Friday, 25 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 25

Excellent Use Of Soundtrack

In a bid to try and retain some level of originality in my film choices for this series I have decided not to talk about Halloween today, despite the fact that it has probably the most iconic, brilliant and memorable soundtrack of any horror film. This decision meant that I spent a good deal of time racking my brain for another film that has an impressive soundtrack, and then I remembered Sinister.

I recently watched Sinister for the first time since I saw it in the cinema last year, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the films score. It was probably due to getting caught up in the story and scares during my initial viewing, but I had no recollection of the soundtrack for Sinister at all and so I was pleasantly impressed by how effective it was. I think that I liked Sinister quite a bit more than the majority of others, I felt that the story was wonderfully dark, featured a great villain/boogeyman and used found-footage techniques really well considering the recent over-exposure the style suffered.

The film's score, from Hellraiser, The Grudge and Drag Me To Hells' composer Christopher Young, befits it's namesake as a blend of unnerving soundbites and chilling music. Each track plays out as a mish-mash of different styles and sounds and so don't always work as whole pieces of music but used in moderation throughout the film they perfectly influence the dark tone of the film. At times the music sounds almost tribal and this is where the soundtrack really excels, working well to capture the chaotic nature of Baghul, the demonic villain.

While it's certainly not the greatest soundtrack to a horror film, Sinister's use of music is something that I really enjoyed and impressively original in comparison to the majority of recent horror films.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 24

An Effective Jump Scare
Wait Until Dark

There were no other choices for this post.

I'm going to be awkward now and write this post without actually giving anything away about the jump scare in question. That is simply down to the fact that it is, without a doubt, the best example of the jump scare that I have ever seen in a film, and as a jump scare is only as effective as its unknowing viewer I don't want to spoil it for anyone.

Wait Until Dark was advertised as more of horror film than it actually is, the film is a crime thriller in which a newly blinded Audrey Hepburn unknowingly homes a doll that contains a large amount of heroin. Dealer and general bad guy Harry Roat (Alan Arkin) plans to regain the doll and its contents by invading Hepburn's home with the help of two small-time con artists. The film is based upon a stage play of the same name and builds suspense through the consistent terrorisation of Hepburn's helpless protagonist. Both Hepburn and Arkin are fantastic in their respective roles, and the film works so well because of the strong characters they have helped build throughout the narrative.

When the film was first released cinema owners were given strict instructions that for the last eight minutes of the film lighting in the cinema would be reduced as low as it was legally allowed so as to heighten the experience. This is certainly a film that requires you be sat alone in a dark room with a big screen and the volume up in order to get the maximum effect. When I first saw this film I knew that it featured a fairly notorious jump scare but I was completely in the dark (sorry) as to when it would occur, and it got me good.

I'm a sucker for jump scares and no matter how badly executed they are they will quite often get the desired response from me, but this really is one of those truly brilliant scares that deserves it's reputation.  If you watch this film for nothing else, watch it for this scene.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 23

Graphics That Pull You Out Of The Movie

*This post contains plot spoilers for Mama*

The difficulty in choosing a focal film for this post was that it's too often the case that horror films are the go-to genre for truly awful special effects. I had plenty of choice but wanted to choose a film where the graphics had a majorly detrimental effect on my viewing experience.

I wrote a small review of Mama not long after seeing it, which can be found here, and touched on the low quality of the effects used in it, and this is the film most fresh in my memory whereby the graphics were too bad to enjoy. The concept of Mama as a mysterious presence that is only mentioned for the majority of the story requires a great deal of suspense and pay off in order to be effective. Instead, Mama is revealed quite clearly, in all of her hideously rendered glory, within the films prologue. While showing the antagonist so early in the film is a pretty self-destructive mistake it would have been less of a problem if it weren't for how bad the character actually looks.

Mama is a bundle of emaciated, dirty limbs topped with a gaunt, wild-haired face. She floats above the ground and holds the painful looking posture of a broken spine. Aside from the floating, which was a new development from the short film this is based on, there is nothing about her that could not have been achieved through practical effects and we all know how effectively scary body distortion can be when you can see that it's real. Hell, the movement tests from the films special features is miles scarier than anything from the finished film. 

The decision to render Mama as a completely digital presence seems to only allow for some of the films more 'impossible' body distortion scenes which actually come off as more ridiculous than scary, so that was clearly a good decision. Even when we see Mama in her 'human' form she is CGI, which seems completely absurd but is probably due to no actual human possessing a face the size of the one they pasted onto the ghostly being. Mama is built up as a shadow dwelling, malevolent force and had she been created in a way that matched her reputation the film would have been much stronger, but as it stands her digital mug is given far too much screen time for something so shoddy. I won't even begin with the digital 'skinnied' children, I'll just let the picture below speak for me on that one.

Mama's script was never going to allow it to be a great film, but better graphics could have at the very least made it a scary one. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 22

A Frightening Child Actor
The Shining

Creepy children have been a staple of horror films for decades, whether they be ghosts, the undead or the subject of demonic possession. This is a sure development of cultural fears of children and the heightened awareness of the supernatural that they are perceived as having, a fear that the invisible friend that they claim to have could indeed be real. In spite of the influx of terrifying, monstrous children that provide countless choices for this post I have chosen a child that is very much alive, Danny from The Shining.

Until my first year at university The Shining had somehow managed to elude me, with the exception of the handful of iconic scenes that were always featured on countdowns of the best horror films of all time. When I finally got around to watching the film it was as a compulsory viewing for a class, and it lived up to it's reputation and then some. With The Shining Stanley Kubrick put to film some of the most disturbing, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful images seen in horror. The Shining is a haunted house film on a much larger scale and the hotel setting allows for a great variety in the scares and images that can be produced.

Danny Lloyd's portrayal of the young boy of the same name is central to the tense, fearsome atmosphere of the film as he is revealed early on to have an increased exposure to the supernatural events. While it is impossible not to feel scared for Danny throughout the ordeal at the Overlook Hotel, I find him at times to be just as effectively creepy as any of the ghosts that are housed there. The croaky voice he produces as he gives voice to the invisible friend that seems to occupy his index finger is a prime example of when he becomes a lot more scary than sweet, especially once it is revealed by Scatman Crother's character that he possesses a supernatural gift.

Similarly the sequences in which Danny rides his tricycle through the winding halls of the build up an incredibly tense atmosphere, and through association have always connected Danny with that feeling of dread, for me. There is something quietly frightening about this young boy, and while he is clearly an innocent throughout the narrative he has creeped me out just as much with each subsequent viewing.

Special mention goes to the twins, who definitely a whole lot more sinister and have probably tarnished the reputation of young twin girls for quite some time.

Monday, 21 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 21

A Horror Movie That Only Makes You Laugh
The Cabin in the Woods

**This post contains spoilers. If you have any interest in watching The Cabin in the Woods I highly recommend watching it before reading this**

Sunday, 20 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 20

A Great Remake
The Crazies

As I discussed in my post for day 2 of this challenge, remakes are almost always a troublesome beast. They are very rarely warranted and often disappoint. There are only a handful of horror remakes that have been any good, and even less that have surpassed their original in any way. I recently watched George A. Romero's 1973 film The Crazies and after seeing the original I can now say that I believe the 2010 remake has gained a spot in that elite group of superior remakes.

The original film has a great concept, wherein a crashed plane that was carrying a chemical weapon infects a small town and drives many of the inhabitants into a violent frenzy, but suffers from poor direction and lacklustre execution. The film flits between a group of seemingly uninfected citizens trying to escape the quarantined town, the military and doctors who are trying to control and solve the situation, and the gas-masked soldiers that are evacuating and containing the town. This approach completely removes any chance of identification as the narrative switches location too soon and too often for the viewer to have chance to properly engage with anyone s plight.

Breck Eisner's remake amends the originals faults by focusing in on the group of citizens, led by Timothy Olyphant's sheriff, and showing the infections outbreak from their unknowing perspective. The film is a lot darker in its representation of the infected and the horrifying acts that they commit, something that was disappointingly missing from the original, bar the opening scene. The performances are also considerably better in this version which only furthers an identification and sympathy from the veiwer with the ordeal these characters are enduring.

Watching the remake first may have spoilt any enjoyment I could have gained from the original film, but I am certain that under any conditions the recent update is the better piece of filmmaking.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 19

A Horror Movie That Gives You Nightmares
The Silence of the Lambs

My job caught up with me this last weekend and so today will become a blogging marathon, with four posts to back date.

I struggled with choosing a film for this post as I really can't recall many films that have left me with nightmares after watching them. As I've said previously in this series I grew up watching a great deal of films that youngsters probably shouldn't be exposed too, but the earliest film that I remember really disturbing me was The Silence of the Lambs.

As I've gotten older and have seen the film more I have come to appreciate it as a brilliant crime thriller, but when I first watched this film I was at an age where my attention span was not too great. The disturbing relationship that develops between Clarice Starling and Dr Hannibal Lecter has turned Anthony Hopkins character into one of the most iconic characters of 90s cinema, but when I was younger it was Ted Levine's more obvious performance as Buffalo Bill that had the strongest effect on me.

American murderer Ed Gein has been the inspiration for three of cinema's most memorable and terrifying killers in Buffalo Bill, Leatherface and Norman Bates, and while Leatherface still scares me the most I can clearly recall how frightening I found the scenes in which Levine's character mocks and tortures his captor. The scene that I most vividly remember creeping me out was the final night-vision confrontation between Clarice and Bill in which he stalks her through the darkness, although 'It rubs the lotion on It's skin' still makes me squirm every time I hear it.

Friday, 18 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 18

A Movie With Unsettling Scenery
La Belle et la Bête

Day 18, and once again I have chosen a film that is not actually a horror film, but one which uses an aspect of the cinematic medium in a way that is evocative of the genre.

Jean Cocteau's adaptation of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale is a magical fantasy-romance that is host to some truly beautiful costumes, sets and makeup effects. Outside of the Beasts castle the scenery is all very mundane, the home of Belle and her family is relatively bare and ordinary and emphasises the young girls provincial life, (sorry, I couldn't resist). To contrast this the cursed castle that homes the Beast is extravagant and alive. The set design utilises some truly incredible effects through which arms and faces that come to life control the scenery. The inspired use of actors making up parts of the set allows Cocteau to realise the stories curse, which brings everything within the castle to life, in a practical and imaginative way that is a pleasure to watch.

The additional result of these effects is the creation of an eery atmosphere that persists throughout Belle's time in the castle. The stark black and white cinematography alone constructs the castle as a dark and mysterious location, but the addition of disembodied limbs controlling each room amplifies this interpretation of the castle. The trees that surround the castle open up to let visitors in and close behind them, creating an impression of seclusion, while a shot of Belle wandering down a long corridor with white drapes blowing in the wind becomes an extremely ghostly image. The live statues that adorn the castle are undoubtedly the most unsettling aspect of the scenery however, as they silently turn their faces to follow Belles movements through each room.

La Belle et la Bête is a stunning film that perfectly captures the magic of the story in a unique way. While the films story is not one of horror, the manipulation of scenery that is displayed here and the effect that is has is something that a good many supernatural horror films could learn from. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 17

A Bad Ass Post/Pre-Kill One-Liner
A Nightmare On Elm Street

I'm not the biggest fan of one-liners in horror films as I think they are a sure-fire way to kill any atmosphere that has been built thus far. I grew up on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise but, as much as Freddy Krueger has been a favourite of mine since then, I do find the decent into comedy that the character and franchise took too severe. From the get-go Freddy had a dark sense of humour and Robert Englund certainly played that up, but the latter films simply became a cocktail of farce and gore, which I no longer enjoy.

That being said he is still the only horror villain that I think can pull off a decent one-liner, besides maybe Chucky. My choice for today however is not a comical one, this particular one-liner comes from the villains second appearance in his first film, during Tina's dream. During her dream Tina finds herself in the alleyway outside her house. Freddy appears and his arms begin to elongate until his clawed glove reaches the metal fence to his side, which he scratches with his knives. Tina whimpers 'Please God', to which Freddy raises his gloved hand to his face and responds 'This is God', before chasing her into the house and ripping her to shreds.

The reason I love this line so much is because among all of his jokes and wise-cracks this is a rare line that is incredibly sinister. The scene itself, dodgy effects aside, is dark and atmospheric with the lighting in particular constructing Freddy as a fearsome silhouetted monster. The line 'This is God' quickly establishes the level of power he possesses and the helplessness of Tina's situation. He is in complete control of what happens in the dream world, actually making him a kind of God in his own right. The horrific following scene in which he kills the young girl only adds to this initial impression of the antagonist and it's a shame that a villain so effectively crafted later became somewhat of a joke. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 16

A Frightening Dream Sequence or Hallucination

Dumbo is probably one the the last films I think anyone would expect to see making an appearance on a Horror-themed list, but here it is. For anyone unfamiliar with Dumbo this scene takes place after the titular elephant and his friend Timothy Q. Mouse stumble upon some alcohol. They both get pretty stinking drunk and Dumbo begins blowing bubbles out of his trunk, one of witch transforms itself into the shape of an elephant. A hallucinatory sequence proceeds in which countless elephants perform and dance to the song 'Pink Elephants On Parade".

Walt Disney Productions have brought us countless well loved stories and characters, and Dumbo is no different as one of the companies most heart-warming and emotional films. But when Disney does scary, boy do they do scary. This sequence ranks, for me, among some of the most horrific dream sequences ever seen on film. I don't have a pre-existing aversion to elephants, but I do have a fear of the circus and so theres actually quite a lot in Dumbo that I find a bit unnerving. Pink Elephants On Parade takes the biscuit though. The circus-like trumpet music that dominates the opening of the number, along with the sinister vocals and animation of the elephants combine to make a sequence that has creeped me out for as long as I can remember.

This is Disney at it's most surreal, as the elephants multiply and morph into different shapes, sizes and colours. It is something that would not be out of place in this films predecessor, Fantasia, which has a few frightening scenes of it's own, and is a stunning interpretation of a drunken nightmare. Dumbo doesn't always get that much attention when Disney is discussed, probably due to it's lack of a Princess, but it is a wonderful film that can still make me cry, and also scare the crap out of me.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 15

A Painfully Suspenseful Movie

I only watched Alien for the first time yesterday, and it is probably because it is so fresh in my mind that it seemed the perfect choice for today's post.

What Ridley Scott has done so well in Alien is craft an extremely claustrophobic atmosphere throughout the entire film, something that I was not at all expecting. Despite being set on a huge ship in the vastness of Space, the long corridors of the Nostromo become unnervingly enclosed once the titular space-beast gets loose and stalks the crew one by one. Even when the action takes place in larger areas, both inside and outside of the Nostromo, the darkness that dominates much of the film often tightly constrains the characters within a single part of the frame. I was anticipating grand, detailed sets and intricately crafted make up effects, and while those elements are certainly present, I was pleasantly surprised that they are often shrouded in darkness. This intensified the long sequences in which the crew try to locate the Alien, with the minimalist score also helping to create an unnerving atmosphere that builds up to nerve shattering scares almost every time.

Though I had never seen the film, I had a basic grasp of some of the major plot points and set-pieces and this proved to heighten the suspense even more as I endured the long build-ups with a fair idea of what was to come but no way of knowing just when it would occur. In a standard horror film the protagonist can run as far from the villain as possible but here there really isn't anywhere to run. The ship becomes a labyrinthine series of badly lit corridors that provide ample hiding places for the oversized monster, and watching these characters try and get away from an extra-terrestrial hide and seek champion is an incredibly suspenseful experience.

Monday, 14 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 14

Egregious Misuse of the 'Based on True Events' Claim
Paranormal Activity

The list of films that claim to be based upon events that really happened is a long one. If I hadn't already featured it in this challenge The Strangers would be my top choice for today's topic, but instead I've decided to do something a little different. More so than films that claim to be based on real events, I get annoyed by films that actually claim to be real events, and so for today's topic I have chosen the Paranormal Activity films. 

I give the Paranormal Activity franchise a little more credit than most seem to, because I think they are extremely successful in what they do. Even if the plot is becoming more and more convoluted which each release the films have delivered some of the best and most memorable scares of the past few years. Of course that is all just my opinion, and like I said I do go easier on them that a lot of other people, probably because I really loved the first two instalments. What does frustrate me about these films, and many other films of the found-footage phenomenon, is the claim that what we are watching is real. 

The days of gullible film-goers that can be easily kept in the dark are well in the past. Nobody was going to fall for this being actual footage like audiences did with Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project, nor did the marketing team go to the trouble that the filmmakers of the latter did to create a buzz about these 'real' events. All we get is a couple of title cards before or after each film that thank the families for allowing the footage to be shown (as though any of Katie's family are actually still around to give permission) and declaring the police case as still unsolved. It all begs the question; why bother? 

Sure these claims can be a neat gimmick to get a small flick that few people would see that little bit of extra attention, but by the time the first Paranormal Activity was hitting cinemas it was clearly franchise material. If the filmmakers thought for a second that anyone would buy into this claim then they should have kept the cast hidden away in a cave somewhere and destroyed all copied of the alternate endings. 

I know that I'm being a bit of a sourpuss here and I know that these aspects of the films are just 'world building' or whatever, but it is a pet peeve of mine that will not budge. I do really enjoy a lot of what this series offers, I just think that the few seconds of screen-time dedicated to passing these off as real events is a redundant exercise. Spend those few seconds scaring the crap out me with decent fiction, I don't need it to be real to be frightened.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 13

A Formidable Antagonist

Like so many of the other posts in this series today's topic could have been based around any number of films, because many of the sub-genres within horror require a well-crafted antagonist in order to be successful. The chain of 80s slashers in particular were the breeding ground for murderous villains that have each become iconic in their own right, spawning long lasting franchises. Today I want to talk about one of the lesser recognised of these heavy-hitters, the Cenobites of the Hellraiser series.

The Cenobites are essentially the Devils handymen, a group of bondage inspired, leather-clade demons who are all the subjects of extreme body modification. They are summoned if somebody solves the Lament Configuration puzzle box, which is surprisingly easy, and proceed to torture said puzzle solver in order to give them pleasure. Obviously their perception of what level of pain is pleasurable greatly differs from the majority of users and so conflicts regularly arise.

Hellraiser is one of the few big horror franchises of its time that has remained untouched by the remake wagon (however one is supposedly in the works) and this is probably due to it also being one of the longest lasting franchises, with the latest addition being  Hellriaser: Revelations from 2011. The issue is that with each subsequent film the quality and production values naturally lessen and so the Cenobites become less original and visually exciting, which is problematic as their appearances were integral in making them a staple of the series, taking centre stage in the later films as opposed to their original role as minor supporting characters.

Sequels aside, the Cenobites presence in the original film is what makes them so intimidating. Though they have to be summoned their presence is always the cause of great anticipation and fear. They look horrific and the actions that they carry out on other characters in the story are horrific. The design, costuming and make-up is all fantastic and they are without a doubt some of the most original antagonists of any horror film. The use of practical effects during the torture sequences, though dated, is still extremely affecting and makes me wince every time. It's obvious why they became so popular with audiences and dominated the plots of the later films, but the prolonged exposure they recieve in these films lessens their impact. These demons, or angels, are so much more formidable when they only briefly show up to cause all kinds of trouble.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 12

Plot You Would Least Like To End Up In

**This post is filled to the brim with spoilers. If you have any interest in watching Triangle I recommend watching it before reading this**

Friday, 11 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 11

Wonderful Use of Lighting
The Night of the Hunter

Todays post is not about a horror film, at least not in the typical sense; The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 thriller but one which features themes and stylistic techniques that are evocative of those found in horror. 

The film is a contemporary fairytale in which a sinister preacher, played by Robert Mitchum, terrorises a pair of young children who know the secret location of money that their father obtained in the robbery that led to his execution. Mitchum, as Reverend Powell, charms and marries the children's mother, becoming an oppressive father figure to the pair, who eventually run away and seek refuge with an old woman who cares for stray children. The film is now widely considered one of the best of the time, but upon its release was a critical and commercial failure which caused it's director, Charles Laughton to never make another film. 

Though the story the film tells is not particularly scary the themes of oppression, murder and good vs evil are familiar to the horror genre and Robert Mitchum's violent antagonist is certainly on par with some of the screens greatest villains. Taking clear inspiration from the German expressionist movement that stark contrast of the cinematography is what inspires a familiarity between this film and the horror genre. Inventive camera work and chiaroscuro lighting effects make both the internal and external spaces seem imposing or hostile. The lighting plays an integral role in exposing the horror of the events and in many cases makes the term 'black and white film' very literal.

The film features two great performances from Mitchum and Lillian Gish and is beautifully shot with a series of unforgettable images. Many horror films are criticised for their reliance on darkness, and The Night of the Hunter shows how a contrast between light and dark is a much more effective way of creating sinister imagery.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 10

A Bad First Movie With A Great Sequel
The Devil's Rejects

Sequels are a tricky business because they are immediately met with high expectations and as a result have a history of being disappointing. I'm not convinced that I have ever come across a bad original/great sequel pairing within the horror genre, so I have settled on a terrible original/good sequel pairing instead.

House of 1,000 Corpses is a mess. It is unfocused, unpleasant and a film that I don't believe I will ever feel the need to revisit. It holds some great ideas and fleeting hints of a stronger film, but was just too much of too many things to be successful as a whole. The sequel to House, The Devil's Rejects, is superior in practically every way, focusing the story, style and tone to make for a more coherent and engaging film. It follows on from it's predecessor with Captain Spaulding and his children Otis and Baby on the run from the police after a shoot-out, depicting them as anti-hero protagonists.

The characterisation is the films most successful component. It is common within horror for the antagonists to be much more interesting than the protagonists, and that is true of the villainous family of these two films. By reigning in both the plot and the style of the film for the sequel, director Rob Zombie allows the actors to really shine, delivering much more watchable and enjoyable performances with the only weak link being Leslie Easterbrook as Mother Firefly.

I'm still not completely sold on this film, which is purely down to my tastes being different that those of the intended audience, but this is a huge achievement when compared to House of 1,000 Corpses.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 9

A Movie That You Like To Introduce To People

Being such a divisive genre, I rarely find myself recommending horror films to anyone. Generally people will already have a clear idea of wether or not they are interested in a particular horror film, and so will seek it out or not depending on that opinion. Sadly there are also so few horror films that are above average that most people have heard of all the good ones, at which point it comes back down to them already knowing whether or not they intend to watch it. Martyrs is one of only two horror films that I have actively introduced to friends.

And on the topic of divisiveness, Martyrs is certainly a film that seems to split audiences and I am yet to find somebody who is indifferent to this film. I firmly stand in the crowd of those who love it, but I had no expectations at all going in so it may well be a film that can suffer from being over-hyped. So at the risk of over-hyping let me just say that this is an incredibly bleak film and features a truly brutal depiction of hopelessness. The plot takes several unexpected turns that demand the viewer trust where they are being led. While there are certainly a handful of frights along the way, Martyrs plays for drama rather than horror for the majority of the second and third acts which is something that really appealed to me. 

I won't give away any more information as from experience I believe that the less you know going in, the more you will be likely to gain from this film. It has fast become one of my favourite horror films, but it is by no means light viewing. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 8

A Terrifying Inanimate Object
When A Stranger Calls

I had quite the list of options for today's post. Many directors have found masterful ways to make completely mundane objects a source of terror. I considered talking about Chucky the killer doll, the videotape from Ringu, the ventriloquist dummy from Dead Silence or any child's toy from any horror film ever. Finally I settled on a prop that in some way features in the majority of horror films; the phone.

As a way of connecting to almost anyone, including the police, it has become compulsory in horror films, particularly the slasher, to address why the terrorised teenagers never call for help; whether it be a bad signal, a dead battery or a missing phone. 1979's When A Stranger Calls explored the use of a phone line in horror in a much more terrifying way, adapting the familiar urban legend of a murderer who terrorises a young babysitter through a series of sinister phone calls. While that event only made up the opening scene of the film, which developed into more of a crime thriller, in 2007 that single event was stretched out to feature length in a remake of the same name.

The concept of having a complete stranger repeatedly phone you while you are alone and vulnerable is one that has proved extremely effective. The Scream franchise thrived on this idea, while Ringu used a phone call to ominously announce a seven day countdown until the recipients death. The remake of When A Stranger Calls was not very well received, which I believe was related to a perceived lack of originality, but it was never striving to be original. The film is effective because it creates a tense atmosphere that persists throughout the 86 minute runtime, due in no small part to the impact the director was able to create through the simple, familiar sound of a ringing phone. The benefit of the viewer already knowing the story is that the film comes with pre-established level of suspense as the they wait for the iconic moment in which it is revealed that 'the call is coming from inside the house', a line that would surely cause anyone to lose their shit.

And I've been suspicious of blocked callers ever since.

Monday, 7 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 7

An Incredibly Twisted Movie

It's worrying that we now live in a time where there is a sub-genre of horror that is called 'torture-porn', where if a film doesn't show extreme bodily mutilation it is considered tame. The number of films that could meet the criteria of 'incredibly twisted' is a lot longer than it really should be, and so in choosing a film for today it had to be something really disturbing.

Inside is a 2007 French horror and the debut film directing duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. The film, set on Christmas Eve, follows Sarah (Alysson Paradis) a heavily pregnant woman whose home is invaded by a woman (Beatrice Dalle) who intends to forcibly take the unborn baby from Sarah's stomach. The concept alone is disturbing enough to put many off the film an I myself only watched it based on the countless positive reviews that praised it as the best horror film of recent years. While I wouldn't place such a prestigious title on the film, it certainly lived up to it's reputation, it is one of the most brutal and sickening films I have ever seen.

The horror genre seems to have developed a fascination with body horror, probably due to the fact that as extreme as they may be, the actions being depicted are entirely possible. Watching a family being terrorised by ghosts or a group of teenagers running from an undead murderer is escapism; by all accounts that couldn't happen to us. Watching a woman attempt to cut a baby out of another woman with nothing but a pair of rusty scissors, that will strike a nerve with a viewer. That could happen.

The film itself is a prime example of horror at its most effective, setting an impressive tone that stands strong throughout and featuring some great scares and frightening images. But the main attraction to this film is the body horror, and it is some of the most gruesome that I have seen. The problem with this is that the story suffers greatly as it becomes secondary to the visuals, and by the end the is really nothing to take away from the film besides a new found knowledge of how strong your stomach truly is. The directors were, at a time, pegged to direct the remake of Hellraiser that Dimension is planning, and after watching Inside it is clear why they were approached. They know how to handle pain on film.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 6

Doesn't Seem To Scare Others As Much As It Scares You
The Strangers

I don't think that there is a much better way to illustrate how rarely a film genuinely scares me than to point out that this is the third film in six posts to have also featured in last years Films That Scare Me post, which is even more significant when you realise that two of the other three posts in this challenge weren't about scary films. 

The Strangers doesn't really get that much attention or praise too often. I'm sure the fact that it is just another home-invasion horror that abuses the 'based on true events' claim does't help, but it's one of my favourite contemporary horror films. The plot treads very familiar territory but the execution is far better than the countless similar films that are produced every year.

Usually in order to get the attention of a knife-wielding, masked maniac one would have to invade the homeland of said maniac, or have some distant connection that would cause them to take out their vengeance on you. Here the central couple have made no such missteps, they are being terrorised simply for being home. The masked figures are some of the most dehumanised foes I've seen on film, with their nonchalant attitude to causing so much pain. Wisely when they trio do eventually remove their masks their faces are kept out of frame. These are regular people that decided to do something horrifying. They could be anybody, as could their victims, and that is what makes this film so frightening.

The extended version of the film on the DVD is my preferred version, it contains a handful more of great scares and feels like a more complete version. This film also gains me respect for containing one of the most chilling silent scares I've ever seen. Jump scares and loud noises are such a commonplace aspect of horror that it is refreshing to see a director create a scare with just as much impact, but no loud noises.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 5

Excellent Use of Sound Effects
The Birds

Alfred Hitchcock is responsible for perhaps one of, if not the, most iconic and recognisable sound effects ever used in a horror film; a repetitive high-pitched screeching which pierces the viewers ears as Norman Bates repeatedly stabs Marion Crane to death in Psycho

As iconic and effective as that sound-bite is, it was Hitchcock's next film, The Birds, which truly displayed the auteurs understanding of sound design in film. The Birds has no soundtrack, no music that plays over the films events to set a tone or steer the audience to the desired emotional state. Instead the director plays with silence, the suspense that can be induced by it and the instant terror that will occur when it is broken suddenly. 

When the antagonist of a horror film is a flock of birds, you have to do something pretty spectacular to sell them as a convincing threat, because they are an animal that we encounter everyday and rarely take seriously. While the film features some wonderfully sinister images and scenes that display the horror the birds are capable of causing, it is the harsh sound of the birds 'caws' that consistently create a sense of dread no orchestral score could produce. Just listen to those hundred or so cries and tell me that you wouldn't be freaked out. 

Other examples of brilliant sound effects in this film are the constant loud thuds of birds trying to attack the house, and the films final attack where Melanie makes her way to the attic of the house in silence, only to be engulfed in a flock; the combination of their flapping wings and her pathetic cries making the scene an incredibly difficult watch. Some of the films visual effects may not have aged that well but the sound design creeps me out just as much with every re-watch. 

Friday, 4 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 4

Movie That Kills Off Countless Named/Main Characters
Final Destination

Apologies for this being a day late.

Pretty much any slasher film could meet the criteria for todays post easily, but for the sake of diversity I think the Final Destination films are a perfect example.

The plot of all 5 films in the series is exactly the same; a group of teens escape a freak accident due to one have them foreseeing the event, and then Death comes after them one by one in order to meet his monthly quota. The entire purpose of these films is to kill off almost every cast member in the most obscure ways possible.

Despite having an intriguing premise these films, like most horror franchises, have become increasingly worse with each sequel that gets released. While the nature of the deaths as complex freak accidents could be used to build up a sense of dread and constant danger within a mundane, everyday life the films opt for spectacle,  turning each death into a clearly signposted set-piece that creates very little suspense. 

It's a shame that such an original concept has become so mundane in its repetitive execution. According the the Final Destination Wiki the five films contain a total of 506 deaths, with around 118 being name characters. Each film has a larger than average number of main characters, usually 7 or more who mostly all die. Cheerful times all round.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 3

An Image or Scene Burned Into Your Mind
The Blair Witch Project

**Spoilers Ahead**

There's really no question on this one, the final sequence from The Blair Witch Project where Heather and Mike find themselves in a decrepit house in the middle of the woods is one of the most terrifying sequences of any film I've seen.

As one of the most widely recognized first examples of the 'found footage' sub-genre this film gets a lot of stick from viewers as not being scary enough, or even as good as everyone says it is. To categorise, the people of this opinion seem to share the notion that obvious jump scares are horror and a film cannot be frightening unless things are jumping out from the dark every few minutes. While this works in many films The Blair Witch Project is an example of a more subdued and disturbing horror. Not a single question is answered by the end of the film, and no Blair Witch has been seen on film. I'm sad to see that many people equate these factors to the film being bad.

The simple fact is that if they put in a little patience and attention I'm sure the film could actually scare a lot more people than it does. I wanted to write this post without becoming too preachy or snobby, but it frustrates me that this film isn't recognised for how good it really is, although it's clear that the parodying of it in Scary Movie definitely hasn't helped matters. Poor Heathers fear has become something to be mocked by the majority.

I really enjoy the lack of answers the film provides as it leaves the story wide open for countless interpretations that are great fun to read through. It is also a brilliant example of slow-burning horror and shows how a single line of dialogue from early in the film can transform a simple image into something truly terrifying.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 2

A Disappointing or Unnecessary Sequel
The Uninvited

While there is certainly an argument for any remake being unnecessary in the spirit of this series I'll refrain from any repetitive rants about the lack of originality in Hollywood today. Instead I have chosen a remake that fits into both criteria of disappointing AND unnecessary, 2009's The Uninvited.

The Uninvited is a remake of A Tale of Two Sisters, a 2003 Korean Drama/Horror. I had watch the Korean original around a year before I came across The Uninvited but was oblivious to the fact it was a remake. This was probably due to the title change, which sounds sinister enough but bears no real connection to the plot itself and sadly means many people may never become aware of the films far superior original.

Even after noticing the familiar plot, and confirming that it was a remake through a quick visit to IMDb, I tried to stay hopeful hopeful that this might not be that bad. I'm particularly fond of Emily Browning and enjoy Elizabeth Bank's presence in films and so remained optimistic, despite knowing fully well the low level of quality that dominates Hollywood remakes. Needless to say, my optimism did not last much longer. The atmosphere of the original was gone, the performances were bland and, maybe because I already knew it, the story seemed typically 'dumbed down'.

I cannot recommend A Tale of Two Sisters enough, as an atmospheric horror with a great story and some equally great scares. If for nothing else, watch the original first so that you can enjoy the story being told well. Then, if you must, try The Uninvited.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 1

A Scary Theatre Experience

As the first in my October Horror series this was pretty straight-forward to come up with, as it's not very often that the horror films I see at the cinema are all that scary. I was fairly certain that Insidious would be no different, despite all of the reviews telling me otherwise. I think that horror, like comedy, is one of the hardest genres to convincingly and objectively review, simply because the success of the film lies in each viewers subjective reaction to it.

My subjective reaction to Insidious was that it scared the crap out of me.

I've already reviewed Insidious here, and talked about why it scares me here, so I'll try to keep this brief so as not to tread over too much of the same ground once again. Something about Insidious really struck a nerve in me, which was only heightened by the huge screen/loud speakers set up of the cinema. I'm a sucker for a jump scare and always have been, but the scares in this film were unlike the usual. They weren't just jump scares, they were some truly horrific images that stayed with me long after leaving the cinema. At the time I first saw the film I was in my first year of University and had only been living in halls for two months and so sleeping in a still unfamiliar room with these images fresh in my mind was not a lot of fun.

Insidious affected me a lot more than any horror film that has been produced in recent years, and I love it for that. I went to see it at the cinema again in the hopes that seeing it a second time, and being able to prepare for the scares, would make it lose its impact. That didn't work, and hasn't worked with any subsequent viewings. It think it is safe to say that Insidious is one film that will keep scaring me over and over again.