Originally titled “The Woods”, the feature film debut from director Corin Hardy is the 2015 British / Irish production of horror movie “The Hallow”.
Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle – “Kill Your Friends”, “Made In Dagenham”) is a tree surgeon who moves to a small Irish village with his wife Clare and baby son Finn.
When Adam is out in the local woods making a survey ahead of some proposed logging he comes across an abandoned building, in which he discovers the corpse of a dead animal with a strange black muddy substance on it. Taking some cell samples, he heads home to investigate further.
Meanwhile Clare (Bojana Novakovic – “Devil”, “Generation Um…”) has been busy removing some metal bars that have been screwed in front of all the windows of the house that they have just moved into.
A local man, Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton – “Fifty Dead Men Walking”, “The Fall”), visits Clare, unhappy that Adam is meddling in the woods and demanding that he go to see him when he returns home.
Adam, however, elects to stay at home and study the samples that he collected. Later an upstairs window mysteriously smashes in Finn’s room and the door slams shut on Adam and Clare as they rush to investigate.
Thinking Colm to be to blame, Adam calls the police. Local policeman Garda Davey (Michael Smiley – “A Field In England”, “Kill List”) attends and says that he believes that a bird must have caused the damage to the window. He also alludes to a local legend regarding the woods known as the Hallow.
When Adam goes to the local village the following day to get the window repaired he is again warned about the Hallow, while Clare is visited again by Colm who warns that the couple should leave the village for their own safety. As Adam makes his way home the car suddenly loses all power and stops, the engine compartment inexplicably filling with the black muddy substance. Things get even worse when he does manage to get home. What is causing these unexplained events, and what does the Hallow have in store for the young family?…
This is a decent little horror movie. I suppose you could describe it as being part folk horror (outsiders moving to a remote village with hostile locals) and part supernatural horror (unexplained phenomena). Not gory or overly scary, the film is nonetheless effective in unsettling and chilling the viewer and keeping you watching. The climax is well handled and the final scene as the credits roll is a perfect ending. Worth a watch…
Last night I watched a recent supernatural horror film from the Hammer Films stable. An Irish / British co-production released in 2011, “Wake Wood” was directed by David Keating (“Cherry Tree”, “The Last Of The High Kings”) from a story penned by Brendan McCarthy.
As the movie opens the action switches between watching a couple driving in their car through the countryside to a small town called Wakewood and to seeing flashbacks of their daughter’s birthday.
Alice (Ella Connolly – “Eliot & Me”) goes to feed a dog in the backyard at her father’s veterinary practice on her way to school on her birthday, only to be savagely attacked and killed by the dog.
Her parents Patrick (Aidan Gillen – “Still”, “Game Of Thrones”) and Louise (Eva Birthistle – “Waking The Dead”, “The Last Kingdom”) are devastated at the loss of their only child and some months afterwards they up-sticks and move to Wakewood.
While Louise works in the local chemists Patrick works as a rural vet for Arthur (Timothy Spall – “Mr. Turner”, “The Damned United”), undertaking most of the farm visits etc.
Still struggling with their grief and loss, things are difficult for the couple, and when Louise becomes unnerved by a couple of things she notices about some of the locals she decides she wants to leave and asks Patrick to take her to the station.
On their way the car mysteriously malfunctions and the pair stumble across open fields until they find themselves at Arthur’s farmhouse. With no answer at the door Louise goes to check the yard, where she witnesses a strange and disturbing ritual taking place.
Following an accident where a farmer is killed by his bull, witnessed by both Patrick and Louise, the couple decide that the town is not for either of them – until Arthur tells them that he can bring a person back from the dead for three days, and will do so with Alice so that they can see her again and say goodbye properly.
There are some conditions attached, however. The body must have been in the ground for less than a year, they cannot leave the border of the town (marked by remarkably sinister wind turbines) during the three days and the couple must stay permanently in Wakewood thereafter. Patrick and Louise eagerly agree but are less than honest about one of the details necessary for the process to work smoothly.
Alice is reborn in the ritual that Louise had earlier spied and the couple are overjoyed. But gradually it becomes clear that things are not what they should have been and that their little white lie may be more costly than they could have ever imagined…
This film tells a folk horror tale which is similar in ways to the likes of “The Wicker Man” and “The Blood On Satan’s Claw” with aspects of paganism, sacrifice and ritual, not to mention seemingly odd locals in a remote location. There are also parallels to be made with Stephen King’s “Pet Semetary” but I felt that this movie, a low-budget affair, was different enough to stand on its own merits.
A genuinely creepy affair with some rather gruesome moments and a neat twist or two at its conclusion, this is a great film from the resurrected Hammer Films studio. Great stuff…
Forty six years ago today, on 8 August 1969, the actress Sharon Tate was brutally murdered at 10050 Cielo Drive, the rented home she shared with her film-maker husband Roman Polanski, by members of the Manson Family – followers of criminal guru Charles Manson.
Over the coming days I’m going to look at the films that Tate starred in before her untimely death, starting with “Eye Of The Devil”, her first starring role filmed in 1965 and released in the UK during the summer of 1966.
Directed by J. Lee Thompson (“The Guns Of Navarone”, “Conquest Of The PLanet Of The Apes”) the movie was based on a novel by Philip Loraine titled “Day Of The Arrow”.
Philippe de Montfauçon (David Niven – “Murder By Death”, “The Pink Panther”) is a wealthy vineyard owner who becomes concerned when he learns that his crops have failed for the third consecutive year.
He heads off to the family estate at Montfauçon Castle in Belenac to rectify matters, but tells his wife Catherine (Deborah Kerr – “From Here To Eternity”, “The Sundowners”) that he does not want her or their children to go with him, something that Catherine is none too pleased about.
Arriving in Belnac, Philippe is greeted by the village priest, Father Dominic (Donald Pleasence – “The Eagle Had Landed”, “From Beyond The Grave”), who makes vague references to a duty which he says that he was sure Philippe would not refuse when the time came.
Still at their home, Catherine is disturbed when the couple’s young son Jacques (Robert Duncan – “Rasputin : The Mad Monk”) has a sleepwalking episode during which he talks of going to see his father, leading her to decide that she needs to take the children out to the estate.
When Catherine gets to the castle she is unsettled by a pair of mysterious siblings. Christian de Caray (David Hemmings – “Blow-Up”, “Barbarella”) who likes to wander around the castle grounds shooting birds with his bow and arrow and his sister Odile de Caray (Tate) who has a hypnotic effect on those around her.
When Catherine sees the siblings sneaking into the castle with a dove that Christian had killed and follows them to witness some kind of pagan ritual taking place. Spying hooded figures in the woods has Catherine further spooked and fearful for the safety of her husband…
Tate apparently met with the High Priest and High Priestess of Alexandrian Wicca in the UK to prepare for her role.
Although she and Hemmings both have relatively minor roles in terms of speaking parts, their presence is essential to the feel of the film and Tate, in particular, is quite spellbinding – beautiful and also projecting an ethereal quality that, for me, really made the film much more effective that it might otherwise have been.
Also known as “13”, this is certainly an interesting film with clear parallels with “The Wicker Man”, especially in terms of how it treats paganism and pagan rites and the narrative about sacrifice with regard to failed crops, and the isolated and insular community involved. Whilst it isn’t in the same league as its more famous counterpart this particular film is still well worthy of watching.
Released in 1966 by Hammer Films and directed by Cyril Frankel (“On The Fiddle”, “The Trygon Factor”) is the occult horror film “The Witches”.
Based on the Peter Curtis novel “The Devil’s Own”, the rights were apparently bought by the actress Joan Fontaine (“Suspicion”, “Rebecca”) and taken to Hammer for Fontaine’s final big-screen role.
Gwen Mayfield (played by Fontaine) is a British schoolteacher working as a missionary in Africa
who suffers a nervous breakdown after an encounter with a witch doctor during a local tribal rebellion. Returning to England she accepts the position of headteacher at a small school in the fictional village of Heddaby, hired by the Reverend Alan Bax and his sister Stephanie.
When she arrives and is greeted by Stephanie (Kay Walsh – “The Beauty Jungle”, “A Study In Terror”) she is somewhat disconcerted to discover that the Reverend Bax is actually just plain old Alan (Alec McCowen – “Frenzy”, “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner”) – a man who likes to dress up as a vicar and listen to tapes of church organ music – and that the village church is no more than ruins.
It’s not long before Gwen is noticing that things just don’t seem right in the village – strange dolls, spooky black cats, decidedly odd residents etc. – and she is disturbed by the apparent treatment being given to one of her pupils, fourteen year old Linda Rigg (Ingrid Boulting – “The Last Tycoon”). Is there something sinister going on in this peaceful village or is Gwen still traumatized by her experience in Africa?…
This is one of the lesser celebrated Hammer films, but should really be regarded similarly to the likes of 1968’s “The Devil Rides Out”. There is also a case for making comparisons with the classic “The Wicker Man” which came seven years after this early example of what could be termed “folk horror”.
The final scenes don’t have the same potency found in the aforementioned “The Wicker Man” by any means, and are the weak link of the film in truth, but this is still well worthy of watching…
“The Wicker Man” is a 1973 horror thriller film, directed by Robin Hardy, bringing Anthony Shaffer’s screenplay to the screen.
Edward Woodward plays Sergeant Howie, a devoutly Christian policeman, who receives a note in the post claiming that a young girl, Rowan Morrison, has disappeared.
He travels to a Scottish island, Summerisle, to investigate. This remote and isolated community is led by the strange Lord Summerisle, played by Christopher Lee.
When he arrives he discovers that seemingly no one has heard of the missing girl, not even Mrs. Morrison who Howie believes to be Rowan’s mother.
Howie takes a room in the Green Man Inn for his stay on the island, and, with his religious convictions, is shocked to hear the bawdy songs sung in the pub, notably “The Landlord’s Daughter” which celebrates the sexuality of the titular character, Willow MacGregor (played by Britt Ekland).
He sees a series of framed photographs depicting the annual harvest celebrations featuring the May Queen, but the most recent photograph is missing, apparently broken.
When the policeman finds evidence in the school that Rowan did, in fact, exist the teacher tells him that Rowan died, but returned in another form. After further unsuccessful inquiries, he approaches Lord Summerisle for permission to dig up Rowan’s grave, suspecting that she must have been murdered. Although Lord Summerisle is charming, Howie cannot reconcile himself with the pagan attitudes that he encounters. When the grave is exhumed, Howie is shocked to discover it contains only the corpse of a rabbit.
Howie realises that the islanders pay homage to the pagan Gods of their ancestors, and with the island being reliant on the crops that they produce, specifically their apples, he suspects that due to a crop failure Rowan is being kept hidden away to be sacrificed to the Gods and resolves to find and rescue her.
The final scenes of the have lost nothing over the years, remaining as powerful as ever.
This film has long been one of my all-time favourites, but I was unaware until recently that there was more to it than the version shown in cinemas as supporting feature to “Don’t Look Now” in 1973 and on TV from time to time since then.
The history of “The Wicker Man” began in 1971 when Christopher Lee and Anthony Shaffer, together with movie producer Peter Snell began to discuss making a film based on the 1967 novel “Ritual” by David Pinner. The three bought the film rights to the book and, with director Robin Hardy on board, came up with a new story using the original novel as inspiration.
Following filming in the Autumn of 1972 an edited version of the film, removing some introductory scenes on the Scottish mainland and some of Lord Summerisle’s explanations of the history of the island, and running to approximately 99 minutes was prepared.
One of the bosses at the film studio, British Lion, then asked American director Roger Corman to make some suggestions to make the film more “marketable”. Corman’s sugestions resulted in a further thirteen minutes of footage being removed, and the order of some scenes being changed around. The resulting 87 minute version is known as the theatrical version and was shown in cinemas in 1973.
I have now been able to see the “Director’s Cut” version, which restores most of the footage cut from the original version and puts elements of the story back to the place in which they were originally placed.
The film has a better flow as a result and, even though some of the restored footage does not have the same picture quality as a result of having been cut out decades ago, is a much more complete and satisfying experience.
A mention must also be made of the superb soundtrack, which for many years was unavailable. Put together by Paul Giovanni and performed by Magnet (a group put together specifically to record the soundtrack) and featuring various members of the cast, the music is a mixture of takes on traditional songs, such as the main title theme and “Corn Riggs” which are based on songs by Robert Burns (1759-1796) and “Sumer Is Icumen In” which originates from Middle English sometime circa 1200, and original songs such as the beautiful “Willow’s Song” and “Gently Johnny”, all arranged to give a feel of the pre-Christian pagan culture of the film – well worth finding a copy of the album.
And what of “The Wicker Tree”, Robin Hardy’s 2011 “spiritual successor”? The film explores similar themes, and even features Christopher Lee in a brief cameo role. However, although entertaining, the film does not in any way compare positively to the original film – much the same must be said of the 2006 remake of “The Wicker Man” starring Nicolas Cage.
To this viewer the old film remains far more evocative and powerful than the successor or remake. Maybe in the same way that Sergeant Howie discovered the old Gods were more powerful than his newer Christian God…