Frightfest 2013 Day 2 Reviews

There’s a slow start to the first full day of action as Alan Jones and co. ease you in with a scare story that is part mystery, part goddamn conspiracy. And in keeping with the latter it is presented as a mockumentary that descends, literally into typical found footage fare. When Oregon University students learn about the unexplained deaths of nine Russian mountaineers in 1959 they decide to go to the Mountain of the dead to seek the truth out for themselves. It takes a long while to get going, most of the set up back at their school could have been lost – if only to get us to the Dyatlov Pass quicker. Co-starring Oldham’s Gemma Atkinson whose ample charms are literally the first thing we focus in on when she’s introduced as the boom mic operator of a skeleton documentary/mountain trek crew of just five; her American accent is passable if I’m honest. Inevitably they find much more than they’re looking for with deadly consequences. There’s a really interesting story in this hybrid of Outpost and Trollhunter, but too much screen time is spent unravelling almost all the military and scientific mysteries of the world to help explain what’s occurring. By the time the film got to the thrilling bits in the darkened corridors beneath the mountain you may be past caring. 2/5

Discovery screen 1 FOR ELISA
For Elisa is a brilliantly tense, Spanish urban chiller with lots of interesting twists and turns squeezed into one gothic apartment. Fine Art student, Ana, needs 1,000 Euros to join her friends at the end of term farewell holiday in Madeira and neither her mother, nor drug dealing boyfriend, Alex, are going to give her anymore money. She answers a job ad for a child minder posted up on campus a la Ti West’s ‘House Of The Devil’. At the job interview, in a home littered with antique dolls, she meets the eccentric mother who talks of playing piano at the Royal Albert Hall, London in days gone by, before introducing her to Elisa. Immediately there’s something wrong and without giving it away, it’s enough for Ana to want to decline the job. She passes out and wakes up tied to a chair, dressed up like a doll. Trapped by mother and Elisa she is forced to stay by hosts who use similar tactics to Kathy Bates in Misery. Meanwhile Alex is losing his mind trying to find her. The police procedure is 48 hours before she’s declared missing. What is more they won’t help a known drug dealer. So begins a parallel race against the clock – Ana surviving long enough for Alex to piece together what little information he has in order to find her. There’s no time for Stockholm Syndrome to set because For Elisa is fixed on Ana’s survival and escape. Performances are strong and the desperate bid for freedom hangs in the balance. It seems the writers thought whenever Ana has the upper hand what else can we throw at her to reduce her to helpless – a brilliant piece of European cinema. 3.5/5

Discovery screen 2 THE AMERICAN SCREAM
Early risers on the first full day of Frightfest also had the chance to start their weekend with a charming documentary from Michael Stephenson – the director of BEST WORST MOVIE. It follows three families in a small seaside town in Massachusetts as they prepare their homes and gardens to scare the neighbourhood during Halloween. First we meet Victor Bariteau IT support guy for a local financial company. He is the high end of the trio. Then there’s father/son duo Rick and Matt Brodeur – the absolute stars of the show. An odd couple on the face of it, but couldn’t live without each other – that’s clear. There’s so much subtext to their exchanges it’s beautiful everytime they speak. Finally, there’s Manny Souza. One time assistant to Bariteau’s world, he’s obsessed more with the quantity of scary sculptures than he is with the fine details. Halloween might be the backdrop and the reason for shooting this movie, but what Stephenson uncovers is something that borders on outsider art in terms of what they all build and exhibit. But the most important message is the love of a good family. Mrs Bariteau constantly excuses her husband’s fixation with Halloween by explaining to us he’s not into football or baseball. Like most eccentrics in life not one of these people do any harm to anyone or anything. Their joy from scaring people once a year is a victimless crime and given we visit a conference at one stage with Bariteau and get a snippet of a lecture on how to make a haunted house, Halloween is still just another burgeoning industry in the land of the free. The UK has got a long way to go to catch up this level of buy-in to one day at the end of October. 3/5

Main screen – DEMENTAMANIA
Edward Arkham (played by former Coronation Street heart throb Sam Robertson) is a middle management IT professional with low self-esteem issues. He resents his life and always sees the world as the grass must be greener on the other side. A typical morning of rising for work and burning a few calories on the rower is interrupted when he stands on a wasp-like creature. Almost immediately his reality begins to warp, but he quickly regains his composure – so far so normal. He tells us during the commute that he only feels safe when he’s in his car, but he must soon lose this cocoon and enter his City of London office where rivals and eccentric colleagues alike chip away at his sanity. In particular, there’s David Snodgrass, played with jovial malice by Geoff Bell. He’s a director at the company and immediately belittles Arkham for failing to deliver a project under budget. You get the impression this isn’t the first time it’s happened. In the lift together Arkham takes more dogs abuse lying down until he snaps and inexplicably bites into Snodgrass’s neck. It’s a shocking, bloody sequence and it comes as something of a relief to find he imagined the whole thing – infact you’ll laugh with him at the ridiculousness of this violent solution. You’re now entering unchartered territory where Arkham’s reality and imagination meld into one as director Kit Ryan (Botched) flings you out of boring office life and into the fantasy, gorey revenge realm of the disenfranchised office drone. You know the sort of thing: the ass kisser getting you into trouble with the boss, or the guy sitting opposite you who keeps borrowing your calculator driving you to distraction. The gruesome daydream soon becomes Arkham’s default position in any confrontation as we slowly see his mental capacity rot from the inside out over the course of one troubling day/night. Along the way he meets a mysterious man at work – Nicholas Lemarchand (Vincent Regan) – who describes himself as a mediator. As Arkham further loses his grip on reality so does the frequency of the mediator appearing in his life with some obtuse words of advice. Regan is brilliant as this dark muse to the mentally disturbed. Slowly you’ll piece together what it all means, but Anis Shlewet’s ambitious script holds its cards close to its chest for a good portion of the movie, allowing us to descend into a mad man’s world that gets more surreal by the minute as we approach the conclusion. There are many layers to peel back by the time you reach the finale. On a very basic level it’s about the first world problem of dissatisfaction with your lot. Your girlfriend has left you, you hate your job, and doesn’t that seem so unfair – boo hoo. Anyone with an office job will relate to one or two of Arkham’s fantastical reactions. However, much deeper than that is mental health and how hard it is to recognise the signs and then how we care for one another in the community. This film is smarter than the average genre flick and as such Robertson’s performance will get you to rethink your life if you’re feeling you haven’t got one. Britflicks looks forward to the next idea Shlewet pens, that’s for sure. 3.5/5

Main screen – HANSEL & GRETEL & THE 4:20 WITCH
Hansel and Gretel are a brother and sister duo from the burbs trying to find Gretel’s missing pothead boyfriend. His last known whereabouts was the home of little old lady Agnes (Lara Flynn Boyle) – supplier of the finest Black Forest weed. Only, Agnes is also a witch and she has consumed his soul to regain her youthful looks. While H & G search, news of the Black Forest weed spreads to rival dealers who pay Agnes a visit. She entices them into making idle threats of sexual violence before making short shrift of the local gangsters – turning them into her zombie guards. The sillier the action the more Boyle revels in the role of evil witch and overall trash aesthetic of the movie. “Never send a zombie to do a woman’s job,” she says with glee. The deaths are schlocky and hands on, not a CGI effect in sight, and the tone is always about the laughs more than the scares. Ever wondered what happened to Lara Flynn Boyle? Catch her in this stoner horror that loosely uses the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale for gore and smiles. 3/5

Main screen – HATCHET III
Frightfest favourite Adam Green returns with his third instalment of his horror franchise Hatchet and fans favourite wayward spirit of the New Orleans swamps – Victor Crowley (still played by the goliath Kane Hodder). Those who saw the sequel will naturally remember how Marybeth (Danielle Harris) saw off Crowley for good. In true old school fashion the new episode picks up the finale as an exhausted Marybeth walks away from Crowley’s dead body and we see him sit up. She deals with this repeat problem in a clever, blood drenched set piece that uses a chainsaw to make Crowley into a Damien Hirst exhibit. Naturally when she turns up at the police station she’s accused of mass murder and locked up. Cue the arrival of Caroline Williams (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Leprechaun 3) in her first of two Frightfest films (see also Contracted) this year as Amanda, the investigative blogger on the trail of the truth about Victor Crowley. While the local police force led by hapless Sheriff Fowler (Gremlins innocent and all grown up now – Zach Galligan), the county SWAT team, led by the bullish Hawes, played by egghead Derek Mears, take on and lose to the bloody might of invincible Crowley. Gallons of the red stuff flows and no extremes of stupidity by those paid to serve and protect is left unexplored. All in all Hatchet III is a fun, relentless and ridiculous splatterfest for horror fans looking for a good time as opposed to a scary one. 3/5

Discovery screen 1 – SADIK 2
French film Sadik 2 is not a sequel in the sense that there’s a real first film, but it is the title of the film being made within the film you’re watching. It starts off being about a group of twenty-somethings who’ve come away to a French mountain holiday home to celebrate New Year. They’re a dislikeable, arrogant bunch. One is the 80s VHS horror junky who works in a cell phone shop. Another is the Twilight fan. Another talks about being a Harry Potter fan; and there’s the hunk who at one point is watching Jurassic Park on his iPhone. You must sit through 45 minutes of their inane chatter before anything horror happens – and this is a 75 minute feature film. The setting is beautiful and the house looks straight out of Grand Designs. There’s the occasional SFX – the face peeling sequence is particularly well done. However, this film is so reductive in its delivery that it’s neither cracking enough jokes nor terrorising the hell out of you enough to keep you engaged or giving a toss. Sorry to report that Sadik 2 stuttered to start and then misfired thereon in. 1/5

Discovery screen 1 – Short film exclusive – If I Had A Heart
Before Outpost starts we were shown the World Premiere of an exciting new short film – If I Had A Heart – from the equally exciting and youthful film makers the Halsall brothers. Executive produced by Andy Starke and Ben Wheatley, under their Rook Films banner, it is shot entirely on location in Korea. It focuses on the fragile mind of a man who was abandoned at birth – left in a coin operated locker. This early tragedy haunts him every day of his adult life as a prize fighter taking falls in bouts to make gangsters money off his suffering. On this particular day he doesn’t go down as instructed and is brutally punished. A cycle that doesn’t seem new to our anti-hero and goes no way to alleviating his pain inside. It’s a very stylistic piece of short film making with echoes of key influences from the country it was shot in such as Old Boy. It was rare treat for those of us who opted for the Discovery screen on this occasion. 4/5

Discovery Screen 1 – Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz
The third instalment of this Nazi super soldier franchise goes back in time to World War II for a kind of prequel/birth of a new story via the introduction of Russian Spetsnaz commandos. Kieran Parker – producer of all three Outpost movies to date – moves into the director’s chair for this one and sticks with the writer of Outpost II – Rae Brunton – for the screenplay. Where the first two have a very ghostly quality to the creatures created, this look back at the origins is like a crazy steampunk edition of the Commando comics. Thanks largely to the exhaustingly physical performance of Bryan Larkin as the no nonsense, man mountain of a Russian – Dolokhov. He leads a band of Red Army special forces on the trail of an off map Nazi base where secret experiments are believed to be taking place. A surprise attack on a Nazi convoy gets them one step closer, but a back-up team of Third Reich chase them down and reduces them to just three when they are finally captured and held prisoner in the place they were looking. Here Dolokhov and co. meet Strasser – the Nazi commandant played fabulously by London born Michael McKell. His skill is to keep the performance the right side of convincing, but with enough wriggle room to ham up the evil villain on the occasions his lines allow it. Within the confines of the Nazi complex Dolokhov’s toughness really comes to fore as Strasser gladiator-like throws one type of bastard super soldier at him after another. Proven to be a worthy specimen Strasser plans to experiment on Dolokhov. Strasser tells him: “At least you get to do something worth while during the war – die for the Reich.”

The violent, bloody journey from captive to potential freedom is skilful and inventive. Admittedly the numerous SS who hunt them down walk into a few too many bullets for the realists out there, but as a fun, ode to Where Eagles Dare WW II action films it works so well. A thoroughly enjoyable surprise and Britflicks hopes to follow the upward trajectory of Larkin to bigger roles. 3.5/5

Main screen – V/H/S 2
Brad Miska is back with the second instalment of his V/H/S horror anthology. This time it’s a couple of private investigators searching for a missing college kid. The intro to the male investigator – spying on a couple having sex in a motel – is a beautiful little short film in itself. After that little adrenalin filled incident he and his partner break into the student’s house. Here they find a bank of fuzzing monitor screens and a stack of VHS tapes a la the original. First up is ‘A Horrible Way To Die’ duo Simon Barrett (writing) and Adam Wingard (acting and directing). They combine forces again with ‘Phase 1 Clinical Trials’. A man, played by Wingard gets a new eye – only it’s an experimental microchipped, digital eye and, crucially, our camera viewpoint for the story. Trouble is his eye sight can now see supernatural entities. Look out for the Dr Feelgood gag on his iPhone when he calls up to complain. The rest of the contributors are new to the franchise. ‘A Ride In The Park’ is directed by Blair Witch Project’s Eduardo Sanchez and Greg Hale. A mountain biker fixes his Go Pro to his helmet and goes for a ride in the woods. Only there’s the walking dead to contend with. The film then becomes zombiecam as items and reflections remind the re-animated cyclist of the human he once was in the middle of a feeding frenzy at a kids birthday party. ‘Safe Haven’ by Tim Tjahjanto (L is for Libido, ABCs of Death) and The Raid’s Gareth Evans. They put the bug-eyed paedo wanker from Libido (Epy Kusnandar) in the role of Father – head of the Paradise Gates religious cult. A documentary crew have convinced Father to let them film in his compound. It’s weird and the insinuation is child abuse and/or brain washing, but there is something much more powerful and evil going on that’s preparing to bust the story wide open in a bloody end of days finale. Finally, there’s fantastic Slumber Party Alien Abduction. Directed by Jason Eisener (Hobo with a shotgun) and written by John Davies. It’s a real mash up of big ideas. First it’s a Goonies-type gang seemingly in training to be the next Jackass generation. They constantly prank one of the boy’s older sister and incur the wrath of the angry boyfriend who just wants to get his rocks off. Their revenge is sweet and as humiliating as it can be for a teenage boy in a sleeping bag watching a porno while his friends sleep. And then the aliens attack and abduct them. The title gives you everything you need to know and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch. These circa 20 minute segments make you wish they’d resurrect Tales of the Unexpected, Outer Limits or develop a new Hitchcock presents. Horror is such a good genre for the short film format. 3/5

Paranormal Diaries is the new British horror from Zombie Diaries duo Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates. This time it’s for real. Only they don’t tell the crew or others working from them. In a weekend’s shoot they had made a feature film – that’s almost guerrilla style. It’s a found footage movie for sure, but the story they try to tell is grounded in reality. Fifties years after a black mass elevated a ruined church in Clophill, Bedfordshire, to a popular hot spot of paranormal activities, a documentary team go to uncover what all the fuss is about. The set up is fast paced and believable. Lots of experts and eccentric locals rev up the myth and what now wanders around the derelict graveyard and church building. However, once the sun is down the scares just don’t come thick and fast enough. What you might have imagined was lurking in the dark is far more scary than what Bartlett and Gates finally reveal in their climax. Shame be cause the first act really bubbled with the promise of something terrifying. 2/5

Discovery Screen 2 – WITHER
Lets not beat around the bush, Wither is Evil Dead in Swedish. And they’re unapologetic about this homage to a horror great. This scandinavian story begins with proud parents entertaining their son and his girlfriend. Dad has found the perfect place – a cabin in the woods – for them to take their twenty something friends for a weekend break. There’s an awkward conversation about someone called Elin, but that has no bearing on the rest of the tale. Upon arrival, a practical joke goes wrong, when one of the party has a funny turn after seeing something lurking in the cellar. She turns demonic by supper time and attacks one of the girls. What could possibly be happening? An on the nose monologue with flashback from the harbinger of doom – a lone hunter who spies on them when they arrive – quickly sidesteps any hope that the origins of the evil might be creatively handled or interestingly revealed. Thankfully for the gorehounds the blood splattering SFX are superb and for old school nuts there’s very little, if any CGI to take you out of the movie. Certainly, the first attack revels in showing every detail of a woman’s lip getting bitten clean off. Unfortunately, the script is weak and the characters are underdeveloped. Sadly beyond the gruesome nature of the set pieces, there’s not much of a movie to lose yourself in and care about who dies next. It’s a just a matter of waiting really and that’s just not very dramatic. 2/5

Main screen – LATE VIEWING
It’s approaching 11:30pm and before 100 Bloody Acres begins Gareth Evans (The Raid) is invited up on stage by Paul McEvoy to introduce an exclusive preview of The Raid 2 to the lucky Frightfesters who decided to stay out late. We get a wonderfully choreographed scene of a lone woman on the subway train taking out a gang of suited gangsters with just two claw hammers. It was a rather spectacular intro to this highly anticipated sequel.

This was followed by Jacqueline Wright’s brilliant ‘Turn off your bloody phone’ i-dent. Her funny take is in direct response to an infamously misogynist i-dent from 2012 that caused a bit of a twitter storm amongst male and female Frightfesters alike. Wright subverts the notion of sexual exploitation by having a bullish man, answering his phone, and a young woman, behind him, asking him to get off the phone. His frank response gets her angry and to get even she skull fucks from behind with a pink dildo until it comes out of his eye socket. Yuck. I switched my phone off immediately.

Main Screen – 100 BLOODY ACRES
100 Bloody Acres takes you to the Australian outback. Here the Morgan Brothers are making a killing, quite literally, with their special formula fertiliser – secret ingredient the blood and bones of people. When Reg Morgan finds a dead driver slouched over his steering wheel he knows he’s got a freebie for the pot. On his drive back to the farm he stumbles across the stranded trio of: Sophie, James and British backpacker tithead Wes. They are on their way to a nearby music festival, but things are little more complicated than they appear on the surface. They are their own little broken love triangle – with Sophie the fulcrum. James is about to ask Sophie to marry him and Wes is sleeping with her on the side. After some delay and the twinkle in Sophie’s eye, Reg is convinced to take them to their festival. She rides up front and the boys go in the back of his box van with the manure, kangaroo roadkill and the dead bloke – hidden under bags of dung. Inevitably they discover the corpse and everyones perception of situation changes. Reg was honestly taking them to the festival but now he can’t and why should James and Wes believe he means them no harm. At Morgan’s farm we meet the evil brains of the team – sociopathic elder brother, Lindsay. While captive James discovers Sophie’s infidelity, Sophie drives a wedge between Lindsay and Reg and Wes takes a shit load of acid to blow his mind wide open during a life or death crisis. It’s a lethal concoction that sends the Morgan brothers into chaos. Damon Herriman (Reg) and Angus Sampson (Lindsay) are a revelation as a chalk and cheese double act. Reg’s natural empathic side comes to the fore as he gradually falls for Sophie. Concurrently, he cares less and less about Lindsay’s business needs. Throw in an aged nympho with a Jack Russell, some traditional Aussie country sing alongs and the recipe for this murderous farce is complete. The lowering late night energy levels really appreciate a chance to laugh as well as wince at some glorious gore. All in all 100 Bloody Acres is a real cult classic in the making. 4/5

Originally published at


About Stuart Wright

Screenwriter, Podcast Host, Journalist, LFC, Horror, Leyton
This entry was posted in Britflicks, Frightfest Coverage. Bookmark the permalink.

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