Wednesday, 6 November 2019

We Don't Go Back #91: Folk Horror at Fractured Visions

I was lucky enough to have an invite to once again represent Miskatonic Institute at the Fractured Visions Festival in Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff this October and got the chance to stick around for a couple of the day's showings. I was glad of that, it provided a decent folk horror double bill, with one film I'd been looking forward to seeing for a while and one I'd never heard of, and it made for an enjoyable few hours' viewing. On to Tumbbad and Hanna's Homecoming, then, two films that had little in common save their venue.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Cult Cinema #18: The Atrocity Tour, Part 2

The Sacrament (2013)

I hated this film. I hated it so much that I went back and watched it a second time because I wanted to be sure I didn't have it wrong, to check that it really was as horrible as I thought it was, and that it actually deserved my loathing. And also, I suppose, to figure out why I hated it, what it was about this movie that upset me so much. I mean, The Sacrament is viscerally and graphically unpleasant, but it is the business of a certain sort of horror movie to be viscerally and graphically unpleasant. But that's not it. It's how the visceral and graphic unpleasantness is anchored, how it's framed.

I hated this film. I will spoil it, but what is there to spoil? Its story has already been public domain for a long time.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Cult Cinema #17: The Atrocity Tour, part 1

When cults enter the conversation, it becomes inevitable that the great Cult Atrocity Stories get mentioned. They are black holes of narrative, irresistible gravitational forces. They are the stories about the occasions where belief has turned so toxic it has become lethal. You probably know about some of them. I’m talking about the Jonestown massacre, the siege of the Branch Davidians, the mass suicide of the Heaven's Gate cult, the Tokyo subway attacks perpetrated by the Aum Shikiryo sect. And of course there’s what the Manson Family did. They are the reason we are afraid of cults, the reason we're terrified our kids will be brainwashed, the reason that we assume that fringe sects are always malevolent.

A lot of the films I've been looking at depend on these stories already, as underlying assumptions, the things that we know and expect about cults. The Passion of Darkly Noon depends upon you knowing what happened at Waco. The unease of Martha Marcy May Marlene is partly borne from the resemblance Patrick's MO bears to Charles Manson's. The Endless expects you to have, at least unconsciously, some idea about Heaven's Gate. The Invitation is perhaps a little more oblique, but Jim Jones's shadow falls across it.

In a sense, at least half of the films in this project deal with the Grand Atrocities. But some deal with them directly, either by dramatising them, approaching their consequences, or retelling them. In this part of Cult Cinema, I'm going to look at a film about Manson, a film about Jonestown and a film about Waco. This is our Atrocity Tour.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Portuguese Short Films at MotelX

(That's me at the closing ceremony with Raquel Freire.)
In September 2019, I was asked to represent Kier-La Janisse and the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies at the 13th MotelX Horror Film Festival. There, I met a load of great people, and got to interview Hereditary/Midsommar director Ari Aster about folk horror on the big stage at Lisbon's Cinema São Jorge. I was also asked to take on the responsibility of being part of the jury for this year's short horror film competition. MotelX is part of the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation, and each year awards two Méliès d'Argent prizes, named for Europe's father of fantastic film, George Méliès. One is for short Portuguese film, one for features. Aside from a cash prize and a trophy, the winner gets to compete for the Méliès d'Or, alongside the winners of other festivals across Europe. It's a big deal, and it was a highlight of my career so far to be part of the team entrusted with the decision.

Monday, 7 October 2019

The Question in Bodies #27: This Hellbound Heart

The Hellbound Heart (Clive Barker, 1986);
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988);
Hellraiser: Hellseeker
Clive Barker's Hellraiser (Boom! Studios, 2011, ongoing)

(Pictured: The most important character in the Hellraiser franchise.
Also pictured: Pinhead.)
Some franchises are worth more attention than others. For instance, I might well return to Godzilla. Maybe watching thirty-five of them might be a step too far, although I've watched an even dozen of them, so never underestimate my capacity for obsession. And I do fully intend to return to Planet of the Apes, I promise, I promise, honest. But I've never before felt the need to go into all ten of the Hellraiser films.

Years ago I watched the first three of them back to back, and I felt that the first one, the only one written and directed by creator Clive Barker, was good for what it was (and if that sounds a little bit like I'm damning it with faint praise, that's because I am), and that the curse of diminishing returns set in quickly, not so much a drop of quality as a vertiginous plummet, somewhere around the onset of Hellbound's stupid, hokey final third. As for Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), you know you're on to a loser when you've already lost sight of who your iconic monster is and what he does. The point is, the nine Hellraiser sequels, most of which do not have the participation of Clive Barker, are generally so bad – and bad in a specific way, the worst possible way for a horror film, because they’re just pedestrian – that the value of sitting through all of them is negligible. Hellraiser: Revelations (Hellraiser IX) was reportedly only made so that Dimension films wouldn’t lose the rights to the franchise, and it was so lazily done that they couldn’t even get Doug “damned to be Pinhead forever” Bradley to do it. So why then would I decide to do not just Hellraiser and Hellbound (to be fair, most fans sort of like this one) but Hellseeker (or, to you, Hellraiser VI)? Why should I care about the Boom! Studios comics and and not the late 80s/early 90s Epic comics (which were actually really good, as opposed to the recent ones, which aren’t)? Why this particular selection of media?

Easy: they’re the parts of the franchise which share a protagonist. They all feature the most important character in the Hellraiser series. Not Pinhead – he’s barely even a character. No, mate, I’m talking about Kirsty Cotton. The access point to all of this is Kirsty.

Spoilers for books, comics and films abound. But no tears, please. It’s such a waste of good suffering.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Don't do that, Rupert

(I just needed a picture of an exceptionable Rupert. Sorry.) 
I saw a review of a poetry book this morning, which I'm not going to link, and I mean I'm not a good poet and I don't know much about poetry, but here's the thing, this was a little book by no one you'd heard of, from a tiny publisher, and the guy (from the name, 95% sure it was a white guy, English, and from the writing, 95% sure he's straight) who reviewed it was utterly scathing, and not even in any methodical way. He was just mean, picking out a couple of terrible lines without giving you any idea of the book beyond "this has some bad lines in it".

And OK, maybe I'd read those lines too and go, "ouch" – and the lines he singled out were indeed pretty ouch – but seriously, Rupert? What does it achieve?

You know I write about film, right? And you know I'm not afraid to say bad things about a film if I think it's bad? But the thing is, sometimes I get sent movies that were made by first time directors and which cost like 25p and I don't think it's fair to rag on those. Like, there are things you can say, but there's punching down and punching up.

There's a qualitative difference to saying, for instance, "This piece will spoil plot points, but to be honest nothing will ruin things for you quite as much as actually watching the film,"* about a multimillion buck blockbuster to saying that about a self funded folk horror short made in a back yard in Glasgow.

Pointing out that a film about monsters that cost gazillions to make, made gazillions in the box office and has gazillions of fans is bad is not going to hurt anyone. They're big enough to take it. It's like a BB bullet shot at, well, at Godzilla. Ruthlessly dumping on the production values of a film that can't afford to look like a Hollywood blockbuster because the cash was scraped together from a mid-range Kickstarter, or squashing like a bug the aspirations of a first time scriptwriter, or tearing out the bad lines of someone's small press poetry collection?

The word for that is not "criticism". The word for that is "bullying". When, like me, you're just someone with a blog, OK, you can feel like you're on the bottom of the tree too, but the role of the critic is never really just to say whether something is good or not anyway.

And there's an intellectual discipline in writing a redemptive reading of a thing. People seem to think that it is somehow more clever to be negative about stuff. That's false. To find reasons to see the value in things is often more difficult and challenging (and trust me in this: I watched Hellraiser: Hellseeker last night, or Hellraiser 6 to you), and much, much more worthwhile.

And all the more important when your subject isn't, for whatever reason, strong enough to take a hit, even if it's just from some random with a blog.

*Yes, I was pleased with myself for writing that. And yes, I do understand that makes me a bit of a dick. And no, I don't care.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Cult Cinema #16: The Endless (2017)

I'm not the only writer that's made this observation, but I've found in the last couple years since I've been doing this that certain films are easier to write about than others. And this doesn't map exactly on to how good they are. Great films are easy to write about. Really terrible films are easier to write about still, too easy in fact, because any idiot can lay into a film and give a brutal run down of what's wrong with it. A deep dive into what's good or even great about a bad film isn't all that tough, and a bit more rewarding (and I have a soft spot for those films that are in no way good but nonetheless wildly entertaining). Films that are a wild mix of brilliant and awful are a gift. But films that are just sort of average are tough work; it feels you like have to fight to tease anything out of them.

The hardest of all are the ones that are pretty good. Not the best ever, just good. Solid, well made, well performed, well structured films with a clear idea of what they're doing and what they're saying, and how to say it. Because what else is there to say? To understand the film, you just have to watch it.

Which is a bit of a long-winded preamble to me putting The Endless in just that category. It's a good film. I recommend you seeing it. I enjoyed it and that's just as well because I've watched it four times now with the intention of writing about it and I'm still not sure what to say (especially when my last go at a piece, after the third view, got accidentally deleted about a thousand words in and I ragequit and abandoned it for a month). Spoilers abound, both for this and Resolution (2012), the film to which this is a loose sequel, but not as many as usual. People who are upset or strongly affected by talk of suicide might prefer not to read this piece, although mention of such is only brief.