Reviews header Selected from Shivers #75

The Latest in Horror Entertainment
In this issue: nine pages of reviews, covering:

Film Reviews • We review Rupert Wainwright's chilling Stigmata, starring Patricia Arquette and Gabriel Byrne and the remake of William Castle's The House on Haunted Hill

Book Reviews • Tony Thorne's non-fiction vampire history Children of the Night, LH Maynard and MPN Sims' Shadows at Midnight, and the anthology Palace Corbie Eight

TV Reviews • Recent episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, plus the BBC's epic serial Gormenghast

Video / DVD Reviews • DVDs of The Mummy, The Frighteners, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and Cube

Video Review
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Nicky deBoer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett
Region 2 (PAL) DVD
Reviewed by Stephen Foster
selected and edited from Shivers #75

The disintegration of First Independent, one of the UK’s few remaining autonomous film distributors, left their extensive catalogue of acquisitions in a state of limbo. First Independent (then called Vestron Pictures), like many companies who joined the video industry early on, built much of their success on genre titles (The Company of Wolves, Lair of the White Worm, etc). As the years rolled on, their Horror output dwindled (especially after being purchased by the more puritanical HTV) but the company was still run by people who recognized a decent scary movie when they were offered one.

It’s reassuring to find some of the company’s titles becoming available again, most notably Vincenzo Natali’s intriguing psychological Twilight Zone-style thriller Cube, about a group of strangers who find themselves trapped in a mysterious structure filled with lethal booby traps.

The new DVD boasts the considerable bonus of a commentary track by the director and co-writer Andre Bijelic, and has been transferred in widescreen ratio of about 1.85:1 (contrary to what it says on the sleeve, though, it’s not enhanced for 16:9 sets). The sound mix is mainly used for ambient atmosphere, and is adequately served by a digital stereo presentation. The disc also contains a theatrical trailer, and a handful of design sketches and storyboards. The Region 1 disc features more of this material, as well as a couple of short deleted scenes. Where is a ha’porth of tar when you need one?

Book Review
Children of the Night
by Tony Thorne
Published by Gollancz
296pp • £19.99 h/b

Children of the Night
Reviewed by Tony Lee
selected and edited from Shivers #75

Tony Thorne is a writer and broadcaster specializing in underground culture, cultural icons and hidden histories. His previous books include The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang and Countess Dracula: The Life and Times of Elisabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess.

If you’re too square to watch sexy TV like Buffy The Vampire Slayer to learn everything you need to know about bloodsucking freaks, perhaps this non-fiction volume is for you. Subtitled ‘Of Vampires And Vampirism’, Tony Thorne’s comprehensive history of Bram Stoker’s enduring legacy re-examines the sources of Gothic European folklore, and the global multimedia industry that such old world tales have generated.

There is an element of religious hysteria in the legends of vampires but Thorne asserts that, of all Horror’s monsters, only the vampire myth also embraces political, social, racial and philosophical aspects of ethnic cultures, worldwide.

From the lush romanticism of Frank Langella’s Dracula on Broadway to the transgressive sexuality of death-metal fetish clubs, from Jung’s archetypal femme fatale, Lilith, to the blood and potatoes take on subgenre cinema of Abel Ferrara’s chilling The Addiction, from the dark secret of human immortality to exsanguinations on The X-Files, Thorne lifts every coffin lid and checks out all the pagan traditions. Was the first vampire a shaman’s victim in some almost lethal ritual initiation? Thorne has combed the history books and Internet newsgroups for instances of alleged vampire activity and discovers many fascinating stories, tracing his subject’s evolution from fearsome superstition to heinous, modern day crime reports, and according to one interviewee it’s all about ‘sex, death and power’, as if we didn’t know.

Following accounts of medieval tales from Eastern Europe, Thorne examines the continuing – or flourishing – of the vampire as cult personality, in chapters with titles like ‘Subspecies’ and ‘Generation Dead’. Now that medical science has stripped away much of the mystery of the vampire, Thorne’s research suggests that what we are left with is simply a trendy icon of sensuality.

The House on
Haunted Hill

Director: William Malone
Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs
Certificate: 18, 96 mins

UK opening: Feb 4th 2000
Film Review Famke Janssen as Evelyn Price
Reviewed by
Martin Ellis
selected and edited from Shivers #75

Eccentric billionaire Stephen Price designs heart-stoppingly frightening rides for theme parks. He has made a lot of money out of scaring people witless. Who in their right mind then, would willingly spend the night in a supposedly haunted house at Price’s bidding, knowing that the old showman might be pulling the strings behind the scenes? No one in their right mind, it seems. Because no one in the gaggle of guests that turn up for the spend-the-night-in-a-haunted-house, and win-a-million-bucks birthday party for Price’s glamorous wife are known to herself or her husband.

The story that follows begins as a simple murder plot and ends in a tale of supernatural horror, because the setting Price as chosen for his night of fun is the Vannacutt Institute, where the souls of the departed do not rest easy...

All the elements are in place here for a much more satisfying remake than Jan De Bont’s thunderous, ham-fisted take on The Haunting. Perhaps because the original of The House on Haunted Hill was such a fragile little thing – one of veteran frightmeister William Castle’s ‘gimmick’ pictures – that any elaboration would be to its advantage. After all, the most that Castle had to offer in his original was the effect he called ‘Emergo’, which meant that a rubber skeleton was dangled over the heads of the audience at appropriate moments.

The 1999 cast were obviously encouraged to go for it Hell-for-leather, not the least of them Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush, who plays Stephen Price. No prizes for guessing that’s the old Vincent Price role. Matching him in the bitching stakes as the jewel-bedecked Evelyn Price is Famke Janssen. The raven-haired beauty from GoldenEye is no stranger to Horror herself, of course with appearances in last year’s The Faculty and Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions (see feature in this issue for more on this troubled mix of Horror and film noir).

Other faces in the cast include Peter Gallagher and relative newcomer Taye Diggs, (who gets more room on the poster than Rush) [Diggs was seen in last year's excellent Go - Web Ed.] while in the prologue sequences, Re-Animator star Jeffrey Combs (interviewed last issue) does another eye-rolling turn as the demented Dr Vannacutt, who took the knife to his patients without giving the benefit of an anaesthetic. (No wonder they’re still sore...) Chris Katten plays the sozzled janitor – a descendant of the people that owned the asylum – in the grand tradition.

There’s much fun to be had here, a genuine delight in the conventions of Horror without the leaden hand of worthiness entering the equation. Only the ending misses the mark but there’s plenty to recommend along the way.

This is crowd-pleasing stuff, yes, but not without the beguiling charm of William Castle himself. How he would have laughed at them spending more on one film than he probably spent on his entire oeuvre!

Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000.
Images © Fox TV, Columbia, Anchor books. Not for reproduction