Ballets would probably be more popular if they contained more beheadings. Or at least that’s my opinion.
In my ongoing efforts to complete a viewing of all of the available films in the Rue Morgue’s 200 Alternative Horror Films You Need To See, I decided to sink my teeth into Guy Maddin’s Canadian production Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary(2002) before it left The Criterion Channel. With this viewing, I can confirm that this is probably the most unique performance of an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel that I’ve ever seen. And I mostly mean that in a good way.
Produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Maddin’s film is even unique as a dance film in the use of jump cuts, close-ups, and speed changes that in combination with being in mostly in black and white (with some monochrome sections) and the use of German expressionist sets made this feel very “avant garde” to me. At times, it made me think of Haxan and Faust, especially during Lucy’s night terrors. Also used to fair effect is the occasional splash of color that reminded me of the style of color enhanced black and white photos and videos in the mid-to-late 1980s.
With the opening title cards and cuts, we are set to fear an immigrant invasion from the East. I found that to be oddly specific and a bit spot on given that the Dracula of this production is skillfully performed by Wei-Qiang Zhang. Our Renfield possesses “clairvoyant” abilities that allow him to sense and see where his master is during Dracula’s journey to England. While dear Lucy (Tara Birtwhistle) selects from her three suitors, Dracula comes for her during the night, and for the most part the story unfolds in the usual manner we are used to viewing with regards to Vlad.
Where this production stands out for me is in the editing and some of the changes made to the story. If you watch this, note that when Dracula goes into bite, the literal plunge into his victim’s neck is accelerated with the cutting of frames in the sequence. I felt it gave it a more animalistic and violent sense of Dracula in those moments. In contrast, when Lucy has been transformed and begins taking blood, her bite is a slowed down and almost sensual assault, yet it also uses the editing technique of cutting frames.
One of the standout horror moments for me was late in the film when Dr. Seward is trying to use Renfield’s ability to location Dracula. It took a second glance for me to realize that Seward was using a sounding probe and essentially tuning in Renfield by giving him a temporal lobotomy! The staking and beheading of Lucy are also stand out and well-choreographed. Speaking of the choreography, the dancing is superb and performed by The Royal Winnipeg Ballet. There does become a point where the amount of crucifix related choreography made me feel like I was in an old school Madonna video though.
And this is where I clarify why I started out by saying “mostly in a good way.” Too much of a good and different thing begins to feel stylized and overdone for me at a point. Even with only a 73-minute runtime, this film did hit that point through a chunk of the second act but rebounded in the finale. Your own mileage may vary if you choose to check this one out.
(Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel, FilmRise, and currently YouTube.)
The snow may be out, but the drive-in is open! Join us for our first Drive-In Double Feature of 2023 as we vicariously visit violent vacations with SUPERHOST (2021) and THE RENTAL (2020). Timestamps for spoiler-free and spoilery sections are in the show notes.
Hey there, Fright Fans! Jenny here, bringing you the belated wrap-up of our Compact Macabre blog series. I’m here to bring you the weird, the strange, and the downright twisted that the Short Attention Span Theater has to offer. So without further ado, here are ten more shorts for those days when you don’t have time for a movie marathon!
Alexia is a 2013 Argentinian short that absolutely won my heart. Franco, played by Sergio Berón, tries to delete his ex-girlfriend (the titular Alexia) from his social media, with shocking results. Borghi manages to inject a commentary on love and loss into a tight 9 minutes, and also manages to fit some cool, creepy effects for good measure.
This 3-minute, fun-sized treat was created for the 2013 Shock Till You Drop “Halloween Night” series, and stars Larry Fessenden as the guy with the best treats in town. As his nosy neighbor soon finds out though, he also has some tricks waiting!
This 4 minute film is short, but I wouldn’t describe it as sweet. Part live-action, part stop-motion, this film centers around the legend of a cat who wants to be human, and steals body parts from unsuspecting passersby. Warning: this film may make you doubt your cat’s intentions when they reach for you.
We talked about 2005’s Alive in Joburg, the short that led to District 9, but Blomkamp has a vast catalogue of short films. In 2017, he started Oats Studios, a film studio dedicated to producing short films with the potential to become feature films. My favorite short from Oats Studios is Firebase, a 27-minute horror tale set in Vietnam. This short feels like the love child of Coppola and Lovecraft, and tells the story of the River God, as told by a soldier and some amazing visual effects. Sadly, Blomkamp’s plan to crowd-fund this into a full-length feature didn’t work out, but I hope someday that does come to fruition, because I need MORE of this story!
This Irish/Finnish short follows brothers Peter and Michael as they make their annual pilgrimage to the abandoned amusement park where their friend Sam disappeared when they were children. This year, however, the ghost train ride is ready to collect the remainder of their fare.
This 13-minute short follows a psychiatrist returning to work after a family tragedy. She is sent to make a house call, and quickly realizes it is more than it seems. If you love an exorcism story like I do, give this one a look!
This 15-minute short has won 5 awards, including the Grand Jury Award for Short Films at SXSW, with good reason. A couple is making dinner when an old friend shows up with a cheerily wrapped gift, and makes a hasty exit. Opening the gift makes it immediately clear that this is more a curse than a gift. This odd, unsettling little film has a vibe that I would describe as Poe meets The Ring, and the filmmakers pack a lot of punch into 15 minutes.
If you’re familiar with the work of Ari Aster, it shouldn’t surprise you that this, his directorial debut, is deeply disturbing. I would be remiss if I didn’t include a big trigger warning, as sexual assault is the cornerstone of this film. This film follows the Johnsons, a seemingly perfect family with some serious dark secrets. Raw, heartbreaking and bleak, this 29-minute film is not for everyone, but is a solid precursor to the direction Aster takes in later works.
This 10-minute short centers around a video of a father (played by creator Brian David Gilbert) showing his son how to use the camcorder, an “expensive piece of equipment.” As the tape is played over and over, the footage gets stranger and stranger. This odd little film won’t leave you with any answers, but is still a fun ride!
This Irish short is brought to us by Lee Cronin, who also gave us Ghost Train. This film doesn’t have an amusement park, but is still a wild ride! It follows a couple who has been dealing with one partner’s chronic sleep issues, until they escalate to something far more sinister one night.
And there you have it-ten bite-sized samples of the best horrors in the dish. You can find Chris’s selections Here and Joe’s selections Here. Check them out and let us know what you think!