RETRO REVIEW: Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Unearth a Blood-Soaked Valentine With CEMETERY MAN!

Posted on: Feb 9th, 2014 By:

CEMETERY MAN (1994); Dir. Michele Soavi; Starring Rupert Everett, Anna Falchi and François Hadji-Lazaro; Tuesday, February 18 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Bringing classic gore flicks back to life is the mission of Splatter Cinema, and this Tuesday’s engagement at the Plaza Theatre is a special one indeed: Michele Soavi’s brilliant CEMETERY MAN!

Along with his compatriot, Lamberto Bava (son of the legendary filmmaker Mario Bava), director Michele Soavi breathed a bit of life into the twitching corpse of the Italian horror renaissance kicked off by Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Both worked under Argento as assistant/second unit directors, while Soavi took on acting roles in a number of Italian horror films as well (that’s him as the metal-faced mystery guy in DEMONS and as the boyfriend forced to watch his girlfriend puke up her intestines in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). And while Bava’s films typically went for the blunt, straight-ahead shocks of DEMONS and gialli like DELIRIUM, Soavi typically gravitated toward the surrealistic and fantastic elements of SUSPIRIA and THE BEYOND. 1989’s THE CHURCH and 1991’s THE SECT—both made under the auspices of Dario Argento’s production—both showed the kind of promise that he held as a filmmaker, but were hindered by scripts that drew too freely from highly influential works (THE CHURCH hews closely to Argento’s SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, while THE SECT is ROSEMARY’S BABY redux).

But once out from under his mentor’s wing, Soavi soared with perhaps the last great film of the Italian new wave of horror, CEMETERY MAN (released in Italy with the much better title, DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, a pun on the main character’s name which translates as either “about death and about love” or “about the death of love”).

Francesco Dellamorte is the caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery, assisted by his mentally handicapped assistant Gnaghi, who can only speak the syllable “gna.” Dellamorte’s humdrum life consists of maintaining the grounds, crossing out the names of the dead from phone books and killing the reanimated corpses that rise after seven days of interment…all of which he undertakes with the same bored stoicism. It’s a job, after all, and shooting the zombies is easier than going through the paperwork needed to get any help. When he becomes infatuated with a young widow and Gnaghi falls for the mayor’s daughter, however, things take a turn for the worse.

Soavi’s film is full of delightfully dark comedy and the kind of atmosphere the Italian horror scene hadn’t witnessed in years, comparable to the best of Bava, Fulci and Argento. The tone and visuals not only echo the best of Italo-horror, but also the best of Terry Gilliam’s works—no surprise, as Gillaim devotee Soavi was second unit director on 1988’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN and reportedly shot about a quarter of that film. Rupert Everett is especially effective as Dellamorte, bringing the right amount of pathos and longing to his dour role, while still delivering believable doses of sarcasm, wit and violence. And while the film isn’t quite as graphically violent as many of its Italian zombie counterparts, its effects (by maestro Sergio Stivaletti) are expertly pulled off.

It’s a rare film that can combine detailed character study, an exploration of the joys and pain of love and romance, rollicking comedy, explosive violence and the inevitable reanimation of the dead. But CEMETERY MAN is it. If just about anyone else tried to do it, it would likely come out as pretentious and scattershot, but Michele Soavi is the man who proved it could be done and done successfully.

Unfortunately for the Italian horror film scene and its fans, Soavi retired from feature film work after CEMETERY MAN to care for his ailing son, though he took on some television work in the years following. And while rumors of a return to horror have been suggested (with news of a potential sequel to CEMETERY MAN floated over the past two years), Soavi’s resurrection remains something the faithful still anticipate with bated breath.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Take a Savage Journey with Blast-Off Burlesque and the Plaza Theatre as TABOO LA-LA presents FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS!

Posted on: Sep 17th, 2013 By:

Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO LA-LApresents FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998); Dir. Terry Gilliam; Starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro; Saturday, September 28 @ 10 p.m. (pre-show cocktails at 9 p.m.); Ages 18+ only; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s time for Blast-Off Burlesque to tempt us with TABOO LA-LA at the Plaza Theatre! This time we venture into Bat Country with Hunter S. Thompson and Terry Gilliam for FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS!

It’s easy to celebrate Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for all the wrong reasons. FAR too many people see him only as a caricature: senses blazingly altered by some high-octane combination of hard drugs and bourbon, firing his guns at anything that dares blink in and out of his peripheral vision and ranting unintelligibly at imaginary phantasms. For these people, he’s become a counterculture hero not because of his accomplishments or the words he’s written, but because of a persona.

Sure, it’s a persona that he called into existence and encouraged to a large extent. Why? Because, goddammit, you need a larger-than-life personality to stand up next to those works of his. You can’t be some milquetoast beat reporter and deliver epic pieces of immersive journalism like “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” “Freak Power in the Rockies” or “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat.” Nor can you be a typical Washington Beltway insider and compose the incredible series of articles that would eventually make up FEAR AND LOATHING: ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL ’72, perhaps the greatest piece of political journalism ever written. No, you’ve got to be a daredevil. You’ve got to be a shaman, using sacramental substances to achieve the frenzied mental state needed to venture into the heart of darkness and divine the inner essence of a situation. You’ve got to be the kind of drug-crazed madman who is unafraid to sacrifice accuracy on the altar of journalism to summon forth the Elder Gods of Truth.

And if you’re not that person, then you need to invent that person and become that person.

Which brings us to Raoul Duke and his journey with his personal attorney, Doctor Gonzo, into the godforsaken land of Las Vegas in 1971—the story of which would become Hunter S. Thompson’s landmark novel FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS: A SAVAGE JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE AMERICAN DREAM.

Benicio del Toro and Johnny Depp find FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998).

Thompson’s tale is actually a portmanteau of two trips into the desert city with his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, lawyer and Chicano activist. The first was intended to be a retreat for the two of them to discuss an article Thompson was writing about the death of Mexican-American journalist Rubén Salazar. Thompson used an invitation from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED to write a series of photo captions about the Mint 500 motorcycle race as an excuse, and the two of them descended onto the city.

250 words. That’s all they wanted.

Instead, he spent 36 hours straight, “feverishly writing in my notebook,” describing the pair’s wild adventures in Las Vegas and creating the expansive first part of the novel. And then, after the insane experience they undertook, they went back. Thompson took an assignment from ROLLING STONE to report on the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs held a few weeks later in Vegas, and further explored an idea that manifested during the first trip: that the rebellion of the 1960s had failed, and that the American Dream was now manifest in the crass, loud and materialistic oasis of Las Vegas.

Thompson combined the two trips into one story, which ROLLING STONE published as a two-part serial illustrated by Ralph Steadman, and which was later compiled into a novel. In creating what he admitted was “an essentially fictional framework,” Thompson assigned himself and Acosta pseudonyms: Raoul Duke (a nom de plume frequently used by Thompson and originally used as his byline for the ROLLING STONE serialization) and Doctor Gonzo. As for the book itself, it’s hard to say how much of what is written about is strictly accurate. It’s easy to say that the whole thing is true. What may have appeared at first as a wacky drug-fueled adventure turned into a work mournful of the failure of the ‘60s revolution, furious at the insane excess of artifice and celebration of the futile pursuit of money that is Las Vegas, and aghast that Vegas survived the revolution to stand in representation of the American Dream.

For years, the thing was regarded as being as unfilmable as NAKED LUNCH. Surreal, hallucinatory and depicting any number of illegal and violent acts by its protagonists, it just seemed to be too much to exist on a movie screen. Sure, they tried. Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone both gave it a shot, but only one movie wound up being made in the wake of those early efforts. WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (which attempted to shoehorn “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl,” “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat” and LAS VEGAS into one movie) starred Bill Murray, and was widely panned, particularly by Thompson himself. He praised Murray’s performance, but said the movie was saddled with “a bad, dumb, low-level, low-rent script.”

A direct adaptation eluded filmmakers for years, but that ended in 1998. After Rhino Films went through protracted tangling with director Alex Cox (whose screenplay Thompson viscerally hated), Terry Gilliam was brought on board to helm the film adaptation of the novel, and his surreal vision was a perfect match for the material. Though Gilliam had never used drugs, he researched the effects of all the chemicals used by the characters to create a series of visual effects that would mirror how the drugs would have affected their perception. The end result, while not exactly matching the horrifically ugly darkness of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations, stands on its own as a fully-formed take on Thompson’s subject matter.

Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro were cast as Duke and Gonzo, respectively, and both underwent extensive preparation for their roles. Del Toro gained 45 pounds and immersed himself in studying the life of Oscar Zeta Acosta, and Johnny Depp spent four months living with Thompson at his Woody Creek ranch. Depp assembled his wardrobe from Thompson’s clothes of the time, wore a pendant of Thompson’s that was a gift from Acosta, and shaved his head in imitation of Thompson’s own male pattern baldness. The research and work paid off in spades. Depp and del Toro inhabit their roles perfectly. While they may come across as slightly cartoonish exaggerations of both Thompson and Acosta, it must be remembered that the Duke and Gonzo of the novel are slightly cartoonish exaggerations of Thompson and Acosta.

More gonzo antics by Depp and Del Toro in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998).

Terry Gilliam stated that he wanted the film to be polarizing—that he wanted it to be known as both the greatest and worst film of all time. And, thusly, it sharply divided critics: it currently holds a 50% average on the review aggregator ROTTENTOMATOES.com. Meanwhile, the film was a huge commercial failure. Filmgoers wanting to see the handsome Depp and del Toro got presented with a pair that were deliberately ugly. Filmgoers wanting to see a modern drug comedy wound up with something less a comedy and more a tragedy. And filmgoers wanting to see the Thompson perpetuated by DOONESBURY’s Uncle Duke character (and practically every other mass media depiction of the author) wound up with the only-slightly-fictionalized Thompson of the book, which is far closer to Thompson the man than Thompson the caricature.

Thankfully, due to home video releases, the film has built up a large, faithful audience, and it’s that crowd which is invited to the Plaza Theatre as Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO LA-LA brings us a screening of Gilliam’s adaptation. The pre-show kicks off at 9 p.m. with complimentary cocktails served up in the lobby, and then things kick into high gear with a live stage show from Blast-Off Burlesque featuring special guests Tom Jones, Elvis (somehow I’m guessing that these might not be the actual Tom Jones and Elvis) and Batastic. There will also be a Gonzo Costume contest and an Ether Walk contest with prizes from Libertine and the Cherry Blossom Salon, as well an art display of Lucy’s Barbara Streisand portraits! So come down and enjoy one of the greatest films of the 1990s while celebrating Hunter S. Thompson for all the right reasons.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Kool Kat of the Week: A Spirited Endeavor: Filmmaker Ashley Thorpe Conjures the Ghosts of BORLEY RECTORY, The Most Haunted House in England

Posted on: Aug 22nd, 2013 By:

Ashley Thorpe. Photo courtesy of Carrion Films.

British filmmaker Ashley Thorpe’s trilogy of terror, SCAYRECROW, THE SCREAMING SKULL and THE HAIRY HANDS, earned a Visionary Award at Atlanta’s Buried Alive Film Festival in 2010. All three shorts produced by Ashley’s Carrion Films were set in the fascinating mythos of Dartmoor in Devon, a place so layered in fog and legend that people literally were known to disappear into its mists and never be seen again until they returned as ghosts. But it wasn’t just the rich subject matter that turned heads here in Atlanta, it was the unique look achieved through rotoscope animation, which particularly in SCAYRECROW, the tale of a haunted highwayman who rises from the dead to avenge his lover, also evoked Hammer Films’ horror movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s in its texture.

Ashley wasn’t able to attend the last Buried Alive but sent a trailer for his next film BORLEY RECTORY, a documentary short on a Suffolk manor that has a reputation as the “Most Haunted House in England.” Since then, he’s attached veteran actor Julian Sands (WARLOCK, GOTHIC and a guest at DragonCon 2013 next week) as the narrator and Steven Severin, one of the founding members of Siouxsie and the Banshees and now an acclaimed composer/accompaniest for silent films, to create the score, and is in the midst of an Indiegogo crowd-source campaign to fund the project which has the potential to launch Ashley to the next level. Meanwhile he’s also writing and painting some cool covers for Fangoria magazine, and yes, he has several features in preproduction as well – HELL-TOR, an Amicus-inspired portmanteau, and SPRING HEELED JACK, based on the Victorian London legend.

Beyond his talent as a filmmaker, Ashley’s one of the nicest chaps we know and the Indiegogo campaign is in its final push through Aug. 31, so well, we just couldn’t resist making him Kool Kat of the Week.

ATLRetro: Your past films are based on legends of Dartmoor near your home town of Exeter in Devon. Can you talk a little about how growing up in such a haunted area has influenced the arc of your filmmaking?

Ashley Thorpe: I was surrounded by local myths and ghost stories and specifically elderly couples eager to tell them! It seemed like an inevitability that most social get-togethers – especially at a country pub – would end with a grisly ghost story or two. Though I initially dreaded these chilling stories – in fact I’d often go and hide in the toilet until they were over – I now feel very lucky to have been “exposed” to these diverse tales of ghosts, demons and devilry at a young age as they’ve absolutely inspired and influenced pretty much my entire body of work, in there in my mind, a nest of tiny scorpions breeding in my cranium!

I think it’s because it’s a landscape that is simultaneously very beautiful and yet potentially very dangerous. It’s romantic and it’s deadly. And what’s more. Dartmoor has always felt to me like a region that has been precariously tamed. We may have civilized the outskirts by posting churches on the boundaries, but it’s really still a wilderness out there. Tales of the devil are common in this region and are more often than not pre-Christian. For instance, the actual tale of the demonic Huntsman and his pack of hellish Whisht hounds that I referenced in THE DEMON HUNSTMANGlass Eye Pix’s TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE radio theater series] is based upon a genuine Dartmoor myth that I’d heard as a kid, and its origin I suspect is probably prehistoric. It’s an ancient legend bound in the conflict between Celtic and Christian religions; the benevolent horned gods of one age becoming the malevolent devils of another.

I didn’t really appreciate how important the stories were to me until I’d moved away and lived in various cities and abroad, but it’s a land very close to my heart. I remember being told as a child that if all the unclaimed bodies, scattered in their shallow graves, rose from the moor, the dead would outnumber the living. Wonderful stuff! The earth out there is alive with their stories. The land has a thousand ghosts; all you have to do is listen.

Borley Rectory is in Suffolk, taking you away from Devon, but it’s also a story you discovered as a child. Can you talk a little about what drew you to it and made you want to make your next film about it?

I had the USBORNE BOOK OF GHOSTS as a boy, and although a great deal of the book frightened me, it was that moniker “The most haunted house in England” that really caught my imagination. I’d seen images of Harry Price debunking other supernatural phenomena in other mystery books, so for him to all but declare this as the pinnacle of ghostly phenomena made it seem all the more fascinating and scary. So the story has been with me again since childhood.

I spent a couple of years working on radio scripts and developing a feature script and it had all become very laborious. I wanted to make a new short to remind myself why I loved doing this in the first place, and I chose Borley Rectory because I could picture it very visually and it seemed like a nice summation of what I’d attempted to do thus far. I’ve always loved vintage ghost photography, not just because of the subject material but primarily because they are often very beautiful images. I wanted to see if I could make a film that evoked similar sensations that are evoked by such photographs. It’s a story that is rich in gothic archetypes, so visually very strong with plenty of scope for the various apparitions.

BORLEY RECTORY has a rich history of hauntings from headless coachmen to a bricked-up nun, a screaming girl, and being built on the grounds of a Medieval monastery, the British equivalent of an ancient American Indian burial ground. Will you be portraying the house’s story more generally or focusing on a specific legend?

Very generally. The funny thing about Borley is that the Nun is the only ghost that seems to have any “back story” as such, with the other apparitions almost functioning as satellite phenomena. This film is going to be an introduction, a primer if you will, very much like the Usborne book that sparked my interest. It’s a “way in” to the legend. The historical data on Borley and the hauntings are incredibly rich and layered and dense, often contradictory and beset with duplicity, so I think to make something “definitive,” you’d have to do an HBO series on it. You could make an entire film just on Marianne Foyster, for instance! What I’m really interested in is trying to evoke the place, and explore what it was that attracted people to the Rectory and its legends – manifestations of desire, loss or some fatal flaw in character.

The animation in your previous films, especially SCAYRECROW, owes an aesthetic debt to Hammer films, which you also grew up with. In the Indiegogo pitch, you talk about being fascinated with ghost photography. Will viewers of BORLEY RECTORY also see a Hammer influence or is this an indication that you will be taking a different direction?

Yes, SCAYRECROW is the one that is most obviously a love letter to Hammer horror, although I think  THE HAIRY HANDS has aspects of an episode of the HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR TV series. BORLEY RECTORY will be created in the same fashion as SCAYRECROW’ and THE SCREAMING SKULL, but visually will be quite the different animal. I’m really aiming for vintage ghost photography – glowing black and white imagery, images that conceal as much as they reveal, yet texturally very beautiful. On occasion, it may even veer into abstraction with only the narration keeping it grounded. Consider it my ultrasound of a haunted house!

You met Julian Sands through interviewing him for Fangoria, for which you’ve recently been a correspondent and cover artist. How did this blossom into Julian as narrator, and I understand he’d like to work with you on future projects as well?

Yes, indeed. I interviewed Julian for a retrospective I wrote on Ken Russell’s GOTHIC. Julian saw the films, loved them and asked me if I was working on anything. I’d literally just finished the first draft of BORLEY RECTORY, and so I asked him if he’d be interested in performing the narration and thankfully he said “yes.” Julian and I have loosely discussed working together on other projects, but future work will absolutely depend on the success of this campaign. If BORLEY RECTORY goes well, I’d love to develop the Dartmoor portmanteau feature HELL TOR, as there’s definitely a role in there for Julian.

Julian Sands shares a laugh with Ashley Thorpe while recording the narration for BORLEY RECTORY. Photo courtesy of Carrion Films.

What about Steven Severin? Talk about a score in landing him to do the score. How did you get him on board?

That was Fangoria again, although believe it or not, I initially turned him down! Steven performed in Exeter, and I interviewed him about his score for Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR. We kept in contact regarding the article [recently published in Fangoria #325], and then Steven asked me out of the blue if I’d had anyone in mind for the BORLEY RECTORY score. I was stunned. At the time, every film I’d made up to that point has been scored by my old friend Mick Grierson, so I initially said no! The Banshees are one of my favorite bands, but I explained that Mick was as much a part of Carrion as I am and that it would  feel like a betrayal. Mick is a department head at Goldsmiths College in London, and as the year wore on, it became obvious that he just wasn’t going to be able to dedicate so much of his time to the film. However, Steven remained dead keen even after the long production hiatus, and a combination of circumstances and Mick’s academic responsibilities just really made the partnership at this time an obvious choice. I couldn’t be happier really. It’s very exciting to be working with Steven, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can create together.

 

The entrance scene from THE SCREAMING SKULL. Photo courtesy of Carrion Films.

Reece Shearsmith also has joined the cast recently. I know not everybody over here knows who he is, but for those of us lucky ones who discovered the weird and wonderful LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, that’s quite exciting, too. How did he get involved and what role does he play?

Reece is amazing! He’s mainly known for his comedy grotesques, but he is an incredibly gifted actor. What’s more he’s also, like most of the League of Gentlemen team, an absolute dedicate of classic horror films. He’s a sincere fan, and we share many points of reference. His involvement came via a number of supporters like Derren Brown and Andy Nyman. I noticed that Reece had been tweeting support for our campaign so I tweeted a note of thanks. We got chatting, and he expressed real excitement for the project and the subject. So I just came out and asked him, and Reece, to my amazement, said yes. His involvement has really elevated the project. His fanbase are ravenous!

Reece will be playing the Daily Mirror journalist V.C Wall who was the journalist that really broke the story to the world in 1929, so a key role, and he’ll get to speak some wonderful and genuine news reports written by Wall from the period. I’m excited and simultaneously terrified to direct him! It’ll be fun. I have a feeling there’ll be a lot of horror nerd-outs!

You’ve also attracted some pretty amazing supporters such as Stephen Volk (screenwriter, GOTHIC), British mentalist Derren Brown, Robert Young (director, VAMPIRE CIRCUS) and comics writer Steve Niles. Have any in particular surprised or delighted you as the Indiegogo campaign progressed?

The support has been amazing actually and really quite diverse. Local support has been strong, but I’ve been slightly overwhelmed by the response internationally across the horror community. I’ve never been a fan of scenes as such, but the horror community have restored my faith in humanity after the film and TV industry gave it a good kick in last year! Stephen Volk and Johnny Mains have been incredibly supportive and generous with their time, and Chris Alexander [editor] at Fangoria has been there since the beginning. The support from Derren was great as he said a number of lovely things about SCAYRECROW when it came out back in 2008, so it’s a nice feeling to know that he’s still supportive, still watching. Indie filmmaking is tough so it’s invigorating, energizing to know that someone out there cares about what you’re doing or trying to do. Can’t do it without you!

Crowd-sourcing has its rewards but also its challenges. You have more than 80 supporters and have raised over 5,000 pounds, but you did extend the fundraising period and reduce the target of the campaign from 20,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds. Will you have to turn to another source to make up the difference, or will you just be tightening the production’s belts.

Yes, the extension was inevitable. I got hit with a very time-devouring contract to animate some feature titles shortly after the campaign launched, so as I was AWOL for a few weeks, I pushed the deadline back to the end of August. I reduced the target, too, as it became clear that we were going to struggle to reach 20K. We still may have to turn to other sources to make up the additional budget, or we may get started with what we raise and reevaluate later next year. Either way the budget has always affected me far more in terms of “time” rather than “quality.” Less money means less crew and more for the core to do. It will be distinctive and original whatever happens. “Don’t panic lads, we’ve been saved from casual mediocrity by lack of money again!” If we can’t afford horses, we’ll get the coconuts out again, ha ha. You know at no point during SCAYRECROW did any of us get on a horse. I spent much of it riding a tree trunk! You’ve gotta have that Terry Gilliam spirit to survive.

You have some pretty cool perks for contributors. What’s your favorite and why?

I spent a long time working out the rewards, but I think my favorite HAS to be the limited edition vinyl of the Severin soundtrack. I mean that has to be the best fundraiser perk ever, hasn’t it? It was Steven’s idea actually. I made a mock-up for fun of what the soundtrack would look like if it had been released in the 70s with a very Pan Horror / Amicus style sleeve, and Steven went crazy for it, loved it and suggested that we try it for real, make it a super limited edition very special reward for investors. It’s going to be a beautiful thing. A real collectors’ item. Even if I don’t make a penny from BORLEY RECTORY, at least I’ll get one of those! The tour of Borley with author and publisher Johnny Mains is pretty amazing, too, plus you’ll be “written into” a Robert Aickman tribute collection to be published next year. That’s pretty amazing, too.

THE CONJURING, an old-fashioned haunted house movie, has been a big hit stateside. Does that encourage you that there’s a market for a return to atmospheric ghost stories in the horror film genre?

I think it’s great that a decidedly – perhaps archly – old-fashioned ghost story has made such an impact, but the audience has always been there, it’s just taken the market an age to catch up with what people really want as is so often the case. I think the market becomes less and less important as time goes on. The audience will find or indeed make its own entertainment. I didn’t start making the animations about neglected myths to get noticed; it was an attempt to tell the stories I wanted to hear. If you can find a way of telling your stories whilst bridging a cultural void, you’re onto a winner. Fingers crossed, eh?

Finally, would you like to share anything else about upcoming projects, such as HELL-TOR and SPRING HEELED JACK or your recent work with FANGORIA?

I’ve always loved the Amicus portmanteau, and when I initially started developing a feature, my first notion was to create one of my own. HELL-TOR is a collection of Dartmoor legends woven together. THE HAIRY HANDS was originally the book-end story, but ended up being developed into the short I produced with the Arts Council. ‘THE DEMON HUNTSMAN was mooted to be in there, too. The other three stories haven’t seen the light of day yet, although the kelpie / exorcism story, “Crows Mere,” was one of the first pitches for the second season of TALES BEYOND THE PALE. It’s definitely something I’d love to make. It would be a wonderful opportunity to get a British Horror portmanteau back on the screen. I should probably chat to Reece about this!

My long term project is SPRING HEELED JACK – a Dickensian horror story – as opposed to the more familIar later period that sired Sherlock Holmes, Jekyll & Hyde and the Ripper crimes – and is inspired by the “genuine” boogeyman from the early 1800s. The tale of a rooftop bounding demon that could appear and disappear at will caught hold of the public imagination, becoming in time a popular character in Victorian fiction, in particular the Penny Dreadfuls [popular working class fiction] of the period who took the figure and transformed him from a shilling shocker phantom into an embryonic super-hero. With his crime -ighting exploits bedecked in bat-like cloak and horned cowl, it is difficult not to see him as anything other than the template of what would become Batman.

I have been fascinated by the myths of Spring Heeled Jack and have often wondered why his presence on film has been so negligible. Apart from it being a delicious bit of British esoterica, the story fascinates me because it occurs in a period that has thus far pretty much only been defined by Dickens. It presents itself not only as an opportunity to explore early Victoriana – at a time when genre templates for horror and detective tales were coalescing in popular fiction – but a chance to make something akin to a classic “Hammer Horror” with a real underworld edge. The script is currently in development, and I have started pre-production character and concept art. I suppose if I could pitch it, I’d have to say it’s “Victorian Batman meets Sweeney Todd meets THE FLY!” It’s quite melodramatic, psychologically disturbing, a tale of a super hero becoming a super villain.  It’s easily the darkest thing I’ve written, dark and dastardly – and deliciously deviant. I’d love to make it, a dream come true, but I have to be a midwife to history first!

To support or share the Indiegogo campaign for BORLEY RECTORY, click here. Watch SCAYRECROW for free on Vimeo here. 

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