Basic, plodding and lacking any actual horror: Doctor Jekyll reviewed

Tis the season of horror, as it’s Halloween, which we celebrate in this house by turning off all the lights and pretending not to be in. (We look forward to it every year. It’s nice occasionally to go bed at around 5 p.m. and pretend not to be in.) But I thought I’d show willing by at least reviewing a horror film so it’s Doctor Jekyll, starring Eddie Izzard. It’s the latest from Hammer, which you didn’t know was still around, but is. I have a fondness for these films as they were always on TV during my teenage years, with Peter Cushing creeping around some crypt, hammy and campy

Lurking beneath the gore are moments of wit and sensitivity: Squid Game reviewed

Should we be worried that Squid Game is the most popular show in Netflix’s history? If it’s a case of art imitating life, then the prognosis for our civilisation is not good: most of us will die, horribly, sooner rather than later, but for the very few who survive there will be untold riches to enjoy in the company of the cruel and capricious controlling super-elite. Squid Game is a Korean update of the Japanese cult classic Battle Royale (2000) which spawned — or revived; let’s not forget Rollerball (1975) — the genre known as ‘death games’. These films take place in a dystopian future where ordinary, desperate folk compete

Gripping high gothic psychological horror: Saint Maud reviewed

Saint Maud is a first feature from writer-director Rose Glass and it’s being billed as a horror film. But it’s not your common-or-garden horror film. There are no chases through woods. No one watches a doorknob being twisted from inside the room. Also, there are no maypoles. (Always bad news, maypoles.) Instead, it’s more of a character study, as well as a study of religious fervour, told in the high gothic style, grippingly, with wonderful originality and no dilly-dallying. Eighty minutes, and that’s it. (Sorkin, Nolan, Scorsese, Tarantino… please take note.) The film stars the terrific Morfydd Clark who, I think, you cast when you can’t get Molly Windsor who,

An extraordinary debut: Make Up reviewed

Make Up is the first full-length film from writer–director Claire Oakley, set in an out-of-season holiday park on the Cornish coast where the wind blows, waves crash, rain lashes and gulls screech so you know it’s not a rom-com (foxes shriek in the night too). But while it’s easy to say what it isn’t, it’s harder to say what it is. It’s a thriller but not quite a thriller, and a horror flick but not quite a horror flick, and a psychosexual fantasy but not wholly a psychosexual fantasy… It may be we can settle only on one thing, and the one thing is this: it is very, very good.

Too edgy and clever to be wasted on kids: Netflix’s Locke & Key reviewed

One of my perpetual gnawing terrors is that I’ll recommend a series that looks initially promising but turns out to be total rubbish, meaning I’ll for ever have thousands of viewers’ wasted lives and disappointment on my conscience. But my even greater fear is that I’ll peremptorily condemn something after one or two episodes which subsequently reveals itself to be a near-masterpiece. This almost happened with Locke & Key (Netflix). ‘You realise I’m watching this on sufferance. The second you’ve seen enough to review, we’re moving on to something else,’ declared the Fawn. And I could sort of see her point. Not only does it take a while to get

Scooby Doo with better CGI: Doctor Sleep reviewed

Wheeeere’s Johnny? Nearly 40 years ago Jack Nicholson went berserk in a snowbound Rockies hotel, smashing an axe through a bathroom door behind which a pop-eyed Shelley Duvall cowered in terror. It is one of cinema’s truly iconic scenes, once voted the most petrifying in movie history. Now award yourself points if you remember that the family in The Shining were called Torrance. They had a son, Danny, a psychic little boy haunted by apparitions as he pedalled on his trike along the corridor’s hallucinogenic carpets. Danny has now grown up into Dan Torrance and assumed the form of Ewan McGregor who stars in the sort-of-sequel Doctor Sleep. The Shining

Our appetite for ‘folk horror’ appears to be insatiable

This eerie, shortish book apparently had an earlier outing this year, when it purported to be a reissue of a 1972 ‘folk horror’ novel by Jonathan Buckley. Now John Murray reveal it as the third novel by Andrew Michael Hurley, whose gothic debut, The Loney, received widespread plaudits. Folk horror, a term popularised by the actor and writer Mark Gatiss, is one of those definitions, like ‘new weird’ or indeed, science fiction, useful to and immediately understood by those already familiar with the territory, but harder to nail down. It’s largely British, rooted in landscape, in isolated rural communities, in the subversion of religious practice and the suspicion that older,

Meet the folks

Midsommar is the latest horror film from Ari Aster, who made Hereditary, which starred Toni Collette and was a sensation. That was a domestic, claustrophobic scenario packed with jump scares — well, jump-ish scares; I wasn’t that scared, actually — whereas this is pastoral and relies more on building a quiet dread. It’s set in the remote countryside where a pagan community has its own superstitions and rituals and ‘elders’ and a maypole — and they are never good news, maypoles. This is clever and gripping in its own right, but it is also familiar and will certainly put you in mind of The Wicker Man. That is, the 1973

Sweet nothings

Nigel Slater is popular because he’s an exceptionally meek cook. Not for him the sprawling restaurant empire or the transatlantic TV career to excite envy and loathing. He writes about his trade in simple vivid prose and his bestselling memoir, Toast, has become a play. Young Nigel enters as a 1960s schoolboy, with shorts and a side parting, living in a posh suburb of Wolverhampton. Dad is a kindly but remote presence, an alien in his own home. Mum is a braindead kitchen-limpet who encourages Nigel’s first culinary experiments. The family are adventurous. They try spaghetti bolognese. Dad takes charge at the dinner table and loads each plate with a

Resident Evil 2

Grade: B Resident Evil 2 takes the original zombie shooter, which has become a cult classic and, to many, the quintessential horror video game, and gives it a lick of digital paint. Gone are the blocky hallways of the Raccoon City police station, along with the slow moving hordes of undead who, if you squinted, might’ve had a pixel of drool at the corner of their mouth. In their place is a German expressionist labyrinth of disorientating shadows, and antagonists so realistically putrefied the game ought to come with the sort of warnings they put on particularly pungent cheese. As ever with the franchise, it veers between survival elements and

No fear | 21 June 2018

Hereditary is the horror film that has been described as a ‘ride of pure terror’ and likened to The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining, to which I can say only: in its dreams. Given I’m such a wuss when it comes to anything frightening — the child-catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang still scares the living daylights out of me — I’m rather thankful, but I’m perplexed as to why it received such rave reviews. Ride of pure terror? I’ve had more terrifying rides on the teacups at the fair. I saw it at the paying cinema with my adult son and his girlfriend, who were also bored

To hell and back

The Exorcist opened in 1973 accompanied by much hoo-ha in the press. Scenes of panic, nausea and fainting were recorded at every performance. Movie-goers showed up to witness mass hysteria rather than to enjoy a scary movie. This revival, produced by Bill Kenwright, targets the early 1970s demographic. At press night, the stalls were thronged with pensioners eager to relive a lurid evening from their adolescence. As one who dislikes shocks of any kind, I sat through this ordeal with my eyes bent towards the floor and my fingers wedged so firmly in my ears that their tips turned crimson. The show opened with a CRUMP loud enough to shake

The gloves will come off

You know where you aren’t with director Yorgos Lanthimos. The Greek allegorist creates parallel worlds which superficially resemble our own. In Dogtooth an overweening patriarch incarcerates his three adult children in a state of infantilised innocence. The Lobster punishes those unable to find a mate by transfiguring them into animals. His acerbic commentaries on flawed modernity feel like lurid horror stories the ancients forgot to write down. The Killing of a Sacred Deer invokes pagan sacrifice in its title. Iphigenia is even mentioned in dispatches — the subject of a schoolgirl essay that doubles as a mythological flare. The film opens on a close-up of open-heart surgery in which a

Nut job

The film-maker Darren Aronofsky says he wrote Mother! in five days as if in a ‘fever dream’ and, as a general rule, what happens in a fever dream should stay in the fever dream, as the content will be plainly nuts. This is plainly nuts. This is even plainly nuts with an exclamation mark. Plainly nuts! However, it’s never plainly dull, so it does have that going for it. I think. Described as a psychological horror thriller, the set-up has a poet and his younger wife living in a magnificent, isolated house in the countryside that she is doing up. She is Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and he is Him (Javier

Tanya Gold

Art of darkness | 14 September 2017

Stephen King, 69, has sold more than 350 million books, and tries not to apologise for being working-class, or imaginative, or rich. The snobbery has ebbed a little, though; in 2003 he won the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and now the BFI is screening a series of adaptations of his novels, which show how versatile he is. Why can’t you write stories like Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, a woman asked him once. I did write it, he told her, but she did not believe him. King has published 59 novels, but he is a recovering addict and can’t remember writing them all. Most

Do not be afraid

It Comes at Night is a horror film and I can’t say horror is my favourite genre. In fact, as far as I can see, I haven’t reviewed a horror film since 2009 (Paranormal Activity; scared the bejeezus out of me). But I’d read that this was clever, engrossing and original, so why not? My bejeezus can take it once every eight years, surely. So we were braced, my bejeezus and I, but rather unnecessarily, as it turned out. This is not especially scary (thankfully, but even so) and, what is more, the storytelling is so spare that I never understood what ‘it’ was and whether it did come at

Assayas’ Personal Shopper is slick, unnecessarily complex and totally irrelevant

Creaking doors, rustling leaves and leaky taps make up the soundtrack of Olivier Assayas’ improbable horror film Personal Shopper. But the most unnerving (and grating) sound in this supernatural fashion show are the iMessage alerts that may or may not be coming from the beyond. If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because, like so much else in this baffling film, it is. Assayas has made some excellent films over the past two decades and more, and I think his nosedive with Personal Shopper can be explained by his latest muse, Kristen Stewart. Sure, she’s pretty – if that emaciated-junkie look turns you on. But why the former Twilight star has turned

Worming out the truth

In Delmore Schwartz’s story ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’, a young man dreams he is watching his father and mother’s engagement onscreen from a seat in a cinema. Weeping at the certain knowledge of the pain to come, he’s patted on the back by a woman. ‘There, there,’ she says, ‘all of this is just a movie.’ In a way, this moment distils the challenge of all oneiric narratives — it’s a fiction within a fiction, one in which anything can happen, but without real-world consequences. In this dark, brilliantly controlled debut, the Argentinian Samanta Schweblin uses the fabric of a dream to weave a novel in which everything is at

Dumb and dumber | 5 January 2017

Katie Hopkins did something dreadful this week, which is not unusual, because she craves such things. She retweeted praise — also not unusual, for she is narcissistic for a masochist — from a Twitter account called AntiJuden SS. The page even featured a swastika, should AntiJuden SS not have been clear indication enough. For Hopkins, however, neo-Nazi praise is a dog making love to your ankle. It would repel most people, but for her it still counts. Fake outrage begat fake outrage and Hopkins de-tweeted the retweet, and apologised: ‘My New Year’s resolution is to show contrition.’ To show contrition, not to be contrite; that is quite precise for Hopkins.

Whisper who dares

Stand aside, Homer. I doubt whether even the author of the Iliad could have matched Alexis Peri’s account of the 872-day siege which Leningrad endured after Hitler’s army encircled the city in September 1941. I never knew, for example, that if an adult starved for months on a few ounces of bread daily, a sip of soup and very little water — if they were lucky enough to get their daily rations — you couldn’t tell when they were naked whether they were male or female. I wouldn’t have believed that starving parents might eat their dead children, or vice versa; yet 1,500 Leningraders were arrested for cannibalism. When people