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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Fright Fest, Baby!

So I completely forgot that I wrote a few notes about Fright Fest the other morning! I had a great time over the weekend, my fears of a numb ass and just general burnout coming to nothing. I must admit, working on the Saturday was probably not a bad thing just to break it up, but I'd still like to get a weekend pass one of these years. But anyhow, I saw me some movies!

The Horseman – A gritty revenge thriller from Australia. Apparently made on a shoestring by way of local financing, it’s an impressive feature with an excellent performance from lead Peter Marshall. As the father of a girl found dead from a drug overdose after starring in a seedy porn film, he grounds what could have been a schlocky exploitation flick. The grainy, digital cinematography – now pretty much a standard look for any low-budget horror – is well handled, adding to the atmosphere rather than distracting. It also has the distinction of being unflinching, but only when it really wants to hit home. It often cuts away from the extreme violence, be it genital mutilation or just bashing someone’s head in, saving the explicit shots for moments when they have real impact. But it’s the performances that really make this work. They lift it above the material, bringing real drama to proceedings as the father’s trail of revenge harvests bitter fruit. A great little film and probably my favourite of the fest.

Beware The Moon – A fan-made American Werewolf in London documentary, looking back at its production and release in an exhaustive series of interviews with the key participants. It’s almost a scene-by-scene breakdown of the film which will be great as a DVD extra, but ran a little too long for a theatrical showing. It was quite obviously intended to be carved into 10-minute segments and would be great to dip in and out of, but as interesting as it was I just found my attention wavering after 140-odd minutes of talking heads with a few brief behind the scenes clips. Still, a nice labour of love which really added to the experience of watching the actual film.

An American Werewolf In London – This was a newly remastered version, projected from blueray, and the clean-up job on it is certainly impressive. Landis introduced the film and did a Q&A afterward, which was entertaining if not terribly informative. The film is of course still great. As much as people might tell you the transformation sequence is still as impressive as ever, it has dated somewhat now, but that’s really not what makes this film. The blend of humour, horror and drama has still never been topped to my mind, best encapsulated in the film’s opening sequence. One of my favourite films and a real joy to see on the big screen. Also, John Landis, while coming across as a bit of an arrogant bully, is very funny and not at all shy about speaking his mind. He was also very good about making sure that anyone present who was involved in the production came up onto the stage.

The Shadow – Well, this was certainly the lowlight of the festival for me. Luckily it was the only real duff film I saw all weekend. Touted by festival organisers as being the discovery of the weekend and the renaissance of Italian horror, Shadow is the brainchild of Federico Zampaglione, an Italian pop-rock megastar (apparently) making his directorial debut. It would seem that this has probably been knocking around Mr Zampaglione's head for some time, like since he was about 14, because that’s about the level of it. Basically (SPOILERS AHEAD) (not that you should care), a soldier comes back from the Iraq war for a cycling holiday in a remote Italian mountain range. He meets a girl and is terrorized by a (ridiculously accented) Brit and American pair who are on a hunting trip. Why? Because the girl makes the Brit miss a deer, so of course they have to die. Anyway, all four stumble into a weird region of the mountains and are captured by a chalky-white figure who takes them back to his Hostel-like torture chamber. There are hints this guy has some kind of Nazi background, but he also has souvenirs of other mass-murders throughout history. Hijinks ensue, torture happens, Brit and Yank die, girl disappears, main guy nearly escapes but pale guy appears at the last second and everything goes black. Main guy wakes in what appears to be the torture chamber but is actually (gasp!) an Iraqi field hospital! Turns out girl is a nurse and Brit & Yank were two soldiers (dead on the tables next to him) who were responsible for some kind of massacre while he was on duty with them. Leaving the scene of said massacre, they hit a landmine. So, wow, that means that, like, the pale figure was actually DEATH! And by fighting on and escaping, he escaped DEATH! Except he didn’t, actually. He got caught before waking up, remember? Oh well, nevermind! Anyway, it thinks it’s terribly clever but isn’t and looks for all the world like a Tool video. Also: it’s a pile of shit. We scurried out as soon as the credits came on to avoid what would no doubt be an embarrassing Q&A with the director.

La Horde – Funny one, this. What starts out as a serious crime drama quickly becomes an OTT, played for laughs, zombie siege flick. Basically, a group of corrupt cops track a gang down to a near-abandoned housing block to exact revenge for the death of one of their own. It all goes tits-up when the gang clocks them before they can attack, kills a couple of them and captures the rest. But before the cops are executed, the dead start returning to life and the tower is suddenly under siege by a ravening zombie mob. So it’s team-up or die time, with double-crosses and inter-group breakdowns along the way. It offers pretty much all you would expect from a film of this type: gore galore, character pick-offs and a downbeat ending. It’s not perfect, but there’s some great action and lots of genuinely good laughs along the way. Recommended, but probably better over a few beers. It may be a while before it surfaces, though. The films only gets a release in France next February, so god only knows when we'll see it again. Oh, they had a review embargo, too.

Trick’R’Treat – This seasonal, twist-in-the-tale anthology horror is a proper 80’s throwback, and a pleasure to watch for it. Witheld from release by Warner since 2007 for reasons no one will explain (but I suspect might have to do with the number of kids involved in the gruesome goings on), it’s about to come out on DVD. The director was present, as mystified as we were as to it’s lack of release. It’s quite mainstream, really, produced by Bryan Singer, featuring the likes of Dylan Baker, Brian Cox & Anna Paquin, and feels like it would be a solid hit for Halloween release. Okay, it makes a conscious step away from pretty young thing horror, but it’s hardly a grungy underground movie. Anyway, a lot of fun and probably a solid hit on DVD. Landis was in attendance. His response during the director Q&A to the Warner decision not to release: “Fuck them!”

Salvage – Made as a part of the Liverpool Year of Culture or somesuch, this is a great low budget horror. The key, as with The Horseman, are the performances. The main cast in this are fantastic and it feels more like some gritty UK drama than a monster movie. A teenage girl, estranged from her career-obsessed mother, is forced to spend Christmas with her, only to walk in on her shagging some random bloke. She runs off to the neighbours and before you know it the military have swooped into the quiet cul-de sac and quarantined people to their homes. Something is loose in the neighbourhood, something which has escaped from a washed up container on the nearby beach. Needless to say, things start going wrong and people start to die. The film definitely tries to say something, mainly about how the government uses fear to make us jump into line, but it has fun along the way. It’s a shame that there are just a couple of people behaving stupidly moments and lapses in logic that almost threaten to break it, but in the end it still impresses through style and performance.

Pontypool – An intriguing concept is the hook for this film: a virulent disease turning people into ravening zombies spreads through the English language. But again, it’s the central performances that really carry it. One performance in particular: Stephen McHattie as washed up DJ Grant Mazzy. McHattie is magnetic, from his initial incredulous reactions to what’s happening in the small Canadian town through to the acceptance of his own role in the spreading – and perhaps curing – of the disease. Performaces are particularly important here, as this is essentially a single-set piece, based around the radio studio Mazzy broadcasts from with a core cast of three (later expanding a little). The horror is mainly just from the callers, describing what’s happening outside in the blizzard conditions. I’ve since found out that it was concurrently produced as a radio play, and that’s not surprising. Like most films of this type it occasionally falls down, here mainly regarding logical inconsistencies with how the concept is treated, but it’s a bold, experimental horror film and is worth seeing for that reason alone. Landis was there. In fact, he seemed to be pretty much everywhere I turned during the festival, and was clearly enjoying himself.

I Sell The Dead – A silly, mish-mash of (mostly) comedy and horror that I absolutely loved from start to finish. I cannot understand how the grossly overrated Dead Snow was seen by many to be the highlight of the festival (a horror/comedy written by someone who just isn’t very funny) when this little gem was forced to languish in the tiny “Discovery” screen. Actually, I could make the same case for any of the films I saw in the small screen. This is a funny, warm-hearted film about a grave-robber who specialises in the undead. It has a strange feel, paying homage to Sam Raimi and the films of Hammer and Amicus. The story, such as it is, is slight, but the characters are a lot of fun as they drunkenly fall from one situation to the next. It has a nice, quirky look, exploiting its low budget to develop a style of its own. Highly recommended.

Black – Curious one this. A modern blaxploitation flick starring a French rapper. It’s actually a very entertaining crime flick with a slight supernatural angle towards the end, but a real mystery as to why it was in the Fright Fest. In fact, the supernatural aspects - all about totem animals possessing the bodies of characters - were the weakest part of the film. It’s on much better ground with the set-up, When our titular anti-hero heads to Senegal after a robbery goes wrong. His cousin has tipped him off to an "easy" diamond heist that doesn’t go as smoothly as he might have hoped. Lead actor MC Jean Gab'1 is a charismatic figure and carries the film well, along with his misfit backup men. It’s exciting and it’s funny, but it’s never, ever horrifying. Worth a look though. Also, Landis did a presentation of Thriller and the making of Thriller beforehand. All well and good, but the bloody film didn’t get started until 12.40am!


  1. blackbones11:45 am

    didn't like at all the review about SHADOW. It was actually one of the best film of the festival.
    Potent and incredibly well made.

  2. I have seen Shadow at frightfest and it was great... the guy who wrote the review is clearly blind.
    I strongly suggest this film as an amazing visual experience.

  3. Controversy! Clearly my opinion is my own, but I do have to say that my opinion is 100% factually correct.

    Okay, it scores points for effort, but how you could find this film "potent" is beyond me. It's potent in the manner teenage poetry is potent, full of slap-to-the-face pathos and po-faced earnestness. Now listen, I'm sure Mr Zampaglione is a very nice man and terribly good at what he does, but the fact is the film was a mess. Nice scenery, though.

  4. I'm a fan of the director Federico Zampaglione, I can tell Shadow is fucking great!!! Do not trust at all this shitty review!!!

  5. The silly guy who wrote the review of shadow is not respecting the audience at all.
    Why the fuck do you have to reveal all the fucking plot? Are you an imbecile or what? People like this is just dreadful.

  6. I have this vision in my head of Frederico Zampalione feverishly writing comment after comment under assumed names as he gets more and more wound up at my shitty review.

    More likely is that it's a bunch of people googling the film, I guess. Oh well, there's no accounting for taste. To these people I say: Go watch Carnival of Souls, or even - if the idea of a black and white low budget film is too challenging - Jacob's Ladder. That last one looks like a music video too. But, y'know, it's better than The Shadow.

    Oh hey, and you do know what SPOILERS AHEAD means, right?

  7. Listen, not sure you can understand wich the problem is, I was anxious to watch this film... now i know everything about it.. because of your spoilers,
    it is just disappointing!!! even because a lot of wellknown and respectable web sites, Twitch, Bloody Disgusting, Total Film and many others are highlighting the film as a fresh and interesting piece of horror (take a look if you don't trust me). Quick suggestion: next time be more prudent and professional in making reviews.

  8. Yes, Andrew is a silly guy, but not in the ways you guys describe. I love all this controversy Andrew! And for those people who don't understand what SPOILERS AHEAD means, then they deserve to be thoroughly spoiled I say. Idjuts!

  9. How dare you see a film, dislike it, and attempt to articulate why on your own blog! I mean, just who do you think you are, eh? Damn you and your opinions.

    Also, I can recommend the novel upon which Pontypool is based - "Pontypool Changes Everything" by Tony Burgess. Its a sort-of mindblowing attempt to write an Experimental literary Zombie novel. The film is based on one small section. Its an impressive and fascinating (though not particularly easy) book.