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The theme is Horror, Four films for expelling anxiety

Artblog's film contributor reek bell writes about one of their personal favorite genres... This month's theme is horror! Though archetypical, reek finds horror both inspiring and therapeutic- a reflection of reality, but the anxiety factor is within their control.

Two visible through a window on a black brick wall, standing together looking skeptically and holding the curtain aside.
Still, “His House” (2020). Written and Directed by Remi Weekes. Distributed by Netflix. Photo courtesy Netflix.

Horror, like science fiction, is a genre that holds a mirror to the terrors of our reality. A medium to explore the moral and social musings of existence, systemic violence throughout the world, and all the evils of humanity. It can be a means for political and social commentary and a means to escape, to engulf ourselves in something so absurd and unlike our lives, or to have those realities of our lives demonstrated in fictional ways that are relatable and sometimes even comforting. Horror stories follow archetypes: the haunted house, demonic possession, murderer mystery, vengeance quest, the psychological thriller, the slasher. There’s always a need for a breath of fresh life within these stories to resist becoming formulaic and boring, but there’s also something really impressive about their ability to keep fans entertained and inspired.

During my courtship with horror I found myself comforted by the suspense, felt as though it helped displace my anxiety, projecting it outside of myself in a way I can control. I think that’s the most important part, the control, I can sit in the dark and scare the shit out of myself knowing that I am safe.

Blood Runs Down (2018)


Zandashé Brown’s southern gothic psychological thriller is about a child named Ana and her mother Elise. We are introduced to the two while Elise finishes Ana’s hair in preparation for her fifth birthday party the next day. The two go through their nightly ritual with a playfulness that makes you feel they are close. As the night goes on there’s a weariness and an exhaustion in Elise- encroaching doom revealing itself. She begins to undergo a transformation, her behavior towards Ana changes, she is coarse and impatient with the playfulness of a child. The moment Ana says to her mother “You don’t smoke?…” as Elise puffs on a cigar ushers in the drastic switch. It becomes clear to Ana she has to make a difficult choice between saving her mother or protecting herself. It is her will to break the cycle, refuse to be another heir to demons. Blood Runs Down is about inheritance of trauma and ghosts. It’s about motherhood, the literal and figurative loss of self when you become a caretaker. It’s presented so beautifully, from the dim lit scenes inside their bedrooms, warm golden of candlelight, to water’s constant presence, and the chilling sounds of a violin screeching. Farrah Martin’s performance as Ana is outstanding, she acts as a guide throughout the vignettes, seamlessly woven together in the film’s mere 17 minutes.

A girl in a white dress who is standing in a low lit room looks over her shoulder at an unknown object or person.
Film still, “Blood Runs Down” Written and Directed by Zandashé Brown. Soon to be featured in reek bell’s “The theme is Horror”

Suspiria (1977)


The first of Italian Filmmaker Dario Argento’s “witch” trilogy, Suspiria follows an American student arriving at a German Ballet Academy, a bizarre place that’s both striking in its design and its demeanor, secrets are whispered through the walls. Students have gone missing, there are strange sounds at night, and too many of the students seem to be blissfully ignorant of anything sinister afoot. Suspiria has a pretty large cult following, and was re-imagined by Luca Guadagnino in 2018. Suspiria earned its cult status for some of its quirkier contributions: that eerie, borderline-cheesy but somehow stays creepy soundtrack, and the use of red and blue. People often refer to the blood in Suspiria. They don’t attempt to make it life-like (with the true darker tones of blood) but rather lean into the bright red that’s woven throughout the movie. All these elements fuse into a cacophony of bewilderment and fear. Everything goes together so well, the story, the sound, the setting, cinematography, the lighting, the color, each element making the others better. That is what makes Suspiria so good. It has since influenced things I look for in horror.

Ganja & Hess (1973)


Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess stars Duane Jones, of Night of the Living Dead fame, as an anthropologist, Hess, who is stabbed with a poisoned dagger from an excavation by his research assistant, George. George stabs Hess three times: once for the father, again for the son, and third for the holy spirit. Hess develops a lust for blood and becomes immortal. His ill fated assistant’s wife, Ganja, played by the divine Marlene Clark, comes looking for her missing spouse only to become enchanted with Hess. What follows is a partnership full of blood, sex, debauchery and terror. Ganja & Hess is full of beautiful imagery and trippy, dream-like scenes of different hues, leaning into a hallucinatory swirl of philosophical turmoil. The film’s original cut was more of an esoteric psychological thriller told through a classic vampire story, an exploration of religion, sex, and Blackness. Unhappy with this, the production company then sold it to a buyer who cut the original to tailor it to the Blacksploitation popularity of the time. They cut over a half an hour of footage– destroying the original negative in the process– re-dubbed dialogue and re-released it as Blood Couple. For many years it is said that those who were a part of creating the film were so unhappy with the versions released they wished to have their names removed from the film. It was said to be the best film of the decade when it screened at Cannes in 1973 in its original format. The surviving negatives have been restored to as much of the original format as possible, most recently by Kino Lorber Studios in partnership with The Museum Of Modern Art and The Film Foundation. I’m grateful there has been a renewed interest and appreciation for this film as Bill Gunn continues to forge a legacy in cinema.

His House (2020)


Two adults and a child stand against a barrier together, the female bodied adult holding onto the child as the male bodied adult looks out of view with a focused and anxious expression.
Still, “His House” (2020). Written and Directed by Remi Weekes. Distributed by Netflix. Photo courtesy Netflix.

Remi Weekes’s debut haunted house thriller follows a South Sudanese refugee couple, Bol and Rial, seeking asylum in England. In their journey they have lost a daughter, and there seems to be a quiet torment within them, especially in Bol. Suppression of a truth brews. Upon their arrival they are assigned a shabby house through a government housing estate project, and they are taunted by xenophobes and racists on how they should be grateful, be one of “the good ones”. As they start to settle, the house begins to terrorize them. Consumed with assimilation, Bol wants nothing to get in the way of them staying in England, the slightest thing could get them deported; he believes there is no home any longer but here. Rial, succumbing to the house being haunted, wants to return to Sudan, hoping that fleeing would alleviate their problems. The couple believes Nyagak, a witch spirit from their village has followed them and is terrorizing them incarnated as their dead daughter. We move through the past and present drifting through memories from their village and their journey for survival. Bol leans into the role of stubborn patriarch, suppressing his guilt, unraveling and taking Rial with him expecting her loyalty and care without fault, to share his madness. His House asks us to think about how much you let go of yourself to survive. How do you mourn the idea of yourself, the values you thought you once had?
The last fifteen to twenty minutes are stunning, like a poem coming together that inspires bewilderment and awe. His House reminds us that our ghosts stay with us, that what we do and who we are will follow us wherever we go and reminds us of a truth often told throughout all kinds of art, the idea that we humans are as evil as the demons and sinister forces we fear.