Six Picks For an ALTERNATIVE Halloween Film Night
Just in case you've exhausted your collection of classics such as THE SHINING (1980), THE EVIL DEAD (1981) & HALLOWEEN (1978), curiously made very close to each other I noticed. There's a reason those sorts of films are watched over and over, but I wanted to write about films that've had less of an audience or deserve to be re-discovered. I've compiled a mix of picks for a Halloween film night focussing on lesser known gems, old and new. Read on for a few filmic treats lurking in the list you maybe haven't tasted before...
1. CROOKED HOUSE (2008)
Mark Gatiss stars in & writes a refreshing ghostly drama about an ominous manor house that keeps (very) dark secrets & is the setting for various spooky stories from varying periods of time; that then leads up to a present day atmospheric climax. Originally aired as a three-part TV series showed on consecutive nights in the run up to Christmas Eve, inspired by the GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS. The DVD however, joins the episodes together to make one long film. Whilst this doesn't hurt CROOKED HOUSE too much, this wasn't how it was broadcast affecting the structure of the narrative as it was for TV - that an episode would end when a story concluded. This is a real gem & it's really cheap to buy too. Towards the end it moves into TWILIGHT ZONE territory & you're drawn increasingly into the lore of the house; DOWNTON ABBEY, this is not!
2. I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)
A film that mixes, bends & challenges genre. I debated having it on this list - is it a horror film? Is it a slasher film? Is it a revenge film? Is it an action film even? Well it's these questions that naturally play in the mind whilst you watch the film, deciphering what'll occur next, that's part of it's addiction to watch closely with intrigue & fear. This is without a doubt one of the most suspenseful films I've ever seen, real unrelenting suspense; an indisputable example, from director Kim Jee-Woon, of a film mixing art with staples of horror such as gore & ultra-violence. Not that an "art" film shouldn't include content of that nature, but to see such a talented director dedicated to the telling of this hardcore story is really quite the experience. It's unrelentingly violent, shocking & creates full bloodied chaos within such precise filmmaking beauty, it deserves to be hailed as a modern classic.
3. THE INNOCENTS (1961)
Adapted from the Henry James novella THE TURN OF THE SCREW, THE INNOCENTS is an immaculately produced & delicately shot film. We follow the story of a new nannie who is to take care of two children at a large house in the countryside. Beginning to see phantoms, she starts to search as to who they are & why they haunt. If you're already wanting to pass on watching the film due to it being dated, the film rarely shows examples of it's age & at least for me, continues to scare deeply much because of a fault sense of security - don't let it put you off! The rich & smooth monochrome cinematography glides throughout the environment, often keeping the haunting events at an observational distance. The way sound is used is impeccable & does a lot of subtle storytelling, expanding the events into much more than a usual "haunted house" affair, adding more substance. It's seriously creepy & there's some pretty taboo stuff that arises in the film, if you allow it to be acknowledged. As a result of this, it may leave you feeling more unsettled than the usual fare of it's kind.
A fine, if not one of the best, examples of brooding ghostly horror that you shouldn't expect to go easy on you simply by it's early sixties release date.
4. TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL (2010)
Now for something very different. I'd heard about this film during it's successful festival run & seen the great trailer too; but it was only until my brother bought it for me as a gift, raving about it, that I got to see this excellent film. It's a hilarious, very cleverly written parody on the seemingly age-old characters of the typical redneck killers you get in so many American horror films. TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL shows the perspective of those characters & runs riot with the idea, doing it absolute justice throughout & thus creating a very gory rewarding comedy - it's such an achievement of a film. It's ideal for Halloween, as it's mocking so much of the inconsistencies & stock characters shovelled into so many horror films. Such an amazing job is done making you see Tucker & Dale as so misunderstood, that it makes you want to re-watch all the classic horrors just to make sure you got your opinion right on them all the first time.
5. EVENT HORIZON (1997)
Audiences seem to react greatly to science fiction horrors; films such as ALIEN & INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS - the genres mix well. Our fears of the unknown of space or an unknown "people" merges with horror cinema; the monsters, killers & unseen threats. I think a neglected example of this is EVENT HORIZON. While it clearly isn't for everyone, having just had a little look at opinions on the net, some people really hate this film! Well, I found it sh*t scary & that's why it's on the list. In a nustshell, it's a gory "haunted house" film set in space that gets pretty terrifying & uneasy. After a spaceship returns following a sudden mysterious disappearance, a crew is sent aboard to investigate, yielding incredible & disturbing events as a result of where it's been... & it hasn't returned alone.
BE SERIOUSLY CAREFUL, KEEP THE BASEMENT DOOR SHUT & MAKE YOUR CHOICES WISELY...
Ghost STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS | HITCHCOCK TRAILER
GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS
After years of anticipation, the BFI are finally releasing the celebrated GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS series fully - as a 5-disc DVD box set. This BBC produced series spanned from 1968-1978 and was made up of MR James ghost story adaptations (with the exception of Dickens' THE SIGNALMAN (1976) & some of the modern ones such as THE ICE HOUSE (1978) ). Included also, are the brief revivals of this film tradition that were made recently: A VIEW FROM A HILL (2005), NUMBER 13 (2006) & WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU (2010).
This DVD set is incredibly overdue in terms of interest and demand, with the previously released films: A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS (1972), WHISTLE & I'LL COME TO YOU (1968) & THE SIGNALMAN (1976) all racking up extortionate prices in the past few years, becoming increasingly rare on DVD (even garnering interest in similarly rare VHS versions), the popularity of the films has been very evident. Another issue with the previous DVD versions was that they were released singularly, rather than a set; at 50 minutes max running time for each film it made for pretty inefficient use of disc space and lousy value for money. Speaking as one of the fans hunting for these TV gems, it was frustrating but now ultimately worth it, as it clearly demonstrated a decent market for the series exists to the BFI and all that searching/streaming of these lost films must have contributed to the new release.
The great writing, smart pacing and believable acting adds credibility to the films, that clearly follow a typical but highly enjoyable ghost story formula. Obvious set-ups, plots and devices feel recognisable but fresh, they've simply never been implemented as well as this; a testament to the quality of the works. Let's not ignore that's it's the familiarity of situations in horror/mystery films that often allows an audience in, to enjoy and relate, then the subsequent subversion of that. Without going off on a tangent... it's a fitting metaphor to compare a roller-coaster to films like these; you can see what's ahead of you but it seldom doesn't give you a surprise during the ride. We know what it's going to do and we have good foresight of how it'll try to do "IT" - to scare us. A roller-coaster will be enjoyed whilst riding, like watching a film, the satisfaction comes with understanding the ride but being unaware of the path - the then and now within the moment that gives satisfaction. After the film or roller-coaster is finished, how does it linger in the mind? Is that the true test?
If you like your subtler terrors and a more vintage style of scaring an audience, I highly recommend this set. Actually, if you have a DVD player, I recommend it.
The set features the three aforementioned titles and nine other films never-before on DVD. With Halloween close and the road to Christmas upon us, these sought-after eerie films have been shrewdly scheduled for a seasonal sale - of which I've totally bought into and pre-ordered. To read more about GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS, there is a brief but informative article in Sight & Sound (September 2012 issue) and the full synopsis/context from the BFI can be viewed HERE. The films can also be purchased as individual sets with 2-4 of the films on each (as pictured above).
The trailer for HITCHCOCK has hit and it seems really promising. Rather than being a full life-long biographical film that I'm sure would struggle capturing such a prolific figure, the filmmakers have wisely focussed on a specific period of Hitch's life; that being when the director was trying to get PSYCHO (1960) off the ground and into production. With the hindsight we have as an audience for the film's success and knowing how regarded Psycho (1960) will become, the premise is really interesting. From the trailer, this appears to create some great drama and humour we've been unaware of associated with the film. We can see from the dramatisation of the real events, that it appears it was far from easy to get the classic made and this should make for a great film. Plus, performers such as Scarlett Johansson have pretty much transformed into the older actors they'll portray from Hitchcock's films, it's quite astonishing. Take a look...
Award winning and internationally selected director of dance, fiction, experimental and documentary films with screening highlights of London Short Film Festival at the ICA, LACMA, Zealous X exhibition (Oxo Tower Wharf) and San Diego Comic-Con. His work has broadcast on BBC One and ikono TV.