Each day in October, three brave souls from our gang of Groovy Goolies (co-editor Paul Childs, Boardgames Master Aaron Nash and Ultimate Movie Geek Nathaniel Jepson) are watching horror films from around the world and across a wide spectrum of the horror genre, so expect slashers, ghosts, cultists, demons, vampires, cannibals, zombies, kaiju, aliens and more!
Paul’s Choice – Arcadia (2017)
I have a confession to make. Because I was away for the weekend at my Mother-In-Law’s house, I didn’t watch a film last night. I tried to watch it in bed later but fell asleep. Therefore, last night’s film was actually watched this morning, in bed, on my laptop.
For the first time in two years of doing this challenge, my film was non-fiction. Arcadia is a documentary which was released the other side of this summer to much fanfare, especially in the Folk Horror community. “But how can a documentary be horror?” I hear you ask. Well, quite easily it seems. Creator Paul Wright has put together, from archive footage, a film which explores a number of things, including the relationship we have with our environment, folklore and tradition, the decline of spirituality and mysticism and the rise of capitalism, brutalism and secularism. It’s a slow, horrifying decline over 75 minutes, starting with archive films of farming, children dancing round Maypoles at harvest festivals, Morris dancing and other rural traditions, culminating in horrifying (yet strangely mesmerising) footage of urban concrete jungles, glue sniffers, illegal raves and an image we’re all very familiar with lately – plastic garbage floating in our surrounding seas.
I still remember a time when the strange and the weird was a part of everyday life – in the late 70s and early 80s it was quite normal for unusual or creepy stories (such cryptozoology sightings, witchcraft, pagan festivals and UFOs) to receive serious coverage on national news programs. Arcadia captures that Weird Britain feeling very well, tapping into the current interest in hauntology, psychogeography and a renewed interest in folklore. Throughout I was reminded of public information films (there is footage from a few included), the music of Ghost Box records, David Southwell’s sublime Hookland Twitter feed and the Scarfolk Council blog. Last year I watched the BBC TV play Penda’s Fen, and there are several similarities with that too.
All this is set to a soundtrack, including beloved hymns, classical tracks, traditional songs performed by folk singer Anne Briggs and a really rather haunting original score by Adrian Uttley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp).
First, I’ll get this out of the way – Mrs C didn’t like it. She said it was the kind of film shown only in arty cinemas, made by film students, for other film students to watch. But I really liked it. Arcadia conveyed something which I struggle to put into words – what it means to be British, to be a welcome (and sometimes barely tolerated) guest in an ancient land with over a thousand years of tradition and how our desire to live a modern life can result in the loss of what makes us who we are.
Poignant, thoughtful, and most definitely horrifying.
Aaron’s Choice – Men Behind The Sun (1988)
Made in 1988 as a realistic docu-drama on the atrocities that the Japanese Unit 731 committed in World War 2, Men Behind The Sun aimed to be semi-educational. It’s unfortunate it would be generally remembered as an extreme exploitation film with many considering it one of the sickest films of all time.
For those unfamiliar with unit 731; it was a chemical and biological warfare research unit set up during World War 2 and run by Surgeon General Shirō Ishii. During its time running, it was responsible for some of the greatest war crimes and atrocities of the war, including torture and human experimentation. Much is unknown and speculated regarding what happened in their facility as it was secretive beyond belief but in recent years war trials have taken place and staff of the facility have started to come forward with more information. There have been a few films made on unit 731 including a 4-hour long feature called Philosophy of the Knife, but as a film Men Behind The Sun is probably the best.
The film tries to create a narrative by following some of the soldiers and doctors as they lead us through the years of the facility. The story works at a basic level and takes us on the journey but there is little characterization. The basic thing I got from the film was; ‘look at the bad things they did…naughty Japan’. It doesn’t glorify the violence which is good but it does often focus on it. Some of it is uncomfortable to watch such as an autopsy of a boy (which apparently uses real autopsy footage).
It also caused a stir by possibly having real animals being hurt. The filmmakers dispute claims but it’s one of those times where no proof, either way, will ever appear.
It’s not a film you will find sitting on the shop shelves but it’s one that’s an odd curiosity and one I would probably just recommend on the basis that it does try to show us some if the facts about the interesting albeit evil unit 731. It somehow spawned 3 sequels which deviate quite a lot from the true story and are just exploitation flicks really. If you can find it it’s worth checking out. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again but it’s not bad.
Nathaniel’s Choice – A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Our resident YouTuber has finally found his DVD for 1985’s supernatural slasher sequel – check out his video review below: