OPENING NIGHT At FrightFest 2014
Sat in the Horror Channel screen, one of the three main screens, at the first Frightfest to be hosted by the Vue Cinema, Leicester Sq seems perfectly normal until Andy Nyman comes out to open the event on a live link from a neighbouring screen. It feels odd. It gets odder when he brings out the four horsemen of Frightfest: Greg Day, Alan Jones, Ian Rattrayand Paul McElvoy. It’s so removed from what you’re used to experiencing from all being in the same room. And then the first film starts and you remember you’re here to watch movies. You’re still surrounded by Frightfesters so the joint appreciation of the scares, the gore, the laughs and the kills with like-minded folk is still very much the same once the house lights go down.
First up to normalise proceedings is the inaugural Turn Your Bloody Phones Off I-Dent. It’s by James Moran and stars king of the slogan Ian Rattray. It’s a homage to those chatty, indulgent men’s fragrance adverts. The conclusion sees Rattray spraying Eau de Frightfest into the pretty model’s face and it sears his cheek like acid would.
THE GUEST (USA)
Directed by Adam Wingard
Written by Simon Barrett
The writing and directing partnership of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard has grown from strength to strength since their Frightfest debut feature A Horrible Way To Die got tongues wagging amongst Discovery screeners in 2011. You’re Next got caught up in film release red tape for a while, but finally wowed us at last year’s event. Now this crack, film making duo are opening Frightfest with ‘The Guest’ starring Downton Abbey heart throb Dan Stevens.
He plays mysterious war veteran David who turns up on the Peterson family doorstep to pass on the dying words of their son who died in action. He’s the model of respectability. Mother gets to live those last moments of her son vicariously through him. Dad gets someone to share a beer with and listen to his work problems. He’s too good to be true. Computer nerd brother, Luke, gets taught how to stand up for himself. A Roadhouse bar fight involving a concoction of racy titled cocktails and a fiery one is wonderfully set up and paid off – right down to David’s parting lines to the hapless barman.
However, the dead vet’s sister, Anna, is not so easily convinced. She makes secret enquiries to her brother’s former military base that sets hares racing both there and at home that are not remotely obvious and will remain a secret in this review at least. The big question mark hanging over David gets bigger and brighter as sudden deaths of people close to the Petersons seem somehow linked to him. Barrett and Wingard have a great deal of fun holding onto to the mystery about David. And when it’s out of the bag it’s a far more nihilistic, brutal outcome than the early, pop corn violence and deaths suggested was coming – they’ve squeezed every last pip out the UK’s 15 certification guidelines. The shoot-out at the Peterson house had shades of Extreme Justice (1993) as gun, after gun, after rifle rip the building apart trying to nail David. At times, owing largely to Steve Moore‘s eighties electronica score, The Guest has shades of John Carpenter about it. Even the title card for The Guest sweeping into view at the start of the movie is Carpenter-esque. No bad thing. And the two Front 242 songs that made the music mix were appreciated by this writer at the very least. Dan Steven looks every inch a movie star as a leading man – even if his first topping the bill is someone with so out of control, merciless and deadly. If he knocks on your door think twice about inviting him in.
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (USA)
Co-directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez
Written By Frank Miller
Everything that is ugly (men, with odd exception) is repulsive, and everything that is beautiful (women) is beguiling and desirable in Sin City. Such is the binary misogyny inherent in this world. The sequel is a portmanteau of stories revolving around two very different antagonists: Senator Roarke and Ava. Deadwood’s Powers Booth plays the former. He masterfully glides through his acting gears to be an evil, conniving and power mad politico. The stunning Eva Green is the latter – her character is who the sub-title ‘A Dame To Kill For‘ takes its lead. She is a breathless, calculating femme fatale sucking all reasoned thought out of the heads of the men she crosses in Sin City. Her breasts may have been censored on the publicity posters, but in the film they’re rarely off screen. An almost hallucinogenic, naked, midnight swimming scene sums up Miller and Rodriguez‘s idolisation of her form and the eccentric styling of the movie in one short sequence. The hardboiled storytelling means there’s always a voiceover from one of the characters telling you what going on. The dialogue is sharp and to the point. In one exchange between Eva and Dwight (Josh Brolin), he is at pains to remind her he’s not a stupid as he looks when he says: “I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.”
Eventually, a simple revenge story emerges for Jessica Alba‘s stripper character, Nancy. It takes it’s time getting there – abruptly ending a Joseph Gordon-Lewitt cocky Gambler and Eva’s seduction stories in the process. It seems for much of the film that showing off Alba’s semi naked, gyrating charms is her sole purpose.
The fights and kills involved heightened reality for the action – Jamie Chung as Miho manages to lop off four heads with one sweep of her samurai sword or Dwight’s exacting, running commentary of the many beatings he takes via his thoughts out loud. When you think comic book, it makes perfect sense. It’s a shame the interdependent stories make the whole film too messy to be completely satisfying. It still looks great, but no real advances evident from the nine year old original.
WOLF CREEK 2 (Aus)
Written and directed by Greg McLean
It’s been eight years since Greg McLean‘s Wolf Creek (2005) gave the Australian tourist board the finger with the arrival of the foreign backpacker serial-killer – Mick Taylor (John Jarratt). The sequel clings to the same notion that the film is based on actual events, but after sending you down one blind alley involving two German tourists, McLean introduces a third potential victim – spunky British gap year student Paul Hammersmith (Ryan Corr). He outwits Taylor in the first instance, but the barmy pig farmer refuses to give up – turning a sizeable portion of Wolf Creek 2 into an mini Aussie version of The Hitcher meets Duel. Certainly, the cinematographer glories in the expansive landscapes, straight roads to oblivion and scorching sunshine; the SFX and stunts people get to enjoy themselves too. They smash up cars and trucks, instigate a kangaroo stampede and get Taylor chasing around the outback on horseback – much of it in broad daylight.
Eventually we get to Taylor’s lair. The graveyard to the automobile in the desert, from the original, has been replaced by a hope-sapping maze of subterranean tunnels. To satisfy fans bloodthirsty expectations the film has its fair share of vile moments and cruel, comic book cunning, but nothing to rival the intensity of the first outing. The main tonal shift is largely due to the obvious need to bring Mick Taylor’s character to the fore – right from the opening scene he’s larger than life and you’re waiting for him to do something bad. John Jarratt’s TV drama background made him Australia’s least likely big screen villain, but in this role he still excels as a witty, straight talking, beer chugging psychopath. The film comes to a head in a ludicrous Aussie history pop quiz in anticipation of torture scene with drinking songs sing along – no seriously it does.
LATE PHASES (USA)
Directed by Adrián García Bogliano
Written By Greg Mclean & Aaron Sterns
Late Phases is a relaxed werewolf movie with an aged cast to rival Cocoon (1985). Ambrose (Nick Damici) is the sixty plus year old leading man. He is a blind Vietnam veteran who is dropped off by his stressed out son at Crescent Bay gated retirement community. On his first night, both his neighbour Delores, and guide dog, Shadow, are savaged by a beast. Talking to the doctor at the hospital he finds out they get a call once a month from that location. Police advice is simply lock your doors and stay away from the woods. When his daughter-in-law mentions the full moon Ambrose’s mission becomes clear. And so begins a month long settling in period, searching for clues and stocking up on silver bullets before the next full moon.
Damici’s performance as blind, stoic, resourceful man is powerful and the disability is convincing – boosted by a stellar supporting cast of recognisable genre and TV movie stars. Crazy haired actor and producer Larry Fessenden makes a brilliant, but short lived cameo appearance as a tombstone salesman. Then there’s the hushed tones of Tom Noonan as the chain smoking priest, Father Roger. There’s also The Deer Hunter‘s (1978) Rutanya Alda, Stepford Wives (1975) Tina Louise and Caitlin O’Heaney who played Amy Jensen in He Knows You’re Alone (1980).
It’s a carefully paced film that has time to explore Ambrose the emotionally closed off man and throw you off track with the odd red herring before eventually arriving at a climatic finale that pitches blind man against the werewolves of Crescent Bay.
THE GREEN INFERNO (USA)
Written and Directed by Eli Roth
Green Inferno is about well meaning, middle class American students led by the charismatic Alejandro (Ariel Levy) heading out to Peru to save the rain forest from destruction using social media to embarrass the developers. Naive and ill prepared as they are, they achieve their goal to stream footage of the diggers in the jungle around the world and trend on twitter. It’s beers for everyone on the plane home until it crashes in the same rain forest they just saved. Survivors are attacked by tribesman and taken back to their village to be devoured cannibal style. The first to be served up has his eyes removed and eaten raw, his tongue sliced out and then he’s quartered and roasted in their clay oven. It’s gruesome, realistic action that’s explicitly shot for the gorehounds to feast on (pun intended). Each and every single violent set piece is, in its own right very arresting and often gruelling to watch. However, together as one film their power to arrest you dwindles as Roth seems to be making it up as he goes along. For example death by large CGI ants seems to have just been thrown in for good measure rather than give us an insight into the tribe and their primitive ways.
The hero is Justine, played by Lorenza Izzo. She’s the daughter of a UN lawyer and incensed by a lecture that covers female genital mutilation, she should’ve been the catalyst for a serious story about a cultural disgrace that refuses die in many parts of the developing world. However, FGM is used merely as a plot point to pay off later in the movie – our education and outrage is not furthered by Green Inferno. The jungle world never feels as oppressive as the gamut of sweaty, humid looking cannibal films from the late seventies. The ensemble cast of nervy vegan, tattooed lesbian, wide-eyed stoner and earnest campaigner, to name a few, are far too pretty and clean for too much of the movie to feel they left their home comforts behind. And there’s Roth’s sense of humour. In the week where social media and news outlets have been gorging on the ISIS beheading of an American journalist there are no laughs to be gained from an eight year old tribes girl running away from a feeding frenzy with lower half of one of the student’s snapped off leg.
The question you usually come away with from these type of films is who are the real savages. Green Inferno entirely fluffs any attempts at being political in favour of crude, insensitive representations of South American tribes people and developer alike. Justine’s escape is ludicrous in both set up and execution via a young tribes boy who has no other reason than a piece of musical jewellery to inexplicably turn on his whole tribe and help set her free.
Roth has clearly seen every single notorious mondo and cannibal film out there. Their notoriety hangs heavy over his production. The closing credits say Green Inferno is ‘For Ruggero’ – a nod to the king of this sub-genre: Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Unfortunately, in this day and age of gap year students flying around the globe, South American rainforest countries are not the distant world they were when Italian exploitation film makers were making up tales of jungle savagery. So what’s new? The social media, protest generation is admirably satired, but the cultural divides being crossed are sadly glossed over in Green Inferno.
Written and Directed by Matthew A Brown
Julia is a rape revenge movie. The film waits no more than five minutes to establish this premise and thankfully we are spared a harrowing I Spit On Your Grave (1978 or 2010 versions) gang rape marathon. Instead the traumatic event is delivered much more subtly. We meet Julia (Ashley C William) as she travels to Piers apartment. He greets her, they enjoy a drink, her vision fades and then the blurred figures of three other men: Scott, Matt and Adam appear. We then smash cut to her battered and bruised body being dumped by the shore of a river. Julia comes to and begins mentally trying to rebuild herself.
In the bar she chooses to drown her sorrows in she overhears other women discuss surviving rape and the help they sought. Julia is handed a card that puts her in touch with a mysterious counsellor whose identity is never revealed beyond his voice. It’s all part of her training to reassert herself as her own woman again. The mantra from the counsellor is that what she does to move on can never be personnel – meaning she cannot go after the people who raped her. Instead she becomes part of a night time gang of women who seduce and then castrate misogynist predators. There’s a money shot that’s going to indelibly print itself on most of the men’s retinas for the longest time.
However, the road to relative, emotional normality is disrupted when Adam, one of the rapists, turns up at Julia’s workplace and together they plot her revenge on the side. This is acting alone and against the code of the men killing covert organisation she is part of – Julia is now in grave danger from the people who were once helping her. This makes the film a strange and somewhat confusing moral maze to be lost in. There’s an attempt to explain things via the male overlord (the face of the counsellor’s voice) of this gang. However, given what Julia had endured it felt like a nonsensical way to conclude a rape revenge movie. That aside, on the whole the film is stylishly hyper-real. There’s an otherworldly quality to all the night time scenes – a marked contrast to the mundane and clinical world of Julia’s workplace. For all the bloody incidents and deaths there no police scenes – therefore no procedural action interfering with the story. This ensures we focus only on Julia’s actions and motivation. There are shades of Ferrera‘s Ms. 45 (1981) and I Spit On Your Grave in the sense that we see her grow from helpless woman to sexually assertive killer. Disregarding the resolution of Julia, it is a beautiful film to look at and Ashley C William keeps a lid on her emotions a la Ryan Gosling in Drive (2010).
Written and directed by Gerard Johnstone
Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is a career criminal who, after one too many misdemeanours, is forced by the courts to return to her mum’s home to be housebound for eight months. Soon after moving in ghostly phenomena begins to remind her of one of the many reasons she left home in the first place. Her sympathetic electronic tag monitor, Amos, has a keen interest in the supernatural, so takes special interest in Kylie’s case. Together they unlock secrets about Kylie’s neighbours and why her mum got the old bed and breakfast so cheap. Kylie’s lawlessness makes her the perfect reluctant hero for this New Zealand thriller. O’Reilly’s evolving performance takes you on a journey from sullen, grown up teenager who hates her mum, right through to saving the day, and most importantly, her mother. She’s a fighter and takes everything that is thrown at her head on.
The rotund Glen-Paul Waru, as Amos, is an unorthodox, but fitting sidekick. He brings a patience and consideration to her wanton path towards self-destruction and/or discovery. In particular, the sequence where the pair of them spy on a suspicious neighbour is a tipping point for the story and real show of their burgeoning relationship. The tension and satisfaction in the unfolding drama comes from Johnstone’s ability to keep the villain in plain sight while remaining an absolute mystery to the audience until the time is right. Good characterisation across the whole cast ensure this seemingly ghostly version of Disturbia(2007) is entertaining and not without its sense of humour as it cleverly morphs into a whodunnit meets The People Under The Stairs (1991) or Crawlspace (1986).
THE FORGOTTEN (UK)
Directed by Oliver Frampton
Written By Oliver Frampton & James Hall
The Forgotten starts off frantic. A distraught woman, over a black screen, can be heard calling the police, but before assistance arrives, an unknown, unseen assailant attacks her – then the line goes dead. What was that? Who was that? These are the questions the film searches for answers via Tommy (Clem Tibber). He’s a 13 year old boy forced by his distant father to squat in a flat on an abandoned housing estate. With no electricity, Tommy and his dad use lanterns to light their home. This creates its own spooky atmosphere and a stark contrast to the outside world. There’s one moment where father and son burst out onto the balcony and you’re surprised to see it is still daylight. It’s unnerving stuff.
After Tommy hears banging noises from next door life takes a turn for the worse. His dad is beaten up and lands in hospital leaving the young boy to fend for himself. Alone, he finds a friend in Carmen (Elarica Gallacher), a waitress from the local cafe. She reluctantly helps him uncover the mystery of the flat next door and what’s really affecting his father. The Forgotten is a slow burning, rumbling kind of film – more of a dark drama than out and out genre movie. Hats off to Frampton and Hall for giving us two young characters to care about at the heart of the screenplay, and a plausible, but not obvious reveal in the denouement.
THE LAST SHOWING (UK)
Directed and written by Phil Hawkins
Robert Englund needs no introduction to Frightfest fans and as one of genre’s hardest working actors he’s always welcome. This time he’s Stuart: the disgruntled, aged, cineplex employee. With 20 plus years experience as a projectionist under his belt he’s been demoted by technology to the lobby. Forced to wear a uniform, happy face and paper hat, he now serves combo deals for a manager who wouldn’t know his aspect ratios from his asshole. But he has a plan – to make his own movie and unsuspecting loves young dream, Martin and Allie, are going to star in. The warning signs were there – they are inexplicably the only couple to show up for a midnight showing of The Hills Have Eye II (1984 version). When it ends Allie falls ill and goes missing. Martin’s desperate search soon becomes orchestrated and manipulated by the unseen Stuart who forces him – from a CCTV control centre – to ultimately implicate himself in a heinous crime.
Stuart repeatedly refers back to index cards that tell us where we are in his real life plot. Englund is masterful as the quietly vengeful old film buff. The glasses and shuffling demeanour offer shades of Robin Williams’ misunderstood bad guy in One Hour Photo(2002). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Martin and Allie. They’re quite unremarkable, everyman characters driven by the circumstance that makes them victims rather than a deeper character drive or connection to Stuart. It’s just a simple case of wrong place at the right time. There’s a neat twist to demonise Martin in Allie’s eyes, and from this point on Stuart leaves his monitors to become his film’s hero. By the time the police turn up, The Last Showing has proved itself to be a crafty, contained horror pantomime that is at its best when Englund is on screen. Stay with the closing credits because the index card trope is neatly paid off in the final frame.
Written and directed by Lowell Dean
Story editor Bannister Bergen
Wolfcop is a Canadian werewolf film. Our hero is Lou. He is a hopeless police officer in a nondescript one-horse town. However, hooded people holding a ritual in the woods, during the opening credits, would suggest something dark and troubling is afoot.
Lou drinks too much, he womanises and he’s always late for work. Leo Fafard, with a longer list of credits for his behind the camera work, is brilliant as the out of luck, permanently hungover loser who eventually awakens to the idea of being heroic. The Chief tolerates Lou’s indiscretions, but is always on his case whenever they cross paths. In the local bar Lou finds solace in hot barmaid, Jessica. She always welcomes him with a beer, a whisky, soothing words and an eyeful of cleavage. Whereas the town’s dead head, Willie, is seemingly Lou’s only real friend. When he answers an emergency call about a disturbance in the woods Lou blacks out and wakes, back at home, with a pentagram etched into his chest. Soon after he finds out the hard, painful, transformational way that he’s a werewolf. Turning to Willie and Jessica, Lou, tries to piece together what has happened to him. However, he also begins to embrace the power of the beast within to become Wolfcop. In a surprising turn of events Lou discovers a coven of 200 year-old shape-shifters intent on sacrificing him.
Wolfcop has the comic book charm of films like Darkman and enough face ripping gore, eye gouging and werewolf change sequences to excite every horror fan with a sense of humour. He is a fun, new hero and it’s easy to see how Wolfcop could become a fully-fledged horror icon in his own right.
DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS DEAD (Nor)
Directed by Tommy Wirkola
Written by Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel & Tommy Wirkola
Where in the world do you take a Nazi zombie curse movie? Firstly, you start at the exact point where the first film ended – when lone survivor, less his right arm, Martin (Vegar Hoel) discovers the coin from Nazi gold in his car. Secondly you keep Herzog, the iconic German leader of the Nazi undead. And in those opening few moments show Martin escaping while separating Herzog from his right arm before returning the gold coin. That should have been that, but no the Nazis had a mission back in World War II – take out the town of Talvik to protect a German destroyer hiding out in Norwegian waters.
Martin wakes up in hospital with Herzog’s right arm mistakenly sewn back onto him, accused of mass murder, but with the same super powers as Herzog – the first genius addition to the Dead Snow franchise. In hospital he meets a young American kid who has recognised the zombie appendage for what it is and has informed the Zombie Squad – the second genius addition. Essentially, tech/film geeks: Daniel, Monica and Blake from good ol’ USA. When they arrive in Norway they turn Martin’s evasion of the police into a pursuit of the Nazi zombies via resurrecting Russian soldiers along the way.
Like the first one, this is no tired homage to other zombie movies. This is its own creation. The scriptwriting and action includes so much original wit and intelligence. Each kill set piece is cleverly thought out, but it’s never gore for gore’s sake – all gross out moments also push the story forward or teach us something new about our characters. From the truck driver’s mouth to mouth with Herzog, to Martin’s caving in of the kids chest while attempting CPR, to entrails being used as a hose to siphon diesel from a truck, the new ideas just keep coming and they keep getting better. When the film isn’t smashing faces in, the dialogue is always snappy. Loud cheers, belly laughs, and applause, regularly filled the auditorium. Make no mistake Dead Snow 2 is on a par with Peter Jackson‘s Braindead for shear horror crowd-pleasing, blood and guts exuberance.
It’s bonkers stuff, but because the storytelling is so sure footed, it works. A brave move was to go for all out comedy at times. But the pursuit of laughs is never at a cost to the way the overall film knits together. There’s even time for sentimentality and a bit of Bonnie Tyler on the soundtrack to accompany a fitting zombie love scene at the end. This is the perfect Frightfest movie.
Originally published at Britflicks