Archive for November, 2010

US Summer Camp Movies


Summer camps are an American institution, originating in the late 19th century as a new generation of educators, social welfare professionals, organisations and motivated independents sought to create an environment for children’s development away from the corrupting influence of the growing cities of the north-eastern states. From those earliest days, a number of themes can be traced which have remained central to the summer camp project:

  • The provision of a rural environment to bring children closer to nature, which is deemed beneficial both to health and to appreciation of the natural world.
  • The fostering of a sense of independence in children and group dynamics such as teamwork, sociability and empathy for others.
  • Gender-specific activity which reinforce social roles and an early environment for contact between the sexes in the form of co-education camps and arranged evenings between single-sex camps.
  • A forum where inter-generational relationships can be established and tested, outside of the parental home and school environment. Most summer camps have a carefully structured hierarchy from campers of different ages, counsellors-in-training (CITs), counsellors, staff members and directors/owners.


Each of these themes are present in the large number of films set at summer camps, especially in the commercial films made popular in the horror genre, by the success of Friday the 13th (1980), and the comedy genre, by the success of Meatballs (1979)1. This essay will attempt to delineate the themes described above as they are developed in these films and comment on why films were made in these genres.

Leslie Paris, in her history of the American Summer Camp – Children’s Nature – places the start of the movement in 1881, with Ernest Balch’s foundation of a camp for older boys on an island on Squam Lake in New Hampshire. The motives she describes are illustrative of the way that themes central to the American Summer Camp movement were present from these first steps:

To discover and take possession of an island … was to lay claim to one of the central parables of American history: the story of virtuous pioneers, guided by manifest destiny, who forged new communities on virgin soil … Many wilderness enthusiasts had grown up on farms or in small towns and they bemoaned the gradual loss of a farming culture … camping beckoned as a means of recapturing, however briefly, the early pioneers’ bravery and independence. 2

The pioneer spirit is raised as the model for virtue, bravery, independence and Godliness. The act of conquering “virgin soil” is seen as the testing ground for manliness and this was presented by early practitioners as an antidote to the over-civilising, feminising effect of city life. The role that exposure to camping could play in the adolescent years of children, especially boys, was seen as crucial by early figures such as Balch:

the founders of the first children’s summer camps translated these antimodern anxieties into youth-specific terms. Camp Chocorua, one of the first American summer camps, represented the early industry’s key themes: a manufactured peer group of older boys gathered under men’s guidance for outdoor recreation, health and physical activity, and character development … designed to make better citizens of boys.3

That summer camps were seen both as a means to extract children from “unhealthy” urban environments and prepare them to become “better citizens” illustrates the paradoxical way that camp founders viewed the civilised, industrial society developing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Long-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, in his autobiographical book on his summer camp experiences, wrote that ‘[c]amp taught me a lot of little things, and the experiences accumulated into some big “stuff,” stuff that builds backbone and teaches lessons that keep popping up in adulthood.’4 So while camp is seen as a healthy escape from the pressures of modern, urban life it simultaneously develops the characteristics which allow one to succeed in just that milieu. Camp activities such as team sports, overnight camping expeditions and creative activities like putting on a parent’s show are central in fostering social skills, independence and leadership seen as crucial for success in adulthood, particularly in the workplace.

Similarly, the steady introduction of girls to the camp movement – through dedicated girls’ camps and co-educational establishments – meant that camp also taught children how to behave with the opposite sex, through adult-supervised dances and other events. These activities could be a source of joyful experiences – author Josh Wolk remembers, ‘I … had my first kiss at a dance with a neighbouring girls’ camp. Everything I couldn’t get during the school year, I got at Eastwind.”5 Alternatively, they could be a source of extreme pain and embarrassment, as recorded by Eric Simonoff: ‘My wife … has heard many many stories from my Camp Harlam days and now refers to it only as Jewish Sex Camp, as its all but stated purpose was to acclimate young Jews to the idea of marrying other Jews, by means of coed campouts, enforced Saturday socials, and a heavy emphasis on pairing off.’6 Aside from the awkwardness of these proscribed events, the risk of being trapped all summer in an unrequited relationship was a concern for young campers such as Mindy Schneider, who dedicated one whole summer to discovering ‘a way to make Kenny notice me’.7

Helping young campers navigate these opportunities for pleasure or pain was a highly-structured hierarchy of authority, with CITs, counsellors, adult staff members and the camp directors tasked with protecting, guiding and educating children for up to eight weeks of summer vacation. Many of the senior staff would have attended the same camp as children and, as such, were sources of stories, traditions and behaviours which provided a sense of continuity and tradition which encouraged a sense of ownership between campers and the camp itself. Directors often tried to extend this sense of place and history beyond the formation of the camp by co-opting names and rituals evoking Native Americans. In seeking to recreate a pioneer past and co-opting the nomenclature and ritual of the natives the summer camp project has some inherent moral and historical paradoxes.

Released in 1979, Meatballs is set in a typical co-educational summer camp of the period: campers of a variety of ages living in wooden cabins surrounding a lake, a hierarchy of counsellors and staff members, daily sports and craft activities, etc. The film focuses on two figures – an early teenage camper called Rudy and the head staff member, Tripper, played by former Saturday Night Live comic Bill Murray, in his first film role. The film contrasts Tripper’s easy-going, comic but authoritative personality with Rudy’s shy, insecure and withdrawn persona. Rudy is shown arriving at the camp buses, saying goodbye to his father and is obviously reluctant to spend summer at camp. When the buses arrive, Rudy is seen sitting alone on his suitcase and it is Tripper who begins to draw the boy out of his shell, greeting him with, ‘Ah, you must be that small, depressed boy we ordered!’ Though the film sets a template for the many summer camp films which followed by being largely made up of a serious of loosely-connected sketches8, the relationship between Tripper and Rudy remains central. Despite Tripper taking the time to personally introduce him to his cabin mates – ‘Watch this one – he’s done time for car theft!’ he jokes with the cabin counsellor – he is bullied and ignored by his peers and later has to be prevented from leaving camp by Tripper, who offers him a personal guarantee of protection. In an illustration of the central camp philosophy that physical activity leads not just to health but self-esteem and independence, it’s through encouraging Rudy’s natural talent for cross-country running that Tripper begins to draw him out of his shell. This sets up the film’s finale as Rudy defeats a bigger, stronger and older member of a rival camp to win the end-of-season ‘Camp Olympics’. Again, the somewhat paradoxical camp creed that success is achieved through a rejection of modern, urban ideals – the rival camp has a strict, regimented dress code, exhibit ultra-competitive behaviour and is more expensive – but remains measured by them. In the end, though taking part is seen as good, winning is important – even to the geeky underdogs of Camp North Star.

Meatballs is fairly typical for a summer camp film (regardless of genre) in including a scene where a senior member of staff recounts a traditional horror tale at night around the camp fire – in this case, the common urban legend concerning a hook-handed killer and a young couple in a car on “lover’s lane”. These stories perform a narrative function in the horror genre – they provide back-story and foreshadow later events – but their function in an actual summer camp setting points to other levels of interpretation. The stories operate as a “cautionary tale”, usually advising young adults to stay away from vices such as drugs, alcohol and – especially – sex; it’s a much commented-on feature of horror genres such as the slasher film that sex equals death9. However, when we pay closer attention to the status of the teller and the audience a reading of the campfire story with greater relevance to the summer camp project emerges. The tale is told by either the camp director – see Madman (1982) or Happy Campers (2001) – or a senior counsellor or staff member – for example, in The Burning (1980) or Meatballs. The audience is made up of groups lower in the camp hierarchy – counsellors, CITs and campers. These stories, told on the threshold of night, between civilisation and the wild, to an audience in an established stratum of responsibility, act to reinforce the rules and structure of the community. They tell campers what can go wrong if they don’t respect nature and obey the camp rules; they tell those tasked with the care of the flock what can go wrong if they neglect their roles. In this sense they act like the classic tale of the boy who cried wolf10; they stress that, no matter how the camp project works to encourage a sense of play and fun, its placement on the edge of civilisation requires a sense of responsibility.

Friday the 13th (1980), an enormously successful independent production riding the coattails of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1979), begins with such a cautionary tale. Two camp counsellors, who should be overseeing a group of swimming campers, sneak off to make out in one of the camp buildings. A child drowns and they are attacked and killed by an unseen assailant. Twenty-two years later a group of counsellors who are preparing the camp to reopen fall prey to something or somebody in the woods. The film’s core idea has the brevity and simplicity of a cautionary folk tale, which may explain its success in the face of justified criticism concerning the paucity of its script and production values. The events of the opening scene are repeated within the narrative in the form of a cautionary tale, with several of the counsellors warned-off from approaching the camp by members of the surrounding community. This has parallels with the kind of real-world summer camp legends which function to keep campers in line, such as the one told to Thomas Adler when homesick on his first trip to summer camp:

My mind was telling me that I could probably plan an escape, and no one would find out I was missing for a couple of hours – except the Bulk. I mentioned it to him and he said, “Last year two boys decided they were Lewis and Clark and tried to get away. They blazed a trail through the camp woods and ended up at the fire circle on the far west side of camp. They were way past frightened when their counsellor finally found them, and that was the end of it” … At that point I realised it was too complicated to try to escape.11

Simple tales like this, whether factual or not, become legendary in the telling, both over time and through the authority of the teller and the setting, and are effective in reinforcing rules and behaviours in a non-dogmatic manner. The lesson from Friday the 13th, that two kids abdicated their responsibility to do something prohibited, that someone vulnerable suffered as a result, and that now everyone in the same position is fair game for vengeance, would have played well to a target audience of teens, many of whom would have attended summer camp and may have been counsellors-in-training themselves. Similarly, Madman begins with an act of irresponsibility which has devastating consequences. Beside the traditional evening camp fire, owner Max tells the story of a local farmer by the name of Marz who killed his family and is rumoured to still wander the woods. He recounts that anyone calling the name of “Madman Marz” will bring the farmer hunting, with predictable results, as a young counsellor does just that. What is intended as a cautionary tale to keep kids out of the woods instead prompts actions which bring the wrath of untamed nature down on all. It’s also interesting to note that the female counsellors also criticise Max over the story as some of the younger campers are frightened and upset by the story. There is a fine line between warning children away from potential threats and traumatising them, and the camp fireside story ritual treads this as carefully as horror films do in the culture at large – performing a function, yet inspiring criticism and censure.

Camp legends, in the form of stories, are reinforced by nomenclature and ritual which are designed to give the camp historical continuity. It is striking how the camp movement appropriated Native American Indian names for camp grounds and rituals for adaptation into activities. This was a feature of early camps such as the girl’s camp established by Mary Jobe in 1916, where the end of the summer season was marked by “The Passing of the Pequots”, an Indian pageant, with the girls dressed as Indian squaws. The alignment with Native peoples and rituals is seen as marking the summer camp project as external to the civilised, urban world and part of the “natural” world:

a degree of “primitive” cross-racial play, albeit temporary and contained, was at many white-only camps central to the community experience. Having effected a retreat from heterogeneous and increasingly multiracial urban centres, camp communities turned back with desire to images of darkness. Like the jokes, songs, nicknames and special colors that were central to camp life, racial “outsiders” helped to create a sense of being inside.12

The contact with Native American people and ritual has remained to the present day: Thomas Adler describes how an Indian chief called Dea Quay visited his summer camp and led the campers in “a tribal chant”13. Interestingly, Adler comments how he would have been “bitter had [he] been Dea Quay”14, as he reflects on the Indian’s stories of his ancestors, who lived on the land surrounding the camp for hundreds of years. Again, there is a tension in the camp project between civilisation and nature and the notions of what is good or appropriate in either. The ideological clash is played out in several summer camp comedies in the form of a threat to an established camp, usually codified as underdog by un-athletic, “nerdy” campers or camp owners approaching financial ruin.

In Ernest Goes to Camp (1987) – part of the long-running series based on the character created by comic Jim Varney – camp handyman Ernest is given the chance to become a counsellor if he looks after a group of kids on release from a juvenile centre. The children are largely Hispanic and black in what appears to be otherwise an all-white camp and they are further codified as “urban” by their language and defensive “streetwise” attitude to the other campers. The boys are initially dismissive of the camp and Ernest’s attempts to involve them in camp activities fail until they are involved in a craft competition where the group builds an Indian tepee. The boys are then central in an attempt to fight off the attempts of an unscrupulous developer to bulldoze the camp – having outsmarted Ernest to obtain a signature from the camp’s owner, an indian chief. It is through this battle – which references classic “cowboy-and-indian” battles involving flaming arrows and improvised tomahawks – that the boys integrate with the rest of the campers; the boys are unified in their defence of the natural world against the unchecked progress of urbanisation. This kind of drama which co-opts and reinforces themes central to the summer camp project would seem heavy-handed in a non-comic context. Ernest Goes to Camp can deliver a subtle message about integration and the importance of tradition while amusing its audience with slapstick.

In much the same manner, Oddballs (1984) features a group of teenage boy campers working to uncover an attempt by the owner of the neighbouring upscale girls’ camp to force the owner to sell, while planning to turn the land over to developers of a shopping mall. Much of the running time, however, is spent on the comic potential of the boys’ attempts to get to the girls’ camp, with one attempt to row across the lake separating the camps ending in disaster. An arranged evening provides a better opportunity, but is met with a similar comic lack of success, with one character’s attempt to appear sophisticated with pidgin French exposed by a fluently Francophone girl camper15. As previously noted, these kinds of awkward moments between the sexes would have resonated with an audience with experience of actual summer camps, and it is in the comedy genre that this theme is exploited most strongly. However, in the horror film Sleepaway Camp (1983), the issues surrounding gender are foreground in an extraordinary manner. The film begins with a tragic event where a man and his two children are hit by a speedboat – the father and his son are killed and his daughter, Angela, is sent to live with an aunt. Eight years later, Angela is sent to the same summer camp as her aunt’s son, Ricky, and a series of deaths take place, with Angela revealed as the killer. This setup is fairly consistent with the slasher film template, but the film is given a further psycho-sexual twist by the revelation that Angela is actually Peter, her brother, presumed killed in the opening scene, and has been raised as a girl by her mentally-unstable aunt16. Angela’s true nature is subtly foreshadowed in the scene where her aunt – a Doctor – provides her and Ricky with certificates of fitness to give to the camp nurse, exempting them from the “physical”, a long-established feature of camp life:

Children’s inculcation into camps’ body-focused culture began when they underwent precamp physicals… designed primarily to keep ill and potentially contagious children out of camps, where they might put others at risk…. They undressed in single-sex groups, wrapped themselves in sheets, and stood in line with many others until it was their turn to have their noses, throats, ears, teeth, chests, hearts, skin, and feet examined.17

Angela is awkward and shy and is mercilessly bullied by the girls in her cabin and the campers at large. Much of the teasing is of a sexual nature, as when Judy wonders aloud why Angela “never showers with the rest of us. What has she got to hide?!” However, her cousin’s best camp friend Paul develops a crush on her and begins a tentative relationship which, while prompting Angela to smile and talk, engenders jealousy and triggers events which lead to tragedy. Putting aside Angela/Peter for a moment, the film is full of other troubled relationships: Angela’s cousin Ricky returns to summer camp to find that his “steady” from the previous summer has matured and is no longer interested in, as she says, “younger men”; camp counsellor Meg is having an affair with a camp director old enough to be her father; the chef is a predatory child abuser and the other counsellors are involved in bickering, destructive relationships. Placed against this background, the attempts by Paul to draw Angela out of her shell seem tender and wholesome and make the final reveal all the more shocking: Angela asks Paul to go skinny-dipping on the lake and is discovered with his severed head in her lap before standing to reveal herself as Peter18.

A gentler approach to the same themes is found within the later comedic drama Happy Campers (2001), which draws on A Midsummer Night’s Dream to tell the story of the relationships between a group of summer camp counsellors over the course of one summer. The central couple are Wendy, who is a overly-conscientious counsellor focused on the welfare of the campers and Wichita, who is a cynical, poetry-writing young man who is bewitched by Wendy but unable to identify with her. As their relationship ebbs and flows through the summer it has a direct impact on the campers as they are described as “the heart and soul of the camp”, a constant source of gossip for the younger children. Happy Campers dramatises this inter-generational aspect of relationships to a greater extent than other summer camp-set films, with several of the campers developing crushes and meaningful relationships with the older counsellors. Talia, an initially uncommitted and cynical counsellor, described as “our queen” by another character19, has to deal with a young female camper’s first period which, though awkward to begin with, leads to reciprocal relationship where the camper encourages her to talk about her unrequited love for Wichita. The film also reveals its distance from the more conservative 1980s by foregrounding an openly gay counsellor and a potentially closeted by-sexual female character. The gay counsellor, Jasper, has his own following amongst the campers and is approached by one young boy on the last day:

Boy: I’m gay.

Jasper: No. You’re not. You’re twelve.

Boy: Are you saying you didn’t have any gay thoughts when you were twelve.

Jasper: No, I didn’t have any sex thoughts when I was twelve.

Boy: [pause] Aren’t you glad I waited until the last day to have this conversation?

Jasper: You better believe it! Get out of here!

The film obfuscates the lines demarcating authority in the camp hierarchy by telling the story from the perspective of the counsellors, presenting them as fallible and subject to their own emotional and professional challenges. As Wendy says, “The kids had to realise that this was our vacation too.” And, when the bus is leaving and the counsellors are loudly complaining about their pay cheques one of the campers indignantly replies, “Hey! This was the best summer of my life! I love you guys!” Of course, it’s a joke (or half-joke), a dig at authority, and part of the dissolving of barriers which the film works to achieve.

Summer camps originated at roughly the same time as cinema, in the last decade of the nineteenth century, but despite several films containing scenes or references to camp20, it was not until the late 1970s that films began to emerge that were not just set at summer camp, but explored the themes central to the whole ethos of the summer camp movement. This seems curious given the massive popularity and coast-to-coast nature of summer camps from the interwar years, and the focus on films for a youth market from as early as the late 1950s. It seems that it took the emergence of a generation of younger filmmakers in the 1970s, people who had attended summer camps themselves and who were close enough to those days to want to attempt to capture the sights, sounds and spirit of camp. As Meatballs director Ivan Reitman says in his foreword to Camp Camp, a pictorial history of everyday campers’ experiences in the 70s and 80s:

I honestly believe that I would not have the life or career that I now have had I not gone to camp. It was at camp that I started my first band, acted in a play, competed in group sports, and learned that one could actually talk to members of the opposite sex… When I look back on Meatballs now … I am pleased with how honestly and joyfully it reflected my own camp experiences: from crying as a seven-year-old when my parents left me after Vistiting Day to the shivering excitement I experienced after my first kiss to the thrill of competing in Color War. All the feelings I felt during and about summer camp are woven into that movie.21

Reitman describes how everything that is good about camp life is contained within the film, and the comedy genre – particularly the brand of knockabout, “smart-alecky”22, teen-focussed comedy which emerged in the late 1970s – is perfect for capturing the sense of fun, independence and group spirit which are integral to summer camp. But, as has been stressed above, not all campers have wholly positive experiences from camp, and defining a hierarchy of authority and structuring play is also part of camp. The emergence of a youth-focused series of cautionary tales set in authentic camp environments, modern-day Brothers Grimm horror tales, makes sense as the flipside of the exuberant, “schools out” attitude of the summer camp comedy genre. That there are a number of overlaps, genre-crossbreeds and parodies23 illustrates the careful balance camp ideology played with notions such as safety/freedom, civilisation/nature and authority/independence. Playing largely to a teen audience with knowledge of, if not direct experience with, summer camps, these films accurately reflected and exploited the tears and laughter, failure and triumph, loneliness and community of summer camps – through horror and comedy.



Primary film texts

Friday the 13th (Georgetown Productions Inc., 1980)

Meatballs (Canadian Film Development Corporation, 1979)

Madman (The Legend Lives Company, 1982)

Sleepaway Camp (American Eagle, 1983)

The Burning (Filmways Pictures, 1981)

Ernest Goes to Camp (Emshell Producers, 1987)

Oddballs (unknown, 1984)

Happy Campers (DiNovi Pictures, 2001)



Leslie Paris, Children’s Nature, NYU Press, New York, 2008

Thomas C. Adler, Campingly Yours, 5Star Publications, Chandler Arizona, 2009

Michael D. Eisner, Camp, Warner Books, New York, 2005

Mindy Schneider, Not a Happy Camper, Grove Press, New York, 2007

Eric Simonoff (ed.), Sleepaway, Penguin, New York, 2005

Josh Wolf, Cabin Pressure, Hyperion, New York, 2007

Roger Bennett & Jules Shell, Camp Camp, Crown, New York, 2008


1 Meatballs is a Canadian production but has a number of key US personnel in front of and behind the camera, including lead actor Bill Murray and writer Harold Ramis. The film is set in a non-specific North American country and parodies this in the opening scene, where the camp is woken to the “national anthem”, a Scottish bagpipe lament.
2 Paris, Children’s Nature, pp. 17-18
3 Paris p. 18
4 Eisner, Camp, pp. xvi-xvii
5 Wolk, Cabin Pressure, p.7
6 Simonoff, Sleepaway, p. xiv
7 Schneider, Not a Happy Camper, p.54
8 This is a comic style inspired by the previous year’s Animal House (1978) and the series of college-set exploitation films of the mid-70s such as The Pom-Pom Girls (1976) and The Cheerleaders (1973).
9 The vast majority of summer camp-set horror films fit into the “slasher” genre template. A thorough and convincing analysis of the genre and its gender politics can be found in Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws.
10 Slasher films, including those in a camp setting, invariably contain one instance of false threat – where an appearance of the antagonist/monster figure is revealed to be a form of prank. This leads to a lowering of the guard for the first attack and is thus, a “cry wolf” moment.
11 Adler, Campingly Yours, p. 37
12 Paris, p. 191
13 Adler, p. 53
14 Adler, p.53
15 Again, this may be an in-joke. Despite its non-specific North American setting and absence of regional accents, Oddballs is a Canadian production.
16 Slasher films with a psycho-sexual slant display indebtedness to the Italian ‘giallo’ sub-genre, a series of thrillers made in the late 60s through to the early 80s. Specific examples of cross-dressing or cross-gender killers in the giallo include A Blade in the Dark (1983) and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970).
17 Paris, p.123
18 A brief shot which gains in impact through the necessity of super-imposing the young actresses face on a full-sized body cast: the effect is unconvincing and adds another layer to the “did I just see that?” aspect of the final twist.
19 This would seem to align Talia with Queen Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The camp director is a more explicit reference, as he is name Oberon.
20 For example, Disney’s film The Parent Trap (1961), in which identical twins – separated at birth – discover each other at summer camp and plot to reconcile their parents.
21 Bennett & Schell, Camp Camp, p.9
22 By which I mean rapid-fire, carefully-scripted dialogue akin to the “screwball” comedies of the 30s and 40s. Interestingly, one of the films made on the back of the success of Meatballs was titled Screwballs (1983).
23 These include Pandemonium (1982), Wet Hot American Summer (2001) and Cheerleader Camp (1988).

Videogames and Film

Adaptations are as old as the cinema itself. From Georges Melies’ La Voyage dans la Lune (1902) and F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) to Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight (2008), filmmakers have continually scoured other media for stories suited to the big screen. This essay focuses on the phenomenon of films based on videogames, examining the reason why these films were made, how their production was influenced by aspects of the source media and the response with which they were met.

Films based directly on specific videogame series and franchises are a relatively new phenomenon – Super Mario Bros was the first such film, released in 1993. This may seem surprising given that commercially-available videogames were introduced in 1971 (Nolan Bushnell’s Computer Space arcade machine) and that home gaming platforms such as the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment System ensured that gaming was a popular and mainstream activity from the early 80s. Films were made which responded to the general phenomenon of video gaming: Tron (1982) and The Last Starfighter (1984) featured then cutting-edge computer-enhanced graphics; WarGames (1983) merged nuclear war fears with technophobia in a story where a teenage hacker almost starts world war 3; Joysticks (1983) placed arcade culture in the context of the popular teen sex comedy genre. However, despite the production of several videogames based on popular motion pictures – including E. T. (1982, game released the same year) – individual games and game franchises were not treated to a big-screen makeover. One reason for this may be the technological crudity and narrative simplicity of early videogames. As games are primarily an interactive medium, early videogames concentrated on playability. Limitation in memory meant that many early videogames contained patterns of repeating waves (or levels), which is not conducive to story or character development. What little narrative was present generally took the form of text displayed between levels or as an introduction (or “attract sequences” displayed between playing sessions). Despite this, the popularity of games led to a plethora marketing spin-offs and some characters did make an appearance on the small screen – Namco’s Pac-Man (1980) videogame was adapted into an animated series which ran from 1982-84. This activity, combined with the adaptation of other properties seen as appealing to a youth audience such as Kevin Eastman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1984) comic, adapted in 1990 and The Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, adapted in 1987, meant that – in economic terms at least – a film version of a videogame property was inevitable.

If it was only a matter of time until the commercial prospects for a direct videogame-to-film adaptation was produced it is perhaps also inevitable that the subject would be the most successful videogame. Super Mario Bros (1983), a co-production between videogame software and hardware publisher Nintendo, Cinergi Pictures and Allied Filmmakers, is based on the videogame franchise of the same name, a series of games beginning with Donkey Kong (1981) which have together sold 152 million copies worldwide[1]. The world of the Mario games has evolved over time but at the time of the film’s production the games were relatively primitive – Mario Bros (1983) is a simple platform game which requires the player – playing as either Mario or Luigi, his brother – to jump across platforms and onto enemies to defeat them. The film adaptation includes several elements which are present in the game series to this point and some from the subsequent entry, but understandable liberties are taken with the source material to allow a credible story to be constructed. In a more general sense, the film is more recognisable as a “videogame film” in its use of advanced (for the time) visual effects, elaborate sets and non-stop action. In this very first videogame adaptation we can see the elements which have come to characterise not just film adaptations of games, but a general critical observation of modern films of a certain genre (usually action films) to be “like a videogame”. This comment is usually a negative one and refers to excessive CGI, fast editing patterns and over-produced settings as pandering to an audience (usually young) who suffer from low-attention spans, crave violent entertainment and shun character and narrative development as boring. This tendency increased in subsequent videogame adaptations, with a wave of films based on videogames in the popular “fighting” game genre: Double Dragon (1994), Street Fighter (1994), Mortal Kombat (1995) and its sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997). These games, whose characterisation extends little beyond costume and contain no more narrative than the progression to a series of “boss” characters, were – and, still are – enormously popular, but contain a paucity film-like assets useful for adaptation. Certainly, from a critical point-of-view the films were seen as no more than an attempt to cash-in on a property which had a substantial in-built audience of a certain key demographic. A glance at scores for these films on movie review sites such as also shows that ordinary viewers have tended to assign low ratings, with only the first Mortal Kombat film achieving a score of more than five out of ten. Financially, the films follow a similar pattern with Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter making a substantial profit and the other either making marginal profits or losing money. Mortal Kombat was the first visible success for a videogame adaptation, spending three weeks at number one in the US box office charts. That its more generously budgeted sequel made substantially less than 50% of its box office and was followed two years later by the lamentable performance of Chris Robert’s Wing Commander seems to have halted production of more videogame adaptations until the new millennium.

Until the release of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2001, videogame adaptations were taken from long-running game franchises designed for and running on primitive 8- and 16-bit computer hardware. The release of Sony’s Playstation and Sega’s Saturn in 1995 marked the debut of 32-bit technology in home console gaming and sparked a revolution in the kind of gaming experiences available. The improvement in graphical capability allowed the development of immersive 3D worlds and the use of CD-ROM for storage allowed streaming video to add narrative elements, CD-quality music and greater data storage for richer game content. The success of Sony, in particular, in marketing and supporting the Playstation leads to a demographic shift in the types of people playing games:

The effect of aggressive marketing campaigns employed by Sony to promote Playstation … has been a shift in videogame market demographics with the average age of players continuing to rise year on year. From the outset the Playstation family was marketed at late teens/early twenties and the success of these strategies has contributed to a shifting demographic that must force a reconsideration of the videogame as merely a child’s toy.[2]

This type of audience demanded more mature content and a number of games were produced which were more explicit in terms of violence or sexual content, but also in terms of the literate nature of plot and characterisation. The added graphical prowess of the gaming platforms had allowed developers to make games more filmic, with a number of genres developing which exploited the ability to move in three dimensions in a game world. So, when the time came to adapt these game franchises to the medium of film, filmmakers found a richer range of film-like assets to import: fully-formed characters with recognisably human behaviour traits and ticks; game world settings which either corresponded to the real world or presented a consistent fantasy environment; original, orchestral soundtracks; action and event-driven narrative approximate to existing genre film. It is a common feature of film adaptations of the new generation of games that they have quite often handled mature themes – many of them are in the “horror” genre and, with the notable exception of the Tomb Raider films, the majority have been shot for an “R” rating.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider stands as the most successful adaptation of a videogame to date in terms of takings at the worldwide box-office. However, in terms of return on investment – it is the second most expensive videogame adaptation – it is closer to Street Fighter than Mortal Kombat. It was generally disliked by critics and the poorer performance of its sequel would appear to have put paid to further entries in the franchise and generally to big-budget videogame adaptations released by major US studios. Since the release of Tomb Raider: the Cradle of Life in 2003, videogame adaptations have tended to mid-budget, with only high-profile failure Doom breaking the $50 million mark. The most expensive videogame adaptation of all time is a special case, in that Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within (2001) is not strictly an adaptation of a videogame (the Japanese role-playing game Final Fantasy has an entirely new storyline for each entry in the series), but an entirely original story which contains themes common to its nominal source such as environmental disaster, the destructive nature of humanity and standard fantasy tropes such as the importance of honour and loyalty. Its chief link to its source material is the nature of its production – it is an entirely computer-generated film, made with the similar technology as that used in the videogame series. Though the script has come in for criticism, few reviewers were unimpressed with the cutting-edge CGI used, in particular in the lifelike character models[3]. The film was a notable commercial catastrophe, however, and remains something of a cinematic anomaly. It also caused the dissolution of its Japanese production company “Square Pictures”, a branch of the Japanese company responsible for the Final Fantasy games.

The tendency of videogames to cross national boundaries (videogame series such as Tomb Raider – developed in the UK, Final Fantasy – developed in Japan and Doom – developed in the US, are successful all over the world) has led to international co-production in film adaptations of videogames. Tomb Raider, released by major US studio Paramount was made as a co-production with a German company and benefitted from German tax laws:

Germany allows investors in German-owned film ventures to take an immediate tax deduction on their film investments, even if the film they’re investing in has not yet gone into production … unlike the tax laws in other countries, they don’t require that films be shot locally or employ local personnel. German law simply requires that the film be produced by a German company that owns its copyright and shares in its future profits … In the case of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Paramount sold the copyright to a group of German investors for $94 million through Tele-München Gruppe … Paramount then repurchased the film for $83.8 million in lease and option payments.[4]

Further budget costs were offset with the use of some British actors and locations, which allowed the production to claim tax relief, and pre-sales of the “…distribution rights in six countries where the Tomb Raider video games were a big hit with teenage boys. These pre-sales in Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain brought in another $65 million.”[5] This partly explains the desire on the part of studios to persist in making films based on videogame properties, when the evidence is that they have had variable financial and critical success. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was trendsetting in its use of German co-production – Paul W. S. Anderson’s return to the videogame adaptation genre, Resident Evil (2002), was co-produced by German company, Constantin Films. It was also shot largely in Berlin.

                         The highest profile German production company in the field of videogame adaptations is undoubtedly Boll Kino Beteiligungs GmbH & Co., whose founder Uwe Boll has written, directed and/or produced a total of nine such films as of 2010. Almost universally loathed by fans and critics[6], his films and the man himself have a high profile in videogame and genre film press because of the perceived shoddy nature of his work. Critics complain that his films are badly made, with atrocious casting, confusing scripts and badly shot and edited action scenes. Fans of the videogames he adapts complain that he shows little fidelity to their stories, characters and spirit. Boll’s films are responsible for all but one rating below 5/10 on for theatrical films based on videogames since Wing Commander in 1999[7]. Despite his films’ terrible box-office, Boll continues to make films through the same exploitation of German tax laws as those used by Paramount in the production of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Much of the criticism is centered on the financial details of production of Boll’s films, with critics alleging that Boll intentionally makes films with no consideration of quality because he is compensated for losses under the deal. [8] Boll’s films tend to do better in non-US territories and generally perform well on DVD – in fact, several of his productions have become direct-to-DVD franchises, with sequels to House of Dead, BloodRayne and Alone in the Dark all bypassing theatres. Boll has been criticized for being more of a businessman than an artist, but in interviews he seems to indicate that the difficulty in making videogame adaptations is partly down to lack of business sense on the part of property holders:

Boll believes that part of the problem with convincing Hollywood that game movies are a good idea is down to game publishers themselves. He argues that Marvel, for example, are very good at cross-promoting movies based on their properties – whereas videogame companies simply sell off the license and then forget about it. According to Boll, he’s fallen foul of this on more than one occasion. “Sega did nothing for House of the Dead, and Atari did nothing to support Alone in the Dark. They developed Alone in the Dark part 5, parallel to my movie, and then they closed the LA facility and never finished the game. And I was standing there alone in the rain with my movie…[9]

In general terms, it seems surprising – given the cross-marketing possibilities – that more direct videogame tie-ins are not developed for simultaneous release with features films based directly on videogame franchises. This practice is widespread for films not based on videogames, with recent years seeing simultaneous releases of games to coincide with theatrical release of films such as Quantum of Solace (2008) and Cars (2006). There are two potential reasons why this does not occur often occur for films based on videogames. Firstly, it is difficult to synchronize the development and release schedules of two different industries. When one property is delayed, costs are incurred in either delaying the release of the other or missing out on the marketing opportunities of a planned simultaneous release. When this takes place within a vertically-integrated media company which owns (or has a direct financial arrangement with) the film and game studios this pain can be lived with. However, this is not usually the case with films adapted from games, where the source properties tend to be made by established independent game studios. In the case highlighted by Boll, his company was ready with their adaptation of Atari’s game, but delays in the production of the game led to a loss of cross-marketing potential which he argues harmed the game. As the game was designed to introduce changes in character and setting to a long-running and popular franchise the film was criticized for not following established game franchise canon. The game appeared three years after Boll’s film, in 2008. The second reason takes the form of a high-profile cautionary tale: the disastrous reception of the videogame Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. The game was released in tandem with the feature film sequel Tomb Raider: the Cradle of Life in 2003, which opened in fourth place in the box-office charts and went on to mediocre business:

Paramount says, it’s the fault of the latest Lara Croft video game. That’s the excuse offered by Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen, who told Reuters, ”The only thing we can attribute that to is that the gamers were not happy with the latest version of the ‘Tomb Raider’ video game, which is our core audience.” As it turns out, ”Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness” has been a big seller since its release on June 20, Reuters reports, but critics have complained that the game has so many bugs that it’s nearly impossible to play. [10]

The Angel of Darkness, which has a metacritic score of 49/100, was rushed into release to coincide with Cradle of Life which exacerbated problems the development team – Core Design – were experiencing with the new Playstation 2 games console. The early days of videogame-to-film adaptation had seen the release of a number of game tie-ins, but subsequent to the Tomb Raider fiasco, Doom the movie and Doom 3 remains the only significant simultaneous videogame/film release.

                        The idea of a “core audience” is key in understanding the appeal of adapting videogames for film studios. As games are an interactive medium it can be argued that they are naturally predisposed to encourage fan participation in cross-media spin-offs and in creating their own works based on game franchise elements (what Henry Jenkins terms “participatory culture”):

Fans have always been early adapters of new media technologies; their fascination with fictional universes often inspires new forms of cultural production, ranging from costumes to fanzines and, now, digital cinema.[11]

Jenkins is referring here specifically to those fans of the universe presented in the Star Wars film franchise and fan response to it, which has led to the use of home video and computer technology for the production of their own films. It’s apparent that there is an aspect of all adaptation to film that exploits existing audience knowledge and builds hype based on expectation and imagination. This can be a double-edged sword for filmmakers; audiences have their own ideas about such things as how a character should look, sound and behave and what their environment should look like. A century of adaptations of novels, short stories and theatre, though, has largely given audiences a context to mediate and understand divergences between expectation based on their experience of original texts and the film adaptation. This is complicated by the adaptation of an interactive medium, where the nature of the narrative admits what Janet Murray calls “agency”, the ability of the audience to actively and simultaneous dictate the course of narrative cause and effect in the game world. This may take several forms, one of which is simple movement:

One form of agency … characteristic of digital environments is spatial navigation. The ability to move through virtual landscapes can be pleasurable in itself, independent of the content of the spaces.[12]

Murray states that agency works to enhance immersion in a text. In the case of spatial navigation, this is exploited by such games in the horror genre – such as the Doom series – to enhance tension by providing the audience with the tools an author uses to build suspense and anticipation. Approaching the turn in one of the dark corridors of the space station in Doom 3, the game player is entirely in control of the way he encounters potential threats – from speeding directly around, guns blazing, to carefully peeping out in a stealthy manner. Replicating these kinds of experiences in film adaptations of video games has been problematic. The film adaptation of Doom, includes a sequence filmed from the perspective of the protagonist as he patrols the Olduvai research facility, which has been overrun by creatures mutated by a virus. Production design, practical creature effects, computer effects and staging of this sequence provide a very close facsimile of watching someone play the game Doom 3, while at the same time, only serving to remind that we are watching a film. Paradoxically, the sequence works to bring the audience (or, at least, an educated audience – the “core audience”) out of the picture. A similar tactic is employed in the opening sequence of Silent Hill (2006), where the protagonist’s walk into the titular ghost town is replicated with incredible fidelity by director Christophe Gans – camera angles, production design, creature effects and narrative event all work to create an extended quote of the corresponding sequence from the first Silent Hill game, published in 1999.

                        As of 2010, it seems unlikely that there will be an end to the adaptation of successful video game franchises, with a number of titles announced as in production. Even Uwe Boll, who seemed to have been given pause by the abject failure of his largest project to date – In the Name of the King: a Dungeon Siege Tale, in 2008 – has announced further videogame-related projects. While videogames remain popular and while film studios remain focussed on certain demographics, the appeal will remain. It remains to be seen whether further development of videogames as a mature art-form will render film translation irrelevant, as advances in graphical sophistication and processing power in a new generation of gaming consoles bridge the gap between Hollywood spectacle and today’s game worlds. In a few decades we may be looking back on the phenomena of films based on video games as a brief anomaly in the history of film and videogames. 


Primary film texts

Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1993)

Street Fighter (Capcom Co. Ltd., 1994)

Mortal Kombat (New Line, 1995)

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (New Line, 1997)

Wing Commander (Carousel Picture Company, 1999)

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Mutual Film Company, 2001)

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Square Pictures, 2001)

Resident Evil (Constantin Film, 2002)

House of the Dead (Boll Kino, 2003)

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (Mutual Film Company, 2003)

Alone in the Dark (Boll Kino, 2005)

Doom (Universal, 2005)

Silent Hill (Silent Hill DCP Inc., 2006)

Dead or Alive (Constantin Film, 2006)

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (Boll Kino, 2008)


Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck, MIT Press 1997

Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture New York University Press 2006

James Newman, Videogames, Routledge 2004

[2] James Newman, Videogames, Routledge 2004, p.6

[5] Epstein, ibid.

[6] There is an online calling for Boll to sop working –

[7] The exception is Dead or Alive (2006), a Paul W. S. Anderson-produced martial arts film which attempted to replace R-rated violence with PG-13-rated fighting girls. It was a catastrophic box-office failure, but is still rated higher than any Uwe Boll film on at 4.9/10.

[10] Blame GameEntertainment Weekly, 7/29/03

[11] Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture New York University Press 2006, p.131

[12] Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck, MIT Press 1997, p.129

One of the first Spanish films to be shot in English for the international market, this first theatrical outing for director Serrador must have been an influence on Dario Argento, sharing several striking similarities with Suspiria (1977). It’s an incredibly distinctive and impressive effort in its own right, however.

A young girl and her guardian arrive at a remote French chateau – a private school for “troubled” young girls, run with more than a firm hand by a strict governess and her coterie of favoured senior students. Left to settle in, Teresa is quickly introduced to the quirks of the institution, which include a creepy handyman, the local lusty woodsman and the governess’s overprotected son Luis, who has secret relationships with several of the girls and longs for escape. When the most recent of Luis’ girlfriends disappears – presumed absconded – Teresa becomes increasingly suspicious of the governess and begins to be targetted by her favoured pupil Irene.

Governess and guardian in the greenhouse

The plot, then, is very similar to Suspiria, but in most other ways La Residencia is a very different film. It is shot in scope, but unlike Argento’s starkly lit film, Serrador and his immensely talented DoP Manuel Berenguer, give the film a subtle, pastel-textured look, which imparts a nice tonal shift to the gothic night-time scenes. The scenes set in the greenhouse, in particular, are a riot of colour.

A similar departure from Argento is the performance of the international cast who are uniformly excellent, from the experienced Lilli Palmer to Mary Maude – a minor British television actress who appears in a couple of genre films in the 1970s but otherwise seems not to have fulfilled the promise vividly shown here. As Irene – the favoured girl – she is alternately terrifying and heartbreaking, as she bullies Teresa before finding that her position doesn’t exempt her from the threat lurking in the dark corridors.


The death of Isabelle

Essentially a gothic mystery, the film does contain a couple of nasty murders, which are shot with a skill and sense of style that points to Serrador’s inate understanding of the mechanics of visual horror. Following this film’s release, he made several other genre films – most famously, Quien Puede Matar a un Nino? (1976) – but is perhaps most known in his own country for the groundbreaking TV series Historias para no Dormir which he hosted and wrote for in the manner of Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock (and, of course, Dario Argento, who presented La Porta sul Buio in 1973). The slow-motion stabbing of one of the girls in the greenhouse at night, which is intercut with blood on white roses as the soundtrack slowly slides to a halt is expertly rendered and must have been quite shocking for the time.

The governess forced to view her handiwork

The film also contains some daring sexual content, with the suggestive lesbian relationship between the governess and her charges. After one girl is punished by whipping the governess mops the blood from her back and bends over briefly to kiss the girl’s wounds. The girl later removes the smock the girls wear to protect their modesty in the communal showers and taunts the governess. There are hints that the governess has an impure relationship with her son Luis, who is himself depicted as a voyeur. The girls either submit to the advances of the governess to gain favour – as Irene has done – or content themselves with Luis or the regular visits from the local woodsman, the privilege to go to the woodshed being decided by drawing lots. As one girl meets with him, Serrador focuses in on the other girls performing needlecraft in class, their looks of boredom and frustration building with the sounds from the woodshed until one girl symbolically pricks her finger, drawing blood.

If the murders themselves were not shocking enough for 1969, the film’s ending with its mix of incest and necrophilia must have been overwhelming and it still packs a punch today. The film’s high production values, excellent camerwork and strong performances combine to convey a sense of a prestige production which little prepares the viewer for the exploitative content which follows.

A major achievement in the horror genre and a film which urgently needs a properly restored release on DVD.

Just one of many Italian rip-offs following in the wake of The Exorcist, The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, this tardy effort from occasional director Liberatore is at least enlivened by an off-kilter, almost throwaway, attitude to plot development, some nasty moments and a mildly original – and effective – final act.

Set in the rather grubby, down-at-heel Venice of Giallo a Venezia, rather than the glamarous city seen in films such as Don’t Look Now, the plot follows blind teenager Mark and his far-from-affectionate sister Christine, orphan siblings in the care of a strict and religious aunt. Christine’s boyfriend Giorgio wants her to move in, but there is no room at his sculptor’s studio for Mark, and no money to support them.

The most combustible clothing in cinema history

When the aunt is burned to death in an accident inadvertantly caused by Mark, they are sent to relatives operating a run-down hotel, who receive them with a lack of enthusiasm. Encouraging Christine’s efforts to make the hotel viable again, her uncle begins to warm to the children, but the death of his sickly wife leads him to suicide in the attic and the children are left to fend for themselves. The local priest takes a keen and slightly sinister interest in Christine, especially when a mysterious guest seduces her and she finds herself pregnant. Mark suffers from a series of visions which suggest that his sister is the focus of a Satanic cult. It seems that only Mark and Giorgio are aware of – and can stop – a sinister plot to engineer Satan’s reincarnation on Earth.

Though this is a film which contains rather too much plot for ninety minutes, what first appears as slapdash editing – with many scenes ending just as crucial lines of dialogue are delivered – contributes to a sense of psychological disorientation. With Mark as a protagonist, what first appears as a straightforward retread of The Omen, becomes something more perverse, complex and effective as his status as unreliable narrator is revealed.

The birthday party

The revalation that Christine has turned the hotel into a brothel is thrown away in a single line of a phone conversation – though, in retrospect, a plot point which may suggest Christine’s increasing corruption may have been subtlely downplayed to suggest Mark’s paranoia. Christine’s boyfriend Giorgio moves from co-conspirator in the plot against Alex, the new-born spawn of Satan, to helpless witness, chronicling the events in a diary he christens the “Gospel of Alex”. Mark’s final act is both shocking and, ultimately, futile as his true part in the plot is revealed.

Bright light and "woosh"-ing noises as Mark has a vision

There are some mis-steps which mar the film. Pino Donaggio’s score is lush and broad in scope, but the soundtrack is marred by some hideously cack-handed ‘zingers’, usually emphasising Mark’s blindness, as he stumbles into a succession of doors, windows and other characters.

The decision to name the Satan character “Dan” leads to a few unintentional giggles too, with the power of the final reveal  somewhat lessened by the prospect of mankind at the mercy of the “Son of Dan”. Renato Cestie’s performance is a little uneven too, with an occasionally whiny, unsympathetic portrayal which unbalances the film.

The refusal to fully exploit the beauty of Venice’s waterways can only be assumed to be intentional given that the film is otherwise handsomely shot – with several interior scenes displaying impressive use of lighting. The candlelit birthday party for Alex, featuring the women of the brothel dancing together wearing a succession of masks is particularly affecting.

Dan works his devilish mojo

The film doesn’t shy away from the sleaze common to Italian genre pictures of the period, with Niehaus in particular spending much of the film is various states of undress. The violence is occasionally very explicit too, but is used sparingly for maximum effect – which is certainly the case in the final scenes.

A better, more honest effort, to reply to Hollywood’s blockbuster ‘devil’ movies then. And one which has an Italian character all its own.

Ok, bear with me….

I’m reactivating this blog after an abortive initial attempt was stymied by work commitments. Hopefully, I’ll get things up and running over the next couple of days and then I’ll be aiming to update with a new review every few days.

A strange mix of hypnotic mood piece and all-out zombie movie from the people later responsible for Howard the Duck, this has long been a staple of public domain collections and early streaming sites. This review is based on the revalatory DVD from Code Red, which restores a film which relies on careful composition to its proper ratio.

A young woman travels to a remote town in search of her artist father, whose letters to her have become increasingly deranged. Arriving at his deserted beachside house, she sets off on a search which brings her into contact with an aristocratic drifter and his two female companions, the suspicious and aloof townfolk and constant reminders of her father and the bizarre circumstances of his disappearance.

Arletty wanders her father's mansion

This is a film dominated by a central location – the home of the missing father is a cavernous mansion which is both sparsely furnished and claustrophobically-decorated with a large number of murals. These paintings – several of which contain threatening figures which peer out at the viewer – play with the geometry of the locations in a Caligari-esque way, with characters passing through impossible spaces and threatening to become lost in the mise-en-scene.

These early scenes are possessed of a dream-like, deliberately-paced atmosphere which recalls similar lost-girl genre films such as Carnival of Souls. However, once Arletty encounters the drifter Thom and his two female familiars, the film encounters a series of set-pieces as the true nature of the townsfolk is revealed. Firstly, in perhaps the films most famous scene, Anitra Ford is hunted by raw meat-devouring townies in a late-night grocery store – a nightmareish scene which uses the bright, familiar setting as a spectacular counterpoint to the horror.

A late night buffet for the townsfolk

Then, the boyish Joy Bang is stranded in a cinema which gradually fills with the zombie-like denizens, who sit silently watching the film or turn to look at her with bleeding eyeballs. Both of these scenes stand alone from the main narrative and, indeed, the almost hermetically-sealed atmosphere of the mansion. The character’s are almost literally trapped in this central location and leaving it can only trigger death – or at least a living death. Arletty’s father eventually returns to tie-up the casually-developed plt strands and threaten an act of infanticide, following a bizarre scene which sees the artist smear himself in blue and red paint.

Arletty's father fails the Blue Man Group audition

Surrounded by the portentous monochromatic figures in the murals the father staggers towards Arletty as a multicoloured aberration, before she despatches him in a burst of flame. Shortly after, she mistakes Thom for one of the townspeople and stabs him in the arm – an act which dooms him to drown in the ocean as the frantically swim for safety from the rampaging population. Arletty herself is saved and delivered to the asylum from which she has told the tale in flashback. As the film ends she warns the people of the cities that the contagion is spreading as she paints in the sunshine of the asylum garden.