So, we come out of another 5 days, hungover, malnourished, and emptied wallets.
Flicking through our heads are a million stills grabbed from the frames that flashed across our eyes.
The boys behind the beast that is Film 4 Frightfest have delivered a bumper year, a solid mixed bag of genre cinema.
If Frightfest is as much about the films as the hanging out and chatting about them while you neck another pint at the often overwhelmed Imperial, it’s a wonderful thing when these films flow out, without causing a controversy.
Last years saw Frightfest get slammed for what some called “Rapefest” opening with a series of mean spirited and harsh films falling solidly into that ever dangerous sub-genre of Rape/Revenge. This year, it would appear that the team listened to and responded to last year’s angry voices and opened the festival with a string of films inhabited by strong female characters, both Curse of Chucky and You’re Next immediately corrected the slips of 2012, and in doing so, set a tone of easy enjoyment and lighthearted adventure from the dark heart of cinema.
As for the films themselves, it was indeed a mixed bag. A dreadful opener, The Dead 2: India, offered no advancements in what you can only hope is a dead franchise. The first Dead, based in Africa, saw a British serviceman try to escape from hordes of African zombies, in what felt like Colonialist propaganda, about a century too late. Laying aside preconceived notions of what The Dead 2: India might hold, was a mistake, since the film was essentially identical, with the exception that it may have managed to be more dull than the first, which is an achievement, given it’s gorgeous locations, none of which highlighted the fact that we were in India. So it was just more brown zombies chasing a white person.
Like it or not, the zombie genre is inherently a sociopolitical genre. Unless you are making Rapid Grannys or Cockneys vs Zombies, the infected, are always the Other. The baddies. And in today’s world, unless you are very very smart, it’s best to make the Others of mixed races and varied political or religious leanings…. Which leads us to the other terrible film of the weekend, unsurprisingly, another zombie film.
Cannon Fodder, a racist, pro IDF, Birdemic quality CGI shitfest, which if picked up will swiftly end up in the 99p bin. A crack team of the Israeli Defense Force is put together to capture a suspected Hamas chemical warfare scientist, currently in zombie infested Lebanon. That synopsis alone should set off alarm bells, but it gets better when one of the members of the team is actually just an out and out racist, regularly calling his fellow soldier, who happens to be Ethiopian, every possible derogatory term he can come up with, while killing as many “terrorist” zombies as he can, culminating in a Muslim zombie beach massacre.
I’m pretty certain that the overt racism wasn’t actually intended, I suspect that it was a poorly realised attempt at social commentary. Whatever it was, it was shit.
Fortunately for Israel, Big Bad Wolves came along to save their country’s reputation. A sleek, wonderfully intelligent, deftly written film. It is in every way a tightly written Korean crime thriller about three men – a police detective, a father who has lost his child, and the man they suspect is a peadophile. Treading a very fine line of dark humour, which sees the film to break down into straight up comedy at times, Big Bad Wolves manages to maintain the tension and sharp social commentary, undermining racism, as well as pack mentality, delivering a hard hitting punch and a steady stream of laughs, which to the writers’ credit translates perfectly across cultures.
Coming from Mummy director Stephen Sommers, Odd Thomas wasn’t the sort of film one expected very much from. But boiled down to a cheery little film, a network television version of Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, which could quite easily run like as a pilot for a TV series, a bit like the original Buffy. Odd Thomas, has some dialogue issues, but the general story, and execution is pleasant enough that all is forgiven as necroscope, Odd tries to prevent a small town massacre. It’s certainly the kind of film which you throw on for a chilled out Friday night. Sweet, kind hearted and I’d be surprised if 75% of the audience didn’t have a tear in their eye.
One of the real surprises of the festival was The Curse of Chucky, helmed by Chucky creator Don Mancini himself, he intro’d the film saying that he had spent time listening to the fans, reading comments and forums and tried to make a film that the fans wanted. I have to say he succeeded. Curse of Chucky manages to capture the feel of the late 80s horror films, there is no updating it for a modern audience, there’s no filler here, it’s a timeless story of a possessed doll that is out to kill. Nothing is played for laughs, and Chucky’s wit is just wit, not for the sake of a cheap gag. Voiced by Brad Dourif, Chucky stalks and kills with efficiency, pitted against Fiona Dourif it adds that extra level as father tries to kill daughter. Low on the CGI and high on the practical, the lumbering doll is relentless in revenge.
First time feature director Richard Raaphorst delivered one of the few creature features Frankenstein’s Army, a WWII found footage film, where a Russian squad of soldiers discover Frankenstein’s grandson has carried on the family’s work and crafted an army of mech monsters. A film of 3 parts, the first being the establishment of the team, the second being the discovery and interaction with the monsters the final being the part they needed to end the film, but couldn’t quite figure out how to do it right. Basically someone came up with Part 2 and sandwiched it in between the other parts. And Part 2 is pretty good, stellar creature design, you just wish they knew what to do with all the fantastic monsters.
Without doubt one of the finest films of the festival was You’re Next, Adam Wingard’s home invasion film with a solid stalk and kill spin. Opening with some of the finest dialogue and family interaction/chaos you are likely to ever see on screen, it quickly turns into an unrelenting hour of unrelenting terror. Delivering modern horror’s most proficient final girl to date.
For me, however, the stand out film was Demon’s Rook. Crammed on the teeny tiny Discovery 2 screen, 50 seats in total, I was lucky to get in on the first screening, hovering by the door waiting for an empty seat something made me want to see this film. And by god was it worth it!! A majestic tribute to an era of film that while much loved, was unlikely to ever be recaptured properly. Those late 80s VHS demon flicks were always a ride of practical effects and fog machines. Unlike recent attempts at homage, like Hobo With a Shotgun, or Tarantino’s efforts, Demon’s Rook, never winks or chuckles at it’s roots. It isn’t knowing, it’s honest and genuine with it’s love and passion. One look at the director’s IMDB page, here, will show you that this is a passion project of epic proportions. Demon’s Rook is the story of a young boy, Roscoe, who is lured away from his parents and trained in the ways of the good demons for some 15 years (yes, how awesome is that!?), before accidentally unleashing the evil demons on the world and being forced into battle before they turn his small town into hell on earth. Along the way we are treated to some of the finest examples of the undead since Zombie Flesh Eaters, a 6 tittied demoness sturring up an orgy, a mongoloid man-demon, more practial effects, dry ice machines and red, green, and blue colour gels than you could ever hope for. Think Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, I would expect to see more from James Sizemore, I just hope he keeps his heart in the right place.
Demon’s Rook is exactly the reason I go to Frightfest and see films I have never heard of before. Purchasing a pass for £170 allows you to wander in and out of films with abandon. When you get the programme, you look over it and decide what you would like to see, if you purchase tickets based on that, you miss the adventure, the fun, the risk, the cinemadventures. While you are outside, you will run into me, and I will rave about a film you had not noticed or disregarded and you will have the freedom, to wander off and see it. Sometimes you make a mistake, and are eye raped by Cannon Fodder or put to sleep by The Dead 2, but like every search all of the backaches, blisters, callouses, and scraped knuckles are worth it when you accidentally stumble into a film like Demon’s Rook and spend the next 90 minutes with a shit eating grin and repeatedly saying “holy fuck!!!” under your breath.
Cinema is fun. It is required. It is not sitting at home, streaming, or watching something on your TV. It’s watching a film in a dark room full of people, clapping, cheering, crying, screaming, and discussing it afterwards over a pint. And that is exactly what Frightfest is.
– Josh Saco