First up this time, we have the debut appearance of a new masked monster to join the ranks of Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers and Ghostface; world, meet Smiley. A kind of Scream for the Reddit generation, Michael J Gallagher’s film, the trailer for which apparently earned over 30 million YouTube views, is just as knowing, if not quite as witty or scary as Wes Craven’s postmodern hit.
Deftly harnessing the dramatic potential of internet site Chatroulette, where users meet random strangers through their computer webcams, Caitlin Gerard plays a mentally fragile college student who accidentally summons a murderous figure just by typing the phrase “I did it for the lulz” three times in succession. From here on in, it all goes a bit, well, Candyman, and our cast rapidly dwindles.
With scattergun pop references and insightful commentary on that peculiarly modern-day detachment from online images of death and mutilation, Smiley continues the fine tradition of bumping off hateable teens with aplomb.
More straightforwardly bleak is the latest British urban horror, Citadel, starring Game of Thrones stalwart and should-be national institution, character actor James Cosmo, as a foul-mouthed inner-city priest who helps an agoraphobic young man (Aneurin Barnard) face up to demonic hoodies holding his daughter captive.
With Cosmo in ferocious form and Barnard memorably wretched, writer-director Ciaran Foy draws an unrelentingly dark veil over the familiar terrain of high-rise blocks terrorized by feral youths. With Cosmo’s vengeful man of the cloth presented as the polar opposite to a forgiving community nurse (Wunmi Mosaku) who just wants to give troubled kids a chance, Foy’s Britain is a seething concrete jungle just waiting to chew you up. Perhaps owing a debt to kitchen-sink horror Kill List, this may be the debut from the next Ben Wheatley.
Almost as an appetizer for this blog’s main event, next, we have another home-grown feature from the creative duo behind The Zombie Diaries, Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates, The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill.
Filmed in the real village of Clophill in Bedfordshire, this Blair Witch-esque pseudo-documentary, filmed on hand-held infra-red cameras, à la TV’s Most Haunted, sees a team of film-makers investigate reports of ghostly goings-on linked to the real-life black mass held in a nearby church in 1963.
Authentic local accents and references to towns like Luton and Leighton Buzzard render this truly believable; Bartlett and Gates also appear in front of the camera, their humdrum reactions to spooky happenings making for a uniquely British experience. Deceptively creepy, this skilled pair subtly create a genuinely unsettling atmosphere worthy of the best UK horror has to offer.
Speaking of which, October also sees the release of the so-called ‘Final Cut’ of Robin Hardy and Antony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man, recently (correctly!) described as “the best British horror film ever made” by Empire. Featuring all three versions of the movie (the 84-minute original Theatrical Version, 99-minute Director’s Cut and the more succinct new Final Cut) alongside a chunky bundle of extras, there’s little new to say about Christopher Lee’s finest moment on film.
Essentially, the same beloved tale of a mainland police officer investigating the disappearance of a young girl on a remote Scottish island only to find Pagan worshippers putting a spanner in the works, Hardy’s film remains a strong contender for not just best British horror, but best film from that genre worldwide.
This Final Cut adds little to the already near-perfect combination of sinister islanders, Edward Woodward’s fool for a lifetime and a brilliant folk soundtrack. Still, this longer-than-original version offers a more concise experience than the perhaps superfluous Director’s Cut, trimmed down to perfection, with sections like the famous ‘snail sex’ scene thankfully intact and some re-editing neatly bookending the film’s theological themes. As disturbing as ever, The Wicker Man remains a deserved cult classic.
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