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BFI Gothic plan events for horror season in Cardiff

The Wicker Man

Photo: Wicker Paradise

Winter is the season of horror: the dark evenings, howling winds and cold nights lend themselves perfectly to tales of terror and the supernatural.

And this winter, fans of horror cinema have been particularly lucky.

BFI Gothic has been running since August, and there have been numerous events throughout the UK celebrating things that go bump in the night.

In Wales, special one-off screenings are being held in several atmospheric locations, including a showing of The Shining (1980) on February 27 at The Angel Hotel in Cardiff.

Horror films, it seems, hold an enduring fascination. But why does being terrified appeal to us so much?

In an interview for The Guardian, film critic Mark Kermode spoke of his early encounters with horror films: “It made me very happy to be scared. I really liked the feeling and I cherished those nightmares.”

Cherishing nightmares might be a bit much for most people, but the fascination with all things macabre is surely one that many can relate to.

Children love to listen to scary stories, and many of our most cherished fairy tales have dark currents running through them. Even in Walt Disney’s sanitised adaptations, the element of fear is crucial.

And this fascination with the frightening never really leaves us.

Ben Ewart-Dean is a filmmaker and horror fan currently running a five-week Introduction to Horror Film course at Chapter arts centre.

For him, the attraction of horror films is difficult to pin down.

“There are a variety of theories as to why horror films hold such a fascination for audiences.

“One is that the increase in heart and respiration rate horror films induce gives the viewer a kind of adrenalin rush, and another is that watching horror allows us to escape our everyday reality and indulge in a fantasy world, which allows us to live another person’s life for a bit.”

Whatever the explanation, horror franchises are big business, with blood-soaked offerings like Saw and Scream raking in millions at the box office.

These American imports grew out of the slasher films of the 1980s: gruesome, violent offerings with elements of slapstick thrown in.

And while many of them have become classics in their own right, it’s important they don’t overshadow some of the more interesting films that have evolved out of the horror genre.

The 1970s was arguably the golden decade for British horror, with films like The Wicker Man (1973) and The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) bringing terror to the countryside. Recently, movies like Kill List (2011) have given fresh life to this much-missed subgenre.

But for newcomers, Ben recommends Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) or Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), based on Henry James’s classic novella The Turn of the Screw.

“They’re not explicitly violent, but they are really scary, plus they’re both beautifully made films, regardless of genre.”

In many ways, horror is an exercise in dealing with all our darkest fears and emotions in a safe, fictional environment. But it’s also simply about having a really good time at the movies.

This winter provides the perfect opportunity to sink your teeth into a genre with bucket-loads to offer.

And if it all starts to seem a bit too much, just remember it’s only a bloody film.

For full listings for BFI Gothic events in Wales and Cardiff, go to www.bfi.org.uk.

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