Arachnophobia: Spiders on the Screen

Spiders are, to this day, one of the most common phobias that people have (technical term: arachnophobia). Even normally fearless individuals can be reduced to quivering wrecks by the sight of a tiny house spider lurking in the bathtub, and even those of us who don’t have a terror of all things eight-legged would admit that it’s pretty unnerving to see a spider dangle from a web in front of your face or scuttle across the floor while you sit watching TV… [read more]


The Addams Family: From cartoons, to TV series, movies, merchandise and a musical

The Addams Family is a group of fictional characters created by American cartoonist Charles Addams. The Addams Family characters include Gomez, MorticiaUncle Fester, Lurch, Grandmama, Wednesday,Pugsley, Pubert Addams, Cousin Itt and Thing. The Addamses are a satirical inversion of the ideal American family; an eccentric, wealthy clan who delight in the macabre and are unaware, or do not care, that other people find them bizarre or frightening… [read more]


Attack of the Rats! Rattus in the Movies

Some animals are guaranteed to inspire feelings of disgust and fear in cinema audiences, and not more so than the humble rat. While many people keep rats as pets, even they will see a difference between their domesticated companions and the sewer-dwelling, disease carrying vermin that we are continually told that none of us are ever more than six feet from (an urban myth perhaps, but with a certain basis in facts – there are a LOT of rats in the world)… [read more]

Babayaga 5

Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga is a recurrent figure in East European folklore, usually as a single entity though sometimes appearing as one of a trio of sisters, all using the same name. Baba Yaga appears as a filthy, hideous or ferocious-looking woman with the ability to fly around in a large mortar, knees tucked up to her chin, using the accompanying pestle as a blunt weapon or a rudder to guide her strange craft… read more


“Ban the Sadist Videos!” The Story of Video Nasties

The film world in Britain during the early 80s was grim. Most of the grand cinema palaces of yesteryear were, if not already transformed into bingo halls, falling apart, offering a less-than-enticing combination of bad projection, uncomfortable, dirty seats and programmes which required the audience to sit through endless amounts of commercials and unwatchable travelogues before finally being allowed to see the main feature. With unemployment at an all-time high, people were more inclined to stay home and save their money, watching any of the three TV channels available until closedown before midnight… [read more]


Baron Samedi

Baron Samedi is one of the Loa of Haitian vodou, the spirits of the dead. Samedi is a Loa of the dead, along with Baron’s numerous other incarnations Baron Cimetière, Baron La Croix, and Baron Kriminel. He is the head of the Guédé (or Ghede) family of Loa, or an aspect of them, or possibly their spiritual father… [read more]


A Beginner’s Guide to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos

Cthulhu is a fictional deity created by writer H. P. Lovecraft and first introduced in the short story “The Call of Cthulhu”, published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. Considered a Great Old One within the pantheon of Lovecraftian cosmic entities, the creature has since been featured in numerous popular culture references. It is one of the central Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos, and is often cited for the extreme descriptions given of its hideous appearance, its gargantuan size (hundreds of feet tall), and the abject terror that it evokes… [read more]


Bewitched: A Bewitching Comedy TV Series

Although traditionally feared and despised, witches have also long provided the public with light-hearted entertainment – one only has to look at the stereotypical image of the witch, with the pointed hat, green face, black cat and flying broomstick, an image that is impossible to take seriously. Hollywood has long seen witches as comical characters, and it was perhaps inevitable that they would become the subject of a television sitcom in the Sixties… [read more]

The Bizarre Practice of Head Shrinking

The bizarre practice of shrinking a human head has an extremely dark history. While numerous cultures have participated in the practice of headhunting, the Ecuadorian Amazon and the Peruvian Amazon Jivaro Indian Tribe did more than just headhunt: they shrunk the heads that they collected.

Before we get into the history of the one and only tribe known to shrink human heads, we will first discuss some fascinating information on the more prevalent practice known as “head hunting.” [read more]


Boone Helm: the Kentucky Cannibal

Boone Helm (1828 – January 14, 1864) was a mountain man and gunfighter of the American West known as the Kentucky Cannibal. Helm was a serial killer who gained his nickname for his opportunistic and unrepentant proclivity for the consumption of human flesh taken from the bodies of enemies and traveling companions. While this was usually done in survival situations, Helm sometimes took flesh in preparation of being in a survival situation… [read more]


British Public Information Films

Public information films are a series of British government commissioned short films, shown during television advertising breaks. The US equivalent is the public service announcement (PSAs). The films are intended to advise the general public on what to do in a multitude of situations ranging from crossing the road to surviving a nuclear attack and often show the risks of breaching health and safety regulations by graphically depicting the potentially tragic outcomes of doing so. Public information films reached their dizzying heights in the 1970’s when film-makers pulled out all the stops to scare the British public half to death… [read more]

mark of the devil burning witches

Burn, Witch, Burn! Witchfinders on the Screen

In cinematic terms, it wasn’t a good time to be a witch in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Between 1968 and 1972, more witches were put to death on film than at any time before or since. It truly was the Dark Ages of horror… [read more]


Comics from Hell: The Horror Films That Spawned Comics

Perhaps even more abundant than the ever-popular trend of adapting comic books into films, particularly Marvel’s ever expanding universe, is the very opposite, transposing popular characters from film onto the page. So, whilst the likes of 30 Days of Night, From Hell and Blade have all, it must be said, achieved differing levels of success onscreen, a slow trickle, building to a arterial gush, of fully-formed characters with their back-stories already well-known have fallen onto the page, allowing for story-arcs, inter-world co-existence and scenes of gratuitous disembowelling that even the bravest director would dismiss as just-that-little-bit-too-far, opening up the possibilities of horror film as never before… [read more]

helter skelter charles manson movie british quad poster

Coming Down Fast: Charles Manson on Screen

Given Hollywood’s obsession with ‘true crime’, it’s perhaps fitting that some of the most notorious murders in history took place smack in the centre of movie land, and involved a bright young film actress. When Charlie Manson’s deluded followers broke into 10050 Cielo Drive and brutally slaughtered the occupants – including pregnant Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski – it not only struck fear into the heart of America, but also seemed like something out of a horror movie. And when, months later, Manson and his followers were arrested, they were every bit as bizarre, scary and deranged as any celluloid psycho. While most serial killers and mass murderers are worrying ordinary, Manson was a wild-eyed maniac, a hippy cult leader who lived with his followers – The Family – in the desert, making plans to survive the coming race war he was convinced was imminent… [read more]


Death Rides a Horse: Horror Westerns

Horror films and westerns are two of cinema’s great mainstays, having established their distinct identities and sets of conventions in the earliest days of the medium. So distinct from each other, in fact, as to seem entirely incompatible – as different as night, the domain of horror, from day, the traditional setting for westerns.

And yet, this is to overlook, or underestimate, the commercial cinematic will to find a way – or to flog a dead horse, no matter how rotting the carcass. While the notion of ‘horror’ conjures up specific images or referents – castles, vampires, zombies, graveyards, summer camps – it is not defined by time or place, nor confined by character type or cultural/historical context. The western may appear to be immutable, certainly by contrast, although stories can slip north or south of the United States border, even into the present day, and remain hitched to the genre. It has never been impermeable, however – hence there are Cold War westerns, noir westerns, feminist westerns (albeit a rare breed), even – Wayne forbid – quasi-Marxist westerns, imported from Italy.

Horror began seeping in, like a virus, in the Twenties, mostly in the form of cloak-wearing villains whose ghostly aura was always dispelled in the end, much like every episode of the old-school Scooby-Doo. The novelty of combining seemingly disparate formulas quickly wore off through overuse (not before it produced The Phantom Empire, a western serial targeted at the Flash Gordon crowd, in which singing cowboy Gene Autry discovers a subterranean colony of ray-gun-firing robots). It was revived in the heyday of drive-in movies and creature features – the anything-goes era – and surfaced in the more baroque European productions, on the back of a gothic-horror revival… [read more]


The Devil’s Footprints Mystery of 1855

In February 1855, Satan took a stroll through Devon, England. At least that’s what many locals thought at the time, and despite assorted explanations for the series of mysterious footprints left behind, some still cling to that belief… [read more]


Dwarfs in Horror Cinema

For some, all the world’s a stage, for others, a battlefield. Circumstances sometimes mean that these two options are thrust upon a person, both socially and as a career. It’s one thing to possess what would be deemed ‘unconventional looks’ as an actor – these would perhaps be accentuated or swathed in make-up for a role, the over-riding tone being that they are instantly recognisable and often fit that most go-to pigeonhole-means-nothing phrase – ‘character actor’. For some actors, there is no disguise, no hiding place and often no sympathy… [read more]


The Entrance to Hell

The entrance to Hell – or more accurately, entrances – has been designated at  various locations on the surface of the Earth from ancient times right up to the present day. They have acquired a legendary reputation for being entrances to the underworld due to their remote location, often in regions of unusual geological activity, particularly volcanic areas, or sometimes at lakes, caves or mountains… [read more]

night of a thousand cats

Feline Fear! Cats in Horror Films

In the lacklustre Milton Subotsky production The Uncanny, Peter Cushing plays a man desperate to expose a sinister cat conspiracy against the human race: ‘They prowl by night… lusting for human flesh!’ Seemingly laughable… but an idea that possibly strikes home more than a similar theory about, say, dogs? For cats have always had a singularly spooky quality to them that has seen them both revered and reviled throughout history… [read more]


Frankenstein and Vasaria – The Fictional Locations of the Classic Universal Horror Films

Although the continuity is a little wayward, the events of many of the Golden Age of Universal horror films actually take place in one of two fictional locales – the village of Frankenstein and that of Vasaria (sometimes spelled Visaria). In turn, these were generally filmed in the same place too, the sprawling Universal back-lot, nicknamed ‘Little Europe’… [read more]


“From Hell…” Jack the Ripper on Screen

Jack the Ripper. The very name conjures up images of fog-shrouded streets, grisly murder and chirpy, voluptuous Cockney street girls spilling out of East End dens of inequity to meet their fate as the cloaked and top-hatted Saucy Jack searched in vain for the elusive Mary Kelly. In fact, so ingrained is the myth of the Ripper in our collective consciousness that it’s sometimes difficult to remember that this was a very real murderer, who appeared out of the blue in 1888 and, over a few months as summer gave way to autumn, killed five prostitutes, taunting the police with letters and body parts, before vanished as abruptly as he appeared… [read more]


Fu Manchu – Literary and Film Villain

Doctor Fu Manchu is a fictional character introduced in a series of novels by British author Sax Rohmer during the first half of the 20th century. The character was also featured extensively in cinema, television, radio, comic strips and comic books for over 90 years, and has become an archetype of the evil criminal genius while lending the name to the Fu Manchu moustache. He is by far Rohmer’s most famous character… [read more]


Going Ape: A Short History of Who’s Inside the Gorilla Suit

Though it goes without saying that King Kong continues to hold the crown as the reigning monarch of the great apes in film, spare a thought to consider the long parade of committed actors who sweat, pestered picnickers  and sweat some more in the demanding field of gorilla impersonation. Before we begin, it is worth noting that it wasn’t until the 1860’s that Westerners were first able to lay their eyes on the real beast, being something of a curiosity even at the beginning of the 20th Century. Consider this an apology for some very dodgy early costumes… [read more]


Chinese Ghost Weddings

In Chinese tradition, a ghost marriage (Chinese: 冥婚; pinyin: mínghūn; literally: “spirit marriage”) is a marriage in which one or both parties are deceased. Other forms of ghost marriage are practiced worldwide, from Sudan, to India, to France since 1959. The origins of Chinese ghost marriage are largely unknown, though reports of it being practiced in the present day have become more frequent. Whilst Sudanese and French ‘posthumous’ marriage largely revolves around a bereaved widow marrying one of the groom’s brothers or a partner killed in war, the Chinese variant regularly sees the joining in matrimony of a living person and a corpse… [read more]


The Mythical Demons of Hell

From the earliest times, mythical demons have inhabited all faiths and religions but Christianity really grasped the nettle wholeheartedly, with various writers recording ever-more elaborate inhabitants of Hell and going to great lengths to explain their roles and where specifically they resided. The Spanish Franciscan Catholic Bishop, Alphonso de Spina, recorded in 1467 that demons could be classified in the following ways… [read more]


Ho, Ho, Horror! Festive Fright Films

Christmas is generally seen as a jolly old time for the whole family – if you are to believe the TV commercials, everyone gets together for huge communal feasts while excited urchins unwrap whatever new toy has been hyped as the must-have gift of the year. It is not, generally speaking, seen as a time of horror… [read more]


Horrorcore: How Hip Hop Met Horror

Horrorcore is a subgenre of hip hop music based on horror-themed lyrical content and imagery. Its origins derived from hardcore and gangsta rap artists such as the Geto Boys and Insane Clown Posse, who brought the genre into the mainstream, if somewhat fleetingly. The term horrorcore was popularised by openly horror-influenced hip hop groups such as Flatlinerz and Gravediggaz. Horrorcore is the hottest potato within the hip hop genre, upsetting the purists and proving too extreme for mass consumption, it has even seen so-called ‘godfathers’ of the scene distancing themselves as pioneers… [read more]


The Hounds of the Baskervilles: Holmesian Horror in Film and TV

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories – and the ongoing industry spun off from them – have a curious connection to the horror genre. The image of the master detective, stalking the fog-bound streets of London, seem to be as much a part of the Victorian horror world as Dracula and Jack the Ripper, and it is no surprise that enterprising filmmakers and writers have chosen to pit Holmes against these infamous monsters… [read more]


Jack-O’-Lantern: Halloween folklore and tradition

A jack-o’-lantern is a carved pumpkin or similarly-sized gourd or turnip, associated chiefly with the holiday of Halloween, and was named after the phenomenon of strange light flickering over peat bogs, called will-o’-the-wisp or jack-o’-lantern. In a jack-o’-lantern, the top is cut off to form a lid, and the inside flesh then scooped out; an image, usually a monstrous face, is carved out of the pumpkin’s rind to expose the hollow interior. To create the lantern effect, a light source is placed within before the lid is closed, traditionally a candle flame… [read more]


The Jersey Devil – A Folklore Legend?

The Jersey Devil is a legendary creature or cryptid said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey, United States. The creature is often described as a flying biped with hooves, but there are many different variations. The common description is that of a kangaroo-like creature with the head of a goat, leathery bat-like wings, horns, small arms with clawed hands, cloven hooves and a forked, serpentine tail. It has been reported to move quickly and often is described as emitting a “blood-curdling scream”… [read more]


Jungle Holocaust: Cannibal Tribes in Exploitation Cinema

The 1970s saw many old cinematic taboos falling away, and few horror film sub-genres benefited from the relaxation in censorship more than the cannibal film. In fact, this is a genre that scarcely existed prior to the Seventies. Sure, horror films had long hinted at cannibalism as a plot device – movies like Doctor X (1932) and others portrayed it as an element of psychosis without ever being overly explicit, and this would continue into the 1970s with films such as Cannibal GirlsFrightmare and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – but no one had really explored the idea of eating human flesh explicitly. Some things were just too tasteless, and cannibalism was something of a no-no with assorted censor boards around the world… [read more]


Monty Python: Horrific Humour

It would be fair to say that British comedy team Monty Python  – Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michel Palin – are not usually associated with horror. While their brand of often surreal humour would go on to influence generations of comedians, they rarely strayed outside the comic. At least not entirely. But there is a streak of horror than runs through their work, especially their movies. Their use of wild excess and gleeful offensiveness would later inform films like Bad Taste, keeping the connection going… [read more]

munsters coloring book

The Munsters – A History of the 1960s TV series, Movies, Spin-offs and Merchandise

The 1960s was a boom period in the United States for fantasy-themed situation comedies. For a while, it seemed that the standard domestic comedy show was a thing of the past, as varying networks aired shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Mr Ed, My Favorite Martian, The Addams Family and, of course, The Munsters… [read more]


The Ouija board

There are essentially three things required to contact the dead; a dead person; a living person to whom they are acquainted (or would like to be); a very open mind. Of course, over the years tools have been introduced to facilitate this, allowing both highly-tuned mediums and amateur inquisitors to speak to those in the realm beyond. Perhaps the most famous of these, despite being one of the most basic, is the Ouija board.

The ouija (/ˈwiːdʒə/ WEE-jə), also known as a spirit board or talking board, is a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0–9, the words “yes”, “no”, “hello” (occasionally), and “goodbye”, along with various symbols and graphics. It uses a planchette (a small heart-shaped piece of wood or plastic) as a movable indicator to facilitate the communication of the spirit’s message by spelling it out on the board during a séance. Participants place their fingers on the planchette, and it is moved about the board to spell out words, seemingly by a force other than the participants. “Ouija” has become a trademark that is often used generically to refer to any talking board… [read more]

Return to Sender: Human Sacrifice in History and Horror Films

The act of slaying one or more of your fellow human beings in a ritual, usually as a token to a God or spiritual ancestors, extends back to the first glimmers of the dawn of Man – the stranger fact is that it is still practiced today. Taking many forms and seen in a myriad of cultures, these ceremonies, though now far rarer than once they were, still hold a fascination for the creative arts, and human sacrifice is one of the go-to platforms for the construction of horror film and literature, from Greek myth to Hammer Films and H.P. Lovecraft to Children of the Corn.


Human sacrifice almost always revolves around appeasing a supernatural denizen of a perceived afterlife – the greatest gift seen to offer an apparently vengeful deity being a living (soon to be dead) offering… [read more]


A Short History of Ghost Trains

Although magic lantern shows, projecting apparent spirits before an assembled audience, had been popular throughout the 1800’s, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that what we would now view as ‘ghost trains’ appeared at amusement parks. Static and travelling fairs had long used theatrical presentations with a supernatural theme, freak shows, illusions and grand spectacle to wow and unnerve audiences but, perhaps inevitably for British readers, it was Blackpool Pleasure Beach which brought together many of these ideas into one attraction… [read more]


The Spawn of Scanners 

At the time of Scanners‘ release, the horror film was enjoying – arguably – its final great era. The post-Star Wars sci-fi boom had abated (primarily because low budget film-makers realised that the space opera genre required overly expensive special effects) and the success of Halloween, Friday the 13th and Dawn of the Dead had pushed the horror movie back into public favour. With a new magazine, Fangoria, on the stands to publicise independent, gory horror films – just the type traditionally disdained even by genre magazines like Cinefantastique – and the term ‘splatter movie’ a media buzzword, everything looked rosy for the genre, and for its new kings. A group of directors who had honed their craft in the 1970’s now seemed on the verge of mainstream acceptance: George Romero, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and Joe Dante all had exciting, high-profile new projects lined up, and joining them was Canadian director David Cronenberg, who was set to break through with his new movie Scanners… [read more]


The Shuffling Saga of The Mummy on Screen

The Mummy can, in many respects, hold claim to being the most unloved of the classic movie monsters – if not, then surely the most inconsistently served. The oft-quoted line from Kim Newman, that the issue lies with “no foundation text” upon which to base the creature, certainly carries some weight, though Mummies had certainly been written about in the 19th Century – notable works include Poe’s short story, Some Words With a Mummy (1850), Conan Doyle’s Lot No. 249 (1892), the latter establishing the Mummy as a malevolent predator seeking revenge, as well as touching upon elements also explored in later films, such as the methods of resurrection and the supernatural control of a ‘master’… [read more]

halloween LP

The Synth of Fear: Horror films with synthesizer scores

Electronically produced sound has been available to adventurous film composers since the silent era. Among the earliest electronic instruments were the Ondes-Martenot (invented in 1928), which produced a characteristic quivering sound by varying the frequency of oscillation in an array of vacuum tubes, and the trautonium (1930), a monophonic synthesizer-like instrument in which sound generation was based on neon tubes and modulated by the action of fingers on a metal resistor wire… [read more]


Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol  

The Grand Guignol was a theatre in the Pigalle area of Paris. From its opening in 1897 until its closing in 1962, it specialized in naturalistic, usually shocking, horror shows. Its name is often used as a general term for graphic, amoral horror entertainment, a genre popular from Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre (for instance Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil), to today’s splatter films… [read more]

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