Short Ends and Leader

'Hostel' as Hovel: 'Spiderhole'

Simpson will surely argue budget and audience issues, but that's the devil in the horror film's details. Either you show us the hideous handiwork, or you find another way to deliver the shivers.


Director: Daniel Simpson
Cast: Amy Noble, Emma Griffiths Malin, George Maguire, John Regan
Rated: R
Studio: IFC
Year: 2010
US date: 2011-07-29 (IFC On Demand)

The premise is almost rote - four university students, desperate for someplace cheap to live, travel around the city of London looking for a "squat" (a residential building which that can overtake for free and claim as their own). After a couple of unsuccessful tries, they finally locate a nice looking manor set back from the street. A cursory examination, a little bit too much to drink, some strong vows, and a hard sleep later, the quartet suddenly find themselves locked in, steel doors and windows suggesting that someone else is in the house with them, and is determined to keep them there for a very long time. Then they discover the secret rooms...and the blood...

Spiderhole is indeed nothing new. Even with the UK setting and art school backdrop, it's Eli Roth's Hostel transplanted into a hovel. The large decaying house holding our heroes resembles an even dingier version of the place prevalent in Darren Lynn Bousman's Saw 2 and the threat borrows liberally from all serial killer/isolated location terrors. But thanks to the steady direction of Daniel Simpson (with a few glaring gaps in his accompanying screenplay) and the overwhelming feeling of dread he creates, we can survive some of the film's more flaccid elements. It's not perfect. Heck, at times, it's barely passable.

One of the main drawbacks here is the acting. Granted, we are stuck with four people for the majority of the movie, but their main motivation appears to be to irritate the audience with their whining. These are some of the worst civil anarchists ever, something Simpson could have emphasized before letting them loose in a potential house of horrors. No one is mature. No one has an inside voice. Everything, from outright shocks to surreptitious plotting, is done at a decibel level likened to a room full of infants in wet nappies. Amy Noble as Zoe and Emma Griffiths Malin as Molly can be slightly forgiven: they are girls, and prissy art college versions of same. But what about George Maguire's Toby and Reuben-Henry Biggs's Luke. They pout and shriek more than their frail female companions.

Another problem is the underlying subtext - otherwise known as why this is happening to our heroes. Stumbling into the wrong place at the obviously wrong time is one thing, but Spiderhole can't stop sending out the mixed messages. Is the killer doing this for his dead Dad? An injured parent? The family name? His own internal insanity? Revenge? Because little demons tell him to? All are distinct possibilities. But then there is a last minute twist, something suggested at the very beginning of the film in an off the cuff peripheral manner and then quickly dispensed with, that argues against what we know. It's not a delightful confusion. It's more of a "oh yeah - let's toss this in too!" When we see it, we can't quite believe this is where everything was going. When it's over, it makes us question why we even bothered to waste our time initially.

The answer, of course, is part of the predicament facing any fright film fan. As with lovers of the romantic comedy, and in some ways, the serious science fiction film, the fear maven will tolerate almost anything in the name of a nominal good time. No longer is the genre dominated by ideas or the focused desire to disturb. Instead, it's all about what can be harvested, what is homage, and what can hold up for at least 20 of the usual 80 to 90 minute running time. Today's horror films are, for the most part, wholly concept based (like many of the movies made in the '80s). Someone comes up with a clever idea - a youth hostel in an Eastern Bloc country standing in for a torture club catalog - and then they watch as a dozen or so "admirers' twist it toward their own means.

The 'brilliant' thing about Roth's Hostel - if one can use such a term in describing the film - is that it never loses focus over what it's about. The story sees a group of guys tricked and kidnapped into become fodder for a bunch of rich degenerates who come up with top dollar so they can experience the ultimate thrill - torture and murder - without having to pay the actual legal price. It was a masterful reflection on America, what the world thinks of us, how we view the rest of the planet, and the nasty urban legends which swirl around the maze-like streets of the old country. And yet when it came to delivering the grue, Roth never relented. Sure, it was a glamorized gore fest, but in truth, what else could it have been?

In the case of Spiderhole, Simpson doesn't have the money or the guts - literally - to show us the slaughter. Instead, everything is inferred and suggested, each amputation or moment of eye gouging kept just off the side of the frame. Certainly, it's unsettling to see the rotting results of such deeds, but when you spend 70 minutes setting up your crazed killer routine, it's unfair to relegate him to off camera cruelty. Simpson will surely argue budget and audience issues, but that's the devil in the horror film's details. Either you show us the hideous handiwork, or you find another way to deliver the shivers.

In this case, the suspense is strong enough to carry us through. It's not enough to make this a macabre standard, but Spiderhole does have its moments. The setting and situation alone are worthy of consideration and the "what's happening here?" element does move us over and beyond some of the storyline's more misguided approaches. But when you come to the table with something scary already sold, you better arrive ready to respond. Hinting at the horrors is just not good enough. In fact, that's a very good capsule review for Spiderhole: prepared to prey on our ready to be frayed nerves...and then unable to fully seal the scary movie deal.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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