An interesting discussion on the Frightfest forums about the nature of the genre – and more specifically, when is a horror film not a horror film – led me into a bit of a muse last night. Frightfest was one of the first venues in the country to show The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. A strange but somehow logical place to show a film about a woman-hating serial killer. The curators have frequently shown movies that stretch the bounds of what you or I would call horror.
Which films, I thought, would be out of bounds to most horror festivals? I’ve come up with a list of five films that I reckon really wouldn’t fit the bill. You might not agree, but that’s part of the exercise. I’d love to know if you think I’m wrong, or which films you’d put on instead.
5. SEXY BEAST
Jonathon Glazer’s debut talks like a gangster movie, but walks like a horror. It’s a Faustian deal, with Ian McShane in a deeply Mephistophelean place as the boss of bosses. The stink of brimstone follows him around like bad aftershave. Ben Kingsley as his herald Don is suitably monstrous, but it’s McShane who grabs the heart of the film and digs his claws in. Poor Ray Winstone never has a chance, and you know in your gut that Don is not going to stay under that swimming pool for ever. (runner-up: Gangster No. 1.)
4. DEAD MAN’S SHOES
A bleak dark serial killer film with a sucking void where its heart should be. The film is a clear and loving tribute to early slashers and the 80’s revenge thriller, and director Shane Meadows hits all the references head on. Paddy Considene is brutal, unstoppable and merciless in the lead role. He’s more a force of nature than a character, a demon whose only purpose is to extract biblical revenge on his appointed victims. The wounded Midlands scenery only adds to the choking sense of doom. An unflinching, uncompromising epistle on justice, revenge, and the dehumanising aspects of both. (runner-up: High Plains Drifter.)
3. THE DEVILS
Ken Russell’s greatest achievement. The nuns in a convent in the small French town of Loudon are possessed after a priest, played with characteristic verve by Oliver Reed, cuts a deal with the devil. The tone is operatically fraught and berserk, and the film is packed with disturbing imagery. Violent, gleefully sacrilegious and quite frankly demented, it is a film that needs to be seen to be believed. Which is easier said than done. It’s never been released in a fully uncut form, and the only version available on DVD is a poor quality transfer that looks like it’s come from a VHS. A truly transgressive work. (runner-up: Visions Of Ecstasy.)
Speaking of transgression. Pier Paolo Pasolini set his version of the Marquis De Sade’s novel in Italy at the end of the war, but apart from that shift the film is distressingly true to the book. It’s an onslaught to the senses, and in many ways the sharpest depiction of a descent to hell ever put onto screen. It’s too brutal to serve as the political allegory Pasolini envisaged, and it’s telling that he was murdered soon after the film’s completion in 1975. Both Criterion and the BFI chose this title to lead their DVD and Blu-Ray libraries – a clear attempt to generate controversy and publicity, that also means that unlike The Devils, you can buy this in your local HMV. I can’t recommend it to anyone, but I also don’t think you can say that you’ve seen everything until you’ve seen this. I promise you, though, afterwards, you’ll wish you hadn’t. (runner-up: A Serbian Film)
1. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST
Gorehounds will have a field day with this one. It’s a relentless, unforgiving grind that easily outflanks the grimmest of torturepron in the way it piles so much suffering onto one person. By the time Christ makes it up to Calvary he is a bloody, seeping mass of wounds, barely recognisable as a human being. And this is before the nails go in. If you like your films to simply not give a damn, then this one’s for you. There is no relief, nothing to give you comfort. I had to create a viewing copy at work before the film was released, and our resident born-again Christian sat in on the transfer. She hated gory films. She cried all the way through it. I haven’t seen many horrors that throw as much claret around as Mad Mel does through the Passion Of The Christ. I choose to view it as a visceral exploration of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man in the name of religion. Then I can watch it. Just. (runner-up: The Life Of Brian.)
So, there’s the lineup for X&HT-fest, as much fun as a barrelful of rabid monkeys on acid. Anyone care to add another title to the roster?