As a lifelong (from the cradle, literally!) horror fan, I always promised myself that I’d make it along to a Frightfest event at some point, but it’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since the first one gave the hardcore gore-ghouls their very own festival. That’s alot of horror, and alot of horror-themed activity I’ve unfortunately missed. Galvanised by recently catching up with some of last year’s outstanding entries (‘Martyrs‘, ‘Let The Right One In‘, ‘Inside/A L’Interieur‘ – if you haven’t seen them, check them out), I took the plunge, splashed the cash and made my way to Leicester Square for a macabre marathon of celluloid nightmares.
What I couldn’t have expected or hoped for – despite the reputation the event is increasingly building – was how much of an overall experience and community atmosphere the weekend provided. The planning, effort and enthusiasm which goes into Frightfest screams through the whole five days, and this inevitably bleeds through to the crowd. The most lingering memory isn’t necessarily of any one movie or single surprise the organisers have orchestrated; it is more of the feeling of being where you belong, a kid in a cinematic candy store with a legion of like-minded reprobates feeding off each others’ excitement and opinions. Like the best music festival, it is a holiday in itself with all the indulgence you crave crammed into a few days. Come the final night, you wish it wasn’t over. Your eyeballs and ass-cheeks might say otherwise though – for the sake of your health and sanity, you might not want to live in Frightfestville, no matter how nice a place it is to visit!
Of course, the films themselves are the bloody, beating heart of Frightfest. No matter how amazing it was to see, hear and meet John Landis (in attendance all weekend, watching, signing and chatting to anyone who wanted a word – which was everyone), or how poignant it was to see Michael Jackson’s zombified jericurl on a giant screen, or how fanboy-arousing it obviously was to witness lovelies like Melissa George, Myleene Klass, Emily Booth and, er, Justin Lee Collins in the flesh, the simple pleasure of seeing some new horror films was what held the weekend together. The good, the bad, the ugly – they all found a home at Frightfest, as well as a rapturous reception. SO, without further ado, here are my pick of the 10 up-and-coming movies (out of over 25 watched in less than 5 days) I would wholeheartedly recommend to any right-minded degenerate. Be afraid, be very afraid . . .
1] ‘The Human Centipede’ – I nearly didn’t watch this: I couldn’t see how the Cronenbergian concept could be carried over into anything resembling ‘entertainment’, and the lurid boasts on the poster (‘Shockingly Controversial!’ ‘100% Medically Accurate!’) turned me off instead of intriguing me. How wrong I was! While by no means perfect – almost a case of execution reflecting content – this sick little puppy had me squirming and squealing in both disgust and delight for most of its duration. The everyday tale of a renowned Siamese-twin-separating surgeon and his new pet project (the clue’s in the title), the film’s dry humour and refreshing emphasis on ideas instead of in-your-face grue (something of an achievement given the premise) helped it stand out in a very varied, patchy crowd. The potential for the outlandish story to descend into farce is skilfully managed, with several crowd-pleasing moments of tension-puncturing hilarity keeping the film palatable. Most reviews have given away too many details of the titular conceit – I’d recommend that you avoid finding out any more, and simply make a mental note to go and see this when it eventually surfaces next year, hopefully in cinemas. You may laugh, you may cry, you may hurl, but you won’t have seen anything like it.
2] ‘The Horseman’ – This brutal Australian revenge drama has been widely compared to ‘Dead Man’s Shoes‘ but I actually thought it was better and deeper than Shane Meadows’ (admittedly good) film, with its cliched flashbacks and gimmicky ‘revelation’. The acting and dialogue are mostly subtle and convincing, with an impassioned and increasingly emotional performance from the lead actor. Some of the situations will have audiences’ eyes watering (particularly the men), and there are some intensely gritty fights along the way. The journey is harrowing but leavened by a touching relationship that develops between the grieving father (out to avenge his daughter) and a young female drifter, as well as the mounting sense of justice in the brutality being perpetrated. The moral ambiguity aspect of the story isn’t laboured, and the audience’s involvement in the action is maintained through the father’s desperate quest to find out exactly what happened to his child. The film is supposed to be out here next month – it’s a punishing experience but well worth it.
3] ‘Salvage’ – This low-budget British chiller is an amazing example of what can be achieved with a simple premise, an emphasis on performances and an understanding of the dynamcs of tension. For the majority of the film the audience is unaware of exactly what it is that has the inhabitants of a street in Liverpool – suspiciously similar to Brookside Close – so afraid for their lives. Notions of terrorist paranoia, chemical war-fear and homegrown racism are portrayed in the film’s first half, before the adrenalin really kicks in and it becomes apparent that something much more simple and deadly is taking out the neighbours. Even if the big reveal is underwhelming in concept, the film’s intensity is not diminished until the very end. Cleverly wrongfooting audience expectations with its characters, the writing and direction transcend the film’s basic means, making it something to look forward to when it hits screens next year.
4] ‘Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl’ – Wild. Crazy. Bloodier than a butcher’s basin. But also sweet and funny – that’s what to expect from the follow-up to ‘Tokyo Gore Police‘. I wasn’t completely taken with that film, but this had me smiling from the very beginning. A subversive love triangle – the boy passively complains that no-one cares what he wants – is at the centre of this cartoon-on-crystal-meth. Taking in competitive wrist-cutting, Japanese schoolgirls’ Afro-American fetishising, and the most barking basement experimentation since ‘Bride Of Re-Animator‘, the film is never less than entertaining, making a virtue of its dodgy special effects through an abundance of style and energy. A real midnight movie crowd-pleaser, it’ll probably go straight to DVD, but I for one will be buying it to watch again and again with friends and a few drinks, no doubt.
5] ‘I Sell The Dead‘ – If you have rose-tinted memories of Hammer’s luscious but creaky creations, you’ll probably appreciate both the tone and style of this flip, fond tribute. A surprisingly starry cast – Hobbit Dominic Monaghan, Hellboy Ron Perlman and Angus Scrimm – have a scream with a script that gleefully incorporates elements of several fantasy genres. The plot is basically ‘Confessions Of A Gravedigger‘, but there’s nary a dull moment, and the whole thing is so handsomely shot and knowingly played, it’s hard not to love it. Out on DVD next month, and another one that is enjoyable enough to go back to over and over.
6] ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ – For anyone willing to take a break from the festival’s raison d’etre (a la Sonisphere and Bjorn Again – one of my abiding memories of that weekend!), this startling documentary was a bittersweet treat. Examining two separate cases of severe Tiffany fever (yes, the – surprisingly well-maintained – ‘80’s pop star Tiffany), the film offers a glimpse into the lives of two tragic souls, one transgender, one with Asperger’s syndrome. The makers go for easy and uncomfortable laughs at the start, with more than a whiff of ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ in some character-indulging snapshots of their daily lives, but the film takes on a simultaneously scary and sad aspect as it builds towards a path-uniting climactic concert. While the form doesn’t excuse the occasional veers into exploitation, the film is ultimately sympathetic, and I for one was glad to have spent some time with its protagonists and to have been given the chance to try to understand their conditions – you might have to wait for it to surface on TV to do the same.
7] ‘Trick R Treat’ – Aspiring to the EC Comics anthology format and tone of the classic ‘Creepshow‘, amongst others, this is a lovely little film, curt, cute and cruel. With another impressively thesp-friendly cast – Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker – this foregoes the ‘segmented’ approach of its forebears to embrace a ‘Pulp Fiction‘ attitude towards storyteling – with uneven results. The four main strands of the film might not be balanced very well, but they are each satisfying in their own way. Linked spuriously by a pumpkin-headed critter doing the rounds on Hallowe’en, the stories share a lovingly crafted atmosphere, generating a really festive feel, as well as a deceptively dark edge, portraying the back-of-kids’-minds fear that maybe – just maybe – something bad could happen on the night of October 31st . . . Out on DVD next month (after two years of neglect from Warner Brothers’ releasing department), just in time for the big night! How appropriate!
8] ‘Night Of The Demons’ – It’s that time of year again, but there’s an altogether hotter celebration going on in New Orleans on Hallowe’en… This remake of the ‘80’s ‘Evil Dead’ rip-off (surely better to remake something that was shoddy already?) is loud, rude and alot of fun. With Edward Furlong looking like he’s survived food-assisted suicide and Shannon Elizabeth perfecting the stuck-up Goth slut-demon role she was always born to play (next to be seen modelled by Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body) , the film keeps its tongue so far in its cheek that it rips right through. The unbelievably excessive spectacular that we’re meant (or not) to buy as an impromptu invite-only rave is swiftly dispersed to leave the traditional handful of horny teens (make that late-20 and early-30-somethings) locked in a spooky old mansion. Then the demons start a-possessin’ and videogame logic takes over. In fact, the party tone of the first 30 minutes is powerful enough to excuse everything that follows – it’s all good, gorgeous fun, perfect with a few drinks, whenever it makes it out here.
9] ‘The House Of The Devil’ – A frustrating attempt at a slow burn chiller, redeemed by a genuinely trouser-troubling final third. The early-‘80s period feel and unforced atmosphere of the foreboding mansion our heroine is left to babysit (there’s no children in sight, only an old-timer who she’s told she won’t even see – suspicious!) keep interest in the film for about half an hour, but then…nothing happens at all for half an hour. There’s only so many rooms you can see a girl slowly investigate and so many false scares you can allow a director before fatigue sets in. Just as well then that the sense of ‘Satanic Panic’ Ti West is striving for finally kicks in towards the end, with some truly nerve-jangling music and the fear of the unknown powering most of the film’s climax. An abrupt, underwhelming ending detracts from the momentum, but whensoever it appears, the film’s still well worth a watch, if you think you can stay awake past the first hour.
10] ‘The Descent 2’ – I was one of the few people left severely disappointed and frustrated by the first ‘Descent‘; I loved the build-up, but the monsters’ reveal (‘What? Goblin rejects?’) and the tricksy ending conspired to make me curse the film’s existence. It was with begrudging goodwill that I approached the sequel, being the final film of the weekend and a direct follow-up to Part one. I have to say, however, that I was pleasantly surprised. Wisely getting more or less straight down to business, and not complicating the format or attempting to make the monsters scary all over again (or, God forbid, changing them), Part two offers the chance for viewers to revisit key scenes and re-experience memorable events of the original without generating too much deja vu and while still maintaining a palpable sense of dread and excitement. There’s plenty of action, some thrillingly gruesome situations and even some welcome humour. The acting is mixed and the characters an afterthought, but I definitely enjoyed the ride, and afterwards I even wanted to see where another sequel might go and – gasp!- rewatch the original. Contrary bastard.
Honourable mention goes to Dead Snow – the best example yet of a surprisingly inundated genre: the zombie nazi movie. The only reason it’s not in the top ten is that it’s already out on DVD – well worth a watch if you liked ‘Evil Dead 2‘, ‘Braindead‘, ‘Bad Taste‘.
There you have it – there were some films that only flirted with the horror genre (‘Hierro‘, ‘Heartless‘), some that didn’t even try to come close (‘Millennium: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo‘, ‘Coffin Rock‘) and some that shat all over it (‘Giallo‘, ‘Zombie Women Of Satan‘). This was all part of the experience, and along with the chance to see and hear many of the directors and actors discussing their creations, Frightfest’s 10th anniversary was a weekend to remember. God only knows what evil awaits us in the next 10 years – bring it on!
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