A bit of a running joke came up around me at FrightFest this year, one very much encouraged by a certain ESLF member who goes by the name of Dan… After every almost every film I appeared to say the exact same thing and this would lead him to say “well you must remember that Ian doesn’t actually like films” and while he’s obviously taking the piss, if you were to walk past me last weekend, you’d probably have got that impression regardless.
As a means of redressing the balance somewhat, I’d like to actually talk about the good stuff that hit us at FrightFest this year. While it wasn’t a vintage year in my opinion, there were some films that really hit a sweet spot which could contain laughs, gore and things to really get your teeth stuck into. In alphabetical order, here’s my 5 films which personally stood out.
Before Dawn was a bit of a late choice for me. Hearing good things coming from the first screening in the Discovery Screen, we decided to take a punt on this and what turned out to be my penultimate title of the ‘Fest was one of the most satisfying.
Emmerdale’s Dominic Brunt takes centre stage here both in front of the camera and behind, with a quiet, introspective and at times surprisingly emotionally effecting virtual two-hander which sees real-life wife and co-writer Joanne Mitchell and he play a couple on the end of their rope on a weekend away trying to save their marriage but are interrupted by a pesky problem involving zombies.
The first half of the film plays as a very low-key piece as a couple who obviously have affection for each other but give way to recriminations about sins of the past in a steady flow of alcohol before a zombie encounter changes the dynamic completely. After this we don’t go into full throttle, the film’s modest budget likely wouldn’t have allowed for that, but in its way becomes more interesting with a mutation to the typical zombie mythos which creates both tension and very human drama about trying to make up for past mistakes, which handily has the addition of solid make-up effects and understated direction which understands that sometimes all we need to disturb us is an empathy and a disastrous situation.
A surprising and raw zombie drama with something more to chew on, and a real highlight.
This was not exactly one of my most anticipated films before the festival kicked off with footage which screened last year not looking all that promising and a title which inspired nothing but a feeling of dread within me. What a wonderful thing to have here then with a film that does what it says on the tin but with an anarchic glee and genuine warmth which I for one did not expect.
An eclectic cast of characters come together for a story of a group of ne’er-do-well’s robbing a bank to save an old-people’s home but finding themselves besieged by the living dead, something which has a far more traditional bent to it than Before Dawn but remains handily effective with some fantastic practical make-up effects from Paul “Don’t mention The Seasoning House” Hyett and direction from Matthias Hoene which keeps things light throughout with a breezy cheeky Londoner attitude which rallies the characters together and turns them into a likeable ensemble. Saying this though the highlight is Alan Ford who brings his usual cockney tough guy act to the film with a ferocity of foul-mouthed language and creates a winning presence in the process.
It’s not a film which aims for insight but for a pacey and good looking laugh, this very much fit the bill for the opening night
A bit of a change of pace this one, with a near 2 and a half hour documentary about a series of films I have very little knowledge of and while I personally can’t say I’m going to seek too many of them out after this but as a look into a series of films full of rip-offs, virtually impossible stuntwork and pure dripping machismo its one of the most entertaining documentaries of recent years.
The Eurocrime films featured many famous American actors, some of who appear here, who wanted quick cash and fun in Italy, a country in which excess is the norm and the recollections here seem to be of real fondness, of a time of loose morals, culture clashing and new ways of working, and this feel comes through in the way the documentary is presented with a loose, riding by the seat of your pants style which occasionally veers towards rambling though this again feels in keeping with the mood.
A wildly entertaining jaunt through films which just can’t be made anymore and one which belies its long run time.
Finishing up the first day of FrightFest, when people are still high on the intoxicating combination of adrenaline, alcohol and gore, it’s always wise to end off on a film people can laugh with, or in the case of 2010′s Dead Cert laugh, at. They certainly made the right choice with Grabbers, a film which suits this mood down to the ground with horror-comedy where booze becomes a force for good.
Richard Coyle stars as one of the police force of a very small island who has a drinking problem, but when an attractive new boss comes to town, played well by Ruth Bradley, and an alien force rises from the water, he has to get sober while everyone else starts getting sloshed. While the plot isn’t exactly rocket science, it’s a hard one to pull off well with horror-comedy often ending disastrously and the USP of using alcohol to fight aliens being one which in the wrong hands could turn into a one-joke affair. It’s good then that Jon Wright and writer Kevin Lehane’s obvious affection for these films shines through with a remote setting justifying the comedy we see before us and a general off-kilter mood which reflects the bleary haze of a hangover, a tad lethargic at-times but all the more appropriately odd for it.
A film best enjoyed with booze but that isn’t a criticism, Grabbers is good looking, well-scored (with definite tinges of Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien work) and plain fun stuff.
My last film in this wrap-up is no doubt the most controversial of the lot both in concept and in what actually happens William Lustig’s sleazy original Maniac gets the remake treatment in quite a fresh way.
The first-person perspective isn’t exactly a new idea. There have been a veritable ton of these films coming down the pipe over the last few years but with Maniac, things are pushed to a more interesting place with an entirely “in the minds eye” concept which does recall Gasper Noe’s Enter The Void but leads to more questions about the protagonist than that film did. Here the idea of the “protagonist” does also come into question though, with Elijah Wood playing the role in a quieter and more pathetic manner than original actor Joe Spinnel. When this is combined with use of both the objective “this is what is happening” and subjective “this is what is going on in the character’s mind” POV it gives rise to questions of how film narrative is constructed in terms of visual language. Casting Frodo himself along with having things play out in his perspective almost inherently engenders sympathy and this has been troubling for many who have watched it as our pre-conceived notions of how film works is tested. Personally, I just think it adds layers of meta-textual conversation which make this the one film that has really stuck in my mind from the weekend.
Adding to all this a technical proficiency which shows this was not a simple cash-in with a scope frame and wonderful stark cinematography being employed successfully for this perspective and a score by ROB which throbs and pulses intensely throughout. Here you have a film which lingers, one which certainly does provoke but not in the fratboy “isn’t this fucked up????!?!?!?!?” way. Instead it asks questions of the audience and making it all the more engaging for it. Essentially one of the most audacious horrors of recent memory, and you can’t say fairer than that.