In an age over-saturated with slick American teen drama series with a supernatural theme – many still characterised by the enduring influence of BUFFY and all of them hoping to be as long running as SUPERNATURAL – HEARTLESS is a distinctively Danish take on the form. Played commendably straight and without the smart-arse, self-aware humour that tends to dominate its U.S. equivalents, it’s an absorbing, if sometimes ponderous, eight-episode serial that has scope for further seasons.
In the early going of episode one, we witness photogenic teen twins Sofie (Julie Zangenberg) and Sebastian (Sebastian Jessen) luring and feeding in an almost vampiric fashion from an unfortunate young man in a nightclub who, as a result of their necessary act, promptly bursts into flames. The siblings have to feed on the life force of other people in order to survive and fatal consequences result if their feeding reaches a certain level. Sebastian, the more sensitive of the duo, wrestles with his own conscience of their activities, and together the twins set out to find out who and what they really are. They revisit the orphanage from which they originally ran away as infants, and discover that their mother attended an ultra-strict, rural boarding school. Joining as second year students, they learn about the dark history of the school itself – with the sadistic modern hierarchy carrying on old traditions of persecution and torture - and its inextricable links to their own bloodline.
Shot in muted tones and colours with the central school permanently enshrouded by mist, HEARTLESS is an atmospheric series built around a premise that inevitably echoes significant earlier American genre works. Sebastian (who tortuously reins in his need to feed wherever possible) gets the come-on from various girls at the school but his perfectly normal lustiness blurs with the unavoidable needs of his monstrous self when aroused, a la CAT PEOPLE. (The notion of a tortured, handsome male lead unable to fulfil romantic relationships due to the threat he poses, is of course, a throwback to BUFFY and ANGEL). The concept of family members with a desperate compulsion to feed on humans and a peculiarly incestuous relationship with each other has echoes of Stephen King’s far sillier SLEEPWALKERS. There are also CARRIE-inspired sub-plots involving the telekinetic powers of key secondary characters.
It could very easily be reincarnated as a generic, slick U.S. series, but the execution here is very Scandinavian. The tone is sombre and understated, with an underlying erotic charge and a real effort to minimise FX and melodrama in favour of a realistic approach to the potentially outlandish material. The backstory, including flashbacks to 17th century witch-hunts linked to the school principal’s three daughters, is effectively integrated into the contemporary narrative, and the performances are strong all round: the two leads are striking. For those that crave such things, there are occasional intrusions of predictably bad CGI fire and some fleeting, gratuitous shower-room nudity, but HEARTLESS has a beguiling style of its own, even when retreading age-old plot threads like the old “Only love can break the curse…” chestnut that we have seen in sundry earlier genre projects.
HALLOWEEN HORRORS: The 13 most terrifying horror film characters ever
Halloween is here again and what better time to celebrate the 13 most frightening vampires, monsters and madmen to appear in horror films and TV shows – and which might well be knocking on your door on the night of October 31st!
Diana in Lights Out - This year’s horror hit, based on an acclaimed short film with millions of views on YouTube, features a nasty nightcrawler called Diana, who creeps towards her victims in the dark. It is nerve-shredding stuff. So whatever you do this Halloween, keep the lights on.
Watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOz8W0rs7bA
Jason Voorhees in Friday 13th - If you go down to the woods today… watch out for Jason, the hockey-masked maniac with a penchant for killing campers. So far, there have been a dozen films featuring Jason. The original, from 1980, features the mother of all twist endings. See it, and you won’t sleep for a week.
The devil in The Exorcist - There’s no point trying to keep the devil out – he’s already inside! In 1973’s box office smash The Exorcist, arguably one of the most frightening films ever made, teenager Regan (Linda Blair), is possessed by an unimaginable evil, which turns her from a sweet girl into a foul-mouthed, violent monster whose head spins round 360 degrees.
Watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyW5YXDcIGs
Jack Torrance in The Shining - If you hear someone shouting “Here’s Johnny!” on the other side of the door, for God’s sake don’t let them in. In fact, you might not have a choice – ax wielding Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson), driven mad by the hotel Overlook in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, will probably just hack his way in anyway.
Watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tcA34NfJIU
The gremlins in…. Gremlins - These furry pets might look cute, but break one of the three cardinal rules – feeding them after midnight, for example – and they turn into diabolical critters capable of terrible mayhem. Do not, repeat do not, open the door to the gremlins. Bad things will happen, as is evidenced when a dear old lady greets some carol singers on her doorstep in the 1984 film.
Watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LssHNQVY88E
Radioactive ant in Them! - The worst that you can expect from ants are that they’ll try and steal a sandwich from your picnic, right? Wrong. As this classic 1954 horror film shows, if you are going to do atomic testing in the desert, make sure you don’t turn little ants into giant radioactive monsters.
Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys - Santa Carla, a small coastal town in America, has a peculiar problem: it is being plagued by a gang of young vampires, led by the charismatic and evil David. “You never grow old, and you never die,” David says, trying to tempt another mere mortal to become one of them. And it is tempting: the gang ride motorbikes, listen to rock music and generally seem to have a great time. As the tagline for the film says, “It’s fun being a vampire. Watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4Yu5x1m-3
Bill Wilkins in The Conjuring 2 - A young girl in a North London suburb is terrorised by the spirit of an old man, Bill Wilkins – time to send for paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. What makes this year’s hit sequel all the more terrifying is that it was based on a true story. Sweet dreams. Watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHw32DSTIvY
Sam in Trick ‘r Treat - This underrated horror film from 2007 and a FrightFest discovery, has gained a cult following since its release, and makes the perfect Halloween film. It features four different Halloween set stories, all connected by Sam, a child wearing orange pyjamas and a sack mask over his head. If you hear some kids yelling ‘trick ‘r treat’, and you open the door and see Sam, shut the door, lock it, hide behind the sofa, and pray. Watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dhgwt2uM6Ho
Vampire in Salem’s Lot - This fanged ghoul, that caused many a childhood nightmare when Salem’s Lot was first broadcast in TV in 1979, was inspired by one of the very first horror films, Nosferatu, is still guaranteed to send shivers down the spine. The scene where Danny Glick visits his friend – by floating outside his window – is a truly chilling moment.
Pennywise in Stephen King’s It - Tim Curry plays the screen’s most horrible clown, Pennywise, in this truly scary adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, where a group of adults return to their hometown to defeat this evil apparition once and for all. Remember, next time you see a creepy looking clown peering out of a drain, and offering you your wildest dreams, just say “NOOOOOO!!!!!!!”
The Toy Clown in Poltergeist - Take one look at the toy clown in the superb 1982 horror chiller, and you can tell something is not quite right. Add to that the fact it seems to move around the room of its own accord. If I were a parent I’d take it straight back to Toys R Us and change it for a Power Ranger or something. Watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVX1xItZAOo
The doll in Annabelle - What could possibly go wrong, having the blood of a Satanist dripped onto your elegant Victorian doll during a home invasion. Plenty! A couple of handy hints – throw out the creepy old doll. And don’t watch this film alone. Watch out for the sequel next year. Watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xabuZwG3XyM
All these titles are available from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The Shining – Extended Cut, is out on Blu-Ray now. Lights Out is released by Warner Brothers Home Entertainment on December 12.