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Hollow (UK, 2012)


I almost turned Hollow off within seconds of starting it. While I love horror cinema in almost all its forms, I would be very happy if I never saw another sodding found-footage film. They have infested the genre since The Blair Witch Project, and the success of Paranormal Activity cemented the idea that these low-budget efforts can generate huge returns. A depressingly large number of recent horror releases have adopted the format, and my heart sinks every time I start watching a new film that opens with the jerky movements of a camcorder.

My main objections to the format are that the lack of artful cinematography, editing and incidental music tend to undermine their ability to create tension and atmosphere, and that I find myself constantly taken out of the film by wondering why the hell one of the protagonists is filming a scene when their priorities should be elsewhere. Too many sequences which aim to be horrific just end up being sounds of screaming and the blur of a camera being jerked around. I can’t think of a single found-footage film that I wouldn’t have preferred in a more traditional format.

While Hollow isn’t free from these problems, it does at least manage to generate some unease, and is largely saved by engaging characters, strong acting and atmospheric locations.

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Almost as wooden as Stephen Lack in Scanners

Hollow follows two couples visiting Dunwich in Suffolk (yes, it’s a real place, as Matt’s article on his visit there shows) to clear out the cottage of the recently deceased grandfather of one of them. Various articles in the cottage reveal the grandfather’s obsession with legends about a local tree where many couples have hanged themselves. As the friends explore the legend and the surrounding countryside, they find themselves increasingly disturbed by what they discover. Old secrets and resentments begin to taint their relationships. Ultimately these collide with the legend, resulting in tragedy.

It is in these relationships and their upheavals that Hollow is strongest. The characters are defined and portrayed well, and their disintegration is at least as compelling as any apparent supernatural threat.

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Hollow was produced in association with the Countryside Alliance

There is something of M R James to the legend at the heart of Hollow. Its use of a cursed tree brings to mind James’ The Ash-Tree, and Suffolk is home to a number of his stories. The horror in Hollow is less explicitly supernatural, though — the events are ambiguous, and lend themselves as much to rational interpretation as a ghostly one.

The use of a ruined abbey for a number of the outdoor sequences lends Hollow a goodly amount of atmosphere. The location is supposed to be Greyfriars Abbey in Dunwich, but the film’s IMDB page states that the film-makers used nearby Leiston Abbey instead. None of the film was actually shot in Dunwich, with most of it having been filmed in Lincolnshire.

The connection to the ghost stories of East Anglia adds a degree of depth, though, and the name of Dunwich will grab the attention of many horror fans. In fact, Dunwich was the original name of the film, which seems to have confused people on the IMDB, leading to the film being listed as a remake of The Dunwich Horror. This is not the case, and there are no Lovecraftian aspects to Hollow at all.

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Some BT payphones accept souls as well as coins

Despite the found-footage format, Hollow manages to build up a reasonable amount of tension. The climax is overlong and loses some momentum, but not fatally so. While Hollow won’t be a film I go out of my way to recommend to people, or probably even remember for long, I am happy that I didn’t hit the stop button immediately.

I’ve made a poor start to the challenge due to being ill this week. I started with Le Orme and commented with a few thoughts on Scott’s post.

Today I watched a double bill on Lovefilm, and one that turned out to be a surprisingly good pairing.


Demons was released in 1985 and captures the 80s in all their horror, along with the music of the time; Billy Idol, Saxon and Motley Crue. Directed by Lamberto Bava, it is ‘presented by’ Dario Argento. The early scenes inside the cinema are quite effective. We see the film reflecting an event that has happened in the cinema foyer and soon the events on screen and those in the cinema become closely entwined. For a moment there I felt I was watching Berberian Sound Studio. It then develops into a romp of zombie gore and chases, along with some curious scene cuts, but who’s worrying about continuity at that stage.

The second feature was Rec 3.


IMDB lists this film as a comedy and yeah, that’s about right. It seems a curious decision to follow Rec 1 and 2 with a comedy. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza are both credited with directing the first two films, with Jaume Balagueró having a writing credit on both. On Rec 3, only Paco Plaza’s name is mentioned, so I think we can see who was the brains behind the operation, and sadly he’s missing on this one.

The film’s full title is Rec 3 Genesis, and I was expecting more about how it all began. What I got was a crazy zombie fest at a wedding. As I was watching it I realised that it was actually very close to Demons in its story. A bunch of people are invited and become trapped in a venue. They are forced to fight zombies. And to cap it all the male lead in both takes up a (presumably decorative but highly effective) sword.

Beyond the Darkness (Italy, 1979)

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Let’s establish something here: Italian horror films can be fucking weird. Whether it’s the dream logic of an Argento giallo, the outright surrealism of Fulci’s The Beyond or the dizzy mania of Dellamorte Dellamore, Italian film-makers often take unusual approaches to style and storytelling rarely seen from their British or American counterparts.

In Beyond the Darkness, Joe D’Amato (probably better known for Anthropophagus) tells us a classic story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl to housekeeper’s black magic death curse, boy digs up girl’s body in the dead of night, boy eviscerates and embalms girl before taking her to his bed, boy goes on to kill a lot of people for no very good reason. The meandering storyline takes in murder, taxidermy, necrophilia, cannibalism and torture. There is eye gouging, fingernail ripping and dismemberment galore, presented with unflinching, low-budget glee.

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Sure, let’s have a threesome with your dead girlfriend

As you might have inferred, this is not a subtle film. There are scenes of profound gore and violence, often involving free use of animal viscera. The end result is nowhere near as nasty as it should be, though, as almost every aspect of the film is deliriously demented. This includes a typically off-kilter score by The Goblins.

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No worse that the last time I cleaned my bathroom

My time watching Beyond the Darkness was pretty evenly split between recoiling, laughing helplessly and staring open-mouthed in disbelief. Characters take stupefying ill-advised action throughout, ensuring problems escalate or creating new ones completely unnecessarily. For example, Frank, our protagonist, leaves a stoned hitch-hiker sleeping in his nearby van (garaged in the next room over) while preserving his girlfriend’s corpse and then seems genuinely surprised when the hitch-hiker walks in on the act. This isn’t a film for nit-picking, though — you either have to engage with the wilful insanity or find another activity that won’t scramble as many neurons, like huffing glue or practising headers with bricks.

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I probably shouldn’t have watched this film while eating

This is the first D’Amato film I’ve knowingly seen, which is odd considering that he made 200 of them. Most seem to be soft core porn of some description, but he made a handful of other horror films as well. After looking through his page on Wikipedia (his IMDB page often fails to render properly, perhaps out of embarrassment), films like Porno Holocaust, Anal Paprika and Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals are calling. It may be too late for me.

What Have You Done to Solange? (Italy, 1972)


A couple in a rowboat drift down one of more scenic stretches of the Thames, the man trying to convince the woman to have sex with him. The woman thinks she sees something strange happening on the bank — a girl fleeing, a man pursuing and the flash of a knife. Her companion tries to convince her that nothing happened, but the romantic mood is ruined.

Revelations start to build. The man is an Italian teacher at a local Catholic girls’ school and the woman is one of his students. The teacher hears a news report of a murder that matches what the schoolgirl saw and starts to investigate. Before long he is a suspect, his secret affair in danger of exposure and his marriage to a fellow teacher in peril. As the murders continue, he finds himself drawn further into the bloody midst, with more reason than ever to uncover the identity of the man who is murdering his students.

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What Have You Done to Solange? is in many ways a typical giallo, but there are a few aspects that set it apart. In a sub-genre defined by style over substance, all the pieces of the story fit together perfectly, building to a memorable and horrifying conclusion. While there are some memorable set pieces, none of them exist purely to create a striking visual, and when all the elements come together in the end there is an emotional impact that is missing from most other gialli. This emotional aspect, assisted by a great score from Ennio Morricone, largely comes from treatment of the victims as human beings, not just objects to be murdered onscreen; we even see the impact of their deaths on their families and friends, especially in one affecting scene where a police detective tries to comfort the parents of a murdered girl.

Some classic giallo elements are also present. The murderer is a mysterious male figure who we encounter mainly through his black-gloved hands. There is an apparently sexual aspect to the murders (be warned — while the film is not overly graphic, the method of murder is extremely unpleasant) as well as a great deal of female nudity and some voyeurism. Red herrings abound, and the protagonist is under suspicion much of the time.

There are also aspects that seem artificial, or at least odd to modern eyes. The police go from treating the protagonist as a suspect to allowing him to participate in the investigation without a second thought. The reaction of most people to a teacher having an affair with a student is unnervingly casual, and while there are repercussions, it seems bizarre watching it now that he isn’t treated as a sex offender. The early seventies were a very different time.


Many reviewers proclaim What Have You Done to Solange? as one of the finest examples of giallo film, or at least an overlooked gem. It is certainly tense, compelling and filled with emotional depth. If giallo films appeal to you, and you can accept the very different sexual politics of the time, there is much to recommend this film. It lacks the nightmarish imagery of Argento’s gialli, or their bloody brutality, but it feels altogether more human, making it fresh and vibrant, even forty years on.


Dementia 13 (USA, 1963)

Roger Corman famously mentored a number of writers, actors and directors who would become the cream of Hollywood, including Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Ron Howard and Peter Bogdanovich. Their work for Corman was usually on low-budget horror, science fiction or action films, but Corman’s eye for talent meant that these films usually had more imagination and energy than most of their contemporaries.

A young Francis Ford Coppola was one of Corman’s stable at American International Pictures, in the early sixties. Corman helped Coppola in making Dementia 13 by allowing him use of sets and actors from Corman’s own The Young Racers, in production at the same time. Despite these limitations and the fact that Coppola was only 23 at the time, Dementia 13 is still a fever dream of a film, packing much strange entertainment into its 75-minute running time.

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Apparently transistor radios still work pretty well on the bottom of a lake

The story begins with the attempt of an avaricious young woman, Louise Haloran, to ensure that she is well provided for in her mother-in-law’s will, despite the older woman’s desire to leave her fortune to charity. This is complicated by the sudden death by heart attack of Louise’s husband, John, while rowing on a nearby lake. Louise attempts to cover up his death to make sure that she still has a claim on the will. She then cynically uses the mystery of the death of John’s younger sister, through a drowning accident many years before, to attempt to forge a connection with her mother-in-law. This in turn leads to the unravelling of various family secrets, resulting in madness, tragedy and multiple axe murders.


The murderer didn’t even spare the lawn

The tone of Dementia 13 is decidedly Gothic, with its location of a crumbling Irish castle, the secret history of madness in the family and the rituals they conduct to preserve the memory of the drowned girl. This is further enhanced by the film being shot in black and white, with heavy shadows and gloomy lighting throughout. What violence there is happens largely off-camera or through shadow-play, but there are a few moments of brutality.

A few plot elements feel derivative, and the hurried, low-budget shoot means that some scenes are overly murky or contain a visible boom microphone. The fact that most of the hereditary keepers of an old Irish castle speak with broad American accents is also slightly distracting, although there is at least an attempt to explain them. Despite these flaws, Dementia 13 is entertaining throughout and maintains a sinister, moody atmosphere. There are far worse ways to spend 75 minutes.

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No, this doesn’t give away the identity of the axe murderer

Dementia 13 is in the public domain, and the full version is available on various legal download sites as well as on Youtube.