I am at Frightfest the 13th, Empire Leicester Square 2012. This involves limited time for writing and sleeping and adding nice pics to this post, so I'm just going to plough in and hope for the best and add more decoration later.
Day 1: Thursday 23rd Aug.
The Seasoning House:
Stylishly made; goes for hideous beauty. Highly problematic in both its use of brutalized female bodies and its vision of men purely as rapists, especially those that already like their women bloodsoaked. Frightfest programme booklet bandies about comparisons to Hitchcock and Polanski: no and no (a suspenseful film is not instantaneously Hitchockian). Eli Roth and extreme French cinema are better references: indeed, director Paul Hyett describes ‘The Seasoning House’ (all films are discussed as mash-ups of other films) as ‘Martyrs’, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and ‘Die Hard’. Del Toro? Hmm, no. ‘Die Hard’? Well yes, when our diminutive orphaned girl “Angel” (!) starts fighting back and crawling through crawlspaces, one can see comparisons there. Mute and kidnapped for a Balkan brothel where she dopes up and cleans up other brutalized girls, Angel ends up being nothing more than a pixie-sized revenge fantasy against violent masculinity. Brilliantly played by Rosie Day, the film’s weaknesses and problems become more evident as it passes the halfway mark: for example, such hideous masculinity becomes the realm of English actors putting on ‘foreign’ accents thick enough to sit on, putting the male characters in a cultural no-man’s land and at arm’s length. The use of imagery of tortured and gore-soaked women leaves this tale highly distasteful when it is only in the service of another escape/revenge fantasy and not – like the superior ‘Martyrs’ – to reach a genuine polemic and discourse on such imagery. In this way it is far more exploitation cinema than its careful conception and ugly-pretty aesthetic would have the viewer believe.
Bonus: a brilliantly nasty knife fight when Angel first starts fighting back. My first understanding, also, that a huge horror audience will laugh at extreme violence regardless of the seriousness or ugliness of the text as a whole. They laugh because the effects are brilliant; they laugh because they are relieved that the bad guys are getting some just desserts; they laugh because all extreme special effects are funny?
First memorable Frightfest imagery: knife-in-the-mouth moment.
Cockneys vs Zombies
If you find Cockneys inherently funny, then this is probably for you. Lots of gusto, some good lines and gags – mostly to do with Richard Bryars – but really never more than an amusing title with some kind of East End splatter attached. Old People’s home versus zombies is the best side of the film, including Honor Blackman gleefully hammering away at zombie heads. Very broad. Nothing interesting done with zombies at all: as with ‘Zombieland’, zombies are just a pretext for some jokes and a wallowing in guilt-free spree killing (although "Zombieland" did have some interesting undead designs). Comparisons with “Shaun of the Dead” leave the cockneys wanting. Regardless of this, director Matthias Hoene comes across as really winning and interesting (friends of mine, manning the festival's cameras, interviewed him and said so) and plenty of others are going to enjoy this on its own terms. That’s condescending, but there you go. I don’t find gangster-posturing cockneys inherently funny, so not quite for me.
This is more my thing. Humour based upon characters and context rather than gags and excess. Director Jon Wright says he wanted to make a homage to those ‘80s monster movies such as “Gremlins” and “Critters”, et al, and he succeeds. Nice central performances and gorgeous Irish tourist-board cinematography of the little island town suddenly besieged by both small and giant aliens. Despite the fact that the whole things sounds like a bad gag – aliens allergic to alcohol attack Irishmen – it’s all played straight enough that the concept works and doesn’t drown the fun in blarney. First full win of the festival.
Second memorable Frightfest imagery: unforgettable vision of a giant ball of tentacles rolling across the countryside.
And then time to run off to get the night bus home. There’ll be some sleep, but not too much, then back for Day 2’s marathon session.
Day 2: Friday 24th
Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut
Even when it was released in 1990, I was aware of the legend that this Clive Barker film was cut to ribbons by the studio. The original version was deemed to be lost until an old VHS copy turned up on Barker’s shelf and other footage turned up in Italy, etc. ‘The Cabal Cut’ is two and a half hours long but there was also a three hour version cut and other footage still thought to be pending. The cut is based upon original drafts of Barker’s scripts. 'The Cabal Cut' is mostly comprised of murky VHS prints apparently filtered through static.
I always thought ‘Nightbreed’ was a diverting monster movie, although not especially good it was enjoyably odd, and that David Cronenberg as a hooded serial killer stole the show. ‘The Cabal Cut’, as is and apparently truer to Barker's original vision, reveals a very, very confused film with a lot of stuff happening, and then more happening, but very little cohering or making sense. Stuff happens because it does. For example, why is the underground world of Median meant to be so secret and safe when people just seem to walk in and out of it at leisure throughout the film? All the stuff about who are the real monsters? and the monsters as angst-ridden outcasts feels like the rantings of a juvenile X-Men fan. Also, it becomes seriously camper and camper as it goes on, reaching its nadir when a policeman tongues a garrote lovingly. It’s a total mess and increasingly dull and painful to watch. It becomes apparent that the studio probably saw it and thought what the hell do we do with this? And their decision for cutting becomes quite understandable. What a shame.
But Cronenberg and his buttons-and-zip hood are still totally terrifying and still steal the show.
Eight characters trapped in an elevator with a bomb. For the most part nicely written and compelling due to sturdy performances and decent dialogue, but it still feels like a television movie with added gore. The analogies to a post-9/11 world and financial crises are obvious enough to make one sigh without being too hammered home. Well made and diverting but probably nothing more.
I have far too much to write on this to put here, but essentially it’s a found footage anthology by a bunch of directors and, although truly overlong, it is mostly a great success, containing much unease, several surprises and ... well, it is scary. Although my Frightfest pal David found the final segment "hokey", I found myself whooping with delight once I realised what was going on and things really got crazy. The ‘found-footage’ subjectivity seemed to me to open up quite a different and thrilling vibe to the otherwise well-worn genre tales. It has to be said that the handheld and VHS tape aesthetic is probably overdone and likely to induce vertigo and nausea; it would seem that there were no tripods or putting the camera down in the days of VHS.
Again, however, is the problem and myth that no one can pick up a camera without wanting to make a porno and/or snuff film. Again, the male characters are mostly all problematic, bullying and coercing the women to varying degrees, and if not they seem just like tedious juvenile pranksters.
The original ‘Rec’ is pretty much a horror masterpiece: one of the best point-of-view films ever made. ‘Rec2’ is a lesser beast, perhaps inevitably, but this third installment throws down the hand-held aesthetic after a fairly bravura opening and gets down to some post-"Evil Dead" kick-ass splatter. This all leaves the intimacy and terror of its predecessors very far behind. Well, maybe that was played out by this point, but what we are left with is a very different beast, much more interested in pleasing its audience with brides-and-chainsaws and comedy costumes and never troubling itself about the full ramifications of a huge wedding party where family and guests slaughter one another because they are infected or in self-defence. There are some nice gags earlier on regarding the characters but it’s hard to reconcile the glee with which the Frightfest audience greeted the chainsaw-on-zombie carnage with the moment where a bus full of children trying to escape is chillingly overrun with the infected.
The day also featured a rather unexpected and fun run-in with writer and Frightfest organiser Alan Jones. My Frightfest pal Paul and I had decided to forego the Dario Argento Q&A in order to get some food (you have to grab free moments where you can as there isn't much space between screenings). We came back and wandered into the theatre to see if we wanted to listen to Argento, but we did not and decided we wanted coffee instead, so we left. In the lobby Mr Jones seemed to bound across and said to us, "Oh, is he that boring?" Chatting away, I asked if they were going to an Argento film, which they weren't after all and we ended up chatting about how the renowned giallo director doesn't own the rights to any of his films other than "Opera", and how there is only one copy of "Suspiria" for digital projection and that one is booked for the next two years. Mr Jones keeps telling Mr Argento to get a digital copy of "Opera" to carry around with him, but he hasn't. "Oh, when will Argento listen to you?" I lamented on Mr Jones' behalf. Mr Jones threw up his hands and agreed.
I also confessed that although I love "Suspiria", I don't have so much time for Argento's other work (and his new "Dracula" is meant to be crap). I kinda regretted this as I recalled later that Jones is a big fan of Argento's earlier work, but never mind.
Bumping into Alan Jones has been a mini-highlight for sure.