It’s the 31st October, All Hallows Eve, the perfect time for Mostly film writers to reflect on what has cinematically disturbed them and why…
The Raft – Creepshow 2
You know, I had almost gotten away from the creature in The Raft. I hadn’t thought about it in years but it must have always been there, lurking just under the surface because, as soon I saw a link to this YouTube clip, the way the film stung me when I was a kid came rushing back. And I felt scared. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I watched it. A part of me knew I shouldn’t look back. That I should just keep moving. But I figured I’m older now, I’m an educated man. Maybe if I could work out why this thing terrified me, I’d sleep easier. Besides, I had to watch so I could write this for you.
Now, I could tell you why I should not be scared. The Raft is the middle segment of Creepshow 2, an 80s horror portmanteau-movie that seeks to capture the spirit of EC Comics, like Tales From the Crypt. I love those comics but they rarely disturb. Most of the stories are about a bad-person (a cruel gangster, a gold-digging philanderer) getting their comeuppance through some supernatural means. As such the stories often feel old fashioned, moral and safe.
This story is about four teenagers, they swim out to a raft and are picked off, one-by-one by this… thing. The thing is a dark, viscous blob that floats. It looks a little like an oil slick, a little like some ruptured bin bags full of porridge (that’s another reason why I shouldn’t be scared). And it kills them, it shoots sticky tendrils at them, coats them in ooze and they die, in pain. One kid, a medical student who fancies himself as an educated man, almost gets away but at the last minute he looks back and… ah, well.
I could pretend to have figured out why it scared me. Write something smart sounding about how it’s the unthinking, unstoppable placidity of the blob that unsettles. But that’s true of every second horror out there. Or I could pretend that I thought the thing symbolised a teenage fear of approaching adulthood, and thus death. But that would be bluff.
Because none of that could have mattered to me, over twenty years ago, when I walked home from my friend’s house, in broad daylight, far from any water and felt so shook up as to actually feel changed – and not in a good way – by this thing I had seen. There was one moment that kept me awake that night: the first victim, coated with evil, black gunk, emerging from the water and reaching a hand out to her friends, calling out, ‘Help me! Help me. Oh, it hurts. It hurts.’
And you know I had forgotten about that. Like I said, I hadn’t thought of it in years. But I had to have another look, so I could write this for you. And oh, it hurts. God help me, over twenty years later, it still hurts.
10 Rillington Place
Following Richard Attenborough’s death in August 2014, Radio 5Live played a montage of his achievements as an actor and director. About halfway through, I heard Attenborough as John Christie and my blood froze.
Nobody could play normal like the late Richard Attenborough, and nobody could imbue ‘normal’ with the menace Attenborough could. The round, choirboy face, clear blue eyes, the expression of such utter blandness – speaking of a little life moving between work and home and little else.
Attenborough’s genius lay in his ability to imply barely contained savagery beneath an unruffled surface. And then there’s the voice; low, musical, soothing, slightly fussy, telling you to breathe deeply into the makeshift gas mask and that the dizziness is just “all the goodness taking effect”. Until you see the victim’s eyes snap open in panic as they realise that there is no goodness, only darkness staring back at them with saucer-wide blue eyes, holding them down until they struggle no more.
10 Rillington Place isn’t a horror in the slasher/blood/vampire vein, but it still chills the blood. As with any good film, the true horror, fear even, is in the anticipation. When Tim and Beryl Evans (John Hurt and Judy Geeson) take rooms in Christie’s house, all Attenborough needs to do is hold his eyes a little too long on Beryl’s smart blue coat as she passes him on the stairs for us to know that the poor girl is doomed.
I stumbled on 10 Rillington Place during the late 90s when, unable to sleep, I found a sepia-toned, low key drama that screamed post-war squalor. I disliked everybody in the film: Tim Evans was a fool, and his wife wasn’t much better. Christie was a petty, pompous little curtain twitcher of a man who liked nothing more than to boast about his spurious medical connections while administering deadly chemicals to vulnerable women. But somehow I began to care about Evans as Christie drove him on to his doom, always quiet, always soothing, always ready with a distinctly dodgy interpretation of the law to justify his latest act of petty dominance, and always in the back of your mind, ready to offer a cure for what ails you.
Don’t Look Now
Paul McEvoy, Founder and Co-Director of FrightFest
Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now is both my favourite horror film of all time and one that I still find intensely uncomfortable to watch. The tale of two grieving parents (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) and their trip to Venice is a masterful and mesmeric cinematic tour de force with astounding images throughout that evoke in me an intensely powerful sense of dread and unease from the opening frames right through until its supremely shocking climax.
I first saw the film in my early teens on late-night TV and I can vividly remember the experience. I had never seen anything with such evocative ideas and imagery, and my adolescent mind was reeling as the film unspooled. Even on the small screen Roeg’s cinematic poetry was weaving its sly, scary spell with expert precision. The recurring vivid red motif, the haunting score by Pino Donaggio, the brilliant acting by the two leads, the disturbing clairvoyant sisters and that palpably unsettling feeling which reached its climax with an ending that terrified me so much that I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had experienced. That feeling kept me awake all night as the film played itself over and over in my head.
These days I watch hundreds of horror films every year, and I think part of the reason I do it is that I’m still searching for that feeling of true horror, the kind that stops you from sleeping and comes back to you in quiet moments months and even years later. Don’t Look Now is a film that fully lives up to its title, and it still staggers me to think that on its original release in 1973 the film was paired in a theatrical double bill with that other seminal shocker The Wicker Man as its ‘B’ feature. What must the double whammy of those two masterpieces back-to-back on the big screen have been like for audiences back then? I can only imagine.
Snow White and The Fox And The Hound
For years, whenever anybody asked me what the first film I ever saw at the cinema had been, I thought I knew the answer.“ET” I’d tell them confidently, and I might add that I saw it weeks after my school friends, and that when I triumphantly told them that I’d finally seen it, none of them believed me.
But one day I told this story in front of my mother, who knew better. “The first film you saw at the cinema”, she told me, “was Snow White, and you were so frightened you hid under your seat and wouldn’t come out.”
Well, she was quite right, but I’d blocked it out because the experience was so traumatising. The minute she mentioned it though, it all came back in a horrifying rush. I didn’t remember very much about the film itself (though I have watched it since, for research purposes), but the physical terror that the Wicked Queen engendered in me is still very close to the surface. I wasn’t scared by the witchy version she transforms into in order to trick Snow White into eating the poisoned apple, but by the beautiful, angry one who is no longer the fairest of them all. If I try to analyse it, I think there was something terrifying about the notion that one could make an enemy just by existing, and even more distressing was the idea that an adult could deliberately seek to do harm to a child.
I may have been a little naïve in those days, but in my defence I was no older than four. Now, watch this and tell me whether you think it’s appropriate for a pre-schooler? I blame the parents.
The brief for this piece was to write about a film that left a permanent mark on you and Snow White did that for sure, but the film which I actually still can’t even bear to think about is The Fox And The Hound. I’ve never re-watched it because I value my sanity and don’t have any desire to punish myself more than is necessary but good grief, it is the saddest film ever made. You can keep Bambi’s mother and Watership Down; the ending of this film still features in my dreams from time to time even though I haven’t seen it since 1981 (research be buggered; I’m not putting myself through that again). Obviously I don’t think you should watch it, but if you do, please never speak of it to me. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just off to wail and gibber under the bed.
I’ll never forget the Kit-Kat. It was perched on the flat wooden arm of the old leatherette armchair we had in our living room – dragged in when the soft 80s 3-piece got a bit too soft, a bit too worn in the 90s. I’d eaten two fingers of the four by the time the film had moved the audience through the introductions and settled the cast down for the night.
I’d never even heard of The Haunting before this. It was 1992, I was 15 and in that phase of one’s life when one is prepared to accept watching black and white films as it makes one appear quite the cinematic sophisticate. In other words, I was a dick. So I sat down to watch it after everyone else was in bed, thinking “oh, this won’t be scary, it’s black and white and old but I should watch it because it’s afascinating study of psychological breakdown through the prism of the supernatural” or some other dickish dickery.
So there I was, feet tucked under me as the first night in Hill House unravelled on screen. I was already a little unnerved by the subtle creeps of the build up, but when… whatever it is… began its assault on the bedroom doors with thundering, unnatural crashes I was genuinely terrified. I had never been as scared by a film as I was right then, alone in the dark, bundled up in a creaking armchair.
As I slowly recovered from this, the film threw in another scare, possibly its finest – in the darkness a moaning, chanting, squealing presence drifted just out of earshot as a face became apparent in the patterns of the wallpaper. Nothing explicit, just enhanced pareidolia. The scene’s punchline of an unseen hand gripping the protagonist’s, in some ineffable gesture of comfort, took my breath away on that cold night. I wanted something comforting, and there was my Kit-Kat on the arm, something sweet to cope with the shock. But I couldn’t reach out for it. What if something held my hand?