Book review: Frightmares – A History of British Horror Cinema

FrightmaresOne of the things I love about cinema is the possibility it offers for discovery and immersion in new material and genres.

After a long time consisting on a staple viewing diet of film noir, neo-noir and crime cinema, the last year has seen me delve more into horror. Don’t get me wrong, like many people my age, I have fond memories of watching horror movies on late night television in the seventies and VHS nasties in the various shared houses I lived in in eighties. But in the last year I have really dived deep into horror cinema, exploring movies by theme and director. It’s almost akin to a re-education of sorts, a journey that has required learning a new cinema language and style.

You need to be discerning about which guides you take on these journeys. One absolutely indispensable resource is the relatively recent ‘Daughters of Darkness’ podcast done by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, the editors of Diabolique Magazine. These women know their stuff, and their podcasts cover a fascinating selection of rare horror and exploitation cinema, gems too numerous to mention here, with well thought out and nuanced diversions into subjects as varied as medical science, sexuality, literature and the craft of film making.

Another great guide is the recently released book, Frightmares: A History of British Horror Cinema, by screenwriter and author, Ian Cooper.… Read more

MIFF report back #2: The Neon Demon

Neon Demon 1It is easy, indeed, tempting, to over analyse Nicolas Wendig Refn’s latest film, the fashion satire/psychological horror The Neon Demon, currently showing at the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival. It is a film that doesn’t stand up to too close a critical scrutiny. It is also one that, as far as I am concerned, did not require it as a condition of my enjoyment.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) is the latest in a long queue stretching back into the last century, of wide eyed female ingénues fresh off the bus/plane/train and desperate to make it in Tinsel Town. She has her sights set on cracking the cutthroat world of high fashion modelling. In an industry where nineteen is considered on the verge of being past it as a working model, her non-surgically enhanced natural beauty is enough to make even the most jaded photographer stand up and pay attention.

It is not long before Jesse is taking part in fashion shoots and modelling clothes on major catwalk shows, much to the intense chagrin of other models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), also out to do what ever it takes to succeed and incredibly jealous of Jesse’s meteoric rise. Gigi and Sarah are also insecure, bitchy, cynical and angry, further alienating them from Jesse, who exudes an air of clam self-confidence and poise. … Read more

MIFF report back #1: The Family

The Family 1Nothing says creepy quite like washed out old home movie and grainy television footage and there is plenty of both in The Family, my first movie at the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). It is a fascinating, at times chilling, occasionally frustrating examination of the sinister Melbourne cult of the same name.

Growing up in Melbourne in the seventies and eighties, I have vague memories of the Family getting the odd media mention. Like a lot of others, I was also familiar with the images of the child members of the Family, their matching clothes and blonde bobbed haircuts giving them more than a passing resemblance to the weird half alien children in The Village of the Damned, the 1960 science fiction film based on the 1957 John Wyndam novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.

Established on the outskirts of Melbourne in the early 1960s, the Family largely evaded official and media scrutiny until 1987, when police raided their secluded house near Lake Eildon, central Victoria. The raid kicked off a police investigation into the cult, the starting point and main narrative of the documentary.

The Family was created by Anne Hamilton-Byrne, a narcissistic, megalomaniac yoga teacher, and Raynor Johnson, a prominent English physicist with an interest in mysticism (and the former master of Melbourne University’s Queens College in the early 1960s).… Read more

Forget it, Stanley, it’s Chinatown: Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon

Year of the Dragon posterThe recent death of Michael Cimino saw an outpouring of positive critical and fan commentary about the director’s work. The two films most talked about were the controversial Vietnam War drama, The Deer Hunter (1978), and the sprawling revisionist Western epic, Heaven’s Gate (1980). The Deer Hunter was a hit and won five academy awards. Heaven’s Gate virtually destroyed Cimino’s career and nearly bankrupted United Artists, but has since gone on to enjoy a curious critical rehabilitation, a development which will no doubt be given a prod by the director’s passing.

Cimino did make other films, including The Sicilian (1987) and Desperate Hours, based on the Joseph Hanson stage play and first filmed in 1955 with an ageing Humphrey Bogart, and he penned the scrips for a handful of others. His passing is an opportune time to revisit one of his lessor discussed directorial efforts, the first film he made in the wake the Heaven’s Gate debacle, 1985 neo noir, Year of the Dragon.

Set in New York’s Chinatown, Year of the Dragon opens with the assassination of one of Chinatown’s elders and the murder of an Italian grocery store owner who resists an attempt to shake him down for protection money. The new head of the Chinatown command of the NYPD, Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) believes both deaths are the result of an upsurge in Triad activity.… Read more

Goldstone

Goldstone 1A film sequel is always a risky venture, and thus it is with Goldstone, Ivan Sen’s follow-up to his 2013 outback crime drama, Mystery Road. But it is just one risk the writer–director–cinematographer director takes with this film.

You can read my review of Goldstone, in full, here at the Australian Books Review Arts Update page.