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Tuesday, 22 May 2012


Is a person truly evil if their actions are caused by a pain so terrible it can never be spoken? What if children are involved? The 2007 Korean film HANSEL AND GRETEL asks such questions as these, and the answers might surprise you.

Billed as a horror, the premise certainly suggests so: after wrecking his car on a lonely stretch of road, a young man (Eun-Soo) wanders into the surrounding woods and encounters a young girl called Young-Hee. She leads him back to her home in the (centre?) of the woods, where everything is just a little too...nice. But what transpires is more dark fantasy than anything else (though things do get quite horrific in places)...

The production design in HANSEL AND GRETEL is absolutely spot-on. I have a particular appreciation for films in which a location becomes a character itself, and The Home For Happy Children (Young-Hee's house) is exactly this. Its interior is filled with toys and remnants of Christmas. Weird paintings of rabbits and people wearing animal masks adorn the green and yellow walls. Certain areas of the house appear to be stuck in a state of partial decay, though everything is clean.

As if an opulent house in the middle of the woods wasn't weird enough, the d├ęcor creates a creepily cheery atmosphere compounded by Young-Hee's family: she shares the house with her older brother Man-Bok, her young sister Jung-Soon, and their parents. Everyone's welcoming and smiley, dressed in bright colours, yet clearly nervous. Why has Eun-Soo's arrival set the parents on edge? Why do they make obvious excuses to get him to stay the night? And in the morning, why do they feed him (and the children) cake and sweets? The apparent set-up suggested by the film's title, and all this peculiar behaviour, isn't true at all - but to say too much would spoil one of the most pleasant surprises I've had thanks to a film.

The film takes place over a number of days, some of which involve Eun-Soo attempting to leave. But, there's something wrong with the woods - time and direction is fluid, and escape seems impossible. One of my favourite scenes involves the trees themselves shifting, which is a wonderfully creepy image. This 'loop' aspect also traps a husband and wife in the woods/house, and it's here where things really start to get interesting...

HANSEL AND GRETEL shares its central conceit with a particularly famous episode of The Twlight Zone, though that is where any other similarities end. This is indeed a twisted fable, a dark fairy tale, about what happens when a malevolence born of evil meets a different kind of evil. These woods are deep, and dark, but they're not the real threat: they simply hide it.

I can't say enough how much I loved this film. Suggestions and insinuations are made as to the cause of the "evil" (or should that be "curse"?), but the real reason (and repercussions) is/are terrible and heartbreaking. There are a plethora of fairy-tale references scattered throughout the film; some obvious, others subtle, but all help create a baroque reality that easily fits alongside/within ours, which is especially horrible considering how that reality is birthed.

Special mention also needs to be made about the score, which is beautiful. It reminded me of Poltergeist, though the tone is definitely fairy tale rather than horror (this vid does show quite a few of the best scenes so you might want to play it but minimize this window or something so you don't spoil the film - definitely listen to the music, though - it's ace!):

Thursday, 10 May 2012


I bet you can't POSSIBLY guess what that title refers to, can you? I bet it's REALLY difficult to work it out. Well, don't worry, thicko, because I'm going to spell it out for you: I'm opening this blog to YOU, so YOU can post about whatever YOU want. I won't literally give you my log-in details, because otherwise I'll come back here to find the background's been replaced with a picture of cats farting rainbows. Instead, EMAIL ME your post, along with any pics/links/vids you'd like to use, and I'll do the rest.

Got a book to pimp? Fine. Got a film review sitting about? Also fine. Need an impartial web-based location with which to fill with vitriolic bile about something of no real interest or consequence? Now we're talking! Talk/rant about whatever you want. Link to a terrible website. Use pictures to express your feelings to a co-worker. Write a little story that doesn't make any sense. My door is open to your words. The only thing I'll draw a line under is anything that promotes racism/homophobia/all the usual bad stuff no one ever wants to read about.


And to put you in the mood:

Sunday, 6 May 2012


Different people like H.P. Lovecraft for different  reasons. And, for one reason or another, his stories continue to inspire and interest people. Some more than others - such as Brian Yuzna (and his occasional partner-in-crime, Stuart Gordon). They are perhaps the only filmmakers who regularly (re)visit Lovecraft's work (in much the same way Mick Garris and Frank Darabont repeatedly use Stephen King's work as raw material) and it's clear they have a deep respect and love for Lovecraft. However, they don't let that get in the way of some good old fashioned GORE. Which is probably the last thing that springs to mind when you hear Lovecraft's name mentioned....right after 'neon special effects'.

God bless the Cats Protection charity shop in Derby for  having a  regular stockpile of 90s horror videos
I think NECRONOMICON (1993) is underrated. Why? Because it's a fair representation of Lovecraft's work, delivered by a master of the horror genre who has an affinity for the author? NO. Don't be silly! Despite the subject matter, NECRONOMICON is as Lovecraftian as toothpaste. Squid-flavoured toothpaste, maybe, but still toothpaste.

It takes the form of an anthology film. I love those. I don't know why they've fallen out of favour in recent years, but anyway...Jeffery Combs, no stranger to Lovecraft films, actually plays Lovecraft in the wraparound segment. He's copying stories from the Necronomicon itself, to use as "research". We're then treated to a mini film of each story, the first of which is 'The Drowned'.

At its core, this is about a desperate man messing with forces he doesn't understand in order to resurrect his dead wife. Except, he does understand the forces he's messing with because he reads a letter (that takes the form of a mini film within a mini film) clearly explaining how terrible those forces are. And even when a fish man delivers the Necronomicon to him, to use to raise his wife, he ignores all the signs of danger with a lack of common sense that borders on superhuman. We're then treated to an Errol Flynn-level of chandelier-swinging as the man battles a tentacled monster. Yep.

Next is the best executed, and most faithful, segment 'The Cold' (based on the 'Cool Air' story: read it HERE). A young lady moves into a house, finds out the doctor upstairs has a peculiar "affliction" in which he has to remain cold, and gets caught up in a tale of murder and doomed love. Even though this also stars the ever-dependable David Warner it's, ironically, my least favourite part.

Which brings us to the last segment, and the one I still find disturbing: 'Whispers'. After crashing her car, a female cop sees her partner being dragged away by a killer known as 'The Butcher'. She gives chase, and ends up stumbling upon a hidden temple beneath the city's streets. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what's so horrible about this part - sure, it's excessively gory (at one point the cop falls in a charnel pit), there's little to no chance of escape for our 'heroine', and the whole thing is soaked in a lurid neon red glare...but it's more than these things combined. It maybe the underlying sentiment of how The Butcher likely decided there is no God, so has thrown in his chips with another deity, something at once alien and terrible but - and this might be it - one that offers a release from the pain of being human. But at what cost?

And then we come back to 'The Library', just in time to see Lovecraft stab a monster (and cause an explosive geyser of blood) and peel a monk's face off.

So why do I love this film, and think it's so underrated if it plays fast and loose with the work of Lovecraft (and the author himself)? Because it's an interpretation of his work. Derelict buildings, subterranean temples, alien gods, meddling with unknown forces, a relentless sense of impending doom...all mixed up and turned into a pulp genre film with gloopy effects and women with tentacles for eyes. It's certainly a product of its time - show it to a generation raised on remakes and CGI and they'll probably laugh at the stop motion, cheap morphing effects, and practical monster costumes. But, that's because those kids are idiots.

And purely because this is what I'm listening to as I type this, let's end with:

Tuesday, 1 May 2012


EVENT HORIZON (1997) is often dubbed 'Hellraiser in Space' (so that's Hellraiser 4, then). Rewatching it 15 years (!) after its release and it's hard to disagree. However, I don't recall any of the Hellraisers having a comedy black astronaut in them, so that's '1 - Nil' to Event Horizon as far as I'm concerned.

Sci-Fi Sound Effect #23: WOM WOM WOM WOM WOM WOM

This film does a few others things right, in my humble (telescope) opinion. Firstly, it's a haunted house movie, and as such the Event Horizon ship itself is treated like one, with Gothic spikes, brickwork and archways making up the interior. A sense of scale isn't necessarily achieved, given that the shots inside don't appear to add up to the bulk presented on the exterior, but this reverse-TARDIS warping of space ties in with the story nicely: The Event Horizon reappears seven years after it literally vanished. Its onboard 'gravity drive' allows the ship to bend time and space, travelling from one point to another instantaneously. However, this folding of the continuum has caused something to go wrong, and the ship isn't the same as when it first disappeared...

Other dimensions. Beyond the known universe. Man-made black holes. Those are my other favourite ingredients. None of this adds up to anything remotely healthy as the ill-fated crew of the Lewis and Clark board the Event Horizon as part of a rescue mission. Helping them figure out what's what is Sam Neill's character, Dr Weir. He created the Event Horizon and, well, he just might be a little too attached to his creation. Sam Neill provides one the film's best sort-of-screams, as wonderfully demonstrated by this clip:


What also impresses me is the general fortitude of the crew. Sure, they scream and panic a bit, but one of the most disgusting sights they witness is in the main control room/cockpit - partially eviscerated bodies line one side in a gloopy red mess, and no one really comments on this, despite standing next to it for quite a while. "I wonder what happened here?" is asked by one crew member with all the curiosity of someone pondering what sandwiches their mum put in their packed lunch. "Something bloody awful" would be my guess. "Let's get the fuck off this ship now" would be my next expletive-ridden sentiment. But, dutiful crew that they are, everybody tries to ascertain what happened to the crew, or more precisely, what sent them bananas and caused them to rip each other apart/vanish.

Did the ship visit Hell? "Hell is a name" says one character, before revealing that the reality is far, far worse. Snatches of grisly torture images involving hooks, barbed wire and that old favourite - maggots - bombard the eyes/minds of the crew and the audience. Not the minds of the audience, just the eyes. Unless the film had a severely disturbing impact on you, then you might want to check you're not stuck in a space ship's stasis pod having a terrible nightmare.

But if it all starts to get too much for you, don't worry - Cooper, the rescue technician, is on hand with a selection of witty quips. Which, god bless the internet, I don't have to type up: COOPER QUOTES.

And last of all, the thing I appreciate the most is the cool but wholly inappropriate end credits music. Because nothing says 'deep space hell' more than a high pitched sample of someone going 'Oh my god that's the funky shit':


Fellow author and READ THE END FIRST contributor Gregory Norris has put together a nice little post on his blog from a bunch of us what gone done wrote some thing for the book, detailing our inspirations and ideas for the stories. HAVE A READ!

Your ears are the world and they're about to end: