Day five of Frightfest and patterns are starting to emerge, not least in front of TF’s eyes.
“You wouldn’t believe how many found footage horrors we’ve seen this year,” says organiser Paul McEvoy before Richard Parry’s A Night In The Woods. Yeah, we would.
Based on Dartmoor’s hairy hands legend and, more pressingly, The Blair Witch Project, it’s some distance behind FF’s other shaky-cam horror, Atrocious, in everything but running time.
Still, it’s always nice to see actor Scoot McNairy, and was that director Gareth Edwards watching his old Monsters mucker from the back row? Yes it was.
Another notable 2011 trope has been the reverso horror-com. Tucker & Dale Vs Evil put us in the shoes of harmless (if brainless) rednecks. Sweet, silly and stonerish, DeadHeads goes one better, showing an outbreak from the POV of lovelorn “good” zombie Michael McKiddy.
“We were worried,” says one of the Pierce brothers, who wrote/directed and grew up on the Evil Dead set where their dad did the SFX. “Is this all gonna mesh into one movie?” Yup.
Sennentuntschi: Curse Of The Alps directed by Michael Steiner is a superior Swiss fable – the country’s first genre movie. It joins Troll Hunter and Saint in updating a strange European legend, and The Woman in dramatising the sins of the fathers being enacted on an innocent – but far from helpless – female.
Beforehand, Steiner talks of the difficulties of getting a horror film made in Switzerland, although his main worry was that other curse of the Alps: avalanches.
Sharing its faecal obsession with slurry-laden sequences in The Divide and The Holding, Inbred has little to recommend it beyond the SFX. It features a backwoods boozer called The Dirty Hole, and one character gets pumped full of crap. Enough said.
This truly has been the year of the woman, and Melissa George excels as a kickass climber Julian Gilbey’s kidnap drama, /A Lonely Place To Die/. Still, the performance of the festival goes to the amazing Amazonian Pollyanna McIntosh as The Woman’s primal protagonist.
But FF is also about bucking trends and breaking rules. Showing on the Discovery Screen for a record third time, Israeli effort Rabies is, like Sennentuntschi, it’s native country’s first horror, and, like The Woman, The Divide and Tucker & Dale, it features scenes of acute finger trauma.
But this is also an original – blackly comic, brutal, surprising, moving. “It’s Magnolia meets Friday The 13TH,” say writer/directors Aharaon Keshales and Navot Papushado, “a serial killer film in which the killer doesn’t actually kill anyone.”
Shot in 19 days, Rabies has – rightly – wowed at the Israeli box office and now the floodgates are open. “We’re responsible for a lot of trashy films coming out in the next few years!” say the debuting writer/directors.
Frankly, if they’re anything like as good as Rabies, this is one pattern we’re happy to see repeated...
What better way to start a Sunday than with a pitiless post-apocalyptic nightmare?
Welcome to The Divide, the latest from French director Xavier Gens (best known for Frontier(s); worst known for Hitman).
The Divide starts with New York engulfed in nuclear hellfire. And then it gets really grim.
We hole up with a group of survivors (among them Michael Biehn, Rosanna Arquette and Heroes' Milo Ventimiglia) in the basement of their apartment block, looking on as they feud, form alliances and find there's nothing to eat but baked beans.
If the movie teaches us anything, it's that no matter how bleak things get, how hopeless the future looks, human beings will keep shitting on each other (not literally, though they do some pretty awful things to one another).
Gens' vision is as nihilistic as they come, but as compelling as it is depressing - particularly in the second half, when it becomes clear he's not going to surrender his convictions to pat optimism or phony redemption.
Still, The Divide could lose 20 or so minutes - there's only so much man's-inhumanity-to-man an audience can take. Especially when half of them are hungover.
Luckily, good times were right around the corner in the shape of Andy Nyman's Quiz From Hell 2.
"Like all sequels, this is going to be a bit shitter than the first one," reckoned our host.
But he proved himself wrong with a cracking horror-knowledge test that included the poser, "How many different types of pussy are on offer at the Titty Twister bar in From Dusk Till Dawn?" You wouldn't get that on A Question Of Sport. (The answer's 17, if you were wondering.)
More fun followed with a firm FrightFest favourite: The Short Film Showcase (presented by The Horror Channel).
This year's selection was big on comedy, disembowelment and comedy disembowelment - the runaway winner in the latter department being beach-zombie massacre Brutal Relax, followed by Banana Motherfucker (title of the weekend!)
We also gawped and giggled through Demonitron: The 6th Dimension, a Grindhouse-style fake trailer for a phantasma-gore-ical 80s pastiche/piss-take.
More trailers (real ones this time; anyone got a copy of Schizoid buried in the attic?) preceded Tai West's heart-warming, blood-icing ghost-story gem The Innkeepers, which you can read more about elsewhere on the site.
The ever-affable West was on hand to bookend the screening, regaling us with anecdotes of how an un-vain Kelly McGillis coolly signed on via Skype after other actresses of a certain age turned down her potentially unflattering role.
Before the evening's films got underway, we were treated to another short - Santa Claus Vs The Thing - in which a debate over the merits of 3D is resolved via a loving homage to the classic alleyway fight from John Carpenter's The Thing.
The Santa theme continued with Saint - or Sint, to give the original title - from Dutch director Dick Maas (Amsterdamned), who was happy and humbled to be showing one of his films in a UK cinema for the first time.
His movie has a killer premise: Father Christmas as Freddy Krueger, seeking vengeance from beyond the grave.
Whenever there's a full moon on December 5th, Saint Nick and the Black Peters (a band of charcoal-coated zombies) attack Amsterdam.
Like Christmas itself, the build-up's actually the most enjoyable part; Saint has pacing issues and seems unsure who its protagonist is (the young guy? The old guy? The girl who starts front and centre then disappears for half the running time?).
Yet it boasts some impressive sudden shocks and splattery kills, and at least one stand-out sequence: Santa on horseback (hooves on roofs!) versus the police.
Director Maas revealed post-screening that Holland's Saint Nicholas Society didn't want shooting to go ahead; also that a real horse was used most of the time. (He must be the first actor to have a long face before working with green screen.)
The evening's main event was the UK premiere of Ben Wheatley's astonishing Kill List, sponsored by Total Film and introduced by our own Jamie Graham. As you may already have gathered, we're rather fond of it...
Nothing like a massive troll to clear the morning cobwebs. Day 3 kicked off with a proper crowd pleaser with Norwegian mock doc Troll Hunter where a team of documentarians stumble across a grizzly old man with a cool job.
Effects were phenomenal and the audience were wowed, though it could perhaps have done with an edit and a few more gags. The trolls were awesome though.
Next up was Robin Hardy’s long awaited spin-off to The Wicker Man, The Wicker Tree. “It’s not a conventional horror film” said the 82 year old director in the slightly odd intro, where Hardy introduced the cast one by one on stage and didn’t let them say anything. “In the words of Christopher Lee” said Hardy (Lee was not in attendance and has a small cameo) “It’s erotic, comic, romantic and horrific enough to melt the barrels of a bronze statue.”
Yeah, it’s not. It’s a camp, baggy, bizarre and boring pagan pestering sex romp.
Blessed relief then, from Panic Button a fast-paced techno-fear mash up of Chatroom, My Little Eye and Saw set on a plane.
It’s dumb, yes, unoriginal, totally and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny but it’s so much fun, the leads so committed and likeable (shouts to Scarlett ‘Vicky Fowler’ Roberts and Jack Gordon (more on him later) particularly.
An unintentionally funny Q&A with director Chris Crow, plus cast followed. Questions included ‘I love the cinematography, are you proud of it?’ and ‘Do you think this film could be shown as an educational tool in schools?’ Err no.
Quick pint at TF HQ (The Imperial) then back to the Empire for Fright Night – though before this the third of ID Film's Carpenter homage shorts – Halloween, by Severance writer James Moran. It was a spoof trailer – self aware, funny, with a cool twist on the annoying kids cliché. Halloween meets Gran Torino, if you will.
We also got a sneaky first look at Strippers Vs Werewolves (it’s got Robert Englund in it and it’s called Strippers Vs Werewolves. ‘Nuff said) and Elfie Hopkins (other worldly, intriguing – looking forward to this).
So Fright Night then – a fun 3D remake that didn’t outstay its welcome. Anton Yelchin stars as likeable every-dude Charley Brewster living next door to Colin Farrell’s sexy vampire.
Imogen Poots smoulders as his hot girlfriend, Christopher Minz Plasse scene steals as his nerdy mate and David Tennant minces about in leather trousers doing his best Russell Brand as Vegas show magician Peter Vincent. As remakes go, it was a hit – pacey, funny, modern and slick with decent 3D, showcased in a stand out smashing car chase.
Next up, The Woman one of the most anticipated films of the fest – it did not disappoint. Punishing in parts, difficult to stomach but nothing less than intense, with an astonishing stand out performance (although to be fair everyone in this was great) by Pollyanna McIntosh as the feral Woman taken in by a well to do family who aren’t what they seem.
“It’s a film about abuse,” according to McKee. “It’s hurtful for anyone to call me sexist or misogynist, I just adore women and if you watch every film that I’ve made it’s about women and about stuff that women specifically go through.” It’ll be one of the most talked about movies of FF too.
While The Woman was unleashing all hell in the main screen, two hapless hit men were flirting with it over in the Discovery.
Sean Hogan’s The Devil’s Business was a strange slow build fable, where two guns for hire stumble upon something sinister and deeply wrong when they’re sent on a hit with a difference.
Jack Gordon (from Panic Button) impresses as the naive protégé killer but this is really Billy Clarke’s film, bringing emotion and nuance to a tough roll. Feels like a companion piece to Kill List – more on that tomorrow.
And finally Chillerama - surprisingly good fun after a couple of punishers. It’s an anthology comedy including tales of sperm on the rampage, teenage werebears, The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein (previewed last year) and a thing about poo.
FF faves Adam Green and Joe Lynch, who both directed a segment, introduced it and babbled on forever, but everyone loved it. Great end to a packed day.
Day Two :
Today’s movies all involved entrapment of one kind or another.
Rogue River sees a woman drive into the wilderness to spread her father’s ashes at the titular beauty spot in Oregon, only to instead find herself locked in the house of a crazed couple. And they seemed so nice…
Urban Explorer puts four foolhardy American teens into an underground bunker in Berlin with a former East German border guard. They were looking for a good time off the beaten path; all they get is beaten. Oh, and one of them is peeled like an orange and has salt poured on his innards..
Vile lives up to its title as a group of strangers wake up in a prison and have to take it in turns to torture each other to win their escape.
The Glass Man follows a desperate man (Andy Nyman) enduring a long night of the soul after losing his job and receiving a visit from a hellish debt collector. Can he find a way out?
Tucker & Dale Vs Evil throws a bunch of college kids into labyrinthine woods in West Virginia and pits them against a couple of rednecks, with surprising results.
And low-budget UK effort The Holding sees a woman desperately trying to keep her farm afloat after the mysterious disappearance of her husband. Desperate to escape her problems, she enlists the help of a stranger. Bad mistake.
No classics here but Tucker & Dale squeezes a lot of fun out of subverting the clichés of slasher movies and backwoods survivalist flicks.
The joke (and it’s a good one) is that the eponymous rednecks are just good ol’ country boys with hearts of gold, but the college kids see only their preconceived notions – nutjobs wielding chainsaws and axes – and their own panic leads to a rising body count as the splatstick piles up.
The Glass Man and Rogue River are also worth tracking down – if you missed them at FrightFest, that is .
The former effectively turns the psychological screws and features strong performances from Nyman, scream queen Neve Campbell as his cut-glass accented English wife and the hulking James Cosmo as the debt collector.
The latter wrings effective suspense from a standard set-up and is enlived by strong, nutty performances. Horror icon Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) is especially good as the helpful old codger who turns out to be totally unhinged.
The day’s other event was the Total Film Interview, an on-stage Q&A with the most underrated guy working in horror today, Larry Fessenden.
New Yorker Larry was on great form, speaking with passion and eloquence about his criminally underseen features (No Telling, Habit, Wendigo, The Last Winter) and his tireless work as an actor and producer. He also spoke frankly about working on The Orphanage remake with Guillermo del Toro and Kate Winslet before it all slipped away.
Larry and Total Film were then joined on stage by directors Ti West (The House Of The Devil), Adam Green (Hatchet), Lucky McKee (The Woman), Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End) and producer Andrew Van Den Houten (The Woman) to talk about American Horror.
An animated, heartfelt discussion took in sequels, remakes, indies, the MPAA, torture porn, today’s horror vs the ’68-’78 vintage and what it means for the genre that the big-wig likes of Aronofsky (Black Swan), Scorsese (Shutter Island), Von Trier (Antichrist) and Pedro Almodóvar (The Skin I Live In) have recently dipped their toes in the genre.
Afterwards, Larry and co meandered through the buzzing foyer and happily signed autographs while taking more questions.
“Man, that was good,” said Fessenden over a beer at the bar. “Festivals like this are so important, to get the work shown.” He also shared that his next film as director is going to be a sorta-sequel to his soulful and shivery 2001 picture Wendigo.
“But it’s set in Mexico!” he said, signalling an about-turn from the original’s snowy Catskill Mountains setting. “Figure that one out!”
Alan Tudyk Interview (Tucker & Dale vs Evil)
TF: Is there going to be a sequel?
AT: "I would love there to be a sequel. I know on set we threw around ideas about it and I think we came up with the concept of seeing Tucker and Dale go to Yale and horror ensues.
"If I got a chance to work with Tyler I would love it. I would do a bank commercial with him, that’s how much I like working with him."
TF: Favourite Kill?
AT: "My favourite kill was either the wood chipper or the one where the guy falls on Tyler and the stake goes through him and their faces get closer and closer. I remember the wood chipper kill and it was me holding a guy who was in the woodchipper wriggling his legs while they squirted blood at me."
TF: How do you feel about “College Kids” becoming a catchphrase?
AT: "Hahahaha I love it. “College Kids!”"
So, Day 2 is over, and the place was buzzing. Day 3 promises Troll Hunter, the Fright Night remake, belated Wicker Man sequel The Wicker Tree and Lucky McKee’s tough-meat, must-see opinion divider The Woman. Deep breaths all round, please…
It’s the first night of the greatest horror event of the year and Leicester Square is transformed. Out are the lost tourists with a fragile grasp of pavement etiquette; in are the Lost Boys and Girls with a fragile grasp of social etiquette.
Milling through the 2,000-strong crowds thronging the Empire cinema, TF passes directors Neil (The Descent) Marshall, Lucky (May) McKee and Ti (House Of The Devil) West. Oh yes, and a man with a “Slaughtered Lamb” T-shirt for whom lamb-slaughtering could well be a pastime. FrightFest is on.
After a Jake West-directed short put together by ID Films, homaging Escape From New York and, frankly, plissing all over Escape From LA, up pops Guillermo del Toro to introduce Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark.
“It’s a movie I love deeply, based on one I saw 30 years ago when I was a wee lad,” he says. “It scared the crap out of me... but I still have some left.” Phew.
What follows is a classy old-school creeper showcasing great CGI and terrible parenting. Still, it’s nice to see Neighbours’ Guy Pearce and Alan Dale reunited, even if the circumstances could be happier.
Next up is a teaser for 2012’s Cockneys Versus Zombies featuring Brick Top (from Snatch) and Pussy Galore (from Goldfinger) – possibly the filthiest non-filthy sentence TF has ever typed – a nice little appetiser for Final Destination 5.
Sure enough, this riotous 3D V-equel (™ TF 2012) goes off to the sound of 2,000 gobs being smacked, the soon-to-be legendary bridge sequence getting a much-deserved ovation for its awesomeness in all degrees. Well, three.
Final film of the evening is The Theatre Bizarre, a portmanteau of saucy stories set in a cinema full of freaks. In many ways the experience replicates FF itself – two of the segments are genuinely brilliant, two are gloopy good fun, two are rubbish – so you just don’t know what you’re gonna get. Or is that Forrest Gump?
When TF stumbles out, satisfied, into the 2am rain the tourists have long gone. And you know what? The remaining hordes – pale, hungry, glazed of eye – look much more like zombies than cockneys...
Are you at FrightFest 2011? Drop your comments below!