'Literally mind-blowing' | Alice Lowe chooses her horror favourites

'Literally mind-blowing'

Alice Lowe chooses her horror favourites

Comedian and actor Alice Lowe, who has gone from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace to the bleak comedy-horror movie Prevenge has curated a collection of her favourite chillers – most of them female directed – for the horror-based streaming service Shudder.

Here she explains her eclectic choices:

Harlequin

An appealingly unique curiosity.  I was sold as soon as I knew Bowie was intended for the lead role. The message is ambiguous: either Robert Powell is a sparkly Messiah, or a conman. And the imagery is somewhere between Bergerac and Godspell.

It's based on Rasputin apparently. But I see it as more of a spangly twisted Mary Poppins. It's a strange paean to the death of the 70s. Or the death of patterned jumpsuits anyway.

Part of a film trend for psychokinesis, the film features some great period features, including psycho-humming, an evil Chinese chequer board, and binocular-view screen effects. My favourite bit is the haunted kitchen floor stain.

The Lair Of The White Worm

I'm a die-hard Ken Russell fan, so I couldn't not pick this. His imagery is nothing if not memorable. When Amanda Donohoe steps out from behind a tree in a white tricorn hat and shoulderpads, it's like I've died and gone to cobra heaven. She's a high camp Countess Dracula by way of Joan Collins. So unusual to have a woman in the predator role, and the film certainly doesn't shy away from certain of her more surprising attributes.

This film gets a bad rap, but it's clear that everyone's having a lot of fun in it. I love Ken's trademark psychedelia in the extended flashbacks and dream sequences. And there's more imagination and flare in this than any of your standard horror fare.

Some of it is entirely tongue in cheek (Capaldi's bagpipes). But it fits in perfectly for me with the canon of British pagan/folk horror such as Wicker Man, American Werewolf, Blood on Satan's Claw and Quatermass. It should also be noted for the birth of Hugh Grant's iconic hairdo. A hairdo so pervasive that even Peter Capaldi has it.

Dearest Sister

Set in Lao, this is a ghostly horror, but one that is refreshingly unflinching in the brutality of its (mainly female) characters.

To my Western sensibilities it invoked fairytale. Whether it's psycho Cinderella or the twisted Ugly Sisters I'm unsure (the leads are undeniably stunning though!). It's a psychological tale, claustrophobic and increasingly tense, as a young woman is sent to be the live-in maid to her cousin who is losing her sight.

Regardless of the uneasy eerie moments, big themes are bubbling under the surface. Female rivalry, greed, jealousy, the corruption of money, consumerism, and the tensions in Lao between rural poverty and rich Western tourism.

I loved that none of the characters are 'nice'. They're creatures of need and want, ready to take whatever opportunity for improving their own circumstance. As a viewer, your allegiances constantly hover and shift, the morality of the tale slipping out of your grasp with every twist and turn, just like Ana's eyesight. So well done.

Scanners

Probably my first Cronenberg film (seen on TV as a kid), and it's gripping and brilliant.

Again, psychic powers. I suppose a trope in horror because of its cinematic cheapness: all you have to do is film someone staring hard at someone else. But Scanners goes the whole hog, and Dick Smith's effects are literally mind-blowing.  

Patrick McGoohan is masterfully Obi-Wan-like. And Michael Ironside is Jack-Nicholson-level mesmerising and demonic. On repeat viewing, what jumps out for me is the brilliant sound design. Which I guess is an essential part of the cinematic ESP arsenal.

I think there's something very satisfying about psychic powers. It must be every nerd's fantasy that the reason you don't fit in with the other muggles is your special powers. Which means people shouldn't cross you as you might destroy them with your mind. Even if your body is puny. Cathartic viewing!

American Werewolf in London

A stone cold classic. If you haven't seen it, you're in for a treat. But one that you don't deserve, because, why the hell haven't you seen it? It's a very useful example of a successful mix of horror and comedy, and as such often toted around by me in meetings!

The transformation effects are definitive. The comedy so louchely brilliant. The pub scene sticks in the mind as iconic and still profoundly relevant for anyone currently taking a minibreak in the British countryside. And a dead best friend character? It shouldn't work but it does. Agutter is divine. She lives near me. I don't stalk her. Honest.

And the ending. They manage to get pathos in there and suddenly the whole thing feels more heavyweight than you ever expected. Just a brilliant, brilliant film. One of my all-time favourites.

American Psycho

Such a perfectly executed film, unusual in being better than the book in my humble opinion, and more and more seemingly prescient as time passes. You get the sense that Hannibal, Dexter and Wolf of Wall Street, maybe even Mad Men, owe a debt to this film, which renders a psycho cinematically palatable, nay, delectable. A film that casts horror as ice cold and illuminated rather than traditional blood red and darkness.

There's a scene in Prevenge which, without my realising it, is a homage to American Psycho, (it was more consciously influenced by The Apprentice if I'm honest. But plenty of stuff linking The Apprentice with Ellis’s novel.) A

American Psycho is a brilliant satire on the reptilian attitudes of our consumerist capitalist corporate society. Terrifying. But also an awesome comedy. Huey Lewis. Genesis. The business card scene. The scariest thing? It all feels like NOW.

Best line: 'Is that Donald Trump's car?’

Let The Right One In

I knew this would be up my street as soon as it was trailed. It has to be one of my favourite films of the last few years, and again, a classic. It has its own pace, atmosphere and memorably idiosyncratic scenes. I felt like I was still in a snow town when I came out of the cinema. Soft, yet biting. Like a marshmallow with fangs.

It's a love story that thrives on contrasts. A young boy meets an ancient vampire. Very simple. Somehow fairytale and naïve. But brutal and dark. A bittersweet romance. Hansel and Gretel with vampires.

When I think back to it, it has the same alien charm as the Man Who Fell To Earth or E.T. : Outsider reveals true self to lonely individual, lonely individual protects outsider from persecution from society. It's a nice story! After all! In fact the girl is a saviour.

Special mentions go to Demons and The Stendhal Syndrome, because it was so hard to choose.

• All of Lowe's selections can be viewed at the Shudder website, which has a free seven day trial. Prevenge is out on DVD in June. Preorder.

Published: 23 Jan 2017

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