Fright Fest (2017) day 3: Ruined by Hatchets, scissors and cults

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★★★½☆

In the lobby with Kane Hodder (and Joe Lynch)

Day three and the fest fatigue kicks in. On little sleep I’ve now seen piles of bodies, from many killers, and the films have started to blur a little. However, it’s very much the epitome of a first world problem. I say goodbye to my girlfriend in the local café and head in for the first film. It’s one I’ve been keen to see.

INSIDE
Directed by Miguel ngel Vivas

Yes, it’s remake time! Inside, for those that don’t know, was an excellent home invasion that with, Martyrs and Frontiers, went on to define French new wave horror. Set at Christmas time, it’s a tense as can be thriller where a soon to be mother tries to protect her baby from a foe intent on cutting it out of her. It’s uncomfortable viewing, and having the victim up the duff makes her especially vulnerable. Here the premise is the exact same, with Rachel Nicols as the pregnant Sarah and Laura Harring excellently cast as the invader. However, there have been fairly substantial changes elsewhere.

Normally I’d never include anything that could be considered a spoiler, so I’ll word this carefully. But the original is best known for one scene: a hyper violent crescendo. Now with American remakes having a reputation for going soft I wasn’t expecting to see it here and didn’t. In its place is a prolonged chase, that becomes a little too Terminator and ultimately fails to achieve the same personal quality. On top of that, some of the other violent scenes had been torn from it. Sure, it’s not been entirely declawed, and probably earns an 18 certificate. But its notably tamer. Where this matters is that Inside is not an especially novel plot. Really, only its cartoon level violence and its misanthropic protagonist make it stand out from a dozen other movies. This second point is also compromised, with the core conflict (between a soon to be mother pregnant with a child she doesn’t want, protecting herself from a would-be mother who wants one) being lost. As such, there’s very little to distinguish it from other home invasion flicks and it makes you wonder if there is a second reason, other than money, for it to exist at all.

This isn’t to say it’s a bad movie – its fairly watchable, and escalates the action well. Furthermore, whilst it does the usual slasher trick of having side characters repeatedly drop by just to die, it never makes its deaths dull. While it lacks the grimy, claustrophobic feel of the first, it also never seems too polished like the Bay produced remakes. The cinematography is competent, with some cool use of the shadows, the (largely needless in the second half) addition of Sarah being deaf adds suspense to the first act or so. It’s also much more faithful to its source material, and generally better, than the Martyrs remake. And if that’s your benchmark you’ll like this a lot. But fans of the original aren’t getting something with the same bite and newcomers aren’t getting what made it special to begin with. As per many other remakes, it’s easy to think of a better film that’s just like it.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

JACKALS
Directed by Kevin Greutert

As a huge fan of Saw VI, which I’d call by far the best sequel, and having a passing interest in cults, I was really looking forward to this one (note that when the crowd were asked before if anyone liked Saw VI, yours truly was the one person cheering). Telling the allegedly semi-story of the Powell family, who lost their teenage son Justin (Ben Sullivan) to a local sect, this eerily plausible horror is a gripping look at brainwashing and family. Of course, more than that, it is a balls to the wall horror that superbly develops the tension until a strong, raging, climax.

By the time we meet the family most of the plot’s already happened, and anyone wanting to see the inner workings of a cult will be let down. After a fantastic opener, that riffs on Halloween, some skilled misdirection sees the clan get their kid back to the rural family home, via ex-marine Jimmy (Stephen Dorff). For the remainder of act one they try to reason with him and see if there’s any of the son they love left. His parents and brother can’t get through, but his girlfriend Samantha (Chelsea Ricketts) sees a flicker as she introduces him to his daughter. Then night falls. Acts two and three are a master class in suspense, when Justin’s other family advance on the home to get him back. There’s creepy masks aplenty and a real feeling of dread. What’s refreshing is that Greutert makes you properly fear for his characters, creating the sort of thick atmosphere where anybody could die. What barely lit violence we see is visceral, and most of the main cast excel in selling the fear so essential to making this kind of closer quarters terror work. The suspense just builds and builds.

Unfortunately, the weak link is Justin himself. It’s not that Sullivan does a bad job, although the faux-demonic voice he puts on doesn’t help. Rather the lack of insight we get into the cult, or its appeal to him, means we get little sense of his internal conflict. As a result, although the character undergoes an arc it’s not one we get understand, even though the third act hinges upon it. Nonetheless, perhaps the specifics of the cult are better left unexplored since they don’t really matter. What does is the lengths people will go to save their family, even if it’s from themselves. In the stretches that risk resembling The Strangers or Hush, both great, it’s these family dynamics that make Jackals its own thing. A great small-scale thriller, and although by definition it is one I hope it’s more than a cult movie.

Rating: ★★★★☆

RUIN ME
Directed by Preston DeFrancis

Yeah, the name sounds a lot like a kinky sexual command –what of it? I really dug the premise, so walked into the world premiere of Ruin Me barely even thinking about that. So it’s about the big American scene of haunted house attractions – a tradition where every year local neighbourhoods are transformed into freakshows, with families putting on all sorts of hi-jinks. However, new kid on the block Slasher Sleepout is meant to take it to the next level by letting participants experience it all: zombies, escape rooms and even a spot of camping. In short, it’s The Ultimate Horror Movie Experience. Sounds pretty cool, right? Well for five of our six person group it’s a great nightmare come true. However, the horror hating Alex (Marcienne Dwyer) has also been dragged along for the ride by her boyfriend. Still, least she won’t get hurt.

At least not in theory. Being a movie, and not a documentary, you can probably guess things go wrong and the game’s maybe a bit more real than it’s meant to be. What’s impressive is how little winking and nudging there is in a movie with such a winky, nudgy premise. Rather, for the most part, Ruin Me is played straight and all references to the genre are ditched by the time act 2 rolls along. The plot is always enjoyable, even if the dialogue sometimes leans towards the sort of pipeline/ over-explanation. Set pieces are well done too, with a water sequence being the most effective. Yet it meanders towards a climax I think a lot of the audience will see coming – not least because it bares a resemblance to a few other movies (one of which they even mention in dialogue). Furthermore, the antagonist is not well characterised until the closing scenes, which reduces tension throughout. Fear needs a face. Whether there needed to be a clearer big bad, or just more distinct iconography used throughout, I don’t know. But I do know that it left me cold throughout. It’s a well-made horror, but with the combo of an obvious mystery and a flat villain it lets itself down.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

VICTOR CROWLEY
Directed by Adam Green

Hats off to Adam Green! Whilst I was kind of pleased about seeing Hatchet remastered, the prospect of an all new one sounds even better. It seems so obvious now – as if Fright Fest would give the big Saturday slot to a rerelease (no matter how fun the film). But then with Green regularly turning out to meet his audience, and doing some great Q and As, I reckon it’d have packed out regardless. Particularly when Kane Hodder was announced a guest.

Hatchet has always been a curious combo of horror and comedy, with a combo of larger than life characters and ultraviolent deaths. This fourth installment offers more of the same, with the eponymous Crowley (a returning Kane Hodder) brought back from the dead via YouTube (it’s an odd story). Rather than reflecting on his good fortune, for being back, he immediately hunts, among others, a bad but aspiring actor, an amateur filmmaker, a drug fueled agent and an “only survivor”. The kills are as good as ever, with the makeup team not holding back, and all look fucking painful.

Perhaps due to budgetary constraints, or simply because it’s very tough to keep the fear up over a larger playing area where the group can split up, much of the movie takes place in a plane wreckage. Victims are picked off as they leave and, to be fair, some of the deaths are very surprising: the people I expected to live repeatedly bit the dust. If there’s anything that lets it down, it’s how douchey most of the group are, with each of them being morally dubious and too bratty. As such, when the foot comes off the pedal for the second act it begins to grind because we’re not invested. Yet this makes their eventual denouements at hands of the iconic slasher all the more satisfying. Victor, as per usual, has a big body count before the end.

Along with Saw’s John Kramer, Crowley is one of the key genre stars of the new millennium and the fourth outing consolidates his reputation. I’ve not attached a rating here, as this is the kind of movie you’ll know your feelings about depending on what you thought of the first three. Ultimately you’ll think it’s as good or bad as any of the others. Personally, I had a great time with it, and am glad Green resurrected his monster – every generation needs its villains. I can’t see him winning any converts though. But then I doubt he’d give much of a shit: this one’s for the fans.



david.s.smith
About david.s.smith 164 Articles
London-based horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

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