JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: “It’s not the giving, or the getting, it’s the loving”

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Growing up as a child, there was one Christmas tradition I looked forward to and enjoyed the most. It wasn’t the presents – I’ve actually never been all that keen on opening presents – and whilst I do love a Christmas dinner, it wasn’t the food. What I’ve always enjoyed the most is the back-to-back viewing of these two highly entertaining, heartfelt Christmas short films. For me, these little films ARE Christmas.

The first part of this double bill is always Ziggy’s Gift. If you haven’t heard of this little fella before, I don’t blame you. He’s quite an obscure character who originated in newspaper comic strips in the 1960s, before finding relative success as an Emmy award-winning television short in 1982, with this delightful Christmas special.

Ziggy is a loveable mute, who, with the help of his canine companion, looks to spread the love at Christmas by volunteering as a street Santa for charity. Unbeknownst to Ziggy, he’s getting embroiled in a tangle of dishonest Saint Nicks who have been swindling the public and stealing the money for themselves. Along his journey, Ziggy adopts a stray cat, offers a homeless man the clothes off his back, and frees a tribe of doomed turkeys. The most beautiful thing about this character and his Christmas tale however, is his sheer lack of prejudice, his relentless goodwill and selflessness. All he wants to do is make people happy. The message at the heart of this film is clear: the greatest gift you can give at Christmas is love and kindness.

Now, I like to follow up this with Garfield’s Christmas Special. Whilst Ziggy gets me in the mood with his weirdly whimsical ways, Garfield’s role in this double bill is to provide a more classical approach, something more grounded and relatable, whilst remaining fun and festive. As we all know, Garfield isn’t the most enthusiastic of felines, but the melting of his heart on this particular Christmas gathering is truly touching, and I won’t lie, is a guaranteed tear-jerker for me every year. Now you may be thinking “hang on, Garfield makes you cry?” but believe me, there’s one particular scene in this film which makes it humanly impossible to resist welling up.

When Jon drags Garfield to his family home on the farm one Christmas, with the loveably excitable Otie in tow, Garfield wishes for nothing more than to be back in bed rather than being subjected to what he sees as a boring and cringe-worthy family tradition. But he soon forms a strong bond with Jon’s eccentric grandmother and realises there’s more to Christmas than giving and receiving presents – it’s the people behind the presents that really matter.

What you get with this Garfield special is your standard festive family formula – putting up the tree, sitting down for dinner, being too excited and waking up early on the big day, exchanging gifts and being merry. It’s this familiarity and predictability which makes the deeper, emotional kick even more poignant. There’s no denying it makes me sad every time, but it’s a wonderfully warm, happy sad. I’m sure we all have family members who aren’t around anymore, and Christmas is a time when we are likely to feel their absence even more. But the takeaway message from this fat ginger cat is unmistakably clear – make the most of the people you love, celebrate with them, make memories with them, treasure the happy times.

Christmas is fast becoming a time of materialism and consumer craziness, but these little short films take it back to basics and remind us of what is truly important. Indeed, Garfield said it best when he said: “It’s not the giving, or the getting, it’s the loving”.

I’m Really Excited For ‘John Wick 3: Parabellum’ And You Should Be Too!

Written by Sam Comrie

When I first caught wind of John Wick back in 2015, I was unsure of what to expect from this latest Keanu endeavour. I hadn’t seen the poster, let alone a trailer before I sat down to watch it in my brother’s living room. It was described to me as a “return to form”, or something to quench my thirst for Keanu + Kung-Fu action. The teal drenched frames began to roll out on his TV and 100 minutes later, I was ready for a second viewing.

A new heroic bloodshed tale happening before eyes, decades after John Woo pioneered the genre? I couldn’t believe it. Alas, there has been a renaissance in recent years of extremely well-executed actioners that strike fast and strike hard. The first Wick instalment had such an impact on me, that I used its superb nightclub sequence in a university sound design project (it wasn’t very good but I tried!).

Jump to 2017 and Chapter Two ended up as my favourite of the year. That movie took me to another god damn realm, so much so I ended up seeing it twice at its advance previews, each showing in a row. In an industry where sequels and expansion have increasingly become the norm, this companion piece doubled down on all the best parts that Wick had going for it. Elusive worldbuilding, intriguing traditions and characters all woven into a cocktail of supremely satisfying action.

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While Chapter Two might have become understandably… a little too overblown for some audiences, it has set the foundations for what could be an arguably *perfect* trilogy.

It is hard for me NOT to be immensely excited for Chapter Three / Parabellum; but I also know that it’s important to temper my expectations. I’m sure that most of us build up our own idea of what a film should end up like once it’s on that cinema screen. We tailor images and rumours to fit our version of a project that isn’t even completed. That can be dangerous and a detriment to how I dissect a final product.

On the other hand… it’s also part of the fun. Now, unfortunately, I’m going to have to get into spoilers regarding Chapter Two. If you haven’t seen it, then I recommend coming back once you have. If you’re not bothered, then you’ve been warned.

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In the final moments of Chapter Two, Mr Wick is declared EXCOMMUNICADO by Winston, the owner of The Continental (New York branch) after murdering Santino on company grounds. However, he has a one hour grace period to escape the city with his life and his dog. After that, it’s open season for every other contract killer in the assassination underworld to claim their reward for Wick’s head.

Tyler Bates menacing score plays over Wick as he begins his escape. Fin.

I sat there in that cinema screen, jaw on the floor. While it’s common in the heroic bloodshed genre to leave a hero in peril or at an odd’s end, I was still honestly shocked that this is where the story ended up going. John Wick is basically done for. Despite all his immense skill and deadly tendencies, I wasn’t confident in his future going forward.

There will still questions to be answered and maybe they still won’t be come May 2019. Who the hell are the members of the High Table? How is Wick going to get out alive?

I have no doubt that Stahelski and co. will bring the same determination and passion in the next instalment, while still expanding on this neon noir landscape they’ve created. I mean, the latest set pictures show Reaves riding a damn horse through the city, in pursuit of bikers. Just declare it the best film of 2019 now, to be honest.

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Narrative resolvement and expectations aside, what really excites me about is the prospect that this franchise came out of thin air from an independent stunt team because of their undying love for their craft. John Wick was a new canvas for them to explore and reinvigorate action filmmaking (with a healthy dose of Keanu).

It’s a superlative symphony of action filmmaking, waiting for its third act conclusion.

You can bet for sure that I will be there midnight showing / opening day when Chapter Three / Parabellum drops on May 16th 2019.

INTERVIEW: Morgan Neville

Interviewed by Dave Curtis

Morgan Neville is a well-known documentary filmmaker,  he has made numerous films that focus on music and culture. His latest films include Won’t You Be My Neighbour which is about iconic children’s television host Fred Rogers and They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead which tells the story of Orson Welles and his last film The Other Side of the Wind. Whilst he was at the London Film Festival premiering not one, but two new documentaries we got to sit down with him and ask him a few questions about his love for Fred Rogers, Orson Welles and we get into the process of documentary filmmaking. 


Was this a passion project for you or did somebody come to you?

It was my project, I mean it was a passion project in that I loved Mister Rogers as a boy and then I didn’t think about him for decades but every time he came back in my life as an adult it surprised me somehow. So, it was something as an adult, these viral videos would go by as Fred Rogers in America and they always just struck me as a voice that is missing in the culture. And so, the real instinct to make the film was not a nostalgic instinct. I am not a big fan of nostalgia, it was actually ‘how do we get a voice like that into the cultural discussion today.’ So really for me it was a film about the same issues I come back to again and again in my movies which is “how do we find common ground as a culture,” “what happened to all the grown-ups in our culture.” So, I’ve made a couple of films that circle these same issues but it is something I care a lot about and in America, if there is any figure who transcends partisanship then it is Fred Rogers because he was dealing with kids that zero sense of partisanship.

I’ve never seen a program like it, I didn’t know who he was until I told my Canadian wife I was doing this interview and watching the movie and her face lit up and she gave me a crash course in all of it. It bought loads of memories back for her as well which was really exciting to watch.

Did she watch it when she young?

Oh yeah. She watched it with all her sisters when they were growing up.  She was surprised when I said he didn’t really come here. I think all we had was Gordon the Gopher with Phillip Schofield on a Saturday morning, but we never had anything like Mister Rogers It was very emotional watching it with her. Did you cry when you watched it for the first time?

Well I was making it but it was very emotional to make and even when we were watching the mix back for the sound I started crying.

I don’t think you can help it. Especially that last question (when you had to think of someone). Was that always going to be your endpoint?

 No, it wasn’t. He (Fred Rogers) had done that in speeches so I just thought from the first interview I’ll ask people. I didn’t know if it was going to make it in the film, but I just thought let me try it and then it became the ending.

It is a really strong ending. It packs a punch. I could imagine if you saw it in a cinema people would be sobbing everywhere. 

The first screening we had at Sundance, because I didn’t really expect that, you know.

 It’s done really well in the States…

It has been the biggest documentary in five years in America (laughs). So, it has been a smash in America.

I think it just shows that so many people still connect with Mister Rogers and his themes which is good.

It is. It’s interesting because also a lot of people went to see the film who didn’t watch him as a kid but maybe were a  parent at the time. It’s been interesting, it has also played for liberal audiences and conservative audiences which is really rare.

He was a Republican, wasn’t he?

He was. Being a Republican meant something and there were different types of Republicans then,  particularly in Pennsylvania, there were a certain type what they call Rockefeller Republicans which is a Liberal Republican, which seems like an oxymoron now, so he was of a type that doesn’t really exist anymore. But really all of his ideas that you could consider to be liberal were based in theology. So, to him it’s not a big leap to go from won’t you be my neighbour to love thy neighbour.

Is that going to be the sequel?

[Laughs]

Was it emotional talking to the family? Were they all up for it when you purposed the documentary?

The sons had never done interviews before. They had always kept it at arm’s length.

You can tell that one looks like Fred and the one looks like his mother.

They had never done anything or talked about it and Joanne, she is amazing- his widow.  In the beginning, when I told her I wanted to make the film, I said I want to make a film not about the biography but about ideas. She said that sounds like a great idea because Fred had always said if anybody made a film out of his biography it would be the most boring film ever made. Which I don’t entirely agree with. The advice she gave me when she gave me permission to make the film was “don’t make him into a saint.”

I think you succeed with that. You made him very human.

Well, that was the thing, no ever treated him as human, they treated him as a cardboard character. I think that was frustrating for him.

Do you think that bothered him after a while?

I think when bad things happen and he had to talk, I don’t think that bothered him because I think he thought that’s when he was needed. I think the other thing is at one point he got more mail than anybody in America, and he responded to every letter he got. So, he would spend 15 hours a week doing letters.

Obviously all hand written that point.

Yeah, and for him, that was as important as the show. It was like if a child writes to me, you have to write them back and to them, that is a real relationship. Part of his thing was ‘my relationship with a child through the television is real to that child, to that child it is a real relationship’ and he also only ever talked to a single child through the lens, he was never saying ‘Hi kids, he was like, how are you today?’ So if you were a child, you thought he was talking to you. So it was a one on one relationship between you and him.

When did you start the process, are we talking years?

It was probably the very end of 2015 that I started thinking about it, and then really 2016 that we kind of put it together and started production in October 2016, just before the election.

That’s quite a quick turnaround for a documentary.

We premiered it at Sundance in 2018, so that was pretty fast.

How do you go about picking what goes in and out because there must be hours and hours of footage?

There is tons of stuff but I have been doing this long enough that I have refined my process and I feel a lot of times people who are doing archive documentary or documentaries, in general, cut a six-hour version of the film and then cut down it down to four hours, then three hours and I can’t stand doing that.

So, there are no director cuts out there or anything?

Well, there are scenes I cut out but I think the idea, in the beginning, is what is that we really want to say and what are scenes we want to talk about. I put together a list maybe 32 scenes and we cut those first and we had 100 minutes.

Was the animation always intended to go in, because that really works.

Yeah it was intended, just because I didn’t want to just talk about his childhood in an expository way ‘he did this and in this kind of house, he was born here at this time.’ I wanted his childhood to be told from his point of view in terms of how it related to the show and for it to be more in his imagination. So the only idea was to do animation and to come up with something that felt that animation I kind of based on 1940s children’s books and some Orson Welles actually, some magnificent “Ambersons” bit of lighting and things. I was really happy how it turned out.

So you grew up watching Mister Rogers, do I dare ask when that was?

I was born in ’67, the show went on in 68. So I was the first generation. Right from the beginning. Before Sesame Street, in America there was Mister Rogers, so that’s what I watched. So I love the show and I watched it every day. But I barely remember much of it because a lot of me watching that show pre-dates my memory. So it’s interesting revisiting him as an adult because you’re revisiting parts of yourself that you can’t even remember. So it accessing your earliest memories, which you don’t spend a lot of time doing in your modern life, and really trying to think about it. So, it’s all these things that are familiar that come back. You see an image and it reminds you of something.

I know you were very young, but did it teach you stuff that you have carried with you?

It must have done. And I’m sure it did with millions of people, but there is nowhere to gauge that impact which is one of those things about culture. We can’t say the culture is 10% more empathic because it watched Mister Rogers. But anecdotally, I heard story after story from people I’ve met talking about what the show meant to them. Even people who maybe didn’t have a father or had never seen an African American child on television before, or a handicapped child on television before.

That last scene of that clip when he jumps on stage, he didn’t even use the stairs.

Not even without waiting for him to get to the podium, he just jumps up there!

Why do you think this is a story worth telling?

I think its actually critical in that we live in a time where our culture has been built around divisiveness, you know people can get votes and eyeballs by pitting one group against another, stoking resentment. We live this cycle of resentment and it feels nobody is advocating for the opposite of it, reminding us that building societies takes hard work and is a fragile endeavour. So, I just feel like “who’s reminding us of the stakes here?” and what we have in common. So, for me, it was just trying to advocate for the opposite of what I see happening in our culture, in a loud way. 

Well I think it has connected, especially in America.

Well in America it has, so for me I couldn’t think of a message that I wanted to put out there more than this. It’s just my way of dealing with the past couple of years. It was a really therapeutic process to work on this film. It was hugely helpful.

When you were watching it all back did you have any favourite episodes?

Again, it was all dimly familiar and there are episodes that probably won’t mean anything to you like him visiting a crayon factory or these episodes that stuck in my mind but it was more the land of make-believe and the puppets and the trolley and all these things that were very familiar.

My wife loved the little town apparently, she wanted that town.

Oh the model, I remember being so fascinated by that. The model is there in the office and I took my picture with it.

So there are museums somewhere?

There are two museums. All in Pittsburgh. You can see a lot of the things there.

Do you think the film has merit in UK, because he wasn’t really known, but it is a global message?

I didn’t make the film thinking about it, but I’ve screened it for people including for a couple of British audiences and I’ve had a lot of Brits and people see it at festivals that had no idea who he was.

I’ve been telling people at the London Film Festival about it.

I’ve been surprised at how well it has worked for an audience for people that didn’t grow up with him. Because ultimately it is a humanist message. What he was talking about is basic human values and how to treat people and how to treat yourself.

 I can’t believe that there isn’t something on TV now which is similar.

That’s the thing, it’s like the idea he was talking about civil rights or war or hunger to two to six-year olds. Nobody has done that since.

The Bobby Kennedy footage for example.

Yeah that’s unbelievable talking about assassinations!

I’m going to have to ask about ‘They’ll love me when I’m dead’.  How did you get involved in that project?

Another passion project.

So you weren’t approached for it.

There was a book about 4 years ago called Orson Welles Last Movie by Josh Karp who became my producer on the film and when I read that book, I decided if I can ever get my hands on that Orson Welles footage, I would love to make a documentary about it because it was Welles making a film about himself essentially, shooting it for years and years.

When I was young all I knew of Orson Welles was the Transformers movie.

Exactly! So, I actually put a tiny bit of the Transformers movie into Mister Rogers movie with Orson’s voice. That was me doing an Easter egg for myself between the two films.

I love that. So I’ve guessed you have seen the new film (The Other Side Of The Wind).

Yeah I’m such a Welles fan.

Do you have a favourite film of his?

I mean it isn’t his best film, but the film I’ve always just loved was ‘Lady From Shanghai’.

I love the quote in your film when they are talking about ‘Citizen Kane’ being the greatest film ever but it isn’t even his best film.

Yeah exactly.

I guess it was a lot of fun making that.

That was great fun.

Were you making it as the same time as ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbour’?

It overlapped, but we didn’t edit at the same time. Right when I picture locked Mister Rogers we started editing Orson. That was a big gear shift going to one from the other. Although the similarity, because I thought about that this week having both films here (LFF) is that they are both people who didn’t care what other people thought about what was popular and what was good. They each had their own internal guidance for what they thought was important and what is right and wrong. As an artist that is exactly the kind of heroic figure you want, somebody who marches to their own drummer.

One last question. What is next for you?

I am working on some TV shows. I have a couple of shows for Netflix that I am doing.

That seems to be a good partnership at the moment. They are nailing it at the moment, Roma is so good.

It is! What is great is that they just give you a lot of freedom. It’s less of a burden to do a TV show than it is to do a feature. To direct a feature doc just takes so much time.

Are you going to stick to documentaries, are you not tempted to do a full length feature film?

No I love docs, I’ve been doing it for 25 years. I’m trying to find the next subject to fall in love with and part of is that I haven’t had time. I came up with Mister Rogers and Orson Welles just because I was able to read books on vacation.

So really you need a holiday to read books etc.

Yes, because there are a lot of things I’m interested in. I go on holiday and take a pile of books and I usually come away with some ideas.


We’d like to thank Morgan Neville once again for taking the time to chat with Dave whilst premiering both his new documentaries in the UK at the London Film Festival. 

INTERVIEW: Micah Van Hove

INTERVIEWED BY JESSICA PEÑA

 

Micah Van Hove is a director, producer, and cinematographer with a very keen drive to make his mark in the industry. Even from his first feature film Menthol (with the producer of Boyz N The Hood), he’s carved out his own exploration into how films can be told. Micah’s latest directorial effort Shadow of a Gun refuses to shy away from any hard truths, bending interactions into cold, contemplative looks at ourselves, the way we react, and the ways we’re conditioned. His work is bold and forward-looking. Even in the film’s most despairing moments, there’s a meditation on empathy. We had the chance to ask him a few questions about his experience and creative vision.


Could you tell us a little bit about your background in film, your ventures into new ideas and opportunities, and really where this passion began for you?

I started making movies out of a desire to escape the 9-5 lifestyle that I fell into after high school. I got an opportunity to act in a short film by ex-Hollywood veteran producer Steve Nicolaides who was producing a short in my hometown of Ojai, California. Being a part of that team made me fall in love with the process, but I knew I wanted to be behind the camera. Steve gave me my first camera, a DVX100, and I just started shooting.

I quit my job and made my first short film that was based on a dream I had. I didn’t realize I could make movies until my friend Nate Kamiya blew my mind with a simple concept: setting a shoot date. Projecting my first finished short film on an abandoned train car surrounded by friends, I really fell in love with filmmaking that night in 2010.

I’ve always seen filmmaking as an opportunity to learn about life and push the boundaries of what people are comfortable with in the hope of triggering growth and empowering the human spirit. I didn’t go to film school (and even have been a long time writer for the site NoFilmSchool.com) but instead just started making my first feature length movie, Menthol, which premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2014. That project was my film school.

 

In your film Shadow of a Gun, Jacob King’s character, Jason, has such a swift admiration for firearms, but not exactly in the same way as Tom. We see a friendship form and unravel. We see a toxic playing field for malicious intent and yet, in the same foreground we have the counterpart of responsible attitude. It’s surely a divisive topic, but one that’s truly relevant and poignant for the now. Did you feel an urgency to tell this story given the climate of events?

The only urgency I felt to tell this story was the fact that guns had entered my life in an elemental way. Suddenly I was surrounded by them. Suddenly I started to realize that even in Southern California, they were everywhere. I couldn’t avoid learning about them anymore.

 

What’s an aspect of your process, whether pre-production, writing, or filming, do you find to be the perfect challenge?

The perfect challenge for me is maintaining a balance between realism and expression. In my approach to movies, there’s a delicate balance between structural coherence, raw performance and the lyricism of images, and I’m always striving to connect these elements so the sum is greater than its parts.

 

Something that’s wildly intriguing about your film is its use of reality and the contrast that makes some more alarming. How did you come to cast Dominic Pino as one of the leads, and was there a specific version of his life you were pulling from?

Dominic Pino has been a best friend of mine since we were kids, but it was only once we started living together that I realized he was a gun owner. I walked into the garage one day and saw him cleaning his AR-15. I decided to sit with him and observe his process and I started to understand him in a new way. This character was born out of his very real and very coherent love for firearms.

 

Do you feel there’s a creative liberty unearthed in lived-in performances?

Yes, and that’s a great way to put it. The actors and I worked on the characters for around a year before we started shooting and so much came from where we were all at in our lives at the time. I go so far as to use the term non-actors because I feel most free working with non-trained professionals but simply with people who are willing to trust and open their lives to a camera.

 

Was there a philosophy of human nature at play when you were writing the script with your team? How did you find that comfortable medium of gun hobbyism and dire, overt obsession?

The dichotomy that the film explores was very close to the surface within myself and seemed to find an outlet through these two actors. I’ve never been interested in guns, but as I began to see them through Dominic’s eyes I started to ask myself some big questions — none with easy answers. The relationship that humans have to guns is complex, and especially the American relationship. I found it easy to empathize with both sides of that complexity: those who see them as a beautiful tool — even a creative outlet — and those who are attracted to the power they can give to the otherwise powerless.

 

The film’s polarizing subject is one that begs discussion, recognizing the different reactions people may have about firearms. How important was it for you to tell this story set in a friendship?

Shadow of a Gun for me was always about friendship more than gun ownership, it just happens that gun ownership is the catalyst that accelerates and intensifies their trajectory. I was especially interested in young men with problems of identity, not fully understanding where they fit in the world, and using external stimuli (guns, the internet, violent media) to help learn about themselves.

 

What kind of audiences are you engaging with? What kind of stories do you want to tell? Do you make it a point to create contemplation through art and how our realities can collide?

I’ve always seen cinema as a reflective medium and at its best, it can cause meaningful contemplation and growth. I want to tell stories that challenge our ideas of behavioral or moral norms and allow us to push past the near-useless dichotomy of right and wrong and embrace the ambiguity that life is made of.

 

You were one of ten fellows who attended Jim Cummings’ inaugural Short to Feature Lab. How was the whole experience for you? How has the support and that mentorship guided your process moving forward?

Jim Cummings’ Short to Feature lab was a beautiful week spent with other passionate and creative individuals from a very diverse set of backgrounds and tastes who all wanted to share and help each other. The value of being surrounded by good creative energy cannot be understated. Jim’s big heart and big energy paved the way for creative and pragmatic learning for everyone involved. Jim blew all of our minds with what he did with Thunder Road and he showed us everything he did to make it happen. It was demystifying, it was simply inspiring.

 

Your profession is your canvas. What’s been the most gratifying part about what you create and put out to the world? What keeps you going?

Cinema is more than just entertainment. Film is still a young medium, yet it’s becoming more and more ubiquitous, and I feel it is part of my mission in life to find new cinematic language.

 

From your experience, do you have any advice for other emerging filmmakers?

Do not ask permission from anybody to make your films, we don’t have to anymore. Do not get caught in the idea that your film will be perfect. Keep finding ways to continue to create and learn what you have to offer.

 

Let us know how we can keep up with you! What projects are you working on?

I am developing a feature film based in the cities and jungles of Peru, loosely based on a short film I made during a workshop with Werner Herzog in May.


Be sure to keep up with Micah Van Hove on Twitter and Instagram. Catch up with his portfolio and recent work with his production company Spirit Ape Films at www.umuima.com

You can watch the trailer for Shadow of a Gun below!

INTERVIEW: Jaron Albertin

Interviewed by Fiona Underhill

For our latest Sunday Spotlight interview, Fiona had the fantastic opportunity to chat with director Jaron Albertin, whose feature-film debut released earlier this week (9th November) in New York and Los Angeles after debuting it Zurich Film Festival last year.


FU: I want to ask you about the casting of Alessandro Nivola first of all, I notice that you saw him in the production of The Elephant Man in London (with Bradley Cooper and Patricia Clarkson), I also saw that production, what was it about that performance that led you to want to cast Alessandro?

JA: There wasn’t really anything in that performance at all, but we met afterwards and I did research, I watched everything I could find of his. My producer linked us up and she really rated him – he just got the character. I had never seen him in a role like this, so there was some hesitation there, but I just think he’s a wonderfully underrated actor [FU: I agree]. He was really into the idea of taking it on. What he had to say about it and his approach to it. I knew that, in a way, this film is so sparse, there’s not a lot of dialogue and the nuance that he had to get a hold of – I feel like he did a great job. He’s just a great guy too.

 

FU: What about Johnny Knoxville – I have to ask you how that came about?! I think it’s so interesting that he’s playing the voice of reason in the film and that’s not something you often connect with Johnny Knoxville.

JA: I thought he did a great job, actually. He’s from the South, he’s playing this foreman – working class, blue collar, I think he can pull it off – it’s kind of his world. He was the last person to come on board. We were having a tricky time with our financing, they needed somebody with a name. My producer knows him and knows that he’s been wanting to do more dramatic roles, so we put it in front of him. Initially, I was like (snorts incredulously) “Johnny Knoxville?! From Jackass?!” I was 14 when that came out and I was crashing balls over my head. But he was part of the reason why the movie got made, really. That was the primary reason, but then when we started to talk about it … he sucks you in, he has gravity.

 

 

FU: One of my favourite scenes in the film actually is when Ed (Knoxville) is talking to Joel (Nivola’s character) at the leaving party and he’s comforting Joel and kind of addressing themes of toxic masculinity, by saying “it’s OK to feel your feelings, it’s OK to give into them” and then the next second Ed is off getting a lapdance…

JA: It’s kind of rough, it’s off-the-cuff – it’s not an eloquent speech, but there’s something parallel to the end lines, about sleeping and waking, there’s something about him, in a backwards way, gets what Joel is feeling. It’s a direct line in to Joel and I think it works.

 

 

FU: And what about the kids – there is obviously an amazing performance from Eli Haley who plays one of the central roles – Will, but I also really, really liked his friend Carla (Phoebe Young) who talks to him about superheroes and says she wants to be the huntress. How did you go about casting but also working with the kids, with what are quite mature themes, I always wonder when you’re working with kids in a film that’s designed for adults, how do you not traumatise them, basically?

JA: I think you try to cast kids who inherently get it or understand it, it’s just an organic thing – the more they start to “act”, or they get a sense of what acting is, the more it starts to feel false. It’s got to be natural, as a kid, it’s the only way. You can’t look at a kid and see them as professional actors, I mean you can if they’re singing, dancing, jazz hands, Mickey Mouse Club. But when it comes to something like this, Eli I don’t think he’d ever read the script, I think it was day-to-day to him. His relationship with Alessandro – he was a little afraid of him and I think we just kept it as natural as we could. You don’t want too many takes, you try to get things quickly. But over the course of the film, new dynamics start to take hold and then people become your peers, then you feel like you’ve got to project something else onto these people, new relationships build and that directly manifests itself on screen, those natural relationships that you try to have. Particularly when the kids were together, with who is the alpha kid or whatever, you have to implement that feeling in a certain way because of the dynamic of the kids, which has nothing to do with the roles at all. It’s tricky – you never know what’s going to happen. Not a lot’s said. Eli doesn’t speak for the first 20 minutes of the film. 

 

FU: I think the first time Will speaks is when he has a paper bag on his head and that gives him the confidence to use his voice…

JA: Yeah and he doesn’t really move a lot either. He’s basically placid and sat or in a corner the entire time. There’s only two scenes where he’s walking. I was trying to cut out any part where he was walking or moving because it gave a different perspective on him, which is kind of strange to think about, that he’s just this mass, immobile.

 

FU: I really loved the cinematography, particularly the overhead shots, like the ones that were from the POV of a bird’s wing. I’m wondering how you achieved those shots and why you used them – what were you trying to say with them?

JA: I think I have a perspective on depressed realities alongside nature. Where you have the claustrophobia of the internal, you live without stepping back and looking at the bigger picture or the magic of what the natural world is. I grew up in a small potato-picking, hick town in Northern British Columbia, I went to school with First Nations kids and everyone would be drinking or huffing glue and living in this beautiful environment, but really repressed. But if you step back and look at the world, the reality of nature is so beautiful but we were sort of stuck. So Eli being trapped in his own body and the claustrophobia of that and then seeing this bird, it’s this idea of being able to project yourself onto nature, with the magic up and there and the freedom – it’s that contrast. Nature is unknown and random and scary but it gives us answers. We had a helicopter to shoot that, my producer has a relationship with one of the guys who does commercial shoots – a cowboy renegade helicopter pilot came up and I think we had an hour and a half, which in a way really lifted the film, kind of opened it up, we put the wing in afterwards.

 

FU: So you shot in upstate New York?

JA: Yes – two hours out of Albany, small town called Johnstown, an old gambling town, a beautiful old town, but there’s nothing there. They’ve got a great old town hall, but it’s all boarded up. It’s strange, you’re outside of New York, but you have communities that have nothing, they’ve sucked the industry out of everywhere and there’s no respect for anything. I mean, that’s a little depressing, but that was the case in Johnstown.

 

FU: I can think of 8 films that have come out in the last year dealing with rural poverty in America and I’m wondering if it’s subconsciously to do with trying to understand Trump voters or if that was far from your mind?

JA: It’s an interesting question, because to me: No. The rural poverty wasn’t something that was one of the themes for me at all. It’s more relatable for me, I wanted to shoot this film in the interior of BC in Canada and we just couldn’t do it because of practicalities. It’s where I grew up. And there, it doesn’t have the same social, political connotations. Things are rural, things are depressed, but it just is.

 

FU: I really liked the music, particularly in a scene where Joel stops his truck and goes off into a field to have a slash, there’s this haunting, almost choral music over it and I’m wondering what choices you made about the music and why?

JA: That song is by Julianna Barwick and I had that song in mind when we cut the scene, so that song was always in there. But I wanted at times, the music to be meditative, almost a contrast to what we are seeing. There’s a lot going on in that shot, the telephone poles warp and bend. He’s walking and  disappearing – something is compulsively driving him on. That’s a metaphor for a feeling of being isolated, not being able to communicate, to not be understood, to feel like you’re alone.

The music changed over time. I wanted something sparse, I wanted the music to be in situation for most of it, but there’s some abstract stuff. We find this kid called Clem Leek who lives in Chicago, he’s actually English, he’s brilliant. His piano music, it just connected, it just fit. The music is always tough, trying to limit it, trying to tell the story without it as much as you can without it and see how that works.

 

JC: Especially when you’re from a music video background?

JA: Yeah I moved to London in 2007 and made music videos there for 8 years, that was my background. Then I moved to New York about 5 years ago. But for this, it wasn’t easy – it’s not a film that actually demands music, in a way. So, for me, it was finding a certain type of music that matched and that took a while.


 

Weightless opened in New York and Los Angeles on Friday 9th November, and we’ll have a review up on our site in the very near future – but for now, take a look at the film’s trailer below!

Dispatches from LA Comic Con 2018

Written by Fiona Underhill

I went to some really interesting panels at LA Comic Con, covering a wide range of topics, all of which were supremely geeky, so therefore right up my street. I really noticed this year (after last attending the Con in 2016), that every single panel made reference to politics and the wider society which we live in. The zombie panel talked about their function throughout history and whether we still ‘need’ them today, the Superman panel was about how he is a symbol of hope, the Harry Potter panel was about using that universe as therapy, which is something I can very much relate to. Of course, the #MeToo movement was also referenced many times as well. So, it was a surprisingly emotional weekend!

Women in Horror Esther Goodstein, Kathleen Behun, Jessica Sonneborn, Jessica Cameron, Ivet Corvea
Jason Blum has recently come under fire for stating that; “There are not a lot of female directors period, and even less who are inclined to do horror.” Of course the women of this panel were very much here to refute that.
– Sonneborn and Corvea were in Bloody Bloody Bible Camp (2012)
– Sonneborn has Holidays of Horror coming up – an anthology series, each based on a different American holiday eg. Thanksgiving, 4th of July, Hanukkah
– Behun has The Maple House coming up
– Goodstein produced The Black Room (2017, now available on Netflix)
– Cameron directed An Ending (2018) and Mania (2015)

 

I am no Man: The Women of Middle-Earth TheOneRing.net
The focus of this panel was to highlight the lesser-known women of Middle Earth, who could be a large part of the new LOTR TV show which will be coming to Amazon, which will reportedly focus on a young Aragorn, at least to begin with. The hope is that it could feature Gilraen, Aragorn’s mother who was a widow who went to great lengths to protect her son. It could also feature Arwen’s mother Celebrian, to whom Elrond had to prove his worth by becoming a ring-bearer and building Rivendell. Following in the tradition of formidable mothers, Bilbo was said to have got his sense of adventure from his mother, Belladonna Took.

Another prominent female character is Luthien, who not only subverts the ‘damsel-in-distress’ trope by being a self-rescuing ‘princess’, but she also rescues the man she loves. Lúthien forced Sauron to give ownership of the tower to her. She freed the prisoners, among them Beren. She also heals Beren and sings a song which subdues the Dark Lord Morgoth. Tolkein and his wife Edith have the words ‘Beren and Luthien’ on their joint grave, indicating that Tolkein believed his wife ‘rescued’ him. There is also Varda Elbereth who ‘kindled the stars’ (created the universe) and Yavanna The Valar – who is a ‘Mother Earth’ type figure.

 

Superman 80th Anniversary Panel Tony Kim, Jason Inman, Jace Milam and Alfred Day
This was the best panel of the weekend for me. Despite unfortunately being an all-male panel, there was a lot of emphasis on Lois and the fact that it’s her 80th Anniversary too. There was love for The New Adventures of Superman (known as Lois & Clark in the US) which is my favourite Superman property and Superman – The Animated Series, which is underrated. There was discussion of where DC has/is going wrong with Superman and where it could potentially go in the future, all of which I strongly agreed with. I even got a bit emotional when the panel was talking about what Superman should symbolise “truth, justice and the American way” and the fact that these values have lost their meaning in larger society, not just in popular culture. Superman is meant to be inspiring, is meant to be the best reflection of ourselves – he believes in us even when we don’t believe in him. Wonder Woman got it right by creating a hopeful, likeable character who still had humour and was still cool. Why can’t that happen with Supes?

 

Star Thieves – check out the trailer on insta @StarThieves
I can across this completely by accident, but I’m glad that I did. It’s a 20 minute short Sci-Fi film featuring a cast completely made up of people of colour. It is going to be turned into a feature length film – so keep an eye out for that.

 

Other panels which I attended:
Everything you wanted to know about zombies but were afraid to askClarke Wolfe etc
The Psychology of Harry Potter
The Original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW)
Batman 80th Anniversary Panel Kyle Higgins and Chris Burnham
Wonder Women Filmmakers: Insight from Women in the World of Filmmaking – Jenn Page, Joanna Ke, Cheri Gaulke, Sonja Mereu, Emily McGregor, Allison Vanore, America Young
The Chimaera Project http://www.chimaeraproject.org

CAMFF 2018: An Interview with Rudy Riverón Sánchez

Interview by Elena Morgan

Director Rudy Riverón Sánchez, a Leeds-based filmmaker, is currently on the festival circuit with his feature film debut Is That You?. We got the chance to talk to him as the film is having its UK premiere at the Cambridge Film Festival this week. Rudy, who was born in Cuba, filmed Is That You? in his home country back in 2016 and it recently won an award for ‘Best First Feature Film’ for the first psychological horror to be made in the country.


Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers…

I’m Rudy Riverón Sánchez, the writer and director of ‘Is That You?’, the first psychological horror film to be made in Cuba. I’m originally from Cuba but I’ve lived in the UK for more than 15 years.

You wrote and directed Is That You?, can you tell us what inspired this story?

I took part in a screenwriting workshop for which I had to write a 20 minute screenplay, a scary story for children. The workshop led me to rediscover my interest in the horror genre. I then started to develop an idea for a horror feature film, one aimed at an adult audience, what was to become ‘Is that you?’. I wanted to tell the story of a young girl in conflict with her family but I wanted to ensure that my film was going to be distinctive. I decided to set the story in Cuba and use elements of psychological horror, a subgenre of horror which had not been explored before in Cuba. Having decided to set the film in Cuba, I started to think back to my life in Cuba in order to build the characters. Lili and her family are focused on surviving. They are isolated and caught deep into their own struggles. Lili’s father controls his family and forces his values upon them. This is where the horror element plays the most significant role, real fear in Cuba, mirroring the Cuban way of life.

What was it like filming in Cuba? Did the death of Castro affect the films production at all?

Our producer Emma Berkofsky brought the cameras from the UK, 14 suitcases with two mini Arri Alexas, lenses, and accessories, because the cost of this kit is too high in Cuba. Thanks to Reymel, our line producer and main contact in Cuba, we had the full support of RTV Comercial, the production services company that we were working with in Cuba, and the Cuban government. This helped to make sure everything went smoothly. Everyone we dealt with were really kind and helpful and all the cast and crew worked really hard. The only surprise was that we had to wrap up warm for the night shoots because the temperature in the countryside dropped to 2 degrees some nights. When Castro died, initially we were told by the local authorities that we had to stop filming, which would have been a disaster for the film. But luckily, because we had the right paperwork, we only lost half a day of shooting and after that we were allowed to carry on. However, the country had nine days of mourning and pretty much came to a standstill and so, until those days passed, the production team and myself couldn’t feel completely confident that things would go according to plan.

What did you find the most enjoyable about writing and filming Is That You??

What I enjoyed most when I was writing was the feeling of power that comes with creating a new world, with new characters, and while that’s challenging it’s also really satisfying. Once I got to Cuba, I really enjoyed the rehearsals because that was the first time I saw the characters coming alive, after they had just been on the page and in my mind for so long. Once we started filming, I felt a great sense of satisfaction after finishing each scene because I knew I was achieving the realisation of my vision.

Lili is a distant yet intriguing character, was it difficult finding the right actress for the role?

It took some time to make the decision. Gabriela Ramos, the actress that plays Lili, was recommended to me by the film’s cinematographer, Raúl Pérez Ureta, as he’d previously worked with her on ‘Últimos días en La Habana’. I then mentioned her to our casting director Libia Batista who also thought Gabriela would be great for the role of Lili. When I met Gabriela, I thought maybe we can try because she looked like I had imagined Lili looking. I wasn’t sure at the very beginning if she could do it because she didn’t have the experience, and the character demands a lot. So we did a rehearsal. Our producer Emma was like, “Rudy, are you sure?” I felt a lot of pressure to get it right, because Lili is the protagonist and so critical for the success of the film. It was only during the second week of rehearsals, after focusing on certain scenes, that I felt sure that Gabriela and I together could achieve what the film needed.

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Congratulations on recently winning the Anna Mondelli Award for the ‘Best First Feature Film’ at the TOHorror Film Festival in Turin. Is That You? has been accepted into several film festivals across Europe, how do you get the most out of them?

Thank you.

At each festival, we’ve done as much as we can to promote the film and so that helps you to have a bigger turn out for the screening. I think doing Q&As is also a good thing to do, so that the audience don’t just get to see your film but they get to hear about the director’s inspiration and the experience of making the film. I also make the most of the opportunity to meet other filmmakers, to see their films, and build up my network.

Do you have advice for anyone who may be starting out in the film industry, or want to get into the business?

First of all, don’t give up, no matter what. Be thick skinned. Be patient. Keep working and learning. But at the same time be selective about the projects you get involved with and the people you work with. Learn how to quickly spot mediocrity. Be yourself and believe in yourself. 

Do you have any future projects in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m currently developing a psychological drama with the working title ‘Carlitos’. I’m looking forward to being able to return to focusing on this after this period of festivals. I’m also having conversations about a psychological thriller that would be a film adaptation of a novel.

We like to end our interviews with the all-important question – does pineapple belong on pizza?

No.

 

 

Celebrating The Twentieth Anniversary of ‘Practical Magic’

Written by Fiona Underhill

Practical Magic was released on 16th October 1998 and I could not let the 20th anniversary of something which has brought so much joy into my life sail past unacknowledged. This is one of the films I have seen the most times in my life – it is a feel-good, comfort film for me and I often return to this happy place. I love everything about it – the actors (and the acting – which I will get to later), the production design and costume design, the music (both the score and the soundtrack) – it is just all so good.

The film features two legends of the acting world – Stockard Channing and Diane Wiest as two witchy spinster Aunts who live in one of the most stunningly beautiful houses to ever appear on film, which is on an island in New England. They are descended from a long line of witches (the Owens family) and are feared, mocked and shunned by the town until they are needed for love spells and the like. There is a curse on the Owens women, which means that when they fall in love with a man, the man dies. This happens to the parents of Sally and Gilly Owens (their father dies, then their mother dies of a broken heart) and they are sent to live with the Aunts. Sally is a naturally gifted witch but does not like using her powers and she also resists falling in love because of the curse. Gilly is the opposite and seeks out love as much as possible. Sally grows into Sandra Bullock and with a little nudge from the Aunts, does find love with local man Michael, with whom she has two children. Gilly grows into Nicole Kidman and leaves the island, travels the world and moves from one disastrous love affair to another, until she lands on “Dracula Cowboy” Jimmy Angelov (Goran Visnjic).

Sally Owens is one of Sandy Bullock’s best roles, in which she does some of her best acting (and yes I absolutely am including the role for which she won the Oscar here) and I’m willing to fight anyone who disagrees. When the inevitable tragedy strikes Michael – her portrayal of grief and heartbreak still makes me sob every time I watch it (including my most recent re-watch for this essay). The film is incredibly well structured and written and this section economically conveys the grieving process more efficiently than many more critically-acclaimed arthouse indies.

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Practical Magic features my dream house and is the film location I most covet. The kitchen is absolutely huge and stunning – with its dark wooden floor, cream wooden cabinets and Bristol sink. The kitchen is the setting for some key scenes, such as when Gilly and Sally try to raise Jimmy Angelov from the dead and of course; “Midnight Margaritas!” The best part of the house is the greenhouse/conservatory/orangery which is attached to the kitchen and is filled with all of the plants and herbs which the Aunts use in their potions and spells. Two key scenes takes place here – one where child Sally wishes for an ‘impossible man’ with one green eye and one blue and later when adult Sally is gently interrogated by a man who may just fit this exact description: Officer Gary Hallet (Aidan Quinn).

Sandy’s hair and costumes – in every single scene – are to die for and have aged incredibly well, in my opinion. I would still wear pretty much everything she wears in this film, to this day (there is one instance of bad chunky shoes, but we will forgive one misstep). She even wears glasses in one scene and plaits in another. If I had to be pinned down to one favourite look, I think it would have to be the dress Sandy wears in the penultimate scene (before the Halloween finale) – it features green leaves and dark red roses. Sandy has curly hair here and the scene takes place in the garden – it is all just incredibly romantic and also Romantic (as in reminiscent of the Romantic era in art and literature).

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The music in Practical Magic is one of its main strengths. I discovered recently that my favourite composer – Michael Nyman – wrote a complete score for the film which was rejected at the last minute and replaced with one by Alan Silvestri. Nyman’s score can by found on YouTube and is beautiful of course, but it’s hard to imagine anything but Silvestri’s iconic score with the film now. The soundtrack is also immense and in my regular rotation to this day – of course, actual certified witch Stevie Nicks features heavily with ‘Crystal’ being especially fitting. The use of Nick Drake’s ‘Black Eyed Dog’ in the tragic scene involving Sally’s husband mentioned earlier is another reason why that whole section is so good. Faith Hill’s ‘This Kiss’, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Case of You’ and Michelle Lewis’ ‘Nowhere and Everywhere’ all add to the ethereal, dreamy quality which combines with the film’s cliff-top setting, overlooking crashing waves so sublimely. The last absolute banger I want to highlight is Harry Nilsson’s ‘Coconut’ which accompanies my favourite scene in the whole film – “Midnight Margaritas” (despite being factually inaccurate because margaritas do not contain coconut).

It is almost impossible to choose, but I’m now going to attempt narrow down the Five Best Scenes (or moments) from Practical Magic:

5) Gilly helps Sally get one over on the bitchy moms by rigging the phone tree. “That’s right, I’m back. Hang onto your husbands girls. Whew!”

4) Sally draws a pentagram on Jimmy Angelov’s corpse with squirty cream and can’t help having a little lick. Whom amongst us wouldn’t?

3) Jimmy’s hot ghost possesses Gilly. Gilly licks Sally’s face. “I’m feeling very into sisters right now.”

2) Gilly comes back to shake Sally out of her grief and depression; “You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t get up, brush your goddamned teeth and take care of those little girls.”

1) MIDNIGHT MARGARITAS! (apparently these four acting legends actually got drunk in this scene)

So, there you have it. These are just some of the reasons that I love this movie and re-watch it so often. It makes me sad that we don’t make films like this anymore. Of course, it is easily dismissed as silly and light-weight (as most things about and for girls and women are). However, this film certainly does have its darker aspects – Jimmy abuses Gilly, Gilly and Sally kill Jimmy, attempt to bring him back, then bury the body. It is later discovered that Jimmy had killed a woman (and then Sally and Gary get hot and heavy on top of the crime scene photos). If anything like this film was made today, two high-profile and well respected actors would not be involved and it would dispense with the darker aspects  so it could be aimed purely at children. Modern day Hollywood would have no clue how to market this film, therefore it would not be made. I am incredibly grateful that twenty years ago, it could be made, as it has brought so much joy into my life. I’m sure that I’ll continue watching it for the next twenty.

JUMPSCARECUT: Bad Romance

October is synonymous with a few things: autumn leaves, pumpkin-spiced everything, Halloween, the return of The Walking Dead on TV, and more horror movies than you can wield a knife at. Not everyone has a stomach for gore or the mettle for scares though. If you’re wondering where all the romance goes when the monsters come out to play, fear not. It may not be the 14th February, but here are 14 love stories perfect for the spooky season.

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Crimson Peak (2015)

Guillermo del Toro’s 1880s-set ghost story charts the relationship between American aspiring-author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) and English baron/inventor Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After she suffers a devastating family tragedy, she marries Thomas and moves into the dilapidated Sharpe home, a grand gothic mansion built on a hill that ‘bleeds’ red when it snows. Edith must not only compete with Thomas’ conniving sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) for his attention, but she must contend with the spirits that haunt the house.

 

La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Jean Cocteau and René Clément’s surreal tale of tragic love between a beautiful girl, Belle (Josette Day), and a gentle beast (Jean Marais), was the first adaptation of the 1757 story, Beauty and the Beast. Now considered a French classic, La Belle et la Bête presents the Beast as so repellent, Belle faints at the sight of him – not quite the sumptuously animated creature Disney drew! The story unfolds like a Grimm’s fairy tale, a brooding dark fantasy, with not a singing teapot or candelabra in sight.

 

Warm Bodies (2013)

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has been adapted to film countless times over the years. From direct adaptations, such as Franco Zeffirelli’s 1969 version and Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 modernised version, to more imaginative translations, such as West Side Story and The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride. Warm Bodies falls into the latter – a loose reworking of the classic star-crossed lovers narrative. The ‘Romeo’ of Warm Bodies is Nicholas Hoult’s zombie, known only as R, and the ‘Juliet’ is Teresa Palmer’s Julie, daughter of the U.S. Army Colonel hell-bent on eradicating the living dead once and for all. Told from the zombie’s perspective, and notably depicting the undead as retaining some human characteristics in death (un-death?), Warm Bodies will thaw even the iciest of hearts.

 

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The ending of the Universal Pictures 1931 classic, Frankenstein, is heart-breaking, as Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) is apparently burned to death in the windmill he hides in, to escape the vicious mob chasing him. The Monster is woefully misunderstood, a lonely beast, desperate for a mate. In Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Pretorious heed no moral lesson from past mistakes as they create the Bride (Elsa Lanchester), a true icon in the genre’s oeuvre. Raise a glass to “the new world of gods and monsters!”

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Known as “the first Iranian vampire western”, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night focuses on a lonesome vampire (Sheila Vand), who spends her eternal life listening to music on vinyl, skateboarding around Bad City, and preying on men who disrespect women. One night, she meets a drugged-up, lost, Arash (Arash Marandi), and is charmed by his vulnerability and kindness. Their tentative attraction is fascinating to watch. With a soundtrack as killer as the girl herself, and shot in exquisite black and white, Ana Lily Amirpour has created a modern gem.

 

Thirst (2009)

South Korean producer/director Park Chan-wook knows a thing or two about forbidden lust – just watch Stoker or The Handmaiden. When Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) volunteers to participate in an experiment to find a vaccine for the deadly Emmanuel Virus, the unexpected side effects include a thirst for human blood, an extreme aversion to sunlight, and insatiable lust for his friend’s wife, Tea-ju (Kim Ok-bin). The two embark on an illicit and deadly affair, as the lines between right and wrong, monster and human, are blurred.

 

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

Chinese folklore (as imagined by A Chinese Ghost Story) dictates that the spirit of any person buried at the foot of a tree outside the haunted Lan Ro temple will be eternally bound to the servitude of the sinister Tree Devil, whose tongue wraps around its victims to suck out their life essence. Lip Siu-sin (Joey Wong) is one of those unfortunate souls. When Ling Choi-san (Leslie Cheung) meets her ghost, it’s love at first sight, and he vows to free her from her misery. Martial arts meets phantasm meets melancholy in this supernatural tale of love and loss.

 

Spring (2014)

Romantic body horror is not a combination of words one would expect, yet perfectly describe Spring. Evan (Lou Taylor-Pucci) suffers a devastating loss that prompts him to travel to Italy, where he meets the enigmatic Louise (Nadia Hilker), a student of genetics. A creature-feature unlike any other, Louise gradually reveals her ghastly secrets to Evan, as her transformative nature is exposed.

 

The Mummy (1932)

What’s more romantic than a love that spans centuries? When British archaeologists accidentally bring Egyptian priest Imhotep (Boris Karloff) back from the dead, the last thing they expect is to sacrifice their lives in order to bring the high priest’s lover, Anck Su Namun (Zita Johann) back from the dead too. A timeless fable warning us of the perils of reading ancient runes aloud, The Mummy is oft replicated (see The Mummy of 1999, starring swashbuckling Brendan Fraser, or The Mummy of 2017, starring fearless Tom Cruise), but never bettered.

 

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Let the Right One In (2008)

Based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay), Let the Right One In centres on the sweet relationship that blossoms between 12-year-old outcast Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) and his new mysterious neighbour Eli (Lina Leandersson). The two exchange toys and Morse code messages through their neighbouring wall, and learn over time that though they are different species (she is a vampire, he is a human), their bloodlust is not so different; he wants to kill, to seek revenge on his tormenters, whereas she needs to kill to survive. Tomas Alfredson directs the children’s disturbing bond with a tenderness and empathy that is rare.

(I urge you to seek out the original Swedish version, though the American remake, Let Me In, is intriguing in its own way.)

 

The Fly (1986)

David Cronenberg’s seminal transfiguration sci-fi horror about scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) and his botched attempt at teleportation doesn’t exactly scream “romantic”. The make-up effects that turn Brundle into half-man-half-fly are gruesome. However, the love between Brundle and girlfriend Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) is so pure, that even as Brundlefly evolves fully into an tyrannical insectoid, she cries for him.

 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

There’s been a lot of vampires on this list, which perhaps speaks to how romanticised the immortal bloodsuckers are. The love in Francis Ford Coppola’s bat-shit crazy adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not for the titular evil, but between lawyer Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves, with one of the worst English accents put to celluloid) and his fiancée, Mina (Winona Ryder). When Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) takes a fancy to Mina for her astonishing resemblances to his sweetheart from the 15th Century, Elisabeta (also Ryder), he rabidly pursues her.

 

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Arguably the birth of the “zom-com” genre, Shaun of the Dead is the first in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy, and stars Simon Pegg as the titular Shaun, a 30-something down-on-his-luck dude who realises the importance of showing his love only when the zombie apocalypse is upon him. Arming himself with a bat, he traverses across London with best friend Ed (Nick Frost) to save his mum, Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and win back his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield).

 

The Shape of Water (2017)

Bookending this list with another Guillermo del Toro romance seemed only natural given his proclivity for playing in the backyard of horror iconography. The Amphibian Man (played by the incomparable Doug Jones) may look scary with his big black eyes and scaly skin, but isolated mute Eliza (Sally Hawkins) sees past that to the scared creature within. The ‘Big Bad’ comes in the form fo Micheal Shannon’s villainous government agent, Strickland, a very human face of unsympathetic “just following orders” iniquity. A cinematic masterpiece, taking inspiration from classic sweep-you-off-your-feet grand romance, wrapped up in a brooding fantasy thriller, complimented by an epic score, The Shape of Water is perfect for the spooky season. Perfect for any season, really.