The Strangers: Prey at Night
TODAY saw the UK release of The Strangers Prey at Night, directed by Johannes Roberts and starring Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson and Bailee Madison. Already unleashed in the USA, (where it grossed $25 million to mixed reviews) I was eager to catch this film when it hit my local cinema. My verdict? I loved it!
The story of The Strangers sequel (although you could see this film as a ‘stand-alone’) focuses on a family who have travelled to a holiday trailer park for a long weekend away. Once there, they become stalked, chased and terrorised by three masked killers. The movie had a nostalgic feeling, giving memories of the Jason franchise and the Halloween series because of the look, feel, title font and soundtrack. It gives a nod to the 80s era, portraying the old-school horror feel with authenticity.
One thing this film had in buckets was heavy tension – it felt dark and foreboding from the beginning, carried along by the sinister looking masked assailants and the creepy, locked-down holiday park. The cast were brilliant – from the beginning the script writers and director managed to create a family that you could not only easily relate to but also care about. This made the deaths and stalkings even more awful to watch.
I felt The Strangers: Prey at Night captured something more disturbing than the first film – the death scenes and chase scenes were particularly brutal, for a seasoned horror fan like myself, I even had to look away a couple of times.
I loved the cast, the setting, the soundtrack, the death scenes: this film had it all. By the end of it, I had to take a deep breath and take a moment to adjust. The movie was very dark and sinister, which will hopefully please most horror fanatics.
I rate The Strangers: Prey at Night 5 stars out of 5. I highly recommend catching this movie whilst it’s in the cinema – it really breaks out on the big screen.
WE GO ON
A Film Review
I am a late arrival to this film: I’m a big horror fan and usually up-to-date with new releases (in film and literature), so when I come across a film I haven’t heard of, I’m surprised. I read about We Go On via social media recently (a friend’s post) and I decided to give it a try. I’m pleased I did: We Go On is a must-see movie for horror fans and I’m glad this one didn’t remain on my “unseen” list for long.
Starring Clark Freeman (Yellow Brick Road), and Annette O Toole (from the 1980s Stephen King’s IT series), the film is highly original and unique: in a horror market flooded with mimicked scares and trappings, We Go On manages to push fresh air into the genre.
So what’s it about? We Go On tells the story of a young man, Miles Grissom, who is so anxiety-ridden and scared of death, that he places an advert in a newspaper: prove to him that the after-life exists, and he’ll pay the successful candidate $30,000 reward. So the tale descends into darkness… swamped by applicants who each think they can show Miles the proof he’s after, he works his way through until he finally reaches the one person who can prove to him that there really is something beyond the dark veil of death.
The story is dark and beautifully told; the jump-scares, effects and script all work together seamlessly to produce a fantastic horror film. I found the story to be engaging, and for a seasoned horror fan like me, I was surprised at the amount of tension the film managed to enfold me with. I was actually nervous during some of the scenes!
One aspect I find important to mention; the lead character, played by Freeman, was rattled by heavy anxiety. He was a troubled and disturbed young man, and I found Freeman’s portrayal to be sensitive, truthful and authentic. Because of his work on this project I will be looking forward to watching his other films.
I think the director (Jesse Holland), script writers and actors involved have created a strong, creepy and worthwhile film here. Brilliant performances from the entire cast, including the talented Giovanna Zacarías, (who plays a medium trying to help Miles) and Laura Heisler, who plays a troubled and betrayed woman who collides with Miles over her troubled past and his current mission.
If you like a scary movie, turn down your lights, watch this film and enjoy. I don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.
Beyond the Gates –
Interview with Actor Graham Skipper
Released in 2016, Beyond the Gates is an American horror film with a quirky and original slant. Directed by Jackson Stewart, it premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival where it was received well by viewers and won the Audience Award of the festival’s Midnight Selection.
I was late to the game: as an avid horror fan (both in film and literature), I am usually quick to jump on new releases in the genre, but it wasn’t until recently that I purchased Beyond the Gates – and my initial impression? Amazed. I loved it. The film is full of vintage style and retro-creepy horror – with a unique story to tell. Based upon the old VHS game tapes of the 80s and 90s, Beyond the Gates tells the story of two brothers as they find themselves trapped by such a game – with fatal and frightening consequences.
I enjoyed the film so much – the acting, script, set and directing work together stunningly to bring a solid horror film to the table – that I was excited when one of the lead actors – Graham Skipper, who plays Gordon Hardesty – was willing to be interviewed. So, if you are a horror fan and you enjoyed Beyond the Gates, I am sure you will enjoy reading Graham’s responses as much as I did…
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, Graham, and how you became involved in the film industry?
I’ve been an actor for as long as I can remember, and did quite a bit of sketch comedy work while living in New York City just after college. It was through connections made there that I got put in touch with the great Stuart Gordon and thus got cast in Re-Animator The Musical, which then introduced me to the Los Angeles horror film community, and the rest is history!
Do you focus mainly on horror films – do you prefer exploring darker themes in your work?
I do primarily focus on horror, or more broadly “genre” work. I love horror – I’ve been a fan my whole life and for me, it’s one of the few genres of film that still makes me really feel something. And for some reason I identify with it. Like Guillermo Del Toro often says, there’s something about monsters that really speaks to me – I understand them, and I see the beauty in them. That extends to the artistry of the horror film. No matter how grisly or ghastly something might be, I like exploring why the filmmaker needed to put that on screen. Why tell this story, now? I feel like horror in particular has a way of really getting at current events and cultural trends that other genres have a hard time tackling. Plus it’s important to explore darkness somewhere…there’s so much of it in the world, we have to understand what we’re up against.
I recently watched Beyond the Gates and it was brilliant – very original. How did you become attached to the project?
I’ve been friends with Jackson Stewart for years, having met through the horror film community here in LA. We’d worked on a couple of shorts together and had a great time, and he graciously offered me the role! I jumped at it – Gordon’s a spectacular, meaty role with a lot going on between the lines. That’s a real gift as an actor.
How was it working with Jackson Stewart, Barbara Crompton, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant and the entire cast (who were all fantastic in their roles)?
It was a really fun shoot – all of us on that set were friends and most of the cast and crew had worked with each other at some point or another on various projects. And Barbara Crampton is of course a legend in the horror genre, so getting to act with her and have her there for guidance was a real blessing. It’s always fun getting directed by your friends, so getting to work with Jackson was a real pleasure, and that combined with a cast of other buds made the whole thing like a party.
Beyond the Gates was received well in the horror community, how did YOU feel about the film after completion?
I’m super proud of it! As I said it’s a real treat when someone’s written such a complex role for you, and even more of a treat when you get to act opposite really talented people that you feel comfortable with, and I think all of that shows on screen. The chemistry on and off screen is evident in the finished product, I feel. It’s also just fun! I’m really proud to have been a part of it.
What were some of the best and also most challenging parts of the process of filming Beyond the Gates?
What is always a challenge when filming independent films is just time and money, so it’s really all about finding creative ways to get around whatever hurdles you’re presented with. But I feel like we did a good job of pivoting when we needed to and really built a solid foundation around character and relationships that carried through the final product.
I read you recently made your debut as a director – can you tell us more?
Yes! It’s a feature film called Sequence Break that’s been making the rounds at film festivals this year. It stars Chase Williamson (who plays John in Beyond The Gates), as well as Fabianne Therese, Lyle Kanouse, Audrey Wasilewski, and Johnny Dinan. It’s a Cronenbergian love story centering around a reclusive video arcade repair technician who falls in love with a mysterious young woman, while also falling prey to the metaphysical clutches of a sentient video arcade machine. I’m incredibly proud of it and am happy to say it will be coming out on Shudder early this year!
How do you feel the horror genre as a whole is shaping up, do you think it is getting the recognition it deserves now?
I think that the horror genre is probably the strongest it’s been in years, to be honest. There’s a lot of really great material being produced by artists who care deeply for the genre. I do feel it will always sort of be the “shunned stepchild” in the world of “respectable cinema,” but I’m kind of ok with that. It’s certainly heartening to see films like GET OUT or THE SHAPE OF WATER getting awards recognition, and that gives me hope that the mainstream will continue to see horror not just as popcorn fluff, but as legitimate works of art that can teach us more about ourselves and the world we live in.
What are your plans for the future in terms of film and directing?
I’m going to continue to act and am certainly looking for the right next project to jump back into the director’s seat for! I love creating new worlds and characters and I’m eager to keep working at that.
Finally, just for fun – what are your personal three favourite movies?
Gosh, this is a tough one. They change daily. But I’ll go ahead and say, in no particular order… EVIL DEAD 2, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. But like I said, those may change tomorrow!
Thank you Graham for the interview! I recommend to readers to check out Beyond the Gates if you haven’t yet!
PATCH – A Short Horror Story
By Fiona Dodwell
Patch is keeping me awake – again.
It isn’t his fault, really. I am, in a way, imposing upon his nocturnal territory. At night I have a very stringent routine (a shower, brush teeth, lock Patch in the lounge and then head upstairs to bed). Last night and again this evening I have foregone the above and instead opted to sleep on the sofa. The main reason for this disruption of my normal bedtime routine is simple: the bedroom upstairs seems to absorb the noise from next door. Lately the couple from number 12 have been arguing into the small hours; their taught and screeching voices echoing and bouncing around the walls of my room until night turns itself into a drab, new November day.
I can’t face another night like that. They are driving me mad, the both of them like cats snarling at each other, drink and whatever substance they’ve been inhaling certainly making them worse.
So, it’s me and Patch, the greying cat I’ve lived alone with for the past six years. He’s spoiled rotten and refuses to go outside at night. He’s the only damned cat I’ve ever heard of that refuses to prowl the dark streets. He traverses the town by day, and stays in once darkness hits. He’s not easy to sleep around, either. The night starts out quiet and restful, but it only takes a couple of hours before out of the darkness comes his paws, batting away at my face, mewling into my ears and scattering across the sofa as I lie in wait for sleep to come. Sleep. So easy to take for granted when you’re on a roll, but when those nights come that steal away your deserved rest, it feels like a taunting shadow – impossible to grasp.
I have been lying here for about two hours. It must be nearly midnight. The curtains are pulled over; every now and then a car swishes past outside, wheels churning up rain watered puddles as it whizzes through, a quick blaze of light from headlights slicing into the darkness through tiny gaps in the curtain. I can make out the shadows of the furniture in my lounge; the outline of the armchair situated across the room from me, the TV set and the cat’s scratching post. At night, everything takes on an unfamiliar edge.
I am sure I can hear the distant rumbling voices of the occupants from next door, their voices certain to erupt into a volcano of bad language and pulsing temper at any given moment.
I sigh. I’m getting fidgety now – I don’t cope well without sleep.
I twist myself onto my side, the cushions from the sofa piled up around me. I tuck the duvet around me until it’s tightly under my chin. I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
Instantly, just as I begin to relax, I feel feet gently land on me and begin a quiet, timid walk across the contours of my body. Patch! “Get off me,” I hiss in frustration. I nudge my elbow to the creature and hear him jump to the floor with a small thud.
I feel bad but I need to sleep.
I have to be up at six a.m for work tomorrow – Jarvis will go mad if I’m late in again.
I close over my eyes and try to block out the sounds around me. The pitter-patter of the cat’s feet as it treads around the lounge; the ticking of the large clock from the nearby kitchen wall. The voices from next door.
I begin to count in my head, anything to distract me…. 100, 99, 98, 97, 96, 95…
I feel Patch leap up onto me; his sharp claws pressing into my chest. His every scratch feels magnified as I lie here, he is snagging and tugging and pulling and grabbing at my t-shirt.
“Patch!” I shout, clenching my hands together. “Stop it or I will lock you outside!” The animal scampers away.
The room falls quiet for a moment.
I turn again, twisting the duvet into position with me, adjusting myself. I lick my dry lips, tuck my hair behind my ears.
Thud. Thud. Thud. A quick jolt and his feet are on me again. Up and down my body, walking, walking, walking. I feel that familiar pressing against my skin, the sharp nails digging into my flesh.
I grunt and sigh, then throw back the duvet. The cat lands with a dull whomph to the floor. I can’t see him but I can hear him scattering around the room now; I’ve pissed him off.
Well, he isn’t the only one who has had enough.
“You’re going out now, whether you like it or not.” It’s so dark that I am guessing my way around the room now, I take small, slow, deliberate steps. I place my hand on the cold wall and slide across until I feel the nub of the light switch. I slap it on and wince as light floods the room.
I am about to head over to the back door, to pull it open and encourage Patch outside when I pause by the doorway.
I stand still, my eyes blinking hard at the window facing the garden.
Patch is outside. Sitting at the windowsill beyond the pane of glass, looking in at me with wide, green eyes. He wants in.
But if he’s been outside all of this time, what the hell is that thing in here with me?
A small noise, then. Something that sounds like a laugh echoes around the darkness behind me. I see something dart quickly from the corner of my eye. A whiff of something sour and rotten reaches my nostrils. Patch, still outside, watches me with widened eyes then scampers into the night when he sees I’m not alone. What has he seen?
I’m frightened to turn around.
I have been a fan of the work of director Andrew Jones since seeing his first release of the Robert trilogy. Robert, released in 2015, is a creepy and subtle tale of a haunted doll come to life, starring the talented Suzie Francis Garton, and Lee Bane. The sequel – The Curse of Robert – was equally enjoyable, however the third and most recent release, entitled The Toymaker, is in my opinion a fantastic addition to the series, and quite possibly the best.
The Toymaker stars Lee Bane (in a somewhat altogether impressive guise), along with Erick Hayden and Sophie Willis. The cast in this film is so solid; performances by Bane and Hayden are outstanding. Hayden is a new name in film to capture my attention, and I will be following his career as a result of his work on this feature.
Centred in Nazi Germany, in 1941, The Toymaker tells the tale of how an elderly man comes across a manuscript that contains top secret occult material – a manuscript that is much sought after by the Nazis. The occult notes eventually lead the toymaker to bring life to some of the dolls in his possession, and there the story of horror unfolds.
This film is brilliantly executed. The script, the acting, the way in which the story unfolds are all impressive. Director Jones brings about such immense tension to the story – even from the outset – when we find ourselves in the centre of a hunt by the Nazis, as they weave their way through a town, trying to locate the mysterious book of occult material.
I genuinely think this third film of the trilogy is the strongest. I very much missed the presence of Suzie Francis Garton, as she brings a lot to the story in its original form (for very obvious reasons, her character couldn’t be a part of this). The Toymaker delivers an exceptional punch. It feels authentic – the dialogue, costume, scenery etc all lend credence to the time in which the story is set.
I think Andrew Jones, Lee Bane, Erick Hayden (and the rest of the cast, who are all spectacular in their roles) have achieved a strong, solid story here. The Toymaker is creepy, tense and enjoyable – with the very odd dark hint of humour (well, in my opinion, the saluting clown is a classic scene!)
I highly recommend this film, and give it a hearty 5 stars out of 5
You can purchased THE TOYMAKER in HMV, ASDA, MORRISONS, TESCOS and on any DVD online retail outlet.
THE DARK SACRAMENT – STORIES OF MODERN DAY POSSESSION
IF YOU are interested in exorcism and enjoy reading, I highly recommend the book, The Dark Sacrament by David Kiely. This work is a significant text which focuses on several cases of possession, cases that are unnerving as well as fascinating. Back when it was first released in 2007 (there has since been a revised and updated version), I read it in a short space of time, because the stories described within where so captivating – and frightening.
I have been personally interested in the subject of exorcism and possession since I was a teenager, when I first watched The Exorcist. I had also read several articles and fictional stories on the topic. I believe The Dark Sacrament is one of the most important and significant books on the subject. I have read it several times, the insight it sheds of the personal experience of the demonic is something very powerful, and it does play on your mind.
I was recently in contact with David Kiely, the man who co-authored the book with his wife Christina McKenna. He kindly agreed to be interviewed regarding his book and here is the result of our exchange. I hope you enjoy the interview – and I hope it inspires you to pick up a copy of a book that definitely deserves to be on your ‘To Be Read’ list.
I began by asking David how he came up with the idea for writing this book with his wife…
For several years I had this sort of book in the back of my mind. I’d read a number of books on the subject of Irish hauntings but all dealt with very old cases. My publisher at Gill & Macmillan visited us one day and was intrigued by Christina’s account of a prolonged haunting in her family home. It featured in her memoir, My Mother Wore a Yellow Dress. He wondered if we’d be interested in compiling a book of modern cases. We readily agreed.
Have you personally always believed in the paranormal? If so, why?
The answer is yes, and it’s largely thanks to my father, who told us children at an early age that he’d assisted at an exorcism when a young man. He didn’t go into too much detail for fear of scaring us witless, but it certainly fired my imagination and I developed a great interest in the subject. I moved to Amsterdam in my twenties and was drawn to all manner of things paranormal, thanks largely to the people I met and talks I attended at De Kosmos, a centre devoted to spiritual matters and the paranormal.
Was it hard to find people willing to talk about their frightening paranormal encounters?
For some I imagine it’s a hard topic to be open about.. Very hard, despite reassuring people that they’d remain anonymous. We even went so far as disguising the locations where the hauntings occurred and other relevant details. That said, several people were more than willing to discuss their experiences, largely because of their gratitude to the clergymen who’d rid them of the spirits that tormented them. They wished to comfort other victims and assure them that help is at hand.
Did you ever feel unsettled or unnerved during the writing of the book?
Most certainly. Being writers – like yourself – Christina and I have very vivid imaginations. That fact generally works in our favour but in the case of The Dark Sacrament it had the effect of putting us on edge on many occasions. We experienced insomnia a lot, no doubt due to the effect on our psyches of the many accounts of strange happenings we were privy to. I vividly recall an apparition I saw late one night: a serpentine, multicoloured form that moved across the ceiling for a few seconds and was gone.
Have you ever had any unexplained encounters of your own?
Not recently but I often had out-of-the-body experiences in years gone by. I’d meet entities with whom I’d converse wordlessly. Nothing evil or threatening, I’m happy to say. Christina was also visited by a ghost dressed in Victorian garb, who likewise did not speak and seemed quite benign.
Do you feel it is a spirituality dangerous thing to investigate, write about or dabble in the darker side of the paranormal?
Yes, it can be dangerous, particularly for newcomers who are unaware of the dangers. Those dangers are myriad, and as diverse as the entities that inhabit the unearthly realms. Sometimes a nefarious spirit will pretend to be good-natured and fool the unwary.
The Dark Sacrament was received very well by readers. Do you imagine ever writing a similar title again?
Well, Christina did just that. She published a follow-up in 2010 entitled Ireland’s Haunted Women. It featured ten cases concerning hauntings, told to her by women who approached her following the publication of The Dark Sacrament. She made these interesting observations in the preface: “During the research [of The Dark Sacrament] I was struck by the number of women involved; it was clear that they greatly outnumbered the men who had fallen victim to oppression by paranormal forces. Try as I might, I could not account for this, nor did I find a satisfactory explanation in the literature. Could it be that ghosts appear to men and women with equal frequency – but that women are more likely to share their experiences? After all, men tend to discuss their private lives less readily than do women. Or perhaps it’s because most men tend to suppress their ‘feminine’ side – what Jung called the anima – so that the creative, intuitive and visionary area of their subconscious mind is rarely acknowledged. It’s an interesting topic for debate. Whatever the truth, the fact remains that my portfolio of cases involving women far outweighs that of those involving men.”
Thank you David, for your time.
You can find The Dark Sacrament on the following links:
YOU may recall a few posts back, that I was in the middle of completing the Diploma in Applied Paranormal Research, organised and run by prominent paranormal investigator and author, Jayne Harris. I promised my verdict, once the course was completed – and after finishing my ten assignments, including the practical investigation, I feel it’s now time to share my thoughts on the course.
The course includes ten assignment project sections, which include:
The history of paranormal investigation
Forensic approaches to experiments
Practical assignment (taking part in an investigation)
Each assignment includes reading material and an online video tutorial by Jayne Harris. There is access to a chat room and forum, where students can discuss topics or receive help with anything they are struggling with, and at the conclusion of the course, each student who successfully completes the assignments receives a certificate from one of the leading accreditation bodies.
My thoughts? After finishing each assignment, and watching all tutorials, I can genuinely say I enjoyed the course. As someone who has been passionate about the paranormal since I was a child, I’d always been looking for a way to cement my ideas, a way to explore theories and engage in serious study. This was my opportunity, and it was very interesting. What I particularly liked about the course was that although Jayne presented many different theories regarding the paranormal, there was never a moment where I felt I was being told the “answer” to anything. In fact, Jayne Harris takes pride in displaying all offered evidence, theories and texts, and allowing the student to develop their own ideas and conclusions. This is a course that aims to provide information, leading the student down a path of their own discovery.
I wondered if there would be enough to the course to really captivate my attention, purely because I’ve already spent many, many years studying the subject myself. I wondered if I could learn anything new. I needn’t have worried, because Jayne – although having to include some of the more common and basic themes of the paranormal – also delved deeply into other aspects that were new to me. I felt there was more than enough to get me thinking, learning and developing my ideas.
Jayne herself expresses the subject brilliantly in her tutorials. Clear, concise, and interesting. There was no point where I felt a tutorial was lacking – all lessons where written well, presented well and achieved the aim: to educate the student.
I truly believe this course will be well received by not only believers, but also sceptics. As mentioned, Jayne doesn’t set out to “convince” anyone of anything, but merely shares as much information, history and theories as possible. There is enough to captivate most people’s attention – and hold it firmly!
All in all, I very much enjoyed the course. The writing assignments helped me to sum up my own feelings and beliefs, and the lessons really sharpened my mind to things that I thought I already knew enough about.
I believe Jayne has achieved what she set out to, with this course. To explore, to educate, to engage with people on this fascinating subject. I feel any student will come away feeling more equipped to understanding hauntings, or taking part confidently in paranormal investigations.