Tag Archives: horror

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012): “just a mite bloodless”

Peter Strickland’s tale about the odd goings-on in a fusty Italian post-production suite is thrilling, complex and abstract all at once.

Toby Jones’ aloof sound engineer has been entrusted with recording dialogue and sound effects for “The Equestrian Vortex”, a horror picture complete with a “dangerously aroused goblin”. Sound is sacred in the Berberian Sound Studio: heard before transforming in front of your very ears to its most sinister possibility. Forget frames. The sound is what’s crucial. It manipulates, bends, speaks. Passion and fascination urge this digital world to grow and multiply. You can hear Strickland crafting his creature of a story out of what he hears, you hear and then what cannot be heard, too.

Ambivalence fills the little voids left between the stories told and movies shown. At one point, the film itself fragments, on the brink of fission.

Might “The Equestrian Vortex” be saying a metaphor a tad too honest about the natural world? Ultimately, nobody can figure out whether the Berberian Sound Studio exists to corrupt or reveal the destiny for Jones’ engineer. With a face suggesting innocence and involvement, Toby Jones gives the performance of his career, and Peter Strickland has emerged as a key British film-maker.

This picture’s vision, audacity and conviction left me feeling very cold in a very warm space (my living room). It rumbles as loud as a winter storm demands you hear it.

Now to watch it with folks…

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THE WITCH (2015): “which witch is which”

So… The Witch. Hm. Hm hm hmm. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm… Huh. Well, I was told it was good. Do I agree?

Yes. I was expecting a solid 9/10 film. What I got was a creeping, twisting, tense family drama cast against the fear and paranoia of the witch scares of Puritan New England. So things I love: psychological horror, 1600s America, witch trials. Things I got: a beautifully weaved psychological study of a puritanical family coming apart at the seams, exasperated by accusations of witchcraft and genuinely bizarre occurrences, written in the genuine tongue of a puritan. The way the character arcs converge is brilliant, speaking as a writer I was immediately depressed after watching it – the narrative is constructed in the perfect way. It is paced to perfection, every element is necessary and it is constantly moving. Seriously, seriously brilliant stuff.

Eggers has pulled off the impossible too, working with both animals AND children, and getting terrific performances from both. Caleb is a standout, his performer delivers a brilliantly real and measured performance, shocking for someone who must be no older than 15… And Black Phillip. Fuck me, that is the creepiest thing. The way it rears upon its hind legs is just uncomfortable, and it has this weird look in its eyes… eeesh.

Anyway, yes, this is a bad review, very aimless and meandering. The ultimate compliment I can give to The Witch is that why I adore it so much completely escapes me. I just can’t put it into words.

Just watch it.

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979): “time is an abyss”

Spoilers ahead, but if you haven’t read Dracula or seen Nosferatu, it’s nearly 100 years old. I’m not sorry.

Many people, myself included, throw around hyperbolic statements such as perfection, sublime, superb, peerless and others. So much that they begin to lose meaning, sadly. Then you watch, read, play, listen to something which reminds you what those labels mean. For me, enter Nosferatu the Vampyre. A film which I believe is without peer in every single aspect, right down to the gorgeous art on the DVD box.

To begin with, I’m going to write about the image composition. Every frame is somewhat off kilter, sticking more to the rule of thirds than of centrally framed images, but it is somewhat imperfect. Ironically, the imperfections are exploited by Schmidt-Reitwein and Herzog to brilliant effect, constantly accentuating the sinister atmosphere, creating this constant foreboding feeling throughout the well-worn tale. Similar to Murnau’s original, Herzog’s film makes beautiful use of light and shadow contrasts to heighten the mood of the piece. A particular stand out is the dining scene upon Harker’s arrival to Dracula’s castle – the angles are flat out bizarre, and work wonderfully with the minimalist candle light of the room, furthering to the sound design, the creaking, wheezing castle and the breaths of the forlorn, lonely Count. It’s a magical, repulsive scene, singlehandedly cementing to me that Klaus Kinski is perhaps one of the greatest actors, or at the very least the greatest I have personally seen.

He is undoubtedly the core of the film, giving an unseen pathos and tragedy to the figure of Count Dracula, who is (in my view) too often played as a comically evil man, or a beautiful man with a bizarre kink. Here, Kinski plays him as a man as decrepit as the castle he calls home. He speaks to Harker saying that “There are more horrible things than death”. He takes this concept and runs with it, imbuing that tragic notion of immortality that robs you of humanity, and builds his entire performance around it. This Dracula is rat-like, socially awkward and utterly, holistically creepy. Kinski just utterly nails the character, and in all honesty I’m extremely sad it’s only 107 minutes long. I need more!

Finally, the film also employs what Herzog usually goes with in many of his other works: shooting on location. This gives the film a certain texture and realism which allows the eccentricities of the characters to flourish wonderfully, and comes to a head in the ending, wherein the small town Harker and his wife inhabits succumbs to a plague, brought about by Dracula’s rats. The town transforms, becoming desolate. Sick people and bodies begin to line the streets, with all houses boarded up. It becomes very believable that Dracula has a tangible effect on the town, and it is very impressive (much like in Aguirre) that the setting contorts itself to fit the mental state of the characters. It’s just a touch which I cannot consciously recall in many films, but it just elevates it beyond many other works.

Ultimately, this is not only the greatest Vampire film, not only does it contain my personal favourite acting performance I have yet seen, but it is perhaps the greatest film I have seen thus far. Herzog and Kinski is one hell of a combination.