Monday, 3 September 2018


FRIGHTFEST Day 2, 2018


Chris Collier, 2018, UK

A documentary about this very festival with talking heads from its directors – Alan Jones, Ian Rattray, Greg Day and Paul McEvoy – and film directors and fans. All are faces frequently seen in the lobby and I remember some of the archival footage too (I was there for ‘Big Bad Wolves’, the very last film shown in the huge Empire auditorium before it was IMAXified). Indeed, Collier’s documentary is surely a marvel of editing down what must have been a mountain of footage (editor: Craig Ellis) covering almost twenty years. It balances a focus not only on the films and how influential the festival is on the genre industry, but also on the fact that the audience is fundamentally its driving force. From the Prince Charles to the Vue to the Empire to Shepard’s Bush and back to the Empire, this covers key moments from each and paints a picture a small group of very different organisers united by common cause. I mean, of course I love the festival, a period of life where all you have to worry about is getting to the next film and then talking about it with people whose name you may not know just yet. When you tell people you’re going to a film festival, it doesn’t convey to them how much of a party it also is. Collier’s documentary does capture much of that spirit and provides a concise glide over its long history that will surely satisfy regular attendees and intrigue genre fans that are yet to indulge in its goodies. 


Mitzi Peirone, 2018, USA

Three women holed up in a mansion, psychologically crumbling in a miasma of abstraction, toys and childhood games. …and in this way, perhaps it can be seen as similar to Pascal Laugier’s ‘Incident in a Ghost Land’ as they both follow the In The House We Go Crazy template, but they are poles apart. Peirone begins as she means to go on from the start with beautiful, arty images and equally arty camerawork, but this also means there is nowhere to go to, aesthetically. This all fits the temporal displacement and the circular trajectory of the narrative but ultimately there is no progression.
It’s a mood piece, then, and as a style-over-substance experience it’s pretty and looks like an unhinged photoshoot from some ‘Homes & Gardens’ magazine. There is a tale being told on the periphery and possibly a second watch will bring it all into focus, but for all its successful fragmentary mood, there is the sense that something at the centre isn’t quite gelling. 


Sonny Laguna & Tommy Wikund, 2018, USA

Well, you surely know what you’re getting with a title like that and the main point of intrigue was that this is written by S. Craig Zahler who, like Jeremy Saulnier, is one of the most interesting and thrilling voices on movie violence currently working. To that end, perhaps there is a slightly higher quality to the dialogue and it’s perhaps a dash less tacky than expected, but it is what you expect and no more. They’d probably be silly for trying anything truly different. There’s a wonderful animated credits sequence and then there’s gathering in a hotel of people about to sell their antique puppets, but the puppets have plans and prejudices of their own. The best kill is perhaps the man who gets to piss on his own decapitated head and the most outrageous (of the entire festival) is the puppet gutting a pregnant woman.
So when you have gore humour as your chief aim, the allusions to the Holocaust isn’t really going to stick. But it’s all amusing enough in a bad taste manner.


Franck Ribiere, 
Belgium/UK, 2018

This is the one that I saw that surely deserved more attention. Based around 1930s Grand Guignol theatre and its celebrated star Paula Maxa, the actress killed onstage more than 10,000 times in 60 different ways (it says). It’s a fabrication based on her biography and a sporadically successful look at masochism and the use/need of horror for entertainment and expression. It throws in a serial killer, moral outrage and a so-so romance. Most of all, it’s evocation of the plays and atmosphere are fascinating, raw and convincing; equal to ‘The Limehouse Golem’ in reconstruction of performances, and in capturing the thin line between the audience and the stage. Here’s the origins of FrightFest. The old-fashioned Gothic atmosphere hooks even as the sensibility and convolutions has a decidedly contemporary genre self-awareness. Flawed but evocative in all the right places.


Pascal Laugier, France/Canada, 2018

Pascal Laugier seems to me to be a most divisive director, but I will always love ‘Martyrs’ for being an uncompromising and angry slab of horror with a real target. ‘Incident in a Ghost Land’ may prove similarly gruelling/tedious for some: the man next to me said, “I dozed off and when I woke again, some woman was still being battered around and then there were two or three lines of dialogue.” It’s hard to argue with that but Laugier here presents something that ‘Martyrs’ might have been if it been more a routine horror without such a furious agenda. Typically, Laugier plays with genre a little: home invasion… wait, is this a ghost story? A Gothic home full of dolls and toys. Antagonists straight out of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. Some deception… It may seem a mixed bag, but Laugier is like a brutal Ti West, attuned to genre and aiming for something higher. Dennis Harvey writes, “The rest of us will again feel a tad queasy about the way Laugier meticulously showcases sadism while seeming comparatively indifferent to matters of basic storytelling logic and suspense.” But few directors seem to convey the relentlessness and visceral nature of these kinds of horror films quite so artfully (and nobody seemed interested in the more elegant ‘House of Voices’ or ‘The Tall Man’). And he seems to push for the truths on the other side of the volence. Don’t be distracted by the sadism into thinking there is not a clear intent. All those hints of tales within tales and alternative realities may be a further clue. There’s always more at work beneath the surface of a Laugier film.


Chris Sun, 2018, Australia

A fine old school monster movie with clunky-impressive practical effects rather than CGI. Something is rampaging through the fences and livestock in the Australian outback, just as a typically squabbling family is paying a visit to a relative. You know how this goes, but there’s the wonderful Mick Jarret whose friendship with another old timer is genuinely as touching as it is brusque; Nathan Jones goes hand-to-tusk with the oversized beast; women give as good as the get; there’s gore and a little no-nonsense mercilessness to the kills (mostly). Not remarkable but hugely likeable creature feature. 

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