My Top 10 Occult Movies

7 – The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

“There are no injections against the Devil”

Possession or Psychosis? Free will or doctor’s orders? Prayer or pills?

Director Scott Derrickson expertly walks the tightrope between supernatural scares and insightful drama to craft a movie that both frightens and thinks in equal measure. No mean feat in such a genre, but solid performances from Tom Wilkinson as Father Richard Moore and Laura Linney as his reluctant yet ambitious attorney add a layer of gravitas to what might otherwise have become a run-of-the-mill supernatural shocker. Jennifer Carpenter deserves a special mention for her brilliant performance in the title role. Her stomach-churning contortions and screeching profanities are a compelling contrast to the demure and modest family girl who makes her first pious appearance on screen. A challenging and far from glamourous role for an aspiring actress, and she rises to the occasion brilliantly.

Although probably a turnoff for hardcore horror fans, the sparing yet expertly imagined special effects produce their fair share of popcorn spilling shocks. This movie is a great reminder to Hollywood that sometimes less is more. Perhaps it’s the incongruous courtroom atmosphere that enables these supernatural scares to punch well above their weight as the story of Emily’s descent into darkness and death is retold through anecdote and testimony, both inside and outside the courtroom.

The storyline is further strengthened as Father Moore slowly becomes counsel to his own lawyer, warning that the darkness is already working hard to discredit both himself and the church. While initially sceptical, all her old certainties are overshadowed by doubt as she is increasingly haunted by terrifying visions herself. Although faith is still wanting, she is gradually overcome by a genuine desire to learn the truth, and to defend a man whose greatest sin was to respect the wish of a soul in his care.

Based loosely on the true and harrowing story of Annelies Michel,
The Exorcism of Emily Rose expertly drags questions of faith, free will and self-sacrifice away from the abstract orbit of the bar discussion and makes them the central pivot around which the lives and deaths of the characters revolve. This very real examination of faith and freedom is excellently expressed in the relationships between Emily and those around her. The script wisely abandons the yawningly stereotypical fundamentalist father in favour of some far more believable family and friends. Emily’s folks may have lived by the Good Book, but the scriptwriters have resisted the urge to sneer at them for it. In turn the finished movie has rewarded their self-control with a solidity which is often absent in similar works.

This is most definitely a film which captures the vexed and dishonest spirit of our age. We entrust ourselves wholly to medical science, professing blind faith in that which can possess no wisdom. We exult the sovereignty of the self, yet turn viciously on heretics when that sovereign self dissents from secular dogma. In a world where priestly robes are transformed into white coats, a man might still risk all if he crosses the Establishment. It may yet cost him his reputation, his liberty and even his life!

My Top 10 Occult Movies

8 – Lord of Illusions (1995)

“I escaped from the grave, so I have to give something to the grave in return.”

A pre Star Trek Scott Bakula stars as Harry D’Amour, Clive Barker’s occult gumshoe who’s often up to his neck in dark and dirty deeds, whether he likes it or not. When the glamorous wife of a world-class illusionist asks for his help, D’Amour finds himself pitted against the entertainment establishment, moneyed interests and a conspiracy of silence surrounding the life and death of a mysterious man known only as Nix. D’Amour is forced to conclude that he has landed in the middle of something a lot more sinister than a few artistic types playing adult Illuminati games.

As seems to be common with many such movies, Barker’s sunbleached story of the life, death and rebirth of Nix’s nihilistic cult received mixed reviews upon its release, but has quietly gained a sizeable following over the ensuing decades. Here we have another example of great work largely ignored by the entertainment establishment, only to be supported by a growing and appreciative audience. Politically speaking, films like Lord of Illusions confirm that the democratisation of opinion is alive and well.

As is so often the case with Clive Barker’s work, this movie’s greatest strength flows from its cast of well-formed and decidedly dark characters. In this world there are no good guys, and the only force which can challenge the psychotic Nix is erstwhile acolyte and confirmed anti-hero Philip Swann, the only living man to have learned at least some of his secrets. These two adepts are supported and opposed by the world-weary D’Amour, the sadistic Butterfield and the elegant yet mendacious Valentin.

Not always easy on the conscience, Lord of Illusions is a dark parody of the archetypal resurrection, of journeying beyond the veil, to return as something more than merely human. However, it also makes plain that there is no supreme arbiter of good and evil. There is only free will, and the very human failings that are exposed and multiplied once unbridled power is granted or stolen.

Visually, Lord of Illusions is a great piece of work, and the opening shots of Nix’s dusty domain wonderfully set the scene for the seemingly straightforward yet deeply profound events that follow. There are admittedly some experimental CGI shots that have not aged well, but these are more than compensated for by Barker’s skill in bringing the lawless badlands of the Mojave desert to life. A useful reminder that even the sunshine can be creepy as hell.

The cinema trailer is notable for its Dead Can Dance soundtrack, although it’s given greater prominence in the LaserDisc teaser. It’s also interesting to note that the current standard rental release has been cut, omitting original and some might say unacceptable scenes of familial murder by Nix’s acolytes as they return to the dark church to witness their insane master’s ultimate escape act.

Although not as visceral as Barker’s wildly successful Hellraiser or Candyman series, there is still enough of his trademark toe-curling body terrorism to keep the splatter gang entertained. However, his use of occult symbolism in the right places, coupled with his successful manipulation of archetypal themes mark this movie out as a cut above your average teen slasher or inverted cross shocker. Above all, this is a tale of what happens when seemingly limitless power ends up in the hands of very, very limited people.

My Top 10 Occult Movies

9 – The Keep (1983)

“You can’t stay here…no-one stays here.”

Set in the Carpathian Mountains during the Nazi occupation, The Keep follows the failing fortunes of a German patrol tasked with controlling an ageing military outpost which the outside world seems to have deliberately forgotten. This is a place untouched by time, where the locals still shiver in their beds as the ghosts of those ancient mountain passes howl through that barren and lonely landscape. A heady brew of greed, arrogance and ignorance soon reveals the Keep’s true purpose, and the real reason why its unknown builders constructed that crumbling complex inside out.

By the time the soldiers have accepted the truth it’s far too late, and they find themselves caught between an ancient darkness awakened from its slumber, and a far more recent and recognisable evil. Even the SS discover that they are way out of their league.

Like so many films of this period, Michael Mann’s archetypal tale of an ancient evil released upon the world is a feast of photographic gorgeousness and wonderfully self-indulgent direction. What could easily have been a pretty predictable monster movie is transformed into a visually stimulating story of arrogance, deceit and manipulation, all choreographed to Tangerine Dream’s notable and sought after soundtrack. Some great performances by Jurgen Prochnow, Ian McKellan and Gabriel Byrne see one of recent history’s most destructive forces staring into the abyss through a far darker and more ancient lens.

As a movie, The Keep’s great strengths are undoubtedly its cinematography and the atmospheric tension that Michael Mann builds into the film, as the conquering army finds itself both controlling and yet lost inside an ancient society governed by arcane rules and opaque tradition. It brilliantly exposes the rifts within the German security machine during that tumultuous period, and lays bare the lengths to which desperate and damned men will go for the merest hope of salvation. Also, this is a movie that doesn’t feel the need to explain everything, which leaves the viewer’s imagination so much more space to move around and explore outside the confines of the screen.

The metaphysical and philosophical message of The Keep is profound, as an ancient, knowing evil is nourished first by ignorance and then later by other, lesser evil-doers. The terror within the walls of the Keep had been powerless for centuries and held in check by the simple faith and acceptance of an unarmed and technologically backward people…but modern society always thinks it knows better.

Seemingly lost and almost forgotten for many years, The Keep has enjoyed something of a recent resurgence, now taking its rightful place alongside the other niche movies of the avid collector. Too low budget to be a blockbusting spectacular and yet too well-crafted to be dismissed as a B-movie, The Keep’s archetypal themes and impressive visual design have aged well, bestowing on the viewer the pleasing experience of watching a retro movie that doesn’t feel a hundred years old.

The Keep was constructed by those who came before us, and we can still shudder at the menace and mystery it exudes.

Watch the trailer here and enjoy another gem crammed with arcane wisdom.

My Top 10 Occult Movies

10 – The Believers (1987)

“One life is all we ask.”

A sprightly Martin Sheen plays psychologist Cal Jamison in this almost forgotten tale of dark power and ruthless ambition. The movie’s more unsettling scenes are fearlessly portrayed by Oscar winning director John Schlesinger, even though they might’ve struggled to make it past the present day’s more politicised censors.

Not for the squeamish or the easily offended, The Believers tells the story of a professional psychologist who finds himself drawn ever deeper into the shadowy, obsessively secretive worlds of Santeria and Palo Mayombe,* its even darker cousin. The themes of group loyalty and unquestioning faith are squarely interrogated by the film’s unflinching portrayal of blood sacrifice, both animal and human.

Almost as though drawn by some invisible force, Jamison finds himself inside a world hidden behind barriers of blood, custom and language, where the forces of light and darkness wage their unceasing war through Santeria’s hybrid system of African, Latin American and Catholic ritual. The result is a deliciously dark and exotic experience, where even the work of the right hand path feels somehow perilous and forbidden.

The Abrahamic theme of sacrifice through devotion are given a compelling and modern makeover as Jamison is forced to the precipice of trading his son’s soul for a future free from pain, unhappiness and doubt. All that is required for this Faustian bargain is a single life, his firstborn.

The archetypal and metaphysical strength of this movie is often lost behind the disguise of a by-the-numbers thriller, but hidden behind that facade is a deeper, more fundamental and far more disturbing narrative flow. Cal Jamison’s fate is sealed early on when he feels compelled to make a pact with the gods of Santeria in order to protect his son. Of course the father will triumph in the final reel, but a bargain is a bargain and the price must be paid. Regla de Ocha will forever cast a shadow across the life of the father, and the lives of his line.

Now sadly consigned to a few dusty VHS tapes and some short footnotes in filmographies, The Believers’ negative reviews by the great and the good have made it certain that those independent thinkers involved in its creation would make a conscious effort to forget it. Although the Eoin Sprott Studio is clearly credited for special effects, the simulated suffering of animals has probably more than played its part in this underrated film’s unusually rapid and almost contrived slide into obscurity.

This is a great shame, because although the movie features some lurid depictions of deals with the divine, the infamous cases of “Adam” and Mark Kilroy should remind us that life and art are often more closely entwined than we care to admit.

Watch the trailer here, and enjoy a movie that may not rank among the greatest ever made, but deserves a lot more respect than it’s hitherto been given.

* – Some practitioners vehemently dispute the negative perception of Palo Mayombe, claiming it is a media construction based on ignorance and misunderstanding. This is a spiritual and moral discussion, and readers must draw their own conclusions.

My Top 10 Occult Movies

Greetings to all readers, watchers and thinkers alike. After a number of requests, it’s high time I revealed which movies have influenced my thinking and my work the most. A full list would be fairly exhaustive, but I’ve whittled it down to ten firm favourites.

I possess a keen sense of the underrated, so some of my choices may seem obscure or even controversial…but I have my reasons. Join me as I celebrate and review some timeless classics, resurrect some forgotten gems and offer a new way of looking at old material.

By the way, the Exorcist is a fine and important movie in its own right, but I feel it lacks the finesse and subtlety to make my all-time playlist. Follow the blog to see what makes a Naton State favourite!

Ballooning Bill

It’s taken a while, but finally the truth is out there. After all the false pretence, official leaks and political theatre, we now know exactly what the European Union’s priorities are as far as any Brexit negotiation is concerned.

It’s all about the money…it’s always been about the money.

It has to be about the money, because the truth that dare not speak its name in polite politics is that the European Union is in fact one colossal wealth redistribution engine. Not so much a welfare state as welfare for states, and Brexit represents a de facto tax strike.

It’s still not clear exactly how much of the average UK worker’s wage packet Brussels believes it’s entitled to, but we know it’ll more than enough to keep Juncker and the rest of his unelected inner circle in comfort and cognac for the rest of their days. The fact that the EU has been obsessing about the Brexit bill being settled in advance of any trade negotiations shows just how vital the UK’s contributions are in propping up the increasingly rickety superstructure of this increasingly embattled superstate.

Only this morning the press is reporting that Poland and France have weighed in with an extra demand for still greater contributions to support the hated Common Agricultural Policy. Quelle surprise!

At first glance it would appear that the European Union is single minded in its ambition to shaft us one last time before we finally slam the door on this unhappy marriage, but that unity is just a little too polished a little too well rehearsed to be entirely authentic. Since when did all the member states agree anything in 4 months, let alone 4 minutes?

The truth is that the Brussels bureaucrats are facing an existential crisis, and they know it. One member state has already decided to quit the bloc, and the remaining twenty-seven will inevitably turn on each other and Brussels as recipients become contributors and the age of acquiescence bought with confiscated cash finally comes to an abrupt and painful end.

George Osborne was right during the referendum campaign when he said that Brexit would cause a profound economic shock…but it won’t just be for us.

This looming and inescapable crisis explains why Brussels is so insistent on treating the UK as a supplicant state rather than the union’s second largest economy.

We should get used to this kind of abuse and grandstanding, because it’ll drone on for years before we go and long after we’ve left. Once the European Union collapses under the weight of its own hubris, naturally it’s the Brexiting British who will be blamed. The next Greek debt crisis, blame Brexit. The rise of nationalism, Brexit. Conflict on the Korean peninsula, Brussels will doubtless find a way to blame Brexit for that too. Just look across the ocean to where an increasingly unhinged Hillary Clinton has blamed everything from misogyny to voter stupidity, and even some Machiavellian Russian plot to disguise her own colossal, epoch defining ineptitude and corruption. So will it be with Brexit.

The European Union may appear to be an immovable object, but the nations upon which it has imposed itself are far less interested in penalising one reluctant member state than they are with providing jobs, trade and prosperity for their own voting and taxpaying citizenry. Sooner or later, they will find themselves in direct conflict with Brussels as economic pragmatism collides with the inflexible zeal of the EU’s ideologues.

There is much talk among the pundit classes of a possible future breakup of the EU, but I would say that Brussels’ growing obsession with scoring one last shot of UK cash suggests that process is already underway. Last orders have been called and the tab’s being tallied.

The party’s over.

The Soft 48

So the unofficial Brexit election is officially on, and already there’s talk in the mainstream press about a possible Lib-Dem resurgence. Given that they’re currently languishing at about 11% in the polls along with UKIP and others, that seems like wishful thinking.

There can be little doubt that the newly crowned party of the diehard Remainer will wrestle a few trendy metropolitan seats from the Conservatives. The kind of constituencies that boast expensive coffee served up by migrants who sleep four to a room. However, the Remainers’ resurgence will be much smaller than Mr Farron might hope, and his dream of a sizeable Parliamentary presence is nothing more than a pleasant fantasy. Wishing doesn’t make it so, and the 48% is much softer and more diverse than the hardcore Remainers have talked themselves into believing.

Throughout the ensuing blizzard of post-referendum dialogue in the mainstream press and on the internet, the single biggest complaint among Brexiteers seems to be the fact that their opponents continually characterise them as poorly educated, bigoted and probably racist little Englanders.

Unfortunately for the committed Remain camp, just a few seconds of sustained rational thought will reveal the ridiculous implausibility of 17.4 million people voting to leave the European Union through an irrational xenophobic hatred of those people in this world who are most like themselves. With that especially spiteful and deluded label rightly consigned to the dustbin of discourse, it’s equally important not to blithely write off the 16.1 million who voted to remain as soulless, humourless, identikit authoritarians, hell bent on stealing political power from a European demographic they despise as an intransigent blot on their blueprint for a supreme European superstate.

Such a mischaracterisation of remain voters is insulting to their intelligence, motives and aspirations for the UK, and within that easy demolition of such a crude caricature lies the truth that will soon expose the shallowness of Remain’s support pool.

The one thing that has not yet been spoken about through all of the pre-and post-referendum autopsy are the forces that really drove intelligent, articulate individual voters to align themselves with the increasingly authoritarian, remote and unpopular bureaucratic class embodied by the EU. It’s highly unlikely that the vast majority of those 16.1 million citizens were guided by snobbery or elitism, and it’s much more likely that Project Fear had persuaded them to rationally cast their votes in favour of the lesser evil. After all, why take the risk?

Ten months on from that momentous day, we are a good deal further down the road and we all have a little more perspective on the landscape through which we travel. Many Remain leaning publications are still shivering on their widow’s walks, fervently scanning a distant horizon for even the slightest signs of Bregret, from anyone, anywhere. This has led them into the unfortunate habit of making themselves look foolish when they smugly declare that the malaise has taken hold among the leave supporting troglodyte class. When it clearly hasn’t.

Whilst they are busily searching for signs of weakness in their enemy’s defences, they’ve remained blissfully unaware of the mutinous mutterings much closer to home.

If anyone cares to stop shouting and listen carefully, they may hear the distant approach of a growing insurgent army of Remain deserters who feel they’ve been thoroughly hoodwinked by a dishonest establishment. An increasing number of these reluctant Remainers are actually glad that Britain is leaving an EU that they never really loved, now that the Project Fear hoax has been exposed as a cynical campaign of coercion and misinformation.

Some commentators are already touting Theresa May’s snap election as Brexit referendum 2.0 and are dutifully preparing to reboot Project Fear as the spectre of a “disastrous hard Brexit” is predictably conjured up. They seem to be wilfully ignorant of the unknown but growing number of recanting Remainers who are just waiting to throw their weight behind our now certain exit from the EU. The scales have fallen from their eyes and they now see that the emperor wears no clothes.

They won’t get fooled again, and come June 8th, they will have their revenge.

Show me the Money!!

So, the pint guzzling, tab smoking scourge of civilised society has been hard at it again. Sensitive and enlightened souls are still picking themselves up from their carbon neutral reclaimed hardwood floors across a huge swathe of North London and the Cotswolds following this latest cultural and political mugging by the emboldened hoody of European populism.

While the Daily Mail characterises the former UKIP leader’s deliberately and unnecessarily provocative language as an act of defiance, the Guardian predictably paints Wednesday morning’s fiery exchanges as proof positive that the EU is attempting to reach a reasonable accommodation in the face of ongoing nationalist hostility. Business as usual.

Leaving the screeching hyperbole of frothing Brexiteers and finger wagging Remainers aside for a moment, if that’s even possible, we actually find ourselves on wearyingly familiar territory once again. All the noise emanating from Strasbourg this week boils down to the fact that Brexit means Brexit, and the UK cannot cherry pick the benefits of EU membership.

Okay, we get it, we heard you. No really, we did…ages ago, before we even voted in the referendum.

You know, as somebody who voted to leave the EU, I can say for sure that both my leave and remain voting friends are sick to the back teeth of hearing these increasingly clichéd and hackneyed phrases. It’s almost as though the big guns on either side believe that their opposite numbers are so monumentally dense that they cannot grasp these simple ideas, even though Theresa May has repeatedly stated that the UK will not seek to remain within the European single market or the customs union. Therefore, it is not clear to me where all this talk of cherry picking is coming from. Nobody’s asking for cherries.

One thing that has become increasingly clear is that Mr Farage is a man who thrives on controversy and confrontation, so we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s taking this opportunity to stick it to the European establishment while he still can. After all, he’ll have to find another platform after 2019, but I don’t think that will be too much of a problem for him.

The difficulty with someone like Farage is that he is most definitely a Marmite character, which leads people to either cheer ecstatically the moment he appears on screen or simply switch off. While these are admittedly heartfelt responses, neither lends itself to actually hearing the position he is espousing on any given topic.

One can always tell when Farage is in the chamber, as there’s a knot of expectant reporters and cameramen gathered whenever he is about to deliver one of his historically bruising and deliberately insensitive monologues. Whether you love him or loathe him, Farage has succeeded in making himself the single most famous MEP in the history of the European Parliament.

Wednesday morning’s verbal assault began with Nigel Farage’s entirely predictable condemnation of the European Union as bullying, dictatorial and undemocratic. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone as such attacks are both his trademark and how he makes his living, which leads me to suspect that even an EU offer of a free gold bar to every child of woman born would be viewed with suspicion, and characterised as a form of bribery or financial coercion.

That said, the former UKIP leader did raise a couple important points that actually are worthy of serious discussion.

First was the vexed and increasingly malleable “divorce bill” which ranges from a straightforward payment of €60 billion, through various permutations of assets and liabilities and ends up the EU owing us an unspecified number of billions. Behind all the bluster and grandstanding, Mr Farage did make the very valid point that, at the moment, all of these figures appear to have been just plucked from the air. Maybe the EU is right and we do actually owe them a couple of well stacked pallets of clingfilmed currency, but the conspicuous absence of any supporting calculations is making this writer increasingly sceptical. The quicker we all put some meat on these bones the better, then at least we’ll have something solid to argue about. At the moment we’re all just shouting at smoke.

The other point which is well worth remembering was that Farage was quite correct when he pointed out that the UK did not in fact join the European Union in 1973, for the simple reason that the European Union did not come into existence until 1992 when the Maastricht Treaty was signed by the member states of the then European Community. Bearing this in mind, it’s quite revealing that the demographic who voted most strongly in favour of leaving the European Union is the same group who would’ve been old enough to vote in the 1975 plebiscite. Can this possibly be a coincidence? Naturally there is an army of bloggers and wailing commentators who see this as a vindication of their unfounded view that the grammar school generation is inherently xenophobic, probably a bit racist and certainly less well educated than their younger, intellectual superiors. The more likely explanation is that the older generation is the one that feels most abused and betrayed by the EU. When speaking to my father’s friends, I’ve found that they are almost of one voice in expressing their desire to leave because they feel they’ve been duped and deceived. The European Union of today doesn’t remotely resemble any trading bloc they voted to join…and we all know it.

In fact, the 2016 referendum has been the first and only time that the UK population has been offered any kind of meaningful choice as to whether they wished to be a part of “the ever closer union” of the European project. Their answer was clear enough.

If the European Project’s democratic deficit had been honestly confronted back in the nineties and not swept under the carpet, then smothered by an increasingly authoritarian EU and aided by a sycophantic, out of touch media class then history might’ve been very different.

Alas we’ll never know, as the EU is too far gone to be saved in its present form. It’s just a matter of time.

The Rise of the Naton State

Ok, so after a very long and not at all tiring campaign of procrastination, I’ve finally given in to friends and fans and started a blog. As a writer, it seems to make sense…kind of.

What’s gonna be in this blog?

I’m glad you asked. The Naton State will be populated by articles and essays on current events, politics and culture, with a sprinkling of film, TV & music thrown in just because I can.

I tend to approach the world from a classical liberal/libertarian viewpoint, which means I’m naturally suspicious of state control and enjoy mocking the ever-reliable stupidity of identity politics.

This will not be a politically correct blog…but neither is it designed to be deliberately offensive or provocative. I will make no apologies for speaking the truth as I see it, and I don’t have time to get into endless online arguments. Trolls and hyperbole have no place here, so if you’re looking for a fight, go some place else because I’m too old and too busy to listen to bullshit.

That’s it for now, and I’ll be starting with a couple of my blog entries from minds.com regarding Brexit and the snap election – I voted to leave by the way. Remember that bit about state control?

All the best

Charles Naton