History of Horror: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

Dir. FW Murnau, Germany, 1922

Given it is also held up as a masterpiece of German expressionist cinema, Nosferatu couldn’t be much more different from Caligari. The first film revelled in artifice. Nosferatu is steeped in realism. The earlier film is shot on studio sets; Nosferatu is largely filmed on location. Caligari is an insane nightmare. Nosferatu, though nightmarish, has the uncanny intruding into the normal world.

It’s also practically impossible to watch this, probably the most influential of all horror movies, without spotting the roots of so much horror cinema – from the 1931 Dracula, whose best moments are frequently pointed to by Murnau, to the vampire, who holds himself like Karloff’s creature, stalking jerkily through the rooms of Castle Orlok. And Orlok’s end, dissolved into dust by the rising sun, a complete departure from Stoker’s source novel, is so powerful it’s recycled in Hammer’s original Dracula.

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History of Horror: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Dir. John S Robertson, USA, 1920

This is the first of three adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella to be released in 1920. It’s a shame that FW Murnau’s version, Der Janus-Kopf, has not survived. Robertson’s picture is notable for the star performance from John Barrymore as Jekyll and Hyde, but at 79 minutes lacks the Tales of the Unexpected style mystery/twist of the source.

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History of Horror: Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari

Dir. Robert Wiene, Germany, 1920

Eureka’s 2014 Blu-ray makes the bold claim that The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is ‘the first true horror film’. While not really true, it’s probably fair to say that this is the earliest horror film whose influence has endured beyond the silent era. It’s visually striking – right from the queasy green-tinted title cards with their odd, abstract designs a discordant note is struck which follows through both in the much-praised expressionist set design, but also in the spiky, disjointed story.

A film in six acts, it opens with the striking image of two men talking in a garden while an ethereal maiden, dressed in white, floats dreamily towards them. This is the framing narrative, and we learn that one of the two men is Franzis, who proceeds to relate the weird story of Dr Caligari and his somnambulist slave Cesare and the reign of terror they perpetrate in the town of Holstenwall.

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The Run Report: Hoblingwell

I had the pleasure of running at the inaugural Hoblingwell event on 15th July 2017, along with 214 other runners. More typically, it has around 50-60. The course is one of the more complicated – on the map at least (it’s fairly straightforward once you get going, especially as the marshals and signage all give very clear directions). The park is called Hoblingwell Wood Recreation Ground and as the name suggests, it’s not a landscaped, ornamental park. It’s a mix of football pitches, a bit of scrubland and some woodland around a series of low, brick buildings, and surrounded by the Orpington suburbs.

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All the London Parkruns

Back in March 2016, my friend Geoff persuaded me to get into Parkrun – free, timed 5km runs that happen all over the world at 9am every Saturday, organised by amazing volunteers. Geoff was coming to the end of his mission to run all of the (then) 47 Parkruns within the London Boroughs. I went with him to the last dozen or so on his list – and became a Parkrun tourist myself.

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The Scariest Story I’ve Ever Heard

This is the scariest story I have ever heard. It was told to me by another boy, back in the mid nineties. We were on a school camping trip near Crickhowell in central Wales. The campsite is in the grounds of an old chapel, on a triangle of grass, turned to mud by the Welsh weather and the walking boots of two dozen boys. A small brook surrounds the chapel on two sides, and the road – a single track, with huge earth banks either side – forms the third. Two school minibuses are parked just off road, inside the single gate to the chapel. A few trees run down towards the brook. On the other side, a hill rises steeply. It is planted thickly with trees – not so thick that it’s not perfect for playing kidnappers, but thick enough that if you wander too far into the woods you can lose track of the chapel – only the downward slope points you back in the right general direction. At the back of the chapel, four huge logs form a square bench around a camp fire, and that’s where We’d had a supper of sausages, beans and hot, strong tea, brewed inside the chapel in its rudimentary kitchen with its huge steel water tank. Continue reading

Happy Halloween

Whenever you admit to a fondness for horror films, inevitably someone asks you the question, ‘what’s the scariest film you’ve seen?’ That’s a question I always struggle to answer. As a child, when you’re most susceptible to being actually frightened by films, most responsible parents (certainly mine) won’t let you watch horror movies. As an adult, I can’t remember at any point actually being afraid because of a film. Yes, of course I jump at the jumpy moments. And I’ve been grossed out in the cinema – most of all by the brain-eating scene in Hannibal, and the de-gloving in Gerald’s Game. But terrified? No. Continue reading