Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Whitby World of Horror

After a hectic week last week - which included having the first rough cut screening of 'Mum and Dad' for our execs from Film London (which went really well - there's still work to be done, but it seems to be working in the way that we want, which is a relief, especially after spending 15 hours in the edit suite the day before, trying to get it finished in time...) - I needed a break - which was lucky, because I'd already arranged a trip to Whitby, home of Goth, for a weekend of watching horror films along with my friends Chris, Gareth, John and Matt. This was planned as a kind of response to an art project which Jeanie had taken part in earlier in the year - albeit on a much smaller scale, with less talk about art and more watching of horror DVDs.

We hired a cottage near the town centre and basically spent the weekend nights watching films, and the days wandering about lovely (although constantly pissing with rain) Whitby. It was great.

After a five hour drive (including a detour to Yarm to pick up the keys, and torrential downpours for most of the journey) we got there Friday evening, had a few pints and a curry (in the hottest curry house in England - that's hot as in 'sweat dripping off your nose onto your poppadums', as opposed to 'spicy'), then it was back to the cottage (which we had managed to rearrange into a mini cinema, thanks to borrowing Jeanie's projector and rearranging all of the sofas) to start watching.

First up was one of the original Kolchak pilot movies, 'The Night Strangler'. Kolchak is always good fun, especially in his dealings, as I've mentioned before, with his editor Tony. 'The Night Strangler' is a story about a murderer with the face of a corpse draining the blood from young women on the streets of Seattle and it's a great piece of entertainment - obviously filmed on a budget, very quickly - there's one scene, where Kolchak has a great long speech revealing his theory where Darren McGavin half-fluffs a couple of lines but just keeps going - obviously aware that there wasn't going to be the chance to go again.

Next it was the French film 'Ils' (They) which came out earlier in the year. It's a lean, stripped-down atmospheric horror about a middle-class couple in an enormous house in Romania who get menaced by some intruders. It's an effective piece, but as it went on it kind of lost me a bit - I'm not sure there was any more to it than a drawn-out chase sequence, and the only idea seemed to be that kids in hoodies (especially foreign ones) are really scary.

Finally we watched a film I've been wanting to see again for years after seeing it on TV, 'Night of the Eagle'. Starring Peter Wyngarde (who spends much of the film in the highest-waisted trousers I've ever seen, puffing on endless cigarettes and smouldering (with brooding sexuality rather than fag-ash)), it's a great British witchcraft film, with a brilliant sequence set on a beach at night, which is one of the most atmospheric moments in British horror. The film also features a classic case of Husbanddickery from Wyngarde - a devout non-believer in the supernatural, whose entrenched contempt for his wife's belief in witchcraft leads almost to their deaths. The film also features a climactic sequence in a school with some great (though simply acheieved) effects work. All in all, it's terrific.

After a long lie-in, we spent the next day looking round Whitby, before going back in the afternoon to watch the rough cut of "Mum and Dad'. I was obviously very nervous about showing this, but wanted to get people's feedback. After about twenty minutes I had to leave the room (I'd watched the film twice through already in the two days before, and I was feeling too self-conscious), but the feedback I got from everybody was really positive, even with the film in still quite a rough state. There were a few helpful suggestions about things we could add or take away (at this point it's probably worth saying that it's MUCH EASIER to take stuff out than it is to add stuff - we're down to pretty much the bare bones as far as additional usable footage goes), but generally it seemed to go down really well, which was a massive relief.

With that out of the way, we went out for a pint and a walk on the pier and the beach, with John taking some moody photos along the way. Here we are acting like an extremely unathletic song and dance troupe:
And here we are looking like some dodgy Eighties rock band who have reformed for the cash and are now condemned to a life of greatest hits gigs around the north coast of England.

That night, we watched three more films, starting with George Romero's Martin. I don't know why Martin isn't more acclaimed - it's fucking great. Maybe it's because Romero is just seen as the Zombie guy, but the story of Martin is terrific - about a boy who may or may not be a vampire, who is sent to live with his elderly 'cousin' (a bloke who looks like Colonel Sanders and constantly greets Martin with a growl of 'Nosferatu!' while pressing a crucifix at him (that'd get on your nerves after a while, wouldn't it?)). The film plays with the ambiguity of what is the truth about Martin throughout, but it never feels like you're being shortchanged by not getting a definitive answer. Instead, it creates an atmosphere which is all to do with intolerance and lack of communication and the intransigence of religion, creating sympathy for Martin, while at the same time never shying away from the fact that he is murdering people and sucking their blood.

After Martin we watched a section of Dead of Night (in the interim, while stopping for a coffee break, Chris had been reading out his 'Ghost Stories of Whitby' pamplet which included a tale about a ghostly puppeteer...) - the famous ventriloquist's dummy story with Michael Redgrave giving a fantastic performance. Again, as with Martin it's always kept ambiguous as to whether the character is just mad or is in fact being influence by his devilish doll Hugo.

Next up - and putting a final nail in the coffin of the night - was 'The Incredible Melting Man', which both Mat and Chris had described as 'great'. A low-budget tale of space journey gone wrong (basically ripped off wholesale from 'The Quatermass Experiment') with decent effects by Rick Baker, it's one of the worst things I've ever seen. And not in a good way. Obviously struggling to make feature length, the film is padded out with shots of the IMM walking, very slowly, across hills and fields, with random shots, like this one of a nurse fleeing a shockingly understaffed (one nurse, one doctor, no security) military hospital, slowed down to half speed, just to pad out a few more seconds. The acting's rubbish, the script is non-existent and the pacing's appalling. By about half and hour in we were all willing it to end (the idea of actually GETTING UP AND TURNING IT OFF obviously being wholly alien to us), but on it crept, like badly-made slug, leaving a trail of crappy scenes behind it on the carpet.

The next day, we ventured out on a boat trip:
Got drenched, obviously.

Then we went back to the flat for one final film, Jack Clayton's 'The Innocents'. Weirdly, I'd never actually seen this all the way through before, but had obviously heard loads about it. Combining some of the themes of the weekend (Michael Redgrave, Peter Wyngarde, madness and ambiguity, and a variation of Husbanddickery in Redgrave's Uncledickery - 'I want you to take sole responsibility for these children. I do not want to be bothered with any of it while I am whoring my way through London.' (I've paraphrased a little.)), the film is gorgeously shot by Freddie Francis, brilliantly performed, deeply creepy (especially the lad who plays the boy) and truly disturbing. A great end to the weekend.

It was great to get away and watch some films - combining horror with British coastal tourism (chips, rock and pissing rain), and we're already talking about another one, maybe in Gareth's caravan in Wales (Four wheels of horror?). It would be great to do it again - as long as we don't have to watch 'The Incredible Melting Man' again.

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