A tough looking new poster for Lex Ortega's upcoming Atroz. I can't help but think that the only way I'm gonna get this in front of my eyes is on import dvd or blu. "The most violent movie in the history of Mexican cinema" is sure to fall afoul of our censors.
Wednesday, 27 January 2016
Tuesday, 26 January 2016
Chaos reigns in this stunning new poster for Benjamin Christensen's silent witchcraft opus. Art courtesy of the extremely talented Becky Cloonan.
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is a film like no other. It's the celluloid equivalent of Hieronymus Bosch's ergot and psilocybin nightmares and Gustave Doré's visions of Hell. The imagery in Häxan is still as potent as the day it was shot, and it's weird to think that in just six years it will be a century old.
At the Sabbath witches and sorcerers first desecrate the Church's holy cross. Satan gives all the participants devil's names. And a ceremonial banquet is held. The Sabbath food was often prepared from corpses from the gallows.
Saturday, 23 January 2016
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which a person either during falling asleep (hypnagogia) or awakening (hypnopompia), temporarily experiences an inability to move, speak, or react.
It is a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep, characterized by muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It is often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations (such as an intruder in the room) to which one is unable to react due to paralysis, and physical experiences (such as strong current running through the upper body).
One hypothesis is that it results from disrupted REM sleep, which normally induces complete muscle atonia to prevent sleepers from acting out their dreams. Sleep paralysis has been linked to disorders such as narcolepsy, migraines, anxiety disorders, and obstructive sleep apnea; however, it can also occur in isolation.
The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli (1781)
In a year that saw some legitimately terrifying moments of cinematic horror (It Follows, Bone Tomahawk), it's amazing that 2015's scariest horror movie is a documentary.
Rodney Ascher's followup to Room 237 is a sincere exploration of sleep paralysis, sincere because he himself has been a "victim" of the phenomenon. It is a film that gets under your skin, and then creeps into your thoughts in very disconcerting ways. It will stick with you and haunt you.
The Nightmare is a two pronged assault. First come the creepy anecdotes from a number of very believable interview subjects, all of whom have been plagued by sleep paralysis for very long periods, if not their entire lives. Then the simple but extremely effective reenactments of their testimonies up the ante to wide-eyed terror.
The thing that really sets off the domino cascade of fear is the realisation that all of The Nightmare's subjects - a varied cross section of people from all walks of life and degrees of mental stability* - seem to share very similar, if not identical, hallucinations. Intrusion and intimate abuse from shadowy interlopers, often described as being so black as to have no visible features other than burning red eyes. The descriptions of some sufferer's experiences are so similar as to be very alarming, but even with the overall differences there's a commonality to all of it. A demonic, malevolent presence that fills the victim with an overwhelming feeling of doom, dread and impending harm. There's also a disturbing throughline that sleep paralysis may be somehow transferred mentally from person to person, like a sort of conceptual virus (too far out to give much credence to, but still food for thought).
As a lifelong horror fan, the revelations and insights in this documentary affected me quite profoundly. A segment of the film draws a number of striking parallels between the hallucinatory effects of sleep paralysis and much of the imagery in the folklore and urban legends that are the basis of our horror fiction (not just in western culture, but throughout the world). A strong case is made that much of our old folklore and modern fiction - demons; ghosts; dream/sleep related horror such as A Nightmare on Elm Street; dimensional horror in the vein of Insidious; alien abduction stories - has drawn its inspiration and been directly influenced by this terrifying sleep disorder. To watch The Nightmare is to have an epiphany about the true nature and origins of the genre.
Then there's my own stories. I was once quite close to a person with profound schizophrenia. She told me that she could only sleep during the day, because trying to do so at night invariably resulted in uncontrollable episodes of "astral travel". Night after night, she would go to a place where she was confronted by a malevolent presence that she could only describe as "the devil".
An ex-girlfriend of mine would often wake into a state of semi-conscious paralysis. During these episodes she was petrified of a "presence" that lived behind an oil heater mounted on the wall near her bed.
Shortly after completion of my cancer treatment, I had two experiences myself. The first was while wide awake, the other while falling asleep. In both instances I became utterly paralysed and found myself suspended in what felt like an infinite void. I had complete temporary amnesia, no awareness or memory of who I was or where I came from. The only thing I was aware of was that I had no control, and I was to be tortured, without reprieve, by some kind of malevolent entity for the rest of eternity. A classical interpretation of hell. Both instances felt like they were over in under a minute, but for those few seconds I was the most terrified I have ever been in my life. Dread and fear that absolutely eclipses anything that I've ever known. In both cases I was badly rattled by the experience for days after. I've put these two episodes down to the weakened physical and mental state that I was in after my illness and treatment. I've since wondered if they may have been related to dissociative fugue or fugue state.
Have you or anyone you know ever had a similar experience?
*The Nightmare's interview subjects run the gamut from grounded and sane to possibly drug-affected, with two people who come across as borderline schizophrenic. The latter two are the worst affected. Are they that way due to a life of anguish and stress from coping with sleep paralysis, or is their mental state the cause of the paralysis? I'll leave that for you to decide.
Wednesday, 20 January 2016
The shadow of Lovecraft hangs ominously over this band who hail from the dead writer's hometown of Providence, RI.
Savage Blind God sound like Rudimentary Peni filtered through tough USHC (which is exactly what it is I guess). Musically it's closer to Death Church, while the lyrics are more Cacophony in their overt Lovecraft influence. But the whole is greater than the sum here, and this demo rises above the sea of anarcho/death rock wannabes to stand on its own. Bandcamp link through the cosmic portal of His tombstone.
Showered by the seeding trees,
producing shade of disbelief.
What grows under pillowed stone?
Mark of the eternal home.
Shade of night
Worms ingest what will become
a dinner plagued by alchemy.
Hiding from the changing days,
saved from the eternal night.
Saturday, 16 January 2016
I was anticipating a pretty weird ride from Hitoshi Matsumoto's R100, but I didn't expect it to reach the heights (or depths?) of absolute lunacy that it does. This tale of a weary salaryman named Takafumi* who joins an underground S&M club to spice up his life (and fill the void left by the absence of his permanently comatose wife) ends up going to some very bizarre places.
The club - with the no-nonsense name of "Bondage" - specialises in a service wherein its clients are humiliated and beaten up in public places by an assortment of intimidating dominatrices. At first our humble salaryman seems to be enjoying the service (each episode sending him into a kind of transcendent state of euphoria), but it isn't long before things shift from kinky pleasure to malicious violence, threatening his livelihood and family. He wants to back out of the service, but it's too late for that. He's signed a one year contract, and Club Bondage doesn't offer refunds.
That was the premise I was expecting, and which R100 follows throughout its first act, but when the film's title inexplicably pops up half an hour or more into the story, I realised things were about to take a turn for the freaky. What follows is an increasingly confusing descent into absurdity and surrealism that, if you're up for it, is a hell of a lot of fun. Think early Lynch (right down to an almost completely monochromatic palette) by way of the more perverse recesses of the manga world. A psychosexual trip filled with weird imagery and enough what-the-fuck-am-I-watching moments to make Luis Buñuel's head spin. Matsumoto isn't afraid to push boundaries either, resulting in an instance of on-screen child abuse that requires the film to open with a disclaimer stating that it was achieved using sfx.
To top things off there's a meta subplot where we see a group of people (censors? A focus group?) struggle to come to grips with the same movie we're watching. Needless to say they're failing pretty miserably, and it's hilarious to watch. I was immediately reminded here of the binocular wielding "audience" from Quentin Dupieux's Rubber, not surprising considering Dupieux and Matsumoto's shared affinity for gonzo surrealism.
In a culture whose media is renowned (and infamous) for its preoccupation with extreme head-fuckery (hello Shunichiro Miki's The Warped Forest), R100 stands out as one of the most satisfyingly strange things I've yet to see.
Favourite Dominatrices: Sushi Crusher and Saliva Queen. Four out of Five Whips.
*played by Nao Ômori, none other than the titular lethal wimp from Miike's Ichi the Killer.
Tuesday, 12 January 2016
Another obituary. Another seemingly immortal rocker taken by cancer.
This time I'm at a loss for words. All things come to an end. Everyone dies. But the loss of Bowie feels like a great tragedy.
Monday, 11 January 2016
Even before Phantasm, Angus Scrimm was a horror stalwart from the get-go. He kicked off his career in 1972's Sweet Kill (directed by Curtis Hanson of L.A. Confidential fame), immediately following that up with a part in the 1973 proto-slasher Scream Bloody Murder.
Born Lawrence Rory Guy, Phantasm was the first film in which he adopted the stage name that he'd be known by until his death earlier this week. During the Phantasm years he also showed up in Chopping Mall, Subspecies, Mindwarp and Al Festa's bizarre '90s giallo Fatal Frames. He'd continue to work with Don Coscarelli throughout his life, appearing in the excellent John Dies at the End and Coscarelli's Masters of Horror episode Incident On and Off a Mountain Road. During this latter period he can also be seen alongside Larry Fessenden and Ron Perlman in the superior Hammer throwback I Sell the Dead.
Fittingly, his swansong will be a revival of his iconic Tall Man role in the upcoming Phantasm: Ravager. Currently in post production, Ravager will be the first entry in the series for 18 years and is intended to be the final.
Scrimm has been a part of my life since being terrified by the TV spots for Phantasm* as an 11-year-old in the summer of '79. The inevitable, eventual big budget remake won't be the same without his imposing stature and menacing presence.
*Released here as The Never Dead to avoid confusion with Richard Franklin's 1976 sex comedy Fantasm.
Wednesday, 6 January 2016
While we await the dvd/blu release of Can Evrenol's Baskin, let's bask in (apologies) the demonic glory of some contemporary Turkish horror posters and trailers. Oh, and while you're feasting your eyes you can stream/buy Volkan Akaalp's bangin' score for Baskin at Giallo Disco's bandcamp page. Get back to me after you've pummeled your brain with "Contact" and gotten down to the Frizzi-esque grooves of Vercetti Technicolor's remix of "Dawn of Gehenna" and Antoni Maiovvi's remix of "Blue". DJ Ghettoscraper's dub of "Lard & Blood" should get your blood pumping too. This is THE horror soundtrack to beat right now.
Over the last couple of years Türk korku has begun to enter the mainstream consciousness in a big way, gaining worldwide attention and notoriety thanks to some widely shared trailers. These trailers (most notably the gorgeous, hyper-kinetic trailers for Siccin 2 and Dabbe 6, embedded below along with the trailer for Baskin) are packed with startling and shocking imagery: djinn, witches, demonic possession, infanticide, occultism, madness, suicide, explosive violence. If there's a palpable sense of cultural angst seeping from these films, one need look no further than Turkey's southern border.
These images - derived almost entirely from Islamic mythology and folklore - are of course very familiar to western horror audiences, due to our shared Abrahamic lore. However, filtering our old religious tropes through the prism of Turkey's secular/Islamic society has the effect of breathing new life into proceedings. It's also important to note that culturally Turkey has one foot in Europe and the other in the Middle East, and these movies are very much a product of that diversity. To western audiences these movies are at once more culturally recognisable than the ubiquitous Asian folk horror, and yet tantalisingly exotic and weird.
Let Şeytan into your life.