Dying Light: An obituary for the great British horror movie
by Richard Stanley
(Originally appeared in British Horror Cinema, 2001)
Darkness first. Then a flickering beam splits the gloom.
The shambling beast goes through its motions once more, progressing steadily towards its calvary atop the Empire State building, confused, outflanked and outnumbered, beset by biplanes, the avatars of an uncaring new age which he cannot hope to comprehend. It is May 1993, and a butchered print of King Kong (1933), shorn by the British censor of several of its more intese moments, is the last film to run through the gate at the Scala cinema in King's Cross. When the screen goes dark this night it will mark the end of an era, a passing with implications that few people in the smoky auditorium are fully concious of. Those who are, are either drunk or weeping openly.
Before it was a cinema, the Scala had been London's first Primatarium, a vast ape house, painted jungles crawling across its walls and its sepuchral auditorium filled with astroturf. When I last looked there were still deserted cages in the basement and if you inhaled deeply enough you could just catch the faint hint of musk and dried urine, a safari smell that took me back to my earliest childhood.
King Kong was the first film I ever saw, at the tender age of four and was also the first film to play the Scala once the apes were finally shipped out and the bankrupt Primatarium was converted into a repertory cinema in 1981 by the young Stephen Woolley and his partner Nik Powell, who had been one of the prime movers in the foundation of Richard Branson's Virgin empire. Together, the two young entrepreneurs set about using the crumbling venue as a platform for the launch of the distribution business that was to become Palace Pictures.
Several inspired choices in acquiring British distribution rights helped to bankroll Palace's eventual move into production, most notable Jean-Jacques Beneix's Diva (1982) and a hyper-kinetic ultra low budjet American horror film entitled The Evil Dead (1983), which was directed by the 21-year-old Sam Raimi. Despite unease at the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), one of whose examiners said that she felt her 'bodily integrity' had been threatened by the film, it was passed (albeit with cuts) and Palace released it simultaneously on video and theatrically in order to make the most out of their meagre promotional budjet, a decision that outraged the rest of the British film industry which, at the time, was still terrified that video was about to finish off the movie business once and for all. However, the horror genre seemed set to undergo a major revival with the new technology offering the promise of a nightmare in every living room.
As it turned out, the old guard of the film industry weren't the only ones to be outraged. Late in 1983 the moral crusader Mary Whitehouse screened clips from The Evil Dead and a number of other so-called 'video nasties' to a large number of MPs at the House of Commons, as a highly effective means of lobbying the Thatcher goverment to introduce tight state controls on the burgeoning video industry.
The 'video nasty' furore had already been running for some time in the press, and a particularly hysterical campaign in papers such as Sun and Mail had helped to create a climate in which the goverment felt obliged to take action, partly to appease traditional Tory voters but also to deflect attention from the more deeprooted social, economic and environmental factors underlying the rising crime statistics which were then embarrassing the traditional 'law and order' party.
The Evil Dead hype in Great-Britain was partly due to the cover art, which was designed for Palace Pictures by Graham Humphreys. He would subsequently collaborate with Richard Stanley in Hardware, Dust Devil and The Island of Dr. Moreau.
The video nasties list
Empowered by the Director of Public Prosecution's willingness to use the Obscene Publications Act against violent (as opposed to the more usual pornographic) material, the police began a series of raids on video retailers, eating their way steadily back up the supply lines to distributors such as Palace and their headquarters above the Scala cinema.
Acting on a last-minute tip-off, the manager of Palace's marketing, Irwing Rappaport, brother of actor David Rappaport, had every copy of The Evil Dead removed from the property and hidden in a local church. Enraged when they came up empty handed during the initial raid on the Scala, the forces of law and order then descended on the main warehouse from which they removed the offending film's master tapes and a case against it was prepared by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
After Sam Raimi, Nik Powell and several other testified at Snaresbrook Crown Court a verdict of not guilty was returned on 7 November 1983, and the resulting publicity ensured The Evil Dead's rise to the top of the video charts, breaking all records at the time and putting Palace Pictures well and truly on the map.
It made sense that the company's flagship production would be a borderline horror project, Neil Jordan's dream-like fantasy The Company of Wolves (1984). Produced by Steve Woolley and Chris Brown, the film took its inspiration from the works of Angela Carter, offering a very personal vision of the werewolf myth and a darkly Gothic reworking of the Grimms' fairy tales, one infinitely more with keeping in their roots than the dumbed-down pastiches familiar from the Disney stable.
A waif-like Sarah Patterson embodied an adolescent Little Red Riding Hood, lost in a deep and particularly gloomy studio forest haunted by Stephen Rea's sad-eyed lycanthrope and very capably supported by Angela Langsbury as her all-wise grandmother and David Warner as her concerned father. I must admit to having a particular soft spot for Warner as a result of his role as the gorilla-loving eccentric in Karel Reisz's Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966), a film which always leaves a warm glow in my heart.
The success of The Company of Wolves at the box office set Steve Woolley and Nik Powell on their way to becoming major players in the British film industry, leaving the Scala's programming to be taken over by the young Jo-Anne Sellar, who had started at the cinema as an usherette, literally picking up the gum off the seats and affecting a China Blue wig as she patrolled the tenebrous aisles.
Sixteen years old and on the run from the military police, I took refuge in those aisles during my first winter in London, as much for warmth as anything else. It was my good fortune that I stumbled onto the scene just as Jo-Anne's programming scaled new heights promising unbroken all-day-nighters of obscure Euro horror, spaghetti westerns, pop art and mild sexploitation.
On my second night in the capital I experienced something of an epiphany when I found myself sitting through all of Dario Argento's work for the first time in a single continuous screening. Staggering out into the grey light of that mid-1980's dawn, I knew in my heart that my life would never be the same again.
The Scala became my sanctuary, my alma mater, a house of dreams redolent of an opium den with its haze of psychoactive smoke and its delirious, half-glimpsed denizens. I would camp with my bedroll on the front tiers of the red-lit, cat-haunted auditorium in which the first few rows had been utterly destroyed by various nutters that it had become more expedient to let people lie on the steps, make love, shoot up or just catch a few hours' sleep. If I didn't exactly grow up in the ape house, then I certainly came to age there, fumbling in the dark corridors with fellow film junkies, while a relentless progression of imagery flowed past and over us, leaving us changed in various complicated ways. Sometimes I would open my eyes at 3 am and have no way of knowing if I was dreaming or not, and, as I slowly learned about the art of light, so the Scala brought me into contact with some of the auteurs who had helped create this formidable body of work.
I met visiting film directors ranging from Sam Raimi and Alejandro Jodorowsky (who had more or less invented the midnight movie back in the 1960's with his notorious psychedelic western El Topo (1972)) to Dario Argento himself with whom I was eventually to strike up a halting friendship. Palace had picked up Argento's confused and maggot-ridden Jennifer Connelly vehicle Phenomena (1985) for a video release (inevitably heavily censored) and followed this through by putting out his brother Claudio's production of Jodorowsky's exquisite Mexican serial murder romance Santa Sangre (1989).
The Company of Wolves had set the stage for a final cinematic flowering of the Gothic tradition, led by bad boy Ken Russell's Gothic (1986), a hallucinatory and extremely camp fantasia based around that notorious party at the Villa Deodati at which Mary Shelley was inspired to create the Frankenstein myth and where the ground was paved for Bram Stoker's Dracula by the fevered work of Doctor John Polidori, incarnated on screen by Timothy Spall, who proceeded to steal the show and then eat the furniture. Failing to duplicate The Company of Wolves' delicate balancing act between art house angst and outright horror, Gothic was released to a lukewarm reception, almost single-handedly prompting Virgin to disengage itself from the film industry once and for all.
A second film from Russell in 1988, The Lair of the White Worm, continued in the same vein, adapting Bram Stoker's flawed final novel into a lunatic farrago of cheesy, fetishistic imagery featuring Amanda Donahue as an alluring snake woman slithering around the home counties, poisoning boy scouts and intimidating a very confused-looking Hugh Grant. Perhaps the less said about this the better, although I do have a pleasing memory of a red-faced and suitably daemonic Ken Russell standing propped in the doorway of a Soho preview theatre, staring down at the various reviews as they filed past him, doing their very best to avoid eye contact. I think he must have known that it was all over for him but just wanted to face it out like the ruined, mad-arsed renegade of British cinema that he was. Direct. Looking at it knowing it for what it was.
The director Bernard Rose fared considerably better with the moody rite-of-passage thriller Paperhouse (1989), produced by Tim Bevan, whose themes of childhood nightmares manifesting uncontrollably in waking reality far outshone its other Elm Street-inspired contemporaries such as Harley Cokliss's Dream Demon (1988).
Continuing their astute distribution policy, Palace picked up A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and its sequels for the United Kingdom and had put Dream Demon into production in the hope of duplicating the success of the Freddy Krueger films with a home-grown product. Unfortunately lightning failed to strike twice, although Timothy Spall did get another chance to chew the scenery, this time as a disintegrating tabloid journalist haunting Jemma Redgrave's dreams, along with his equally moribund partner Jimmy Nail.
A much-needed jolt in the arm came with the release of British horror author Clive Barker's debut feature as a director, Hellraiser (1987). Hyped by Stephen King as the 'future of horror', Barker had survived two earlier brushes with the film industry when his stories provided the basis for a pair of highly forgettable features directed by George Pavlou, Underworld (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986). The latter is an utterly deranged Irish monster movie in which a stuntman in an unconvincing creature costume (complete with red flashing eyes!) emerges from beneath a standing stone to drag bare-breasted traveller babes from their caravans, and piss on the local priest, none of which is as much fun as it sounds.
Despite its threadbare budjet, Hellraiser provided to be a quantum improvent on this tepid fare, telling the admirably twisted and good-looking tale of a puzzle box dubbed the 'lament configuration' which opens the doorway to a world inhabited by sado-masochistic demons known as Cenobites, chief among whom is the icon Pinhead, played by Doug Bradley in make-up designed by the talented Chris Halls, working out of Bob Keen's Image Animation shop at Pinewood. Years later, working under the name of Chris Cunningham, Halls would direct two seminal music videos for The Aphex Twin, and may well prove to be one of the most important genre figures of the generation to come.
Two sequels were produced in the United States, both scripted by Pete Atkins, who succeeded in screwing up whatever it was Barker had got right in the first place. Barker's second film as a director followed in 1990, a bizarre Freudian phantasmagoria entitled Nightbreed; this starred David Cronenberg as a psychopatic psychiatrist, apparently modelled on Hannibal Lecter, who tries to pin his crimes on one of his patients who in fact turns out to be a genuine monster. Let down by unusually ragged plotting and unconvincing make-up, Nightbreed seemd to disappoint everyone save Alejandro Jodorowsky, who rightly proclaimed it to be the first truly gay horror fantasy epic, preoccupied, as it is, with the unconsummated relationship between doctor and patient. However, such subtleties escaped most audiences and Nightbreed failed to work any wonders at the box office.
Spurred on by Hellraiser's success, Steve Woolley remained determined to come up with his own horror hit, a British equivalent of The Evil Dead, the film that had kickstarted Palace's fortunes in the first place. To this end he optioned my first professional screenplay, Hardware (1990), a Gothic cyberpunk fantasy with strong lashings of gore, a project that grew out of the music video and album cover work in which I'd been engaged for the then flourishing Goth scene.
In point of fact, Hardware went into pre-production at the time when I thought I had put the movie business behind me for good. Having become embroiled with a Muslim guerrilla organization, I was about as far away from the Scala as I could possibly be, doing my bit to help the mujahedin to fight the communists in Afghanistan. I had just crossed the border back to Pakistan in order to get medical attention for one of my companions who had been wounded in the battle for Jallalabad when I found myself collared by the anxious producers and returned to England to start shooting my first feature as a director. Most people undergo a few years of counselling after living through similar experiences but I found myself acting out my combat psychosis on a movie set instead, with a tantalizing array of explosives and lethal-looking action props at my disposal.
Jo-Anne Sellar was chosen as Hardware's producer, reinforcing the link with the Scala, whose programming had by then taken over by Jane Giles. Jo-Anne was determined to strut her stuff and although the material was eventually much softened by the understandably nervous backers, the complete feature still managed to get an X-rating in the United States, a classification that made it effectively impossible to distribute commercially without further cuts.
In keeping with an honourable Scala tradition, Jo-Anne and I hit the daytime chat show circuit, campaigning for changes in the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)'s rating systems and generally doing our best to get up the establishment's collective nose. Hardware premiered at Cannes to glowing notices and the Scala crew and I partied the night away on the decks of a Russian research vessel anchored just offshore, berthed between [Roman] Polanski's galleon from Pirates (1986) and an American aircraft carrier.
Abandoning ship just before dawn I tried to go for a spin on a power boat with one of the producers of Hellraiser and two young actresses from Letter to Brezhnev (1985), only to run out of gas and find ourselves drifting slowly but steadily out to sea. The 1980's were over, the Berlin Wall had come down and the wave we'd been cresting was about to dry up.
Although never quite the hit that Steve had wanted, Hardware still performed extraordinarily well for its budjet of well under £1m, grossing enough to keep Palace afloat through a particularly lean season, the year of David Leland's The Big Man, Neil Jordan's The Miracle, The Pope Must Die and two Lenny Henry comedies.
Initially I had expected other production companies to follow Hardware's lead, thus opening the way for a new generation of British genre directors and proving once and for all that horror material could be profitably produced in the United Kingdom. The signs, however, weren't particularly encouraging, especially if I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle (1990), a would-be black comedy starring a lost-looking Michael Elphick, and Beyond Bedlam (1992), a strident and unconvincing serial killer fantasy, were anything to go by. The two films that tried to imitate Hardware most directly were, if anything, even worse. Split Second (1992) was a flabby Rutger Hauer vehicle which shared Hardware's locations but whose incoherent script, indifferent production design and gaping plot holes betrayed the lack of a strong hand at the tiller, the project having apparently had its directors fired and replaced several times in the mid-flow by disgruntled producers. Death Machine (1995), the debut feature from Steve Norrington, who had cut his teeth on the Hardware FX crew, was little better. Its plot, creature design and casting choices were virtually a carbon copy of Hardware's raw components, despite the fact that Hardware was itself born of 1980s trends started by Alien (1979), Terminator (1984) and the continuing cycle of women-in-jeopardy slasher flicks. Its thin blood depleted by inbreeding, Death Machine remains a somewhat blunt and unrewarding experience, going direct to video and effectively bringing the mini-cycle to an end.
My second feature, Dust Devil (1993), had been put into production in the rush of euphoria that followed Hardware's release, but by the time we reached post-production, the writing was already on the wall.
Palace Pictures was experiencing grave cashflow problems that exerted a heavy toll on the production and although Nik and Steve continued to choose their projects wisely, lining up The Player (1992), Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Howard's End (1991) for distribution, they found themselves hard hit by the recession, increasingly forced into a corner by Polygram and the new corporate culture which was taking control of the industry.
When Polygram reneged on a deal to buy the Palace group outright, they were left with little choice but to file for administration in May 1992, winding up the company and leaving debts outstanding all over Soho. Polygram promptly took over the entire back catalogue, as well as the films which remained unfinished, trapped along with Dust Devil in the distribution pipeline. I never saw the second half of my fee for the production was forced to pour my own funds into its completion, costing me my home and bringing me to the verge of bankcruptcy; indeed, I was still trying to finish the edit while already on the run from the bailiffs.
By winter I found myself back on the streets, spending two nights in a bus shelter in South London before taking refuge in the sanctuary only sanctuary left to me: the Scala cinema, where Jane Giles allowed me to spread my bedroll in a room above her office.
The Scala had developed some major problems of its own by then. The building's lease had expired and the unscrupulous landlord was doing his best to force out the cinema and the freaks that ran it. Furthermore, the rapidly expanding video market had eaten into the Scala's attendance, reducing audieneces to record lows; none of which was helped by the programming inevitably growing a little stale given the increasing absence of good new product.
The all-day-all-nighters had simply dried up as people preferred to abuse themselves in the privacy of their own homes, and the auditorium had fallen into greater disrepair. As the recession began to bite, so the entire area slid into decay, the darkening streets of King's Cross growing so crime-ridden that few people wanted to risk getting beaten up just to catch a creaky old horror movie in a venue that now counted rats and bad plumbing among its many attractions. Times were changing fast and there was nothing any of us could do about it.
At first we believed the video revolution would bring with it a new era in communication, an age of wider public access and unprecedented freedoms, but, instead, it brought new nightmares and old daemons in new forms. The winter of 1993-4 was one of the coldest and loneliest that I can remember, but, in the end, it was a flickering image on a CCTV camera that really brought the house down. The ultimate British horror movie turned out to be a simple thing. Just one static wide-angle shot and one location - a shopping centre on the outskirts of Liverpool - and a cast of three, their backs turned towards the camera: two children leading a toddler by the hand like friendly older brothers, the crowd flowing by obliviously, unwitting extras in an unnoticed drama.
Although there was no discernible connection between any of the events in this production and the facts of the Bulger case itself, the ominous title alone, along with the reality that an emotionally disturbed ten-year-old might have gained access to an '18' certificate film in the first place, gave the average person in the street, and, in the end, the Conservative goverment itself, an easy out, a convenient, although in fact entirely risible, 'explanation' for an otherwise unthinkable crime. The appalling abuse that at least one of the two young killers had suffered at the hands of his family was ignored as the child psychiatrists crawled out of the woodwork to pontificate at length on television chat shows, making great play of the alleged ill-effects of 'violent media' on children. Needless to say, the tabloids seized on the story with a vengeance, whipping up public hysteria once again over the so-called 'video nasties', their front pages proudly sporting images of bonfires of horror cassettes.
The Liberal Democrat MP and moral guardian David Alton skillfully rode the wave of public opinion, ably furthering his particular cause by using the Bulger case video to lobby remorselessly for even tighter state controls over video, threatening to introduce a measure which would have effectively banished most horror videos, and perhaps, indeed, all videos unsuitable for children, from the shelves of British shops.
Under the circumstances I did the only thing I could. Putting on my last surviving suit and borrowing a tie, I sallied forth from the Scala, pulling a few strings to insinuate myslef onto a parlamentary sub-committee hastily convened to debate further video censorship, and Alton's proposed measure in particulaer. I was the only film-maker present, and the only creative person, aside from Martin Amis, to appear before the sub-committee, which was otherwise composed largely of juvenile care workers and the inevitable child psychiatrists.
Knowing in advance that any argument based on the right to freedom of expression would fall on deaf ears, I realized the only chance I had of getting my message across would be by appealing to their business sense. Although anxious as ever not to be portrayed as 'soft' by the right-wing press, the Conservative goverment of John Major nonetheless recognized that even tighter controls on film and video would inevitably impact on the lower end of an industry already hard hit by the recession and struggling in a market place dominated almost exclusively by American product. It would thus be my role before this committee to present the case for the British horror film by arguing that the industry needed exploitation product such as the Hammer output and Carry On films of the past in order to support the handful of 'quality' productions that it turned out each year and to keep crews in employment while they waited around for the next E.M. Forster adaptation. Under these circumstances I believe I made my case quite eloquently.
When I was done, I noticed Lady Howe of the Broadcasting Standards Commission staring at me a little disdainfully, having no doubt earmarked me for the professional pornographer that I probably was. 'Are you a mother, Mr. Stanley?' she asked me, deadpan, as if unaware of the absurdity of the question. Of course I wasn't, and my admission of this rather obvious fact simply paved the way for the inevitable moral tirade she had been waiting all morning to get off her chest, reiterating everything Mary Whitehouse had said ten years earlier. Only this time people seemed more inclined to listen.
At one point, several glossy video catalogues were passed around as examples of the sort of sadistic filth apparently commonly available by mail order from video retailers in the United Kingdom. The various care workers and concerned parents duly shook their heads and tut-tutted as they cast their eyes over the lurid box covers, prompting Lady Howe to remark that this was exactly the sort of things that Alton's measure was designed to clean up. Regocnizing several of the retailers in question I couldn't resist the opportunity to point out that some of the titles in the catalogue were in fact silent movies such as F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1921), Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920), Benjamin Christensen's Häxän (1921) and Carl Dreyer's Vampyr (1931), films which had fallen into the public doman and which were routinely tarted up with saucy S&M-oriented covers by companies such as Nigel Wingrove's Redemption Films. Being good capitalists they were just out to make a fast buck by recycling cheap product and flogging off creaky old warehouses that had already been playing the National Film Theatre and late night television for decades. Some of the material was old enough to have run into trouble once before: in Nazi Germany, where another set of moral authoritarians and right-wing idealists had set out to clean up the 'decadent' art once and for all, a campaign that could not exactly be said to have led to a kinder of better society.
Even I realized I might have gone a little too far in drawing this last analogy. A child psychiatrist instantly shot in his feet, glaring at me as if I were the devil incarnate, the beast walking on its hind legs and come amongst them. 'Are you Jewish, Mr. Stanley?' he demaned, which I wasn't. 'Well, I happen to be Jewish,' he continued, 'and I want to tell you that you have no right invoking the spectre of the Holocaust at this table!' At this point there was such a fuss that the committee had to go into a recess, and, over tea and chocolate biscuits my sponsor, who had helped me get into this event in the first place, informed me that if I opened my mouth one more time they would have me ejected from the room. I didn't even try to say anything more after that. Like Martin Amis, who failed to utter a single comprehensible word throughout, I contented myself with observing the proceedings as the various care workers had their say and further video censorship looked increasingly inevitable.
Even outside Whitehall, however, I was hard pressed to find anyone who shared my views. The debacle also proved to be the last straw for my then girlfriend who had been around just long enough to know that things weren't about to get any better. Clearing my odds and ends forcefully from her apartment, she singled out a copy of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Dario Argento's debut feature, for personal condemnation. 'This is exactly the sort of shit I don't need in my life any more!' she spat, flinging the tainted cassette in my general direction, followed a moment later by a VHS copy of Michael Mann's flawed occult thriller The Keep (1984).
It was just one more betrayal in a whole series, but it was the one that counted most to me. We might have been mismatched as a couple but we had been together for more than ten years and, loving her as I did with all my heart, her opinion counted. And it was, it seemed, the same opinion as just about everyone else in the country at the time.
It was against this unpropitious backdrop of moral frenzy that Dust Devil finally opened, premiering at the Scala to good reviews and underwhelming audiences. It was hardly the Odeon Leicester Square but, under the circumstances, the choice of venue for Dust Devil's London run seemed oddly appropriate. Shot on location in Namibia, with American leads and a storyline that revolved around African magic, Dust Devil scarcely qualified as a British horror film at all, and, after a sputtering tour of various regional repertory houses, it found its way switly to video, poorly mastered and effectively dumped onto the market by Polygram, who had little interest in promoting the left-over title which it had inherited from Palace.
Although the limited nature of Dust Devil's release, stretching to just one print paid for out of my own pocket, left me saddened and frustrated, I would have been sadder still had I realized that it was to be the last British horror film to receive any form of theatrical release to date - and almost ten years have gone by at the time of writing.
Darklands was supposedly cursed by the Beltane Fire Society, originally set to appear in the film and yet pulling back, later getting upset about their ritual being included to the film regardless.
"[Director Julian] Richards attended a Halloween screening of Darklands at a horror festival in San Sebastian, Spain. The other guest director was Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil), an eccentric filmmaker and connoisseur of the occult who added to Richards’ paranoia by telling him that he had heard about the curse on Darklands and would use his influence in these circles to get it revoked."
Article: The Curious Case of the Film "Darklands"
New titles have sporadically surfaced over the years but crippled by poverty row budjets and Z-grade casting they have, without exception, gone direct to video. Some, like Mariano Baino's Dark Waters (1993), offered interesting location work and moody cinematography at the expense of narrative coherence, while others, like Alberto Sciamma's Killer Tongue (1996), offered nothing.
Funny Man (1994) sported an all-too-brief cameo from an ageing and increasingly under-used Christopher Lee before degenerating into typical teen-oriented old-dark-house slasher antics, while Julian Richards' staggeringly inept occult thriller Darklands (1997) attempted to transplant the all too familiar plotline of The Wicker Man (1973) to Wales. Although the undeveloped theme of collusion between pagans and right-wing authorities is undeniably a compelling one, the film wastes any potential inherent in the idea through its wooden characterization and mind-blowingly tedious exposition, failing to grasp or in any way appreciate the subtleties of a genuine tradition. Sadly, however, Darklands set the pace for the 1990's, a decade whose only genre entries amounted to amateurish efforts, home movies and fan boy fluff too impoverished or basically incompetent to reach a wider audience. In this respect, White Angel (1998), Razorblade Smile (1999) and The 13th Sign (2000) all spring to mind. Although The 13th Sign, an old-fashioned diabolists-on-the-loose movie dressed up with modish millennial trappings, does show some promise in comparision to the other horrors unleashed since the collapse of Palace Pictures, it is still a long way below the minimum standard of even the most vilified 1980s product.