31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 28: Crimson Peak (2015)


Oh, I’d been looking forward to this beautifully gothic horror since it had been announced, since the casting, and then that gorgeous trailer overlaid with that haunting PJ Harvey cover of “Red Right Hand”.

It’s not until the first scare attempts arrive that I realise I’m being let down. How the ghosts will be handled is painfully telegraphed from Mia Wasikowska‘s opening narration. It’s more effective to go in knowing very little, other than Wasikowska’s character Edith, an aspiring horror writer and daughter of a self-made newspaper magnate (Jim Beaver), who goes to live with her new husband Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in their crumbling family home.

source: EW

And I mean literally crumbling, as the two have no caretakers but themselves for the estate. Mould and dust and discoloured wood crop up at every turn, and an ever-increasing hole in the ceiling raining a never-ending waterfall of leaves (later replaced by a Guillermo del Toro staple, snow). Proper props to set designer Thomas E. Sanders for crafting a space in which I simultaneously want to live in and is creepy enough for me to be thankful for the invention of electrical lighting and central heat.

Used to classic New York-state finery and, er, a cleaner, Edith is a trooper at first, unfettered by her excessively puffy dresses and cloaks tracking the autumnal dirt through the house, and even when Lucille’s frosty reception grows colder than the piece of shit house she’s married into living in now. But then she starts to take ill, and begins hallucinating foggy, ghostly figures. Something ain’t quite right, and Edith sets about trying to do some investigating with nobody around to help her.

source: Legendary Pictures

From there the plot plods. The movie is more creepy than it is scary (and probably the intention, despite how it was marketed), but there are moments that could have been dripping with suspense, or more than an air of mildly confused dread. Jump-scares are predictable enough as a fright gimmick, but even more so when the camera lingers on the setup shots for far too long. Gore is thick and bloody (del Toro doesn’t pull his punches here), and there’s a sinister undercurrent to some of the plot’s developments.

There are some gleeful moments of droll genre humour  – Thomas explains the viscous red liquid bubbling up through the floors is just the clay pits, which, in their giant cellar vats and intrusions through the snow-covered walkway, are a character in their own right.

source: indiewire

I’m not sure what to make of what I thought of this film. It’s better than “OK” or “just good”, but it’s not as fulfilling as del Toro’s other works. His dark fairytale treatment should have been perfect for old-school gothic, but there’s a disappointing, slight preference for style over substance, and that wastes the superior acting talents of the principal trio, especially Hiddleston, who imbues Thomas’ unsettling demeanour with the same moral ambiguity and inexplicable sympathy (how does he do it??) he’s brought to his other, similarly dark roles.

It’s ultimately a dark, gothic romance with an odd mix of old-fashioned ghostly horror and modern disturbing elements, but it’s never quite more than a better-than-just-good sum of its parts.

66 Things to Do in Salem, MA (Updated July 2015)



Because I like lists, and sympathise with the tourist dilemma of “Bollocks! We only have 5 hours to spend here – what do we do first??”, I’ve decided to compile a big fat list of awesome things to do in Salem. Yes, this list could have been shorter, but the number 66 is cool, so shut your face (and click “Continue reading” to read more!):

Continue reading

365 Days of Horror, Day 27: The Babysitter and The Boogeyman (short) (2015)


the babysitter and the boogeyman short 2015

Meh. Anything uploaded under the umbrella of ‘Scary Endings’ has a lot to  live up to, and this one almost did. Despite the static direction and ropey acting from everyone, the editing and creature design were wonderfully effective (seriously, props to the make-up department).

I’m not sure why the protagonist needed to be a babysitter, as she spends the majority of the 4 minutes in her own apartment building, but she’s potentially being haunted by a boogeyman. There’s a cute moment when she checks her closet (a call to the old legend that says that’s where he’ll be), but it’s ruined by some terrible CGI in an unnecessary wide shot. It could have ended with the hands wrapping around her mouth and the creepy-ass Shinigami/Herman Munster lovechild face coming into view. But hey, judge for yourself:

365 Days of Horror, Day 26: Death in C Minor (short) (2015)


death in c minor short horror 2015

My word, what an eerie little bit of 3 minutes. You can tell this was made on the cheap, with much of the budget scrapped from the camera equipment, lighting, and wardrobe budgets. But bloody hell if it doesn’t make the sound of a single piano note any creepier than it’s always been. And its simplicity – dark hallways, bare-bones score, no dialogue – is its strength.

I’m happy it doesn’t go for a cheap jump-scare at the end (the predictable ending of 90% of horror shorts). The tracking shots and composition are suitably sinister. It’s well-paced (I’ve seen minute-long shorts that felt dragged out), and its wordless script means it can terrify universally.


And because it does end on a question mark, what we don’t know makes it that much scarier. We’ve no idea what the entity is or what it wants. It could go anywhere from there – the fact that there’s an intruder at all is frightening enough.

365 Days of Horror, Day 23: A. Friend (short) (2015)


a. friend short horror 2015

[DAMMIT, I FORGOT ONE! now everything is out of order. shit.]

This is another simple short and my god, it leverages the dark side of quirks of social media in a far, far more unsettling way than Unfriended ever did.

Like the aforementioned, A. Friend makes no errors – it’s Facebook-set, and every sound and the layout are familiar and exact. The premise: a woman receives a Facebook request from a stranger, thinks nothing of it and accepts. The profile picture is a single, starkly-contracted iris, and the cover photo is of a violent painting. She sifts through the stranger’s profile and sees a series of Creepshots-style albums of different women – all photos taken secretly, without their consent. She clicks on an album titled with her name and realises that someone’s been following her, photographing her every move.

That’s honestly scary enough on its own, because you don’t have to be a demonic entity to terrify someone in that way. This stuff has actually happened!

This 4-minute short stays sinister until the end, thanks to some superior editing, realistic digital layouts (everything is accurate), and some effective, wordless acting from [can’t seem to find any info on this actress!].

365 Days of Horror, Day 25: No Way Out (short) (2011)


Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 22.17.30The thing that drew me to this short was its sole star AJ Bowen. I’ve trusted his horror choices since his darkly comic, terrifying ensemble role 2007’s The Signal and his brief but chilling turn in 2009’s The House of the Devil. This 9-minute slice of creepiness is visceral, brutal and claustrophobic, as Bowen plays an unnamed captive desperately trying to seek release from his predicament.

It’s wonderfully lit, with some bloody good SFX. There’s no dialogue, so we rely on Bowen’s haunting, expressive eyes – everything else is murky atmosphere and dark, tight quarters, with some hell of a body horror gore quotient at the end. Don’t perhaps watch before dinner.

365 Days of Horror, Day 24: Porcelain Rising (short) (2013)


porcelain rising short 2013

[I swear I am watching these every day; I’ve just not been writing them up every day. Londoners…drink a lot.]

This 6-minute short about a possessed porcelain doll makes up for its lack of scares and dread with pointlessly OTT violence. Hey, if in doubt, have a kid brutally murdered on screen and all is scary, right? No need to build any atmosphere or have any credible acting.Well, too bad, because I didn’t care about what happened to this kid. Maybe that’s the real horror?

The doll itself is creepy-looking as hell, but still painfully cheap-looking. While it’s nicely-shot, the music is dull and the story predictable – nothing really moved this short forward. It made me realise how much work went into the seemingly ‘meh’ Conjuring movies to make Annabelle the doll seem menacing.

365 Days of Horror, Day 22: Lot 254 (short) (2012)


LOT 254 short film

This decent, beautifully-lit, quaintly-shot short preys on that clichéd creepiness of working alone in a dark room with your back turned. It also extracts the frightening confusion when the world around you breaks the rules – you look through a dusty old camera and see things – scary things – that aren’t there if you don’t look through said camera (still keeping your back turned and narrowing your field of vision).

For those reasons, it’s an effectively unnerving short – at least until the predictable jump scare. The phantom design is a bit poor (just a dude in smeary , marionette-style makeup), and the accompanying shriek is lame. It’s two minutes or so of OK music, tense build-up and then a bit of a let-down that gives way to a whole minute and a half of credits. Meh.

365 Days of Horror, Day 21: Click (2011)



Well thanks a fucking bunch, Click. Not since Lights Out has a short film renewed my childhood fear of the dark.

There is neither gore nor jump scares here. William Prince’s 15-minute short plays out a simple story in real time: a group of mouthy little kids arse about on the grounds of an abandoned building, and decide to piss about with the light switch (a bloody unnerving character all on its own – how can you make mould and smudges look so sinister??).


Things take the usual disquieting turn, but it’s the effective direction, atmospheric shots and competent acting that elevate this short far beyond the mild-but-decent creepiness it could have settled for. I genuinely want to get up to turn the light back on now. So thanks. Thanks a lot, Prince. Go sit in a corner with David F. Samberg. A dark corner. With all the lights out.