Film: Horror in the Caves is back for 2017

Robin Askew, August 29, 2017

Bristol Film Festival‘s ever-popular Horror in the Caves returns for a third season of subterranean shockers screened in the spooky environs of Redcliffe Caves from Fri 20-Sunday 22 October – just in time to get us in the mood for Halloween. They’re showing an eclectic selection of films, from vintage classics to ghostie stories and modern slashers, with plenty of comedy along the way. Rest assured that the most popular Horror in the Caves film, The Descent (a cave-set horror shown in a cave – d’ya see what they did there?) is back too. Here’s the full line-up:

Pan’s Labyrinth

October 20, 6pm

By a wide margin, this is Guillermo del Toro’s best film to date. It’s set in a remote region of fascist Spain during 1944, where dreamy young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) escapes into a fantasy world fuelled by local legends about a nearby magical labyrinth. As she enjoys underground adventures with terrifying beasts like a key-vomiting giant toad and the Clive Barker-esque Pale Man, the story consciously evokes any number of classic fantasies from Alice in Wonderland through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Wizard of Oz to Labyrinth.

The Devil’s Backbone

October 20, 8:30pm

It’s the late 1930s and the Spanish Civil War is coming to an end when ten-year-old Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is dumped in the huge Santa Lucia school, which shelters the war’s malnourished Republican orphans. The place isn’t just physically imposing: there’s an oppressive atmosphere about it too. Around 20 waifs are currently in residence, the oldest of whom immediately picks on Carlos. Elderly, impotent professor Casares (Federico Luppi), who muses mysteriously on the nature of ghosts in the opening scene, runs the place with hard-bitten, one-legged headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes), the widow of a leftist poet. Among the other adults here are Conchita (Irene Visedo) the cook and her aggressive caretaker fiance Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), himself a former pupil. To add to poor Carlos’s woes, he’s approached by the ghost of a murdered child seeking help and revenge. Slowly, he begins to piece together the dark secret that links the inhabitants and learns what really happened on the night when the fascists dropped a bomb in the courtyard, where it remains symbolically unexploded. A rich and confident fusion of political allegory, murder mystery and gothic ghost story, 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone atoned for Guillermo del Toro’s compromised first Hollywood venture, Mimic, delivering on the promise he displayed in his award-winning debut, Cronos. Although enjoyable enough on a superficial level as a historically grounded, genuinely creepy ghostie story, this is a good deal darker and more ambitious than the contemporaneous The Others. Get the beers in at the bar afterwards and you’ll be arguing for hours over the significance of the sado-masochistic relationship at its heart, the allegorical message about the corrupting lure of fascism as Franco’s troops march towards victory, and whether you’ve just watched the first overtly Marxist Big Scary House flick.

Dracula

October 21, 12:00pm

The recently restored BFI print of Terence Fisher‘s 1958  Hammer classic, starring the dream team of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Arguably the best screen Drac, it was also the first to be filmed in glorious Technicolor, giving us some lovely shades of crimson. Incredibly enough, this had sensitive critics recoiling in distaste back in the repressed ’50s.

Zombieland

October 21, 1:30pm

In a world overrun by hungry members of the undead community, a nerdy student (Jesse Eisenberg) hooks up with the cowboy-hatted Twinkie-loving, zombie-slaying redneck good ol’ boy Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). They carry on heading west even after their van is pilfered by sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who dream of visiting Hollywood and the reputedly zombie-free Playland adventure park. The smart and funny Zombieland tries very hard indeed not to be Shaun of the Dead and cannily doesn’t go overboard on the sort of zombie-splatting gore, preferring to play up smart writing, underplayed character comedy and a fundamental sweetness that is ultimately disarming.

The Evil Dead

October 21, 3:30pm

Sam Raimi‘s low-budget 1982 public information film warning of the dangers of reciting text from the Sumerian Book of the Dead in a remote cabin is a bona fide cult comedy-horror classic that lives on in the Ash vs The Evil Dead TV series, providing  a career for the impressively chinned Bruce Campbell. Just in case anyone fancies a skip down memory lane, this was the first film reviewed for B24/7’s spiritual predecessor Venue magazine by renowned horror expert Kim Newman, while he was working on his definitive Nightmare Movies tome. Here, straight from a yellowing old Venue (issue 36, Sept 16, 1983), is what he had to say about The Evil Dead back then: “For a change, it is the macho heroes who are reduced to displays of Jamie Lee Curtis whimpering, while the submissive girls change from vulnerable victims into giggling witches given to high-pitched, infantile taunts and clawing, murderous attacks. Although there is plenty of grue, Raimi knows that he cannot rely on it to scare the audience, and rips through his slender story with rollercoaster speed…The Evil Dead was made by a handful of semi-professionals on an extremely limited budget, but it’s slicker, scarier, funnier and a lot less offensive than any ten of the expensively mounted, imaginatively crippled remakes that are trying to pass themselves off as horror movies these days.”

It Follows

October 21, 5:30pm

Detroit teen Jay (Maika Monroe) does the deed with a fella who ungallantly announces that he’s just infected her with a curse. From now on, she’ll be pursued by a sinister shape-shifter that disguises itself as friends and strangers alike and won’t stop until she’s dead. The only way of avoiding its attentions, at least temporarily, is – you guessed it! – to pass the hex on by shagging somebody else. US indie filmmaker David Robert Mitchell‘s suspenseful, atmospheric film takes the popular ‘sex=death’ horror trope and welds it to the old onwardly transmitted curse theme that goes all the way to MR James’s Casting the Runes, via all those Ring-style Japanese horror films. But his main reference point is clearly John Carpenter’s original Halloween. Go here for our full review.

The Grudge

October 21, 7:30pm

Yet another Hollywood remake of a Japanese horror, this one does at least benefit from retaining the setting and having original director Takashi Shimizu at the helm. To make this work, however, it needs to be located among Tokyo’s apparently thriving American ex-pat community. Student Sarah Michelle Gellar works part-time as a home-care social worker, which leads her to visit a creepy, silent old woman whose family has vanished. Here she encounters our old chum the long-haired female ghost and who’s accompanied by pale-faced, even creepier little boy. Flashbacks and rather effective scares ensue.

Paranormal Activity

October 21, 9:20pm

Video game designer-turned-writer/director Oren Peli’s 2007 feature debut – the first in a seemingly endless series – scored a $100m US box office return on an alleged budget of just $15,000 and swiftly eclipsed wobblecam pioneer The Blair Witch Project in terms of profitability. The marketing was just as interesting as the film. Canny distributor Paramount encouraged gullible internerds to believe they were part of a grassroots movement to win the film nationwide distribution. The hype was also fuelled by the existence of several different versions of the film, including a pirated (or, perhaps, deliberately leaked) cut that runs for an additional 12 minutes and has a different ending.

The whole thing unfolds in one house in San Diego, where student Katie (Katie Featherston) and her day trader partner Micah (Micah Sloat) have been experiencing Unexplained Spooky Stuff. Micah has just bought an expensive HD camera to capture it on film, and his footage is what we’re watching. Enter a psychic to give advice and allow the couple to convey the backstory. Turns out that Katie has been bothered by poltergeist activity ever since she was a teenager and – ulp! – the family home burned down. The psychic says there are two possible explanations: she’s either being bothered by a ghost, which is his speciality, or a demon, which is rather more serious. And since he reckons it’s the latter, he’s going to scarper pretty damn sharpish, with a parting admonition not to fuck with it.

Naturally, sceptical Micah decides to set all kinds of traps for their demon and acquires a Ouija board to communicate with it after promising whimpering Katie he wouldn’t. Peli goes easy on the shocks, which may annoy the popcorn crowd who are used to crash-bang-wallop at five minute intervals, but the few scenes of visible demonic activity are effectively staged. Mind you, if you thought there was a nocturnal demon romping around your home, would you really leave the bedroom door open all night?

An American Werewolf in London

October 22, 1:45pm

Another welcome outing for John Landis’s 1981 horror comedy, with a decomposing Griffin Dunne, David Naughton transmogrifying to the strains of CCR’s Bad Moon Rising, a terrific sequence in the London underground, and Jenny Agutter in a nurse’s outfit. It really doesn’t get any better than this. Watch out for the very young Rik Mayall in the Slaughtered Lamb.

The Hills Have Eyes

October 22, 3:30pm

A rare exception to the general rule about lousy horror remakes, this 2006 makeover of Wes Craven’s low-budget 16mm video nasty was directed, with Craven’s blessing, by superfan Alexandre Aja, who retains the nasty horror while taking full advantage of his bigger budget. On a family road trip to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary, ex-cop ‘Big Bob’ and his wife Ethel crash their car and Airstream caravan on a remote New Mexico desert road. As night falls, they are attacked by members of the local cannibalistic mutant community. A savage battle to the death ensues, with the suburban family forced to draw upon their basest instincts in order to survive the unrelenting assault by their feral counterparts.

Orphan

October 22, 5:45pm

A 2009 ‘evil child’ horror flick in the 1970s Bad Seed/Omen mode, Orphan is the tale of adopted Russian moppet Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who’s clearly got something sinister going on. She always wears ribbons around her wrist and neck, throws tantrums to avoid the dentist and makes scheming strategic alliances within the home. Needless to say, when she doesn’t get her way, ‘accidents’ start to happen to preserve her newfound family bliss. For an hour or so, Orphan is suitably ambiguous – the wealthy, self-involved parents and the obnoxious ‘normal’ kids at Esther’s school are so unpleasant it’s hard not to be on the side of the polite little monster as she gets the better of them. Then, as we find out what is actually wrong with the girl, it goes into ridiculous horror movie overdrive and delivers a long climax in which several absurd situations spiral out of control.

The Descent

October 22, 8:15pm

Thanks to advances in technology, the horror genre is rapidly running out of places where its victims cannot plausibly call for help. Neil Marshall has to jump through a few hoops of contrivance to get there, but after stranding half-a-dozen sexy lady adventurers underground in a claustrophobic cave system that nobody knows they’ve entered, and from which there is apparently no escape, he succeeds admirably in winding up the tension, dropping in a succession of bone-splintering shocks and jolts. Then he unleashes the Crawlers.

A year after poor, traumatised Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) lost her hubby and cute moppet in a vividly depicted car accident, her thinly-characterised extreme sports enthusiast girl pals decide to cheer her up with a caving expedition high in the Appalachian mountains. Alpha female Juno (Natalie Mendoza) is in charge. Students of the genre will quickly recognise that the function of the other four is to die horribly before the final showdown. Ignoring the usual horror film portents, they descend into the cave system and are promptly trapped by a rockfall. What’s more they’re in the wrong caves and have only a limited amount of power left in their torch batteries. Several injuries and much palm-moistening suspense later, Sarah spots what appears to be a human figure scuttling about in the distance. Trouble is, he’s more peckish than helpful.

Like Marshall’s cult werewolf flick Dog Soldiers, this is a good old-fashioned nasty horror flick, with lashings of gore, lakes of blood (literally), and the repeated satisfying crunch of bone on rock. The scuttling, screechy, ravening Crawlers are cool too, resembling a cross between Gollum and Chris Smith’s similarly subterranean Creep. Sure, the characters behave stupidly and appear curiously under-dressed for their expedition, the dialogue is Vintage Dumb (“This is not good,” someone exclaims upon stumbling into a chamber full of bones), and Juno’s dark secret is easily guessable from the outset. But Marshall really delivers where it counts, enhancing the claustrophobia and terror by lighting the entire film by torch and flare, with occasional cutaways to infra-red digital video. One sly nod to Aliens apart, there’s not a whiff of wretched sniggering student ‘post-modernism’ or in-joke smuggery either. And just when it looks as though we’re going to get a cop-out ending, the film rewinds and serves up the kick-in-the-teeth one we secretly craved.

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