By Scott Dorward
In Fabric (UK, 2018)
“A dress of deduction finds its character in a prism of retail abstraction.“
Peter Strickland’s love letter to Italian horror, Berberian Sound Studio, has haunted me since I saw it some seven or eight years ago. The playful and occasionally shocking storytelling remains unlike anything else I have ever seen. I’ve been meaning to catch up with more of his work since but have somehow failed to. So when I learnt that he had made another horror film, In Fabric, I knew that I would have to save it for the climax of my October Horror Movie Challenge.
Recently separated from her husband, Sheila is ready to start dating again. In readiness, she visits Dentley and Soper’s department store, where a witchy sales assistant sells her a new, daring red dress. While the dress suits her perfectly, it seems to usher a run of bad luck into Sheila’s life, giving her a rash, wrecking her washing machine and leading to her being attacked by a dog. Worse, the dress is haunted, possessing an animated unlife of its own, even going so far as to stalk her son’s girlfriend.
Sheila’s attempts to divest herself of the dress are repeatedly thwarted. The department store seems more concerned with performing strange rituals involving mannequins than basic customer service. She cannot even trade it in as it is one of a kind. As the weirdness in her life escalates, tragedy seems inevitable.
In Fabric is a funny film. I’d hesitate to call it a comedy, however. It draws upon that very British type of humour designed to discomfort rather than amuse. Almost every scene has some quirk to it — a commercial that feels like a cross between a pantomime and an occult ritual, a washing machine repairman whose analysis of faults brings listeners to sexual ecstasy, a gothic sales assistant whose dialogue seems to have been run through a malfunctioning thesaurus app. Their combined effect made me shudder as much as smile. The closest analogue I can think of is Chris Morris’ nightmare sketch show, Jam.
The premise of a haunted dress is not a new one. Cornell Woolrich published a story in 1937 called “I’m Dangerous Tonight” about a dress designed by the devil that has some parallels to this story. In execution, however, In Fabric is very different, with treacherously shifting narratives, twisted eroticism and a sense of creeping surrealism that make it the closest I have seen to a Robert Aickman story on the screen. The strange cult in the department store also invites comparisons to Suspiria, although they are more playfully subversive than Argento’s witches.
In Fabric feels like a period piece, evoking the world and styles of the late ’70s or early ’80s. The pacing, visual design and electronic soundtrack all make it feel like a lost artefact from the golden age of home video, albeit one with higher production values.
In Fabric is simply astonishing. While I imagine it will disappoint anyone looking for scares, it is mesmerising, unsettling and deeply strange. Its satirical pokes at the mundanities of British life mesh nicely with the absurdity of its supernatural elements, coming together to make something unique. The promise Peter Strickland showed as a horror filmmaker in Berberian Sound Studio comes to fruition here, delivering a film that is even more imaginative and idiosyncratic that its predecessor.
Until today, I was convinced that Tigers Are Not Afraid was going to be my film of the month. While it is still a close-run thing, I may have to change my mind and award the honour to In Fabric. For all the simplicity of its premise, there is a complexity to it that I suspect will reward multiple viewings. At the very least, I want to go back and just bask in its weirdness.
And so this is a fine way to wrap up another month of horror films. Between In Fabric, Tigers Are Not Afraid and Evolution, I suspect that I have found three films that will become enduring favourites. In a world as wildly inconsistent as that of horror films, that is an amazing success rate.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – The Mortuary Collection (2019)
- 24 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 25 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 26 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
- 29 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!