Japanese ghosts, men in masks, and sisters doing it for themselves

Recently, Sheena and I were asked which films influenced The Ditch, and it got us thinking. Although we could answer the question easily enough (we cited The Ring and Witchfinder General, as we usually do when we want to pitch the film), we couldn’t help thinking there were many, many films we could pick as influences on this production, and on us as filmmakers generally. So we had a chat about it together and the more we talked, the more films we came up with. Here are just a few of them; read down the list, and find your favourite!

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Hallowe’en (dir. John Carpenter, 1978) – Sheena’s all-time favourite horror film. What so impresses her about it is the all-pervading atmosphere of imminent threat: “you feel that someone or something will jump out of the bushes at any moment – but it doesn’t.” Carpenter’s skill at building up a relentless feeling of fear in an ordinary, urban setting, with scenes of horror often playing out in broad daylight, is precisely the effect we’re aiming for. Where’s the last place you expect horror to take place? In sunlight, in the middle of the day, and in a beautiful English field. Which brings us onto…

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Witchfinder General (dir. Michael Reeves, 1968). Stephen is not sure this technically counts as a horror film, since there is no element of supernatural, but there’s no dispute that this is generally regarded as belonging to the horror canon. It certainly contains horrible detail, from its striking opening sequence of the hanging of a witch to the final, brutal, uncontrolled (and largely off-screen) murder. Stephen says the iconic sequence in this film is a simple travelling shot of Vincent Price riding his horse furiously through the countryside, sun blazing down on his black outfit. The jarring effect of horrific events taking place in a pastoral setting reflects the nature of the action in The Ditch.

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Timecrimes (dir. Nacho Vigalondo, 2007). Again, this fits more comfortably into the sic-fi than the horror genre, but the opening 20-minute sequence in which the reluctant hero Héctor is pursued through the woods by a horrifying figure (with blood-soaked bandages completely wrapping its head) is unforgettable. If the end product is perhaps a little too clever for its own good, the story displays a neat circularity, and the ‘look’ of that woodland chase is almost exactly how our film will look once we’ve shot, edited and graded it. Timecrimes is highly recommended to those who haven’t seen it.

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The Ring and Dark Water (dir. Hideo Nakata, 1998 and 2002). Nakata’s trademarks in these films are (a) the urban myth which provides the backdrop to the story, and (b) the constant sense of some hidden terror lurking. Both unite to create a constant sense, as in Hallowe’en, that there is something waiting to hurt or terrorise the protagonists, but also that there is some mystery that needs unravelling (in The Ring, it’s the cryptic message of the video, in Dark Water, it’s the identity of the child who used to live in the flat above). Although providing plenty of scary moments, these films also work on several levels with sub-texts that can be enjoyed as a key part of the entertainment – whether that be the pervasive intrusion of technology in our lives (The Ring) or the dynamics of child custody in a confrontational divorce (Dark Water).

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Monsters (dir. Gareth Edwards, 2010). Sheena, like many independent filmmakers, admires Edwards for having the skill and determination to go ahead and film a successful horror movie with virtually no resources. There’s no doubt he is an inspiration to us all, proof that just a little technical knowledge and some sheer guts are all it takes to make a go of it in this industry. However, Sheena also believes Edwards succeeds because, in addition to his technical ingenuity, he bothers to create a meaningful relationship between the characters, so that the film takes on a bigger dimension than just evading or bashing monsters.

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The Eye (dir. Oxide and Danny Pang, 2002). Although it goes on a bit long and the story becomes confusing by the end, the film’s strongest sequences display – as with many of the other titles listed above – a skilful exploitation of sound and vision so that innocuous people and objects become threatening simply through the way they are perceived. The central character’s blurred  vision turns every shadow into a monster, her over-reliance on her hearing causes her to misinterpret every footstep as the approach of an evil presence. Similar techniques are displayed in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004), which also has a female central character.

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The Blair Witch Project (dir. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999). We weren’t going to put this on the list, but frankly the getting-scared-in-the-woods parallel is just too obvious to leave it out. In any case, the last ten minutes of the film are gripping and genuinely scary, just as much as the preceding seventy minutes are numbingly dull. Naturally, we aspire to capture the mood of those last ten minutes…

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Silent House (dir. Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, 2011) and Chained (dir. Jennifer Chambers Lynch, 2012). These haven’t influenced The Ditch directly, but Sheena cites them as examples of women filmmakers who have been inspirational in working successfully in the horror genre, and showing the range of work women directors are capable of. There’ll be more on this subject soon…

What are your favourite horror films, and why? Or, if you’re also a filmmaker, which films most reflect the style of your work – whatever genre you’re working in? Leave us a comment!

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