Frightfest 2014 (REVIEW)
Reviewer. Sarah Cook
It’s that time of year, summer is upon us and the August Bank holiday creeps up, which for most means a nice relaxing weekend to venture out and enjoy the sunshine or go on a short holiday but not for horror fans. For horror fans the August bank holiday (the 21st to the 25th to be precise) marks five days of gore, laughter, alcohol and the latest of the best the genre has to offer.
Here, Sarah Cook writes about the good, the bad and the ugly from this years festival from the icons of horror in Robert Englund to the rising stars. From home brewed talent to worldwide premieres, it all happened for another successful Frightfest which saw thousands of the undead rise upon the VUE in Leicester Square, London to shiver, scream, laugh and cry at the films that will be showing over the coming months.
As the excitement approached there were also nerves among the festival’s faithful audience as there had been a lot of hassle and reorganisation in the run up to the weekend. Unfortunately due to a host of problems the fantastic four behind the event: Ian, Allan, Paul and Gregg had to move it from the beloved Empire cinema in the heart of Leicester Square, to the Vue cinema just a few doors down.
This was bound to cause ripples and unrest but the team worked extremely hard and bought us three main screens that would run a few minutes apart as well as two discovery screens across the whole weekend. In total that meant they were showing a grand figure of 63 feature films as well as two short film showcases. With so much diversity and choice, we were sure to be in for a cracking few days and despite people’s apprehensions the festival ran more than smoothly with praise all round; both the guests and the films this year were incredible.
It was of course impossible for anyone to see everything so please forgive me for missing out some of the films but after viewing some 25 films and one of the short film instalments hopefully I can bring you an overall sense of what an exhilarating and enticing weekend of horror I endured. So, without further ado, let’s get on with my run down of this year’s Frightfest!
FrightFest 2014 - Opening Night
Director: Adam Wingard
It’s nothing short of a difficult start to open the festival but this year’s first film really set the bar high for those to follow. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have been Frightfest regulars for years. With previous hits A Horrible Way to Die, VHS 2 and last year’s crowd pleaser You’re Next, it was no surprise to have them return with their latest film, slick eighties style thriller The Guest. With knockout performances from our very own Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) and star on the rise Maika Monroe teamed with a stylish, super cool eighties soundtrack, this action thriller proved a major success with the audience and made most people’s top five lists. Dan Stevens plays David, a soldier who has been discharged and decides to visit the Peterson family, claiming to be the best friend of their son who died in action. Only meaning to stay for a night, Mrs Peterson takes to David and two nights turn into three and so on. The Peterson’s daughter, Ana (Monroe) starts to suspect that David harbours a dark secret and may not be who he says he is but it’s nothing he can’t vouch for. Everything carries on as normal until some of Ana’s friends start to die in mysterious circumstances. Before long it becomes clear that David has a problem and the family have to act before it’s too late. There is just something so intrinsically cool about this film. The way it is shot draws you straight in; as soon as we meet David we automatically know we’re going to love his character in some way or another. From defending the young son from bullies and chaperoning Ana to parties, he is an emblem of charm and sophistication. Once again we have another eighties soundtrack, reminiscent of the John Carpenter classics, with similar music in both Cold In July and Blue Ruin this seems to be a trend for thriller directors at the moment and to great effect. The action sequences are inventive and unpredictable and Da Stevens steals every scene he’s in which is pretty much all of them. Far from the upper class, prim and proper character of Downton Abbey, Stevens is on the rise and has to be the latest young talent on the block. Oozing charisma and dynamism he is the face of the film and he carries it effortlessly. Wingard and Barrett have delivered yet another superb thriller that delivers on all levels and proves that a simple story and a stellar cast go a long, long way. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For Director: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Next up on our Thursday schedule was the long awaited sequel to Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 comic book crime caper adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel. After nine years of patience we were finally rewarded with an above average second instalment. There was never any expectation that it would live up to its predecessor, but there is enough in this film to keep both males and females entertained. The film follows a few stories. These interweave against the dark backdrop of corruption and crime and feature a mixture of familiar and fresh new faces. It gets a bit confusing because characters who had died at the end of the previous film i.e. Marv (Mickey Rourke) are still knocking about but these are relatively minor issues in a film which is all about breaking the rules. Dwight McCarthy returns, this time caught up in a plot harboured by his ex-lover Ava Lord (Eva Green). He gets caught up in a web of lies and deceit and all things Sin City. Josh Brolin steps into his shoes, picking up where Clive Owen left off (again, a timeline thing) and he does so effortlessly. Brolin’s fierce, butch face inhibits every inch of Dwight’s personality and he plays the role well. Marv (Mickey Rourke) crosses over into the other stories as well as holding one of his own. Once again his memorable physique and hard as nails approach to everything steals the show and we’re glad that Rodriguez has bent the rules so he could reappear. Jessica Alba also returns as Nancy, hell bent on revenge after senator Roark (Powers Boothe) killed Hartigan (Bruce Willis). Alba is once again perfect in the role and gets to give Nancy more of an edge this time around with more to do; not simply a pretty face. Talking of pretty faces, Eva Green’s character is a little redundant and besides stand around in the flesh ninety percent of the time, Ava doesn’t really have a lot to do but Green does the best she can in a limited role. Last but not least to add to the new cast is Joseph Gordon Levitt as Johnny, the typical confident jock who will stop at nothing to prove he can beat Senator Roark at poker and really be the best there is. Cheeky smile and suit in tow Gordon-Levitt is splendid in the role and gets to have fun as one of the more likeable characters. All in all Rodriguez’ second outing is entertaining and as aesthetically pleasing as the first with the benefited addition of 3D. However, you can’t help but feel that even after all this time in limbo the film was still rushed and could have done with being a little longer and more developed. Zombeavers Director: Jordan Rubin
We all love a good creature feature to lighten the tension, whether it be full on monsters or zombies or perhaps a bit of both? Well tie the two together and you get the hilarity that is Zombeavers! Piranha meets Cabin Fever in this entertaining and ridiculous horror comedy, the best way to finish off the first night. The film follows the cliché group of college kids who venture out to a cabin by the lake for a long weekend; a chance to drink, party and get up to other shenanigans of a sexual nature. Of course all goes well until our young victims get preyed upon by beavers who aren’t looking so hot. A classic case f toxic waste entering into the water supply has left the creatures feeling a little ill and hungry for copious amounts of human flesh to feat on! That pretty much sums up the film and although you may think you know exactly who will die when and who will be that lucky survivor (if anyone) the story may actually surprise you and the script proves to serve some hilarious one liners. Sure some of the acting isn’t great and the characters are irritating but it comes with the territory. Zombeavers does what it says on the tin and for the late night Thursday film it was certainly a good choice.
FrightFest 2014 - Friday
The Green Inferno Director: Eli Roth
There’s nothing like a nice gory cannibal film to get you going on a Friday morning at frightfest. Well actually there wasn’t that much gore to be had in all fairness. Eli Roth’s fourth feature length film as director sees him drop a host of college students into a Peruvian rainforest on a quest to help an endangered tribe against a corrupt construction company. Young charismatic woman Justine finds herself roped into the action and unfortunately lured as bait against the company. All goes to plan and as far as the students know they’ve won the battle. Enjoying their success on the journey back their plane takes an unfortunate turn and crashes into the jungle. The survivor’s find themselves captured by the very tribe they went there to protect and they just happen to be a clan of rather hungry cannibals. The film builds nicely and the swooping shots of the beautiful rainforest are breath-taking. The characters are well developed and you can tell there’s a decent script here but unfortunately the film tends to suffer from, well a lack of blood and guts to be quite honest. This is not what you expect from a master of horror like Eli Roth. There is one scene half way through where the excitement finally kicks in and we know we are back in a Hostel type scenario, but then it never quite reaches that level again. Instead the tension peters out along with the survivors and it all just becomes a little boring. Not to mention the disappointing third act that sees the director making a very obvious underlying message about human rights and the economy that makes it all seem rather egotistical. To hand it to the film there are some decent scenes where we are on the edge of our seats and it is indeed quite uncomfortable at times. However this just isn’t really enough coming from the man who bought us such horror delights as Cabin Fever and Hostel. Personally I think his early career far exceeds anything he has been involved with of late. The film does look good and is well acted but perhaps this is one director who simply peaked too early? Preservation Director: Christopher Denham
As other people were gearing up for sci-fi Shockwave Darkside 3D in the main screen, I chose to wander downstairs for my first discovery film Preservation. The atmosphere was in full swing and the frightfest family were nice and comfortable on what was already day two. I had high hopes for Preservation and usually when that happens I get let down. This was partly the case for this film. Highly influenced by films like Eden Lake this film sees couple Wit and Mike go for a long weekend camping with Mike’s brother, ex-marine Sean Neary. What starts out as getaway for hunting and other nature outlets soon turns into a game of cat and mouse as a group of strangers wearing masks (once again!) start to pester them. Beginning with stealing their tents and eventually transcending into something much more sinister it soon appears that these people wills top at nothing until they’ve had their sick fun. It’s clear from the get go where this film is going to go and any real fans of the genre should be able to pick up on this. However the acting is decent and the film does have an eerie atmosphere at times. The characters are sympathetic and endearing so it’s even more frustrating when we are once again faced with scenarios where they don’t fight back. There’s only so many times you can watch a victim hit the villain and then not check to see if they’re dead. Have horror films of the last thirty years not taught us anything? It’s a shame because there is real potential in this film and Wren Schmidt is particularly superb as the only female character, with a lot of weight on her soldiers. The music is atmospheric and director Christopher Denham who began as an actor in the likes of Argo, does show promise in his work, he’s just not quite there with this one. Late Phases Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Next up came in the form of one of my top five of the festival. Original and surprising in just about every way, Late Phases excelled on so many levels. Not your average horror outing, the film tells the story of grumpy War Veteran Ambrose McKinley (played excellently by Jim Mickle regular Nick Damici) who moves into a retirement community in Crescent Bay. This was once a pleasant and peaceful town but as soon as McKinley moves in, it appears to be anything but. Mysterious attacks of a rather grizzly nature start taking place and one by one the town’s residents start being picked off one by one. It’s McKinley’s hands on, fearless persona that Crescent Bay needs if they are to fight this monster. So get yourself ready for a gripping, exciting and refreshing creature feature for that’s exactly what this delivers. By far the most original take on the werewolf genre in years, Late Phases draws you in from the start. Engineered perfectly with Nick Damici’s chiselled performance, playing a character you can’t help but love, this will shock and surprise you at all the right moments. Bloody and graphic at times it doesn’t over play on this side of things and there’s as much story as there is substance here, with a well written script shining through. Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s direction is simple but effective; there is no CGI here, all good old fashioned make-up and prosthetics and the creature transformation is nothing short of realistic. These all contribute to a well-rounded, visually pleasing and engaging take on the genre and one that landed in many people’s top five of the weekend. The Canal Director: Ivan Kavanagh The second of my discovery screen outings saw me make a rather controversial decision to miss Dead Snow 2: Red VS. Dead (to many people’s horror) and replace it with Ivan Kavanagh’s creepy ghost story The Canal. Also making it into my top five list of the festival, this eerie tale absorbed me from start to finish and at times proved rather scary. Film archivist David Williams (Rupert Evans) and his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) move into an old-fashioned yet stunning house by a tranquil canal with their young son. Everything seems too good to be true until David discovers that the house has a ghastly past; it was privy to a murder back in the 20th century. Then, in a Sinister like fashion David uncovers some news footage of the events that took place and it starts to consume him. To add to the mix he discovers that his wife is having an affair and gradually he begins a downward spiral into madness and disillusion when he believes this supernatural entity is harbouring in his home. With enough twists and turns to keep you guessing beyond the credits rolling, The Canal inhibits parts of the genre while retaining an original quality of its own. Rupert Evans is superb as the central character and projects David’s gradual insanity well; while also giving us a glimmer of hope, that it might not all be in his head. Callum Heath is fantastic as David’s little boy Billy, who has to be one of the cutest child actors of late and a great little performer too. Kavanagh’s direction is bleak and eerie and the gloomy colour filters help build the dark atmosphere that surrounds the ghostly tale. Kavanagh manages to bring the ghost genre back to its roots but go beyond the many found footage features of late and instead deliver something truly terrifying as one man’s insanity, but the real question is: is it real? R4/5 The Last Showing Director: Phil Hawkins It was time to get back in the main screen for a Q and A guest treat. Freddy Krueger himself, horror icon Robert Englund had flown over with co-stars Finn Jones and Emily Berrington and director Phil Hawkins to promote the premier of The Last Showing. The crowd were in awe as the star took to the stage and we waited patiently through the film to get a very memorable Q and A afterwards. Englund plays veteran cinema projectionist Stuart Lloyd, a dedicated worker who has been reduced to selling popcorn and snacks. When he is fired from his job by a manager less than half his age, Stuart decides to make a horror movie of his own and use unfortunate Martin and Allie as his main stars. The young victims have come to the cinema on a date to watch none other than Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes Part II but what they in fact experience is a night of torment and fear as they venture deeper into their own nightmare. The film’s concept is cool and somewhat original and to begin with it looks like it could be quite exciting. It’s a shame, then, that after about twenty minutes it is quite clear just where this is going to go and from then on the surprises fall few and far between. The acting is decent, with young hot talent Finn Jones and Emily Berrington proving they can tackle the genre well and not fall into the endless pit of irritating, unsympathetic adolescents that we all tire of. Robert Englund is of course impressive as Stuart, tapping into his unhealthy obsession but unfortunately it’s still so easy to see Freddy Krueger when he steps on screen. What the film is lacking mainly here is gore and any real kind of slasher element because for it to be a slasher film there has to be a few shocking deaths and there just aren’t here. The direction falls victim to some awful and unnecessary slow-motion that makes it look even more amateur. The film has its moments and Englund gets to deliver some memorable one liners but this just isn’t enough to save a film with a poor script and a rather boring execution. The Q and A afterwards made up for it slightly as Englund came across really well and all the cast were entertaining. Phil Hawkins is one of the most charismatic directors I’ve ever seen and the entire experience was enjoyable. In short, great interview, not such a great film but all part of the fun! R2/5 Housebound Director: Gerard Johnstone Our final film for day two came in the form of New Zealand comedy chiller Housebound. This was a great hit for many members of the audience but unfortunately I had encountered a bad case of exhaustion at this point in the evening and have to embarrassingly admit that I fell asleep half way through! But what I did see of the film was gory, funny and amusing, definitely one for me to chase up and watch again. It follows young woman Kylie Bucknell who is placed on home detention and is forced to remain in her home until she serves the sentence. Armed with an ankle tag and with only her irritating and overbearing mother Miriam who believes the house is haunted, to keep her company Kylie starts to lose the will to live. However, it’s not before long that she too starts to convince herself that the house does harbour some sort of supernatural presence. Creaky floorboards and strange whispers follow until mother and daughter discover something truly dark and terrifying in their house. The film doesn’t take itself seriously and that is why it proved to be such a hit during the festival, most people had nothing bad to say about it. With plenty of blood-splattered scenes of guts and gore and featuring a rather unlikely pair at the forefront of it all, Housebound just has that extra quality. It does what it sets out to do: give us an entertaining horror thrill ride, one to keep us awake (most of us) in the late night Friday slot. Despite waking up and wondering where certain characters had come from and how they got there, I still enjoyed what I saw and could tell that this had been enjoyed by most! Frightful, fearsome fun in more ways than one.
FrightFest 2014 - Saturday
Starry Eyes Director: Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer Bright an early on the Saturday morning and we were all more than settled into our long weekend. Already starting to compile lists of our favourites so far, the atmosphere was buzzing and everyone was more than excited to see what we had in store for the day. So what better way to start than a rather haunting venture into the dark side of Hollywood and the extreme lengths that someone is prepared to go to for fame. This one is sure to stay with you long after you leave the theatre. Kevin Kolsch’s deeply affecting psychological horror thriller tells the story of waitress Sarah Walker (played exceptionally by newcomer Alex Escoe) who is one of many struggling actresses trying to get her big break. After many casting calls and a few auditions she suddenly embarks on the mysterious Astraeus Pictures. After a couple of strange auditions she finally bags her dream part. However with fame comes a series of unfortunate consequences and she will have to go through a vast transformation both physically and mentally in order to become beautiful. Making a sinister and disturbing comment on fame, Kolsch’s film is an alarming and unforgettable venture into the dark side of Hollywood. Alex Escoe is impressive as Sarah, able to tap in and out of her unhealthy obsessions while still retaining a rather innocent and pure quality that she has at the beginning of the film before the power consumes her. She has to go through quite a graphic transformation and she pulls it off effortlessly; she will be an actress to watch out for. The direction itself is even unnerving as it tries to pretend to be something eerily normal and accepting yet its content is nothing but dark and unsettling. This juxtaposition between the foreshadowing of the bright lights of fame and the reality of the unnerving lengths this character has to go through to get there is just phenomenal. Starry Eyes is one of the most brutal and gritty horrors you will see this year, probably the next ten years because it shows that a good story goes a long way; it doesn’t need ounces of gore to leave its mark, a mark that feels not too far from home. R5/5 Short Film Showcase In between two of my favourite films of the festival I popped back over to one of the discovery screens to see the premier of my friends short film She among others. There were so many short films it’s hard to mention them all but a couple that stood out for me were Horror Channel presenter and Frightfest favourite Emily Booth’s Selkie which she wrote and starred in. It tells the tale of a mermaid like creature who washes ashore and is taken in by a local man and forced to be his lover and bear his child. With an intriguing story and beautifully directed by Simon Booth, this film really draws you in and shows a different side to the genre. Another short which stood out was Jill Sixx Gevargizian’s 'Call Girl' featuring Laurence R. Harvey from The Human Centipede franchise fame. It tells the story of a man (Harvey) who decides to film himself raucously butchering a call girl who comes to his house. Only trouble is when she turns up, she isn’t quite what he was expecting and he got more than he bargained for… The film is snappy and stylish and doesn’t beat around the bush; good old-fashioned slasher fun. The showcase featured a range of mediums including animation and films from all over the world. Unable to make the second showcase on the Monday I was grateful to view a versatile group of films in this afternoon slot. The Harvest Director: John McNaughton The third slot of our Saturday fun bore witness to John McNaughton’s (Wild Things, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer) intriguing psychological thriller The Harvest. At the helm are two dynamic and highly impressive performances from Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon as married couple Katherine and Richard who are both medical professionals. They keep their sick son Andy housebound and away from the outside world in their family home. They are only trying to protect him but when young girl Maryann moves in with her grandparents next door, Andy sees an opportunity to make a friend. Against Katherine’s wishes in particular, the two start to play together and form a close bond but it only makes things worse. One day when Katherine comes home Maryann is forced to hide and she finds herself downstairs in the cellar which harbours a secret of its own. McNaughton’s film is exceedingly well written and he has chosen a subline cast for his thriller which in truth doesn’t harbour anything graphic or gory or unsuitable for minors for that matter. Instead it explores the terrifying lengths humans can go to in order to protect the ones they love; a different kind of terror. Michael Shannon is electrifying as usual as Richard, giving another of his understated performances which projects ounces of charisma with one facial expression or line of dialogue. His acting just improves with age. Equally outstanding is Samantha Morton as fierce, intimidating Katherine; we have never quite seen her in a role like this before and she embraces it to the full giving an impressionable performance. She isn’t someone you want to mess with! The two younger members of the cast are also very powerful. Natasha Calis and Charlie Tahan are exceptional as Maryann and Andy, able to carry a lot of the weight on their shoulders and to great effect. They are two more names to be added to the ever growing pool of young talent emerging out of Hollywood at the moment. The film is clever and surprising; it takes a while to get going and some would inevitably lose patience but it’s worth it to get to the shocking final act. It bothers to take time to establish and develop its characters which makes us feel for them more so that by the time we reach that jaw dropping twist three quarters of the way through, we are well and truly involved. There is also something deeply symbolic about the location of the film too. Buried deep in the woodlands and countryside makes it ever more haunting when we realise what has actually been going on in this house. Dare I say more and I’m on the verge of spoilers but The Harvest is a different type of horror film that will hopefully capture you as much as it did me; well written, superbly acted and brilliantly executed. R5/5 The Babadook Director: Jennifer Kent Our next feature was one of the festival’s most highly-anticipated films of the weekend. Picked as Total Film’s sponsored film and presented to us by chief acting editor Rosie Fletcher and main star Essie Davis we were all very excited for what was sure to be a well-made, potentially scary horror. Jennifer Kent’s eerie tale follows single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her young son Sam (Daniel Henshall), who haven’t had the easiest of lives. Her husband died six years ago while driving her to the hospital to have Sam and it’s been difficult ever since because his birthday is a rather difficult reminder. When Sam starts having nightmares and a children’s pop-up book called ‘Mister Babadook’ enters their lives, a terror is unleashed that torments mother and son until they can work out just what it is, or rather what it means. The film is superbly written and the two leads are terrific, projecting a realistic mother-son bond. Mothers will be able to identify with this especially. When the scares come they are jumpy and rather unexpected and it all builds nicely. The only slight issue I had with the film was the ending. A lot of people agreed that it was a bit of a cop out after such astrong first three quarters. It’s a shame because up until that point it was verging on edge of your seat territory and Jennifer Kent’s direction was delivering on all levels. Still, nothing’s perfect. R4/5 Digging Up The Marrow Director: Adam Green Frightfest veteran and everyone’s favourite likeable maestro of the genre, Adam Green decided to pop bac to London to deliver us a real treat. Placed in the discovery screen I decided to miss I Survived A Zombie Holocaust (which turned out to be the right call) to see Mr Green’s half fiction half documentary film Digging Up The Marrow. This landed straight into my top five list and for very good reason. Blurring fantasy and reality beautifully, Green projects to us the story of when himself and cinematographer Will Barratt were contacted by former policeman William Dekker (Ray Wise) who argues that he can prove monsters are real. There is a world just below ours where these creatures live and it’s called The Marrow. Green is intrigued and despite not believing him he goes on a journey of discovery to see just what lies beneath this mysterious place. What follows is 88 minutes of purely entertaining and intriguing fun. It almost feels like a history lesson in monster horror, but an interesting one. Green is a master at taking such simple ideas and making them something special. His passion is so vivid you cannot help but get absorbed into his world of mystical creatures and beings. Ray Wise is nothing short of a perfect choice to play William and there’s something about his grisly expressions that draws you in and you start to believe in. I didn’t want this one to end, and with a particularly emotional and endearing Q and A afterwards, this was definitely one of my highlights of the weekend. R5/5 Life After Beth Director: Jeff Beana One of my most anticipated films-if for nothing else but pure entertainment- was Saturday’s final film Life After Beth. Zombie rom-coms seem to go down well with our beloved horror fans. From Shaun Of The Dead to Warn Bodies, there’s just something about them that captivates us. Jeff Baena’s film-in my opinion- falls into this category. Original, quirky and not afraid to take itself too seriously, this film just ticks all the boxes. Zach (the always impressive Dane DeHaan is devastated when his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) dies. Only just coming to terms with his loss Zach is spell bounded to discover less than a day later that she has miraculously come back to life. Overjoyed at first to be reunited with his love, the happiness is short-lived when it becomes clear Beth isn’t quite herself. Her rotting corpse starts to become very apparent and her appetite very ravenous. It’s up to Zach to find out just what is going on once and for all before it’s too late. The cast are a real treat; Dane DeHaan is charismatic as the centrepiece, just improving with each role he undertakes. Aubrey Plaza is as comical as she always is, think April Ludgate from Parks And Recreation but on overdrive! John C. Reilly and Moly Shannon are also brilliant as Beth’s parents, appearing in what seems to be there third onscreen collaboration and their chemistry is sublime. It may be simple and a little predictable but it does exactly what you would expect it to do and works well in the genre. Not to mention it’s the perfect date movie! If you’re looking to relax and enjoy something that will wash over you and provide layers of laughter in the process, then this is for you! R3.5/5
FrightFest 2014 - Sunday
Faults Director: Riley Stearns Arguably a bit much to absorb first thing on a Sunday morning, Faults actually proved to be a bit of a dark horse in this year’s festival. Director Riley Stearns takes us on a slow burn journey through the eyes of cult expert Ansel (Leland Orser in his second appearance after opening film The Guest.) On tour giving seminars about brainwashing, Ansel is approached by a concerned couple, played exceptionally by Beth Grant and Chris Ellis, who believe their daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is under the influence of a mysterious new cult called ‘Faults’. After much persuasion Ansel finally agrees to help them and the de-programming process seems to go smoothly. However it’s not before long that Ansel find himself getting closer to Claire and the closer he gets the more apparent it becomes that not everything is quite as it seems here. This may not seem like a horror in any real sense yet there is something defiantly haunting about this film. Right away we can tell that Ansel is a vulnerable man about to get pulled into something out of his depth but we don’t quite know what. That is what is so effective about this film; we never quite know where it’s going to go and even after the credits appear we still aren’t sure what we have just seen. It makes us think and that is effective. Leland Orser is terrific as frontman Ansel, able to inhibit his paranoia and suspicion but also his great naivety as a man just trying to help. He’s one of those actors you could watch all day and still be amazed. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also impressionable as Claire, unveiling more and more layers of her character as the film progresses and projecting a rather understated performance to great effect. The film may take a while to get to reach its point and perhaps wasn’t the best choice for this time slot, but stick with it and you’re sure to find yourself asking questions and realising that what you’ve just watched was really quite something else. R4/5 Among The Living Director: Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo French directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo have been known for their visceral horror outings with previous films Inside and Livid. Their next film doesn’t quite operate on the same levels and unfortunately didn’t end up being anywhere near as good. The film follows three young friends Victor, Tom and Dan on their last day of school before the summer. They skip school early to venture into the countryside and cause petty trouble. However they soon regret this decision when they witness a masked figure dragging a kidnapped woman into his underground lair. Of course once the boys return home nobody believes their crazy story. However, it’s not long before the maniac comes after them and has plans to stop them from spreading what they’ve seen. The film is far too short and tends to rush towards the end, that’s its main issue. Secondly, the film cuts away so much that when it finally gets interesting we don’t even have the satisfaction of seeing any of the deaths. So there just barely seems any point to it unfortunately. That’s not to say the acting from the young cast is promising and the film does have an eerie atmosphere to it but it doesn’t land anywhere near the level of Inside, which just goes to show some acts are just too hard to follow. R2/5 Open Windows Director: Nacho Vigalondo Elijah Wood seems to be becoming a familiar face of horror, what with appearing in the remake of Maniac a couple of years ago and with features Grand Piano and Cooties set to come out this year. So with the bizarre yet rather fun trip Open Windows he once again gets to tap into the genre and have a little fun with it. Wood stars as Nick Chambers a webmaster of a site dedicated to actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). He is in his hotel room waiting to receive his prize as the winner of an online competition in FantasticFest Austin. Unfortunately as it turns out, Nick has been played and the whole saga turns out to be a hoax set up by a mysterious super fan (Neil Maskell). From then on this unknown scammer uses Nick’s knowledge to go after Jill unless Nick can discover what exactly is going on and stop him before time runs out. Nacho Vigalondo’s crazy film takes us on weird yet wonderful hour and forty minutes of technology terror and cyber chills through a series of split screens. The camerawork is just one of the unique elements of this film. Another is how at many points along the way we don’t quite know what is actually going on, but we somehow cannot help but enjoy the ride. Elijah Wood is good in the role as Nick, clueless as to just what he is becoming a part of, his innocent little face has barely changed since he stepped into the shoes as Frodo way back in 2000. He is rather perfect for this character. Neil Maskell is also effective as the mysterious fan; having to act mostly with his voice as we never really see him, and this is no easy task. He has one of those charismatic voices and executes it well. Nacho’s direction is overwhelming and a little insane but we love him for it and although there are probably a host of things wrong with this film, by the end you may just find yourself smiling at how enjoyable it was as something very, very different. R3/5 Stage Fright Director: Jerome Sable The next film of the day was unfortunately my least favourite of the festival but many others’ favourite. Call me the odd one out but I found Stage Fright to be rather awful. To be fair this probably has something to do with my avid hate of musicals in general but instead of walking out after ten minutes I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Phantom Of The Opera meets one of many slasher films in this insipid horror musical from director Jerome Sable. Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) is brutally murdered after her ground-breaking performance in the musical The Haunting Of The Opera. Fast forward ten years and producer Roger McCall (seventies legend Meatloaf) is running a musical theatre camp where Kylie’s twins-Camilla and Buddy help out at. When Roger coincidentally decides to revive the infamous musical Kabuki style as their end of term feature, the masked ghost figure just so happens to return and wreak havoc among the theatre. The film’s premise is simple and I’m sure fans of a good old-fashioned musical will undoubtedly love this but it does suffer from many problems. The songs are irritating and lame and just when you think you’ve got some actual dialogue on screen another ballad ushers in. To hand it to the director some of the deaths are actually quite inventive and for a second it looks like it could actually be quite entertaining but then the killer gets his own whacky scenes of utter craziness. We witness him dancing around with his murder weapon like a crazed lunatic which is all fine and good but then a dose of heavy metal comes in over the top and it all just gets a bit ridiculous and stupid. Again, my hatred of musicals is shining through here so please forgive me as I’m sure a lot will love this but I just wasn’t one of them. R1/5 The House At The End Of Time Director: Alejandro Hidalgo It’s not every day that you get to be the first audience to see a country’s very first horror film. Well I was lucky enough to get tickets for the discovery screen showing of Alejandro Hidalgo’s The House At The End Of Time, Venezuela’s first horror film. This beautiful film tells the story of Dulce (Ruddy Rodriguez, a former Miss Venezuela) who has just served thirty years in prison for murdering her family. She returns to the dark mansion house to try to understand the mysteries and tragedies that have tormented her for all of these years. As she delves deeper into her past and is faced with the demons of her present, Dulce tries to come to term with what really happened and try and move on. Hidalgo’s direction is simply sublime and right from the first scene we are absorbed into this mesmerising tale. The acting is great all round and the whole film feels like an intriguing fantasy; almost like we are taken to another word when we enter this mansion. It feels reminiscent of a lot of eighties mystical films featuring big mystery houses and fantastical beings; it sits as a completely different take on the genre. The cinematography is also sublime and the whole film just has this awe about it. If this is anything to go by then hopefully Venezuela has a lot more to offer where that came from! R4/5 The Samurai Director: Till Kleinert And so we had already reached the final slot of the penultimate day. Sorrow was starting to set in and we knew the end was near. Unfortunately, once again I had become quite tired and it was now all starting to set in. So when I woke up in the middle of Till Kleinert’s The Samurai and saw a man dancing around a fire in a white dress I wondered what kind of mad dream I had just encountered! What I did see of the film was pretty darn good and I had caught enough of a gist to tell this would land in some people’s top ten. The film begins with young police officer Jakob who receives a parcel addressed to Lone Wolf. Then the phone rings and a mysterious man asks if his package is there and that it be delivered straight away. Jakob finds himself intrigued and following his instincts, takes off into the woods to meet the man but instead discovers a man wearing a white dress waiting. It turns out that there is an ancient Samurai sword in the package and he wants to use it to cut a bloody swathe through the village’s population. It’s pretty insane and there’s no real point to it but the film is entertaining and very unique. The colours are stunning and it looks visually sound. The two leads are charismatic and carry the film well through its eighty minute running time. Although this may not be to everyone’s taste, there is something the film is whether you take to it or not, and that is memorable. It certainly invites me to have another viewing (and that’s not just because I fell asleep!). Intriguing and infinitely cool this film deserves the critical acclaim I hope it receives. R3.5/5
FrightFest 2014 - Monday
Altergeist Director: Tedi Sarafian It was already the fifth and final day and we had the blues emerging, just as everyone was getting settled into their seats feeling right at home we had to get ready to say goodbye, well almost. I began the day with two discovery screen films the first of which was Tedi Sarafian’s rather creepy Altergeist. Loosely based on true events (aren’t they all?), the film sees a group of paranormal investigators spend a 48 hour weekend in King Ransom Winery to uncover evidence of the other side. It’s known as one of the most haunted places in North America and so the group think they have hit the jackpot when they arrive. What they find is more terrifying than they can imagine and affects them in ways they could never have prepared for. Cue lots of jump scares and a few twists and turns and there you have it. Several people walked out of this film and at the end hardly anyone bothered to clap apart from myself and maybe two others. This I thought was unnecessary and quite frankly a little harsh! The story was decent and the acting actually pretty good for this type of genre hybrid. There weren’t excess amounts of shaky cam either and I was genuinely a little scared at times. It does make a drastic tonal shift towards the end that comes out of nowhere and some of it feels misplaced but for what it is this film is pretty decent. R3/5 Lemon Tree Passage Director: David Campbell This next film was one of my most anticipated films of the festival and I don’t think I have ever been so let down before. It just goes to show you should never get your hopes up. Boring and as predictable as it gets, Lemon Tree Passage just feels rather pointless, what could have been such an exciting horror film turns into your average, run of the mill revenge story that has been done into the ground. It begins with a group of young adults who decide to test the Australian urban legend that says that if you drive down the creepy road of Lemon Tree Passage then you will see a flash of light in the trees and be forever haunted by the tormented spirit of a man killed by thrill speeding teenagers. They do indeed witness this but it is not the manifestation they think it is and after one of the lot goes missing, events start to spiral out of control and one girl starts to become possessed. Then it basically turns what could have been quite an original plot into the boring one we’ve all seen so many times before. It is so obvious to see what is going to happen before it even happens.The acting is quite poor and the characters unsympathetic. The director insists on continuously using that stupid slow motion which is so unneeded in a film like this. There was real promise here, it’s just a shame that the producers and director didn’t take a slight risk and try to go down a more original avenue. Still, what can you do? With a rather good Q and A afterwards, it all felt rather awkward too, but you don’t come to the festival expecting everything to be great. R2/5 Alleluia Director: Fabrice Du welz Originally planning on opting out of this and seeing Jessica Cameron’s Truth Or Dare in the discovery screen, we heard too many good praise surrounding Alleluia that we chose to stick with the main screen. Oh what a poor decision that turned out to be! In the minority here I found it displeasing to watch, inconsistent and quite frankly, just not satisfying in any way possible. By the end I was so frustrated that I has just wasted ninety two minutes of my life that I couldn’t get back and that I hadn’t gone with my original instincts! Based on the true story of The Honeymoon Killers, Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez it follows single mother Gloria (played well by Lola Duenas) who meets crazy crook Michel (the also exceptional Laurent Lucas). She falls for him badly but he has other intentions, namely meeting rich women and milking them for all their worth. However he meets his match with Gloria and she proposes to help him do this whilst remaining his lover but the lengths she goes to result in murder. Not even particularly as gory and unnerving as I had expected it to be, the film just felt unnecessary. Random scenes like the couple dancing naked by a camp fire just go to show how bonkers the film is. The acting is indeed superb from both leads and it is well shot but it just feels like this could have been a lot better. Still, it proved to be a hit among many people in the audience. This could end up being a marmite film. R2/5 V/H/S Viral Director: Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Todd Lincoln, Aaron Moorhead, Marcel Sarmiento and Nacho Vigalondo After a rather poor beginning to our final day I was really hoping that the last two films would surely bring us back to that top notch standard. The third instalment in the popular VHS franchise was one I was particularly looking forward to and it was entertaining in parts. Building on the premise of the previous two films, this one projects five stories and brings them all together (sort of) by way of a wraparound segment. This time it centres on some fame-obsessed teens who all become stars of the next internet sensation. This time we have a magician who loses his head, a group of teen skateboarders who encounter a host of weird ritualised figures who won’t seem to stay dead and to be honest I can’t remember the rest as it was all so rushed and a little hard to distinguish. It keeps returning to the wraparound segment in between that it’s very hard to tell which story is separate. As it turns out there was a whole section that was cut from the film which explains a lot. It just feels like we have been cheated here and the film just doesn’t feel anywhere near the impressive level of the first instalment. It was fresh and unique at the time and sometimes these things are better left alone before they get too big for their boots. There are a few long lasting images here but nothing to hit home about. Disappointing to say the least, this final day was turning out to be quite weak. It was up to the closing film to bring our spirits back up and ready for the after party to come. R2.5/5 The Signal Director: William Eubank The closing film was upon us and I am pleased to say it was a memorable, haunting an extremely effective one! It landed in my top five and stayed with me long after the night was out. William Eubank’s stylish sci-fi fantasy thriller is engaging and endearing in so many ways. Nic (Brandon Thwaites) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) are MIT students who are helping Nic’s girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) move across the states. However they also happen to be engaging with an online altercation with mysterious hacker ‘Nomad’. They get a lead on his whereabouts and decide to investigate. Suddenly they all lose consciousness and Nic awakes in what appears to be a secretly hidden underground hospital. There he meets the mysterious Damon (Laurence Fishburne) armed in a clinical white radiation suit who tells Nic about this ‘Extra-terrestrial Biological Entity’ and holds him for testing. Just what is this all for and where are his friends? It’s up to Nic to find out just what is going on and try and find his way back before he loses his way forever. It is hard to tell just where this is going and it takes a while to build up but when it does kick in we are rewarded with an intriguing plot turn and an exciting dystopian like setting. To add to this is the astonishing cinematography that captivated me from the start. Sweeping shots of the open road and the vast landscape are enough to project you into this enlightening tale of human survival and determination when faced with an underlying threat. Thwaites is exceptional as Nic and gives an understated yet charismatic performance that is engaging to watch. Laurence Fishburne is also impressive as Damon, a character reminiscent of his days as his signature character Morpheus. It’s nice to see him returning to the sci-fi horror genre and his withdrawn performance is brilliant and he executes it perfectly. The music score is spine tingling from the start and works really well in line with the aesthetically pleasing direction and the bold colours that feature in the cinematic scope. The film is just interesting to watch and there’s something really haunting about what its eventual premise turns out to be. The twist comes in at the right moment and is surprising. The film hits on every level and as the closing film it is certainly one I will be remembering for a long time to come. R4/5
So after five days and over twenty five films I had survived another Frightfest and what an amazing one it was! From zombie girlfriends and beavers to angry ex-soldiers and werewolves this year really pulled out all of the stops. Despite the concerns and the adjustments it proved to be worth it all in the end and we were rewarded with a host of fantastical frights! The theatres emptied and a sigh of sadness could be heard from metres away but with the October all day event just around the corner and Glasgow a few months away there’s never long to wait. I hope you enjoy my roundup, until next time…