Happy Halloween

And to help celebrate the occasion, here is F. W. Murnau’s classic version of the Dracula story, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, made in 1922. A truly grotesque vampire.

Followed by Werner Herzog’s 1979 homage, Nosferatu the Vampyre, with Klaus Kinski in the title role. In German with English subtitles. YouTube won’t let me embed the video, so here’s the link.

Like Nosferatu, I have risen from the coffin, and I’m ready for some serious bloodletting blogging.

The Wicker Man Director’s Cut

the-wicker-man-the-directors-cutOne of the great British horror films, The Wicker Man, is finally being shown in its entirety today after Hollywood butchered it prior to release in 1973. According to Studio Briefing, a complete print of director Robin Hardy’s final version was discovered in the Harvard Film Archive.

I’ve seen The Wicker Man in incomplete versions a couple of times. It never fails to simultaneously evoke pity for Howie and huge exhilaration. Partly because life on Summerisle is an idyllic vision of people just getting along and enjoying life to the full. Unless, of course, your crops begin to fail and you have to turn to human sacrifice. Opposing their worldview is Constable Howie, a dour puritan, who would have burned pagans in another age. He achieves something his peculiar mindset might hold in high esteem – the chance to die as a martyr. I think that tension is what gives the film such resonance.

Unbelievably, or perhaps believably, the studio wanted a happy ending for Howie, with rain putting out the fire in the wicker man. A simplistic, Biblical Deus ex machina calculated to destroy the complex duality of the film. We must be thankful that Hardy refused to compromise its integrity.

There’s no doubt Howie is entrapped into investigating the disappearance of a young girl who never actually went missing, but the fool gets every chance to save himself. He only has to give in to Willow’s enchantment and lose his virginity. Here’s her song and it’s well-nigh irresistible.

As is Britt Ekland in the role of Willow, though she thought she had “an arse like a ski slope,” so they had to get her a bottom double for the nude scenes. This according to an illuminating article in the Guardian where Hardy and Gary Carpenter, musical director, talk about the making of the film.

I’m hoping our wee Picture House gets a copy for the First Monday program – good films that aren’t the usual Hollywood dreck, shown on the first Monday of every month. In the meantime, here’s the trailer. I’d take the 4 hour bus to journey to Glasgow, and 4 hours back, just to see this film again.

The Returned

The Returned

The Returned is Channel 4’s venture into seriously creepy French horror, with subtitles, for us all to enjoy. It’s zombies, Jim, but not as we know them, as the dead start returning exactly as they were in life, with no memory of their deaths. Set in a modern Alpine town, below a reservoir where the water levels are inexplicably dropping, perhaps to reveal awful secrets in the drowned valley. Add to that a serial killer on the loose and sibling rivalry from beyond the grave, and you have gripping, must-see, appointment television. I’m hooked.

I can almost see how the idea for The Returned came about, in this imagined conversation.

What if there were twin teenage sisters competing for the same boyfriend?
That’s not very original.
Yes, but what if one twin sister was 4 years younger than the other, and dead.

Camille is the younger sister, and the first of the Returned, after dying in a coach crash 4 years previously. Others follow, trying to come to terms with their existence, as are their families, friends, and lovers. And in the background a sort of corruption is growing that might be linked to the reasons for their return. Not to mention the mysterious deaths.

Terrific stuff, and all the episodes are available on the Channel 4 Player. The haunting soundtrack is by Mogwai, a band from Glasgow.

Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror (7.2.6)

Doctor Who Poster - The Crison Horror

BBC Doctor Who Site

Mrs Gillyflower: Join us in this shining city on the ‘ill!

There’s trouble ‘t mill in this splendid romp, written by that aficionado of cinematic horror, Mark Gatiss. Tough as old boots, Mrs Gillyflower is played by Diana Rigg, clearly loving the role of this completely over the top villain. In a stroke of genius her long-suffering daughter, Ada, is played by her own own daughter, Rachael Stirling. In addition, three of of my favourite characters show up to help the Doctor out of his pickle – Madame Vastra and her partner, Jenny, and the still bloodthirsty but well-trained Sontaran warrior, Strax. (“You’re over-excited. Have you been eating those jelly sherbert fancies again?”)

The episode is full of the sort of theatrical northernness you might find in the Fosdyke Saga, mated with cliches from cinematic horror movies, and tempered by a Whovian sensibility. I particularly enjoyed Mrs Gillyflower’s organ, which revolves to reveal the launch panel for her rocket. Touch of the Dr.Phibes there, which would have been even more perfect if Mrs Gillyflower had played something. And special mention for the engaging Thomas Thomas, who gives such perfect directions to Strax, just as he’s about to shoot his fourth horse in a week.

We don’t see the Doctor or Clara until well into the episode, except in the last image captured in a dead man’s eyes – a dead, red man, seeing a red Doctor. Madame Vastra and Jenny travel to 1893 Yorkshire, where Jenny infiltrates Mrs Gillyflower’s chilling cult of moral purity. Only the most perfect survive being dipped into a vat of red Jurassic leech venom. These lucky, petrified people get to live under glass domes in perfect little houses in Sweetville, Victorian values at their most explicit. Clara makes the grade, while the Doctor’s rejected, but doesn’t die like all the other rejects who get dumped in the canal. Blind, scarred Ada takes a fancy to him and locks up her “monster” in a cell.

Until he’s rescued by Jenny, and they rescue Clara, and the whole gang takes on the  evil Mrs Gillyflower and her “silent partner,” Mr Sweet. As well as being the modified descendant of Jurassic leeches, Mr Sweet has thriven on the polluted waters of the canal. Together, he and Mrs Gillyflower are producing industrial quantities of his red venom to purify the world.

Unmasked by the Doctor and his companions, Mrs Gillyflower tries to spread her red venom around the world, in the the form of a rocket (what else) hidden in a factory chimney. Foiled by Clara’s chair-in-the-control-panel ploy, she takes Ada hostage and triggers the secondary firing mechanism in the chimney. Too late! Madame Vastra and Jenny have the vat of red venom that’s the rocket’s payload. Strax shoots the pistol from her hand, she falls to her death, and Mr Sweet crawls off but can’t escape getting pulverized by an irate Ada. Huzzah!

Lots of questions from Madame Vastra and Jenny about Clara. The Doctor appears to be sticking to his conclusion from last week, that Clara is just Clara. But Madame Vastra is having none of it: “I was right then. You and Clara have unfinished business.” If that weren’t enough, there’s the photo of Clara in Victorian London (not Yorkshire), which is among the photos her charges have discovered on the internet. Come to think of it, the Doctor was extremely keen to get Clara to 1893 London, but by then she’d had enough of Victorian values. In any case, now the kids know their nanny’s a time traveller, they want a go in the time machine as well.

Perhaps this was the perfect episode, I don’t know. But aye, it were reet grand.

They Live

They Live Billboard

They Live is an intriguing horror/science fiction film from 1988, directed by John Carpenter. The protagonist, Nada, is an unemployed construction worker who believes in the American Dream, until his eyes are literally opened by putting on a special pair of sunglasses. They reveal that the world is run by aliens, brainwashing the human population into mindless consumption. As a metaphor to describe capitalism, it’s spot on. The dialogue also tells some transferable truths:

We gave the steel companies a break when they needed it. Know what they gave themselves? Raises. The Golden Rule? He who has the gold makes the rules.

Spot the similarity? Replace “steel companies” with “banks,” and it makes a perfect fit with the situation today. I’m usually dismissive of American films – glossy bread and circuses designed to maximise profit and keep people docile. John Carpenter is an exception, a genuine maverick who tells the truth while still producing superb films.

Here it is, in full.

Late Bloomer

I’m back. It’s been a horrible month, featuring lots of long walkies with the black dog. One good thing has come out of it – whereas before I’d lost the ability to sit down and read a book, now I’ve started reading obsessively. It feels like I’ve found an old friend. Unfortunately, I can’t use the books I read in February as review-fodder, except the last one, because all the telling details are now overwritten.

Weirdly, or perhaps not, it all seemed to start with a 3-piece sofa and chair set I bought at the beginning of the month. Before that it was quite difficult to sit down in any sort of physical comfort, so no wonder my mind couldn’t find a place to rest and marinate.

I will be backfilling the blog – that way I can at least technically claim to have made a post a day. Please bear with me as I catch up on comments and your lovely blogs.

Here’s a short Lovecraftian film about the eldritch rites of adolescence.