Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Frightfest 2011 - Review

FRIGHTFEST 2011 - Review

As another British summer ends in the usual torrents of rain and thunderstorms the Empire Cinema in London's Leicester Square closes it doors on another Frightfest.  This year was the festival's twelfth since its humble beginnings at the Prince Charles cinema and once again Alan Jones and the rest of the Frightfest crew have delivered the goods with what has been the biggest event yet in the festival's history. With movies from all round the world, more world premieres than ever before and the usual enormous range of special guests and surprise appearances the UK's biggest genre festival goes from strength to strength.  And that is despite the festival's traditional insistence of an over-abundance of torture movies.  Pretty good going.

Kicking off proceedings this year was the Guillermo Del Toro-produced remake, DON"T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK which was a solid and creepy enough effort.  It gave a few nice jump scares and was shot beautifully with a terrific sound design but it just never seemed to reach the heights or punch expected of a Frightfest opener.  Still, there were a few nice moments which got the ever-vocal and enthusiastic audience applauding and the film seemed to garner a pretty positive response on the whole which given the variety of tastes in the typical Frightfest audience is no mean feat.

Taking the place of Adam Green and Joe Lynch's Douche Brothers Road to Frightfest shorts this year were a selection of John Carpenter homages from notable horror directors.  It was a shame not to have Green and Lynch entertaining us with their particular brand of geeky humour and the general feeling was that they were missed but in truth last year's efforts were pretty much repeating the same jokes as previous years so it is probably best to stop them while they're still good.  The first of the Carpenter homages was Jake West's ESCAPE FROM LONDON which was a nicely shot actioner which starred a few familiar faces and despite being just a little too serious for its own good was a fun way to start the festival.

James Moran and the rest of the crew of soon to be released Brit horror COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES took to the stage to introduce a few clips from the movie.  While the title does not bode well and is yet another example of this awful 'vs' thing which just won't go away the film itself looks like great fun.  The clip shown featured the world's slowest chase sequence in which an old man (played by the magnificent Richard Briers) with a walking frame flees a shambling hungry zombie to great comic effect.  It also boasts an impressive cast.  How can Alan Ford (Bricktop from SNATCH), Richard Briers and Honour Blackman go wrong really?

Next up was the hardly inspiring prospect of FINAL DESTINATION 5 in 3D. The atmosphere before the screening was one of good natured patience rather than excitement.  The feeling was generally that the film would be a pointless and redundant rehash of the previous 4 movies but with the dubious improvement of 3D.  While that description was pointedly true, what was less expected was just how much fun this movie was.  It had the audience screaming, applauding and groaning on a regular basis and while offering nothing new it did what it did with style and humour.

The final film of the first night was THEATRE BIZZARE which I unfortunately didn't stay to see but the audience reaction was less than stellar.

Day 2 brought with it ROGUE RIVER and the rather downbeat THE HOLDING to kick things off.  There then followed a very interesting interview with Larry Fessenden which led to a larger panel including Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Lucky McKee and Ti West discussing American Horror.  My personal highlights came with the 'recession horror' THE GLASS MAN starring Andy Nyman and directed by Christian Solimeno.  It was a strangely compelling film which left a real emotional punch.  Sad, moving and awesomely performed by Nyman.  I didn't expect to like this one but as it happens loved it.  I do so like it when that happens!

The mood was lightened considerably by the fantastic TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL which played to its perfect audience at Frightfest and received enormous applause, laughter and praise.  The film itself is a deceptively smart and always charming homage to horror which manages to get that difficult line between horror and comedy just right.  Loved it.  The final film of the night was the somewhat underwhelming VILE which provided the usual torture tropes.

My most eagerly anticipated film of the festival played on Day 3 - THE TROLL HUNTER.  But I missed it because it screened to early and I spent way, way too long in the Phoenix Artist's club (watering hole of choice for the festival) the previous night.  Good work there, me.  Impressive!  It is on general release very soon however so I'll have to check it out then.  I did hear from those who made it to the screening that it was as good as I had hoped and very fucking loud.  Good!  THE WICKER TREE got less positive reports unfortunately but to be honest, did anybody really expect this to be any good?

Similarly low expectations were abound for the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT.  Turns out these expectations were similarly met.  Not that the film was terrible, it was fine and it even had some pretty cool moments (love the animalistic writhing when the Farell-vamp gets hurt) but it just didn't do anything  of any great interest.  Luckily, (see what I did there?) Lucky McKee's THE WOMAN came next which pretty much blew everybody away.  It was an excellent film which had real substance and a distinct voice.  Another highlight of the entire festival there and one which still has me thinking now.  That's  definitely a good thing.

Perhaps only slightly less cerebral was the utterly ridiculous anthology movie/homage to the drive-in experience, CHILLERAMA.  It pretty much has to be seen to be believed but it involved at various points: a gigantic sperm attacking the Statue of Liberty, a gay werewolf Grease tribute, Kane Hodder as some sort of dancing frankenstein's monster/rabbi creature and a bizarre sequence completely about shit. Maybe it was the lack of sleep kicking in but somehow this was all very amusing.

Day 4 brought us the veery entertaining Quiz From Hell by Andy Nyman which was a lot of fun and gave me a pathetic sense of accomplishment for knowing inane and pointless facts about bad movies from several decades ago.  That's probably not just me however.  The quiz was followed by the Short Film Showcase.  This was fantastic and humbling at the same time - as a short filmmaker myself (that is, I make short films - I'm actually fairly tall)  it is great to see what others are doing and the amazing standard they are at.  My picks of the bunch were the beautiful and genuinely moving THE LAST POST by Axelle Carolyn and BRUTAL RELAX which was simply insane.  Insane and brilliant.

Ti West's THE INNKEEPERS provided another of my favourite picks of the festival.  It was a charming and entertaining slacker movie at the same time as being an incredibly effective and scary ghost story.  Well worth watching and I'm looking forward to catching it again when I get the chance.

The Dutch Santa Claus  action/horror, SAINT came next and gave everybody a bit of good natured silliness and gore but the real big draw of the night was KILL LIST.  But, of course, I missed it.  Because I'm a twat.  Apparently it was very good though.

The final day had all the weekend pass holders beginning to look a little frayed around the edges and lack of sleep and over-exposure to blood and screaming was beginning to take its toll.  Sleep and daylight would have to wait however because there was still horror movies to watch.  Movies like DEADHEADS which was amiable enough but a little lightweight.  Much less lightweight was the grimly portentous Swiss fable, SENNENTUNSCHI: CURSE OF THE ALPS which despite a slow build was an interesting and engaging movie.  INBRED came next and gave pretty much the polar opposite of this though it was vibrant, good natured (in a fittingly unpleasant way of course) and well shot.

The night and the festival ended with the rather oddly chosen A LONELY PLACE TO DIE which featured some amazing locations and photography but didn't seem to deliver the horror thrills the frightfest audience thrives on.

All in all, the festival was an enormous success and the biggest and best yet.  Aside from all the films there were more special guests than I can count, some hilarious grindhouse trailers precceding movies, clips and shorts all of which I don't have space to mention but were all fantastic.  The Film 4 Frightfest is an insane way to spend 5 days to be honest but there is also no other way I'd rather spend 5 days.  If that makes sense to you then you were probably already there.

Thanks again to everybody who took the time to chat to me at the festival, all the filmmakers whose films kept us entertained and to Alan, Paul, Ian and Greg for putting the whole bloody thing on and inviting us along.  Thank you!

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