Spoilers follow ...

7. Feb, 2017

Amer (2009)

‘Amer’ arrests the attention from the word go, with some imposing imagery of little girl Ana’s (Cassandra Forêt) place within a frightening house and amongst even more creepy relatives.

It is easy to see the similarities between this and Directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s later ‘The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears’: they are clearly in love with the visuals and there is very little dialogue. Whilst the first of the three ‘chapters’ is genuinely morbid and creepy – and my personal favourite segment – the second, in which Ana (Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud) encounters adolescence (she could be anything from 14 to 20 years old) focuses on her leap, or slither, from little girl to the object of desire. There are many suggestive shots of various body parts and awkward closeness with others. It doesn’t really mean much. In fact, it doesn’t mean anything at all, other than it is part of Ana’s ‘journey’.

So then, the third act. Ana is now played by Marie Bos. Suggestion of much light masturbation. Stunning scenery. And a slight return to the intimidating feel of the first segment, with her seemingly returning to her abandoned family home. Despite apparent chance meetings, Amer is very much alone. These moments of her retracing the steps of her childhood remind me of the less than comforting homecoming of Pip, all grown up, returning to Miss Haversham’s ruined building after his adventures. Here, the house is baked in sunlight, and any adventures Ana has had are so obscurely filmed and her character so thinly drawn, we can only appreciate the beautifully shot décor, the unmade beds, the flaking wallpaper, the stunning scenery and the ghostly, discarded porcelain dolls. But the sense of unease comes to the fore once again – whatever the shortcomings of the arthouse style this film embraces, the protracted ending is a heady mix of the sinister and sensual. There is an antagonist, but we are not even sure if he is real. Does he represent the dark memories that haunt her? One thing is for certain – nothing is certain, especially Ana’s eventual fate.

Interesting. Attention grabbing. Muddy. Bizarre.

4. Feb, 2017

El Día Trajo la Oscuridad/Darkness by Day (2014)

‘Vampire foreplay almost stretched to feature length,’ is my favourite description of this film. It is so apt, I had to share it.

Having sat through a couple of mainstream horror films recently and desperately wanted them to end, my faith in this genre has been well and truly enlivened by this sloooow slow-burner that documents a lonely woman Virginia (Mora Recalde) visited by her cousin Anabel (Romina Paula), who is reportedly recovering from an illness.

Anabel is virtually somnambulistic much of the time and actually asleep for the rest of the day, but comes to life at night, leaving the sprawling house and making for the neighbouring forest and woodlands. The two cousins do have moments where they converse and become close, however, none more teasingly demonstrated than when they are drinking and dancing to music played on crackling old vinyl LPs. Director Martin Desalvo concentrates mainly on their eyes, the way Anabel coyly glances at her cousin, providing the suggestion of sensuality (which is expanded upon later).

The setting here is utterly wonderful. Virginia’s beautiful old fashioned country home, the tangle of trees nearby, the rolling, sighing skies and the thrashing sea beyond create a tantalising outland in which Virginia exists, far away from society. The accompanying amenities are threadbare and desolate and makes her seclusion even more enviable.

This isn’t a production that will please everyone; I love leisurely paced films with lots of atmosphere – and this has it in abundance. No CGI in sight. In fact, the night scenes were filmed during the day and filtered, not that you would notice (maybe that’s why the translation of its title is ‘Darkness by Day??’). And here’s the thing – this Argentine film has no subtitles. I could not understand dialogue scenes, other than by the gestures – and I still enjoyed it.

3. Feb, 2017

Split (2017)

Two smartphone distracted girls and their ‘weird’ friend are kidnapped by an unknown assailant who carries out the action without any emotion whatsoever.

‘Barry’ is a model employee. He’s been ill, but is better now. Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley) says this. We learn of ‘Barry’s’ disorder because Fletcher is trying to widen awareness for his condition. The information about what is known as Dissociative Identity Disorder is staggered throughout, at length, and her scenes are interspersed with ‘Barry’ and his other personalities presenting themselves to his three prisoners. One of these is an upper-class woman called ‘Patricia’, another is an irritant called ‘Hedwig’, another is a nuisance called ‘Dennis’ (who likes to watch girls dance naked). In reality, his name is Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), and he has 23 personalities.

Despite claims that, for example, if one personality is a weight-lifter he possesses the strength of a weight-lifter whilst other shared personalities do not, McAvey doesn’t have the physical presence to portray anyone that couldn’t just be over-powered by the three girls – or even just one of them (with a more sustained battering than just hitting him once and then turning their back on him, something that happens more than once). Despite the theatrical rolling eyes, the lisp, the change of clothes, he simply isn’t frightening. His endless talking about himself makes it clear that his characters are a lot more interesting to him than to the audience – or at least, this member of it. I can appreciate a committed performance, but sadly he leaves me cold.

Perhaps to balance out Kevin’s multiple characteristics, the three girls have only one personality between them. Being the allegedly ‘weird’ one of the trio, it is Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, who had been so good in 2015's 'The Witch') to whom ‘Dennis’ is attracted, because of course weirdness is an elite exclusive club that joins every outsider together, provided you’re pretty enough (‘the broken are the more evolved,’ apparently). Luckily for flesh fans, one of Kevin’s personalities suffers from OCD, necessitating the young captives to remove much of their ‘dirty’ clothing. Another box ticked.

There have been accusations that ‘Split’ is offensive to sufferers of mental health disorders. In an age where being offended is a competitive sport, presumably any piece of fiction involving death, for instance, is offensive to anyone who has ever suffered bereavement and therefore ‘shouldn’t be allowed’. This is a point of view that stifles creativity, fiction, drama and/or many levels of art. That is not the problem with ‘Split’ in my view. It is an idea that is ripe with potential but simply stretched out very thinly over almost two hours with very little incident. In fact, the kidnapping of three girls is the only incident. Endless scenes of talking about ‘Barry’s’ condition isn’t entertaining, frightening or effecting. It very quickly becomes dull and stays that way.

Director M. Night Shyamalan had a great success with ‘The Sixth Sense’ in 1999, especially its twist ending. Subsequently, all his films have ended with a similar surprise, each one less effective than the last. If you make it to the end of this, there is a revelation that (SPOILERS) Kevin’s affliction appears to be supernatural. ‘The Beast’ is physically bulkier than his other personalities, can hop from wall to wall and is impervious to bullets. This ends with a reference to Shyamalan’s ‘Unbreakable’ via a Bruce Willis cameo which pre-supposes you are on familiar terms with that film, which is presumptuous, as this is not billed as a sequel.

2. Feb, 2017

Gallowwalkers (2012)

Well, this is a load of impressive looking nonsense. Style over substance just about covers it. In this Western horror effort, Wesley Snipes plays Aman who leaves the girl he loves alone one day whilst selling animal skins. During that time, she is gang-raped by a motley crew who leave her with-child. When he discovers this, he is heart-broken about what happened during his absence. To make himself feel better, he leaves her again, this time for five years, only to return to find she died giving birth. This improbable story is told entirely in flashback by Aman and is incredible in its illogical and inept oddness. The reason such a revelation is condensed in such a fashion seems to be that the rest of the running time can then be left to consist of non-eventful scenes that are massively over-choreographed, and while they are visually impressive, there is no naturalness to them whatsoever. Neither to the cast of alleged characters, who aren’t introduced, aren’t explained, but to make them ‘interesting’, speak in gruff-voiced cliché throughout.

The idea of Snipes playing a loner out for revenge against a horde of zombies in the unforgiving heat of the desert is a very appealing one. The trailer, whilst very stylised, seemed to promise much. And yet ‘Gallowwalkers’ flounders, and what story there is is laborious and crippled by constant flashbacks, bad wigs, posturing and overtly dramatic line delivery. It’s a curiously lifeless exercise – there’s a handsome budget on display and some stunning cinematography, but there are no characters to relate to, no emotion and no trace of tension or scares or … anything, really. In fact, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the best of the film. My one personal highlight was noticing, quite unexpectedly, 70’s children’s television entertainer Derek Griffiths briefly as a heavily made-up peripheral character Mosca.

Snipes had several problems throughout, due to tax problems and subsequent arrest. Perhaps the delays this caused threw the production schedule into disarray and accounts for the choppy tone of events (and for the many close-ups of Mr Snipes – many long-shots seem to feature a body double). But as to the po-faced dullness, the lack of anything for the audience to invest in, the non-existent story, incompetent lip-syncing, the absence of thrills … who can possibly say? Perhaps the fact that the film was released (straight to DVD) eight years after production commenced tells its own story, which is more than ‘Gallowwalkers’ does. A gruelling experience.

1. Feb, 2017

Stitch Face/Stitch (2014)

To reconcile themselves with the death of their daughter, Serafina (Shauna Waldron) and Marsden (Edward Furlong) travel to a remote mansion in the middle of the desert. They indulge in a strange cleansing ceremony seemingly designed for them to come to terms with death by summoning it (‘death is the infinite abyss of pure non-existence’, they are reliably informed by their friend Parlino, played by Laurence Mason) in order to ‘release the inner demon’.

As you may expect, rather than end their problems, this only serves to increase them by apparently bringing into reality some spectral entity with the head of an animal skull. Among various visions, the face of the dead daughter’s doll used in the ceremony is suddenly covered in gore and stitching. Pretty soon, Parlino’s partner Colline (Shirly Brener) also finds the side of her face wrecked in a similar manner.

It is only now they realise that travelling to this remote spot, with no nearby amenities (and of course, no cell phone signals) is not a practical idea. Especially as, possibly due to their strange ceremony, freak weather conditions appear to be signalling the end of the world. Well, why not?

The fairly meagre budget is utilised with huge ambition, and many effects, especially the gore, verge from fairly convincing to highly impressive. My main problem is the sound levels, which vary considerably. There’s nothing less likely to induce the kind of horror surreality ‘Stitch Face’ seems to be trying to invoke, than having to adjust the volume every few minutes. As the foursome start to sink into panic and recriminations, Marsden’s heartfelt pleas to his wife are inaudible.

As we move through isolation, infighting, a possible apocalypse, possession, living dolls and ‘something in the cellar’, it becomes clear that with this many ideas, there needs to be some mass revelation at the end to make any kind of sense of it all. As suspected, no true explanation really occurs and we are left with a tangle of often genuinely horrific set-pieces that leave us with a confused unease. There are many good things about this. The performances are fine even if the actors sometimes have to wrestle with some awkward dialogue. The concept of a haunted house always entertains me, and this must surely feature one of the ultimate examples of that. For instance, the awful image of a barely-dressed, provocative girl with the face and voice of a mangled demon is very impressive.

Director/writer Ajai’s film here reminds me a little of the work of the UK’s Richard Driscoll. Ajai’s work is a lot more original than Driscoll’s, but they both share an over-abundance of ideas and an unwillingness to recognise when to stop. Amongst the melee, there is a lot of talent on display here, although some restraining, steadying influence would be hugely advantageous. ‘Stitch Face’ is over-crowded with incident, but remains a flawed yet enjoyable exercise.

28. Jan, 2017

Dead of Night (1945)

Ealing films, the warm and cosy home of lovingly crafted British comedies, branched out into slightly more unnerving territory with this early anthology. At a country house, in an age where, following communal afternoon tea, the local doctor likes to offer round the cigarettes, Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) turns up and recognises the ensemble (none of whom he has ever met) from his recurring dreams.

In this world, where everyone speaks in the clipped tones of racing horse commentators, (“I can’t leave. This is Mr Craig and I’m a character in his dream.” “Oh how do you do? Such fun, charades!”) the anecdotal stories everyone tells merely confirm Craig’s suspicions. He can see their future: he knows what is going to happen.

I cannot knock a 72 year old production for being dated, so I won’t. But it is. The extreme politeness and styles are often difficult to get past, even harder to take seriously. To begin with, such chills as there are are very tame and wholesome. The segment featuring the malevolent mirror is where things pick up, giving the impression ‘Dead of Night’ is unveiling its frights in a measured way. Until the following dreadful golfing farce sequence lets things down. “Totally incredible and decidedly improper,” to quote Mrs Foley (Mary Merrall).

If you can sit through that segment, the best and most widely remembered is saved till last. Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave) is a ventriloquist, performing and popular with packed audiences every night. So when it becomes apparent that the dummy Hugo appears to be the controlling element of the partnership, initially amusing music-hall scenes become genuinely tense. This is partly due to the writing, in which Hugo’s comedy jibes to his partner become increasingly spiteful, and Redgrave’s performance, in which the showbiz charade slips and he becomes edgy whilst still continuing with the act.

The Director for this final segment is Alberto Cavalcanti, who eschews the brightly lit jollity of the other stories and coaxes an intense performance from Redgrave. To say this finale is the best of the bunch is understating things. In its way, it is a masterpiece.

In case Walter Craig’s plight has been forgotten in all this, the twist ending gives the film’s climactic moments a nice sense of closure.

27. Jan, 2017

Under the Shadow (2016)

This is a film that definitely deserves more than one viewing. Shideh (Narges Rashidi), husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) and daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) live amid the chaos of the Iran-Iraq war. Shideh’s studies and livelihood are in ruins, patient and tolerant Iraj has been posted away and Dorsa is behaving very oddly. My only problem with this story, as in a lot of similar situations, is that Shideh resolutely refuses to move from the family home, despite her less Westernised neighbours fleeing and advising her to do the same, and every waking hour living in fear of the latest shelling.

‘Under the Shadow’ reminds me of Japanese horror, particularly ‘Dark Water (2002)’, with an errant child, and an aberration on the ceiling that may or may not be malevolent. It has been compared to ‘The Babadook (2014)’ (which I found wholly inferior to this). That said, this is hugely original in its presentation of a mysterious, ghostly horror. First whispered about by other children in the apartments, and then corroborated by the other fleeing parents, the audience is left impatiently awaiting their own first glimpse of the ‘djinn’.

With this level of relentless man-made and demonic aggravation, it’s a big relief when Shideh decides to leave after all, but events suggest she may not be entirely free of the shadow.

A lot of this film’s success rests with young Manshadi as the little girl who is required to display increasingly erratic behaviour. Any awfulness Dorsa might exude is saved by Manshadi’s mainly cherubic performance. Hardly ever does she merely sink into petulance or ‘brattism’ as a lesser performer would. Our sympathies are mostly with her, but also with her stubborn mother, who behaves in a way that doesn’t always invite our consideration, but again is brilliantly played. Babak Anvari’s gloomy, measured writing and his solid, sometimes spectacular direction ensure the mood is sustained wonderfully throughout. A terrific co-production between Qatar, Jordan, and the United Kingdom, this is strongly recommended.

26. Jan, 2017

La Noche del Terror Ciego/Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

After an argument with her boyfriend, Virginia White (María Elena Arpón) flounces off on her own and in no time, deeply regrets her tantrum. Spending a foolhardy night in a crypt with nothing but cigarettes, pyjamas, a book and a transistor radio, it isn’t long before grave stones start shuddering, the earth starts shifting and spindly, twig-like fingers emerge from within their tombs. The Blind Dead, or Templar Knights, move slowly. Very slowly. As they ride through the decaying waste-grounds, even their horses move at half speed. Decaying, rotting and accompanied by Antón García Abril’s magnificently gothic, chanting soundtrack, they are hugely impressive, even now. Except for those flimsy digits, which never look capable of anything, certainly not making a grab for the heroine. And yet, Virginia has a terrible time, because for all their flaws, the Blind Dead are relentless pursuers. Arpón looks stunning at all times however, even in the most precarious situations, often bathed in some completely unconvincing day-for-night shots.

As this is the first of Director Ossario’s ‘Blind Dead’ series, perhaps we should accept this production’s version of the titular villains’ history. Although seemingly contradicted later in the series, here the Templar Knights are killed and hung for their nefarious blood-letting and sacrifices, and their eyes are pecked out by crows.

At 100 minutes this is probably too long, but the running time is filled with incident, including echoes of zombies and vampirism. The remaining heroes, poser Roger (César Burner) and Betty (Lone Fleming) don’t have the presence of Arpón. There are only a certain amount of times you can marvel at how many poses Burner can adopt without removing his hands from his hips – however, there are some gruesome set-pieces and some briefly gory effects (especially at the end). The Knights are used more sparingly than they would be for the three sequels: you really have to wait to see them, which heightens the anticipation (although much of their footage is used more than once). This film, more than any other, makes much of the blindness of the creatures, who only locate their various victims when they scream, which under the circumstances, is an entirely understandable reaction. This remains my favourite entry in the series.

25. Jan, 2017

Gureitofuru Deddo/Greatful Dead (2013)

Despite her best and increasingly desperate efforts to attract attention, little Nami is starved of affection, or indeed acknowledgement, from her parents. As she grows into an attractive teen (Kumi Takiuchi), she inherits great wealth, listens to appalling rock music and becomes increasingly possessive of her lonesomeness. She calls herself a Solitarian, She spends her time seeking out other Solitarians, the most extreme case being an elderly man who lived an isolated life before dying whilst watching pornography. Before reporting the incident anonymously, she takes a smiling selfie with his calcified corpse on the floor of his rubbish-strewn living room.

Mr Shiomi (Takashi Sasano) is her next solitary obsession. Glorifying in observing his isolated life, Nami is then appalled that this heart-broken, faded man finds love and acceptance from his family and vows to punish him for taking away her ‘property’.

As events drift away from one level of bizarreness to another, and then another and another, not only does it lose track of its initial premise, but becomes little more than a series of darkly comic moments of violence and incident. The whole thing appears designed purely so the audience can scratch their collective heads and wonder what they are watching – which is exactly what happens, at least in my case. As a lesson in not ignoring your children, it’s obscured by how … obscure it is. As a drama, or a comedy, or a horror, it’s too fragmented to succeed. On its own terms, however, it is a film you won’t forget in a hurry. There is an attempt in the last scene to marry up events with the perils of ignoring your children, which is pretty pointless considering that things have by this time run away with themselves to such an extent they cannot possibly be reasoned with – which seems to be the point, if there is one.

21. Jan, 2017

The Ruins (2008)

‘Once there was a girl who got so drunk one night she stuck her tongue down some guy’s throat,’ relays one character to another member of his group of friends, eager to stir up some bad memories for Amy (an initially fragile performance from Jena Malone). Therein lies the first dilemma for this bunch of pretty boyfriends and girlfriends who, whilst holidaying in Mexico, allow themselves to be talked into investigating Mayan ruins by fellow tourist, German Mathius (Joe Anderson). Although the friends are fairly appealing, their typical perfect-teen dramas in paradise are far from enthralling.

But stick with it. As is often the way, when the poor blighters begin to suffer – and when they do, your heart genuinely goes out to them –things become a lot more interesting. Of course, you wouldn’t expect their obligatory cell phones to work deep within Mayan territory. And, unless you have read the novel on which this is based, you almost certainly wouldn’t expect the antagonists to be malignant vines that grow throughout the temple’s architecture. These spitefully lethal tendrils are a terrific surprise and a welcome break from antagonists like sleek-jawed vampires and ubiquitous zombies who have for years made their presence felt in cinema. It is the way they are realised and what they do that makes them horrific – crawling over sleeping bodies during the night, entering the various wounds the youngsters have picked up and flourishing under their skin. They emulate sounds, their flower-heads singing like birds, simulating the chirping of a distant phone signal or, even more cruelly, copying the shrill cries of human distress: mimicking, even mocking the group they are infiltrating.

‘Four Americans on a vacation don’t just disappear,’ says Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) optimistically and with conviction towards the close. Whether he is right or not is a spoiler I’m not going to reveal. Infection, amputation, possession – it’s all here, and makes Jeff’s resolve either admirable or absurd. Or admirably absurd. A recommended film.

20. Jan, 2017

Abattoir (2016)

This is a wholly original concept realised in a traditional manner, at least for the first two thirds of the running time. The exception is the lead character Julia (Jessica Lowndes) and her detective boyfriend, who appear to have walked out of a 1950’s film noir project – her make-up, style and car are very reminiscent of that era, and Detective Grady (Joe Anderson) poses and shoots foxy small-talk as if he is a modern day personality of the Humphrey Bogart school of presentation. Not that this is a problem; it is unusual and arresting. The fact that no comment is made of their anachronistic personas places them in a kind of limbo.

The central concept, of someone who makes a habit of buying houses where gruesome murders have taken place, and then sets about removing the rooms where the victims died to make his own Frankenstein-style hybrid construct, is pleasingly perverse and outrageous. Events take a long time to reach this magnificent set-piece, but the wait is very much worth it.

As the strange Allie, Lin Shaye plays a seemingly tortured character who’s true nature is not (partially) revealed until the final frame. A scene in which she stares into her mirror, pulling the skin on her face taut, reveals inner demons that are never fully addressed. Without dialogue, it is a mesmerising moment, and Shaye adds to an already very strong cast.

Pieces fall further into place once Jebediah Crone turns up, surrounded by townsfolk followers. Dayton Callie plays him with a gentle, but persuasive authority, a sort of genial cousin of Danny DeVito’s Penguin character from ‘Batman Returns (1992’). The resultant patchwork ‘house in the woods’ is exactly the kind of impossible and monstrous dismembered collection of rooms such a mad-hatter character would construct. And here is where every apparent anachronism finds an environment in which it makes sense. These are the realms of the fantastic, and this is a pay-off I certainly was not expecting. Special and directorial effects (the latter courtesy of Darren Lynn Bousman) that have thus far been highly restrained, take on epic proportions suddenly, and are utterly brilliant: the true stuff of nightmare.

19. Jan, 2017

M (1931)

It isn’t often a villain immediately invites the vitriol of the audience than a child murderer, or even more importantly, a sex offender. Director Fritz Lang intended this film as a stark warning against child neglect (as the very last few lines underline). The very lengthy meetings and discussions as to how the murderer be apprehended are enlivened somewhat by the challenge that characters have of actually seeing one another amidst the fog of all pervading cigar and pipe smoke. The acting is solid throughout, if theatrical in a manner typical of this period of film making. Talking pictures were very much in their infancy here and so the style of acting is highly visual – this is no complaint: the extravagant gestures enhance the atmosphere much as they did in the early sound Universal pictures. It has to be said that the performances here are even slightly restrained (if that is the right word) compared to others of this era.

And yet Peter Lorre, in his first major role, creates a true presence amongst all this, which is vital to the effectiveness of the story after the weight of expectation placed upon his character Hans Beckert. His reputation is discussed at length, and the first few glimpses we get of him are silent. Wide eyed and unassuming, this little man seems far from the monster we have been lead to believe he is. His mannerisms of jumpy neurosis and excitement upon spying children – especially young girls – going about their business are bravely portrayed given the subject matter, and in no time, we believe in him thoroughly.

Fritz Lang names this as his favourite of all his films, and it is easy to see why. The direction is inventive and almost surreal in places, inviting us fleetingly in to Beckert’s world: a parade of photographs of his victims snatched away from our view to reveal the sea of scowling faces of Beckert’s unelected jury; the revelation of the balloon Beckert bought for one of his young victims taking centre stage as he backs fearfully away from the incriminating toy; unusual viewpoints and distant camera work during the chase towards the end. Finally, Beckert’s crumbling admission and cries of ‘I can’t help it!’ A broken man guilty of the most heinous crime, viewed by a band of vigilantes impassively observing his meltdown. It is strong stuff of course, and caused the expected controversy at the time and since, but we take a long time to get to this point. A lot of time – rather too much for my enjoyment – is spent with other, lesser characters and their endless plans to capture the miscreant. At nearly two hours, it is too long – hardly surprising that an edited version (running at 98 minutes) was released in 1960. Yet what we have here is nevertheless a ground-breaking film, stunningly directed with a flourish that would prove inspirational for years to come, and a barnstorming central performance so strong that Lorre had cause to resent the subsequent type-casting that resulted.

16. Jan, 2017

The Lighthouse Keeper (2016)

I have always felt that a lighthouse is an ideal setting for a horror story. Isolated, at the mercy of the elements, surrounded by a rolling sea reminding us all how small we are. This film is based on Edgar Allen Poe’s unfinished (barely started, in fact) final work. Director and Producer Benjamin Cooper also co-wrote it.

Young JP (Matt O’Neill) finds himself washed up on a beach and sees a young woman. She could be an apparition, but she seems wholly un-spectre-like. The wound on his head causes him to pass out and when he wakes, he is in the nearby lighthouse with the abrasive keeper Walsh (Vernon Wells), who promises him enigmatically that he will always keep a light burning during the night.

I really enjoyed this old-style excursion into nightmare, although the ending does leave more than a few questions unanswered – I have to assume that is intentional, and while I have no problem with open-endings, I am left unsure as to whether everything upto that point had been a dream, this is a case of endless recursion or whether JP had been a young Walsh all along. Whatever, it is good to have a horror film that remains in the memory long after it is over.

The ghosts/wraiths on display are great if a little easy to defeat. JP breaks the neck of one of their number before fleeing; moments later, it rises up and screws its head back the right way round before continuing the pursuit!

The lack of budget only makes itself apparent occasionally, and as is often the case, causes events to appear not-quite-real, dream-like (which can often be advantageous for a project of this nature). When a ship goes aground on the rocks, we don’t see the calamity, rather we see only JP’s reaction. This and the CGI rain and other effects, adds to the idea that nothing is quite as it seems to be.

13. Jan, 2017

L'étrange Couleur des Larmes de ton Corps/The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)

A film with this title is unlikely to be traditional in its telling. And this is as unique as you can get. For a film to be involving, there usually needs to be an even slightly linear storyline, or identifiable characters, or some kind of plot thread. ‘The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears’ possesses none of these things.

Deliberately obfuscating the usual elements of storytelling, this milieu of stark architecture, close-ups on various body parts, teased gore and muddled sex appears to concentrate upon Dan (Klaus Tange) and his search for his missing wife. Tange has a slight look of Klaus Kinski about him, and his journey through 102 minutes of apparently giallo-influenced imagery is incomprehensible. But it looks splendid. Rather like ‘Don’t Look Now (1973)’, the colour red is used to great effect – some scenes are visually tinged with red, others are framed by it. There is a striking woman whose crisp, violent red clothes are at contrast with the magnificently ornate architecture around her.

The highly experimental project is a Belgian, French and Luxembourgian collaboration, and is technically stunning. The running time is too long to sustain such discernible logic and the attention is firmly focussed on the visual imagery once it becomes apparent there is no storyline to engage an audience. The soundtrack (my favourite aspect of this project) has been lifted mainly from various 60s and 70s European horror films and works very well in bringing to life the confounding events.

This film is frustrating to me because there is no progression, no reason to continue watching once it is clear there is no real story. Beautiful imagery and occasional moments of sex and violence don’t sustain. Things start off strangely and remain so until … well there isn’t really an ending. Things just stop.

Baffling, ponderous but relentless.

11. Jan, 2017

Hollow (2011)

Two couples head to a remote area of Suffolk for a brief holiday. At first they seem a tolerable ‘group of young people’, but as we get to know them, hidden tensions rise to the surface. Scott is sardonic and takes his joking too far, James has a short temper but manages to conceal the fact, Emma is studious and a little naive, while Lynne is flirty and not terribly bright (James is described as looking like Ringo Starr’s testicle, which amused me). Actors Matt Stokoe, Sam Stockman, Emily Plumtree and Jessica Ellerby are very naturalistic in their roles and almost completely convincing as ‘real people’ (as the opening caption assures us they are).

In this British rural horror, there are plenty of ghost stories spun, many of them focus around an old and gnarled hollowed out tree that stands in the middle of a field (Emma has memories of being frightened by the tree when younger). There are a lot of unanswered questions, which is presumably deliberate, inviting us to imagine that the tree has triggered all kinds of conflicting legends.

The power it wields appears to be to mess with the minds of those who show too much interest in it. Rather than scare us, we are treated instead to the dreaded ‘relationships failing’ routine which becomes stultifying and sails close to ‘Hollyoaks’ (UK teen soap) territory. What frights there are are nicely conveyed: low-key, they use night-time visions of the tree, the branches creaking in the breeze as it casts its spell over the squabbling youngsters.

(SPOILERS) There are several interpretations as to what happens toward the end. In ‘Blair Witch’ style, one character (James) disappears and is heard screaming into the night. My logical theory is that it was James behind events that lead to the final, having faked his vanishing. A suggestion of anything more supernatural is equally valid.

Interestingly, the cliffs nearby are named Dunwich Cliffs, an HP Lovecraft connection. ‘Hollow’ is unlikely to terrify, possibly not even scare although there are a few frights. For a rural horror, this is flawed, but fairly enjoyable.

10. Jan, 2017

La Orgía Nocturna de los Vampiros/The Vampires’ Night Orgy (1973)

A bus full of travellers is heading for the town of Bojoni when the driver suffers a fatal heart attack, and the group is forced to stay in the deserted Tolnio village overnight. This and many other films begins with a similar premise.

The first element of note is that this features one of the worst horror film music soundtracks I have ever heard. For example, a scene of a little girl exploring ruined buildings with a small boy who may or may not be a ghost, has every ounce of atmosphere drained completely by this often tuneless jazzy music. It sounds like a pornography soundtrack and does its best, for the most part, to kill all the efforts of Diector León Klimovsky and his team stone dead. Many of the moments uninfected by this rotten score are very effective – although there are no orgies to speak of, the various vampire activities are pretty sinister when not swamped by inappropriate melodies.

Sadly, the whole project suffers because of this. It would otherwise be a fairly effective variation on the ‘Night of the Living Dead’ theme, with vampires replacing zombies. There are some good moments – the female vampire decomposing in the back of the car as Luis (Jack Taylor) and Alma (Dyanik Zurokowska) drive into the sun-set, and the afore-mentioned disappearing ghost-boy who accompanies young Violeta (Sarita Gill), for example. The locations are also very good, as films from this period often are – genuinely dilapidated buildings making haunting, ghostly panoramas proving to be very isolated backdrops.

9. Jan, 2017

Whistle and I'll Come To You (1968/2010)

Whistle and I’ll Come To You (1968)

As part of the BBC’s ‘Omnibus’ strand, this ‘television movie’ had an introductive voice-over from the man who adapted the story, Jonathan Miller.
Beginning with two unsmiling maids making up a pair of beds in a hotel somewhere on the East Coast, all filmed in crisp black and white. Then we are introduced to the terrific Michael Hordern playing Professor Parkin, a scholarly isolationist making his way toward the building. He is confronted with the mighty Proprietor (the excellent George Woodbridge, veteran of many early Hammer horrors). Stilted and awkward their opening pleasantries are, the Proprietor’s words become mangled and incomprehensible when pointing out the amenities. Oddness is immediately confirmed from these two, lending the proceedings a disjointed quality all of their own often exemplified by Parkin’s separation from the other guests, who are all otherwise gracious enough. Parkin’s world acknowledges them, but is content to remain apart.

During his ‘trudge’ across the windswept beaches, Parkin happens across a whistle made of bone obscured by sand. He is intrigued, keeps it, and begins to feel the presence of ‘another.’

Hordern is excellent throughout, his private irritation at the stubborn haddock on his fork, or the sand that clings to the whistle as he tries to examine it, convey a man completely relaxed and comfortable with his complete lack of social interaction. His brief conversations are interesting because he could quite easily be eulogising with himself rather than with whomever he is sharing a scene. His terror is equally private, which allows us the possibility that it exists in his mind alone. And yet, when we are allowed glimpses of it, it is fittingly obscure and well-realised and quite unnerving.

Parkin’s strangled, guttural half-cries at the climactic moments are successfully reminiscent of the noises we sometimes make when emerging from a nightmare. His terror is palpable and disturbing.

Whistle and I’ll Come to You (2010)

John Hurt’s character (James Parkin) is, by contrast, far more socially active. His wife, suffering from dementia, has been put into the hands of Lesley Sharp and her legion of nurses at a care home, and is revisiting a few ‘old haunts’ with the intention of taking a few photographs to bring back and show her. And yet, his conversation with lone receptionist Carol (Sophie Thompson), he – in fact both of them – address themselves as much as each other, both unknowingly trapped in their isolation.

Rather than a whistle, it is a wedding ring he finds on the shore. The subsequent apparition he is followed by on the beach is surprisingly less of a special effect than in the original – a white, blurred mannequin.

The hotel he stays in is typical of those hotels near the English coastline – magnificent yet weathered, sprawling but intimate. Out of season, Parkin is alarmed to find he is entirely alone during one fitful night. The porcelain bust of a head on a shelf in his room seems poised to move of its own accord – the camera teases as much, yet it remains static, much to our relief.

Just as we never knew the nature of the spirit in the original, we are just as much deliberately left mostly in the dark here too – if indeed the spectres aren’t figments of Parkin’s very literal imagination. Here we can speculate that the very frightening scene at the end features the spirit of Parkin’s wife blaming him for leaving her alone, or his own guilt. Either way, the effect and the lead-up to it, is genuinely unnerving.

This 2010 version received mixed reviews. Some were incredulous, stating that Miller’s early version didn’t need a remake/reimagining, whilst others criticised the way the story was tweaked – so it seems Neil Cross’s adaption could never win with some people. I love this version – it avoids repetition and does something new whilst retaining the original’s atmosphere of dread.

8. Jan, 2017

The Fallow Field (2009)

Matt Sadler (Steve Garry) wakes up in a field. He doesn’t have any memory of how he got there. As his wearied girlfriend reminds him, this isn’t the first time this has happened. He has been missing for ten days. She decides to leave him. Apart from anything else, she strongly suspects he is seeing someone else – which turns out to be true. Within moments, his second girlfriend decides she’s had enough too. Within minutes, we know Sadler is devious, but we also have a certain empathy for his memory loss, and we don’t blame him when he tries to find out what is happening.

His uncertain searching leads him to the isolated farmhouse of Calham (Michael Dacre). The minimalistic soundtrack makes it apparent Calham is a bad egg. When he calls the surrounding ground ‘real fertile’, the words have an ominous ring. The direction is very effective here; Calham appears to be approaching the cameras and therefore the audience, Sadler seems to be backing away from it. And he is right too. Shortly, Sadler is chained and naked apart from a sack cloth over his head. This is how he has apparently been spending his time during his blackouts, aiding the stocky farmer in his gruesome ‘work’ – work which has clearly effected his mind.

Calham’s subsequent kidnaps and torture are carried out with slow deliberation. Too slow sometimes, as this rural horror stretches the thin but gruesome plot rather too much. The intensity between the main two characters is impressively played, but perhaps not quite interesting enough to take up so much of the 100 minutes running time. This is a slow burning horror that manages to hold the attention if not exactly excite it.

6. Jan, 2017

Forest of the Damned/Demonic (2005)

Before this film is even ten minutes into its running time, we have had naked vampires, sex, gore and two ‘You’ve got to be f****** kidding me’s’. I’m surprised how much I like it. The initially dreaded ‘group of friends go on a road-trip’ is as unpromising as these things often are: ‘crazy’ kids tearing up the countryside to the soundtrack of rock music never fills me with a desire for anything other than to skip forward. The characters are given the first names of characters from the John Hughes teen flick ‘The Breakfast Club (1985)’. The results are oddly American names for a very British collective, this decision hardly adding to their already scant credibility. Outwitting and out-glaring each other at every opportunity, it isn’t long before they are accosted by a raving man at a petrol station – this brief scene actually explains the main thrust of the story: angels have been rejected from Heaven because of extreme sexual desires and apparently frequent the nearby woodlands. Problem is, this is all relayed so briefly and in the form of such extreme ranting, that the details are very easy to overlook.

“There’s something in the forest,” whispers Emilio (Richard Cambridge), and really, that’s all we need to know. The nymphs in the forest, the Rottweiler-toothed seductresses ensnare, arouse, overpower and gorily cut down the body-count with impressive ease.

‘Forest of the Damned’ won’t please everyone (what can?). The acting is variable, the characters take some while to make any impression. But there are some good effects and some pleasing gore. Above all, though, is the stifling atmosphere of unease that, if anything, grows as the film goes on. The beautiful, wide open woodlands become a place of seduction and death.

A wild-eyed Tom Savini makes a surprise appearance (not really a surprise since he’s often top-billed, but I am pleasantly surprised he should appear in a low-budget British film like this). Horror writer Shaun Hutson (who has adapted at least three Hammer films) also appears as himself briefly.

This is a meandering, occasionally erotic horror in which the dislikeable aspects of the usual group are quickly side-lined in favour of a genuinely sensual/deadly ambience. Director Johannes Roberts is at pains not to create a ‘soft porn picture’ which, given the story material, is ‘tricky’ – for what it’s worth, I think he succeeds in directing something that transcends that, much like Jean Rollin did, and delivers a sultry evil that thrives on its tiny budget.

5. Jan, 2017

El Ataque de los Muertos Sin Ojos/Return of the Evil Dead (1973)

It is an odd decision to have this film open up with scenes of how the Knights Templar became known as The Blind Dead, and then some way into the running time, have those scenes repeated as flashbacks as someone (in this case, ‘village idiot’ Murdo, played by José Canalejas) is relaying the story of their origin.

However, this second film in the Blind Dead series sees Director Amando De Ossario once again making the titular creatures as revolting as cowled, decomposing skeletal zombies can be – although their withered, twig-like hands rarely look anything other than gnarled gardening forks held by the actors beneath the rotting robes and look particularly ineffective when trying to grab various victims. In fact, the cadaverous knights can be astonishingly inept here: usually their agonising slowness adds to their menace – here, a whole group of them completely fail to capture the terrified, screaming Monica (Loretta Tovar). It might be their most ineffectual scene and reduces their effect greatly. Later on, however, a horde of the Knights Templar storming the village present a far more persuasive presentation of their powers.

This is another enjoyable instalment in the series. Each entry manages to be more than ‘just another episode’, however, due to Ossario’s inspiring passion for the subject, and ‘Return of the Evil Dead’ is a substantial project in its own right. It perhaps lacks the atmospheric chill of ‘Ghost Galleon’ and ‘Night of the Seagulls’, but the Knights’ relentless, statuesque vigil throughout the night awaiting the emergence of the last few survivors makes for a morbidly enthralling scenario.

31. Dec, 2016

La Noche de las Gaviotas/Night of the Seagulls (1975)

This proved to be the last in Spanish Director Amando de Ossorio's four-part Blind Dead series.

The set-up is far less contrived than in the previous ‘Ghost Galleon’ (1974); instead of an ill-advised publicity stunt gone wrong, here we have the simple premise of a Doctor (Stein, no less, played by Victor Petit) and his wife (Maria Kosty) moving to an isolated fishing village. Although, why he insists on staying here to take up his post when everyone is either openly hostile, or completely ignores him, is typically baffling. And yet, without such wilfulness, where would horror plots be?

Only local Lucy (Sandra Mozarosky, who tragically died not long after filming was completed at the age of 18) and José Antonio Calvo’s village idiot Teddy show any friendship towards the couple.

There is no denying Ossorio’s skill at evoking a creepy atmosphere. Many familiar staples are here – misty graveyards, creaking doors, wonderfully isolated locations and decaying-looking sets. Every effort seems to have been made to make the seaport a closed, sinister, uninviting place. And pretty soon, the Knights Templar are emerging from their foul tombs with agonising slowness, their spindly clawed hands looking as if they could barely give you a tame stroke without turning to dust (perhaps it would have been better to dress the actors’ hands, rather than provide separate twig-like appendages).

The slow build-up to Lucy’s final scene on the beach is excellent, very Jean Rollin-esque. Knowing what is going to happen to her doesn’t make us optimistic of a less than grisly outcome. The ever-present shrieking birds from the title have a part to play too – according to Teddy, the pretty girls taken to sacrifice ‘become the seagulls,’ which is creepily enigmatic.

Other than a fairly standard ending, this doesn’t necessarily feel like final closure for these withered knights. The series could have continued. Perhaps it still might; there is plenty of mileage left in these memorably ethereal creatures.