Thursday 25th - 1630
I'm here. Mega City One, or London as it's known in the UK, is still as crowded and sweaty as I remember it. The drive in, past multi-storey car dealerships, reminded me of Tokyo — so many people and buildings crammed into such a relatively small space they have no option other than to build upwards, outwards is occupied.
The squeeze is no better in the normally open Leicester Square, home to The Empire Cinema which will serve as mine and about 1300 other genre fans this weekend. Outside the cinema works are ongoing in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games. Considering the first film of the night (Don't be Afraid of the Dark) is completely sold out, The Empire is looking remarkably relaxed. There are a few fans picking up tickets and some interesting looking merchandise stands are being set up in the lobby.
Infuriatingly there's no wifi available in the cinema, even for us hacks, so Burger King is my current refuge for their free hotspot. It might be the last time to eat in a good while too, but if the good-looking couple opposite don't stop trying to find the remains of their meals in each others mouths with their tongues, sustenance may have to wait.
Films for tonight will be the aforementioned Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Final Destination 5 in 3D and the collaborative effort Chillerama. Keep an eye on this page, as it will feature reviews of the movies as soon as I can get them written.
Better get some coffee, it's going to be a long night...
Thursday 25th - 2045
And we're off. Or we were a couple of hours ago. The proceedings kicked into action with a Jake West (Evil Aliens) short film shot especially to open the festival. Entitled Escape from London, it was a gloriously riotous send up of Carpenter's Escape from New York, featuring an ass-kicking female Snake Plisken.
Following the rapturous applause we were straight into Troy Nixey's Don't be Afraid of the Dark, with a specially recorded intro from Guillermo Del Toro, who sadly couldn't make it to the festival. Presented as an old fashioned ghost story it tells the tale of a new family moving in to a house with an old secret. Low on gore, but high on scares it had a few popcorn in the air moments, but overall didn't blow me away. Once the antagonist of the film is revealed you'll go one of two ways and mine was down the boulevard of ambivalence. Still, no boos and a decent round of applause from the crowd, so it's one that Troy Nixey can hold his head high for. Also the young actress Bailee Madison, who plays the troubled child Sally, makes an incredible job of the role for such a young child. Her performance was the stand-out element of the film in the same way that Haley Joel Osment blew everyone away with his Sixth Sense debut.
- Don't be afraid of the little things.
Friday 26th - 0930
So a tight schedule last night meant that I didn't get a chance to update after Dark screened. Not that there wasn't time, but the schedule involved dropping into the pub for a drink with ex-HorrorTalk writer Rosie Fletcher and hubby, Al. Hey, I've got to take a break from the netbook at some point.
Before Final Destination 5 took to the screen, we were treated to some selected scenes from forthcoming Brit zombie comedy Cockneys Vs. Zombies which went down a storm with the Frighfesters. Starring some familiar British names such as Richard Briers, Honor Blackman and the Alan Ford (Brick Top from Snatch or, if you're a fan of the Youtube mashup, Brick Vader from Snatch Wars)
Before the next feature, I got chatting to my new neighbours in our seat row and it turned out to be half of Deadheads directing team Brett Pierce, film composer Devin Burrows and the simply scrumptious Natalie Victoria who plays the role of Ellie, Deadhead Mike's love interest. The trio were very positive about Frightfest, saying it was "the coolest festival" they'd attended so far.
So then we were in to Final Destination 5, which could quite easily have been any of the FD movies. You know the score, kids cheat death, then meet it again through a series of unlikely Mouse Trap style chain reactions. Although it has to be said, the end of the sequence doesn't normally end with a small cage dropping over a plastic mouse, usually someone's guts fly out. In 3D too.
The opening disaster premonition is fantastic, probably one of the best or at the very least on par with the motorway pile-up from the first movie. Kudos to the filmmakers too, who brought in an ending that ties back perfectly to the first episode, making this the ideal place to stop the franchise before it gets really stale.
FD5 got a very positive reaction from the crowd, with whooping and applause at every death scene. The blood really flows in this one and, although much of it appears to be CGI, it's really satisfying. It's exactly what you'd expect from a FD film, and no more, so if you've seen and enjoyed the previous ones it will be just to your taste.
- For sheer, crowd-pleasing enjoyment.
Closing film of the night was Theatre Bizarre, a collaborative effort between directors Richard Stanley, Tom Savini, Douglas Buck, Karim Hussain, Buddy Giovinazzo, Jeremy Kasten and David Gregory. It is, unsurprisingly, an anthology piece which I'd normally be all over, but the collection of stories (all worked on in isolation) didn't really offer much in the way of entertainment. Those who could fight sleep managed to the end, but I along with a few others left before the credits rolled.
To think I missed the last tube and had to jump in a VERY EXPENSIVE cab home for this film.
- Bizarre that anyone would enjoy this.
Right, time to get on the tube and over to The Empire. We're kicking off today with European premiere of Rogue River.
Friday 26th - 1500
It's a special day for Frightfesters — goody bag day. Every weekend pass holder receives a bag stuffed with a random selection of goodies. This year's bag is branded with highly anticipated festival title Kill List. It has become one of the most popular parts of the festival for some, and comparing swag with your friends and neighbours is a common pastime.
Rogue River kicked off today's viewings and trod a path which will be familiar to many horror fans. A young girl is stranded while scattering her father's ashes at the titular river, and the couple that comes to her aid turns out to be her worst nightmare. Stupidity and a complete lack of logic run high with the captured girl, no wonder she stayed captive so long. Part Misery, part random kidnap drama, it has several scenes designed to shock and a twist that would be happy in an urban myth. Overall though, been there seen it, done it and got the bloodstained t-shirt. It's not so much a movie as a feat of endurance to watch lead actress Michelle Page scream, sob and wimper her way through 90 minutes of abuse and torture. If Marilyn Chambers' perpetual screaming through The Texas Chain Saw Massacre puts your teeth on edge, then you're in for more of the same.
- File under H for harrowing.
Next up is the turn of Brit horror chiller The Holding. Set in the Peak District, it tells the story of two smallholders who go to war over the sale of one of their farms. Or at least that's how it begins. It very cleverly leads you down one particular path, then just as you smugly sit back and think "I can see where this is going" the film thumbs its nose at you and goes "Ha! But you didn't expect THIS!". And I didn't. It's a bit of a slow burner, but racked with tension and a genuine sense of malice from the main antagonist, Vincent Regan. Always good to see British flicks excelling in the genre and The Holding leaves you with a sense of satisfaction, not to mention a little humility for trying to second-guess the story.
Afterwards director Susan Jacobson, writer James Dormer and producer Alex Boden along with members of the cast took to the stage to field questions from the audience. Biggest irony of the day was that actress Maisie Lloyd was banned from the screening of the film. Not for unladylike behaviour, you understand, but because she's only about 10 years old and way too young to see it.
- Farmville was never this brutal
Saturday 27th - 0930
Good morning. It's now my standard start to the day: coffee shop for breakfast and jump onto their free wifi. Odd when your food choice are dictated by the availability of internet access, but it's the way it has to be, otherwise I couldn't bring you the updates from yesterday's films. The hardships I endure...
After The Holding tipped us over into yesterday's afternoon and Total Films' Larry Fassenden interview took us to later in the day, we had a chance to see Andy Fetscher's Urban Explorers, about a bunch of international thrill-seekers who hire a local guide to explore the network of tunnels that snake beneath the city of Berlin. It wasn't a bad film at all, but marred by sound problems at the beginning (no dialogue) and then for the rest of the film any German language was spoken without subtitles. Considering the main bad guy speaks only German, it made things difficult to understand. Many of us were thinking, initially, that the lack of subtitles was intentional, maybe to increase the feeling of isolation in the characters. When your main antagonist does a five minute monologue — in German — with no translation, you know something is awry.
A decent flick, and both the organisers and Fetscher (who took the stage afterwards for a Q&A) were apologetic for the problems with the print they had been supplied.
- Lost in translation
Up next was the world premiere of Cristian Solimeno's psychological chiller The Glass Man. Andy Nyman takes the lead role as a man slowly descending into a state of insanity after he loses his job and his life takes a turn for the worse. It's a real slow-burner, but the tension builds steadily to a final reveal that I don't think anyone saw coming. My only real issue was with the running time pushing two hours, as it felt overlong for such a slow film. I would recommend seeing it, but it's not a film you can watch twice, as the impact of its secret would be completely lost. Andy Nyman's performance of the lead character, Martin, is Oscar-worthy for sure.
Many cast members, along with Cristian Solimeno, took the stage post-screening to field more questions from the audience. Nyman came across as a very down to earth and humble person, which is polar opposite to the big personalities that he normally displays in his TV acting work (Dead Set, Campus)
- A touch of glass.
Notable guests for the screening were TV personality and cult film buff Jonathan Ross, with wife and Kick-Ass writer, Jane Goldman. Ross made a brief appearance at the media wall and, despite making some positive noises about Frightfest, was in and out of the cinema like a fiddler's elbow. Blink and you'd miss him, unless you happened to be in my seat because he was sat behind me (which I only realised as he left, so didn't even get a chance to say hi).
Rounding out the night, for me at least, was the one I was most looking forward to with a festival crowd and I was not disappointed. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil is the embodiment of everything a film fest movie should be. Equally gory, funny and fast-paced, it follows two bumbling hillbillies who cross paths with a bunch of cookie-cutter American teens on a camping trip. While Tucker and Dale spend time trying to fix up their holiday cabin in the woods, a series of events ends up with teens dying and it looking like the hillbillies are responsible. Most of the kills are fantastically gory, and the clever way of shooting the death scenes to make Tucker and Dale's actions look malicious is amazing. Crowd reaction was exactly as I expected; laughter and cheers for this excellent horror comedy that has its feet unapologetically planted in both genres.
- Hilarious Hillbilly Homicide
You can also read James Ferguson's recent review of Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil here, and although he was slightly cooler on it than I, you can see there's still a lot of love.
The last film of the night was Vile, which appears to be yet another foray into the torture porn genre. I have a screener of this film thanks to the Frightfest organisers (review will follow the festival weekend), so I opted to catch a last tube back to my hotel rather than endure the torture of torture porn.
This morning kicks off with Troll Hunter, something I'm really looking forward to. I'm catching a tube now, I'll catch you later.
Saturday 27th - 2330
I really expected big things of Troll Hunter (and I'm not talking about the creatures being hunted). The premise is silly enough to be entertaining, but the trailers looked like this Norwegian effort could be a halfway decent monster movie. Using the, now overused 'found footage' concept, it follows a university documentary crew who begin investigating bear poaching and end up as sidekicks to a government sanctioned troll hunter. The real problem the film has is pacing; 99 minutes could easily have been shaved down by 10-15 to make things move along more briskly. Instead we get numerous shots of the Norwegian countryside which to little but bloat the proceedings. Probably the only time a troll fart has been shown on the big screen though.
- Hunt out a better editor.
Having never been a particular fan of Robin Hardy's 1973 film The Wicker Man, I opted to take a walk during the pseudo-sequel The Wicker Tree today. Checking the twitter feed afterwards I think I chose wisely, as reaction on the film was almost universally negative. Intuition served me well on that one.
British thriller Panic Button followed. I'd already seen this one, but with nothing better to do and no tickets left for My Sucky Teen Romance in the Discovery Screen, I decided to give it a second viewing. Four strangers win a luxury trip to New York through social networking site all2gethr.com, but once they take off a deadly Big Brother takes control of events. My opinion is still the same as the first time round. It's a tense and tightly paced piece with some cracking performances, but little in the way of originality in the script. Think My Little Eye with a Saw-style revenge plot and you're bang on the money. Thumbs up for a less than conventional ending, and the short epilogue to wrap it up was nicely dark and chilling.
- Thank you for flying with Psycho Airlines
Mainstream remake time as Fright Night popped up next in the schedule. Beforehand we were treated to some selected scenes from Jaime Winstone's forthcoming movie Elfie Hopkins, a short sequence from Martin Kemp's Stalker and a rough cut trailer for Strippers Vs Werewolves.
The original Fright Night was a movie that never particularly grabbed me as a teenager, so it's not one I've been and revisited. The new version is exactly like most remakes: throwaway popcorn nonsense that just serves to keep you entertained for 90 minutes. If you've seen the original this is, apparently, a fairly faithful remake. If not, then it's basically about a kid who has a vampire (Colin Farrell) move in next door and he's the only one who realises what is happening when people start to go missing. It's elevated beyond just bearable by David Tennant's performance as reluctant vampire hunter Peter Vincent, although I'm not sure how much of his character he based on Russel Brand. Pointlessly shown in 3D which made some of the dark scenes difficult to watch. Worth seeing, if only to hear Doctor Who say, "fuck off".
- The guy next door is a pain in the neck.
One of the most talked about films of the festival was allocated the 9pm slot, Lucky McKee's The Woman. Almost as an antidote to what would follow, we got to look at the trailer for Knights of Badassdom, plus an exclusive scene from the not-yet-finished film. All nice and happy until the feature starts.
I think I was alone in really just not getting the appeal of this film. The twitterati seem to be hailing it as some kind of masterpiece, but all I saw was an exercise in shoe-horning as many controversial issues into one film as possible. Maybe I've just seen one too many rural psychos this weekend, but this tale of a domineering patriarch (Sean Bridgers) who captures a feral woman living in the woods (huh?) with a view to keeping her as some kind of domesticated pet, fell completely flat for me. There's a slow build-up as the various unpleasant facets to Bridgers' character are revealed and a finale which I suppose could be described as shocking if you've never seen a modern horror movie laced with blood. Sorry, but I'm just not buying the whole "wild woman of the woods" (even if Polyanna McIntosh is superb in the role) and even less so that just by chance she'd be living so close by to an all-American psycho. I call bullshit.
- Hell hath no fury like a reviewer who just wasted 100 minutes of his life.
Chillerama was the closing film of the night, and it's billed as a throwback to movies of the drive-in era. As I'm born an bred in the UK and we've never had drive-ins, I assumed by bed might be more relevant and headed home for that.
Monday 29th - 1100
Back home. Unfortunately my schedule doesn't allow me to be at Frightfest for today, so the last film of the event for me was Ben Wheatley's hotly anticipated Kill List. In the best traditions of film, I'll now go into flashback mode and let you know how Sunday's films went.
Cue the soft focus.
The morning got underway with post-apocalyptic chiller The Divide, concerning a group of survivors trapped in an underground bunker. Apart from a brief encounter with a government task force, the entire film is contained within the bunker and follows the story of the survivors and their descent into conflict, madness and the inevitable divide between smaller groups. Starring Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes), Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens) and Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction) it at least stays away from the usual survivalist formula and concentrates solely on the characters. This is both its biggest strength and weakness, as the individuals tend to act in ways and make choices that no normal person would (and they start out normal, the insanity is no excuse).
- Divide and bonkers.
A good three hours of the afternoon were taken up with Andy Nyman's Movie Quiz from Hell 2, a live interactive horror quiz hosted by the Frightfest regular and star of The Glass Man. I did appallingly, didn't even hand in the answer sheet and left the auditorium early, hanging my head in shame. A brief coffee break and it was back in for the International Short Film Showcase, which presented us with a selection of shorts from around the world. Australian chiller Alistair (click here for Facebook page) opened it up and saw two serial killers get their comeuppance when they choose the wrong hose to terrorize. Bats in the Belfry came next. An animated story that pitted Dead Eye Jack against a bunch of vampires. If you want to check out the short you can do so here. Demonitron followed, which wasn't so much a short movie as a spoof trailer for a cheesy looking Euro-horror movie. (Watch here)
The fantastically silly Brutal Relax (watch here) was probably the most entertaining of the bunch, featuring monstrously over-the-top gore as a bunch of sea-zombies attack holidaymakers on a beach. What they didn't bank on was a recovering mental patient who is rather annoyed about his Walkman batteries going dead. In similar silly style it was followed by Banana Motherfucker by the team that brought last year's Papa Wrestling. It made Brutal Relax look like a sensitive portrayal of mental illness as killer bananas attacked a filmmaking crew and then took over the world.
A serious turn was taken with Cold Call, as two doorstep bible-bashers met a fate they weren't expecting with a strange mother and daughter team. Last Post is Axelle Carolyn's (wife of Descent director Neil Marshall) haunting and poignant short that oozed class and sophistication. Flesh Art was a great looking story of one survivor of a zombie apocalypse, with fantastic cinematography and a really gruesome ending.
Love Bug, was a new take on the contagion scenario with a young girl becoming infected by a parasite in an Italian restaurant. Lots of comedy with some nicely done blood and gore made this very enjoyable. Finally we came to Little Muchkin which saw a couple adopting a child from an orphanage, only to find out they'd got rather more than they'd bargained for.
A real mixed bag of styles and stories, but an excellent way to spend part of the afternoon, marvelling at some of the talent on show.
- Short and sweet.
The long days and lack of sleep started to catch up with me during Ti West's The Innkeepers, and I nodded off for much of the first 45 minutes. It does take an age to get going, starting as a quite sweet romantic comedy set in a hotel that's going out of business. When I did finally manage to drag myself from the clutches of slumber, the film was ramping up into a classic haunted house tale that provided genuine frights and a completely creepy atmosphere. I wished I'd managed to stay awake for the first half and really get a feel for the characters, but it wasn't to be. Really nice to have a refreshing alternative to all the films taking the brutal/extreme route and just go back to old-fashioned scares.
- Don't go down to the basement.
Dick Maas' Sint (English Title: Saint) was a film that I had absolutely zero preconceptions of. I didn't even read a synopsis of the film, so I had no idea what to expect. From the poster I'd imagined some kind of medieval fantasy story, but what actually transpired was a surprisingly entertaining slice of nonsense. Based on the Christmas legend of St. Nicholas, it twists the story and makes him the bad guy, much like Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Every time there is a full moon on the 5th December, St. Nicholas will come to collect children with his orc-like henchmen called Black Peters. And if anyone gets in his way he has no problem slaughtering them, so don't piss off Santa. When a young guy witnesses his friends killed by the festive character, he joins forces with a bitter police officer who has his own agenda with St. Nicholas. Fast paced, gory and highly entertaining, it was a real treat after the previous slow burn of The Innkeepers.
- Santa's slay ride.
The final film of this night, and indeed for me in this festival, was Ben Wheatley's hotly anticipated Kill List. Presented beforehand by Frightfest organiser Paul McEvoy and Wheatley, it was described as brutal and utterly terrifying. I beg to differ. Playing out like Pulp Fiction meets The Wicker Man this tale of two ex-forces mercenaries recruited by a sinister organisation is certainly brutal, but not in the least bit terrifying. Another one that built slowly, with a fantastic relationship between the lead characters Jay and Gal, but ultimately delivering an ending that raises more questions than it answers. I think my patience has been tested to its limit this weekend, with films which purport to disgust, and my mind appears to be striking back with shades of annoyance. No-one who saw Kill List will be able to forget the hammer scene, but that's probably all you will remember of this disappointing British horror.
- Unsubscribe me from your list please.
So that was it, a lacklustre end to a completely fantastic four days. The films have offered some high points and some low points, but Frightfest is about so much more than the films. It's about the fans, most of whom will treat you like a friend and launch into an instant dialogue about what's been happening. It's about the guests, who don't distance themselves from the crowds, they rub shoulders in the lobby. Where else could you be this close to so many genre heavy-hitters, with such easy access you can just walk up to them and strike up conversation? It's about the long days, with short breaks between films where you can grab food, drink, caffeine or whatever else is your poison. It's an endurance test that only the most passionate fans in the world could cope with.
And finally, it's about four men who put this event together every year: Paul McEvoy, Alan Jones, Greg Day and Ian Rattray. They run around behind the scenes, making sure everything runs as smoothly as can be expected. They mix with the fans as well, and are always available to chat or take comments. And most importantly of all, they put together the best damn horror festival in the whole of the UK.
Gents, I salute you.
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