Review – It Follows

With a premise that’s as ingeniously simple as it is terrifying, David Robert Mitchell’s masterful low-budget chiller stalks our primal fears with a potency that’s all-too-rare in today’s horror cinema.

A bona fide modern horror classic, the cold, clammy sense of dread of It Follows will mean you're looking over your shoulder long after the credits roll

A bona fide modern horror classic, the cold, clammy sense of dread of It Follows will mean you’re looking over your shoulder long after the credits roll

The brilliance of It Follows is in the way it borrows from the likes of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1998), Ringu (1998) and Whistle And I’ll Come To You (1968), the little-seen screen adaptation of M.R. James’ classic short story, and comes up with something that’s both refreshing and bloodcurdling.

Based on a recurring nightmare Mitchell experienced as a child, the horror of It Follows stems from the spine-tingling concept of being pursued by an unrelenting figure that only the victim can see.

Jay (Maika Monroe) gets way more than she bargained for thanks to Hugh (Jake Weary) in It Follows

Jay (Maika Monroe) gets way more than she bargained for thanks to Hugh (Jake Weary) in It Follows

Mitchell’s script injects sex into the equation, both as a nod to the horror trope of punishing those who engage in intercourse, but also as a sideways observation on the consequences of sexually transmitted disease; in this case one spread as a deadly curse that can only be lifted by having sex with another person.

The film’s disturbing prologue tracks a terrified teenage girl who perplexes her father by running out of her house and speeding off in the family car; all the while looking behind her at what appears to be nothing.

Another victim of 'it' in It Follows

Another victim of ‘it’ in It Follows

The grisly aftermath points to something very real, however, and the next teenager on the chopping block is Jay (Maika Monroe), whose sexual encounter with Hugh (Jake Weary) takes a disturbing turn when she’s informed she’s now the target of a malevolent figure that will stalk and kill her unless she passes the curse onto someone else.

Despite not being able to see the supernatural figure, which constantly changes its appearance, Jay’s sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and Greg (Daniel Zovatto) come to her aid and try to find a way to stop Jay’s relentless pursuer.

Scared

Scared

In the wrong hands, this could so easily have been just another limp-wristed horror flick, but Mitchell gives us a genuinely taut and unnerving experience. The use of the camera is inspired; from the artful 360-degree pans which are as slow and methodical as the assailant, to the way he cuts between tight close-ups and empty corridors or doorways that invite us to imagine the worst is just out of shot. Furthermore, Mike Gioulakis’ oppressive cinematography uses light and dark to terrific effect.

A superbly edited sequence on a beach leads to a – literally – hair-raising moment, while a key sequence in a swimming pool is a masterclass in grinding tension.

Scared #2

Scared #2

It Follows distinguishes itself from the crop of lazily edited cash-grabbing products loosely defined as ‘horror’ by giving us characters we actually care about. Jay is sympathetically played by Monroe and the friendship she shares with the others is believable and engaging.

One of the film’s strongest threads is its jagged and percussive synth score by Disasterpeace that evokes the very best of Carpenter and serves to amp up the terror rather than smother it, while geek fans will note the use of the Serif Gothic font in the title is a further nod to Carpenter’s Halloween.

A bona fide modern horror classic, the cold, clammy sense of dread of It Follows will mean you’re looking over your shoulder long after the credits roll.

Top 10 Horror Movies

This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally recognised magazine and website that shows film in a wider context. The Big Picture has been running a series of horror-related features and reviews, while its contributors have also provided their Top 10 horror movies. The nature of these lists is such that you invariably change your mind every five minutes but, for now, this is my list (The Shining doesn’t make it I’m afraid – sorry).

Horror has been a staple part of my movie watching since I was a teenager. I can remember getting collywobbles the first time I watched Psycho at 3am on my own; being genuinely freaked out by the end of Ringu; and sitting through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre thinking it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. However, no other horror film has stayed with me like George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. It was a game changer, not only for cinema in general, but also for my appreciation of what an often derided genre can be capable of.

10. The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist

9. [Rec] (2007)

Rec

8. The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting

7. Psycho (1960)

Psycho

6. Ringu (1998)

Ringu

5. Halloween (1978)

Halloween

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

3. Alien (1978)

Alien

2. The Thing (1982)

The Thing

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night Of The Living Dead

 

 

The Horror, The Horror – Film’s Freakiest Scenes (A Personal List)

Cinema is an emotive beast; it can make us laugh out loud, shed a tear or think about things is a new and different way.

It can also scare the bejesus out of us. Horror is almost as old as cinema itself and over the past century or so has adapted to reflect the times we live in.

We love having our primal fears tapped into and each of us is affected differently. For some it’s slasher movies, while for others it’s good old fashioned creature features. For me it’s supernatural horror, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise when glancing over the list below.

This is just a limited selection of scenes that have freaked me out over the years. There are many more I could list, but I’d much prefer to find out:

What are your scariest scenes?

Ring (1998)
Sadako

The J-Horror wave produced plenty of scares, but none as blood-curdling as this deeply unsettling scene from the supremely effective Ring (Ringu). Unfortunate viewers of a cursed video receive a phone call telling them they will die exactly one week later.  It’s a fate that befalls poor Ryūji (Hiroyuki Sanada), who watches the TV with mounting horror as the vengeful spirit of Sadako crawls out a well and then out of the TV towards Ryūji. It’s a terrifying conclusion to a film that severely curtailed my video cassette watching.

The Haunting (1963)
“Whose Hand Was I Holding?”

There’s nothing like a well-made haunted house movie to really chill the bones and Robert Wise’s classic The Haunting (as opposed to the dreadful 1999 remake) is as good as it gets. Highly strung Eleanor Vance (Julie Harris) agrees to join several others to disprove the ghostly tales that have built up around a creaky old house by staying there for a few days and nights. Big mistake. Wise slowly cranks up the tension and spooky goings on to unbearable levels, not least of which in the unnerving scene when Eleanor is in bed and trying to shut out the ghoulish crying and laughter emanating from the walls. She thinks her hand is being held by Theodora (Claire Bloom), only to discover she’s in bed across the room. “Whose hand was I holding?” a terrified Eleanor asks, not wishing to know the answer.

Zodiac (2007)
The Basement

Although not a horror movie per se, there’s plenty in David Fincher’s 2007 masterpiece about the obsessive – and ultimately unsuccessful – hunt by a detective (Mark Ruffalo), crime reporter (Robert Downey Jr) and political cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) to identify the Zodiac killer, who murdered several people in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Fincher, who showed he could do grisly in Seven, amps up a different kind of dread here, not least of which in the hair-rasing scene when Gyllenhaal’s Robert Graysmith visits the home of movie projectionist Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer), believing he can shed light on the case. Following the unnerving Vaughn down into his basement, the paranoid Graysmith suddenly believes he’s standing in front of Zodiac himself. It’s a masterclass in psychological horror on Fincher’s part, helped in no small part by Gyllenhaal’s convincingly strung out performance.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The House

One of the first films to properly take advantage of viral marketing, the buzz around The Blair Witch Project had audiences freaking out before they even set foot in the theatre. Despite trying to convince you otherwise, horror movies are generally at their best when they adopt the less is more approach and it certainly works here. It also reinvigorated the found footage sub-genre, for better or worse. More than just a story of three student filmmakers getting lost in the woods while investigating a local witch legend, the genuinely terrified reactions of its cast elicit a raw fear in the audience that builds and builds until the frenzied finale when they enter what appears to be an abandoned house… only to find out something terrible lurks inside.

REC (2007)
Night Vision

One of the more effective found footage films that followed in the wake of The Blair Witch Project was this low-budget Spanish zombie flick, which follows a TV crew as they cover a fire station’s night shift. They’re called to check on an old woman who’s trapped in her apartment, but before they know it all hell breaks loose when the old dear – and others within the apartment block – turns very, very nasty. Although not to everyone’s taste, REC‘s use of ‘shaky cam’ is particularly effective and adds a sense of chaotic terror to proceedings. It’s a pretty scary film throughout and the heart beats that much faster during the nerve-shredding climax, which borrows the night vision technique of The Silence Of The Lambs and throws in extra nastiness.

The Eye (2002)
The Lift

The second Asian film on this list (and another product of the Hollywood remake machine) that truly chills, the concept of The Eye  is simple. A young blind woman regains her sight after undergoing cornea transplant surgery, but this gift turns into a curse when she begins seeing figures that seem to foretell death. Her visions are as distressing as they are supremely hair-raising, in particular the one she experiences when she enters a lift and realises she’s not alone. As the lift ever-so-slowly reaches its destination, a figure first seen facing the corner floats closer and closer to her, cranking up the creepiness to unbearable levels.

Debuts Blogathon: Frank Henenlotter – Basket Case (1982)

Debuts Blogathon

Today it’s the turn of Elwood over at From the Depths of DVD Hell to contribute to the ‘Debuts’ Blogathon with a dissection of Frank Henenlotter’s 1980s horror classic Basket Case. I’ll be honest; Elwood’s site was new to me before he got in touch requesting to join the Blogathon club, but since then I’ve become a fan. As well as an impressive review archive, he’s also gradually working through the 1001 Movies to See Before you Die list; something I think a lot of us out there have thought about doing at some point.

Frank Henenlotter

Basket Case (1982)

It’s safe to say that there are few directors who embrace the sleazy side of cinema as much as Frank Henenlotter who, while not the most prolific of directors with only six films to his credit since unleashing this debut film in 1982, has retained his exploitation inspired style throughout.

Basket Case PosterWhile other directors such as those who came through the Roger Corman film school, including Joe Dante, John Landis and James Cameron, moved onto making more mainstream movies and moved away from their exploitation cinema beginnings, Henenlotter has remained true to his grimey 42nd Street-inspired roots. He’s even continued his passion for exploitation cinema through the website Something Weird Video,  where he has been instrumental in rescuing numerous titles from being destroyed, including Bloodthirsty Butchers and  the truly random The Curious Dr. Humpp, as well as this debut film from Henenlotter himself.

Opening with what could almost be described as a video postcard of New York’s 42nd Street (true, not one that anyone would want to receive) as cinema marquee’s advertise kung fu movies and sleaze, the softly spoken and awkward Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) wanders down the neon lit sidewalk carrying a larger wicker basket. Unsurprisingly, everyone wants to know what’s in the basket, from the cackling street walkers to the residents of the seedy hotel were Duane decides to stay. Unknown to them all, though is that this wicker basket is home to Duane’s monstrous twin brother Belial, who is deeply resentful at being surgically separated from his brother, so much so that the two brothers are now on a mission of revenge to kill the doctors who separated them.

Basket CaseHenenlotter’s vision of New York has always been one caked in grime and sleaze which he established with this debut, where the residents are either sleazy or just plain oddballs. Even Duane’s love intrest Sharon (Terri Susan Smith) seems to not be quite all there, especially when she frequently talks so breathlessly and wide eyed. This film establishes a lot of Henenlotter’s favourite themes, including bodily mutation and over-the-top violence, as well as his now trademark scuzzy sense of humour. They craft a unique film to say the least, but one which wears its exploitation colours proudly, with Henenlotter himself classifying his films as exploitation films rather than Horror films.

Here he crafts a tale full of sleaze, gore and sheer randomness, yet one which also surprisingly has quite a few touching moments as well, such as the boy’s aunt reading them The Tempest. Despite Belial only being able to communicate telepathically with his brother the two share a clear bond for each other. Even if it might seem that Duane is being led by his monstrous brother’s lust for revenge, the rage at being detached from each other is clear to see in them both.

Basket CaseStill, despite these tender moments the tone throughout is decidedly schizophrenic, especially when Belial starts to demonstrate a serious jealously streak, which soon sees him soon setting off to pursue his own perverse pleasures, including one scene which managed to offend even the crew to the point where they walked off the production, something that would also happen again on Henenlotter’s next film Brain Damage.

Warped tastes aside, this film remains a master class in low budget filmmaking with a measly budget of $35,000. This fact is only further highlighted by the roll of cash Duane carries with him actually being the film’s budget, while Henenlotter’s crew was so small he made up most of the names listed on the credits to make it seem like a bigger crew than he actually had.

Basket CaseStill, despite the lack of budget the film has still dated well, with the stop motion effects used to animate Belial having a real charm to them which CGI just doesn’t have. Equally not hampered is the healthy gore quota on hand here, as we get a head pushed into a drawer of surgical equipment and bloody maulings amongst the bloody delights, as well as some gooey looking surgical scenes as we see in one flashback the two brothers being separated.

Despite Belial’s murderous tendancies, he is still a restrained killer and only kills for revenge. The only time he breaks from this is in a fit of jealousy towards the end of the film, almost as if Henenlotter was keen to show that while he might look like a monster he possesses none of the usual monster psychology, though at the same time he is unquestionably a pervert as seen in several of the more questionable scenes, where Belial decides to explore the world outside of his basket.

Basket CaseMore focused than some of his later films, the film has a quick pace and outside of some truly questionable acting there is a lot to enjoy here. At this point Henenlotter is still not as caught up in his themes as he becomes in his later films, which frequently seem to be more about shocking the audience than crafting an intelligible story, as his last film Bad Biology only serves to highlight.

Still for anyone looking for a starting point for Henenlotter’s film this is certainly a gentle entry point and for many this remains the favourite of his six films, so much so that it would spawn two sequels despite the ending of this film being pretty final. But then, like any good exploitation movie, if there is a chance to make money there is always a way.

Over at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, Nick from The Cinematic Katzenjammer casts his critical gaze over Duncan Jones’ acclaimed 2009 debut Moon. Head over to Chris’s site now by clicking here.

For your next slice of Blogathon gold, Elroy from The Silver Screener will be examining Christopher Nolan’s devious debut Following (1998). Don’t miss it.