Leaving the house on the last day of Fright Fest is always bittersweet: been a grand few days (others reviewed here, here, here and here) though you can easily have too much of a good thing. Still, when the office environment comes to replace the cinema-screen, it’s hard not to want more. Luckily we look set to go out in style with the following:
Film 1: DIRECTOR’S CUT
Directed by Adam Rifkin
Having made his career as a conjurer, its perhaps fitting that Penn Jillette’s crafted a horror-comedy about movie magic. Based on the fictional cop-thriller Knocked Off, Director’s Cut begins as a commentary by crowd funder/ “executive producer” Herbert Blout (voiced by Jillette). Having acquired the original footage, he’s sought to make it better by adding outtakes, brand new effects and cameos of himself. However, as the film goes on it becomes apparent he’s gone further than we thought, and kidnapped the lead actor, and his love interest, Missi Pyle (as herself). He’s then shot his own second half.
Though much of the humour comes at its expense, what’s interesting about Knocked Off is how authentic the team have made it look for the first 2 acts. By embracing visual clichés, recreating the blunt dialogue and giving it a relatively cool concept, it really watches like something you could find at your local supermarket. Sure it’s a lot of guff – but it’s probably entertaining guff. There’s also a string of cameos for movie geeks to spot, including Teller, Gilbert Godfreed, Ron Jeremy and ‘the lady from Insidious’. All this is accompanied by humorous observations by Blout about what’s wrong with it, what’s wrong with other movies and what’s wrong with the film industry in general. It’s also here that we piece together what he’s done before reaching his own last act.
There’s loads of laugh out loud moments from the often petty, and always opinionated, commentary. Moreover, the restored backstage interactions between Blout and Pyle are very darkly funny, with his annoying presence repeatedly referred to as an innevitable part of the crowd funding experience (you should see how much he put in). Blout’s a great creation: a mix of awkwardness, enthusiasm, spite and stupidity. Jillette’s script is careful to preserve his innocence, with the goal always being the film instead of sex or violence. This means that, rather than working off suspense, the key tension is whether or not this film gets completed and how bad it’ll be. Oh, it gets pretty bad. Here’s where some of the audience are going to be lost: things can be so bad they’re funny, and it’s all good. But making something so bad it’s funny on purpose often means it loses its humour. Especially if it stops even resembling thing its attacking. Director’s Cut is no exception, and with about 25 minutes to go the joke wears out its welcome. Yet when we eventually get it, the punchline (aka the prestige) brings it back. Hey, maybe this was the magician’s intention all along – make it look like its gone wrong then show them it hasn’t. How bloody meta.
Film 2: THE WINDMILL MASSACRE
Directed by Nick Jongerius
Horror comes to Holland! In this supernatural slasher, a coach load of tourists only want to admire the Dutch scenery. Among them there’s a troubled teen Jennifer (Charlotte Beaumont), a doctor with poor bedside manner (Noah Taylor), a mystically-minded Japanese tourist ( Tanroh Ishida) plus a strained father (Patrick Baladi) and son (Adam Thomas Wright) combo. Alas, their schedule of windmill visits is ruined by a faulty engine. As you can guess they’re absolutely gutted. And lots more! Killings come at the hands of a nasty local legend: the evil keeper of an enchanted mill that opens a door to hell.
Despite the novel surroundings (which the tourist board will be grateful for), and the fresh focus on clogs and country vs. weed and red lights, the story’s a bland one. Victims are offed by manifestations of past guilt, with the point being that their sins will catch up with them – usual genre fodder whenever a spirit needs a motive. Their deaths are very well done though, with great gore, a rich atmosphere and an unexpected nastiness missing from various paranormal thrillers by Blumhouse. They’re just not enough to keep things interesting. A narrative based around whether or not Jennifer’s making things up provides some tension to the second act. Yet because the audience know she isn’t, it fails to provide much forward momentum – instead becoming quickly repetitive as her and the aforementioned dad yell at one-another. Similarly, most of the victims backing stories that get used against them are standard genre trappings that don’t do a lot to change our views on characters we don’t learn much about.
The third act is maybe more successful, though the central beats, plus “surprise” ending, ought to be entirely predictable to any scary movie fans with an ear for unnatural dialogue. Still, as a means to waste 90 minutes or so it’s perfectly passable – and in an age where they no longer get made, it’s fun to see something that’s almost a straight forward slasher. As per a lad’s trip Amsterdam, The Windmill Massacre is maybe worth a visit. Though I doubt will rush back: once is enough.
Film 3: MONOLITH
Direct by Ivan Silvestrini
To some extent, most horrors are reliant on no-way-out scenarios: be it scared teens lost in the woods, a family haunted by their home or the world outside getting populated by shuffling corpses. Monolith subverts this rule by making the first no way in flick I can think of. It’s woman vs machine, as Sandra (Katrina Bowden) attempts to break-into her new burglar-proof car, complete with reinforced doors and bulletproof glass, and rescue her baby boy from the backseat.
Doesn’t sound great, right? Well about 40 minutes in I started needing a piss but couldn’t get myself to leave. Once the locks go down it’s absolutely thrilling. The script does a great way of piling on the pressure, with the earlier scenes where Sandra is going about her business seeing a slow but steady escalation. We learn of her marital woes, her missing her former life as a popstar and, most familiarly, her feeling her age. Is it any wonder she needs a smoke? Once locked outside, after circumstances bring her to the desert, it gets worse. There’s coyotes, a shortage of water, endless roads about temperatures above 100. It’s all very precisely weighed up to give the all important feeling of accumulation: when you’ve just had enough. The scenario itself is also fully mined. She explores dynamic landscapes, beautifully captured, and tries a scout handbook of different things. Really, the best compliment I can pay a film with this premise is it never gets boring.
Nonetheless, there’s not much going on here. There’s little point to any of it, except a broad fear of tech, and neither is there a whole lot of character depth. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising, given that it’s a single situation and almost all just Bowden, a baby or a car onscreen. She makes the most of it, being a very charismatic lead, despite her refreshingly flawed character not always getting portrayed in a positive light. But when the credits start, and its picked one of the only two endings going, it’s hardly a film I can see sticking with anybody. Instead, even a week later, I imagine viewers saying ‘oh the car one? Aye, it was good’ and that being that. Because really, that’s all it is. Though admittedly it’s as good as its premise, and then some. Really, it may sound backhanded, but as far as films about a person trying to get their car door open, it’s a masterpiece. And if you think that sounds like your thing then add a star, because it won’t get better than this.
Film 4: FOUND FOOTAGE 3D
Directed by Steven DeGennaro
Hey horror fans – have you seen to many 3D flicks? Oh you have. How about found footage films? That too. But you ever see something that combined them? Thought not. With his directorial debut, Steven DeGennaro brings us the first found footage filmed entirely in 3D.
But it’s not just a normal 3D found footage film. It’s a film about making a normal 3D found footage film: a DVD extra that gets out of hand (here’s hoping the real one has a making of). The production being worked on is Spectre of Death – a movie about a couple vacationing to the countryside, to fix their marriage, when they come upon a mystic force: very standard stuff. Among the fictional crew are stressed director Andrew (Tom Saporito), hilarious sound guy Carl (Scott Allen Perry), production assistant Lily (Jessica Perrin) and real life movie critic Scott Weinberg. All of them are extremely likable and add a lot of charm to the movie, though the real stars are the feuding husband and wife characters played by Derek (Carter Roy) and Amy (Alena von Stroheim). Who also just so happen to be a feuding husband and wife. So there we have it – a couple working through their problems in a haunted house, making a movie about a couple working through their problems in a haunted house. Luckily this conceit allows the subtext to naturally become text by virtue of cheekily pointing it out.
Sounds very meta, though DeGennaro knows when to reign in the movie so it never goes up its own arse. You see, beneath the conceptual bravado is a simple love story with a great looking threat (I’ll say nothing more about the design). Derek and Amy make a compelling couple you’ll enjoy spending time with and come to fear for. You see, as a comedy horror Found Footage 3D handles blends both aspects brilliantly. There are genuine belly laughs, especially towards the start, along with moments of real tension. In fact it may be the most successful marriage of the genres I can think of. It’s less winky that Scream, less spoofy than Shaun of the Dead an less smug than Cabin in the Woods. Note this is not to call it the best per se, as much as to say it’s the one that combines the genres most convincingly.
What stops it from being an all-time classic are the same things that stop most found footage films: familiar beats (even if it’s self-aware), people running round the woods screaming and a fairly long wait before anything happens. Repeatedly the characters suggest they gotta do something to separate theirs from numerous other found footage films. Sadly they don’t and the ending winds up too closely resembling the things it ones made fun of. Still, it gets round the question of why the hell the camera’s still on in act 3. It’s taken decades, but at last we got a good answer!
Coming soon: an interview with the Found Footage 3D crew
Film 5: TRAIN TO BUSAN
Directed by Yeon Sang-ho
The raging climax: a South-Korean zombie film. For days now I’ve heard this get hyped up – talking in the foyer, asking what’s been good, and numerous time I’ve heard an answer followed by ‘though Train To Busan look like it’ll be better’. Not normally one for zombie movies I shrugged. How wrong I was. Among those trying to survive the terror train are business man Seok-woo (the charismatic Yoo Gong) and his daughter young Su-an (the incredible Kim Soo-ahn). Even before getting on they were having a rough day, with him having spoilt her birthday with another Nintendo Wii. But things can only get worse.
What distinguishes it from the horde is its sheer scale. First we have the scale of the zombies themselves, with each action sequence being as frantically paced as they come. The undead spill out of windows, fill up corridors and frequently fall over one-another just to get at the flesh, in vast numbers. In the hands of a lesser team it’s be utterly disorienting, but here it’s well organized chaos. It’d be sheer entertainment were it not balanced out by something else: the sheer scale of the devastation. While few films have met Train to Busan’s action quotient, even less have done in showing its impact. Entire cities are upturned, people grieve in a way they normally don’t when there’s zombies and on the corners of derelict streets you’ll find toys or dummies.
This time the undead, as they scramble over each other to get what they want, are a stand-in for selfishness – a virus that destroys communities and ruins lives. Though the message is sometimes laboured, in particular by the actions of a recurring businessman, fear makes monsters out of us. Yet whilst Train to Busan shows humanity at its worst, the film also takes the time to show it at its best. Beneath the carnage and chaos there’s the power of a collective: that old enemies may become new friends, people may willingly sacrifice themselves for others and a survivor can come to care for a lost child as if they were their own. This is the message of hope which counters the cynicism and offers moments of real solace to balance out the sorrow. It’s this light in the darkness that gives the film such power. Not only is it the only zombie film to make me cry, it’s also the best one I’ve ever seen.
And with that ends another Fright Fest. Shuffling out to the after-party, with the masses, I can honestly say I’ve had a great time. All there is left to say is a huge thank you to the organisers for having Horror Cult Films along, our web mistress for sending me and yourself for reading. ‘Til next time I bid you a fond farewell and goodnight.