Tobe Hooper, creator of the seminal 1974 horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, dies aged 74


Tobe Hooper, the director of the horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has died aged 74.

Hooper, also a screenwriter and producer, directed well known films like Poltergeist (1982), and the much-loved TV adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Salem’s Lot (1979), which saw a limited cinema release in a shortened version across Europe.

Hooper’s will always be remembered and associated with creating the horror masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Made on a tiny budget and using a bunch of students and teachers as actors, Hooper crafted an enduring nightmare that not only became a huge success at the box office, but also became one of the most influential horror films ever.

The film depicts a group of students running into a family of sadistic cannibals, including the infamous Leatherface, a brutish killer whose grunts and savage methods of abattoir-style killing and creepy face mask became the stuff of nightmares for many moviegoers the world over.

Chainsaw… fell foul of UK’s draconian censorship rules back in the 1980s and was thrown into the so-called ‘video nasties’ category, until the up-and-coming VHS market rescued the film.

Hooper continued working pretty much until the end of his life, but never again attained the same success as in his early forays into the horror genre.

The cause of Hooper’s death has not yet been released.

Rings: Sadako’s vengeful spirit returns

Back in the late 90s, Asian horror was virtually unknown to Western audiences. The few titles that did reach Europe and beyond back then were probably bootleg copies with bad dubbing and even worse picture quality, perhaps contributing to an air of skepticism and meh attitude towards Asian cinema.

Indeed DVDs were somewhat of a novelty in those days. They had certainly not yet become as ubiquitous and commonplace as they are now, and thus VHS tapes were still in circulation. And for better or worse, a cursed VHS tape would become a novel way to kill by entities from the great beyond.

The long-running Ring franchise will soon be expanded with a new installment, due to premiere in a few days’ time, if not already in the cinemas.

Rings will broaden the series’ mythology, and Sadako’s implacable and shambling appearances will once again exact revenge on the living.

The film franchise began in Japan in 1998, with Hideo Nakata’s original Ring, though the mythos existed in printed form since Koji Suzuki’s 1991 book. The movie is undoubtedly a classic of the macabre, made even more unsettling by a method of killing which is terrifying and oh so personal, as the final blow is delivered via such an ubiquitous object as a TV screen.

The Ring draws inspiration from a number of sources and traditional myths from Japan’s own folklore, which was (and perhaps, still is )virtually unknown to all but the most hardcore of historians and fans of the supernatural.

Read on and learn how Sadako’s curse existence ties with the legends from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Okiku’s yurei

Okiku and the Nine Plates is one of the best known Japanese folk tales.

In the classic version of this tragedy of broken trust, abuse of power, and hauntings from beyond the veil of death, a humble and beautiful maid named Okiku works as a servant for a samurai lord called Aoyama.

The samurai is taken by his servant’s beauty, and attempts to seduce her multiple times. Okiku steadfastly refuses, however.
Enraged by the unrequited attentions, Aoyama crafts a plot to discredit Okiku’s worth as a servant.

The samurai owns a precious collection of ten Dutch plates, which Okiku is in charge of safekeeping. One day, after the maid cleans and puts the precious plates away, he sneaks into the kitchen, takes one of the plates, and hides it in his own bedchamber.

There is trouble in Aoyama’s mansion the next morning. When the other maids learn of the missing plate, Okiku is called to the samurai’s presence, as she was supposedly the last person to have handled the valuable crockery.

Okiku keeps counting the plates, one to nine, over and over again. The tenth plate is nowhere to be found. Okiku breaks down in front of her Master, as the plates were her responsibility.

Aoyama speaks in soothing tones, and says that he can forgive her, if she becomes her lover. But once again, Okiku refuses.

Aoyama plunges into a fit of rage, and in a moment of madness, kills Okiku with his sword. After slaying his servant, he throws the lifeless body into a well outside his home.

But when darkness comes, there is a stir at the bottom of the well. Aoyama goes to see, and up comes the sobbing sounds of a woman counting one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine… There is no ten. Instead, whatever dwells down in the well lets out a terrifying and otherworldly shriek.

Okiku’s vengeful spirit rises from the well, obsessively counting the plates that she was in charge of safekeeping in life. And in lieu of the missing plate, she utters a shriek to taunt her former Master, night after night, until the samurai plunges into madness, thus realizing her revenge.

There are different version of this tale, which has been told in Japan since the 12th century. As Western culture began influencing Japanese’s way of life -including its folklore-, certain elements changed, but the core of the story -the cursing- remains.

And if one jumps about 600 years forward, we find that many old wells and aquifers around Japan became contaminated with an odd-looking parasite that became known as ‘Okiku’s bug.’ The parasite’s anatomy looked as if its body was wrapped in black silk threads. Traditional folklore saw this as a reincarnation of Okiku. Ever since then, Okiku would be represented as a beautiful girl with long black hair, arms tied behind her back, and the lower body being that of a worm.

Dim souls: From Okiku to Sadako

We mentioned the word yurei. In broad terms, this concept is analogous to Western ghosts, though there are some local nuances.

Yurei is actually a compound name: Yu, meaning ‘hidden,’ or more commonly, ‘dim’, and rei, meaning ‘soul,’ or ‘spirit.’

In Japanese culture, every person has a rei, a soul. When the person dies of natural causes, or when his or her time is due, the soul simply awaits for the rites that will enable it right of passage and thus join its ancestors in peace. If the ritual is done in the right way, the rei passes on and cannot return to the land of the living.

However, if someone meets a violent or untimely end -through murder or suicide, for example,- the soul becomes a yurei that can find its way to the physical world. Murder or suicide victims are usually full of strong emotions at the point of death: Hate, fear, or sorrow, for instance. These emotions bind the spirit to the world it left behind, and the last thought at the moment of death will become an obsession that will lead to a haunting until such emotion is resolved. If it is not, the haunting will remain.

Traditionally, the lower the social rank of the person was, the more powerful and cruel the curse would be. Hence Okiku’s desire for revenge against the samurai who wronged her in life became so strong.

Japanese yurei are visually distinctive. Their manifestations wear long white garments resembling the traditional burial kimono. Yurei are usually represented without legs or feet, or at the very least, these are covered by the long kimono.

When they move, yurei’s arms hang outstretched close to their body.

And there’s one more trait that distinguishes a yurei. Their hair is long and jet black.Japanese women would normally wear their hair up, except during their own funeral, when the hair is allowed down.

Sadako’s curse: An onryo bent on vengeance

And so we’ve come full circle to this moment, just like in the iconic image that Ring takes its name from.

It is now plain to see how Sadako came to be. The ghostly pale hands, the white garment. That hair. And the well, of course.
The influence of Japanese folklore is strong.

The female name Sadako itself combines two words: Sada (chaste) and ko (child). This is an important clue. The original Ring book upon which the 1998 Japanese film version is based upon hints that Sadako was intersex, and thus could not reproduce. This allows the viewer (or reader) to infer that Sadako lived through the curse she bestowed upon the tape, and so her sentient essence could pass from one copy of the tape to another, enabling her to potentially live on indefinitely.

The entity known as Sadako is portrayed as an onryo, a vengeful spirit bound to the world of the living by a strong desire for revenge against those who did her harm.

Interestingly, onryos are almost exclusively female. Hailing from seemingly innocent, tame, and loyal humans while living, they become extremely violent and dangerous spirits from the world of the dead, and those who did them harm will pay the price.

Sadako’s motivations vary, depending on which timeline one looks at. In the ‘classic’ Ring, it is implied that she was murdered by her father and thrown down the well, where her onryo rose from, vowing revenge against the world. It is also hinted that Sadako’s true father was a sea demon.

But irrespective of the timeline, Sadako’s onryo always returns to harm those who wronged in life.

Rings: Sadako’s legacy lives on

The Ring franchise blends horror and rich mythology in an exhilarating cocktail of supernatural goings-on. The character of Sadako indeed features in plenty of ‘Scariest (moments, characters, etc.) lists around.

The legacy and the sheer visual power of the chaste child’s first appearance through a TV screen will linger in people’s minds long after we switch off our own televisions.

Rings hits theatres in early February.

Body Horror: Visceral Fantasies

Your body is your temple, right? Wrong.

The human body is a lab, a smouldering cauldron of fluids, muscle and sinew ripe for unholy modifications, a testing ground for the darkest and utterly twisted pseudo-scientific nightmares conjured up by that darkly pit of premeditated depravity that is the human mind.

Throughout the years, film makers and literary authors have regaled us with all sorts of body-related transformations, mutations, parasitic infestations, disfigurement, physical reconfiguration, perverse warping, and a whole lot more yucky and generally nasty physiological aberrations.

What exactly is body horror?

While a precise (clean?) definition is hard to come up with, the moniker relates to that sub-genre of horror cinema that shows, usually without sparing any gory details, the purposeful experimentation, alteration, contamination, plain deformation, and ultimate destruction of the human body.

The flesh is weak, and frail. It can be easily changed and corrupted, and the movie trope of the mad scientist with a bloody white apron and a grin on his face is no longer the sole source of our deepest fears. Experimental drugs, radiation, viruses, and weird parasitic creatures spawned from a godless place all conspire to taunt our will to be scared nowadays.

Unlike other, more popular horror sub-genres such as slasher movies, body horror is somewhat more intimate. The deeply invasive nature of the procedures being performed, and the sometimes openly sexual tampering with human flesh turn the whole body horror experience into a voyeuristic tour de force.

Also unlike most other sub-genres of horror cinema, the foe is usually not an external one. Rather, it comes from within, in the form of a disease, a microbe, or a parasite that infects the body and grows into a horrendous life form, or causes the body to transform into a monstrous thing. In body horror, we become witnesses to the horrific decay and breaking down of the flesh. The body turns into a canvas to bring someone’s dark obsessions into an organic and disturbing imitation of life.

The metamorphosis of the flesh heralds a catharsis, a change, as the body turns into something new. The old you has died, and you have become a brand new self, stepping through the veil of the flesh into a new dimension of existence. Such fantasy sometimes requires the total decomposition of your old form, as seen in the much loved 1986 remake of The Fly.

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) in 1986’s The Fly. Photo credit: Fox

Here, we see loner scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldlum at his best) slowly evolve from human to a six-feet high insectoid through the second and third acts of the movie. Such transformation begins rather subtly, with Brundle showing a curious and intense craving for sugar. Superhuman strength and agility follow, making him believe that the experience of having your body structure systematically broken down and reformed again via the teleportation device of his own invention has bestowed god-like abilities unto him.

Brundle ultimately pays dearly for his hubris, after discovering that he unwittingly became fused with a furtive common house fly at a molecular and genetic level. Brundle’s body slowly decays into a pathetic and gruesome creature with cravings that go well beyond sugar. The Brundle character represents mankind’s misguided belief that technology and ego can rule over nature and bend the laws of physics to our own advantage. But nature always finds a way of expressing its inherent superiority over man, in this case via such a lowly creature as a common fly.

The Fly also serves as a reminder that body horror victims are rarely, if ever, willing participants in the nightmare unfolding under their very skin. Extraneous sources are usually at play, whether human, supernatural, or extraterrestrial, these dark forces use the victim’s body as a conduit for their own wicked desires.

Allegories in the Body Horror genre

Body horror is sometimes an allegory to sexual frustration or repression. In 1982’s The Entity, for example, single mother Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey), begins to experience increasingly violent episodes of sexual abuse by an unseen force in her own home. Some would postulate that the entity’s attacks were a manifestation of the woman’s repressed sexual fantasies.

The link between body horror and sexual activity is a pervasive one. The Fly was released in 1986, at the dawn of the AIDS era. Many saw the movie as an allegory of the sexually transmitted disease. In David Cronenberg’s first feature film, Shivers (1975), parasites introduced into the human body induce an uncontrollable sexual appetite on the host. Bizarre sexual activity in the context of body horror is epitomised in Society (1989). This (almost) forgotten classic by American director Brian Yuzna shocked audiences by featuring a final 30- minutes long so-called ‘shunting’ scene, that can only be described as a surreal orgy of kinky, melty, oozy flesh involving the rich and famous in a private American society literally feeding on the less well-off. Society was actually Yuzna’s directorial debut, and he delivered what he set out do in spades. The movie turned out to be as much as a horrific portrayal of depraved lust as a social commentary of the stark class divide so prevalent in modern day America.

Body horror movies, or books, or whichever media it is expressed through, tap into people’s primal fear of their own mortality, and also the fear of disease, of being unclean, eliciting that feeling of helplessness that an incurable and terminal sickness may bring to its sufferer. And it’s not a subtle fear, either. There is plenty gore and explicitness in body horror experiences. Slow, graphic transformations, gaping fleshy cavities oozing unspeakable fluids, limbs becoming impossibly elongated, and much more, are common sights. The unnatural birth of the alien creature in 1979’s seminal Alien is a prime representation of one of man’s primordial fears, that of giving birth. In the movie, Nostromo’s Executive Officer, Kane, is inseminated with an alien egg when the Facehugger inserts a phallus-like proboscis into his throat. The egg gestates inside Kane’s body and eventually bursts out through his chest.

Body horror usually attempts to provide an explanation for the horrifyingly grotesque decay of the body, though this is usually a thin justification to exponentially augment the gore level.  Whether the menace comes from within or from the further reaches of space, body horror shares a common goal: the utter destruction of the flesh. In 1982’s remake of The Thing, for instance, a group of scientist make the fatal mistake of allowing an extraterrestrial organism that had been frozen inside an Antarctic ice plateau for thousands of year to thaw out. Once freed from its icy prison, the creature runs amok, beginning to take over people’s bodies with its inherent ability to imitate life forms. Only sometimes, the extraterrestrial menace is interrupted mid-process, and the resulting stomach-churning monstrosity lumbers around with a mangled, perverse strut of stunted growth.

A fear of blood tends to create a fear of the flesh, some say. Body horror is the science of the insane, a kaleidoscopic circus of nightmarish visions full of gore and indelible and uncomfortable sights that will always remain off the mainstream due to its very nature. The body horror sub-genre has experienced somewhat of a revival in recent times, thanks to a new generation of film makers like the Soska Sisters, a pair of Canadian twins whose end-of-year project at film school, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, put them firmly on the horror map. They followed it with American Mary (2012), a film about a medical student-turned-body alterer for money. From the dawn of time, people have had a fascination about human flesh.

Whether it manifests in a sexual context, or pure voyeuristic enthrallment,flesh never goes out of fashion!

Netflix horror: Six of the best


The Season of the Pumpkin’s fast approaching, and those long October evenings ahead offer the perfect opportunity to fire up Netflix and enjoy some good ole’ horror yarns.

Admittedly, Netflix’s current horror catalogue is rather sparse, and kinda hit and miss. Some of the genre’s true classics are strangely missing. The Exorcist (1973), for instance, or any instalment of the Nightmare of Elm Street or Friday the 13th franchises are conspicuously absent from the streaming service, reasons unknown.

But if you’re not too choosy about your horror, there’s still something there for you. Netflix currently holds 174 titles listed as “horror”, so go and take your pick.

It’s beyond the scope of this piece to list and review every single item on Netflix’s horror catalogue, so here’s my pick for you.

The Mist (2007)

When it comes to cinematographic adaptations arising from Stephen King stories, the results range from the mildly competent to the truly dire. There are a few shining exceptions to this rule, however. Misery (1990), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and the TV adaptation of Salem’s Lot (1979) readily spring to mind.

And to a somewhat lesser degree, The Mist (2007) also ticks all the right boxes. The Mist is based on an eponymous novella by the famous American writer. Its premise is simple enough; a severe thunderstorm knocks out power in the town of Bridgton, Maine. A bunch of townsfolk gather at the local supermarket to pick up supplies, when suddenly an unearthly mist envelops the outside of the premises. It soon transpires that there is something deadly hiding within that mist, and tensions among the survivors locked inside the supermarket soon rise.

Apart from the horror elements, the dynamics and interaction of people under duress became one of the movie’s central themes. Out of all the recent Stephen King’s adaptations, The Mist certainly stands out. And the movie’s ending is worth the entry price alone.

Scream (1996)

Slasher movies were once a dime a dozen. The late 70s and 80s in particular were rife with gratuitous blood and gore, often just for the pure gross-out factor sake. Then, towards the early 90s, thirst for such cheap thrills seemed to wane among cinema-goers, and the genre fell into somewhat of a lull.

Then, near the end of the decade, the late Wes Craven rebooted the slasher movie genre with a bang. Scream (1996) hit the right chords with audiences and went on to become a huge box-office success, earning $173m worldwide. In fact, it became the highest-grossing slasher film in the US, ever.

Partly inspired by the real life events surrounding the Gainesville Ripper, Scream follows the exploits of a masked killer in a “whodunit” fashion. The film was considered somewhat unique at the time, due to the characters’ awareness of real horror films and their attempts to discuss certain horror cliches which Scream itself featured.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

If you’re into werewolves and the British countryside, this gem is most definitely for you. Beautifully shot around the misty moors of Surrey and Wales, An American… kicks off with two backpacking friends, David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) getting off a cattle truck in a country road in England. The man who gave them a lift points them in the direction of a village called East Proctor, and warns them to stay on the roads and avoid the moors.

Later that evening, they arrive at a pub named “The Slaughtered lamb”, and after a seemingly warm initial welcome by the locals, things quickly turn awkward and they are forced to leave the premises. Before they go, one of the locals tells them to “stay on the road, and beware of the full moon.’ Later that night, David and Jack wander off the road and are attacked by a large creature. Jack is killed, and David is left unconscious and in shock.

While recovering, David begins experiencing horrific visions, and his dead friend Jack pays him several visits, warning him that he will transform at the next full moon. And indeed David does transform into a werewolf, in a fantastically engaging special effects sequence which rightly earned Rick Baker an Oscar for his outstanding achievement in the pre-CGI era.

An American Werewolf in London may be an oldie, but it is certainly a goldie for horror fans.

The Babadook (2014)

The most recent entry in our pick list, The Babadook is an Australian-Canadian psychological horror film about a grieving widow after her husband’s violent death, and her six-year-old son, Sam, who suffers from nightmares of a monster lurking around their house. A strange storybook called The Babadook finds its way into the home, and Sam becomes convinced that it is the monster he’s been dreaming about.

The Babadook was made on a rather tight budget (partly financed in fact by a Kickstarter campaign), but the movie’s quality and impact proved yet again that big bucks is not a guarantee for success. The film features very strong performances from Australian actress Essie Davis in

the role of Amelia, the troubled widow, and child actor Benjamin Winspear as her son Samuel.

Below (2002)

This one is a bit of a personal niche, I admit. If you’re into World War 2 stuff, the supernatural, and submarine warfare, Below is definitely for you. Else, you might want to steer clear for more mainstream horror.

At is core, Below is a haunted house film, only set in a World War 2 sub, the USS Tiger Shark. A neat idea. Plenty of claustrophobic thrills abound as strange happenings seem to kill off its crew at an alarming rate. Is the boat haunted? What happened during the Tiger Shark’s last mission?

If you wish to find out, go and watch Below now. An interesting piece of trivia, the movie’s director, David Twohy, found far more success with its previous movie “Pitch Black (2000)”, where he introduced the character of the Furyan warrior Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) to the world.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Found footage movies were still a relative novelty near the turn of the last century. However, if one looks back far back enough, 1980’s hugely controversial Cannibal Holocaust did arguably kickstart the sub-genre.

What nobody can deny is that The Blair Witch Project (1999) did introduce the “found footage” theme to the masses, not to mention its huge financial success at the box office.

Made by a bunch of amateurs on a truly shoestring budget of about $35,000, the movie went on to make nearly $250m worldwide.

The Blair Witch Project tells the story of three student filmmakers who disappeared while hiking in the Black Hills of Maryland while working on a documentary about a local legend, the Blair Witch. The audience is informed that although the three were never seen or heard from again, the footage they are about to watch is their “found footage.”

The Blair Witch’s phenomenal success is another fine example that good and honest film making does not require a massive budget to create a classic.

And that is it. Sit down in front of the telly, choose your pick, and enjoy.

Halloween’s influence on the slasher movie genre


We approach the season of the Pumpkinhead. As winter looms, an army of ghouls and ghosts run amok around housing estates the country over. It is the time of year when the darker side of ourselves takes over, and we become someone else for a few delightful hours.

Halloween is a time of catharsis, of transformation. Of rebirth, even. Ànd back in 1978, John Carpenter’s Halloween heralded a new era for the so-called slasher genre.

In Halloween’s mythos, the Illinois town of Haddonfield becomes the hunting ground for Michael Myers, a psychopath escaped from a psychiatric institution. Soon, our killer begins stalking high school student Laurie Strode (played by a very young Jamie Lee Curtis), and serial killing of Laurie’s circle of teenage friends soon ensues. A pretty hackneyed set of ideas and conventions by today’s standards. But back in 1978, Halloween came out of nowwhere to shock and scare a great deal of cinema goers.

Made on a budget of around $300,000, Halloween went on to earn $47m at the box office in the United States alone, and around $70m worldwide, which equates to about $250m in 2014 money. This high grossing made it one of the most financially successful independent films ever released.

What is more pertinent to this article, however, is that Halloween set in stone the rules, conventions, and more common tropes of the slasher genre; the masked killer who gruesomely slays anyone who gets in his way, the scantily-clad, sex-crazed teenagers, plenty blood and guts, the so-called “final girl”, and the eventual demise of the perpetrator, which almost invariably is never final and always leads to sequel after sequel of continued bloodbath.

Throughout the 70s, 80s, and beyond, slasher movies were a dime a dozen. You have the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, for instance, with innumerable sequels, reboots, and imitations. The European market soon caught on to the craze, and Italy in particular, began producing its own version of slasher films called giallo, where over-the-top blood and gore were disgustingly common features.

To understand the slasher genre however, we must cast our minds back a little further back in time. Enter Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal film Psycho (1960). Considered one of the earliest examples of the often-derided genre, Psycho deeply revolutionized American cinema. It set new standards in terms of acceptable level of on-screen violence, for example, and put the character of the odd, loner, soft spoken, and seemingly harmless psychopath into the minds of movie audiences the world over. An Anthony Perkins at the top of his game played the part of Norman Bates with passionate aplomb. A lonely and almost child-like character controlled by his unseen mother, who in the end is revealed to have been kept as a mummified corpse in the basement, with Bates himself committing all the heinous crimes disguised as her. Psycho was based on the eponymous book by Robert Bloch, which itself was loosely inspired by the true events surrounding real-life killer Ed Gein. The life and exploits of Ed Gein would later become the inspiration for another icon of the horror genre, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

The slasher movie works because it appeals to a basic human fear, that of being singled out and hunted by an anonymous and merciless killer.
Most, if not all of these mass murderers either wear a mask or are horribly disfigured to further dehumanize the character behind the savage acts of violence. The scare factor goes up to ten when the killer is more a thing than an actual human being. Thus, being confronted by a faceless murderer often implies the externalization of most people’s deepest fears; anymous, lonely (remember, most slasher victims die alone), and sudden death.

Slasher movies also prey on people’s lowest common denominator, of course. That of pure voyeuristic delight in witnessing these unholy acts of murder and maiming that go against all that we have been told is right and proper. Some critics believe slasher movies are profoundly mysoginistic, though such connotation is up for debate. Most movies cater for both male and female victims, after all, though the opposite is not true; almost all of slasher killers are male. Only in very few ocassions the killer turns out to be a female. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) and Bleed (2002) being two of a very few exceptions to this rule.

But back to the film that arguably started it all (though Alice… actually predates it by two years), Halloween took the lead in an onslaught of new American cinema, cementing the career of its director, John Carpenter, and ensuring the longevity of a genre that has produced as many gems as it has churned OUT frankly embarrassing and gratuitous efforts.

The slasher movie, though somewhat fallen out of grace as of late in favor of mass-appeal blockbusters, nevertheless lives on in DVD collections the world over, and its most iconic figures endure a quasi-legendary status in the minds of an army of die-hard fans.