by Padraic Coffey
Darryl F. Zanuck, the multi-Oscar winning American film producer, once dismissed the arrival of television in the 1940s as a moribund fad. “People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night”, he asserted. Time has proven this one of Zanuck’s least prophetic statements, and with every passing year, cinemas are increasingly competing with the phenomenon of home entertainment over sticky carpets, incessant queues and extortionately-priced confectioneries. There is, however, one genre of film that most would agree is best experienced in the charged atmosphere of a packed auditorium, rather than the distraction-heavy comfort-zone of a cosy living room. Unsurprisingly, that genre is horror.
October has always been an outstanding month for horror-aficionados in Dublin. In addition to makeshift nights like Tower Records’ weekly screenings of George A. Romero’s Living Dead trilogy – which runs 11-25 of October in their upstairs café on Wicklow Street – there is the much-lauded Irish Film Institute ‘Horrorthon’. Paradise for fans of the genre, the Horrorthon packs in over thirty films, a selection of shorts, surprise features and guest appearances into a bum-numbing four-and-a-half days.
Not to be outdone, Smithfield’s The Light House Cinema, emerging after a brief hiatus from the Dublin cinema scene last year, is offering its own season of horror screenings this Halloween. And boy, is it a doozy…
Throwing open the floor to suggestions via Twitter and Facebook, Charlene Lydon, programmer for the Light House, compiled a selection of films she felt audiences would delight in revisiting on the big screen, “with superb soundtracks that should be enjoyed at full volume”! Sidestepping any contrived rivalry with superficially similar horror events, Charlene maintains that the target market for Fright House is its own demographic; “Horrorthon is great, I go every year, but it is more current and niche programming so we hope that the films we chose will cater for a different audience.”
Proceedings kick off in typical art-house fashion with Dario Argento’s Italian classic Suspiria on Friday 26th October. An archetype of ‘Giallo’ cinema, public interest in Suspiria re-appeared alongside the enormous box office success of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan in 2010. Like that film, Suspiria is nightmarish thriller set against the backdrop of a ballet school. This screening is followed by documentary Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria.
On Saturday 27th October, attendees are treated to a double-bill of Eighties horror benchmarks. Tom Holland’s Child’s Play was slightly overshadowed in Britain and Ireland by the controversy surrounding its second sequel, Child’s Play 3. It was alleged the ten-year old killers of toddler Jamie Bulger took inspiration from the film’s demonically-possessed plaything, Chucky. Brush aside that distasteful episode, and the original is a schlocky, B-movie treat, the dark flipside to Pixar’s Toy Story.
Cherish any laughs you may get from the sight of a psychotic rubber doll, because Child’s Play is followed by Wes Craven’s indisputable horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. Pointlessly remade in 2010, the original introduced audiences to possibly the most iconic figure in all of horror cinema: Freddy Krueger. With his striped sweater, brown fedora, razored-glove and horrifically scarred flesh, Freddy launched a thousand Halloween costumes. Filmgoers may have become jaded with the character, after six sequels, a tie-in (Freddy vs. Jason), that aforementioned reboot and a television series, so it is worth reminding yourself what a vile, frightening creature Freddy once was.
Sunday 28th October takes us to more contemporary horror cinema with Frank Darabont’s The Mist, released in 2007. At the time best known for helming the phenomenally popular The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist actually saw Darabont return to his horror roots, having co-written The Blob, The Fly II and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 in the 1980s. Like Shawshank and The Green Mile, The Mist is a Stephen King adaptation, in which residents of a small town hole up in a supermarket while enormous, tentacled creatures, vaguely glimpsed through an immersive fog, lay siege to the area. Darabont’s horror television series The Walking Dead is currently attracting millions of viewers, making now the perfect time for those unfamiliar with The Mist see it on the big screen. It is shown here in Darabont’s preferred black-and-white version, a throwback to “that mid-Sixties, Night of the Living Dead, pre-colour era”, in the director’s own words.
Monday 29th October offers a screening of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist. Much has made of how visible Hooper’s signature is on the film, in comparison with that of producer Steve Spielberg. Despite a cherubic blonde schoolgirl at the centre of its plot – and a frankly ludicrous PG certificate in the US – Poltergeisthas moments of surreal, squirm-inducing terror that are among the most memorable in Hooper’s oeuvre, not least the moment a parapsychologist unwisely investigates a scratch on his cheek. And if the creepiness of toy clowns was in any need of further validation…
Bringing us right up to the cusp of Halloween night on Tuesday 30th October is John Carpenter’s trailblazing Halloween, not only a great horror film but one of the most profitable independent movies ever made, earning over 200 times its original budget at the box office and beyond. Whether it is truly the first slasher film is debatable; Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre introduced a masked, wordless killer terrorising teenagers down to a solitary girl four years before Carpenter’s film, while there are elements of the subgenre in Hitchock’s Psycho. Regardless, Halloween is a masterpiece of economic filmmaking, one in which not a single shot is wasted.
Finally, Fright House climaxes on Halloween night with another double-bill; Rodney Ascher’s acclaimed new documentary Room 237, which details the many subtexts contained in Stanley Kubrick’s ever-popular The Shining, followed by Kubrick’s film itself, for the first time on this side of the Atlantic in its extended cut. Though Kubrick is said to have preferred the more truncated version, which British and Irish audiences will be accustomed to from several VHS and DVD releases, horror guru and film historian Kim Newman has described the extended cut as “a richer, better film”. Audiences can debate the relative merits and demerits of each as they settle in for evening of classic horror cinema.
Whether you catch one film as part of the Fright House season, or catch them all, effort should be made to see horror as it was intended, not on the ‘plywood box’ of which Darryl F. Zanuck was so derisive, but on the big-screen with like-minded enthusiasts.
As the Sherriff in John Carpenter’s Halloween attests, “Everyone’s entitled to one good scare…”
Friday 26th October
Saturday 27th October
Child’s Play 8:00pm
A Nightmare on Elm Street 10:05pm
Sunday 28th October
The Mist 8:30pm
Monday 29th October
Tuesday 30th October
Wednesday 31st October
Room 237 6:20pm
The Shining (Extended cut) 8:30pm