Starring Stephanie Beacham, Ian Ogilvy, Geoffrey Whitehead, Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
The early 1970’s was an exciting time indeed for horror fans. While those of us in the States were just being introduced to the macabre pas de deux of Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis that would continue for decades to come, British Gothic horror stalwarts Hammer and Amicus continued cranking out the goods for those whose tastes were on the more traditional side. Although their heyday would soon be over, these two powerhouse studios provided more chills and thrills than just about anyone else in the business. One of Amicus’ strongest entries was And Now the Screaming Starts, whose cast reads like a virtual who’s who of genre stars from the era.
Set in 1795, And Now. . . begins, as many such tales do, with an ominous voiceover provided by its beautiful heroine, Catherine (Beacham). The viewer sees Catherine, her aunt, and her fiancé, Charles, traveling by coach to Charles’ country estate, where they are to be wed. It’s fairly obvious that although blissfully happy now, our young couple is about to experience some rather unfortunate events. Upon arriving at the house, Catherine is instantly drawn to the portraits of Charles’ ancestors, who, we are told, range from fox hunters to witch hunters. She’s particularly intrigued by the one of his grandfather, Sir Henry — that is, until a disembodied hand reaches out to her from the painting. So here we are, just minutes into the film, and already the screaming has started! A few days later Charles and his virginal Catherine marry and retire to separate rooms to begin preparations for their wedding night. The dreaded hand crawls into Catherine’s room, locking Charles out and ensuring that she is deflowered not by her new husband, but by whoever the accursed appendage used to be attached to. More screaming ensues before Charles breaks down the door and comforts his terrified bride. All in all though, he doesn’t seem terribly alarmed by the turn of events, and within a short while the lovebirds consummate their marriage with Catherine, of course, becoming pregnant right away.
At about this point I found myself thinking how typical and predictable And Now. . . was. How nice it was to have figured everything out and be able to just sit back and watch events unfold. But David Case and Roger Marshall (the author of the original novel and the screenwriter, respectively) obviously had other plans. They threw a monkey wrench into my reverie by introducing the character of the Woodsman, an enigmatic and frightening young man whose family had been given permission by Sir Henry to live on the estate forever. Catherine is both repulsed by and drawn to Silas, the Woodsman, sensing he knows something about the history of Charles’ family that might explain the strange experiences she’d been having. Whitehead plays the character convincingly, evoking just the right balance of pity and fear. Silas refuses to cooperate, but she continues pressing the issue with others, resulting in the death of anyone who even begins to think about helping her. The family doctor, fearing for Catherine’s and her unborn baby’s well-being, calls in an expert (Cushing) who does his best to remain neutral and determine if she is merely unhappy or truly insane.
In typical Gothic fashion And Now. . . offers up spooks galore: Dogs howl, candles are mysteriously blown out, cemeteries are shrouded in mist, and the score is oh so melodramatic. A sense of dread pervades the proceedings. Fortunately it rarely delves into cheesiness, even during its flashback sequence with Herbert Lom portraying Sir Henry (although, god love him, the man does do his fair share of hamming it up). It could have easily gone either way. Yes, it has more screams than just about any movie ever made, but it also has a lot to say about the conflict between science and the supernatural as well as issues of class. Charles’ servants come and go with no interaction between them and the other residents of the house. They hear and see everything yet are invisible. It’s no surprise that a maid is the first to die. Cushing’s Dr. Pope is a man of science and reason confronted with evidence of ghosts and magic, and it’s to the film’s credit that it acknowledges his inner struggle to discover the truth at all costs. And Now. . .‘s themes of rape and revenge are dark, and as mentioned, people die left and right. If I have one beef with the film, however, it’s that Charles is too much of a lightweight. The whole time I’m wondering, “Dude, don’t you even care that people are dropping dead all around you?” But ultimately it’s Catherine’s story, not his, so his character remaining on the sidelines makes sense in the end. And I’m telling you, if they ever do a remake, Hugh Grant would be a perfect Charles.
The disc provides not one, but two delightful commentaries. Roy Ward Baker and Stephanie Beacham are utterly charming in the first, and Ian Ogilvy is both amusing and brutally honest in the second. The commentaries are done Q&A style with Marcus Hearn interviewing Baker and Beacham and Darren Gross doing his best to keep up with Ogilvy. They are filled to the brim with information and, since there are many long stretches in the film with no dialogue, make nice companion pieces. For someone born in 1916 (if the IMDB is to be trusted), Baker is a wonder! He comes off as sharp and alert as ever, and Beacham (whom I’ll always think of as Maxwell Caulfield’s mother; sorry, Stephanie) is as loaded with class and elegance as you’d expect. Considering the state of Hollywood these days, I’m pretty sure most of us would agree with Ogilvy when he waxes nostalgic about the days when a film could just “slip out” and do its thing without the studios and critics examining every piece of it under a microscope. Biographies of the major players and a still gallery round out the extras along with trailers for this film, Asylum, and The Beast Must Die, collectively being released by Dark Sky as The Amicus Collection.
Which brings us to what is often the hardest part of any review: the rating. Judged against modern films, And Now the Screaming Starts could be considered somewhat laughable. Ogilvy even says that sure today’s audiences scream at the film — with laughter. I disagree. It might not quite earn the designation of a “classic,” but And Now. . .stands the test of time and holds up quite well. The topics it tackles are just as relevant now as they were 30 years ago, and you’d be hard pressed to find a contemporary actress who could play the part of Catherine as convincingly as Beacham did. If you’re willing to forego a bit of 21st Century polish for an atmospheric and moody period piece with true 1970’s sensibilities, then check this one out and let the screaming start for you!
Commentary with director Roy Ward Baker and actor Stephanie Beacham
Commentary with actor Ian Ogilvy
Biographies and liner notes
3 1/2 out of 5
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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