Day 5 – Monday 30th August
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… 😉 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 😉 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!” 😉 ) 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 day – The Last Exorcism