Saturday, 30 November 2013

'The Book' Could Spell Renaissance For Italian Horror Cinema

Arcane and diabolical: promo still for The Book
The Masters of Italian horror, giallo and exploitation cinema are to return to our screens in what looks set to be a collaborative horror film of unprecedented scale. Taking its cue from the likes of V/H/S and The ABCs of Death, The Book will bring together a group of filmmakers renowned for their work in the horror genre, featuring 12 individual episodes, each helmed by a master of Italian genre cinema.

Rome, the Eternal City, as narrated by the Italian Masters of Horror.

Writers, directors, actors, composers and artists behind the finest Italian genre cinema of the past sixty years will be given the opportunity to showcase their own personal vision of Rome, spread across a dozen episodes. All will be delivered in the unique style and method of each respective director, providing them with a vivid platform to showcase the dexterity and innovation which brought them initial acclaim. Free from studio constraints, The Book promises to recapture the magic of bygone Italian genre cinema which still resonates with so many fans today.

And just take a look at who has been confirmed...

Lamberto Bava (Macabre, Demons, A Blade in the Dark)

Hailing from true horror lineage, Bava is the son of legendary filmmaker Mario Bava; the man behind some of the most innovative and transgressive European genre features of the twentieth century. Learning the trade from his father, Bava Jr. also served as an assistant director on a number of classic titles such as Danger: Diabolik (1968), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), and Tenebrae (1982). His own movies have become cult favourites, particularly Demons (1985) and Demons 2 (1986). Throughout the last two decades, Bava has been working extensively in television (as have a great deal of his Italian horror peers), however, The Book marks a return to his cinematic roots. Taking a classicist approach to contemporary horror, Bava is set to become a name which is uttered once more as one of the true stalwarts of genre pictures.

Still from Bava's Demons

Antonio Bido (The Bloodstained Shadow, The Cat with the Jade Eyes)

Bido grew up in the 1950s with an insatiable love of film and as a child he was allowed access to a local projection booth; an event which changed his life forever. His first experimental 8mm film, Dimensioni (1969), won the prize for best debut at Motecatini; the premiere Italian short film festival in the 1970s. This success led to a professional relationship with Giuseppe Ferrara, who mentored the young Bido, giving him a position as first assistant director on Faccia Di Spia (1975), a wartime exploitation film. Bido’s 1977 movie, The Cat with the Jade Eyes (Watch Me When I Kill), solidified his abilities as a gifted filmmaker, with its mature and artistic approach to the giallo. This was followed by the sublime The Bloodstained Shadow in 1978.

Enzo G. Castellari (Cold Eyes of Fear, The Last Shark, Inglorious Bastards)

The mastermind behind a plethora of genre classics, including the dystopian masterpiece 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982), Castellari is also responsible for creating Franco Nero’s best western role outside of Django (1966) in his 1976 film, Keoma. As well as spanning western and action features, Castellari is also one of the pioneers of the Eurocrime genre. It was his 1973 feature High Crime which spawned a new wave of Italian crime films, very separate from their giallo counterparts. Castellari’s legacy resonated with many young filmmakers, but none as influential as Quentin Tarantino who even titled his 2009 blockbuster Inglourious Basterds as a tribute.

Still from Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet

Luigi Cozzi (The Killer Must Kill Again, The Black Cat, Paganini Horror)

Cozzi makes a welcome return behind the camera after several years of working as an Italian genre film historian and curator of Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso museum in Rome. It was Cozzi’s low budget debut, Tunnel Under the World (1969), which brought him to the attention of Dario Argento, who hired him as assistant director on Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), and created a bond which has lasted to this day. Regularly delving into the world of science fiction and fantasy, Cozzi has directed his own versions of Godzilla (1977) and Hercules (1983). In 1980 his film Contagion became embroiled in the 'video nasties' furore in the UK, and was one of a number of films targeted and banned by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Alberto De Martino (The Antichrist, Scenes from a Murder, Holocaust 2000)

An Italian cinematic veteran, De Martino has been actively involved in the film industry since his early days as a child actor. His directorial debut, The Invincible Gladiator (1962) launched a career which spanned several decades, and a variety of genres. The ‘60s saw a range of thrilling war and action movies, but it was when he directed The Man With The Icy Eyes (1971) that his reputation as a master of the macabre was solidified. He made another giallo (Scenes From A Murder, 1972) before jumping into supernatural horror with 1974’s The Antichrist and 1977’s Holocaust 2000.

Still from De Martino's The Antichrist

Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park, Last Cannibal World)

From action to exploitation, Ruggero Deodato has become one of the most infamous Italian filmmakers to attain international recognition for his genre work. A sublime storyteller and craftsman, his early thrillers, such as Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man (1976) led to a foray into the jungle for Last Cannibal World in 1977. He would return to South America in 1980 to create one of the most infamous movies of all time; Cannibal Holocaust. The film which pioneered the found footage genre, and almost landed Deodato in prison, Cannibal Holocaust remains not only one of the most shocking movies ever made, but one of the most acerbic socio-political commentaries on globalism and the destructive nature of contemporary society.

Aldo Lado (Night Train Murders, Short Night of Glass Dolls, Who Saw Her Die)

One of the most interesting giallo directors in early 1970s Italy, Lado’s Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971) is regarded amongst aficionados as a prime example of an original and classic giallo, featuring a heady mixture of creative direction and sensual violence. His 1975 feature Night Train Murders (a loose reworking of Wes Craven's Last House on the Left) caused massive censorship problems throughout Europe, with the Italian board of Censorship rejecting it completely. The political and social analysis contained in his films being as much a cause for controversy as his violent and sexual content, Aldo Lado remains an important and highly influential member of the Italian genre elite.

Still from Lado's Night Train Murders

Umberto Lenzi (Nightmare City, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, Cannibal Ferox)

Lenzi began his long and illustrious career as a writer and journalist before directing swashbucklers and adventure films in the 1960s. It was in 1969 that he made the crossover to more adult adventures, when he wrote and directed Orgasmo. This X-rated thriller was praised as an early template of the giallo, and Lenzi spent the next few years contributing to the genre with films such as So Sweet, So Perverse (1969) and Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972). When he made The Man from Deep River/Deep River Savages in 1972, he became partially responsible for instigating a plethora of cannibal features that would change the face of Italian cinema forever. Eaten Alive (1981) and Cannibal Ferox (1981) became his two most notorious entries in the anthropophagic sub-genre.

Edoardo Margheriti (In The Eyes Of A Killer, Six Steps Into Giallo, Black Cobra)

Margheriti is the son of infamous Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) director, Antonio Margheriti. He learned the trade from his father, as well as creating special effects for Sergio Martino’s 2019 – After The Fall Of New York (1983). Like his father, Edoardo has worked in many cinematic roles; assistant director, screenwriter, producer, director and as an FX artist. His craftsman-like approach is evident throughout his movies and he has had a successful and varied career as a filmmaker for both cinema and TV.

Still from Martino's The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh

Sergio Martino (Torso, All the Colours of the Dark, The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh)

Sergio Martino has been an active contributor to every imaginable Italian sub-genre since his beginnings as a writer in the mid-sixties. His gialli are amongst the finest that the genre has to offer, including All the Colours of the Dark (1972) and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971). He worked extensively with Edwige Fenech, who features in several of his best gialli, such as Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971). With an eye for 'beauty in the wreckage', it was Martino who gave Suzy Kendall her ultimate genre role, in 1973’s Torso, and brought Ursula Andress into the jungle for Mountain Of The Cannibal God in 1978.

Sergio Stivaletti (The Three Faces Of Terror, The Profane Exhibit, The Wax Mask)

Stivaletti began his career as a special effects and makeup artist, working on over 40 major genre pictures throughout the 1980s, 90s and 00s. His distinctive and creative style helped enhance the visions of directors like Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi. 1985 was the year that Stivaletti would get his big break, working on both Argento’s Phenomena (as a special makeup effects artist) and Bava’s Demons (creating the distinctive makeup and prosthetics). Stivaletti’s directorial debut was The Wax Mask, a film originally intended for Lucio Fulci, but handed over to Stivaletti after Fulci’s death in 1996.

Still from Stivaletti's The Wax Mask

Tonino Valerii (My Name Is Nobody, My Dear Killer)

Famed spaghetti western director Valerii entered the Experimental Centre of Cinematography in 1955, but it was almost a decade later when he released his first full movie. He served as an assistant director on Sergio Leone’s A Fist Full Of Dollars. For The Sake Of Killing (1966), took the experimentation of his early training and combined it with what he learned from Leone. The following year he made Day Of Anger/Gunlaw. His inevitable ventures into the world of the giallo resulted in My Dear Killer in 1972.

Dardano Sacchetti (The Beyond, Bay of Blood, The New York Ripper)

Sacchetti is responsible for writing some of the most acclaimed – and notorious – titles in Italian horror cinema. His work includes Cat O' Nine Tails (1971), Bay of Blood (1971), Shock (1977) Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) City of the Living Dead (1980) The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981), The New York Ripper (1982), A Blade in the Dark (1983), Demons (1985), Demons 2 (1986), and The Church (1989), among many others. Quite a list, isn’t it?

Still from Dario Argento's Suspiria

Goblin (Suspiria, Deep Red, Sleepless)

For over forty years, Goblin have been stunning film fans and live audiences alike with otherworldly, synth led progressive rock. Their collaborative work with Dario Argento remains, for many, the pinnacle of horror soundtracks. Their scores for Deep Red (1975), Suspiria (1977) and Dawn Of The Dead (1978) are still critically acclaimed and highly sought after to this day, with special editions being released and in constant demand.

More participants are to be announced soon.

Check out the film’s fundraising campaign page on IndieGoGo to find out more about this very rare opportunity to become part of Italian film history. Follow the project on Facebook and Twitter to get exclusive updates and special offers.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Short Film Showcase: Witchfinder

Dir. Colin Clarke

When a love-struck man ventures into the foreboding forest that surrounds his village to seek the dubious help of a witch, their forbidden ritual is interrupted by witch hunter William Thatcher Blake. After sentencing the unfortunate pair to death for fraternising with the Dark Lord, Blake is cursed by the witch, and when he returns home, soon realises the full extent of her dark powers…

Colin Clarke’s short film unveils itself as an atmospheric love letter to vintage Gothic horror. Witches, ancient rites, dark woods and violent revenge are swirled together in a cinematic cauldron that expertly conjures the spectres of bygone horror. With a distinctly old fashioned feel, there are nods to the likes of vintage Hammer, Michael Reeve’s Witchfinder General and the gloomy dread and sadism of classic Italian Gothic horror. One moment in particular - the scene depicting the unfortunate witch’s grisly demise - pays beautiful homage to Mario Bava's Black Sunday/Mask of Satan; right down to the shadow-play on a mask lined with spikes as it advances towards the fragile flesh of the woman’s face.

With a simple story, basic plot structure and a running time of just under twenty minutes, there’s very little messing around, as Clarke soon cuts to the chase, establishing a spooky atmosphere and creepy imagery, some of which echoes that seen recently in Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem. Clarke’s witch-infested tale is a much more subtle affair though; for one, he knows when to use silence to his advantage. The complete absence of music in one later scene is tremendously effective, as Blake hastily leaves his house and stumbles through the dark with only the creaking of his lantern and the moaning wind present on the soundtrack. Val Lewton would be proud. The discovery of a wide open door after something goes bump in the night is also well staged, and when the witch finally reappears, it’s a haunting sight.

Clarke and co prove that nightmares don’t need a big budget in order to be woven around our beds effectively enough to take root in our heads; just technical skill, creative vision and passion and respect for the subject matter. With heaps of atmosphere - ably enhanced by a moody score courtesy of Brandon Lutmer and Mark Gustafson - grim tone, and spine-chilling denouement, Witchfinder is a well made short that casts all the right dark spells.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Magheralin Churchyard

Magheralin, from the Irish Machaire Lainne, meaning "Plain of the Pool", is a tiny village and civil parish in County Down, Northern Ireland. In the centre of the village an ancient stone tower casts its shadow over an equally ancient graveyard. The church that originally stood on this site was identified with Lann Ronan, or the Church of Ian, and is cited in the taxation of Pope Nicholas of 1306 - although no traces of the medieval structure remain today. In 1400 a new church was built incorporating parts of the previous building, and in 1442 a stone tower was added.

By 1657 however, the church was described as being in a state of decay and ruin, and was later completely rebuilt along with the existing tower, which still stretches out of the earth and above the olden trees surrounding it. The practice of burying the dead within the church itself was stopped in 1773, but damage to the structure had already been done; the multitudes of the silent dead below no doubt contributing to the deterioration of the foundations. In 1839 the decision to build a new church was taken, leaving this one for nature to claim back.

The meaning of the Irish name for the village - Plain of the Pool - has connotations of a creepy, folkloric nature. Throughout Ireland, small lakes and springs are often referred to as ‘Pooka Pools’ or ‘Pollaphuca’, which means 'pooka' or demon hole. 'Pooka' is from the old Irish 'puca', which means ‘goblin’. It is thought that the word pooka is of Scandinavian origin - the word 'pook' or 'puke' means nature spirit. One of the earliest mentions of the village of Magheralin actually concerns a demon called Huachuille, or Duachaill, which was said to haunt the area around the body of water from which the place’s name is derived. Apparently this demon laid waste to the surrounding countryside for a time, but was eventually defeated by St. Colman, who died in AD 752, after he founded a church. Interestingly, the word 'puke' is still used in certain rural areas around the region, and refers to a person who is a nuisance. It is linked with spirits and beings that delight in causing mischief and mayhem, usually of a harmless enough nature, but often with a sinister edge.

Here are some photos of the old tower and graveyard I took the last time I visited the place. Nestled behind a high stone wall, walking through the graveyard, by day or by night, is a truly atmospheric experience and highly recommended. Oh, and those blurry bits in some of the photos aren't raindrops on the camera lens, they're spectral entities. No, really.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Diabolique Magazine: Issue 18

Issue 18 of Diabolique is now available to order. Throughout its pages we take a look at horror’s unparalleled ability to provide a window onto the myriad ills of contemporary society. With a political climate marked by division and pre and post-2012 fears about the apocalypse, as well as the sheer amount of underground and mainstream filmic and literary offerings about the End Times currently available, it would seem that the concept of the end of the world is resonating with audiences like never before.

We wrestle with these themes and their depictions in everything from The Omega Man to 28 Days Later to The World’s End and everything in between, featuring interviews with acclaimed author David Moody; comic book artist/illustrator Arthur “Zombie King” Suydam (Army of Darkness, Marvel Zombies, The Walking Dead); Chew co-creator/illustrator Rob Guillory; criminally charged FX artist Remy Couture; and Before Dawn co-writer/co-stars Dominic Brunt and Joanne Mitchell.

This issue also contains my own consideration of the writings of the late, great Richard Matheson, and the three cinematic adaptations of his post-apocalyptic classic, I Am Legend. Below is a sneak peek…

Here’s to the end of the world as we know it. Head over to Diabolique’s online lair to pick up a copy of issue 18, before it’s too late.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Audiodrome #19: HP Lovecraft Special

He locked away the Necronomicon with a shudder of disgust, but the room still reeked with an unholy and unidentifiable stench. 'As a foulness shall ye know them,' he quoted. Yes - the odour was the same as that which had sickened him at the Whateley farmhouse less than three years before. He thought of Wilbur, goatish and ominous, once again, and laughed mockingly at the village rumours of his parentage. 

'Inbreeding?' Armitage muttered half-aloud to himself. 'Great God, what simpletons! Show them Arthur Machen's Great God Pan and they'll think it a common Dunwich scandal! But what thing - what cursed shapeless influence on or off this three-dimensional earth - was Wilbur Whateley's father? Born on Candlemas - nine months after May Eve of 1912, when the talk about the queer earth noises reached clear to Arkham - what walked on the mountains that May night? What Roodmas horror fastened itself on the world in half-human flesh and blood?' 

Despite his enduring and rather formidable legacy, cinematic adaptations of the work of HP Lovecraft are not exactly rife, and his macabre stories of madness and monsters have been notoriously difficult to translate to the screen. Daniel Haller’s adaptation of The Dunwich Horror (1970) is a visually trippy and psychedelic retelling of Lovecraft’s queasy tale of Wilbur Whateley, a deformed half-wit born of man and alien deity who attempts to summon forth the Old Ones; ancient entities slumbering in another dimension, waiting until the stars are right so they can return to earth. Enhancing the weirdness of Haller’s film is a beautifully orchestrated score courtesy of Les Baxter, pioneer-extraordinaire of exotica and Theremin-heavy space-age pop.

Head over to Paracinema to read my full review of this lush and frequently lounge-tastic score. Lovecraft never sounded so damn groovy.