Short Horror Film, what I did last summer.

Hi folks.

Last summer I wrote and directed a short horror film with some splendidly talented folks round my home town in Ayrshire. We had no budget but I’m jolly pleased with how it turned out. People have variously described it as freaky, creepy and twisted as fuck. One chap commented My girlfriend nearly shit herself.

Please have a watch. And let me know if you like it. I might like to do something similar again – it was frightfully good fun.


Frightfest Glasgow 2014



Frightfest Glasgow 2014


First, the event itself is lots of fun.  There’s a good atmosphere, it’s well organised and everyone has a good time.  The GFT is the perfect venue with comfy seats, and it’s handy for lots of good fast food places.  It’s a place for people like me to go and for once not feel like the freaky pervert.  But here is a short review for each film.



PROXY.                      êêêê


A realistic and well-acted indie film which tackles lots of issues in a fairly subtle way.  I can’t tell you much detail without spoilers, but it starts with a heavily pregnant woman losing her baby after a violent attack.


There are four main characters, all of whom are psychologically abnormal in some way.  One appears to sociopathic; one is just an attention seeker; there’s a violent psychopath and a full-blown paranoid psychotic.  Importantly, they all have secrets and none of them communicate fully with each other or the outside world.


An intriguing film, with some nice touches and genuine surprises, but it rather lacked pace.  It dragged a bit in the middle and I found my interest flagging.



WOLFCREEK 2.       êê


I haven’t seen Wolf Creek 1 – I don’t like the whole torture porn thing so I never fancied it.  So I wasn’t looking forward to this.


It starts with the anti-hero being wrongly stopped by two policemen.  Five minutes later the cops are dead, but he seemed not to want to kill them and he only did it because they were being unreasonable.  He also seems to have a sense of humour so the audience warms to him.  However, as the movie progresses, we realise just how evil he is, and we are invited to laugh along with him as he rapes, tortures and murders his way through the film.  And the big reveal is that he does it all to purify Australia – he only kills tourists unless he really as to kill somebody else.  So he’s racist too.


It has some things going for it: some of the humour was good and I liked that first victims were a young German couple. We automatically liked them better than we would any English speakers.


My depravity filter is set quite high, but there has to be a reason for it –  here the plot was repetitive and derivative, and there wasn’t enough fun to make up for the general yuckiness of it.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody really.



SACRAMENT            êêê


A retelling of the Jonestown massacre story, in found footage form.  This is a classy and serious piece of work that stays fairly true to the source material, despite updating to the present.  An excellent set-up and some fine performances from the leads but I felt it never really engaged with the issues raised, and I found it a little po-faced for my taste.



AFFLICTED               êêêê


The phrase found footage vampire movie would make most horror fans groan and go to the bar, but this proves that with a bit of imagination it’s still possible to make a great movie despite the clichés.


Two young American guys go on a world travel adventure because one of them has a terminal illness.  In Paris, the sick guy is bitten by a woman at a party then he gradually develops symptoms – bad skin, aversion to sunlight, nausea.  So far so familiar, right?


But the characterisation is utterly convincing, the protagonist sympathetic even as he turns into a monster, and the relationship between the two actors is perfectly conveyed.  Also, the make up and special effects are spectacular for this kind of low-budget horror, and it’s not at all romantic.  Even the ending, which almost turns into a superhero movie, is logical and in keeping with the mood of the film.







A documentary about The Ferman Era – the period from 1084-1989 when James Ferman was in charge of the BBFC.  It’s the sequel to Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape, directed by the same guy.


It was quite interesting, but it didn’t tell me much I didn’t know already.  It was fun to hear people reminisce about what they had to go through to acquire uncensored horror and erotic videos, and the whole underground distribution network that existed.  It’s unimaginable now that anyone could be arrested for owning a copy of Zombie Flesh Eaters or Deep Throat.


I also also that it showed Fernman fairly without demonizing him.  He was a product of his time and class, doing a high-pressure job under a difficult legislative regime and trying to balance liberal values with deeply ingrained moral conservatism.


At Frightfest it was followed by a Q&A with the director, some of the contributors and the current head of the BBFC, which is currently implementing new guidelines that came into force in February.


Fun and quite interesting, but probably only for horror enthusiasts.



THE SCRIBBLER                   êêê


Very much in the comic book style – visually striking with some excellent special effects.  It morphs half way through from a crime thriller to a superhero story, set in a halfway house where mentally ill people prepare for their reintegration into society.


The characters have an entertaining variety of disorders, and the protagonist suffers from multiple personality disorder, but it didn’t come across as exploitative – there was no making fun of the mentally ill.


The tone and the fantastic visuals imply some great philosophical profundity, but really it’s all gloss.  It’s a bit of fun, and I liked it.



TORMENT                 ê


I think the Frightfest organisers let me down this time.  I go to festivals because I expect the films to have been vetted and the dross eliminated.  They must have been drunk when they agreed to this


A clichéd home invasion movie, copied almost shot for shot from a dozen better films – it’s most reminiscent of last year’s You’re Next, which I enjoyed more than most people.  A few moments of tension and jumps, but no logic, no explanations, no reason to care.  No reason to watch.



MINDSCAPE               êêêê


This one is not a horror movie at all, but a complex psychological thriller, somewhat in the style of Inception.  The setup is a multi-layered reality, in which memory detectives can enter people’s memories to discover evidence for police or other interested parties.


When one such detective is assigned a disturbed teenage genius the fun begins.


Memories are unreliable, so we never know if what we’re seeing is actually real, or similar to what happened.  Very good indeed, brilliantly acted and a twist I didn’t see coming.





Low budget and a bit trashy, this is in the style of 1980s sci-fi horrors like XTRO.  There is obviously an affection for the genre and it gets extra points from me for having been made by enthusiasts with their own money.


However, the writing, acting, effects and dialogue were all pretty ropey, and it never really got scary, but it was a harmless enough way to pass 80 minutes.



KILLERS                    êêêê


Three main characters, all murderers.  One is a despotic politician, one a confused psychopath, and the third a fan of the psychopath’s video channel.


At first viewing it seems to be about voyeurism and sadism, and the things that happen are as nasty as anything you’ll see, even from Japan.  But behind all the blood is a sympathetic exploration of two damaged characters (The politician is just evil) and their struggle to find a place in modern society.


A dark but highly intelligent thriller, recommended for strong stomachs.

Children in Horror Films or They only LOOK human.

Ju-on boyThe spooky child has been an archetype in horror cinema for a long time, but there was a period a year or two ago when I saw a dozen films in a row that used children.  The more mainstream ones included:


Paranormal Activity 4

Silent Hill Revelation



Woman in Black

There are many more, and if you look through the whole history of horror movies the list gets huge and includes some of the scariest and most successful films in the genre.  It got me thinking, and here are my conclusions.

People interact with each other every day, and generally we know what’s going on.  We speak to each other, but also read subtle changes in posture, facial expression or tone of voice.  This works because adult human beings tend to be similar in fundamental ways.  We don’t have identical problems, but we understand and, most importantly, empathise with others, and assume the empathy is mutual.

Some of our major horror tropes rely on a breakdown of this mutual understanding – something that looks human but lacks that connection with the rest of humanity is a monster.  I’m talking werewolves, vampires, psychopaths, zombies etc.

A more extreme version is the alien thing, a creature so radically different from us as to be beyond understanding, so that we can only see each other as enemy, or prey.  Movies like Alien, Terminator, Final Destination and all the big bug movies work on this principle.  Look into the eyes of Giger’s creature, or those of a giant spider, and you know that it doesn’t care about you.  It doesn’t care if you suffer or die, because there is no room for empathy.

Now keep that in mind and think of a child of six or seven.  The face, the hair, the general layout, are all human – it looks just like you only cuter.  But look in the eyes and what you won’t see is that empathy that makes true human connection possible.  It doesn’t understand you and it doesn’t care, and you have no idea what’s happening in that tiny skull.  Parents think they know their children, but that’s an illusion.  Kids cling to us for protection, comfort, warmth, or food, but only in the same way as cats do.  And our overwhelming instinct to protect and nurture skews our perception of what they’re really like.

Human brains tend to anthropomorphise: we attribute human characteristics to animals, machines, even forces of nature.  We might understand on an intellectual level that the rain hasn’t chosen to start right now and ruin our day because Auntie Weather thinks it’s funny, but we can’t help thinking it. We do the same with children – we might call this phenomenon adultomorphism.  We see faces that look like ours and we think they’re human, but we can no more understand those small and utterly selfish creatures we can a cockroach, or a moonbeam.

Deep down, we know all this.  We fear children in a profound way, partly because of the lack of true understanding, partly because we know we are looking at our replacements.   Yet we are tied to them by an inescapable emotional reaction that makes it almost impossible to run away and abandon them to their fate.  Possibly the worst thing is that if they do turn out to be monsters it will be our fault.

So when the spooky child is used effectively (The best example off the top of my head is Ju-on) two things happen at once.  We see a monster and want to run, but when the monster is a distressed child, instincts evolved over millennia draw us to it to offer comfort.  These conflicting emotional reactions twist together in our gut like a bayonet.  And that’s why creators of horror like to use children.