Mayhem Film Festival: Days 1 and 2
Written by Hamzah Sarwar
The wind howled as my train left a dark autumnal evening in London in its wake. It was a moment that began my journey into Mayhem. Steve Sheil and Chris Cooke's genre festival celebrated its tenth anniversary this year boasting an impressively diverse line up of horror, Sci-Fi and cult cinema. It's a selection that didn't disappoint and crowns Mayhem X as the best yet.
Here is a roundup of the first two days at the festival. Although I missed Astron 6's giallo comedy The Editor, I was lucky enough to interview the gang about the film. Watch this space for the full interview.
Let Us Prey
When a mysterious stranger (Liam Cunningham) seemingly vanishes after being hit by a car, private constable Heggie (Polyanna McIntosh) is at a loss to his whereabouts until he randomly turns up at the local police station. After a disturbing turn of events, he is taken into custody and the tension begins to build. Cunningham's demonic demeanour and cryptic encounters with fellow cellmates cast a dark shadow upon his true identity. How is he able to unsettle and control those who come near him?
Brian O'Mally's debut feature is a savage breed of religious horror that dials up the intrigue before unleashing a caustic wave of brutality in a chaotic and farcical final third. O'Mally's film is at its emotive best when the stranger forces his prey to relive their most painful memories. Let Us Prey serves as a reminder that we each carry a dark secret, an experience that lingers in the deepest recesses of our subconscious. By forcing his fellow inmates to face these fears in a series of flashbacks, his influence grows and so does the body count. After a superb set up, the infernal climax is explosive but doesn't tie together. Credit to O'Mally for sticking to his guns and driving home the deeply religious subtext, but the intention far exceeds the execution.
When a group of friends enjoy a casual dinner party in a quaint suburban home, little seems out of the ordinary. The revelation that a comet is passing overhead results in a series of strange occurrences.
James Ward Byrkitt has created a truly mind altering experience. This wickedly intelligent sci-fi drama is a mind-boggling head trip of alternate realities that will turn your world upside down. Coherence is undeniably provocative, wildly unpredictable and soaked in a glowing pool of intrigue. Prepare to disappear into one rabbit hole and then the next, Byrkitt's film commands attention and a willingness to go along for the ride. Understandably divisive due to its theoretical nature, Coherence pays testament to the power of virtually zero budget filmmaking. Unmissable.
The Town that Dreaded Sundown
Following the mind-bending Coherence, it was time to delve into the Southern gothic with a sequel to controversial 1970s slasher 'The Town that Dreaded Sundown'. 65 years after a hooded phantom serial killer terrorised the quaint town of Texarkana, the killings begin again. A work of a copycat? Or is the masked psychopath at large again?
With the creator of hit American horror sitcom Alfonso Gomez-Rejon at the helm a certain level of stylish flair was expected and duly delivered. The moonlight murders begin again in a blazing flash of gore and continue with a sense of alarming regularity. There is a lack of suspense that hinders the feeling of dread; instead Gomez-Rejon's film defaults to common slasher norms and becomes executional. It is forgettably formulaic and aside from a couple of inventively stylised killing sequences (a sensationally gothic field murder) fails to leave its mark.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 40th Anniversary Screening
It's difficult to conjure up a more fitting way to spend Halloween than to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this genre-defining classic. Signed off by Tobe Hooper himself, the film has been digitally restored to sparkling 4K and given a new 7.1 surround sound mix. In a special introduction from author John Towlson, we were treated to a special message from Gunnar Hansen himself. The iconic star (who played Leatherface) expressed his disbelief that crowds were still gathering to celebrate the film decades after its initial release and passed on his gratitude to all present.
Seeing this for the first time on the silver screen is a watershed moment. Hooper's grisly tour-de-force is a terrifying descent into terror that has aged impeccably. It's a transformative experience that strikes an unparalleled brand of fear into the heart of its audience. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre shocks with its brutal depravity and sudden sparks of violence which unsettle with alarming regularity. It's perhaps the only genre film that drives you to the point of sensorial meltdown. Every flashing blade cuts the skin, each scream deafens; it's as though we’re taken on a journey of unimaginable torment but cling to the hope that there is light at the end of a tunnel.
Leatherface's initial introduction is the most memorable sequence and one that haunts long after the final credits. The hammer strike with a mallet and subsequent slamming of the sliding steel door sends shivers down the spine. It represents the introduction of the purest form of evil, a figure that can't be reasoned or negotiated with. The deeply disturbing table sequence is a culmination of the furious intensity built in a mesmerising chase sequence. It is the epitome of the horror film and marked a superb finale to day 2 at the festival.
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