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!



Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Review

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Director: Troy Nixey
Writer: Guillermo Del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Starring:  
Katie Holmes - Kim
Bailee Madison - Sally Hirst
Guy Pearce - Alex Hirst
Alan Dale - Jacoby
Jack Thompson – Harris

This remake of an old TV movie from 1973 may not be directed by Guillermo Del Toro but it bears so many of his hallmarks that it may as well be.  In fact, Troy Nixey is the man behind the camera on this lavish and, for the most part, effective little chiller.  Del Toro is however producer and writer and his influence is clear which is no bad thing if perhaps the script does at times skirt dangerously close to the derivative.

The story focuses on another of Del Toro's sad little girl characters, in this case, Sally - the daughter of divorced parents shipped off to live with her father and his girlfriend in the old dark house they are currently renovating.  The house itself is a beautifully eerie setting with an appropriately dark and mysterious history - its last owner disappeared after his young son vanished in similarly mysterious circumstances.  We some of these events in a prologue which introduces us to the idea of strange little creatures living behind a grate in the basement.   

As the story progresses we see and learn plenty more about these nasty little imps as they attempt to drag young Sally into their underworld dwelling to feast upon her teeth and bones.  While Sally herself learns of the existence and true nature of these 'tooth fairies' fairly quickly her adult guardians are much less timely in arriving at the truth despite Sally's continual insistence and obvious deep trauma and fear.

This plotline provides much of the conflict in the film and while it does provide some interesting commentary on the nature of the adult/child dynamic it is pushed too far and eventually strains credulity.  It is all too believable that the father of this unappreciated child could be dismissive and unbelieving of his daughter in a general sense, even when things start to get a little strange.  It is when there is simply no possible rational explanation and yet he still refuses to so much as acknowledge the possibility of a problem that suspension of disbelief is strained.

This becomes such a problem in the film that it almost becomes a running joke.  Even when presented with hard evidence of the existence of the malevolent little critters nobody acts.  A workman is attacked in the empty basement and emerges covered in stab wounds and claw marks and yet nobody asks what happened to him.  This is despite the fact that he is hospitalised and clearly seriously injured.  Do the authorities not want to know what happened?  Are the police not interested in this near fatal stabbing incident?  Wouldn't at least somebody make some sort of enquiry?  These sorts of questions rear up frequently during this movie (especially so, after the climax) yet the poor little girl constantly finds herself back in the dark in her bedroom - literally the most dangerous place in the world for her.

If you can get past these troubling flaws however there's plenty of fun to be had here.  The creatures are quite pleasingly menacing and do manage to intimidate despite their diminutive stature.  There are also some nice scare moments amongst all the standard loud boom on the soundtrack type-stuff.
Katie Holmes is also surprisingly good in her role as the most sympathetic (or only I should say) adult in the film.  The production design however is the main stand out here.  The house itself is gorgeous - all heavy wooden doors and dark shadows.  It exudes a sense of the mystical and is both beautiful and scary rather than just being a creepy old house.  There are definite touches of The Haunting in here but used in the best possible way.

All in all, the movie never quite reaches the heights it aspires to.  It entertains and even gives a few jolts but unfortunately falls short of any lasting impact. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Innkeepers - Frightfest Pre-thoughts

 PREVIEW
 An (almost) daily preview for each and every movie on the line-up for London's biggest, baddest horror festival, the Film 4 Frightfest

THE INNKEEPERS

DIRECTOR:  Ti West 

STARRING:
Sara Paxton – Claire
Pat Healy – Luke
Kelly McGillis – Leanne Rease Jones
George Riddle – Old Man
Alison Bartlett – Angry Mom

They say:


"The indie king of the slow-burn horro,r flick Ti West, returns to FrightFest with something akin to THE SHINING done slacker style After 100 years of silver service, The Yankee Pedlar Inn is shutting its doors for good. The last remaining employees – Claire and Luke – are determined to uncover proof that the hotel is haunted. As the Inn’s final days draw near, odd guests check in as the pair of amateur ghostbusters begins to experience strange and alarming events that may ultimately cause them to be mere footnotes in the establishment’s long unexplained history."

We say:
Ti West's earlier film, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL was a wonderfully creepy homage to 80's horror cinema as well as being a great little movie in its own right.  While the tone and concept of this film is obviously pretty different it still bears the mark of quality filmmaking as far as we can see.    Leave a comment below!







Excitement rating:  Trust us, this will be good.
Playing:   Sunday 28th August  16:00 


Festival & day passes go on sale from 2nd July. Tickets for Individual films on sale from 1st August.






Bookings: 08 714 714 714 or www.empirecinemas.co.uk

Chillerama - Frightfest Pre-thoughts

 PREVIEW
 An (almost) daily preview for each and every movie on the line-up for London's biggest, baddest horror festival, the Film 4 Frightfest


CHILLERAMA

DIRECTOR:  Adam Rifkin, Tim Sullivan, Adam Green, Joe Lynch

STARRING:
Ray Wise – Dr. Weems
Joel David Moore – Adolf Hitler
Lin Shaye – Nurse Maleva
Richard Riehle - Cecil B. Kaufman
Kane Hodder – Meshugganah

They say:
"From the depraved minds of Adam Rifkin (DETROIT ROCK CITY), Tim Sullivan (2001 MANIACS), Adam Green (FROZEN), and Joe Lynch (WRONG TURN 2), a horror fantasy anthology in the classic spirit of BLACK SABBATH, CREEPSHOW and TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. A celebration of the golden age of B movies, there’s something for everyone’s bad taste in this quartet of schlock featuring the monster mania rampage WADZILLA, the gay Beach Party musical I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR, the black-and-white insanity THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANKENSTEIN and the creeping fleshy ZOM-B-MOVIE. "

We say:
There's been huge amount of talk about this one on all the usual webby places just lately so there's nothing new I can probably tell you other than that this anthology movie is an unashamed homage to the schlock and silliness of classic drive-in B Movie fare.  I guess how much you like that sort of thing will determine how much you'll enjoy this but personally - I think it's gonna be awesome.  I just wish it wasn't screening so late that I have to get the goddamn night bus home.  I fucking hate the night bus.  But I fucking love B Movie schlock horror more.








Excitement rating:  Can't wait - but why's it on so bloody late?




Playing:   Saturday 27th August  23:30


Festival & day passes go on sale from 2nd July. Tickets for Individual films on sale from 1st August.







Bookings: 08 714 714 714 or www.empirecinemas.co.uk

May - Review

MAY

Director: Lucky McKee
Writer: Lucky McKee
Starring: Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris.


May is the sort of film that upsets a lot of genre fans and that is practically a recommendation to watch it by itself. May is not a conventional horror despite being firmly rooted in the genre. Writer/director Lucky McKee is clearly a fan with references being made to various classic horror films throughout.
For the greatest part, May is a character study of the eponymous anti-heroine. Her flawed personality is shown in loving detail and the audience is made to feel her loneliness and outsider-ness keenly. May is sometimes the butt of other character’s jokes but never the filmmaker’s. She is at times sweet, innocent, sexy, scary, dangerously unhinged but always deeply and heart-breakingly sad.
McKee can take great credit for writing such a layered and resonant character but it is Angela Bettis who brings such vivid life to this creation. She is truly spell-binding in the role and makes it completely her own. It is impossible to think of any other actress playing this role (but then it was impossible to think of any other actor playing Jack Carter until Stallone came along and proved us all right – but that only proves the point anyway). Betiss looks like a major talent in the making by the evidence displayed here and she deserves great success.
As the film progresses, May slips further into insanity, this descent being visually realised by the cracking and splintering glass case of her only “friend”, a handmade porcelain doll. Every effort May makes to escape her solitude ends in pain and with it more cracks on the glass case. McKee’s writing skill insures that none of these encounters are unrealistic or one sided. May’s love interests do not work out due to her own strangeness more than because of caricature users and abusers. Faris and Sisto both play the objects of May’s affections with great humanity and respect. Their characters are not bad people, just people.
There are some very effective and striking visuals to compliment the high quality writing. A classroom full of blind children on their hands and knees crawling across broken glass does not leave the memory in a hurry. The porcelain doll is also a memorable image and is a succinct reflection of May’s personality. The moment when May finally literally becomes her doll is sure to inspire a new generation of Halloween costumes.
Ultimately. May is a beautifully sad story of a damaged individual’s inevitable slide into outright lunacy. It never feels contrived or illogical and better still, never gives in to any of the genre’s lamer clich├ęs. This may turn off some viewers expecting to see another typical slasher movie but many more will be refreshed to find a horror film that never talks down to its audience. It is filmmaking like this that will invigorate and revitalise the genre.

The Woman - Frightfest Pre-Thoughts and Trailer

 PREVIEW
 An (almost) daily preview for each and every movie on the line-up for London's biggest, baddest horror festival, the Film 4 Frightfest


THE WOMAN

DIRECTOR:  Lucky McKee 

STARRING:

Pollyanna McIntosh – The Woman
Angela Bettis – Belle Cleek
Sean Bridgers – Chris Cleek
Zach Rand – Brian Cleek
Lauren Ashley Carter – Peggy Cleek

They say:
"From author Jack Ketchum (THE LOST, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR) and director Lucky McKee comes a scandalous tale of two extremes, a feral female force of nature and an abusive parent, on collision course for a brutal showdown and the family caught in between. When Chris Cleek discovers a primitive woman in the wilderness on a hunting trip, he traps and locks her up in a cellar to domesticate her. With psychological twists and emotional reveals that keep its haunting climax impossible to turn away from, this stark study of a dysfunctional family is unforgettable."


We say:

While the synopsis of this film doesn't particularly excite me personally I've got a lot of hope in this one.  Director, Lucky McKee delivered one of the horror highlights of last decade with his ultra-low budget MAY.  His newest film reunites him with Angela Bettis (Star of MAY and his Master's of Horror episode, SICK GIRL) which bodes well along with the positive word of mouth it has already received.
This is gonna be one of the standouts of the festival - count on it.











Excitement rating:  Looking damn good.




Playing:   Saturday 27th August  21:00



Festival & day passes go on sale from 2nd July. Tickets for Individual films on sale from 1st August.









Bookings: 08 714 714 714 or www.empirecinemas.co.uk

Friday, 19 August 2011

Fright Night 3D - Pre-thoughts and trailer





 PREVIEW
 An (almost) daily preview for each and every movie on the line-up for London's biggest, baddest horror festival, the Film 4 Frightfest


Fright Night 3D

Director: Chris Gillespie  
Starring:
Colin Farrell – Jerry Dandridge
Anton Yelchin – Charley Brewster
David Tennant – Peter Vincent
Christopher Mintz-Plasse – Evil Ed
Toni Collette – Jane Brewster

They say:

"Based on the 1985 classic comes the year’s most anticipated remake; it’s fangs for the memory with a horror comedy you can really sink your teeth into. Is horror movie addict Charley Brewster’s suave new next-door-neighbour Jerry Dandridge really an evil vampire responsible for a string of recent deaths? No one believes the teenager of course so he recruits Peter Vincent, the host of his favourite TV horror show to help him prove the facts. A winning fusion of laughs and scares, this canny update of the much-loved Tom Holland original features an all-star cast including Colin Farrell, David Tennant and Toni Collette."


We say:
It's not looking good in all honesty.
Poor reviews from the US are abundant and many seem to be singing a very familiar song when it comes to remakes - that is that it is redundant, unnecessary, dull, pointless and lacking the charm and originality that made the original so popular and loved.  Of course, I'm paraphrasing the worst of the reviews there and there is some love for this movie -just not from the critics I tend to read.

I'm not going to make any judgment until seeing it for myself however and despite its generally negative reaction I'm still hopeful that it could deliver some cheesy fun.  Colin Farrell is always watchable (well, with the possible exception of the godawful ALEXANDER), Christopher Mintz Plasse  makes me smile and David Tennant still has bags of left over DOCTOR WHO goodwill as well as being a fine actor anyway.  With expectations duly lowered, who's to say this might not still be fun?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Frightfest Short Film Line up Announced

 PREVIEW
 An (almost) daily preview for each and every movie on the line-up for London's biggest, baddest horror festival, the Film 4 Frightfest

SHORT FILMS

"Werewolves, bats, bugs, nasty orphans, zombies, homicidal blind dates and bananas that have gone bananas – yes, it’s the FrightFest short film strand, an eclectic mix of worldwide cutting edge short films, this year presented by Horror Channel. "

An integral and often overlooked part of the Frightfest experience is the short film showcase which often highlights some amazing new talent with a huge variety of films.  This year is no different  though I'm delighted that my good friend and star of Nefarious Production, BUBBLING UNDER, Axelle Carolyn's (Writer of 'It Lives Again: Horror Movies in the New Millenium', Actress - CENTURION, Model and all round top horror gal) directorial debut THE LAST POST will be screening.  It's had some great early reviews and promises to be one of the best ways you can spend the ten minutes or so it takes to watch it.  As do all the films!  Full programme below:

PROGRAMME – SUNDAY 29 AUGUST, 1pm onwards 


ALISTAIR Australia Dir: Aaron Cartwright 10.40 

Two ruthless killers on the loose choose the wrong home to invade. Waiting is an evil presence beyond their comprehension…and it’s hungry. 


DEMONITRON : THE SIXTH DIMENSION Canada Dir: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell 4.25 

Amanda, a young dancer receives the unexpected visit of a messenger of the sixth dimension. This mysterious man tries to warn her about the evil forces that are coming to take her. She runs for help to her famous doctor friend and they fall together to the deepest pits of hell and madness. 


BRUTAL RELAX Spain Dir: Adrian Cardona, Rafa Dengra, David Munoz 15.00 

Mr. Olivares has already recovered, but now he needs a vacation. To go to some heavenly place where he can relax and blithely enjoy himself. 


BANANA MOTHERF**KER Portugal Dir: Fernando Alle 14.00 

New mayhem and madness from the team behind the brilliant PAPA WRESTLING. Six adventurers embark on a quest to find a mystical cemetery. After disturbing the dead, they awake an ancient evil that will unleash a violent rampage across the entire world. 



THE LAST POST UK Dir: Axelle Carolyn 12.00 

An old lady in a nursing home is visited by a mysterious man no one else seems to be able to see. 



COLD CALL UK Dir: Clive Ford 11.40 

A zealous preacher gets more than he bargained for when a routine house call proves some souls truly can’t be saved. 



LOVE BUG UK Dir: Benjamin Kent 12.00 

Frank’s blind date is way out of his league. However when she contracts a mysterious virus, it looks like his luck may be in. That is, until she turns into a homicidal maniac. 



BATS IN THE BELFRY Portugal Dir: Joao Alves 7.10 

Deadeye Jack tries to resume a botched heist, only to find himself face to face with darkness. 



FLESH ART UK Dir: Nicholas Thompson, Chris Goodman 5.30 

It’s the end of the world. Bizarre and gruesome experiments are being conducted in a basement all in the name of Flesh Art. 



LITTLE MUNCHKIN UK Dir: Ryan Andrews 10.08 
A materialistic and superficial couple acquire the ultimate accessory - an adopted child called Margaret. On her first night in her new home she is left in the care of a babysitter. Shocking events ensue. From the director of the forthcoming feature ELFIE HOPKINS 



SCREENING SEPARATELY: 


SHIFTER UK Dir: Ben Parker 8.30 Screening with KILL LIST 

A young woman, trapped inside a dark building, tries to evade capture from shadowed soldiers. She is the live bait in a game to entrap a person of 'special ability', by an enemy of similar skills.


BAD MOON RISING USA Dir: Joseph Begos 12.37 Screening with CHILLERAMA 

A man shows up at his brother's doorstep with his dying girlfriend in his arms, claiming she was attacked by a werewolf. 


Film4 FrightFest 2010 runs from Thurs 25 August to Monday 29 August at the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square. 

Tickets for individual films go on sale from ist August. Bookings: 08 714 714 714 or www.empirecinemas.co.uk