Friday, 17 September 2010

The Ford Brothers - Interview

Howard and Jonathan Ford are the writer/director team behind THE DEAD, the new Africa-set zombie movie premiering at London's Flim 4 Frightfest this year.  I got a chance to chat to the brothers shortly before their movie's debut to talk all things undead...

NF:   Your many hardships and horrendous ordeals making this film are pretty well documented* (see the making of videos for THE DEAD here and here), was it all worth it?

HF:  Ha ha!  I don't know if we've been asked that before actually.

JF:  Well, for me, this is the film I've been waiting to make for 20 years.  Ever since I first saw Dawn of the Dead which is my favourite movie, I just knew that I wanted to be part of that in some way.  It made such a huge impression on me.  Making THE DEAD was something that has been a dream all my life, even we went through hell shooting it I am so happy just to have finally made that film I have been thinking about for so long.

HF:  It's the pinnacle of pretty much a lifetime dream so was it worth it?  Absolutely yes.

NF:  What drew you to set the film in Africa?

HF:  We had shot a great deal of commercial stuff in West Africa and it was mainly in driving between locations that we saw these amazing landscapes and just thought, we've got to make something here.

JF:  Yeah, they're landscapes like nowhere else in the world really so to use them just seemed like a natural idea.

HF:  Added to that, we also wanted to make our zombie film different to so many of the others.  we knew we wanted to make a road movie of sorts and that seemed to fit so well with these terrains.

NF:  A very strong element in the film for me was the idea that nowhere is safe and even stopping and letting down your guard for a moment would be fatal.  Sleep would therefore be impossible.  That's a really interesting aspect of the zombie scenario to focus on.

HF:  I'm really glad that came across actually because it was definitely our intention to depict that. It's great to know that it worked!

JF:  In the usual zombie flicks we see, they are often set in urban areas where there are plenty of places to hide and there's security behind concrete walls.  One of the things that struck us first about these African villages where we were shooting was that that security just wasn't there.

HF:  Because they were all real villages where people lived and we actually used some of the villagers as extras.

JF:  They were so open and unprotected .  they're not much more than mud huts really and anyone or anything can just walk in.

HF:  There were also these great open stretches of landscape where at night it's just pitch black. It's a really scary thought to be in that situation in that landscape.

NF:  And was that why you decided to use traditional slow-moving zombies?

HF:  Well, for us it was never really a question for us, they are the zombies in all the movies we love and what directly inspired us to make THE DEAD but we definitely felt that the setting increased their threat.    Their sheer numbers are overwhelming.

HF:  Yes, it is an incredibly bleak film and it is about death and loneliness.  It's about all the comforts that you're used to in life being stripped away.  Hopefully, those things will be seen in the film and however bad a situation gets and however horrific a situation can get there's always an element of hope.  Perhaps that's all that you have left in the end.

JF:  And sometimes it felt like that when we were out shooting the film...

HF:  Yeah, we were mugged on day one at knifepoint, I thought I was going to have this knife thrust in me and my intestines were going to spill out onto the dusty ground.

JF:  We had guns pointed at us almost on a daily basis.  I had nightmares for many, many months after we came back.  I'd wake up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, my heart palpitating.  I must have suffered some form of post-traumatic stress, having a gun waved in your face on such a regular's quite a traumatic thing.

NF:  It's not really part of your average every day life is it?

JF:  No, it's not!  And every day I was getting it.  We all went to quite a dark place when we were shooting it and whether that added to the film, well I don't know.

HF:  Perhaps none darker than Rob Freeman, our fantastic actor, who contracted Malaria and was on an IV drip for 2 weeks and nearly died.

JF:  The thing is that regardless of all of that, here we are with the finished film and if just one person who loved Dawn of the Dead likes our film then that makes it all worthwhile.   To me that's the job done, I'm satisfied - I can go and die now.

HF:  You probably will, the way this production has gone so far!  But if people enjoy it, if people sit there for an hour and a half and go along with this journey and feel the emotions we wanted people to get out of it then that's all I need.  There's certainly hope in that.

NF:  Zombies.  Who's your favourite one?

JF:  (pointing to a large and rather lovely poster of Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE that just happens to be on display on a nearby wall)  That one!  It's my all-time favourite zombie, it's the one that's stayed with me for years and years and I just love it.

HF:  I've got the Fangoria issue with that conquistador zombie on the front.  I saw it and just had to have it.

NF:  So, what's next for the two of you?

HF:  Good question!  Well, because the production was so difficult on this film many pages of the script didn't end up getting shot.  Many of the 'wow' moments had to be dropped unfortunately.  There was so much that we wanted to do but didn't get to and there is already talk of another instalment of THE DEAD.

JF:  There's enough ideas left over form the first one to fill another one so who knows?  But we'd love to do another zombie film.

NF:  Well, hopefully you'll have a less traumatic time when you shoot it.  Good luck and thanks for your  time!  

Many thanks to Jonathan and Howard Ford for taking the time to talk to us.  They were a couple of the nicest, most down to earth guys around and a real pleasure to talk to.  Cheers.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Red, White and Blue - US Theatrical and VOD Release

RED, WHITE AND BLUE is the new film by British writer/director Simon Rumley (THE LIVING AND THE DEAD). It is a harrowing and bleak tale of 3 lives which interconnect with tragic and savage results.

It has already achieved some great press and impressed audiences at all manner of festivals including London's Frightfest where we got a chance to get an interview with the man behind the film.  Read our interview with Simon Rumley here in which he talks about how making a film in America has possibly increased his chances of getting it to audiences.

It seems that he may be right (or maybe they just know a good film when they see one) as RED, WHITE AND BLUE is set to be released theatrically there on September 23rd. It will also be made available nationwide via video-on-demand and be simultaneously screened at FantasticFest.

Simon Rumley commented, "FantasticFest's a very important festival for me since it was where my last film The Living and The Dead won its first bunch of awards. Ever since I've have loved Austin - so much so that I went there to shoot Red White & Blue. It was a truly superb experience to be able to continue my relationship with FantasticFest in this way. Moreover, I know that screening the film through IFC, who have championed some of the most exciting films of recent years, will allow it to reach what I hope will be an appreciative and large audience."
Simon Rumley

RED WHITE & BLUE stars Amanda Fuller, Noah Taylor & Marc Senter. Taut and uncompromising, it has already been compared to the works of such disparate filmmakers as Michael Haneke and Sam Peckinpah. The film, which had its world premiere in January 2010 at Rotterdam, was directed by Siom Rumley and produced by Rumley and Bob Portal, and executive produced by Tim League, Judy Lipsey, Doug Abbott, and Adam Goldworm. It is the first film from Celluloid Nightmares, a new partnership between Paris-based Celluloid Dreams and Los Angeles-based XYZ Films.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Simon Rumley - Interview

RED, WHITE AND BLUE is the harrowing and intense new movie from British writer/director, Simon Rumley.  Its story of 3 very different but damaged lives intertwining to tragic and violent effect has impressed critics at numerous film festivals including London's prestigious Frightfest. 

This uncompromisingly bleak film is set to be released theatrically in the United States on 23rd September.  It will also be simultaneously screened at FantasticFest and be made available via video-on-demand.

 I got a chance to talk to the man behind one of the darkest and most intricate films of the year shortly before the Frightfest screening...

NF:  Hi there Simon, thanks for talking to us.  How are you looking forward to the screening of Red, White and Blue?

SR:  I'm looking forward to it very much.  I'm an English film maker so it's great to have your film playing a festival in your 'home town'.  I think it's gonna be interesting seeing how the audience react.  The Frightfest audience is a very cine-literate crowd so although its quite a slow burning film I think that when it gets there the audience will hopefully react positively to it.  I'm looking forward to it either way.

NF:  Red, White and Blue has received pretty unanimously positive reviews.  Were you expecting such a great response?

SB:  Well, you don't really think about it that much at the time.  I liked the film, I liked the script but you just don't know what people are gonna think.  I know that the ending for some people is gonna be too much and it's very much a curve ball so you never really know until you get people in the seats.  It's kind of a tough film to gauge people's reactions to. At the end of screenings there's often a deafening silence as people think about what they just saw before they start clapping so yeah, it's a tough one to gauge.

NF:  It must be pretty gratifying that it's doing well.

SB:  It's very gratifying.  We premiered at Rotterdam at the beginning of the year and it's only the last two festivals that we have started playing genre festivals and actually the reviews seem to be getting better which  is just...fantastic.

NF:  It is a decidedly bleak film, did you initially set out to make such a dark piece?

Simon Rumley
SB:  Not specifically but you know my last film, The Living and the Dead was pretty bleak as well and it's just something that comes from me naturally I guess.  One of the reasons I wanted to do this film was I wanted to subvert what horror is and how it's perceived.  I really looked at what is a typical horror film, and for me it's a slasher film with somebody chasing somebody else through a wood  trying to kill them with a knife and I asked myself, how do I make that into a film in a way that's never been made before.  That's how I came up with the character of Erica and in effect she is the slasher, she is the murderer. 

NF:  Is that where the kernel of the story idea came from then - through the characters?

SB:  Well both really. it came from you know, the fear of one night stands and the reality that sometimes people end up contracting HIV through them.  Personally, I think that's pretty scary really.  Also, I liked the idea that people couldn't really categorise what it was. I liked that with The Living and the Dead people's reaction was that it was an incredibly horrific film but it wasn't a horror film.  It was great to play all the festivals like Rotterdam and such but also play genre festivals like Frightfest and Fantastic Fest.  I wanted to explore this further with my next film and take horror and turn it on its head.  So, it's a combination of those things together really.  I did actually start writing the script a couple of years ago and I wrote about 25 pages and it just wasn't really working so I put it aside for a while.  At some point I came to the revelation that if it was going to work I'd have to really make the Erica  character identifiable and offer her some kind of sympathy or empathy.  it seems like an obvious thing to say now but it took me about 2 years to work it out.

NF:  The character of Nate is pretty memorable, how did you go about writing him?

SB:  Yeah, well, I wanted to base him in a reality which is where the army training background came from which widens the film up with a bit more of a political subtext.  He is a sociopath rather than an out and out psychopath so again we can identify with him a little more.

NF:  And there's something almost quite charming about him, if that's not too strange a thing to say about such a violent character?

SB:  Often I find that I write these weird people who are slightly sociopathic and stuff but I've always told the actors, don't play them hard or don't play them mean, play them like you love them because that warmth comes across and I feel really makes the film that little bit more unusual.

NF:  There's some very intense scenes in the film which make for quite uncomfortable viewing.  How were they to shoot?

SB:  Generally it was pretty good actually.  The scene with the young girl...well she was just amazing and personally I felt that was one of the strongest scenes in the film so I wanted to make sure it was well done.  Usually we do about 5 or 6 takes but for that scene we were doing something like 10 takes for everything.  That was quite harrowing as basically we spent a whole day with everybody screaming and shouting and this little girl crying and a couple of times I thought to myself that it was getting pretty grim so I'd stop shooting and take the tape off covering her mouth and ask Saxon (Sharbino, who also played the young girl in the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake) if she was all right and she'd be like, "Awesome!" and be grinning.  She was absolutely fantastic, a real trooper.  All that stuff is quite draining though and as a director you're very aware that it is exhausting for the actors.  We had a great crew and a great cast though and we shot it in 3 weeks so it was a really quick shoot and we were really focused so it was a very no nonsense, just get on and do it kind of attitude.  We were really luck y to have such a great crew because all it takes is for one person to throw everybody off.  It was all a really great experience to be honest.

NF:  As a British film maker what drew you to set your film in America, could it have worked in England?

Well, yeah I think it could have worked anywhere really as essentially it's a story about young people fucking which they do quite a lot around the world. the main reason I set it in America is because I'm fed up with making films in the UK and nobody really seeing them.  That's the honest answer.  My next script is set in China, I've got one set in New Orleans, I've got more in America but I've kind of stopped writing films set in the UK because I've got to the stage where I don't see what the point is really.  Of course, there's tons of American films that don't get seen either of course but in America it is an industry, people are proactive and people push stuff.  Basically you stand more of a chance of getting a low budget indie film seen there.

Enormous thanks to Simon Rumley for taking the time to talk to us.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Damned by Dawn - Review


Director:  Brett Anstey
Writer:  Brett Anstey, Russell Friedrich
Starring:  Renee Willner, Dawn Klingberg, Bridget Neval, Danny Alder, Taryn Eva

Writer/director, Brett Antsey makes no secret about his influences in this almost-fun, low budget Australian EVIL DEAD homage.  The title of this film is, of course, a reference to the sub-title and oft-repeated/shrieked line in Sam Raimi's seminal shocker - "Dead by Dawn".  The problem is that in that film the line made perfect sense, in this it just seems out of context and a little confusing.  The spirits in this film are not malevolent demons taunting the heroes, they are altogether more serious entities with no reason to be using the phrase or, indeed making any sort of communication with the human characters.  What do they mean by "damned" anyway?  It is true that the phrase works as a pun (an important character is named Dawn) but the intentions are clear and a perhaps more serious obstacle raised by the connection is that bringing to mind an outright classic and much loved movie from the horror genre's considerable canon can only lead to negative comparisons from even the most generous of critics.

The story concerns a young woman bringing her boyfriend to visit her family home in rural Australia.  Her visit coincides with her grandmother's death but before the old lady shuffles off this mortal coil she imparts some cryptic advice about a banshee - a supernatural entity which takes the form of a young woman.  It isn't long before the inevitable happens, the banshee turns up and, after some largely incomprehensible plot turns,  summons an army of evil spirits and demons to wreak bloody carnage on the family.  Not a terrible set-up by any means (great films have arisen from much less) but unfortunately DAMNED BY DAWN never quite manages to kick into a high enough gear to reach the levels of excess and exuberance which would seem necessary in a film with such firmly stated aspirations.

This is not to say that there is nothing here to like.  The banshee is a strangely underused figure on the big screen and it is great to see such an inherently eerie character brought to life.  Bridget Neval does a good job under thick make-up playing the wailing manifestation and is easily one of the most effective parts of the whole movie.  Less effective, sadly is the banshee's scream which is vastly over-used.  It works well as a sound effect and for the first few times it is heard it is genuinely creepy.  By the time the end credits roll however the noise has lost any sense of atmosphere and is just irritating.  Especially so in a cinema with a powerful sound system such as the Empire Leicester Square.

The setting is also effective and though it does  not resemble any part of Australia I have ever seen or heard of with its grey, storm-laden skies and swirling misty moors, it is good fun and creates a nice sense of atmosphere.  This is unfortunately damaged however by the utter disregard for consistency with regards to the time of day.  The whole film takes place over the course of one night but somehow during that night at various, seemingly random, points the sky turns from day to night to dusk to early morning and back again throughout.  Though, it never pays to be picky about such inconsistencies, especially in such low-budget affairs, here it is incredibly obvious and very distracting.

The story is similarly inconsistent with not enough character or plot to sustain true interest.  There is some fairly rich backstory to the banshee and her relationship with the family but unfortunately this is very much relegated to a few hints and line of dialogue.  The bulk of the film is instead taken up with extended chase sequences which, without much reason to be invested in, leave the viewer fairly apathetic to the fates of these characters.

Although, as mentioned above, the banshee herself is rendered with pleasingly practical effects, sadly  the same cannot be said for her undead minions.  The film is populated by scores of robed demonic spirits and flying, scythe-wielding skeletons whose hokey charms make them incredibly hard to dislike.   This job is made much easier however by the crude CGI with which they are created.  They simply have no presence, animation or character and as such give no sense of threat or danger.  A few well-used practical creations would have been infinitely more welcome than the army of substance-less ghosts we end up with.  It's a real shame as in principle they are a pretty good idea but they are just not presented or used in any particularly interesting way.

This is really DAMNED BY DAWN's greatest flaw -it has some great ideas and it has some grand ambitions but it just never quite gets it right.  It's a film that is difficult to dislike as so much affection and good will has clearly gone into making it, but even with the best intentions many viewers will be, despite their wishes, underwhelmed.

Night of the Demons (2009) - Review

Review by Matt Compton

Director: Adam Gierasch
Writer: Adam Gierasch, Jace Anderson
Starring: Monica Keena, Edward Furlong, Shannon Doherty, Bobbi Sue Luther, Tiffany Shepis, John Beach,

What with nearly all the big classic horror fanchises being snapped up and remade (mostly by Platinum Dunes it would seem) it is great to see some of the more obscure movies being remade. Adam Gierasch's Night of the Demonsis a remake of a fondly remembered but cheap and campy 1988 movie which, unlike some of its more ilustrious cousins, actually benefits from this update.

The story is textbook '80s stuff, a bunch of young partygoers find themselves trapped in a spooky old house where they are picked off one by one by hideous demonic beings. Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson's script never loses sight of the inherent silliness of the premise and in fact embraces that very quality. There is a tone of knowing wit present thoughout which balances the more unbelievable aspects of the story but never descends into outright parody.
The direction is from the start, slick and entertaining as we are given a short and bloody history of the Broussard Mansion (replacing the original's Hull House only in name)and its ill-fated former occupants. The sequence ends in a gruesome decapitation which sets the tone for the oncoming film.
Moving forwards to present day the main chaarcters are introduced, who are the expected bunch of beautiful young people with their ample (or in the case of Bobbi Sue Luther - extremely ample) assets on show. The script gives them some great dialogue however and its natural and humorously dirty spin sets it apart not only from the original film but also the majority of its fun but forgettable stablemates. The cast also do a great job and have alot of fun with their characters with Shannon Elizabeth's Angela, the gothy party-host who becomes the demon head honcho, having the hardest job as she does her best to fill the inimitable Amelia Kinkade's black wedding dress. Edward Furlong is also a welcome addition to the cast as a slightly crap drug dealer and plays his character with game gusto and perhaps just a trace of personal experience.
Unlike in the original, the party in this film actually looks like the sort of party you might want to go to. The booze is flowing, the people are hot and the music is rocking. Attentive viewers will notice that even Victor Crowley takes a night off from sanding off young women's faces to put in an appearance. Of course it isn't long before the party is raided and all the revellers sent away except for our trusty group of demon-fodder who somehow end up locked inside. It isn't long before they have inadvertently set the ancient evil force that resides in the house free and the fun begins.
Adam Gierasch peppers the subsequent carange with enough references and replays of key scenes form the original to keep purists happy whilst adding plenty of new gory set pieces of his own. The 'lipstick scene' made infamous by Linnea Quigley (who incidentally turns up in a cheeky cameo) makes a welcome return with a significantly more extreme upgrade. Angela's famous dance scene also enjoys a (slightly less succesful) update. These are also joined by such wonderfully unpleasant things as demonic anal rape and faces being completely torn off which is all much more fun than it sounds.
The soundtrack is an incredibly important part of this movie and it works for it magnificently. Joe Bishara's original score works to bombastic effect alongside tracks from the likes of Type O Negative and Goat Whore. This film is by Gierasch's own admission intended as a "punk rock horror movie" and on that basis it certainly doesn't disappoint.
It doesn't fare quite so well in other areas unfortunately, there is an over-reliance on a 'protected room' the survivors find in the house and the intentional daftness of the script doesn't always quite walk the line between horror and pastiche. An explanation given for why the demons are vulnerable to rust (?!) of all things does veer perilously close to outright piss-take but whenever these moments occur they are very quickly redeemed by a topless demon woman crawling on the ceiling or a multitude of demon arms bursting through the walls.
This movie has zero pretensions of grandeur and makes no attempt to be a 'serious' movie of any kind. It is meant to be exactly what it is - a loud, coarse, silly film about big breasted women being chased around by slavering demons set to a hard rock soundtrack. Best seen at a late night showing with a bunch of horror fans, Night of the Demons knows its audience and those are the guys who will truly love this film.

For more on Angela, the demon leader, see her entry on The Total Bastard Database

Monday, 6 September 2010

Monsters - Review


Director:  Gareth Edwards
Writer:  Gareth Edwards
Starring:  Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy

Forget the comparisons to DISTRICT 9 or CLOVERFIELD that have been thrown about in relation to this strange and beautiful film.  Despite a few superficial elements which mainly boil down to giant monsters, a political subtext and the presence of extra-terrestial life, MONSTERS is as far removed from them as they are from ET.

Real-life couple Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy play two disparate but equally isolated twenty-somethings trying to make it home to the USA across the Mexican border in a world where giant alien creatures have taken up residence in huge swathes of the country.  He is the all-but-estranged father figure to a child he isn't even sure is his while she is a privileged heiress trapped in a joyless engagement.  While it may be somewhat predictable that these two will develop feelings for each other over the course of the film,  the way it occurs is sweeter, more natural, and ultimately more convincing than any other screen relationship I've seen before.  Gareth Edwards' smart and disarming script never forces them into the well-trodden paths that so many other cinematic couples have already taken.  You will not find the second act betrayal, beak up and subsequent realisation that, gosh! she/he was perfect all along here.  No, in place of the tired cliches and contrived misunderstandings is a steadily increasing closeness and understanding which gradually becomes something much more truly intimate.

The fact that this all plays against such a colourful canvas of enormous tentacled beasts and military control is almost secondary to the love story at the film's core.  I say 'almost' because gigantic octopus monsters are just too large a cinematic presence to write off to second place completely.  Edwards, who not only wrote and directed but also created all the visual effects in the film, has done an unbelievable job of conceiving and realising these beasts and the effects of their actions.  Despite a complete lack of anything resembling a 'proper' budget, he has put Hollywood to shame by creating effects that stomp all over mainstream offerings.  It is a truly remarkable feat which in all honesty has to be seen to be believed.

As well as all this MONSTERS has still more strings to its bow.  Its messages about immigration and the difference between life on both sides of the border are fairly clear.  At one point, our heroes are atop an ancient temple gazing at the huge wall that has been built in an attempt to prevent the aliens entering America and they say, "it's strange looking in from the outside".  The socio-political parallels are clear but the line encapsulates for me what this story is really about - isolation and misunderstanding.  They are not only looking at their home from the outside but their lives.  Everything is as alien to them as the massive tentacled beasts wandering the desert.   This is what makes their connection all the more moving.

For audiences anticipating a large scale creature feature, this film may well cause some dismay.  More open-minded audiences however, will discover a film of unique and genuinely moving power, an epic story told on a human scale through maybe the most primal emotion - loneliness.

The Last Exorcism - Review


Director:  Daniel Stamm
Writer:  Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Starring:  Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones

It seems that every decade or so the horror genre is overtaken by a new movement or defining characteristic.  The 90's were dominated by the self-referential shenanigans of the Scream series and its assorted imitators while the whole 'torture porn' aesthetic has personified the last few years. While we have certainly not seen the last of that particular style of film making, it would seem very appropriate for one of its key players to be so integral in kicking off what is looking likely to be the next big horror sub-genre - the low budget ghost story.

Eli Roth is the big name behind THE LAST EXORCISM and despite being 'only' the producer has been instrumental in the success of this film.  Daniel Stamm however, is the director and it is he, along with his cast and crew  who has crafted this effective and yes, scary tale of faith, horror and possible demonic  possession.

Patrick Fabian plays Cotton Marcus, an evangelical minister and practitioner  of self-confessed fake exorcisms.  The film follows Cotton as he brings a small documentary crew along with him to an exorcism which he intends to use to expose the methods used to trick vulnerable people out of their money.  Once he arrives at the remote farm belonging to the family of the purported possession-victim he finds a sheltered and clearly damaged teenage girl (Ashley Bell)  who has apparently been killing cattle and suffering from mysterious black-outs and fugues.  As Cotton and his team investigate further and perform their fake ritual, complete with all the requisite tricks and illusions, they realise that there is more going on than it would at first seem.  Is it the result of evil demonic forces however or is it the product of more pedestrian and worldly horrors?

To divulge more would be to spoil the fun but the uncertainty of the nature of what is truly going on is the core of the film and also what provides many of the scares.  The unknown is always more frightening  than the explained - even if the explained is demons, monsters and ghosts.  There is a very welcome air of unpredictability to the events that unfold and that immediately increases the level of threat we feel as a viewer.  The choice to use the now-familiar first person camera style works very well at bringing us into the film while very rarely irritating due to shaky-camera issues - this is a professional film crew after all.  Stamm does have his cake and eat it a little by including a subtle but ominous soundtrack to proceedings but  he gets away with it for the most part.  After all, this is not really supposed to be real footage and never pretends to be.  The illusion is compromised slightly but not enough to break the spell the film so artfully weaves.

The entire cast do enormous amounts to keep the viewer invested in the fates of these people and while Ashley Bell's extraordinary contortions and impressive shifts in character are amazing set-pieces, Patrick Fabian is the star of the show.  His natural charisma and fast-talking charm endear him to us immediately and crucially, keep us on his side despite the fact that he is little more than a conman.

The film is at heart a simple, scary story which perhaps reveals a few more of its cards than it should have in the pre-publicity.  It may not be entirely what the poster-art makes it out to be and it might not please the gore-craved audiences.  It also takes a few odd turns towards the finale which will certainly divide audiences but are in keeping with the spirit of the rest of the film and provide a welcome, if slightly rushed, dose of mystery rather than a tidy denouement where all questions are answered.  After all, where would be the fun in that?

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Horde - Review

The Horde

Director:  Yannick Dahan, Benjamin Rocher

Writer:  Yannick Dahan, Arnaud Bordas

Starring:  Eriq Ebouaney, AurĂ©lien Recoing , Jo Prestia

With its simple yet ominous title, nifty concept and low budget styling’s it seems almost strange that Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher’s cops, gangsters and zombies action horror hasn’t already been done. Though some might argue that it actually has already been done actually and been done several times over, La Horde nonetheless rises above its solid genre trappings and stands out as undoubtedly one of the finest examples of zombie cinema in the whole sub-genre’s decomposing canon.

As with all the best, zombie movies The Horde’s human characters are the focus of the story . In this case those characters are a vengeance-driven bunch of bent cops raiding a notorious gangster’s hide-out in a crumbling slum-like tower block. This simple set-up works perfectly and sucks the viewer into the violent and bloody world of these people well before we even get a glimpse of one of our undead antagonists.
Of course, once they do show their rotting faces the two warring factions are forced to make an uneasy alliance in the name of common interests, namely not being torn to frayed and bloody fragments at the teeth of hundreds of walking corpses. From there the plot follows a fairly predictable trajectory with a few minor but welcome surprises along the way such as Alain Figlarz’s stand out performance as the gleefully war-obsessed janitor. The zombies themselves are of the running variety and follow all the usual traits and rules – head shots kill them, bites infect etc.
Though this may all sound fairly standard, what really marks this film out is the sheer energy and style with which it is done. In most films featuring the living-challenged the protagonists are a motley collection of untrained random people who must come to terms with not only the undead menace but also with physically smashing in the skull of something which until recently was another human being. Though that yields interesting subtleties of its own it’s also great to see tooled-up professional bastards doing what they do best and bringing the pain to legions of the screaming dead. Some of the best moments in La Horde come when various characters are forced to go toe-to toe with their necrotic enemies and show that a ravenous hunger for human flesh and maniacal fervour are no match for a lifetime’s experience of knocking the holy living shit out of people.

The film also looks great with its grotty lighting scheme enhancing the inherent seediness of the location. The blood that regularly gets liberally spattered against these walls and floors is clearly not the worst substance they have ever been in contact with. The special effects are used sparingly and effectively with perhaps a little CGI sheen to a few shots but the majority of effects being done practically. There are also some very cool images created and the almost-traditional shot of the zombie legion swarming at our hero in a sea of raised arms and grasping hands has never looked more brutal or terrifying as it does here.
Of course, the film has its flaws and first-time directors Dahan and Rocher fall into the trap of giving us too much of a good thing. The film runs a good twenty minutes longer than it ideally should which is a shame as if it was pared down it would be a real blood-slicked streamlined thrill ride of outright gore-soaked exuberance. As has already been pointed out both in this review and in many others it also offers very little that the genre or average viewer has not seen before. In these circumstances however this doesn’t matter in the slightest, it may be little more than a cover version at heart but it still rocks like a motherfucker and it’s still great to dance to.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Frightfest 2010 Roundup

This year's Frightfest was possibly the biggest the London-based festival has yet seen.  Over the course of the 5 day event, held at Leicester Square's rather wonderful Empire Cinema, there were some crazy amount of world premieres, countless personal appearances from film makers and actors and a whole host of surprises, announcements and...scheduling dramas.  It was a hell of a way to spend the last bank holiday of the year and a possibly questionable way to spend the last precious few days of summer but hell, I loved every second of it.  Even the seconds where I was watching films I really didn't like were fun (though in a vaguely twisted way).

The festival kicked off in wonderfully appropriate form with Adam Green's HATCHET 2.  Green has become something of a patron and mouthpiece for the festival along with Joe Lynch (WRONG TURN 2) over the past few years so it was great to see him premiering the return of his swamp-dwelling pscycho, Victor Crowley there.  It was especially great that it was the launch film and nobody was more pleased about this than Green himself who was in attendance (of course) along with stars and genre legends Kane Hodder  and Tony Todd as well as the very lovely Danielle Harris.  All involved were incredibly friendly and approachable, happily posing for photos, chatting to fans and generally kicking off the festival in wonderful style.  The film itself was great fun and went down a storm with the characteristically blood-thirsty Frightfest audience who cheered their approval for every splendidly disgusting murder in the film.

Next up was PRIMAL, a surprisingly fun Australian survival horror about a young woman turning into some feral wild beast on a camping trip with friends.  Sounds derivative, I know but it was a lot of fun and I rather liked it.  Except maybe for the giant CGI worm... Still, the rabbit song was good.

DEAD CERT, a London gangster vs vampire thang starring Danny Dyer and Billy Murray finished off the night to a rather lacklustre reception but things had only just got started of course as it was then on to Day 2...

The second day kicked off with Tobe Hooper's strange and 'of its time' film from 1969, EGGSHELLS.  The legendary director's best known and most loved work screened next and it was wonderful to see THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE on the enormous screen at the Empire cinema.  It's an incredible film whose numerous sequels and remakes do absolutely nothing to dilute the sheer visceral horror and madness of the original.  Wonderful film seen the way it should.  That's what it's all about.  The man himself then took the stage for an extended interview and Q and A session.  Personally speaking, it was a real honour to see the man who created one of the films which fuelled my passion for the genre in the flesh.  Very cool.

Much of the rest of the day was less horror-y however with the rather bland ISLE OF DOGS being a little underwhelming and the well received RED HILL taking the prime time spot as the 9:00 screening.  Sandwiched in between was the nasty little low budget British thriller, F which sported faceless teenage attackers terrorising a school in an effective homage/remake to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.   The day ended with the not hugely temptingly titled ALIEN VS NINJA which I'm sorry to say didn't tempt me to watch it.

The third day took on a pretty distinct torture/revenge vibe with CHERRY TREE LANE, THE TORTURED and the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake.  No great surprises in there but the Spit remake was definitely one of the most rampantly nauseatingly violent things I've seen and I'm still not even sure if that's a good thing or not.  Is it okay to use sustained rape and sexual brutality as the springboard for a series of progressively more violent and cartoonish kill scenes?  Hmmm, more thought needed before I bring you that review I think.

I Spit on Your Grave
13 HOURS was a quirky little low budget British affair involving some annoying posh teenagers being torn apart by a mysterious wild animal which just might be a werewolf (okay, it is).  It almost worked even despite the prescence of Draco Malfoy and the most unconvincing bald cap in movie history but just didn't quite win over the Frightfest audience.

The highlight of the day, at least as far as I am concerned, came with Gareth Edward's simply astounding film, MONSTERS.  Again, not strictly speaking a true horror film, this is a real oddity.  Unique, strange, haunting and beautiful.  I loved it and it would be a travesty if Edwards doesn't get the chance to work with a real budget sometime in the very near future.

Over on the smaller Discovery 'disco' Screen there was a very welcome change in tone with the wonderful FANBOYS which is a real celebration of everything geek and also a film which manages to be a nostalgia trip twice over (for both the original Star Wars trilogy as well as the late '90's just before Episode 1 was released).  A stormtrooper and an Imperial Guard watched over the screening.  I think they may have been looking for mobile phone users but alas they were all in the main screen...  Also, screening on the small screen was the very popular (unfortunately too popular - it sold out before I managed to secure a seat) AFTER. LIFE but I can't really tell you too much about that one on account of  you know, not having seen it.  The tiger-in-the house (I wonder if he drank all the water out of the taps...) thriller, BURNING BRIGHT also screened but again I didn't catch this one either though heard many people pouring praise on it.  Very much worth a look if you get a chance, by all accounts.  I certainly will be.

By the Sunday (the 4th day of the festival) fatigue was beginning to creep in and this wasn't massively helped by the very slow moving Mexcian cannibal movie, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE nor the largely disappointing 'Aussie Evil Dead' DAMNED BY DAWN.  Many were even more disappointed by the cutting of the main film of the day, A SERBIAN FILM.  Festival co-director Alan Jones took to the stage to explain why  (the BBFC had demanded too many cuts and the organisers simply did not want to show a film  to a festival audience in such a compromised form) to a unanimously supportive audience.  He also introduced the film's replacement which was the Ryan Reyonlds vehicle BURIED.

THE LOVED ONES took the midnight slot and unfortunately was another case of the physical need for rest and sustenance depriving me of the experience of watching what was by all accounts a real highlight of the festival.  Bugger.

The final day began with Jake West's fittingly appropriate in light of the previous day's movie switch, VIDEO NASTIES doc.

The Dead
The day continued with a couple of very different but equally meditative slow burners; the Ford brothers' Africa-set zombie road movie THE DEAD and Simon Rumley's intense and bleakly savage RED, WHITE AND BLUE.  They both tended to divide audiences somewhat but they both come highly recommended by yours truly.

The final film of the day and, indeed, of the entire festival was the much-hyped Eli Roth powered horror juggernaut, THE LAST EXORCISM.  Roth was there to introduce the film along with director, Daniel Stamm (I wonder if he's getting annoyed at the attention Roth is getting yet) and the whole cast.  The film itself was an incredibly effective chiller with a brave and divisive ending whose only flaw that I cold see was that it was a victim of its own 'this film is terrifying!!!' marketing machine.  It was intense and even pretty scary at ties but it just never quite reached the levels you might expect it to.  Still a must see as far as I'm concerned though.

An intriguing Q and A later and the festival was over for another year.  Of course Frightfest isn't jsut about the movies that are screening however and there were plenty of other treats and highlights.  Here's a few of my favourites:

Adam Green and Joe Lynch's Road To Frightfest shorts.

The Douche brothers rode once again with this hilarious BLAIR WITCH PROJECT parody.  And so what if it did use the same joke as last year?  And the year before?  It also had the unforgettable sound of the boys 'pleasing themselves' to a picture of Emily Booth in a small tent.  Nice.  Watch it at the ariescope website (unless my descriptions have put you off).

Habeas Corpus Trailer

A upcoming anthology film centred around the exploitation of the dead.  Not much seen of this other than a funny trailer and some exceedingly cool comic book style promotional art but it looks good nonetheless.

Stakeland Preview

An intriguing vampire film from director, Jim Mickle and starring Danielle Harris.  Looks violent, bloody and savage - all the things vampires haven't been for quite some time.  The clip we saw had a very gooey vampire chewing on a new born baby.  For some reason, I thought that was very cool.

Chillerama Preview

A new anthology from directors, Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin which is doing its best to replicate the experience of the Drive-In movie.  Minus the car.  Green showed his segment, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANKENSTEIN but somehow I missed it.  Because I'm a twat.

Kane Hodder's Presence

The man behind Jason Voorhees' hockey mask and Victor Crowley's rubbery hatchet faced one was at the festival for the duration and was an absolute legend.  He chatted away to fans, signed countless posters, DVDs and programmes and was an all round top bloke.  He did strangle me however and though he was just doing it as a photo op (I think...) that man sure has strong hands.

How about you?  What were your highlights?