Can nothing put the FrightFest crowd down?
Four days and 20 movies in, no-one showed any sign of flagging, the faces all still grinning and talking excitedly as they poured through the double doors to watch Moral Panic, Censorship And Videotape, an 80-minute documentary on the early ‘80s Video Nasties phenomenon.
Timely, given Japanese torture porn movie Grotesque was banned outright earlier this year, and FrightFest 2010 has been gutted by the censor’s blades – I Spit On Your Grave suffered 36 cuts and A Serbian Movie was removed altogether, the festival organisers rightly refusing to show it in a butchered form.
There followed a panel debate featuring, among others, director of the documentary Jake West and British Board of Film Classification spokesbody David Hyman.
Also present was Total Film’s own special guest Tobe Hooper, whose Texas Chain Saw Massacre was banned during the autocratic days of James Ferman’s presidency.
Little was resolved in 30 minutes, but it’s clear the BBFC are moving backwards after a decade or so of decent, liberal decision-making, and the only way to stop the slide is to speak up – to write about it, both to your MPs and online.
Xxx claimed the BBFC act on a tide of public opinion measured via extensive research, only no-one Total Film has ever met seems to have been polled, and the 2000-strong crowd at FrightFest certainly haven’t.
So, please, make those voices heard…
Meanwhile, over in the Discovery Screen section of FrightFest, French/Belgian production Amer (Bitter) was playing to a reverential audience.
Directed by Belgian first-timers Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, this delirious giallo references Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and more while also establishing its own style.
It all but ignores dialogue and plot, instead communicating through sensual close-ups, ravishing colours and magnified sound design.
Amer tells of a female’s fears in three stages of her life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood. In the first section, she must contend with grandma’s dead body residing in the room next door.
In the second, she makes eyes at the local boys, much to her mother’s disgust.
And finally she finds herself trapped in the family mansion, stalked by a black-gloved, switchblade-wielding killer – or maybe by her own fantasies and fears.
Some will find it nonsensical, others a bit student-y in its artful compositions and slavish obsessions, but desire and danger throb from every frame and fans of the Italian masters will rejoice.
The dead rose once more in the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin titled The Dead, a zombie movie set off the coast of Africa.
The sun beats down, sand and dust swirl, and Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) must try to survive and get back to his family in America after crash-landing in hell.
Dignified performances (especially Prince David Osei as a local military man), some striking kills and the burnished landscapes make this a zombie film worth sorting from the pack, and it gets better as it goes on, the population dwindling and the action becoming ever more spare.
Bedevilled is one of four Asian horror films on show this year. It’s the slow-burn tale of two women put under extreme duress, and it primarily takes place on the island of Moodo, where Seoul woman Hae-won (Ji Sung-won) visits her childhood friend Bok-nam (Seo Young-hee) and is shocked to find her being regularly beaten by her husband and treated like a slave by the older women.
Tensions build darkly on the idyllic, sun-blasted island, and this controlled psychodrama finally tilts into horror movie extremis in the final half hour, jets of blood offering savage release from the looong build-up.
Britain’s very own Simon Rumley goes to Austin, Texas for Red, White And Blue, the magnetic tale of damaged loner Erica (Amanda Fuller) who fucks around but never connects, then forms a tentative bond with Iraq war veteran Nate (Noah Taylor).
He treats her nice but you can’t help feeling this is a guy more messed up than she is, and so it proves when a nasty blast from Erica’s sordid past threatens to destroy their relationship and more.
An interesting twist on the rape-revenge saga, Red, White And Blue features a mesmerising, soulful, frighteningly intense performance from Taylor, who viewers will know from playing the adolescent David Helfgott in 1996 biopic Shine.
Nate’s recourse to grubby, sickening violence is convincingly portrayed, and the whole film feels authentic in its representation of a desolate, dead-end world.
Yet there’s also a seedy magic to Rumley’s movie, the sick, slick visuals gleaming with a feverish intensity and the dust and neon painting Austin as a twilight netherworld.
FrightFest went out on a bang last night, not only closing with one of the strongest (and scariest) films of the festival, The Last Exorcism, but bringing producer and promoter extraordinaire Eli Roth into town to big it up.
Safe to say he wasn’t backwards in coming forwards.
The best possession movie since, well, Possession (1981), The Last Exorcism is a mock-doc following renegade preacher Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) as he sets about performing the titular ritual on teenager Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell).
The camera crew are in tow because Marcus is promising to reveal the tricks of his trade, to unveil his charlatan existence.
Naturally he’s not prepared for what he finds. And nor were viewers judging from the hand-to-mouth silences and the sudden shrieks and groans that filled the auditorium.
The ending is abrupt, and robs the movie of much of its delicious ambiguity, but The Last Exorcism is a superbly performed, supremely assembled fright flick that shakes viewers to the soul.
If you were not at FrightFest, be sure to catch it when it haunts cinemas nationwide on Friday.
And so it ends, for another year at least. The overall standard of movies this year was solid if not spectacular (compared, say, to 2008, when the line-up included Martyrs, Let The Right One In, Timecrimes and Mum & Dad), but the atmosphere and experience were as perfect as ever.
See you at FrightFest 2011. And if you’re a FrightFest virgin, be sure to pop your cherry…
Day 3: Cannibals, banshees and Ryan Reynolds in a coffin!
Just about everything was chucked into The Pack yesterday morning – torture porn, monsters, eco-horror, a Night Of The Living Dead-style siege…
It starts off ‘normally’ enough, Charlotte (Emilie Dequenne) picking up a hitchhiker as insurance against the OTT bad-ass bikers who are harassing her, only for her protector to turn out to be the real threat as he leads her to his mental mamma’s roadside saloon – La Spack – and imprisons her in a cramped cage.
Then the bikers turn out to be more than a MacGuffin after all, returning to, ahem, flesh out the action, and everyone’s captured and tortured and hung upside down by a slag heap so that their blood can seep into the scarred earth and call forth some slobbering zombie-monsters that look like Lord Voldemort spliced with FrightFest co-director Alan Jones.
Looks like Mother Nature is about to get her own back…
Shot murky and moody, the grim blood-letting takes place within some hauntingly poetic visuals that occasionally lend the tale a fable territory – think Frontier(s) meets Night Of The Hunter, or Switchblade Romance meets the Pale Man sequence of Pan’s Labyrinth.
Yes, it’s that fucked up.
The Pack is not especially good but it’s not at all bad either, and it certainly rubbed the sleep out of FrightFest’s eyes on a bleary Sunday morning after a long, hard Saturday.
Next up was Andy Nyman’s Quiz From Hell – it’s always good to see the expert FrightFest crowd pushed to the limits of their immense knowledge – and the Short Film Showcase.
The standard of the mini-movies was high this year, with Total Film taking a particular liking to Rise Of The Appliances (who’d have thought a Breville could do such damage?) and Papa Wrestling (a Nacho Libre-style dad exacts very violent vengeance on his son’s bullies).
Far more low-key and sombre in tone was cannibal movie We Are What We Are, dubbed ‘the Mexican Let The Right One In’ when it played at Cannes earlier this year.
WAWWA concerns a family of cannibals – mother, two sons, daughter – who must learn to fend and feed for themselves when papa cannibal dies at the start of the movie.
Living in grimy poverty, they exit their squalid apartment to search for food amid the city’s mean and filthy streets, trawling low-rent clubs, overpasses, subways and the red light district in search of prostitutes, the homeless and junkies. Anyone who won’t be missed.
This is the kind of learn-to-adapt story that normally features vampires so the cannibal riff is a welcome twist, but We Are What We Are never bites deep enough.
Artfully composed, painstakingly poised, and painted almost entirely in browns and greys, it all feels a little lifeless, lacking a pulse or a change of pace.
Unlike Let The Right One In, WAWWA never truly engages us with its protagonists’ alienation, and without a beating heart it all feels a little cold and po-faced.
There are moments of black humour, most notably when the cops and a ragged band of hookers all convene on the family’s rundown apartment at the same time, but anyone hoping for poignancy or warmth will leave grim-faced.
We Are What We Are is what it is – a well put-together but ultimately forgettable, one-note drama.
Ozzie entry Damned By Dawn was fun, though its old-school scares out-stayed their welcome even at 81 minutes.
Billed in the gloriously hyperbolic FrightFest programme as Evil Dead 4, it features a family trapped in their isolated country house as an army of the undead assault them from all sides. And above and below.
Why? Something to do with nana’s passage to the other side being interrupted because the banshee sent to lament her death was forced to stop mid-wail. Why else?
Anyway, all that matters is that the Amazing Krypto Brothers use every penny of their 10p budget to cover the screen with rolling banks of mist, spectral shadow-play and a host of witchy-women and skeletons flying through the air, raining death.
The banshee, meanwhile, unleashes a flurry of deafening wails to freeze the blood, even if there is a hint of boiling-kettle about them.
It’s all done with a great deal of panache, given the budget, but does get repetitious an hour in, and the amateur acting doesn’t help either.
Evil Dead 4? Go to hell, though there’s more than enough here to suggest the Krypto boys could do something special if they had a few extra coins to rub together.
Showing no sign of wilting, the FrightFest crowd surged into the auditorium at 9pm to see what surprise film they had in store given the withdrawal of A Serbian Film (the BBFC wanted 49 cuts, totalling more than four minutes).
It was Buried – Ryan Reynolds stuck in a coffin with only a zippo and a mobile phone for 90 minutes.
A triumph of technique and imagination that recalls the filmmaking tasks Hitchcock used to set himself – do a whole film in ‘one’ take (Rope), shoot an entire movie in a lifeboat (er, Lifeboat) – Buried makes ingenious use of its ridiculously cramped set, the camera sliding and gliding and pirouetting within the box.
A full review is already live on TotalFilm.com. Check it out.
FrightFest heroes Adam Green (Hatchet) and Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End) then took to the stage to tell everyone about their new anthology movie Chillorama, featuring four short movies by four different directors.
Green’s short is called The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein, and he showed it in full – basically a Universal monster movie send-up by way of Mel Brooks, with Kane Hodder (aka Jason Vorhees) playing a Jewish version of Frankenstein's monster. Great fun.
Last film of a packed Day 3 was another Australian outing (the fest is full of ‘em) The Loved Ones, some kind of demented, sick-puppy mash-up of Misery, Mum & Dad and Carrie.
The Loved Ones features a terrific lead performance from Robin McLeavy as Lola, a girl who holds her own private prom with the help of her insane father – he kidnaps Lola a king for the night, Brent (Xavier Samuel), and straps him to a chair ready for the torturous activities to unfold.
Optimum Releasing own the rights to The Loved Ones and will be putting it out in the UK. Be sure to take your partner – it’s the perfect date movie.
To hear from Loved Ones star Robin McLeavy, check out the video below...
Tune in tomorrow to see what the final day of FrightFest has in store. It’s not going to be modest, that’s for sure. Eli Roth is rolling into town…
Day 2: Home invasion, spitting on graves and lots of monsters!
Day 2 kicked off with Cherry Tree Lane, writer/director Paul Andrew Williams’ follow-up to The Cottage and London To Brighton.
A low-budget home invasion thriller with a very British sensibility, it could have been titled Funny Games UK.
Keeping all the grisly bits off screen (but vivid in the imagination) as a nice middle-class, middle-age couple find their home overtaken by their son’s vengeful mates, Cherry Tree Lane subtly raises questions about race, class and the ever-widening generation gap.
It scores points for daring to flesh out its yobby youths – they’re really not so bad when they’re not taping people up or committing rape in an upstairs bedroom – but it’s all a little polite and could have done without the in-jokes (Night Of The Living Dead playing on TV).
Still, Williams’ refusal to splash the claret was entirely preferable to the pornographic torture sequences on display in Tortured, quite possibly the sub-genre’s low point if you can (please, god) forget about Roland Joffe’s Captives.
Like Cherry Tree Lane, it involves a middle-class couple having to fight back, this time when their six-year-old son is kidnapped and murdered and the justice system lets them down. Their response is to capture the fiend responsible (Bill Mosely, creepy) and strap him in the cellar.
“Imagine the worst pain you’ve ever experienced,” snarls doctor-dad Jesse Metcalfe. “This will be worse.”
Such lumbering dialogue is the norm, and every bit as painful as the cigar burns, syringes, scalpels, pliers and vices that are remorselessly wielded. How’s this for pillow talk after a hard day’s torturing: “Tomorrow we can pick up where we left off,” murmurs bereaved mom Erika Christensen. “Have breakfast, grab our tools…”
Cheap-as-heavily-ketchuped-chips Brit monster movie 13Hrs was a bit better, trapping a bunch of late-teens in a country house with a glowy-eyed monster who sees the world in infra-red.
The group’s dynamics are convincingly sketched, their jealousies and rivalries threatening to be their undoing at a time they need to come together, and the no-fuss, no-money transformation scene towards the end of the movie is an object lesson in how to circumvent financial restraints with economy and élan.
13Hrs is not especially scary and the final twist is blindingly obvious, but it’s fun while it lasts and played well to the FrightFest crowd. Whether it has any chance beyond the devoted is dubious, though a DVD release is scheduled for October.
The evening at FrightFest saw the entire festival go up a level. The buzz in the air was palpable, the lobby thrumming with people desperate to see two of the hottest tickets in town: the remake of the notorious 1978 gut-churner I Spit On Your Grave, followed by Total Film’s sponsored movie, Monsters.
Both movies played superbly, the fest suddenly going up a level to deliver the kind of must-see titles it’s always delivered over the years (Pan’s Labyrinth, Let The Right One In, Martyrs). Full reviews are already up and running on totalfilm.com, so no room to go into them here.
And besides, there’s another movie starting in a minute…
Check in tomorrow to read the full review of Day 3, including FrightFest’s ‘mystery film’ – a last-minute replacement for A Serbian Film, which has been pulled due to a fit of moral panic at the BBFC.
We know what the mystery movie is. We’ve seen it. And trust us, it’s a belter…
Day 1: Eggshells, Chainsaws, Tobe Hooper and a whole lot bloody more!
Friday's FrightFest was a packed-out blast, even if the 2000 punters rammed into the Empire cinema in Leicester Square were all bleeding from the eyes and ears by 2.30pm – with four more movies to go.
The day started with Total Film’s inaugural Total Icon strand, whereby each year we will bring a living legend of the genre to London.
Total Icon #1 was Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist, as well such underrated cheapo curios as Eaten Alive and The Funhouse.
First off was a screening Tobe’s feature debut, Eggshells (1969), a $100,000 experimental art film about the death of flower power and something odd lurking in the basement of a house in Texas.
Long thought lost, Eggshells has been screened only a couple of times anywhere in the world, and nobody at FrightFest seemed quite sure of what they were watching.
Acid-trip visuals were married to a clanging, shrieking, piercing soundtrack, and the film was by turns beautiful, tender, ominous, nonsensical, aggressive, rubbish and genius.
What was clear was just how many of Chain Saw’s tropes and themes were here being worked out, and any fan of that masterpiece should buy Eggshells when it debuts on Blu-ray next year.
As Hooper himself later admitted, it is very much a companion piece, though he didn’t realise it until many years later.
Next was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre itself, back up on the big screen where it belongs, shredding flesh, flaying nerves.
It hasn’t aged a jot and 2000 shaking bodies and happy faces emerged from the darkness of the theatre to pour gratefully into Leicester Square for breath.
And then, the Big Event: Tobe Hooper live on stage for a 45-minute Q&A, his first appearance in the UK for 18 years.
Tobe talked to Total Film about Eggshells, Chain Saw, his relationship with Spielberg during Poltergeist, big-budget failure (commercially, at least) Lifeforce, Eaten Alive, Chainsaw 2, his childhood in Austin, Texas, his plans for Spider-Man back in the mid-80s and Jessica Biel’s arse.
The rest of the day passed in a blur, fans still buzzing from having Hooper patiently sign every bit of memorabilia thrust his way.
Isle Of Dogs was well-acted and winked affectionately at Italian giallo, but the plot was near-incomprehensible, all the characters reprehensible and it couldn’t disguise its meagre budget.
F was Johannes Roberts’ carefully crafted love letter to John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 (right down to the graceful tracking shots), the action this time set in a school menaced by faceless hoodies.
Not as scary as other evil-youth pics like Ils, Eden Lake and The Strangers, it was, however, constantly unnerving, and it boasted a couple of fleshed out characters, an effective score (part Carpenter-esque ambience, part Goblin-esque demonic rasp) and a terrific closing shot. Recommended.
Film of the day, though, was Patrick Hughes’ blood-red neo-Western Red Hill.
Starring True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten as the new constable in town, Red Hill sees a dusty town come under siege when an escaped convict rides in looking for revenge.
Near invincible, kind of mythical, convicted murderer Jimmy Conway (Tom E Lewis) evokes No Country For Old Men’s Chigurh as he methodically guns down the town’s menfolk.
But Red Hill also tips its Stetson to Spaghetti westerns, Ozploitation flicks (check out the cursory car chase and the surreal intervention of a giant black cat) and Ted Kotcheff’s terrific 1971 drama Wake In Fright, albeit with less intensity.
Stylised but never so comic book as to take away the pain of the gun wounds, Red Hill is one to watch when it rides into UK cinemas courtesy of Momentum Pictures.
And so FrightFest 2010 Day 2 begins... check back tomorrow for the round up.