Archive for the extreme cinema Category

The Herd: Brutal new horror with a purpose.

Posted in British cinema, extreme cinema, films, horror, Short film with tags , , , , on Monday, 7 April, 2014 by Ed

Starring Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman, Filth) and featuring a score by Laurent Bernard of Gallows, THE HERD is a study into the most unimaginable human suffering, yet it depicts a violence that is perpetrated every day on a massive scale.

THE HERD is written by Ed Pope (Transgressive Cinema) and directed by Melanie Light, and features the additional acting talents of Victoria Broom (ABCs of Death 2, Stalled), Jon Campling (Sleeping Dogs, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows) and Charlotte Hunter (Dungeons and Dragons, Vitality).

milkposter

Imprisoned within inhuman squalor with other women; Paula’s existence and human function is abused as a resource by her captors.

Escape, on any level, is hopeless as the women are condemned to a life of enforced servitude at the whims of their imprisoners for one reason only – their milk.

Enslaved, inseminated and abused – every facet of their life is violated. At first the premise seems exaggerated and absurd; but is, in fact, disgusting in its stark normality.

Deliberately avoiding the lack of finesse associated with “torture porn” and sexploitation, THE HERD eschews these in favour of a vicarious descent into the visceral nightmare of relinquishing the most innate rights of existence.

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Existing principally as a dark and transgressive horror short; THE HERD also asks questions as to how we approach the sentiency of other beings and the importance of the concept of individual freedoms in modern society.

Advocates of high quality independent horror cinema can find out more about the film and, should they wish, how to support it here: http://www.sponsume.com/project/herd

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I Saw The Devil.

Posted in Asian Cinema, extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , , , on Wednesday, 5 September, 2012 by Ed

I Saw The DevilRevenge movies have largely gone the way of the zombie film in recent years; they are overdone to the point of tedium and it requires a picture of high quality to elevate itself above the dross. I Saw The Devil does just this.

 With the sub-genre having been debased to the very formulaic structure of: Act One being half-an-hour of prolonged murder, Act Two being the attempt to capture the antagonist and Act Three being half-an-hour of bloody revenge; I Saw The Devil proves beyond doubt that you don’t need an original plot to produce an intelligent and engaging film, if you structure it in an interesting way. It is atmospheric and beautifully shot, and once the viewer is immersed to the point that they trust the competence of the director, the actions of the characters become enjoyably unpredictable. This is executed by fine acting from the two leads.

 With a commendable freshness, Director Jee-woon Kim deftly weaves this familiar tale – of the bereaved husband seeking revenge for the murder of his pregnant wife. Whilst it is undeniably violent, the film never once feels gratuitous. Recognising the need to effectively vilify his serial killer antagonist, Kim avoids the pitfalls of lesser filmmakers by eschewing lingering scenes of women being murdered, yet skilfully creates his villain by showing the intense, merciless fervour with which he slaughters. Thus, each of the killer’s actions shock and offend the viewer anew, rather than serving to desensitise.

 I Saw The Devil does not feel long at a 2.5 hour running time. This is achieved by interspersing the main story arc, of pursuit and revenge, with an interesting focus on the emotions and motivation of several of the characters. There are moments of black comedy and some well executed action sequences that would not be out of place in a more mainstream film. Kim defies our expectations by having the antagonist ensnared repeatedly – only to be released to prolong the hunt.

 It is the exploration of the nature of revenge that raises I Saw The Devil above the norm. It functions to examine revenge as a base emotion and what this ultimately achieves. Does revenge simply become a convenient obsession to distract from grief, and if so, what happens should revenge be realised or not? Kim addresses this theme successfully without it encroaching on the plot or ever being condescending.

 I Saw The Devil is disturbing, entertaining and thought-provoking. It remains unpredictable to the end, despite feeling very familiar. Jee-woon Kim creates a world with a palpable sense of threat and obsession, which is not only a beacon in a tired and lazy revenge sub-genre, but the new standard for all modern horror thrillers.

The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence).

Posted in extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , , , , on Tuesday, 8 May, 2012 by Ed

Human Centipede 2 Full SequenceShot in black and white and with a lead character who doesn’t utter a single word during the entire movie – The Human Centipede 2 feels very different to its predecessor but is exactly the film that many incorrectly assumed that Tom Six had made with the original installment.

Like the first movie no one can fault the casting selection. In the original film Dieter Laser was a masterful choice as the deranged scientist who envisaged the concept of a “human centipede” – yet in the second offering this has been surpassed. Laurence R Harvey – who plays the socially inept and mentally deranged Martin – portrays his character with a significant physical presence; with a toad-like appearance he elicits simultaneous pity and disgust.

Martin lives with his vile mother and works a night shift monitoring CCTV in a car park. This solitary employment allows him to indulge his obsession with the first Human Centipede movie. He watches it endlessly, documents it and even pleasures himself with sandpaper whilst watching it. Eventually Martin decides to make his own bigger and better Human Centipede with twelve people instead of just the three. Thus he sets about the logistics of his task and collecting the necessary human components.

There is some interest in Martin’s character and story – and no one could fault the acting of the limited cast. Martin’s relationship with his mother develops to a crescendo which becomes a horrendous “Psycho” image for the Saw generation. The film does leave an unanswered question in the viewer’s mind, but not one that lingers for too long.

To assess a movie like this from a point of high-brow smugness is to miss the point completely. The concept of the Human Centipede First Sequence was fairly innovative and on this basis alone should be praised and encouraged – as there is a paucity of originality in the modern genre. In this Full Sequence Tom Six spares no detail and pushes any boundary he sees fit. Although this style delivers nothing new in these days of ultra-gory horror it at least fulfills its brief – and anyone sitting down to watch a film such as this has only themselves to blame if such content bores or offends them.

The monochrome style, which serves to make the graphic gore less sensational but no less repulsive, and the curious antagonist make this a more interesting film than the previous one. Ultimately such a movie will always revolve around its very basic premise – accept this before proceeding and enjoy being grossed out for 90 minutes, otherwise don’t be shocked if you are disappointed.

FrightFest 2011

Posted in extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on Monday, 12 September, 2011 by Ed

FrightFest 2011 appeared to have one of its strongest line-ups for years, and after five days of intensive horror viewing in the country’s largest cinema I can confirm that it did not disappoint.

Despite the handicap of having Leicester Square being dug up for refurbishment ahead of the London Olympics in 2012, which meant horror fans could not flood out into the famous London landmark to socialise between screenings, FrightFest 2011 still had its trademark atmosphere created by the organisers and genre fans who love the festival so much.

Even the weather, which was typically British, could not dampen the spirits of the 1000-plus horror fans who gathered in the heart of London to see the best of brand new horror cinema at The Empire, Leicester Square.

DAY ONE.

Unlike all the following days, Day One of FrightFest doesn’t start until the evening. As we gathered in the massive Empire Screen One to take our seats the buzz and excitement was palpable. Eventually the house lights dimmed to a rapturous applause and we were treated to a “welcome to FrightFest” short-film based on Escape From New York, which was the first of many homage’s over the weekend to the works of John Carpenter. After this had got everyone in the mood the festival organisers, lead by the inimitable Alan Jones, took to the stage briefly to welcome us all to 5 days of horror, and introduced the opening film of FrightFest 2011.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (UK Premier) was a solid enough opening to this year’s festival. A typically strong performance from Guy Pearce and also from the child lead (Bailee Madison) combined well with exceptional creature effects to make an atmospheric offering. Although it was co-written and produced by the legendary Guillermo Del Torro it contained the hallmark of the great filmakers style, but lacked the uniqueness of his directorial pieces. None-the-less director Troy Nixey did a good job of reimagining  the 1973 original; and was perhaps judged by higher standards due to del Torro’s involvement.

Next up was the UK Premier of Final Destination 5 – 3D. Being in 3D and the fifth movie in an extremely homogenised franchise (I don’t have to run through the plot, do I?) – I wasn’t expecting much from this film. How wrong I was!

As predicted the plot had not so much been recycled, rather completely reused, from previous entries to the series; but this was thoroughly enjoyable, brainless, fun. Perhaps it helped being surrounded by the fantastic FrightFest crowd who cheered every kill like a score at a sporting event – but I enjoyed every minute of Final Destination 5 – 3D. This was the movie 3D was made for; usually surplus to requirements the 3D here was well done and creatively used. It was even subtle in places, adding depth of field and interesting reflections.

The opening “disaster scene” was amazing to behold, and the imaginative deaths – the trade mark of this series – did not disappoint. This is a perfect film to switch your brain off for a bit, have a couple of beers, and just enjoy the bloody carnage!

Day One closed disappointingly to the poorly conceived anthology The Theatre Bizarre (European Premier). Having read the synopsis I was looking forward to this one, but the lack of cohesion and loose editing on the overly-long and not particularly engaging stories saw me literally fall asleep at one point – although that could have been more to do with a combination of rum and the post-midnight timing! The directors stated that they did not confer when scripting their individual stories for the anthology – and it showed.

As the lights of London flashed by through my taxi window after Day One, I considered the irony that the one film I wasn’t bothered about on Opening Night was my pick of the day. Sometimes being a horror addict is all about switching off and having fun – tonight was a perfect case in point.

DAY TWO.

Having not got into bed until 3am, Day Two of FrightFest 2011 started sedately! After a great veggie breakfast, the only decent thing to do in order to prepare for a big day of movie action was to get into one of the many pubs on Leicester Square for a few rums. Once properly lubricated, we joined the FrightFest faithful for the UK Premier of Urban Explorers.

Set beautifully within the claustrophobic catacombs under Berlin Urban Explorers starts promisingly enough following a group of young adults who get their kicks investigating the hidden areas of the urban environment. Hooking up with a guide they found via the internet, they travel deep into the tunnels in search of a wartime Nazi bunker. So far, so good. Sadly after the initial set-up, this film became rather standard fare once the explorers start getting picked off by a murderous German living underground. Not without its merits, and the villain was interesting – but some of the characters were a little one dimensional and behaved in an unrealistic manner. Had the director made better use of the setting and delivered more empathetic characters, this film might have elevated itself beyond the average offering it became.

A quick stop for refreshments, and we’re straight into the World Premier of Crisitan Solimeno’s The Glass Man. Starring FrightFest favourite Andy Nyman and also Neve Campell sporting a just passable English accent; The Glass Man shows us the despair of Martin Pyrite (Nyman) who has lost his job and has spiralled into debt, the shame of which leads him to keep the desperate situation from his wife (Campbell). Just as the situation starts to completely unravel, a menacing stranger arrives who appears to offer salvation, if Martin will do his bidding for just one night.

The acting throughout was excellent, especially Nyman’s performance, but whilst the film started strongly it dissipated once it became clear that the movie was employing a trope which is starting to become clichéd now. I won’t spoil what it was, as there is a lot to be enjoyed with this movie – but I for one was left feeling a little empty at how events unfolded.

Is this the year of horror comedy done well? If the preview screening of Tucker & Dale vs Evil is anything to go by, it certainly could be. The titular Tucker and Dale are two hillbilly types who only have desires on renovating their cabin in the woods. When vacationing college kids arrive misunderstandings lead to a rapidly rising body count. Hilarious and gory in equal measure, this one was thoroughly enjoyable and went down a storm with the FrightFest crowd.

DAY THREE.

Day Three of FrightFest 2011 began with a morning preview screening of Troll Hunter. This Norwegian film has been gathering a decent following around the film festival circuit and prior to FrightFest it was certainly one of my “must see” movies on this year’s schedule. I was not disappointed. Fantastic in both senses of the word, Troll Hunter was impressively made and every bit as entertaining as you would hope from a film with a title like that! The CGI trolls were convincing and imaginative, the acting was solid and the humour was sprinkled throughout the script with an effectively light touch. A great start to the day.

Despite the allure of the pub doors having long since opened and the desire to pig-out at the nearby Maoz Falafel restaurant, we decided that no serious horror fan could miss the 30 year follow-up to The Wicker Man, presented by director Robin Hardy himself at this European Premier of The Wicker Tree. Well, we could have and we should have.

As the aged Mr Hardy graced the FrightFest stage and introduced the cast of The Wicker Tree, one could feel the warmth of the assembled crowd towards him. The Wicker Man is one of the greatest films of all time and a reference point for all serious students of horror cinema. I was not going to delude myself; I knew that there would be little point in comparing Hardy’s latest film to his 1973 classic – I resolved to watch it for what it was, in isolation, and not in comparison to its legacy. Even on that basis, The Wicker Tree was a terrible disappointment.

An evangelist, who is also a famous singer, travels as a missionary to preach Christianity on a Scottish island. Clichéd and riddled with holes, the plot – such as it was – trundled along getting further bogged down by performances that were either instantly forgettable or unbelievable in their delivery of the sub-par script. On the closing credits, we retired quickly to a local bar as I’d have felt embarrassment watching Robin Hardy talk about his film we’d just witnessed. I chose to remember him for his excellent previous achievements.

After lunch we returned to The Empire for a preview screening of Fright Night 3D – a reimagining of the 80’s vampire classic. I had my reservations about this one, the original is a film I remember fondly from my childhood, and I’m no fan of 3D. Although it did nothing to change my opinion of 3D cinema, Fright Night 3D was well paced and competently delivered. It chose not to get too laboured with the issue proving the existence of vampires, and got straight down to the action. David Tennant’s was amongst the strong performances that had all but the ardent opponents of remakes thoroughly entertained and ironically, for me at least, it breathed a bit of new life into the tired vampire genre.

The evening spot on Day Three was taken by the UK Premier of Lucky McKee’s The Woman. Notorious after an offended individual at Sundance had to be removed (such was his upset at the movie), it was clear the FrightFest audience was up for this one – even Mr McKee conceded that the Sundance punter had “made the movies trailer for him!”

The Woman is the kind of sensational, high quality, boundary-pushing filmmaking that makes thousands attend FrightFest every year. This film was moving, intelligent, insightful and, yes, brutal. It is not, however, a movie designed to shock or repulse. Co-written by the author Jack Ketchum and director Lucky McKee The Woman delves deeply in the nature of abuse and abusive personalities, how this affects others and society. It deals with the hubris of those who think their version of civility and existence is the one true way and what happens when they seek to enforce their world view on others. This movie could be seen as a metaphor for the attitudes such as those behind British Colonialism and also the current American foreign policy. It is also a story of personal empowerment, and how power can be used, abused or denied. The Woman tells the story of a father who encounters a feral woman whilst out hunting. He captures her and imprisons her in order to “civilise” her; a task in which he involves the whole family.

Lucky McKee manages to avoid the potential pitfalls that lesser talents might have fallen into with such a premise and also coaxes brilliant performances out of his cast, not least the mesmeric Pollyanna McIntosh as “The Woman”. Ms McIntosh’s portrayal of untamed femininity was so powerful it was almost unnerving to see her on stage for the post screening Q&A session, during which she divulged that she spent several days living wild to prepare for the part.

After such an intense movie experience we called it a night (after the obligatory trip to the bar) in preparation for Day Four of FrightFest 2011.

DAY FOUR.

Day Four started well, and early, with a preview screening of Xavier Gens’ new work The Divide. What began as a rather standard example of survivors in a post-apocalyptic setting elevated itself rapidly via some interesting character development; culminating in a tense, claustrophobic and violent payoff.

We ducked out for Andy Nyman’s Quiz From Hell, I’m sure Mr Nyman was as entertaining as ever – but we needed some liquid refreshment and there is no way we’d have been able to outscore the more knowledgeable FrightFest horror die-hards. We made sure we were back for this year’s International Short Film Showcase – after the high standard in 2010 I was really looking forward to this. It’s a dozen or so short films from up-and-coming directors, and whilst the standard wasn’t as high this year, there were still some real gems on display. For sheer over-the-top comedy gore, my pick of this year’s entries was Brutal Relax from Spain, directed by Adrian Cardona. Where other than FrightFest will you see a sea monster get beaten to death with a dead baby!?

The afternoon spot was filled by the UK Premier of Ti West’s The Inkeepers – this turned out to be another fantastic movie. Having first captivated the audience with the interaction between well developed and likeable characters, West begins the slow-burn of a haunted hotel story which leads to a fulfilling conclusion. I really enjoyed West’s previous offering House Of The Devil, but some people found the ending to be unworthy of the build up, I disagree – but I’d urge such people to give him a second chance with The Inkeepers; he directs with a competent hand and crafts the story in mesmerising fashion. I was particularly impressed with his sterling demonstration of how to create a proper jump scare (as opposed to a cheap smash-cut) – I actually left my seat, and enjoyed it because I hadn’t been cheated.

The 9pm evening spot was taken by the much-hyped UK Premier of Kill List, which followed the exploits of two hitman carrying out their work. It was a reasonable effort which quickly descended into a farce of ambiguity. It is a fine line to tread when trying to inject a story with plot points from the leftfield, and if you don’t feed the audience some point of reference earlier in the piece – it will fail, as it did for me with Kill List. Still, the acting was strong, and it wasn’t without its merits, it just fell well short of its hype due to a poorly constructed final act.

DAY FIVE.

The final day of FrightFest, and therefore tinged with sadness, expectation and no small degree of tiredness!

First up on the main screen was the UK Premier of the zombie-comedy Deadheads. This really didn’t work, but I’m no fan of the “told from the zombie perspective” sub genre so it was perhaps wasted on me. Two zombie friends go off in search of a girl whom one of them is in love with. Yes, really!

All hail Alex Chandon for coming to the rescue with the World Premier of Inbred. Seemingly with a bigger budget than his previous films and with a great cast, Inbred follows the story of a group of teens and their youth workers who end up staying in an isolated village in rural Yorkshire. Sadly (for them) the locals are all sadistic cannibals! Served up with Alex Chandon’s trademark blend of dark humour and explicit gore, Inbred entertained from the start and refused to compromise to the very end. Distinctly British, and distinctly Alex Chandon, Inbred is the kind of film that beats at the black heart of FrightFest and it was a distinct pleasure to see it on the giant Empire screen with over a thousand cheering horror fans.

With the alcohol and blood sugar levels dropping, we grabbed some dinner and drinks before rushing back to catch the closing movie of FrightFest 2011 – the UK Premier of A Lonely Place to Die. With beautiful cinematography, a stunning location, excellent acting (particularly from Melissa George) and a sensational premise: climbers find a young girl buried in an underground cell in remote wilderness – it was hard to understand how the original promise was allowed to slip away. Eventually too many suspensions of disbelief were asked, and a plot which got sillier by the minute resulted in a missed opportunity to build on a good start and create an excellent film.

As ever FrightFest provided five wonderful days of horror cinema, spanning the entire genre from tense supernatural thrillers to in-your-face gore films. The organisers provided something for everyone, and such was the quantity and quality of the films on display it really didn’t matter if a particular title wasn’t to individual tastes as something else exciting was always around the corner.

Frightfest is more than just the films though; it is the people who attend that make it something special. Everyone is friendly and wanting to chat about what they have seen; the organisers mix with the fans, and the actors and directors are always milling about between screenings. Long may it continue, and see you in 2012!

The Unofficial Transgressive Cinema FrightFest Awards 2011

Best Film

The Woman.

Best Director

Ti West, for The Inkeepers.

Best Screenplay

Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee for The Woman.

Best Actress

Pollyanna McIntosh for The Woman.

Best Actor

Andy Nyman for The Glass Man.

Best Kill

Gymnast in Final Destination 5 – 3D.

Scariest Moment

Male ghost in torchlight, in The Inkeepers.

Funniest Moment

Chainsaw and wasps nest in Tucker & Dale vs Evil.

Goriest Moment

Shot in the head, Inbred.

Salo (or The 120 Days Of Sodom)

Posted in extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , , , on Monday, 15 August, 2011 by Ed

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo (or The 120 Days Of Sodom) from 1975 is a truly transgressive work. Even by today’s standard it is both shocking and controversial. For the avoidance of doubt, Pasonlini is unflinching in his portrayal of the writings of the Marquis de Sade transposed into the fascist Italy of 1944. Thus, Salo is not for the easily offended; if you are hesitant about viewing it, you may wish to follow your instinct.

Without doubt an auteur, and driven by a sense of fairness resulting from the poverty he had witnessed, Pasolini’s left-leaning sympathies dominated many of his works; and here, in Salo, we endure a vision of the extreme rightwing and its desire to dominate and persecute. Pasolini was murdered before the first theatrical release of Salo, and well-founded speculation suggests a political motivation for his death.

Salo opens to aristocratic Italian fascists selecting a handful of young men and women by a process of examining their naked bodies and assessing their family lineage. These youths are then absconded to a large country house, decorated in the art deco style. Here the rules of their captivity are explained. It is stated that they are “weak chained creatures, destined for our [the fascist’s] pleasures”. In an interesting juxtaposition, the captives are never chained in any manner; they are prisoners of the fascist institution and as such escape is impossible, so it is never mentioned and binding them is unnecessary. The futility of their plight hangs heavily over this film from the onset, and it is impossible to avoid the comparison to anyone living under a repressive regime.

What then follows is an orgy of indulgence for the fascist’s sadistic perversions. Be very clear, this is a commentary about fascist ideology – not political Nazism. There are no swastikas, no iron eagles, no goose stepping, and no mention of Hitler’s Nazi party is ever made. Whilst Salo could be described as exploitation cinema, it is not anything like the glut of Nazi exploitation flicks that formed their own sub-genre in the 1970’s, which were misogynist and purely designed to titillate.

Indeed, despite graphic nudity of both genders featuring in nearly every scene, Salo is never once arousing. Pasolini appears to have been meticulous in ensuring that the film’s theme – the inhumanity of fascism – is never lost behind cheap thrills of that nature. Presumably it is for this reason that many censors around the world (such as the British Board of Film Classification), have eventually passed Salo uncut.

After the initial set-up, Salo is divided into three chapters: “The Circle Of Manias”, “The Circle Of Shit” and “The Circle of Blood”. In each Circle a female Fascist, dressed in formal wear, holds court next to a piano. The scene is that of any pre-war ball room, where a lady might entertain polite company with a story or song. Here, however, each story is delivered with a rapturous smile as the respective lady of each Circle recalls their own sexual abuse, usually as a child. The remaining fascists are mingled with the captives, and as the tale arouses them in the manner it is intended, they willingly and easily give in to their perversions – each of which stem from a desire to degrade, defile and humiliate.

During the “Circle Of Manias” the captives are stripped and forced to act like dogs – begging for food and eating scraps without using their hands. One girl is fed food with nails in it and forced to chew. A male is viciously whipped – his tormentor stating with glee “I rejoice when I see others degraded!” At dinner, a servant is raped.

The “Circle Of Shit” is one of the more difficult cinematic experiences. Pasolini conducts the subject matter in a manner which, in any lesser hands, would have been puerile and exploitative, but here it was psychologically disturbing. Again, a female fascist tells a lurid tale with an unfittingly pleasant delivery; this one is strongly coprophilic in nature. During the performance, a sobbing captive is punished by a male fascist making a delivery on the floor, one in keeping with the theme of the tale; he offers her a spoon and forces her to eat. Pasolini demonstrates his genius here with a camera shot that focuses sharply on an adjacent table which causes the girl in the scene to be just out of focus, so that the viewer cannot see the full details of her consumption. Once lulled into a false sense of security, the audience is exposed to a crystal-clear head shot of the poor girl – mouth open and crying.

Later a same sex wedding takes place between a male captive and captor – the former resplendent in a full wedding gown. In 1975, this would have been taboo and the attitude to homosexuality is the only aspect of this film that has a diminished impact on the modern viewer. None-the-less, the wedding dinner – attended by all – is comprised entirely of faeces, devoured with enthusiasm by the fascists; and the modern viewer is returned to the same state of disgust as their movie-going cousins of 36 years ago.

Until this point, Pasolini has assaulted the sensibilities with every available tool except violence. This is redressed in the third and final chapter: “The Circle Of Blood”. After some more cross-dressing and sodomy, a tale of torture and abuse is told – with the same charismatic contrast to the subject matter as the previous circles. The plot is developed during this, as the captives are marked according to their compliance.

Eventually the fascists give in to their most base desires, and an orgy of torture is meted out in a courtyard, overlooked by the captor’s rooms. A rampage of violence, which includes sexual burning, tongue slicing, scalping, branding and a particularly nasty eye gouging, is enough to disturb the most hardened viewer – but the most perturbing aspect is the enjoyment, even sexual pleasure, that the captors, who are non-participatory observers, gain from watching. They spectate from seats behind large windows, suggesting that even though the events are of their bidding and done for their enjoyment they may still justify their humanity by remaining somehow separated from the torture and killing. Pasolini inflicts this sense of voyeurism on the viewer (after all, we are watching it too) by having the fascists view the killing through binoculars, and the shots are framed with the outline of the lenses – moving from detail to detail with a deliberate relish.

By the end of the film the use of costume creates ambiguity as to who are the guards, who are the fascists and who are the victims. Maybe this speaks of the compliance and complicit nature of mass apathy or inaction. People may not agree with an immoral agenda, and may not be an active part of it themselves, but still they do nothing to stop it – especially if it is not victimising them personally. Perhaps Pasolini feels they are then as culpable as the fascists; and questions whether they too could become victims themselves?

Is Salo a “horror film” in the conventional sense? No, not really. However, it deals with humankind’s ability to degrade, torture and exterminate its own kind. It shows us that through a few barely tangible ideological or ego-based theories, we are capable of detaching ourselves from any form of empathy or consideration for others if it suits us to. On this basis Salo, more than most, is truly worthy of a place in the horror genre.

Cradle Of Fear

Posted in British cinema, extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , , on Wednesday, 15 June, 2011 by Ed

The first thing you need to know about Alex Chandon’s 2001 low-budget horror is that it has many imperfections – however like any treasured possession these can, and should, be overlooked. What lies beneath the odd shortcoming is a dark and twisted tale guaranteed to churn the stomach and shred the nerves. Let’s get the negatives out of the way and forgotten about from the start…

The acting is good in places but a bit wooden in others, however it is never terrible and certainly never bad enough to spoil a scene and take the viewer out of their immersion in the film. The texture of the film takes a bit of getting used to; the way it is shot looks from time to time like a cheap commercial – as do a few of the sets. Finally there is one piece of very ill-advised CGI that never fails to raise a smile, such is its cheapness. However none of these issues matter and the film has a sense that it is aware of its failings and doesn’t care. It knows where its strengths lie and sticks to those. With that out of the way, on with the important stuff:

Cradle Of Fear oozes with enthusiasm for horror. It is clearly made by people who love the genre and are not afraid to push the boundaries; in fact there is an obvious relish for doing so. The film consists of four separate vignettes which are tied together by a central story line concerning an incarcerated serial killer and cannibal, called Kemper, and his desire for vengeance on those involved with his murder trial and subsequent imprisonment. He does so using the rites of black magic from his cell in a lunatic asylum and the service of his supernaturally murderous son, known as The Man, played by Dani Filth of goth-metal band Cradle Of Filth.

As soon as the movie opens to graphically depict a disemboweled girl on a bed, the viewer is left in no doubt as to what they are about to let themselves in for. Herein lies Cradle Of Fear’s strongest card and why it is to be adored by lovers of true horror film-making: the special make-up effects are sensational. It is an irony that the film proves beyond a doubt why physical effects are scary and CGI effects are not. This is an ultra-gory film and is very violent, however it is also held together by a solid narrative and storyline with pacing delivered in a manner which is likely to engage those not usually predisposed to enjoying excessive gore.

The aforementioned gutless young lady provides the starting point of the first of the quartets of terror that Cradle Of Fear inflicts on its audience. Starring British B-Movie scream queen favorite Emily Booth as a beautiful goth out on a drug fueled night of clubbing, it quickly descends into terror involving demon rape, vile and genuinely frightening hallucinations and a conclusion that literally turns the stomach.

Next, two girls are introduced who intend to break into an elderly mans house and steal the money he keeps in a tin. Lessons are learned about the nature of greed, and how far some people are prepared to go for money. Bloody, violent lessons – naturally.

The next tale begins with a husband a wife snorting cocaine whilst speeding through the streets of London in an open-top sports car. When they run over and kill a tramp, they are relived that the car is not damaged and continue on their way home. After a bout of amputee sex (the husband is missing a leg) is ended prematurely by impotence, the distraught man goes about finding a corrupt doctor and brand new limb.

Finally Richard, an IT worker, is introduced who is obsessed with violent websites, and eventually stumbles on a difficult to access members-only site called The Sick Room. Here webcams can be viewed showing abducted individuals. The user can pay to select the criteria and level of abuse which is then enacted on the person onscreen. This becomes so compulsive that Richard loses his job, possessions and house until he decides to track down the operators of the website for some firsthand action.

The story of Kemper is entwined throughout these stories and the evil gothic presence of The Man is present in each. The film then proceeds towards its ending with more blood and guts until the screen is dripping red and few acts of violence imaginable have not been depicted.

The realism of the special make-up effects is what will turn horror addicts on and repulse all others in equal measure. During the course of the movie we see, amongst many other atrocities, disembowelment, razors slashed across a face, a broken bottle smashed into an eye socket and a leg hacked off. What separates this from run-of-the-mill physical horror is the skill with which it is executed. So brilliantly is each effect constructed the camera can linger for a long time, possibly too long, until the viewer is squirming in their seat and in some cases averting their gaze. This sense of realism is not avoided by the director either, if a limb is being severed with nothing but a knife – it takes a long time and is a messy job, with extra effort being required to get through the tough bone. Make no mistake, this film is horrific and where other films fail because the gore is too over-the-top to the point of humour – Cradle Of Fear manages to keep the mood repulsive and sinister.

The physical effects are not the only strength of this low budget shocker though. The whole atmosphere of the film is dark, gothic and ominous. Alex Chandon does not lose sight of the main plot point which is that Kemper is a baby murdering cannibal who uses black magic and the assistance of his demonic son (who is suitably clad in industrial goth fashion) to exact revenge on those he feels have wronged him. Large parts of the film feel like a very bad acid trip or a nightmare that only the most deranged of minds would be capable of conceiving. This leads to a very effective fluctuation between the heightened tension of fear and the powerful revulsion to the grotesque imagery.

If the viewer is able to overlook the obvious failings of Cradle Of Fear, and appreciate it for what it is, and for refusing to pretend to be something it is not, then the horror fan will find a grim treat. More than most, this feels like a film for horror fans made by horror fans and it does not care if film-snobs and mainstream audiences hate it. It is a film with an uncompromising attitude, viewers with a similar nature will find it rewarding.

Mum & Dad

Posted in extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , on Thursday, 12 May, 2011 by Ed

Mum & Dad is an independent British horror film set amongst the austere backdrop of London’s Heathrow Airport and the constant drone of jet engines. The area is bleak and characterized by fences topped with razor wire and depressing homogenized rows of terraced houses which have depleted as the airport grew up around them. Each abode is the same as the next – but one of them hides a pair of serial killers: Mum and Dad.

Lena is a polish girl who works as a cleaner at the airport. She shares a shift with Birdie, who despite being light-fingered and a gossip, seems likable enough. Birdie introduces Lena to Elbie, her “adopted brother” who is a mute and also works at the airport. At the end of one shift Birdie orchestrates a situation whereby Lena misses the last bus, and insists that Lena comes with her so that her Dad can give her a ride home. Of course this never comes to pass, and after arriving at Birdies house, Lena is bludgeoned and drugged – awakening some time later to the start of a hellish surreal nightmare that she may never survive.

At this early stage in the film’s progression, the viewer could be forgiven for thinking that the plot is setting up a scenario seen regularly in copy-cat films since the success of movies such as Saw and Hostel. Whilst Mum & Dad does not shy away from extremely sadistic and nasty violence, it is not a gore film and instead relies upon creating a horrifically bizarre environment which is ruled over by the most deranged of minds. The fear comes from our empathy with Lena, and our vicarious terror is ratcheted up with every scene in this terrible scenario.

This empathy comes from Lena being a brilliantly written and acted character. For all the budget constraints involved with British independent film-making, it usually excels at the fundamentals – such as writing, acting and characterization. Lena is smart but still bound by realistic human character traits. She does what the viewer would do in many situations, or at least she does not do anything distractingly unbelievable – it’s a nice change from the idiots some mainstream horror would usually have us cheer for, or indeed the heroines who suddenly become almost superhuman when under threat.

Lena is awoken from her drug-induced stupor by terrified howls of pain coming from the adjacent room – several loud thuds later and the screaming stops. The door bursts open and an over-weight man with glasses and mole-like features enters, he is wearing underpants and a vest, clutching a hammer and is covered in blood. A moment later and a tall, thin, well-presented woman with angular features enters through a second door. All three stare at each other intently, until the woman strides over to Lena and states “I’m Mum. He’s Dad. You live with us now!”

It is made abundantly clear that Mum and Dad are serial killers – but very different to each other in their psychopathic tendencies. Dad is a violent sexual predator who likes to murder in fits of rage, whereas Mum is a true sadist who likes to torture with finesse for the physical delight it brings her. Dad enjoys to hack and bludgeon, Mum favors the use of spikes and knives – they are both homicidal lunatics.

Lunatics they are beyond doubt, but within the fortress of their own home they have created a world where their manner of living is completely normal. They acquire “children” and this is why Lena finds herself captive. Her “adopted” brother and sister (Birdie and Elbie) have become totally immersed in this culture and accept it as a standard existence. In one scene the rest of his family patiently wait for Dad to finish pleasuring himself into a hacked off chunk of human flesh before they introduce him to Lena; once he is done, Dad tells her that “family is everything”.

Family breakfast’s see dismembered body-parts brought out for disposal whilst people eat toast. Pornographic movies play on the TV and Dad inappropriately kisses and gropes Birdie (who reciprocates) before settling down with the morning paper. Every aspect of this film superimposes the normal with the deranged, and this unhinged atmosphere is the signature of the movie. This is aided by the stand-out aspect of the production – Perry Benson’s performance as Dad. Benson is a stalwart British actor and carries the film with both his appearance and the portrayal of his character. His hateful, twisted and completely unbalanced delivery is terrifying to behold.

The writer and director of Mum & Dad (Steven Sheil) describes it as “a fucked-up-family film”. Succinct as this summary is, it doesn’t even begin to do justice to the horror of this movie. Lena is completely at the mercy of a matriarch and patriarch whose lunacy now controls her entire existence, if she fits in and does not cause a problem she is told that she will be fine – if not there will be Dad to answer to. “Fine”, of course, in this instance is relative!

The unsettling torment of Lena’s predicament is sharply focused in the knife-edge balance of her captor’s insanity. Using the language of a normal parental unit, the actions of Mum and Dad are starkly juxtaposed. Calling Lena “her angel, sent from heaven” mum inserts spikes through her skin and lacerates her with a scalpel – all the while telling her to keep Mum happy so as not to upset Dad.

Playing it smart and trying to stay on the good side of Mum and Dad until a suitable chance of escape or rescue presents itself, Lena incurs the increasingly bitter resentment of Birdie who dreads the inevitable result of not being Mum and Dad’s favorite anymore. Lena now has to fear her new parents as well as some particularly twisted sibling rivalry as the tension reaches stratospheric levels towards the film’s conclusion.

Mum & Dad was made under Film London’s “Microwave” project, where the budget is capped at a maximum of £100,000. This is a miniscule amount of money on which to shoot a feature and it is to the credit of all involved that what was produced looks and feels like it was shot on ten-times that budget. Moreover, the result was a gripping and terrifying film that exemplifies all that is good about British independent horror cinema. If you want a well crafted horror film that is brilliantly acted, full of threat and tension, claustrophobic, violent and completely deranged – Mum & Dad comes highly recommended.