FrightFest 2005 - the 5th Anniversary of London's annual horror festival took place from 26th-29th August at the Odeon West End. Read the review of Day Two below or click on the other links to see reviews for the other days.
It was an early start for everyone as Paul’s Cinema Store was hosting a signing by George A. Romero and Greg Nicotero. We arrived at 10am to find two queues snaking along St Martin’s Lane, a priority queue for weekend passholders (to enable us to get to the OWE in time for the start of Do You Like Hitchcock?) and a second queue for everyone else. It was soon clear that being in the priority queue made no difference whatsoever though as both queues were being filtered through in equal numbers.
The waiting around was enlivened by the reappearance of two of our zombies from Friday, the guy with the pitchfork and the guy with the axe handle. The latter really embraced his role to the full and was soon lurching out from behind objects to scare passers-by, much to the amusement of us all. Then Steve thought it would be funny to phone his mate back in Brighton and got our zombie to groan a message onto his voicemail. Finally inside the shop we got to meet George and Greg, shake hands, get something signed and exchange a few words. It was another memorable FrightFest moment and a highlight of the weekend for many people.
Do You Like Hitchcock?
David Hall Does anyone like Argento anymore? His screenings at FrightFest get earlier every year, this one squeaking out while half the audience were getting DVDs, posters and body parts signed by George A. Romero. It's come to something when one of the true greats of horror cinema has his new releases sneaked out during the early morning graveyard slot. In this respect, he's become the Alan Partridge of FrightFest and I fully expect next year’s screening to start around 5am and be sponsored by Radio Norwich. I'll be there, naturally.
Y'see, I'm one of those sad sack Argento-philes who, with the sorry inevitability of a dog returning to its own vomit, always makes the effort to see whether the long hoped for return to greatness has materialised. Last year though something happened, and that something was the irredeemable The Card Player - a disastrous, ugly, ineptly slung together farrago that resembled a piss poor episode of Taggart helmed by Ed Wood Jr. Subsequently this year I found myself sitting in the OWE not giving a monkeys about this flick. In a perverse way though, the sheer awfulness of The Card Player may actually have done Dario a favour, because when you've fallen that far there's nowhere to go but up.
So Did I Like Hitchcock? Well, yes I did actually. Overall I found it quite charming, playful and persuasive. For a TV movie it looks pretty good and has a surprising amount of violence and nudity. The lead character is actually pretty convincing and the film has the sexiest female cast Dario has had in a while. There's a couple of effectively grim murder scenes and a nice Pino Donnagio score, reminiscent of his work for Hitchcock's other slavish fanboy, De Palma. There are even some lines of dialogue that ARE MEANT TO BE FUNNY. And they actually are!
Does any of this mean it's any good? No, not really. It has the same tin-eared script and risible plot devices of yore. The standout moment this time around is a quite breathtakingly awful set piece of unintentional hilarity that involves a broken leg, a moped getaway attempt and the slowest chase sequence seen since the earliest days of cinema. But I rather enjoyed this valentine to the master, although judging by the howls of derision throughout and the near unanimous silence at the end, I suspect I'm in the minority on this one.
Soulmining I was one of those audience members still stuck in the queue watching the zombie antics whilst waiting to meet George and Greg, so didn’t make it in time for this Argento screening. Although basing my opinion on Dario’s recent work, this wasn’t a great sacrifice. It’s all about priorities – it’s not every day that you get to meet the daddy of modern horror.
Director Dario Argento
Cast Cristina Brondo
Giuseppe Lo Console
Before director Conor McMahon introduced Dead Meat we were treated to David Gregory’s Ban The Sadist Videos! documentary, a look back at the video nasty outrage of the early eighties. This was a fascinating journey back in time and just highlighted some of the absurdity and confusion that surrounded the notorious banned list at that time. The greatest line of the programme (and possibly the entire weekend) came courtesy of Graham Bright (MP) who when talking about the impact of watching these videos then added, “…and I believe they affect dogs as well!” A number of us were also spellbound by Barrie Gold’s screensaver which started off with an Aston Martin, and then kept changing to pictures of increasingly scantily-clad dolly birds as Barrie earnestly talked on, oblivious to it all.
David Hall Rural horror proved to be something of a recurring theme at this year’s FrightFest, and this Irish set zombie fest - a neat little homage to Romero's Night Of The Living Dead, with a smidgeon of Manchester Morgue thrown in for good measure - won rising director Conor McMahon quite a few fans. It's most effective in its stealthy build up, with a jolting opening sequence giving way to a tense journey avoiding the undead through wild, remote Irish countryside.
It’s the gore hounds that will lap this up though - McMahon doesn’t skimp on that score. It loses the plot a bit mid-way through and seemed almost impenetrably dark during the night time scenes (possibly a projection problem) but the appearance of a barmy villager who’s as mad as the infected cows keeps things moving along and although McMahon isn’t breaking any new ground (Irish setting aside), Dead Meat is a fun little genre flick that never outstays its welcome.
Soulmining Yes, the whole rural British horror sub-genre was really done to death this year, and this one suffered from poor scheduling, coming as the Dead Meat in the sandwich of the similarly themed Evil Aliens and Wild Country.
Of all the films screened over the four days, this is the one I remember least about. Looking back at my hastily scribbled notes I can read, "Evil Dead camera," referring to a scene where the camera flies through the farmhouse where our protagonists are holed up, and the rather more obtuse, "Irish – fuck." Quite what those two words were meant to tell me has since been wiped clean by the fourteen movies that followed, but I’m guessing that it was a reference to gratuitous swearing rather than any gratuitous sex – I’m sure I’d have remembered more clearly if it had been the latter.
Interestingly Dead Meat is one of the first titles to be picked up for release on the new FrightFest Presents DVD label, and should be available to buy from October. I look forward to watching it again at home – away from the demands of the festival environment - and seeing if it stands out better on second viewing.
Director Conor McMahon
Cast Marian Araujo
One of the best parts about the festival is the social side of it all. It really is easy to meet and start conversations with like-minded fans and part of the whole experience comes from sharing your views on the films with other FrightFesters either upstairs in the bar or while standing outside the cinema. I spent the break chatting to Laymonite (from the forum), artist Graham Humphreys, and the Severance guys.
Sometimes the breaks just aren’t long enough, but the growing success of FrightFest means that there’s always a huge amount of features and extras to cram in to the weekend, so time is a premium. A trailer for Nature Morte before the next film confirmed that low grade nudity and gore is still alive and well at the micro-budget end of the genre.
The Neighbour No. Thirteen
David Hall There was no new Takashi Miike movie at FrightFest this year - either a blessed relief or bitter disappointment depending on how you feel about Japan's premier insanilist. I don't always enjoy his films, but they intrigue me more often than not and The Neighbor No. Thirteen looked like the movie to sate the fanbase, particularly as Miike himself has a cameo in the film.
Quiet loner Juzo hides a dark secret - like Dr Banner, you won't like him when he's angry. Ever since his childhood torment at the hands of school bully Akai he's lived with a twisted alter ego, the murderous No. 13, who comes out to play whenever he gets mad. Driven by revenge, Juzo / 13 tracks down Akai in adult life, gets a job working for the same construction company and moves into the same block of flats. Can Juzo keep No. 13 in check, especially when a burgeoning relationship with his tormentor's wife and son make things even more complicated?
In synopsis The Neighbor No. Thirteen sounds terrific and I was really looking forward to seeing it, but for some reason it just didn't click with me. Based on a popular long running manga series it's strong on atmospherics, and has some truly icky sequences, but was simply far too drawn out to hold my attention. A confession however - sleep deprivation and movie overload caused me to intermittently nod off through much of the later stages, so I'll hand the reins over to Soulmining for a more in-depth appreciation!
Soulmining The Asian film selections at FrightFest always cause a heated debate, with Steve losing all interest in that strand after sitting through Takashi Miike’s Gozu two years ago, whilst I still defend them as a vital alternative to the mediocrity of Hollywood. If it wasn’t for FrightFest I might never have discovered the talents of the aforementioned Miike, Kim Ki-duk (The Isle), or Hideo Nakata (Ring 2). I was even one of the few people to appreciate both The Tesseract and Buppah Rahtree from last year’s programme.
Yet when Asia gets it wrong, it gets it wrong badly – witness the pretentious mess that was last year’s Casshern for example. My instincts told me that Inoue’s The Neighbor No. Thirteen would be another ordeal; a manga inspired DV tale of split personality, sold on the basis of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Takashi Miike cameo.
With Juzo struggling to contain his anger towards his former school bully, the film sinks into pure exploitation, with No. 13’s attempts to drown Akai’s son in a wash basin particularly unpleasant and difficult to sit through – he’s hardly someone to evoke your sympathy. And that’s the big problem here – you just don’t care about the characters.
Despite a few neat touches – the exchanges between Juzo and his No. 13 alter-ego, and a brief animated interlude – this is dull, plodding material and David wasn’t the only person who found his attention wandering during the screening. As Juzo finds out when he enters the school washroom, sometimes someone leaves behind a giant turd for everyone to see. And just like that turd, this film is a real stinker.
One of the new additions to FrightFest this year was a quiz, with the top ten scorers winning a Devil’s Rejects goodie bag, and the overall winner collecting a top of the range DVD player! The quiz was split into three parts, so the first part on Saturday was a picture round with all the faces blurred to make it extra difficult. This again brought people together, and there was a real communal spirit up in the bar with everyone making suggestions and sharing their answers.
David Hall Described by its director Craig Strachan as "Ken Loach goes horror" and producer Ros Borland as "Gregory's Girl with werewolves", Wild Country is a low budget Scottish werewolf movie, much of which plays like a teenage film production of the opening scenes from American Werewolf in London. This is no bad thing since the likeable teenage cast are really engaging and the dialogue believable and funny. Zomblee covers this one in more detail here, so I'll simply say that the highland setting works really well, the castle crypt sequence has a particularly spooky quality and there's an amusing cameo from Peter Capaldi as the hypocritical Father Steve.
Unfortunately, we couldn't always tell what was going on in the night-time scenes (projection problems again?) which became frustrating, but at a brisk 75 minutes the film never outstays its welcome, and seemed to go down very well with most of the crowd.
Soulmining After the patchy performances of Evil Aliens and Dead Meat my expectations were suitably low for Wild Country, which on paper at least seemed to be the weakest of the three low budget British shockers. However, what Wild Country has that the others don’t is decent acting – people that actually play it straight rather than hamming it up and having a laugh with their mates on a film set.
Strachan’s film doesn’t break any new ground – it’s a familiar tale of kids stranded on the moors with a beastie on the loose – but it’s the serious approach which makes this stand out from its rivals. A half decent script with believable dialogue doesn’t hurt, either. In addition to Peter Capaldi’s light relief, the young cast all give excellent performances and richly deserved all the attention that followed the screening.
The brief running time harbours a lean film which never drags. Okay, the beast – designed by former Hellraiser FX maestro, Bob Keen – is a little hokey, and the screening wasn’t helped by the darkness of the print in the mid-section, but overall this is a canny little film, and was received as such by the FrightFest audience.
Director Craig Strachan
Cast Peter Capaldi
Craig Strachan and some of the cast appeared after the screening for a short Q&A and were well received by the audience, despite the problems we’d had with the darkness of the print. The two young actresses, Samantha Shields and Nicola Muldoon, were mobbed outside the auditorium and happily posed for photographs and signed programmes for their new fans.
I took the opportunity to capture Alan Jones for a quick chat and got him to sign his new book, The Rough Guide to Horror Movies, which looks like it will be a welcome addition to every horror fan’s bookshelf. Well, it wouldn’t be FrightFest without a book for Alan to promote! Returning to my seat I was handed a novelty bat by a cheery young man – Ti West, the director of the next film as it turned out.
David Hall Oh dearie me. Every year at FrightFest there's a film that ends up collapsing under the weight of expectation placed upon it. This year's winner? Step forward The Roost.
It opens effectively enough, with a pitch-perfect late night cable horror channel skit featuring creepy Tom Noonan (Manhunter) as a deadpan host. Curiously enough the director seemed to be concerned that Brit viewers wouldn't 'get' this homage, surely underestimating the FrightFest audience. We have seen Elvira, dude. Anyway, Noonan provides the intro and then it's headfirst into that most ubiquitous of horror scenarios - squabbling teens getting lost while driving through unfamiliar country (they're on their way to a wedding). So far, so good.
And then, well... very little in fact. The gang stop off at a nearby house to ask directions, two of their number go looking for help and debutante director Ti West goes AWOL.
Going for the slow burn with lots of build up, West's lengthy tease possibly would've succeeded if he had saved some serious shit to mess with our minds come the finale. He doesn't. What he has is bats. Lots and lots of realistic looking CGI bats, except for one real one, which looks completely false and is squished, therefore even less scary than a live, moving CGI bat. A palpable sense of disappointment began to creep over the audience - though they were decent enough to offer semi-respectable applause at the end. Whether that applause would've been forthcoming had director West not been in attendance I couldn't possibly say.
After the screening there were murmurs about bad projection (a common theme throughout the day admittedly) and difficulties with the soundtrack, but really the problems with The Roost run deeper than that. Namely - if you're going to keep an audience waiting 50 minutes for the first major scare you’d better, a) have some great characters that we want to spend some time with, rather than simply waiting, no make that longing to see them butchered, and b) deliver the goods on the hour. The Roost didn't do either. It just drove most of us bats (ouch).
Soulmining On paper this didn’t much sound like being a winner, but Ian kept assuring me that this was one of the finds of the year and really delivered the goods in the shock department. But as David rightly says, it didn’t quite live up to its hype and afterwards even Ian had to concede that it hadn’t played so well up on the big screen (its biggest audience to date, so we were told).
The limitations – again due to budget – are achingly obvious, with the bats failing to emit the terror that is required from such a story, and any supposed shocks being too well telegraphed. The main characters are far too bland, and it perhaps tells you something when the horror-host actually has to rewind the film at one point because the two main leads are crying too much!
However, there are positives which suggest that Ti West may yet have a bright future. The pacing is slow and steady, allowing the atmosphere to build nicely, and the shots, often using long takes, are well composed, especially during the scenes when the guys first explore the barn. The music in the film also met with universal praise, and it was just a shame that after such a promising build up that The Roost was unable to give us the pay off that we all wanted - and expected.
Director Ti West
Cast Tom Noonan
Ti West returned to the stage after the screening for a Q&A and regardless of what we thought about The Roost he came across as a sincere and enthusiastic filmmaker (in fact he reminded me very much of Eli Roth when he filmed his introduction to Cabin Fever) and I’m sure he’ll go on to bigger and better things. However, after so much hype being placed upon his film the overall mood in the camp was rather downbeat, and we were desperately needing a lift. Arriving on the wave of several critical maulings could 2001 Maniacs possibly turn things around? Could this be this year’s Monster Man?
David Hall Missed this one as I had my friend Celina’s party to go to. When I told her I was late because I’d been watching a flick about bats, she was less than impressed..!
Soulmining 2001 Maniacs is the first release from Raw Nerve, the production company formed by Eli Roth, Scott Spiegel and Boaz Yakin, with a mission statement to release films that hark back to the glory days of the seventies and early eighties, all splatter, sleaze and exploitation. And judging on the evidence of this remake of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs they know exactly what they’re doing.
This is a late night gem, a guilty pleasure. A group of teens end up in the town of Pleasant Valley where they’re made guests of honour at the town’s jubilee celebrations by the eye-patch wearing Mayor (Robert Englund – never better). Of course this is just a set up for some sex and slaughter, as the teens are seduced and murdered in all manner of comedic ways for our enjoyment.
2001 Maniacs is light years away from being serious sophisticated horror, but all the more fun for it. It’s a bright, colourful, vibrant film, full of outrageous characters (check out Lin Shaye as Granny, the guy who hangs cats as a hobby, and Peaches, the girl with more than just braces on her teeth, and you’ll soon get the idea that this is no normal town), plenty of bare-breasted nudity, inventive deaths – designed to make you laugh and wince at the same time – and even a good old fashioned sing-a-long with the local band of ZZ Top-alikes. In addition to Cabin Fever’s Guiseppe Andrews (he played the ‘party man’ stoner sheriff), there’s also a witty cameo from Eli Roth, reprising his role as Justin, complete with his faithful friend, Dr Mambo.
It’s safe to say that this won’t be troubling the Academy come February, but as a late night horror-comedy when you’ve sunk a few beers this is just the ticket. It didn’t quite reach the heights of Monster Man, but after all the earnest low-budget fare on offer, this was the perfect antidote. Yee-haaa. The South will rise again!
Director Tim Sullivan
Cast Robert Englund
Two down, two to go and despite the best efforts of 2001 Maniacs this year’s festival was feeling a little flat. Maybe it was just a fault of the scheduling, having so many low budget films screening so close together, and whilst none of the British efforts were awful, none of them were outstanding either.
I’d always thought that Saturday was going to be the weakest day of the four, but this was just reinforced by my disappointment with The Roost, and again I was left wondering where the first great movie of the weekend was going to come from. Surely Sunday’s heavyweight line-up had to pack a stronger punch?