Of course, Corona19 is pretty much a horror scenario come to life. Didn't I see an article saying research shows horror fans coping better with its stresses?
Anyway, the pandemic put paid to the annual trek to London to stick my head into horror films and, as they say, “the dark side of cinema” and not to come out for days. Dodgy eating, racing for the night bus, spending a bit much on new films at Fopps, etc. But, like everything else, FrightFest moved online, so here we are. It’s minus the casual party atmosphere and it means there’s no eavesdropping on other’s comments when leaving a film for the lobby, or overhearing the groups outside The Empire Leicester Square, or buddying with your seat neighbour, so I’m missing out there.
It’s a slimmed-down programme, but it’s great to still have it!
And I am going to take a moment to recommend the documentary Chris Collier’s ‘FrightFest: beneath the dark heart of cinema’, made by friends and acquaintances of mine. This is a great primer for those that don’t know or those that are new to it (I’m assuming devotees have already seen it), and as I’ve been going for ten years now, I remember several of those events and speeches featured.
So to digi-FrightFest 2020.
Things started off with the Evolution of Horror podcast’s FightFest pub quiz, hosted by the very agreeable Mike Muncer. This was on YouTube and free for anyone. I got about 50% of the answers right each round, give or take, so I maybe I’m not as much of a nerd as occasionally accused. Actually, I’m just crap at trivia. But I did get a particular question in the FrightFest specific round - the question was (I’m paraphrasing): what was the film screening at FrightFest where two people were caught in a sex act. It was ‘R.I.P.D.’: two people were caught masturbating and the incident was labelled the “‘R.I.P.D.’ shuffle” (I’m pretty sure it was Paul McEvoy announced this).
The Short Film Showcase used to be on the main screen but has moved to other screens in recent years. I always enjoyed the short films but mostly just stay on the main screen. I even asked Alan Jones once if there was going to be a FrightFest short film release DVD, but he said no as it was a rights nightmare.
Even if not remarkable, the Short Film Showcase One starts off with at least agreeably quirky genre angles. Ryan Irving’s ‘Bark’ a slasher scenario told from the point-of-view of a tree; Florence Kosky’s ‘A Bit of Fun’ where a séance exposes the rifts in some housemates’ friendship; ‘Breakfast’ by Paul Beattie and Melanie Rios is decently conveyed portrayal of a woman’s descent into zombiedom; Christopher McSherry’s ‘FLESH Control’ told from the point of view of bugs and featuring agreeably clunky costumes. But ‘Subject 3’ is all set-up and then ends just as it gets going.
The second half is a stronger crop. Ordinarily I find a story’s retreat into anthropomorphosis when concerning robots and AI a weakness, but of course it depends how it’s done. Aidan Brezonick’s ‘Jeff Drives You’ does it right, concerning a self-driving car loaded with so much AI and raised empathy that it’s more a commentary on how everything is marketed to sell to the consumer’s preference, the customer’s indulgence. You know: The world revolves around you. It’s wry, darkly funny, nicely played and, considering where it goes to, convincing within its 17 minute run time.
Nat Luurtsema’s ‘Ouzo and Blackcurrant’ isn’t remarkable, but it knows what it is and does what short films do so well: a striking single location, nice performances, the hint of backstory, just enough to let us know what the trope is, and then find an angle to hinge scares on.
Similarly, Finn Callan’s ‘Guest’ uses an anxious air and one unforgettably creepy visage to power his short. Inspired by a nightmare, apparently, and it shows.
Brian Gillespie’s ‘Tarrare’ has hardly any visuals at all, just an unsettling drawing and words across the screen. It’s a tale told in narration by Ian Lassiter but it’s fully engaging for it’s one of those horror tales that’s simple and nasty and works vividly in the imagination. Alternatively, although using similar storytelling, Shaun Clark’s ‘The Beholder’ is an Edgar Allan Poe rendition that uses animation and live action for a super-short (1 minute) Gothic shock. It’s a beautiful as it is quick.
Mark Fehse, 2020, Germany
Nazi-zombies riding on flying sharks, so you
know that drill. And there's plenty of amusement to be had from that even if you have to sidestep the issue that Nazi's aren't perhaps so much a thing of the past that they can be harmlessly trivialised.
It starts of decently enough with the first attack on an unsuspecting flight and there’s plenty of CGI gore and breasts and that knowing homaging to 80s cheese. Oh, and there’s some family stuff. But it’s one of those meta-exploitation tributes that gets bogged down in backstory – Nazi experiments to raise the ultimate army from the undead, etc – and in plot instead of gags that the fun wears thin. Decent zombies though, and that’s where practical effects have the edge.