DVD Movie Review: Le Temps du Loup (The Time of the Wolf) (2003)

vlcsnap2010112215h25m10Not with a bang…

As official selection way back in Cannes 2003, Le Temps du Loup (The Time of the Wolf) (2003) was loved and loathed in equal measure. Both sides have a point – director Michael Haneke had not been so aggressive since the nightmarish but hysterical Funny Games (1997). A disquieting tale of a nameless apocalypse that has reduced Europe to third-world poverty, and the capacity for cruelty revealed in the survivors, Le Temps… is not easy viewing.

But the depth of characterization, coupled with Haneke’s willingness to show that people are capable of good as well as evil in extreme circumstances, makes it impossible to dismiss the film as exploitation.

Things fall apart very quickly – a family arrives at their holiday country cottage, only to have a gun held on them by a wild-eyed man, Fred (Pierre Berriau). Despite attempts to defuse the situation (which are, in fact, early indicators that all is definitely not right in the world), the husband is shot dead – whether by accident or intentionally is never made clear. The perpetrator allows the shell-shocked widow Anna (Isabelle Huppert) and her two children Ben (Lucas Biscombe) and Eva (Anaïs Demoustier) to leave – and they are quickly at the mercy of an increasingly hostile environment. With food and clean water scarce, no electricity and money worthless, the outlook is grim.

Huppert excels in a role that combines the steely determination needed to protect her children as best she can with sincere altruistic overtones, as Anna battles to prevent herself from degenerating to the level of an animal. Solid support is also provided from the child stars, who deliver very mature performances. Refreshing also to see the recently under-used Betty Blue icon, Béatrice Dalle, in a role worthy of her talents, as a forthright, painfully honest member of the makeshift commune to which the wandering family becomes attached.

The concept of society’s threads unravelling is powerful, and, with only one or two unfortunate lapses into grand guignol, the otherwise slow-burn pacing and sense of gathering doom make for an uncomfortable but illuminating journey into darkness.

113 mins. In French.

DVD Movie Review: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

rexfeatures_409088doSuch was my recent enjoyment in writing a review for Roy Ward Baker‘s seminal Quatermass and the Pit (1967), I felt it was only fair to go back to the character’s beginnings with director Val Guest‘s film adaptation of the original BBC series, which became famous on its release for clearing the streets and bars, such was its popularity in the UK.

So, how does Hammer’s The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) (so called to cash in on its ‘X’ certificate, which was new in those days) compare? Well, first up, it unfortunately has American actor Brian Donlevy in the title role – Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale expressed his enormous displeasure at this casting, with Donlevy delivering a performance that was brusque, uncaring and automaton-like, which is not at all in keeping with Professor Quatermass as originally created by Kneale – his scientist was a driven, focused but caring, moral and compassionate man (much more like Andrew Kier, who played him in …Pit, or Sir John Mills, who played him in Quatermass (1979)).

No matter, however – the film has many strengths that have endured outside its lead performance, not least of which is the utterly creepy locked-room mystery at its core. Quatermass, the founder and head of the British Rocket Group, has launched the first manned rocket into space. Shortly after, all contact is lost with the rocket and the three crew: Carroon (Richard Wordsworth), Reichenheim, and Green. The rocket later returns to Earth, crashing into an English field.

Quatermass arrives at the scene, along with the emergency services. Opening the rocket’s access hatch, they find only Carroon inside; there is no sign of the other two crew members. Carroon appears to be in shock, only able to mouth the words ‘Help me’. He is taken to hospital while Quatermass investigates what happened to the rocket and its two missing crew – and it quickly becomes evident that Carroon has been altered by something he encountered in space; he can absorb any living thing with which he comes in contact…Quatermass realizes that the rapidly mutating Carroon creature is on the verge of sporing, which will threaten all of humanity. The clock is ticking…

The screenplay, written by Richard Landau and Guest, presents a heavily compressed version of the events of the original television serial. It was the first Hammer production to attract the attention of a major distributor in the US, in this case United Artists, which distributed the film under the title The Creeping Unknown.

It is a remarkably successful adaptation – Wordsworth is excellent as the plague astronaut, desperate to save himself from what is consuming him. And look out for a performance from a very young Jane Asher, as the little girl who falls into Carroon’s path.

Scary, genuinely creepy and thrilling – so long as you can get past Donlevy.

82 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

large_quatermass_and_the_pit_blu-ray_8With this review, it’s time for a tribute – Thomas Nigel Kneale (18 April 1922–29 October 2006, commonly referred to as Nigel Kneale) was one of the very best science fiction and horror writers of the 20th century and, while he was responsible for a huge amount of other great stuff, such as The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968) and The Stone Tape (1972), his singular creation, that of the intelligent, highly moral, courageous but also somewhat ruthless British man of science, Professor Bernard Quatermass, is what guarantees his place in posterity.

And so it should be – in just four stories (The Quatermass Experiment (first as a BBC series in 1953, remade as Hammer film The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)), Quatermass II (again a BBC series in the first instance, again remade by Hammer in 1957), Quatermass and the Pit (1959) (BBC first, then the film I am shortly about to bang on about) then Quatermass (1979) (an ITV series that was the first big programme for the channel after its strike of that year)).

Now, as you will see from my review of Quatermass if you give our link a cheeky little click, I wrote at the time that I thought the final series was the best of the entire canon. I no longer think so – it’s going to have to be Quatermass and the Pit (1967) for me from now on.

And why? Because Kneale knew, perhaps better than anyone, how to blend sci-fi and horror, and this is demonstrated amazingly well in …Pit.

Workers on site at an extension to the Hobbs End London Underground station first dig up a fossil skull – but then are amazed and horrified to discover a number of seemingly human skeletons deep within the earth. Work is halted immediately, and palaeontologist Dr Matthew Roney (James Donald) is called in – he deduces that the finds are the remnants of a group of apemen aged more than five million years, which is far more ancient than any previous finds of mankind’s ancestors.

Meanwhile, Professor Bernard Quatermass is furious to learn that his planned colonization of the moon, with his British Experimental Rocket Group, is to be turned over to the military, in order to ‘police’ the Earth with thermonuclear missiles. He is further enraged when the abrasive, hawk-like Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) is assigned to join his group (“I’ll fight this right at top level!” – “I shouldn’t, it came from there”), but then Breen is called to the Hobbs End dig, as it would appear that Roney’s researchers may have uncovered a World War II V-weapon, a subject on which the colonel is expert. Curious, Quatermass accompanies him, and finds that the as-yet unidentified artefact is clearly not of this Earth, whatever Breen might think…

And so begins one of the very best combinations of science fiction, mystery and, ultimately, horror, ever committed to film – there will be no further spoilers from me, apart from to say that Kneale, as he did in The Stone Tape and Quatermass, expertly touches on the idea that ‘supernatural’ occurences, ghosts, may well be, in Quatermass’s words “phenomena that were badly observed and wrongly explained”.

But a science-based rationale does not mean an end to the terror – just check out the finale. The devil, you say?

This is horror from a time when the genre was still taken very seriously, hence the inclusion of actors of the calibre of Donald, Glover and, most of all, Kier – the latter was Kneale’s personal favourite Quatermass, and he was even allowed to return to the role in 1996, when Kneale wrote an excellent radio series that dances wonderfully around all four stories, The Quatermass Memoirs.

So, why not join the good professor on his journey into mankind’s origins? Enjoy Quatermass and the Pit here.

Cinema Movie Review: [Rec] 4 Apocalypse

rec4-teaser-imageHorror beyond horror

So, happy horror hounds such as myself have been waiting for quite some time now for the definitive final installment of Catalonian and Spanish directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza‘s terrifying descent into darkness that began with [Rec] (2007), continued with [Rec] 2 (2009), and then was followed by the perhaps somewhat ill-advised [Rec] 3: Genesis (2012), which tangentally moved the action away from the doomed tenement building of the first two films, switching the style to ‘found-footage’ of a wedding afflicted by a similar terror.

Well, we’re back to minutes after the end of part two here, as late-night TV host Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), whose insistence to ‘keep on filming’ ends with her being dragged into the depths by the entity that is, apparently, responsible for the horror that has engulfed a Spanish tenament building, emerges from the horror terribly shaken but otherwise unscathed. A SWAT team is about to burn the building to the ground when Ángela emerges and, when it seems that she is apparently uninfected, she is taken to a laboratory, location unknown, so that final tests may be completed, to ensure she is completely free of the terrible virus that turns humans into ravenous monsters, with the infection passed by their bite and the only way to stop them a shot (or worse) to the head.

In fact, when Ángela breaks free of her hospital bed straps and teams up, temporarily, with a member of the SWAT team who has also been taken, she discovers that the happy crew is in fact on the ocean waves, with a team of scientists working desparately on an anti-viral serum to combat the affliction. However, Ángela may be of far more use to them than they originally believed, as they discover when they watch her found footage, and witness the final encounter that took place between her and the monster in the darkness…

Thankfully, this is all still rather good – Balagueró opts for a slow-burn approach this time around, and it pays off in spades when the total horror that ultimately engulfs the film begins in earnest.

Of course, it probably won’t interest those who don’t bother to look beyond genre labels, more’s the pity, but in its execution, unflinching refusal to budge from its terrifying core and pell-mell, breathless action horror sequences, the trilogy is near unmatched in the horror genre, and it will be a long, long time before we see its like again. A belter, pure and simple.

96 mins. In Spanish.

DVD Movie Review: Freaks (1932)

freaks-la-monstrueuse-parade-1932-10-g‘We accept her, one of us!’

This was the film that virtually ended the career of Tod Browning, the director of Dracula (1931) – he only made four more films after this, his last in 1939, with his longstanding career as silent actor and silent/talkies director having been effectively derailed by the controversy his film caused.

Based on Tod Robbins’ 1923 short fiction story Spurs, it was banned in the UK for 30 years, before finally being appreciated on the counter-culture/cult circuit and eventually accepted as a classic of the genre.

And it is still very disturbing – cut from its original running time of 90 minutes to a mere 64, it nevertheless retains a visceral power that remains long after viewing.

We are taken into the disturbing world of the carny from the first scene – a woman, attending a freak show, screams in horror when she sees a (as yet unwitnessed) monstrosity kept in a box. This, the barker informs us, was once a beautiful trapeze artist by the name of Cleopatra, who turned against the freaks with whom she lived and worked – but, as the barker intones, ‘if you betray one of them, you betray them all’.

Browning made the incredibly courageous decision to use real travelling circus performers with deformities (drawn from his own experiences on the road during his early years), and it was this that repulsed the audiences of the time, before Hays Code censorship in the US. However, the freaks are decent, gentle and caring, and it is the ‘normal’ humans who are vile, at least Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) and strongman Hercules (Henry Victor) are, for it is they who conspire to have Cleopatra ‘fall in love’ and marry midget Hans (Harry Earles) for his inheritance money, before attempting to poison him then take the loot. Hans’ true love Frieda (Daisy Earles) sees straight through the scheme, however, and tries to warn Hans that he is simply being used but, believing himself to be finally happy and Cleopatra genuinely in love with him, he is having none of it, and the pair are married, in what is the film’s tour-de-force, a wedding feast with the ‘happy couple’ and freaks in attendance who sing the haunting ‘one of us, one of us, we accept her, one of us’, to Cleopatra’s horror. Then, things start to go horribly wrong…

Years, decades ahead of its time, you will never forget this film. Watch it here.

64 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

cabin-in-the-woodsDying on cue

Regular Picturenose readers will doubtless be astonished to find me banging on about yet another horror film, but The Cabin in the Woods (2012), by directorial first-timer Drew Goddard and his writing/producing partner Joss Whedon, is simply one of the most breathlessly exciting, innovative, sly and, in its own way, scary horror flicks to come out of Hollywood for quite some time, sosumi.

Apparently, Goddard and Whedon wrote the screenplay in just three days, occupying a dual-storey hotel room to do just that, and the breathless, frenetic pace that must have inspired its creation definitely shows in the finished product – it was described by the pair “as an attempt to ‘revitalize’ the slasher film genre and as a critical satire on torture porn” and, for those of us who really do appreciate the best that horror can occasionally offer, hurrah say I, because torture porn has long since outlived its sell-by date.

From its opening, you just know you’re in for something unusual – sold as a standard ‘young teens venture into the forest and bad stuff starts to happen’ slasher, the action nevertheless opens in an expansive, high-tech ‘control centre’, the operatives of which seem very concerned that ‘another operation’ has failed, but nevertheless have enough time on their hands to take a book on what will happen to their latest ‘subjects’.

And those would be Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz) and Holden (Jesse Williams), who are off for japes in the woods in the old log cabin of Curt’s cousin(?) – a weekend away from the modern world, with an overload of booze, dope and sexy-time in store.

But they are in fact under the watchful eye of control centre chiefs Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and, with the help of piped-in libido enhancers, a host of macabre, creepy memorabilia in the cabin’s cellar and assistance, well, from beyond, certain ‘choices’ are about to be presented to our happy campers, with their every move ultimately controlled. And why? That, as they say, would be telling…

Fair warning – the central characters are probably going to irritate you enormously, at least to begin with, in much the same way that Paul Verhoeven presented a group of utterly hateful teens as heroes in Starship Troopers (1997). But, I beseech you, bear with this – there are many games to be played, with genre references, expectations and execution before it’s done.

Horror fans will, I think, adore this – true, it does perhaps overplay its hand as to just how many references can be squeezed into 95 minutes, and the gore, while highly satirical, may still be off-putting for some, but it is neverthless so much fun, and has an ending that touches on themes as old as H.P. Lovecraft. I’m saying no more, only that if you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a BIG surprise.

95 mins. In English and Japanese.

DVD Movie Review: ‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

dvd_salemOnly the second film adaptation to be made of the great horror fiction of one Stephen King (the first being Carrie (1976) by Brian De Palma, which was a key catalyst in sending King on towards being perhaps the most popular author in the world, period), Tobe Hooper‘s ‘Salem’s Lot (1979), an adaptation of the author’s second novel (which King still counts as being, give or take, his own personal favourite) was originally a three-hour two-part TV movie adaptation, which was subsequently adapted (running time reduced, gore factor increased) into a cinematic release.

As I believe is the case for many people, it was bloody scary when I first watched it and, some 35 years later, still stands up as being among the very best adaptations of King’s work.

And why would that be? A mon avis, it is primarily because it manages very succesfully to root its terrors in a credible reality, namely small-town USA, in very much the same way that King’s novel did.

King was always a huge fan of Bram Stoker’s Dracula – a novel that he describes as the most optimistic scary novel of all time. Count Dracula, simultaneously feared and worshipped in his dark little European fiefdom of Transylvania, makes the fatal mistake of taking his act and putting it on the road. In London, he meets men and women of science and reason, by God – Abraham Van Helsing, who knows about blood transfusions; John Seward, who keeps his diary on wax phonograph cylinders; Mina Harker, who keeps hers in shorthand and later serves as secretary to the Fearless Vampire Hunters.”

SK got talking to his wife, the novelist Tabitha King, when he was still teaching (in 1971) and had just reintroduced the Count’s adventures to himself, via his lessons to his students, and wondered out loud what “might have happened if Drac had appeared not in turn-of-the-century London but in the America of the 1970s. ‘Probably he’d land in New York and be killed by a taxi-cab, like Margaret Mitchell in Atlanta,’ I added, laughing. My wife, who has been responsible for all of my greatest successes, did not join my laughter. ‘What if he came here, to Maine?’ she asked. What if he came to the country? After all, isn’t that where his castle was? In the Transylvanian countryside?’ That was really all it took. My mind lit up with possibilities, some hilarious, some horrible. I saw how such a man – such a thing – could operate with lethal ease in a small town; the locals would be very similar to the peasants he had known and ruled back home…he would soon become what he had always been: the boyar, the master.” [Quotes from Stephen King’s 2005 foreword and 1999 afterword to ‘Salem’s Lot]

And that is exactly what happens in both novel and film, but Tobe Hooper made key changes to the nature of the evil at the story’s dark heart, changes which, I believe, have ensured the film’s longevity.

To be fair Hooper (who was only recently after making one of the finest horror films of all time, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)), and his screenwriter Paul Monash, are by and large very faithful to King’s original story, but with one key exception. In the original, writer Ben Mears (played rather well by David Soul in the film) returns to his home town of Jerusalem’s Lot (‘Salem’s Lot) to write a novel that will hopefully exorcise his childhood fears about the brooding, Gothic mansion that can be seen from everywhere in town, the Marsten House.

Originally built and owned by one Hubie Marsten, who was a suspect in the disappearances of several children from the town and who hanged himself after murdering his wife. Mears went into the house on a dare as a child, and is still convinced that he saw the livid corpse of Marsten hanging from a beam, and that Marsten then opened his eyes and looked at him. The theme of his book is the Marsten house, examining the notion that the house itself may be evil incarnate – and he learns that two newcomers to the Lot have recently bought it, a Richard K. Straker (James Mason) and his antiques business partner Kurt Barlow, whom nobody has yet met. The pair are about to open a fine antiques shop, and gossip is rife in the town. Mears, as yet, has no proof, but he is convinced that “an evil house attracts evil men”.

Is he right, do you think? Course he is – SPOILERS AHEAD.

The evil Straker (played in marvellously melifluous tones by Mason) is opening the way for the arrival of master vampire Barlow, who has for centuries preyed on similar small towns the world over. And here is the rub – in King’s original, while Barlow is chilling when he makes his presence felt, he is still very clearly inspired by the stiff-collar etiquette and intelligence of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, that is to say he is a creature that would still not appear out of place at the finest parties.

Not so Hooper’s take on the lead vamp – played by the (uncredited) Reggie Nalder, Barlow, when he emerges, is revealed as a monstrous, vulpine creature very similar to Max Schreck’s creation in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922). Unlike in the novel, Barlow never speaks, but only howls, hisses, tears, scratches and feeds.

The 2004 remake (again, a TV movie adaptation) cast Rutger Hauer as Barlow and gave him a voice but, I’m sorry, rather as Boris Karloff bemoaned his Frankenstein’s monster ever talking, the same is true here – Nalder, and the evil he represents, is simply terrifying without any speech at all.

And, of course, let’s not forget *that* part – a sickly child finds that he has an univited guest at night, scratching at his window. Only problem is, it is his Undead brother, who very much wants to be let in, because a vampire always has to be invited into an abode. Do you remember how creepy that scene was? Course you do…

And so, does Mears manage to conquer evil, as in Dracula? Well, that would be telling but, as King himself said he did when he first wrote ‘Salem’s Lot, you will believe in vampires by the time this is done. Heh, heh, heh…

Watch the film here.

181 mins (TV movie). 112 mins. (Cinema release).

DVD Movie Review: Carrie (1976)

carrie_1976_1Blood calls to blood

Of such films is history made – I was debating to myself which to make my first review of 2014 (Happy New Year to all Picturenose readers, by the way, and thanks for keeping it with us), when my recent DVD acqusition, Brian De Palma‘s Carrie (1976), started winking at me from my shelf, and I knew the time had come.

As regular readers of my reviews are probably aware by now, I am a huge fan of (intelligent, scary, disturbing) horror, and Stephen King is my favourite writer, an admission for which I make absolutely no apologies as, rather like some of the very best horror ever made (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Exorcist (1973), Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)), his work is still all-too-frequently dismissed by those who have not felt the need to actually read it.

It was ever thus with King who, despite his extraordinary success (and skill) with the genre, was very nearly dismissed as being just another hack of the horror boom that swept the world, in print and film, during the 1970s and 80s. These days, he is compared by critics to Dickens, and is the recipient of more awards for his fiction than you could shake a stick at. Go figure.

And his work has matured in certain ways from the bone-shakers with which he first made his name, but Carrie was his very first novel to be published, and it was its extraordinary success (King and his wife Tabitha, upon learning that King’s publisher was offering to buy the paperback rights for the novel for $400,000 in 1974, looked at their poky front room and second-hand furniture and, with one accord, burst into tears), coupled with De Palma’s marvellous adaptation (oh, yes, I was going to do a review, wasn’t I?) that first sent King on his way to becoming near-enough the world’s most popular author, genre regardless.

And it is a terrific film – a breakout, career-defining role for Sissy Spacek as Carrie White, the timid, friendless, frightened teen living under the tyrannical rule of her unstable and obsessively religious mother Margaret (Piper Laurie, terrific) who is mocked and loathed by her school peers, but who has a power that is known only to herself and her mother, namely telekinesis, the ability to move objects using her mind. Carrie’s power begins to grow following the humiliation of having her first period in the communal shower – utterly innocent of any carnal knowledge, Carrie thinks she is bleeding to death, and is mocked by her classmates, who all throw sanitary towels and tampons at her. After the whole class apart from Carrie is sentenced to a week’s boot-camp style detention by their gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) as punishment, with the threat of suspension and prom-ticket refusal for anyone who does not attend, one of Carrie’s classmates Sue Snell (Amy Irving) feels guilty and arranges for her boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt) to take Carrie to the prom to make it up to her. The horror, the horror…

The film is very much a product of its times, with De Palma using techniques such as split-screen photography that were in the ascendant during the 1970s and, from a less-skilled director, would have dated it irretrievably. But not so with Carrie –  the screenplay, by Lawrence D. Cohen, was the first of many down the years to have departed significantly from King’s original vision, but this matters not a jot, as its evocation of the humiliation, oppression and suffering that school days do still represent for many, particularly in America, and Carrie’s revenge, when like Samson, she finally brings the house down on her tormentors, are simply peerless.

It also features breakout roles for Nancy Allen as Carrie’s nemesis Chris Hargensen and John Travolta as her boyfriend Billy Nolan, and an ending of which legends are made. Take a trip back in time, and take Carrie to the prom – you won’t regret it.

98 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Ghostwatch (1992)

ghostwatch-3-presentersGhost in the machine

Twenty-one years ago, on Halloween (31 October) 1992 I, along with a large portion of the British viewing public, was taken in (a la The War of the Worlds, as it was written and first broadcast on radio by Orson Welles on 30 October 1938) by Ghostwatch (1992), a British ‘mockumentary’ that was made before the term was even properly coined.

Regular readers of my reviews will know that horror is my favourite genre, and it was then as well so, with my university house-mates, I duly tuned in to the Beeb at the appointed time, genuinely excited about what I/we thought was going to be a genuine investigation into a genuinely haunted house in Northolt, London.

The show, as the title indicates, was set up like a Crimewatch investigation, and featured none other than Michael Parkinson and Mike Smith as its anchormen in the studio, with other stars of the time Sarah Greene (wife of Smith) and Craig Charles among the intrepid ‘ghost hunters’ on location at the house.

It was also supposedly being broadcast live, with the traditional ‘call us with your supernatural experiences’ number advertised to viewers. The family involved, a recently divorced mother and her two young daughters, had seemingly been beset by poltergeist activity caused by ‘Pipes’, the nickname that the children had given to the alleged entity, because of its tendency to bang and rattle the house’s plumbing system, but there had also been more frightening phenomena witnessed, such as scars covering the face of the elder daughter and levitations of objects.

In fact, the show had been recorded weeks in advance, both in the studio and on location at the house – initial callers to the program’s number were informed that the broadcast was fiction and were invited to share their own ghostly experiences but, such were the number of calls made (around 30,000 in just one hour) to the BBC (the number was the standard BBC call-in number at the time, 081 811 8181, which was also used on programs such as Going Live!), that subsequent callers were greeted only by an engaged tone, which only added to the sense that the show was for real.

Needless to say, the broadcast caused huge controversy, and to date has never been repeated in the UK, though a DVD is now available. Truth be told, as I was watching it for the first time, I began to get the sneaking suspicion that, while Parkinson, Greene, Smith and Charles all seemed to be for real, the utterances of the on-show ‘expert’, the mother and her two daughters had the feel of being somewhat scripted.

Thankfully, I dispelled such doubts fairly quickly, and that was only for the good, because the genuine descent into nightmare that follows worked so much better for feeling like the real thing. And, having now acquired it for myself on DVD, I can say that upon second viewing Ghostwatch stands as one of the very finest pieces of TV horror ever produced, with hand-held camerawork, subliminal flashes of the ‘ghost’ and a real sense of mounting dread.

In fact,  it was written by Stephen Volk, directed by Lesley Manning, and was produced for the BBC anthology series Screen One – this information had been already provided to viewers but, such was the credibility of its set-up, with front cover of the Radio Times and prime-time advertising of the show as a genuine investigation, that excited viewers didn’t bother to check the details closely enough – we all wanted to believe.

So, dim the lights, suspend disbelief, and watch it for yourself here – you will never see its like again. Heh, heh, heh.

91 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Dead of Night: The Exorcism (1972)

Exorcism2Guess who’s coming to dinner?

We go back to the BBC’s golden age of TV spookiness here, with Don Taylor‘s The Exorcism (1972), which itself was the first episode of seven in Dead of Night, a supernatural series made when the macabre was still taken seriously, and the actors involved played it absolutely straight. Ah, happy days – sadly, only three of the original series survive in the BBC’s archives, but at least this is one of them and, along with Peter Sasdy‘s The Stone Tape (1972) (which was originally intended to form part of the same series, but was eventually broadcast as a one-off Christmas Day special in 1972) is among the very best horror ever made for the glass teat.

Edmund (Edward Petherbridge) and Rachel (Anna Cropper) have invited Dan (Clive Swift) and Margaret (Sylvia Kay) to their eminently desirable new country home for Christmas dinner – proud of his new abode, which he had done up from the very old and run-down country dwelling that it was originally, Edmund tells Dan that he got the place for ‘at least fifty quid, but not much more’ (rar-rar-rar), before Clive opines that anyway, he wants to be ‘a rich socialist’. It’s all rather irritatingly smug, and the tone continues when the four sit down for dinner. But then…the lights go out, the phone goes dead, Edmund is convinced that his wine has turned to blood, and all four suffer violent illness when they taste the turkey. Things are about to get mighty strange, mighty quickly…

Taylor, who also wrote this, originally worked primarily for radio, and it shows here, but in a very good way. The scares, when they come (and believe me, they do), are far more aural than visual – you really have the sense of being as trapped as the four unfortunates are, and their supernatural captors have a more-than reasonable point to make. True, the social commentary dimension of the scares is laid on somewhat heavily, but the skill of the writing, suggestiveness of the atmosphere and genuine sense of impending doom that the story creates are near-matchless.

A truly scary step back in time, and many thanks to the rather fine website British Horror Television for their excellent background on The Exorcism.

50 mins.