The Colour Of Madness – Exclusive Horror Movie Location Report

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Exclusive set report on a new horror movie filmed here in Norway, starring Barbara Crampton.

The mountains around Bjørke are extraordinarily beautiful, forming a soaring, jagged cradle around the small village in the rugged western fjords of Norway. But on the summer evening I visit the location, for the filming of a new British horror movie, The Colour of Madness, at the end of a cloudless and unseasonably hot day, that cradle feels somewhat more ominous.

Maybe it’s the décor of the cabin that the crew are holed up inside that helps create the atmosphere, a typical small wooden structure, with verging-on-kitsch late 1950s/early 1960s furniture. Look a little closer, however, and odd details begin to stand out; strange little betentacled knick-knacks, resembling unearthly octopi, and what’s that over the fireplace? Is that a grisly painting of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods?

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A mysterious looking piece of set design

Clearly, dark deeds are afoot on the sweltering, busy set, underlined by the familiar appearance of a petite, graceful figure: Barbara Crampton, the much-loved star of classic genre films such as Re-Animator, From Beyond and We Are Still Here. The actor stands behind the cameras and prepares to shoot a short scene but makes a point of introducing herself to me and Jon, who’s here with me to snap some behind the scenes photos. Then the cameras are rolling, and Crampton is consoling a distraught character played by Sophie Stevens (The Haunted), handing her what looked to me like a suspicious glass of water. I spent some time talking in detail with Crampton about her life and career, so look out for that in an upcoming piece.

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Star Barbara Crampton chats with Out of Dave’s Head’s editor

With Crampton’s shot in the can, the co-directors, Andy Collier and Toor Mian then busy themselves setting up a tricky POV shot from beneath a glass table, as Stevens’ character succumbs to unconsciousness, spilling the water she’s been drinking across its surface. I got the feeling water wouldn’t be the only liquid spilled during the film’s creepy storyline.

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Co-Director Toor Mian (right) watches a shot being filmed

Shooting reached a break and the cast and crew gathered outside in the cooler air, with the mountains looming over us in the gathering darkness.  I ask the directors what brought them to Norway? Had they always planned to film here? “Not at all,” says Mian, munching on some Norwegian-style bacalao, as part of a late crew dinner on the gently rolling hillside. “Originally, we set the story in Scotland, but honestly, so many productions have shot there recently, and we really wanted to avoid any kind of Wicker Man-feel, in terms of the look of the film. Plus, my Mum is Norwegian, so now here we are filming in the most expensive country on Earth!”

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Directors Toor Mian & Andy Collier plot ghastly acts 

“But it really feels right to be shooting here,” Mian says. “Because there’s such a big connection in the story between the sort of Lovecraftian Cthulhu elements and all the water around us! Plus, you know, look at this place!” He finishes on this point, indicating to the breathtaking natural scenery. “We get so much bang for our production bucks!”

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Outside the cabin, on location in Bjørke, Norway

And how have they found filming in Bjørke? “Norway’s been great, not at all intrusive and really fluid!” Mian says. “And Bjørke’s been very easy to film in,” Collier adds. “We thought shooting in a tiny place like this might attract lots of local attention, but everyone has been brilliant. We were filming down at the harbour one day and this guy came in on his boat. He started asking a bit about the film, really interested in it all, but when he realised he’d be in shot he just said he’d move his boat somewhere else… and off he went!”

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The inhabitants of this cabin clearly shop at Cthulhu-R-Us

Watching them in cramped, hot conditions, I noted the two directors keep a focused but light-hearted set. How do they split duties? “I tend to be more technical,” Collier replies. “Working on DOP stuff and with the camera.” “While I usually work more with the actors,” Mian finishes. Does this lead to any kind of tension between the two of them, I wonder? They both laugh and simultaneously reply “Only sexual tension!” I get the feeling they’ve been asked this before.

I’d recently watched the pair’s previous film, Charismata, and noted the callbacks to Alan Parker’s 1987 psychological horror, Angel Heart, as well as the visual cues taken from David Fincher’s Seven. What could they tell me about any such inspirations for their latest work?

“Nicolas Winding Refn!” says Collier, without missing a beat, before Mian adds “I think Drive is a big influence on this film, in terms of the way we’re approaching the narrative.” “And definitely The Neon Demon for the visuals.” Collier finishes. The pair obviously enjoy working together, as they weave in and out of each other’s sentences.

“But another big inspiration is John Carpenter’s The Thing,” says Mian. “We’re going full-on with practical effects, loads of Cthulhu monster tentacles and all kinds of horrible stuff!” “Films like The Howling, those great 80s horror movies with all the practical effects, all very tangible, that’s really the essence of what we’re going for!” Collier adds enthusiastically.

And what can you tell us about the plot of The Colour of Madness? “Not much!” says Collier. “Or we’d have to kill you!” Mian jokes, or at least I hope he was joking.

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Barbara Crampton (right) practices some lines of dialogue in Norwegian

“One of our characters, Issac, played by Ludovic Hughes, returns to the remote Norwegian island where he grew up, after his mother dies,” continues Mian. “But on coming back with his pregnant wife they find things aren’t very welcoming and they quickly find themselves involved in a nightmare situation involving a Pagan cult, and, well… other things… ha ha.”

I wanted to move forward, to talk about what these two likeable creators have lined up for the future. “Well, there’s a film called Perpetual,” Mian offers. “That’s probably our next film.” I tell them I had read up about it and am intrigued by the potentially controversial plot, involving a small-town cop hunting a serial killer who leaves behind what seem to be Islamic terror calling cards in what’s left of his victims.

“Yeah, it’s a bit in limbo at the moment,” explains Collier, somewhat wearily. “We had some strong studio interest, but then they got cold feet over the subject matter. We’re quite prepped on it though, so as soon as the financing comes together, we’re good to go.”

“Plus we have a sort of medieval western we’re working on,” Mian adds. “The locations here would be perfect for that, so maybe we could even shoot that in Norway too.”

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Maybe someone should advise Sophie Stevens not to drink that water

“We learn from each of our films,” Collier concludes, as the actors are dismissed for the day and wander off in the now-inky black Norwegian darkness while the crew wraps and prepares for a long night shoot the following evening. “And we’re getting more confident. The Colour of Madness is a big leap from Charismata, and I think horror fans will find a lot in it to get excited about!”

As Jon and I finished our visit and drove away into the night, we left feeling excited at what horrors these directors and their hard-working crew would unleash on the screen, and kept an extra-sharp eye out for tentacles as we drove past the nearby lake…

The Colour of Madness is now in post-production and will be released in 2020.

Words by Dave King/Pictures by Jon Harman

Set video by Jon Harman:

 

The Haunting of Sharon Tate – All In The Worst Possible Taste

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the infamous Tate – LaBianca murders and, much like waiting for a bus, along come three movies to mark the date in various ways. I’ve yet to see Mary Harron’s Charlie Says and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, but I think it’s safe to assume that if The Haunting of Sharon Tate set out to be the worst of the three then it can be considered a rip-roaring success.

It’s pretty tough to figure out what was going on in anybody’s heads in their efforts to make this movie. Hilary Duff, who could most charitably be described as awful, runs the gamut from cloying to annoyingly hysterical (not in the humorous way either), playing Tate as little more than a blank slate.

But then the script she has to work with gives her no help whatsoever, keeping the characters character-free and running fast and loose with the unsubstantiated real-life rumour that the actress had a premonition of her own death. In doing so, it attempts to turn cult leader Charles Manson (who instructed four of his followers to kill the inhabitants of 10050 Cielo Drive) into a Freddy Krueger boogieman-type apparition, and that’s probably the least boneheaded element of this truly wretched movie.

Following the real events, Duff’s Tate arrives back at the home she made with her film director husband, Roman Polanski (off in Europe working on the script for Day of the Dolphin, as the script leadenly points out), with her friend and former lover, Jay Sebring (Jonathon Bennett) and three other friends who are looking after the house.

Almost immediately, Tate begins hearing noises, gets spooked by cupboard doors creaking open and windows being left ajar (to the point where you’re screaming at the screen: “JUST CLOSE ALL THE GODDAMNED WINDOWS, ALREADY!”) before playing a kind of Ouija board game that adds nothing to the mix and having a quick conversation about destiny. Oh, and dropping as many expository factoids about Polanski and Tate into six or seven lines of dialogue as humanly possible. Its even more irritating than it sounds.

Then the interminable music (by someone possibly wisely named only as Fantom) which wallpapers every scene SUDDENLY GETS REALLY LOUD AND SCARY as a hippy turns up at the house looking for the previous owner, music producer Terry Melcher. That’ll be Charles Manson then, folks. Or maybe it’s Freddy Krueger. Tough to tell from that music.

From then on, Tate’s unease turns to full blown hysteria as we see the murders play out as her nightmare and she imagines blood pouring out of the bath taps while the audience starts wondering if Hilary Duff might return to her singing career soon because that would be marginally less painful than sitting through the rest of this film.

Just when you think the movie can’t get any worse it goes and exceeds expectations by getting much, much worse: Tate is turned into a gun-toting Linda Hamilton clone, seeing off Manson’s followers with great vengeance and furious anger, as she reimagines taking charge of her destiny (foreshadowed in her earlier conversations about, well… destiny, geddit?).

And, uh… that’s it… 94 minutes of something utterly ghastly, filled with a billion beauty shots of the Hollywood sign and surrounding hills (you could certainly never be unclear where this film took place), would-be portentous dialogue and a hilarious shot where Duff’s Tate is sitting by the pool reading a book titled REINCARNATION, in nice, big friendly text. Oh, and the vaguely rotten aftertaste that The Haunting of Sharon Tate is indulging in a little victim blaming by suggesting that the ill-fated party might have lived if only they’d been resourceful enough to fight back a little harder. Or they’d had Linda Hamilton to hand.

Bad taste can be invigorating, thrilling and hilarious or it can just be bad taste. This is definitely the latter, and is nowhere near clever enough to realise just how obnoxious it is.

It would be a real cheap shot to say this film is truly Duff, but fuck it, it doesn’t deserve anything better.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – The Manson Legacy

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Out Of Dave’s Head is proud to publish our first article by another writer; welcome aboard Jon Harman, celebrating the release of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood with a look at the cinematic legacy of the real-life horror haunting the movie.

Charles Manson has been a defining Hollywood story for 50 years, ever since the fateful and brutal killings in August 1969. With Tarantino returning to this arena in his latest offering Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we look at the impact and legacy of the Manson Murders in cinema.

The Manson Murders took place in the summer of 1969 and were the culmination of activities by a hippy cult lead by Charles Manson, an unemployed ex-convict who had spent more than half of his life in correctional institutions. Manson’s dreams of becoming a singer/songwriter had been snubbed by Beach Boys record producer Terry Melcher and he was suffering delusions of grandeur that he was the new messiah. He was also obsessed with the Beatles, particularly their 1968 self-titled album, and was allegedly guided by his interpretation of the band’s lyrics. He adopted their song, Helter Skelter, as the text to describe an impending apocalyptic race war.

On August 8th of that year, Manson instructed his followers, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel to go to Melcher’s house in Cielo Drive in LA and murder the inhabitants, who were film director Roman Polanski’s pregnant actress wife, Sharon Tate, her hairdresser Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski. The following night he instructed them and Leslie Van Houten and Steve Grogan to perform a copycat killing of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca at their residence.

Manson occurred at a defining moment for counter-culture and Hollywood, starting a transition to a post studio system, as Peter Fonda’s Wyatt uttered the immortal words “we blew it” in Easy Rider, the love affair with hippiedom was over, but the kinetic, youthful and independent style of Easy Rider was opening a door to a new cinema. Then on August 8th-9th the brutal slaying of the Tate party in Cielo Drive ensured Hollywood and violence were fused together in a thematic way that has permeated US cinema for decades, with constant reference to the perfect boogeyman in Manson. 

There are the biopic, literal tellings of the Manson story over the years, but there are also countless films that channel a Manson theme within. Very early on, numerous exploitation films captured the salacious nature of the crimes like Angel, Angel, Down We Go (1969) which was retitled as Cult of The Damned (1971) to feed off the ever growing notoriety of the case, not to mention the bizarre attempt to add two minutes of footage to Sign of Aquarius (1970) to suddenly make a Mansonesque blaxploitation flick, Ghetto Freaks (1970) which was a fusion of too many themes to comprehend).

As the investigation played out in 69 and 70, aspects were already fusing into the lexicon of cinema, such as John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs (1970), which had Divine running a circus freak show as a front for robbery and murder and convincing her husband that he killed Sharon Tate in a drug induced haze. Waters was obsessed with the case and wrote references into his film as the case unfolded, later dedicating Pink Flamingos (1972) to “Sadie, Katie & Les” (Manson’s nicknames for Susan Atkins, Linda Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, the main perpetrators of the murders). Waters has spent years advocating the release of  Van Houten, describing her as his friend.

The first attempt to bring the actual Manson story into cinema was The Other Side of Madness (1971) which itself was later retitled as The Helter Skelter Murders, a strange curational mix of documentary and re-enactment footage filmed in some of the actual locations whilst never actually using any of the names from the crime. The hippie noir depiction of the crime scene is both brutal and exploitative for a film of its time with strong mondo undertones leaving it a curio in the Manson legacy. At the same time, exploitation duo Michael and Roberta Findlay jetted down to Argentina to make The Slaughter (1971) about a Mansonesque death cult resulting in a film with either very limited or no distribution until independent low-budget distributor and sometime producer, Allan Shackleton picked it up and added a notorious murder scene as the finale and calling it Snuff (1976), spawning an entire urban myth strand of modern cinema about the existence of underground snuff films in its own right (which is another whole article by itself). 

Likewise in 1971, fledgling writer/ director Wes Craven was typing out his script for what would become The Last House on The Left (1972). Whilst being an American retelling of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960), it had a Manson Family undertone in its brutalism and striking similarities of character with it’s female villain “Sadie,” played by Jeramie Rain, cast just after playing Manson family member Sadie Mae Glutz in the off Broadway Manson musical 22 Years the same year. 

The zeitgeist of the Manson Murders was permeating new cinema as much as the raging Vietnam war at the time, which conflated in a later movie. Writer Peter Biskind, in his 1998 book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls saw Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in his compound in Apocalypse Now (1980) as: 

“another incarnation of Charlie Manson, the scourge figure who had gone native and now, unchallenged, ruled over his family. The compound was his Spahn Ranch” 

The sense of crime family, hippies, war and brutality also infused the zeitgeist of Tobe Hooper’s film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), in particular the opening prologue directly cites Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s description of the crimes as “the most bizarre mass murder case in the annals of American crime” to add weight to the false claim the film is a true story. 

1976 saw the release of CBS made for television film Helter Skelter, which depicted both the crimes and the trial in detail, based on Bugliosi’s book of the same name. Steve Railsback defined the persona of Manson for the viewing public (though retrospectively, this comes across as being quite histrionic and the film comes off as a weird episode of Perry Mason tonally), to the point he never really escaped its impact and stunting his fledgling acting career. The film reached an estimated 50 million Americans on release and thus defined much of the Manson story. CBS later remade Helter Skelter (2004) with Jeremy Davies playing a more subtle and realistic Manson, though not as eerie, this time the film focused more on the persuasive nature of Manson as guru and the lead up to the crime. 

Always lurking in the exploitative realms of cinema, Manson re-emerged in an early found footage piece that built on the earlier legacy of Snuff (1976) and ran with an assertion from Ed Sanders book The Family (1971) that they stole an NBC film crew truck and used the equipment to make snuff films. The imagined output is surreal. Manson Family Movies (1984) which is all filmed from the perspective of the family on super 8mm film and dwells on mondo-style, exploitative gore once again to entice the salacious viewer disturbed by the ever winding myths around Manson.

In the same vein, Jim Van Bebber’s The Manson Family (2003) takes a transgressive view on the subject matter and relishes in the hyperbole of cult and barbaric murder. Famously taking 15 years to produce and finish, for many murder groupies, this is seen as the definitive film of Manson. Van Bebber firmly asserts that if you cover this story, you have to cover it warts and all in an NC-17 way. The film does successfully channel a late sixties, early 70’s aesthetic in its tone and thus has a further authenticity of Manson as cinema, rather than cinema about Manson. Van Bebber has a certain connection with the Manson psyche as a film-maker, and is somewhat reminiscent when ranting to distributors about film to DVD transfers of his work too.

From this moment on, Manson as myth and cultural icon becomes a touchstone to regurgitate in direct to DVD movies or sleight of hand references in TV series. Manson, My Name is Evil (2009), House of Manson (2014), The Wolves at the Door (2016) and The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019) all carbon copy the salacious aspects of the case, water down the nuance and add to the myth-making of Manson, whilst never really tackling anything new and can be largely dismissed for wrapping themselves in Manson iconography with little substance. It is also  difficult not to see the Family fingerprints all over most home invasion horror films of recent memory, invoking the horror of being disrupted, held hostage and murdered by some counter culture creepy crawlers, they set the narrative template for this modern American horror fable. 

Manson has also continued to guest star in such shows as American Horror Story: Cult (2017) Aquarius (2015)  or Mindhunter (2019) illustrating he is still a strong cultural bogeyman in the American psyche that people want to explore and visit. Films like Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene (2011) nicely explore the phenomenon and psychology of cult radicalisation with strong nods to Manson, without getting caught up in all the salacious aspects of the case. Equally, Charlie Says (2018) explores the indoctrination psychology and less salacious aspects through the eyes of Manson’s disciples and here we see (former Doctor Who) Matt Smith play Manson in a more subtle and believable incarnation as oppressive seductor rather than histrionic mad man.

There will of course always be room for such oddities as Live Freaky, Die Freaky (2006) – a stop motion musical comedy about the Manson crimes, or Troma’s Honky Apocalypse (2014) – that imagines an alternate universe where Manson’s proclamation of a Helter Skelter race war comes true in typical Troma, independent trash cinema style. 

It is inferred in the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) that we may actually only be getting more the guest star in cultural context of Manson this time around and possibly revisionist takes on the myth whilst delving into the transitioning movie business in 1969, illustrating how much Manson has become synonymous with Hollywood either as protagonist or background player. The film opens here next week, so we’ll know more then.

We’ve even seen one of the stars of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Brad Pitt, do his own modern day interpretation of Manson in Tyler Durden, of course. Rewatch Fight Club through the lense of cult radicalisation and guru instructed mayhem, compare Tyler’s speeches in the film to Charlie’s real-life speeches and you see much synchronicity.

Charlie changed Hollywood, Manson is a Hollywood story, myth and bogeyman that perpetuates to this day in so many aspects of our popular culture.

It was only natural for Tarantino as the pop culture maestro to visit and explore, having ditched other Hollywood arch manipulator Harvey Weinstein. Tarantino’s obsession with killers in his work, with numerous nods like having written Daisy Domergue in Hateful Eight (2015) as “a Manson girl out west, like Susan Atkins or something” was leading him here. Indeed what was Charlie if not the ultimate director manipulating and coercing players to act out his Hollywood scene like a doting Hollywood entourage, whilst he laps up all the attention? And we’re still talking about it 50 years on.

Jon Harman is a film producer, director and lecturer. Producing work from web series to feature films, documentaries and mind numbing live pop fare for Disney. Jon has the media bite mark scars on the leg that Quint and Hooper would drunkenly argue over. Jon also contributes to Cinema Under The Stairs podcast on Spotify. His trailer homage to Lucio Fulci and Man Bites Dog “Cool Clyde” (made when 16) is hidden on Youtube somewhere as a special easter egg.

Well… That’s Brave. The Doctor Sleep Trailer Is Here,

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Warner Bros. have just dropped the trailer for Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining and, well, it’s quite something…

You can’t fault the studio’s bravery here, choosing to lean so much into Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 film by reusing footage and recreating sets. If nothing else it’s a bold statement of intent.

King’s sequel novel has proven to be highly divisive, eliciting equal amounts of love and scorn (nothing unusual there, of course, when tampering with a property so firmly lodged in the public psyche), but director Mike Flanagan has some serious scare chops as the writer/director of Netflix’s big hit series, The Haunting of Hill House (as well as the adaptation of King’s “unfilmable,” Gerald’s Game.

That’s certainly an intriguing trailer, and for those of you unfamiliar with the book, here the official synopsis for the movie:

Struggling with alcoholism, Danny Torrance remains traumatized by the sinister events that occurred at the Overlook Hotel when he was a child. He soon finds a new purpose when he forms a psychic connection with a girl who shares his shining ability.

Doctor Sleep will open on November 8th when we’ll all get the opportunity to love it or hate it. Which side do you think you’ll come down on?

Pennywise Is Back – Here’s Your Super Creepy Trailer for It: Chapter Two

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First of all, let’s get your goosebumps raised with this…

Well, if that doesn’t get you excited for Andy Muschietti’s It: Chapter Two then it’s possible you’re as dead as the old lady in that super-creepy sequence at the beginning of the trailer.

It: Chapter One took pretty much everyone by surprise when it became a box-office smash in 2017, and now the same director is back with a fabulous cast of all-grown-up Derry Losers Club kids including Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader. Along with the return of Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the Clown, of course.

It is a particular favourite book of many Stephen King fans (including me) so we can only hope Muschietti does the same good work on this second chapter. The trailer certainly bodes well, as that sequence between grown-up Beverly and the not-what-she-seems Mrs Kersh got my skin all kinds of crawling.

Let’s get ready to float down here again when It: Chapter Two opens on September 6.

Sabrina Gets Devilish in New Trailer!

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Entertainment Tonight Online have just dropped the brand new trailer for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Part 2, and as usual it looks like a whole lot of fun…

The show’s creator and executive producer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, has this to say (as reported by ET) on what’s in store:

“[In part one] we were telling the story of Sabrina trying to hold on to the mortal world. She was dragged into the witch world – a little bit kicking and screaming. 

The second half of this season is kind of more about Sabrina accepting this part of her life and deciding, ‘What’s wrong with being a little bit wicked? I’m here – I might as well explore it.’ So it’s a lot more about Sabrina embracing her darker, more wicked side.”

That wicked side may well include the character briefly glimpsed at the end of the trailer, none other than Lucifer Morningstar (or Satan, to his fiends).

Regular followers of this blog will know that I am totally down with this Netflix show and I can’t wait to get cosy with Sabrina again on April 5th!

 

 

 

 

 

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Films: 2018 Edition

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Okay, because many folks have asked… here are my favourite nine films from 2018.

Notice I said favourite and not best. I was recently interviewed for a newspaper piece where the reporter asked my favourite three movies. This felt like a refreshing change as I didn’t feel a need to spend time over-intellectualising my responses as I might have done if she’d asked what I thought were the best three films ever.

Before I launch into my list, it’s worth pointing out I still have some catching up to do, hence no possible entries for films such as Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, You Were Never Really Here or Bohemian Rhapsody.

So, with that caveat clear and without further ado, let’s head to my favourite nine (…nine, because, why not!?) films of the past twelve months…

9. Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

I have to admit the M:I films were mostly sort of washing over me, enjoyable in the moment but somewhat unmemorable bar their set-pieces. But then Fallout appeared, not only leaving me with a bill from my local cinema for having left fingernail holes in my seat, but also with a much greater enthusiasm for the previous entries. I’m gearing up for a run-through of the series at home in readiness for a second viewing of Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie’s remarkable piece of breathless skullduggery. Also, finishing off a series with two films featuring Sean Harris is always a bonus.

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8. The Rider.

Yeah, yeah, I know that it premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, but those of us in the real world didn’t see it until its official release in 2018. Hopefully that doesn’t trigger anyone too badly.  Chloé Zhao’s contemporary western drama concerning rodeo riders feels like a top contender for the ‘film more people should see‘ award, 2018. Both painfully intimate and sweepingly widescreen, Zhao paints a portrait of a contained community with universal problems. You can read my full review here.

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7. Eighth Grade.

In many ways this shares some DNA with The Rider, taking me to a world I knew nothing about. This time, the unknown is the life of an adolescent girl in a time of social media, and this smart, sensitive, occasionally excruciating and ultimately uplifting film, from director Bo Burnham, features a hugely engaging central performance by newcomer, Elsie Fisher.

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6. A Quiet Place.

The first of two horror films in a strong year for the genre (see also Apostle, Mandy, Halloween, etc). Unfair on my behalf, but I was absolutely not expecting this from Jim Halpert from The Office. Directed and co-written (along with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) by John Krasinski, this post-apocalyptic monster movie hits all the right beats, gradually unveiling a world of silent terror using a personable family, headed up by Krasinski and the always-excellent Emily Blunt. Understated until it doesn’t have to be, this is great, old-school horror that could easily have worked as an old Twilight Zone episode.

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5. Ant-Man & The Wasp.

Tricky one, this. I didn’t want to fill my list with Marvel movies (seeing as we had three releases from them in 2018) and I really struggled between this and Black Panther, but in the end I had (slightly) more fun with Peyton Reed’s delightfully light-touched sequel, especially since I’m the type of Marvel Geek who believes this film will pay off more once we see Avengers: Endgame.

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4. Hereditary.

Ari Aster’s uneven but striking mix of family grief and the supernatural is a divisive film, very much a case of go-with-it-or-don’t. The first three-quarters of the movie is mostly all slow-burn intensity until the final twenty minutes or so go off into full-blown hysteria (which is where many viewers seem to check out). I went with it the whole way on my viewing, but will be curious to see how it holds up next time. Worth pointing out that regardless of any future reaction, I’ll still laud it for probably the most outrageous WTF moment in cinema this year.  Review here.

3. The Meg (just kidding).

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3. The Other Side of the Wind.

Freewheeling and meticulous, Orson Welles’ lost masterpiece (never a more fitting appellation) first started production in 1970 and was only completed after Welles’ death by a team headed up by Peter Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall. Released onto Netflix at the end of the year, Welles’ mesmerising film is both a celebration and a satire of Classic Hollywood and avant-garde filmmaking. Review here.

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2. Roma.

The only disappointing thing about multihyphenate Alfonso Cuarón’s almost tone poem telling of a tumultuous period in the life of his childhood home-help is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see it on a cinema screen, seeing as it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve laid my eyes on in a long time (to avoid a lynching by my significant other, I mean cinematically, of course). Review here.

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1. Avengers: Infinity War.

Marvel Geek nirvana. The Russo brothers and co. pulled off a remarkable, if overpacked, feat in bringing to a head ten years of films across multiple franchises while still managing to create a cultural zeitgeist moment with a single finger click. Of course, we know most of the galaxy’s missing half will be restored (…don’t we!?), but the joy, as with many comic books of the source material, is in seeing how our heroes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And now we don’t have much longer to wait. Review here.

Dishonourable mention: Suspiria (don’t @ me).

See you all in 2019. Feel free to leave me your favourites from 2018 in the comments below.

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic – Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

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First created in 1962 (by writer George Gladir and artist Dan DeCarlo), Sabrina The Teenage Witch has become a mainstay of popular culture, existing in comic books, a long-running, live-action TV series, animated series and more.

More recently, Sabrina Spellman found herself reinvented once more, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, with art by Robert Hack, for the line of Archie Horror comics, replacing the more child-friendly version with a darker take on the same material.

Now Netflix has given this latest incarnation a new afterlife as a ten episode first season, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

The essential set-up is the same, half-witch, half-human Sabrina lives (in Greendale, neighbouring town to Riverdale, home of Archie, Jughead, Betty & Veronica) with her witch aunts, Hilda and Zelda, and dates the human Harvey Kinkle. As the show opens, Sabrina is approaching her sixteenth birthday, when she will attend an unholy ritual to sign over her soul to The Dark Lord (that’s Satan, to you and me). Of course, Sabrina has been keeping her true nature a secret from Harvey and her school friends, Roz and Susie. And Sabrina, deep in the throes of love with her human boyfriend, is having doubts about her forthcoming dark baptism.

Mixed in with all this are Ambrose, Sabrina’s cousin, a warlock confined to house arrest in the Spellman home and Mary Wardell , Sabrina’s teacher and mentor who proves to be, well, something else entirely…

It’s a great roster of characters and the first thing to say about the show is that it’s packed with terrific actors. A hearty well done to the casting director. Kiernan Shipka makes a superb Sabrina, not quite the bubbly teenager from the 90s show, this incarnation is more complex, and Shipka balances the character’s sweetness with an emerging arrogance and carelessness, while never losing our sympathy. It’s an intriguing juggling act for the young actress to pull off, but Shipka never puts a foot wrong.

Lucy Davies and Miranda Otto are both quite delicious as Sabrina’s aunts, and Chance Perdomo is delightful as her frisky, pansexual cousin. Michelle Gomez is frankly magnificent, obviously relishing her role as Wardell, while Jaz Sinclair and Lachlan Watson make the most of their well-defined ‘best friend’ parts, both providing strong role models. Ross Lynch is somewhat less successful as boyfriend Harvey, which brings me to one of the show’s failings.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina provides us with a raft of strong female characters, with family, friends and rivals all well-written and acted, their relationships complicated and defined. I’m less enamored of some of the fellas, however.

As mentioned, Ambrose is good value, but the other male roles don’t stand up to strong scrutiny. Gavin Leatherwood’s Nicholas Scratch, a classmate of Sabrina’s at the Academy of the Unseen Arts, has mostly been used as a one-dimensional, slutty rival and counterpoint to Sabrina’s boyfriend to little effect, and Richard Coyle, as the Academy’s head (and High Priest of the Coven) is fun and the best of the bunch but, like Scratch, his character hasn’t been gifted with much depth so far. Finally, and most damagingly, Lynch’s Harvey is a 100% genuine wet blanket.

The character is so insufferably dull that you wonder what exactly it is that Sabrina sees in him, and why she might consider giving up her witch-hood for him. Not only does it make any scenes with him a chore but it also diminishes Sabrina’s character as, unfortunately, many of her actions revolve around her relationship with him (which could certainly be argued as another of the show’s failings).

Even when the character finally gets some gumption in the final episode, he does so in a dull-witted manner which just made me want to punch him. Note to writers: must try harder when it comes to Harvey.

The irony of all this is quite rich and I’m sure there might be some readers (rightfully) thinking: well, this is the kind of nonsense female parts have suffered forever! But weak characters make for weak drama, no matter the gender, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina could do with a serious male shake-up for its second season. Be clear, I’m not suggesting the fellas take center stage, far from it. I do feel they should make better use of the corners of the stage they occupy, however. It’s common sense that a show is more enjoyable as a whole if we can get behind all the characters.

Despite these caveats, I can recommend Sabrina as a thoroughly good time. I’ve read certain reviewers having a tough time with the show’s often whiplash changes in tone, but for me this was one of its plus points, adding a frisson of enjoyable unpredictability to proceedings. One moment we’re enjoying Spellman family larks, the next a host of witches are hanging by their necks from a gnarled tree or engaging in a pansexual orgy. Melissa Joan Hart would have a heart attack, but that’s part of the ghoulish fun.

Happily, Sabrina isn’t content to spin its wheels and maintain the status quo, as the show gets gradually darker as the season progresses and leaves many of the characters in very different, more complex places by the end of the final episode.

There’s plenty of subtext behind the show’s blood and zombies too, with fundamentalism and fanaticism, LGBTQ intolerance and even censorship in schools all having healthy swipes taken at them.

For long-time horror fans a swathe of references can be spotted, everything from the sibling cycle of murder and resurrection of DC Comics’ House of Mystery hosts, Cain and Abel, to ‘Salem’s Lot’s hovering ghoul at the window and The Evil Dead’s tree demon. Movies such as Hellraiser, The Shining, The Craft and even The Devil and Daniel Webster all get pointed shout-outs too.

This was a highly anticipated show for me, as I’m a big fan of the Archie Horror comics it’s based on, and while it doesn’t get quite as dark I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed as it does find its own voice and, overall,  I had a blast with it.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has me in its spell and I can’t wait for season two to materialise in a puff of demonic fire and brimstone.

The Haunting of Hill House – The Stuff Of Nightmares

hill house

“Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Whatever you do, set aside some binge time for Netflix’s new ten part horror series, The Haunting of Hill House. Since both Shirley Jackson’s original novel and the 1963 movie The Haunting from director, Robert Wise, are among my all-time favourites I went into this quite guardedly. Thankfully, what we have here is not a straight adaptation or remake, but something else entirely.

Directed and written by Mike Flanagan (Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil), the show is a slow-burn drama of a family going into emotional meltdown, with the added bonus of an utterly malevolent haunted house as the disease which tears them apart (in that way completely faithful to Jackson), told through a constantly surprising series of time shifts – which gradually peel away to reveal what lies at its rotten core.

Loss and mourning lay heavily against the beams and timbers of the house, and it’s these psychological terrors that are used to torment the unfortunate Crain family who choose to inhabit the spooky corridors and clammy bedrooms.

Though one or two revelations are a little too easily signposted (I picked up on the true identity of The Bent-Neck Lady at least two or three episodes before her mid-season unveiling) this is pretty masterful stuff, and one episode in particular revels in its glorious nature of seemingly taking place as one, 50-minute long, continuous shot (it’s not, of course, but the trickery is sustained), but does so in service of the story, racking up the tension of a family gathering for a funeral to sometimes truly queasy degrees.

The cast are uniformly excellent, featuring excellent turns from both Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton (who really comes into his own during the previously mentioned ‘single take’ show).

If there’s a downside to all this, it’s in an element of the denouement which I actively disliked, but it’s difficult to discuss without going into spoiler territory. It’s enough to say that it irritated me but didn’t take away from the excellence of the preceding story.

Filled with both plentiful jump scares and a surprising number of subtler chills, the show will not disappoint viewers either looking for a funfair ghost train ride or those of us hoping for something whose depth of character allows for horrors of a darker shade.

The Haunting of Hill House is streaming now on Netflix and comes with my highest recommendation. Just don’t expect to sleep easily afterwards…