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NWR Issue 109

Abertoir Tenth Anniversary Exhibition

Abertoir Tenth Anniversary ExhibitionAbertoir Tenth Anniversary exhibition is at Oriel 2, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, until 21 November

A symbiotic doubleheader highlighted this year’s Aberystwyth horror festival, Abertoir.

Vincent Price, the figurehead of twentieth-century horror, and Abertoir’s Patron Saint, is the main attraction. In a series of theatrical posters detailing his work in some of the last century’s cross-pond collaborations, Price is lauded as the stalwart presence for a genre that was as transient for its supporting casts as it was for its thematic influence.

Detailing his collaboration with Roger Corman, and beginning with his run of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, a series of posters heralds a time for cinema that tried to bring the dark fantastic to the masses despite monetary constraints, severely limited special effects and the rivalling machinations of Hollywood.

The loudest shouts are to a society uncertain of itself. Of one innocent to the ways of horror. Lurid green for ‘The City Under the Sea’ (1965) pushes the otherworldliness to one of pastiche. Titles screaming of terror and disgust are signposted attractions for ‘Cry of The Banshee’ (1970), alongside the mix of revenge and macabre Frankenstein body-horror in ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ (1971).

The graphics reflect the style of English cinema at the time, notably the successful Carry On movies and the Sexploitation genre. Price’s profile appears everywhere, intercut with stills, themselves dubious declarations of honesty, but nevertheless able to attract an audience. It is not difficult to see the birth of the practice of the modern-day trailer, the sole inclusion of the ‘highpoints’, in an effort to attract the current public.

Later inclusion of horror elites Peter Cushing and Chris Lee alongside Price indicate a genre to shift away from plot towards star power, the poster for ‘House of the Long Shadows’ (1983) being little more than an advert for the actors in question. Anglophile tastes finally saw a jump from pastiche to parody in the hideously day-glow ‘Bloodbath at the House of Death’ (1984), a movie whose only purpose was as a vehicle for Kenny Everett.

The second half of the exhibition sees a continuation of the homage to cult cinema, with a presentation of some iconic movies of the last sixty years by Arrow Video, and their two resident artists, Graham Humphreys and Giles Vranckx. Dealing exclusively in cult titles, Arrow commissions specific artwork to accompany each title upon release. Given the permission to adapt classic material with a contemporary aesthetic, the titles emerge with a twenty-first-century clarity; still maintaining the savage focus of the original tale, but now with extra juice on top of the original shock-value.

Such iconic titles as ‘Hellraiser’ (1987) use the approach of a portrait of the Pinhead, the unquestioned heart of the franchise, as a subtle yet powerful understatement of a well-known darkness; a simple look, not out of place lined up next to Cronenberg’s disturbing ‘Videodrome’ (1983) poster, itself compressing the image of the static television screen and the provocative woman with radically different gels, making an already uncomfortable scene even more disturbingly unbalanced.

Each individual piece feels transformed, often now containing more substance than their original counterpart. The washed-out tones of Pam Greer in ‘Coffy’ (1973), the white background and multiple characters sharing centre stage (a prevalent technique for Blaxploitation films of the decade), is obliterated in favour of a blood-red backdrop, Greer herself toting her shotgun and leaving no doubt over the nature of the film and the attitude behind it.

A personal favourite of the exhibition was the inclusion of Dario Argento’s work. The Italian maestro seems tailor-made for Arrow’s treatment, specifically the use of oversaturation of colour together with the graphic intent, both trademarks in the films themselves at the time, as well as their advertising.

Finally we close the circle with Price himself, the 'House of Usher' star stares back at us, silver hair peaked and blue eye clear despite the macabre present all around him. His patronage is deserving of this, a very European mix of cult cinema and classic scares.

Devi Boulton is a postgraduate candidate in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University

Abertoir festival runs at Aberystwyth Arts Centre from 10-15 November, festival pass costs £65 although early bird discount prices are available. The festival tours for a day to Chapter Arts Centre on Halloween, 31 October


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