31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #23 – V/H/S/2 (2013)

VHS-2

Director: Various

Writer(s): Various

Studio/Distributor: Magnet Releasing/Bloody Disgusting

Budget: Unknown

Box Office: $795,661

Release Date: 2 August, 1985

IMDb Rating: 6.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%

UK Blu Ray release? No, just DVD

Cast

Lawrence Michael Levine – Larry

Kelsy Abbott – Ayesha

Adam Wingard – Herman

Hannah Hughes – Clarissa

Jay Saunders – Biker

Oka Antara – Malik

Samantha Gracie – Jen

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his house and find a collection of VHS tapes. Viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realise there may be dark motives behind the students disappearance.

Inertia’s Insight

The sequel to the surprise found footage hit V/H/S made its way to us pretty quickly. Following the trend of sequels past by being thrown in to production to make some coin, V/H/S/2 still manages to throw up some surprising entries that put it on a par with the first film. The main issue with V/H/S follows through here though. There’s an element these films are missing that the shorts never quite encapsulate. It always feels like we’re on the verge of something great – then the credits roll.

Tape 49/Frame Narrative

The wrap around entry sees two private investigators break in to a college kid’s house at the request of his Mother, who hasn’t heard from him in some time. Here they find a collection of VHS tapes. As Ayesha watches them, she descends further into madness.

VHS 2 - Tape 49 watching TV.png

Unlike Tape 56 from the first film, there’s little to entertain you until the closing moments, but when it does happen, it’s bat-shit crazy. Not only is there a jawless man somewhere in the house, his tongue lolling like the chime on a clock, there’s also the small matter of Ayesha turning in to some fucked up spider-crawling zombie whose nails on the floorboard make for a terrifying sound.

Phase 1 Clinical Trials

Herman is gifted a bionic eye from a corporation testing its effectiveness. It allows him to see – the only problem is the company are recording everything, and they eye enables him to see ghosts…

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It’s a clever use of found footage, the perspective of our character literally being someone’s eye. Adam Wingard is expertly cast (by himself), a man with a nice house that a handful of ghosts fancy inhabiting. There are a few good jump scares and a particularly messed up sequence when Clarissa and her fucked up Uncle stop by for a visit. It’s only let down by the ghosts themselves who look like mere caricatures, painted like the ghouls in Dawn of the Dead with no effect.

A Ride in the Park

A nice little zombie entry, told from the perspective of a GoPro camera (which seems to play a focal point in most of the other short films). A man sets out for a bike ride through the woods, only to encounter an injured woman that changes his life forever.

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It’s a unique take on the zombie genre. There’s not much new here, the make-up even going so far as to almost accentuate the fact that this is a movie – the exaggerated contact lenses, gargled noises and emphasis on a string of guts being dined on like your local butcher’s best Venison sausages. What is interesting is the perspective. Without seeing it happen, the biker is turned from living to the living dead. He even samples his own flesh much to his disgust, which goes some way to answering how a zombie’s hankering for braiiiiins doesn’t necessarily translate to their own.

There’s also an interesting ending, one that isn’t usually seen in standard zombie lore, which puts this impressive short way ahead of most 90 minute zombie films out there.

Safe Haven

A news crew successfully gains entry to a mysterious Indonesian cult, hoping to understand their reclusive actions. It turns out that the cult’s leader, ‘Father’, has timed their arrival with that of a horned demon who bears a strong connection with the news crew…

VHS2

This is a pretty fucked up entry. Gory, frightening and leaving you with a lingering taste in your mouth, Safe Haven finds The Raid director Gareth Huw Evans exploring new territory with huge success.

The cult is the Indonesian People’s Temple, Father their Jim Jones. Some of the imagery used in this short raises the hairs, from the men in white committing mass suicide to the haunting classroom where the Kool Aid has been sunk, it manages to explore all aspects of cult behaviour in such a short time. Though the ending is a bit comic, there’s no doubt this leaves a lasting impression.

Slumber Party Alien Abduction

Just like Ronseal, this short does exactly what it says on the tin. Home alone, a group of kids face a nightmare when elongated greys pop in for a cuddle.

Also using a GoPro, we get a few interesting angles from this found footage entry, and in the beginning there are some good jumps. You don’t really notice the presence of the greys in the first half, with blink and you’ll miss it cameos doing just enough to embed their image in our minds.

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And that’s exactly where it goes wrong. Whether intentional or down to budget restraints, the aliens are just too… alien. It sounds daft, but their image ruins any impact their menace intended. As soon as we see them, it kind of loses its effect and just becomes a messy, frustrating found footage where you just want them to take the kids and piss off.

The success of V/H/S/2 would influence another sequel that, sadly, spelled the demise of this series that showed true potential, giving directors like Adam Wingard and Eduardo Sánchez some much needed spotlight.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★

Trivia

  • Originally titled “S-VHS”
  • When Larry and Ayesha break into Kyle’s dorm, as Larry is searching, Ayesha pushes play on Kyle’s laptop. We then briefly see fottage from Tape 56/Frame Narrative from the first film

Quotes

HERMAN: So you guys are gonna sit around and watch me take shits?

DEMON: Papa?


Tomorrow: Night #24 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)

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31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #7 – The Blair Witch Project (1999)

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Director: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez

Writer(s): Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez

Studio/Distributor: Artisan Entertainment

Budget: $60,000

Box Office: $248.6m

Release Date: 14 July, 1999

IMDb Rating: 6.4/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Heather Donahue – Heather

Joshua Leonard – Josh

Michael C. Williams – Mike

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

Three film students vanish after travelling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind.

Inertia’s Insight

We’ve talked about The Exorcist, and how its documentary style cinéma vérité shocked audiences, inciting reactions that the Warner Bros. marketing department would utilise for years to come. But none could have imagined the success or impact of a micro budget mockumentary horror film from completely unknown filmmakers and actors that successfully utilised the internet as the definitive marketing tool.

The Godfather of the found footage sub-genre, The Blair Witch Project is as much a success for its marketing than it is its filmmaking style; indeed, it almost seems it wouldn’t be the same film without the prior knowledge attached to it. Three college filmmaker friends Heather, Michael and Josh hike into the woods outside of Burkitsville, Maryland in 1994 to make a documentary about the infamous local legend, the Blair Witch. They were never seen again. One year later, their camera and sound equipment were found. The film is a presentation of that footage.

Back in 1999, the internet  and its web pages were a jumble of Word Art titles, bitty images and Viagra adverts, and as unreliable as its dial-up tone. There existed no real understanding of the internet; the lack of web accessibility guidelines ensured that vital information was lost amidst exclamation points and vanity banners – just take a look at Google:

1999

So, unless you lived in Maryland or had more knowledge of the American landscape than a trucker, you were apt to believe that Burkitsville existed. A quick Google! search would have led you to one of the most ingenious pieces of marketing this side of the millennium (yes, even better than those Viagra emails). You would have found a web page confirming that three teenagers had gone missing and that only their footage had been recovered. In an age where Donald Trump’s ‘Fake News’ hysteria didn’t exist, this was the icing on top of one very genius cake.

Such clever – and cheap – marketing for a micro-budget film inevitably drummed up an enormous amount of anticipation, leaving audiences salivating at the prospect of watching a film that left you questioning whether you’d watched an ingenious horror film or a twisted snuff film. This anticipation can only be paid off by a damn good film, and fortunately for us, a damned good film it is.

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The grainy quality, shoddy camera work and ‘real’ interviews at the beginning of the film, coupled with the off-topic filming in their motel room, pitches the film perfectly as a documentary. The mundanity of the opening few minutes establish the legend of the Blair Witch and the local belief that “these woods are haunted”. These kinds of warnings are usually reserved at the start of poor slasher films, where the dire warning from the hillbilly about the cursed woods is met with little faith. Here, the warnings are delivered to camera and feel real.

Myrick and Sanchez do well to build the tension. It’s easy enough to throw them in the woods and let the shit hit the fan, but they craft it so that their descent into madness is slow and questionable, the first-person perspective putting us in the front seat and taking us with them. The first night starts the hysteria off with gentle suggestion: the snapping of twigs and the distant sounds. In the pitch black, discerning what is causing the sounds inevitably leads them – and us – to think of the legend they have come to investigate. The found footage aspect is voyeuristic but it has the opposite effect: we don’t want to watch; we don’t want it to get dark again.

Heather-Donahue-Blair-Witch

And so we see their sanity slowly starting to fade as they struggle to make their way back to the car. The three leads nail their paranoid performances. You genuinely believe their contempt for each other and their fear of spending another night in the woods. And when that night comes…

It’s the power of suggestion during that first night of madness that really raises the goosebumps. The sounds are familiar yet they’re louder, they’re getting closer. But it’s not until they flee the safety of their tent, tear-arsing into the darkness screaming “What the fuck is that!” that you find yourself hiding behind a pillow whilst simultaneously trying to see just what the fuck ‘it’ is. Just as soon as you’ve tried to decipher the shadow in the corner of a frame, we’re on to the next scene.

From Josh’s disappearance, the tension ratchets up, and save for one snot-filled scene that is emotional yet laughable, the ending happens. That ending. Mentioned in passing at the start of the film as part of the Blair Witch’s M.O., the most frightening part of this film is a man standing in the corner. It cements their fate in a brutal and somewhat open way, but not seeing their demise makes the ending all the more difficult to watch.

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The marketing is most definitely the sum of its parts. The film’s legacy couldn’t exist without it. Sadly, in a desperate attempt to cash in on the overwhelming success, the studio rushed through a sequel that lost all the grit and ethos of this film, making a sequel that by and large shared little similarity apart from name. thankfully, the legacy of The Blair Witch Project lives on. Though found footage has advanced and reached new milestones, this film still rules supreme, the micro budget filmmakers handy guide on how to make a horror.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★★★

Trivia

  • The film was in the Guinness Book of World Records for ‘Top Budget : Box Office Ratio’. The film cost $60,000 to make and made back $248m, a ratio of $1 to $10,931 made
  • Numerous people were so convinced of the Blair Witch’s existence that they flock to Maryland in hopes of discovering the legend
  • It took only 8 days to shoot the film

Quotes

HEATHER: I’m afraid to close my eyes, I’m afraid to open them.


Tomorrow: Night #8 – The Orphanage (2007)

13 Days of Horror: Day 13 – The Zombie Sub-Genre

Horror film is a mirror to societies deepest, darkest fears. It shows us that we are infinitesimal microscopic spores in comparison to the bigger picture out there. Whether its what lurks under our bed, in the wardrobe, in the sky or under the ground, horror film shows us that though we may exude an air of immortality and top-of-the-food-chain bravado, we are really a feeble, vulnerable species that will inevitably be our own undoing. The zombie sub-genre – which to me is an extension and heightened version of the body horror sub-genre – allows audiences to access their fears two-fold: the fear of our bodies decaying, and the fear of the actions of another man without the presence of any form of law & order.

The zombie film didn’t really become its own category until late into the 20th Century with the Godfather of the Zombie, George A. Romero, bringing the dead to life in the black and white masterpiece Night of the Living Dead. Before that, a number of creature features and early B-Pictures had used the re-animated dead as their main antagonist. After all, what is The Mummy if not a zombie with its modesty covered?

The Mummy

Romero’s film was a masterclass in horror film as social subtext. It showed just how flawed humanity was when it came to coping with crisis, and just how easy people turn against one another with a view that the fittest survive. It is most famous for its glaring commentary on racism in America, with the end scene of that film demonstrating the inherent phobia that America had at that time. It is also ironic that not once in the film are the living dead actually referred to as ‘zombies’ but rather ‘ghouls’ – proof that it really is the press that coin the terms that become indelible to the genre.

Night of the Living Dead

Just like the slasher genre, a slew of zombie films came forth in the wake of Night of the Living Dead that capitulated the subtext and instead just went for out and out gore to please audiences. These films – like Hell of the Living Dead and Return of the Living Dead – were not linked to Romero but played on the success of that to cash in. It wasn’t until Romero himself returned to the zombies in Dawn of the Dead ten years later that zombies became reputable and were actually referred to as such.

The genre continued to pave new ground as filmmakers interpreted this sub-genre, waxing on the origins of the walking dead and why they rise, what causes it, how to stop them, etc. Entries came from far and wide and varied between harrowing subtext and dark matter to lighter fare, splatter and slapstick. Braindead, The Evil Dead and Re-Animator were notable entries in this sub-genre that by the late 80’s had receded to the depths of VHS and the video nasties era.

The Evil Dead

It wasn’t until two English filmmakers with two different ideas on the zombie sub-genre brought it back to life with commercial and critical success. Paul W.S. Anderson released Resident Evil based on the popular video game back in 2002 whilst simultaneously a little large-foreheaded filmmaker by the name of Danny Boyle shocked us with the digitally shot, claustrophobic and kinetic 28 Days Later. The renewed interest in the zombie and the differing origins for the two films satiated audience’s hunger for flesh eating corpses once more, and with this success came the second wave of the zombie film.

28 Days Later

But one film above others ensured that the zombie film would truly be re-animated to the point where even the Godfather himself would find inspiration for the continuation of his Dead series. Shaun of the Dead beautifully paid homage to the zombie tropes whilst at the same time providing a balanced recipe of gore, horror, humour and emotion. So successful was it that, in Romero’s next Dead entry Land of the Dead, Pegg and Wright cameo-d as two zombies. The noughties brought with it a slew of zombie films as once again filmmakers sought inspiration from current events as a way of providing subtext with their films as well as an explanation as to how the dead came back to life. Anything from nuclear fallout to government testing, from a synthetic virus to contaminated water, zombie films in the noughties explained their origins and then showed 90 minutes of humanity struggling to cope without a lawless existence. Even postmodernism got an entry with the superb Zombieland in which the lead character sets out the rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Shaun Of The Dead

Ahh, the zombie apocalypse. With the genre’s resurgence in the noughties, the world has become fascinated by the idea of a zombie apocalypse. The WHO and CDC are working on preventative measures, governments have fallout plans and even local Council’s are now getting Freedom of Information Requests for their plans for the zombie apocalypse. The world is fascinated by the idea but its of no surprise really. The ‘zombie’ is probably the closest antagonist to us next to the slasher killer. With viruses rife, Ebola in the news and antibiotics running dangerously low, there is the very real distinct possibility for a virus to mutate in such a way that our neuron functions continue long after our soul has departed. Whether our lifeless corpses will crave the flesh of the living is another thing, but the zombie is probably the closest reality to us when looking at horror film.

Zombies have even entered in to the realm of TV now, with the ridiculously entertaining The Walking Dead now into its fifth season. What this show demonstrates to us, and what filmmakers have been showing us via the walking corpse since 1968 is that humanity is flawed. The Walking Dead, much like most of the films in this genre today, show us that it’s not really the walkers we need to worry about. They become second nature – it’s less about the zombies themselves and more about how humans are flawed. Zombie films are the Darwin entries in the horror world – it’s survival of the fittest, and it’s often not the predators we need to fear, but ourselves…

The Walking Dead

13 Days of Horror: Day 12 – Horror Masterpiece: Scream

Scream smashed on to our screens in 1996 as a complete subversion of the horror tropes we had come to know for the past 20 years. Not just your typical stalk ‘n’ slash flick, Scream was notable for its postmodern spin on the slasher genre tropes, paying both homage at the same time as acknowledging the flaws.

The slasher film was pretty much dead in 1996, as Jason and Michael had ensured that the critical and financial appeal of these films had dwindled into nothing. But behind the scenes Kevin Williamson was working on a script that, with the help of veteran director Wes Craven, brought the genre firmly into a new era.

Originally titled Scary Movie, the film told the story of a killer that stalked its high school victims, teasing them with sadistic phone calls that referenced classic slasher films. The killer also wears a mask giving it the nickname ‘Ghostface’ due its comparisons with Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The use of horror film references and minor homages is just one of the many postmodern tools that Williamson uses to revitalise this once dead genre.

Scream

The opening scene of Scream is now one of the most infamous in movie history and has actually won accolades and ‘Top 100’ spaces on many polls. The mega star Drew Barrymore is seen home alone making popcorn and preparing to watch a scary movie when she gets a phone call that is the wrong number. Despite hanging up, the wrong number calls back and so she does want any sensible teenager would do – engage in conversation with a complete stranger about their favourite scary movies. The tension crafted in this scene could (quite literally) be cut with a knife, edging in slight increments from mild goosebumps to hairs-on-end as the scene progresses quickly from a harmless conversation to a life-or-death situation. The moment she asks what the caller wants, to which the response ‘To see what your insides look like!’ pierces down the line – we know shit is about to get real.

Drew Barrymore

And get real it certainly does. We watch in pure horror as our intended heroine of the film, the blonde beauty Drew Barrymore, is brutally murdered in the opening scene just inches from salvation. We’re now left wondering just who the hell our saviour – our final girl – is meant to be. We’re soon introduced to Sydney in much the same vain as Craven’s earlier classic A Nightmare On Elm Street. Sydney is just like Nancy – she is beautiful, smart, intelligent and has her wits about her when it comes to the wondering hands of the high school boys. She is clearly upset at school as the news of her classmates’ macabre ending is discussed whilst the news cameras and police cars rove around the school.

What ensues from this point on throughout the film is a balls to the wall slasher film with an invigorated appeal for the stalk’n’slash tropes we know so well. The fact that the characters are so knowledgeable on horror films that they can almost predict the direction in which their story is headed is one of the things that makes this film so appealing: just how well will the characters fare when they know what they’re up against? Randy, the geeky film fan that can spell out the entire sequence of events from his wealth of knowledge of films past, is able to tell from the first victim that this is going to play out with more bodies falling before the final curtain.

Cast

Sidney’s first call and survival of her first (but certainly not last) attack gives us no other motive to think that she is our eponymous Final Girl – the one that will see this through to the bloody end. Her waxing on horror films, about girls having large breasts running up the stairs when they should be running outside, is another indicator of the postmodernism rife in this film. So it’s no surprise to see that when she is attacked by Ghostface she heads for the door, only to be directed up the stairs. Her suspicion of her boyfriend leads to her arrest, a physical confrontation with the nosey reporter who worked on the murder of Sid’s mother some years ago, and then more phone stalking when is at her friends later that night.

With more attacks imminent and the whole of this sleep town’s police force out in full searching for this masked killer, a curfew is imposed on everyone in the town. So what do they do? Decide to have a party, of course. This self-referential masterpiece continues its homage to classic horror films as the teens at the party watch Halloween, the pioneer of the slasher film. As they discuss the film and how to survive, Randy reads off his list of how you survive a horror film. Up until this point we’ve been revering in the self-referential attitudes of our characters, but it’s not until this scene that we see the true extent of the films we have watched all these years and how, because there have been so many, we recognise the trends that spell survival.

Randy

#1 – Never have sex. Sex = Death.

#2 – Never do drink or drugs = it’s an extension of the first.

#3 – Never say I’ll be back.

Just as Randy is saying this, Sid is in the bedroom with her boyfriend about to have sex. Despite Randy’s warnings, we never see the sex happen and we never see any skin so we’re left wondering whether – because we the audience who are moderately more receptive to the events of the film than the characters (for once) – Sid has been tainted by the horror brush. It turns out not so much, as she survives the most shocking reveal in horror history. Yes – reveal. We actually see underneath the mask, and what see are the little breadcrumbs we have been fed for the entire film: the only ones capable of such barbarity, with only a mild motivation behind them, are the ones that love horror films the most. Their plan is almost ingenious as we see characters not willing to succumb to their fate or glorify their actions but would prefer to blend into the background as innocent bystanders. It is a superb twist that is worthy of being studied over and over. And just as every great horror film does, it doesn’t end without one last attempt by the killer to come back and finish what they started.

The End

Scream is a masterpiece. If not for the fact that it so joyfully plays on the genre tropes of a now classic sub-genre of horror, it’s a masterpiece because it doesn’t make a mockery. It pays respect and homage to its ancestors whilst forging a new path for this marmite genre. It creates a strong female character that rivals the final girls of Nancy and Laurie; it creates an iconic antagonist in Ghostface, an antagonist that only requires the mask. It is superb horror, as even though we think – as digesters of this genre – we know what’s going to happen next we often don’t, and even when we do – well it’s just as scary as we were expecting.

Poster

TOMORROW: It’s the final day! Day 13 – The Zombie Sub-Genre

13 Days of Horror: Day 11 – Horror Anthology

The anthology format is nothing new in the film world, and literature has been compiling short stories into one volume for centuries. With one or two authors/filmmakers lending their name to it, they compile in necessary sequential order short stories/films that give standalone fear, working together to create the ultimate horror experience.

We’ve all grown up on a diet of mild horror in the anthology format – from watching Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, slowly graduating to The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits’ more intense episodes, we are used to seeing stand alone condensed stories that give us the beginning, middle and end in quick succession (but not always in that order). In recent times, TV has moved away from this format in favour of shows that are more focused on creating stories that have arcs, but its film that has begun to lead the way for this format that has done more for the reputation of the horror genre than most successful films.

Goosebumps

The beauty of the horror anthology format is the limited time frame given. Think about it: a great idea can be stretched thin if given the opportunity to be made into a feature film, whereas in the anthology format there is a limited time frame in which to start and end the story. With a refined running time and often a restricted budget, the best can be produced. The smaller time frame allows for the story to be told with no need for fill or sacrifice, and in doing so some of the best horror has been produced. You can’t help but look at some films and think that they would have benefited from a much shorter running time. There are even concepts for TV shows that sound far too stretched for multiple episodes and instead would best serve a shorter running time within an anthology series.

Mick Garris, director of many Stephen King TV adaptations created a TV series in 2005 called Masters of Horror. This series brought together some of horror’s most famous directors, gifting them a one hour slot in which to produce their own short horror film. Given complete creative freedom and with no standard limitations normally established in the world of TV, directors such as John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento and Tobe Hooper directed one hour short films ranging from Angels to Zombies. The series was superb, with gems including Jenifer by Argento and Cigarette Burns by Carpenter. This project brought together directors from all over the world and proved the success and artistic integrity of this format. Brought back for a second series, it introduced audiences to other horror directors – some newbies like Brad Anderson and stalwarts like John Landis, all of whom brought their own spin on horror using the tight running time. It worked. Sadly Showtime, the television producers funding the project didn’t renew for a third series but the eponymous Lionsgate did, producing Fear Itself, essentially exactly the same as Masters of Horror just a little more toned down.

Masters of Horror

And then there’s film. There’s not much commercial appeal for the anthology format when talking about a cinematic release. Blame it on audience concentration span or call it what you will, but there’s something about the anthology format that doesn’t sit well – or make audiences sit – at the multiplex. Yet there have still been films released recently that utilise this format and they have been some of the best horror shorts I’ve ever seen.

The one thing that anthology films manage to do is show content or story ideas that wouldn’t normally appease a mainstream audience or would feel out of place as a full length feature film. The restricted running time and shooting limitations enable the filmmaker to concentrate on the story and the direction and this produces terrifying results. V/H/S is a perfect example of this – most of the short films after watching them kind of leave you thinking ‘what the fuck?!’. Even the main segment that surrounds the short features is chock full of crazy imagery that leaves you peering through your fingers.

V/H/S

V/H/S is a perfect example of how this format can apply itself to the horror genre in film. It opens with a group of lads that are vandalising car parks and abandoned buildings, even molesting girls as they walk past. They are filming it all for their own perverted enjoyment. At night, we see them breaking into a house in search of a video tape. All this is being recorded, including them finding a dead body positioned in a room full of televisions and stacks of VHS tapes. We’re told through the eyes of one of the group that they are to collect a video tape – they don’t know what’s on it but they are being paid a handsome sum to collect it. As part of the group search the basement, one of them sits in the room in front of the dead guy, pushes in a tape and presses play.

The segments of film we see each tell a completely different story and none of them are linked except for the fact that all of them are on VHS and all in this one room. Tales from a flesh eating winged woman to a macabre tale of love, a camping trip gone wrong to the wrong house at Halloween, this short films craft superb horror and tension in their allotted time. And the perfect thing about this whole film? They follow the golden rule of found footage films: establish a reason to film. The use of cameras are incredibly inventive, from camera glasses to a nanny camera mounted in the head of a bear costume, all of them give a perfect explanation as to why they are filming but more importantly that when shit goes down, they give a reason why they keep on filming.

V/H/S

These shorts also craft impeccable ‘what did I just watch’ horror. Some of them – especially 10/31/98 – create entries that are literally the stuff of nightmares, featuring scenes that mainstream films wouldn’t dare to show.

I truly think the future for the success of horror and for its reputation to continue when creating new and unique entries lies in the anthology format. V/H/S is on its third entry this year, and the just as unique ABC’s of Death is currently in the process of producing a second film. Masters of Horror showed that the classic horror directors of our time are still able to produce new, unique and terrifying entries. The restriction of pleasing the mass audiences is removed with the anthology format, and with it comes the ability to push the boundaries of fear and taste to the dark recesses of our mind – therein lies our saviour for the genre.

ABC's of Death

TOMORROW: Horror Masterpiece – Scream

13 Days of Horror: Day 10 – World Cinema Horror

We’ve talked a lot over the past week predominately about American horror and the influences of the land of the free on this indelible genre. Yet there are just as many dominant entries from foreign soil that have served to inspire filmmakers and transcend this genre from the toned down entries coming out of Hollywood in the late ’90s and early 2000’s. Entries from as far and wide as Britain, France, Spain, Italy and Sweden to Japan, Korea, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, countries all over the globe were churning out horror films indicative of their culture and centuries-old fables.

Mum and Dad (GB)

 From as early as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) horror film has been massively influenced by films from all over the world, not just the studios of Hollywood. Each country injects its own culture into these films and there is a distinct difference in each type of film from each country – a ghost story from Britain will often differ when compared to a ghost story from Japan. Our influences are often our ancestors and this is none more evident than the classic horror stories seen in films like The Awakening, Ju-On and The Orphanage – different countries, different takes on classics.

Foreign horror film is responsible for creating timeless sub-genres as well as individual classics. Itallian Giallo influenced psychological horror across the globe, and Japanese Horror – or J-Horror – pretty much took the world by storm. There are various waves that have become historically relevant to the horror genre and are necessary because of their country of origin.

NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY

We’ve talked about New French Extremity recently when discussing Martyrs and the ‘torture porn’ genre. This wave had its prominence in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, with French filmmakers not pushing but completely annihilating boundaries in pursuit of the audience’s deepest, darkest fears. These films sought to engage the audience by showing them everything – nothing was off the menu in these films as their explicit scenes of torture and degradation were showing in close up. Just like ‘torture porn’ the term ‘New French Extremity’ sought to be defamatory to these films but despite this, most of the films in this era were critically successful.

Just like the exploitation films of 1970’s America and the HIV-fearing body horror’s of the 1980’s, the French New Extremity films tend to focus on the destruction of the human body but gave a more intense focus on the psychological as well as physical destruction. Martyrs, as we’ve already discussed, managed both not only to its characters but also to the audience. Other successful films in this category include Switchblade Romance, Frontiere(s), Sombre and The Pornographer. Though this wave is currently at low tide, its films have still had an astonishing impact on the genre and surprisingly enough, none of these films have been remade in the American market.

Frontiere(s)

J-HORROR

Probably the most widely recognised and lauded of all foreign horror films, J-Horror is now synonymous with the poor Western counterparts that were produced in the wake of the originals success. Japan has an immense attitude to horror film that ranges from the sublimely gory to the tactfully scary. Films like Audition and Ichi the Killer shocked audiences and showed a sensibility towards horror and the human mind that America only dared to dream of; classic fables and old wives tale ghost stories that surrounded Japan were successfully adapted to modern day with films like Ringu and Ju-On playing on the effects of these age old curses. These films are terrifying – if not for the long, wet-haired antagonists contorting and moaning out of TV screens and loft hatches then definitely for their unrelenting tales of curses and the revenge of those hard done by. These stories didn’t translate well when remade in America as their cultural reference was lost to Western audiences.

Ju-On - The Grudge 2

SPANISH HORROR

Whether we’re talking about the native tongue or the country itself, Spanish horror has been prominent in the world of horror. Guillermo Del Toro pioneered the language driven horror films like Julia’s Eyes, The Orphanage and Devil’s Backbone with Spain itself producing such hardcore zombie flicks like REC. Again, there is a sensibility to these films that works because of the location it is set in, the family archetypes established and the way in which different cultures react to such supernatural occurrences. Spanish cinema has only continued to seek new ground in the horror world, as REC continues to expand its repertoire of entries with a fourth on the way this year, and Del Toro shows no signs of stopping.

The Orphanage

Other countries far and wide have produced astonishing entries in horror history: Australia (Wolf Creek), New Zealand (Black Sheep), Sweden (Let the Right One In), and even Britain (Mum and Dad) and continue to challenge the Hollywood machine. But one problem remains: remakes. Why remake them? Hollywood time after time parades through these other countries in search of something to translate to American audiences, particularly with those that have already proven successful. Remakes of foreign entries are happening within a year of the original being release which is tainting the original’s creativity. Audiences are not lazy – they don’t mind subtitles, yet America seems hell bent on remaking them and though they manage to produce inventive or exciting set pieces (see Let Me In, remake of Let the Right One In), they fall short of the point originally being made because of the cultural significance of the country of origin. Some have even sought to remake the films in those countries but with the English language but this has still managed to lose the intended effect.

Let Me In

One things for sure – as we have chronicled the history of horror we have seen the wheels of the Hollywood machine lose traction with its audience through repetition and whilst it tries to find the next ‘new big thing’ with which to bombard us with, out there in the little corners of the world are writers and filmmakers putting together these little films that end up taking us all by storm. It is the intimacy as well as the cultural difference that attracts us to them, and as Australian entry The Babadook has proved this Halloween – we’re thirsty for more.

The Babadook

TOMORROW: Horror Anthology

13 Days of Horror: Day 9 – Horror Masterpiece: Martyrs

Martyrs shouldn’t really be a masterpiece. It is a barbarous, harrowing, psychologically damaging film that shows the brutal destruction of the human body and mind. It is unrelenting, with virtually no calming gaps between scenes for the audience to regroup their psyche enough to not feel completely destroyed by this film. Yet this is why it is a masterpiece – it is the ultimate horror film, achieving the Holy Grail of horror: it leaves you feeling terrified and destitute of all positive emotions. It is a film that needed to be made, but should never be seen.

Martyrs

The opening of Martyrs and the ten minutes that follow aren’t all that bad – at least the film breaks you in gently. Or does it give you a false sense of security? One things for sure – it’s first ten minutes are standard horror fare: a girl runs frantically, panting and screaming. She is bloodied, dirty and her shaved head and slashed skin indicates she is evading her captor. Cut to a grainy 16mm showing said girl unsuccessfully integrating into a children’s home as a gentleman recalls the site from which the girl – Lucie – escaped. We learn she was tortured and kept in horrendous conditions rendering her completely volatile. We see Lucie becoming friends with caring and considerate Anna, and over time – despite Lucie’s relapses – the two become firm friends and Lucie appears to be on the road to a steady recovery.

15 years later and an entirely different scene emerges. A seemingly ordinary family – Mother, Father, son and daughter – are having breakfast when an intruder breaks in, shotgun in hand. Each family member is blown away in a cold, relentless fashion. It’s Lucie, enacting revenge on those she believes are responsible for her capture and torture 15 years ago. At this point we’re left wondering whether her need for revenge has driven her to the point of clouded clarity in which she has shot and killed an innocent family. As she cleans up and calls Anna to come to her, Lucie is attacked by a naked, ravaged woman who appears to be possessed. She inflicts deep scarring wounds on Lucie, who manages to lock herself away from this demon.

At this point we’re kind of left thinking ‘what the fuck?’. What appears to be a revenge film quickly turns into an almost supernatural film with our lead protagonist (or is she an antagonist?) being pursued by a demonic woman. Anna arrives and the film seems to find some form of stability (if you can call it that) as they begin to clear the bodies up. Its unknown at this point whether or not Lucie’s actions can be justified but we automatically begin to side with Anna, who seems to cower slightly in fear of Lucie and her erratic behaviour. But the film soon takes a turn for the worst as Lucie’s demon continues to haunt her to the point of destruction. We learn that the demon is nothing but a figment of Lucie’s damaged mind and it is this demon that becomes her undoing, driving her to a brutal suicide. We’re now left wondering where this film is headed and what could possibly be next. Just as things seem to be veering back to the sensible, Anna finds a door to a hidden basement and the true horror of this film is seen.

Martyrs

Hidden beneath this suburban home is a metal, sanitised death chamber. Pictures of dead people adorn the walls, and doors lead off from the corridor to rooms that have housed unspeakable terror. Tucked away in a kennel-like room is an emaciated woman, bound by chains with a metal plate stapled to her head and crotch who gropes frantically at the air in search of the sounds of Anna. Her ravaged body is covered in deep cuts, her frame trembling as Anna aids her out of the room and into a warm bath. When Anna removes the metal mask from the woman’s head by literally ripping the staples out, this film shows no signs of holding out on us. We witness this rescued woman’s disheveled demeanour and can see the damaging effects the torture has had on her. As she attempts to cut her wrists then ferociously rubs her head against the wall, she is shot dead by a group of people dressed in black that enter the house and calculatedly remove all of the dead bodies, taking Anna captive at the same time. Shit is about go from bad to worse.

Martyrs

Soon after Anna’s capture she is introduced to Mademoiselle, a frightening woman with Headmistress eyes who explains with sadistic ease the reason why they do what they do. Mademoiselle explains by referring to the images on the wall that those closest to death, who bare such arduous pain and torture, are able to see a life beyond our own in the moments before they die and it is infinitely recognisable by the look in their eyes. This is what they do – they find the one that is able to see. The world is full of victims; a martyr is rare. They bear the sins of the earth, transcend themselves. They are transfigured.” She tells Anna in the simplest of tones, “Young women transfigure better. And that’s just the way it is, my dear.” And with this, Mademoiselle walks off.

Mademoiselle

What ensues in the last 30 minutes of the film is what makes Martyrs the controversial masterpiece that it is. As explained by Mademoiselle, all those that have been photographed with eyes that have witnessed something far beyond our own comprehension – those that have transfigured  – have reached this pinnacle after enduring unending torture and physical destruction. This is why they do what they do, this is why they capture, torture and attempt to transfigure these young women. So we know, the moment Mademoiselle has walked off, what is in store for Anna. In order for us to continue to see this through we must witness the breakdown of Anna and the destruction that these people enforce, but nothing can prepare us for the brutal beatings and torture that we witness first hand. There are 10 minutes of force feeding, light deprivation, violent beatings, rough haircuts and a forceful sponge bath. It is a horrific viewing experience for the audience, as close ups of Anna’s face make this voyeurism all the more arduous to endure. Her strength and endurance give us a glimmer of hope, as we hope that her resolve will mean she eventually manages to break free. But it’s not to be seen. Anna is told there is one last stage, and with this we see her strapped to a circular metallic swinging device. Her clothes are removed and surgery begins on what turns out to be one of the most stomach churning sequences seen on screen. Thankfully the ‘seen’ remains light as the surgery is passed over, but the results aren’t. Wheeled back in to the room and covered in a veil, Anna is strapped to a stand and the wheelchair forcefully removed. Anna drops to her knees and the true extent of her torture is seen in glistening g(l)ory – she has been flayed alive. Only the skin on her face remains.

Martyrs

Her torturers go about their lives like any normal person would – washing, making dinner – normal household chores. Then from the distance we hear a woman scream and it is soon revealed that Anna has the look in her eye; the look that says she has transfigured. The camera zooms slowly into her eyes, going deep as a kaleidoscope of light burns so bright on the screen. Is this the paradise she has seen? The light soon fades, swirling blue to black as the camera pans back out of her eye. Was it there after all? Mademoiselle arrives and Anna whispers in her ear. Delegates gather at the house, at least three or four dozen and we see the extent to which this psychotic consortium work. As they eagerly anticipate the findings that Anna has divulged, we see Mademoiselle preparing herself in the bathroom. Her compere arrives and she asks him, “Could you imagine what there is after death?” He answers no, and selfishly she replies for him to keep on doubting. She places a gun in her mouth and kills herself.

Martyrs

We are left reeling from this. After witnessing such barbaric abuse of another human we are expecting an answer that we never get. And rightly we shouldn’t either – how dare we voyeuristically witness the destruction of another life in search of what comes after. The ending has led to much speculation for those who have watched it, as people derive their own interpretation of just what it was that Anna saw.

I was talking to my fiancee about this film when planning the 13 Days of Horror blog posts and what’s interesting is though we both unanimously agreed that the film was damaging and didn’t leave us for days, we both differed on the ending of the film. For me, I thought Anna saw the afterlife – she transfigured and saw what waited for us on the other side and this is why the old lady killed herself; Caroline thought that there was nothing after this life but that Anna told the old lady there was something in the hopes that they would all kill themselves to get there and thus end the torture to other girls. Others speculate that Anna saw nothing and told Mademoiselle as such – this is why Mademoiselle killed herself. Regardless of the open ending, the fact still remains that Martyrs is a devastating, difficult and brutal film to watch. It leaves you feeling morose – and this is why it is a masterpiece. As bad as it sounds, this is a film that had to be made, but not necessarily one that needed to be seen.

TOMORROW: World Cinema Horror