frightfest

The Best of FrightFest: London 2018

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Bleary-eyed and sore-bottomed, Frightfesters awoke this morning to begin the zombie-shuffle back into real life after four and a half days feasting on fresh genre films. It was a bit of an odd year, with several entries that can’t really be classified as horror (or even thriller or sci-fi), but you won’t hear me complaining; good cinema is good cinema. Over the course of the festival, I took in 22 feature-length films. Of those, here are my top ten favourites.

  1. The Golem
    Director: Doran and Yoav Paz. USA 2018.

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This unique horror film, set in a Lithuanian shtetl, is billed as a ‘Jewish Frankenstein’. To protect her community from outsiders, Hanna uses a Kabbalah text to conjure a golem, with predictably Promethean consequences. It’s a familiar story set in an unfamiliar context, and unlike Frankenstein’s monster, it’s put together well and looks beautiful.

  1. The Devil’s Doorway
    Director: Aislinn Clarke. UK 2018.

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In a 1960s Magdalene laundry, ‘disgraced’ women live in servitude under abusive circumstances. To make matters worse, paranormal disturbances plague the house, prompting two priests to lead an investigation, faithfully recorded on 16mm. This is an impressive film that does a lot with very little and manages to bring home the true horror of these real-life institutions without falling prey to too many found-footage pitfalls.

  1. The Most Assassinated Woman in the World
    Director: Franck Ribière. Belgium/UK 2018.

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Compared to the outrage that violent horror films can provoke, the theatre is often viewed as more artful, sophisticated and restrained. However, such a view ignores the graphic on-stage brutality that took place each evening at the Grand Guignol Theatre in 1930s Paris. Paula Maxa was its most celebrated star, having been murdered 10,000 times in over 60 different ways, and not a single scar on her. This film, coming soon to Netflix, tells her life (death?) story faithfully, while taking some entertaining liberties with the facts.

  1. Braid
    Director: Mitzi Peirone. USA 2018.

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When would-be drug dealers Tilda and Petula get busted, the two fugitives hide out in the mansion of childhood friend Daphne, who never stopped playing make-believe and tea parties. They are forced to play along with her delusions, no matter how twisted. This is a strange and divisive film, but I loved the baroque, feminine aesthetic – all rosy hues, lace and cracked bone china – and it was just shocking and original enough to make me overlook some of the more questionable plot choices.

  1. Anna and the Apocalypse
    Director: John McPhail. UK 2017.

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It’s a zombie-teen-comedy-Christmas-musical. What more do you need to know? Unless you love musicals, you’ll have to be patient during the first half hour, but charismatic characters, great gags and heartfelt moments ultimately make for a satisfying dose of holiday cheer.

  1. Piercing
    Director: Nicolas Pesce. USA 2018.

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Plagued by urges to use an icepick for more than just bartending, a family man decides that the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. However, his plan is thrown off course when the escort whom he intends to pierce has some surprises for him. The film lacks the psychological insight and weighty themes of Ryu Murakami’s novel, but compensates with a strong neo-giallo style that complements the confusion that results from removing characters’ inner monologues. This is a rare case in which I’d recommend seeing the film first and then reading the book for maximum enjoyment of both.

  1. Upgrade
    Director: Leigh Whannell. USA 2018.

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In a future where technology controls every aspect of life, Grey, newly quadriplegic, is implanted with a computer chip that bridges the gap between brain and spine, reviving his former strengths and then some. Of course, he soon discovers that being an übermensch has its drawbacks. It’s like a wittier, more self-aware Minority Report.

  1. Bodied
    Director: Joseph Kahn. USA 2017.

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I did not expect to leave FrightFest claiming a 2-hour non-horror movie about battle rap as one of my favourites, and yet here we are. It’s about a graduate student who is writing his thesis on the poetry of battle rap and decides to try spitting some bars of his own, provoking admiration and outrage in equal measure. This audacious film entertains and educates while taking a bold, honest look at both racism and PC culture.

  1. Summer of 84
    Directors: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell. Canada 2018.

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The team that brought you Turbo Kid is back with another festival favourite, in which normal-kid Davey comes to believe his next-door neighbour is a notorious serial killer and enlists his crew of misfit friends in his investigation. Sure, it might ride the Stranger Things wave of eighties horror nostalgia, but dammit, I refuse to accept that as a criticism. It’s sweet but not cloying, and even has some dark surprises.

  1. What Keeps You Alive
    Director: Colin Minihan. Canada 2018.

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Jules and Jackie are celebrating their one-year anniversary at a cottage in the tranquil forests of Muskoka where Jules spent her childhood summers. When an unexpected visitor reveals clues to Jules’ past, Jackie quickly realises how little she knows about her wife. Fear is personal, and this film is my number one pick because it is exactly the kind of story that will have me white-knuckling my armrest every time. Once it gets going, it never lets up. The scenery and cinematography are gorgeous, and the two lead performances are strong enough to support every twist in plot and character.

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The Best of FrightFest: London 2014

© 2014 Film4

I’m taking a brief detour from my top-5 countdown of horror to report on my most recent genre event, and it was a biggie. I’ve just had the immense pleasure of sitting in a cinema, along with hundreds of other fans, for five straight days, watching the premieres of dozens of brand new horror films from around the world. I’m talking, of course, about the 2014 Film4 FrightFest hosted by the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square, London. After catching the two-day festival earlier this year in Glasgow, I knew I had to make it to the massive August event. The main festival is spread out across three screens, with two additional discovery screens so that viewers can (attempt to) tailor their festival experience to their unique tastes. All told, 64 feature films were shown, of which I was able to see 25. Out of those, these are my top ten films to look out for this year

10. The Samurai (Der Samurai)
Writer/Director: Till Kleinert. Germany 2014.

© 2014 Tribeca Film

A very welcome entry into the disappointingly sparse contemporary German horror canon, The Samurai is a dark, bizarre, and captivating homoerotic fantasy-adventure. A German village is turned upside-down and sliced open when a brooding and volatile stranger comes to town, armed with a samurai sword and utter disdain for the locals’ small-minded categorisations of sex, gender, and species. Jakob is a straight-laced rookie cop who becomes entangled in the samurai’s twisted fairy tale of transformation and transcendence, and is ultimately forced to face the wolf within. The film draws from a different spirit of storytelling that’s definitely not for everyone, but that’s ultimately The Samurai’s strength. It’s really something special.

9. Late Phases
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano. Writer: Eric Stolze. USA 2014.

© 2014 Dark Sky Films

Another great film with lupine symbolism, Late Phases stars curmudgeonly, blind veteran Ambrose who moves into a suffocatingly bland retirement community. Some of his new neighbours come to welcome him to the community, among them an unfriendly eight-foot-tall werewolf. Surviving the first attack, Ambrose has one month to get in peak shape and prepare for the next full moon, all while finding time to unravel the mystery of his claustrophobic community and scare his neighbours by using a shovel instead of a walking stick, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. Late Phases is a unique and mature film with an endearingly cranky and unconventional hero audiences will love to root for.

8. Coherence
Writer/Director: James Ward Byrkit. USA 2013.

© 2013 Bellanova Films

© 2013 Bellanova Films

If you’ve ever worried about the exponential and infinite proliferation of alternate realities, Coherence is the film for you. Shot and lit in a style that’s both warm and intimate, it documents an awkward dinner party of sort-of friends that takes place as a comet passes by overhead. Suddenly, all of the houses on the street lose power… except one. And then it’s déjà vu all over again. Rather than give anything away, I’ll just say that Coherence is an unsettling and mysterious ride through quantum physics that gives full weight to all of the dark and terrifying philosophical problems that come along with it.

7. The Harvest
Director: John McNaughton. Writer: Stephen Lancellotti. USA 2013.

© 2013 Elephant Eye Films

A nostalgic thrill ride that will remind you of the adventures of childhood, The Harvest is a fairy tale with modern concerns and timeless themes. A newly orphaned little girl moves in with her grandparents and explores the new neighbourhood, where she meets a lonely, bedridden little boy guarded by his fire-breathing dragon of a mother. While trying to keep their friendship alive, she discovers the dark secret of why he’s never allowed out of his room, and must fight to make things right. An unlikely and imperfect fable, The Harvest is eerie and irresistibly charming, and probably the only film from the festival that you could safely watch with your mum.

6. Starry Eyes
Writers/Directors: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer. USA 2014.

© 2014 Snowfort Pictures

Starry Eyes is a neon parable of Hollywood glory and the sacrifices one young woman is willing to make to see her name in lights. Sarah works in fast food and lives with a half-dozen other aspiring film-types in LA. She thinks she’s found her big break when she gets a callback after a particularly invasive audition. Soon the producer makes some uncomfortable requests of her, and she must decide how far she is willing to go to achieve her Hollywood dream. Sarah knew it wasn’t going to be easy to make it in show business, but she never thought it would involve so much blood. And… maggots. Starry Eyes is a twisted and uncomfortable, if slightly heavy-handed, film that’s all about character development and the seedy, soul-sucking power of Tinseltown.

5. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (Død Snø 2)
Writer/Director: Tommy Wirkola. Writers: Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel. Norway 2014.

© 2014 Tappeluft Pictures

This is one of the rare sequels that surpasses the original. It feels like a natural follow-up made by people who loved the original and knew how to take its absurd humour to the next level. The story continues exactly where it left off in 2009, with our sinister Nazi zombies ruthlessly invading the world’s happiest country. The sleepy little Norwegian villages never saw it coming! But the movie doesn’t just rehash the original; it adds a mission, a hilarious police force, a loveable trio of American nerds who call themselves the Zombie Squad and – get this – Soviet Russian zombies. If you like pitch-black, no-holds-barred, goofy humour, then you need to see Dead Snow 2.

4. The Babadook
Writer/Director: Jennifer Kent. Australia 2014.

© 2014 Causeway Films

Something dire must be going on Down Under, because there’s been a growing and impressive output of Aussie horror in recent years. The Babadook is just one example, and it’s a damn scary one. Widow and single mum Amelia struggles to love and understand her very difficult 6 year-old son. He is convinced that the monster from the disturbing children’s book The Babadook is real, and is determined not to “let him in”. But Amelia feels she’s slipping now more than ever, and the audience can feel the darkness creeping in and taking hold of her. The Babadook is eerie and gorgeous and was a universal hit at the festival. It’s about more than just monsters. It’s about the fear of parenthood, of losing loved ones and of losing one’s sense of self.

3. The Guest
Director: Adam Wingard. Writer: Simon Barrett . USA 2014.

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The Guest should be coming to a cinema near you very soon, and it does not disappoint. It’s the sharp and stunning new brainchild of the makers of You’re Next. The Peterson family has just lost a son in combat when an army buddy of his arrives at their doorstep. He charms the family with his good manners and military competence, but soon it becomes clear that the intentions behind his visit are more than just loyal and dutiful, and that he has a secret lurking beneath his steely stare. This is the kind of fun, charismatic action movie that you don’t see much anymore, with fantastic performances, visual style, and loads of wit that elevate and update it to the level of contemporary masterpiece.

2. Honeymoon
Director: Leigh Janiak. Writers: Phil Graziadei and Leigh Janiak. USA 2014.

© 2014 Fewlas Entertainment

Honeymoon is a movie that’s not afraid to keep an audience guessing to the point of excruciating discomfort, because that’s what makes the final release that much more haunting. The story follows an obnoxiously adorable pair of newlyweds on their cabin-in-the-woods honeymoon. But the clichés stop there. The intimate camerawork and careful pacing transform the typical slasher set-up into something new and unrecognisable. Something comes between the couple and starts to eat away at their relationship from the inside, but what is it? Distrust and desperation pull the newlyweds apart in ways more harmful and insidious than a masked man with an axe ever could. Don’t watch the trailer, just watch Honeymoon. And then have a good cry.

1. Housebound
Writer/Director: Gerard Johnstone. New Zealand 2014.

© 2014 Semi-Professional

Now that you’re emotionally scarred from watching Honeymoon, you can lift your spirits with Housebound, my favourite film of the festival. This fun Kiwi gothic is the perfect marriage of spooky tension and comic relief, with razor-sharp wit and wacky plot twists. Rebellious recovering addict Kylie lands herself in some legal trouble and is placed under house arrest and the supervision of her well-meaning but overbearing mother who’s convinced the house is haunted. At first Kylie laughs at her mother’s superstition, but strange occurrences soon change her mind. Or is something else going on in the house? Housebound’s biggest strength is an excellent script chockfull of goofy moments and legitimate scares that any horror fan will appreciate, anchored by the brilliant chemistry between the two female leads.

And those were my favourite films from the 2014 FrightFest in London. If you think there are any conspicuous absences, it might just be because I didn’t get the chance to see them. You can check out the full list of films on the FrightFest website. If you’re located in the UK and want to taste-test the festival atmosphere, keep an eye out for the October event with a half-dozen or so films, details to follow. As always, I love to hear your thoughts, comments, and questions, so please keep them coming!

Yours frightfully,

Iota

Glasgow FrightFest 2014: What a weekend!

Well folks, I’ve spent the past four days gorging myself on gory films and Scottish delicacies. I thought I would take this opportunity, as I recover from my extravaganza of grotesque indulgence, to give an overview of the festival. I’ll talk more on the specific films in the coming days.

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Glasgow FrightFest, now in its ninth year, showcases new and diverse horror films from around the world. You might say it’s the little brother of the London FrightFest, which runs for five days every August bank holiday weekend. Both festivals attract hundreds of people from far and wide, all united in their love for “the dark heart of cinema”. My Friday and Saturday were spent at the Glasgow Film Theatre, a cozy, classic cinema decked out in dark wood, brass bars and red plush carpets. The cinema was packed and buzzing with excited nerds, many of them wearing t-shirts emblazoned with horror posters ranging from the classics to the campy. I kept hearing film titles and directors’ names casually thrown around in conversation, always met with nods of recognition and approval rather than the blank stares I’m accustomed to receiving from most of my friends. I felt surrounded by my own people. There was a wide age range in attendance, with a roughly even mix of 20-, 30-and 40-somethings, with maybe a 70/30 male/female split.

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I spent the first night at the opening event, “Ti West in Conversation”, which took place in a smaller, more intimate theatre than the rest of the festival. The 33 year-old House of the Devil director talked about his challenges as a young filmmaker, his stylistic experimentations, and his future plans. I even got to meet him after the interview!

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After that, the 11 films of the festival were shown in marathon format, with 5 on Friday and 6 on Saturday, and half-hour refreshment breaks in between each movie. Most of the films were introduced in person by their directors and followed by a Q&A period afterward. A lot of the filmmakers hung around for both days, mingling with fans in the bar or lobby in between films. This, for me, was one of the more remarkable aspects of going to a festival like this one. You don’t just go to watch movies! The organisers of the event spiced things up with lots of retro trailer reels and prize giveaways. It’s these extras that bring horror fans back year after year, many of them making the pilgrimage up to Glasgow in February, then to London in August for FrightFest and to various cities in October for the Allnighter, reuniting with old friends each time. As for me, I met some fellow genre nut friends whom I can’t wait to meet up with at the London fest, if at all possible!

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Now, to tide you over until the next post, here are some fun, gory statistics, gathered by yours truly, about the 11 Glasgow FrightFest flicks:

8/11 of the films had someone tied to a chair at some point

6/11 of the films involved chainsaws or circular saws

5/11 of the films had people set on fire, with 4 of them involving gasoline.

4/11 of the films involved beheading.

3/11 of the films involved people lying convulsing on their backs with white foam spilling out of their mouths.

3/11 of the films involved people asphyxiating with plastic bags over their heads.

3/11 of the films involved wrist cutting.

2/11 of the films starred Joe Swanberg.

 

And the award for the hottest guy goes to:

Ryan Corr from Wolf Creek 2

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with runner-up Graham Skipper from Almost Human

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And presenting the hottest girl:

Katharine Isabelle from Torment      

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And runner-up Luna Maya from Killers

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Stay tuned for some shameless Ti West fangirling and my personal ranking of the films!

Iota