Category Archives: Horror

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

cult film rocky horrorDirector: Jim Sharman

Writers: Richard O’Brien (original musical play), Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien (screenplay)

In 1973, an Australian named Jim Sharman directed a musical called The Rocky Horror Show. The musical was a success and, in 1975, was made into a film that soon gathered a cult following.

Brad Majors and his fiancee Janet Weiss (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon), having just got engaged and seemingly destined to lead a very conventional life together, have a flat tyre during a thunderstorm and seek shelter in a rather eerie castle. Here they meet Dr Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), self-proclaimed ‘Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual Transsylvania’ and alien scientist, his servants Riff Raff and Magenta (Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn), groupie Columbia (Nell Campbell) and a host of other odd and interesting characters. Frank N. Furter has created a ‘muscle man’ and, to applause from his guests and servants and to Brad’s and Janet’s dismay, brings to life the ‘beautiful creature’, Rocky Horror (Peter Hinwood). This is followed by a violent intermezzo with Frank’s and Columbia’s former lover Eddie (Meat Loaf), a wedding between Frank and Rocky, a large amount of seduction, a bizarre floorshow and extra-terrestrial encounters.

The film is a parody of old horror and sci-fi films replete with all the stock ingredients – mad scientists, spooky castles, aliens, sex, gore, romance – with catchy music and remarkable costumes thrown in. It shows reckless abandon, decadent danger and carnal enjoyment, contrasted beautifully by Janet and Brad’s polite, repressed behaviour. Playing with identities and gender roles, and with the idea of taking risks and letting go, it brought together people who liked to do something different and not follow the rules. ‘Don’t Dream It, Be It’, as the song goes. Costume designer Sue Blane claimed that the musical, with its ripped fishnet stockings, glitter and dyed hair, influenced the punk movement, and we’re inclined to agree. Provocative, camp and funny, it still rocks today.

Singalong now!

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The Birds (1963)

Director – Alfred Hitchcock

Writers – Daphne du Maurier (original story), Evan Hunter (screenplay)

Alfred Hitchcock, it is known, was not always very kind to the women in his life; The Birds could well be seen as a commentary on that issue.

It almost feels as if the real birds in the film are a manifestation of the state of mind of the female characters within it. The shreiking hysteria that erupts as a swarm of canaries squawk down a chimney and out of the fireplace (perhaps some kind of symbolic opening or another) is echoed by the women who squeal in fright and despair as the birds flock around them, clouding their views. This is not an outlook that I share, but it is a perception of the content of the film.

The birds slowly congregate at a children’s playground, a place also often frequented by women. The male lead, Rod Taylor, is frightened and cautious when he passes, taunted by the calls and cries of the birds. Perhaps it is a rise in feminism itself that underpins the film? The male figures do not seem to like it very much when the women speak out, but instead feel attacked and trapped by the shrill calls. To suppose that Hitchcock is criticising women because of this does not take into account that he could also be sympathetic to their cause. His female lead, Tippi Hedren, of course, was adored by him, and a they step carefully around the caustic cawing crows, they creep around the very concept of women’s liberty, but also maintaining a social order and sense of gender roles. Nature itself is responding to the imbalance that industrialisation has imposed upon it, and it is clear that if you push too hard, the opposing side will push back. Tread carefully, and don’t get your feathers in a flap.

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Pan’s Labyrinth (aka. El laberinto del fauno) (2006)

Director – Guillermo del Toro

Writer – Guillermo del Toro

This film has a harrowing beauty that lingers with the viewer long after the credits have rolled. Set during the Spanish Falange era in 1944, a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), the stepdaughter of oppressive captain Vidal (Sergi López), finds sanctuary in a fantasy haven at the bottom of her garden that leads to a deep underground labyrinth. The fantastical creatures that she encounters assist or assail her, causing her to gradually confront the reality of the situation unfolding around her by cloaking it with her imagination. The monsters are truly wondrous, and often terrifying (see below), conjuring visuals that have been rarely matched in their vibrant fairytale quality and richness of colour.

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There are chillingly dark themes at work, dealt with in an extremely sensitive, yet imaginitive way. The emotional power of the interweaving storyline is a deeply moving experience when it tragically unfolds.

This is the trailer with the husky-voiced man to tell you more about it, as I don’t want to give anything more away, but strongly recommend that you watch this film.

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The Sinful Dwarf (aka. The House of Lost Maidens or Dværgen) (1973)

Das Haus der verlorenen Mädchen (1973) Poster

Director – Vidal Raski

Writers – William Mayo, Harlan Asquith

Originally banned in Sweden on its release, and Viggo Mortensen’s least favourite movie (as if that isn’t recommendation enough), this is a film that should probably never have been made, but it’s something of a perverse pleasure that it was. Perverse pleasures are what the protagonist of this sordid story, Olaf the Dwarf (Torben Bille), is all about. He lives with his mother, Lila Lash (Clara Keller), a former actual Nazi cabaret singer, of course, in a boarding house that just happens to keep drug-addled sex slaves locked up in its attic that he lures there using mechanical toy poodles (honest).

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All of this is unbeknownst to the newly married couple Peter (Tony Eades) and Mary (Anne Sparrow) that visit the boarding house (a strange choice of destination, some might think, but it’s the only place that they can afford), where Peter tries to earn his living as a dispossessed writer. What follows is some seriously sadistic, unmitigatedly unsettling viewing, replete with extremely gratuitious sex scenes, including rape and sado-masochism. After seeing this movie you’ll never be able to look at a walking stick in the same way again. I can’t really say that I’d recommend it on its artistic merits, or any kind of merits, yet it’s compelling for its sheer sleaziness and level of sick depravity. The malicious glee on Torbin’s face and his odd Danish pronunciation makes the film captivating. Perhaps it could be seen as an update ofThe Tin Drum, but I’m not entirely sure that the allegory was fully intended. We have other toys… upstairs!

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The Exterminating Angel (1962)

The Exterminating Angel (1962) Poster

Director – Luis Buñuel

Producer – Gustavo Alatriste

Writer – Luis Buñuel

A quiet uprising of servants is fomenting as they talk about leaving while a banquet for the decadent upper middle classes is held. The everyday quirks and eccentricities of the stuffy rich elite slowly emerge, as do their hidden desires and prejudices. Windows are smashed, trays are dropped by discontented servants who promptly leave, and what’s that under the table?

The guests of the feast comment on the rude behaviour of the servants, and each other, chattering and sniping with some cracklingly witty, barbed lines, and then more mysterious matters begin to occur. The dinner guests find themselves stuck in an uncomfortable situation, unable to free themselves, frozen by some strange compulsion. Their encumbered state means that they become desperate and competitive for survival, cantankerously pecking at one another for status and authority. The smarter and more sympathetic of the group attempt to fathom the circumstances of the mystery, but it evades their wits, and some even end up losing them.

The group becomes sequestered in its own tempestuous world that exists within the confines of the stately mansion, not considering any of the activities happening outside. Their closed world offers them no sanctuary, it is just a stale, stagnant pool to listlessly stew in. Some may be affronted by the delineation of the upper classes in such a clear, unfettered way, which was just what Buñuel intended. He pulls no punches, and exposes the rotten core of their empty, hypocritical existences in a highly original and innovative way. Recommended to those who don’t like to be spoon-fed with obvious, predictable slush.

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Delicatessen (1991)

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Directors – Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Writers – Gilles Adrien (screenplay and dialogue), Marc Caro (screenplay), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (screenplay)

You don’t get much more cynical, stylish or darkly humorous than this French delicacy. Never has there been such a sweet film made about such a, well, unsavory subject as this film is all about. What is it all about? It’s about eating things. Horrible things. You don’t really want to know what sort of things. Oh, you do? Well, you’d better see the film, hadn’t you? Just let me tell you a bit more about it first.

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The story of the piece revolves around an apartment block built above a small delicatessen (hence the name) somewhere in France following some kind of apocalyptic atrocity in the near future. Food is now incredibly scarce, and is used as a commodity to survive. A butcher named Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfuss) advertises for helpers in his establishment, to which an out-of-work clown named Louison (Dominique Pinon) applies. The affable clown falls for the butcher’s charming daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), who attempts to protect him from the horrors within. The clown has a dark secret that he must also come to terms with, and ensure that he, Julie and their friends can be saved.

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That director Jean-Pierre Jeunet went on to make Amelie and The City of Lost Children is more than conceivable due to its luscious, sumptuous scenery, shots and settings (a handful of which I had to include here!), but the dialogue and action of this original, offbeat offering are uniquely special in and of themselves and create a wondrous vision of an unusual world that we thankfully don’t exist in (just yet…).

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Get your teeth into Delicatessen today!

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Eraserhead (1977)

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Director – David Lynch
Producer – David Lynch, Fred Baker (uncredited)
Writer – David Lynch

Eraserhead is not the sort of film that you see every day. If it was, people would be even more confused than they already are. Eraserhead is a film that follows the daily routine of its main character, Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a mostly mute, melancholic man who has a stack of hair to rival Marge Simpson herself, and an awkward gait that shows his uncomfortability within his world and in all that he does. And boy, is it an odd world! There are chicken-headed babies and clanking pipes connecting up to the Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near), who sings an eerie song whilst dancing, as industrial noise erupts around them; and those are the relatively explainable parts. Then there’s the angry girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), who keeps having unusual fits, the Man in the Planet (Jack Fisk), the seductive, elusive neighbour across the hall (Judith Roberts) giving Henry strange glances, and other obscure, irrational happenings. It’s all very peculiar.

The film possesses echoes of German Expressionist cinema and surrealism, but it creates a unique landscape of its own. It is probably the nearest thing to a dream that has ever been captured on film, but it’s by no means a pleasant dream. It is our daily lives dissected and reconstituted into vicious visual representations. To say that it is just art is to understate just how original it is. It’s an unsettling masterpiece.

Sing along now!

Get your own copy of Eraserhead on DVD here!

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