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My Favourite Horror Film: Dark Fortress

Next up in our Halloween-y series celebrating all things scary, Dark Fortress' Asvargr and Morean explain why they love The Sentinel and Possession respectively.

Long before he became the ‘Calm down, dear’ guy, Michael Winner was an acclaimed director and The Sentinel is his occult-filled horror flick from 1977 – based on the novel of the same name, released three years prior.

“The Sentinel is a little gem of occult horror and creates an exciting dark atmosphere,” says Dark Fortress guitarist Asvargr. “The plot involves a model moving into a house whose only other tenant is a blind priest. She doesn’t seem to feel well in her new surroundings, for she sleeps badly at night and is haunted by memories of her suicide attempt. She suspects that noise coming from next door must be the reason for her insomnia, so she complains to her real estate agent about her neighbours. However, the agent confirms that it’s really only her and the priest in the house.”

Starring Chris Sarandan, Ava Gardner and Martin Balsam, it also featured the likes of Jeff Goldlbum and Chris Walken who went on to much greater things. But it wasn’t just the casting Asvargr is into…

“Above all, the make-up and the blind priest, always standing at the window, ‘watching’, are what create the film’s menacing, nightmarish atmosphere. A dance with the devil, slowly building up to a brilliant climax, in which despicable scenes take place which led to a lot of discussions at the time. It’s a movie which enthralled me as a fan of 70s horror.”

On the more gruesome end of the scale is the once deemed ‘video nasty’ Possession. Although originally banned in the United Kingdom and having to be heavily edited for a Stateside release, it was released uncut in 1999. Of course, Morean was able to find a copy…

“I discovered this little-known gem of a movie many years ago in the cult section of our video store. It took me years to find it on DVD. It’s maybe not a horror film in the strict sense of the word; it’s more a relationship crisis blown up to such psychotic proportions that it turned out as one of the finest works of metaphysical horror I’ve ever seen. A woman falls in love with an octopus-like creature, and the rest is a disaster unfolding till the very end.”

Starring Sam Neill (before his Jurassic Park days) and esteemed French actress Isabelle Adjani (who won the Best Actress Award in Cannes for her performance), Possession is the tale of a couple apparently going through divorce until not everything is as it seems – which Morean engages with somewhat.

“I have often wondered why this bizarre film resonates with me,” he says “but I guess the fact that an indescribably beautiful woman becomes possessed by a tentacled monstrosity, and that her betrayed husband is changing species towards the end of the film, might have something to do with it.”

Yeah, that’ll do it.

“I have never cared for people-on-people violence, and the classic slasher films usually put me to sleep before the opening credits are finished. But the fact that blood and gore are not the central theme here, but just happen to come up during the interpersonal crisis in a most unexpected way, provided the surprise element so many movies lack – especially horror flicks.”

The distinct lack of general horror sensibilities and focus on a disintegrating relationship are perhaps what made Possession such a cult classic amongst film buffs.

“The general vibe is one of film noir-style intellectualism, paired with socialist depression and wildly drifting, enigmatic dialogue. If it wasn’t for the tentacles, I probably would not have even watched it. But like this, I applaud this unique and mysterious genre crossover. Many people would hate this film, I’m sure, but in my long tours through the swamps of mostly awful horror, this one for me stands out head and shoulders above the usual stuff.”