FrightFest 2016 Day 4 Reviews

Horror Channel FrightFest 2016 – Britflicks’ Stuart Wright reports back from Day 4 with reviews of DOWNHILL, WRITING IN GENRE, JOHNNY FRANK GARRET’S LAST WORD, REALIVE, 31 and THE NEIGHBOUR.

DOWNHILL

Director: Patricio Valladres. Cast: Natalie Burn, Ignacia Allamand, Ariel Levy, Bryce Draper, Luke Massy. Chile. 

Patricio Valladares’ Hidden In The Woods caused controversy at Frightfest in 2012. Hard to know what got people more upset: appalling subtitles and/or a hard core return to exploitation cinema’s visceral values of misogyny and sexual violence. Downhill is very different. Starring Natalie Burn (Nymph, 2014) and Bryce Draper (Muck, 2014) it is mostly English language. Draper is a mountain bike racer who is on a sabbatical following the death of his riding buddy and best friend. He is coerced into coming out of early retirement. This takes him and Burn to a remote lodge in Chile. They barely manages half a practice run before they discover a dead man in a truck and fall victim to a gang of thugs.

Shot in just 13 days it’s a chaotic film. On the one hand, the set up is a drag – chocker full of clunky dialogue, and action that is totally irrelevant and unnecessary.

Be patient though because the trying opening half falls off a ledge as Valladares lets loose with digits removed, bags of flesh hanging from trees, heads blown off, fat little centipedes that are forced into mouths and a manic orgy to name a few. None of this Lovecraftian craziness is ever really explained. It’s like Burns/Draper have stumbled into a bloodthirsty kill cycle that’s been occurring for decades in service of a creature from another world. Not even the surprising revelation that a Brit (played by Luke Massy) is the menacing leader of the Chilean gang is enough to disrupt the flow. The speed and logic of Valladares’ transitions are not always the best choices, nor are they always coherent, but the film is a fun ride (pun intended) and evidence he’s pushing himself creatively.

WRITING IN GENRE 

Horror Writing Master Class With James Moran

James Moran (Severence, Tower Block and Cockneys vs Zombies) hosted this first ever Frightfest writing workshop. He didn’t promise to tell you how to write a film, but he did provide an overview of the process that works for him: idea, brainstorm, outline & characters, playlist, rough draft and finally first proper draft. He illustrated through his movies how this worked in practice before inviting everyone to join him in thinking up a new film from blank page to outline.

Drawing on headlines from the finest free press London has to offer he identified a few potentials: night tube, hidden art, rapping preacher and James Bond swingers party death at a three acre mansion to choose from. It wasn’t really that difficult to pick one from those.

The room brainstormed and the hivemind proved very good as ideas came thick and fast: sex toys, tens of car keys in a bowl, masked ministers, secret rooms and the rapping preacher even made it onto the fast growing list. It was exciting and generated a great deal of positive energy in Screen 7. Moran showed how he groups these under the basic story structure headings: beginning, middle and end. When he was done we could really see a movie had begun… It was like magic.

Now comes the hard bit – taking this scriptwriting lesson away and doing it on your own. It won’t be the same without 150+ helpers to call on.

Workshops are a new element to Frightfest programme and writing wasn’t the only one. There was a women in genre panel hosted by Digital Spy’s Rosie Fletcher, a special FX demonstration by Dan Martin (who we previewed on the podcast) and finally one about The Future Of British. Maybe next year there will an international co-production market attached to Frightfest to help generate new films directly out of the attendees.

JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT’S LAST WORD

Director: Simon Rumley. Cast: Mike Doyle, Erin Cummings, Sean Patrick Flanery, Devin Bonnee, Dodge Prince. USA.

Simon Rumley’s (Red, White and Blue) new film is a fascinating twist on the biopic. It begins with a court scene in 1982 as a bible waving lawyer condemns a young man, Johnny Frank Garrett, for the murder of a nun. Cut to a jury room and it appears this is going to be about proving JFG’s innocence. Oh no. Very soon after he’s sentenced and the film flashes forward 10 years and finally JFG is being killed by lethal injection, but not before leaving behind a very detailed letter cursing those who would send an innocent to his death. In the real tale those people he threatened to get from the afterlife began to mysteriously die. What Rumley has done with JFG’s Last Word is to take that notion into the horror world and explicitly show the restless spirit of JFG killing those who found him guilty. Told through the eyes of a fictitious jury member – Adam Redman (Mike Doyle) the body count soon racks up in this small, God fearing American town. Leaving you in very little doubt that an injustice was carried out. By showing JFG’s restless spirit having a hand in the deaths would ordinarily make him the antagonist of the story, but in this dramatisation of true story you begin to see that the collective guilt of the town is the antagonist and JFG’s search for justice as a vengeful ghost is exposing the shallowness of respectability that hides the real shame that should and will haunt this town for many more years to come.

British director Simon Rumley talks about real life horror JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT’S LAST WORD on the Britflicks Podcast.

REALIVE 

Director: Mateo Gil. Cast: Tom Hughes, Charlotte Le Bon, Oona Chaplin, Barry Ward, Julio Perillan. Spain/France.

‘Realive’ is set in a technologically advanced future, where ‘reanimation’ is now a medical option.  So when Mark Jarvis (Tom Hughes) finds out he has one year to live, he decides to kill himself before his body deteriorates too much.  It owes a lot to ‘Frankenstein’. It’s also a celebration of the physical sensations of life, and lucidly recalls memories that will torment Mark forever.

The ambitious production design meticulously creates a convincing vision of a world that doesn’t seem that far-fetched. Equally, reanimation is a provocative subject and throughout Realive there is a quiet scepticism about how far science – and medicine – should go.

It is a daring film, full of desire to explore big themes like living, memories and nostalgia – and does so very well.

By Callum Shepherd

 31

Director: Rob Zombie. Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake, Torsten Vosges, Meg Foster.

‘31’ starts in monochrome with a study of the eloquent psycho clown – Doom-Head (Richard Blake from Outpost). He’s evil personified. Cut to… A gang of carnival misfits as they stride onto screen in 1976, desert bowl USA to the glorious strains of Joe Walsh’s ‘Walk Away’. They’re a good time, tight bunch with no future beyond bee r, weed and the promise of sex on the open road. They ignore warning signs of trouble ahead only to find themselves kidnapped and forced to participate in a 12 hour game of life or death against a gang of sadistic clowns for the folly of Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell) and his party of well spoken, 16th century French aristocracy looking women in their high powdered wigs. Their introduction injects ‘31’ with sunburst of high camp. Our carnival troupe, led by Rob Zombie stalwart and spouse – Sheri Moon Zombie – are promised freedom if they can survive the tasks. Here ‘31’ moves into something resembling a violent video game spliced together with the gorehounds answer to The Running Man (1987). RZ has a ball with his cartoon killer clown creations such as the Spanish speaking Nazi dwarf– Sick-Head (Pancho Moler).

The gang survive the first few waves of clown attacks. Father Murder calls on Doom-Head to tip the balance back in their favour.

‘31’ would seem to be a calculated FU to those who will merrily never enjoy RZ’s work, and sees him return to the unapologetic and straight up horrors: House Of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Reject (2005).

THE NEIGHBOUR

Director: Marcus Dunstan. Cast: Josh Stewart, Alex Essoe, Bill Engvall, Luke Edwards, Ronnie Blevins. USA.

The Neighbor is a taut action thriller by Marcus Dunstan (The Collector, The Collection). It stars Josh Stewart (The Collection) and Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) as the hard boiled, with a heart, couple: John and Rosie. They’re responsible for a rundown, remote house that is used as a stop and drop off point for drug mules.

A surprise visit from their only neighbour, Troy (Bill Engvail) unsettles them with his full disclosure of how much he understands about their comings and goings. Engvail’s introduction at this stage is masterful misdirection in terms of where the story is really heading – the first of many clever dramatic decisions taken by Dunstan.

When Rosie goes missing, John knows, despite Troy’s suggestion, she’s not skipped town. He sneaks into Troy’s house and when he descends into the basement he finds Rosie locked in a cage – and a whole lot more trouble than he bargained for. Troy returns with his two sons. Hidden in the shadows John witnesses what is really going on down there. Cue a number of gripping escape and fail sequences that revel in their plot twists and violence until it’s just John vs Troy. That is not before Essoe capably proves herself to be adept at wreaking her own brutality on their captors.

The Neighbour is full of surprises and creatively misdirects at every opportunity without ever choosing the most obvious next story move or resorting to cliché.

Stuart Wright

Originally published Britflicks

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About Stuart Wright

Screenwriter, Podcast Host, Journalist, LFC, Horror, Leyton
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