Ginger Nuts of Horror
I like to think that I’m a man’s man. You know the sort, big strong, not afraid of anything. The sort of man who, when faced with danger turns into the all action hero ready to defeat whatever danger is facing those that he loves. And I would like to think that I’m pretty capable of doing this sort of thing, as an ex British kickboxing champion, someone who knows how to handle a firearm, and dab hand at survival skills all topped off with an anger and a rage that will see me go all Berserker on those that threaten me I reckon that if faced with almost any sort of horror monster I would come out top. However there is one thing that I am terrified of, one bogey man that can turn me into a quivering wreck. What is it? Well read on to find out what scares The Ginger Nuts of Horror
Better the Devil you Know. I was torn between titles for this one. I was either going to go with the above, or "Sympathy For the Devil". In the end the content of the article made the decision for me. So the Devil, then. Not a real person. Not to me, anyway, as an atheist. But also, strangely, not to a lot of Christians either. As time has moved on so has the belief system, so that many Christians don't even accept existence of the Devil as a literal being.
Okay, today being the day it is (and if you don't know, who are you and why are you browsing a horror website??), I'm going to take a quick run through the films that I, personally, consider to be the scariest, the most effective and the downright creepiest that I have ever seen (of course, this obviously excludes those films I haven't seen). This will be my personal interpretation. I'm not making claims for these films as being the 'best', or even particularly well scripted/financed/acted (although I think these things also play a part). I'm simply going to run through a number of films I found particularly effective in making my skin crawl; films that have stayed with me long after I've slotted the DVD/Blu-ray back on the shelf (feel free to disagree with my choices, but there is no wrong and right in this – only opinion).
Horror is, like many other things, a highly subjective area – what works for one may well not work for another (and, in fact, I have experienced this first hand and on both sides). Ultimately, it all depends on the watcher's (or reader's) experience, outlook, tastes, temperament and a myriad of other factors. Having said that, I'm coming to the realisation that much of what makes horror work (and forgive me if this is widely known, I'm a mere novice) is where it breaks down the control, or the illusion of control that we, as a society or individual, hold. It's contact not only with the unknown, but the 'un-knowable'; the chaotic; the unfathomable. It's the breakdown of those polite and fragile rules and conventions we adhere to, that give our lives meaning and structure. It's when someone or something, some event, tears through the thin fabric of rationality and takes away any sense of self-determination we have.
That's my view, anyway. It's why Alien is a horror film; why pretty much any serial killer film, including The Silence of The Lambs, is; why the extermination of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany is utter, abject horror (this is the most horrific thing to me; I can't watch a documentary about the concentration camps without crying). It's events we find difficult, if not impossible, to fathom and which have laid waste to our conceptions of polite (or even impolite) society. It's also why I think the work of H. P. Lovecraft endures, despite criticisms (most justified) of his personal politics and writing style. He tapped into that sense of the unknown better than most, that notion that behind the frail curtain of 'reality' lies nothing but chaos and madness. Anyway...
Without further ado and in no particular order, here are my films...
Kairo (Pulse) – (2001) – Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa – Language: Japanese (Japan).
Of the many, many Asian films I love (horror and otherwise), Kairo is quite possibly the most effective I've yet seen. It has all the elements that have become almost standard in these films (almost clichéd, one might say) – ghostly females with long, unkempt black hair; ancient/traditional curses manifesting themselves through modern technology; evil or the supernatural almost as a viral epidemic – but what Kairo manages to do that most others don't is tap into that chaotic, unnameable atmosphere that goes beyond the plight of the individual and is about society as a whole descending into the fearful unknown. To be honest, I have little to no idea what the hell is going on in this film. I know that the supernatural are manifesting themselves through technology (specifically, the internet); that there is some urban legend concerning a 'red-taped door'; that people are disappearing, or killing themselves. To be honest, I think the confusion (and I might have just been ultra-thick whilst watching) adds to the terror. Both scenes which feature images of spectres advancing at the camera and show virtually nothing at all, can send shivers up and down the spine. It's a wonderful slow burn of a film and really creeps inside the mind.
Everyone loves a competition, and thanks to to good people at Signature Entertainment Ginger Nuts of Horror has three copies to give away to three lucky winners.
DEBUG comes to Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms from November 3rd, 2014 courtesy ofSignature Entertainment.
Sent in to deep space as punishment for computer-based crimes, six young hackers are attempting to debug the computer systems of a massive derelict space freighter. While they struggle to clear out the viruses, the team fall prey to the ship’s vengeful artificial intelligence, a programme that would literally kill to be human. As the fractious team is forced to match wits with this rogue programme, they discover that the ship holds a deadly secret – and a fate far worse than death.
Written and directed by the multi-talented David Hewlitt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cube) and starring Game Of Thrones’ Jason Momoa, DEBUG is a nerve-shredding sci-fi horror that proves that, in space, it doesn’t matter if they can hear you scream…
TO WIN A COPY JUST ANSWER THIS SIMPLE QUESTION
HOW MANY SIDES DOES A CUBE HAVE?
Over the years apocalyptic films have come in all shapes, sizes and genres. Starting with the 1950s science-fictions, and moving into the epic and overwhelmingly patriotic and Americanised apocalypses of the 1990s, contemporary apocalyptic movies are now in the fashion of combing stories about the end of the world with dark comedy.
The latest apocalyptic film, Open Grave, comes to DVD this October embedded deeply into the genre of horror. Starring Sharlto Copley in a chillingly scary and gruesome role, Open Grave proves to be a VERY different apocalypse to any we have seen before.
Here we look back at the very best apocalyptic movies.
To mark the start of a new series of film reviews on Ginger Nuts of Horror, which starts with a review of Open Grave here is a career retrospective of the films star Sharlto Copley.
Sharlto Copley exploded onto the scene out of nowhere in 2009 in his powerful portrayal of Wilkus van der Merwe in District 9. Since then, the South African actor has gone from strength to strength, appearing alongside the likes of Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper in emotionally intense, nefarious and hilarious roles. On 13th October Copley leads in the haunting horror chiller Open Grave, available on DVD and digital download courtesy of Signature Entertainment. Here’s how his career panned out...
HORROR UNCUT: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease, edited by Joel Lane and Tom Johnstone (Gray Friar Press).
This anthology arose out of the editors' horror at the austerity measures the Con Dem government has imposed. The stories in it represent an imaginative response to these hard times, by acclaimed writers of weird fiction, such as Alison Littlewood, Gary McMahon, Thana Niveau, David Williamson, Anna Taborska, John Llewellyn Probert, and Laura Mauro.
Some stories deal with the immediate effect of the crisis on the housing market and the effect this has had on people in the construction industry. Other stories focus more on the instability of the financial markets, but in very different ways.
Not all of the tales are specific to the recession though. Many of them tackle the austerity measures that have arisen apparently in response to the banking crisis, though I’d argue that ‘neo-liberal’ politicians, particularly the Conservatives, saw the situation as an opportunity to further their political and economic objectives: now that the immediate threat of economic meltdown seems to have faded (for now!), privatisation and cuts to services continue unabated, if anything intensifying as the Tory Right becomes more and more assertive.
The fiction in the book explores these themes through characters we can all relate to. Stephen Bacon’s haunting tale shows the rapid change in the economic and social landscape, with long-established household names like Woolworths vanishing almost overnight, through the eyes of a young man just released from prison, with his own demons to face…
Some tales use a satirical approach to mock the government’s propaganda about their cuts being all about ‘fairness’ to ‘hard working families’. David Turnbull’s story suggests how this kind of language serves to persuade exploited people to buy into Tory ideology. Other stories, like Anna Taborska’s and David Williamson’s, while still using gallows humour, show the cruelty of austerity in a starker and more brutal fashion.
Robert Aickman argued that the ghost story was aesthetically superior to the mere tale of ‘physical horror’, occupying a lofty metaphysical plane, transcending and subverting the materialism of modern life. However, Stephen King’s view, that horror’s major underlying theme is ‘economic unease’, is as true of classic supernatural tales from the golden age of the ghost story as it is of any modern-day urban horror story from the mean streets. Edith Wharton and L.P. Hartley both wrote powerful tales about successful businessmen’s misdeeds coming back to haunt them. Supernatural Tales editor David Longhorn began a review of the new Shadows and Tall Trees anthology by asking, ‘Is modern horror obsessed with property values?’ The answer is yes! And it always has been. Why do people in ghost stories usually move into haunted houses? Because the rent is lower. The exception that proves the rule is the wealthy couple in Edith Wharton’s ‘Afterward’, a rare example perhaps of ghosts improving property values…
The Eighties horror boom coincided with the monetarist era, and much of the dark fiction of the time reflects this. One of the most powerful examples of this is Ramsey Campbell’s stark and claustrophobic psychological horror novel The Face That Must Die (1979, revised in 1983). Recently, authors from the current generation of ‘small press’ horror fiction creators have turned to themes of social deprivation (Gary McMahon’s Concrete Grove trilogy of novels from Solaris Press) and economic uncertainty (Gary Fry’s novella The Acceptable Face of Tyranny from Spectral Press) with startling and memorable results. Horror often thrives on hard times, allowing people to see their real fears play out in the form of fantastic imagery. So perhaps the age of austerity might have the positive side effect for the genre of ushering in a golden age of horror. Who knows?
As for the effect of the fiction in this book on the subjects it explores, again who knows? Few would argue that a small press horror anthology can change things. On the other hand, speculative fiction does scare those in power: look at the reaction of the Conservative Party to Hilary Mantel’s story ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’! And they’re not above using fiction for their own ends, as shown by Chancellor George Osborne’s cynical mimicry of Trainspotting’s ‘Choose Life’ sequence, drawing a memorably expletive-laden response from its author Irvine Welsh…
Finally, there are two events to mark the publication of Horror Uncut:
Twisted Tales of Austerity (Friday 24th October, 12 noon at Manchester Deansgate Waterstones)
Hallowe’en with Horror Uncut (Sunday 26th October, 7pm, the Cowley Club, London Road, Brighton)
Or to buy the book from Gray Friar Books, go here:
I realize I'm preaching to the choir here, defending horror on a website devoted to it, but stick with me for a minute.
Recently I found myself in a heated debate with someone who claimed to dislike horror. "What did you think of Silence of the Lambs?" I said, having heard this claim a dozen times before.
"That's not horror," the supposed horror hater said.
"Okay. Well, did you like Misery?"
Review: A Walk Among The Tombstones
Look at the posters for A Walk Among The Tombstones, and it appears to be one of the least impactful films of 2014. Why? Well, it's because the poster features Liam Neeson holding a gun, and we've seen that story about a hundred times before. The image calls to mind yet another two hours of Neeson kicking ridiculous amounts of ass. While that's usually fun, it does get old at some point. Alas, this is not that point, because despite its somewhat misleading promotions, A Walk Among The Tombstones is more of a slow-burning detective tale than an action flick. As Matt Singer at The Dissolve summarized nicely, this is "just good old-fashioned sleuthing." Go figure.
Basically, this film is the story of former NYPD cop Matt Scudder (Neeson), now a deeply brooding, recovering alcoholic who works as a sort of unofficial freelance detective. Scudder is called upon by a high volume drug dealer whose wife has been kidnapped and gruesomely murdered, despite the dealer having paid a hefty ransom. Scudder hesitates to take the case, but ultimately dives in due to the horrific nature of the crimes. Naturally, he winds up against a bigger case than he bargained for and as he gradually uncovers information on the killers and their previous, similar crimes, he and those around him grow ever closer to mortal danger.
All in all, it's a fairly run-of-the-mill outing despite a refreshingly calm performance from Neeson, a very strong supporting cast, and some pretty gut-wrenching crime. That being said, A Walk Among The Tombstones does a few things well enough to warrant mention in a review.
First of all, it grounds its characters in something resembling reality. Films like these can only land their heavy-handed punches if we feel something real in them, and in this one that's pretty much how it goes. No one (even Neeson) is immune to danger or betrayal, everyone has flaws, and everyone, at some point or other, is playing catch up while being in over his head.
Next, the film doesn't try to get too cute, and these days that's saying something. Sit through the first hour and you'll be rifling through scenarios in your head, trying to think of some ingenious twist or mind-blowing scheme that's just below the surface. This is the case with most films in the thriller, detective, or action genres, with the trouble being that more often than not the big surprise falls short—not clever enough for its own build-up. Well, A Walk Among The Tombstones skips the whole process. Yes, that means it's a little simple at times, but it's oddly enjoyable to sit through a tense crime film that thrills with atmosphere and creepiness rather than attempting the twist of the century.
But where the film really excels is in following through on its name with some genuinely creepy, back-to-basics graveyard action, and that's something scary movie fans will eat up. To be clear, most of the film doesn't actually take place in graveyards. However, when the camera ventures between the tombstones, we get the kind of creeping action that has been sapped from graveyard scenery by comedies, misfiring action films, and even video games in the past decade or so.
Indeed, try to think back on the last graveyard scene you saw and it's comedies that come to mind, for many. Films like Zoolander and Old School have had what amount to be mock funerals, turning daytime graveyard scenes into sources of laughter. Even the hit FXX comedy sitcom The League recently opened its sixth season with a funeral home and graveyard setting, complete with coffins flying open unexpectedly and all those cheeky shenanigans.
Gaming, too, has turned graveyards from chilling ghost story/horror settings into cartoonish backdrops. The Plants vs. Zombies online arcade and app phenomenon is the most significant example. The game uses grave plots and cheesy gravestone graphics as obstacles for cartoon zombies—but this is far from the only example. Any number of zombie games can be pointed to as additional instances in which graveyard scenes become somewhat-comical. In fact, the Betfair Casino is even hosting a "Full Moon Fortune" slot game that combines werewolf horror with a graveyard-themed backstory to enrich the atmosphere of the casino experience. Even the James Bond console game Everything Or Nothing ventured into a graveyard for one memorable level (though to be fair, that was a pretty creepy level).
The point is, while there will always be obscure ghost stories and small-scale films that do the setting justice, most mainstream action in films, on TV, in gaming has seen graveyards robbed of their creepiness in recent years. And A Walk Among The Tombstones sets this straight with some graveyard-heavy action that manages to be both original and terrifying. Between a mysterious graveyard groundskeeper wading through a pond raking up bags (of chopped-up body parts) during a grey fall day, and a late-night, pitch-black gunfight complete with shattering stones and ominous confusion, the tombstones in this film are used wonderfully. It's not a ghost story, and it only borders on horror with no supernatural forces at work. And yet, for what feels like the first time in a while in cinema, this film uses a graveyard to deliver genuine scares and thrills. Given the title, that's the main way in which the film delivers.