11 November 2016



This is undoubtedly one of the oddest, most intriguing collections I've ever been asked to review. Have you heard of the Quay Brothers, or the Brothers Quay, as they're more often called? They're two American identical twin brothers who are famous for their work as stop-motion animators.

Stephen and Timothy were born in Pennsylvania in 1947. Before I knew anything about them, I watched their films and was convinced they'd turn out to be Eastern Europeans, because the little animated stories have such a creepy, eerie Eastern European feel to them.

They reminded me of something the Brothers Grimm might have come up with. You know, cool scary stories that don't necessarily have a happy ending to them, the kind of stuff that's made for kids but it would frighten the bejeesus out of any kids who saw 'em in reality, heh-heh-heh.

Anyway, the lads are apparently as American as apple pie themselves, but I wasn't too far wrong with the Eastern European thing. Which is good, because I hate to be wrong. They were heavily influenced by various Polish and Czech animators and Czech composers, one of whom, Leszek Jankowski, has created many fabulous original scores for their work. Because their films are mostly dialogue-free, the music is vitally important for setting the mood, see?

The films I watched myself from this jazzy little collection were often sinister, dark, moody and mysterious and cluttered with puppets and broken dolls and any other bits and pieces that the lads felt like chucking into the mix. Their stuff is a real pot-pourri of a lucky bag of a mystery box of tricks, haha. Or a cauldron full of jumble, spare parts and random stuff you might find in the attic...!

It might interest you guys to know that they worked on (although they didn't direct) the famous video for Peter Gabriel's hit song Sledgehammer in 1986. Remember that one? It's always turning up in those list shows that count down THE 100 BEST MUSIC VIDEOS EVER MADE and stuff. I think Michael Jackson's video for THRILLER (1983) normally tops those lists, doesn't it...?

Anyway, the good news for fans of the Brothers Quay is that this unique collection of their films is on release now from the BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE. It contains over twenty of their animated works and a whole raft of special features, including a documentary made about the Brothers by acclaimed film-maker Christopher Nolan.

I'm sure y'all know that he's the guy who directed BATMAN BEGINS (2005), THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), INCEPTION (2010) and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012). Impressed much, are ye, that such a hotshot director thinks the sun shines out of the Brothers' behinds?

Well, he does, and apparently he thinks that more people should be aware of Stephen and Timothy's ouevres, so clearly you guys need to do what the film-guy advises and buy the collection. But don't try to contact him to tell him how grateful you are for the recommendation, because I've just read on Wikipedia that he doesn't use a cellphone or have an email address. Better start training that carrier pigeon, so...!

Let's take a closer look at one or two of the films before we sign off. They all have marvellously dreamy, sinister or just really imaginative names, by the way, like THE PHANTOM MUSEUM, STREET OF CROCODILES, IN ABSENTIA, THROUGH THE WEEPING GLASS, ALICE IN NOT SO WONDERLAND, EURYDICE, SHE SO BELOVED and WONDERWOOD FOR COMME DES GARÇONS. Eeeeeeh, lads and lasses, I bloody love 'em all...!

Three of my favourites were SONGS FOR DEAD CHILDREN (2003), INVENTORIUM OF TRACES (2009) and MASKA (2010). This last was based on a short story called THE MASK by a Stanislaw Lem. A woman goes to a court ball in her exquisite crinoline gown and meets the King. They fall immediately in love with each other because 'what had passed as a chance encounter of looks had already been predestined.' Their- ahem- union may just prove fatal for the poor King...

SONGS FOR DEAD CHILDREN begins with a fabulous piece of music about bells. In a piece full of shadows and darkness and creepy dolls in coffins situated out in the deep, dark woods, the Brothers
manage to create a world which is fascinating and deliciously unsettling to watch but you wouldn't want to walk there alone after the sun goes down. Check out the anatomically correct model made of the most beautiful wood and tell me you weren't mesmerised, like I was, by that perfect vaginal opening, go on, I dare you...!

INVENTORIUM OF TRACES was inspired by a Polish nobleman, Egyptologist, writer, linguist, ethnographer, archaeologist and explorer of Slavic antiquities called Jan Potocki. This obviously high achiever was born in 1761 and sadly died in 1815 by his own hand.

He was fascinated by the occult and by oriental cultures and secret societies and, outside of Poland, he is best known for his book THE MANUSCRIPT FOUND IN SARAGOSSA. It's a collection of sixty-six connected stories covering a range of themes including gothic horror, erotica, comedy and morality. I'd read any of those except the morality ones, haha.

The Quay Brothers' film tribute to this chap is sort of a film of two halves. It's set in a museum which, during the day, is bright and gorgeous and peopled with actual human beings because the Brothers do sometimes use real people in their films.

However, once the people have gone home and the museum is all locked up for the night, the film becomes animated and the museum is suddenly a dark, mysterious and frightening place to be. The sequence where the old chairs re-arrange and re-cover themselves is stunningly beautiful, but there's a ghostly coachman coming and a ghostly hand is opening the museum door and where exactly does that ghostly ladder lead to...? Will we ever even find out? And what, if anything, does it all have to do with Jan Potocki? You might well ask. I love this spooky film!

Anyway, as you film buffs probably already know, all BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop. You can phone 020 7815 1350 or check 'em out online at:

Well, I've done my bit and so has award-winning director Christopher Nolan, haha. The rest is up to you, film fans. xxx


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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