing and recapturing happens next before the ending reveals the vampire to be surprisingly honorable and the alleged leading man, Frederic, something of a coward.

The nudity is more prevalent here than in earlier Rollin films, and a scene involving Marie being whipped by Michelle pushes boundaries further yet (apparently two versions of various scenes were shot - one clothed and one not - for foreign audiences who maybe shocked by the human form, uncluding the UK). As Maria, Rollin regular Marie-Pierre Castel gains a rare starring role – apparently her sister Cathy was originally cast, but proved unavailable. Her partner is played by Mireille Dargent, who also dressed up as a clown for Jean Rollin's Les Démoniaques/The Demoniacs.

27. Mar, 2015

Willow Creek (2013)

A lost-footage film written and directed by an American comedian is bound to have comedic elements within, but happily, Bobcat Goldthwait’s Bigfoot story also contains many moments that work very well as a horror film.

Some people feel that the use of shaking webcams and documentary-style narration has been overused in the last 15 years. To me, however, it is just as valid a way of telling a story as any other, providing the story is good and the characters are interesting.

Willow Creek begins in fairly jovial fashion with Jim trying to convince his girlfriend Kelly of the validity of his mission to track down the legendary Bigfoot. The only problem in their otherwise appealing relationship is her reticence to enter into this whole-heartedly although she clearly enjoys how the fabled monster has lead to various tacky tourist attractions as they near the woodland locations.

The transition from this into horror territory is a double-edged sword. We like Jim and Kelly, and so we worry for them when things turn nasty. However, the similarities between what happens and various elements of The Blair Witch Project are undeniable.
There is a scene, however, which is quite spellbinding. As night once again arrives, strange noises – and the seeming approach of a large, ferocious animal – mean that the couple are trapped in the tent, reacting to every sound they fear. It dawns on the viewer that this scene is a long one, and the tension has been growing throughout. The scene is shot in one long take and is communicates the fear really well. Of course it could be worse. Imagine if there was more than one creature out there … ?

[Plot spoiler] The ending has lead to some confusion. It appears that, from a brief glimpse, there was a woman – or women – that tends to the Bigfoot creatures and leads them to their victims. They would appear to be former missing children now grown, feral and either under some kind of spell or unable to escape their captors. This isn’t made hugely clear, but certainly provides an effective shock as events draw to their grim conclusion.