Wednesday, 2 September 2015

FrightFest 15 - 25 films in 5 days!

with Barbara Crampton
We finally did it! We saw the maximum number of films it's possible to see at FrightFest! 25 films in 5 days is a lot and it's wonderful to know that we can still do it at our age. We can forego proper food and drink and survive on hot dogs and wine, we can watch 9 hours of horror in a single day, we can stay awake for all the midnight shows, and on the final day we can actually go to the Phoenix and party until 3 am!

I tweeted about most of the films, so I won't talk about everything I saw. But here are my highlights...

TURBO KID was the highlight of Thursday, a pitch perfect homage to 80s SF movies of yore, set in the rad wasteland of "the future: 1997". The retro vibe was helped by a superb 80s synth score and Michael Ironside on top villain form. Best of all, though, was quirky Laurence Leboeuf as Apple, one of the funniest and most loveable characters ever. "It's like a museum of COOL!" This one was a huge hit with the crowd and it deserves to be huge.

On Friday we spent most of our time in the Discovery screens rather than the main screen (which was the small Arrow screen for us). The Disco screens are where we tend to find our favourite films of the fest, the ones you may never get a chance to see ever again (where is THE FORGOTTEN from last year?) and the ones that are a bit more of a gamble.

III was a real find. A surreal Russian fairytale dreamscape of arthouse gorgeousness and gorgeosity. Director Pavel Khvaleev said he was inspired by THE CELL, and while I love that movie and its central concept, I think III does it better. Beautiful and disturbing, with unforgettable imagery, it's definitely one to watch out for. We were standing outside the screen afterwards with friends, all of us raving about what we'd just seen, when John happened to notice the cast and crew standing nearby, listening to us. So it was great to get to tell them how much we loved it.

THE SHELTER was a complete gamble. Basically a one-man-show starring Michael Paré (of totally rad 80s classic STREETS OF FIRE), it's a bit heavy-handed on the religious side (I think), but Paré's performance makes it well worth seeing.

WE ARE STILL HERE was the first film of the festival to feature guest of honour Barbara Crampton, looking as beautiful as ever. A pastiche of Lucio Fulci's HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, it's an effective ghost story, featuring some great character turns from Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie. Crampton is wonderful as the grieving mother, and the nods to Italian horror include multiple placements of "B&J" whisky, which made us smile every time. Some unexpected guests turned up halfway through the film as well. I thought I was hallucinating from sleep deprivation, but no, there actually were mice scampering back and forth across the aisle. They certainly had no shortage of snacks. I just hope they didn't find the films too scary.

Saturday morning opened as it meant to go on, with the stunning FRANKENSTEIN reboot by Bernard Rose. A magnificent retelling of the classic story, it's set in modern-day LA, with the "monster", Adam, having been created from a 3D printer. His journey and persecution is heartbreaking to watch and Xavier Samuel's performance is just wonderful. Adam doesn't reach the level of articulation of Shelley's creature, despite the narration featuring quotes from the book, but I imagined we were hearing the voice of his soul, which made it all the more poetic and tragic. It was a real delight to meet Bernard Rose afterwards and tell him he made me cry.

It feels kind of like cheating to mention BAIT because we didn't actually see it at FrightFest. We saw it a few days before on a screener DVD for review. But I'll mention it anyway because it deserves the publicity. A solid crime thriller about two women at the mercy of a loan shark, it's harrowing in its unfairness and your sympathies are completely with its heroines. You have to suspend your disbelief a bit for the final showdown, but if the film has got you on its side, you can go with it. It certainly earns its ending. And the post-credits nugget is a thing of joy.

ESTRANGED is one that really disturbed me. A twisted country house family horror in the darkest vein of MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY & GIRLY, with a villainous turn from the towering James Cosmo. This one really got under my skin.

Opening Night
Next up was THE HALLOW, which I described on Twitter as "Arthur Machen meets THE CREEPING FLESH (sort of) in this pitch-black Irish fairytale horror". It's all about not crossing the fey folk and the villagers' warnings are well worth heeding. Fortunately for us, the protagonists don't listen, and they have to face the horror of changelings and truly frightening "little people". Excellent stuff!

SUN CHOKE was the second Barbara Crampton appearance, and I'd never have guessed she could be so scary! I didn't fully understand the nightmarish story (very arthouse and weird), but I found it effective anyway. Crampton is highly disturbing (and far too convincing!) as the "for your own good" caretaker of a girl who is either mentally ill or an alien. Three solid female performances, beautiful "daylight horror" cinematography and an ambiguous storyline. While it wasn't a favourite, it's one of the ones I find myself thinking about most after the festival.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB - another totally unexpected joy. We didn't fancy the nihilistic French grimness promised by the RABID DOGS remake, so we decided to take a chance on what we figured would be at best mildly amusing and at worst an early night. How wrong we were! We were rewarded with another fantastic female comic performance and the only quirky character to rival TURBO KID's Apple. Just when you think there's nothing more to be done with the zom-com subgenre, something like this comes along. Watch it on a boy/girl double bill with SHAUN OF THE DEAD for maximum joy!

with Shauna MacDonald
First up on Sunday morning was Takashi Miike's OVER YOUR DEAD BODY, a mesmerising piece that reminded me of INLAND EMPIRE, with actors losing their way in reality as events from the kabuki play they're performing in begins to mirror events in their lives. Stunning cinematography and buckets of blood!

And then there was THESE FINAL HOURS. A devastating Australian piece about the end of the world and how people spend their final moments on earth. Do you check out early? Do you go to a raucous end-of-the-world party? Do you put up the Christmas tree and pretend everything is normal? Or do you use your last hours to make your life count for something? This is the kind of story that, in the wrong hands, becomes maudlin, contrived and sentimental. But writer/director Zak Hilditch has created something terrifying, thought-provoking, moving and beautiful. It will be a while before I'll want to put myself through it again, but I definitely will.

A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY was on to a winner with me already for having William Shatner in it. And he is given free rein here to do what he does best - be the Shat! A fun anthology picture that suffers a little from pacing and structural problems, even if one segment absolutely needs the fractured style for its final reveal to work its magic. And work its magic it does! Some segments work better than others, but it's all held together brilliantly by Shatner's jolly DJ, with bonus outtakes in the credits. I can't say much about the film without spoiling the fun. Definitely one for those long winter nights when you're sick to death of the usual sappy Christmas fare on TV!

Monday opened with THE LAZARUS EFFECT in the polar depths of the Prince Charles cinema. This was the only film (that we saw anyway) that had an actual publicity gimmick. Appropriately enough for the morgue temperature of the Prince Charles, there was a covered body lying on a gurney outside the screen. When John went to stand next to it for a photo, it sat up to reveal a very dead girl! There were also surgical masks to wear inside. Alas, the film couldn't live up to the fun of its gimmick and was pretty much a cocktail of EVENT HORIZON, FLATLINERS and REANIMATOR, but still had some effective horror moments. Yes, it's hugely derivative, but I still had a good time with it. (Lord knows I've seen worse!) It's also a great one for a drinking game of "Spot the nod to other horror films". I guarantee you'll be smashed by the end.

with Paul Hyett
And then - at last - it was time for my most anticipated film of the festival - HOWL! A modern werewolf movie that could easily be subtitled "Werewolves on a Train", it's a modern British take on the classic monster. Director Paul Hyett gives us werewolves unlike any you've seen before and the claustrophobic setting only adds to the tension. You always worry that a film will disappoint when you've got so much invested in it, but I'm happy to say I loved every howly, growly blood-drenched moment of this one. I was delighted to get to meet Paul Hyett (again) afterwards, as well as stars Shauna MacDonald and Ania Marson, both lovely ladies and immensely talented actresses. Ania said "I've peaked at 66!" and she is fantastic in her role. Such a delight to see ladies like her getting to do so much in a movie like this.

FrightFest finished on a high, with anthology film TALES OF HALLOWEEN, created by Axelle Carolyn and put together by 11 directors and more genre cameos than probably any other film ever. Some pieces work better than others, but overall it was a great rousing party piece to end the festival on a high. And Pollyanna McIntosh deserves special mention for being fierce, funny, sexy and terrifying in equal measure. A really lovely lady and a mega-talented actress with real presence. I thought she was a force of nature in THE WOMAN, but here she shows another side of her range. More, please!

Special Thana Niveau FrightFest Awards

I can't really do a Best Film award, but my top 3 are:

HOWL
THESE FINAL HOURS
FRANKENSTEIN

Best Actress (tie) - Laurence Leboeuf (TURBO KID) and Maria Thayer (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB)
Best Actor (tie) - Michael Paré (THE SHELTER) and Xavier Samuel (FRANKENSTEIN)
Best Supporting Actress - Pollyanna McIntosh (TALES OF HALLOWEEN)
Best Supporting Actor - William Shatner (A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY)
Best Monster - Werewolves (HOWL)
Most Disturbing Female Character - Barbara Crampton (SUN CHOKE)
Most Disturbing Male Character - James Cosmo (ESTRANGED)
Best Kill - Top-of-the-head slice & spin and stacked legs (TURBO KID)
Best Special Effects - HOWL
Most Gruesome - BITE
Best Performance by an Animal - Rocky the Dog (THE LAZARUS EFFECT)
Best Tagline - "Last train. Full moon. All change." (HOWL)

with Ania Marson
Of course, there were at least two whole other FrightFests we could have had if we'd chosen to watch different films. Comparing notes with others was loads of fun and I'm really looking forward to LAST GIRL STANDING, SUMMER CAMP, JERUZALEM, NINA FOREVER, AFTERDEATH and THE ROTTEN LINK.

And if you want to read John's more in-depth report (with bonus alternate titles!), head over to the House of Mortal Cinema.

Until next year.....

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