SILENCE! #239

November 3rd, 2017

 
WE’RE SORRY TO INFORM YOU, TONY ORLANDO HAS BEEN POSTPONED

HHKHRrrrhhhHtttchhhhh…HHHHWWWWRAAALLLPPPSSH

*kaff*

Sorry. Had to clear that hairball. That’ll teach me to lick Lockjaw’s blanket.

Hoo-hah! It’s only anuvver faakin’ SILENCE! innit bruv? With those two town gadaboouts Gary Lactus and the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Beast Must Die! Double barrelled. You are the quarry.

<ITEM> Admin, admin, ‘oo wants admin? Featuring  Dadmin, and Paul Reiser’s autobiography?

<ITEM> Tales of Halloween, with The Beast Must Die and Lord Nuneaton Savage’s horror marathon. Featuring Rituals, Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight and The Comeback.

<ITEM> SILENCE! Because The Film Has Started features Gary Lactus on Thor: Ragnarok and TBMD on Wonder Woman. Films mate. We shit ‘em.

<ITEM> The Reviewniverse opens it’s greedy maw and welcomes the pair in to talk some honest to goodness comics. Including The Lakes Festival Spirit Special, Black Crown Quarterly, CUD: The comic, Mister Miracle, Philippa Rice’s Soppy and probably some other stuff as well.

<ITEM> Only 5 items or less in this queue.

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This edition of SILENCE! is proudly sponsored by the greatest comics shop on the planet, DAVE’S COMICS of Brighton. It’s also sponsored the greatest comics shop on the planet GOSH! Comics of London.

An American Werewolf in London is, for many people, a textbook horror film. It’s routinely name-checked as a stock favourite by fans and directors of the genre, successfully combining, as it does, visceral scares and belly laughs in equal measure. What’s odd though is that the film is a complete anomaly – rather than providing a boilerplate template for horror films it’s a giddy mish-mash of genres, styles and moods. It manages to take in an anglophile’s love of parochial Hammer horror, a stand-up fan’s worship of Groucho Marx’s razor-sharp banter, and a gore-hound’s joy at splattery, innovative special effects, all at the same time. Nonetheless it still coheres brilliantly into a thrilling piece of pure cinematic enjoyment.

John Landis, an absurdly precocious and talented young director at the time, maintains a vice-like grip on the tiller presenting a film that manages to be a love letter to its cinematic antecedents while never crumbling into pastiche. It is a taut, atmospheric horror; a ribald comedy shot through with sharp one-liners; a tender love story; and ultimately a tragedy. It shouldn’t work, but it most emphatically does, as a brilliantly weird, yet reassuringly solid film. Countless film-makers have tried to emulate it but few have come near. American Werewolf has become part of the lexicon of horror for a generation of film fans; a touchpoint that manages to encapsulate a world of crowd pleasing cinematic thrills into its idiosyncratic 90 minutes.

I first encountered the film as a nervous but curious kid, literally peeking through the crack in our living room door to illicitly watch a film I’d sternly been warned off by my parents. My Dad had mentioned how much he was looking forward to watching it, which naturally piqued my interest, but I was curtly informed that it was definitely not suitable for me. Which of course added fuel to the already flickering fire of curiosity in me. I planned on somehow seeing this adult horror film that promised so much from its strange title alone.

I hated sleeping at that age and was constantly bobbing back downstairs in my pyjamas with spurious reasons for being out of bed. It was a nightly, tiresome ritual for my parents to the point that I had managed to master the art of hovering quietly out of their periphery for long stretches of time. So it was the night that American Werewolf was shown, after the 9 o’clock news.

Already hyped at the expectations of what contraband thrills I could expect from a film that had been so firmly denied to me, I cautiously watched from behind the slightly ajar door, trying not to alert my parents. The film started.

The impact of the first 15 minutes of American Werewolf on my appreciation of horror films cannot be understated. From the opening shot, to the culmination of the attack on Jack and David this remains to me one of the perfect cinematic sequences. It doesn’t put a foot wrong building from a moody and restrained beginning through to an utterly terrifying climax. The first moment we hear a distant, muted howl from the relative comforts of inside The Slaughtered Lamb, we know the boys are doomed. The pair are tracked and stalked, the wolf coming ever closer with brilliant use of sound alone to create the building tension. Jack and David’s increasingly nervous banter dwindles as Landis ratchets up the fear.

I could, and do, watch it endlessly. The effect upon me as an 8 year old however, was seismic. At the point of the wolf’s frenzied, vicious attack on the likeable bantering American college boys I knew in an instant that my Dad had been right and that, yes, this was indeed too much for me. I scrambled up the stairs, Jack’s anguished screams still ringing in my ears. Buried under the covers I remember wishing fervently to un-see the sequence, to wilfully expunge it from my memory. To no avail, obviously. The sequence was seared onto my brain, the next few nights were sleepless. I strained at every gust of wind, every cat yowl outside.

One of the wonderful things about American Werewolf is the evocation of a specific time and place. For an outsider Landis does a remarkable job of capturing the colour and texture of Britain at the fag-end of the 1970s. From the establishing shots that capture the bleak, dreary majesty of the Yorkshire moors, to the multicultural vibrancy and grime of a London still shaking off the dregs of post-war despondency, the film is a fantastic cultural snapshot. Landis artfully sidesteps the usual pitfalls of an American’s view of Britain, but he still wrings some laughs out of the relentless stiff upper lips and weak chins of the English in the face of an increasingly out-of-control supernatural menace. This is a Britain that has disappeared and American Werewolf has become a surprisingly potent historical document of it.

Of course the film would not have so firmly secured its place in the horror pantheon if it wasn’t scary, which it most definitely is. Aside from the aforementioned opening scenes there are some truly iconic, perfectly executed scares. The isolated commuter waiting for the last tube home in a virtually empty underground station has a truly nightmarish quality; the fatal stumbling running up the escalator a standpoint of many a terrifying dream. The yuppies killed tantalisingly close to their home, the tramps taken out in the park – the wolf in this film is a vicious, primal thing that stalks and tears people apart in frenzied jump-cuts and pacey chase sequences.

The gore is vivid, and plentiful. Still today the film is surprisingly bloody and the final carnage-filled showdown in Leicester Square ups the ante to almost comedic levels. There’s an obvious glee to all this from long-time schlock fan Landis, but it’s never played for laughs specifically. Even the wonderful, surreal ongoing sight-gag of David surrounded by his ever-decaying undead victims is shot through with the gruesome realism of Rick Baker’s special effects. The sight of Jack’s exposed trachea undercuts the humour of Griffin Dunne’s droll, bemused performance. That dissonance is the film in a nutshell. You’re laughing, but at any point the whole thing could pivot into absolute horror, like the Nazi wolf-men that butcher David’s family in one of his lycanthropic fever-dreams.

American Werewolf is the best werewolf film. There’s some other good ones out there; The Howling, Ginger Snaps, Wolfen, and of course the original Wolfman. But Landis’ smart, assured, utterly unique film is the quintessential text. It’s one of the few horror films that retains the same power over me as when I first watched it. Age doesn’t diminish it and the potent alchemy that makes this weird, dissonant mixture of styles and tones coalesce remains elusive to other film-makers.

My own experience of seeing the film has become my personal ur-text for watching horror films. That perfect, crystal moment of transgression, peeking through a door at something that you shouldn’t be watching, but can’t stay away from.

“Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors. Beware the moon lads.”

Beware the moon.

Halloween is close at hand gentle readers. Feel it’s cold, damp hand on the back of your neck. Feel as the grip tightens, and it turns your head towards this screen and these words. 5 for Friday. 5 ways to pass the time as the howling winds and…other sounds rattle at your windows. Don’t look under the bed. Don’t check the cupboards. Don’t look away.

1) Smoker of the future

Public service broadcasts have a long and brutal tradition of scaring the piss out of unsuspecting viewers. Often these informative warnings serve as micro-horror films of the highest order, utilising cutting edge film techniques and imaginative methods to get their hard truths across. Many a child was scarred by early exposure to these nightmarish visions of EC Comics like karmic justice, dealt by an uncaring universe.

The one that I could never, ever shake though was this one – ‘The Smoker of the Future’, a truly mindshredding antismoking advert that is like Hieronymous Bosch by way of Ridley Scott. It features one of the most terrifying monsters ever depicted on the small screen – that of an addict, mutated by their habit into something guaranteed to never, ever leave your memory. Brilliantly shot, bafflingly intense and truly horrific:

 

2) Moomin Groke

Tove Jansonn’s Moomin mythos is full of weird and wonderful creatures, that all hover right on the cute/scary borderline. Lovely, whimsical stories cut with an Scandinavian idiosyncrasy that gives them a unique and wonderful flavour. The Polish TV puppet adaptation from the early 1980s captured this flavour perfectly. But then. Then. The Groke. Oh god, the Groke. Those blank eyes, that shuffling, amorphous form. Moving ever closer, bringing frozen death with her every breath. Hide. Hide from the Groke.

 

3) Enigma of the Amigara Fault

I’ve talked about Junji Ito’s masterful short piece here before, but if you ever wanted to understand why he is one of the finest horror comics creators ever, this nasty little tale should convince you. As someone prone to claustrophobia there is something so profoundly disturbing about this story that I can barely bring myself to read it. It features a number of Ito’s favourite tropes – people behaving strangely, compelled by forces beyond their ken, bodies twisting into strange new forms, and a view of the natural world as alien and malign. Concise, uniquely weird and sublimely unsettling.

Check it out here

 

4) Tuck Me In


This brilliant one minute horror film did the rounds a while back but it sure packs a punch. Masterfully economic, it manages to be scarier than most mainstream full length horror films whilst also playing on parental fears expertly. Best not to say too much really. Just watch it.

 

5) The Grandmother
Seeing as Lynch is making a high-profile return to our screens soon (although not soon enough dammnit!) it only seems fair to dedicate some time to the master this Halloween. Thr Grandmother, his 1970 short film is a gruelling textural experience of alienating horror. Or is it a lovely story about a neglected boy and the special love that a grandparent can offer? It’s both, of course! Bringing his incredible sound design and visual imagination into play, before embarking on the opus of Eraserhead, this half hour film is pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel. Imagine stumbling across this on TV late one night, and then imagine never sleeping properly gain. No-one can make you feel as queasy or unsettled as Lynch. Pretenders have tried, but watch this and realise what watery gruel they offer when up against the original.

Happy watching Mindless Ones.