Posts Tagged ‘Halloween’

Directing for Hammer Horror, James Watkins (Eden Lake) brings The Woman in Black to the big screen, complete with a much anticipated new role for Daniel Radcliffe. Critics have taken to the film with beady eyes, highlighting the simplicity of the plot, addressing the sparse characterisation and treating Radcliffe’s performance with pedantic scrutiny. When all is considered though, their in depth examination seems laughable in the face of what is a first-rate horror film like one we haven’t seen in years.

Based on Susan Hill’s novel, The Woman in Black tells the tale of a young solicitor and single father, Arthur Kipps who heads to a desolate mansion on the English coast to see to a deceased woman’s paperwork. Kipps has a young son to provide for and the sadness of his wife’s death (who died in child birth) still hangs upon his shoulders. Upon arriving he is informed by the locals that he should not visit the mansion, as they believe it is haunted by a darkly clad female apparition. Applying reason to the situation Kipps decides to see the job through, as he must prove his worth to his employer for fear of losing his job.

Radcliffe’s first serious non-Harry Potter performance is in good hands with James Watkins who gives him a mature role, playing a grief stricken father. While Radcliffe’s acting range is discernible, Watkins plays to his strengths allowing us to invest suitably in his dilemma. Building the authenticity of the story Watkins selects some superb locations, particularly the mansion itself – the design team dressed Cotterstock Hall in East Northamptonshire to create the epically creepy Eel Marsh House.

Watkin’s shooting style brings to mind classics of the horror genre, notably Psycho, Halloween and Alien. The movement of the characters and the coordinated use of close ups and shallow depth of field keep us on edge knowing that something sinister is lurking near-by. The design and lighting combine to give us a sense that the woman in black herself is omnipresent, building a constant sense of tension. Use of CGI is limited and thankfully so – often the effects feel like some of the cheapest tricks, but Watkins reins it in. He also deserves credit for rejecting the initial proposal that the film should be shot in 3D – this would have destroyed the classical creep of the Edwardian set story.

Amping up the scares towards the end, in a fashion particularly comparable to Halloween Watkins makes The Woman in Black first and foremost a thrill ride, but this is not to say that the film lacks substance. The payoff requires credible emotional investment from the audience and it carries it off with precision, allowing the fear of the woman in black to make a real impression. This film, like the novel it is adapted from, is designed to haunt you after it has ended. Perhaps when you are home alone, or just going to bed it will come back to give you one extra scare – when you buy tickets to see a horror film that is what you pay for and The Woman in Black welcomely delivers.

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A halloween themed top 10, with a world cinema angle.

1) SANTA SANGRE (DIR. ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, MEXICO, 1989)

At number one Santa Sangre is an exhilarating, wacky horror made by one of the worlds most extraordinary directors, Alejandro Jodorowsky. This film was inspired by a real life encounter that Jodorowsky had with a reformed serial killer in a Mexican bar. The film uses the killers story as its basis, but the film is very much a product of Jodorowsky’s imagination. A unique piece of world cinema and a unique horror film at the same time.

2) ANGST (DIR. GERALD KARGL, AUSTRIA, 1983)

Angst is a seriously cold and disturbing piece of European filmmaking. While not for the faint of heart this film pushes the boundaries of the horror film. Angst takes both performances and gore to an unparalleled level of realism while, using an unconventional style of camera work to create a sense of mania. Director Gerald Kargl largely shoots from extreme high and low angles using a rig whereby the 16mm camera seemingly floats above and around the action. This implants the audience in the mind of the serial killer, whether they want to be there or not. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Angst bankrupted the filmmakers, leading them to never make a film again.

3) SUSPIRIA (DIR. DARIO ARGENTO, ITALY, 1977)

The ultimate cross over between the art film and the horror film. Dario Argento’s Suspiria is without question his masterpiece, at least in visual and sonic terms. This film has one of the most powerful scores ever composed for a horror film (by Italian progressive rock band Goblin) and its expressive and colourful cinematography complement it perfectly. Perhaps the only downside to this film is its script, but Argento’s strong direction still manages to maintain huge levels of suspense regardless.

4) TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (DIR. AMANDO DE OSSORIO, SPAIN, 1972)

This is a fairly classical and very spooky Spanish horror made back in the early 1970’s. It features ghostly figures on horseback carrying out satanic rituals and generally murdering attractive young Spanish ladies. Let’s be honest, what more do you want for Halloween?

5) VIDEODROME (DIR. DAVID CRONENBERG, CANADA, 1983)

Canadian director David Cronenberg’s sci-fi horror stars James Woods as a seedy television producer who stumbles upon a strange television channel (videodrome) seemingly dealing in nothing but torture and violence. This disturbing film deals with the effect that increasingly disturbing viewing habits have on the public. This idea manifests itself in the film as a tumor created by videodrome which gradually alters the subject’s perception of reality. This is an intense type of psychological horror unique to Cronenberg’s very particular sensibility.

6) THE EYE (DIR. THE PANG BROTHERS, HONG KONG, 2002)

The Eye is an intensely effective Hong Kong horror. Superbly directed for the majority of the film it falls down in the last act. This said the subtle handling of suspense and scares for the first two thirds makes this film one of the most effective horrors for the last decade or so. It is perhaps even scarier that Hideo Nakata’s The Ring series, which treaded into similarly freaky territory.

7) THE TENANT (DIR. ROMAN POLANSKI, FRANCE, 1976)

Roman Polanski’s French made The Tenant sees him on top form as both director and star. This film sees Polanski working in a claustrophobic setting, which nearly always guarantee’s success for this auteur. Polanski’s ability to show a character slipping gradually into insanity rivals his American made Rosemary’s Baby, but in a sense this film is even darker as the threat comes almost entirely from within. For this reason this is a very European film, as it suggests that sanity is a thin layer that hides our potential madness beneath.

8) GOZU (DIR. TAKASHI MIIKE, JAPAN, 2003)

This film by maverick Japanese director Takashi Miike is as nonsensical and probably as much fun as any Halloween party I’ve been to in recent years. Perhaps not strictly a horror film, it is a crazy mash up of genres with elements of the gangster film and road movie blended together with a good dose of surrealism. While I’m still not quite sure what happened here, it’s definitely one to watch for the moment a reindeer (at least I think that’s what is it!?) appears from nowhere and licks a man in the face.

9) PHANTOM CARRIAGE (DIR. VICTOR SJOSTROM, SWEDEN, 1921)

A super spooky silent film from Sweden, 1921. This film uses primitive filmmaking techniques, such as double exposures and high contrast lighting to tell the story of a legend told between a group of drunkards. The story goes that the last person to die each yeah, if he is a great sinner, will have to drive the grim reapers carriage for the whole of the next year collecting the souls of all those who die. One of the drunks dies at the stroke of midnight and it all goes a bit Christmas Carol from there. Scary stuff!

10) BRAINDEAD (DIR. PETER JACKSON, NEW ZEALAND, 1992)

Before he became one of the most insanely powerful filmmakers in the world Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, Tintin 3D, The Hobbit) made films in his native New Zealand, involving men massacring hundreds of zombies with a lawnmower. I know which part of his career I enjoy the most.

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