What to Watch on Shudder: Witchfinder General and More

Here’s what to watch on Shudder this weekend, featuring Witchfinder General, The Lair of the White Worm, and short The Puppet Man

What to Watch on Shudder: Witchfinder General

Vincent Price gives a memorable performance in 1968’s Witchfinder General. Directed by Michael Reeves, the British horror is a highly fictionalised account of the exploits of seventeenth-century witch hunter Matthew Hopkins. Played by Price, Hopkins one of the nastiest characters in British horror. At the time of its release, Witchfinder General was criticised for being sadistic. Nevertheless, the film later found admirers, and rightly so. Contemporary viewers will find resonance in the theme of the state as an evil entity. Perhaps the most striking aspect about the film is the journey of the hero (played by Ian Ogilvy). Witchfinder General delivers a horrifying conclusion, and one that justifies the film’s place as a cult classic.

What to Watch on Shudder: The Lair of the White Worm

Ken Russell’s 1988 film The Lair of the White Worm has a wonderfully camp quality to it. A loose adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1911 novel, in reality the film bears little resemblance to Stoker’s story. Russell moves the action to the modern day, and focuses on an archeology student who finds an usual skull at the site of an old convent in Derbyshire. The resulting mystery of this, and indeed the snakes that appear, bring in the current lord of the manor, as well as a mysterious lady who owns a nearby stately home. Featuring early roles for Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant, and Amanda Donohoe, The Lair of the White Worm offers some great camp excess. The dream/hallucination sequences are absurd but immensely watchable trips. Certainly not the finest of horror films, nevertheless Russell’s picture is a lot of fun.

What to Watch on Shudder: The Puppet Man

Jacqueline Castel’s 2016 short The Puppet Man feels like a homage to eighties horror movies. The film is about a group of young adults who visit a deserted bar, but they are not alone. There are several references to classic 1980s horror, and even a cameo from John Carpenter. Castel offers great cinematography, with The Puppet Man looking every inch the retro picture. Moreover, the score is quintessential eighties horror.

To find out more and to sign up to Shudder, visit https://www.shudder.com.

Gothic at the British Film Institute

Last week the British Film Institute launched their Gothic project; the longest running season of film screenings and events ever held. The season commences in August, with the BFI Monster Weekend at the British Museum among other events. The full programme is yet to be announced, but here are some recommendations of films to see during the season…

The Haunting

Robert Wise’s 1963 haunted house movie is a genuinely unnerving experience. Locating the horror both internally and externally, The Haunting hurls its 1999 remake into the shade.

Dracula

Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film

The quintessential Hammer Horror movie, Dracula introduces Christopher Lee as Bram Stoker’s vampire count. The film is an excellent introduction to Hammer, as well as exhibiting the key traits of Gothic.

The Innocents

Another haunted house film, The Innocents is deeply unsettling. Based on  Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Jack Clayton’s film is a masterclass in psychological horror.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is one of the finest examples of German Expressionism. The 1920 silent film is far reaching in its influence. As important as the visuals is the truly Gothic narrative of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

The British Film Institute’s Gothic season runs from August 2013 to January 2014. For more information on screenings and events can be found here.

Film Review: Blood + Roses

Simon Aitken’s debut feature Blood + Roses is a vampire film that prioritises the relationship angle over themes of horror and the supernatural. Visually satisfying, the film is let down by uninteresting dialogue and some monotone acting.

Still affected by a previous trauma, Jane is withdrawn and haunted by dreams, much to the dissatisfaction of her husband Martin. An encounter with a mysterious stranger alters the dynamic of their relationship…

The main problem with Blood + Roses is its poor script. The dialogue has neither the naturalism of believable conversations nor the momentum to propel the film forward. As a result, key scenes lack the drama and tension that they deserve. Nevertheless, writer Ben Woodiwiss astutely holds back the root of Jane’s trauma, which serves to maintain an element of mystery.

Although Blood + Roses is unequivocally a vampire film, the term is never used in the film. Dracula, however, is referenced in passing, indicating the debt this film and countless others owe to Bram Stoker’s novel. The narrative is  concerned with the relationship between Jane and Martin foremost, ahead of any aspect of vampirism. Blood + Roses is a story of their changing relationship; the presence of the vampire functions as a device that shifts the balance of power.

Blood + Roses follows some elements of vampire folklore, and dismisses others. The transformation from human to vampire is understated; the film features minimal body horror. Although blood is in plenty supply (as the title would suggest), there is hardly any graphic violence. The vampire bite is insinuated by the editing rather an than engorging display. The sound is generally good, although the vampire’s first appearance to Jane is over-emphasised in this respect. A more subdued sound would have been just as effective.

The cinematography is good; shots appear carefully composed. The use of colour is palpable in both interior and exterior shots. The red sky of the late evening, in particular, gives the film an eerie look, suggesting the supernatural is at play. The lighting enhances this atmosphere, especially in the dinner sequence later in the film.

Marysia Kay offers an adequate performance as Jane, suitably portraying both sides of her personality. Kane John Scott as Martin and Adam Bambrough as Ted are both very stilted in their roles. Both are unconvincing in their delivery and their range of emotion. As Seth, Benjamin Green exudes a little more personality than the other male characters.

It is a shame that the decent visual style is not matched by Blood + Roses‘ screenplay. Hopefully Simon Aitken will have better material to work with next time.