I love Friday’s where the thirteenth day of the month falls on them! Am I superstitious? Not really. I just love the slasher franchise Friday The 13th! Last year I spent one Friday the thirteenth in my favourite cinema watching a marathon of films featuring the iconic killer Jason Voorhees. It was a lot of fun, but ultimately left me with little will to live by the early hours where I was struggling with the latter films which, lets face it, aren’t that great. Knowing a lot of people like cake, this year I thought I’d do something different! So here are a few of the best Friday The 13th themed cakes I could find online! If any of these are one of your cakes let me know so I can give credit!
People who know me, readers of this blog and followers on my Twitter will know that I love horror films and have a thing for the slasher subgenre in particular. Last week was pretty special for me, in that I finally got to see one film that I had been trying to see for years but had eluded me in one way or another (not enough money left at the end of the month to buy the DVD, lost the eBay auction, no friends have a copy etc)… The Burning.
In a time when digital is taking over and, probably for a few of you too, a trip to the cinema means spending far too much money, I was really lucky to catch the film in a way that I only thought would be a dream. In 35mm, in the dark and at one of my favourite places in the world. Thanks to London film club Cigarette Burns, we were treated to a brilliant screening at The Prince Charles Cinema with a terrific crowd and what was a beautiful original print.
Much to my delight, I absolutely loved it. Occasionally the build up to a film you’ve yet to see can be more enjoyable than the picture itself (especially when you’ve read about it in countless books, lusted after the iconic poster, seen pictures on blogs and in textbooks) and luckily for me I wasn’t let down. Yes, its pretty much a standard slasher with all the genre tropes and clichés included as you would expect, and yet it still managed to feel fresh and a little different to its peers. The pacing was far better than I thought it would be, putting some of its counterparts to shame, and the banter and relationships between characters (whilst at times creating some unintentionally hilarious moments) felt somewhat natural and, well, fun. The eventual reveal of killer Cropsy worked, despite the fact that he looked more like a melted candle than a burns victim, and the soundtrack was brilliant. A mix of different themes, at times it feels completely out-of-place and yet it still manages to be nothing short of awesome.
The main highlight for me, personally, however was the addition of Brian Backer in the cast. Playing the role of quiet loner Alfred, Backer quite literally steals the entire film thanks to his completely over-the-top performance which gets funnier and funnier as the film goes on. Want to know how to pull the best shocked and scared face? Watch this film, because Backer will teach you all you need to know. At times it’s almost as if he’s waiting for his jaw to fall off. And then there’s his running… His endless running… Featured in long scenes that do very little for the film, they could almost be edited down into one short film showcasing his tour of the forest. Accompanied by a synth style score that wouldn’t feel out-of-place in another type of 1980s horror or a giallo film, the countless scenes of Backer running, looking around various corners and dropping his best scared face are priceless! All in all, another fantastic night courtesy of one of London’s best film clubs.
Cigarette Burns next screening will be the 1988 remake of The Blob at the Phoenix Cinema on June 14th, details of which can be found on the CB website. You can also follow CB on Twitter and read the site blog here. The Prince Charles Cinema is located just off Leicester Square and runs a great programme of new releases, rep screenings and events. Check out whats on and buy tickets here!
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of British director Norman J. Warren. One of the genre directors I love most, as a keen fan, his entire filmography is one that I have been determined to see in its entirety since I was fifteen and witnessed Satan’s Slave on telly for the first time (thank you late night BBC2 horror doubles!). Sadly for Warren, Bloody New Year, his last feature film, falls under the banner that so many last films by directors fall under. Whilst it’s a lot of fun, it’s basically not very good…
The film’s title sequence opens with a New Year’s Eve party set in 1959. All is going well except that something happens at the last-minute. Flash forward twenty-something years and we find a group of kids washed up on an island (after a slightly excruciating carnival scene which could have been trimmed somewhat) that appears completely uninhabited. Christmas and New Year’s decorations are everywhere, but it happens to be the middle of summer… Something isn’t quite right.
It takes almost half an hour for the film to actually get to the main plot point (which for a ninety-ish minute movie is a wee bit long) but when we do it all gets a little weird in a good way. Warren has effectively crafted a haunted house movie, set in the island’s abandoned hotel, which is expanded to include the rest of the islands habitat. Ghosts, ghouls, kitchen appliances coming to life, disembodied voices, footsteps appearing in the sand, a demonic elevator, even a murderous Hoover, it’s all there, if not appearing a little dulled down. Under a new director, with a small re-write and some good effects, the film has all the hallmarks of a potentially good ghost story with some great effects sequences.
Whilst it’s not Warren’s best film, it isn’t a terrible one. Slowly the kids get picked off one by one until the island’s mystery is revealed. It’s a little anti-climatic but ties everything up nicely (without giving it away, lets just say the alternative title for the film, Time Warp Terror, might have been more suitable). The acting is more than a little wooden at times but a few special effects moments make up for the rest of the features charm (a nice little nod to A Nightmare On Elm Street, even if you can see the paint flaking away from the latex…). The director also gets to do a little nod to Evil Dead 2 in a scene in which the films protagonists are chased through a field by something. The swooping camera shots and canned laughter could easily have come straight out of Raimi’s picture, but this is hardly surprising when you consider that Terror, one of Warren’s earlier releases, was a practical rip=off of Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
Well worth seeking out if you’re a horror fan or a Warren fan/completest, Bloody New Year isn’t a terrible watch, you just can’t help but see the potential it could have had under a different cast or budget. That said, Warren manages to deliver a film that deftly attempts to meld together motifs of the slasher sub-genre with haunted house clichés. The result isn’t breathtaking but considering the films miniscule budget, is nothing short of admirable.
Happy Halloween folks! As today is a very special day for horror fans and all those who love a creepy thing or two I thought I’d post this essay I wrote for my first year at University on John Carpenter’s horror classic Halloween. An analysis of the films opening, it is by no means perfect (and I stress that) but I thought I’d put it up for a little fun…
The opening sequence in Halloween (Carpenter, 1978) follows an unseen character as it spies upon a lone house at night and is comprised of the following shots;
- Frontal shot of suburban house, night time. The house is in darkness and surrounded by trees
- Slow tracking shot towards house, stops at illuminated porch. Figures inside the house are visible.
- Tracking shot from front of the house to the side which is enclosed in darkness. Shot stops at window where figures are revealed more by indoor lighting.
- Camera stops and focuses on interaction between figures inside. They disappear upstairs.
- Pan shot from left to right of the side of the house, followed by tracking shot back to the front of the house.
- Tilt shot looking up to a lit front window on the second storey. Lights go out and the house is again surrounded by complete darkness.
- Tracking shot from front of house, down the side and through to the back of the house. Shot continues by going in through open back door and into dark kitchen.
- Lights appear as a pan and tilt shot shows a drawer being opened by a hand. Point of view shot is established. Hand pulls out knife from drawer.
- Tracking shot continues through downstairs of house, going from room to room. Pan and tilt shots utilised to portray point of view. No lights are on downstairs except for in the hall.
- Camera stops at hall and tilt shot shows male walking down the stairs getting dressed. Pan shot shows him leave through front door.
- Tracking shot goes from lit hall ascending the staircase towards the landing which is dark.
The film starts by using establishing shots depicting the location and time of event. The story takes place in Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night 1963. The sequence starts with a wipe cut going from completely black to the view of a large suburban house. The house is a generic American home, all white with a large veranda on the other side of the road. The colour stands out against the surrounding darkness of the night and the unlit street in which it resides. Slightly reminiscent of the Bates family home in Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960), the house looks very isolated and vulnerable cushioned in black. There is not even the safety of streetlights in this neighbourhood. Framed by a tree on either side like an archway or gate, the house looks easily penetrable. Through horror genre conventions we are led to believe that something ‘bad’ will soon happen as it becomes apparent to the viewer that the house is being watched by an unseen character. Utilising the shadows as concealment, the audience is immediately thrust into a subjective camera shot, in this case point of view (POV). As spectators, we join with this unseen characters perspective, as if we were behind them, and begin to associate with them.
A slow tracking shot establishes the unseen character walking across the road towards the house. As the character walks the camera direction employs a slight bobbing, emulating bodily movement and more realistically depicting the POV shot. When the camera moves closer, we begin to see the house in more detail. It is in fact cream, dirtier and less pure than the colour white, and covered in patches of peeling and worn away paint as if there was a problem with it. There are lights on inside and a lit jack-o-lantern on the veranda; clearly someone is home. As we approach the front door the outline of a couple kissing can be seen through translucent net curtains. This is obviously an act we are not meant to see, behind closed doors and in the safety of concealment. Here the audience is no longer made to feel like they are watching through someone else’s eyes but through their own; the unseen protagonist and the audience’s associated becoming unified through voyeurism.
From the front of the house we follow the couple through a tracking shot as they make their way into the adjacent living room. The hidden character walks down the side of the house concealed by bushes, a genre convention popularised in Universal Studio’s horror films of the 1920s and 30s. Once we turn the corner of the house we are plunged back into darkness and stop at the living room window looking through. Similar to the net curtains, a wire mesh fly screen covers the window acting as a slight barrier and reinforcing the idea of voyeurism. Inside, the couple are revealed to be teenagers, male and female, and are dimly lit by the television in the room. The decor of the house suggests that the owners are fairly well off, possibly middle class and certainly living life comfortably. The couple’s relaxed, playful embrace on the sofa implies that they are alone in the house increasing the suspense and tension created by the stalker observing. The expectation that something will happen to these characters is also greater, being alone amplifying their own and the house’s vulnerability. After a few seconds, the male leans in to the girls face and she smiles. They both get up and head for the stairs, visible through the doorway at the back on the longue. Something suggestive has been said and the couple clearly feel safe in the assumption that they are alone at home.
A pan shot shows the stalker look down both the right and left side of the house; as if to check that anyone was around. This makes the protagonist’s presence more sinister as by implying that they’re making sure no one is around for a reason, the expectation that something will most definitely happen to the couple is greater. Another tracking shot shows the character walk back to the front of the house and look up through a tilt shot towards a lit second storey window. Indicating a bedroom through the couple’s suggestive behaviour downstairs, the light goes out and the house is cloaked in darkness. Just like the ‘archway’ of trees in front of the house, the residence is easily penetrable as the safety of lighting has disappeared. The house and the stalker now blend in with the shadow and dark of night becoming one, there are no longer any physical boundaries. To confirm any suspicions, a tracking shot then precedes to show the unseen character walk back from the front of the house, down its side which we have already seen and then go to the back of the house where an open door provides entrance.
The character then enters the house, a pan shot revealing this room to be the kitchen with appliances and a small table illuminated by the moonlight through the window. The overhead lights suddenly come on and for the first time in the sequence we are able to see our surroundings clearly. Just like the outside of the house itself, the kitchen is cream coloured and appears slightly dirty. The appliances, which are also cream, make the room look clinical adding to tone of uneasiness felt now that the house has finally been breached. A tilt and slow tracking shot to the right focus on a drawer and the arm that we have previously seen before opens it to reveal sharp utensils. Now that the room is clearly lit we can see that the person is wearing green and yellow. As the hand reaches into the drawer it pulls out a large, phallic kitchen knife. The previous four minutes of stalking would suggest and imply that this knife is going to be used for something bad; someone is going to end up hurt at some point. The green and yellow colouring of the clothing also implies that this protagonist may possibly be envious or jealous of the couple inside the house. The phallic connotations associated with the kitchen knife, on top of said watching of house and clothing colour, leads the audience to believe that this possible jealousy could be linked to the young couples sexual behaviour. However the colour yellow is generally thought of as positive and warm. Is this character out for revenge or possibly protecting someone he cares about? Are there confused or mixed feelings surrounding sexuality within the hidden stalker?
Once the knife has been acquired, a tracking shot shows the character moving from room to room downstairs. Each is cloaked in the unsafe feeling that darkness brings, the rooms being illuminated only by moonlight from outside and gently from the kitchen. Low tilt and pan shots continue utilising the POV angle as the protagonist looks around each room, checking as they did outside that no one else is around. Upon entering the longue, we look across and linger for a few seconds on the empty coach which once held the amorous couple. The brief pause works as if to remember and reaffirm the ‘reason’ for which the house has been broken in to; it is the young couple who are the focus of this unseen person and now the audience begins to feel real dread and apprehension for the unknowing teenagers.
The camera’s tracking movement stops at the longue doorway which leads to the brightly lit hall we have seen before. An upwards tilt shot following the stairs shows that the teenage male is descending, hastily putting back on his clothes. As he runs down the stairs, he looks back towards the landing where we are led to believe the teenage girl has been left; upstairs and alone. The camera employment, still effectively mimicking human behaviour, moves back behind the door frame to hide away from the teenage male as concealment through shadows is no longer possible. Here we spy the boy give a somewhat regretful look towards the upstairs of the house, quickly open the front door and leave the house. Has the unseen character been protecting the young girl all along from her possible own naivety? We are still as spectators not even sure if the stalker even knows this couple at all.
Once the front door has shut, the camera emerges through the door way and a tilt shot towards the top of the stairs is followed by a tracking shot ascending. Here the unseen character goes from the brightly lit hall downstairs into the contrasting total darkness of upstairs. There are no lights on; there is no safety in illumination for either our protagonist or the young girl who we presume to be upstairs. We, unified by the continued POV shot, like the hidden character as now entering an unknown territory. In what state will the girl be in upstairs and does the young man’s sombre expression suggest that he himself has done regretful to her and not the character who picked up the knife? Likewise, why is our envious protagonist armed with a potential weapon, to enact a brutal morality lesson upon the young woman or to protect himself from her or the young man who left? As the character walks into the total darkness of upstairs, the audience is left wondering what the answers to all the questions set up will be and the fate and actions of the two people left within the house…
With Halloween only a few weeks away, I thought it would be nice to pay homage to the fun activity that is Pumpkin Carving. Everyone has to have carved a badly executed scary face into a vegetable (or is it a fruit?) at least once in their life. Whether it be something that keeps the kids entertained for a little while or turns into a competitive competition between friends, here are a few ideas to get you started. So grab some pumpkins, a few tea lights, the odd sharp instrument and prepare to get creative and messy…
As I mentioned before, Film4 FrightFest is a great place to meet people, including those that a few of us may admire. So I was really chuffed this year to have the pleasure of meeting special effects legend Greg Nicotero, who I’ve been a fan of for a very long time. Nicotero needs no introduction but for those of you who may need reminding, he is one of the founding members of the KNB EFX Group and has over 150 credits to his name (including The Walking Dead, Kill Bill, Evil Dead II, Misery). Nicotero was at the festival to receive the inaugural Variety Award, presented to him by actor Simon Pegg, for excellence in the special effects field. I was very lucky to meet him before the presentation and to say his is absolutely lovely is an understatement. A very warm character who gave a great Q&A (with some brilliant tips such as mixing in soap into your fake blood mix so it washes off more easily!), he was also there to do an introduction before a screening of Nightmare Factory, a documentary charting his career and the work that KNB do.
The true highlight of the day, and in all honesty for me the whole festival, was the late night uncut screening of the Maniac remake, starring Elijah Wood in the lead role as Frank Zito. As a huge fan of the original 1980 release, directed by William Lustig, I will admit that I was very nervous about seeing the feature, especially as some recent remakes or ‘reimagings’ haven’t done any justice to their original counterparts. I was all ready to hate it but any doubts I had in Maniac were swiftly disposed of within the first five minutes. I literally had to pick my jaw up from the floor once the credits had rolled. To say the film absolutely floored me is an understatement. Without a doubt, Maniac is my favourite film of the year.
Firstly I was surprised at how involved Lustig was, being producer on a remake that I thought he hadn’t even been approached for for his original idea. Don’t get me wrong, this remake is just as violent and nasty as the original and anyone who finds the depiction of violence against women in film uncomfortable are best to stay well away. Maniac doesn’t hide what it is and keeps itself exactly in tune with the 1980 feature. It has some terrifically gory and gut wrenching moments (all that scalping shot very up close and an extremely well done Achilles tendon slash), which combined with the POV narrative and camera work feels very real and places the audience right in the centre of the action with no room to hide. This makes the first person direction of the story a complex and interesting one, the audience being made to not only try to somewhat understand Zito’s psychosis but made to feel like one of his victims too.
And the camera work truly is dizzying, only occasionally breaking away to show Zito as a ‘third person’, mostly in a mirrored reflection, giving the audience its only break. Not only is it shot in uncompromising fashion, it is beautifully shot. If the POV narrative didn’t give you enough insight into Zito’s world, the composition and lighting of the camera framework certainly will. When it’s time to stalk and slash, the victim is always at the centre of the frame, even when we are being made to watch them behind cars and metal fences. During the day however the composition of the framework takes on a far more artistic attitude (soft lighting, projected angles, wonderful focus work) which not only externalises Zito’s world as an obsessive mannequin restorer but that of potential love interest Anna, herself a photographer.
Casting is truly inspired and Elijah Wood is on top form as the titular lead. Completely immersed in character, it’s hard to think of him as anything other than the compulsive, disturbed, obsessive and troubled Zito, who has Oedipal and psychosexual issues that would make Norman Bates look positively normal. Also wonderfully cast is Nora Arnezeder as Anna, who bone structure and figure so perfectly mimics that of a standard mannequin that it’s no wonder Zito starts to fall for her.
Bound to cause some controversy because of its content mixed with its artistic aesthetic, Maniac is a film not to miss. A thumping success of a remake with a truly killer 1980s inspired soundtrack to match (think Drive), the feature manages to nail the characteristics of the grisly original and perfectly translate them to a modern landscape. Superb and highly recommended.
My personal highlights of the Film4 FrightFest horror festival continued on Day Two starting with a Q&A session with this year’s Total Film Icon, the Italian horror director/writer Dario Argento. As a huge fan of some of his giallo films, I was really excited to hear what the legend had to say having never had the opportunity to see him in person before, and what resulted was an unintentionally funny interview that occasionally threw out a few hidden gems. Argento admitted that he has had nothing to do with the recent Suspiria remake, which is currently still in production, not even being approached for his own thoughts. His response to the whole thing was absolutely genius though, ‘I don’t think it’s so easy to do something better – I say OK try!’. Rounding off with a particularly interesting anecdote involving his Dracula 3D star Rutger Hauer going missing (all I will say is it involved finding him hours later in a bush with a girl…), Argento was definitely one of the highlights of the day. My only gripe would have been that the language barrier did make things a little difficult during the interview and perhaps having an Italian translator on stage with him might have given him the linguistic freedom to answer questions the way he really wanted to. That said, it was fantastic that FrightFest were able to get him over this year and give fans the opportunity to meet him, after last years Icon John Carpenter’s no-show.
First film of the day for us was horror anthology V/H/S which I’d been particularly looking forward to but felt let down with once it had finished. The film follows a group of guys who have been hired by a third-party to break into an old house and find a rare and collectible VHS tape. Except that once there, they find a hell of a lot of other tapes which contain a whole host of found footage… In some parts the film works really well and in others it just doesn’t live up to the promise it holds. The ‘slasher’ segment in particular, Tuesday the 17th (directed by Glenn McQuaid), doesn’t sit quite right alongside the other ‘tapes’ and would probably work best as a DVD extra, being the weakest of the five stories in a film that nearly outstayed its welcome with a running time of just under two hours. I like slasher films but this story had the opportunity to be fresh and inventive, instead proving to be boring and predictable (same goes for Ti West’s story Second Honeymoon). That said, the final two segments, The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger (by Joe Swanberg and Simon Barrett) and 10/31/98 (by collective Radio Silence), are absolute crackers and would make excellent short films in their own rights, both managing to provide the real scares of the film with minimal effort. In short, a feature worth checking out but one that could have been a great deal more with a little extra thought.
Second film of the night came in the form of REC 3: Genesis, the third installment in the popular Spanish REC franchise. As a huge fan of the first two films I was somewhat dubious as to where this film would take the series, with its non-apologetic inclusion of humour, but I need not have worried. Without a doubt one of the most fun screenings of the entire festival, alongside Brit flick Cockneys VS Zombies, REC 3 manged to walk that difficult line in film and deliver both real scares and laughs. A very self-aware film without being pretentious about it (take note fellow filmmakers), director Paco Plaza skillfully managed to put his own unique spin on the franchise’s core elements and still made it fit in perfectly with the series’ own universe. Whilst the fourth feature isn’t directed by Plaza himself, it sets up some interesting narrative ideas that make the next feature which make me rather excited.
Outside of the films shown during the day, two surprise gems of the festival came in the form of one short and a trailer. First up was stop motion animator Lee Hardcastle’s short The Raid… With Cats, a terrific claymation condensing the film down to a few minutes and replacing all cast with… cats. Absolutely delightful, if you’ve not seen it, I’ve included a link below, but all I can say is it was beautiful watching the artistry of stop motion on the big screen! Secondly, we were treated to the World Premier of the ABC’s of Death trailer, an upcoming horror anthology film featuring the multiple talents of a whole heap of worldwide filmmakers, which looks nothing short of wickedly brilliant!