Frightfest

Hammer of the Gods

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Vikings! In Wales! Er, what? Don’t worry, director Farren Blackburn hasn’t taken his Who experience from The Rings of Akhaten and rewritten history, it’s a filming location, but don’t go in expecting historical accuracy anyway!

Hammer of the Gods is set in 9th century Britain, where the Viking invaders are making inroads. Wounded in a battle against the Saxons, King Bagsecg (James Cosmo) sends son Steinar (Charlie Bewley) and a team of warriors to find his estranged elder brother Hakan (Elliot Cowan) and bring him back into the fold. Of course, things are never quite as simple as that….

If it doesn’t sound a particularly new story, it isn’t really, and the change in direction in the latter third just makes it reminiscent of different films than it did earlier. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and it all feels a little bit hollow.

Yet that also feels like a shame, which is unusual. It’s certainly not all bad – it looks great, with the Snowdonia-shot backdrops being suitably imposing, is decently paced and the action is suitably brutal and bloody.

Hammer of the Gods isn’t a horrible film, but I came away with more of a sense of disappointment, as though the look and style of the film deserved more. There is some entertainment value in a popcorn sense, and it’s probably the only time you’ll ever see Cockney-sounding Vikings joking about STIs! **1/2

Frankenstein’s Army

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Anyone remember Clive Barker’s Tortured Souls, the brilliantly designed McFarlane toy range that promised a movie which sadly got stuck in development hell? There’s a sense of that style of object mutilation in Frankenstein’s Army, the first feature from Richard Raaphorst.

It’s near the end of WWII, and a Russian reconnaisance unit is being filmed for propaganda while pushing into Germany. As mistrust grows between the soldiers and those filming, the true purpose of the mission starts to become clear – they are to find a Nazi scientist who as a descendent of Viktor Frankenstein is continuing his research. Cue the undead Nazi zombie monsters!

The creatures are the real stars of Frankenstein’s Army, and the design and implementation are uniformly excellent. They are varied and inventive, and you get a feeling that there are many more that we have yet to see. Partly as a result, I found myself slightly in two minds about the use of the found footage style used – while it is a comparatively rare case of feeling genuinely linked to the story (niggles like the footage not being in the aspect ratio used at the time fade quickly) and it proves a handy way of working round budgetary and pacing constraints when things kick off, it also limits the amount of monster visibility as the cameraman is generally unsurprisingly trying to get away from them! Of course that’s probably because of the limitations of the budget, but when watching there was the occasional wish they had longer and more detailed screentime.

While solid and entertaining, it’s not a film that will go down in many best-of-year lists, but as a design showcase and potential franchise it is a good start. Now, where’s the toy range… ***1/2

100 Bloody Acres

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

And now, a film about fertiliser. No, not that kind of fertiliser – that would be 100 Crappy Acres surely and would make for very easy reviewing if it wasn’t very good! Fortunately (!) it’s about the blood and bone type fertiliser, which is much more the kind of crap that’s appreciated at Frightfest…

Brothers Reg and Lindsay Morgan run a small fertiliser business in South Australia, and are always trying to set themselves apart from the competition. Happening across a crash site while on a delivery, Reg spots an easy opportunity for fresh blood (sorry!) with the driver’s body, so hides it in the back of his truck to take back. Just bigger roadkill than normal, which wouldn’t be so bad if not for a group of tourists hitching a lift to a music festival…

By keeping the focus and scale small, 100 Bloody Acres belies its low budget and is an assured feature debut by writer/directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes. The concentration on the characters helps – at heart this is a tale of love in truly unfortunate circumstances – though there’s also a helping of old-fashioned farce to keep a sense of fun. That said, it’s not a constant joke-fest, though when it goes gross-out it easily equals anything by the Farrellys with more mind bleach needed than with Kingpin at one point!

On the weaker side, none of the characters are particularly likeable, and the seeming justification of infidelity rankled on a personal level – which also goes to show a level of believability to the writing. It may not be one for watching back over and over, but 100 Bloody Acres is still entertaining and a good pick for a midnight movie! ***

V/H/S 2

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Read the review of the first film here!

Last year, I referred to anthology found footage film V/H/S having a sequel being called D/V/D – twelve months on the sequel is here, but has missed a trick slightly in not even going for S-V/H/S but taking the more mundane title V/H/S 2.

The good news is that it has learned from some of the weaknesses of the first film – the wrapper story, while still taking a background seat, is stronger this time round and finds a private investigator finding the stash of tapes from the first film. There are hints to a larger mythology too, which indicates that this will not be the last in the series either.

The “component”stories are nicely varied – an eye implant that sees more than expected, a cyclist encountering a zombie outbreak, the investigation into a personality-based cult and even an alien invasion! Slightly unusually, all are at least solid, with the middle two segments being particularly good – if anything, it means the final segment suffers a little from not being quite up to the level of the one preceding.

V/H/S is fast turning into a series that showcases a variety of talent and with a pretty quick turnover – it is unsurprising to hear that there is a third film in the works (not called Betamax, sorry!) so the franchise could potentially become an annual horror fixture. Having the variety even within each film should prevent stagnation, so could be one to watch for!

One note though – avoid the trailer, which is hugely spoilery! ***1/2

Haunter

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

My first thoughts when watching Haunter were how old it made me feel – lead actress Abigail Breslin (first seen in Signs) is now 17, and wasn’t even born until 3 years after the premiere of Groundhog Day which the opening recalls.

At the onset, Lisa (Breslin) seems like the stereotypical surly teenager in her prediction of the family routine, until it transpires that the prediction comes from living the same day over and over. But then little things seem to start changing, like washing missing from the machine or her father’s previously unseen smoking, and as well as the truth of her situation Lisa soon realises it goes beyond her family, and even her time…

The bulk of the film is set in 1985, and the attention to detail is lovely – it’s quite easy to get lost in a nostalgia kick for the days of Walkmen, Atari 2600s and Angela Lansbury – and Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice) adds some nice style to the visuals. Abigail Breslin shows she can carry a film too, and while the supporting cast is a bit mixed at times it’s not distracting. The script by Brian King (who worked with Natali on Cypher) keeps a solid pace with nods to the likes of Poltergeist, The Others and Stir of Echoes, though in the case of the latter while it did trigger a smile in usage Prokofiev gets trumped by the Rolling Stones every time I’m afraid!

Haunter is an effective thriller that has a refreshing sense of originality and slick visuals. It may not go down as either Natali or Breslin’s best ever, but it’s a good watch especially if in the mood for a Twilight-Zone-esque mystery. ***1/2

Hatchet III

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Read the Hatchet II review here!

Both the Hatchet series and its creator Adam Green have strong links to Frightfest – as well as showing the movies Frightfest hosted a live commentary for the first, and since Hatchet‘s premiere in 2006 Adam has attended a total of 7 Frightfests bringing his movies and also taking time with friend and fellow filmmaker Joe Lynch to produce several special shorts for the fest.

This year, the saga of Victor Crowley comes to a bloody end in Hatchet III and whilst keeping writing duties, Adam hands over directing to regular cameraman BJ McDonnell. In a similar way to Hatchet II, the film directly follows its predecessor, opening with a tried and bloody Marybeth (Danielle Harris) heading to a police station to recount the numerous deaths and the truth about Victor Crowley. As is typical for a slasher movie, the police assume Marybeth is responsible for the killers and lock her up while sending out a team to recover the bodies from the swamp. Or to put it another way, providing fresh blood for Crowley… Being a finale, the stakes are higher, loose ends are wrapped up, and there’s tankerloads of fake blood ready to flow!

Like the previous films, there are lots of nods to horror past and present, not least of which include roles for Gremlins star Zach Galligan, scream queen Caroline Williams (the second and third Texas Chainsaw Massacre films) and Derek Mears who replaced Victor Crowley actor Kane Hodder as Jason in the remake of Friday the 13th. This time round, the swamp really was a New Orleans swamp, and there is a good sense of atmosphere. This is bolstered by the cast clearly enjoying themselves despite what must have been very challenging filming conditions – Adam Green described pretty much every day having someone in the cast or crew going to the ER at some point, and runins with bugs whose larvae grow under the skin and can only be killed by acetone (Troughton-era Cybertechnology?) so requiring production staff to paint nail polish remover in places it was really never intended to go…

Funny and gory with excellent kills, Hatchet III is great fun and a fitting end to the trilogy. In terms of personal preference I think Hatchet II just about shades it, but the whole trilogy is impressively consistent and excellent entertainment. If you fancy a bloody flashback to the slashers of the 80s, get in the popcorn and enjoy! ****

Short: Crazy for You

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Read the Cockneys vs Zombies review here!

And read the Tower Block review here! 

Last year’s Frightfest had a particularly strong showing for friend of Skaro James Moran, with Cockneys vs Zombies on the first night and Tower Block closing the festival. This year, he directed as well as wrote Crazy for You, with a couple of names that readers may recognise…

Charlie has a problem with polka dots. So much so, in fact, that he has to kill anyone he sees wearing them! That tends to get in the way a bit when looking for love, but things may look up when he meets Jessica – but can she love a killer, or his nose?

As Charlie, ex-Pond Arthur Darvill has an easy watchability, and he and Hannah Tointon make a cute onscreen couple. Both the humour and the violence are well handled, and the romantic element works too, impressively so considering the brief running time. The music by Ben Foster too belies the brief nature. Could we have a new BBC3 sitcom hiding at Frightfest? It’s certainly better in its 10 minutes than any on the channel I’ve seen recently! ****

Dementamania

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Paintings.

Not just a portentous hint from Matt Smith about The Day of the Doctor, it’s a handy thing to bear in mind the first time you watch Dementamania – and the second too!

After Ed Arkham (Sam Robertson – Corrie‘s Adam Barlow, or more recently Beaver Falls) steps on a strange red wasp, his well-paid and neatly arranged life starts to fall apart. From office politics to attempts at contact by his ex, situations worsen as the effects of the sting spread. But can Ed believe everything he sees?

There’s a lot riding on Sam Robertson’s shoulders in such a character-focussed film, but he handles the tricky role with ease and puts in a confident performance that belies it being his first movie lead role. Supporting actors are also strong, with special mention due to Robert van Twillert as coworker Pablo who guarantees a smile every time he is on screen.

Dementamania is not the lurid grindhouse flick that the title may imply – it’s a neatly directed piece in which no shot or placement is accidental, and there’s alot of value in a second watch where you can see how every twist has been hinted through the film, and the importance of specific perceptions.

Oh, and remember – paintings… ***1/2

The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

In 1959, a crack team of Russian mountaineers went trekking in the northern Ural mountains, at the Dyatlov Pass. These hikers promptly went missing and were later found dead and only partially clothed. Today, still a mystery, a faux-footage film has been made surrounding a student documentary. If you’re interested, and you can find it^, then maybe you can watch… The Dyatlov Pass Incident!

Early on in the film there’s a callback to the movie that made found footage popular – a crying documentary-maker in night vision is very Blair Witch, though thankfully less snotty. But in many ways this is a also a far cry from the low-fi chills of that film; the format may not allow director Renny Harlin to exercise the level of style he brought to snowy environs in Cliffhanger or Die Hard 2, but this being the twenty-teens the cameras are HD and there is far less motion-sickness-inducing shaking than is typical of the subgenre.

The mainly British cast is solid, and the American accents generally decent (compared to, say, Richard Coyle in last year’s Outpost 2). They have a believable dynamic together which helps the tension when things start to go wrong and the direction keeps the viewer engaged through some genuinely unexpected twists.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident is not a film that breaks new ground in its genre, and it won’t be remembered as an all-time classic. But it is entertaining and original, and fun to go back afterwards and theorise over some elements – tell us in the forums! ***1/2

(^ – Pretty easy, most shops have it and it has a rather natty lenticular slipcase)

You’re Next

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

I have to confess, I was slightly guarded going in to You’re Next. Sure, the posters were cool (especially the map-mask one), and the usage of Perfect Day in the trailer was inspired, but the idea of another home invasion movie wasn’t one that had me exactly jumping out of my chair – and not just because once wedged in there any movement was difficult 😉 Obviously I had forgotten the nature of the Frightfest boys in seeing something different, as what resulted was certainly not just another home invasion movie!

The film opens with a brutal attack on a post-coital couple (including 2011 Total Film Icon Larry Fessenden), before introducing the varied members of a well-to-do family meeting at their holiday home (next door – uh oh) and their dysfunctional dynamic is funny and natural. Of course, the calm is soon shattered, and survival becomes the order of the day, but this is no normal house invasion – and neither are the targets!

I’m not going to give away any of the twists, but they are numerous and add an excellent energy to the film. The script is punchy and witty, and the acting is consistent too with a fitting role as family matriarch for 80s scream queen Barbara Crampton.

It’s bizarre why You’re Next has been sitting on the shelf since 2011 – it’s a fresh, fast and fantastic piece of horror cinema that revitalises its subgenre. Definitely worth a watch! ****

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