film4 frightfest 2015

 

TOP PICKS OF FRIGHTFEST 2015

Every year it gets bigger; more films on offer, more screens and more of a headache deciding what to see. Me, I take the easy way out and stick with the main screen as much as possible. This meant missing out on some popular choices in the Discovery screens, which appear to have gone down well (Paul Hyett's lycanthropic train adventure Howl and Chad Archibald's body horror Bite to name a couple). Thankfully I did get to duck into Discovery 1 a couple of times to see Summer Camp and Bloodsucking Bastards, both of which were of a standard that could have graced the Main Screen (and some would say, should have, over the choice of a couple of films that screened there over the weekend).

Overall the quality for 2015 was very high, with only a couple of films falling short of at least being a passable way to spend 80-90 minutes. Cherry Tree and Hellions, I'm looking at you here. That said, even the worst of the bunch wasn't that bad. But I'm all about the positivity, so instead of concentrating on what wasn't particularly special or what was just middling, I'm going to celebrate what was good and great. These are in no particular order, but represent my top picks of the genre festival for 2015.

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SOME KIND OF HATE

Adam Egypt Mortimer's tale of a vengeful spirit that returns to help a young victim of bullying seems to have courted criticism thanks to some less than wise statements during the film's Q&A and its recurring theme of self harm somehow glamorising the practice. While I wasn't party to the Q&A, I don't see the glamorising aspect (do the other films at the festival glamorise murder?). It's always good to have a bandwagon to ride though, and the director seems to have had his best intentions at heart, which was to make a film the speaks for the victims of bullying. It's an accomplished effort for a first feature and one that I'm keen to check out again to see if there is anything to the criticism it has received. You can read the full review here.

 

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STUNG

Harking back to the days when mutant creature features were rendered with practical effects and not an over abundance of CGI like SyFy seems to think make a movie. Benni Diez's first feature sees guests at a posh garden party come under attack from a breed of giant mutant wasps that assimilate themselves with humans to create bigger and badder insectoid hybrids. Featuring an awesome sequence when the party-goers encounter the insects for the first time, the film is dripping in goo and grue. With the welcome addition of Lance Henriksen as an amusing alcohol enthusiast, things get chucklesome as the few survivors are contained in a wine cellar. Although it does fall back on the aforementioned CGI in its final act, it's easy to forgive for its sheer energy and sense of fun. Full review here.

 

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BAIT

Dominic Brunt endeared himself to the Frightfest audience in previous years with his directorial debut Before Dawn, an altogether new and successful take on the tired zombie genre. 2015 saw him return with Bait, a brutal thriller about two female small-business owners with their sights set on opening their own cafe. To secure funding, they initially contact local loan shark Jeremy, superbly played by Jonathan Slinger, until they realise just what a nasty piece of work he is. However, by that point they're in too deep, as Jeremy believes the upfront work he's done to secure the money (getting it out of his safe, basically) warrants payback in the form of crippling amounts of interest. The tagline of "Hell hath no fury" might give you a clue as to where the film goes eventually, but there's an awful lot of suffering for the two ladies before their scorn is sufficient for the release of their fury. Full review here.

 

we are still here poster

WE ARE STILL HERE

Another first-time director, Ted Geoghegan, hit Frightfest with his film We Are Still Here, an unashamed love letter to Italian horror of the '70s and '80s, with much of its influence coming from Lucio Fulci's House by the Cemetary. A couple grieving the loss of their son start a new life in a small town, inhabiting what was once a funeral home. When a seemingly friendly neighbour (more like naysayer) gives them a potted history of the house, they dismiss it as nonsense, but as time moves on they find out that every word he said was true. Featuring a cast of mature actors (including festival headline guest Barbara Crampton), it's a haunted house movie that dumps modern convention and brings some genuine scares and a truly terrifying creature design. You can read Zig's review of the US Blu-ray here.

 

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SUMMER CAMP

Helmed by [REC] executive producer Alberto Marini, Summer Camp sets a bunch of American camp counsellors in a rural Spanish getaway that aims to help students learn English by immersing them in the language. Not much in the way of linguistics is allowed to happen, as the counsellors begin to become infected and turn into very [REC]-reminiscent rage demons. It's nothing ethereal or theological causing the possessions here though, a group of nomadic travellers who've camped nearby have poisoned the water supply with their own strain of magic mushroom. Unlike most possession/infection movies, Summer Camp allows its protagonists to dip in and out of being slavering demons as the effects of the drug wear off which makes for some fun scenes where those unaffected aren't sure whether they should be embracing or eviscerating their friends.

 

bloodsucking bastards poster

BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS

Set in a telesales company that's not doing so well, acting sales manager Evan (Cabin in the Woods stoner Fran Kranz) is pissed off when he's passed over for promotion in favour of his old college nemesis Max (Pedro Pascal). But while the company's profits start to climb, so does the number of strange happenings, and Evan realises the truth that his new boss is a vampire intent on turning everyone in the office into one of his undead minions. It's another film that's going to get plentiful "Shaun of the Dead meets..." accolades, even though it's nothing like the aforementioned horror favourite. Sure, Bloodsucking Bastards is a comedy and there's some romance in there too, but that's where its similarity to Shaun ends. That said, it is an awesome comedy that takes a shot at the vampire genre in a much less subtle, but in no way less amusing manner than the recent vamp-em-up What We Do In The Shadows. You can read Steve Wood's full review of the US Blu-ray here and his interview with Fran Kranz here.

 

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TURBO KID

If you're a child of the '80s like me (shut up, I might be old but I'm still cool. Or hip. Rad. Whatever), then you'll find myriad things to enjoy in Turbo Kid, an unashamedly kitsch and gloriously entertaining romp through a post-apocalyptic world where BMXs are the favoured mode of transport. And if you're not a child of the '80s? Well you'll still have an awesome time, so do not miss it. Originally made as a short for The ABCs of Death anthology (where it would have been T is for Turbo), the feature follows a young wasteland scavenger and comic book fan who takes on the persona of his favourite hero to rescue his friend Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) and defeat the dystopian world's dictator Zeus (Michael Ironside). Firmly planted in the sci-fi genre, but when the battles between good and evil commence, things get extremely bloody.

 

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TALES OF HALLOWEEN

One of two celebration-linked anthology pieces, Tales of Halloween is the brainchild of Axelle Carolyn (Soulmate) and boasts a veritable who's who? of modern horror in its directorial line-up as well as a pantheon of genre alumni in its cast. Set around a small town during, as you might expect, Halloween, it collects 10 stories which interconnect with each other throughout. I did have some misgivings about the prospect of 10 stories within one film, feeling that perhaps the overall length of the film would be too long or each segment length too short if a particular runtime was being aimed for. However, after seeing the film those doubts were cast aside as it really does hit the mark being neither too tiresome overall nor having any real stinkers among its individual stories. Introduced by Axelle Carolyn at the festival with a heartfelt dedication to Wes Craven, this is a Halloween anthology you can put on your annual viewing list straight away.

 

a christmas horror story

A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY

And the second anthology piece is the festively-themed A Christmas Horror Story, which edges over Tales of Halloween by being a slicker production with a much more solid wraparound. Set in the fictional town of Bailey Downs (where the Ginger Snaps series and the Orphan Black TV show are also set, trivia fans), this portmanteau consists of just four stories and eschews the traditional format of alternating the wraparound with each complete story by dipping in and out of each one at points that leave the audience wanting more. William Shatner is absolutely marvellous as the late-night radio DJ providing comic relief between stories while getting steadily more inebriated. And did I mention it features a story that pits Santa Claus against zombie elves at the North Pole? No? Well it does. A Christmas Horror Story is Trick 'r Treat for the yuletide season and whether you've been naughty or nice, you really should have this in your stocking this Christmas.

 

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DEATHGASM

I know I said above that these were in no particular order, but I lied. Sort of. I saved the best for last; my absolute favourite of this year's festival and one that had me almost permanently in tears of laughter throughout. Jason Lei Howden (yet another first-time director) goes balls to the wall and devil horns up with this splatterific metal comedy about a group of young metalheads who accidentally invoke a demon uprising by playing a satanic hymn during band practise. Equal parts funny and sweet, with a thumping soundtrack and crammed full of references to the world of metal, this is the perfect festival movie. Howden said he wanted to make a movie for his 13-year-old self because there was nothing that brought the music and the gore together when he was a kid. And boy did he succeed, Deathgasm plays out like a glorious mix of his fellow countryman Peter Jackson's Brain Dead with a shredding death metal score. Destined to be loved by horror fans everywhere.

 

 

 

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About The Author
Daniel Benson
UK Editor / Webmaster
Fuelled mostly by coffee and a pathological desire to rid the world of bad grammar, Daniel has found his calling by picking holes in other people's work. In the rare instances he's not editing, he's usually breaking things in the site's back end.
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