Saturday, 15 May 2010

Paranormal Entity

Paranormal Activity Paranormal ENTITY is about a young, middle class couple (Oops. Wrong film.) family who are increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night.

Especially when they sleep. Or try to. They decide to videotape the ‘activity’ on a series of strategically placed cameras throughout the house. And on handheld cameras when events need to be conveyed with a sense of immediacy or urgency.

It is impossible not to make reference to Paranormal Activity while talking about Paranormal Entity. This is an attempt at a carbon copy, but it is a pale imitation. Whereas Activity drew its audience into the story with slow-burning chills, Entity director mistakes tension for tedium, and slow-burning terror for crass jump shocks and this film becomes repetitious and predictable much too early on.

In the grand tradition of Transmorphers, I Am Ī©mega and The Day The Earth Stopped, Paranormal Entity is the latest mock-buster from The Asylum, a production company famed for producing titles that capitalise on productions by major studios. Not that Paranormal Activity could ever be referred to as a major production – but it certainly did well enough at the box office to warrant its own entertaining though fairly redundant rip-off pale imitation.

Head over to Eye for Film to read my full review…

Friday, 14 May 2010

Speaking of Argento...

Christine over at Fascination with Fear dropped me a line this afternoon with some very interesting news about Dario Argento's next film project. Apparently the director has announced that he plans to direct his own version of Bram Stoker's classic chiller Dracula... IN 3D!!

Now that I have caught my breath, picked my jaw up off the floor and settled down, I did some research and sure enough, cyberspace is positively buzzing with news of this shock announcement. The news was generated by some really, really early sales art at Cannes for what will be Dario Argento's undoubtedly distinct take on the dark and sensuous tale of forbidden desire, obsession and centuries-old (blood) lust. In the current climate of obsession with all things fanged and morbidly forlorn, it might be interesting to see Argento’s take on the classic tale.

FrightFest honcho and Dario Argento expert Alan Jones posted this on Twitter earlier, "Just announced, Dario Argento's DRACULA in 3D, filming in Italy January, period setting".

Argento is no stranger to gothic/period horror, having already helmed the spectacularly uneven, though still technically impressive Phantom of the Opera, and produced SFX guru Sergio Stivaletti’s directorial debut Wax Mask.

Speaking of 3D, it was only last year that news spread throughout cyberland that Argento was toying with the notion of remaking his own masterpiece, Deep Red. IN 3D!!

When I interviewed Dario Argento recently he couldn’t divulge any information about his next project as he was still negotiating the specifics with US execs – though he did reveal that he had no intentions of remaking Deep Red. We shall just have to wait and see what materialises from this interesting and, if I’m completely honest, bizarre news!

To listen to my interview with Dario Argento, click here. And please forgive me my gushing, it was a major dream come true and I was like an unsure, quietly ecstatic child in a blood-spattered sweet shop…

Thank you again to the positively delectable Francesca Brazzorotto for setting up the interview and translating everything! La ringrazio.

Argento Book Update/Reviews

A few reviews of my book about Dario Argento's film work - titled, appropriately enough, 'Dario Argento' - have been appearing in various magazines and websites over the past month... I just thought I'd post them here and keep track of what folks are saying about it. So far, so good - it has been garnering mainly quite positive feedback. Which is nice. Stay tuned for more soon, as the book has just been published Stateside this month too.

The review from this month's Total Film

Reviewer Jamie Russell claims it "Dismembers the director's body of work like one of his knife-wielding maniacs - and is bang up to date... A decent introduction."

A closer look

An article about the book and an interview with me in The Irish News

The review as it appears in this month's SFX - amongst other bullet-pointed things they said it was "Low on buzz-words" Huzzah!

A closer look

According to Horrorview the book is a "Meticulously detailed but vividly written piece of work."

The first review of the book appeared on the Danish website Uncut. If your Danish is as good as mine - you can read a (very) rough translation here... Reviewer Lars Gorzelak Pedersen said "I devoured Gracey little book in a short time and is convinced that it will be welcome from both experienced Argento enthusiasts as horror fans who just want to know what the hype is about, or who want to enrich their experience of the director's films with new perspectives." described it as "A roadmap for fans. Do yourself a favour, pick up this book, and let it guide you into the realms of an Italian Horror master."

According to the latest review over at Cinema Somnambulist, "Gracey approaches the material with energy and intelligence... You'll be dusting off your Dario Argento DVDs to reevaluate even the titles you didn't think you liked before."

Michael Mackenzie at Land of Whimsy claims it is "A study that is commendably even-handed in its approach... An excellent introduction to Argento - Gracey clearly knows his stuff, and a love of all things Argento shines through on each page."

Greg B. over at Cinesploitation reckons "the knowledge dropped by Gracey is impressive and very thorough. As someone who is not a fan of Argento, this book actually put a bug in my ear to check out his early work."

According to The Toxic Graveyard, "It’s incredible. The amount of detail, information and analysis is astounding. Beyond that the book is a treasure trove of info." 8/10

Jennie Kermode over at Eye for Film commented: "Sure to contain something new for even the most dedicated Argento fan [...] Gracey's book is the most thorough on the subject yet."

According to issue 104 of Rue Morgue, 'Dario Argento' by James Gracey is "Concise, well-written and researched... worthwhile offering that will no doubt please diehard Argentophiles, as well as those just discovering his savagely beautiful work."

According to horror website Benevolent Street 'Dario Argento' is "Highly recommended for fans, and for those seeking to learn a little more about his movies... Make sure to check it out."

According to the latest FrightFest emagazine, 'Dario Argento' (Kamera Books) by James Gracey is not only "Well written and comprehensive," it is also "'An invaluable guide for die-hard fans and recent
converts." Thanks to Stuart Barr for the kind words!

Tales of the Cthulhu Quarter

Tales Of The… is an online weekly blog-style anthology incorporating all types of creative media. Hosted at, its aim is to provide a platform for Northern Irish creators to showcase film, artwork, prose, audio and just about any other type of creative endeavour you can think of. A new piece is published every Sunday and the intention is to create exciting fiction, without being tied to any particular genre.

At the moment Tales Of The… revolves around everything HP Lovecraft and Cthulhu, but for the most part creators and collaborators have free reign to create and share whatever they want.

"That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die."

Tales of the... Cthulhu Quarter, chronicles the arrival of H.P. Lovecraft’s tentacled god Cthulhu in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. Events were kicked off by a short film prologue, detailing one man’s unrestful night that may have been brought about by the coming of a cosmic force… The film features the acting talents of Mal Coney, with special appearances from Andrew Croskery, Aimee Durkin, Louise Higgins, Walter D’Goon and Stephen Downey. It was written and directed by Stephen Downey in his directorial debut, with which he had a LOT of help from Jim McMorrow (who handled the editing) and Andrew Croskery.

Tales of the Cthulhu Quarter: Part 1 – Chorus to Cthulhu, is a 16 page comic by James Byrne that takes us a little further into the madness that unfolds as the ultimate Elder One makes its way ever closer to the city. Part 2 of Cthulhu’s emergence in Belfast, depicts Cthulthu’s effect on the mind, in Craig Smith’s vivid poem The Deep Slumber.

The madness continues in a podcast drama written by Reggie Chamberlain King, with Andrew Croskery, who also provided the accompanying illustration, starring in the title role as Creep. Also featuring appearances from Malachy Costello, James Downey, and Reggie himself, Creep’s Last Tape – A Horspeil, charts Cthulhu’s continuing call across Belfast…

Tales of the Cthulhu Quarter anthology is rounded off with a fantastic painting courtesy of David Withers and a little background info with two short essays on Lovecraft and Gothic horror, by myself and the delectable Brenda Croskery Longlands, respectively. Tales Of The Cthulhu Quarter’s fitting epilogue is a beautiful serenade to Cthulhu. The great beast has taken over Belfast, and warped the minds and souls of many. One such man takes his love for the tentacled monster to new heights and writes a luscious, and often ludicrous, love-song to his new master.

“Tentacles on Show” was written by Andrew Croskery and performed and arranged by The Party Band. The faux CD cover was illustrated by Stephen Downey…

For the love of Cthulhu, download it here! Your very soul and sanity might depend on it…

Monday, 10 May 2010

City of the Living Dead

Dir. Lucio Fulci

The suicide of a priest in a church cemetery in the small town of Dunwich, New England, mysteriously results in the opening of the gates of hell. As fate would have it, it falls upon a reporter, a young psychic, a psychiatrist and his patient to team up and find a way to close the portal before All Saints Day, when the dead will rise and feed upon the living.

A hugely influential and much-admired work of horror cinema by one of the genre’s undisputed masters, City Of The Living Dead, taken purely as a stand-alone film, is a must-see horror classic and proves one of the most compelling and disturbing entries in Fulci’s undead trilogy. A languid and creepy opening scene sets the tone and mood for the remainder of the film as a priest makes his way slowly through a moody cemetery and takes his own life – his image will haunt the rest of the film, appearing to various people and driving them insane. City of the Living Dead possesses an uneasy, positively queasy atmosphere and the director not only creates a startling and highly nauseating array of provocative imagery to tell his tale, but also employs a striking range of sounds effects; guttural, animalistic and base noises scuttle through the speakers as spooky music by Fabio Frizzi swirls around grunts and groans to upsetting effect.

The film is laced with protracted and drawn-out scenes of squishy violence and bone-cracking brutality. Fulci seems to specialise in churning out extreme and horrific imagery that disgusts, horrifies and repels in equal measure. The director delights in lingering shots depicting viscera and gore seeping and slopping out of hapless victims as they have their heads crushed in or eyes plucked out. The wet, gory effects squirm and slither their way across the screen and Fulci’s camera endlessly zooms in and greedily laps up every grim and glistening detail. The effect of much on display in this film is to cause the viewer to recoil in disgust and repulsion – certain images will sear themselves forever into your mind: the sight of a woman regurgitating her own intestines, a group of people trapped in a rain of maggots, various pools of squiming worms, a man having his head drilled in and the endless array of dripping and decomposing zombies that shuffle and clutch ever forward. Fulci also conjures up eerily beautiful moments such as the many shots of the town at night, lit through a constantly swirling fog.

Internal logic is banished and in its place is a series of increasingly nightmarish, odd and skewed moments that thrust the audience into unknown territory: one simply does not feel safe watching City of the Living Dead – it is unpredictable, unfeeling, pessimistic and cold. Fulci offers us only one certainty: no one is safe. Much akin to Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The Grudge, and Dario Argento’s Inferno, City of the Living Dead features a loosely connected group of people stalked and brutally bumped off by supernatural entities. Fulci does manage to generate overwhelming suspense and unease on a number of occasions too, notably in the scene where psychic Mary (Catriona MacColl) awakens from a trance to discover she’s about to be buried alive. Hearing her muffled screams, Peter (Christpher George) begins to hack at the ground and her coffin within it with a pitchfork – narrowly missing her head with each blow. The characters just seem to know what they must do and where they most go to stop the impending apocalypse - psychics and journalists, eh? Their paths all cross eventually and before long, their make-shift Scooby gang are bound for Dunwich to stop the dead returning to eat the living. Cue even more blood-spillage and bone-crackage...

City of the Living Dead is a nightmarish, disturbing and utterly unforgettable film, and must surely rank amongst Fulci’s most provocative work.

City Of The Living Dead (cert. 18) will be released a two-disc DVD (£17.99) and single-disc Blu-ray (£22.99) by Arrow Video on 24th May 2010.

Special Features include: newly recorded audio commentary by actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice; audio commentary by actress Catriona MacColl and author Jay Slater; introduction to the film by star Carlo De Mejo; ‘Carlo Of The Living Dead featurette; ‘The Many Lives And Deaths Of Giovanni Lombardo Radice’ featurette; ‘Dame Of The Dead’ featurette; ‘Fulci’s Daughter: Memories Of The Italian Gore Maestro’ featurette; ‘Penning Some Paura’ featurette; ‘Profondo Luigi: A Colleague’s Memories Of Lucio Fulci’ featurette; Catriona MacCall and Giovanni Lombardo Radice Q&A session at the Glasgow Film Theatre; ‘Fulci In The House – The Italian Master Of Splatter’ featurette.

UK exclusive features directed by Calum Waddell and edited and produced by Naomi Holwill with associate producer Nick Frame.

Sunday, 9 May 2010


Dir. Sam Drog

A motley crew of bumbling Satanists kidnap a sassy waitress to offer her up as a bride to the Devil and to become the mortal mother of the antichrist. However, her mechanic boyfriend and his fascistic, no-bullshit Highway Patrol Officer brother have other ideas and set out to rescue her and give the Satanists an ass kicking of Biblical proportions.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Skip to the part about the zombie chicken!!

Unfortunately, their ill-planned intervention merely serves to botch the unholy ritual in progress and all the power of hell is inadvertently transferred into an unlikely host: a recently departed sacrificial chicken. Now, as the forces of good and evil battle it out between themselves, a demonic, flesh-eating barnyard animal is threatening to engulf their very souls and recruit them in its growing army of the living dead!

Dear reader, is it possible to imagine anything more fearsome and terrifying than a Satanic Killer Zombie Chicken? Thought not. Just in case you’re not sure what is going on here, allow me to spell it out. An undead chicken, possessed by the devil and intent on killing innocent human victims. As incredible as it may sound, a Satanic Killer Zombie Chicken is just one of the many horrors in store for viewers of writer-director Sam Drog’s debut horror-comedy, a delightfully grim and really rather trashy (No! Really!?) tale of abduction, devil worship, human sacrifice and, well, poultry. Ahem.

Murder most fowl…

Believe it or not, Zombeak was actually the first of several similarly themed movies to feature a rampaging and murderous chicken. Poultrygeist and Thankskilling ('Gobble Gobble, Motherfucker') also boast chicken-caused-carnage, but it is Zombeak that can lay claim to being the world's first satanic killer zombie chicken movie. Huzzah! That Sam Drog fellow is one hell of a trail-blazer. So with a premise such as this, Zombeak promises much trashy mayhem and bargain basement guffaws. But can it deliver on its potential? Fuck yeah.

Obviously one doesn’t watch a film called Zombeak expecting a life-altering experience. One usually watches a film like Zombeak surrounded by pizza, wine and friends (or whilst lying on the couch surrounded by the deluge of the night before, wondering what has happened to your life) and the assumption that bargain-basement goodness is about to unfold. Thanks to a remarkably low budget, the special effects, acting and script are pretty much what you’d expect from a cheap movie about a Satanic zombie chicken – in other words, they don’t disappoint.

The (maybe not) surprising thing is that Zombeak is actually still a pretty lively, rollicking and really quite endearing film. It doesn't take itself seriously and at a mere 70 minutes, doesn’t outstay its welcome. Much fun is garnered through the flamboyant characters and sideswipes at Goth/Emo culture. The colourful characters picked off by the zombie chicken (words I never thought I’d type) are memorable and funny for all the right reasons. Egocentric leader Leviathan (Daryl Wilcher), committed high priestess Vascara (Tracy Yarkoni), timid Goth boy Gideon (Adam Morris) and mother-obsessed brawny psychopath Samuel (Barry Bishop) are the bumbling Satanists, whilst the ‘good’ guys consist of corrupt cop Fasmagger (Nathan Standridge), dim-witted mechanic Bobby-Ray (Jason Von Stein), blousy waitress Melissa (Melissa K. Gilbert) and her assistant manager Max (Jimmy Lee Smith). The actors all throw themselves into their roles and spout their cheesy, one-liner laden dialogue with gusto.

A number of moments warrant various characters a slow-mo walk through the limited sets accompanied by cool rock music whilst sporting shot guns and looking tough. The combination of traditional effects and some really low quality CGI (when Satan puts in an appearance pre-bird possession, he is a red light that mutters angrily to itself), often raise a smile too as everything is just so charmingly cheap and good natured. The death scenes are hilariously OTT as the actors throw themselves around ‘wrestling’ the chicken puppet… Director Drog never pauses for thought and events blunder excitedly along to their gore-soaked climax that features the expected one-liner pay-off, cathartic bloodbath and obligatory set up for a sequel.

Zombeak is a cheap, gore-laden journey into the darkest realms of the imagination that proves evil does, indeed, taste just like chicken.

Enjoy with wine. Lots of wine.

Zombeak (cert. 15) was released on DVD (£5.99) by MVM on 1st March 2010.

Razor’s Ring

Dir. Morgan Hampton

Mild-mannered businessman Scott (Wayne Casey) is abducted by thrill-seeking killers Razor and Julie (Paul Schilens and Lisa Wharton) and taken on a hell-ride into the bowels of a ‘family’ consisting of rapists, murderers and modern day cannibals. Held prisoner, the three are sent to Red (Annie Scott Rogers), an elderly woman and head of the ‘family’, who promises them all freedom. As time passes and the abuse at the hands of their captors becomes more frequent, Razor and Julie are seemingly released, giving Scott hope that he will also be freed. When that day finally comes and he is positioned as the ‘honoured guest’ at a feast Red has prepared, Scott thinks his nightmare is finally over. He should really think again though…

After an intriguing opening that snares one’s attention and curiosity, in which a man is abducted at gunpoint by two dangerous thrill-seekers who then run over and kill an elderly man, Razor’s Ring twists and turns into a very different film. By turning the tables on the murderous couple so soon into the film, director Hampton offers the audience hope for an interesting and unpredictable ride; however the film eventually descends into drawn out and at times laborious scenarios featuring Scott being reprimanded by Red or some of her cronies for stepping out of line and gradually realising that all is not as it seems at the homestead. This film may have packed more of a punch as a short and the plot often feels overly padded out to lengthen the running time.

Its low budget and grisly subject matter aligns Razor’s Ring alongside the likes of Skare, 2000 Maniacs and Pete Walker’s vastly superior ‘family-of-cannibals’ film Frightmare. The double sting in the tail is signposted well enough to ensure it lacks the shocks it was presumably aiming for. Tighter editing and better sound effects could have enhanced the various fight sequences and at times the digital photography is very uneven. However, the film is still rather compelling at times, and some fun is had with the cannibal angle – even though the audience will most likely see it coming, the filmmaker’s have the sense to realise this and have a little fun with it.

The central characters aren’t particularly likeable, even mild-mannered Scott who is immediately set up as the protagonist, is frequently depicted as being somewhat weak, ineffectual and rather pathetic. The performances are uniformly adequate if a little unremarkable, with Annie Scott Rogers standing out as the murderous wheelchair-bound matriarch Red. The special effects, with the exception of a couple of instances when CGI is employed, are mainly practical and in-camera, and as effective as one would expect given the meagre budget. To bolster its low budget aesthetic, the score, courtesy of Thomas Ganmor, at times exhibits a distinct John Carpenteresque quality.

A number of interesting twists and turns should maintain viewers’ interest, and though the film doesn’t really offer anything startlingly fresh or exciting, it is still a commendable attempt from first time director Hampton, who keeps the story ticking over and always fluid.

RAZOR’S RING (cert. 18) was released on DVD (£12.99) by MVM Entertainment on 3rd May 2010.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Short Film Showcase: Contact

Dir. Jeremiah Kipp

Written and directed for the annual Sinister Six Festival in NYC, Contact stars Zoe Daelman Chlanda and Robb Leigh Davis as a young couple who, whilst experimenting with bizarre drugs, experience terrifying, mind-altering visions…

Sensual, dark, nauseating and highly unsettling, Jeremiah Kipp’s Contact may only run for 10 minutes, but the hallucinogenic impression it leaves with the viewer will echo for much, much longer. Opening with a quiet scene in which a middle aged couple lay their table for dinner and seem on edge as they expect their guest, the film immediately evokes the likes of Eraserhead in its representation of angst-ridden, queasy domesticity. Contact basks in an eerie glow from the outset and quickly sets the mood with an atmosphere sopped in dread.

Cutting to the main thrust of the narrative and left to wonder about the middle aged couple and their anticipated guest, we join Koreen and Westy as they venture into a desolate and bleak urban waste-scape to score a hit from the speaker of the film’s only line of dialogue – the androgynous and sinister Rowan (Alan Rowe Kelly). Returning to their apartment, the couple take the drugs and experience extreme hallucinations and paranoia – all nightmarishly realised by director Kipp’s wildly off-kilter imagination and stark cinematography courtesy of Dominick Sivilli.

The trippy visuals add to the bleak and nightmarish feel of the film, and seem intent on unhinging the audience as much as the increasingly paranoid characters. One truly shocking moment comes when Koreen believes she and Westy have become locked together by their own melding flesh as they kiss… The culmination of this experience results in an astoundingly graphic moment that will sear itself onto the retinas of all who catch a glimpse of this startling and bold excursion into the extremities of the fragile human consciousness.

Contact packs a truly visceral punch whilst still maintaining a sharp cerebral edge that is guaranteed to affect its audience - in much the same way that only the likes of early Cronenberg really can.

Backwoods Bloodbath

Dir. Donn Kennedy

In 1877, a fierce, mysterious creature was discovered in the northern woods of Oneida County, Wisconsin. Dubbed ‘The Black Hodag’ by the locals, this legendary monster, rumoured to have a taste for human flesh, was spoken of only in hushed tones by those who dared to speak its name.

Jump to the present day, and six former college friends are reunited at the funeral of a recently deceased mutual friend. Keen to catch up on old times, they embark on a road trip into rural Wisconsin to rent a cabin in the heart of the Black Forest where they intend to spend the weekend screwing around and partying. Their first night in the area sees them spending the evening at a nearby dive bar, amidst dark but frankly unbelievable tales of the creature stalking the woods. However, the friends’ cynicism and disbelief soon turns to terror as mutilated bodies begin cropping up and it finally dawns on them that they have just become the latest items on the Black Hodag’s menu.

Winner of the Best Horror Feature award at the New York Independent Film Festival, Backwoods Bloodbath is the debut feature from writer-director Donn Kennedy. Taking the form of a shamelessly trashy throwback to the non-PC slasher movies of the early 1980s, such as Just Before Dawn, Friday the 13th and Madman, director Kennedy himself describes the flick as “American Pie in the woods, where the pie eats the kids.” This gore-laden, low budget indie horror attempts to recreate and deliver the shocks and scares in genuine old school-style with generous lashings of carnage, nudity and comic dialogue, whilst also nodding spasmodically at the likes of recent slasher-with-a-twist fare such as Jeepers Creepers and Reeker.

Amongst all the tits and gore is a cast comprising of the usual slasher 'types' on a college reunion trip, despite the fact that none of them seem to like each other very much. Hey, that’s old school slashers for ya! As the characters argue their way to the secluded cabin, stopping off on the way to encounter the usual roster of ‘crazy yocal types’, it becomes very obvious that this film has its tongue stuck firmly in its flayed cheek, and the really rather witty script exhibits an anarchic charm that indulges in barbed exchanges and a dark sense of humour played strictly for laughs.

The familiar plotting of umpteen other slasher films plays out as the kids explore each other’s bodies and the woods around the cabin, only to be picked off one by one in increasingly grisly and gory ways by a monstrous figure that looks like a member of Lordi. On a number of occasions the tension is racked up quite successfully, however for what it lacks in tension, Backwoods Bloodbath makes up for elsewhere in energetic enthusiasm and buckets of the red stuff. And if the other red stuff is consumed in copious amounts whilst watching this, it can only add to the guilty glee you might find yourself experiencing – or just go some way to making the whole experience that little more bearable.

Backwoods Bloodbath (cert. 18) was released on DVD (£12.99) by MVM on 26th April 2010

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Shadowland on DVD

Wyatt Weed's vampire epic Shadowland is released to DVD this month courtesy of Yellow Fever Films... Weed’s low-budget and provocative feature debut follows the plight of Laura, a young woman who emerges from a makeshift burial ground during a raging storm, with no idea of who she is or how she got there. Is she reincarnated? Resurrected and risen from the grave? As she makes her way across the city – seemingly drawn to a particular part of it – Laura begins to slowly piece together her story; all the while hiding from someone who seems intent on killing her at all costs.

Shadowland provides a strikingly original twist on the vampire film, combining gothic grandeur and tragic romance with post-Buffy feistiness and action. According to Behind the Couch, it is "The vampire movie equivalent of Gone With The Wind..."

Yellow Fever DVD Distribution is an independently owned and managed firm that is run by film makers - for film makers. Over the next few years, their aim is to bring a mass number of the best independent films from around the world, to DVD for everyone to enjoy.

"As independent film makers ourselves, we know how hard it can be to get your work out there to a bigger audience with todays market swamped by bigger budgeted projects. So our mission is to give other indie film makers a fair deal in a bid to show their work to the world. Along with our own movies, we hope to find the best of the best and extend the Yellow Fever catalogue in many area's. We also hope to bring back the glory day's of yesteryear when independent films had a place in the cinema, and take what's on our label, to the big screen..."

Shadowland star Carlos Antonio Leon is in Belfast this week to promote the film. He'll be appearing in Belfast's HMV store this bank holiday Monday from 12pm - 3pm, for a special signing of the DVD! Come in and say hi and snap a photo while you get your copy signed and possibly walk away with some free goodies!!

Interview with Hellbride director Pat Higgins

At Nicole’s wedding there will be blood, mayhem and slaughter… There will also be cake and a late bar.

The third feature from writer-director Pat Higgins (TrashHouse; KillerKiller), the independent British horror-comedy Hellbride is a supernatural stew of laughs, scares and bloody carnage that mixes rom-com traditions with splatter conventions to unique effect. Lee Parker and Nicole Meadows are all set to be married. There are, however, one or two problems on the horizon. Nicole's engagement ring is cursed: once the property of a wronged bride who went on a killing spree, the ring has a history of bringing death and destruction to all who come in contact with it. Not only that, but Nicole's father has become involved in a fearsome dispute with a local mob boss, a situation that looks perilously close to spiralling into bloody violence at any minute.

Included in the mix are a massively unreliable best man who yearns to reunite with his ex-girlfriend (who happens to be the bridesmaid) and an eccentric expert on the occult who has been hunting for the cursed ring for years. With the wedding day approaching, one thing is certain… bloody chaos and supernatural vengeance will reign. On the bright side, there will be cake and dancing, too.

I recently caught up with director Pat Higgins to have a chat about his film work, why comedy and horror are often comfortable bed-fellows and the trials and tribulations of making low budget movies today.

Behind the Couch: How did the story for Hellbride come about?

Pat Higgins: Kind of embarrassing to admit, but Hellbride actually grew from a kiss-off line. The very first thing that popped into my brain was the very last line of dialogue which is ultimately delivered by Natalie Milner in the final film. I worked backwards from there. It actually went through an awful lot of rewrites; more than any of my other films. It was a matter of getting the balance right. In the initial drafts the character of Lesley was an utter bastard, which took the story into rather darker places and kept throwing the comedy off-balance.

Behind the Couch: How did the story evolve from screenplay to screen? Was it a tough shoot?

Pat Higgins: What was in the screenplay is more or less what ended up onscreen, other than the material that was added in reshoots after principal photography. It was actually the nicest shoot I’ve ever worked on. It felt utterly, utterly blessed. Nothing went wrong for the whole shoot. Until the one fateful day, the last day of the wedding shoot, when all of our bad luck arrived at once and nearly wrecked the entire ending of the movie. But that’s a whole other story.

Behind the Couch: Was it difficult to produce such a low budget film?

Pat Higgins: I’m actually getting quite used to it! It was certainly tough given that the final set-piece involved, surprise, a wedding, and weddings are notoriously tricky to do on the cheap. We did our very best though; the budget cracks show in a few places but I’m very proud of what we achieved.

Behind the Couch: What are the merits, if any, of shooting on such a low budget?

Pat Higgins: Total and complete freedom. I love that nobody can tell us that we have to do something in a specific way to please a certain demographic. I really can’t imagine Hellbride coming together in the same way in a huge-budget setting; I imagine that it would have been pushed into one of two boxes. Presumably either the PG-13 box, where we’d have had to lose all of my favourite gags, the gore and lighten up all sorts of elements, or the straight horror box, where we’d have had to lose loads of the romantic and character stuff that the Saw crowd wouldn’t have been expecting. With such a low budget, we could just say ‘screw it’ and shoot the exact movie we wanted to.

Behind the Couch: How do you usually gather together your cast and crew?

Pat Higgins: Back when I shot my first movie TrashHouse at the very beginning of 2004, we recruited our whole cast and crew from scratch by advertising online. Since then, things have kind of developed organically. Over the course of five movies, we’ve built a great company of cast and crew that we know we can go to for certain jobs or roles. If we’re stumped regarding who might best fill a particular position, we still hold auditions to make sure that we get exactly the right person. But we’ve got a lovely group of ‘go-to’ people who will often be our first choices.

Behind the Couch: How do you go about getting the right balance of comedy and horror in your films? Do you think you lean slightly towards one more than the other?

Pat Higgins: I seem to find it nearly impossible to write straight horror with absolutely no comedy whatsoever, although the style of comedy varies immensely depending on the project. Recently, I’ve been working on a screenplay called House on the Witchpit, which is easily the darkest, scariest thing I’ve ever written. There’s still just as much humour in the screenplay as usual, however, it’s just much bleaker and more uneasy. I always think of the movies as horrors foremost, though, so I guess that’s the way I lean! Sometimes I’ll have to lose a joke if it throws a scene off balance; in rarer instances - as with those early drafts of Hellbride I mentioned - I’ll actually lose a plot element if it’s throwing the jokes off balance.

Behind the Couch: Your own background in stand-up comedy must serve you well when writing material for films – and with titles such as Trash House and Killer Killer already under your belt, what do you think ensures comedy and horror can so often go effortlessly hand in hand if approached properly?

Pat Higgins: Caring about both of them. Comedy-horror fails when filmmakers don’t care about one of the two genres, or, even worse, if they don’t care about the characters that they’ve written into the comedy-horror situation. If you aren’t feeling genuinely gutted to kill off a character, first on page and then on the screen, when you’ve lived with that character for months or years, how on earth do you expect anyone in the audience to give a damn? They only met the character an hour ago! If you aren’t feeling at least a little choked up to kill a character off, you’re doing something wrong.

Behind the Couch: What stories and ideas appeal to you most as a filmmaker?

Pat Higgins: I like making the same sort of movies that I like to watch. I’ve got no interest in making an entirely by-the-numbers slasher or any kind of movie where I feel that I know exactly what’s going to happen in the closing scene by the time the opening scene has finished. When it comes to story ideas, there are certain themes and images that will keep cropping up through my stuff. Sometimes, however, it just boils down to a single image or a single line and then I just sit and type and see where that tiny seed of an idea takes me.

Behind the Couch: How did the idea for Killer Killer come about?

Pat Higgins: I wanted to play around with the idea of the slasher movie, but I had a whole bunch of problems with the structure. The audience for a slasher is basically waiting for kill scenes, and I had no interest in lining up a bunch of pretty teens and kill them one by one. So I thought, okay, if the audience is waiting for kills, how can we play about with that? So I made my cannon fodder a line-up of serial killers, and made my ‘slasher’ a spirit avenging every victim, every babysitter in the shower, every cheerleader, teen or college girl who ever got offed in a horror movie. That actually brought its own problems as a story device, since I was then faced with making a bunch of remorseless serial killers at least vaguely likeable so not to totally alienate the audience. In addition to all this, I had the idea of a killer cheerleader with extending blades concealed in her pom-poms. Sometimes it just takes a cool trashy image that I want to stick in a movie to stop me drifting too far towards art house!

Behind the Couch: Do you think it is difficult being an independent filmmaker in the UK today? Is there enough support for filmmakers?

Pat Higgins: Digital technology means it’s easier than ever to get a film made. A whole bunch of other factors, from increased competition through to widespread downloading and the impending death of physical formats, mean that it’s just as hard as ever to actually make a living doing it. The formal bodies that are meant to support independent film vary massively from region to region in terms of what they offer. Some are useful, some certainly aren’t. I’ve certainly fended pretty much for myself.

Behind the Couch: Your last film Bordello Death Tales was an anthology – where did the various stories from that originate from?

Pat Higgins: Jim (Eaves) and I sat in a pub after the very first screening of his cracking sci-fi/horror flick Bane. I asked what he was going to do next, and Jim suggested to me that he’d always wanted to do an anthology of some sort. I thought the idea sounded fantastic. From there, we had a couple more meetings to decide upon a shared framework and location, and to decide upon another director to approach. I suggested Al Ronald, whom I’d worked with many times before and who had just completed his directorial debut Jesus vs the Messiah, which I thought was genius. Luckily, Al was up for the project too; the three of us swapped a few notes, then retreated and spent a couple of months writing our respective chapters. It all seemed very easy and natural and I think the fact that all three stories were written specifically for the project rather than being inherited from elsewhere ended up helping the final film immensely.

Behind the Couch: You co-wrote and co-directed Bordello Death Tales with James Eaves and Alan Ronald – how difficult/easy is it working on such a close collaboration?

Pat Higgins: I find both of those guys extremely easy to work with, so there were no dramas whatsoever. Besides, we all very much had control over our own respective segments, which meant that we weren’t really rubbing up against each other. There was only a single day on set when all three of us were there at the same time, so it wasn’t like we were calling ‘action’ over one another. I love that the three parts of the movie very much have our own individual stamps on them.

Behind the Couch: Erm, is it true that whilst on the set of your first film Trash House you discovered, much to your chagrin that you suffer from a phobia of chainsaws?!

Pat Higgins: Heh.. I’ve actually been asked that a couple of times! I know it’s in my IMDB trivia section, but that was the first I’d heard of it! I suspect that it was added by someone or other from the TrashHouse cast and crew, on account of how I used to flinch anytime anybody pulled the starter cord on the chainsaw, despite the fact that it had had a vital part of the mechanism removed and was actually incapable of starting. But, no, I’m not phobic. I still have that chainsaw knocking around somewhere at home. Actually, come to think of it, my Twitter profile picture has got me holding a chainsaw up against my face.

Behind the Couch: Aside from chainsaws – what else scares you? What do you think makes for a really effective horror film?

Pat Higgins: I’m all about the psychology, particularly that point where reality spirals out of control and something else takes over. My favourite scare in one of my own movies is the sleepwalking sequence in The Devil’s Music, which came out exactly as I saw it in my head. My favourite scare in one of someone else’s movies is the corridor sequence in The Exorcist III. I think that a really effective horror film works like music; something like The Shining is just a perfect symphony. You need to get into the head and under the skin; loud bangs and Avid farts just don’t cut it for me.

Behind the Couch: Are you a fan of horror films? Is contemporary horror cinema much cop?

Pat Higgins: There’s some superb stuff out there, but there’s a hell of a lot of dreck, too. I used to watch more or less everything in the genre just to keep up with what was going on, but I find it increasingly painful wading through some of it nowadays. Having said that, it only takes someone doing something a little different, like Paranormal Activity, which I greatly enjoyed, or Marc Price’s Colin, and I get excited about the whole genre all over again.

Behind the Couch: Who or what has inspired you most as a filmmaker?

Pat Higgins: Joe Dante’s Gremlins, Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps, but more than anything else my amazing producer and wife Pippa. Without her, there’d be no movies.

Behind the Couch: What is next for Pat Higgins? Any projects in the pipeline you can share with us?

Pat Higgins: Well, Bordello Death Tales will be hitting festivals very shortly and presumably DVD later in the year. I’ve got several really cool screenplays sitting waiting to hit the lens, including House on the Witchpit which I mentioned earlier and am hugely proud of, and Brainbath, which is a splattery satire set in the near future, and it’s just a matter of sorting out budgets and financing. Anyone wanting to invest in cutting-edge indie horror feel free to get in touch!

HELLBRIDE (cert. 15) was released on DVD (£2.99) by Brain Damage Films on 29th March 2010. Special Features include: audio commentary by writer-director-producer Pat Higgins and director of photography Alan Ronald; Not Happy Bloopers; Hellbride trailer; deleted scenes; behind the scenes.