With own clever little horror flick ‘Let Us Prey’ picking up rave reviews, Irish filmmaker Brian O’Malley reveals his Top Five scary movies to IFTN. Oh, and his Top Five not-so-scary movies too.
With noted novelist Ian Rankin arguing that it’s “horror the way it was always supposed to have been made”, ‘Let Us Prey’ has become something of a calling card for its writer and director, Brian O’Malley.
And Rankin isn’t the only one who has fallen under this smart little horror’s spell, with rave reviews appearing in the likes of Sight On Sound and The Austin Chronicle joining the growing number of cheers on this side of the pond.
As with so many a fine horror movie, ‘Let Us Prey’ takes place over one eventful night, in this case, in a police station, with mysterious man in black Six (Liam Cunningham) bringing down some hard rain for all the ne’er-do-wells in his path. And that includes the coppers too, with only new bobby on the beat PC Rachel Heggie (Pollyanna McIntosh, in full Ripley mode) seemingly free from sin.
Given that ‘Let Us Prey’ is a movie that has clearly sprung from the mind of a hardcore horror fan, we asked its maker for his Top Five scary movies. Naturally, this O’Malley cat went one better, and supplied us with his Top Five not-so-scary movies too. Over to you, young Brian...
Brian O’Malley: These aren’t necessarily what I consider to be the best horrors of all time, just ones that had a big impact on me growing up and influenced my tastes in horror.
HALLOWEEN (USA 1978/15A/91mins)
‘This was the first proper modern horror movie I ever saw. I was around 12 years of age, in and around 1983, and it really terrified me. But I was also mesmerized by it. It was as ordinary a leafy suburb as the one I had grown up in, in Dublin. But placed in it was unstoppable evil, and I really responded to it. To me horror was ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’, none of which I’d seen even at that stage, and I’d never considered that horror could be placed somewhere so familiar and ordinary. I can see now, looking back, that Halloween was the first of those post-modern horrors where teenagers were killed for drinking and having sex. At 12 years old, I didn’t notice any of that, but it really scared the shite out of me.’
SUSPIRIA (Italy 1977/18/92mins)
This one I discovered in the early days of DVD. I became obsessed with buying obscure genre movies, and at one point went through a Giallo phase. This is kind of like what Sergio Leone might have done with a horror. The beautiful widescreen photography, the elaborate camera moves, and the way the music played such a big role in the film. I think quite a lot of that rubbed off in ‘Let Us Prey’. The tracking shots, the building electronic score. It’s a very strange and seductive movie. When ‘Let Us Prey’ played in Grimfest in Manchester, Goblin performed the score live to the film. Turns out Liam [Cunningham, Let Us Prey’s lead actor] is a massive Goblin fan, and had a bit of a fan boy moment over breakfast when he bumped into Claudio Simonetti.
THE KEEP (USA/UK/15A/96mins)
I discovered this not through an interest in horror, but because it was directed by Michael Mann. It’s a very flawed film that doesn’t quite work. But it’s also kind of amazing. I watch this one a lot, and found a terrific widescreen version on Netflix, which I’ve looked at probably five times this year already. I love the atmosphere, the sense of dread, and again the astonishing score by Tangerine Dream. There’s an otherworldly quality to the film, as though its set in a part of Europe that man was never meant to set foot in. I don’t always need a film to be perfect for it be something I’m drawn to, and despite this films flaws, it’s an all-time favourite of mine.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (USA 1978/12A/115mins)
Can’t recall when I saw this, possibly when I was in primary school, which pre-dates seeing ‘Halloween’, but this is more sci-fi than horror. This really creeped me out. The way they screamed when they suspected a human. The eerily slow and precise way they replaced humans using the pods. It was very calculated and methodical. And to a kid, the idea that you knew the truth but no one was listening was something I related to. It’s a brilliant example of ‘70s cinema, but certainly one of the most chilling horrors of all time, which totally freaked me out as a kid. I’m a sucker for a bleak ending, and this one sent me over the edge.
THE INNOCENTS (USA/UK 1961/15A/100mins)
This film was probably the first time I watched a horror and was scared not because of the promise of violence or death at the hands of a crazy killer, but it was scary because just there, behind the curtain, was someone looking in the window. Or out there, in the lake, amongst the reeds, was a girl staring across at you. That kind of still horror, where the ghost is doing nothing but looking at you from a distance, really creeps me out. A modern take on that same idea is ‘The Woman in Black’ movie, which used that idea of someone hidden in the trees, or standing over your shoulder. It’s really freaky. Films like this were born out of writers like M.R.James, who was the grandfather of those types of horrors where educated people come face to face with the unexplainable. The fact that someone knows better, but is still presented with the truth of a possessed child, or a deathly figure on the lake, is really unsettling because unlike the drunken teenagers that typically fall victim in horrors, we can always relate to perfectly normal, rational person who finds themselves in the presence of the unexplainable.
TOP FIVE MOVIES
When I wrote out the list of my favourite films of all time it came to about 20. So what I’ve done here is chosen five non-horror movies that had quite a big influence for me, rather than what I think are the five best movies of all time.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Italy/USA/Spain 1968/12A/175mins)
This for me is king. My favourite movie ever. I decided I wanted to be a film director in my 20s. I started watching tons of movies, and despite my lofty ambitions, I couldn’t quite work out what a director did. Then Mark O’Rowe (writer of ‘Intermission’, ‘Boy A’, ‘Broken’, ‘Perrier’s Bounty’) handed me a VHS of this movie in Dunnes Stores, a supermarket where we both worked. It was like a light switch turned on. The star of that movie isn’t Fonda or Bronson, its’ Sergio Leone. For the first time what the director was doing was really obvious. You could see why he was moving the camera, how he placed it in relation to the drama, and how he designed sequences to build to a crescendo. The director’s role was to the forefront of the movie, in a fairly operatic way, and I loved it. That, coupled with the perfect Morricone score, is still for me the most perfect union of music and pictures I’ve ever seen in cinema. A 10/10 masterpiece.
BLADE RUNNER (USA/Hong Kong/UK 1982/15A/117mins)
When VHS was launched in the early ‘80s, a handful of Warner titles were amongst the first ever released for rental. These included ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Blade Runner’, and as a result of the lack of choice, everyone watched these movies. I was around 11, and I was obsessed with Star Wars. So when my Dad borrowed his friend’s VHS and asked me did I want to watch a movie with Han Solo, I was sold. I can’t remember ever being so overwhelmed by a film. I literally couldn’t comprehend what I was watching. It was very slow, and existed in a world I had never seen and couldn’t comprehend. And I had no idea what the story was about. But I watched it twice out of sheer bafflement. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t forget it. It then popped up on TV several times around Christmas 1986, and remembering how strange I found it, I watched it again. I was so mesmerized by it, I watched it each time it was shown on a different channel that Christmas. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. Unlike OUATITW, what Scott does in this film isn’t operatic, it’s more subtle, but the world is so convincingly realised that for the two hours you’re watching it, you literally feel like you’re peering into a tangible version of the future. The Final Cut is of course the most perfect version of the film, and it’s amazing that he got to make the best version of the film decades after making it. But as a director, I do find it disappointing that someone can make such an amazing film, and at the time, no one really notices.
PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (USA 1973/15A/112mins)
The most haunting and poetic western of all time. Like OUATITW, it’s an allegorical western about the end of the west, but it’s done in an altogether more tragic manner. The masterful soundtrack by Dylan includes the song Knocking on Heaven’s Door, which is about a dying deputy laying down his guns before blackness sets in (regardless of what you may have thought it was about for the last 30 years!). It perfectly sums up the movie, which is the depiction of the death of the old west. The scene where Slim Pickens dies by the pond in the arms of Katy Jurado is the most poignant scene in the film, and the fact that Peckinpah cast a fading star, who earlier in her life had been a western starlet, in the role of Pickens wife, was probably no coincidence. Avoid the so-called ‘Director’s Cut’ at all costs. The Turner Classics version is the version of this movie, and the real Director’s Cut, retaining the juxtaposed timelines of Garret’s death at the start and end, the jump-cutting of the credit sequence, and the beautiful sepia colour grade. This film was the film that opened my eyes to the virtues of a slower pace in films, and like ‘Blade Runner’, it’s a film that seems to open a window into a completely authentic world, albeit a hundred years previously. As a result of this film, and an interest in Spaghetti Westerns, I discovered Keoma (Enzo Castellari, Franco Nero), a Gothic western heavily influenced by the tone of Pat Garrett and well worth a watch. I don’t think a traditional western is an easy sell today, and as much as I’d like to make one, my plans for a western fall into the gothic horror/western category.
THIEF (USA 1981/15A/122mins)
This is Michael Mann’s first feature film, and one of his best. He would reach dizzying heights in ‘Heat’, but as crime movies go, this one is hugely influential. When Drive came out it was compared to The Driver for obvious reasons, however, tonally, it has far more in common with Thief. The best of the Tangerine Dream scores, the painterly visuals, the dreamlike mood, and impeccable direction from Mann, make this a fascinating neo-noir. What makes this one different to other entries in the genre is, rather than an emotionally isolated protagonist who finds a reason to live and abandons his life of crime, James Caan plays a character who, once he’s faced with one single set back, abandons his family, his child, his home, his business and basically walks right back into the world he was trying to leave behind, destroying everything in his wake, possibly because that’s easier than dealing with the emotional fallout of normal life. This film, like everything on this list, had a profound influence on me as a director, and again, those sweeping electronic pads, and long tracking shots, all made their way into ‘Let Us Prey’.
GET CARTER (UK 1971/18/112mins)
This is the best British gangster film of all time. It’s dirty, disturbing, ugly (in a really beautiful way) and really haunting. I was so obsessed with this film I decided I wanted to do an Irish take on it, which influenced my script ‘SISK’. That film remains unmade, but this film still holds a place in my heart. Again, it’s got a haunting score (there’s a theme forming here) and the most bleak of endings. It wasn’t until I’d watched the movie quite a few times that I noticed the guy who assassinates Jack at the end is actually in the carriage with him in the opening scene as he travels ‘Up North’. So Jack is a dead man right from the start; it’s a tragedy right from the very first scene. I’m really drawn to these flawed, lonely characters, who operate outside the landscape of the world they inhabit, and who can only find solace in death. In life I’m not a dark person at all, but in cinema I’m drawn to these films with dense, cinematic atmospheres, and ghost like protagonists. I find it hugely cinematic.
THE THIRD MAN (UK 1949/12A/93mins)
This film serves a similar purpose to OUATITW, in so far as the technique of the director is really to the fore. When you’re 21 years old and obsessed with film noir, this one really stands out as a cinematic feast. Not set in the States, but in post-war Vienna, which provides for a strangely alien landscape. Welles said a star role is one where they talk about you for 40 minutes before you turn up on screen, and this film is probably the best example of that power of the Movie Star. The technique of Dutch camera angles and the unique theme music make it a film that is easy to get lost in. The texture and mood of the film are very seductive, and whilst I think the Dutch angle approach has become a huge cliché today, it remains fresh in this film because it’s probably the best use of it outside German Expressionism. I always felt this film had something in common with Blade Runner, and whilst I can’t quite put my finger on it, I think it’s the obvious noir overtones, and the less obvious unsettling atmosphere that really gets under your skin.
Let Us Prey hits Irish cinemas June 12th. Check out the trailer below