I SPIT ON YOUR COUNCIL: THE ROUGH GUIDE TO FRIGHTFEST 2010
16th Sep 10
It took approximately 3.4234212 nano-milli-seconds for the bloggers to hit the Frightfest website and offer their disgruntled two-penneth worth when it became clear that Westminster Council had effectively ensured the pulling of Sunday night’s only baby-raping censor-baiting premiere, A Serbian Film.
The fact that the hasty replacement of one of the weekend’s hottest tickets coincided with the enforced screening of a BBFC-censored version of the I Spit On Your Grave remake (albeit censored by mere seconds with none of the fun stuff diluted), coupled with the existing controversy provoked by Alan Jones’ response to an apparently misquoted Gregg Araki (whose film KABOOM was, ironically, originally scheduled right before A Serbian Film) made this one of the most fraught FrightFests on record.
If only reliably grumpy co-host Ian Rattray had followed through on his threats to shove offending mobile phones up their owner’s arseholes, it could have been absolutely unforgettable…
Controversy aside, FrightFest - enjoying its second year at the swish Empire Leicester Square - yet again earned its consistent reputation as the nation’s one essential horror festival. Araki’s movie would have been a shared audience experience to treasure and A Serbian Film would have brought the house down in all kinds of ways, but there is no case to be made for the weekend coming up lacking in the great movie stakes.
This year brought forth more than a handful of high quality genre pictures, a modest couple of cinematic losers and a whole lot of fun in between the exhaustive roster of screenings. What follows is a breeze through all of the fest’s main-screen movies, guests and incidental pleasures in chronological order for old time’s sake, star-ratings where relevant and a sad absence of the kind of bus-destined one-line quotes that Alan Jones chucks out with crazy abandon.
If you were there, the following will trigger memories of five days of escalating hunger, a shoulder bag over-crowded with multiple freebie Walking Dead mugs and more dvd copies of Catacombs than there are in Hell….
Thursday 24th August
Hatchet II (****)
Adam Green’s hastily conceived sequel to his own witty gore-n-boob-laden Friday the 13th homage is scrappy, self-indulgent and almost fatally sluggish in the first half.
When the final 45 minutes deliver scenes of characters decapitated during sex, towering slasher Victor Crowley wielding the biggest chainsaw ever seen in a movie and ex-Jason Kane Hodder going mano a mano with both (former Leatherface) R.A. Mihailoff and Tony Todd before getting his head stoved in by diminutive hottie Danielle Harris, forgiveness is easy to come by.
Any movie which ends with its final girl uttering a simple but marvellously defiant and well timed “Cunt!” is worthy of respect and this Australian variant on Cabin Fever and The Ruins has its moments, for sure, including some icky Cronenbergian body horror business.
Too bad about the slo-mo usage and the kind of hokey CGI that instantly dooms lesser low budget genre pics.
Dead Cert (*)
When a British horror movie stars Craig Fairbrass, features a Danny Dyer cameo and has its world premiere accompanied by the main cast almost apologising for its very existence, the signs are not good. Reviving grim, repressed memories of the kind of limp fare the UK genre scene thrust on us in the 90’s, this feeble combination of Laandan gangster movie, From Dusk Till Dawn-wannabe vampire flick and the shitest soap opera you have ever seen was the biggest misstep of the festival line-up. Veteran co-star Steven Berkoff lived up to his reputation as being a bit of a twat by wearing Rupert Bear trousers on stage.
Friday 27th August
Eggshells (**) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (*****)
A Tobe Hooper double bill to herald his on-stage guest-of-honour status on the Friday afternoon, beginning with a rare screening of his 1969 debut, a feature length acid trip that combines a Vietnam-era take on the Bad House horror with extended bath-tub discussions of Communism. Certain folks enjoyed its surrealism but some things, like Charles Manson and frontally nude ugly people, really should have stayed in 1969. Chainsaw, on the other hand, is that rare age-less horror movie, its impact amplified by the towering Empire Cinema screen and ear-bleedingly loud sound.
Isle Of Dogs (****)
Pitched somewhere between Sexy Beast, Tarantino and Argento (with a fabulous Tenebrae inspired arm-chopping) this bloody horror-noir deserved more plaudits than it received.
Barbara Nedeljakova makes an alluring femme fatale as the trophy wife of a vicious gangster (Andrew Howard, the Sheriff who gets arse-fucked with a shotgun in I Spit On Your Grave) involved in a twisting plot with some pleasing nods to classic gialli like Blood and Black Lace.
David Schofield’s sincere performance as a teacher caught up in a politically correct system that protects abusive children more than the authority figures they’re meant to respect, haunts Johannes Roberts’ intelligent, effectively scary reworking of Assault On Precinct 13 for the “hoodie-horror” era.
Some silly secondary characters aside, the movie sustains considerable tension without resorting to gore or cheap scares and bows out on an impressively ambiguous note.
Red Hill (****)
Far from the nihilistic revisionist approach of other recent, stand-out westerns like The Proposition, this is an old-fashioned tale of a thoroughly decent lawman whose transfer to a quiet farming community is marred by the escape of an infamous convict on a roaring rampage of revenge.
The ultimate twist is guessable, but the backdrop is evocative, the music pays gorgeous homage to Ennio Morricone and Tom E Lewis makes for a memorable villain, both intimidating and tragic.
Alien Vs Ninja (**)
This year’s inevitable jokey Japanese splatter movie does what it says on the tin and just about passes muster as goofy late-night entertainment.
Refreshing for its use of old-school man-in-a-suit reptilian monsters, and someone should market those rubbery pink baby alien creatures.
Saturday 28th August
Cherry Tree Lane (****)
In the same weekend as F, the premiere of Paul Andrew Williams’ intense siege-horror which, with its off-camera horrors and disturbing home invasion theme, plays out like a British Daily Mail-inspired reworking of Funny Games, minus the audience-hating pretentiousness.
This story of a middle class couple held captive in their own home by a trio of threatening - but, as the script takes time to convey, actually very ordinary and credible - teenage boys, packs a considerable punch and bows out with a shattering final scene.
The Tortured (**)
The tagline boasts “From the producers of Saw“ and should be accompanied by a sticker that reads sarcastically “You don’t say…”.
Amped up post-Hostel take on the Death Wish instigated revenge movie delivers all the eardrum-piercing, liver-removing sadism you might expect but its telegraphed Big Twist (cue : montage) and manipulative depiction of the catalytic death of a child treat the audience as imbeciles.
13 Hrs (**)
A low budget Brit werewolf picture that forgets to be scary and is notable only for the 1) the world’s first furless white lycanthrope and 2) for the fact that Gemma Atkinson’s fabulous cleavage throughout the movie was absolutely nowhere in sight when the suddenly flat-chested actress took to the stage to pretend she’s made something significant.
I Spit On Your Grave (*****)
The movie you always wished Meir Zarchi’s original infamous rape-revenge flick was….
Sticking closely to the original’s narrative and characterisation but considerably more convincing and professional on every level, this has an outstanding Sarah Butler enduring a suitably harrowing first-hour bout of humiliation and rape before executing the most inventively nasty and crowd-pleasing vengeance mission in recent movie memory.
Show-stopping gore FX in the second half - including an astounding fish-hooks-through-the-eyelids moment - and a pleasing avoidance of flashy post-Saw gimmickry ensured Steven R Monroe’s movie became a festival talking point for many.
Scott McNairy and Whitney Able bond in a poignantly unconsummated fashion as they travel across a harsh South American landscape overwhelmed by towering alien creatures that have laid waste to much of the Earth in this micro-budgeted alternative to soulless $200 million Hollywood sci-fi.
Alternatively heartfelt, witty and frightening, it reinstates the sense of awe (notably during a climactic gas-station sequence) too often lacking in the blockbusters that have come down the pike in the years since Close Encounters.
One of the more genteel films of the weekend but - hey - not everything has to end with a guy getting butt-fucked with a shotgun (just most things).
Dream Home (****)
The only slasher movie in history that ends with the imminent grimness of economic meltdown, this Hong Kong gore-fest follows a young woman’s murderous determination to secure the luxury Victoria Bay she has always dreamed of.
Impressively crosses over the taste barrier during a protracted murder sequence early on involving a heavily pregnant woman, a plastic bag and a hoover…and proceeds to indulge in splendidly sick visuals involving stoners, topless hotties and a severed dick ejaculating. In short: awesome.
Sunday 29th August
The Pack (***)
Not in the top drawer of the recent French horror boom, but no slacker either: an atmospheric slow-burner in which feisty loner Emilie Dequenne rests at a truck stop where the proprietor is keen on sacrificing customers to a bunch of Descent style creatures.
Never hits the bull’s-eye and cops out at the very end, but no movie with Philippe Nahon (as an eccentric, retired Sheriff) is a complete loss.
We Are What We Are (***)
Over-optimistically compared to Let The Right One In by the festival organisers, this restrained, bleak tale of a cannibalistic family set against an authentic backdrop of Mexican poverty suffered in the context of the weekend by being extremely slow-paced.
On repeat viewings its excellent performances, visceral climax and interesting parallels to the Brit 70’s classic Frightmare might be better appreciated.
Damned By Dawn (***)
Alan Jones groomed this as the next best thing to Evil Dead 4, thus instantly damning it to the Hell of Unrealistically Elevated Expectation.
This often eerie Australian low-budgeter about a Banshee terrorising a reunited family was shat on by some fest-goers for its hokey ghost train-ish CG skeletons and lack of splatter but has nice character work and an occasionally gorgeous Gothic look.
Buried (*****)Michigan truck driver Ryan Reynolds is buried alive after an ambush in Iraq with just a flash-light, a foreign cell phone, a lighter and a rattlesnake for company in this exceptional cinematic confidence trick from director Rodrigo Cortes.
It's allegiance to Hitchcock at his most mischievously experimental announced by the Saul Bass-inspired titles, the movie is literally a one-man-show, never leaving the confines of the coffin. Reynolds’ funny, agonisingly sympathetic performance redefines his whole career and, after 90 minutes of sweat-inducing intensity, the pay-off does not disappoint.
Aside from being (arguably) the best suspense-thriller of its era, this late replacement for A Serbian Film is an angry, cynical story for our angry, cynical times in which a man is left to die by the country he has served.
The Loved Ones (*****)
The Sunday night double of this and Buried energised a Frightfest audience waning after a couple of underwhelming movies. A Stephen King-influenced black comedy in which a deluded teenage Annie Wilkes (Robin McLeavy) holds the latest object of her affections hostage (Xavier Samuels) and subjects him to escalating torture, it is beautifully designed and boasts the kind of rich characters and witty performances lacking in too many of its recent U.S. contemporaries.
No slouch on the gore front, but it’s the uneasy interaction between the childlike McLeavy and her creepily devoted dad (John Brumpton) that you’ll remember as much as the cranial drilling.
Monday 30th August
Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship And Videotape (*****)
More relevant than it originally seemed given the storm over A Serbian Film and the screening of I Spit On Your Grave, Jake West’s brilliant, hugely entertaining account of the all-too-familiar 80’s media circus is a wonderful combination of hilarious / disturbing archive footage and witty talking heads. Some of the stories were inevitably much-told ones, but the opening montage of clips from all 72 “nasties” coupled with directors Neil Marshall & Chris Smith reflecting on the old days of gaudy covers and crappy audio-visual quality tipped the nostalgia value off the scale.
Even more impressive, Martin Barker emerged as the hero of both the documentary and the festival, boldly exposing the fraudulent actions of many of those involved and revealing just how difficult it was to act in defence of the banned movies at the time.
The Dead (****)
An American lieutenant has to find his way back home after crashing off the coast of Africa during a worldwide zombie epidemic in this idiosyncratic take on the over-crowded dead-dude genre.
The expansive backdrop revitalises a sub-genre usually reliant on siege scenarios, the Romero nods are well done (notably a variation on the ghetto opening of Dawn of the Dead) and the bursts of gory action first-rate.
A downtrodden, enslaved woman finally fights back in one of a chain of female-revenge movies shown throughout the weekend.
This beautifully made South Korean movie starts out as an emotionally wrenching domestic drama before a genuinely shocking moment (the death of a child) tips its sympathetic protagonist, and the story, into sickle-wielding, head-lopping slasher territory. Seo Young-hee is outstanding as the long-repressed victim who makes a stand in the most visceral way.
Red, White And Blue (****)
Simon Rumley’s harrowing The Living And The Dead scarred many Fright festers a few years ago and his follow-up was another genre-transcending piece fixated on disease, fractured families and human weakness. Amanda Fuller’s extraordinary portrayal of an abuse victim deliberately spreading the HIV virus amongst men all too happy to enjoy a bare-back fuck brings the movie close to Cronenberg’s venereal horror cycle, while Noah Taylor’s terrifying performance as an Iraq war veteran who reacts badly to the actions of one of her “victims” takes the second half to a really dark place.
Some of the most disturbing scenes of the year unfold in one of many downbeat stories of FrightFest 2010 in which violence begets violence and no one gets a happy ending.
The Last Exorcism (****)
Eli Roth leaped on stage like he owned the joint and dominated the Q & A, though this closing film was actually directed by the more subdued Daniel Stamm, who does a fine job of bringing the mock-umentary format to a tale of apparent demonic possession in rural USA.
First class performances and a creepily muted approach to the physical horrors sell the fake-reality, with the slow-burn accumulation of well observed humour and subtle frights paying off in a terrifying final 15 minutes that pay welcome homage to the 70’s Devil movie cycle, notably Race With The Devil.
THE SHORT FILMS
This year’s bunch of international short films were grouped together in an epic slot on Frightfest Sunday, immediately following Andy Nyman’s very entertaining Quiz From Hell. They turned out to form (arguably) the best short film showcase the fest has ever hosted, with a refreshing lack of the kind of pretentious arse that has occasionally lurched into the weekend in the form of a short film.
The audience reception to most of the mini-movies was remarkably positive, though a handful deserve to be singled out for special praise. Can Evrenol’s To My Mother And Father, for instance, is a powerfully disturbing venture into Lynchian territory (though other influences are abundant) in which a small boy watches his mum and dad enjoying some rough sex right before a grotesque transformation takes place.
The Spanish entry La Madre, a grim Mother’s Day-set tale of infanticide, also found suitably unpleasant and perverse things to do with children. No, not what you’re thinking you sick bastard.
As usual, zombies were a popular subject for fledgling directors, though both Dead Hungry (a pathos-strewn generic zombie tale neatly told from the point of view of a starving undead dude) and How I Survived The Zombie Apocalypse - capped by a cynical punch line - found some fresh spins on well worn subject matter. As did the British Red Balloon, which hinges on a familiar twist involving an over-sized child’s “toy” (last seen in 2009’s Amusement) but finds genuine, stylish suspense in its deja-vu-inducing tale of a sexy babysitter threatened by a maniac.
Even better was Lee Cronin’s terrifying Through The Night which presses similar domestic fear buttons to Paranormal Activity in its yarn of an alarmed husband whose wife keeps waking up in the small hours acting in an increasingly bizarre fashion. This one had one helluva creepy final reveal.
The two stand-outs amidst a consistent quality level were Papa Wrestling and Rise of the Appliances. The former, a Mexican entry from director Fernando Alle, was one of the biggest short film crowd-pleasers in Frightfest history. It’s a pleasing take on the bullied-kid sub-genre as a dorky schoolboy has his lovingly prepared lunchbox pilfered by bullies, inspiring his devoted (and spandex-clad) father to take revenge. Watching this absurd hero crush juvenile heads, beat kids with their own severed limbs and rip out eyeballs with casual abandon makes for a joyous experience. Great retro FX, a hilarious central performance and a lot of spirit.
Rob Sprackling’s very British Rise of the Appliances was just as hilarious: a droll and witty Welsh horror spoof of Maximum Overdrive and the third Terminator movie in which a disarmingly ordinary bloke finds himself in the midst of an uprising of deadly sandwich toasters, flat screen Tvs, hoovers, etc. Confident in its own absurdity, this fast-paced gem was full of quotable dialogue and is more than worthy of feature length expansion.
Adam Green and Joe Lynch were again a major part of the guest line-up for Frightfest 2010, with the former enjoying the opening-movie spotlight and his now-traditional presence accompanied by a mini-entourage from Hatchet II. It was tough to move on either side of the movie’s screening, with the Empire crammed full of fans eager to get a hold of Halloween franchise scream queen Danielle Harris, Best Jason Ever Kane Hodder and legend Tony Todd. In any event, Hodder, the most engaging and fun of the three, stuck around for the whole weekend, allowing for the recurring, peculiar spectacle of seeing the legendary slasher icon strolling around the Square while average Joes like us were trying to cram in a pizza slice before the next movie started.
Hodder was enjoyably self-deprecating about his typecasting in roles that usually require him to dismember someone every 15 minutes, while Todd - who was memorably drunk at the Phoenix for the after-show party - seemed touchingly grateful for Green’s loyalty in rewarding his Hatchet cameo with one of his biggest screen roles in years.
Green, meanwhile, was evidently so chuffed to follow his notable 2006 appearance on stage for the original Hatchet with the world premier of its sequel, that we can forgive his unashamedly sentimental pre-film speech and his description of his own movie Frozen as “awesome”.
Day two was dominated by the presence of Tobe Hooper, in the UK for the first time in nearly two decades for a Total Film-sponsored feature entitled “Total Icon”, designed especially for Frightfest and intending to import genre legends for retrospective screenings and on-stage interviews. The central interview itself, conducted by magazine writer Jamie Graham, was around 45 minutes long and revealed the filmmaker to be a modest, laidback presence on the stage; while this made for a slow-paced event to watch unfold, it was in pleasant contrast to the more flamboyant directors that dominated the event.
Graham’s interview covered much in the way of familiar ground: the shooting conditions of Chainsaw, the persistent rumours about Poltergeist. When the field was opened up to the audience, Hooper seemed to relax a little more and proved delightful in his fond recollections of working with James Mason on Salem‘s Lot, his approach to the very different Chainsaw 2 and his own personal pride in the underrated, rather wonderful Lifeforce.
A rather awkward audience question about whether he was tempted to give up on cinema after a series of ambitious commercial failures resulted in quite an honest discussion of how the Poltergeist rumours hampered his career (though he admits that he brought “edgier” stuff to the movie whenever Spielberg was out of town). Without resorting to cheap shots or overt criticism he also offered his opinions on Leatherface’s entry into the Hollywood mainstream via the remake cycle, which amounted to admiration for a single shot - of Jessica Biel’s ass. And so say all of us.
Promising director Tammi Sutton and Isle Of Dogs stars Barbara Nedeljakova (just one of several stunning-looking actresses on the stage this year) and Edward Hogg provided some fun insight into one of the weekend’s more underrated movies, while an extremely nervous but very funny Johannes Roberts restlessly paced the stage prior to the evening screening of his breakthrough movie F. His understandable nerves - he assumed everyone would hate it - were relieved when the movie played well, and he was joined by much of the cast on stage for a post-film Q & A, including the teenage leads and a very dry and funny David Schofield, whose performance in the movie was among the best of the festival. He was the pissed-off-looking dart player in American Werewolf, you know.
Paul Andrew Williams, whose more obviously crowd-pleasing The Cottage was the subject of a one-off Frightfest event two years ago, also anticipated everyone hating Cherry Tree Lane, but it played extremely well and he discussed killing kids on screen in an engagingly flippant fashion.
Composer David Arnold showed up to promote his upcoming Psycho / film music event at the same cinema but briefly hijacking Sunday’s activity was a returning Tom Six, who energised the whole day with his advance promotion of The Human Centipede : Full Sequence. He revealed with glee how he has named key characters from the “100% medically inaccurate” sequel after the Frightfest boys and, while unveiling a bunch of suitably gruesome photos from the London sets, promised a far more grisly movie this time around. We reckon explicit shit-eating will be on the cards.
Frightfest 2010 closed with four generally very well received movies, with Simon Rumley and his remarkable stars back at the festival for the highly acclaimed Red White And Blue a few years after his The Living And The Dead played to equally devastating effect. The closing film, The Last Exorcism brought with it the much-anticipated appearance of (producer) Eli Roth, whose previous movies as director have played at Frightfest without his presence, and his gracious stars and director Daniel Stamm.
Also impressive was the sleeper hit The Dead, hosted by its enthusiastic directors, who were joined on stage by their American star and two hitherto non-actors, movingly proud to have been a part of something so enthusiastically embraced.
Highlight of the final day - and one of the stand-out elements of the whole weekend - away from the films themselves was a terrific, if sadly curtailed panel discussion to accompany the Video Nasties documentary. Martin Barker proved just as wonderful as he was in the documentary, picking up on the Serbian controversy and urging the audience that the best way to defend it will be to write about what makes it good in an intelligent fashion.
Barker brought the discussion to life even when it died as a result of Tobe Hooper’s obvious on-stage reticence to discuss the fact that three of his movies (Death Trap, The Funhouse and Chainsaw) were, in one way or another, involved in the whole “nasties” debacle. Also on stage were the doc’s director Jake West, co-writer Marc Morris, Allan Bryce and the BBFC’s David Hyman.