FrightFest 2007 took place between the 23rd and 27th August 2007 at the Odeon West End cinema in Leicester Square. Read the review of Day Four below or click on the other links to see reviews for the other days.
David Hall: It’s just another manic Sunday... but definitely not a ‘fun’ day – with an intense line-up of serial killers, terrorists and child molesters. Welcome to Grim Sunday part two, where a Stephen Dorff movie is considered a comic highlight.
Still there was always a Q and A with Uwe Boll to look forward to, which would surely lighten things up, wouldn’t it…?
Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door (2007)
David Hall Based on the horrendous true-life Sylvia Likens case (described as “the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana”) in which a young girl was tortured to death in the 60s by the woman who was caring for her – egged on by and other kids from their neighbourhood – this proved easily the most controversial film of the weekend. A brave choice in terms of subject matter for FrightFest, it’s a shame that this is such a poorly conceived film with a TV-movie level of complexity in its depiction of child abuse and torture.
The Girl Next Door felt vulgar and exploitative, with no attempt at insight into the mothers’ descent into madness or any explanation of the culpability of the children; who for the first twenty minutes are portrayed as being good kids and good friends with the girl before turning on her. Some strong performances lend the film a veneer of quality but I found this a truly shallow, upsetting piece of work. Even worse, it seems to revel in its depiction of torture and sexual violence.
Simply showing deeply upsetting material for most of your film doesn’t make you a brave or interesting filmmaker. A framing device aims for some emotional catharsis but overall I was left depressed and deflated. We all know that great art and great insightful films have been made around the most hideous or unpalatable subjects. This is not one of them.
Soulmining Last year we had the jet-black adaptation of Ketchum's The Lost (still to find a distributor in the UK), this year we began another 'Grim Sunday' with The Girl Next Door. Anyone expecting the Elisha Cuthbert sex-comedy of the same name was quickly put in their place - there are no laughs to be had here.
Based on the real life Sylvia Likens case, one of the most shocking murders in American history, this is a tough film to watch dealing as it does with the subject of child abuse. Competently made there's no getting away from its impact and it was certainly the most affecting film of the festival for me, and left several other viewers in tears. A vital reminder of the power of cinema to shock, but not a film that I'd ever choose to watch again.
Director Gregory Wilson
Cast Blythe Auffarth
Graham Patrick Martin
David Hall A witless farrago of a film, Botched hurls everything – from disco dancing Russian warriors to homicidal nuns - at the screen in a desperate attempt to prove how whacky and original it is. Apparently this was timed to cheer us all up after The Girl Next Door, but it only succeeded in making me feel even more depressed. A largely unlikeable cast bellow, shriek and mug their way through some depressingly poor schtick about stealing a priceless crucifix from a Russian penthouse, with a restrained Stephen Dorff coming out relatively well as the subdued jewel thief.
Amusingly, everyone else I spoke to really enjoyed this movie, which is good news for director Kit Ryan, who seemed very nervous during the intro of his heist movie /splatter flick. For me Botched felt like the work of someone with no real understanding of what makes a good horror comedy work, but judging from the reaction of the FF crowd I’m a jaded old hack and Ryan is the new Sam Raimi. Or something.
Soulmining On paper this heist / slasher hybrid from Brit director Kit Ryan sounded like a bad idea, yet coming directly after the unrelenting bleakness of The Girl Next Door it was actually a welcome relief. It's by no means a good film - the dodgy Russian accents are just the beginning of its many flaws - but if you're prepared to run with it, this madcap caper does deliver both the gore and the gags.
Featuring diamond thieves, religious fanatics and a killer descended from Ivan The Terrible, this is wacky in the extreme. And did I mention the spikes in the floor and the disco lights? Quite how Ryan managed to finance such a left-field idea and attract the likes of Stephen Dorff and Sean Pertwee to it frankly beggars belief, but well done to him for succeeding.
Director Kitt Ryan
Cast Stephen Dorff
Country UK / IR / Ger
David Hall Boll’s latest videogame adaptation reveals the beleaguered director to be an arch satirist of some repute. Amazingly, Postal is not just a far more enticing prospect than the Germanic mentalists’ awesomely poor track record would suggest – it’s actually a frequently funny, at times actually heartfelt madcap romp in the style of 1941 or It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. If its insane energy levels aren’t always matched by wit or intelligence it’s not through lack of trying.
From the audacious opening, featuring Taliban members arguing over whether to abort the planned WTC mission, through to an apocalyptic dénouement in which partners in crime Bush and Osama merrily skip arm-in-arm into the impending mushroom cloud, Postal tries very (often too) hard for an outrageous live action South Park tone, and achieves it only intermittently. Calculated offensiveness is hard to sustain and at 109 minutes Postal definitely outstays its welcome, but it wears a reputed $15m budget exceedingly well, and succeeds in providing some moments of genuine subversion and insight in amongst the titty shots, full frontal nudity and excrement gags.
Soulmining In the first of Sunday’s double-Boll the German doctor sets out to offend as many groups as possible with his political satire. Imagine Troma making a live action version of Team America and you’ll be in the right ball park.
As you’d expect with an Uwe Boll film, opinions were divided on this one. For me it’s a partial success as the comedy is very hit and miss; when it’s funny it is very funny, but there are large portions of Postal when the humour just doesn’t work, and the film really sags badly in the middle. Still, it is worth seeing for the Nazi theme park shoot-out alone, and the sight of Verne Troyer locked in a suitcase with a fluorescent dildo can’t fail to raise a smile.
Director Uwe Boll
Cast Zack Ward
Country Ger / Can
David Hall After the genuine goodwill earned by Postal, Boll disappoints somewhat with Seed. This film proved to be one of the talking points of the weekend with its PETA approved animal cruelty footage and nihilistic violence. The film inspired an entertaining flashpoint at the Q and A that appeared out of nowhere and dissipated as quickly it began, due to a combination of over emotional hectoring, boorish crowd hostility and Boll’s dismissive, confused line of argument.
No matter, for all of Uwe’s protests of a political film, Seed is mostly standard serial killer schlock that occasionally reminded me – in tone if not content – of Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper. Like Fulci, Boll does deserve credit in terms of extremity; his staging of a scene of incredible callousness – in which killer Seed carries out a sustained hammer attack on a tied up victim – is both audacious and shocking.
Soulmining By contrast to Postal, Seed is anything but comedic. Here Boll channels his anger into making the most nihilistic picture imaginable. Opening with a few minutes of animal cruelty footage provided by PETA (whether warranted or not) is certainly one way to grab the headlines, but even that is not the most controversial scene in the movie; that falls to the prolonged static-shot hammer attack that Seed inflicts on one of his victims, and was the most sickening thing I saw all weekend.
On the surface Seed is a run-of-the-mill serial killer film, yet the depth of his depravity – locking victims into a basement until they starve and decay – is bleak in the extreme and some of the images contained therein have haunted my thoughts more than any other film on show this year.
Director Uwe Boll
Cast Will Sanderson
Country Ger / Can
David Hall A film with a genuinely intriguing premise, although it appears to jettison much of its genetics theme in favour of standard cat and mouse thriller dynamics, W∆Z is always interesting to watch and is helped by grungily unfamiliar NYC settings and an unusually emotional narrative arc.
Kicking off in sub Se7en mode with Skarsgard’s grizzled cop joined by perky assistant Melissa George to investigate some hideously mutilated corpses, the film takes an interesting philosophical detour as the key suspect is revealed to be herself a victim of a heinous crime, with has torture-based revenge on her mind.
Good performances and atmospherics keep W∆Z watchable, although Skarsgard’s turn verges on the parodic at times and no-one seems to know what to do with Melissa Georges character as the film proceeds to its horrific showdown.
Soulmining W∆Z (that’s W delta Z) sets out to be a cerebral thriller, its clever title relating to part of a scientific equation that is being carved into victims’ bodies. Clive Bradley’s intelligent script has attracted an impressive cast of global talent (Skarsgard, Blair, George) who make the most of their roles – Skarsgard in particular delivers a career best performance as the dogged cop leading the case.
Director Tom Shankland, in his first major feature, delivers a gritty film shot on DV which echoes the likes of Se7en more than the similarly themed but far more exploitative Saw. Gripping and exciting, with a cunning and satisfying pay off, W∆Z is a resounding success all round.
Director Tom Shankland
Cast Stellan Skarsgard
David Hall N/A
Soulmining Or, as I later dubbed it, Audiencewalkers. Seriously, I have never seen so many people desert a FrightFest screening as I did during the first thirty minutes of Skinwalkers. After that time I couldn't say what happened since I too joined the mass exodus. It's true to say that this was a long film (100 mins) screening at a late hour, and what with the zombie walk to prepare for the next morning, well those factors might have come into play - however that still doesn't account for the large number of FrightFesters who were up in the bar drowning their sorrows while the film was playing.
Suffice to say Skinwalkers is just like every other PG-13 fantasy / horror you've ever seen. A battle rages between warring factions of werewolves, some fighting against their curse, others embracing it... and a thirteen year old kid who will decide their destiny. Yawn. I'm outta here.
Director James Isaac
Cast Jason Behr
David Hall summary: A very strange, emotional and exhausting day. Uwe Boll proved that he can direct after all, another Ketchum adaptation left the FF audience shell-shocked and the festival suffered its first mass walk out.
Leaving a little early gave me some time to rest before Monday morning’s Zombie walk, although by this point I wondered if I would need any make up for that anyway, as I already resembled a pretty convincing member of the undead...