For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Film4 Frightfest is the UK’s largest horror and genre film festival, held annually in London at the end of August.
Although I would consider myself somewhat of a veteran now (this being my sixth year in attendance) the festival in its current iteration was actually celebrating its sweet sixteenth birthday this year.
It serves as the focal point for every horror fan, and hosts various world and European premieres, showcasing the best talent, both at home and internationally. It also gives fans and everyone involved in the making of the movies a chance to interact in a unique way that is rarely observed during most festivals or conventions. Frightfest is about family. If you come to show your film and behave like a diva, you will be roundly ignored.
The festival seems to grow year-on-year, with over seventy films screening this time around. I was fortunate to see twenty of them, so I wanted to give you a brief overview of my experiences on each of the five glorious days of blood, guts, satirical humour, and psychological torment.
The opener this year was the occult thriller CHERRY TREE, directed by David Keating (WAKE WOOD).
Sadly, the audience was not treated to the brilliance of last year’s THE GUEST to kick things off. Instead, we got a ham-fisted take on urban witchcraft, where our schoolgirl heroine is fooled into carrying an evil seed in return for the restoration of her terminally ill father. The cast did their best with some extremely clunky dialogue and uneven plotting, and the climax was nothing short of ridiculous.
Thankfully, the evening significantly improved with TURBO KID. François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell (the team behind the fantastic mock trailer, DEMONITRON) introduce us to a post-apocalyptic 1997, where the grinding metal of MAD MAX is replaced with BMX bikers, and a plucky kid (Munro Chambers) sets out to save his friend from the tyrannical Zeus (Michael Ironside) while trying to emulate his comic book hero, Turbo Man.
My one and only criticism would be that without the character of Apple, played with effervescent charm by Laurence Leboeuf, this would have been exposed for what it was (a popular short that was stretched out into a feature). Fortunately, Apple was present throughout, illuminating every scene, making Turbo Kid a joyous flirtation with 80’s Sci-Fi.
For the late film on opening night, we got Benni Diez’s romcom/B-movie mash-up STUNG. Two caterers take the job from hell when they are attacked by a swarm of genetically mutated wasps at a garden party. Even though the leads (Matt O’Leary and Jessica Cook) were charismatic enough, the romantic chemistry between them never truly caught fire. In addition, the final act was ruined by some badly rendered CGI. A big shout out has to go to Lance Henricksen. He seems to appear in everything these days, which is no bad thing.
Friday morning brought with it the first real highlight of the festival for me. Previously, Bruce McDonald impressed with his inventive slant on the zombie apocalypse, PONTYPOOL. In HELLIONS, teenage Dora (played with panache by Chloe Rose) decides to ditch the Halloween festivities so she can come to terms with the unwanted news of her pregnancy. Alone in a house next to a pumpkin field, she is transported to a netherworld that mirrors her own, terrorised by a gang of demonic trick or treaters who resemble shrunken versions of Slipknot.
If you are looking for plot and clever dialogue, you will be disappointed. Call me fickle, but sometimes style over substance is my bag, baby, and there’s certainly much deliciousness for the eyeballs here, in a pink filtered fever dream that will only look prettier on repeat viewings.
The next spike of a decent day came in the form of Ted Geoghegan’s Fulci-inspired haunted house tale, WE ARE STILL HERE. There was a great deal of buzz already surrounding this film. Most of it was completely justified too. The stark and cold reality of the New England countryside was beautifully captured, and the veteran actors who are front and centre play the material with conviction.
The only aspect that didn’t work for me was the tonal shift that takes place during the final act. I found it jarring, and I would have been happier with more of what this atmospheric creeper had served up before it climaxed and smothered itself in gore.
Check us out tomorrow for a continuation of T.W. Malpass’s Guest Blog series.