The Skaro Review – Film 4 Frightfest 2010 – Day 5

Film 4 Frightfest - 26-30 August 2010

Day 5 – Monday 30th August

by AndyJWS

Time really does fly when you’re having fun, and it was sad to realise that it was already the last day. How did that happen – it felt like 4 hours not 4 days!

The final day of this year’s fest kicked off with documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape. Directed by Jake West and produced by Marc Morris, it’s an excellent and even-handed account of how the term began, how the panic and vilification of horror progressed with the Video Recordings Act and how it still has repercussions for the future. With a plethora of interviews including MP Graham Bright, Martin Barker and those who grew up during the Nasties era like Neil Marshall (The Descent) and Christopher Smith (Triangle), as well as archive footage featuring infamous BBFC director James Ferman and Who-archenemy Mary Whitehouse, it’s a gripping and fascinating piece of work. The archive footage is probably scarier than many of the films discussed, with the pro-censorship brigade intent to shout down anyone pointing out contrary facts to their assumptions and using much of the same kinds of inciteful language as religious fundamentalists. And wait till you hear a claim about the impact of the films not being limited to children… πŸ˜‰ A great strength of the documentary is that it easily prompts further discussion on multiple aspects – one covered outside afterwards was the Nasties panic as the start of the handing off of parental responsibility. A must for anyone who is interested in film or British cultural history, an extended version will be released in October as part of Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide.

A panel discussion followed, featuring Jake West, Marc Morris, Martin Barker, Allan Bryce (known for Dark Side magazine) a slightly bemused Tobe Hooper, and Dave Hyman of the BBFC. Martin Barker came out best, with an impressive sense of passion yet still always calm and sensible, though credit to Dave for facing some hard questions and describing how classification works now – and how to help get involved. The secret is to stay aware, and stay reasonable – the internet is an extremely powerful tool, but just ranting won’t put across a positive argument!

Next up was zombie film The Dead, directed by Brit brothers Jon and Howard J Ford. Rob Freeman stars as Lt Brian Murphy, stranded after a plane crash and fighting to get back to the apparent safety of America and his family. But there’s alot of Africa to cross, and even more zombies in the way… Set and shot in Burkino Faso, there’s something of a Resident Evil 5 look about the style and editing, but with proper slow zombies πŸ˜‰ The pacing is something more like a road movie than the traditional zombie movie, being set in the wilds, and the environment is more than a pretty background in that its effects are evident and important. Burkino Faso is a pretty country and while there are some nice shots in there, with a fair amount set in close scale the opportunity is missed for more panoramic beauty. That’s a reasonable payoff though, as the focus is intentionally on Murphy and his journey, and despite the odd misstep (a technical scene seemed to be waiting for accompanying A-Team music) it’s an impressive film, above the zombie norm and a good calling card for the Ford Brothers.

Continuing the zombie theme, Andrew Lincoln (who I remember from Teachers) took to the stage to introduce a roughly 10 minute preview of upcoming TV series The Walking Dead. Based on a graphic novel, it looks like few punches have been pulled in bringing the story to the small screen – it will be showing on FX in the US, not sure if there is a UK deal as yet.
The scene included in the preview had a slightly 28 Days Later feel insofar as it centred around Lincoln’s character waking up in a deserted hospital, and was an excellent teaser for what looks like it’ll be a lot of fun. If not on TV, may be one for a DVD/Blu-Ray buy!

A complete change of pace came with Bedevilled, a Korean film that opens with Seoul banker Hae-won (Ji Sung-won) being annoyingly passive to the detriment of others. Being forced onto vacation, she decides to go back to the island of Moodo for the first time in many years, although her friend Bok-Nam (Seo Young-hee) has been begging for her to go and rescue her across many letters without response. Arriving at the island she sees the unpleasant treatment of Bok-Nam by her husband, his brothers and even aunts, but her indifferent attitude lets things continue, and following a tragic turn of events things escalate to a terrifying head…
It’s a testament to the filmmakers that a film that for the majority of its running time is ponderously paced and with almost exclusively unlikeable characters (even Bok-Nam isn’t perfect, taking out her frustration on her daughter) still holds the attention, and when the story takes its inevitable turn into violence there is a sense of just desserts about proceedings. Knowing this, the thread of black comedy that has been running through turns into a broad streak at this point and although it ends up as a sad film, it’s one with some surprisingly entertaining parts along the way. Well-made and decent overall, but would have preferred Hae-won to be a bit more likeable!

Before the next film was the final installment of this year’s Road to Frightfest shorts by Adam Green and Joe Lynch. The pair have become a brilliant double act since meeting at Frightfest and for the past 3 festivals have made a collection of shorts – one per day – from their own pockets and completely by themselves as “The Douche Brothers”. They’re hugely appreciated and selfishly it’s a bit sad that as they become busier with bigger film projects the scheduling is probably going to make them impossible – but we all hugely appreciate those that they’ve made and the huge amount of time effort (and a fair amount of money!) that the pair spend making them – thank you guys! This year’s theme was The Blair Witch Project and was as funny and gross as ever, whilst chock full of nods to events, films and people from Frightfests past and present. Ending on a touching tribute to Kevin (the Frightfester who passed earlier this year) they’re also a testament to the filmmaking of Green and Lynch that they can carry emotion through the laughter. All of the episodes from the three years of The Road to Frightfest can be seen over at the Ariescope website – just click on Shorts then Television and More. Though there are many Frightfest in-jokes they’re still pretty accessible – and while there also check out Adam Green’s other shorts!

The penultimate film (awww!) was Red, White & Blue. Coming from writer/director Simon Rumley (The Living and the Dead) and set in Texas, it initially centres around apathetic Erica (Amanda Fuller), who spends her evenings in bars and clubs around Austin and nights with whoever she picks up. Her first line is her mantra – “Look, I don’t stay the night, I don’t fall in love, and I don’t fuck the same guy twice”. It seems to serve her well, till she meets in Nate (Noah Taylor) someone who isn’t interested in her just to get her into bed, but is hardly normal – he describes how he used to torture animals out of interest! As the two gradually build a friendship though, her past is catching up with her, and this isn’t heading for a fairytale ending… Simon Rumley’s greatest talent is in his creation of character, and the primary players are all three-dimensional flawed people. No-one is truly evil, but evil things get done from circumstance and a loss of control; the film is all the more affecting as everything that unfolds is entirely character-consistent. Brutal and upsetting yet also gripping, it’s a journey through an emotional wringer that leaves the viewer feeling exhausted and dirtied. An example of just how powerful cinema can be.

So, 24 films, 14 shorts, 5 Roads to Frightfest and a whole lot more had been and gone, and Frightfest was almost done for another year. Just one film remained – The Last Exorcism. Patrick Fabian stars as Cotton Marcus, a preacher and exorcist preparing to hang up his Bible after realising his faith isn’t what it was. Disturbed by a tale in which an autistic child accidentally died during an exorcism, he decides to expose the fakery and showmanship he used by filming one last performance. Except as always happens in this kind of situation, this time round the possession might actually be real… You’ll notice I said “might”, and that leads into the most important thing to take into this film – forget the trailers! Or avoid them if you can – this is a case where knowing little going in is a distinct advantage. It’s also one of those rare movies where you can take very different impressions away on different watchings, something aided by superb performances by Patrick Fabian and especially Ashley Bell who is outstanding as Nell. The semi-documentary style coupled with Cotton’s intentions give a feel of honesty, so when the creepiness kicks in it works very well. Ultimately, it will be a divisive film – the marketing may leave some feeling cheated that the film even questions the possibility of possession (as well as featuring things that were never shot so not in the movie) and the ending is likely to be controversial too. But I loved it, and will be definitely revisiting on Blu-Ray when it gets released!

After a last Q&A including Eli Roth, Daniel Stamm, Ashley Bell and Patrick Fabian which ended in one of the best last questions ever (I’ll just say that there’s something wonderfully surreal about several hundred horror fans properly getting into a “HALLELUJAH!” πŸ˜‰ ) It was time to head to the Phoenix for the customary festival-finishing drinks. Huge thanks to Ian, Paul, Alan and Greg for organising another fantastic festival, the friendly Frightfest crew, Adam, Joe and all the guests who came along, the brilliant Empire staff (not least those who came down from Glasgow to work the fest!), Maurice and the Phoenix staff, and most importantly all the other Frightfesters who again made this festival such a brilliant place to be for five days!

Bring on 2011!

Film of the dayThe Last Exorcism

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The Skaro Review – Film 4 Frightfest 2010 – Day 4

Film 4 Frightfest - 26-30 August 2010

Day 4 – Sunday 29th August

by AndyJWS

In the past few years, there’s been a pattern of “Grim Sunday” at Frightfest, with films of disturbing and brutal intent. With controversy already rife around A Serbian Film, would this year be grim for good or bad reasons?

It was off to a muddy start with this year’s sole French feature, The Pack. Goth-a-like Charlotte (Γ‰milie Dequenne with tattooed knuckles) picks up hitch-hiker Max (Benjamin Biolay) in the middle of nowhere, and shortly afterwards they have a run-in with a bunch of OTT bikers. Max excuses himself to the toilet and promptly disappears, and after leaving her details with an ageing policeman type who seems more interested in her (the brilliant Philippe Nahon, wearing a superb t-shirt) things unravel in rather a different way than expected… There’s quite a lot to like about the film, which is nicely shot and has a wonderfully sly sense of humour bubbling under the surface at times, and some good gore and makeup effects. The creatures involved are well-designed too, albeit in need of an orthodontist πŸ˜‰ On the not so good side, Charlotte’s character doesn’t seem quite in line with her look – what’s her story? – and without spoiling anything the ending is disappointing as it feels like two endings were shot but a decision couldn’t be made which to follow, so both were included. Unfortunately as they’re different in tone, feel and context a decision really should have been made, as it doesn’t work the way it’s been left. Mind you, it’s still only 80mins long, so maybe there was time to make up!

Andy Nyman took to the stage next to host the Quiz From Hell, made by Simon Williams and Lee-Jay Bannister who are behind genius pub film quiz You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat. This was well made and presented, with a good balance both for the casual viewer as well as the horror addict, and rounds like “What Happened Next?” incorporating clips added to the variety. My personal favourite section was the Soundtracks segment – 20 clips from 20 films, the first playing for 20 seconds, the next for 19, then 18… all the way down to the last for a single second! I wasn’t close to winning myself, but it was good fun and my backup film title of Shirley Bassey’s Guatemalan Adventure (what do you mean, not a real movie?!) even got an outing!

The quiz was followed by the Film4 Frightfest International Short Film Showcase – there were quite a lot of these, so time for one-line reviews!
La Madre – every parent’s nightmare, made worse by the way it looks to others. Excellently told – apparently a true story?
Nelly et Lio – you can’t go wrong when you include a gnu! Inspired slice of madness, and cute leads too πŸ˜‰
How I Survived the Zombie Apocalypse – excellently shot, and with an appropriate Sarah/John Connor feel to the mother/son relationship.
Bon Appetit – three single-joke shorts about food. Unfortunately only one is funny.
Switch – A killer in the snow, with an obvious twist.
Papa Wrestling – OTT genius, watch it here:

To My Mother and Father – so intent on trying to shock and offend it forgets to be any good. Sole redeeming feature is a nice “mindscape” vision.
Rise of the Appliances – Absolutely fantastic attack-by-electricals set just outside Pontypridd, and wouldn’t be nearly as funny with any other accent!
Through the Night – effective if not especially original on partner having nightmares (or more?), slickly made.
The Red Balloon – possibly the best straight-horror short of babysitting a child who seems scared of “nothing” except we know where that’s going to go! Nice twists and good atmosphere.
Dead Hungry – it’s not easy being a zombie! Original, funny and surprisingly sweet.
Choreomania – neat concept of infectious dance not used to its full potential. Neat ending though.
2:22 – well-made short continuing one of the weekend’s themes that doggystyle is dangerous πŸ˜‰ Be careful who you chat to in nightclubs, they may not be what you expect…
The End – apparently made to look like a snippet of the climax of an action film, doesn’t really excuse the lack of proper context. Some nicely done moments, but appears it would be a very cheap looking and not very good action film!

So far, not too grim then! And the next film up, We Are What We Are, was described in publicity as “the Mexican Let The Right One In“! Unfortunately, what results is neither as beautiful nor as enthralling, as its tale of the struggle of a cannibal family after the loss of its patriarch is much more a slice of pondering drama that seems almost ashamed of the nature of its characters. While I would applaud the evenness of tone for both the scenes of day-to-day life and those involving planning of victims and talk of the “ritual”, and the evocatively grimy photography (thought night scenes could be a little murky), I just wasn’t gripped; in quiet scenes there was a fair amount of light snoring from around the auditorium and more than once I wondered if I would appreciate a quick kip more than the rest of the film! Pretty sure the group of prostitutes weren’t supposed to come across in the comedy sense they did too! Disappointing.

Frightfest favourites Adam Green and Joe Lynch took to the stage next, to announce their hitherto secret project, upcoming anthology film Chillerama. An homage to the days of drive-in cinema, it will centre around 4 drive-in tales representing different eras: Wadzilla, directed by Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City); Curse of the Were Bears by Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs and its sequel); Zombie Movie helmed by Joe Lynch and Adam Green’s The Diary of Anne Frankenstein. Definitely going to be a must watch, and hopefully will be at Frightfest 2011!

Another comparison was in store with the next film too, with Damned By Dawn mooted as like Evil Dead 4. In this case there is an early resemblance; both are set in misty forests and involve the repercussions of reckless interfering beyond the understanding of the leads. However, it’s also unfair as the Australian Banshee flick isn’t up to the stellar expectations of a new Evil Dead; it doesn’t try to be as funny and the story centering around a banshee who wails (or more accurately screeches deafeningly) for the souls of the dying yet is totally corporeal – she even needs to use door handles! It’s entertaining enough if not standout stuff, and the biggest downside is an over-reliance on CGI – aside from some creature effects (personally I preferred the makeup effects used) there’s layers of mist and more subtle effects for most of the film. The “by dawn” element feels a little unnecessary too, with it seeming light for most of the film after the curse is stated. There’s potential visible though, and directors The Amazing Krypto Brothers are worth keeping an eye on. Still worth a watch, just manage your expectations first!

Originally, A Serbian Film was going to show next, but its controversial reputation preceded it a little too much. Alan Jones explained how Westminster Council decided to make an example (like with I Spit On Your Grave on Saturday) and decided on the week of the festival that it would have to be a BBFC-approved print to be screened. To be fair on the BBFC, they turned round extremely quickly (it usually takes 2 weeks for classification, they did it in a day) and on Wednesday 25th August reported that they required 49 cuts totalling 3 minutes and 48 seconds in order to grant an 18. They did offer to do another super-speedy check if a new submission could be made though cuts could still be necessary, but between the festival organisers, filmmakers and distributor Revolver Entertainment it was decided that as well as the timing being so tight to recut a new version it wouldn’t be the directors vision, so the decision was made to pull the film. It’s not just Frightfest that has suffered in this regard – since this it has turned out that even a private screening at Raindance is yet to be confirmed!

So, how to replace a brutal political allegory already infamous for its disturbing sexual violence? Why, with a mainstream Hollywood film of course! Oh, of course… hang on, what? 95 minutes of Ryan Reynolds in a box? Yep, it was Buried. And boy, did it defy expectations! Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a truck driver for a US contractor in Iraq who wakes up in a wooden coffin after his convoy is attacked. There’s a lighter and a phone in there too, but it’s best to go in knowing little more than this to get full enjoyment from this brilliantly tense film. Obviously if you hate Ryan Reynolds then it’s not for you, but if you don’t he puts in an excellent performance in a unique and challenging role. Director Rodrigo CortΓ©s, in his first english-language feature, adds an impressive style to proceedings and the limiting setting is kept visually interesting throughout. The pacing is excellent too, and I found myself on the edge of my seat from the Hitchcockian opening titles right until the credits rolled on the superbly ballsy ending. Highly recommended – a real pulse-pounder!

Following Buried came another nice surprise – the complete except for score (the temp score featuring excerpts from The Magnificent Seven, as it happens) Adam Green segment of Chillerama, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein. Styled like it was made in the 1940s, it centres around Hitler (played by Joel David Moore) finding the book of Frankenstein’s research from before the family shortened their name… cue a monster called Meshuggenah (Yiddish for madman) replete with yarmulke! Extremely funny whilst remaining a cute homage to the post-war films that inspired it, a particularly great touch is that all the cast speak German throughout – with the exception of Joel David Moore who (as well as being Jewish!) doesn’t speak a word, so gets given some fantastic alternatives instead! Keep an ear out though, as there is one line of perfect German in there – I won’t spoil how it actually translates!

Sunday’s final film was another Australian offering, The Loved Ones. Xavier Samuel, soon to be the object of millions of tweens’ affection when he stars in Twilight: Eclipse next year, stars as Brent, a teen who can’t move on from the repercussions of a tragic car accident months earlier. His only releases are smoking pot and his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine); so when shy outsider Lola (Robin McReady) asks him to go with her to the school prom he refuses as he is already going with Holly. Unfortunately Lola is determined to be a prom princess, and refusal doesn’t factor in to her plans with Brent… Sort of like a demented mix of Heathers and Misery, the focus is quite obviously on horror but there’s a broad streak of black comedy that runs throughout and works very well. Much of the weight of the film falls on Robin McReady, and she plays Lola fantastically between the need for self-validation and cruel anger. The rest of the cast are also impressive, especially Xavier Samuel in long periods where he has no dialogue but expresses no less, and Sean Byrne handles the events well in his feature debut. There’s also an inspired choice of song that returns throughout the film that adds an element of poignancy too and will be sending many people to itunes or spotify once the film finishes. On the downside at times the cutting between the main characters and the prom itself doesn’t always flow and the ending is a little overlong, but the way that plot threads and characters are tied up is nicely done. Definitely worth a watch!

Best shortRise of the Appliances

Film of the dayBuried

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The Skaro Review – Film 4 Frightfest 2010 – Day 3

Film 4 Frightfest - 26-30 August 2010

Day 3 – Saturday 28th August

by AndyJWS

Third day already, where is the time going! It’s not a cheery start to Saturday, though, with the stark and tense Cherry Tree Lane. Centering around a married couple whose evening is rather abruptly interrupted by teenage house invaders looking for their son, early impressions are of Daily Mail middle class paranoia come to life, with the attackers initially portrayed as the expected stereotypes. It even skirts uncomfortably close to racial typing, with the white teenager as a bit dim but motivated by money, and a black teen as the violent instigator. But as the film goes on, the characters are subtly developed and all involved are extremely well-written and three-dimensional; they feel real and it helps keep the tension high. Natural acting from all involved brings out the drama, and the impact of the film’s climax is heightened by its believability. Not one that is likely to prompt rewatching, but a gutpunch of a film nonetheless.

Next up was the latest from Twisted Pictures, The Tortured, which seemed like it would be another uninspired “torture porn” type entry. But it’s not quite as it seems, and some neat twists alongside decent pacing raise it above average for a genre I admit I’m not keen on. Erika Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe star as an annoyingly attractive couple whose young son is kidnapped (for a change, before the movie starts!), and the police don’t get there in time to save his life. When the perpetrator is only sentenced to a “25 to life” sentence – meaning possible parole in 10 years – they decide that this isn’t punishment enough so plan their own brand of justice… there’s a few decent twists in store and it’s slickly presented, but like some of the Saw franchise there’s a slight over-reliance on flashbacks and it occasionally feels like motivation is spread between the characters so you don’t dislike one with the other as a sole moral compass. And don’t do something silly like look at any notes you may be taking, or even blink, in the last 10 minutes or you might completely miss a rather important visual twist! Flawed, but a decent enough watch.

Then we got to watch a Halloween feature-length crossover between Hollyoaks and My Family… no, wait, it was 13Hrs. A low-budget British horror, there’s fun to be had here but the slightly soapy opening doesn’t really do the rest of the film justice with an overlong party and conversations about sex. Sarah Tyler (Isabella Calthorpe, Trinity) returns to the family home from several months abroad building an independent life to find things have changed since she left – her best friend (Gemma Atkinson, Hollyoaks) is going out with her half-brother, and suspicions are rife that her mother is cheating on her stepfather. And on this particular night, they’re not alone either… Good set design, some clever foreshadowing and good deaths help smooth over dialogue that at times feels rather scripted and a couple of silly mistakes (visible baldcap and tit tape!), to make a brisk flick that while an entertaining enough watch is still likely to disappear on DVD.

A nice surprise followed with Tom Six taking to the stage to introduce some photos from Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence and answer some questions. He jokes about being proud as a filmmaker of the death threats received in response to the first film (probably by those who hadn’t seen it!) and how “Part 1 is My Little Pony next to Part 2!” And to answer the inevitable question, this time round it is 100% medically inaccurate! The photos look much madder than the first, with huge amounts of nudity looking pretty likely this time round too – I hope that the strengths of the first will be built on with character keeping strong as well as the expected shocking imagery!

A touch of controversy next, as thanks to insistence by Westminster Council the Horror Channel-sponsored presentation of I Spit on Your Grave is the BBFC-passed version with 43 seconds of cuts (though the running time difference is only 22-seconds due to shot substitution). A remake of the unpleasant and amateurish 1978 rape-and-revenge film that gained cult status mainly thanks to its title and placement on the Video Nasty list in the 80s, the cuts are all to the gang rape rather than the revenge element, so I can’t honestly say I was disappointed. As you may have guessed from the preceding sentences, I never liked the first, and although the remake is better I still have a problem with films that involve sexual violence included just so revenge can follow. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the genuinely good The Horseman which showed at Frightfest in 2009, but the flaws stood out here – the biggest of which is tone. The rape is brutal and unforgiving, but when it comes to payback the tone switches to one of a wisecracking and cartoony horror with elaborate setup for grossout impact that completely forgets the psychology of the main character (played otherwise excellently by Sarah Butler) and in so doing, makes the whole brutal setup unnecessary – half an hour could be saved and a better film made with no reason behind the female’s psychosis. Alternatively, have the guts (pun not intended) to keep the tone consistent and with repercussions – it would be a harder watch but a much better one. Still, it’s slickly done so those who liked the original or the rape/revenge genre will probably appreciate it more than I did.

There couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the next film – the 12A-rated (what?!) road trip (eh?!) Monsters. In a near future where a capsule carrying samples from Jupiter’s moon Europa crashed in Central America, leading to the quarantine of a large portion of Mexico as an “infected zone”, a cynical journalist (Scoot McNairy) looking to make a living from pictures of the huge aliens and their impact when they clash with humans is employed to escort his magazine owner’s daughter (Whitney Able) back to the safety of the United States. Unfortunately much of the advertising draws comparisons to District 9, which is very wrong – the aliens are a backdrop to the journey of two very well drawn characters on what ultimately is much more of a love story than it is a traditional sci-fi or horror film. It’s also a film about unexpected beauty – it’s fantastically shot, and the aliens when seen in detail are more than just brilliant special effects (which will really make your jaw drop when you hear the budget…) but highlight the wonder of new life forms that the Doctor always delights in. Eagle-eyed viewing is also rewarded in the tapestry of the film, especially early on πŸ˜‰ A brilliant surprise, and a wonderful, gorgeous piece of work that highlights a true talent in British writer, director and VFX artist Gareth Edwards. Will definitely be buying the Blu-Ray when it comes out!

Saturday’s final film was Hong Kong slasher Dream Home, described intriguingly as “Friday the 13th meets Location, Location, Location“! The story centres around Cheng Lai-sheung (Josie Ho), who after being forced to move due to rising costs and closure of tower blocks as a child dreams of moving back to an apartment with a sea view. Many years later, and with her father in ill health, she finds the perfect apartment – however prices are rocketing and the cost will stretch her funds to the limit even working two jobs. But there’s no way she will give up her dream home… There’s a really rich and detailed backstory to the characters which can be both a blessing and a curse at times, as while the story is interesting the movie’s tendency to jump back and forth in time could get confusing at gone midnight after five other films! As well as good writing for the character beats – there are some really sweet moments between the children in the 1990s sections – there’s a good balance of humour throughout. There’s also an interesting reversal of the usual portrayal of gender bias, which makes a refreshing change! Ultimately though, this kind of film will be judged on it’s kills and in this case they’re brilliant and messily inventive, putting Dream Home in a strong market position for quick sale!

Film of the dayMonsters

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The Skaro Review – Film 4 Frightfest 2010 – Day 2

Film 4 Frightfest - 26-30 August 2010

Day 2 – Friday 27th August

by AndyJWS

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? πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ˜‰ ) 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 πŸ˜‰ 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 dayF Discuss these films in the forums!

The Skaro Review – Film 4 Frightfest 2010 – Day 1

Film 4 Frightfest - 26-30 August 2010


Frightfest 2010 - Art by Graham Humphreys


Day 1 – Thursday 26th August

by AndyJWS

Ah, it’s good to be back! The festival kicks off with an informal get-together of Frightfesters in the Captain’s Cabin, a pub round the corner from Leicester Square where we all catch up and coo over how posh everyone looks as we’re dolled up for the “first night red carpet”. For me, it’s a cream linen suit where the jacket is kinda too small and also rather crumpled, with a cream shirt and wine coloured tie and braces (braces are cool!). Imagine an obese beardy Sylvester McCoy going to a wedding πŸ˜‰

After a few drinks everyone heads to the Empire Leicester Square, our new home for the next five days. I’ve got an aisle seat this year for quick exits if need be and easy “spreadability” without annoying those next to me, though Screen 1 is pretty good for space anyway and I’ve always found the seats to be nice and comfy. Quite handy considering the amount of time parked there!

The Frightfest Boys (the event is organised by Alan Jones, Ian Rattray, Paul McEvoy and Greg Day) are greeted with a wall of cheers, and soon the lights are down and it’s time to start. Unfortunately, after a touching introductory shot of a well-known Frightfester who tragically died earlier this year, the technical gremlins are afoot, and what started as a promising compilation of old cheesy trailers – known as Trailer Trash – has to be cut short in the middle of a cracking ad for The Chocolate Killer! This also means that the first of this year’s Road to Frightfest shorts by Adam Green and Joe Lynch has to be put back till tomorrow.

So it’s straight onto the first feature – Adam Green’s Hatchet II. For those that haven’t seen the first, it’s a homage to the great (and sometimes not so great) slashers of the 80s in particular, featuring the disfigured swamp undead protagonist Victor Crowley.
Danielle Harris (Halloween 4/5 and the Rob Zombie Halloween II) steps into Tamara Feldman’s shoes as Marybeth, survivor of events of the first film. Keen to go back to the swamp to recover her relative’s body, she approaches Reverend Zombie (the legend that is Tony Todd) to arrange an expedition – that is also a hunt to take out Crowley once and for all… also featuring Kane Hodder (Jason in Friday the 13th VII-X) who as well as portraying Victor Crowley gets to show his face too for a change as his father in flashbacks, there are smaller roles for Tom Holland, Parry Shen (again!) and look out for Lloyd Kaufman of Troma fame! Slicker than the preceding film, it’s well shot and the laughs are nearly as plentiful as the blood, with kills that are funny as well as gorily inventive. Tony Todd stands out in what is one of his most extensive roles – it’s nice to see him get decent screen time – and is brilliantly watchable. Whilst doing nothing especially new, it’s a brash and fun film that makes for a great audience-pleasing opener.

Special note for this particular Q&A session was the awesome moment where Tony Todd turned to Kane Hodder and said “did you just interrupt me?” (cue Danielle Harris sneaking away from between them)!

Second film of the night was Australian monster(ish) flick Primal. A group of stereotyped characters head for the location of a caveman art that hasn’t been seen in over a hundred years, but with their presence something else is awakening…
It’s obvious early on this isn’t going to be a particularly original film, and first impressions aren’t good with most of the early dialogue making the central characters fairly unlikeable. There’s a blonde slut-stereotype, her bookish boyfriend stereotype, a follower-stereotype, a phobia-that-is-bound-to-come-into-play-later stereotype, an alpha male stereotype and of course the gratuitous joker stereotype – so the initial thought is to wonder who will die first! Things don’t take long to get going, and as the film progresses it becomes increasingly entertaining both in terms of dialogue and events with vaginal pulsing tunnels, super-jumping primal creatures, plenty of gore and a fantastic last line. The only problem is, I still can’t tell if it was intentional fun or was taken seriously and is so bad it’s fun! Definitely one to have the beers ready for when watching!

The day closed with British gangsters vs vampires flick Dead Cert. With a strong cast including Craig Fairbrass, Dexter Fletcher, Perry Benson, Steven Berkoff and Billy Murray, early impressions were good with a strong opening establishing a world of bare-knuckle fighting and betting that have helped Freddy “Dead Cert” Frankham (Fairbrass) finally afford to buy and open a nightclub called Paradise. Unfortunately, some visiting Romanian gangsters led by the ominously named Dante Livenko (Murray) take a shine to the club and would like a base of operations for their running of mysterious new drug Bliss. And of course, they don’t like to take no for an answer… you’ll notice there is no mention of vampires there, as the balance in this film is heavily on the gangster side – think the opposite of From Dusk Till Dawn in terms of focus. When it comes to the horror side, the filmmakers seem less confident too, as although there are occasional good ideas they are slightly overrun by dialogue becoming weaker and the climax is a letdown. Budget clearly comes into play at times, with a very empty nightclub apparently getting a full refit which amounts to changing some lightbulbs, adding a small fire and having the dancers wear black! It’s all quite serious too, and I can’t help but feel adding some more comedy would have been very well received. All in all I wouldn’t say I really disliked it, but it didn’t quite live up to its potential and has to go down as just OK. And in case you wondered how it was possible to make a Cockney gangster film without Danny Dyer, keep your eyes peeled at the end πŸ˜‰

Film of the dayHatchet II

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