Friday, 4 April 2014

Lights Out; or How To Boost Sales Of Lightbulbs

"Lights Out" is a short film by David F Sandberg which has been pinging about on the internet lately, efficiently terrifying people in just over two and a half minutes.  The premise is simple and classic - what if there was a figure that appeared when you switch off the lights?  Whilst not wildly original, the idea is extremely well-executed - a strong feeling of claustrophobia is established in the corridor where a silhouette is first glanced, and we quickly gain sympathy for our nervous protagonist as she huddles under the covers, attempting to operate the lamp from the supposed safety of the bed.  The shock payoff is effective, avoiding cliche with an unusually-designed look for the apparition - an extra layer of uncanniness by the fact that the same actress plays both parts.

I genuinely (and rather shamefully) hesitated a fair while when going to switch off my bedside lamp the evening that I watched this - irrefutable evidence of a scare well-delivered.

This film also makes the horrific and ethos-shattering suggestion that gaffer tape may be fallible.  Truly terrifying...

Lights Out

For more of Sandberg's work see his website here.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Classic Horror: Bride of Frankenstein

There's a quite considerable gap in my knowledge of the horror genre, much of it being the early classics.  In an effort to address this, I've been consciously trying to actually view the films which broke the ground in the early years.  It's surprisingly easy to know a lot about such canonical works, through films which they've influenced or critical texts which cite them; to the point that you almost feel you've experienced the source material.  (Case in point:  I got through an entire English Lit. degree without ever reading Hamlet or seeing it performed.)

Considering how many later works it has influenced (anything in the mad-scientist vein, featuring doomsday devices or sympathetic monsters), Bride still feels fresh and relevant and there are some very chilling moments. At the start of the film, the monster brutally kills two villagers whilst escaping from the burning mill - a reminder to the audience that whilst we may sympathise with the monster's plight, Frankenstein has unleashed an unstable being that has hugely destructive force.

By the time of the sequel, Victor Frankenstein has sworn off hubristic life-creating antics, and decided to settle down for a quiet, married life. His old mentor Dr Pretorius has now taken up the mantle of power-crazed scientific genius, creating miniature humans that he keeps in bell jars. The scene in which Pretorius shows Frankenstein his creations is deliberately light-hearted in tone, with the miniature humans being given comedic personalities and having petty squabbles. The scene does, however, demonstrate Pretorius's attitude to life and humanity in general - that it is something which can, and should, be under his control; a belief shown again in the probable murder committed in order to obtain a heart for the Bride.

The most effective moment is probably the Bride's awakening and realisation of the intent behind her creation. After the long and tense build-up, her confusion and horror at being introduced to her intended mate exposes the folly in Pretorius and Frankenstein's endeavours. Her jerky, unnatural movements mark her out as another thoroughly unhuman creature, her screams wordlessly condemning the doctors for their arrogance and hubris.

There are parts of the film which seem somewhat dated, though these are fairly few. Una O'Connor's performance as Minnie (Elizabeth Frankenstein's maid) is a tour-de-force of over-the-top hysteria, which though adding excellent comedy value distracts somewhat from the subtler elements of the film. It's also difficult to hear Frankenstein's cry of "It's Alive!" without the vast number of samplings of it springing to mind.

As a classic, Bride of Frankenstein has certainly stood the test of the decades (and has a rare place in the hallowed Hall of Good Sequels) - the many references and homages to it over the years doing little to diminish its importance and impact, even upon a first-time viewer jaded by consumption of some of its paler imitators.