Steve Balshaw considers our Arthouse doublebill screening on the 23rd February.
Whenever I am asked what I look for in a film, my answer is always the same: Something I haven’t seen before. The problem is, increasingly, I’ve seen it all before - the perennial hazard of the Film Programmer’s profession. Of course, when it comes to horror films, half the fun, sometimes, can be the way in which certain expectations are set up, exploited, toyed with, and either fulfilled or deconstructed. The horror film audience is a very knowing audience, and filmmakers play up to this.
But still, sometimes, it is nice to see a film that takes familiar elements and well-worn tropes and twists them into new shapes, taking the viewer somewhere unexpected in the process. So it is with our latest double bill of slightly off-centre shockers.
First up, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE offers a startlingly low-key, mumblecore-influenced take on the serial killer film, that plays like a cross between HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANY MORE. The wife of a former serial killer tries to rebuild her life in a new town. Meantime, her ex-husband escapes from prison and cuts a bloody swathe across the country as he journeys to find her. The film has the understated, icy precision of Lodge Kerrigan’s nightmarish CLEAN, SHAVEN, unshowy naturalistic performances and dialogue, and a shooting style - handheld, lots of focus pulling and lens flare - reminiscent of classic early 70s films such as TWO LANE BLACKTOP. The film’s depictions of quiet desperation and desperate violence build towards an inevitable, possibly controversial final twist, which takes the film finally into more familiar horror territory, but in a cruelly ironic manner.
Then there’s AMER, which was a big hit at Grimm Up North back in 2010, and one of my own favourites from that year. This is the first full-length feature by Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet, whose work I‘ve loved since their astonishing early short THE YELLOW ROOM back in the early 2000s. Cattet and Forzani specialise in boiling down all of the more fetishistic tropes and stylistic ticks of Italian giallo slasher movies into sexually charged, tense, S&M-tinged mood pieces. Really visually rich and beautiful, often using stills rather than moving images. And very unsettling. AMER takes this approach even further.
Chronicling three stages of a woman's life, from childhood fear, to burgeoning, dangerous teenage sexuality, to memory-haunted, terrified adulthood, it is steeped in cinematic reference; starting off in Bava / Argento psychedelic gothic territory, then veering off into the kind of charged, voyeuristic Mediterranean-based eroticism of Jesus Franco. It‘s visually gorgeous, and has its own wonderful, woozy, dreamlike logic; not so much a narrative film as an exercise in cinematic reference and mood. Anyone who has any love whatsoever of 1970s European exploitation cinema should be totally entranced.
In short, then, a double bill that toys with expectations, delivering those familiar frissons of fear in unfamiliar patterns. Film buffs, fright fans, and seekers of the strange should join us for the show. Steve Balshaw