Each year people travel worldwide to attend the UK’s much loved horror film festival Frightfest which provides a platform for directors to have their films screened, and for fans to enjoy movies from morning to night.
With around 70 films some of which have had their UK and European premieres, I got stuck in, venturing between both main and discovery screens. It’s incredible to see the high standard of independent film and the story behind each filmmakers dream project.
There were also some fantastic panel discussions such as the Women in Horror Panel hosted by Digital Spy Editor Rosie Fletcher with guests director Kate Shenton of Egomaniac, Producer Jennifer Handorf, Alice Lowe who just won the Screen International Horror Rising Star award and Anna Biller director of one of my favourite films this year The Love Witch.
Hats off to Frightfest for hosting this panel because it was much needed, not only was it an eye opener as to the struggles which women continuously face in the film industry, it just goes to show that the industry is slowly but surely recognising women who have always been around, but whose work is being becoming openly supported, celebrated and more importantly seen.
Horror aficionados also frequented and presented various panels this year, such as sexploitation horror director Norman J. Warren who introduced horror legend David McGillivray’s documentary Horror Icon. At 74 years of age, Norman was able to share news on his film project based in China and provide me some sound advice for my own film.
Although I’m still reviewing movies from the festival, some of which you can find at Horror Talk, I decided to do a roundup of my favourite films.
Director Sean Byrne returns with Devils Candy which would be a family-film if it weren’t for the terrifying demonic psycho-killer. In this film, a struggling artist and his goth-metal family move into a big old house in Texas, it’s a fresh start, even though the history of the place is unsettling. One night a strange man appears at their door, he seems childlike but possessed, claiming that he lives in the house. He also takes a shine to teenage Zooey, instantly fixated by her youth. Parents Jesse and Astrid report him unnerved by the strangers visit. During all of this, Jesse’s paintings have become more macabre and unlike his usual work. He’s drawn to his make-shift studio in the garage at all hours of the night where he paints terrible images of children, including his daughter Zooey. Soon the weird possessed man is back again, stalking the family and Jesse realises that his family are in grave danger.
Devil’s Candy is a haunted house thriller-horror where the psychological and supernatural merge together to create something both gripping and disturbing. It’s also refreshing that director Sean Byrne hasn’t stuck to character family tropes and opted for a young metal-loving family.
It’s a stormy night in Mexico City in 1968 and a man is stranded at a bus station trying to make it to his wife who’s in labour. Soon a pregnant woman arrives along with other strangers including a weird boy with an unknown medical condition. Suddenly weird events begin as the strangers begin to take on the same face as the first man at the bus stop. They start blaming him and outbreaks of paranoia and fear kick in as they all fight trying to decipher who the culprit is whilst kept hostage in the bus station.
The Similars is a sci-fi horror shot in a similar style to the Twightlight Zone and has hints of Hitchcock in terms of the ensemble performances.
Director Issac Ezban has a knack for telling stories and an appreciation of classic film, The Similars pays homage to a lot of old classic sci-fi films but with a Mexican twist.
They Call Me Jeeg Robot
This Italian super-hero movie is as real as it’s going to get and that’s what makes it a gritty watch. When a low level criminal called Enzo is on the run from the police, he jumps into the River Tiber in a desperate escape to lose them, but he’s quickly contaminated by toxic waste at the bottom of the river bank. Taking on a dodgy drug deal with an associate, for a baron called The Gypsy, it goes terribly wrong, resulting in a shootout and a drop from a tower block which Enzo miraculously survives. But his troubles aren’t over as Alessia, the mentally unstable daughter of his associate, comes looking for her father knowing that Enzo knows something. He reluctantly takes on the role of her carer at the same time falling in love with the damsel. Alessia notices that Enzo has powers, and constantly refers to him as ‘Jeeg Robot,’ one of her favourite Japanese Anime series and helps him understand his superhero powers which are soon needed to battle the insane Gypsy.
They Call Me Jeeg runs parallel with like films Toxic Avenger, Unbreakable and Hancock and even up and coming series Luke Cage to name a few. There’s also a socio-political slant with the mafia; rise of a new hierarchy, the maintenance and reinforcement of status especially with Gypsy’s effort to re-establish his family name. In fact it’s not too far from Gomorrah, another Italian realist gritty drama about the criminal underworld. This isn’t necessarily heart-warming viewing, but it gives an unpolished picture of what it might be like for a struggling superhero trying to make ends meet and become a better person whilst indirectly getting a second chance at life.
We Are The Flesh
When a vagrant brother and sister duo discover an abandoned building run by a perverted old man, they soon learn they have to earn their keep by helping the devious character as he revamps the place, making it into his own hellish –underbelly fantasy. It’s not before long the old man works on the brother and sister, getting them to understand the importance of their humanity and face oppression. And what better way to do this by driving them to engage in incestuous intercourse and almost convincing the youngster that it’s all part of human nature, or at least this could be one of the themes director Emiliano Rocha Minter is suggesting.
We Are The Flesh is an extreme, provocative, erotic and honest picture that presents many questions and analogies of society, human nature, morality and whether there’s a right and wrong for anything in life. He makes light of incest and how love, sex and lust doesn’t need to have boundaries. But there’s also the cannibalism aspect, the eating of the flesh, the succumbing of death even whilst singing the Mexican anthem and rebirth once you’ve gone beyond suppression.
The nightmarish and yet stunning cinematography draws you into a place that becomes otherworldly, drowning in spontaneity, creativity, sorrow and love. It’s a hedonistic watch that leaves you wondering what it all means, yet knowing secretly what it does.
Found Footage 3D
Director Derek seems like he’ll do anything to shoot a movie, so he enlists the help of his friends to make the first 3D found footage movie bringing along his ex-wife Amy who has to participate due to a former contractual agreement.
The crew set off for Texas to make a found footage film about a husband and wife who go away to rekindle their tempestuous relationship only to find that they’re in a haunted cabin. It’s a story based on real events as the couple still argue and scream at each other whilst trying to shoot the movie.
But during the making of their found footage feature, they discover that they’re actually in a haunted cabin and a malevolent entity begins to harm everyone on set.
Found Footage 3D is actually a great film, not only does it feel realistic, it does something that most found footage movies don’t do anymore.
Instead of cheap scares and flashes from the start, suspense is built throughout the whole movie by revealing the true extent of the spirit entity at the end. The pacing is wonderful which makes this film absolutely terrifying.
The Love Witch
It’s not often you can refer to a film in the way you’d eat something like a sweet dessert treat but The Love Witch is exactly this. A sumptuous feast of cotton candy strewn on a bed of satin sheets whilst Greek god-like models serve you a platter of the most salacious fruit you’ve ever had between your lips.
Elaine is a young witch who moves to a small town in California to start a fresh. It’s not long before she’s cooking up love potions in an attempt to find the love of her life. By day she searches for the man of her dreams and she’s does find a few. Unfortunately for them, although they succumb to her feminine charm and femme fatale exterior, they just can’t handle the effects of her love potion and after being entranced, tend to die of a broken heart. Elaine has created a love potion that enables men to feel emotion, love-loss and an innate realisation that without her life is not worth living. Realising the power she has whilst trying to find a man that can withstand her charms and potions, she leaves a string of broken (and dead) men behind her.
Director Anna Biller has created a film that stylistically reflects a 60s/70s Hollywood glamour period, although it’s also very reminiscent of Italian cinema with stunning women who take pride in lounging around in the finest fashions, embracing their femininity. The picture was shot on 35mm film and graded to look like Technicolor. Every frame of the film is bathed in outstanding beauty, the lighting and costume all of which Biller had creative control over. In fact she produced, wrote, directed, edited and stitched every single costume in the film. It’s as much a work of art as it is a film. The story is essentially presenting the idea of polarity, how women who embrace their sexuality can be victims of their own beauty and how men find it difficult to connect with a woman beyond face value. But Elaine is also a narcissist, her search for love through death-stamped potions outweighs her quest for actually finding love as she seeks pleasure through punishing these men. Another reason could be because she is in fact a serial killing psychopath and love will never be enough.
Fury of the Demon
I’m still unsure whether this documentary is a farce and whether the story is true but if anything it was entertaining.
La Rage Du Demon is a mysterious film which has caused mass hysteria whenever screened to audiences over the decades.
The screening of the film is said to result in violent outbreaks, anarchy amongst crowds but yet the film itself has now disappeared.
The documentary goes into the history of the film as it was originally believed to be the work of French illusionist special effects legend George Méliès who was also a magician. But upon closer inspection, it’s said that it could have also been his archrival Victor Sicarius another fellow magician and occultist who liked to emulate Méliès’ work. Sicarius was known for his spirit photography, where he’d often stage ectoplasm séances in his images. La Rage Du Demon is known as the most cursed film in history, the documentary speaks with a number of historians, psychologists, magicians and psychics to get an overall view of just what caused people to loose their minds during the film.
Train to Busan
I’m very fussy when it comes to zombie movies but Train to Busan took me pleasantly by surprise. The film opens at a toll station where suited and masked workers spray passing vehicles with chemical sanitiser. A man in a truck complains that he hopes it’s not foot and mouth again, or something to that effect. He runs over a deer as he exits the toll station, but doesn’t stay long to check before zooming off again. After he’s left, the animal reforms itself back to life.
In the city, a recently divorced Fund Manager Seok-Woo finds it difficult to connect with his daughter Su-An who desperately wants to see her mother in another town called Busan. As it’s her birthday, Seok-Woo reluctantly agrees to take her in the morning, but on the way to the train station, there seems to be some commotion nearby as fire engines roar past. It’s a sign that something bad is coming.
On the train, a sick girl runs into a carriage, she seems to be having some kind of seizure and attacks one of the staff. It’s from here an infection viciously spreads and at rapid pace. Soon people in the carriage are fighting for their lives, making their way through other carriages whilst trying to figure out what the sickness is and how to survive the crazy zombie-infected people trying to eat them.
Train to Busan is a sentimental movie which is loosely based on terrorism, violence and how society deals with anarchy whilst looking out for humanity. Director Yeon Sang-ho has portrayed different generations of people in the film, their perspectives and reactions in contrast to today’s generation. For example, you have two elderly ladies who look upon the news shocked by the people attacking each other as the violence is all too much to understand. You see their faces questioning the why and how of the events. A man and his pregnant wife try to look out for Su-An knowing that her father isn’t a good role model, he’s obsessed with looking out for his own interests and paying his way out of trouble. This is a quality he soon learns to overcome, but the film is set around him becoming a better father and person through sacrifice.
The zombie attacks are high octane, as are the stunts in the film. Yeon Sang-ho has thought of pretty much everything you could do in a train if you were trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. His use of the train is cleverly weaved into the narrative as the characters use the technical attributes of the train to protect themselves from the raging zombies. It was a great Frightfest closing movie also.
This underdog film resonated with me the most as it’s about a psychopath who develops feelings after taking a bad Ecstasy pill. I’ve written a full review on this at Horror Talk which will be online soon.
In a Q&A Director Chris Scheuerman revealed that the inspiration for the film grew from his own experiences suffering from depression. It’s from here he wrote the screenplay with Andrew Jenkins who plays the main character called Spence in the film. Lost Solace is a character study into the mind of a psychopath who experiences pain, pleasure and what would be deemed as acute emotional instability for the first time. Spence learns to cope with morality which affects his physical being because it’s a shock to his system.
The cinematography is stunning as slow motion, subtle but effective visual effects help to convey Spence’s state of mind, with stylish lens flares and trippy sequences, much like in the film Limitless. It also targets themes of mental health in a narrative that’s both touching and affecting.
Sadako vs. Kayako
Although Sadako vs. Kayako wasn’t my favourite film, it was a laugh. It’s based on the original J-Horror films Ringu and Ju-On which have also been remade into English speaking movies The Ring and The Grudge. When a couple of schoolgirls named Yuri and Natsumi discover an old video machine with mysterious and disturbing footage on it, they soon receive the message that they’ll die. Meanwhile elsewhere, another teenager called Suzuka has moved into a house next door to the old Saeki house where horrendous murders took place years back when a husband killed his wife and son. Susuka is drawn to the house and soon has an entity stalking her.
Yuri and Natsumi’s teacher Morishige has been searching for the cursed video tape for years, but he dies during an exorcism for Natsumi which is performed by a high priestess who in her dying breath utters the name ‘Keizo,’ a man who can help them. In between all of this, Natsumi uploads the video to the web and spreads the curse. Sadako kills her shortly after.
Enter Keizo a slightly narcissistic character who makes light of everything, he’s also convinced that the only way of breaking the curse is to get one evil spirit to fight another. When he visits the old Saeki household he spots Suzuka realising that the house has some psychical hold over her and that she too is cursed. He works out a plan for both Yuri and Suzuka to lure in their vengeful entities so that they can fight each other.
The film is amusing although I’m still uncertain whether it’s meant to be taken seriously. When you look at Japanese humour in horror movies, it’s usually quite outlandish, take Dead Sushi or Visitor Q where comedy and horror are seriously over the top. In Sadako vs. Kayako, if it were intentionally comical, then it should have been crazy-funny according to Japanese standards. This leads me to believe that perhaps this film was meant to be serious and if not, then it was underplayed. But then again the film was based on an April Fool’s prank which someone edited both Ringu and Ju-On together, so the silly comedy might have reflected in the same way humour was presented in Freddy Vs Jason.
Finally Frightfest wouldn’t be complete without the Duke Mitchell Film Club and Evrim Ersoy and Spencer Hickman’s music, film and freebie antics. My favourite part of the night was watching Beyond the Gates actors Graham Skipper and Jesse Merlin sing a song about plagiarism. They were also in Re-Animator The Musical.
Another year bites the dust and it’ll be interesting to see which films get a commercial cinematic release, end up on Netflix or any other on-demand platform. Many of the directors I spoke with praised how FrightFest is pretty accessible for everyone and how both fans and filmmakers were able to hang out with each other. I think this is what makes FrightFest special, a place where horror legends, television personalities, stars, directors and fans can all speak to each other on equal grounding. I look forward to next year and perhaps between now and then I might get to see some of the films I missed. And plan my next headdress and costume extravaganza with my super awesome and talented Make-up/Props/SFX/Prosthetics designer friend Sammm Agnew who designed the zombies for this years Fear The Walking Dead VR at Frightfest.