Frightfest’s Halloween All-nighter, the third and final event of its annual calendar, returned to VUE West End Saturday 26th October 2013 to screen six movies over fourteen hours. This year, co-organisers Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray introduced four UK premieres and two previews to a (very nearly) packed screen, hosting a number of special guests.
The UK premiere of SOULMATE was the first movie on the bill and the first of the night’s many directorial feature debuts. Axelle Carolyn flew in from LA to introduce her supernatural drama alongside executive producer Neil Marshall (The Descent) and leading cast members Anna Walton (Hellboy 2) and Tanya Myers (Casualty).
Synopsis: After a failed suicide attempt, Audrey (Walton) moves to a cottage in a remote rural Welsh village to escape her miserable life and come to terms with the tragic death of her husband. But when she starts to feel a haunting presence in the cottage, its tragic history begins to surface as she learns that she is not alone in her grieving.
“It’s an old fashioned, atmospheric, dramatic film… inspired by classic ghost stories”, explains Carolyn. “It’s a little bit different.”
Its amalgamation of classic literature and themes of romanticism are certainly refreshing amidst the long runs of supernatural horrors driven by evil paranormal presences and countless jump scares. It’s a simple tale concentrated in fantastical elements, and the gloomy disposition of the Welsh countryside conveys a chilling atmosphere. Walton delivers a fine performance oozing with melancholy, saying of the screenplay: “I thought it was a very sensitive and honest betrayal of someone dealing with grief.”
Though it may tug at fear and sadness, it never really commits to a deeper emotional substance with regards to Audrey and ghost Douglas (Tom Wisdom), and we beg for a more meaningful outcome than what the uninspiring ending offers.
A Q&A about life and death (cheerier than it sounds) ended with Marshall discussing his next project after Games of Thrones, the remake of Norwegian film-footage film Troll Hunter, in which he anticipated the audience’s grunts with an “I know, boo hiss.” Yes, boo hiss indeed.
The much-anticipated PATRICK remake was up next for its UK premiere and third screening worldwide. Another feature debut in the line-up sees Doc-God Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed!) re-envisage Richard Franklin’s 1978 beloved Hitchcockian homage.
For those unfamiliar with the story…
Synopsis: Nurse Kathy Jacquard (Sharni Vinson) takes a job at a private psychiatric clinic in the secluded outback and soon develops an interest with the patient behind door 15. Handsome Patrick (Jackson Gallagher) is comatose, following a bathtub incident with his mother and her lover, and is the golden boy of Doctor Roget’s (Charles Dance) unethical experiments. But his unhealthy fondness for Jackie becomes dangerous when his telekinetic powers start ruling her life.
For what seems to be a pointless remake, Hartley’s rendering was pretty much as expected. The structure was annoyingly formulaic; the gory effects unjust and out of place with its gothic tone; and the intriguing elements of the original’s mystery were instead replaced with outright shock. Not to mention that it crescendos at thirty minutes and defiantly plods through the motions until it comes to an underwhelming halt. Thankfully, an unrelentingly raucous, electrifying score by Pino Donnagio (known mostly for his sound work on the likes of Carrie and The Howling) strikes an appropriate pulsating energy into every scene and rightfully deserves all the attention it demands throughout.
Vinson plays perhaps her most convincing role yet and fellow nurse Williams (Peta Sergeant) provokes a few welcome gags. It’s clear that Hartley made this picture through his love and respect of Ozploitation classics. But Franklin’s original was undeniably flawed. And this is disastrously so.
Star and (as Alan dubbed) “exploitation scream queen” Sharni Vinson (Bait 3D, You’re Next) blessed us with her presence and answered questions about being an actress before talking about her recent heavy involvement in horror and if she’d stick to the genre.
“It’s not intentional, I just take what lands in my lap at the right time. It just so happened that the last three were horror… I went through all the horror movies at a young age. I love horror and I love action… I wouldn’t not do a horror but I wouldn’t not not do a horror,” she said.
What we do know is that Vinson is not against the idea of doing sequels to her two 2013 horrors. But the Final Girl raised a very valid point – “All my co-stars die, so who would I work with?”
Patrick is set to be released theatrically in the US next spring but has not yet secured a UK distributor.
A quick swap around in the schedule meant that MARK OF THE DEVIL saw us into the next day. If you were coming to this event for one reason, it was to witness the first public screening of this notorious 1970 West German film, banned in several countries and having gained a reputation as one of the most violent and exploitative films in cinema history, with viewers being given sick bags upon watching the film.
What’s more, director Michael Armstrong (The Haunted House of Horrors, House of the Long Shadows) was there to mark the occasion. A humble introduction from Armstrong ended on: “I hope the film isn’t too much torture to sit through…!” And on that note, the curtains drew and in came Michael Holm’s deceivingly harmonious melodic score.
Synopsis: In 18th century Austria, a callous, hard-knuckled witch-hunter (Reggie Nalder) spreads terror around his town, hastily accusing its women of witchcraft and delighting in watching them burn to the stake. Infamous witch-hunter Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) arrives in town, ordered by the Crown to enforce his righteous judgement alongside his doting apprentice Count Christian (Udo Keir). But when Christian catches his mentor murdering a town official, he questions his religious teachings, and rebels to take justice into his own hands.
“Yes I wanted to make a film that was accumatively violent… I made a movie that was meant to upset and disturb,” said Armstrong. Mark Of The Devil is one hour and forty minutes of incessant macabre torture, from whip slashings to hangings, from burnings to tongue removal. And though it’s fictitious, it has overwhelming elements of authenticity; the three witch cases that the film centres on were based on real cases and almost all the instruments in the movie replicate the ones used to perform torture.
Though its infamous ‘V for vomit’ stigma shouldn’t cloud its historic relevance, the moral message which opens the film is ultimately unmaintained and inferior to its graphic motive. Still, it’s an involving story with a pleasingly surprising end and, despite falling short to cheesy, melodramatic moments, is largely credible. He’s no Vincent Price (who starred in Michael Reeves’ 1968 Witchfinder General) but Hom makes for a loathsome villain, while Nalder too impressively bears a repugnant evil.
To this day, Armstrong doesn’t quite know why it was banned and was astounded how much it was attacked and ridiculed on release. “I was called every name under the sun,” he said. “I’m grateful that now people come up to me and have seen the movie as I intended it.”
Anchor Bay has picked up the title and it will be released on Blu-ray before Christmas. The perfect stocking filler.
Armstrong also revealed his plans to publish the complete works of his (40) movie’s screenplays as a collectors set to help gain recognition for those who, he thinks, are largely unaccredited and undermined in the industry.
3am, Sunday morning. The clocks had just gone back an hour. Half way through. If there was the slightest temptation to rest your eyes in the next film, it was immediately dashed upon realising that DISCOPATH was up next. Beating with energy and louder than disco halls in full swing, director Renaud Gauthier’s debut feature is aesthetically a stomping masterpiece.
Synopsis: A shy New Yorker, Duane Lewis (Jeremie Earp), leads a mundane city life until he is exposed to a new genre of music: disco. Its pulsating rhythm sparks an uncontrollable murderous tendency in him, which he finds is related to a childhood trauma, and he soon becomes one of America’s most dangerous serial killers.
“When I was young I used to get scared by a couple of disco songs. I always thought there was a scary element to disco,” said Gauthier. I don’t think there’s a medical term for that fear, but it certainly makes for an original screenplay. This retro-crazed slasher screams fun and downright funky. The concept isn’t a complex one and doesn’t go out of its way to experiment with generic slasher conventions, nor does it impress as a particularly engaging manhunt. Its authenticity and charm lies instead in its overt pastiche and remarkable ability to re-capture the 70s era. “We worked hard to create a 1970s feel with 2013 equipment,” said Gauthier.
Gauthier explained his experience as an art director and a self-professed collector of everything, so he was able to use his own knowledge and enthusiasm to design sets and his own items as costume and props. The Carpenter and Giallo-influenced disco score is relentless and, though Gauthier’s limited budget prevented him using the era’s big boys (he said Bee Gees wanted $50,000 to use one of their tracks), is well-guided to complement, and emotionally and aesthetically enhance, the content’s wavering pace and intense dramatic elements.
We were glad to hear that Gauthier is back next year with two horror projects: a 1972 Giallo (currently unnamed) and Aqua Splash, which features a waterpark and razorblades – yikes! As for the former, with Gauthier’s evident spot-on ability to recreate a past era, it’s likely that we could see a much-needed truly authentic Giallo homage.
After a crowd member made himself known and performed a scarily enthusiastic breakdance sequence, revealing he’d consumed far too much caffeine for everybody already, cue break.
When something is likened to The Thing, you envisage a worn out sci-fi thriller formula of unidentifiable mutants inhabiting the snowy mountains where a group of scientists sit ignorantly unaware that they’re the next victims. But Austrian sci-fi horror THE STATION by Marvin Kren succeeds to avoid such stereotype with nail-biting suspense, poignant moments and convincing bold effects.
Synopsis: A group of scientists based at a station in the German Alps are investigating an unfamiliar liquid that is seeping from the mountains and transforming nearby wildlife into monstrous mutants. When tech guy Janek’s (Gerhard Liebmann) beloved dog is attacked by one, he and his team become even more determined to eliminate whatever is threatening the group and the Environment Ministers that are on their way to their station.
Disturbing discoveries, bloody outcomes and encounters with beetle-fox hybrids and giant horn-bearing eagles, this is as close as you’re going to get to ‘The Thing meets Alien’. But what really defines its respect is The Station’s character-focused persona, as true in Kren’s zombie spin-off Rammbock, which allows room for emotional twists and turns, not to mention an unexpected shock ending.
The Station will be released next year by Studiocanal.
Backed by Slasher Films (co-founded by Guns ‘n’ Roses rock god Slash), Gore Verbinski’s visionary protégé, Anthony Leonardi III, makes his feature directorial debut with NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR.
Synopsis: Priest Dan moves his family to small town Stull, Kansas to be the new pastor after its long-time Priest Kingsman readies to retire. But their hope for a more idyllic life seems unlikely when they realise they are to be the sleepy community’s latest ceremonial sacrifices to an evil Beast that lurks in the depths of the church, one of the seven gateways to hell.
Reminiscent of the likes of The Gathering and The Shrine, such horror pics tend to compel in a well-contrived backstory of some heinous ancient, mythic or religious (hell sometimes all three) curse or presence at the hands of a cult. But here, there are no efforts to bring in any background explanation whatsoever, let alone anything remotely original, rendering its copycat themes puzzling and utterly pointless. The acting is as wooden as the plot and the generic family isn’t worth giving two hoots about.
Though its special effects are by no means poor - its uncanny imagery provokes more than a few unnerving shifts in your seat - what you see is what you get with this evil spirited terror tale, and unfortunately that isn’t a great deal. And you didn’t even have to be wide awake to see through it.
7:20am and a sleepy crowd rise from their seats, realise the copious amounts of sugar, grease and caffeine that they’ve savaged through, and head home for a well-earned kip. A generally mixed line-up and a great turn out from special guests and fans yet again succeed to soften the blow of the end of the August festival. Thank you Frightfest. Until next year.
The Frightfest All-Nighter was also held Saturday 3rd November at Glasgow, Basildon, Poole, Sunderland and Newcastle, as well as in Bristol on Saturday 16th November.
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