Monday, 31 August 2015

Frightfest 2015 Day Five

The Lazarus Effect

        Cliched claptrap from the Blumhouse blender factory. A group of unbelievable researchers use ridiculous science to conjure up a melting pot of cliches we've seen done better elsewhere. Far too many well-worn ideas are crammed into the 83 minute running time resulting in an ultimately empty viewing experience. Can you tell I didn't really like this one?  

Alterate title: Event Horizon on Elm Street Part 2: Oh Forget It


        Not just werewolves on a train, but British Werewolves On A Train! Paul Hyett delivers a movie that's well thought out, tense and exciting, with some great performances and decent special effects. He still manages to lend the same gloomy sense of misery to landscape that he did with THE SEASONING HOUSE, and Hyatt is getting better with every film & I can't wait to see what he does next.

Alternate title: Werewolf Express


        Girl with marriage and pregnancy anxieties gets bitten by Something on her hen weekend in some South American country. When she gets home the bite leaks gallons of pus & she starts spewing fish eggs everywhere. An extremely gloopy horror with questionable acting and writing that could all have been justified & explained if the right ending had been there. It wasn't. 

Alternate title: Slime Girl From Beyond the Jungle


        Sexy psycho babysitter puts three children through cruelty for a not entirely satisfactory reason but who cares? This is unnerving stuff that's bound to strike a real chord with parents, if they can even bear to make it to the end. Not exactly original but it will make you squirm.

Alternate title: Strait Jackets Won't Hold Her

Tales of Halloween

        A mega anthology picture that came as a bit of a shock to many (including me) because of its playful nature. Expect very little of serious intent in these eleven (yes eleven!) Halloween-themed stories & you'll have a good time. Best stories were probably Mike Mendez's Friday the 31st and Neil Marshall's mad killer pumpkin episode. Steer clear, though, if you are expecting something darker. 

Alternate Title: October the Thirty-Worst

And that's it! It's 2.50am as I write these words, having just got back from the Frightfest after party at the Phoenix Artists Club. This weekend I have shaken Bernard Rose by the hand, hugged Barbara Crampton, told Pollyanna McIntosh she's sexy and generally had the most marvellous time. The above has all been written with the assistance of a large quantity of red wine so I apologise if it's not entirely coherent, but then neither were some of the TWENTY FIVE films I have watched over the last five days. I would do it all over again starting tomorrow if I could, but I'm just going to have to wait until next year. Frightfest 2016 just can't come soon enough.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Frightfest 2015 Day Four

Over Your Dead Body

        Takashi Miike tackes the kwaidan and links it to some very weird goings-on in the present day as cast and crew rehearse a lavish stage production of a classic ghost story, and fantasy and reality begin to bleed into one another. Similar to AUDITION in that all the extreme horror happens right at the end. I'm still not quite sure what was going on altogether but this is beautifully filmed and with Miike's trademark stamp of exquisite cruelty.

Alternate Title: Stage Struck

These Final Hours

        Incredibly moving and pitch-perfect Australian end of the world picture. The bomb goes up but it's twelve hours until the effects reach Australia. Exploring just how people would spend their last hours on earth this is a film that pulls no punches, is remarkable affecting and touching and has an ending that is just right. Go and see it when it finally gets a UK distributor.

Alternate Title: All Good Things

Road Games

        Nothing to do with Richard Franklin's early 1980s slasher starring Jamie Lee Curtis, this is all about fear and murder in the French countryside. ROAD GAMES has been compared to Robert Fuest's AND SOON THE DARKNESS. By the end I could see why but Fuest's film is rather better, although you do get the added bonus of Barbara Crampton speaking French.

Alternate Title: Let's Go France!...Not

Summer Camp

        Oh yes! Coming entirely out of left field (I had no idea what this one was about) this may well be the best horror film of the festival. At the Q & A afterwards the director said the plan was to make [REC] meets EVIL DEAD, which it is, but fans of those two movies will find plenty of original twists and turns in this as well as plenty of edge of the seat ferocious violence. With an ending that had the Frightfest audience cheering and clapping at its sheer delicious outrageousness SUMMER CAMP becomes my number one film so far.

Alternate Title: I Drink Your REC.

(I know, that's not very good, is it? But goodness they need a better title than SUMMER CAMP)

A Christmas Horror Story

        An anthology idea that takes Christmas as its theme and William Shatner as its link and delivers a film that needed some rewriting and a lot of tightening up. Some of the ideas are excellent (changelings, the Krampus) and one sequence that plays like a Robot Chicken gag has a superb punchline, but overall this isn't anywhere near as good as it could be. The stories are told in an interlinked way that doesn't serve them well - standard beginning middle and end for each would have worked much better and would have prevented climactic moments being defused by cuts to the next scene of another story. William Shatner is great, though.

Alternate Title: William Shatner's Zombie Elf Massacre

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Frightfest 2015 Day Three


        Wow. Here's something completely unexpected. Unique, elegant, excellent. Bernard Rose's moving and thoroughly successful modern updating of the Mary Shelley novel dispenses with dwelling on the creation of the monster and instead follows him on his journey through an increasingly vicious Los Angeles. Superb acting all round, especially from Xavier Samuel as the monster, and Tony Todd as the blind man he befriends. So far in the festival, this is THE one to see. 

Alternate title: Frankenstein & the Monster From LA

Shut In

      A home invasion horror that promises to develop along the lines of Stephen C Miller's superior THE AGGRESSION SCALE with its socially challenged female protagonist who is incapable of leaving her home and has to deal with crooks who come hunting for her hidden stash of money. Unfortunately the third act all goes a bit preposterous but sadly not preposterous enough for what it's suggesting to really work. Watch AGGRESSION SCALE again instead.

Alternate Title: Three Men In A Box


       The spirit of Pete Walker country house class horror is alive and well in this, a film that starts off by aping the eccentricity of Freddie Francis' MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY & GIRLY before becoming a far grimmer and really quite bitter dissection of the British class system. It wouldn't be fair to reveal any of the twists and turns in this but rest assured, at the beginning, no-one living in the threadbare country house where most of the action takes place is who they claim to be. Another highly recommended.

Alternate Title: House of Death & Lies


        Metalllll!!!!! The funniest film I've seen at Frightfest - packed with great one liners, lots of huge dildo fights and of course a pounding soundtrack. A couple of metalheads form a band with their dungeons and dragons-playing geek friends and end up playing the 'Black Hymn' that causes everyone in the neighbourhood to turn into demons. Utterly daft, extremely good natured, and loads of fun. Winner.

Alternate Title: Death Metal Dildo Wielding Disc Cutters

Sun Choke

        The first bum note of the festival for me. Some terrific performances (especially from Barbara Crampton, who is deliciously scary) but the plot is not so much out to lunch as away on permanent compassionate leave. I have no idea what the title means (but neither did the director) or why that girl was trapped in the house or what she was up to. And after ninety minutes of art house arseing around I was none the wiser. 

Alternate title: Psycho Vixens

Night of the Living Deb

        Utterly charming. I usually steer clear of zombie rom-coms but this was the best of the bunch on the midnight slot to round up the total to six again today. And I was glad I did. It's another zombie apocalypse but perky Deb is determined to save hunky one-night stand boyfriend Ryan from the rampaging hordes and his awful family. Terrific lead performance by Maria Thayer and a pretty decent guest appearance by Ray Wise made this a lovely way to finish the evening. Even the film breaking down twenty minutes in didn't deter the audience from having a great time with this one.

Alternate Title: 28 Debs Later - this one suggested by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB's director, whom I thank because it's now 2am & I have to be up tomorrow to crack on with Takashi Miike's new one - hurrah!). 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Frightfest 2015 Day Two


        Is mad Martin the ex-soldier keeping a monster in the basement of his isolated cabin in the woods, or is he just, well, mad? And either way, can his straight-laced brother and alcoholic screamy whiny druggie sister help him? Low budget horror with a cast of five, including this year's first appearance by Larry Fessenden, POD isn't top notch horror, but it's a reasonable time-waster and the revelation of what actually IS locked in that basement room did keep me guessing right up to the reveal. 

Alternate title: Monster in the Cabin


        Pregnant teen gets threatened by ghost children wearing an array of sacks, buckets and various utensils on their heads in a movie filled with some lovely dreamlike imagery all spoiled by an ending that will have you shouting get stuffed (or worse) at the screen. After this & CHERRY TREE I really hope this isn't going to develop into Teen Pregnancy Fest. If only John Carpenter had directed this one. Exploding pumpkins and gratuitous llama placement do HELLIONS no favours either.

Alternate Title: Halloween Blood Moon Spawn

Worry Dolls

        WORRY DOLLS opens with a sequence so crackingly brilliant that you wonder how the rest of the film is going to top it. Sadly it doesn't, but this tale of cursed Guatemalan dolls that make you kill anyone you're slightly annoyed with is still reasonable pulpy fun, even if it does overdo the broken family stuff when a movie like this should be getting on with the murders and the monsters. 

Alternate Title: Curse of the Death Dolls


Wow. Oh yes, this is what Frightfest is all about - subtitled Russian art house horror that you'll probably never get the chance to see again. In a Russian village people are dying from an unexplained malady. The only way to cure it is to obey the village priest's instructions and enter the subconscious of the afflicted. Cue loads of scary, bizarre, and often overwhelming imagery that doesn't necessarily form a cohesive narrative but which looks amazing. Best film so far, and most likely the best all weekend to have been made with a budget of 15 000 Euros.

Alternate Title: Beyond the Horrors

The Shelter

        Michael Pare stars as a down and out who ends up reliving his past sins in a deserted house from which there seems to be no escape, except perhaps the obvious. Not bad, with definite talent behind the camera, but the real star here is Pare who makes this film worth watching. So far the winner of the Most Self Loathing In A Film, and also the film with the most biblical quotes and references. Could there be a connection?

Alternate title: Dying for Your Sins

We Are Still Here

        A tribute to Lucio Fulci's HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY starring Barbara Crampton means this one was already winning with me even before the credits rolled. Paul and Ann Sacchetti (nice) move into a chilly Boston house that just happens to harbour Horrible Burned Things in the basement. Plenty of macabre backstory, some outrageous gore, loads and loads and loads of B&J whiskey consumption (well done chaps) and plenty of in-jokes for Fulci fans makes this one of the highlights of the festival.

Alternate Title: House by the Crematory

And that's it for day two as I finish typing this at just after one in the morning. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Frightfest 2015 Day One

It's that special time of year again, when London is host to one of the best horror film festivals in the world. A massive number of brand new films will be screening at the Vue Cinema Leicester Square over the next five days. You can probably manage a maximum of 25 out of all that are on offer, if you make careful toilet choices and are prepared to go without food every now and then to brave something that could turn out to be the best film of the year, or just as easily be some interminable brain-numbing found footage rubbish that will never, ever be seen again anywhere.
        I usually post my top ten favourite films for each year of FrightFest, but this year, with the aid of a laptop and free WiFi, I'm going to try and say something about every film I see. I intend to wax lyrical (and at length) about the good, and perhaps even longer about the bad. Apologies beforehand if by day three I'm reduced to merely uttering 'It was good' or 'Please never again' before I plunge recklessly on into the next one, but let's see what happens shall we? 
        By way of extra fun, I have been formerly challenged to come up with more suitable Hammer / AIP / exploitationesque titles to replace the numerous, and often interchangeable, one word titles a lot of these films seem to have. If I can come up with even one I shall be pleased.
        And so... I have my dinner suit on, a scarlet satin shirt and a black and red bow tie to bring the ensemble together. It's opening night at Film 4 FrightFest 2015, and we start with...

Cherry Tree 

        A tale of British (or rather, Irish) witchcraft that starts off a little bit Mario Bava BLACK SUNDAY, quickly becomes more like Norman J Warren's SATAN'S SLAVE, and then goes totally off the rails with weird transformations, voice overs to explain what's (probably) going on, and an ending that's just daft. 
        A couple of great lead performances and a few splendidly original and scary scenes can't overcome some cringeworthy dialogue and totally bonkers plotting. Full marks, though, for giving Uncle Monty's Centipede Talent Agency more work than the little fellows must have had in years. Director David Keating gave us WAKEWOOD and I'll admit it's better than that, which isn't really saying much. I did like the rubber centipede he flung into the audience during his introduction, though.

Alternate title: Witch Centipedes of Satan

Turbo Kid

        Frightfest gets properly underway with this terrifically entertaining, micro-budget tribute to the MAD MAX rip-offs of the 1980s. It's 1997 and the apocalypse has rendered the world barren. No power means the only method of transport is the bicycle (or tricycle), and water is scarce, with villain Michael Ironside obtaining his from people. MANBORG meets THE NEW BARBARIANS in this action-packed and unexpectedly charming picture that hits all the right notes. I'd watch it again now if I could.

Alternate title: BMX Bastards


Giant wasps do not a good film make, which is a shame because the giant wasps in this are really pretty good. Sadly the rest of the film doesn't really know what it wants to be, and the result veers between a not very funny comedy to a not especially scary horror film. Lance Henriksen's in it, looking as if he's waiting for the cheque to clear. Otherwise this is Bert I Gordon for the 2010s, growth hormone and all!

Alternate title: Invasion of the Wasp Creatures

Monday, 24 August 2015

Madman (1982)

Obscure backwoods 1980s slasher flick MADMAN gets a whistles and bells Blu-ray release courtesy of Arrow Films. 
Around a campfire at a summer school for gifted children, we learn the story of Madman Marz, who killed his family and escaped the gallows only to roam the forest in search of fresh victims. The only thing you mustn’t do is say his name out loud. Of course someone promptly does and the scene is set for ninety minutes of pure backwoods slasher material, i.e. a group of "teenagers" wandering around in the dark and being slowly bumped off.

The first thing to say is that this movie should not be confused with 1989's (superior and far more entertaining) I, MADMAN about an insane fictional doctor who escapes from a novel to terrorise Jenny Wright. Having cleared that up, is there anything to make MADMAN stand out from its contemporaries? Well, the ending is pretty downbeat, and the skill of director Joe Giannone elevates it above homemade rubbish like DON’T GO IN THE WOODS...ALONE! Be warned, though, MADMAN is no HALLOWEEN or FRIDAY THE 13TH. It’s not even on a par with George Mihalka’s MY BLOODY VALENTINE, although you do get a song about the title character at the end. Acting is par for the course with these things, although the lead is played by DAWN OF THE DEAD’S Gaylen Ross under the name Alexis Dubin. 

Fans of this sort of thing will spot similarities to Tony Maylam’s THE BURNING and Steve Miner’s FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 with its campfire way of relating the slasher legend, and a more recent slasher that was obviously influenced by MADMAN is Adam Green’s series of HATCHET movies - Victor Crowley looks very similar to Madman Marz.

There seems to be quite a cult around this film, although I will admit I can’t really see why. Anyway, fans are going to be delighted by the package on offer from Arrow here. There’s a ninety-one minute making of documentary, two audio commentaries and numerous other extras, including a piece on music inspired by the film (!), interviews with cast and crew, a profile of the career of producer Gary Sales, convention interviews, stilsl, a trailer, TV spots, a collector’s booklet and an ‘In Memoriam’ piece for director Joe Giannone and actor Tony Fish amongst others.

Fans of obscure backwoods USA slasher fare are going to be delighted with this. Everyone else can probably give it a miss.  

Arrow Films are releasing MADMAN on dual format Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on 24th August 2015

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

The third film in Universal’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON franchise, better known as The One That Was Never On TV When We Were Kids gets a UK DVD release courtesy of Fabulous Films.

Insanely jealous and generally mad doctor Jeff Morrow sets off in his luxury boat. With him is his THIS ISLAND EARTH costar deep-voiced Rex Reason as a deep-voiced geneticist (“I’m also a doctor”), some other doctors (James Rawley and Maurice Manson), and Gregg Palmer as the tight T-shirt espadrille and black leather cap on a bit too far back wearing bit of eye candy who’s constantly trying to deny his true sexuality by trying to get it on with Mad Jeff’s blonde slip of a wife (Leigh Snowden) when she’s not succumbing to the bends with two of the other chaps and making Mad Jeff even more mad.

They’re all journeying upriver to catch the Gill-Man, set him on fire, cover him in bandages, give him a tracheotomy, and change him into a far cheaper and tattier looking monster altogether. Is it any wonder he’s the only character in this we feel sorry for?
Not content with being the most despicable and miserable bunch of characters ever to grace a Universal monster movie, our band of bastards take the Gill-Man to San Francisco. Well not San Francisco exactly, but the removal van that takes all their stuff to a house in the middle of nowhere has San Francisco written on the side, and it allows Universal to then put the Golden Gate Bridge on the poster when it has no involvement in the film whatsoever. Boo!

In Probably-Not-San-Francisco the evil scientists lock the Gill-Man up in a compound, muse about how he can now never go back in the water even though he yearns to, and throw a mountain lion at him. Mad Jeff goes completely mad and kills Gay Gregg, probably in some fit of unrequited passion or something (these films were all about subtext after all, weren’t they?).

Mad Jeff blames Gay Gregg’s death on the Gill-Man. The bars on the Gill-Man’s compound turn to cardboard. The Gill-Man escapes, kills Mad Jeff and runs off. Cut to Mad Jeff’s funeral and the usual pontificating that goes on after the climax of a film like this except we haven’t really had one. “Where’s the Gill-Man gone?” asks someone. “Oh probably to kill himself” is the gist of the reply. We see the Gill-Man walking along the beach and staring at the sea. He looks very sad indeed. The End.

Bloody hell. For a low-budget entry in a 1950s monster movie series it’s actually hard to think of a bigger downer than THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US. In fact its nihilism almost makes it feels as if it should have been made 15 years later. Pretty much no-one is likeable and nothing much happens except squabbling and pointless experiments on nature to no good whatsoever. One wonders what audience reception to this was at the time, but the absence of a fourth film probably answers that.
        Fabulous Films’ DVD is no frills and lacks the commentary track you get if you go for Universal’s Region 1 release. You do get still and poster galleries, though. 

Fabulous Films are releasing THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US on Region 2 DVD on 24th August 2015