MARK OF THE DEVIL. (1970) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


MARK OF THE DEVIL. (1970) DIRECTED BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG. PRODUCED BY ADRIAN HOVEN. SCREENPLAY WRITTEN BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG AND ADRIAN HOVEN.
STARRING HERBERT LOM, REGGIE NALDER, OLIVERA VUCA, GABY FUCHS, UDO KIER, INGEBORG SCHONER, ADRIAN HOVEN AND HERBERT FUX.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I absolutely love this film, but, if I tell you that vomit bags were issued to movie patrons during screenings of it in America, it might give you a teensy-weensy clue as to how violent and stomach-churning it can be at times. If you’re of a nervous or wobbly disposition, I strongly suggest you refrain from viewing it.

If, however, you’re like me and thoroughly enjoy a good witch-burning movie from the late sixties/early seventies, you’ll absolutely bloody love it. When a horror film starts with nuns being raped, you know it’s time to usher the kids up to bed, hunker down and open the wine. Some seriously adult stuff is about to go down…

The original screenplay was for a film entitled THE WITCH-HUNT OF DOCTOR DRACULA, the brainchild of producer Adrian Hoven, which (sadly?!) never got made. Instead, hot young British director Michael Armstrong was invited on board and he turned the film into pretty much the best witch-finding film ever made. It even out-witch-finder-ed Michael Reeves’s WITCHFINDER GENERAL from 1968 starring Vincent Price, and that’s a cracking film.

Although the finished product is a top-notch horror film, the production was troubled from the start. All the juicy, funny and even at times outrageous behind-the-scenes gossip can be found in Michael Armstrong’s gorgeous glossy screenplay book, MARK OF THE DEVIL, currently for sale from Michael’s own website and from his publishers, Paper Dragon Productions. I’ll pop links in at the end.

The film itself is unforgettable. Set in a village in seventeenth-century Austria, it begins with the local witchfinder, a hideous-looking villainous murderer called Albino, capturing the aforementioned nuns and one monk and sentencing them to death for allegedly practising witchcraft.

Without a shred of proof, a hint of a formal indictment or a ghost of a proper trial, I might add. But that’s just the way they did it back then. The nuns and monk die horribly, but that’s only the beginning of the viewer’s nightmarish trip back in time to witch-burning Europe.

Back in those days, you could accuse someone of witchcraft if they’d pissed you off even slightly or if you fancied taking their cow or pig for yourself. It seemed like all you had to do was point the finger and an angry mob would form behind you, baying for the ‘witch’s’ blood. Remember Homer in THE SIMPSONS? ‘I accuse Goody Flanders…!’

And these are only the locals. When the Church-and-state-appointed Witchfinder trundles into town in his carriage (which may have been used by a real witch-finder back in the day; filming was done in an Austrian castle which contained a genuine torture chamber and real, authentic instruments of torture), things are about to get a whole lot worse. Oh yes, they can get worse…!

The horrible local witchfinder Albino has accused a beautiful young barmaid called Vanessa Benedict of being a witch. Why? Because she won’t have sex with him and fights off his attempted rape of her, and who would blame her?

He’s a vicious, murdering thug who enjoys raping women and hurting people of either sex. He gets immense satisfaction out of pricking her with his infamous ‘witchfinder’s needle,’ looking for the so-called ‘Devil’s mark.’

Vanessa is brought before the ‘court’ of the new witchfinder in town, the stern Lord Cumberland, well played by Herbert Lom. Vanessa is thrown in jail to await the preparation of the formal indictment against her, much to the distress of Count Christian von Meru, Lord Cumberland’s young apprentice witchfinder.

The divinely handsome Christian (oh God, those beautiful eyes!)  is madly in love with the busty Vanessa and she with him, but Lord Cumberland advises Christian to put aside the temptations of the flesh and concentrate on ridding the world of the evils of witchcraft.

But Christian has extremely high ideals and morals, and when one fateful day he sees his adviser and mentor Lord Cumberland commit an act that no decent man of the cloth would ever so much as contemplate, he finds himself terribly torn, torn between his love of Mother Church and his love for Vanessa, a real human female who can fill his life with love, warmth and laughter. Which will he choose, and what will it cost him…?

The Austrian scenery- the mountains, the lakes, the rolling green hills- is stunning to look at (the hills are certainly alive), and I love the score as well. The film is most famous- or should that be notorious- for its torture scenes, and the reputation is warranted, I tells ya, warranted. Don’t you be telling me it’s not warranted. And if you tell me you think the film’s depiction of torture is too graphic, I’ll just say this: it all happened that way in real life, didn’t it…?

Poor beautiful Deirdre von Bergenstein and the young Baron Daumer experience the full benefits of Lord Cumberland’s dubious hospitality. What’s on the menu? Well, the thumbscrews, the rack, whipping, both on the body and on the soles of the feet, a special chair with nails sticking up out of it for the posterior and, for Deirdre, something so disgusting and terrible that vomit bags had to be issued alongside your cinema ticket back in the day. And some of them were actually used for that exact purpose, as well. By the way, I thought the water torture guy was getting off lightly at first, but, by the time we’d witnessed his total mental degeneration, I wasn’t so sure…

The film does an excellent job of showing us exactly why witch-finding was so popular back in those days. The Church benefited by confiscating the property and riches of any wealthy noblemen- or women- they accused of witchcraft.

The prisoners might escape with their lives if they signed their estates over to the Church, and if they refused to do so, they were burned as witches and the Church nicked their stuff anyway. Win-win, but not for the poor victims. Talk about a cast-iron, Church-and-state-sanctioned excuse for raping and pillaging. Disgusting.

I love Herbert Fux as Jeff Wilkins, the witchfinder’s heavy. He carries out the torture with such gusto! You don’t often get to see a man enjoying his job so much. Gaby Fuchs is wonderful too as the poor brutalised Deirdre, and Udo Kier and Olivera Vuco as Christian and Vanessa make an exceedingly good-looking couple. Does their story have a happy ending? You’ll have to watch this controversial cult classic to find out, folks. But keep those vomit bags handy, just in case…    
  
You can buy all of Michael’s screenplay books at the following links:
 
http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk
http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

THE CRAFT. (1996) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE CRAFT. (1996) DIRECTED BY ANDREW FLEMING AND CO-WRITTEN BY ANDREW FLEMING AND PETER FILARDI.

STARRING ROBIN TUNNEY, FAIRUZA BALK, NEVE CAMPBELL, RACHEL TRUE AND SKEET ULRICH.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Bus driver- Watch out for weirdos, ladies!

Nancy- We ARE the weirdos, mister…

Light as a feather, stiff as a board…

This is a terrific, highly entertaining cult horror film from the ‘Nineties. It gave me such a huge nostalgia buzz to re-visit it this weekend. It’s a supernatural horror-drama set in and around a private, mixed-sex high school run by nuns.

The ‘popular’ girls who attend the school are absolute bitches and the ‘popular’ boys, the good-looking lads hoping to get into college on a football scholarship because they’re usually too thick to get in on intellect alone, are utter jerks. If one of these boys and one of these girls sleep together, the girl is a slut and the boy is a massive stud who’ll shout his triumphs and conquests all over school.

Moving to a new area and a new high school is bad enough, but having to move to a bitchy American high school (those are the bitchiest!) must be tough. Sarah Bailey has just relocated with her father and stepmother from San Francisco to Los Angeles and has to do the new school thing, and she’s not exactly happy about it.

Sarah is beautiful but slightly unusual in that she has psychic powers. At school, she is immediately drawn to three other girls of similar inclinations.

These are Nancy, who’s fed up with living in a crappy trailer with her alcoholic mum and abusive step-father; Bonnie, whose body has been horribly scarred by fire; and Rochelle, a black girl who is subjected to racist taunts by one of the pretty and popular white girls at school, Laura Lizzie.

These three school outcasts have been secretly worshipping a Satan-like god they call ‘Manon.’ It’s not until they combine their powers with Sarah’s that Manon finally starts kicking ass for them, and the quartet of would-be witches realise that their greatest desires might just be only a magic spell away…

Nancy, the mouthy one with the bad attitude, wishes not to be white trash any more. Bonnie wants to be rid of her scars and be ‘beautiful outside as well as in.’ Rochelle wants to be free of her tormentors, and Sarah works a love spell on Chris, a guy from school whom she fancies but who was a total douchebag to her and about her in front of his awful friends.

Remember these lines from WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY?

Willy Wonka to Charlie Bucket: Did you hear what happened to the boy who suddenly got everything he ever wanted?

Charlie, spellbound: No, what?

Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after…

Well, that doesn’t happen in THE CRAFT, thank heavens, or the movie would only be about half its length. Things seem to be going along swimmingly at first, with the girls getting their wishes granted and more by the mighty and powerful Oz, sorry, Manon, but then everything just seems to turn to crap, with a dangerously love-struck Chris trying to rape Sarah on a deserted beach one night.

Sarah, realising that things have gone too far, wants out of the coven. But there’s a price to pay for leaving the coven, and, for Sarah, it might just be more- way more- than she’s prepared to pay. Strap yourself in and get ready for the witchy face-off to end all witchy face-offs…

You’ll recognise Neve Campbell (Bonnie) and Skeet Ulrich (Chris) from the SCREAM movie franchise (1996-present). And if the doctor who operates on Bonnie’s scars looks familiar, it’s because she used to play Mary Alice Young, a character but also the narrator, in the comedy-drama soap opera series, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.

The film has a memorable soundtrack, with songs on it that were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Harry Nilsson, Johnny Marr from the Smiths, Peter Gabriel from Genesis, Ric Ocasek from the Cars, Marianne Faithfull and Justine Frischmann from Britpop bands Suede and Elastica. The only thing I can ever remember about Justine Frischmann is that she dated your man from Blur for a while, Damon Albarn.

Father Damo to Father Dougal in ‘Nineties clerical sitcom FATHER TED: ‘Here, who’d’you prefer, Oasis or Blur?’

Father Dougal: ‘Erm, Blur…?’

Father Damo, roaring: ‘Wha’?’

Father Dougal, placatingly: ‘I mean, Oasis, Oasis…!’

THE CRAFT is still a popular film years later, with a cult following of its very own. There are some really good spooky scenes in it, and its moral of not tampering with things that are bigger and more powerful than you is pretty clear.

Our four little witches thought they could employ witchcraft to summon up this fella Manon and use him for their own ends. But, once they start abusing this power, Manon, like any self-respecting Satan-like god dealie, has to step in and take it back. There’ll be tears before bedtime for sure…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL. (1968) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

WITCHFINDER GENERAL. (1968) BASED ON THE NOVEL OF THE SAME NAME BY RONALD BASSETT. PRODUCTION COMPANIES: TIGON BRITISH FILM PRODUCTIONS AND AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES. DIRECTED BY MICHAEL REEVES.

STARRING VINCENT PRICE, IAN OGILVY, ROBERT RUSSELL, RUPERT DAVIES, PATRICK WYMARK AND HILARY DWYER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a perfect film. A perfect film. Don’t try to argue with me on this one, haha. Alongside THE WICKER MAN (1973) and THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971), it’s probably the best British horror film of all time. I love watching it on BBC2 late on Halloween night or the night before or after. I love watching it anytime, to tell you the truth.

It makes every fibre of my being literally ache with longing for an era of superb British film-making that ended before I was born. THE WICKER MAN has the same effect on me, especially the bit where the giant head drops off into the sea while a blazing sunset paints the sky blood-red and the haunting music that accompanies the end credits gets into its stride. I’m getting shivers just thinking about it. Better move onto THE WITCHFINDER before I get too emotional.

There are so many things that make this film both memorable and, as I may have mentioned earlier, perfect. The tragic death by accidental overdose of its brilliant young director just a few months after the film’s release, for one thing. The accusations of tasteless violence and a disgusting level of sadism levelled towards the film upon its arrival into the public eye, for another.

Another reason for the film’s memorability is Vincent Price’s brilliant performance as Matthew Hopkins the Witchfinder, possibly the legendary horror icon’s most evil and wonderfully-played character ever. He plays the Witchfinder with none of his usual flamboyant campiness, but instead with nuanced cruelty and sinister subtlety.

There’s also the admirable debut performance of the beautiful Hilary Dwyer as Sara Lowes, and, of course, the fact that Ian Ogilvy, surely the handsomest man in England in his day, is playing the romantic lead, and with as much swash ‘n’ buckle as you could ever reasonably hope for…

The year is 1645. The English Civil War (1642-1651), Roundheads or Parliamentarians on one side and Cavaliers or Royalists on the other, is currently tearing the country apart.

Matthew Hopkins is riding around East Anglia with his odious sidekick John Stearne in tow. What are they up to? In the words of indie band BLOC PARTY, the nasty pair are hunting for witches… See what I did there?

Anyway, with no real mandate from government, as far as I know, or at least not much of a one, they hang and burn so-called witches, both male and female, after first torturing them horribly in order to extract ‘confessions’ from the poor souls.

The scenes of torture and execution in the film are chillingly realistic, especially Hopkins’s ‘revolutionary’ ‘new’ method of burning ‘witches,’ which is just awful to watch. I meaning, burning someone is quite bad enough in the first place without doing it this way to boot. Being pricked with a knife all over your body in the hideously painful search for ‘the Devil’s mark’ is assuredly no picnic either.

You’d have to be a particular kind of sadist to enjoy doing what Hopkins and Stearne are doing. I think they just enjoy the power it gives them, being able to beat up defenceless old men and women and rape any choice females unlucky enough to fall into their grubby hands. At the heart of it, they’re probably cowards, as most bullies seem to be, and would probably snivel and beg cravenly for their own lives if the shoe were on the other foot.

Sara’s elderly uncle, John Lowes, the priest or vicar of the pretty, picturesque little Brandeston village in Suffolk, is one of Hopkins’s victims. So too is the gorgeous young Sara, as the evil Hopkins forces her to submit to sex with him on the off-chance that he might spare her uncle. The dirty rotten liar…!

Ian ‘Handsome’ Ogilvy is Sara’s Roundhead lover (well, Roundhead in the sense that he’s a soldier, anyway; I haven’t examined his particulars, more’s the pity…!), Richard Marshall, and he takes mighty umbrage at the rape of his buxom fiancée by both Hopkins and his repulsive lackey Stearne. He vows revenge against the foul pair. They’re surely in for it now, folks…

‘Handsome’ spends a lot of the film riding. I wasn’t actually referring to his swoonsome sex scene with the lovely Sara, but since you mention it…! No, I mean riding horses, all the livelong day in search of Hopkins and Stearne, past some of the most glorious autumnal scenery ever committed to celluloid. Does he catch up with the noxious pair and introduce ’em both to The Fist Of Justice and The Riding-Boot Of Retribution And Vengeance? Now, you know I can’t tell you that, you naughty lot…

I kind of feel about Richard Marshall, aside from his handsomeness, that it’s not really Sara’s being raped he’s angry about and sorry for, but rather that Hopkins and Stearne have dared to defile what is his, what he owns, what belongs to him.

Even when Sara is being tortured in the castle by the gruesome pair, Richard has the power to stop the torture by himself spouting a phoney confession. He doesn’t, though, because Sara’s pain means less to him than revenging himself violently on the vile Witchfinder and his equally vicious lackey. His male pride won’t allow him to submit to Hopkins and Stearne or beg them for mercy, even if Sara has to suffer all the more for it.

By the way, the excellent character actor Patrick Wymark has a cameo role in the film as Oliver Cromwell, who led the Parliamentarians against King Charles the First during the English Civil War.

Wymark has also had prominent roles in Amicus’s THE SKULL (1965), co-starring alongside Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and that other benchmark in English folk horror which we mentioned earlier, THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971).

Anyway, roll on next Halloween, which will probably be the next time I get to watch this unmatchable British folk horror film on BBC2 late at night, which is surely the best way of all to view it. Luckily, I have it on DVD though, so I can at least watch it that way as often as I like.

So remember, don’t be alarmed if you hear blood-curdling screams and the sounds of unimaginable suffering and hell-on-earth issuing spookily from behind my closed doors this winter, folks. It’s only The Witchfinder…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW. (1971) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW. (1971) TIGON BRITISH FILM PRODUCTIONS. DIRECTED BY PIERS HAGGARD. WRITTEN BY PIERS HAGGARD AND ROBERT WYNNE-SIMMONS.

STARRING PATRICK WYMARK, BARRY ANDREWS, SIMON WILLIAMS, TAMARA USTINOV, LINDA HAYDEN, MICHELE DOTRICE, WENDY PADBURY, CHARLOTTE MITCHELL AND ANTHONY AINLEY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW is such a dark, dark sexy film. Yes, I did mean to put in two ‘darks,’ lol, because the film really is incredibly dark. It was made by TIGON, the British film production and distribution company that brought us WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), starring horror legend Vincent Price, and THE CREEPING FLESH (1973), two of my favourite horror films from that period.

What happens is as follows. An entire village falls victim to an outbreak of demonic possession, caused by the unearthing of a deformed skull imbued with a malign influence. In this, we observe the similarities to excellent Hammer film QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, in that everything is grand until people go digging shit up which was better left alone, if you get me.

Anyway, the malignant influence has a terrible effect on the young people of the village in particular. They’re behaving oddly, going insane for no reason, holding black masses, sprouting demonic-looking fur on parts of their bodies where certainly there was no fur before, weird stuff like that. They’re even skipping the Reverend Fallowfield’s excellent religious instruction lessons, and those used to be a huge draw for the kids before Beelzebub came to town…! Not, snigger.

It’s up to good old Patrick Wymark as the local Judge to track down the source of the evil and attempt to eradicate it. Will he be successful?Before he’s even had time to plonk his Judge wig down on his noggin, though, there will be an horrific rape in the village that would never have happened before the Devil strutted into town on his cloven hooves. Wait a minute, where’s everyone gone? Oh right. Off to You-Tube the horrific rape. Ye naughty little brats, ye…!

Michele Dotrice, who’s probably best known for portraying Frank Spencer’s long-suffering wife Betty in superb ’70s sitcom SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM, plays an unexpected blinder in this film as a young ‘un who’s been- ahem- filled with the Devil. Her lascivious expressions when she’s watching the rape would have scandalised poor Frank, who was always very modest and shy when it came to sexual matters, hee-hee. He’s ‘ad a bit o’ trouble, don’t you know…?!

‘Betty’ also does an amazing job in the scene where she’s fleeing from the savage dogs who are pursuing her, a suspected witch, through the olden days woods. The scene where she’s having ‘the devil’s skin’ excised from her leg was so real and powerful that I ended up feeling quite queasy while watching it. There’s something quite sick-making about people’s skin, teeth and nails when you see them up-close in films.

Michele Dotrice is actually a brilliant horror actress, as well as being a great comedienne too. She co-stars with Pamela Franklin in one of the best and spookiest horror movies of the period, AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970), which you should definitely try to watch if you haven’t already seen it.

The long dark wig that Simon Williams (he played a posh toff in drama serial UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS) is wearing, as lovelorn suitor Peter Edmonton, makes him look like a pre-moustache Freddie Mercury. You know, like when he wore the white lycra suit and played the piano in the video for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY? Yeah, back then…!

His girlfriend Rosalind Barton (played by blonde beauty Tamara Ustinov) goes screamingly insane after one night spent in Peter’s aunt’s disused attic room, and is carted off to the lunatic asylum the next day sporting a hideous claw where her right hand should be.

So much for spending the rest of their lives together in married bliss. The aunt, a Mistress Banham, goes missing then, increasing local feeling that something in the village is seriously amiss.

The truly gorgeous Linda Hayden is terrific at playing sexually aware young minxes, who are well aware of the power their bodies and beauty have over mere men, who are visual creatures and easily tempted off the straight and narrow.

Her nude scene, in which she tantalises and teases the mortified Reverend Fallowfield with her delectable wares, would surely make red-blooded male viewers long for the days when women had actual pubic hair.

Seriously, do you know that there’s a whole generation of blokes growing up today who think that women naturally don’t have hair down there? Think about it. You know it’s true. Women today are shaved, waxed, tanned, toned, trimmed, straightened and sanitised almost out of existence. And who’s it all benefiting, anyway? Mainly the grooming industry, as far as I can see.

Here’s a naughty thought. Perhaps some of the Devil’s leftover furry bits from this film could be donated to the women of today who’ve all but forgotten how to grow good honest pubes? We could have a sort of charity drive or something, you know, the way people do.

As well as the horrible public rape, the film also features the attempted drowning of a witch.

‘If she swims, she’s a witch!’

‘Yeah, but if she drowns, you’ve done her murder…!’

The way the perpetrators shrug and slink away, unconcerned for the unconscious women they’ve flung into the river, is terrible to witness. I believe it was fairly typical behaviour, however, of the kind of people in those days who went round accusing innocent women of witchcraft and being a witch, just for their own amusement, or for other petty motives, like revenge or maybe coveting that person’s property, and hoping you might come in for it once the rightful owner is deceased. Awful, isn’t it?

How they ever managed to stand in a village square with their friends and neighbours and watch a human female, someone they knew, and maybe even liked or respected, hang or burn to death is beyond mine, and most peoples’, comprehension.

The ruined church and creepy woods are tremendously atmospheric, as is the weird and eerie soundtrack. The way the devil is ‘assembling’ himself piece by piece, with the help of his warped young congregation, is also quite ingenious. Donate a limb and help Satan, there’s a good fellow (or lady)…!

The film is similar to a Hammer film and yet somehow much, much darker, with a vein of genuine evil running through it. It’s as good an example of vintage British folk horror as, say, THE WICKER MAN (1973), and maybe one of the best British horror films ever made, full stop.

Au revoir, horror buddies, until we meet again.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

THE WITCHES. (1966) A HAMMER FOLK HORROR REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE WITCHES. (1966) A HAMMER FILM PRODUCTION. ADAPTED BY NIGEL KNEALE FROM NORAH LOFTS’ BOOK, ‘THE DEVIL’S OWN.’ DIRECTED BY CYRIL FRANKEL.

STARRING JOAN FONTAINE, ALEC MCCOWEN, KAY WALSH, MICHELE DOTRICE, GWEN FFRANGCON-DAVIES, INGRID BRETT AND LEONARD ROSSITER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is not my favourite Hammer horror film, as it’s a little short on sex, Hammer glamour and ginormous boobies, but it’s still a really decent, unsettling folk horror movie, which is one of my favourite sub-genres of horror.

Set in a little English village in modern times (well, the ‘Sixties), it stars Hollywood Golden Age actress Joan Fontaine (REBECCA, SUSPICION, JANE EYRE) in the lead role of Gwen Mayfield.

Joan is the sister of the Little Johnny Live-A-Lot also known as Hollywood Golden Age actress Olivia de Havilland, who died over the summer (yes, this summer!) at the staggering age of 104. What great longevity some of these old Hollywood broads had! Their male contemporaries rarely lived this long.

Anyway, Gwen Mayfield is a school teacher who takes up a post in a tiny rural English village called Heddaby. Her last post before this was in Africa, where her run-in with the witchcraft practised by the natives caused her to have a breakdown.

Her new employer is the strange and rather monosyllabic Reverend Alan Bax, played by Alec McCowen, who might be best known for his wonderful portrayal of a homicide detective, Chief Inspector Oxford, driven culinarily demented by a wife who’s been doing a gourmet cookery course, in Alfred Hitchcock’s FRENZY (1972).

God Almighty, all the poor chap wants is a decent dinner after a hard day’s detecting, but the weird and sometimes inedible fare his wife serves up is barely enough to feed one of the poor quails who sadly died and found its way on to her menu.

Anyway, as for the Reverend Alan Bax, well, there’s a mystery there all right, but it will be a while before Miss Mayfield is able to determine whether he’s a friend or a foe in the strange situation in which she finds herself enmeshed in Heddaby.

Odd things happen in her new locale that makes Gwen wonder if perhaps her parish of superstitious villagers back in Africa isn’t too different from the quaint little backward-thinking village of Heddaby after all, where the locals favour healing with herbs over calling in a medically-trained doctor.

A teenage boy falls ill and is spirited away by his mother, just as a headless boy doll is found in a tree with a bunch of voodoo pins stuck all over him. The boy’s father is found drowned. A teenage girl is allegedly being abused by the grandmother she lives with and then the girl goes missing. There’s a very WICKER MAN vibe about the whole thing.

If Gwen hadn’t actively come up against witchcraft in her little African village, she might not now be so quick to come to the conclusion that the villagers of Heddaby are practising the black arts.

But come to it she does, and not only that. She also comes to another conclusion, that a young girl’s life is in danger (think Rowan Morrison), and that no-one’s efforts but her own can save the girl now…

I love Leonard Rossiter (RISING DAMP, THE FALL AND RISE OF REGINALD PERRIN) as Dr. Wallis, and Michele Dotrice (Betty Spencer, Frank’s long-suffering wife, in sitcom SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM) as Miss Mayfield’s sort of maid-cum-cleaning lady.

Michele Dotrice, a terrific actress, and not just in comedy roles, also appears in two other fabulous horror films, BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, which is very definitely a folk horror, and also AND SOON THE DARKNESS, a murder mystery which is very folky in its setting, in my humble whatsit.

I also love Kay Walsh, once married to film director David Lean, as Alan Bax’s bossy middle-aged sister Stephanie, a magazine writer and the type of woman who’ll wear wellies to walk the dogs and who tells people what they ought to do in any given situation without having been asked for her advice even slightly.

I would have loved it if, instead of magazine articles, she’d been an Agatha Christie-style writer of crime novels or murder mysteries, like Auriol Lee as Isobel Sedbusk in Alfred Hitchcock’s SUSPICION (1941), for her role in which superb suspense thriller Joan Fontaine actually won a Best Actress Oscar, incidentally.

Anyway, THE WITCHES is a tiny bit hokey but it looks gorgeous, and Joan Fontaine, sporting the most bouffant of bouffant hairstyles, is absolutely brilliant at looking shocked, surprised and frightened in it. Joanie channels her best Tippi Hedren (THE BIRDS) here, in her olive-green ensemble, and Kay Walsh is a dead ringer for dear old Bette Davis in her horror cossie.

There’s a smart cat called Vesper in it, and also a sort of wild, fruit-based orgy amongst the natives in which you’ll probably be praying, like me, for the participants to please keep their clothes on. You’ll enjoy watching this horror classic, I promise you. It’s great fun.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

THE DEVILS. (1971) KEN RUSSELL’S MOST CONTROVERSIAL FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

devils 2 leads

THE DEVILS. (1971) PARTLY ADAPTED FROM ALDOUS HUXLEY’S 1952 NON-FICTION BOOK ‘THE DEVILS OF LOUDUN’ AND PARTLY ADAPTED FROM THE 1960 PLAY ‘THE DEVILS’ BY JOHN WHITING.

DIRECTED BY KEN RUSSELL. SETS BY DEREK JARMAN. SCORE BY SIR PETER MAXWELL.

STARRING OLIVER REED, VANESSA REDGRAVE, DUDLEY SUTTON, GEMMA JONES, GEORGINA HALE, MURRAY MELVIN, MICHAEL GOTHARD, CHRISTOPHER LOGUE AND GRAHAM ARMITAGE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is such an incredibly intense film that I generally find I’m holding my breath practically the whole way through it, even though such a feat probably isn’t medically possible. It’s like an assault on the senses, with the fantastic period costumes, the disconcerting (excuse the pun) musical score and the way that, just when you think director Ken Russell surely can’t go any further, he then goes and does exactly that.

The story is set in France in the seventeenth century, and it’s based on actual events, which would kind of blow your mind to think about it. It features Oliver Reed in one of his finest roles. He plays Father Urbain Grandier, chief cleric in the heavily walled town of Loudun. He’s a rogue of a priest who unwittingly becomes the centre of one of the biggest witchcraft cases France has ever known.

He’s a womanising lecher of a priest, who has sex with and even impregnates his prettier female parishioners, then he abdicates all responsibility towards them. ‘And so it ends.’ Then he meets the rather plain, ordinary Madeleine, whose mother has just died horribly from the plague that runs rife through France, and he decides he’s in love, real pure love, for the first time in his whole decadent, dissolute life.

If he were just an ordinary womanising priest, I don’t suppose it would have become much of an issue in seventeenth century France. But Grandier was somewhat of a controversial figure politically as well, even though religion and politics supposedly don’t mix very well. Here’s the deal as I’ve interpreted it.

Cardinal Richelieu at the time wanted to knock down the heavy fortifications of Loudun, and thereby put a stop to its system of independent government and the possibility of a Protestant uprising.

He wanted Loudun and other similarly-governed places to stop ruling themselves independently of the monarchy, and he felt that knocking down their fortifications and leaving them defenseless would accomplish this.

Father Grandier, however, refused to allow this to happen by getting the townspeople to stand firm against any such notion. He maintained that, in Loudun, Catholics and Protestants lived harmoniously side by side, without any pesky uprisings at all, and that they needed their fortifications to protect them from marauders. Moreover, the King himself had said that Loudun could keep her walls. So there, lol.

Therefore, Grandier was a big thorn in the side both of Cardinal Richelieu, and also of Baron de Laubardemont, the official he’s sent to Loudun to knock down the walls. They feel powerless to move against Grandier, who’s so popular in the town. What they need is to get rid of him, but how? Then into their laps lands the gift of a lifetime… a tailor-made excuse to rid themselves of the troublesome priest…

The lead female character, chillingly played by Vanessa Redgrave, is Sister Jeanne of the Angels, head nun of the local convent. Poor Sister Jeanne. Her head is permanently to one side because of a dreadful hump on her back. She constantly shuffles about on her knees in the narrow, claustrophobic confines of the convent and this has the effect of making her personality seem as stunted, deformed and twisted as her physical person. I see her as a figure deserving of pity, yes, but a little creepy too.

Underneath the habit (and the hump), Sister Jeanne is a normal woman with normal, human lusts and sexual appetites. Sometimes these will out, even if you try your hardest to repress them. She has a huge crush on Father Grandier, whom she’s never seen, but the legend of the sexually dynamic and charismatic priest that precedes him wherever he goes is enough for her to hang her hopes on.

A perceived slight from the genuinely unwitting Father Grandier leads the horribly frustrated Sister Jeanne to accuse Grandier of a terrible crime. In comes the church’s leading exorcist, the handsome blonde could-easily-have-been-a-rock-star Father Barre, to get to the truth (let’s not say ‘the bottom,’ please!) of the shocking matter…

What follows is certainly shocking. The scenes of orgy and exorcism, torture and sheer brutality-for-brutality’s-sake are hard to watch. Father Barre believes in putting on a good show, and the farcical spectacle attracts viewers from all over France.

Father Mignon cuts a frightening figure all in black with his pudding bowl haircut, Baron de Laubardemont is in his element, strutting about the place shouting, and King Louis XIII is shown to be a disgustingly decadent and trivial character, with no more real feeling for his subjects than for one of the grapes peeled for him by his lackeys.

Underpinning it all is the magnificent performance of Oliver Reed as the poor tortured Father Grandier, who once played fast and loose with the feelings of all women, but who now believes he really, truly loves a woman, which love has brought him closer to God and shown him the meaning of love and life for the first time in his thirty-something years.

What he undergoes in the name of ‘Christ,’ no man deserves to go through. This film will stay in your mind for a long time after you watch it. And rightly so, because it’s surely Ken Russell’s and one of Britain’s finest.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

BLACK SUNDAY aka THE MASK OF SATAN. (1960) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

black sunday

BLACK SUNDAY, aka THE MASK OF SATAN. (1960) DIRECTED BY MARIO BAVA. LOOSELY BASED ON THE SHORT STORY ‘VIY’ BY NIKOLAI GOGOL.

STARRING BARBARA STEELE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This Italian horror movie is the most magnificently gothic film you could ever watch. The scenery and settings are as eerily, dustily gothic as you could possibly wish for, and scream queen Barbara Steele is infinitely watchable as the two lead characters. (She plays a dual role here.) It made stars out of both Steele and Mario Bava, the Italian director.

Steele’s face and figure are exquisite, her hands beautiful, slender and expressive, but that face! The camera is right to focus on it for much of the movie. Close-up, she really is the most striking creature to ever draw breath. Surely no actress has ever played a gothic princess quite so perfectly.

Here, she does a brilliant job of portraying the poor doomed Princess Asa, sister of the ruler of Moldavia, a European kingdom in the seventeenth century, about 1630, to be exact. Her horrible brother, Prince Vajda, has condemned her and her manservant Javutich to death for supposedly being witches, vampires and cohorts of Satan (I accidentally typed ‘cohorts of Stan’ there by accident, which is much less menacing…!)

The first five minutes of the film show Asa’s agonising death. The scene is so controversial that the film was banned in England till 1968. It shocked the living daylights out of me when I saw it first, especially the bit with the enormous executioner-type guy wielding the heavy mallet…! Repeat viewings showed me clearly that the scene has lost none of its power to shock, just because sixty years have elapsed.

I won’t describe the death here; it’s just too gruesome. My sympathies are entirely with the poor persecuted Asa, who curses her brother and all his descendants, not just for three months (a joke from The Simpsons), but for all eternity.

Then the action moves to two hundred years later, in the same God-forsaken kingdom of Moldavia. Two doctors are on their way to a medical conference when their carriage breaks down outside the tomb of Princess Asa, the witch.

They are fascinated to see her face, still covered by the mask of Satan, and the older doctor, Choma Kruvajan, makes the mistake of allowing the blood from a cut on his hand to drip onto the witch’s face, an action which we just know will bring the vengeful witch back to life. Well, if it was good enough for Hammer’s Dracula…!

The handsome younger doctor, Andrej Gorobec, falls head-over-heels in love with Princess Katia of the House of Vajda, the descendant of Asa who also happens to be a dead ringer for the deceased witch.

Katia’s haunting beauty and the air of sadness that envelops her like a cloud of Chanel No.5 draw Andrej to her like a fly to an open jam pot. But is now a good time to be wooing a princess of the doomed House of Vajda, especially given that Asa and her servant Javutich are back and baying for blood…? On his own head be it, then…

The crypt and castle here are the best and most atmospheric I’ve ever seen in a gothic movie. The monochromatic black-and-white is eminently suitable to the fearful tone of the film. Dread and terror are in the air, and no-one is exempt, not Katia, not her brother Constantine and not her father Vajda or her new lover, Andrej. Beware the mask of Stan. There, you see? I’ve done it again. Beware the mask of Satan, I meant to say. It’s like the mask of Stan, only deadlier…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

 

LOST HEARTS (1973), THE TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS (1974) and THE ASH TREE (1975): MORE GHOSTLY ADAPTATIONS FROM THE BBC REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

lost hearts

CLASSIC GHOST STORY ADAPTATIONS FROM THE BBC: LOST HEARTS (1973), THE TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS (1974) AND THE ASH TREE (1975). BASED ON THE STORIES OF MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES.

STARRING SIMON GIPPS-KENT, JOSEPH O’CONOR, MICHAEL BRYANT, PAUL LAVERS, EDWARD PETHERBRIDGE AND BARBARA EWING.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

These three ghost stories in the BBC’s A Ghost Story For Christmas series are just gorgeous. They’re beautifully photographed and the stories are good and creepy too. As the little booklet accompanying the DVD box-set tells us so descriptively, they would have appeared on television late at night, probably the last programme before the station shut down for the night.

This was back in the days when television wasn’t a twenty-four-hour thing, remember, and you had a choice sometimes of only two, three or four channels. The viewer would have watched the programme in front of the dying embers of that day’s fire, and gone straight up to bed afterwards with the disturbing imagery from the ghost story weighing heavily upon his mind. By Jove, if that isn’t the way to do it…!

Lost Hearts tells the story of a recently orphaned boy called Stephen coming to live with his ancient aristocrat uncle/first cousin twice removed Abney, in said uncle’s fabulous stately home set in acres of rolling parkland.

Uncle Abney is, quite simply, too good to be true. He’s chuckle-y and funny and so kindly disposed towards the soon-to-be-twelve-years-old lad that we wonder in earnest what his deal is. Things –– and people –– that seem to be too good to be true often are, after all . . .

If I were Stephen, I’d be extremely worried about the well-meaning but thoroughly unnerving tales told by the housekeeper about children who were invited to stay at the house by the kindly old Mr. Abney in the past, but who then disappeared into thin air shortly afterwards. Still, the boy is powerless to act, isn’t he? What can he do in a situation like that? He’s orphaned, after all, and the older gentleman in whose home he currently resides is now his legal guardian.

The fog-wreathed landscape looks wonderful in this film. The supernatural beings are present in the narrative almost from the beginning, but they’re no less creepy for all that, the Italian hurdy-gurdy gypsy boy in particular. The music is marvellous and the graveyard scene at the end is just beautiful to look at. Apologies for the fulsome nature of my adjectives, but really, this short film is just too visually delicious to resist.

In The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, an intellectually arrogant cleric by the name of the Reverend Justin Somerton is engaged on what amounts to a secret treasure hunt, for the gold said to have been secreted away by the titular Abbot Thomas in the ancient church-slash-seat of learning where Somerton is now doing some research. It has to be kept secret because it would fatally damage Somerton’s academic reputation to be seen to be grubbing around after a handful of gold coins.

Somerton is assisted in his treasure-hunting by the aristocratic young Lord Peter Dattering, whose father is recently deceased. I love the bit where Peter invites his mentor Somerton to a séance in his home. Peter’s mother is convinced that her medium and the medium’s husband are able to contact her dear dead spouse for her, but the snobby show-off Reverend Somerton soon puts paid to the medium couple’s little scam . . .

Somerton and Peter have great fun flexing their intellectual muscles in trying to solve the puzzle left by long-deceased alchemist and suspected sorcerer, the Abbot Thomas. Imagine Somerton’s fright, though, when he realises that the mischievous, malevolent Abbot Thomas has not been trying to keep him away from his precious treasure, but has in fact been trying to lure him into a horrible, deathly trap, using the treasure as bait. The scene in the catacombs is delightfully gruesome, and I love the end bit, of which we get a satisfying bird’s-eye view. He looks down on what is hidden . . .

The Ash Tree is arguable my favourite story of the three short films. The handsome, aristocratic young Sir Richard Fell is the newest incumbent of Castringham hall, his predecessor Sir Matthew having died a strange and mysterious death.

Sir Richard straightaway begins to experience moments of possession, when he finds himself occupying the body and mind of the late Sir Matthew. But Sir Matthew lived in witch-finder times, when innocent women were hanged and drowned and burned to death after being found ‘guilty’ of so-called witchcraft.

Sir Matthew’s mind, once he has reluctantly accused a beautiful local woman, Anne Mothersole (played by Hammer actress Barbara Ewing), of witchcraft and condemned her to a horrible death by hanging, is not a comfortable place to be. Sir Richard becomes more and more discombobulated by the periods of possession. Is it only a matter of time before he suffers the same grisly fate as his unfortunate ancestor . . . ?

Sir Richard has a saucy little sexpot of a girlfriend called the Lady Augusta, by the way, who seems to be permitted an extraordinary amount of freedom for a woman of the time. Gadding about on her horse, swanning over to Paris for her wedding trousseau and daring to chide her husband-to-be over his inclusion of Henry Fielding’s The Adventures of Tom Jones in his library. A woman who reads? Heaven forfend . . . 

It is sincerely to be hoped that Sir Richard beats this distinct tendency towards independence out of her once they are lawfully wed, which was the style of the time, and fills her belly with enough regularity to take her mind off gadding about and keep it where it belongs, in the nursery. Humph.

There’s an hilarious passage in the booklet which accompanies this DVD box-set, in which director Lawrence Gordon Clark tells us about how it was the ash tree in his very own garden that served as the downfall of poor Sir Richard.

Months later, the following summer, in fact, Clark was entertaining friends in his garden when a hideous spider baby, that seemingly hadn’t been boxed away with the other hairy monstrosities after filming ended, fell suddenly out of the tree into the lap of a terrified female guest. If that had been me, the speed of my departure would have put the Road-Runner to shame. Sweet suffering Jesus.

‘Mine shall inherit . . .’

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

GHOST STORIES FROM THE BBC: THE SIGNALMAN, STIGMA AND THE ICE HOUSE REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

signalman 2

A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS FROM THE BBC: THE SIGNALMAN (1976), STIGMA (1977) AND THE ICE HOUSE (1978). STARRING DENHOLM ELLIOTT, BERNARD LLOYD, KATE BINCHY, PETER BOWLES, JOHN STRIDE, GEOFFREY BURRIDGE AND ELIZABETH ROMILLY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

The Signalman was based on a short story by England’s greatest novelist, Charles Dickens. It was penned the year after he almost died in an horrific train accident that killed ten of his fellow passengers and injured forty others. To the end of his days, the notion of train travel gave him nightmares, and no wonder.

Denholm Elliott does a superb job as the titular Signalman, who performs his train-related duties from a signal-box on a remote part of the line. His job is safety; ensuring the safety of the passengers and crew that pass by him daily, in the screeching steam trains that belch out the thick black smoke for which the Industrial Revolution was infamous.

I’m not sure what he does exactly. He doesn’t seem to be raising or lowering any barriers, or opening or closing any gates. His job involves telegraph wires, bells and flashing red warning lights. He sits in his lonely booth night after night, studying mathematics in front of his little fire to keep his mind from atrophying, with ne’er a living soul for company.

Until now, that is. A well-dressed gentleman known to us only as the Traveller, descends by a precarious dirt path to the Signalman’s booth, telling that same man that he was ‘drawn there,’ somehow. The lonely Signalman seizes on the opportunity to tell his congenial companion about a disturbing spectre that’s been haunting both him and this isolated little stretch of railway line for the past year or so…

I’ll tell you something for nothing. That there spectre causes at least one of the terrible accidents to which we are privy. I’m not at all convinced that he’s a good spirit, put it like that. The scenes where the Traveller strides briskly to his lodgings at night are gorgeous and so atmospheric. The whole short piece is steeped in atmosphere and a sense of slow-building, impending dread, with fabulous bleak scenery and the most unnerving sounds also. No wonder the poor Signalman feels like he’s going out of his mind…

STIGMA is a chilling folk horror that sees Katharine and Peter, an affluent, middle-aged couple with a surly teenaged daughter called Verity, moving to the countryside from, presumably, the city. A couple of workmen are already out in their garden, trying to remove an enormous stone from the ground because it’ll very much be in the way of Dad’s proposed new lawn.

Personally, I think that anything that size should be left well enough alone, as obviously it’s been put there for a reason. It has; it is, in fact, a menhir or a standing stone associated with a human sacrifice, in this case the sacrifice of a woman thought to be a witch. From the moment the workmen manage to raise the massive stone and its pitiful secret is revealed, Katharine’s life and maybe Verity’s too is in grave- excuse the pun- danger…

It’s pretty scary to find out near the end just how many standing stones there are in the area, and therefore just how many women were sacrificed as suspected witches back in the bad old times, which are not as far back as we might think. The whole landscape is dotted with these eerie structures. How many funeral pyres were lit back in the day, and how many times was the air rent with the hideous screams of the dying as they suffered in life the very torments of the damned…? It’s enough to give you the willies.

Anyway, here’s my little claim to fame. I met the lead actress, Kate Binchy, cousin of the late great Irish writer Maeve Binchy, several years ago in an Irish doctor’s surgery. We had a chat about how she’d once played Fr. Stone’s mother in the hilarious episode of clerical sitcom FATHER TED entitled ENTERTAINING FR. STONE.

She signed an autograph for me and I was thrilled with myself. At that time, I was unaware that, as a younger woman, she’d starred in STIGMA- and had whipped her bosoms out for that same part, as well!- but, what with me being Irish, her FATHER TED credentials were more than exciting enough on their own for me.  

THE ICE HOUSE is a very strange piece of work. I still haven’t even figured it out myself. A middle-aged man called Paul comes to stay at a very exclusive spa in an isolated part of the English countryside after his marriage breaks down. The spa is run by a sinister- and incestuous!- brother and sister called Jessica and Clovis.

They lavish attention upon Paul day and night. They wait on him hand and foot, they are never far away if he wants anything and they seem to have made his happiness and comfort their number one priority. He enjoys the saunas, massages and facials the spa offers, although he can’t help noticing when a staff member disappears suddenly, and that his disappearance seems somehow tied up with the little building in the wooded grounds called the ice house…

This is indeed a strange but very sexy and sensuous instalment of the Ghost Story for Christmas series. The heavy, erotic perfume from the red and white vines that climb and clamber up the ice house walls reaches Paul through the phallic-shaped cut-outs in his bedroom window, and the sister in red and the brother in white are so obviously lovers, even if we hadn’t already seen them kiss, that an aura of heady, forbidden sexuality pervades the whole piece. Oh, and what exactly are those two inbred weirdos hiding in that ice house? Don’t you know? ‘There is only ice in the ice house…’ Yeah, right, sister. And I’m Mother Teresa of Calcutta…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

THE RITUAL. (2017) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.©

 

ritual effigy

THE RITUAL. (2017) BASED ON THE NOVEL OF THE SAME NAME BY ADAM NEVILL. DIRECTED BY DAVID BRUCKNER. STARRING RAFE SPALL, ARSHER ALI, ROBERT JAMES-COLLIER AND SAM TROUGHTON.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I loved this one, a genuinely spooky folk horror set in rural Sweden but filmed in Romania. It’s kind of like THE BLAIR WITCH, but with adult males instead of excitable and impressionable teenagers.

The effect of this was to make the film’s concept even more scary, I thought, because when adult males are fleeing in terror from something, then you damn well better flee too, lol, ’cause it means that something bad is coming.

So, we’ve got our four lads anyway, Luke (Rafe Spall), Hutch, Phil and Dom, all proper English blokes who’ve been mates since college and who still try to keep up with each other and with their heavy laddish boozing, even though they all seem to have wives and kids at home.

They’re planning a lads’ holiday when we first meet them. They’re even mentioning Ibiza as a possible destination, which is a bit ridiculous as the kids who go to Ibiza would all regard these four lads as pipe-and-slippers-category auld fellas. Go home to your cocoa, Grandad, type of thing.

In the end, the lads go to Sweden on a very out-of-character outdoorsy hiking holiday, to honour one of their original five who has died a horrible death in an off-licence hold-up.

Luke, who was involved in the same hold-up, is suffering from terrible survivors’ guilt, and he’s also guilty because his own instinct to survive saw him not coming to the aid of his chum. The remaining lads seem also to be harbouring a grudge against Luke for not saving their mate, so some of these resentments may come vomiting out of them later.

They leave a touching memorial to their fallen comrade on a rain-washed Swedish hillside, then they promptly get lost in the forest, miles from civilisation, because they think that cutting through the woods for a short-cut on the way to the lodge they’ve booked into is a good idea.

Come again? A short-cut through the deserted woods in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a storm, in the middle of the night, a good idea…? That’s bound to turn out well, eh, fellow horror fans…? Jesus H. Christ, lol. Are these men or weak-witted morons?

The abandoned ‘cabin in the woods’ in which they spend their first night of being lost makes the Blair Witch house look welcoming. It makes it look like your granny’s house when you went there on holiday as a kid and you knew she was baking up a storm to prepare for your arrival.

Or your own little bed after a night on the lash fuelled by cider and onion rings that’s ended in disgrace as you puke in the taxi and arrive home wasted and without your knickers. I’ve never done that myself, of course, but it just seems like the kind of awful thing that might happen to people. Other people, naturally. Not to me. Never to me. Ahem. Let’s move on…

The cabin is dark, damp, cold, gloomy, sinister, deserted, unliveable-in, and that’s just the downstairs. Upstairs is a hideous humanoid effigy with no head and antlers for hands, but which self-respecting cabin in the woods hasn’t got one of these, especially in Nordic climes? You can get them from IKEA and assemble them yourself, shure…!

The effigy has a very strange, very unsettling effect on the four lads. After a night spent in its malevolent company, they’re all having nightmares or experiencing nightmarish flashbacks to terrible events, eg, it gets into Luke’s head and so poor Luke is being constantly dragged back to that awful night in the off-licence where his mate Rob was brutally slaughtered. They need to get out of the cabin, and out of the woods which stretch for literally miles around, as soon as is humanly possible.

It’s when they’re fleeing through the woods that they discover that whatever was affecting them in the cabin is still with them. (‘Yes Bart, I never left you…!’ Hugo to Bart, THE THING AND I, THE SIMPSONS’ TREEHOUSE OF HORROR, Episode 7) Only it seems bigger, much bigger now, and it makes rustling noises in the trees (which, incidentally, are carved all over in mysterious, runic-looking symbols) as it approaches and it seems like very much a real and physical thing that the lads need to run from. Before it catches them, and kills them…

I was a tiny bit disappointed with the ending but otherwise, this is a perfectly acceptable horror film with some really spooky moments in it. The Swedish scenery and those miles and miles of isolated forestry are all staggeringly beautiful to look at, until you come to the credits and see that it says there: Filmed in Romania.

So, is this Romanian scenery we’ve been admiring then, or is it Swedish scenery? Never having been to either country, I haven’t a clue, but it’s a gorgeous-looking film either way, and one you should check out if you get the chance. Tell ’em Loki sentcha…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

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