GOGathon: The Devil Checked In Here

Joe and Ivy Davis are a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks. In a bid to get away from it all, Joe’s arranged for them to have a lovely seaside holiday at a quiet coastal town, where the only accommodation on offer is from the Quiet Haven Hotel. Once Joe and Ivy arrive, however, they find that the hotel is a bit of a shambles – and Ivy’s behaving and talking in an incredibly strange manner, alternating between total silence and incoherently talking about things only she can see. To make matters worse, a terrible storm has blown in, so strong heading out into the downpour to seek help isn’t a sensible option.

Joe and Ivy go up to their hotel room and have a tense conversation about their problems, before going to sleep. When they wake up, Ivy’s nowhere to be seen. When he goes down to the hotel restaurant to look for her, thinking she might have gone to breakfast ahead of him, he finds the hotel manager standing in the midst of a bizarre tableau. She informs him that Ivy made the mistake of angering a certain Sophie, another guest in the hotel, but that if he hurries he might be able to persuade Sophie to let Ivy go.

And it’s around then that things go full Eraserhead. (With additional content warnings for issues of murder, mental health, eating disorders, and utter tripped-out mayhem.)

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Surprisingly Far From Greenwich

Content warning: this movie drops some rape at you from more or less out of nowhere.

Catherine Bomarzini (Sherilyn Fenn) has inherited a magnificent Italian castle with enormous statues in its gardens and interiors that seem to be constructed from second-hand sets from Labyrinth. Having lived there in early childhood before moving to America, she’s thrilled to return and catch up with Martha (Hilary Mason), the castle caretaker and her childhood nurse, as well as her old friend from art school Gina (Charlie Spalding) who moved to Italy a while back to work in painting restoration. As Gina visits, the two of them catch a travelling circus act, led by smouldering magician Lawrence (Malcolm Jamieson), and Gina is so taken with the act she gets Catherine to invite the performers over to the castle for dinner.

At this point the circus performers drug Catherine and Gina and rape them; specifically, Lawrence assaults Catherine but then switches places with his twin brother Oliver (also Malcolm Jamieson) to complete the act, and whilst Oliver is busy with Catherine, Lawrence rapes Gina for good measure. (It is also strongly implied that whilst Lawrence is busy preparing Catherine for Oliver’s attention, Gina is being gang-raped by most of the rest of the cast.)

Gina and Catherine aren’t thrilled by what happened but decide to not call the police and just deal with it themselves, and go their separate ways. However, Catherine soon finds herself adrift in waves of ghostly visions, as she tries to discern the difference between Lawrence, who looks like a gentleman but behaves like a beast, and Oliver, who behaves like a gentleman but sometimes turns into a terrifying monster. Meanwhile, when Gina gets back to work she sets to restoring an ancient painting donated to the local church that seems to depict an ancient scene that might shed some light on the tragedy of Lawrence and Oliver.

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Having a Peep At Tom

Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom out in 1960, but aesthetically and thematically feels like it could have emerged 5-10 years later and still been ahead of its time. Mark Lewis – he isn’t specified as being German in the script but actor Karlheinz Boehm doesn’t exactly go all out to disguise his accent – is a quiet, withdrawn young man who lives in the upper floors of the family home he inherited from his late father. Lewis Senior was a brilliant scientist who conducted a range of experiments of a dubious ethical nature on Mark from birth onwards, recording almost all of them on film. Having caught the shutterbug fever himself after receiving a handheld film camera from dad – a princely gift for a child of his age – Mark has grown to structure his life around the camera, converting dad’s old laboratory into his own personal darkroom. He’s landed a day job as a cameraman in a respectable movie studio and dreams of one day being a director; until that day, he earns a bit of extra scratch shooting pornography for sleazy newsagents to sell under the counter.

But that’s not all that he’s up to. Lewis’ father experiments revolved around the biological basis of fear. His textbooks line the walls of Mark’s study – and Mark himself is conducting his own investigations into fear, not on a scientific basis but on an artistic, aesthetic basis. You see, what gets Mark’s blood moving of an evening is stalking, trapping, and murdering women – and recording the process. Meanwhile, his young downstairs lodger Helen Stephens (Anna Massey), on discovering that her landlord is this handsome young gentleman, is quite keen to get to know him better – even though she spots the occasional red flag in his behaviour, and in the curious home movie he shows her of his father’s fear experiments on him. As Mark works to complete his personal documentary on fear, will Helen find herself in a starring role?

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Digging Up Spooky Roots

“Folk horror” as a subgenre has gained increasing recognition of late, in part because of the efforts of Facebook groups like Folk Horror Revival. The major players in that community operate, among various other projects, Wyrd Harvest Press, a self-publishing umbrella for various folk horror-relevant materials; Wyrd Harvest’s repertoire includes the Folk Horror Revival journal series, of which Field Studies represents the first entry.

Now in its second edition and edited by a cross-section of members of the Facebook group, Field Studies offers a range of essays, interviews, and other snippets on the general subject of the folk horror subgenre, coming across much like a genre-specific take on Strange Attractor.

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GOGathon: The Devil Meowed Through Here

Harvester Games is an indie development studio whose efforts are largely driven by the efforts of main game designer, programmer and writer Remigiusz Michalski, who’d cut his teeth producing Downfall – A Horror Adventure Game using the baseline Adventure Game Studio development environment before attempting more ambitious works. The main crop of Harvester so far has been the Devil Came Through Here trilogy – named for a phrase that recurs throughout the series – consisting of The Cat Lady, a spruced-up remake of Downfall with some plot and writing tweaks to make it fit the themes of the overall trilogy better, and the recently-released Lorelai.

Just lately, I finally got around to giving The Cat Lady a proper try, having bought it for cheap in a GOG sale a while back and forgotten it was there. As far as setting the tone for the rest of the trilogy goes, it certainly makes a powerful aesthetic statement: eerie, often-monochrome graphics paired with a soundtrack from Remigiusz’s brother Michal makes sure that what the aesthetic lacks in polish it more than makes up for in atmosphere.

It also really aggressively pushes themes of suicide, nihilism, murder, death, depression, and general misery at you from the beginning. So, you know, content warnings for all of that apply to the rest of the review.

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Cool Kids On Thin Ice

It’s the exciting future year of 1999, and the big difference since The Chill Factor‘s release year of 1989 is… absolutely nothing, everyone dresses and does their hair like it is still very much the 1980s. But apparently snowmobiles are very much in fashion among cool college couples, and we join a delightfully square trio of such on a cross-country snowmobile trip somewhere generically cold and American.

After lunch at a rough little roadhouse along the way, two of the dudes, Tom (Aaron Kjenaas) and Chris (David Fields) start feeling competitive and decide to have a race on their snowmobiles to see who is the fastest. The roadhouse’s bartender points them in the direction of Blackfriar Lake, a dry lakebed nearby which would provide the flat surface they need to have a competitive race. Unfortunately, having drink several rounds of beer prior to the race, the fun ends in tragedy when Tom is thrown off his snowmobile and ends up bashing his head extremely hard against a tree.

It’s a good thing that there’s a big ol’ cabin in the woods nearby – the boarded-up main building of a Catholic summer camp, more precisely – where they can take Tom so that Chris (a medical student on the cusp of becoming a properly-qualified doctor) can assess the situation properly and so that Tom won’t just die immediately of the cold as the weather worsens. It becomes apparent that Tom’s going to need hospital attention, and so it comes down to Ron (Jim Cagle), the studly football star of the group, to go out into the storm on his snowmobile to find help whilst Chris and the women work on keeping Tom warm and comfortable and wait out the situation. How will Chris, Lissa (Eve Montgomery), Jeannie (Dawn Laurie) and Karen (Connie Snyder) pass the time? Oh, wait, looks like someone left behind a ouija board…

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 2: The Second Encounter

It’s often the case that the first season of a television show involves a certain amount of workshopping to get the central concept polished and refined, before the series really hits its stride in a subsequent season. To an extent, this is true of The X-Files, which spent most of season 1 establishing the show’s status quo and then started really delivering on that concept’s promise in season 2- but at the same time, there’s a decent chunk at the start of the season where it looks like they might be rethinking the entire concept.

As of the start of season 2 of The X-Files, the X-Files division has been shut down, Agent Mulder’s stuck in a stultifying post listening to wiretap evidence, and Scully’s teaching trainees at Quantico how to unpack corpses. In the series opener, Little Green Men – another excellent episode from the star writing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong – Mulder isn’t even sure he believes in the old crusade any more, and ponders whether his memories of his sister’s abduction are really all they’re cracked up to be. Scully, for her part, seems to want to see where the chase takes them regardless of the reality or otherwise of Mulder’s memories – working on the basis that it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the inspiration for a project is rational or not if leads you to an interesting and illuminating end result.

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