Today opens on a solemn note with the sad passing of Wes Craven. A visionary who revolutionised the genre three times (with Last House On The Left, Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream), with a career that spanned over five different decades, he was something of a giant among men to horror fans. It’s with this lost legend in mind that I went to see some more of the movies he loved. The final day’s line-up includes:
FILM 1: NIGHT FARE (2015)
Directed by Julien Seri
Swords, fists and guns: all’s fare-game in this run and revenge slasher with a cab. Old friends Chris (Jonathan Howard) and Luc (Jonathan Demurger) choose the wrong taxi driver to run out on without paying (Jess Liaudin). What follows is a high-octane chase as they try to find refuge from this vehicle, that can show up wherever and whenever it wants, and its Jason-like driver. The meter stops running and nor do the characters. I’ll admit the premise didn’t intrigue me much, though there’s really so much it does right with this iffy setup. Visually this is easily one of the year’s most impressive horrors. Seri really captures the dynamic beauty of Paris through a highly polished presentation. But despite the visual sheen he takes us deeper into the night than most. There’s rugged glamour to all the locations and some very ugly violence.
With such a limiting premise it’s impressive that it avoids running the idea into the ground. Furthermore, the creative team even add a very big twist towards the end with a reveal that really widens the concept. Admittedly feeling tacked on, this part is well handled, with a bold sequence that really plays with the movie’s established visual style. Yet it doesn’t quite work as the weak performances are simply not strong enough to sell what becomes an increasingly absurd storyline. Though this is maybe not helped by a script that does not well merge the plot with its themes beyond a plaque that’s included in the taxi. In saying that though, the film is rarely less than a horrific thrill ride, and certainly an example of how to do a lot with a minimalist idea and budget. Give it a spin.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
FILM 2: HOSTILE (2014)
Directed by Nathan Ambrosioni
Simply put, this is not a great film. Yet at the same time it really is a revelation. Made on a shoestring budget, Hostile is an impressive calling-card for a director that’s only 15 years old. It tells the story of 2 young girls, Anna and Emilie, (Luna Belan and Julie Venturelli) who get taken in by a new foster parent. As is often the case is these sorts of movies they soon behave erratically and the film settles into a fairly by the number exorcism template. And here’s the core problem – as with many debuts it watches more like a collection of influences rather than an artistic vision in its own right.
There is an interesting power struggle between the possessed pint sized predators, though it is barely substantiated in a fairly light script. It feels as if Amrosioni was concerned with preserving audience’s interest so avoids downtime or establishing normality. Thus Hostile watches more like a string of vaguely connected set-pieces than a coherent plot. Such a relentless pacing soon becomes a problem as few of them have room to breathe and even less properly leave their mark. Most of the scares are fairly broad, with the girls looking like generic scary girls and doing generically scary things. Additionally the continuous horror sequences mean that the perceived threat of devilish kids is also greatly diminished. Some of the found footage sections have a greater impact, though still fall short of other similar films. In saying all this, we have to keep the creator’s age in mind. No it doesn’t make the film better, but the fact that he can make a horror which can mimic effectively is a display of emerging talent. All artists will begin as impressionists, and if a kid can make something that’s workman-like, whilst his peers are mostly masturbating and playing video games, then there could be a great future for him. He just needs to find his voice first.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
FILM 3: LAST GIRL STANDING (2015)
Directed by Victor Zarcoff
Taking off where most horrors leave us, this debut feature follows what happens to our final girl after the credits roll. Akasha Banks Villalobos stars as Camryn: the only survivor of a quintessential slasher set up. It’s a forest, there’s blooded young bodies all over the place and a masked killer. And years later she can’t stop thinking about it. The first thing that surprised me about this movie was just how seriously it took itself, with barely a wink given. Last Girl Standing is largely a character study about coping with trauma. Now a dry cleaner, Camryn is withdrawn, anxious and suffering constant flashbacks. Enter new employee Nick (Brian Villalobos) and his circle of friend to attempt to socialise her via kindness, companionship and truly pretentious art exhibitions. But can someone that’s survived a horror film really live a normal life after?
Last Girl Standing fails to fully meet its excellent premise by moving at snail pace towards an inevitable ending most = will be able to predict from the first scene. And while the actors are mostly strong enough to sell the concept, playing it for drama without making room for black comedy feels like a missed opportunity. Really it seems incongruent that the cause of her trauma is loaded with nostalgic 80’s iconography, rather than reflecting a more realist form of horror. Had the source been as serious as the suffering, or alternatively they mined the suffering for humour, then it would have worked better. But with the contrast they have gone for I doubt an audience will take the film as seriously as its makers do. Which is a shame as there’s a lot of good drama and decent blood pumping through the piece.
Verdict: 3 out of 5.
FILM 4: EMELIE (2015)
Directed by Michael Thelin
If you’re tired of seeing babysitters be vulnerable, then this could be the film for you. A dark version of Home Alone, Emelie tells the story of three kids and one bad babysitter (wanting more than six bucks an hour). Following an excellent single shot opener, where a teenager gets abducted, we meet the titular Emelie. A demented babysitter, who wants to abduct a child to call her own, Sarah Bolger does a fantastic job of bringing the character to life. Although initially charming and charismatic, it is only a few minutes with the kids (all excellently acted by Carly Adams, Thomas Blair and Joshua Rush) before the façade drops. In the action to follow she corrupts the children, plays them against one another and tries to drug them. All to find her ‘cubby’.
A real testament to this film is that it’s a challenging watch despite little violence or any particularly memorable set pieces. The main body of this film is very tense and dramatically interesting. Bolger shows a great mix of concern and cruelty a role that could so easily have been reduced to a stereotype. Yes she shows them an inappropriate video, and even changes her tampon in front of one. But there’s enough emotional weight to the performance that we can think of her as damaged rather than wicked. This is helped by a decent script that introduces pathos at just the right moment. There are problems with the third act, as character motivations become confused and it descends into a more formulaic movie than it first appeared. Still, for a mostly fresh film with a memorable baddy you could do worse than looking up Emelie.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
FILM 5: TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, Axelle Carolyn, Adam Gierasch, Andrew Kasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, John Skipp & Paul Solet.
Last night it was Christmas, now it’s Halloween. A fitting finale if ever there was one – in this new anthology from Axelle Carolyn, 11 contemporary horror movie makers collaborate to create 10 short films. Tales of Halloween aims to be the ultimate party movie. With frequent nods, cameos and twists it ought to give genre viewers a bloody good time. The tone is generally set to fun, with the movies more geared towards being ‘spooky’ than ‘scary’ (though there are a couple of exceptions). These are very messy but campy cuts of horror. Set in the same small town, on that darkest of nights, we encounter a great range of different characters, scenarios and beasts.
Personal highlights include an opener about not sharing chocolate, a demented fairytale about abusive relationships, a Jason-like killer encountering an alien and a pumpkin bursting to life. With any collection, some of the shorts work better than others. And whilst there are no bad movies here, some are notably less memorable. As a collection it is perhaps more consistently strong than A Christmas Horror Story or the similarly themed Trick R Treat. Yet it’s also less consistently excellent. Nonetheless, the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts and makes for an entertaining horror romp that will have people screaming in the cinema. Should this project lead to more from The October Society then I’d welcome it. As a new tradition we could do a lot worse than the imagination, passion and skill on offer. Plus it’s incredibly refreshing to see a compilation that doesn’t include found footage.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
To read an interview with creator Axcelle Carolyn and filmmaker Neil Marshall watch this space. For now that’s another Fright Fest done. Having watched 25 horrors since Thursday I feel like I’ve seen more gore, guts and kills than most people will have all year. A huge thanks to the Fright Fest team for having Horror Cult Films there, my usual Fright Fest buddies for being great company and anybody that’s been following my write-ups. I could go on, but the festival has taken its toll. For now I wish you a fond farewell. And goodnight.