Spoilers follow ...

10. Nov, 2016

The Stranger (2014)

Despite a fairly unimaginative title and promotion, this is a gem of a film. In fact, its unassuming marketing suits the small-town mystery of its story. It concerns the plight of drifter Martin (Cristobal Tapia Montt) who, having finally found that his missing wife is dead, also seems resigned to die at the hands of three local roughnecks who accost him. If only things were that simple.

Co-produced by Eli Roth, this is a bleak affair, but one that moves at such a pace there is no real time to become really mournful. Every rapidly moving occurrence is explained fully and there are no gaping plot-holes. The local Lieutenant De Luca (Luis Gnecco) is probably the least easy to believe in – which is saying something, considering the breed of characters he shares the stage with – because he is so blatantly evil. With his bravado brutality (a trait he seems to have passed onto his son, Ariel Levy’s vile Caleb), you would have thought his actions would have been discovered and he would have been drummed out of the force a long time ago.

Due to his nature, Martin is equally brutal in his determination not to let his ‘infection’ spread, and yet he emerges as a true hero, alongside the faithful young Peter (Nicolás Durán) with whom an unsaid degree of trust has been formed. I am carefully trying to avoid spoilers with this, because there are so many twists and revelations that to reveal any one of them would undermine the experience of watching this hugely enjoyable, rather overlooked film.

9. Nov, 2016

Nightcrawler (2014)

The most horrific aspect of this film – and it is terrifying – is the fact that the main thrust of the storyline is not too far from the truth. The media, its lack of morals and sympathy for victims of crime, is attacked on no uncertain terms through the career trajectory of Louis Bloom, a small time criminal who has aspirations of success. Also included within the story’s framework is how the career options of someone from ‘the wrong side of town’ are only pursued with the aid of superhuman cruelty and lack of regard for others.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Bloom brilliantly, with piercingly wide-eyed intensity and a staccato delivery of lines of dialogue restricted to only the bare bones of the subject in hand, his intent and the likely outcome of his endeavours. Every conversation is presented as a last-minute business deal, like that of an eternal car salesman unable to switch off, but on a grand scale. Every intricately constructed audacity is accompanied by a wide smile, either of arrogance or warmth – either way, it is hugely disarming. Writer and Director Dan Gilroy has said that Lou exhibits all the traits of a sociopath, and is on the autism and Asperger’s spectrum, although nothing is ever addressed or specified. Instead, it is deliberately left to the audience to work out reasons for his manic social behaviour.

Employing the homeless Rick (Riz Ahmed), he hacks into police radio messages to gain access to crimes the moment they have happened – the bloodier the better – and films the results. Then he presents his footage to hard-nosed mogul, Nina, with whom he very logically points out he would like to have a relationship. She finds Lou’s complete lack of humanity appealing, and the footage he provides ensures they both appear to have a successful partnership, career-wise – but utilising methods so heartless, even seen-it-all-before Detective Frontieri (Michael Hyatt) is appalled. But Lou’s methods are so blatant and meticulous, she cannot do anything about him – he and his activities are, as it were, hiding in plain sight.

When Nina eventually gives into Lou’s ‘charms’, she accepts his employment opportunity and promotion almost as a sexual, spiritual thing, cementing not only his illustrious future, but hers as well, personally and (most importantly) as a business proposition. That the film ends with Lou and Nine thriving in their appalling way of providing news stories at the expense of anything approaching empathy, is telling indeed, and markedly close to the truth of such things.

8. Nov, 2016

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is often thought of as the last Universal classic monster. As far as this, the final of three films to star the titular ‘gill man’ is concerned, the difference from the Lugosi/Karloff/Chaney monster mashes is marked. No familiar orchestral soundtracks cribbed from earlier horrors; a sun-kissed Honolulu main road (which opens this) is a million miles away from the faux ‘European’ locations on Universal’s backlot that provided a staple part of earlier monster movies. Of course, in the late 1950’s, times and styles had changed. Sleek haired, square jawed wholesome heroes are a kind of progression from familiar quick-talking reporters or clipped police officers. And what a dull bunch they initially appear to be. An early conversation where they speculate about man exploring outer space is an ideal time to go and put the kettle on. One cries out for a Lionel Atwill, or even a Skelton Knaggs to breathe some life into the proceedings.

Typical audacity is displayed by the humans, who not only capture the creature from its natural habitat, but then subject it to an operation to give it a more human aspect. Perhaps it could become a jealous neurotic like Jeff Morrow (Dr William Barton), or his wife Leigh Snowden (Marcia Barton) who is trapped in an unhappy marriage? It is an interesting conundrum for the audience. These respectable progressive heroes are noticeably flawed for a change.

The creature is used to excellent effect here. A Frankenstein-like pathos accompanies its attempts to come to terms with its enforced condition. The make-up, by Bud Westmore (who appears to be the only link between this and Universal’s ‘classic monster series), is also very impressive, ridding the creature of the wide-eyed cuteness he previously possessed, instead imbuing him with a naturalism that belies the man-in-costume realisation. It is played by a (bizarrely) uncredited Don Megowan, who – amongst many other things – went on to play Frankenstein’s Monster in an abortive pilot for Hammer’s TV show ‘Tales of Frankenstein’ two years later.

6. Nov, 2016

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Centuries old vampires exist in the modern world. And that’s it, that’s the plot. The fascinating Tilda Swinton (Eve) looks exotic in a number of baroque outfits, Tim Hiddleston (Adam) plays a typically soft spoken goth, and John Hurt is the supplier who brings them superior blood – ‘the good stuff’ – for a special treat. The acting is terrific and very natural, convincingly portraying what life would be like if they really did live forever.

The look of the film is rich and lavish. Writer and director Jim Jarmusch is clearly in love with the concept. Very much like the earlier, rather more succint, ‘Kiss of the Damned (2013)’, the sedate pacing and uneventful lifestyle is interrupted by the arrival of the heroine’s unruly and precocious younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

After watching Adam and Eve doing things really slowly, it is to be hoped that Ava’s inclusion would be something of a shot in the arm. Not to dispel their night-time sanctuary, but just to provide … something. After all, about the most eventful occurrence up until this point is when the electricity cuts during another airing of their surprisingly non-goth music. For her duration, Ava’s presence does exactly as it should – shakes the two old vampires up and disrupts the complacency that has marred the film up to this point.

My favourite character is probably Ian, the wheeler-dealer type. He’s a shadowy, shady ‘zombie’ (Adam’s contemptuous name for humans) and is enthralled by the rock and roll lifestyle these real ‘life’ goths adhere to. It is his demise at the hands of Ava that propels the couple, first to rid themselves of her (and therefore the interest she brings) and then to travel to Tangiers, where Eve was residing during the film’s opening.

There’s no doubt for me that Ava’s appearance makes things more interesting, but also has the effect of making me appreciate more the earlier, tranquil non-eventfulness of the story, and Adam and Eve’s understandable need for a return to that anonymity. Their story has quietly become compelling.

I rarely quote other reviews, preferring my opinions to emerge uninfluenced, but my favourite critique of ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is from Jessica Kiang of ‘IndieWire’, who gave the film a B+ grade, saying, "the real pleasure of the film is in its languid droll cool and its romantic portrayal of the central couple, who are now our number one role models in the inevitable event of us turning vampiric."

5. Nov, 2016

Blackwood (2014)

Beautifully filmed in some truly stunning rural locations (you can almost hear the dew dripping from autumnal branches), this tepid haunted house mystery features Ben (Ed Stoppard), his wife Rachel (Sophia Myles) and young son Harry (Isaac Andrews) relocating to a huge and remote country house following some difficult personal times.

As the scant ghostly noises in the night threaten to topple Ben into thinking his sanity is crumbling once more, the main thing that strikes me is how unlikable he is. Irritable and unreasonable, he treats his family very offhandedly, and comes across as exactly the kind of shallow, thoughtless bore I would cross the road to avoid.

A terrific supporting cast including Paul Kaye and Russell Tovey turn in very earnest performances, but sadly the script fails to come to life and remains pretty uninvolving. The problem is, these sinister characters are actually more likeable than Ben, as is sleazy Dominic (Greg Wise) who tries to strike up an affair with Rachel. Up until the last reel you almost wish she would go with him.

As a whole, it is the hero who sinks this unfrightening ghost story. Not that Ed Stoppard is a bad actor, but there is not one note of kindness or sympathy about him, and whether his manner is the result of his earlier breakdown, or whether he is actually correct in his intention to ‘protect’ his family, he severely tests our patience long before the end.

4. Nov, 2016

Rites of Spring (2011)

In the unnamed rural state in which this film is set, people have been going missing fairly regularly, for 24 years. Such a desperate situation seems to have become accepted, because there seems little effort, or counter-measures, put in place to stop this from continuing. Indeed, toward the end, when a very distressed battered young lady pounds on the door of a remote garage and begs for help, the shop assistant ignores her. So it is safe to say the town does not overly keen on helping itself.

As for the victims, the usual parade of energetically screaming, manicured pretty young folk are chained up in a farm shed, this time by an old man determined to sacrifice his victims to a monster in the cellar.

‘Everything is going to be okay, nothing is going to happen to you,’ the daughter or a millionaire is told, just as she is gagged and left in a ramshackle abandoned building. This is story strand number two. A wronged colleague decides to rob his rich employee, and with a small group, sets about kidnapping his daughter for a ransom.

The resurrection of the creature ‘Wormface’ raises the game considerably, breathing life into what is a fairly routine, if earnest, thriller. The placing of this unspecific creature into the unfolding events adds a new urgency and makes the betrayals and counter betrayals between the characters more entertaining. Also, Wormface does the things that ‘creatures’ do – walks in front of the camera, appears where none of the characters can see him, and always happens to be there and only too pleased to open up a few veins. There’s an element of ‘Jeepers Creepers’ about the scenario, but this tells its own story. As a whole, ‘Rites of Spring’ features a number of elements we’ve all seen before (including the occasional lapse of logic by the characters), but is a satisfying meeting of crime thriller and monster-on-the-loose mayhem.

4. Nov, 2016

Cat People (1982)

The late David Bowie (I still can’t get used to using his name in a past tense) lends his voice to Giorgio Moroder’s heavily synthesised soundtrack to this remake of Val Newton’s 1942 original. Sadly, the music dates the production more than anything else.

At nearly two hours long, ‘Cat People’ takes a while to get going, and even when it does, it comes in fits and starts. Nastassia Kinski and Malcolm McDowell are superbly cast as a somewhat creepy brother and sister – Kinski managing to exude both a virginal and sultry air that attracts John Heard as hunky-but-bland zoologist Oliver Yates. More than once, the film threatens to become too brooding for its own good and stumbles into dullness. But as things roll on, as Kinski’s splendid Irena embraces her blooming sexuality, her brother Paul experiences a disappointing turn in his sex-life, indicating their sibling relationship polarizes aspects of each other’s lives – and things become infinitely more interesting (and graphic). The incestuous relationship between them was echoed by their parents, suggesting in-breeding as one reason for their heightened personalities.

The film comes full circle, with Paul and Aretha making their way across the surreal dusty, orange landscape that opened ‘Cat People’, towards a magnificent tree with its branches occupying resting black leopards. This scene brings with it a sense of surreality which acts as a welcome break from the comparatively unexceptional normalcy up until this point.

Unlike the original film, Director Paul Schrader is unable to resist actually showing the transformation between human and feline. It comes far too late in the story to carry any real frights, rather it emerges as a tragic inevitability, sowing the seeds of Aretha’s eventual, haunting fate. I think this is too slow moving to be truly great, but ‘Cat People’ remains an intelligent and enjoyable, sensuous fantasy.

3. Nov, 2016

Cherry Tree (2016)

Anna Walton has one of those faces. She seems to crop up in all sorts of productions, but it was a while before I realised she was Luke Goss’s albino sister in ‘Hellboy 2 (2008)’. Here, she plays Sissy, a sports teacher at Faith’s (Naomi Battrick) school.

Faith is a stunning fifteen year old virgin, casually bullied by her school friends. Her father is dying. Sissy, who has been observing her, has a deal to make …

The characters are well defined. Although defensive, Faith is a likeable character, and as her predicament becomes more pronounced, we fear for what she’s getting herself into. Equally, Sissy becomes less easy to trust the more embroiled she becomes in the lives of Faith and her father.

The pace of the film is frenetic. Faith’s makes a remarkable (impossibly quick) recovery from her various ordeals before embarking on avenging herself against the formidable coven of occultists – but then, when so many events are influenced by the supernatural, who is to say that she cannot defy all obstacles at such a lick? If you can get past that implausibility, it is easy to get caught up in the quick-fire revelations and development – there is a lot to be lost allowing the attention to wander.

With such an attractive cast, there is little excuse for drifting. That, alongside some generous amount of carnage, make this a very enjoyable rollercoaster. The ending, which I think intends us not to take anything too seriously, is either a huge jump shock, or hilarious, depending on your point of view.

2. Nov, 2016

Blacula (1972)

In the opening to this film, William Marshall as Prince Mamuwalde visits Charles Macaulay’s impressive Count Dracula about suppressing the slave trade. Dracula is more interested in Mamuwalde’s wife Luva (Vonetta McGee), and when his advances are spurned, sentences Mamuwalde to vampirism and death to Luva. With a film entitled ‘Blacula’, and the mantle of ‘blaxploitation’ regularly directed at it, this kind of serious and violent opening was not what I expected. Only after the credits, and when things move from 1780 to the (then) present day, do we enter more familiar, somewhat expected territory.

William Marshall is EXCELLENT as the noble vampire. Literally towering above everyone else, he exudes charm, melancholy and – despite some over-the-top vampire make-up – rage and terror. Yet he resists the temptation overplay anything, something other Draculas could not manage. His attraction to the character Tina Williams is played absolutely for real and the audience is completely on their side, despite the growing number of vampiric ‘deaths’.

As with Blacula himself, the make-up on the vampires is (probably deliberately) heavy-handed, making them appear as green-tinged zombie-types when they could have been terrifying. But is that the aim of the film? Probably not – this prefers to settle for being a compelling supernatural comedy/thriller (although very much ‘of its time, the humour is held pretty firmly in check throughout) that aims to entertain, which it does.

Having said that, a few deaths stray happily into ‘shock’ territory, not least Blacula’s climactic demise. We aren’t glad to see the back of the reign of a tyrant, or even the killer he is, but rather sad, admiring of his nobility. One of my favourite Dracula actors. This is a fine film lifted by Marshall’s consistently brilliant performance. Luckily ‘Scream Blacula Scream’ was released a year later, presumably resurrecting Marshall’s character.

29. Oct, 2016

The Leopard Man (1943)

In Val Lewton films, there’s always at least one scene that sticks in the mind. ‘The Isle of the Dead’ features the awakening of a body buried in a casket, in the ‘Body Snatchers’, we have the unforgettable finale. Here we have several , including the increasingly distraught teenage girl returning home, pounding at the door of her home with her mother heartlessly refusing to let her in – followed by silence, and the spreading of a pool of blood beneath the closed door.

Charlie (Abner Biberman) is nice, he likes his big cat. It earns him a good living and he clearly adores it. Alongside the animal itself, he is ‘The Leopard Man’s most likeable character. Dennis O’Keefe is a good leading man. Sad-eyed Jean Brooks plays Kiki Walker. Only the maracas-playing Clo-Clo (Margo) annoys – her jealousy that the cat would steal her thunder and her teasing of the animal causes killings and other unfortunate events to spiral, yet she shows no sign of giving a darn – until she gets her comeuppance, that is.

The implication of a man/leopard hybrid is completely absent in the story – in fact the revelation the feline has been dead before some of the killings take place, and that the murderer is a mere human, is a little disappointing (only the trailer implied a lycanthropic plotline). It’s true to say this is not Lewton’s most effective production: the modern day setting is less suggestive of gothic flavour than other, period pieces. Having said that, he and Director Jacques Tourneur ensure there are some chilling set-pieces, my favourite being the sombre funeral procession, with murmuring, candle-holding mourners making their way across a barren, windswept studio set, led by black robed lamenters.

23. Oct, 2016

Worry Dolls (2016)

Opening with a promisingly bloody scenario of serial killer Henry murmuring his unstable anxieties into his slight collection of ‘worry dolls’, this film soon evaporates into comparative blandness. That’s the problem with strong beginnings – the rest has then got to match up.

Detective Matt who finally rids the world of Henry for some reason takes the ‘worry dolls’ with him in the back of his car. Why do something so unprofessional? So his young daughter Chloe can then inadvertently get hold of them, of course.

‘OMG, they’re so coowaal’, say the brightly smiling young things browsing ‘Chloe’s Collection’ where she exhibits these and other home-made charms. Sadly, the spirit of Henry, instilled into these novelty items, causes whomever owns them to lose their minds and kill their loved ones.

Chloe, who is afraid of dogs, stabs to death her family’s Doberman (why does the family keep such a pet if the daughter is afraid of them?). She then, Exorcist-like, descends into a blank-eyed trance. Hunky Detective Matt seeks the help of occultist Della who says that as the pure innocent, Chloe needs to be relieved of the dolls – even though they are no longer in her possession. Della is played by Tina Lifford, who invests the part with such weird intensity, she may well be the most interesting character in the film. A shame that her inclusion is such a brief one.

The rest of the cast, sad to say, including Christopher Wiehl as Matt (who co-wrote this) are not very interesting at all. It’s impossible to sympathise with the Detective, whose daughter is, after all, possessed, because there is scant personality there. Likewise other characters, including those who pick up the various dolls and are therefore doomed fail to ignite much feelings of loss. Also, the suburban blandness of most of the locations stifles any atmosphere. A competent thriller with a few gallons of blood thrown in for good measure.

22. Oct, 2016

The Windmill Massacre (2016)

“This isn’t hell, this is Holland,” reasons Patrick Baladi’s Douglas West at one point, whilst holed up in a windmill with a group of others, just as stranded as he is. Baladi, perhaps best known for his role in ‘The Office’, heads a truly excellent cast in what turns out to be a hugely enjoyable horror.

First of all, we meet Jennifer (Charlotte Beaumont), who is operating as a child minder under an assumed name. Soon we discover she has run away from her native Australia due to a tragic accident. We’re not told specifics, but she continually suffers flashbacks and what she thinks are hallucinations. It turns out she set fire to the family caravan, deliberately burning alive her abusive father – and by accident, her young brother.

Boarding a bus for The Happy Holland Tour, alongside a small group of others (despite having no ticket – “Ah well, what’s another sinner? Just joking,” jests the weary driver/guide Abe (Bart Klever), all of whom have guilty secrets of their own), their crimes are revealed at leisure throughout the film, and they are briskly – and gorily – dealt with by a ravaged, scythe-wielding killer. Only West’s young son Curt (Adam Thomas Wright) appears to be an innocent, although at times, the film allows us to have our doubts about him.

There is a truly diverse cast here, of many ages. No clichés, no stereotypes, just very real characters played by excellent actors (especially Wright, who exhibits none of the precociousness displayed by other juveniles). Curt suffers the most, perhaps; hearing his strained father has done something horrible to his mother, he then has to watch the images, on his mobile phone, of his father being beheaded. His fate is the only one not accounted for at the film’s close.

Even our protagonist has to pay for her crime. As the windmill is set afire, it seems history is repeating itself, with another youngster trapped inside. This time, however, she saves him, but this does not atone for her crime in the eyes of ‘the master’.

Director/Writer Nick Jongerius has guided us on a terrific journey. Ending with Abe’s bus rattling along misty Dutch countryside with another collection of doomed carrion, this never falls into any real cliché. There is emotion, but never over-sentimentality; there is a good balance between story-telling and shock value; even the special effects are economical with CGI, preferring physical effects. Highly recommended.

21. Oct, 2016

King of the Zombies (1941)

In this standard comedy horror, three travellers make a forced landing on a remote island where they are met by Dr. Sangre (Henry Victor, playing Bela Lugosi - for whom the role was originally intended) and his servant Momba (Leigh Whipper). The two bland leads James and Bill (Dick Purcell and John Archer) are shown to their rooms, where manservant Jefferson (Mantan Moreland) is told he is to sleep in the servant’s quarters. When he protests, James confirms that he will do as he is told.

Jeff becomes acquainted with the hired help and becomes convinced the remote building is haunted by zombies.

‘Zombies? What’s them?’ ‘Dead folks that walks around.’

This is the kind of wide-eyed, knock-about light comedy fairly prevalent around this time. A haunted house mystery of sorts, featuring the blank-eyed dead. It is Moreland’s show really. Madame Sul-Te-Wan, playing Tahama, also invests her part with a convincingly unnerving sense of superstition. While the chisel-jawed American actors play adequate straight leads, their ‘subordinates’ are far more interesting and entertaining, although in-keeping with the one-note scares on display, are limited in their patter.

As shivering Jeff states towards the film’s close, ‘If there’s one thing I wouldn’t want to be twice, zombies is both of them!”

20. Oct, 2016

The Devil Lives Here/O Diabo Mora Aqui/The Fostering (2015)

The plot is described thus: Three teenagers go to visit a friend at his old farmhouse for the weekend. What they didn’t expect was to be stuck in the middle of a centenary war between good and evil…

I mention the official ‘blurb’ because whilst this is a loud, relentless, frightening tour-de-force, the storyline becomes baffling on more than one occasion. There are so many twists and turns and revelations (especially towards the end) that the viewer ends up very satisfied but perplexed.

Apolo (Pedro Carvalho) invites his three friends for a visit at his farm. The building has a history – in the past, it was a slave plantation that also cultivated colonies of bees and sold honey (leading to some comparisons between the hierarchy of bees and the puritanical abuse of lower classes – slaves, in other words). In the basement, Apolo has set up a ceremony to free the spirit of a baby’s tortured soul. The child is the result of a slave owner, known enigmatically as The Honey Baron, impregnating the mother of one of his subjects, who later killed the child. Two descendants of long-dead slave Bento (Sidney Santiago), Sebastião and his younger brother Luciano, raise Bento from the dead and together they travel to the farm to halt proceedings, knowing if the child is resurrected, then so is The Honey Baron.

The sensitive Ale (Mariana Cortines), who is no stranger to hearing voices in her head anyway (and takes medication for this unspecified condition), is subject to some horrifying moments as the spirit appears to seek possession of her. Her friend Maria (Clara Verdier) probably suffers the most, and her relationship with the truly horrifying Honey Baron might well promise nightmares yet to come …

There aren’t many Brazilian horror films. I’m not sure why this is. Would ‘The Fostering’ have benefitted from some extra clarity? Possibly not. The chaos of the imagery (Directors Rodrigo Gasparini and Dante Vescio are unafraid to use limited colour close-ups as a disorientating effect) and constant subverting of expectations helps induce a memorable series of events that demand scrutiny long after the film has ended.

19. Oct, 2016

White Settlers/The Blood Lands (2014)

A husband and wife buy a weathered old house in a remote part of Scotland. You won’t believe this, but they hear strange noises during the night – noises they initially put down to ‘being in a strange house’. Familiar the story surely is, but this is better told than most.

The two main characters, Sarah (hugely impressive Pollyanna McIntosh) and Lee Williams as Ed (who is a bit of idiot) are realistic and have a genuine chemistry. As with real life couples, you do wonder why one puts up with the other, but they are believable. The isolated Scottish location is very creepy, and the production itself provides a real sense of growing unease that manifests itself well when the creepy noises are attributed to invaders real and brutal. As the estate agent warned, the land is the site of a gruesome battle between the Scottish and the English …

There’s a refreshing lack of the sort of jump-scares that have become standard in films of this nature, and the effects are all physical and therefore, real. No noticeable CGI here. And yet once the threats became tangible, my interest dwindled a little as events became typical slasher fare.

The ending is what caused raised eyebrows. Looking online, I am relieved my weren’t alone. SPOILERS – having been scared, chased, battered and tied up the couple are dumped – bloodied but otherwise unharmed – by a city centre. Their attackers have moved into the vacant house, and are enjoying a few pints with their families. It seems, going by a line of dialogue earlier, that the ‘English scum’ are responsible for the death of a family member, and so presumably all English are scared away from purchasing any properties in that area of Scotland. I wonder how McIntosh, who is Scottish herself, feels about this event. Running close to racism, I am surprised the makers of this otherwise enjoyable film decided to take this route.

15. Oct, 2016

The Last Case of August T. Harrison (2015)

In the cult television show ‘Dark Shadows (1966-71)’, Jerry Lacy played (amongst others) Tony Peterson, a Bogart-like gumshoe. Here, he plays August T. Harrison. In another dimension, these two could have been the same character. Lacy is a brilliant performer and has added his might to two previous productions by talented micro-budget film-maker Ansel Faraj.

Here, Harrison comes out of retirement to investigate a missing persons’ case, which involves the mysterious Eleanora (Maggie Wagner) and his own son, Jason (Eric Gorlow), who also disappears. His son’s friend Drake (Max Landwirth) tells frightened, horrific stories of witches and the summoning of beasts, daubing himself in symbols to protect himself – a fruitless exercise, as it turns out.

Lisa Richards plays Susan Harrison, August’s hospitalised wife, mostly in a cataleptic trance. The twist towards the film’s ending is wonderfully shocking and poignant.

Professor Richard Hobb (David Graham) suggests that ‘1920’s pulp writer’ HP Lovecraft’s stories might be true, Harrison’s response is “You’re out of your f****** mind.” No-one swears like Jerry Lacy!

Bill Wandel’s music is very effective, adding weight to the occasional shock scares and to the oppressive isolated sense of building horror that is expertly spread throughout. Whatever the budget restrictions, the production never appears constrained – the occasional effects are convincing enough, especially considering the anti-reality of this Lovecraftian tale.

On the evidence of this and Faraj’s previous ‘Doctor Mabuse’ ventures, also starring Lacy, I’m a real fan of the detached sense of menace he instils in his projects, and the remote sense of horror he conveys. As with my favourite films, his stories exist in a world within a world – for example, Harrison’s troubled walks along a night-time side-street that knows nothing of his turmoil and the world-changing events he is contemplating tackling. Recommended.

14. Oct, 2016

Jack the Ripper - Der Dirnenmörder von London (1976)

Of all films I have seen helmed by Spanish Director Jess Franco, this is far and away my favourite. It may lack the exotic juxtaposition of horrific incident occurring in beautiful sun-kissed arenas, but what we have here is a satisfactorily recreated Victorian London, with a talented cast, and a consistent story that doesn’t meander.

Many events take place in the spacious ‘Pike’s Hole’ tavern, a convincingly cockney meeting ground, where ‘Jack’ finds many of his victims. The death of Marika (Lina Romay) is the most gratuitous of all, with a protracted scene suggesting Orloff has violent sex with his victims as the life fades from them. Inspector Selby (Andreas Mannkopff) proves to be a very effective foil for Orloff. Hans Gaugler is also excellent as Breidger, the blind man. In fact, the cast as a whole is very good, and a lot better than usual with Franco projects. Probably this is because he is working with a larger budget here – and it shows in other ways too. Beams of smoky light casting shadows through the branches of trees. Apart from a few panoramic shots of Big Ben and various London buildings, the bulk of this is shot in Zuerich Switzerland, and there is much genuine night-time filming, a very expensive procedure.

The storyline is a good one. There’s no point in trying to do a ‘whodunit’ – when you cast Klaus Kinski in a film about Jack the Ripper, he could hardly be playing a peripheral character. The intrigue is why he commits his atrocities, why does he appear to carve chunks off his victims while they are still (barely) alive? Inspector Selby’s girlfriend Cynthia (played by Charlie’s daughter Josephine Chaplin) appears to have the answer due to her resemblance to his mother. With his final victim finally degraded, it is apt in a way that he be captured and taken away in a finale that is disappointingly tame compared to the effective macabre nature of the rest of the picture.

13. Oct, 2016

Isle of the Dead (1945)

Greece, 1912. It must be pretty miserable to hear that a spreading plague necessitates strict confinement to your home; when one of your house-guests is Boris Karloff, that misery takes on a new dimension.

‘Isle of the Dead’ is an RKO horror film, one of a series produced by Val Lewton. Whereas Universal had cornered the monster market, with increasingly exploitative meet-ups between Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and The Wolfman, Lewton specialised in less obvious, more psychological dramas. The horror here is more prevalent in what you don’t see. Whereas 1942’s ‘Cat People’ may be the most successful example of this approach, Lewton produced a hugely impressive body of work, among which this production stands tall. Melodramatic this may be, there’s no denying the intensity brings with it a true spirit of dread.

When the shadow of Gen. Nikolas Pherides (Karloff) falls across a scene, there is an instant atmosphere of jeopardy, of cruelty, disease and fear. Pherides has a reputation for cruel efficiency, and he brings this to his authority when dealing with the house-full of potential plague carriers, himself amongst their number.

The stand-out scene for me is when Katherine Emery as Mrs. Mary St. Aubyn (Katherine Emery) falls into a cataleptic trance, is subsequently buried, and wakes screaming in her casket. We hear her fear and desperate scratching as the camera lingers on her incarcerated wooden tomb, the shadow of blowing branches fallen across it, relentless drip-dripping of the damp stonework upon it. The box splinters and is pushed open as the camera maddeningly pulls away to another scene. Her friend Thea (Ellen Drew) goes in search of the escapee in a perfect studio-set nightmare, her white nightdress blowing in the wind – St. Aubyn has seemingly been driven out of her mind by the experience and parades the house and its surrounding grounds like a vengeful ghost. No-one is safe it seems, especially Pherides, who, for all his sins emerges as a kind of misunderstood anti-hero …

12. Oct, 2016

Der Fluch der schwarzen Schwestern/Vampire Ecstasy/The Devil’s Plaything (1973)

Medieval Baroness Varga was put to death 400 years ago for her Bathory-style attraction to human blood, and she put a curse on her forbidding family castle. She promised to return one day, and it appears that time has come.

Hungarian actress Nadja Henkowa plays Frau Wanda Krock, the housekeeper, who bears a passing resemblance to singer/songwriter PJ Harvey. She is is head of a coven of stern eye-browed maidservants who ‘welcome’ a disparate crew of travellers forced to seek refuge in her castle due to stormy weather (Henkowa’s performance is my favourite in the film – a fine balance of brooding menace, fearsome rage and passionate sensuality). The characters address each other with exquisite politeness, but a tone of condescension and abhorrence. In the great cellars of the castle, you see, erotic rituals are taking place that imply the maidservants are not so straight-laced after all.

Apart from Henkowa, who steals every scene she is in, Marie Forså is very good as Helga. Her transformation from seemingly ‘innocent’ to something far more provocative is well played.

Everything you need for a typical Euro-horror is here – much stilted acting, bare-breasted erotica, unconvincing day-for-night shots and a genuine crumbling castle set in spacious, beautiful locations.

This Swedish/Swiss/German collaboration is directed by Joseph W. Sarno, who began his pioneering work in the sexploitation genre in 1961 with ‘Nude in Charcoal’, before venturing into more explicit territory.

The story is regularly padded out/interrupted/enlivened (the choice is yours) with lingering sex scenes of varied persuasion. The resulting film is vastly overlong and has a disappointingly low-key ending, but nevertheless, is a very enjoyable example of its genre. The physical and mental connection between vampire-like curses and sensuality has always been a selling point, and is portrayed quite explicitly and very effectively here. Although it could be argued that the whole venture is just an excuse for lots of heaving breasts and softcore activity, and that the performances (from a cast who are not speaking in their native tongues) are typically ‘Euro trashy’, this is a powerful meeting of sexuality and dark rituals - complete with phallus-shaped candles and a tribal drum-beat that will stay with you long after the film has ended!

7. Oct, 2016

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Sound effects technician Gilderoy travels to Italy to work on what appears to be a horror film. Revered producer Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino) waves a dismissive hand at the term: “It isn’t a horror film, it is a Santini film.” Although the credit titles to this unspecified film actually form what appear to be the titles to ‘Berberian Sound Studio’, we never really know how the lurid sound effects are used.

There are plenty of close-ups on ravaged vegetables, cut, splattered and sliced to emulate brutal sounds. Toby Jones’ sensitive and insular Gilderoy is subject to increasing rudeness as the film progresses, from just about everyone around him. He speaks softly. He writes and received affectionate letters to his mother back home.

Silvia (the terrific Fatma Mohamed) warns Gilderoy about Santini, who has apparently molested her. His missives to his mother become less affectionate, the body of the text concentrating on local mishaps and animal killings rather than loving pleasantries. Strangest of all, relentlessly seeking a ticket refund for his flight to Italy from disinterested staff, Gilderoy is told that the flight never really existed.

Music (and some of the sonic effects, I imagine) is by Birmingham band Broadcast, who have added the soundtrack to this stylised film to their growing discography. Vocalist Trish Keenan sadly died suddenly whilst working on the album.

Towards the end, the film seems to wilfully impenetrable, projecting weirdness for the sake of it - possibly echoing Gilderoy’s addled mind, who knows? And to be honest, who cares? ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ starts off in an unorthodox way, which is promising, and seems to be going in an assured direction – but just ends up getting more strange, promising to deliver something, but never actually doing so. Only the relentless bullying of Jones’ well-played character makes any real impact, because he is (mostly) so impassive and the perpetrators of such ill-manners are so complacent in their behaviour. Other than that, as Gilderoy becomes more integrated in what is going on around him, we lose any connection with him. And then the film ends, leaving the audience wondering what they have just watched, despite the obvious talent on display.