31 Days of Horror: #25 – Sleepy Hollow

31 Days of Horror: #25 – Sleepy Hollow

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

SHSleepy Hollow (1999)

Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker, story Andrew Kevin Walker & Kevin Yagher, based upon The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Starring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Walken

It’s unclear why this deliciously dark slice of campy fun is so overlooked in Tim Burton’s back catalogue. Converting the classic tale of terror by Washington Irving into a playful whodoneit romp results in the perfect blend of the downright over the top and silly mixed with several choice scary moments.

The plethora of acting talent adds a great sheen of class and it is clear they are having the time of their lives with tongues very firmly in cheek. Depp’s detective, Ichabod Crane, is a fantastic fish out water performance. His cynical cowardliness and stiff-upper lip are violently stripped from him when confronted with bucket loads of blood and the genuine threat of the supernatural Headless Horseman. His numerous awkward reactions to the horrors he faces are nothing short of hilarious.

Along with superb acting, the gorgeous art style is distinctly none more gothic. The barren black forest trees, muted clothing, austere buildings and thick mists are combined with the film’s pleasantly self-aware nature that creates a wonderful ghost train. Indeed, it is evocative of a Hammer Horror. Guaranteed to inspire shrieks of both laughter and fear, Sleepy Hollow is a perfect fit for a fun Halloween viewing.

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Batman (1989) – The 25th Anniversary Retrospective by Jim Connolly

batman1989coverBatman – The 25th Anniversary Retrospective

It’s now been 25 years since a relatively unknown Tim Burton was handed the mantle of the Bat. There had been talk previously of putting Bill Murray in the cowl (alongside a David Bowie Joker and David Niven Alfred) but the success of Frank Miller’s two big-hitting 80s bat-books led DC/Warner to put their trust in the maverick talents of the former Disney animator to bring their then number 2 character to the big screen.

Whilst I know that Batman is not a horror character I hope that you will accept his presence on UKHS and bear in mind that (1) he is historically a knock-off of Dracula & The Shadow (2) Nicholson landed the Joker role partly because of his brilliant performance as Jack Torrance and (3) Burton took great influence from the Moore/Bolland classic ‘The Killing Joke’ in which Jim Gordon endures a psychological hell that sits very comfortably in the horror genre.

Travelling back to 1989 I’m sat on an aptly named Supertram in Sheffield on my way to the large cinema on the outskirts of town. I remember being slightly nervous that, at age 11, I may not gain entry to the first ‘12’ rated flick. I also remember my mum’s distaste for the visuals in the press of a bloodied Nicholson in his Joker get-up, but hats off to her for funding the ample trips to re-watch it I made that summer.

batman19893Where Burton’s Batman succeeds the most for me is that it recognizes an important lesson taught by Alan Moore in ‘The Killing Joke’ that Batman is at his purest as a bit-part or even cameo in his own story. Whilst boldly garbed charismatic villains lead the story the Dark Knight Detective skulks in the shadows and emerges in a totemic, almost supernatural manner to deliver justice in a sinister calculated way with minimal chat. Keaton captured this approach nicely for me and his edgy, understated Bruce Wayne made Batman’s alter-ego quite rightly feel a less important, almost redundant and lost facet of the character. That said I also enjoyed and commend the later more fully-rounded Bruce Wayne that Christopher Nolan used as the focal point of his trilogy.

Burton’s film opts for a mildly irreverent and darkly comic tone that has now become less popular with DC’s cinematic output, but honed by that of Marvel. Whilst I think the tone struggled to work in the ’92 sequel Batman Returns it seemed to connect perfectly with Nicholson’s shtick and allowed him to mock and garotte the sizzling corpse of a murdered enemy for several minutes whilst still avoiding a 15 cert rating (a scene that rarely makes the TV version to this day). He also mutilates his girlfriend in the name of art, shoots the shit out of an aged Jack Palance and throws some of the finest criminally insane dance-moves ever committed to the big screen.

batman19894Moving onto the lesser praised stars of Batman we come to Gotham City itself. Anton Furst’s doom drenched vision of Gotham still resonates heavily with me and was aptly described by the Guardian as ‘When hell burst through the pavement and grew’. His vision conjures up a dystopian union of industrial exterior metal work and a combination of classical and futurist architectural styles of the Ivo Shandor category. Notably for years afterwards DC used Furst’s designs in their Gotham City style guides for comic artists and to this day nods to Furst show up in a multitude of Bat-media, for example in the hugely popular Arkham games. Sadly, the dark clouds that no-doubt aided Anton Furst’s vision led him, only 3 years later, to tragically end his own life. Alongside his take on Gotham City he is remembered for his visualization work on Full Metal Jacket and In the Company of Wolves.

Costume designer Bob Ringwood is another notable creative influence on Batman and hero flicks in general. Spandex instantly became the flared trousers of the cinematic hero world once the first image of Keaton clad in the black leather & rubber bat-suit hit the press. Earlier he had shown his pedigree with costume design work on Excalibur and the visually stunning Dune, and he brought a fremen-like cool to the Bat-suit. Ringwood would later go on to work on the third and fourth films in the Alien franchise and even clothe a pre-Bane Tom Hardy in Star Trek: Nemesis, not forgetting Alec Baldwin in The Shadow (these things always come in circles).

batman19895It would be rude not to also mention the role of Danny Elfman in the films huge commercial and critical success. Barely known at the time (despite writing the Simpsons theme and Betelgeuse soundtrack) Elfman chose not to replicate the credible sweeping style of John Williams, the go-to guy for such a project, but introduce a menacing bat-march that hammered, tooted and parped throughout in an unnerving yet witty manner. Pop legend Prince should not be forgotten either for delivering strong album material for what could have been an easily tainted project in the wrong hands (see Madonna & Dick Tracy). Just as Batman battles the Joker onscreen an unseen audio war erupts as Elfman and Prince compete for aural dominance.

Whilst it’s not something that Burton is really known or well-credited for I think he can shoot violence with a brutal impact. One of the first times we really see Bats deliver a truly solid blow is via a sneaky elbow/back-fist combo that floors a thug with a nasty nose crunch it seems he might never wake up from. He employs the same lethal force that harks back to the gun-toting Batman of the 40s and every blow has impact, despite the whacky edge Elfman’s xylophones add to the various rumbles. I also like Keaton-Bat’s indifference to the pain, suffering and death he is delving out throughout as he strolls away in a monk-like manner. Sure it’s all tinged in comedy but these blows are still the kind I felt Bane never received in the latest Bat offering. ‘It would be extremely painful….for you!’ Too right.

batman1989625 years on things have obviously moved on in blockbuster film-making in terms of scale, tone, music and casting etc. We are now approaching our third onscreen take on the character since Tim Burton’s as Zach Snyder currently carves out his own vision with Ben Affleck as the 8th live-action Bat-actor (when including Lewis G Wilson & Robert Lowery). It’s a shame Snyder’s preferred choice of either a Josh Brolin or Ryan Gosling Batman didn’t happen, probably due to the same dopes who put the creative hand-cuffs on Falling Down’s Joel Schumacher, but I think how Snyder tackled Rorschach offers some promise for 2015.

Whilst I think all the post-Burton takes on the character have something to offer (Arnie’s ice-themed one liners are perfect hang-over viewing) Burton’s Batman hit me hard as a kid and remains my personal favourite take on the character for all the above reasons, discounting the god-like status of Adam West of course!

Finally, Peter Weller himself has just played an aged Batman in the recent 2.5 hour animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s rock-solid classic The Dark Knight Returns. It comes highly recommended from this Bat-fan!

By Jim Connolly

Spooky Jefferson’s Ideal Lunchbox House of Dolls EP – Review

sjil1Spooky Jefferson’s Ideal Lunchbox
House of Dolls EP

When I got this review assignment, it was described as horror ska-punk. I’m no fan of ska, in general, but it’s been awhile since I reviewed anything so I figured I’d go for it, being as unbiased or closed minded as I possibly can, to be fair.

The intro (aptly titled, “Intro”) starts up and the vibe is very Danny Elfman. I immediately imagined Vincent Price putting Edward Scissorhands together. The chiming piano gives off a somber tone only intensified by what sounds like a saxophone underneath. I’m wondering where they’re going to go from here because this isn’t setting up a ska-punk album to me. I’m into this and I’m expecting to not be into this album.

“Aliens” is the second track and I’m getting those upstrokes that I’m expecting from a ska band but the overall feel is so different. This one feels like a total Oingo Boingo song. The vocals are buried a little too much so it’s hard to make out where he’s going, lyrically. Upon further listens, it’s obviously about being probed by aliens after abduction. However, the Elfman/Oingo Boingo feel is very prominent. I can easily see this in any of Tim Burton’s claymation movies, albeit a bit toned down, lyrically. They keep those horns properly mixed so it doesn’t kill the vibe. A little double bass action on the drums helps add a little depth, as well.

When the third song comes in, I’m feeling pretty optimistic that I may like this whole EP. The track is called “Do You Know”. Some fun, haunted house-esque giggles on this one over those ska upstrokes is entwined with a haunted amusement park-type jam session. Nothing really happens in the song, but it feels very Squirrel Nut Zippers and it’s still fun.

When “Freakshow” hits, it feels like I’m on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. This happens to be one of my favorite things at Disneyland so, again, no complaints. There’s a very brief Elfman-type breakdown in the middle that screams “Corpse Bride” before ending with an upbeat horror ska(ish) ending.

sjil2The title track comes last with another Corpse Bride feel. I can also see this song easily thrown into The Addams Family movie during their party. I know it’s not a Tim Burton movie but it felt like one. The movie also doesn’t have any Elfman music in it but I always thought it could use some, along with Tom Waits’ “Russian Dance”. Now, add this one to the list of songs that could easily be inserted.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with this EP. It’s weird and a bit off the wall. I would bet these guys are fun to see live. This is obviously a band who is doing what they want to do and they’re having fun doing it.

The likeness to Danny Elfman/Oingo Boingo, Squirrel Nut Zippers and a little Tom Waits in the music is pretty apparent to me. It’s probably something that I wouldn’t listen to all the time as it’s something that you have to be in the right mood for. I definitely like what they’re doing, though.

I don’t know that I’d call Spooky Jefferson’s Ideal Lunchbox a ska-punk band, myself. I don’t really know where I’d classify them but there’s no punk rock from what I heard and, while there is a definite ska influence, it’s not defining to the sound. Maybe I just don’t want to call it ska because I actually enjoyed this album and it’s hard for me to admit to liking anything ska. I could easily see any of these tracks ending up in a dark, kooky movie like those that Tim Burton makes. There’s a very dark cartoon/claymation feel and it’s just a bunch of fun, altogether.

7 out of 10.

Chris Cavoretto

For more info on Spooky Jefferson’s Ideal Lunchbox check out their Facebook page HERE 

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) My Halloween Tradition by Oli Ryder

nbc1How I Celebrate Halloween #2: Oli Ryder and The Nightmare Before Christmas


By Oli Ryder

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Dir. Henry Selick
Voices: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Ken Page

Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that I’ve seen often in my dreams. For the review that you are about to be told, took place in the Odeon Screen 7 of old. Now you’ve probably wondered where my obsession with all things horror comes from, if you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun…

On a cold November morn of 1994, a young 5 year old me was taken to the cinema in place of attending some wedding or other. The experience was nothing new, for a minnow I’d already been dusted with the pixie dust diet of Disney films and the promise of the magic of cinema on a young child’s imagination was something I already devoured with great gusto. I was not to know of course, that this particular trip was to ultimately be the catalyst to shaping not only the kind of films I enjoyed but also my personality, how I lived my life and in a way, dress sense (if I can honestly be credited as having one).

Many forget that ‘Nightmare’ is of course a Disney film, something that, for a time a least, Disney tried to enforce themselves, the film representing the misunderstood teen who dresses in black and is made to stand in the corner away from the glowing warmth from Mickey Mouse and his posse. As a result, many were not expecting something that flew under the flag of dear old Uncle Walt to be so…dark, macabre and packed full of nightmarish creatures. Indeed, one of my first cinematic memories remains the cries of small children and the desperate stomping of feet as adults fled the cinema in a mad rush, trembling innocent bundles of virtue buried in their arms in a bid to escape the phantasmagorical images now burned into their retinas.

nbc2There was a small child who stayed though, one who stared goggle-eyed at the spectacle of this musical stop-motion masterpiece unfolding before him. A small child who, over time, amassed as much ‘Nightmare’ related merchandise as he possibly could, who would watch it religiously every year on both Halloween and of course Christmas and, much to the enduring embarrassment of others, could proudly sing every lyric of every song without any need for encouragement. This child still exists, still watches this film religiously every year, walks around with the soundtrack buzzing in his head all through the month of October and its magic has not aged a single day and still after 20 years of it being a part of his life, notices things he didn’t before. Me, I owe this film everything and I won’t ever forget it.

This is not to say that I wasn’t initial scared on a first viewing! Kids today are used to the happy-fun supporting features from the likes of Pixar, ‘Nightmare’ on the other hand, was accompanied by Tim Burton’s early short ‘Vincent’, the tale of a boy who wants to be Vincent Price, narrated by the great man himself. The dark German expressionism style and the chilling tones of Price were terrifying and the type of animation I had never seen before added an extra layer of disturbing quality. Perhaps this was a perfect sampler to prepare you for what was about to come, and make no mistake, there are still some pretty grotesque monsters in ‘Nightmare’! None of these cutesy ‘Monsters Inc’ bollocks, characters like the Clown with the Tear-Away Face or big bad Oogie Boogie himself are initially frightening and the sort of thing that no kids film would ever be able to get away with in this day and age for fear of being sued by overly-protective parents (‘Coraline’ a brilliant exception).

What sets ‘Nightmare’ apart, however, is that it has an enormous love for these creatures who would in all other incidents be resigned to the role of ‘bad guys’. The film’s hero is Halloween Town’s top scarer, Jack Skellington, a skeleton suffering a mid-life (or death?) crisis about whether or not his heart is really into scaring people anymore. We have a skeleton as a lead, a Frankenstein-like ragdoll named Sally as a love interest and a plot that centres around the creatures of Halloween Town hijacking Christmas. See, one of the main reasons I have a beef against ‘Monsters Inc’ is because it verges on ripping off the central notion of ‘Nightmare’, the creatures are not ‘evil’, it’s just their ‘job’ and even though their take on Christmas is both a hostile take-over and full of lethal ‘presents’, including a man-eating wreath, what they are doing is not malicious, it’s just their way of expressing themselves. Some may disagree…

nbc3 ‘Nightmare’ is truly a film that champions the ‘misfit’ or the ‘outcast’ and I think that it is for this reason that its fans hold it dear to their hearts with such fondness. It’s a Christmas/Halloween film that’s uniquely ours and does not belong to anyone else as they wouldn’t appreciate it properly. It has one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, composed by Burton collaborator, Danny Elfman , it somehow manages to perfectly balance on creating songs with both a Halloween and Christmassy feel. A song like ‘What’s This?!’ with a joyful upbeat bounce containing the lyric ‘There’s children throwing snowballs, instead of throwing heads’ is on the one hand gleefully dark and yet, as with the whole film, there’s a sense of indefinable innocence that means that no matter how ‘dark’ the film is wrongly perceived to be, it has a warm, fuzzy heart that beats through it. You only have to look at my favourite onscreen romance between Jack and Sally to know that there is a great deal of love in the film, running hand in hand with its more mischievous side.

I cannot think of any other film that straddles the labels of both a perfect Halloween and Christmas film with such ease. This film certainly engrained an absolute adoration for both seasons in my head and, of course, I watch it multiple times during both. I love the painstaking efforts that went into making the stop motion look so slick and that have not aged a single day. I was lucky enough in Florida to actually see the marvellous set of Halloween Town itself and short of seeing the film in 3D (one of the few enjoyable and worthwhile 3D experiences) or going on the fantastic ride at Disneyland California, it was the closest I’ll ever get to actually ‘visiting’ Halloween Town. A childish fantasy, I know, however it’s one that I’ve refused to give up on. The film embraces its audience in such a way that through the magic of Halloween that it creates, makes you feel like you’re a part of it and truly no other film effects me in such a way.

The film has been my cinematic ‘third arm’ my entire life. It plays nightly in my Cerebral Cinema and very rarely does a day go by when I am not reminded of it in some way. I could go on for hours about every single tiny detail that I love about it but I’ll finish simply by saying that it remains my very favourite tradition of watching it on Halloween. That and carving pumpkins which, for some reason, I always insisted on being called ‘Harris’ when I was younger and it’s stuck ever since!

I hope that this has given you some insight as to just how much the film means to me and if, somehow, you have never seen it or forgotten it, has encouraged you to seek it out!