Another sunny, snowy February in Glasgow and another rollercoaster of a line-up from Frightfest team Alan Jones, Ian Rattray and Paul McEvoy. The boys brought us ten features over two days and took a massive risk with the initially divisive but ultimately bloody successful decision to glue the whole shebang together with all seven episodes of a hilariously twisted Nordic TV find (more on which later). #nuffyacking...
The weekend started strong (perhaps too strong) with the brilliant doc The American Scream (*****) from Best Worst Movie’s Michael Stephenson. That wee scamp from Troll 2 is turning out to be one of the finest documentarians working today as he brings us into the world of three sets of Home-Haunters in Fairhaven, Massachusetts who for that very special night just before November turn their gaffs into ridiculously extravagant maisons of macabre.
We have Victor, a family man facing redundancy who strives for the perfect experience for trick’r treaters and a lost childhood thanks to a strict religious upbringing; blue collar everyman Manny (the kinda guy Bruce Willis specialises in making an action hero out of) bringing the tough-love and getting his kids to muck in (“make those bones into a body. you gotta work it out for yourself”) but the real stars of the show are Mattie Brodeur and his father Richard, a pair of unbelievably loveable oddballs and occasional clowns (literally). The Brodeurs are the Steptoe & Son that love Halloween and actually like each other and they bring big laughs and wee tears as they squabble over serpent eyeballs and butterfingers. You don’t need horror love to ride this ghost train, all you need is heart.
The incredibly touching opener was probably impossible to follow and Sawney: Flesh Of Man (**) disappoints accordingly. Scottish 16th century cannibal Sawney Bean was Wes Craven’s inspiration for The Hill Have Eyes and via some murky plotting Ricky Wood’s low budget gorefest plants the original Mr Bean (David Hayman really going for it here) and his family of mutant cannibals on the outskirts of modern day Edinburgh kidnapping, torturing, raping and munching away while a heavy drinking journo tries to track them down.
On paper Sawney promises a lot of simple fun (rape aside) chucking in parkour loving monster hoodies, a midget butcher, a sinister black hack cab of doom, a giant beast behind closed doors and lots and lots of convincing practical meaty gore. It just about gets by despite director Ricky Wood stringing it all together with a boring and predictable story and the cast (besides Hayman and Gavin Mitchell who’re having as much fun as we should be) seeming far more lively after they’ve had their heads chopped off. Passable, derivative nonsense that should’ve tried a bit harder.
In introducing Rob Zombie’s The Lords Of Salem (****) (the director’s first non sequel/remake since his 2000 debut), Paul McEvoy warned that “half of you will love it, the other half will absolutely HATE IT!” and that’s probably an optimistic prediction as this may well be Mr Zombie’s most difficult film yet (yup!), but it’s also his most successful. Zombie is ruthless, reckless and pretentious but he’s not stupid and his tale of a demonic record left by wrong-done witches causing one hell of a week for DJ Heidi (Sherri Moon Zombie) is a wild bag of noisy weed for the eyes packed with excellent original imagery.
While Mrs Zombie is no Mia Farrow, she gives her best show to date and Mr Zombie’s fetish for casting great character actors finally pays off as Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace Stone, Judy Geeson, Ken Foree and many others get to play actual characters instead of superfluous distracting cameos. Lords is the flick the American Coffin Joe’s been itching to get out of himself for over a decade now and like it or not it’s gonna stick with you.
Neil Jordan’s monsters are many things but they sure ain’t jolly and Byzantium (***I/2), his first bloodsucker since Interview With The Vampire continues his downbeat vibe. Gemma Arterton lays the sauce on thick and Saoirse Ronan continues to be incapable of putting in a less than flawless performance as a 200 year old mother/daughter vamp duo trying to find comfort in a seaside resort. It’s a beautiful looking, superbly acted serious genre film that could be the British answer to Let The Right One In or Romero’s Martin.
Slow stuff it may be (Jordan is unsurprisingly not in the running for Crank 3D) but the patient will be rewarded with plenty of ingenious twists on a subgenre that for better or worse refuses to go away and flashbacks that conjure memories of classic Hammer as well as the heyday of Ken Russell. Right classy.
Detention of the Dead (*) is a miracle. Its aim is so low and concept so simple – the five basics of high school movies (geek, goth, alpha, jock and cheerleader) are besieged by a zombie outbreak – that it really shouldn’t rank amongst the worst movies ever made and yet somehow here we are. From the unlikable actors and student-short camerawork to the appalling dialogue – which even has the nerve to reference Buffy, Evil Dead and a ton of other classics horror-comedy staples, proving the filmmakers have actually seen a horror-comedy – there is next to no redeeming qualities in this waste of time. Worst of all Detention has an overstuffed soundtrack of actually quite awesome indie tunes that may well now be ruined though association. So damning is its power.