Ever since forming in Suffolk in 1991, Dani Filth’s Cradle of Filth have been one of England’s highest profile extreme metal bands. Over the years their musical style has evolved from a classic black metal sound to a cleaner, more “produced” mixture of Gothic metal, symphonic black metal and other extreme metal styles. Thematically the band’s imagery has pretty much remained the same: one that is heavily influenced by Gothic literature, poetry, mythology, sex and horror films.
In early November, 2010, after having already released eight albums and assorted E.P.s, they put out their newest record, the lushly evocative Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa, which is a concept album based on the legend of the lascivious demoness and wife of the Biblical Adam, Lilith. Within the narrative of the album are references to diverse topics (such as Greek mythology, The Knights Templar and Carmelite Nuns) woven into a semi-fictitious occult story that is being referred to as a “dark tapestry of horror, madness and twisted, Vampyric sex.”
With the release of their new record, Cradle of Filth has made plans to support it by headlining a North American tour early next year (starting in February of 2011) called “FEARnet and Decibel Presents: Creatures From The Black Abyss Tour.” Lasting several months, the tour will feature as supporting acts the bands Nachtmystium, Turisas and Daniel Lioneye.
As Dani worked on several projects from his office in England – prepping for upcoming press, and planning for the impending tour – he took some time out to talk to us not only about the new album and tour, but also future projects and his love of horror films.
Dread Central: Can I get your take on a bit of the band’s history? Where you were born and raised and how the band came together? I mean, I have your bio, but I want to get your perspective on it.
Dani Filth: I’ve moved around the locality in which I live which is the county of Suffolk, but primarily the band was formed when I lived in a village called Hadley which is a quite famous medieval town… well, village, in fact. I drove through it the other day and it is indeed a village. [laughs] It seemed a bit bigger when I was young. It’s just got an atmosphere. So much so that the woman who owned Misanthropy Records – which was the label that Burzum and In The Woods… and stuff like that were from – came down and loved it so much that she bought a house right next to the graveyard there. It was just a cool place to grow up and it was very influential in the band. In fact, the area around here is pretty influential because it’s known as The Witch County. There are two “witch counties” in England. One’s in Lancashire and one’s Suffolk, mainly Suffolk because it was kind of the main haunt of Matthew Hopkins, The Witchfinder General. And indeed, at one point, I was living in a house he used to frequent as he was passing through Hadley and on to Lavenham and further up onto the county of Norfolk. When the band came together, we were just a bunch of friends. We were all from around the locality. And it started to get a bit serious which I wanted it to do, so I took a year out of my studies for my intended career (which was journalism) to pursue the band and to see how far it would get in the course of a year. In that time, my wife took a bunch of shitty jobs so that we could carry on with the band unhindered and it just took off from there, really. We did three demos and an aborted album for a record label I’d rather forget about. [laughs] At the end of it, we penned a deal with Cacophonous Records which was originally only for a single because it was just a fledgling subsidiary of Final Solution Records in London. That turned into an E.P. and then gradually, because of a growing fan-base and popularity and the fact that bands like Emperor and Immortal (who were friends of ours) were hitting their stride as well, it blossomed into a full length album which then became THE PRINCIPAL OF EVIL MADE FLESH.
DC: So, growing up, was this kind of stuff – not only the music, but also the aesthetic – something you were always drawn to?
DF: Oh, definitely. I mean, the whole idea originally behind the band – and you have to remember that this is all death metal territory at the time – was to take the heaviness of the death metal stuff like Obituary and Autopsy and Deicide and stuff like that and mix it… We were into Occultism and the whole supernatural aspect… horror films. We love horror and gore films, obviously, but we weren’t into the whole mangling corpses type stuff. So, what we wanted to do was to take the aesthetic from the Swedish and European bands that had the sort of theatrics, that had the sort of Gothic element and the melodic guitars, and fuse that onto the back of black metal so that we’d come up with something quite original. It was kind of at that point that the whole black metal thing started to revive itself. I was also into bands that were more like that. The original Mayhem were a bad thrash band when they did DEATHCRUSH. Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise. [laughs] People say it was the founding of Black Metal. It wasn’t. It was Venom’s BLACK METAL. [laughs] Hence, the title. We were always into bands like Slayer and Possessed and the overtly kind of slightly Satanic sort.
DC: It’s interesting that just last night I saw Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell’s documentary Until The Light Takes Us and I’d completely forgotten we were going to talk, but it all ends up being sort of synchronistic. So, during that time, were you also a feverish reader and movie-goer?
DF: Oh, totally! I don’t know about a feverish movie-goer because I just didn’t have a huge bunch of cash back then, but I am now. I love my movies and books. One of the first things I made the record company do – which at the time was like, “Wow, this is like a treasure trove” – was to buy me a huge bunch of books that I was after. Just for inspiration and stuff like that. I got works of the Marquis de Sade and a load of stuff from Head Press, a company which dealt in quite extrovert sort of books on all kinds of things and books on mythology and symbolism. Anything, really, to feed my imagination at that point.
DC: All of that went into a kettle as it were and became your sort of thematic tool kit?
DF: It was a heavy kettle… [laughs]
DC: But now, it’s all sort of in there and it’s all mixing and melding and it’s now coming out in some of the topics that you’re addressing on your albums.
DF: I grew up alongside a lot of this and when I answer questions about the topic of the new album, I say, “Yeah, indeed… Lilith has been a character that has been in the shadows behind the band for some while.” So, I didn’t have to do too much research on her. I just wanted the main character – the main protagonist – for this Gothic horror story I was trying to weave ’round the album. Subsequently, it wasn’t just that that was influential on the new record, it was other things as well like the locality… Even though we didn’t write it when we were recording the album, we made sure we went somewhere that was quite isolated and very atmospheric to record it. It was recorded not too far from where I live – about fifteen or twenty miles – but it is quite remote and that’s really beneficial. It has those themes of isolation and naturalism that, if anything, allows for us not to be sidetracked and gives us a chance for a bit more concentration. Just something that appeals to the band’s aesthetic a little bit more.
DC: A lot of musicians say that. That a location where a recording is made can flavor the finished product.
DF: Oh, utterly. I think it’s incredibly important. I mean, I’m very fussy with my work environment. My office has to be perfect. I have to be surrounded by stuff I like. And if we go and record in the studio, I have to make everything personalized. So, yeah… that’s totally true. Your environment is a canvas, really.
DC: Metal and horror are so inextricably linked it seems. Why do you think that is?
DF: I think obviously it’s the theme of it. It’s the fact that people like being scared. People like that adrenaline rush. To me, I go into horror via the usual things… When I was a kid, I was into dinosaurs. I was always into monsters of one description of another and I progressed from monster movies to the old black and white Universal films, then on to Hammer… It all wound its way around. I think that underneath it all was an attraction to things I just didn’t understand and things that were slightly scary. I mean, it sounds like a Peter Pan kind of person, a person who didn’t grow up. I was surrounded by monsters and creatures. I was really into demonology as well. I just think the whole darkness of the Middle Ages and grimoires and things like that settled on me as well as having lived in a county that was sort of infatuated by that kind of thing.
DC: I just find it interesting that metal seems to be the go-to music for horror as opposed to other things – things you guys sometimes tap into that are quieter, still in a minor key, and still creepy, but are not always bombastic – that are still able to convey a different – but equally ominous – emotion. I think it’s really wise of you to use things like keyboards and harpsichords and strings and the like to create interludes that ease you into the heavier music.
DF: Well, actually I have to go back to the studio as I mentioned before on Sunday because I’m directing a choir for an album we’ve been writing. It was a prelude to… an interim gap… it was supposed to be before DARKLY, DARKLY VENUS AVERSA, but the writing process for that sort of overtook it, so we put it on hold. It’s an orchestral album based on our first four albums.
DC: And what is its tentative title?
DF: It’s called MIDNIGHT IN THE LABYRINTH and, aside from one Cradle track that we sort of half finished for VENUS AVERSA, it mainly consists of tracks from our first four albums. So, you have tracks like “Summer Dying Fast,” “The Forest Whispers Our Name,” “The Rape And Ruin of Angels,” “A Gothic Romance,” “Funeral In Carpathia,” “Thirteen Altars and a Widow,” but just all transcribed as four symphonies. Half of that is still being created by really expensive samples and stuff, but now we’re adding other things to it like a choir, deep strings, violins, and a narrative. It pans out like a horror movie soundtrack, but it’s not elevator music. It’s like John Williams, Danny Elfman, or Wagner.
DC: Is doing horror film soundtracks a direction you would want to go toward or would you prefer to have a foot in both worlds?
DF: A foot in both worlds, really. This is just something we wanted to endeavor to achieve because there’s been a few people who have done orchestral albums of Cradle and you got to admire the people’s direction and their will to do it, but at this point, they weren’t that good and I can imagine something huge. You know, our songs are based around tri-tones and ‘the devil’s chord’ and in a minor key and they’re just ripe for translation. So, I got together with someone that I know who’s, strangely enough, written for boy bands as well. [laughs] He’s a prolific programmer and keyboardist and I’ve been just sort of nibbling away at that. That album will see the light of day next year. I’m sure you’ll see a few other bands start doing it after that as well.
DC: I wanted to ask you about choral music. You have some of it in your music now, but I’m wondering if your use of choirs is a furthering of the aesthetic you’ve already developed and an example of your bringing more and more of the horror film soundtrack element in?
DF: Well, I wouldn’t say ‘more and more.’ This album that’s just come out is number nine and that’s missing out on the E.P.s, special editions, live albums, and all that kind of thing. So, it’s something that we develop. You have to have that. For example, for this new album, it’s a storyline like I said about this character Lilith and her reemergence back into the world in the 14th Century; Knights Templar mixed up with Carmelite nuns and all this different kind of mythology and lashings and sex and death and it’s an Occult story. So, we wanted to do something that gave it its theatrics, made it cinematic. There’s parts of the album that work… well, all of it works, but within the confines of the lyrics and they sort of match each other and it’s very sinuous and serpentine, but obviously whatever it takes to bring that, to transcribe that, for the listener, for the fans.
DC: You mentioned your new record being your ninth. How do you think the albums have changed over the years? Have they gotten bigger, more ambitious?
DF: I think we’ve always been very ambitious. It’s just that, further on down the line, you get more opportunity to do things. I mean, I remember when we got to our first sort of major label – at least a big independent – which was Music For Nations, we suddenly had a manager, we suddenly had opportunity where we could produce really lavish studio things, the opportunity to work with different people. By the time we did “Cruelty and the Beast,” we were able to use people like Ingrid Pitt. We befriended a whole bunch of people and we got involved in the movie industry ourselves. Indeed, one of my best friends – who is the grandson of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr – has his own film company now and is trying to revive his granddad’s tradition.
DC: Speaking of film, would you ever be interested in directing your own film? I know you’ve been involved with film before.
DF: Definitely, yeah, but… it’s a learning curve. You have to have the right ideas and generally people sit down with a lot of other people and thrash things out. I’m generally quite solitary in that position. That’s why it’s always been a bit harder. When you come to do a film, there are so many different people to be relied on. Half the time, the director doesn’t even know what’s going on or it’s not his idea. But, yeah… I’d like to be in the driver’s seat. Definitely. I did CRADLE OF FEAR which was sort of an exercise in terror… [laughs] That involved people working in deferred payment and borrowing in people from other films and stuff like that, doing it really commando, very underground. It would be nice to be given the opportunity to do something on a grander scale. There is the opportunity to direct the next video. It’s just the thing that always holds it up… In this band we have so much going on all the time. There’s not one moment where I think, ‘Well, I’ve cleared all the work.’ There’s always something else going on. You just have to pick your moments. Sometimes, you say, ‘Yeah…yeah, I’ll do that. No problem.’ Then – like writing concert records – you realize that you’ve bitten off a little more than you can chew at the moment. [laughs]
DC: Let alone the fact that directing a film is going to take a year or two of your time.
DF: It’s like co-writing THE GOSPEL OF FILTH [a book by Dani Filth and Gavin Baddeley which documented the history of the band and explored their influences – ed] on and off was a five year project.
DC: You worked with Goblin keyboardist, Claudio Simonetti on the soundtrack to Dario Argento’s film, Mater Lacrymarum (aka Mother of Tears). How closely did you guys work together?
DF: I’ve met him and his daughter since then, but it was emailing backward and forward, really. He basically just gave me a blank canvas. He said, ‘Look… these are the main themes of the film. I wanted to use this as a recurring theme’ and we kind of built the song up. Then, he had his band play it and record it once we were happy with it and he kind of gave me free rein on the lyrics which was really good fun. We didn’t record it together. I recorded my parts here and then sent them to him. The film… wasn’t the best Dario Argento movie [laughs] but the soundtrack is phenomenal.
DC: Since you brought up films and one you didn’t think was a specific director’s best… What are some of your favorite horror films?
DF: That’s so hard… [laughs] I really like CURSE OF THE DEMON which is what DRAG ME TO HELL was based on. I like really atmospheric films like THE WICKER MAN. I like the really Gothic horror films. I like the Roger Corman adaptations… THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. The old Vincent Price classics, really evocative…
DC: Are you a Mario Bava fan?
DF: I’m a fan of everything, really, to be fair. A lot of people hiss when I say it because it has got Keanu Reeves in it, but I really love BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA just for the grandiose nature of it and the fact that it couples that sort of Technicolor world of luxury and decadence and opulence with violence and nastiness, because it was a violent film at the same time. But I love all kinds of movies. The more eerie, the better I love them. Del Toro’s movies as well. I love THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, PAN’S LABRYINTH. I loved HELLBOY even though it’s not particularly a horror film. And everyone loves a good bubblegum, popcorn type of horror movie like SAW wherever they are with that. I’m sure they’re not finished with that. I’m sure there’s loads of money to be made there.
DC: What was the last thing you saw that really knocked your socks off?
DF: Well, it wasn’t a horror movie. I actually saw MACHETE on Sunday. [laughs] It was great!
DC: Are you a fan of Tarsem Singh who did The Cell and The Fall? Based on its sensibility, I would think you would be, but I’m just curious.
DF: I saw THE CELL, yeah. I liked the symbolism and everything. I actually thought THE CELL was going to be better than what it was, to be fair. I got my daughter to watch THE UNINVITED the other day which isn’t a horrifying film, but for an eleven year old… the turnaround at the end… I’ve been after that soundtrack as well, but it’s really expensive. It’s Christopher Young whose done some fantastic scores. He did DRAG ME TO HELL, the first two HELLRAISER films…
DC: I love his score for the film Copycat… which brings me to my next question. What are some of your favorite film scores?
DF: That’s kind of my forte. I listen to film scores more than any kind of music, because you can put them on while you’re working and it’s very, very evocative. I mean, well… Christopher Young and there’s the OMEN Trilogy. I guess that goes without saying. [laughs] And then there’s the big films like DRACULA, INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, and another great one is MARY SHELLY’S FRANKENSTEIN. That’s got an amazing soundtrack. Let me think just off the bat here… THE FRIGHTENERS. Danny Elfman does loads of great stuff. I loved SLEEPY HOLLOW. It’s a fantasticly eerie soundtrack as well. CHILDREN OF THE CORN.
DC: Elfman’s a guy who “gets it,” you know? Even when he does something that’s light and light-hearted…
DF: Like EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, for example.
DC: There’s still this creepy edge to it that is really appealing.
DF: It’s very magical, isn’t it? Well, even straying into the darker moments of the HARRY POTTER soundtrack… It sounds ridiculous, but they can be pretty evocative as well.
DC: I’m a big believer in the fact that even in the most family oriented of films, there can be moments both musically and visually that can be really creepy and great. Over the years, I collect those moments in the oddest of films – the Harry Potter films for example. I say all the time that being a horror fan is like panning for gold in a river of shit… and you have to sift through a lot of crap to find those great little nuggets of gold that you have to grab onto and hold and treasure when you find them.
DF: [laughs] Well, there are a lot of films like that, like little gems that are special. There’s a film called SNOW WHITE with Sigourney Weaver…
DC: That’s a great film!
DF: It’s an awesome movie and I watched it not so long ago again and it’s terrific. That and things like A COMPANY OF WOLVES and BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF are films that people sort of overlook. DAGON… stuff that just goes under the radar, but are fucking great movies.
DC: It’s like Brad Anderson’s Session 9… It’s one of my favorite movies and genuinely creepy. Have you seen it?
DF: No, but I just called it up on Amazon. [laughs]
DC: [laughs] Man, I heartily recommend that. Ok, I’m sure we could talk movies and film scores all day… [laughs] but I wanted to ask you about Natalie Shau who did the cover for your new album, Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa. Her art style reminds me of a more feminine Mark Ryden. Where did you find her?
DF: Her boyfriend at the time she was living in Greece with the singer from a band called Septic Flesh and they came out on tour with us several times, most noticeably on our last American tour. He was doing a lot of art for them and other people and so he sent us a portfolio. It was because he was working with lots of other bands that I saw it. I loved the artwork, but I’d seen its kind a lot. At the bottom was a link to his girlfriend’s site and had a look and I was just blown away. It was just very novel, just everything I wanted it to be, really. It had the aesthetic you’d find in Danny Elfman’s music, those bits of pure magic. It’s amazing, just incredible. We worked really closely over the course of the period we were in the studio which is about three and a half months. We basically recorded sixteen tracks, eleven for the album and some other bonus stuff that was not ‘B-sides.’ It was all written and recorded at the same time. We then gave up on the seventeenth track which I’m obviously finishing now to put on as the tenth song on this MIDNIGHT IN THE LABRYRINTH, just because I know it has to tie in. Everybody’s going to love it, but… it’s not everybody’s cup of tea… because not everybody is as cultured, as they say. [laughs] That’s really obnoxious, isn’t it? We did need to put a real track on there. So, anyway… the point of it was that she worked for the three and half months and it took her a long time to actually do everything because we’re asking her to do specific things where normally a creative mind wanders and she has her own ideas for stuff. Here, she had to do these images of Lilith throughout the story and she had to please other people as well. It’s much harder to please others than it is yourself, you know…
DC: I also wanted to ask about your relationship with photographer Stu Williamson who did a lot of your past covers.
DF: He’s a great photographer and we’ve worked with some amazing photographers over the years. It’s something that we always do. We always try and make every facet of our art as good as it could be which is quite hard because there’s only a core element of the band, but there are like thousands of people working for us. But yeah… Stu Williamson actually moved to Bahrain or someplace like that, somewhere he’s obviously being paid a lot to photograph Arabs in Gothic scenarios, I suppose. [laughs] I’m also nipping away at a poetry book of surreal, dark fairytales. The artist, Sam Araya, who did our artwork for THORNOGRAPHY has been illustrating. We’ve also worked with JK Potter and that was a bit of a coup as well.
DC: So, the new album is out now and you have a tour coming up.
DF: That’s right. Well, we have South America coming up at the end of the year. That’s why I was saying that everything is so busy. We have a two and a half week tour before Christmas. Then, obviously, I’m putting pay to this symphonic album and then the American tour starts in the beginning of February. It starts in Mexico, actually. And that’s with Nachtmystium, Turisas and Daniel Lioneye. Nachtmystium are quite well known. They’re a strange American black metal band, very cool. Turisas are like one of those barbarian Finnish bands that are very, very entertaining live. Once you see them play live, you just love them. They’re one of the best opener bands because they just get the crowd so fired up. Daniel Lioneye are a few people from HIM, but they’re certainly not doing HIM music, by any means. So, it’s a great package and a great mixture of stuff and a great load of people to be hanging around with.
DC: Were these bands that you’d heard and liked over the years and wanted to bring out on the road with you?
DF: Yeah… well, you get suggested some obviously. For example, we had to cancel the European tour – postpone it at least – because we chose a band called Behemoth who are huge in Europe and had really good music, but unfortunately an illness came up, so that’s sort of been put on hold. But generally, you get to choose out of who’s available because obviously people have their own timeframes and album commitments or they’ve toured before, so it’s tricky. We’re lucky we got good on this one because we booked it quite a way in advance.
DC: Fearnet is one of the sponsors (along with Decibel Presents) of the tour. How did you hook up with them?
DF: I’m not overly sure. I think it’s just a collaboration of them being interested in the record and the people we work with seeing an avenue there. It makes sense though… I mean, FANGORIA presented our last video and we had a big thing through RUE MORGUE as well. It’s good because at long last the music is getting the recognition that it deserves because music and horror have been sort of pried apart at some point. You get a few pages with some bands that don’t really relate to the genre. Like the psychobilly bands… which I’ve never really got. Yeah, ok… they dress up and they got long spiky hair, but…
DC: I think it has something to do with the 50s horror drive-in connection…
DF: Yeah, but it’s not really a British thing though, you know? It’s more Americana. I just don’t find the music creepy or scary or anything. [laughs] Did you see the film SPLICE?
DC: I did.
DF: Did you like it?
DC: Ummmm… I really like the director, Vincenzo Natali. I thought CUBE was a terrific film. SPLICE… I just wasn’t sure where he was going with it, honestly. It looks really good. I mean, the cinematography and the way he sets up shots is great. The narrative just gets a little wonky toward the end.
DF: Yeah, I’d heard that. Something else I’ve just gotten into that somebody’s recommended is DEXTER. I’ve never really been into the whole TV series thing because I can never keep abreast of it, you know what I mean? And I always think TV series are just poor adaptations… like BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA. You know it’s not going to be as good as the film or a film because the money is being spread for a start. And with a film you have an hour and a half to spend your millions instead of hours and hours…
DC: Plus… if you can’t tell me the story you want to tell me in two or three hours, then might I suggest you getting a proper editor, you know? [laughs] But that show… it just keeps getting better.
DF: Yeah, it does keep getting better and it keeps spurring you. The moment you think you understand it and get comfortable with it, it changes. It’s amazing. Somebody recommended it to me a couple of weeks ago and I picked up Series 1 & 2 for fuck-all money and me and my wife have been watching an episode a night… or some nights we’ll watch two or three. We can’t put it down.
DC: Agreed. Ok, so… back to the tour. Your American tour ends in March and then… where do you go? Home?
DF: At the moment, we’ve got a possible headline METAL HAMMER British tour thing going on which they do every year called “Defenders of the Faith,” but they haven’t isolated the bill yet. Then, we’ve got summer festivals… We’re hoping to be touring most of next year. We’ve got offers from all over the place. It’s just a case of our booking agents in various territories sort of nailing it down. The furthest we can see really on our horizon is about March when this British thing is going to happen. Mainly though, the summer festival offers start pouring in around Christmas. It’s when they start getting their shit together, but I think we have three or four ready. There’s also the possibility of us coming back to The States in the summer for this Mayhem Festival which is supposedly like a Mini-Ozzfest, I guess, but with a lot heavier bands. There’s a possibility of us headlining that. So, that sounds good as well.
DC: And as all of this is going on, you continue to work on the orchestral album, the fairytale book…
DF: Well, I’ve got a poetry book… I’ve also got a sideline band which is very interesting. In fact, I’ve kind of had it for about a year and the only reason it hasn’t progressed any further than just about a press release announcing it was coming out and the demo – even though we have tons of material – is because everybody in the band is in bigger bands. It’s now about us all being in the same place at the same time. I mean, we’ve only been able to meet up as a band twice in Norway. The guy from The Cult, John Tempesta, is playing drums, Rob Caggiano from Anthrax on guitar, King from Gogoroth playing bass, me singing, and Ice Dale from Enslaved on the other guitar. It sounds like Tool meets Immortal and is called Devils of Loudon. It’s from the Aldous Huxley book, THE DEVILS OF LOUDON, about the demonic possessions in France.
DC: It sounds great!
DF: It should be. Then, I keep nibbling away at the poetry book and I’m sure there will be other things coming up. [laughs]
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Hell Night Blu-ray Review – Mischief & Mayhem At Mongoloid Manor
Starring Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Suki Goodwin, Vincent Van Patten
Directed by Tom DeSimone
Distributed by Scream Factory
1981. Prime time for the slasher film, when studios were more than content to pump out one after another since production cost was often so low. The downside, though, was that many wound up being formulaic and, eventually, forgotten. Time has allowed the cream to rise to the top of that crop and while Hell Night (1981) isn’t among the best it does stand out due to some novel choices made by director Tom DeSimone and executive producer Chuck Russell, the man responsible for some of the most consistently entertaining horror films of the ‘80s. A dilapidated mansion, oozing with gothic atmosphere, stands in place of a college campus or generic forest setting. Characters are dressed in formal costume; a stark departure from typical ‘80s teen garb. The film is half haunted house, half crazed killer and there is a not-entirely-unexpected-but-definitely-welcome twist at the end providing a solid jolt to a beleaguered climax. Fans are rightly excited to see Hell Night makes its debut in HD, though the final product is still compromised despite Scream Factory’s best efforts.
It’s Hell Night, every fraternity brother’s favorite evening; when new recruits are tormented in hazing rituals from, well, Hell. Peter (Kevin Brophy), president of the vaunted Alpha Sigma Rho house, comes up with the brilliant idea to have four pledges – Marti (Linda Blair), Jeff (Peter Barton), Denise (Suki Goodwin), and Seth (Vincent Van Patten) – spend the night in a decaying mansion. But this isn’t just any old house, as Peter regales a rapt audience – this is where former owner Raymond Garth killed his wife and three malformed children before hanging himself, sparing only the life of his son, Andrew, who was rumored to reside within the place after the murders. The pledges enter Garth Manor and quickly pair off, with Marti and Jeff getting intellectual while Denise and Seth take a more physical path.
A few hours pass and Peter returns with some of his bros, planning to initiate a few good scare pranks they set up earlier that week. The chuckles don’t last long, though, because Jeff and Seth quickly find the shoddy wiring and poorly placed speakers rigged upstairs. What they don’t know is that there is an actual killer on the loose, and he just decapitated one of the girls. Leaving the labyrinthine home proves difficult, with Marti & Jeff getting lost within the catacombs beneath the estate, evading their mongoloid menace however possible. Seth, meanwhile, has to scale a massive spiked fence if they hope to get any help way out here. Wait, didn’t Peter mention something about Andrew having a sibling?
The production team on this picture was a beast, and I’m convinced that’s the chief reason why it came out any good at all; specifically, the involvement of Chuck Russell and Irwin Yablans. I give a bit less credit to director Tom DeSimone, who up to that point (and after it) filled his filmography with lots and lots of gay porn; storyline and direction are usually secondary in that market. Hell, they even had Frank Darabont running around set as a P.A. which is just a cool fact because nobody listens to P.A.s on a film set. Music is just as important, too, and composer Dan Wyman is a synth master who worked with John Carpenter on his early films. His score here is reminiscent of those lo-fi masterpieces.
Solid atmosphere and rounded characters make all the difference. Instead of a roster of stereotypical sophomoric faces the bulk of the film focuses on four individuals with personality and a bit of depth. Blair makes a good turn as the bookish good girl type, while Barton is a charming match for her mentally, showing interest in more than just a drunken hookup. Denise and Seth are both superficial, and their interactions inject the most humor into the film. Denise continually calling Seth “Wes” is one example. A good horror film gets the audience invested in who lives and dies, and while I won’t go so far as to say these are exemplary characters the script does make them three-dimensional and not so paper thin.
The 1.85:1 1080p image is sourced from a 4K restoration of an archival 35mm print with standard definition inserts. This is a step up from Anchor Bay’s old DVD but not by leaps and bounds. Colors attain greater saturation and definition is tightened but the picture looks awfully soft too often and the jump between HD and SD footage is plain as day. The print displays vertical scratches and white flecks. Black levels are decent but there is clear room for improvement across the board. To their credit this is the best image Scream Factory was able to produce but fans should temper expectations going in because this is not a pristine picture by any means.
There is nothing wrong to be found with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, which does a fine job of carrying the dialogue alongside Dan Wyman’s sinister synth soundtrack. Direction is limited and the presentation is routine, but no problems were detected and the track capably supports the feature. Subtitles are available in English.
Here is where Scream Factory does their best to make up for the shortcomings of the a/v presentation: a ton of extra features.
An audio commentary track features actress Linda Blair, director Tom DeSimone, and producers Irwin Yablans & Bruce Cohn Curtis.
“Linda Blair: The Beauty of Horror” – This is a recent discussion with the actress, who covers her run in the genre in addition to diving deep into this film’s difficult production.
“Hell Nights with Tom DeSimone” – Shot on location at the Garth Manor (actually Kimberly Crest Estate in Redlands, CA), DeSimone reflects back on shooting the film there over 35 years ago.
“Peter Barton: Facing Fear” – The actor offers up expected discussion, covering his career in horror and navigating the Hollywood scene.
“Producing Hell with Bruce Cohn Curtis” – This covers more of the behind-the-scenes work that went into making the movie.
“Writing Hell” – Screenwriter Randy Feldman offers up some insight into his process for creating the story and writing the script.
“Vincent Van Patten & Suki Goodwin in Conversation” – The two actors, who have not seen each other in quite some time, sit down together for a back-and-forth discussion.
“Kevin Brophy & Jenny Neumann in Conversation” – This is another chat conducted the same way as Van Patten & Goodwin.
“Gothic Design in Hell Night” – Art director Steven Legler talks about his process for turning Garth Manor into how it is seen on film; evoking the right chilling atmosphere.
“Anatomy of the Death Scenes” – Pam Peitzman, make-up artist, and John Eggett, special effects, scrutinize each of the film’s kill scenes and discuss what went into achieving them.
“On Location at Kimberly Crest” – DeSimone guides viewers on a tour of the “Garth Manor” as it can be seen today.
A theatrical trailer, two TV spots, a radio spot, and a photo gallery are the remaining features.
- NEW 4K Scan of the film taken from the best surviving archival print
- NEW interviews with actors Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten, Suki Goodwin, Kevin Brophy and Jenny Neumann
- Audio Commentary with Linda Blair, Tom DeSimone, Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis
- Original Theatrical Trailer & TV spots
- Blu-ray Disc Exclusives:
- NEW interview with Director Tom DeSimone
- NEW interview with Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis
- NEW interview with Writer Randolph Feldman
- NEW – Anatomy of the Death Scenes with Tom DeSimone, Randolph Feldman, Make-up artist Pam Peitzman, Art Director Steven G. Legler and Special Effects artist John Eggett
- NEW – On Location at the Kimberly Crest House with Tom DeSimone
- NEW – Gothic Design in Hell Night with Steven G. Legler
- Original Radio spot
- Photo Gallery featuring rare, never-before-seen stills
“Hell Night” overcomes being lumped in with standard slasher fare thanks to dripping atmosphere, unique production design, and characters that elicit some empathy. The a/v presentation leaves much to be desired but a plethora of bonus features softens that blow.
Video: The Shape of Water Q&A with Guillermo del Toro and Doug Jones at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre
This past weekend at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA betwixt a double screening of The Shape of Water and the classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the former’s director Guillermo del Toro (and star Doug Jones) sat down to discuss the latter’s influence on the film, Gill-man sex, “one sock movies,” his career in the genre, and more with moderator Jonah Ray, and we were there to film a portion of it.
Our sincere thanks to American Cinematheque general manager Dennis Bartok for extending the invitation.
For more Cinematheque screenings, visit the official website here.
The Open House Review – Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
Written by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote
Directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote
Mere weeks, even days, after effusively beating Netflix’s original horror content drum (The Babysitter, Before I Wake, Creep 2), I’m here to confirm that The Open House is emptier than an vacant bomb shelter. Cold, unappealing and thoughtlessly plotted to the point where “generic” would have been an improvement. From the moment we’re welcomed into Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote’s scripted imprisonment, it’s nothing but loose floorboards and busted plumbing. The home invasion genre has rarely been navigated with such little attention to detail, asking for our suspension of coherent storytelling early, often, and without earning the right to be deemed mindless genre fun. Not even Ty Pennington could save this extreme renovation disaster.
Dylan Minnette plays Logan Wallace, a track star and student who must find closure after watching his father fall victim to a fatal car accident. It is his mother Naomi’s (Piercey Dalton) idea to spend a little time away from their suburban home – escape those painful memories – so they retreat to her sister’s luxurious mountain getaway. The catch? It’s in the process of being sold and open houses are on the regular, so Naomi and Logan must vacate their temporary premises on certain days. It’s after one of these very showings that Logan begins to notice slight changes around the house, and he fears that an unwanted visitor may be in their midst. Guess what? He’s right.
To understand how little The Open House cares about conscious blueprinting, just read the poster’s tagline. “You can’t lock out what’s already inside” – right, but you could have prevented them from coming in, or checked the house to make sure they weren’t squatting, or explored numerous other possibilities to avoid this scenario. The mansion’s realtor allows prospective buyers to come and go but it’s not her job to make sure no one’s hiding in the basement? Naomi can’t even keep track of the *single* visitor she lets look around the house? It’s infuriating to see so many people neglect safety out of forced coincidence because the script couldn’t rationalize the killer’s entry any other way – a confounding strike one.
This is also a film that admits no reasoning for why its own murderer has targeted the Wallaces, or why he stokes a violent fetish when it comes to open houses. We never actually see his face, just his imposing handyman-looking attire, nor do we savor any kind of tangible backstory (his family died during their own open house and he suffered a psychotic breakdown – just give me *something*). His undefined form never demands curiosity like John Carpenter’s “The Shape” once did, because scripting is nothing more than bullet notes for basic horror movie necessities. Here he is, your bad guy – too bad he’s introduced without fear, handled without originality and unable to characterize beyond torturous kidnapper dotted lines. He’s just, you know, a guy who sneaks into open houses and kills – COMPLETE WITH A FINAL PAN-IN ON AN OPEN HOUSE SIGN WHEN HE MOVES TO HIS NEXT TARGET [eye roll into infinity].
Every scene in The Open House feels like an afterthought. “Ah, we need a way to build tension – how about a senile local woman who lives down the street and wanders aimlessly into frame?” Overplayed and in no way suitable to most her inclusions, but sure. “Oh, and we need inner conflict – what about if the breaker-iner steals Logan’s phone and frames him for later acts?” I mean, didn’t Logan canonically lose his phone even before Naomi’s mid-shower water heater issues – but sure, instant fake tension. “How are people going to believe the killer is always around and never blows his cover – think they’ll just buy it?” No, we don’t. Worse off, his cat-and-mouse game is dully repetitive until a finale that skyrockets intensity with jarring tonal imbalance. This closing, dreadful end without any sort of redemptive quality. More abusive than it is fulfilling.
If there’s anything positive worth conveying, it’s that Minnette does a fine job shuffling around as a character with severe sight impairment. The killer makes a point to remove his contacts as a final “FUCK YOU,” just to toy around a bit more, and Minnette frantically slips or stumbles with nothing more than foggy vision. Otherwise, dialogue finds itself ripped form a billion other straight-to-TV Logo dramas about broken families, no moment ever utilizing horror past a few shadowy forms standing in doorways after oblivious characters turn away. You can’t just take an overused subgenre and sleepwalk through homogenized beats…case and god-forsaken point.
Even as a streamable Netflix watch, The Open House is irredeemable beyond fault. The walls are caving in on this dilapidated excuse for home invasion horror, benefiting not from the star power of a temperamental Dylan Minnette. I have seen most involved players here in far better projects (Minnette’s stock has rightfully been skyrocketing, Matt Angel in The Funhouse Massacre, etc), but this is bargain bin theatrics without a fully formed idea. A nameless villain, doomed nice guy (Sharif Atkins), woefully unaware plot advancement – all the worst cliches found in one rage-quit worthy effort. Anyone who makes it through deserves an award…or a dunce cap.
Unless you’re irrationally afraid of cold showers, The Open House fails to deliver on a premise that can be summed up by no more than two lines of text.
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