It Follows

It Follows - Maika MonroeRemember the Scream movies? What was billed at the time as a series of knowing, witty take-downs of the slasher film genre, full of self-referential jokes and a spiralling plotline of ludicrously solemn fatalism, now looks like an arrogant attempt to speak on behalf of a genre and a generation, a nauseating spectacle that managed to pander to and sneer at its target audience in equal measure. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows similarly tackles genre tropes, but without snarky citations. Instead, it sets out an intriguing premise (a slow-moving demon-thing, in multiple human forms, ceaselessly pursues any individual carrying its sexually transmitted curse, which can only be passed on to another person through sexual intercourse), and sticks to it. The film builds a distinctive atmosphere, bathes it in a throbbing, nagging electronic score, and never punctures the mood with the leavening hijinks that are routinely wedged into anything aimed at a teenaged audience. And since movies so rarely frighten me, I’m always happy to admit when it happens: It Follows is really scary. It has a plot like a ghost story told at an unusually mean-spirited sleepover, the sombre tone of a classmate’s funeral, and it lingers in the mind like a malicious rumour.
It FollowsSo, while the Scream films had their cake and stabbed it in the neck by both mocking the silliness of teenagers in horror films and marshalling a cast of very silly teenagers, It Follows has a real feeling for its protagonists’ anxieties. While Scream (you can probably tell I hate those movies, and this is, I promise the last time I’ll use them as a strawman, or even mention them at all…) wrote out the “final girl” trope in big crayons, because it just seemed, like, totally stoopid that horror films should enshrine psychosexual terrors in popular culture, It Follows takes the trope seriously: if slasher movies have traditionally punished the promiscuous and heroised the virginal, this is one film that wants not to mock but to find out why. It takes the stigma and anxiety of teen sexuality and blows it up to a full-on horror trope in its own right. Of course, plenty of horror movies are about teen sex and the punishments that come to its practitioners from primitively moral killers. But It Follows reifies that sexuality into a deathly contagion: victims are confronted with a lethal double standard, sex is what gives them the curse, but also what staves it off.
It Follows A lesser horror film would have made easy mistakes: creating some ancient mystical motivation for the curse; featuring parents or other authority figures; wisecracking sidekicks; pop soundtrack. It Follows creates an atmosphere and then maintains it, without undercutting or subverting the tension. There’s a close-quarters sensuality to many shots that puts us right next to our central subject, Jay Height (Maika Monroe).
vlcsnap-2015-08-16-22h52m41s56 vlcsnap-2015-08-16-23h01m24s167 vlcsnap-2015-08-16-23h13m11s75 Note, for instance, the early scene where she observes the critters from her backyard swimming pool, and makes the easy decision to drown an ant on her arm: hands are prominent in many shots, too, a poignant rendering of a world both perceived through, and jeopardised by, the necessity of touch. This is not an unusual neorealist technique to create a sense of immediacy, but it is absolutely the right choice for this film: aligning us with Kelly makes it all the more frightening, since whatever is coming for her must also be coming for us, and we don’t get to observe her from a safe distance. We scan the environment for approaching death just as she does, and the often shallow focus frustrates that task; rarely has often screen space been so actively weighted with dread.
It FollowsOne strange aspect of the film is its placement in time. Musically and thematically, it’s in conversation with the 1980s. The TV screens seems to show only 1950s science fiction B-movies. This is probably a deliberate strategy to avoid pinning the film down to a specific temporal location, but it also shows us how genres cyclically (50s, 80s, now) latch onto the things they find unnerving (commies/conformity, sex/knives, sex/intimacy). It does mean that a film that clearly wants to talk about young people now, is devoid of the iconography of social media. And yet, it is fundamentally a film about sharing.
vlcsnap-2015-08-16-23h02m30s62 vlcsnap-2015-08-16-23h04m08s18Probably more profound than the film’s metaphor of sexual stigma as a killer curse is the way characters react to the threat, by having sex in order to share their fear. For some in this film, without giving too much away, knowing a potential partner is scared is an opportunity to exploit their sexuality, while others have an altruistic wish to take on the curse on behalf of a friend. But it’s a complicated picture, and ends with a couple unsure of what they’ve done or how scared they should be, anxious that everybody be as cursed as they are, and knowing that they can never be free, just threatened together. It’s a film not about why we hide our shame, but about why we find security in sharing it with someone, anyone else.

345-Word Reviews: World War Z

World War ZNeither the calamity that its troubled production might have led you to expect, nor the triumph that its $250 million price-tag should lead you to demand, World War Zed offers a number of delights. This is a globalised disaster movie, told not from the perspective of bedraggled survivors who end up turning on each other in a desperate fight over dwindling supplies (the genre template laid down by Romero, and canonised most recently in The Walking Dead comics and TV series), but through the lens of a UN-led operation to find a solution to the zombie pandemic sweeping the planet. This omniscient overview sometimes dilutes what should be a terrifying vision of a world falling apart, because it gives an unwarranted sense of control over events, and the film plays out in a doggedly linear hop from one country to the next along a thread of tangential clues.

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345-Word Reviews: The Woman in Black

One of the more successful efforts to buff up the Hammer Films brand, The Woman in Black gives Daniel Radcliffe the role of the respectable gent given the challenge of focusing on his paperwork in a place of mystery and dread, surrounding by superstitious rubes who pop up to tell him he’s not welcome round these parts. Forty years ago, this part might have been played by Ralph Bates, but now its a vehicle for the ex-Potter to show whether he can branch out. Most of the film consists of Radcliffe, his lower jaw determinedly jutting out with the tension of it all, exploring a tricked-out, pop-up house filled with spooky Victoriana. The obligatory shots of pale faces peering mournfully out of upper-floor windows are also given a good airing.

The trappings of the abandoned 19th-century nursery (broken dolls, rocking chairs, staring-eyed portrait paintings, clockwork toys) have become the visual shorthand for uncanny terror, the return of a repressed childhood trauma none of us can actually remember. These are the hard, unhuggable toys invested with the memories of games with long-dead children (that the film is about dead young ‘uns only compounds the creepy connotations), superstitious markers of the end that awaits us all: we will be outlived by our stuff. There is potential shock built into the mechanism of a moving toy: haunted house movies are all about anticipating movement in inert things and, to paraphrase Chekhov, you know that the wind-up monkey automaton from the first act is going to spring into life before the last.

Scares are effectively engineered by James Watkins (director of chavsploitation outing Eden Lake), and I must admit that my buttons were successfully poked with a cold finger a few times, but we race so swiftly from one jolt to the next that there’s little modulation between quiet repose and skin-jumping shockery. Like any good ghost story, it sets up a contest between rational and supernatural interpretations of paranormal phenomena but, as usual, rational explanations, which tend to make for less unsettling horror movies, don’t stand a chance.

Halloween Picture of the Week: 125 Vampire Movie Posters

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Here’s the last of my Halloween galleries, this one a bulging, bloody collection of vampire movie posters. Naturally, Dracula, in his many manifestations, is to the fore, dominating the genre, but I think you’ll be surprised at the sheer variety of approaches there have been to the vampire mythology, from the fearful to the romantic, via analogies of contagion and sexuality. View the slideshow above, or scroll down and click on any poster for a larger view.

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Halloween Picture of the Week: 100 Posters of the Living Dead…

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Last week’s Halloween package of Frankenstein posters proved quite popular, so I hope this is another treat. Not for the squeamish, nor for those who don’t like zombie movie posters, here are 100 (count them!) posters from zombie films, from the voodoo-themed to the splatter-obsessed, the grave to the parodic. The zombie has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, alongside that other staple of the horror scene, the vampire, but these lumbering undead, single-minded in their pursuit of your delicious brains, haven’t been so open to romanticisation. I hope you enjoy this massive parade of guts and gore.

Halloween Picture of the Week: 50 Frankenstein Movie Posters

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In the run up to Halloween, here’s the first of a series of scary treats for you to enjoy while you scoop the guts out of a pumpkin or a neighbour. The story of Frankenstein is one of those that has been endlessly reiterated in movies and literature, from Edison’s 1910 adaptation to Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, via James Whale’s matchless Bride of Frankenstein and Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker. There seems to be an enduring fascination with the reanimated corpse and its path towards self-definition, and the deceptively simple premise lends itself to many reconfigurations. Thankfully, this also gives ample excuse for some wonderful, often lurid poster art to tease us with sightings of the jerry-built creature. You should also pay a visit to the excellent, comprehensive Frankensteinia blog for more about the monster and his maker.

Fangoria Ads


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Don’t ask why I decided to compile a gallery and slideshow of advertisements gathered from early issues of the horror magazine Fangoria. I don’t have a good answer. Rummaging through back issues looking for articles about prosthetics, special effects make-up and puppetry, I became a little distracted by the advertisements for video-cassettes (look how expensive it was, in the 1980s, to buy your own VHS tapes!), masks, books, t-shirts and gloopy, gory make-up effects. Ostensibly a journal celebrating the inventive evisceration of the human body, Fangoria actually comes across as a cheery community centre for enthusiasts of rubbery prosthetics and homemade horrors. You’ll find some familiar monsters in this gallery, and some lovely offers to help you simulate demonic possession, or a bit of  limb-lopping, gut chewing dismemberment in the comfort of your own home. Avoid if more than a little squeamish. Otherwise, enjoy a bit of 80s nostalgia. Some of these offers may no longer be available, though. Sorry.

Eight Things I Like About Ti West’s The House of the Devil

Hey, it’s not a perfect film. I didn’t quite believe that the heroine would do what she does at the film’s climax, and it thrills through its familiarity and its reconstruction of older films rather than through innovative, self-made scares, but it delivers exactly what it promises: a retro tribute to a certain era of American horror cinema where terrible things befell nice, pretty college students. Jocelin Donahue is Samantha, strapped for cash and persuaded, against her better judgement, to accept a baby-sitting assignment from a couple in a big old spooky house and, of course, it turns out to be a bad decision. To say any more would be telling. So, as part of a new series of short, accentuate-the-positive posts, I thought I’d praise the good points of whatever pops into my DVD tray every now and then. Here are the things I like about  The House of the Devil, with spoilers studiously avoided:

  • The retro poster campaign (see above). I feel like I know every piece of each of them (there are some Amityville horrors in there, and that’s Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend top right), even if I’m not enough of a genre specialist to be able to place them.
  • It knows that the first thing anybody faced with a harpsichord in a creepy old house would do is play a bit of ‘Heart and Soul’.

  • Greta Gerwig, the talisman of American Indie Authenticity, plays the sassy, slobby sidekick. It’s a P.J. Soles tribute act. There’s a long scene where, left alone in a stranger’s house, she tucks into a bowl of boiled sweets. It has nothing to do with the plot: it’s just a character note, but it points up how sensitively West creates tension through focusing on slightly “off” performances or tangential activities that could be the calm before a storm, or a genuine red herring.
  • Its minimalism – there only half a dozen speaking parts here, and a large portion of the film is taken up with a girl alone in a house, entertaining herself and trying to ignore the strange noises. It creates a chilling sense of isolation and vulnerability, all the while building up the sense of something sinister occurring in the silent spaces off-screen.
  • It takes thirty-seven minutes before anything nasty happens. And when it comes, it’s genuinely sudden and shocking. You have to admire a film that bides its time and doesn’t give up the goods immediately just to cater to viewers with limited powers of concentration.
  • Even though it’s a standard-issue haunted house, it still gets a legitimate creepy atmosphere out of prolonged silences, shadows and the simple existence of a basement. Remember when you were young and having a house to yourself was both an exciting opportunity and a slightly uneasy feeling of vulnerability and irrational fears? So does this film.

  • Jocelin Donahue’s extraordinary bone structure and feathered hair. Don’t ask me how, but the girl can evoke 1983 with just her cheekbones. As with the posters, I have a feeling she reminds me of someone in particular, but I can’t quite place it. Karen Allen?…
  • Are you making a horror movie set in an old empty house? Do you need a scene that explores that setting and shows where everything is, perhaps showing a lighter side to your otherwise reserved and quiet protagonist? Maybe with a bit of nostalgic period detail for good measure? I suggest you follow Ti West’s lead and insert a sequence where your heroine loads a cassette (remember those?!) into her big-ass Walkman (yeah, I had one of those!) and dances around the place, doing that hoppity, aerobics-video dance that lets her bounce from room to room, doing that hey-I’m-just-checking-what’s-in-the-fridge-oh-nothing-much action before pogoing on an armchair, hopping up the stairs, and generally announcing by asymmetric means that the long-awaited horrors are about to commence.

Ingrid Pitt (21 November 1937 – 23 November 2010)

Ingoushka Petrov, better known as Ingrid Pitt, one of the key figures of British horror through her work for Hammer and Amicus, has died aged 73. A Polish-born concentration camp survivor, she was possibly the most famous of all female screen vampires, thanks to her thirsty lust for blood in The Vampire Lovers, Countess Dracula and The House that Dripped Blood.


A few Reviews: Burke and Hare, Another Year, Skyline

It has been difficult to keep up the earlier pace of blogging, due to an abnormally heavy workload this term. I’m hoping things will ease off towards Christmas and in the New Year – I wouldn’t want to deprive the world of my opinions for too long. It has also been hard to see new movies, though this afternoon I’m off to see Paul Leni’s Waxworks, and there’s a Hong Sang-Soo retrospective happening locally that should tick a few boxes in the old-movie department. As a stop-gap, here are some brief reviews of a few things I’ve managed to see at the multiplex next door. They are in no way connected, except that none of them works well on a triple bill with any of the others.

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