But on to the films...
CURSE OF CHUCKY was the first delight. A return to form for director Don Mancini, this time with Fiona Dourif (Brad's daughter) as the unwitting caretaker of the infamous doll. (I hope we get to see more of Ms Dourif in future films because she's great!) Chucky went the way of Freddy in the latter films, descending into farce. CURSE makes him scary again. Before the film we were all given creepy Chucky masks to wear and the resulting photo of a sea of Chuckies is quite unnerving. (I hope Chucky hunts down those miserable bastards who didn't participate and makes them suffer!) Alas, I can't find the picture online but I photographed the screen when it came up on the slideshow. So forgive the poor quality but at least it gives you an idea. A guy a couple of rows up was actually dressed as Chucky, which was great! And thanks to him, I can just about find where we are in the shot (seats N27 & 28).
YOU'RE NEXT was next. A home invasion shocker by Adam Wingard featuring a criminally underused Barbara Crampton. I liked it but it didn't wow me the way it did most people. It had some very scary moments (masks are always guaranteed to terrify me) but I wish Mr Wingard would at least sometimes try to hold the camera steady or not swing it back and forth in lieu of cutting between closeups. (His wraparound segment of V/H/S was absolutely unwatchable.) The pedant in me was pleased that the killers got the apostrophe in the right place, although it might have been more authentic if they'd written UR NEXT instead.
2nd day, 1st film: THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT. This was an instant favourite and didn't get knocked from the top spot until the following evening. A found footage piece made by people who could hold a camera steady for long stretches of time (hooray!), it's well acted, unpredictable and very very scary. There's a sense of Blackwoodian/Lovecraftian awe and dread throughout, with an extremely unnerving ending. Don't read anything about it - just find it and see it!
We thought we were going to miss HATCHET III but we got back from lunch just in time for the credits (which means we'll have to buy the DVD to see the prologue we missed). Maybe it was the combination of wine and food and the company of our friends John Forth and Esther Sherman at lunch that already had us in such a good mood, but maybe it was just a fun, daft film. In any case, we really enjoyed it. We liked the first one, were unimpressed by the second, so we had no expectations of this one. Maybe that's the key to enjoying a silly romp like this. We had a blast and clapped and cheered throughout, particularly during one splendid cameo with some howlingly painful non-PC dialogue.
HAUNTER seems to have divided people pretty thoroughly, but I thought it was a very effective little film. The programme described it as "Groundhog Day meets the Others in Vincenzo Natali's chilling reverse-ghost story". That's about right and gives nothing away. Well worth seeing, especially for fellow 80s children, who will get a warm nostalgic glow from the production design. If I had to spend eternity in a band T-shirt I'd want it to be Siouxsie & the Banshees too!
V/H/S/2 was promised to be "better than the first one". That wouldn't be difficult, we thought, given how little we thought of it. "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger" and "10/31/98" were good and I loved the ending of "Amateur Night" (once I stopped feeling ill from the camera being waved around like a Freudian metaphor) but overall I was disappointed by the whole. V/H/S/2 is better. WAY better. In fact, it's on my FF14 top 5 list simply for the harrowing experience of "Safe Haven", directed by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto. (Mr Tjahjanto was responsible for "L is for Libido" in THE ABCs OF DEATH, so we knew it would be intense.) The wraparound story for the videotapes is better, if no clearer about what actually happens, but it's really the only weak link. Adam Wingard is back for the first segment, "Phase I Clinical Trials", and it really scared me. Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez follow with "A Ride in the Park", a found footage zombie story that's surprisingly poignant (my second favourite of the anthology film) and Jason Eisener has the final slot with "Slumber Party Alien Abduction", which I thought started off scary and then became a bit samey, relying too much on loud noises rather than genuine scares to make me jump. But overall definitely a recommendation!
I can't remember which day it was shown but another unexpected delight was the "Turn off your bloody phone" clip featuring Norman J Warren and David McGillivray. Norman said they hadn't done an Asian horror-themed one so they made up his beautiful friend (whose name I sadly can't spell!) as an Oriental ghost. Definitely my favourite of all the "bloody phone" clips!
The next day brought the moody, atmospheric Nordic Noir THE HYPNOTIST, which was good but not great. Lena Olin gave a great performance but her character was so obnoxious I just wanted someone to slap her. Unfortunately, the appearance of a certain character early on totally gave the game away for us and, while there were unexpected moments along the way, we knew what was coming in the final act. Brilliant finale, though!
After that came the crazy, trashy fun that was FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY. I can't describe it better than the programme: "Call it a historical HOSTEL on Hammer Horror steroids, cyberpunk by way of classic Universal monster mayhem or found-footage taken to the next level, this inventive old-style freak show with gore, guts and gunplay is a midnight movie audience's wet dream and instant cult classic." Well, it wasn't in the midnight slot but that's otherwise 100% correct. And if you like that description, you're bound to enjoy the film.
We'd got up early that morning to queue for Discovery Screen tickets so we didn't see any of the other films on the main screen that day. Instead we watched the nostalgic documentary REWIND THIS, about the rise and fall of videotapes and the eccentric obsessives who collect them and refuse to watch films on DVD or blu-ray, preferring the utter trash that's never been upgraded to a better format. This was a real joy so I'm glad we caught it, as the documentaries never seem to make it onto DVD after the festivals. Though perhaps this one shouldn't anyway - just on principle.
This was followed by my Number One film of the festival, THE BORDERLANDS. When it started and we saw it was found footage, we both gave a little inward groan but it was absolutely the right format for the story. A techie and two Vatican priests go to the West Country (hooray!) to investigate a church where strange goings-on have been observed. To say more would be criminal. Just see it.
Sunday morning brought MISSIONARY, a disturbing stalker thriller about a Mormon missionary who becomes obsessed with a woman and her son, deciding that they are the perfect family he's always wanted. Very creepy. As if you needed another reason to slam the door in the face of God-botherers!
Next came Andy Nyman's Quiz From Hell 4: The Final Chapter. We came 2nd last year as The Blood-Spattered Bride and Bridegroom, but this year was a very poor showing for us. We were Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde and we tied with John and Esther (We Can't Feel Our Legs) in 7th place with 40 out of 50. Gah! It's all those soundtracks from modern films that trip us up.
It was a day of grim and bleak films and DARK TOURIST was next, "in the galvanising tradition of Taxi Driver and Monster", with a chilling performance by Michael Cudlitz as a man whose holidays consist of trips to important locations in the lives of serial killers. Seriously good stuff, full of ideas and imagery I still can't get out of my head, but I can't imagine I'll ever want to put myself through it again.
We accepted a dinner invitation from the lovely Sean Hogan after that so we missed the next two films, but were back in time for I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2. I love the original and I'm not a fan of the remake, where a girl who is raped and beaten and left for dead still has the strength, ingenuity and wherewithal to devise elaborate SAW traps for her attackers. The revenge bits in that were so extreme and outlandish I just couldn't buy into any of it and I actually found myself losing sympathy for her by the end. Well, the second one went the opposite way. The attack was horrific (featuring one excellent POV shot of her inside the box she gets buried alive in as it's dropped into the grave), but the revenge scenes this time were actually too tame. The main villain came to a suitably gruesome and cheer-worthy bad end but the rest were just - meh. Still, it was worth seeing if only for the startling announcement by Paul McEvoy beforehand. Apparently someone had been getting up to something naughty (by himself - and I'm assuming it was a male, however sexist that may be) during one of the films. Wow. I wonder if they need to make another clip of things one shouldn't do at FrightFest. If so I hope they get Camille Keaton to do it!
The final day kicked off with Turkish short film "Baskin", which contained more horror in its 9 minutes than many feature films in 2 hours. Seriously terrifying, nightmarish stuff and a promising start to the day. It certainly woke us up!
French-directed Irish supernatural thriller DARK TOUCH came next. A bit CARRIE, a bit WOULD YOU KILL A CHILD?, it veered between searing social commentary and operatic Italianesque lunacy. There was some laughter at unintentionally humorous moments but that only emphasised the "Italian film" sensibility. With some spectacular Grand Guignol set-pieces and an unforgettable climax, it's my 2nd favourite of the festival and I can't wait to see it again!
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is Jim Mickle's remake of the Mexican film of the same name and it's a seriously good horror film and one of the very best remakes I've seen. Intense and gruelling but extremely powerful. The characters all undergo a gender change from the original film, which creates an interesting new dynamic in this version. I didn't really like the original much so this was a pleasant surprise. But, like DARK TOURIST, I'm not in a hurry to watch it again.
My 3rd favourite film was BIG BAD WOLVES, an Israeli pitch black comedy/horror that kept me laughing, cringeing and guessing right through to the final shot, which is one you'll never forget. Oh, the extremes this beloved genre of ours is capable of! It's an example of truly stunning filmmaking and I can't wait to see more by these guys. It was the perfect closer but - sadly - the very last film ever to be shown on the Empire Cinema's main screen. We're promised that FrightFest will be back at the Empire next year, but in a different form, as the main screen is being replaced by an IMAX one. Who knows what that will mean but one thing is sure: we'll be there!
|Empire Cinema Screen 1|
So here's my Top 5 Favourites list:
1. THE BORDERLANDS
2. DARK TOUCH
3. BIG BAD WOLVES
4. THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT
Honourable mention: CURSE OF CHUCKY
And if you'd like to read John's more film-criticky Top Ten (with the bit about NINJA ELIMINATOR III that I can't believe I forgot to mention), you can find that at the House of Mortal Cinema.