Film

International d'Horreur

Martyrs

The country that is producing high quality fear flicks these days is not in North America nor anywhere in Asia, but in Western Europe.

Arguably, the American film industry is the main driving force that dictates the content and the look of most of the movies that are produced all around the globe. Such a commanding influence does not rest on aesthetic arguments though, but is based on the sheer power of economics. Indeed, even though films are artistic products that reflect the specific cultural landscape of its creators, their distribution often follows the strict financial guidelines imposed by Hollywood.

Furthermore, mass consumption often dictates the aesthetic sensibilities of the filmmakers. That is, the artistic value of a film is a relative quality, which ultimately depends on the specific market where the movie is consumed. As much as certain films are made to a specific target audience, the popular response to such films will in turn influence its marketability and encourage or discourage the production of similar products. As such, it should not be a surprise that sometimes the film market gets saturated with strikingly similar products.

Just consider, back in 1998 our planet Earth got hit by meteors in Armageddon, Deep Impact, and countless low rent imitations. And the year before, the heat of lava and volcanoes melted audiences in Dante’s Peak, Volcano, and countless low rent imitations. Today, the American horror film industry is stuck in a shameless effort of blindly regurgitating the classics of the olden days. In as much as these films continue to be consumed and cheered by modern audiences, there is no motivation for Hollywood and its filmmakers to take alternate routes.

However, even though the history of horror cinema is pretty much equivalent to the history of the American horror cinema, there have been periods were foreign films have been acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. In turn, these small foreign productions have dramatically altered the development of domestic horror films. To better appreciate these influences, let us take a brief tour through the history of horror cinema.

DVD: Martyrs

Film: Martyrs

Director: Pascal Laugier

Cast: Catherine Begin, Robert Toupin

Year: 2008

Rated: not rated

US DVD release date: 2009-04-28

Distributor: Weinstein

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/martyrs-cover.jpgFew would disagree that horror cinema was born in 1910 with Edison’s Frankenstein. Even though the previous decade had seen a variety of shorts with fantastic and scary themes produced by the inimitable Goerges Melies, these can hardly be considered as movies, at least within the context in which the art and techniques are understood today.

However, the first aesthetic shift in horror culture took place during the ‘20s, when Germany produced several masterworks that combined creepy situations with a striking cinematography composed of contrasting lights and shadows. Movies made during this expressionistic period include The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920), The Golem (1920), and Nosferatu (1922).

It is impossible to ignore the influence that these films had on the development of subsequent horror films made by Universal Studios during the ‘30s and ‘40s. At the very least, the clever use of cinematography and special effects to convey a sense of dread can be traced back to the German expressionistic period.

As the American horror films dominated the international market for most of the ‘30s and ‘40s, the ‘50s witnessed an important development that took place in Great Britain. During the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Hammer Studios revamped the traditional monster figures and completely revolutionized the horror genre. Some of the flicks produced by Hammer Studios include The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1958), and The Mummy (1959). Made in bright color, showcasing generous amounts of blood and gore, as well as a series of adult situations, the Hammer horror flicks resuscitated old monsters for the tastes of contemporary audiences.

Such an explicit showcase of violence and gore is likely to have influenced the important films that emerged from the US during the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Arguably, films such as Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) are indebted to the aesthetic sensibilities of Terence Fischer and Freddie Francis.

And then again, during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Italian horror filmmakers such as Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento redefined cinematic violence once more. Similar to the way Sergio Leone deconstructed the myth of the American Western, these Italian horror maestros profoundly altered the visual and narrative structure of subsequent horror films.

Indeed, films such as Suspiria (1977) and Zombie (1979) were characterized by long scenes showcasing a gruesome and bloody death, at the expense of interrupting the narrative flow the movie. Clearly, these Italian shockers were influential on the structure of ‘80s American slasher flicks. Indeed, films in the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series were often constructed around gory set pieces full of special effects with a negligible contribution to the narrative.

By the late ‘90s, just as the American horror cinema had exhausted the slasher formula, the next influx of originality came from Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. With movies such as Whispering Corridors (1998), The Ring (1998), and The Eye (2002), hardcore horrorhounds all over the world turned their gore sensitive sniffers towards Asia. And even though these movies were small productions, compared to the big blockbusters made in Hollywood, they managed to redefine worldwide horror culture.

Just consider, the US DVD market not only was suddenly flooded with a large number of Asian horror imports, but also Hollywood started to remake these gems of the macabre. Unfortunately, these remakes were tailored to what Hollywood executives believed was the common American viewer. As a consequence, these remakes lost most of the inventiveness and exoticism that had made the original films so unique.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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