Horror decended upon the UK at Frightfest…Check out our review below.
Frightfest, the coolest film festival in the world, descended upon the Empire cinema, in Leicester Square, once again, this past August bank holiday weekend, to celebrate everything that is weird and wonderful about horror.
With it, flocked freaks, geeks and fans from all over the world, including veteran attendee, Adam Green, who showcased both the final instalment in his brilliant ‘Hatchet’ series, along with a selection of episodes from his awesome Fearnet show, ‘Holliston’. Naturally, Green stuck around for an extended Q&A afterward showing the show, before handing out tons of goodies.
He also was good enough to stop for chats, and take photos, throughout the weekend, but could usually be found watching various films in the massive main screen (sadly rumoured to be split into two, smaller theatres next year), or loading up on popcorn at the concession stand.
Other notable attendees included The Human Centipede 2’s Laurence Harvey, who freaked out and delighted everyone with his massive bug eyes, and was only too happy to pose for pictures looking sinister, along with the legendary Kim Newman, who introduced a special screening of the classic ‘Nosferatu’.
Despite my best intentions, it was impossible to see absolutely everything, but thankfully, this year, the organisers outdid themselves because, not only was the atmosphere absolutely incredible throughout the weekend, and almost everything seemed to run perfectly, but the Frightfest line-up was exceptionally strong, stuffed full of way more bad than good.
The following are my choice picks for the best, worst, and most disgraceful films of the weekend:
- One of the biggest surprises, of a festival loaded with found-footage bores, was Bobcat Goldthwait’s lively, terrifying, and very entertaining Willow Creek. Utilising Bigfoot as the villain in a horror movie sounds like a bizarre idea, especially to those of us on the other side of the Atlantic, for whom the legend of the hairy beast is more like a rubbish ‘Goosebumps’ tale than anything else, but somehow, Goldthwait made him scary, and without even showing him either. We shall never camp again.
- Hopes were high for Adam Wingard’s feature follow-up to ‘A Horrible Way To Die’, especially after his rousing instalments in ‘V/H/S 1′ and ’2′, and the otherwise dreadful ‘ABCs Of Death’. It’s unclear whether anyone expected You’re Next to be quite as good as it is, though. Boasting one of the most bad-ass Final Girls in a long time, the home invasion thriller is easily one of the coolest and most impressive horror releases of the year, and the cameo from Ti West, looking suitably disgruntled, just makes it even clearer that Wingard is the real one to watch now.
- It’s been a very long time since one of the most infamous icons in horror cinema got a properly scary outing, but that’s what his fans wanted, and rather shockingly, that is exactly what Don Mancini delivered. Curse Of Chucky is a true breath of fresh air, for the somewhat stale series, pitching the serial killing doll against Fiona Dourif, son of Brad, a truly gifted actress and a future Scream Queen in the making. The setting is a gorgeously Gothic old mansion, and the laughs come almost as hard and fast as the scares – one of the surprises of the festival, and the year, too.
- Unfortunately, thanks to its weird title, and a late-night slot opposite one of the biggest films of the festival, Sadik 2 didn’t quite get the audience it deserved. However, those who did take a chance on this weird little French film were in for a real treat, as Robert Entreinger’s hilarious, very twisted, self-referential, sort-of slasher/ode to torture porn was one of the most inventive films of the weekend, with some of the coolest practical effects this side of ‘Scream’.
- British horror was well-represented this year, particularly in the case of Stalled, an inventive, zombie-rom-com indie movie, set in, of all places, a toilet cubicle. Thanks to a star turn from writer/producer Dan Palmer, whose lowly janitor is impossibly charming, funny, and utterly despicable, all at once, and some really great zombie make-up, the little film that could turned into one of the hits of the festival, with crowds flocking to see it each and every time it was screened.
- Anthony Di Blasi’s haunting, very frightening portrayal of a religious fanatic turned stalker was one of the most affecting films of the weekend. Newcomer Mitch Ryan gives a startling performance as the titular Mormon Missionary, managing to be intimidating, naïve, charming and deadly all at the same time. An utterly fearless performance, Ryan inhabits this harsh, horrifyingly charismatic character, making him entirely his own. Though it could’ve been totally inflammatory, the film manages to study the madness of one individual, without making it all about the fact that he happens to believe in God.
- Frightfest vet Adam Green admitted there was nowhere he’d rather show Hatchet 3, the final instalment in his popular ‘Hatchet’ series, than this festival and, given the euphoric reaction of the crowd – easily the loudest of the weekend – it’s not hard to see why. Thankfully, the third in the series lives up to its predecessors’ high standard, for improving with each instalment, turning everything up to eleven with a barrage of guts, gore and laughs galore. A fitting end to the series, and the legend of Victor Crowley, that still feels completely like an Adam Green film, in spite of the fact he has passed on directorial duties to his own camera operator, BJ Mc Donnell, who is more than up to the task.
- My personal favourite of the festival was WWE Studios’ incredible No One Lives, a fearless, bizarre, totally awesome splatter-fest that turns villain against villains, leaving no one unscathed (as per its title). Luke Evans is phenomenal in the lead role, his crazy eyes never glazing over, even when he’s given little to do besides sit and wait. Proof, if it was ever needed, that the worlds of wrestling and horror go hand in hand, this was one of the standouts of the weekend, and a total shock to everyone who groaned when that ominous ‘W’ logo flashed up on the screen.
- Sort of a love letter to every horror fan’s favourite holiday, charming documentary The American Scream follows five families in Massachusetts, as they turn their otherwise normal homes into spectacular haunted houses, just for the spookiest night of the year. A gripping look into an art form few people even know about, this wonderfully uplifting little film didn’t leave a dry eye in the house, especially during its poignant, bittersweet climax, when we all had to experience that horrible feeling of the fun being over for another year.
- The best, most impressive, non-English language feature of the weekend was undoubtedly The Last Days, a near-future thriller which features one of the most loveable bromances (for want of a better word) in cinema, between a boss and the employee he was just about to fire. Set in present day Barcelona, after an epidemic has hit that causes everyone to fear open spaces, the film is lush, gorgeous, and chilling, in its stark depiction of just how wrong everything could go, if even the simplest things were taken away from us.
- Not so much truly terrible, as just highly derivative and completely uninspired, RIPD, possibly the biggest-budgeted film of the entire line-up, stars Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as ghost/demon-battling dead cops, with Kevin Bacon as their sort-of nemesis. It is good fun in a lot of ways, but the CGI design on the so-called “Deados” is so headache-inducingly terrible, it’s almost shocking that it ended up in such a massive, well-financed blockbuster. Bridges saves the film from being a complete disaster, by being his usual, awesome self, but Reynolds looks pained throughout, possibly because he’s realised, along with the audience, that he can only really do comedy, and playing the straight guy opposite someone as naturally talented as Bridges is just embarrassing.
- Whatever genius thought that the world of underground dub-step, of all places, would be a suitable setting for a thriller about a kindly schizophrenic, of all characters, should be forced to sit through Snap and try to maintain consciousness. The only thing keeping anybody awake during this remarkably dull film was the sudden burst of dreadful music every few minutes. Nikki Reed, of ‘Twilight’ fame stars as the love interest, but she may just have a secret, too (she does, and if you watch this, you will have guessed as much within the first few minutes she’s onscreen).
- Found footage flicks were ten-a-penny at this year’s festival, and the theme of religion cropped up more than once, too. Daylight managed to explore both, while giving no good reason for the incorporation of either. Set in the titular town, it follows a group of Child Services Protection workers, as they deal with a case involving a seemingly possessed teenager, who may be being abused by the local parish priest. After letting go of its only viable narrative strand, it quickly devolves into a messy, inconsistent, incoherent, and very boring bunch of ideas, none of which leave any sort of mark.
- Billed as “the Swedish Evil Dead”, Wither’s premise is so close to that of the classic video nasty, it couldn’t even reasonably be referred to as homage. Nicely diverting for most of its running time, and boasting some great special effects make-up, along with the necessarily huge amount of blood, the film loses its way only when it desperately tries to emulate its inspiration. Let’s face it, we all know where the story is going, so when the filmmakers follow that formula exactly, almost to the letter, what is the point of even watching?
- Though the world of human suspension (i.e. hanging from hooks that are pierced into one’s skin in various spots) is a fascinating one, in which even the least curious, least body-modified person would take a glimpse, first time director Kate Shenton’s On Tender Hooks reveals little that cannot be gleaned through surfing the web, or attending house shows. Shot with an annoyingly freak-show glare, this sadly under-accomplished documentary isn’t sure whether it wants to be a part of the world of suspension, or run away from it, screaming its head off. Shenton’s own to-camera pieces are weirdly amateurish, and it isn’t clear whether she wants to be the focus or not, but either way, some focus is desperately, desperately needed.
- Vincenzo Natali’s follow-up to the rather enjoyable ‘Splice’ is a disappointment in more ways than one. Haunter’s titular villain looks like an elderly gent with a bit of a cruel streak, while its heroine, the usually dependable Abigail Breslin, is a stroppy, eighties teen with little to do or say besides slamming doors and whining. Described as “a ghost story with a twist”, the film delivers on Gothic charm and elegance, but the fog really stars to thicken towards the end, when the thin premise unravels completely, making way for a sickeningly saccharine denouement that is so predictable, it may as well have “Don’t worry kids, there’s a happy ending for Little Miss Sunshine” scrawled on the film’s poster.
- The Frightfest line-up was impressively strong this year, but, as is to be expected, there were a couple of stinkers, most notably the rather dreadful Frankenstein’s Army, which managed to be excruciatingly dull, in spite of boasting one of the coolest trailers of the year. In spite of featuring ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’-esque creations that had everyone salivating for months, after spotting them on the website (it’s worth noting the main one only appeared from the waist down, which was a very odd choice considering how heavily he featured in the promotional material), the film is little more than a found footage flick, confusingly set after WW2, which goes, quite literally, nowhere. An exercise in self control, it is painful to sit through, and overstays its welcome to an excruciating degree.
- Reports also suggested Dark Touch, dubbed the Irish ‘Carrie’, Banshee Chapter and The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill didn’t go down too well either, but crowds flocked to see them, much like Frankenstein’s Army, so only time will tell. I Spit On Your Grave 2 didn’t convince anyone that horror remakes, or sequels to horror remakes, are necessary, in spite of most of its crew and cast showing up to try to convince everyone how great it is. Likewise, For Elisa had everyone nodding off, looking strangely amateur against the far more popular, also Spanish language, The Last Days.
- The hit of the festival was undoubtedly You’re Next,which won absolutely everyone over, along with No One Lives, probably the biggest shock of the weekend, while both the opening and closing films, The Dead 2: India and Big Bad Wolves, respectively, were hits. Cheap Thrills had everyone talking, while Stalled sold out each time it screened, as did the wonderful Willow Creek.
For me, the worst moments of the entire festival were spent trying desperately not to fall asleep in my chair, in front of Frankenstein’s Army, while the best involved the jaw-dropping lunacy of Luke Evans in No One Lives, closely followed by crying my eyes out at the wonderfully moving The American Scream.
Thankfully, overall, pretty much everything at Frightfest kicked major ass, as always, and the festival really does seem to be getting better every single year, which is wonderful for those of us who’d rather wait outside Leicester Square for tickets to Willow Creek, than to catch a glimpse of Harry Styles.
Frightfest truly is a weekend unlike any other, and it’s one of the most inclusive, friendly, and fascinating places to be a horror fan, in the world. It’s been two months, and I’m still getting withdrawal from that weekend. Is it next year yet!?
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