Frightfest 2013 Round Up

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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.

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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.

Stupidest zombie escape plan ever

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.

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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.

Odd

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Onto 2014. 

– Josh Saco

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Ashtray Dirt the 13th

Afraid of the Dark, a new stage show, will play at the Charing Cross Theatre from 2nd September until the 26th October. Starring Charlie Anson, Rebecca Blackstone and Julian Forsyth, the play is described as ‘a new brand of theatrical terror that paralyzes the audience with fear. Everyone is afraid of something. What scares you when the lights go out? 50’s Hollywood, A failing B-movie producer and his team struggle to find the next terrifying blockbuster. A mysterious stranger appears – blurring the line between nightmare and reality while worming his way into their minds, exploiting their very worst fears’…

FrightFest will show footage from the in-production documentary Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD before the screening of Odd Thomas on August 26th…

First images for Ti West’s The Sacrament have dropped. A rural utopian nightmare anyone…

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The first wave of programming for Fantastic Fest has been announced, including Keanu Reeve’s Man of Tai Chi, Katrin Gebbe’s Nothing Bad Can Happen and Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut…

Rumours are bounding around as to where the sequel to James Wan’s The Conjuring will go. Whilst there are ‘many’ options, the favourite at the moment will see the Warren’s travel to Enfield, England to deal with two possessed sisters…

Actress Karen Black has passed away following a battle with cancer. Black was notable for her roles in Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and Nashville amongst others. She was 74…

Horror presenter and actress Emily Booth is producing and starring in her first short film Selkie, which has a kickstarter campaign to help raise budget funds. Inspired by a Celtic myth, the films promises to be an adult fairy tale…

Ashtray Dirt the 11th

This years FrightFest is nearly fully underway with the announcement of the guests who’ll be at the festival in London in August. Don Mancini will be over for Curse Of Chucky (and maybe even the infamous doll itself…), Gareth Evans and Jason Eisener for V/H/S/2 and Bobcat Goldthwait for Willow Creek alongside a whole heap of others, the full list of which you can read here. The festival have also announced that they will honor writer and director Ben Wheatley with their Variety award…

Lars Von Trier has dropped another still from his forthcoming feature Nymphomaniac. The film, which will be released in both hardcore and softcore versions currently has no UK release date, but scheduled European releases for the end of the year…

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Shia LeBeouf in a still from Nymphomaniac

Fox are to open a new theme park in Malaysia featuring an attraction based on the Alien franchise. Better start saving for flights…

Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek 2 has been selected to play at this years Venice Film Festival…

US Network NBC have announced that a 4 hour mini-series adaptation of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby is in the works…

Both a new International trailer and poster have dropped for James Wan’s Insidious: Chapter 2, promising scarier poltergeist activity and more scares then its predecessor…

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Channel 4 have acquired the UK rights to screen the second series of the French zombie drama The Returned (Les Revenants). The second series will be eight episodes long and should air in late 2014…

Lastly, an interesting little blog has cropped up, recalling actor Vincent Price’s European travels. Vincent Price Journal is the work of Peter Fuller, the owner of Price’s 1928 European travel journal, who has turned the diary into a real-time blog, posting on approximately the same days in which Price had written…

Happy 10th Ashtray Dirt

A bit of a busy week this week thanks to a certain convention, but here we go! Cast additions have been announced for Adam Wingard’s new project The Guest which is currently in pre-production. Names attached include Maika Monroe (The Bling Ring, Bad Blood), Brendan Meyer and Alex Knight who will star alongside Downtown Abbey‘s Dan Stevens…

Ti West’s latest offering The Sacrament will have its world premiere at this years Venice Film Festival

A new poster and short clip have dropped for James Wan’s Insidious Chapter 2. The very short, and sweet, footage (which you can watch over at IGN) looks like the film will continue to keep the creepy and jumpworthy tone of the original which is promising…

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Dario Argento is apparently preparing an operatic version of Guiseppe Verdi’s Macbeth for the stage. Opening night is currently set at October 4th at the Teatro Coccia in Northern Italy with plans for the opera to be toured at other Italian theaters…

Arrow have announced they are releasing Larry Stewart’s The Initiation on August 5th…

Big news to come out of this years San Diego Comic Con was the confirmation by Zack Snyder that the sequel to the latest Superman film Man Of Steel would indeed see Superman face off against Batman, in a move that feels very reminiscent of Frank Miller’s cult classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns (an influence according to Snyder). Christopher Nolan will return as an executive producer alongside Henry Cavill as Superman, whilst Christian Bale has shot down any rumours of him appearing as Bruce Wayne (go here to watch the video of the panel crowd going nuts at the announcement). The film has a current release date of 2015…

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Synapse Films have announced they are restoring the original negatives of 1980 slasher Prom Night for a HD release…

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Director Robin Hardy has announced that he has found the missing The Wicker Man footage he had been searching for and a UK Blu-ray and theatrical release of a ‘final cut’ version of the film will happen this September (theatrical) and October (Blu-ray). Hardy announced that “StudioCanal contacted me last year in their search for the original materials that have been missing. I’m very pleased to announce that StudioCanal have been able to find an actual print of The Wicker Man, which is based on my original cut working with Abraxas, the American distributors, all those years ago. They plan, and this is the exciting bit, to actually release it. This version has never been restored before, has never been shown in UK theatres before, has never been converted to Blu-ray before. This version will – optimistically – be known as the Final Cut.”…

Fans were lucky to grab a peek at a teaser trailer for Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla remake at SDCC this week. Word is it looks amazing and Edwards and his team have done a great job so far but no footage has surfaced as of yet (or it has but has been taken down from YouTube). Shooting wrapped this week on the film which is released next year…

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Scream Factory announced their latest release plans at SDCC, with the biggest coup being Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut for 2014. Other releases include John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 for November this year, Saturn 3 and Darkman for December this year and the 1982 version of Cat People for 2014…

Horror festival FrightFest have announced their short film programme for this August’s Bank Holiday weekend. The nine films, all worldwide premieres, will play at certain times ahead of certain films, details of which can be found on the website

Joss Whedon confirmed at SDCC that the sequel to The Avengers would be called Avengers: Age of Ultron. Whedon also dropped the news that the characters Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch will also appear. The film will start shooting in London in March…

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Lastly, New Zealand has banned the 2012 remake of Maniac, which stars Elijah Wood, from theatrical and home format release. The Kiwi response is that the first person POV style in which the film is shot makes it too graphic. Under the ruling, this restricts viewings of the film to festivals only….

Ashtray Dirt the 7th

First up, today see’s the release of Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England. Available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray and in cinemas, the film will also play tonight on Film4 at 10.45pm…

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Arrow have announced their latest Blu-ray releases for this month, The Car and Runaway Train…

The line up for this years Film4 FrightFest has been announced. Films playing include You’re Next, Curse of Chucky, V/H/S/2, Rewind This!, The Borderlands and We Are What We Are. The full line up and links to buy tickets can be found over at the official website

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You’re Next writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard have announced they are prepping their next project, The GuestDowntown Abbey star Dan Stevens has reportedly been cast in the lead role. The Guest follows an ex-marine who is taken in by another fallen comrade’s family until he becomes unwelcome in the new home. Shooting begins this summer…

For anyone concerned that Gareth Edwards would follow Roland Emmerich’s suit and not have his Godzilla breathe fire, these latest on-set pictures would hint otherwise…

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Universal Halloween Horror Nights have announced their first scare house for this year’s Orlando events – Cabin In The Woods…

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Enter The Dragon star Jim Kelly has sadly passed away after battling cancer. A skilled martial artist, Kelly went on to star in Black Belt Jones, Three The Hard Way and Black Samurai, but is best known for playing ‘Williams’ opposite Bruce Lee. Kelly was 67…

The latest trailer for James Wan’s The Conjuring has been released and features the real-life Perron family whose experiences inspired the film. Effectively creepy, it’s certainly a new way to market films ‘based on a true story’. The Conjuring is released August 2nd…

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Up first is the new trailer for Israeli release Big Bad Wolves, which was announced last week as the closing film for this years Film4 Frightfest festival. Directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papusahdo, the revenge-thriller looks intriguing, brutal and brilliantly shot and will no doubt be a hit at the festival in August…

Arrow have announced their latest limited edition steelbook release, Lucio Fulci’s classic The Beyond, which is exclusive to Zavvi and available to pre-oder now…

Another psychedelic trailer has dropped for Ben Wheatley’s new picture A Field In England. The film is released across all platforms next Friday, July 5th…

Director David Lynch is reportedly collaborating with Trent Reznor on the next Nine Inch Nails release, Come Back Haunted. Lynch will apparently direct the music video for the new single, the first time the pair have worked together since the soundtrack to Lost Highway

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Actor James Gandolfini sadly passed away this week from a suspected heart attack. The star who was most notable for his lead role in television series The Sopranos, also played a string of supporting characters in films as diverse as True Romance, Zero Dark Thirty, Where The Wild Things Are and The Man Who Wasn’t There…

Birmingham’s Shock and Gore festival have announced their line up for this summers series of events. Running from the 19th to the 15th July, events include screenings of films both new and old from an Evil Dead double bill to recent offering John Dies At The End. The full lineup can be found on the website

More new pictures are emerging from the set of the new Godzilla remake. An underground bunker and a giant crater tease the presence of the titular creature in Gareth Edwards feature slated for release next year…

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Second Sight have revealed the sleeve artwork for their next Blu-ray release, Possession, which is released on July 29th…

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MGM have released an official press release this week confirming many of the rumours surrounding the new Poltergeist remake. The film will be directed by Gil Kenan (Monster House), produced by Sam Raimi and Bob Tapert and will be adapted from a screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire (Oz: The Great and Powerful). According to the press release, the plot will revolve around ‘a family struggling to make ends meet relocates to an outdated suburban home and is confronted by an angry spirit who kidnaps their youngest daughter and challenges them to band together to rescue her from the clutches of evil’

A set of new images have been released for the next James Wan feature The Conjuring, a creepy tale of paranormal investigators helping out a family living in a haunted house…

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Lastly, author and screenwriter Richard Matheson passed away this week aged 87. Prolific in the horror and science-fiction genres, Matheson wrote the novels I Am Legend, A Stir of Echoes and Hell House, the screenplays for The Devil Rides Out, The Legend of Hell House and The Incredible Shrinking Man and numerous teleplays…