The Runner

Boy Harsher’s ultimate Halloween film binge: Coen brothers neo-noir, sexy vampires and an ancient djinn in NYC
Film+TV | 29 October 2021
Above:

Possession (1981)
Directed by Andrzej Zulawski
Shown from left: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill

Boy Harsher’s fifth release isn’t your typical record, instead, the work takes the form of a musical score accompanying a short horror film written, produced and directed by the US duo. Titled The Runner and set for release January 2022, the arthouse cinematic vision is a “meta-style ‘documentary'” capturing Boy Harsher’s recording process with dark disturbances (watch the trailer below) and a pulsing soundscape, to boot.

Building anticipation, here Boy Harsher’s Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller cherry-pick their five must-watch Halloween films. Not your usual grim and gore fest, the duo’s curation includes a classic Coen brothers neo-noir thriller, Andrzej Żuławski’s story of a relationship wayyy more fucked-up than yours, and Bernard Rose’s 1991 cult classic, Candyman.

Blood Simple by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1984
What’s the matter, Ray?

This was a major film for us this year, we must’ve watched it a dozen times. It’s a beautiful, smokey neo-noir set in dusty, nowhere Texas. Completely thrilling, but doesn’t take itself too serious. Blood Simple was our main reference for The Runner, style and vibe wise, but also technically. It’s the Coen bros’ first film and it was made on a shoestring budget, so there’s some really smart, efficient filmmaking and shot design. They’re able to make a visually stunning film with a relatively minimal set-up. The score by long time Coen collaborator, Carter Burwell (his first-ever score!), is incredible too. Sexy and stark – there’s a piano riff you’ll never forget once you hear it.

Blood Simple by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1985

Possession by Andrzej Żuławski, 1981
A reallllly bad breakup.

We were lucky enough to recently (re)watch the 4K restoration of Andrzej Żuławski’s notorious film, Possession, from 1981. There is so much to say about the film, much more than we can get into – just know its reception is incredibly polarised, but we love it. The actual production was chaotic and long, and its lead, Isabella Adjani, famously stated that the process and the content left her traumatized – although it did win her best actor at Cannes.

Inspired by his divorce, Żuławski fills Possession with abject anger, terror and a primal, bizarre sexuality. Set against a very bleak, divided Berlin, the audience watches the horror of domestic cruelty, supersaturated against the grey. The deteriorating couple, played by Isabella Adjani and Sam Neil (Possession being the favourite of his films), fight, like really freak out, for the whole film. At least by now, anyone online has seen a clip of Adjani thrashing around the underground train station covered in milk, broken eggs, and eventually blood. Adjani is memorizing. Tortured by something within – which becomes a bloody reveal at the very end of the film. Żuławski utilises body horror as a means to explore tragedy and grief. And that visceral metaphor is what we want to create in our films.

Possession by Andrzej Żuławski, 1981

Near Dark by Kathryn Bigelow, 1987
Definitely don’t kiss a vampire, hello!

In high school, this was theee fantasy: being abducted by a group of very bad, but very sexy vampires. It was cool. Now certain moments fall flat, but the concept behind Near Dark is endlessly good. Given the opportunity, we would happily remake this Western horror, with of course some adjustments. The two elements that do it for us in Bigelow’s film are 1) the location and 2) the score.

Desolate Texas ranch land is the backdrop to the budding romance between a naive cowboy and the most delicate flower of a country (spoiler alert) vampire. The emphasis on the setting sun across the desert is obvious, but striking – the location plays a vibrant role. The story gets lost in the dust and violence of outlaw vampires, but it’s all very riveting. Some exceptional characters in this one, such as an unhinged performance by Bill Paxton as the young, vampire bully, Severin. Look for the psycho honky-tonk scene, which feels like a revenge on all the barflies and good ol’ boys in West Texas.

The score, an immaculate synth-driven soundscape by Tangerine Dream, is almost standalone. At times groovy with electric guitar riffs, mostly it’s very atmospheric and stark. Electronica baby. If you listen closely, you’ll definitely hear a bit of Boy Harsher in there, as we’ve often listened to this often.

Near Dark by Kathryn Bigelow, 1987

Wishmaster by Robert Kurtzman, 1997
Be careful what you wish for

This is a real sleeper classic. An ancient djinn (evil genie) is released and wreaks havoc on present-day New York by granting perverse wishes. It’s a very 90s rendition of an Edgar Allen Poe type of fable, and the film incorporates the perfect blend of camp and actual terror. The story is just a set-up for some over the top special effects; some of the best practical effects in horror. Director Bob Kurtzman would go on to focus primarily on special FX after Wishmaster, and clearly a deep horror fan, he packs the film with tons of easter eggs like cameos by Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), Tony Todd (Candyman), Ted Raimi (Army of Darkness), and Joseph Pilato (Day of the Dead) as the longshoreman who unearths the djinn from a statue by being drunk on the job. It’s also got the most ridiculous, laugh-out-loud conclusion involving Pilato’s character.

Wishmaster by Robert Kurtzman, 1997

Candyman by Bernard Rose, 1991
Hurt people … hurt people

Despite the annoying ‘white saviour complex’ theme, Bernard’s Candyman is a particular favourite. Hunting down the ultimate urban legend, Helen Lyle meets her match – a bee-infested spectre who can be called from the dead. A real relentless killer. Bernard Rose felt that horror films rely too heavily on characters’ screaming, so instead he had characters stunned by the villain, appropriately called Candyman, played in cold austerity by Tony Todd. Helen Lyle, performed by the bedroom-eyed hottie Virginia Madsen, captures the mesmerised essence perfectly. The hypnosis moments are notable: close-up, hazy, and classic Hollywood. The film is a much-watch, at least for the almost unexpected revenge at its closure. We were lucky enough to see Candyman screened on 35mm recently, and it’s inarguably beautiful. The narrative is enveloped by Phillip Glass’ score, which is brutal, assertive, and a perfect sonic accompaniment.

My two favourite production details: Madsen is actually allergic to bees, so they had to use teenage bees without developed stingers; and Todd got a 1K bonus every time he was stung, leading to an additional twenty-three thousand dollars.

Candyman by Bernard Rose, 1991

Boy Harsher’s The Runner is out in January 2022. 
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