IT (2017) Review: the threequel 

Stephen Moore gives his pennyworth on Pennywise…

IT was the most highly anticipated horror of the year. IT failed to deliver on its promise of a truly scary version of the classic Stephen King novel. IT was still one of the most enjoyable films so far this year. IT was IT… you get IT.

In the lead up to the release of this film I was swept away down the storm drain by an effective trailer, a plot that is still as scary as when it when it was conceived and a heavy sense of nostalgia. This will no doubt lead to massive profits for the film and guarantee it receives it sequel but may also lead to one major criticism at least by seasoned horror fans. IT just isn’t scary.

I was really excited to be genuinely terrified and creeped out by the film but it never really got there and I think there are three major factors that contributed to the lack of scares.

The film’s premise means we tap into those early childish irrational fears such as clowns, creepy paintings and errrrr germs apparently? For the most part though people largely grow out of these early fears as they enter adulthood and unless you happen to have a phobia of one of these things many of the scares are unlikely to do more than gross or weird you out.

The film also has a heavy reliance on GI effects instead of practical, and some moments that are meant to be scary look a bit plastic and silly. Many a time I was left unsure if I was meant to be scared or supposed to laugh at ‘creepy picture woman’ chasing the children. Finally we have a reliance on jump scares over tension. I’ve come to accept jump scares are inevitable in mainstream horror now and can often let out a shrill shriek when one is particularly effective but in order to be scary I need to be put in a tense state… Something that really never happens. Every time the film starts to build up tension or scare it either pulls its punches like when it refuses to delve further into the horrific racially motivated arson attack on the Black Spot and with Beverly’s sexually abusive Dad… or it breaks the tension with a witty one liner or hilariously childish and perfectly crude dick joke.

Now I’ve got my main complaint out of the way let’s discuss what makes this one of the most enjoyable films of the year. In the previously definitive TV version of the novel the main star was undoubtedly the incredibly enigmatic performance of Tim Curry as Pennywise the dancing clown.

Bill Skarsgards incarnation is a perfectly respectable performance that separates itself enough from Curry’s version to keep me happy but he is not the shining star of the show in this version. Instead the main stars of the show are the extremely talented and funny cast of children. I don’t say that sentence lightly as my usual feelings toward child actors are less complimentary and more homicidal.

All of “The Losers Clubs” managed to impress me at different times and in their own way but the two leads Bill and Bev are both fantastic. Bill’s loss of his little brother Georgie both propels the story forward and grounds it at its most insane times. He is an engaging and believable hero and leader of the group with his endearing stutter just adding to the likability of his character. Bev the female of the group delicately balances her Tom Boy thrill seeking ways with her sensitivity and caring for others. One of my favourite character moments is when Bev discovers Ben’s (aka Tits) love for New Kids on the Block and she simultaneously mocks him and keeps his secret from the others.

I started this review by discussing how IT fails to be an effective horror film but what I didn’t explain is that this isn’t really a bad thing… it’s just not what I anticipated. Instead of a straight up horror film we have a fantastic summer adventure with friends, a coming of age story that just so happens to have a supernatural undertone in the form of a dancing murderous clown and to be honest I’m not that mad about that.

As the group bond and form stronger friendships you enjoy being with them for the summer and seeing all these relatable and sweet first moments of adulthood unfold. Although one particularly well played scene of the boys watching Bev sunbathe was a little different in my life.

There are lots of beautifully played child-becoming-adult moments like this, from first crushes to a funny and endearing scene where Bev tries to hide the fact she’s buying her first tampon from the boys. Saying that when coupled with a later scene involving a whole lot of blood in the bathroom It was perhaps a little too much of a menstrual cycle analogy than I was prepared for.

There are a few other flaws, such as the underuse of certain characters and a massively shortened research of the towns history that I would have like to have seen more of but overall the film is as fun as a good old rock fight. I’m overall impressed by the film, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the summer with our pint sized heroes and look forward to a rewatch. I am, however, skeptical of how the adult based sequel will capture my attention. It either needs to turn up the horror which I doubt it will or choose another genre to be based on with the horror once again being more incidental than the main attraction but I say bring IT on!

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SM

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IT (2017) A Second Opinion!

Jonathan Butler chimes in with his thoughts on the new adaptation of Stephen King’s It…

It’s finally here, probably the most anticipated horror film of 2017. The expectations were high, the Tim Curry-starring mini-series being a childhood favourite of many horror fans, and Stephen King adaptations seemingly pretty hot at the minute. Now that it’s arrived what do we think?

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My feelings are mixed if I’m honest. It is a good film, but not really a good horror film if that makes sense. The greatest strengths of the film lie in the performances of the talented young cast and their interactions with each other. The performances are all superb across the board, and these genuine portrayals give a strong emotional backbone to the film.

I felt more like this film was taking its cues from the likes of The Goonies, Stand By Me and the films of Joe Dante than from anything closer to a horror film. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Stand By Me is a favourite of mine and I’ve spoken of my fondness for Dante’s work before so I don’t mention these as distinctly negative points, just more that I feel the horror suffered for the sake of the relationship side of the story.

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My real gripes come when we look at the horror elements. It’s just not scary, like, at all. There was a distinct lack of tension built during the film’s “scary” scenes, it all comes in short little bursts of a minute and invariably ending in a massively telegraphed jump-scare. This is something of a bug-bear of mine, it’s a shortcut to scares that is hideously over-used nowadays. Although they were at least used correctly in IT, in that the jump-scares do actually come from things the characters on screen and the audience are supposed to be scared of.

This brings me to another issue of the film. For me it all feels a bit safe and rather tame for a horror film. Perhaps that’s my fault though, my tastes do tend to run a little more on the extreme side. I was disappointed to hear the news that the film’s original director Cary Fukunaga had exited the project over the dreaded “creative differences”. I was a huge fan of his work on the recent series ‘True Detective’, the bleakness and grimness of it gave me hope that we could be getting something genuinely dark and disturbing from his version of IT. The outcome ended up being that Fukunaga did want to include many of the darker elements from the novel and this was evidently too rich for the suits at New Line / Warner who balked at the idea of filming a sewer based gang-bang. Interestingly though, Fukunaga does receive a writing credit so some elements of his script do presumably make it into the finished product.

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The directing of Muschietti is competent but never really breaks any new ground and he seems to rely on the same trick to get scares. He reuses the same speed-ramping, fake stop-motion effect quite a few times. You’ve probably seen it in the trailer. I think he used the same effect in ‘Mama’ in fact, which I wasn’t a huge fan of.

While I do mention the negatives don’t let that put you off from seeing it as it is a good film, just not the film I had expected. I was hoping for a darker, nastier vision of IT and what we got instead wasn’t that, it was a bit safer and more mainstream than I had anticipated. The finished product is still good, I just feel the director did a better job of getting the “80’s childhood adventure film” elements right than he did getting the actual horror elements right, which to be fair to him is probably exactly what the studio wanted.

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Nostalgia for the 80’s is hot at the minute – making challenging films, not so much.

JB

 

IT (2017) Review

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Vague spoilers ahead…

I’ll tell you this straight off the bat. I think the original TV mini-series of It (1990) gets away with murder thanks to nostalgia. We saw it at just the right time, and hit the TV airwaves at just the right moment, for it to somehow become iconic and deemed terrifying. Same goes with Salem’s Lot. But watch it now and you might have a different opinion.

So when it was announced that Pennywise would be returning for a new outing on the big screen I, for one, welcomed the idea. Having read the tome of a novel, which needs a damn good edit but is utterly enthralling and almost unbearably dark in parts, I thought that maybe the new film would honour it better than the TV version. I had high hopes. And for the most part I was not disappointed. I really hoped it wouldn’t be a shot-by-shot rehash of the ‘original’ as people call it. And evidently, the team behind ‘It’ (2017) felt the same way.

The movie goes out of its way not to look or sound or feel anything like the 1990 effort. From the very start, whilst Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) helps his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) build that paper boat, there’s a notable absence of ‘Fur Elise’ being played by mom on the piano, obviously an iconic moment from the mini series. The action is moved from the barrens to the sewers and the old house on Neibolt, with no mention of dam-building, and the updating of the action to the 80s are all obvious – and successful – attempts to distance the film from it’s 1990 counterpart. Whilst obvious similarities will be drawn when Georgie is chasing said boat down the street in torrential rain, all fears of a remake vibe are set aside when we’re introduced to Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise. Nobody is ever going to touch Tim Curry’s performance but what we have here is a whole different ballgame. As Pennywise toys with Georgie and offers him fun and frolics in a subterranean big-top, Skarsgård is clearly pulling out every trick in the book to separate himself from the shadow of Curry – and for the most part it works. It’s no massive spoiler to say Georgie meets his fate early on – but this is a more ferocious, fiendish death scene that doesn’t quite go where you’re expecting it to…

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Speaking of unexpected, in It we get that rare thing in a mainstream horror movie. The emotional gutpunch. Director Andrés Muschietti draws out performances from his young cast that are loaded with authenticity and heart. Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard makes Richie Tozier loveable, annoying and hilarious in equal measure. He does a roaring trade in ‘your mom’ insults and swears like a trucker – you know, like real kids do. Jack Dylan Grazer is old before his time and riddled with anxiety as hypochondriac Eddie, and poor Ben Hanscom, awkward secret poet and christened ‘tits’ because of his chunky frame, is sweetly played by Jeremy Ray Taylor. But the standouts here are Lieberher as Bill – throwing aside the shadow of tragic Jonathan Brandis to give us a new hero we totally believe, and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh, who at fifteen looks about ten years older than some of the boys. Wasn’t that always the way in school? Whilst some of the boys seemed to actively recoil from puberty, the girls towered above them and strode into early adulthood ahead of the pack. And that’s Beverly, dealing with buying her first Tampax, taking on bullies at school, and absolutely flooring the boys with her sophistication and beauty… whilst dealing with the hideous reality of life at home with her abusive single father…

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And so comes the gutpunch. The reality of Beverly’s abuse, Bill’s grief at losing his little brother, not to mention Ben’s bullying and unrequited love, actually prevail over the horror of Pennywise. At its core the novel delved into the absolute trauma it can be to just grow up, make it into adolescence and come out the other side intact. And that is where this film flies high. The 80s nostalgia isn’t particularly overdone, but the truthful portrayal of the adventure – and the real life horror – of just being a kid, of that last summer you spent with your group of friends before everything changed, before shit got real – that’s what resonates in this movie.

So much so, the actual horror tropes suffer as a result. We get jump-scares, we get creaking floorboards and clowns hiding under dust sheets. The set-pieces evoke elements of Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, even more recent horror hits like The Conjuring and Insidious, and whilst some of the jumps are efficient and jolting, the horror element never quite matches the teen drama. With a lesser script, poor direction and a weaker cast, that could result in a muddled overblown mess of a film. But because you care so much for the characters and the overall package is so well done you forgive it. You go along for the ride – an epic one at two hours fifteen. But it never feels too long, nothing drags.

And yet in parts I felt like cuts had been made. After the George intro we’re introduced to Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), with a story tweaked from the novel where he lives with an overbearing Grampa (Steven Williams looking mighty fine in his old age). But after his opening scene he vanishes for over half an hour. Similarly Stan (Wyatt Olef) is given hints of a story that then vanish and he’s ignored for most of the film. Also Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) slices and dices his way on to the screen but feels underused. You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a three hour version out there somewhere, but given that I got through over two hours and could have watched more, I’d welcome that director’s cut.

Maybe it’ll have the darker elements only hinted at in this release? Pennywise offering Eddie a BJ, the real death of Patrick Hockstetter, the racially-motivated mass murder at the Black Spot? All were absent here. I also found it interesting that Henry Bowers was clearly an evil racist but never once used hate speech when attacking Mike – although ‘faggot’ was thrown around with (cough) gay abandon. So whilst I easily forgot the mini series I couldn’t quite let go of what was STILL missing from the novel…

So a flawed film but mainly brilliant. Go in with an open mind. Forget Tim Curry (I know, sacrilege), put your preconceptions to one side and revel in a film that for the most part is beautifully made and a luminous cast who will make you laugh and – if you’re a sap like me – cry too. Yes the frights are nothing we haven’t seen before, and it’s not quite as terrifying as it wants to be… but for a mainstream horror it delivers much more than you’d expect.

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That said, with a film that makes it through the gate mainly because of it’s young cast, I think for It, Chapter 2, they’ll have their work cut out to make anything as good as this. Bring it on, Pennywise…

JL

You are now leaving Twin Peaks

Warning: SPOILERS!

I’ve been in a fog all day, not quite present in my situations, with a distinct feeling of looking in on real life from the outside. Not depressed so much as just not quite there. Deflated. Downbeat. Dare I say melancholy. And I think I know why.

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That pretty much sums it up. You see at 8am this morning Special Agent Dale Cooper actually knocked on a door marked 1516 and it was opened by none other than Laura frickin’ Palmer. You know. The beautiful dead body found wrapped in plastic in the opening episode of Twin Peaks back in 1992. The doorway from our dull domestic lives into a world of infinite darkness and light that changed the face of television forever. Ever present like a beautiful shadow always there whether onscreen or not, watching over the many interwoven tales of small town life amidst the shifting realities of supernatural and extra terrestrial interference coming from deep within the surrounding woods in Washington State…But always considered lost. Dead and gone whether we or her alcoholic mother or her square-jawed, motorcycle-riding beau liked it or not.

Until 8am this morning. For the uninitiated the new series of Twin Peaks has been more hardboiled crime thriller-cum-supernatural mindfuck than the quirky original. And in the wrap-up final episode Cooper, played by the supremely talented Kyle McLachlan in one of three roles this season, followed orders from the celestial Fireman and the tormented soul of Leland Palmer to ‘find Laura’. This involved driving across the state line from one reality to another, finding himself in an alternate dimension, or years in the future, or an amalgam of both, where Laura took the form of a white-trash waitress who’d just murdered her scumbag boyfriend and needed to, as she put it, ‘get out of dodge’.

But getting out of dodge meant going back to Twin Peaks, a darker, colder version of the town we know and love, where the residents of the Palmer house were NOT family, and hadn’t the slightest idea who Laura was. Had Cooper and Laura got off in the wrong time zone? Had Cooper driven into a different reality and simply forgot to drive back out, destined to roam side by side with our universe trying to find ‘one chance out between two worlds’ to get back in and bring Laura home?

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So much going on, and all before 9am on a Monday morning. You can understand why I feel a tad vague about life right now. But more than anything I feel a deep sadness. For the last 12 weeks or so my morning routine, lucky as I am to be able to choose what I do on a Monday morning, has involved waking up at the crack of dawn, brewing a pot of coffee and immersing myself into the new series of Twin Peaks all on my own. I chose this for myself. I decided to go it alone. But save for internet groups it’s a lonely life being a Peaker these days. No longer the water-cooler show that the original series was, it exists somewhere outside of reality just like the tulpas, the Woodsmen and a disembodied David Bowie in the show. It’s not gonna draw the big audiences it once did because, quite frankly, it is unlike anything that’s been on TV.

Putting aside comparisons with American Detective, Breaking Bad and the later films in Lynch’s canon, the slow burn beauty of this new trawl through dark Americana is literally peerless. Much was made of Episode 8 which took a step back from the slowly unfolding narratives to give us a history lesson in the creation of the evil that haunts Twin Peaks, transporting us to the atom bomb test in White Sands, New Mexico in 1945.

But for me it’s hard to single out one specific moment in this 18-episode journey that blew my mind the most. Was it the return of Audrey Horne, stuck in an endless loop of demented hysteria, a tragic shadow of the femme fatale beauty she once was? Was it Ike the Spike, the sharpy-wielding dwarf who rampaged across Las Vegas in pursuit of Dougie Jones? Maybe it was the return of Dale Cooper through a plug socket (no, really), and his long, drawn out return to form as he stumbled through life like a baby deer after spending 25 years trapped in another dimension. Or the trio of Candie, Mandie and Sandie, the Vegas showgirls who never changed outfit and liked to show up at the most inopportune moments just to look fabulous and bring sandwiches…

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You could literally go on forever at the wonders and horrors that Lynch and Frost bestowed on us over this last few months. It’ll take time for me to process and be coherent. But then Lynch revelled so much in being incoherent at times I hardly feel any guilt for rambling on. What I gave us was the gift of breathing space. So often now TV shows are obsessed with keeping us hooked – every scene has to end on a gasp moment, every ad break has to promise us another flashy surprise otherwise we may just turn over or get lost in social media. But with Twin Peaks: The Return we had long scenes that kept us watching simply because they were imbued with such heart, such artistry, and steeped in the mythology of a world and an artist who we know we just have to trust. Just go with it. It’ll be worth it.

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And wasn’t it? Who else sat slack-jawed at the audacity of revisiting the 1994 movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me with Coop now watching the scenes we’re so familiar with, and then actually stepping into that world to ‘save’ Laura? Only he fucked with time and I’ll argue paid the price in episode 18. But the theories are endless. In those final moments I got the impression that we were being taught a harsh lesson, one that it took 18 episodes to come to terms with. And that is this. 25 years have gone by since we were last in Twin Peaks. It could never stay the same. And that’s tough to deal with, but accept it and the rewards are rich and bountiful. I could be totally wrong of course. But that doesn’t matter. Lynch doesn’t want to explain, he doesn’t need to. With any decent or great work of art, what you bring to it informs what you take away.

With Twin Peaks: The Return I brought expectations of existential horror, soap opera melodrama and that dark heart Americana – simple images like a gas station at night or a motel in the middle of nowhere that are painted over with such dread in a way that only David Lynch can achieve.

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As you can see it delivered in spades – and golden shovels. I’ll write more as I process it. It’s gonna take a while.

But having thought on this, my mood today, sombre, out-of-time, spaced out – I think it could be grief. Like Coop with Laura in that final episode, I got back what I thought was gone only for it to slip away again. The last image was Laura being reminded of the life she’d left – or the life that had left her – and she screamed in horror and anguish and confusion. Whatever that was, that town, that familiarity, it was now out of her grasp. And now it’s out of mine. Well, until I just start from the beginning again.

Then I can start drawing up favourite moments, favourite characters (Diane all the way), biggest head-fucks, all that fun stuff. In the meantime I’ll just nurse the void with coffee and cherry pie – the original Norma Jennings recipe thank you, not the shit they sell outside of town!

I’m gonna need a bigger percolator. Fish-free.

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JL

The Voices (2014)

What if Dr Dolittle was a serial killer?

It’s not often that you get a film about a man with mental health issues that effortlessly balances comedy, empathy, gore and horror – but the largely ignored film “The Voices” (2014) starring Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton and Jacki Weaver does just that. It’s a downright hilarious film that shows you the world from the very unique perspective of mentally unstable Jerry. Jerry navigates through life with the help of his talking pets – the lovable dopey dog Boscoe and his viciously sassy cat Mr Whiskers who act like the Angel and Devil on jerry’s shoulder.


The film received positive reviews from critics but fell into relative obscurity due to a limited release and minimal publicity. The film only came to my attention by accident after being offered free tickets to an early screening of the film at FACT Liverpool, otherwise it would be entirely likely I’d have completely missed it too. In fairness not giving the film a wide release and big publicity budget was probably the correct move as it caters to a certain type of movie goer. It’s often bubblegum pop aesthetic, main characters and actors  are appealing to one type of audience buts its black comedy, dark plot and excessive gore, swearing and general weirdness probably appeal to another audience completely. Anna Kendrick for example is very much a Marmite actor but even me as a massive fan would (wrongly) question her casting in a dark horror comedy.


I left the cinema expecting this film to slowly gather a cult following as it has all the aspects and potential for that but I’m still yet to meet anyone who has even heard of it unless I’ve personally sat them down to watch it. It’s a shame especially as for me Ryan Reynolds puts in his best performance to date and yes I’m even saying he plays this role better than his universally adored Deadpool.


Reynolds plays the main character of Jerry the lovable naive serial killer as well as providing the voices for both of his pets, a half dead deer and his sock puppet Bunny Monkey. He manages to keep you on side with Jerry even as he spirals further and further down the rabbit hole of murder and decapitation. It’s seriously impressive as you find yourself almost trying to justify his actions, if not just truly empathising with his heartbreaking family history that brought me to tears. His character awkwardness and lack of confidence is so endearing that’s it’s also the most attractive I’ve ever found Ryan Reynolds, perhaps that says something more about me than the character but he makes me swoon in this film.


However Jerry isn’t the best role Reynolds plays in the film, not even close in fact. Enter Mr Whiskers. If you have ever wondered what a cat would say if it could speak I’d say this is about as close as you are going to get. Mr Whiskers is straight up vicious, crude, evil and absolutely hysterical. Full off witty one liners, insults and vulgar questions it’s safe to say he’s my new sprit animal.


I mean I couldn’t even decide on one gif to use to represent him.


Without giving too much away the plot focuses on Jerry trying to fit in at the office making friends, join a Conga Line and dabbling at dating the office’s stunning English girl Fiona played by Gemma Arterton. After initially standing him up for a karaoke party the date goes ahead with an unfortunate accident that leads to Fiona’s head being placed in the fridge to flirt and hurl insults at Jerry when needed. Don’t worry about Jerry’s love life though Anna Kendrick’s Lisa doesn’t mourn her friend for long before taking her man.


Jacki Weaver plays Jerry’s psychologist and through these sessions we are given some incite and great character building moments for Jerry as well as some superb acting on both parts. Despite some suspicions and unsuccessful attempts to get Jerry back on the medication it’s not long before Fiona has a friendly head in the fridge and another woman tied up on the couch. Cue some great moments where we see the world from others or Jerry’s medicated perspective that quickly snap you back to the reality. They highlight that despite all the laughs there is some pretty dark stuff going on.


The ending to the story is, well depressing but necessary and I’m glad they committed to that. However have no fear just when you think you were gonna leave this film on a down beat along comes one of the best musical credit endings ever featuring the talents of all the cast and Jesus.


So in conclusion it’s a crazy, dark but ultimately fun film that you need to watch. It’s a cult film to be, so lets make sure that happens even if it’s just so I can selfishly have someone to talk about it with and endlessly quote to. Grab a friend, grab some gin, popcorn, sit back and enjoy the craziest yet funniest movie night you will have anytime soon.


SM

Previously, on Screaming Queenz…

We’ll be back after our little Summer break next week. Meanwhile have you caught up on all our podcast episodes so far? Here’s a selection for your delectation. A mix of vampires, witches, Italian slashers and good old-fashioned monster movies. All of them come with an unhealthy dose of camp humour, poor taste and disgusting language!

From Peter Cushing to porno, the references for Fright Night come thick and fast…

So who the fuck died and made the Babadook a gay icon? With a little help from The Village People we decipher just why this demonic children’s fable cashed in on the pink pound…

Who knew the eternally young Lost Boys would ever hit 30? Well they just did, so reminisce with big hair, 80s power rock, and the dark underbelly of Hollywood paedophiles…

Which witch are you? A badass 90s high-schooler or a psychadelic 70s lesbian with a penchant for S&M? Check out our two-parter on witches in horror, both parts here:

Do you like giallo? We love giallo. What the fuck is giallo? Find out here:

There’s like 37 more episodes for you to get your teeth into over on SoundCloud but you can also hear them via Podbean and Itunes, links below. So listen, laugh, loathe if you must. Get in touch and let us know your thoughts, get me on twitter @jonnylarkin or email us at Screamingqueenz@gmail.com!

JL

http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/screaming-queenz/id1070845275?mt=2

Folk Horror

As a break from the collaboration series, I thought it would be interesting to look at a couple of my favourite bands that have taken inspiration from the obscure world of folk horror.

“Folk Horror” is an unusual term, it usually tends to mean a loose collection of UK films from the 60’s and 70’s, films from the likes of Hammer, Amicus and Tigon. Most of these films would contain themes of Black Magic, Devil worshipping cults, ritual sacrifices, things of that nature. It is a hard genre to pin down and sure to cause many arguments among genre fans. I’ve recently seen one or two articles including more modern films within the folk horror genre. Films like “The Blair Witch Project” would kind of fit as a modern take on a folk horror film I guess, witches in the woods, rituals and sacrifices.

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Equally I’ve seen films like Haxan, which we’ve discussed before, listen here:

https://soundcloud.com/screamingqueenzpodcast/wicca-please-part-2-the-devil-got-inside-me

… and Onibaba considered by some people to be early examples of folk horror dealing as they do with folklore and superstition, except both these films are from outside the UK, so I’m sure that may cause an argument or two! I don’t claim to be an expert on the genre by any means, more of an interested fan, I am a huge fan of Onibaba though so any excuse I get to plug a favourite of mine, I’ll take it.

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We will get around to doing a Folk Horror episode soon I’m sure, one of the films considered to be part of the “Big Three” of folk horror we have already spoken about, that being the Vincent Price classic Witchfinder General. See link above for that episode!

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Undoubtedly the highest profile of the films that traditionally tend to get lumped together under the umbrella term of Folk Horror and one of the greatest horror films ever to come from the UK, also featuring one of the titans of UK horror, is 1973’s The Wicker Man.

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I’ll save going into a full review of the Wicker Man as it really deserves all our input and  I’m sure it will pop up in an episode in the not-too-distant future. While the artists included here might not be to everybody’s taste, hopefully it will at least be an interesting read from a horror fan perspective.

Agalloch

The first band I want to highlight is an American band out of Portland called Agalloch, The band played an unusual blend of styles with elements of Black Metal, Doom Metal, Post-rock and Folk. There’s not really a band to compare them to I don’t think, a genuinely unique band.

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Starting out in the mid-90’s until calling it a day in 2016 Agalloch released 5 albums and numerous demos/EP’s/compilations in their 20 year history. Many of their songs focus on aspects of nature and themes of Paganism and Pantheism, you can see why a film like the Wicker Man might speak to them.

Here’s a typical example of one of their songs. They rely very much on creating an atmosphere to express the darker side of mankind and our strange relationship to nature, at times basking in the beauty of it, but at the same time lamenting that we sometimes go out of our way to destroy it.

In 2008 they released an EP entitled “The White”, for this release they do away with the majority of the other heavier elements and stick almost exclusively to the Folk elements. The White EP contains several samples from the Wicker Man sprinkled throughout, there’s some of my favourite lines of dialogue from the film.

A few years ago Agalloch released another EP entitled “Faustian Echoes” taking inspiration this time from the classic German tale of Faust. The EP ending up being one single song, running time, 22 minutes!

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I was pleased to find that somebody on youtube has edited the song with footage of F.W. Murnua’s 1926 silent classic, which you can see below. I’m quite the fan of the German Expressionist era so I think it’s well worth seeking out the full film if you’ve never seen it. Some of the imagery is simply incredible and would be highly influential on many films in the future, well, the past to us but the future in 1926.

Blood Ceremony

Another band that I believe takes a lot of influence from folk horror are the Canadian band Blood Ceremony.

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Blood Ceremony hail from Toronto, formed in 2006 by Alia O’Brien, the singer/flautist/organist and all-round brains behind the band.

Blood Ceremony have been described as many things in the past, one of my favourites being “Witch rock” They draw on many influences musically, there’s a little Jethro Tull thrown in there with the addition of the flute giving a folky feel to a lot of the material, certainly elements of Black Sabbath are present too. The fact that they’re hard to classify is part of the appeal I think, it’s a bit different and a bit esoteric.

Most of their material draws influence from general horror themes, witchcraft, sacrifices, black magic, that sort of thing. You get quite a strong folk horror vibe from the video I think, with a hint of 60’s psychedelia thrown in. Skulls and rituals and Astrological themed mumbo-jumbo. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a green Barbara Steele pop up at one point.

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Blood Ceremony seem to take a good amount of influence from a pretty obscure W. Somerset Maugham  novel from 1908 called “The Magician” telling the story of Oliver Haddo and his attempts at creating artificial lifeforms by way of sacrifices.

Interestingly enough the famous occultist Aleister Crowley was apparently unhappy with the novel’s main character, believing it to be caricature of himself and accused the author of plagiarism.

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“The Magician” would end up getting it’s own big screen adaptation in 1926, with some even believing that James Whale’s later Frankenstein films took no small amount of influence from it.

I started this article talking about The Wicker Man and sure enough, Blood Ceremony do have their own song about The Wicker Man, it’s interesting to note that this song is unusual in that it’s the only song that Alia doesn’t perform the main vocal duties.

It’s a bit more of a sombre affair in comparison to a lot of their material, but I’m all for variety.

The influence and legacy of these folk horror films can still be seen and felt now. Some might even argue that it’s had something of a revival recently with the likes of last year’s surprise hit “The Witch” and Ben Wheatley’s duo of “Kill List” and “A Field in England”, the latter of which uses a similar Civil War setting as Witchfinder General.

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Speaking of Witchfinder General, if you’ve never seen the video for Cathedral’s song about Mr. Hopkins it’s certainly worth a look,  if only for it’s strangeness.

The influences of horror in general on many bands is huge, and I may get into other bands / film genres at another point if people enjoy this and would like to hear more about the music / horror intersection.

JB

Review: It Comes At Night…

But Does it Deliver the Package?

Before you jump to conclusions this is a review of the new Trey Shults film, not a recent Grindr Hook-up. Although much like with online dating what you are promised in the preview isn’t exactly what you are going to get.

Everything from the jumpy tense trailer, the ominous film title and the classically creepy cabin in the woods setting suggests you are in for a paint by numbers horror film to appease the masses. The film, however, is far from that date night horror flick. Instead of leaving the cinema with the euphoric high of surviving something terrifying I was left with a sense of melancholy, questioning just what mankind is willing to do to survive.

However unlike many hormone ridden teens who will see this film I couldn’t be happier with the deception. The intensity in the trailer is there but it is strung out with a sense of foreboding and dread that keep you consistently anxious without any jump scares to relieve the mood.

Instead the cheap scares are replaced with well-developed characters, who are very well acted and have clear motivations. I know – it’s a revolutionary concept.

I wouldn’t like to pick out one actor as being particularly great as the limited cast all have a chance to shine and all do a great job of absorbing you into the world without a long winding backstory.

In fact there is next to no back story for the characters or the plot. The plot consists of a family of four and their dog in their wood cabin hiding from a deadly disease that is killing all those infected in a short space of time. This has caused many to abandon their city homes and flee to the countryside.

The film opens with the mercy killing and shallow grave cremation of the grandfather which leads to their home being discovered and broken into by a young man. After initially tying him shirtless to a tree and stuffing something in his mouth (I would have done the same) they make a gentleman’s agreement to share one family’s livestock with the others’ fortified shelter. The rest of the film is just exploring the bonding and distrust between the two families and the consequences of their actions.

This disease epidemic plot isn’t given to you up front in a traditional outbreak scene or even via a news source exclaiming the inner city horror. It is slow released throughout the film with neither the scale or the nature of the disease being fully explained.
In a very similar way there is no backstory for the characters. The main family – Paul, Sarah and their teenage son Travis are given no concrete life history.


However a happy past is cleverly suggested by a long corridor filled with smiling family portraits that instantly and subtly tells you everything you need to know.

The second family – Will, Kim and young son Andrew’s past is given more of an explanation as Will tells his family’s story to gain Paul’s trust. However a slip up by Will after a drink later suggests the only concrete back story we are given could all be a fabrication.

The set design of the film is perfect. Slopping ceilings, small hidden crawl spaces and the heavy red foreboding door create a sense of claustrophobia, dread and give a disorienting vibe. Apart from the aforementioned family portraits the only other decoration in the dimly lit cabin is the Bruegel The Elder painting “The Triumph Of Death”. Apart from just being a hellishly depressing image of the destruction man this particular piece was chosen because Bruegel was inspired to paint it by the Black Death Plague. It is this level of thought and attention to detail that permeates through the film and keeps it engaging and thrilling.


Perhaps the weirdest false advertisement around the film is the title. Nothing does actually come at night. There is no zombie like creature or attacks from others at night despite stating they don’t go out at night (not even to the outside toilet). The only thing that does come at night is Travis’s beautifully visceral nightmares that explore his grief, fears and desires. It’s the part of the film that cements its horror status and without it I’d be hard pressed to call this anything more than a tense family drama.


I don’t mean that as a negative by the way, the family drama is what makes this film so engaging. Whilst Travis’s parents argue about the current situation making their son grow up too fast it is clear that Travis himself is ready to grow up with his feelings of sexual desire obviously developing throughout the film specifically targeted at Will’s wife Kim. This is shown in a great and awkward kitchen scene between the two characters as well as Travis actively listening in to a late night interaction between Will and Kim, vicariously experiencing their intimacy.

Without heading too far into spoiler territory I can tell you the blissful family interactions – like suggesting they guess who’s poo bucket is who’s – doesn’t last.

With the fear that someone may be infected the family’s distrust of each other is immediately heightened with horrifically sad consequences as the two families throw morality aside and fight to survive.

The closing conflict does a lot without showing much. Instead of giving us a money shot, letting the actors explain the horror with their distress actually keeps the situation grounded, real and all that more harrowing.

The film ends similarly to how it opens, around the dining table – no clearly explained ending just as there was no clearly explained beginning. The surviving characters are left to continue on with life as it is now and to comprehend what the horrors they have done to survive.


Like with most films that are downbeat dark but strangely beautiful I’m left with both a sense of enjoyment and sadness. If the question is would I watch the film again I’d say no, once was probably enough (twice at the most) to experience what it has to offer without becoming manic depressive.

But if you asked me if I thought the film was good and would I recommend it to my friends then I say….


SM

Pathos/Obsession – A Taste for Fear (1988)

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A late 80s hidden gem, Pathos, or its American title Obsession – A Taste For Fear comes off like a soft porn take on The Eyes of Laura Mars, doped up on Quaaludes and Campari…

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A late entry in the cannon of Italian sleaze with more than a stab at giallo, Piccio Raffainini’s only credited filmic outing stars Virginia Hey, who will be familiar to fans of Mad Max 2, Farscape and, believe it or not, Prisoner Cell Block H. She plays Diane, an upmarket fashion photographer working in Rome. Bisexual, oozing an icy coolness to match her sharp cheekbones and wicked tongue, she’s shacked up with her lesbian lover Valerie (Gioia Scola) who shows more than a hint of jealousy when Diane’s eye wanders…

Her shoot is suddenly plagued by grisly fetishistic murders, gialloesque insofar as the killer brandishes a blade in black gloves and takes great delight in the torture of scantily clad ladies.  Diane finds herself plunged into a murder mystery that takes her deep underground into the nightlife of Rome, whilst dealing with a jealous lesbian lover and a burgeoning romance with the investigating officer…

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Bizarrely the film is also set in the future, with hints of this coming from Hey’s choice of car – some bizarre hovering hybrid that zooms through the streets of Rome at night – not to mention guns that shoot some sort of laser zapper… Without those clues you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the coked-up brainchild of an 80s New York clubkid in the making. Shoulder-pads, afros and makeup that would make a drag queen gag abound in this uber-stylish little curiosity.

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Queer viewers can revel in the neon-lit fashions, the icy cool bitchiness of most its female cast, the labyrinthine gay club ‘Agony and Ecstasy’ and the surprise appearance of the fabulous Grace Jones track ‘Private Life’. Man candy comes in the form of Dario Parisini, giving us 80s George Michael facial stubble with more than a whiff of ‘assume the position’ porno cop realness.

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High on lesbianism that puts the tit in titillation, low on any semblance of plot with more time spent on the fashions, the interiors and the naked ladies, this VHS treasure can be found in its entirety on YouTube here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3K3OJW2ecM

Revel in the blurry pan and scan quality and pretend you’re watching a dodgy third generation copy late at night after one too many Babychams. Surprisingly this piece of Eurotrash looks so good in bad quality I’d actually pay for a HD upgrade should that ever come about. Stranger things have happened. 88 Films I’m looking at you!

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Cheers to the fabulous Rachael Nisbet for alerting me to this neon wonder. Her amazing indepth review can be found here:

http://hypnoticcrescendos.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/obsession-taste-for-fear-1988.html

JL

Five Desperate Women!

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OK so there is no exclamation point in the original title of this TV movie from 1971, but surely it deserves one? Growing up a queer teenager with a love for glossy American soaps like Dynasty and Melrose Place, there were two words that would set my little gay heart alight at the mere hint of them. Aaron Spelling. So confronted with the possibility of a proto-slasher TV movie produced by the very man himself – and starring Stefanie Powers to boot – you could colour me very excited.

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Having struck up a Twitter friendship with the fabulous Amanda Reyes and invested in her amazing book, ‘Are You In The House Alone: A TV Movie Compendium’, my trawl through American TV movies with a campy horror edge had to begin with this gem. The premise is simple – five female friends head out to a remote island for their college reunion. Only an escaped lunatic is on the loose and looks set to pick them off one by one. So far, so slasher. But remember this is 1971, and apart from Bay of Blood (Mario Bava), slasher movies as we know them were still in their infancy. This, coupled with the fact that a TV movie couldn’t get away with showing explicit gore, nudity or a particularly high body count, meant that ‘Five Desperate Women’ would be low on the kills and the blood.

But what it’s high on is the camp! The cast of five women consists of Stefanie Powers (Hart to Hart), Joan Hackett, Jill Sommars, Denise Nicholas and the fabulously named Anjanette Comer. In that lineup you get a Southern belle drunkard, an effortlessly stylish lady of colour, a sardonic cynic, and a mentally unstable pathological liar. You can’t go wrong. Particularly when these ladies dress to impress in the best that early 70s beach-wear has to offer. Think Biba-60s it-girl by way of middle class housewife chic and you’re halfway there. In fact here’s some devastating imagery to better explain!

Our ladies are taken to the island by captain Meeker (Bradford Dillman), a shifty drifter type who’s immediately set up as the would-be killer. But once they get to the island and meet the more heroic and affable handyman Wylie – played by Robert Conrad – it becomes obvious to us hardened horror hounds that the more placid, respectable male eye candy is the one to watch. Eagle-eyed queer viewers like myself will also have one extra advantage on their side when sniffing out the bad guy. In the prologue we see the escaped convict bump off an unsuspecting man on a beach, but to keep the villain’s identity a secret we only ever see him from the waist down. To put it mildly, Captain Meeker’s posterior doesn’t match up to the killer’s, so we know the minute we see Wylie’s peachy behind that he must be the psycho!

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Like any good TV movie, Five Desperate Women is efficient in its pacing. It only has one hour ten minutes (if you take out the ad breaks) to get the job done so there is no messing around. But there’s still time for some great character development as we see dippy Dorian (Hackett) become overly attached to a stray dog and go off at the deep end in glorious camp fashion when it meets a grisly end. Spoiler – she’s also the killer’s first female victim, meeting her maker in a surprisingly scary strangling scene.

Meanwhile the other ladies turn to booze and histrionics to cope with the realisation they’re stuck on an island with a crazy person. The only way off is their boat, which of course explodes before they can reach it. So faced with spending the night here they actually do all the right things – namely they lock both men out of the house and hunker down to wait for daylight and tomorrow’s supply boat. This gives us time for some juicy dialogue between surprisingly well drawn and brilliantly acted (except for a dodgy Southern accent) characters.

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So whilst we don’t get a Michael Myers style stalk and slash massacre we do get all of the camp fun vintage TV boxes ticked. One inexplicable moment, which can only have come from a misguided attempt to eek out the tension, shows Mary Grace (Sommars) being strangled by Wylie whilst the three remaining women simply stand there and throw rocks! After almost a minute of head-scratching they do finally leap to their friend’s rescue and club the villain to death. But what the hell took them so long? Were they so whacked out on Dorian’s valium and vodka that they couldn’t bring themselves to bare their claws?

A minor quibble. Five Desperate Women is a fabulous way to pass an hour or so and well worth the watch for fans of big hair, big female voices and a nice build of tension and drama. See it here in all its VHS glory:

Thank you Amanda Reyes for bringing this gem to my attention. Grab her book here:

JL