Horror Channel FrightFest 2016 – Britflicks’ Stuart Wright reports back from Day 3 with reviews of THE REZORT, CRUEL SUMMER, ABATTOIR, BLOOD FEAST, THE LOVE WITCH, THE DUKE MITCHELL presents KARAOKE CRAZIES, THE DUKE MITCHELL PARTY EVENT, BEYOND THE GATES and KNUCKLEBONES.
Director: Steve Barker. Cast: Dougray Scott, Jessica De Gouw, Martin McCann, Bentley Kalu, Jass Ahluwalia. Spain/UK.
Outpost (2008) originator Steve Barker is back with a high concept zombie movie. In this near dystopian future, it’s post apocalypse and the surviving human’s who won are rebuilding for the future. .
A low number of walking dead are contained to one island. Thanks to the opportunism of hardnosed Wilton (Claire Goose) it has been transformed into a shooting gallery resort for gun totting tourists. “Sand, sun, sea and slaughter,” she proudly announces to the latest arrivals. Bubbling away in the backstory is an allegory for our times. There’s a humanitarian crisis from mass migration to the developed world and a groundswell of opinion that if we treat the dead like meat then the living will be next.
Like all good theme parks where danger is but a fence away, a computer virus takes out the security and sets the undead free. What should have been harmless pot shots from a safe vantage point turns into a race to get off the island, not just before the zombies infect them, but before they become collateral damage to the military drone strike that will bomb the place out of existence.
It’s an ambitious film that combines Crichton’s/Spielberg’s Jurassic Park with Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters. It takes a little too much time setting up the world and characters that don’t ultimately matter, but be patient because Barker’s nightmare vision of the limitless of human stupidity and arrogance coupled with our primal will to survive is there for all to see until the very last frame.
Director: Phillip Escott. Cast: Danny Miller, Reece Douglas, Richard Pawulski, Natalie Martin.
Appropriately titled ‘Cruel’ summer, this remarkable film is unrelenting throughout. Events are so senseless that they even give Michael Haneke’s films a run for their money.
Three friends – Nicholas, Calvin and Julia – embark on a trip to locate an autistic boy who is camping, alone, and who may or may not have slept with Nicholas’ (Danny Miller) girlfriend. Before the film thrusts the audience into its gut-wrenching final act, it humanises three seemingly hopeless youths by showing us how they act and spend their days.
They’ve accepted (or are they condemned by) the hand they have been dealt with in life, and anything resembling a bright future seems unattainable (Calvin is mocked for wanting to go university). The main trio all deliver performances of the highest possible standard, especially Danny Miller, who steals the show in nearly every scene he’s in. He can be terrifyingly cruel one moment, then somehow make the viewer pity him simply because he is so hopeless and damaged. His blind desire is so pointless that the audience is forced to at least empathise, even if his motivations and actions are morally reprehensible.
Cruel Summer is a tough watch; its approach has prevented it from being average. Throughout, the emphasis is strictly on character. If it was the opposite, and indulged in the violence throughout, it would have a very different film.
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman. Cast: Joe Anderson, Jessica Lowndes, Michael Paré, Lin Shaye, Bryan Batt. USA.
When investigative reporter, Julia (Jessica Lowndes), teams up with hardboiled detective, Grady (Joe Anderson, My Father, Die from opening night), to understand a series of mysterious murders, her enquiries lead her to a small, forgotten town called New English. They’re not welcomed and the local sheriff does everything he can to chase them away. Julia finds a friend in lonely old woman, Allie, played with amiable menace by Insidious’s Lin Shaye. She opens Julia’s eyes to the presence of snake oil salesman-cum-cult leader – Deadwood’s Dayton Callie. The friendly glint in his eye and warm tone of voice are an incongruous to the stranglehold he has on New English’s population.
As Julia closes in on the reasons for the mysterious deaths, the more she removes herself from reality and puts herself at the mercy of a supernatural force that New English residents must appease through human sacrifice.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III & IV) weaves his vision around characters, architecture and an impenetrable, overgrown woodland that echoes the southern gothic feel of season three (Coven) of American Horror Story or Iain Softley’s Skeleton Key (2005). As a result Abattoir’s final revelations and tragic conclusion become a grim(m) fairytale for Julia and Grady as they discover the determined perseverance of truth and justice is irrelevant when macabre Faustian deals with dark, inhuman forces are already in play.
Director: Marcel Walz. Cast: Robert Rusler, Sophie Monk, Caroline Williams, Sadie Katz, Liliana Nova. USA.
This Blood Feast reboot recycles the 1963 Herschell Gordon Lewis Eqyptian legend of the Goddess Ishtar, but moves the action to the outskirts of Paris. Fuad (Robert Rusler) works a night shift in a museum where he inadvertently falls under the spell of Ishtar and dutifully sacrifices his family and friends for her.
As this is a USA production, but shot in Europe, English as a second language is the main stay of the supporting cast. This sucks any potential drama out of most scenes. However, the script must share most of the blame for the atrocious dialogue they’re being fed. One particularly ill considered conversation has all the subtlety of a porno.
Fuad: You have very beautiful eyes?
Female: Would you like to see them with cum all over my face?
Fuad: No I think I’d like to rip them out and serve them with a tossed salad.
Female: Fucking weirdo. I’d rather wait in my car.
Sadly, the gory scenes are neither stomach churning, inventive, or non-stop – 38 minutes of set up is churned out before the first kill scene.
There’s a lot of affection for the 1963 original. It was never considered a good movie, but at the very least it invented the gore film. In 2016 Marcel Walz takes that notorious piece of trash cinema and achieves nothing new or interesting. Shame.
THE LOVE WITCH
Director: Anna Biller. Cast: Samantha Robinson, Laura Waddell, Elle Evans, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Stephen Wozniak. USA.
Anne Biller’s The Love Witch is a mellifluous, cotton candy extravaganza that revolves around enchanting beauty Elaine (Samantha Robinson). She’s a new Witch in town and is convinced she can tame sex magik and use it to get men to fall in love with her. Did I say Elaine is a witch? In this film universe normal people reluctantly accept witches live among them. The main difference between these two groups of people is openness to sexual desires. When Elaine explains her plan to get a man by giving him what he wants in bed, her English Rose neighbour Trish (Laura Waddell) doubts it’ll work. A man should love you for who you are, not your ability to fulfil his sexual fantasies.
When Elaine tries out her potion on the first man that takes her fancy – Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent) – it works like a dream, but in the aftermath of the sex he is so overcome that she was willing to give him what he wanted that he is reduced to a babbling wreck, drained of all emotions and good sense – not a good thing thinks Elaine. She kills him. And so a cycle of trial and error is triggered until the police finally catch up with her.
The Love Witch is as playful as it is sensual. The meticulous set designs, stunning costumes and striking colour palate positively tickle the eyeballs. Rather like Robert Lee King’s Psycho Beach Party (2000), it is as camp as a row of tents, but instead of subverting the action with homoerotic themes, Biller loads up the drama with a witty, feminist subtext that pokes a stick into the hornets nest of what men and women perceive and presume about relationships with each other. It’s never preachy, but pay close attention to the dialogue and acid drops of cynicism towards the battle of the sexes will burn the ears of many straight males.
It’s safe to say that there’s nothing else quite like Biller’s The Love Witch at Frightfest.
THE DUKE MITCHELL presents KARAOKE CRAZIES
Director: Kim Sang-Chan Cast: Lee Moon-Sik , Bae So-Eun, Kim Na-Mi, Bang Jun-Ho. Korea, 2016.
Karaoke Crazies is director Sang-chan Kim’s second feature and centres on a Karaoke club owner whose time is spent falling asleep listening to the audio tracks of porno films while his business slowly dies. He advertises for a ‘helper’. This is like a hostess to sing with the customers in their private rooms. Tease them as it were, but not a sex worker. He doesn’t get one. He gets two. First is the introverted young woman who dresses in a tracksuit and forgets herself playing online computer games. Second is the pro – the bubbling ball of sassy energy who promises to revitalise this failing karaoke business.
The events leading up to this moment and what follow are unorthodox. It is not entirely rational where or why the action is heading in one direction and then the next. Karaoke Crazies strays massively from the usual cause and effect Anglo-Saxon expectations of narrative. Instead the melodrama of exaggerated characters and exciting events blow up like fireworks in your face. Simultaneously, grim topics like loneliness, abandonment, rape and domestic violence bleed into your consciousness. The set design and photography is fantastic. There are stellar performances from the entire cast. Add in the assured and inventive direction from Kim and Karaoke Crazies allows you to lose yourself in the flip flopping between an uncomfortable and a sumptuous viewing experience.
THE DUKE MITCHELL PARTY EVENT
It’s hard to know where to start with Evrim Ersoy and Alex Kidd’s jamboree of video clips. This year, like every year, the jaw dropping obscurities, rarities and inspirations are chosen by the organisers of Frightfest and many of the guests at the festival. For example, we learn Ian Rattray’s guilty pleasure isn’t The Good Wife or Nashville but TRAINS..
There were a number of safety videos hacked to pieces and spat back out for our enjoyment. A self-defence snippet reliably and repeatedly told you to hit your “fist to the groin” of your male attacker. The most brutal though was the series of health and safety series from Canada about accidents in the work place.
Death Waltz Records supremo Spencer Hickman played paper, scissors, stone with seven volunteers from the audience and win/lose he gave away seven lovely slabs of vinyl that he’s released.
Jesse Merlin and Graham Skipper, stars of BEYOND THE GATES sang a duet from Reanimator The Musical. Simon Rumley introduced many of those present to the disturbing delights of avant garde hip hop act HO99O9S (pronounced Horrors). A skip load of merchandise and haribo sweets were thrown out to the grabbing hands of the Duke Mitchell faithful before the curtain was drawn on this crazy, fun filled finale to Day 3 of Frightfest 2016 with a truther Rock ballad about the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11… https://youtu.be/Fr8UK1xmEas
BEYOND THE GATES
Director: Jackson Stewart. Cast: Graham Skipper, Sara Malakul Lane, Brea Grant, Justin Welborn, Barbara Crampton. USA.
Time now for some Midnight Madness, eighties inspired genresploitation… Gordon (Graham Skipper from Almost Human) and John (Chase Williamson from the Guest) are two estranged brothers forced to reunite when their father mysteriously disappears. After seven months the waiting game is over and they reluctantly come together to liquidate his video store business – one that in the VHS hey day specialized in horror. Gordon is the responsible, settled down one, and John is the wayward, drifter son. Their obvious sibling rivalry provides much of the early drama as they dig through the stock and butt up against each other’s sensibiltiies. In a backroom they find a board game – BEYOND THE GATES – and its interactive video (starring Barbara Crampton as the enigmatic games master, Evelyn). When they finally get round to playing it they inadvertently expose themselves to a Lovercraftian supernatural realm in the basement. They cannot shut it down and must complete the game to end the nightmare. Cue in camera, practical gore SFX as gruesome and bloody deaths befall those closest to the brothers as they solve the puzzles of Beyond The Gates. Gorehounds will particularly enjoy the fountain of intestines that John unwittingly rips out of his friend while he rummages in the stomach of a voodoo doll for a key. Director Jackson Stewart and visual effects supervisor Jason Richard Miller (Hatchet III, Contracted: Phase II) must have had a ball with each set piece they created. Although the pacing of the action between scares and gore could’ve been a bit quicker. Certainly, the brothers seem to dither way too long about playing the damn game.
Wojciech Golczewski’s effortless synth score is a constant reminder of the film’s retro eighties inspirations and aspirations.
Beyond The Gates is a fun film that still manages to play the horror straight. It feels as much like a love letter to every mom and pop video store there once was, as it is a celebration of the horror genre that burgeoned during those VHS boom years.
Director: Mitch Wilson. Cast: Julin, Justin Arnold, Cameron Deane Stewart, Taylor Tippins, Erin Marie Garrett. USA.
Tenuous Nazi origins story – Check. A bevy of hot chicks happy to bare their perfect breasts for no practical storytelling reasons – Check. A nursery rhyme to summon the killer bad guy – Check. Even the summary in the Frightfest programme reads like a cut’n’paste of other well-known movies – “Let the games of death begin” sound familiar to you?
Nothing in this supernatural slasher, is of any cinematic or genre merit. Even turning your brain off and accepting it’s so poor you can laugh and groan at it with the gorehounds wears thin well before its 85 minutes are up. Knucklebones is sadly just an ill conceived horror film.
Originally published Britflicks