Coming into Leicester Square on the Friday morning I was tired like I couldn’t tell you. Thursday had involved a train journey from Aberdeen followed by lots of catching up and drinking with my brothers (who were maybe not so sympathetic to my cause of coming from Scotland to see a bunch of horror movies). Finishing a pint of Camden Ink in Exmouth Market at one in the morning , it was a long – but admittedly scenic – journey back to Golders Green to stay with my twin. Some games of Fifa afterwards, and I was nodding off around three AM for a half seven rise. I set this scene to show you that going in to Frightfest I was maybe not in a prime horror watching condition. Don’t get me wrong, I will forever love my horror movies regardless of the time of day and the extent of a hangover. But entering the Empire cinema a two and a half hour cut of Night Breed was not how I wanted my day to start.
Nightbreed Cabal Cut.
Having never seen Nightbreed, breaking my virginity of the movie via the Cabal Cut seemed the way to do it. Featuring all the footage from the original work prints, that ended up left on the chopping room floor, this is a labor of love for Russell Cherrington and co. The plot concerns a conflict arising between mankind and a race of monsters that live beneath the ground, and a murderous psychiatrist (played excellently by the creepy David Cronenberg). As with offerings like The Lost Boys or Fright Night, this is an effects driven horror on an epic scale. Yet rather than the scenes that show off the excellent makeup and costume designs, the bits that really stick are the quieter/ more intimate parts. While these mostly arise from the touching romantic plot involving Boone and his good lady, whilst they consider their future, the home invasion sequence at the beginning is the absolute highlight. Tense, menacing and creepy as hell – it was one of the greatest examples of stalker horror I’ve ever seen. If more of the film has been true to this form, then I would have really dug it . But for me it falls in the same department as the afore mentioned epic horrors; that the premise was too silly to be taken as seriously as it’s supposed to. That, and horrors that are focussed on their action tend to lose their tension very early on. As a side note, the picture from the origianl prints was understandably very grainy, though being able to seperate what came from the theatrical cut and what doesn’t, as a first time viewer I was still able to appreciate what a step forward this cut is. Here’s hoping they get remaster it for a blu ray soonish. Ultimately if you’re a fan of the original, or other action based horrors, then this will probably not be a problem for you. But by the time the graveyard is going up in flames with guns ablazing and monsters everywhere, I was just waiting for the next attraction.
Total Film Icon – Dario Argento.
Next up horror legend Dario Argento hit the stage for an interview. Following an affectionate and funny opening video that juxtaposed some of his jovial adverts with his rather gruesome career, Argento took the stage to some wild applause. Having only seen Susperia and a few of his recent made for TV movies (Pelts and Jennifer) I was hoping to get a nice insight into the mind of a legend and come away with a feel for his back catalogue. This was not so much the case. The interview had two core problems. One is that Dario is presumably not so much and English speaker (obviously not his fault, but it did mean the pacing of the interview was rarely dynamic) and two the questions appeared to be following a specific agenda. Despite Argento’s modest protests, the interviewer seemed intent on discussing a cinematic legacy. Opening with an awkward exchange about the movie Juno (where Argento gets mentioned) the questions continued to focus on the influence that the work may have had. This lead to further questions about Black Swan and modern Euro horror. Sure, there were always interesting observations being made, but very little about Argento’s work rather than his place in the film books. Aside from this there were some mild musings on the upcoming Dracula 3D, and also a few attempts to address the less successful periods of his career (that generally got evaded) and the obligatory questions about Giallo. But afterwards the rest of the interview appeared to focus exclusively on Susperia. Maybe the highlights were hearing Argento’s thoughts on the remake (‘I don’t think it’s so easy to do something better. [But they can] Try’) which to his amusement, promises to be ‘more psychedelic than the original’. Other interesting comments involved the influence of Hitchcock upon his works, and how dreams and nightmares have so often informed his produce. Ultimately an interesting interview, though would have liked to see the focus spread a little thinner.
Hidden in the Woods:
After some fast food and talk with other cinema-goers, it was time for the next feature. Introduced by its director, this Chilean horror focussed on a rather dysfunctional family and the struggles imposed by some drug dealers. Supposedly based on a true story, this was the most violent picture of the 2 days I was there. There was genuinely unpleasant rape scenes, brutal scenes of extreme violence and more blood spilt than any movie since The Raid. Sure it’s ugly and visceral. But so very gratuitous at the same time. In the first few minutes we see multiple cases of incestuous child rape, domestic violence, the birth of a mutant, torture and some cops being cut up with chainsaws. And this is before anyone gets eaten. This is the typical shocker wherein every guy is a potential rapist/ violent predator and every girl is ultimately just a dumping ground for their bodily fluids. Sound unpleasant? It should do since the director seems so in love with his misogyny that he forget to include anything else around it – namely some themes that go beyond the vague and utterly contrived ‘family stays together’ BS that makes up an uncharacteristically tender final moment. Some of it works quite well, and well done to them for ultimately making a horror that is difficult to watch for the right reasons. But violence and nudity for the sake of exploitation summarizes everything that non-horror fans think is wrong with horror. And rather than trying to prove skeptics wrong by showing a socio-political context for it, Hidden in the Woods appears to revel in it like a pig in shit. Like We Are What We Are for a less sophisticated audience. While not every villain needs an explanation for their questionable behaviour, what they do need is a context wherein whatever they do you know that in their eyes its rightious. But such moral ambiguity and shades of grey are entirely absent in the script that appears to have been written to shock; as if it was the first horror to include such antics. See the wicked father who rapes for no good reason – the kids that cannibalise for even less and the consant nudity that sees the director appearing to enjoy it as his rapy male characters. Shocking horrors get made every year, and what separates a Martyrs from a Serbian Film is all in the writing. It’s a shame, as the director was half way there – he’s created an effective and grizzly aesthetic. Now all he needs is a better script and hopefully we can see a more substantial entry into the horror genre. The glass is there – all we need now is some water. Oh, and if you do see it watch out for the montage of the older sister performing fellatio and tell me if that’s meant to be taken as a joke or not?
This one I’d been looking forward to a lot. A series of excellent directors coming together for an anthology of found footage. And it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Opening with a framing plot, that in itself provides an effective short film, we see pieces by established horror makers Ti West, David Bruckner and Glen McQuaid, among others. The anthology covers a huge range. Opening with what appears to be an entry about date rape, we go in a fairly unexpected and very dark direction. Next comes a tense stalker piece, with an awesome reveal about half way through, and delivers a slow but unsettling experience. A truly original slasher entry comes next, featuring a villain that is both kept at a suitable distance throughout, but utterly captivating and memorable when shown. This entry is probably the most effective. Next there is some comedy provided by a Skype based piece wherein a young man watches his self harming girlfriend get tormented to the point of insanity by some ghostly children – leading to a very satisfying plot twist. This entry takes a similar premise of The Colingswood Story (2002), but in all ways takes it to school on both the tension front and (despite the comedy) in providing a strong rapport between characters, that is so essential when they don’t even share the same room. There’s also a dynamic haunted house style entry wherein the shit really hits the fan. Some very surreal imagery is present as hands come the floor, doors slam shut and an evil cult occupies the attic. On one hand utterly batshit, but on the other a great kitchen sink closer to the anthology. Does all of it work? Not quite – the framing plot is too vague, and some of the entries feel too rushed to fit in with the time slots – but on the whole it is a brilliant body of work and very likely to be the horror highlight of 2012. Track it down.
[Rec] 3, Genesis:
As a big fan of the first REC I admired the balls of the second in effortlessly switching subgenres from a zombie flick to a demonic possession one. Now half the directorial teams return with something incredibly different again. Opening with a video diary, the movie appears to follow all the conventions of the first two until an ingenious twist about twenty minutes in. There’s a very well done game-changing moment as the found footage aspect gets literally left behind. You’ve probably read this before. Just like you’ll have most likely seen that the new movie is in fact a comedy. Oh, and there’s also a hell of a romance plot running through it. So its probably not the REC film everyone was expecting, or even wanting. But then at least the makers are consciously fighting the risk of becoming a predictable annual tradition ala Paranormal Activity. There are none of the old scenes where someone stands in the distance, grunts, then runs at the camera. And with this bold decision new life has been effectively breathed in to the series. Sure, it won’t feel entirely logical next time you have a Rec-athon. But it is definitely a much needed change before people get too comfortable. The comedy is fairly absurdist, with one character being a childrens entertainer dressed in a spongebob-like costume (Sponge John for copyright reasons), our male protagonist fights in a suit of armour and awkward social obligations with regards to wedding invitations gets discussed against the zombie apocalypse. The bride is a soon to be a classic horror heroine, angrily chopping down the undead with a chainsaw because they ruined her big day. Yep, there’s a lot of blood in this entry so fans of gore will not be disappointed – albeit the gore is more Evil Dead 2 than it is scary. Beneath all this though, is a very strong romance plot that ends in a scene that’s as truly kind-hearted as it is gory (and it’s pretty darn gory). Sure, it’s probably not anybody’s ideal sequel. But given the vicious one-two of the first entries, I don’t know that a third in that style necessarily could have lived up to it anyway. Effectively the makers have immortalised the first two as a great pairing in modern horror and kept the series alive without walking in their shadows in the slightest. When the audience know what to expect you got to keep them on their toes somehow. The second one gave us demonic procession, and the third offers a bloody good laugh with some very touching romance and all sorts of bits and bobs flying about.
Speaking of bits and bobs flying about, Stitches is an ultra-violent comedy horror with more blood than it really knows what to do with. I wasn’t over excited about this movie since, for one, it’s a clown comedy (I am yet to see one that works from beginning to end – I’m thinking of you It), and secondly is stars Ross Noble. Now I’m as much of a Noble fan as the next man (unless the next man is Noble himself) and some of his pre-movie patter was amusing. But this made me concerned that Stitches would be a comedy with horror (e.g Shaun of the Dead, Severence or Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) rather than the all too rare horror with comedy (e.g Behind the Mask, Exhibit A or – more obviously – Scream). It’s not that I don’t like comedies with horror – just since they’re so commonplace then one has to be really good to make an impact on me. Stitches falls very much into this comedy with horror category, and as suspected, doesn’t stand out from its competitors. It lacks of the heart of Tucker and Dale, the awareness of conventions as shown in Severence, or the obvious affection for its source material as Shaun. Instead we have a clown revenge movie with a lot of blood, an inspired central performance from Noble, but not much else going for it. There are no moments of tension or horror barring a scene with a telescope that manages to be both scary and funny. Following a nasty opening scene wherein Stitches dies a wickedly funny death, we are introduced to the now teenage characters. In this post-Inbetweeners age though, their puerile banter seems relatively tame and feels far more crude and vulgar than it does nostalgic. It’s folks pissing themselves, making rude puns and very typical awkward boy meets girl scenes. Sure, there are some laugh out loud moments (a humorous pun involving their Facebook-lite site comes to mind) though you never feel like you’re really seeing something that you haven’t seen done better before. The main setting is a party wherein Stitches returns and pops eyes, shoves rabbits down throats and disembowels folks until they’re fountains of CGI blood. If this sounds enjoyable then you’ll probably enjoy the movie for the bulk of its duration, though you’ll most likely not give it a second thought once its over. In that respect my low score is not because the movie bad, per se, since it’s not. But because it’s highly unremarkable, and not really my sort of thing. There are much worse ways one can pass their time though, and its also a lot better than any of the Scary Movie series.
On the bus back I thought about how it had been a mixed day of cinema-going, though how even a less enjoyable film becomes that much better when watched in a room full of passionate fans. The atmosphere is well worth experiencing for any horror fan, and provides the perfect contras to the onscreen carnage. Wen you go from seeing the odd weirdo walking the street in a horror t-shirt to seeing hundreds of them, than you know this is a very loyal niche of more thn just casual viewers that you’re with. V/H/S had been the ultimate highlight, as expected. But the variety on offer showed just how wide ranging the horror genre could be. There were legends and newcomers alike sharing the screen, and with a number of belly-laughs too. There was also the promise of more to come the following day. But for that, you’ll have to watch this space.