This is my follow up my first day of London Fright Fest 2012. My first report contains brief reviews of V/H/S and [Rec]3 among others, and can be seen at https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2012/08/my-frightfest-2012-trip-part-1-vhs-rec3-and-others/
It’s not that I intended to miss the first film; the documentary Euro Crime. It’s just I wasn’t too fussed about it and slept in. From all the people I spoke to about it, the documentary sounded pretty good; albeit, heavily based on movies I’ve never seen and am unlikely to watch in the near future. Besides, I was in London so why not take a scenic stroll? Living in Aberdeen I easily forget what a real city feels like. Approaching the cinema around noon I still had time for some brunch and a look around the fright fest book store before going in to the main screen – passing some Nazi zombies on the way. It’s sequel time.
Outpost II: Black Sun:
A lot of people have told me the original was a good film, and questioned my credentials as a horror fan for not liking it. For me, Outpost (2008) was the one thing a movie about Nazi zombies shouldn’t be; boring. It’s not that I expect a zombie film to be constant action, after all horror movies need adequate characterisation as much as the next genre. But considering how absurd the premise is then it seems a grave error to be quite so humourless and po-faced about the whole scenario. For me, Outpost had the same problem as this year’s War of the Dead in that it promotes a premise that’s hard to take seriously, in only the most serious of tones. This is why I enjoyed Dead Snow; the makers presumably thought that the best way to feature Nazi zombies in a film is through subversion and humour, and so offered some very memorable deaths and a great fun narrative. This time director Steve Barker takes a step in the right direction, by at least embracing the zombie subgenre a little more, with a heavier focus on the action and blood side of things. The Third Reich have been expanding their territory, bringing the fight to many surrounding villages and rural lands. Sounds great, right? The truth is that this works to an extent, but then goes to shit towards the end when the characters reach the bunker and the original Outpostisms show up; lots of machines, balls of electrical flying everywhere and a twist that will leave you thinking ‘huh?’ Truth be told, if you dug the first one then you’ll probably dig this one too provided the more visceral approach doesn’t put you off it at all. During the festival the directors announced one more movie to round of the trilogy. How you respond to that news will be a good indication of whether or not you’ll like the second. Me? I won’t be rushing out to buy it.
The Mannetti brothers are a likeable pair. Having seen them in Glasgow promoting the excellent Wang’s Arrival I was looking forward to some fairy-tale horror involving a torture, a basement and a creepy rich gent. Opening with a creepy prologue tale about a maid meeting her bloody end, we then meet the three protagonists as they cheat their way to a weekend at a country estate for some living it up. Being a horror film, naturally the living aspect doesn’t stay for long and it turns in to an intense fight for their lives. Saying much more on the plot would give too much away, suffice to say there are elements of giallo that are effortlessly contrasted with the grim fable as the characters soon learn that things aren’t how they seem. True, prior to its escalation towards the end, the threat never quite works. But as it reaches the point in the narrative when the movie easily could have ended, the brothers keep it going for a very strong finale. Along the way there’s the usual blood spatter that’s a staple for torture films. Accordingly, the film suffers in the same area as a number of its contemporises in exhibiting an uncomfortable level of sexism that appears to go beyond simply manifesting the characters attitudes. Francesca Cuttica is naked sexy for almost her entire time on screen, and while it is tempting to forgive this movie in the laddish ‘but she’s get it mind manner’, it’s not exactly sophisticated film making now is it? As with Hidden in the Woods, while Paura definitely does some things very right and it too quick in embracing some of the negative aspects of horror that give the genre a bad name and explain why critics are so quick to use phrases like ‘psychological thriller with supernatural undertones’ whenever a well-received one comes out. But more on this with Tulpa.
Under the Bed:
Prior to this film there was a really very nice tribute paid to effects legend Greg Nicotero, featuring a compilation video (which strangely focussed on a number of his less remarkable movies) and interview, a Q and A, and a moving tribute paid by Simon Pegg. This got the room feeling all patriotic about their genre and ready for the next to be a sleeper hit. However, about halfway through the movie I was wishing I’d just got a Sunday ticket instead of a Saturday one. Under the Bed was the third movie of the day, and by far the worst. We meet Neal, a young man with a dark past, returning to his family home after some time away to recuperate from a tragedy. Coming from an exaggeratedly dysfunctional family situation, Neal lives with his cartoonishly antagonistic dad, an attentive stepmother and younger brother Paulie. Following some laughably dramatic music as he enters his house (a soundtrack which continues to resurface at entirely needless points), it’s very soon that we learn something is wrong and has its routes – you guessed it – under the bed. What follows is a horror all about childhood fears that is unfortunately less Joe Dante and more like the Sam Raimi produced Boogeyman. The key problem is that you’re always at least half an hour ahead of the narrative. The movie does nothing to really scare you – instead it’s a typical by the numbers supernatural horror right up until its highly thematic, but ultimately unreasoned, denouement. The father in particular is a by the numbers dad, who’s actions exist to serve the plot but are never justified in a way that a believable human being would act so unreasonably. The speedy means in which the monster gets introduced has all the tensions of wondering whether your coffee’s gone cold as you pick up the cup, and the tortured melodrama consistently borders on parody. Oh, and the last act is all too literal, presenting an idea that may work in the written form but onscreen you kind of feel sorry for the actors trying to make it work. This is a shame since the two leads are both accomplished, and really make the brotherly dynamic a realistic one. There may is a good movie to be made, with much the same scenes and the suburban setting, but this definitely isn’t it. The director, Steven Miller, has also done the well-received Aggression Scale. Maybe he could turn out to be another Rob Zombie that can make an oeuvre of movies that fluctuate wildly in terms of their quality. His follow up, the Silent Night, Deadly Night remake could make or break him.
‘Giallo is back’ are the words that introduced it. However, whether this means the sub-genre or the Argento misfire is open to your interpretation. Tulpa is an authentic looking mystery featuring a heroine in trouble, a black gloved killer in a long coat and occult undertones. First let’s look at the good parts. There are a number of very tense sequences – mostly focused on chases – with some great deaths (watch out for the carousel one) and a brilliant soundtrack. The plot meanders at a reasonable pace too, and some of the trippy sequences look stunning. What I’m really getting at here is that this is a well-made film if nothing else. Aesthetically and audibly great. Well. Except the acting and dialogue. Truth be told, it was a shame for the cast that had shown up to the world premier to hear so many people laughing at it. At first there were sniggers. Then there were chortles. And then came some dialogue along the lines of ‘nobody knows anything about him. Except they say he’s a hermaphrodite’ and the room erupted. The thing is, once the box has been opened then it can’t be closed again – and soon every piece of inadequate dubbing, strange dialogue or plot contrivance was met with the same reaction. By the time the identity of the killer in the coat got revealed I don’t think many people were taking the movie seriously enough to really care. Was it intentionally funny? It’s hard to say. If so then it shoots itself in the foot/ slashes its own face with barbed wire, in that if the movie is playing it for laughs then it does such a good job of impersonating an embarrassing movie that it eventually becomes one. Another key problem with it (and a recurring one from this festival) is the excessive misogyny that the movie revels in. Every woman in it exists to be sexualised and nothing more. Sure, the film exists to follow a specific template, though I would question at what point cinematic heritage can be used to excuse this sort of anti-feminist attitude. During the lengthy lesbian sex scenes I was met with boredom as much arousal, and a kind of self-conscious feeling that maybe I just simply like a film type that seems to employ largely chauvinistic men that treat ‘sexy’ as a positive adjective on their poster. As such, come the room laughing at the director I had less of a problem joining in. After all, if it can take all the male-gaze aspect that comes with being a giallo, then it can also take the unintended laughs.
While some people had inexplicably chosen to watch Wrong Turn 4, in the main room we settled down for the main event; Maniac. As a big fan of the original I was getting ready to hate the remake with a fiery passion. As with Black Christmas, Prom Night or The Fog, Maniac is a movie that simply doesn’t have an inbuilt audience large enough to warrant such treatment, and any attempt to remake it would presumably result in an entirely generic slasher that maybe featured a mannequin or two to justify the namesake. Not the case. The P2 director Franck Khalfoun steps up his game, and accordingly the Maniac remake is brilliant. Sharing writers with The Hills have Eyes (2006) and Mirrors (2008) this is a similarly subversive affair; although one that is more successful than either of those prior two. Rather than following the dated stalk and slash style or the original, the new Maniac is shot almost entirely in the first person, trapping us in Frank’s world of inadequacy, photography and violence. At first it seems slightly distracting, but over time it really gets you in to the head of the murderer like no other horror. Aside from some grisly murders we also see Frank’s hallucinations, flashbacks and migraines all realized excellently. Elijah Wood plays the role perfectly. While taking little screen time up (mostly appearing in reflections and photos) he does some pained voice overs, constantly walking the narrow line between rage and fragility. For a guy so well known for playing a hero, it’s remarkable how little baggage is carried over from Lord of the Rings to Maniac. Behind the murders is a tender love story as he meets a girl with similar passions to his own, and as they awkwardly date it’s a testament to the performance that he Wood can keep the lead sympathetic despite all the violent acts he carries out. And violent they are. Women are stabbed, scalped and beaten as he manifests his mummy problems. And while maybe some of the flashbacks verge on being a little excruciating (in the wrong way), the ending it builds to will have both your fear and your sympathy. Make no mistakes; this remake is not only the equal of its original, but if anything is the stronger of the two; beating, torturing and scalping the original in terms of depth, plot and presentation. It was met with a loud applause, got a lot of good talk on the way out, and also made me feel that little bit more uneasy walking back in the vast London streets.