Day 2 – Friday 27th August
Also known as, the day of the lie-in that never happened! Originally was going to skip at least the second film and possibly the first, but decided to take a peek for any extras, like a rescheduled Road to Frightfest… First up was Eggshells, a 1969 film by this years Total Icon, Tobe Hooper. The Total Icon idea is sponsored by Total Film magazine, who choose a horror legend and show their classic work then do an extended interview. Eggshells was an intriguing choice as it has been very rarely seen in the past 40-odd years, and is very much a film of its time with all the trappings that brings – I can’t really summarise the plot as such as I still can’t work it out properly! Very much a product of its time, it’s a psychedelic slice of madness that veers between just being bizarre (an exploding paper aeroplane?) and foreshadowing of the visual ideas that Hooper would return to later in his career. There’s a real feel of sensory overload, particularly in the visual montages (replete with what can best be described as “hippy music”) exacerbated as they were by the Empire sound system with a less-packed screen making the result uncomfortably loud at times. Still, it was an interesting if confounding watch, not one that I’m likely to return to but won’t be forgetting quickly either – and what was the TARDIS doing in that basement at one point? 😉 The second film of the day was a given to be shown, as it’s the first one everyone thinks of when Tobe Hooper’s name comes up; the movie that made him a horror legend, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I’d been planning to skip this as it’s a film that while I love, I’ve seen several times and after Eggshells thought could burst my eardrums with screaming 😉 but found myself staying to see if there was an intro, then for the excellent opening, and then before I knew it was gripped all over again. A brilliant advert for Blu-Ray (it was a projection from disc and even on the huge screen looked fantastic, especially the colour), the film centres around a group of friends going to see their Grandfather’s old house out in the wilds of Texas. But they’re not alone out there, and after picking up a hitch-hiker who turns out to be a bit bonkers, they aren’t prepared for the family they will run into… the film is known for its intensity and stark horror, but what may shock you more is the depth of many characters and the rich vein of black humour. The “family” are particularly well drawn and have a great dynamic, and the college teens are refreshingly non-stereotypical; that Franklin is disabled is neither mocked nor tiptoed around. Full of memorable moments, it’s a movie that rewards rewatching – if you’ve not seen it for a while, check it out again, you’ll be surprised how much you’ve forgotten! Next up, Total Film deputy editor Jamie Graham had an extended sit-down Q&A with Tobe Hooper himself. Unfortunately this was ultimately a bit of a disappointment; it came across as more the kind of interview that would be done for a planned text article (which makes sense considering Total Film is a magazine!), but that meant the chemistry and organic nature of an interview on radio or TV was lacking somewhat. I’ve definitely seen more natural on this site It didn’t help that Tobe Hooper came across as rather shy and perhaps a little uncomfortable by the very structured feel that only seemed interested in certain films. It was good to get clarification about the Spielberg “situation” in Poltergeist (the rumours of split direction all came because Hooper was filming in the house yard while Spielberg shot the tracking shot of the R/C car in front of the house as second unit – described by Hooper as “the best second unit director in the world”! – so when the LA Times turned up to do a set report it was Spielberg they saw first) but that the first mention of the brilliant Salem’s Lot came from an audience question spoke volumes. After getting my Poltergeist digibook Blu-Ray signed by Hooper and thanking him for how I managed to get a job just over 10 years ago before the interview even started just by talking about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it was time for the next film, Isle of Dogs. The plot centres around a murder attempt on a gangster’s cheating wife (played by Barbara Nedeljakova with best supporting award to her rather flattering jodphurs 😉 ) which doesn’t really sound very horror or even genre related. What we get is probably the first ever Cockney Giallo film, and based on the reaction from the audience probably the last! There is the recent habit of several gialli of hokey dialogue that leads to unintentional laughs, most obviously (and sadly) seen in recent Argento films like The Card Player and Giallo, and the references to others of the genre are pretty subtle in most cases. The largest in fact is that of the assassin dressing like the killer from Mario Bava’s classic Blood and Black Lace – unfortunately, the vast majority of viewers will be left wondering why he’s off to a fancy dress party as Rorschach but forgot the ink… the music is excellent (though rather loud in the mix) and the acting is for the most part solid, despite the dialogue at times (there was a running joke amongst festivalgoers about it being included at Frightfest solely because of one of the characters on the phone shouting “In! In! In! In! In! In! In!” – thank goodness we didn’t see him having sex) and I couldn’t help but thinking that Edward Hogg as Darius seemed to be constantly channelling David Tennant in The Idiot’s Lantern in both look and acting! Well-intentioned, but too subtle in approach at times whereas the weaknesses unfortunately stand out, it comes across as less than it could have been and is ultimately disappointing. Fans of Giallo with a keen eye (and a finger on the volume control) may get a kick out of it though! Another Brit flick was up next, the hard-to-spell-wrong F. The premise is one that immediately inspires thought and indicates many of the criticised elements of the education system – teacher Robert Anderson (David Schofield) is punched by a student, but the school lean towards siding with a parental complaint against Anderson because he marked the student’s work as an F instead of RS for resubmit, humiliating him. As a result, Anderson has lost his marriage and become a drunk with a problem enforcing discipline, which isn’t ideal when his daughter is in his class! And one evening during detention, the school seems to have some extra visitors… Genuinely suspenseful, and truly nasty despite most of the violence being offscreen, F is a superb film that brings something fresh to the new “hoodie horror” subgenre and manages to be both thrilling and unsettling in equal measure. This is helped by stylish direction and excellent acting, including a brilliant showing by David Schofield, and the antagonists are impressively creepy with clever design. Kudos also for a ballsy yet realistic ending that really leaves you wanting more. One of the best films I’ve seen this year, F gets an A – fast and ferocious, fantastic film! And that’s enough with my attempts at alliteration 😉 Five films into the day and with a shot of energy thanks to F, I was looking forward to Red Hill due to its Western setting and classic themes of a lone killer terrorising a town and a new cop standing in his way. It was preceded by some sample trailers – oddly including Red Hill itself – the highlight of which was the feature based on the fake Grindhouse trailer and now featuring the awesome Rutger Hauer, Hobo with a Shotgun! Onto Red Hill itself, starring Ryan Kwanten of True Blood as a still fairly young cop moving from the city to the titular close-knit town that has its own history, one that is leading escaped killer Jimmy Conway back to settle old scores. It’s the first Australian Western I’ve seen, and it works well with stunning panoramas assisting a great style and look to the film. There’s little that’s particularly groundbreaking in the story, but it’s well told and the acting is convincing. The only real misstep is some shonky CGI in the culmination of a subplot that seems a little extraneous. Don’t go in expecting horror as it’s not, but Red Hill is a superior and fantastically shot Western that’s well worth watching. So, onto Alien vs Ninja, or AvN as was shown on screen. A Ronseal title if ever there was one, and from the makers of late-night fun such as Machine Girl, it couldn’t be anything other than fun, right? Well, in this case it turned out fun was an understatement, as this was enormously entertaining. Keeping to a brisk 90 minutes, the plot centres around a group of Ninja investigating fire from the sky – the arrival of some aliens that are a cross between Giger’s creations and rejects from Power Rangers. Cue fast, funny and gory action involving obvious rubber suits, cool ninja poses, plastic boob armour, zombies, an ever-present breeze that keeps the hair out of the protagonists faces, rubber trousers that must have been sprayed on the lead female, bizarre alien penises and more! Producers Sushi Typhoon (with their own Ronseal company intro) have learnt from films like Tokyo Gore Police which while enjoyably mad was overlong and overcomplicated for what it was, and have gotten the balance just right this time for a slice of bonkers well-choreographed action that is a perfect pizza and beer film, or just for any time you feel like watching something completely and utterly insane. And how can you go wrong with plastic boob armour? Film of the day – F Discuss these films in the forums!