Whistle And I’ll Come To You: a horror column by Michael James Hall

Whistle And I’ll Come To You: a horror column by Michael James Hall


Welcome, boys and, er, ghouls, to the first of my columns for God Is In The TV. The miserable slavedrivers at GIITV Dungeons finally heard my pleas for a page dedicated to devilry, dastardly deeds and the dark arts. Hopefully the more squeamish screamers among you will have a warm hand to hold on to as you read – and we genuinely pray it’s still attached to the relevant body…anyway, enough Cryptkeeper crapola, here’s the word on horror this week…


The horror anthology is a tradition (arguably started by Ealing Studios with the wonderful ‘Dead Of Night’ in 1945)  that’s been trampled as many times as it’s been well realised. For every classic Amicus portmanteau film like ‘The House That Dripped Blood’ (1971) which featured not only the real Dracula (Christopher Lee in a brilliantly stern turn as the devil’s dad) but also the real Dr Who (Jon Pertwee as a vapid Hollywood vampire), there’s a shambles like ‘Tales from The Dark Side’ (1990) which despite being tremendously entertaining and featuring the ever-beautiful Deborah (not Debbie in the movies ya know) Harry with stories drawn from the minds of Stephen King and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is a crushing wreck of a movie that couldn’t even be saved by Steve Buscemi’s psychotic rat of a performance.


For every episodic beauty like ‘Creepshow’, the 1982 George A Romero scarer that helped put anthology horror back on the map with it’s comic book inspired (and Tales From The Crypt-aping) camp and colour – including a beautifully mean turn from a pre-Naked Gun Leslie Nielsen (RIP), a stinker like 1977’s ‘The Uncanny’ raises it’s purring puss to enlighten us about the evil, cunning nature of cats. Yes, that’s right. That was worth making a film about. Mind you, with Peter Cushing starring almost anything is worth a watch.


So then, despite having a high tolerance for shoddiness (as a fan of the horror genre as a whole, one sometimes has to have a thick skin when it comes to quality) and finding the twist-in-the-tale nature of the multi-strand terror film a compelling format, there’s every chance that any new take on it will be a disappointment.


That didn’t turn out to be the case with the best horror film I saw last year (Berberian Sound Studio excluded for being…well, not a horror film per se, more a film about horror) ‘V/H/S’. Drawing on the directorial skills of some of modern horror’s brightest (and in some cases semi-bright) talents it’s an anthology that harks back not only to those noble gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s but also, as the title implies, appeals to the newly ‘retro’ fetish for videotape, in particular the video nasties of the early ‘80s.


Following the format loyally, the film has four tales of terror unified by a ‘bookend’ story that (vaguely) ties the disparate films together. In V/H/S’ case the framing device (‘Tape 56/frame narrative) falters a little (despite occasionally looking beautifully lo-fi particularly during the opening credits) but does serve it’s purpose – to introduce us to a series of shorts that chill the blood.


Opener ‘Amateur Night’, helmed by David Bruckner (The Signal) is a revelation –rough, ready, funny as hell and, finally, savagely disturbing. It also serves as a neat lesson for anyone who thinks they’re cool and sexy when drunk. You’re not, and now there’s a potentially franchise-worthy anti-heroine to point that out in the strongest terms possible.


The overrated but admittedly cool Ti West drops ‘Second Honeymoon’ and it works like his longform films – it’s smart, it’s creepy and it leaves you with a sense of unease rather than any feeling of closure. Again this one’s sexy and ultimately shockingly violent so keep a handle on your gag reflex there in the closing moments.


Glenn McQuaid lets the side down with the predictable and nonsensical ‘Tuesday 14th’ (great title though), showing little progression from his middling recent feature ‘I Sell The Dead’. It’s an existentialist (it hopes) run-through of the tropes of stalk n’ slash silliness made famous by Halloween and Friday 13th and you’ll feel none the wiser and also none the more entertained for having seen it.


Happily it’s a brief dip and we’re back in the game with the movie highlight “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger’ which, I think, it’s best to tell you absolutely nothing about aside from – it’s ingenious and it’s actually frightening, not something you can accuse much of mainstream horror of being these days.


Strangely that segment is run by indie darling Joe Swanberg (Art History) – not strictly a horror guy but no doubt a great talent who seems able to turn his Von Trier-inspired hand to any genre.


Lastly we have ‘10/31/98’ – a Halloween romp featuring ritual sacrifice, disappearing windows and some very, very poor life and costume choices. Again, it’s fantastic and strangely reminiscent of fellow V/H/S-er Ti West’s feature film work.


What’s wonderful about the whole experience is the aesthetic – it’s hand held, it’s video, it’s lo fi. It’s a taste of the past – but it’s fed through a fiercely modern filter – despite it’s influences and the parameters it works within there’s absolutely nothing old fashioned about the end result.


Inkeeping with the vibe of V/H/S, Momentum Pictures are throwing a video shop party in London later this week (16th January) at the one-night-only ‘Cellar Rentals’ in Blackhall Studios, London which will feature a reconstruction of an old video rental store (as someone who ran video shops for the best part of a decade it’s tragic how excited I am by this) a screening of the film itself along with drinks and popcorn and whatnot…and by ‘whatnot’ I mean you get to take away an actual VHS big-box version of the film. Which is awesome.


It gets a proper cinema release on Friday 18th January (I know you’ll all be watching Django Unchained that night so do yourself a favour, stay out and catch a midnight show of V/H/S) then on DVD a week or so later but if you happen to be in London this coming Wednesday then come and say hello at the Blackhall Studios – I’m not that scary in real life.


‘V/H/S’ – out on DVD & Blu-ray 28th January 2013 (opens at UK cinemas on 18th January 2013) through Momentum Pictures.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.