Thursday, 20 October 2016


Some films stay with you. Paperhouse is one such film. I remember watching it as a child and it scared the living daylights out of me. I was eleven at the time, but I used to enjoy drawing as a child and the concept was something I had often thought about. Not so much the daddy issues, my father was probably down the pub, but certainly the notion that my creations would come to life somewhere, somehow.

It wasn't until a few months back, when I was skimming through Amazon's horror back catalogue, that I rediscovered Bernard Rose's Paperhouse. The image on the DVD cover brought it all flooding back to me. There was a little girl reaching towards the sky, and in the background there was a house. Not just any house, it was the house; the image I had locked away for so many years. The perfect recreation of a child's drawing, it was deeply disturbing and fiercely unwelcoming. Just how I remembered it.

So I checked out the videos online, and sure enough, I found the original trailer. To this day that trailer still bugs me. Perhaps it's the chilling 80s horror score that kicks in from the outset. Maybe it's the sinister voice-over guy. Movie trailers just aren't the same without voice-over guys. "The fence, the gate, the house." And there it is, in all its splendour. I was right to be afraid. 

Sometimes, as a child, fears are elevated to such an extreme that they stay with you forever. A lot of people hate clowns, more so in 2016 but that's an altogether different beast. Ask a lot of people what scared them most about the 80s and they won't say BBC radio presenters, most of them will recall Stephen King's It. For me it was Grotbags, but then, I always was a little bit special.

"The door, the stairway, the boy." Yes, the boy. I remembered the boy sitting in the window. He couldn't come down the stairs because he had no legs. The girl hadn't drawn them yet. Then, on a hillside, surrounded by darkness, he appears. "It's Dad!" The young girl shouts excitedly. "Don't let him in," comes the ominous reply. That man gave me nightmares, I'm sure of it now. He probably, inadvertently, shaped my love of horror in the process but hey. "Picture yourself," says the voice-over guy one last time, "In the Paperhouse".

Bernard Rose went on to direct Candyman in 1992. That I hadn't realised. His last film was 2015's Frankenstein, starring Carrie-Ann Moss (The Matrix) and Xavier Samuel (Fury). Born on 4th August 1960, in London, England, Rose began his career by making super 8 films at the age of 9. The BBC had a amateur movie competition which he won in 1975, causing his 3 minute film to air on the BBC. 
He later worked for Jim Henson on the last season of The Muppet Show, as a gofer, in the puppet workshop. 

Candyman is the film he will most likely be remembered for, but Paperhouse deserves the same level of recognition. As with Candyman before it, categorising Paperhouse isn't that simple. In truth, come the film's supernatural conclusion, you could argue that it shouldn't be classified as a horror movie at all. Yes, it scared me as a child, and Rose certainly knows how to crank up the suspense, but in reality Paperhouse is a supernatural fantasy with horror undertones. However you want to label it, Paperhouse is an elegant, surreal and striking experience from start to finish.

Anna's adventures begin when a house she sketches comes to life in a recurring dream. Not much is known of Charlotte Burke, the young girl who played Anna, this was her one and only picture. If you check out the Facebook page for Paperhouse you will see an up to date picture of her though. Quite why she walked away from acting remains unclear, but her performance here is outstanding. Some of the other actors come across as a little stuffy, hammy even (Glenne Headly had to dub her own lines when it became clear the American actress was to play an English mum), but Burke is never less than compelling.

Bedridden with a fever, the imaginative and lonely child becomes obsessed with her drawing when she discovers that she can manipulate the course of her dreams by adding to the picture. Of course, things don't always work out the way they are planned. As Anna plunges deeper into her fantasy world, she becomes convinced that her drawings are influencing events in the real world as well, and as the thin line between real and imagined blurs, Anna comes to realise that she might be trapped within a nightmare of her own creation.

Elliott Spiers, the young boy who played Marc, is sadly no longer with us. He suffered a negative reaction to an anti-malaria medication that left him gravely ill. He never recovered, and died at a hospital in London in 1994, prior to the release of his last movie, Taxandria. The film was dedicated to his memory. His role is relatively small in Paperhouse but he brings warmth and unease to the role of Marc, especially when he insists to Anna that he is not a drawing. It would be interesting to see the film from his perspective, in which a strange young girl visits him on a daily basis, insisting he is part of her imagination. 

Paperhouse is brought to nightmarish life by Bernard Rose but he has help from a memorable musical score, which is deeply unsettling throughout. Stanley Myers receives a composer credit though his score was rejected by the producers for not having enough edge. Hans Zimmer (you may have heard of him) was working as Myers' assistant at the time and insisted that he could properly score the movie in time for its release. The rest is history.

Some films stay with you. Paperhouse is one such film. Rose successfully hoodwinks the audience into thinking they are watching a horror movie before turning the film on its head. Surreal, surprising and strangely uplifting, Paperhouse is a creepy little fantasy film, one that deserves to be remembered alongside the best of the 80s.

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