Ferdy Fox’s World of Horror #3 For Madmen OnlyWritten by Ferdy Fox
Hello Chaps, Ferdy Fox here, connoisseur of the frighteningly fantastic and the morbidly macabre.
I seem to recall promising a New Year’s Honours list where I pay tribute to my top five films of the last five years from the International Horror scene. So here it is - fashionably late.
From the icy fjords of Norway, the dusty back streets of downtown Havana, remote South American forests and a post apocalyptic Germany – I am taking you on a journey of Jules Verne proportions,
Hell (Germany) (released through Lionsgate)
Global warming is a bitch. As I type this, my cousins in the Home Counties are sleeping with the fishes – and then there’s the other side of the coin – the warming up of the planet. Hell is set in the near future of 2016 and the film’s opening text tells us - “The earth’s atmosphere has heated up by 10 degrees Celsius, and people are fighting for survival. Water and food supplies are quickly running out. Social order is collapsing.”
For those of you who weren’t paying attention in your German class, Hell is the German word for Light. And the glaring light in Hell is oppressive – relentlessly beating down, bleaching everything out, bringing up a cloud of dust. During the day the survivors shut themselves away or travel in cars with windows blacked out, peering through a slit in the windscreen to drive.
In this desperate world, trust is an even scarcer commodity than food, water, or petrol. Everything is up for grabs, and every deal likely to be double-crossed. Through all of this, two sisters remain determined to survive and stay together. Hannah Herzsprung is totally absorbing as the older sister Marie - who was last seen on the world stage as the angry rich girl in the magnificent Baader-Meinhof Complex.
Of course there is nothing new about cinematic survival in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. From The Last Man Earth to the Omega Man, to the Survivors TV Series and right up to The Road. But Hell does not rely on blood thirsty zombies or radioactive vampires to spice up its post-apocalypse. This film gives us a gritty realism and some superbly thrilling action and chase sequences, well directed by the young Tim Fehlbaum. Hell won best film at Fantasporto in 2012, which being one the world’s leading horror and fantasy film festival is quite an accolade.
Juan Des Los Muertos aka Juan of the Dead (Cuba) (released through Metrodome)
Juan De Los Muertos is a Cuban Zombie film. Yes that’s right – that concept alone makes the film worth seeing.
Unmistakably the exteriors are shot in Havana city, and bearing in mind the Cuban’s government no fun totalitarian attitude to films – you ask yourself ‘how the hell did they get permission to film this?’ The answer is that an open-minded employee of the Cuban Film Commission was sent the script, thought it was fun and said – “why not?” And so permission was granted. Does this mean a new a dawn, a Cuban Perestroika? Sadly No. The employee was subsequently sacked for his decision.
The film is more comedy than horror – and the comedy comes garnished with a very appealing dollop of social satire. Check - Cuban National Television blaming the outbreak of zombies on CIA backed dissidents.
Alexis Díaz de Villegas is the deadbeat waster Juan of the title who finally gets around to seizing the opportunity to make a quick peso from the Zombie invasion. If you’ll forgive the expression, it gives him a whole new lease of life, as he gathers together a bunch of reprobates – including a fiery transvestite brilliantly played by Jazz Villa - to offer a ZombieBusters service.
I don’t want to be a spoiler monkey but the ending is very moving. Throughout the film there is talk of Juan’s friends, family and associates fleeing Cuba in a boat to Florida. At the bitter end Havana is over-run by the undead and the last of Juan’s people are set to leave Cuba. But Juan chooses to stay behind, he’s stuck with his home nation through thick and thin and he’s isn’t going to let a Zombie invasion drive him away now. He remains to fight the Zombies alone.
Of course when you think about it, a Cuban Zombie film is not such an oddity. In the Caribbean sea, in the next Island along is Haiti – the home of Voodoo, and the setting for the first two Zombie movies of any significance - White Zombie and I Walked With A Zombie. So in fact - Juan De Los Muertos is a the Zombie film coming home.
Troll Hunter (Norway) (released through the Focus/Lionsgate)
While the people of Scandinavia must be disappointed they don’t have a team at the World Cup this summer, they can take comfort from the brace of excellent films they have produced in recent years – and Troll Hunter is a towering example.
A number of bears have been dying in suspicious circumstances and a group of student film-makers investigate, believing it to be the work of illegal poachers. They zero in on the mysterious poacher Hans, who turns out to be secretly working for the government to exterminate Trolls. And it’s not those pathetic on-line twerps who type rude words to upset people. These are big fuck off giant Trolls who fill the screen and stink like the devil.
By drawing on Norse Mythology and Grimm Fairytales – Troll Hunters is a refreshing Monster movie like you’ve never seen before. The monster sequences are totally convincing, employing special effects that are a combination of CGI and muppettry.
There is a delightful streak of black humour running throughout the film, with a hilarious cafe scene where a stoney-faced Hans shows the film-makers the number of forms he has to fill in every time he kills a Troll. There’s also a priceless cameo appearance from a Polish gang who get paid to dump dead bears. They should get their own TV series!
So it’s Full Marks for the Monsters, Full Marks for the humour and Full Marks for Originality. Norway may have crashed out dismally in the World Cup qualifiers – but they have triumphed on the World Stage of Cinema with Troll Hunter. Watching the film reminds me that I was planning to join my mother on a Baltic cruise along the Norwegian coastline – but I couldn’t afjord it!
La Casa Muda aka Silenthouse (Uruguay) (released through Optimum)
Don’t you just hate having to tidy up a ramshackle cottage in the woods in order to put it on the market? It’s enough to make you want to kill your relatives. We’ve all been there.
This Uruguayan chiller is distinguished by being executed in one single continuos shot. Hitchock did this with Rope and the Russian art house film Russian Ark attempted this in 2002. But I fear the film-maker’ claims on this one are about as genuine as a Luis Suarez fall in the box. You can’t fool this wily old fox. On 7:57 Laura – the main character- enters the house and the screen goes to black for a few seconds, before the screen is lit up by a lantern. There was definitely camera break there. The same thing happens about 8 minutes later when Laura’s gaze goes up to the ceiling, there is another all black screen, and a chance for the cameraman to grab a ciggie.
Does the one continuous shot concept add to the terror, making the experience feel as though we are in real time? I don’t think so. The one-take thing is a talking point, a curiosity and something to mention in my introduction. Putting all that aside, undeniably La Case Muda is a powerful shocker.
This film makes the Ferdy Fox Top 5 because even on a second viewing I found myself jumping out of my skin. And me - a seasoned horror movie watcher! The sequence with the flash Polaroid is pure inspiration and desperately terrifying.
La Casa Muda is written and directed by Gustavo Hernández – who also credits himself as the editor. Bearing in mind how little editing is required, this is like taking the credit for being Ross Kemp’s hair-dresser.
A year later came the US remake Silent House starring Elizabeth Olsen. You’re expecting me to slag it off right? Wrong. While the Olsen version is a little fluffier and not as original as the...erm..... original, it’s still well worth seeing, sticking true to the concept of one single continuos shot.
The Pact (released through E One)
A young woman wakes up in an empty house. The wall paper and nautical themed decorations look
like they’re from a musuem of bad taste from the 1950s, and the young woman is clearly out of place. That’s because it’s not her home, it’s her dead mother’s. After a nasty argumentative telephone call with her sister about the funeral arrangements, she contacts her friend via Skype who is looking after the woman’s young daughter. The connection is bad, the woman takes her laptop around the creepy and tastelessly decorated rooms to stay connected – then the daughter says – Who That’s Behind You?
How Creepy is That? That’s the first of many scares to set The Pact on its way as one the most powerful horrors of our time.
Caity Loitz plays Annie the motorcycle girl who goes back to her mother’s home to try and find out what happened to her sister. Their mother was abusive, though it is never spelt out quite how abusive she was, and Annie, bit by bit, discovers that all those times she thought she was alone in her home, she was being watched by a serial killer relative that her mother had provided a hide-out home within a home.
Aside from the scares these are some visceral disturbing images. For instance when Annie is asleep, the serial killer uncle wandering around the house and weeping, presumably for the loss of his sister.
The Pact is a serial killer movie mixed up with a bit of supernatural. But this is no mish-mash, everything works
from the detailed art direction of the house – that seriously worrying wall-paper - the believability of the performances, and the tension building script, everything is finely balanced.
Pact is directed by Nicholas McCarthy who also wrote the script. He is presently working on another horror movie called Home. Like a serial killer peering through a hole in the wall - keep your eye on this guy.
So the choice for this column’s Fox’s Gonad awards is a tough one. All modern masterpieces – but after careful consideration I give it The Pact. Well done - your career’s will surely be made with this accolade!
My next column will cover the up-to-the minute 2014 releases on the VOD/DVD UK Market. If I am sent enough bribes I may be tempted into reviewing a selection of classic and near-forgotten British thrillers from the Sixties.