HORROR-ON-SEA FILM FESTIVAL is an amazing gathering in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. Every year horror filmmakers and fans flock to the Essex coastal town to satisfy their lust for all things horror.
The festival screens, over two weekends in January, some of the most gruesome, scariest, funniest and entertaining independent horror films you’ll ever find. For more information please check out their Facebook page here. And the website here.
I would personally like to thank Horror-on-Sea for screening my short psychological thriller, TOLERANCE (2019). It was a great crowd who seemed to enjoy the film last Sunday night. You can see the film by clicking on link below. Also, please subscribe to the YouTube channel by clicking here.
Lastly, a big shout out to Paul Cotgrove and his army of assistants who make the festival such a success. Also, congratulations to all the filmmakers who commit to making their horror films so bloody entertaining. Many of these films are self-funded and produced so well done to them.
This was my third visit to Horror-on-Sea Film Festival and this year I stayed for two nights. That enabled me to watch even more short and feature horror films. Here is a list of films I watched with promotional links (where possible). They were all really entertaining with horror, comedy, fear, sex and gore all combining to wonderful effect. There were many, many more films shown too so I recommend you go next year as it’s back in 2021!
HORROR-ON-SEA 2020 – FILMS WATCHED
The Dead Ones (Short) – Director: Stefan Georgiou – Link
The Front Door (Short) – Director: Andrew Rutter – Link
Produced by: Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jaybe-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall, Brian Oliver
Written by: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Cast: George McKay, Dean Charles-Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Claire Duburcq, Benedict Cumberbatch etc.
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Music by: Thomas Newman
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
If Roger Deakins doesn’t win every single award for best cinematography in the world, I will be completely shocked! Together with Sam Mendes’ and their respective creative and production teams they have delivered a barnstorming, aggressive and beautiful work of pulsating cinema with 1917 (2019). In fact, the whole project is such a feat of technical brilliance, I think Sam Mendes will probably win best direction and the film will most likely win best film at the 2020 Academy Awards.
The form and style of the film are dictated by Mendes and Deakins audacious decision to film in one long continuous take. Set, as the title states in 1917 during World War I, we open with a long tracking shot and from there the shot never ends. Establishing the main protagonists Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), the camera glides along as they make small-talk, creating humour, warmth and calm before the storm to come. That storm derives from their mission to carry a message through perilous territory and prevent 1,600 British soldiers falling into a German trap. Immediately the stakes are high and these two brave men set out to achieve this dangerous task.
The choice to film in one continuous shot is a fascinating one and here it is executed brilliantly. Of course, there are occasions where a cut has occurred, but this is masked by darkness, water, camera movement or CGI. I personally am not a massive fan of longer takes though. They can be seen as a stylish, but empty process and usually work best in opening scenes. Moreover, by not cutting or using montage techniques I feel you can lose suspense, impact and pace from a film. However, that is certainly not the case with 1917 (2019). Here it works perfectly with the camera following, tracking, running, falling and stalking the characters, so much so, the audience becomes the camera. We are right in this war with them!
As we track Blake and Schofield through bunkers, trenches, fields, farmhouses, derelict buildings and villages, the stench of death and destruction surrounds them. Mendes and his writing partner, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, also create some heart-sweating and explosive set-pieces for the soldiers to overcome. Indeed, the pace with which they regularly find themselves under attack, married with the filmmaking style, puts you in the heart of the action and fight. The final battle where Schofield valiantly strives to reach his final destination and relay the message is utterly exhilarating and spellbinding cinema.
As the two everyman soldiers, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman give convincing performances. MacKay is especially memorable as his tall frame, hollowed cheekbones and haunted eyes dominate the screen. Furthermore, the two leads are supported ably by a “who’s-who” of British actors. The likes of: Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott puncture the action throughout with their quality. Scott is especially excellent as a cynical officer, drunk and bereft of hope. The two heroes ignore his jaded battle worn persona, but soon find themselves surrounded by corpses, quickly coming to understand this character’s despairing heart.
Like Dunkirk (2017), the film is arguably thin on characterisation and character development, but stylistically impressive in it’s rendition of the horrors of war. Indeed, when the events switch to night, Deakin’s lighting skills dominate as he paints images with darkness, moonlight and fire with majestic results. Thus, overall, one could argue this is just one long chase film; an extended version of the climax of another World War I classic, Gallipoli (1981). However, the cinematic marvel that is, 1917 (2019), overcomes it’s narrative and thematic familiarity with an amazing technical achievement in both form and style. Awards glory beckons for all involved; and more importantly the film pays fine tribute to the gallant soldiers who served in an ultimately senseless war.
Created and Written by: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Producer: Sue Vertue
Directors: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas
Cast: Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, John Heffernan, Morfydd Clark, Joanna Scanlan, Lujza Richter, Jonathan Aris, Sacha Dhawan, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Clive Russell, Mark Gatiss, Catherine Schell etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are uber-television scriptwriters of vast experience and expertise. Solo and together they have been involved with fine TV programmes including: Sherlock, Doctor Who, Coupling, The League of Gentlemen, Press Gang, Jekyll and many other films, comedies and dramas. Their latest BBC project found them combining forces again and breathing new life into Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel. Screened over three dark nights on BBC1 from January 1st, 2020 onwards, this horror adaptation mixed Stoker’s traditional vampiric tropes with fresh and bloody ingredients infused by Moffat and Gatiss’ typically iconoclastic approach to genre.
The structure of the first episode, Rules of the Beast, finds a gravely ill Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan), recounting his misadventures having travelled to Count Dracula’s (Claes Bang) castle in Transylvania. A haunted shell of a man, his stories of doomed employment, entrapment and the “children of the night” are delivered to Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells). Somewhat incisive, intelligent and irreverent for a nun, Sister Agatha becomes both our hero and main foe to Dracula’s nefarious uber-villain. Having said that, the fantastically witty script and Claes Bang’s charismatic representation of Dracula almost succeed in making him the hero. Indeed, other than being a life-sucking, murderous, blood-addicted, shape-shifting, immortal and homicidal maniac he’s actually quite charming and likeable.
The first episode, apart from certain structural alterations and differences in characterisation, stays kind of faithful to the spirit of Stoker’s gothic vision. The second episode especially is one of the best examples of horror television I have seen in a long time. Cleverly called Blood Vessel, the action merges suspense and terror with an Agatha Christie style of plot. Here the crew and passengers of the ship Demeter find they are at the mercy of a vicious killer. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who is picking them off one-by-one. The episode also contains an ingenious reference to the BBC anthology series Inside No. 9. Thus, overall, this was my favourite episode of the series.
By the third episode though, Gatiss and Moffatt couldn’t stop themselves taking a bold leap away from the original text. The Dark Compass contains some fantastic twists and ideas, but arguably the writers strive too much for reinvention and originality. So much so, it lost some of the narrative impetus of the first two in the mini-series. Nonetheless, I would love to see more of Claes Bang’s Dracula in the future. His performance and chemistry with Dolly Well’s Sister Agatha were a bloody joy. Likewise, the script was brilliant; full of fangtastic one-liners, poetic turns of phrase and fascinating plot developments. Lastly, I was grateful they did not spare us the horror too. There were many memorably gory deaths throughout, as Dracula and his wolves wreaked devilish havoc across land, time and the television screen.
Produced by: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Kat Stewart, Diesel La Torraca, Josh Gad etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
While I’m not a massive fan of awards ceremonies, I do check out the nominations for the big ones. The Academy Awards or ‘Oscars’ are obviously the most esteemed annual celebration of commercial filmmaking. But, they often get their nominations, from an artistic and diversity perspective, horrifically wrong. Of course, it’s a matter of opinion, but this year I do not know how Lupita Nyong’o was not nominated for her performances in Jordan Peele’s brilliant horror satire, Us (2019). She is now proving herself to be one of the best actresses around and definitely should have been nominated in the ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ category.
As well as Us (2019), Nyong’o also appeared in another horror film released last year called Little Monsters (2019). This one got away from me though because for some reason it did not get a major cinema release in the UK. Little Monsters (2019) is nowhere as imaginative, dark or intelligent as Jordan Peele’s searing exploration of duality, class, race and identity. However, as zombie-romance-comedies go it’s a lot of fun. Nyong’o portrays a likeable, professional and positive school teacher who, along with Alexander England’s failed musician loser, Dave, must protect a group of children from hordes of zombies on a school trip.
It’s an unpretentious, funny and gory comedy romp that owes a massive debt in tone and delivery to Shaun of the Dead (2004). Furthermore, stock genre conventions such as the slow zombies, ubiquitous military nuke ticking time bomb ending, loser character redemption and cute children who “think it’s all a game”, are all relied upon heavily. Nonetheless, the script is fast-paced, witty and has a lot of heart. The direction is effective, although there were probably too many songs in there as filler. Overall, this is a fun film with a brilliant turn by Josh Gad as foul-mouthed children’s TV presenter, and of course, the starry effervescence of ultra-talented, Lupita Nyong’o.
In the second of this series which looks at great film characters, I want to explore one of the most memorable monsters of all time: King Kong! In this short piece I will consider the original classic film creation in RKO’s King Kong (1933). It’s fascinating to examine the technical feats required to bring the character to the screen, the characterisation and narrative aspects which make Kong so memorable; and finally, the sociological and cultural impact of the film.
Working with a story by mystery writer Edgar Wallace and co-director Merian C. Cooper, the script was developed in 1932 by James Creelman and Ruth Rose. They structured this big adventure around filmmaker, Carl Denham, and his obsessive desire to shoot the legendary Kong on the ominously named Skull Island. What follows is a film of spectacular power and great innovation. In order to create Kong and the other prehistoric creatures the production team developed groundbreaking techniques such as stop-motion, rear projection, matte painting and miniatures. To this day the effects are breathtaking and still more emotionally engaging than most modern CGI.
As well as the incredible stop-motion photography painstakingly rendered by Willis O’Brien and Buzz Gibson’s team, the character of Kong is quite unique. Here is a monster in a horror B-movie who is in fact the most sympathetic character of the whole film. Moreover, the script builds suspense and dread with a long wait before we even see Kong. And what a sight it is! At first it would seem he is a merely a large ape, but he is revered as a god and protector. However, it is the humans who are the actual monsters. They steal Kong from his natural habitat and proceed to shackle him and treat him like an exhibit. But this exhibit has teeth and is about to bite back.
On release and in more recent years King Kong (1933) has rightly received much critical praise. It’s often ranked in the top horror films and all-time favourite 100 films of all time. More importantly, it’s actually gained attention as a film that subtextually reflects notions of colonialism, racism and the slave trade. In Quentin Tarantino’s superb revisionist war film, Inglourious Basterds (2009), a Nazi Officer reflects on this issue with specific reference to Kong. Similarly in this fantastic article, From Spectacle to Elegy: The Cinematic Myth of King Kong, Ross Langager, opines eloquently on the power of King Kong (1933) even now. Thus, while he may be a model made from clay, paint and metal, rendered real by the magic of cinema, Kong’s character is so much more than the sum of his parts. He is not simply a monster, but the ultimate tragic hero.
TOLERANCE (2019) – MY SHORT FILM WINS FESTIVAL AWARD
Just a quick post to say that my short film Tolerance (2019) won best short film at the 2019 UK Offline Webfest. It’s a great independent film festival with the awards held at the Etcetera Theatre in London. As a low budget filmmaker it’s great to get screenings for my films, and while I am not a massive fan of competitions or awards, it was also fantastic to be acknowledged. If you haven’t seen the film you can watch it at the link below.
“What’s your poison?”
Tolerance is a story of obsession, addiction, revenge and murder. It concerns a dinner “date” which takes a twisted turn. Inspired by narratives like those of Hitchcock, Tales of the Unexpected and Inside No. 9, it explores the damage toxic relationships can cause. It is both a thriller and a very dark comedy.
CAST & CREW
Written and directed by Paul Laight Starring: Georgia Kerr and Patrick Tolan Sound: Marina Fusella Camera: Edward Lomas Lighting: Kato Murphy Make-up: Camille Nava Music: James Wedlock Editor: Jodie Williams Set Designer: Melissa Zajk
Now I would like to broaden the subject and have a go at defining some basic film character archetypes. My definition of this has some crossover with personas, but archetypes are not necessarily the component which make up the character – they ARE the character!
Archetypes are a common or typical shorthand; a tool writers, directors and actors can use to define character during the creative process. They are not stereotyping though. They are standardized models and structures that can be built upon to fully flesh out a character.
The archetypes I would like to consider are: Everyman/Woman, Hero, Super-Hero, Anti-Hero, Nemesis, Mentor, Sidekick and Lover/Romantic Interest. Obviously, many of these archetypes can combine, especially in more complex films, plus I’m sure there are loads of others. However, I will limit myself to these for now.
EVERYMAN / WOMAN
The staple for many, many movies is an everyman or woman or boy or girl (or gender fluid) character who is easy to relate to for the audience. It could be Tom Hanks in Castaway (2000), or Tom Hanks in Sully (2016), or Tom Hanks in basically everything – even Toy Story (1995). They tend toward the working or ordinary class with regular jobs and family units. Their stories will be everyday, or they will find themselves facing incredible situations. Alfred Hitchcock favoured everyman and woman characters who would be thrown into dangerous situations. Actors who excel in such roles include: Hanks, James Stewart, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Francis McDormand, Jack Lemmon and many more.
Many characters can begin ordinary or everyday, but over the course of a film become heroes. Luke Skywalker for instance is an bright farm kid with dreams of joining the academy. A series of contrasting events then cause his rise to discovery and heroism. On the other hand, some heroes are fully formed such as James Bond and Indiana Jones. The everyman character and hero are often combined, like with John McCLane or underdog characters such as Rocky Balboa. My favourite hero arcs are stories where the character starts in lower status such as The Terminator (1984), Django Unchained (2012) and Harriet (2019).
So what’s the difference between a hero and a super-hero? For me the hero may be capable of incredible feats of action and endeavour, yet he or she is ultimately mortal. Thus, while they may be a super-hero on the surface, Batman and Iron Man are heroes to me; albeit mechanically improved ones. Superman, Wonder Woman and Thor, for example, have god-like powers, thus defining them as SUPER! Obviously, there are crossovers as illustrated by Peter Parker, Captain America and Captain Marvel. All of them begin as everyboy/man/woman characters and become super-heroes due to military experimentation or being impacted by incredible events which cause physical transformation.
I love a good anti-hero. I think they are my favourite character archetype. They can be charismatic and just on the side of the righteous, but misanthropic and sarcastic like say, Wolverine or Blade. They can be on the wrong side of the law, but redeem themselves at the end of a film like Danny Archer and Han Solo. They can be outsiders or loners like Travis Bickle. They can be hard on the outside and soft on the inner like Juno. Moreover, certain actors have cornered the market on anti-heroes such as Jack Nicholson, Ellen Page, Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood. My favourite anti-heroes are often cursed with supernatural forces causing them to be trapped by certain powers. The ‘Wolfman’, Lawrence Talbot, and Carrie White are fine instances of this.
Given it is pantomime season there’s no harm is looking at villains! For me the greatest villains are the ones which actually have a valid cause or point. Of course, I don’t agree with their actions as they will generally involve killing people or destroying the Earth or Universe. However, villains such as Robert DeNiro’s heinous Max Cady had valid motivation. Likewise, Thanos’ plan to wipe out half of everyone was founded on sound environmental ideology. This doesn’t make it right though. Sympathetic nemeses are also interesting like Marvel’s Erik Killmonger. Moreover, King Kong for example, begins life as a threatening monster, but ultimately ends up being sympathetic compared to man. Nonetheless, you cannot beat a good old fashioned baddie like Hannibal Lecter, The Terminator, Hans Gruber, Nurse Ratched and one of my favourites, The Wicked Witch of the West.
The Mentor character can take many forms. They are very valuable in supporting a hero or heroine on their adventures, plus providing vital exposition or the rules of the world information. The archetypal mentor archetype is a wise, older character like Morpheus, Alfred Pennyworth, Gandalf, Mr Miyagi, or Obi Wan Kenobi. Moreover, they will often have powers and magically assist those around them. The wonderfully helpful Mary Poppins is a great example of this. Every so often mentoring is rejected by the younger partner. A case in point being Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills eschewing Morgan Freeman’s Somerset’s sage advice with deadly results. Then again, mentoring can take a more twisted and controlling turn as seen with The Devil Wears Prada’s (2006), Miranda Priestly, and in Paul Thomas Anderson’s recent arthouse classic, The Phantom Thread (2017).
The sidekick is a lower status character that can be an ally, helper, friend or even enemy that also provides comic relief or dramatic tension. Different from the bromance or traditional buddy character, because that double-act dynamic is on an equal level of status. Great sidekicks include: Hermione Granger, Short Round, Robin, Chewbacca, Dr Watson and many more. Often, the sidekick actually becomes more interesting, funny and memorable than the lead protagonist. Examples of this include the brilliant Hit Girl, Igor, Donkey and the aforementioned Hermione. Sometimes the sidekick takes a darker route such as Loki and Lady Macbeth, who use their influence for evil rather than good.
THE LOVER / ROMANTIC INTEREST
So, the love interest can be a romantic extension of the sidekick but can also be a mentor and even a villain. I would differentiate the love interest character from traditional romantic comedies or dramas. For instance, in When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sally and Harry are of equal status and classed as everyman and woman archetypes. However, in James Bond films the love interest is traditionally a female conquest. More in depth love interest characters are those that are not just trophies; they become equal in the story. Princess Leia is a heroine and love interest, likewise Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Most recently, and a reflection of our progressive times, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman found a fine love interest in Chris Pine’s heroic Steve Trevor. Thankfully, the outdated “damsel in distress” stereotype is being consigned to the past and now we have characters of all backgrounds and gender represented on an equal basis.
As I said earlier this list is just an exploration of archetypes. There are a number I could have included. That stock character the wife or husband is one which always appears regularly in films. Often, they are waiting by the phone or television screen as some disaster befalls their partner. Lastly, I could have included the double-act, the team or the ensemble archetype; where one or more characters combine to create a whole. But, I think I’ll save that for another essay.