Monday, 28 September 2009

Donkey Skin/Peau d'ane (1970)

Over the years there have been many, many screen actresses that one could describe as attractive or cute or glamorous or sexy or even beautiful, but very few that you would call absolutely gorgeous. Grace Kelly was one and the young Catherine Deneuve was another -- not that she is any slouch in the looks stakes now in her sixties.

This is one of four films that she made with the innovative director Jacques Demy and it forms a loose trilogy with his other movies with her and a musical score from Michel Legrand: "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" (1964) and "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" (1967). All three are brightly-coloured confections where all or much of the dialogue is sung. This one is based on a fairy tale by Charles Perrault, although one that is marginally more suitable for adults than children. She plays a princess whose father, Jean Marais, has promised his dead queen that he would only remarry if he could find a princess more beautiful than she was. He looks in vain until he spots his ignored daughter and decides to marry her! The princess knows that this would be wrong and consults with her fairy godmother, Delphine Seyrig, how to avoid this. First she requests increasingly more beautiful and seemingly impossible-to-create gowns, and when this fails she asks for the skin of the king's prize donkey who literally craps gold coins and jewels ("My banker").

Finally she escapes from the palace wearing the donkey's skin over her shoulders, smears some dirt on her face (making her unrecognizable a la Clark Kent), and becomes a scullion in a far-flung village where everyone thinks she is hideous! One day she is spotted by the local prince, Jacques Perrin (the grown-up Toto from "Cinema Paradiso") who falls lovesick. He refuses to eat and finally asks for a cake baked by the so-called Donkey Skin in which she secretes her ring. There then follows a Cinderella-style scenario where only the lady whose finger fits the ring can become the prince's bride -- a somewhat less difficult task than fitting a shoe. None of the great ladies in his realm can wear the ring nor the lowest of servants, until of course Deneuve appears. So they marry and live happily for the next 100 years. But what of King Marais you ask? Well he arrives by helicopter (a totally anachronistic touch) with her fairy godmother whom he plans to wed.

I had seen this film once before and do not recall feeling one way or the other about it. This second viewing, however, was a totally joyous experience. I think I must be getting a little soppy in my dotage!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Mahal (1949)

I am still on something of a Bollywood kick, since Channel Four is running a brief season of classic movies, fortunately only two per week since they are all long and take some watching. I was actually quite charmed by this entry, the title of which translates as 'The Palace' or 'The Mansion'.

A young lawyer overnights at a deserted mansion which his father has recently purchased and learns the legends of its haunted history from the resident gardener, who tells him that it was built for a mysterious man and his forbidden lover, both of whom died before they could live there together. He is puzzled to find a portrait from some forty years previous which is self-evidently a representation of his own face and he decides that he has been reincarnated solely to revisit the scene of his previous love. This is compounded when he views a beautiful woman through the screens and shadows, who seems to come and go like a ghost. Despite being betrothed to another, he is smitten with this vision and it begins to obsess him. An attempt by a close friend to lure him away by employing some sultry dancing sirens fails and ultimately his father must drag him away to fulfill his marriage contract. However, even some years of wedlock (during which he has not once viewed his wife's face) and distancing himself to a remote cabin can not protect him from the siren's lure. His spurned wife eventually learns the cause of his disdain, poisons herself, and frames him for her murder.

The ghostlike beauty is played by Madhubala who is called "The Venus of the Indian Screen" and who is considered the most beautiful of all Indian actresses. She died aged only 36 and left some 70 films. She was certainly a lovely presence in this movie, but last week I saw her in one made some six years later, "Mr. and Mrs. '55" in which I found her heavily pock-marked skin distracting. Never mind, in this film she made a strong impression and the atmospheric photography as she appeared amongst the elaborate architecture and ornate gardens was enthralling. Her would-be lover was played by Ashok Kumar, one of the most famous of Indian screen actors with a long and distinguished career. The shock revelations set in the court where he is being tried for murder show that everything had a non-mystical explanation after all, but this does not detract from the overall appeal of this film.

The only problem I had was my failure to have an educated ear for the long love dirges which took up such a proportion of the film's running time. To call the sound caterwauling is I know both unfair and ignorant on my part, but I do admit to fast-forwarding through one or two of the neverending numbers. Shame on me!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Accidental Husband (2008)

This American movie which is one of this week's premieres on Sky Movies does not appear to have been released cinematically in the States -- at least I can find no U.S. press reviews of it -- and I am slightly wondering why it has been inflicted on the rest of the world. That's not to say that it wasn't a vaguely pleasant 90 minutes -- which is more than I can say about a number of movies -- but it was in the end totally dismissable.

Uma Thurman (question: is she not getting a little too old now for ditzy rom-coms?) plays a radio "love doctor", dispensing her somewhat jaded advice to the New York area audience. She is engaged to her publisher (another useless and disposable role for good-old Colin Firth). When, as a result of her phone-in advice, a Queens fireman's fiancee calls off their wedding at short notice, he wants his revenge. The fireman in question is played by an actor called Jeffrey Dean Morgan who was a total unknown to me since most of his past roles have been in American TV series which don't travel and I have not yet seen his contribution to two high-profile 2009 flicks: "Watchmen" and "Taking Woodstock". He boards with an extended family of Indians (not the Native American variety) and the young computer hacker of that family fiddles about on line and creates the paperwork to prove that Thurman is now married to Morgan, so that when she and Firth go to get their license, the records show that she is already married. Ho ho ho!

This is the sort of idiotic and flimsy plot device that can only exist in poorly conceived movies and it does not take a cinematic genius to predict the ultimate outcome. Directed by Griffin Dunne, who is a far more interesting actor than director, we viewers watch helplessly as Thurman seeks to get the relevant paperwork signed to annul this phony marriage (which any competent lawyer could have handled) whilst beginning to fall for the slobbish fireman. Poor old civilized Firth! About the only good thing in this film was the casting of Sam Shepard and Brooke Adams as Thurman's divorced parents and Isabella Rossellini and Keir Dullea as a German couple about to acquire Firth's company. The poor sap must play along with the fiction that Morgan is Thurman's fiancee and that he is her brother. Oh what jolly japes!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Blue Bird (1940)

As I have written previously, I enjoy watching Shirley Temple's 1930s' movies despite myself for the innocent charm that she purveys. I am not that enchanted by her later roles. It's been a while since I last watched this fantasy based on the allegorical 1908 play by Maeterlinck. It was filmed at least twice as a silent (neither of which I have seen) and in 1976 remade in an overblown joint US-Russian production with the young Patsy Kensit in the Temple lead. This version was rushed out by 20th Century Fox after the critical success of "The Wizard of Oz" the previous year and proved to be their young star's first commercial flop. I am not too surprised, since at 12 years she was beginning to lose her childish innocence and in fact comes across as somewhat bolshy and petulant in this role. Added to the somewhat saccharine whimsy of the tale as filmed, the movie possibly had little appeal to a world on the edge of war.

Shirley and her more than chubby little brother play the children of a woodcutter and his wife in another time when war threatens. Shirley moans about their humble life and is told by a fairy to set off to find the blue bird of the title. Joined by human embodiments of their own cat and dog, played by the ever-treacherous Gale Sondergaard and vaudeville comic Eddie Collins in his penultimate role, their journey takes them in search of some elusive happiness. First they visit the past as represented by a graveyard, where they encounter their now-dead grand-parents and learn the lesson that people are only dead when they are forgotten. Next they visit the house of Luxury where everything may be available but where they learn that material goods alone do not bring happiness; Shirley realizes that her family is not poor -- they just don't have any money! There is then a scary section where they are lost in the forest. The wicked Sondergaard encourages the trees and their associates, fire and wind, to destroy the woodcutter's kids; that the trees end up destroying themselves makes little sense when you think about it. They next visit the future as represented by a world of unborn children, a collection of would-be Shirley Temples, and get to meet their little sister-to-be and some coming scientists and potential peace-makers. It is only when they return home that they discover that the blue bird of happiness was there the whole time, reminiscent of the no-place-like-home moral of Oz, but without the seamless magic of that film.

Shirley went on to make one last film for Fox before taking on some disposable teenaged roles, ultimately leaving movies for bigger and better things. There is no doubt that she brought much joy to many people during the Depression years and her charm is evident even now. However this particular movie is not one that reinforces her lasting legacy.

RIP World Movies: I am sad to report that this recently discovered satellite channel has now bitten the dust. I did write that I was mystified how they managed to survive for even a year without subscriptions or advertising -- and now I know the ultimate answer. They couldn't! I'm so sorry to see them go since they really tried to provide something rather different and wonderful.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Andaz (1949)

Although I think I have some depth of knowledge when it comes to cinema, there are certain areas in which I admit I am relatively ignorant. The vast beast that is Indian cinema is a case in point. I have probably seen most of Satyajit Ray's films, a selection of other "classics", and a few of the multi-coloured all-singing, all-dancing, modern extravaganzas. However there are many on my "famous" list which I have yet to view. These titles tend to be culled from personal critics' selections from Sight and Sound's 'top 10' poll every ten years.

"Andaz" is considered to be one of the all-time classics and although I can see why it has achieved this status, I didn't really warm to the film. Its English titles include 'Misunderstandings' and 'A Matter of Style' and its underlying message appears to be that Indians who embrace a Western lifestyle do so at their peril. It is basically a love triangle starring Nardis (whom I know from "Mother India"), Dilip Kumar, and Raj Kapoor. She is the spoiled daughter of a wealthy industrialist whose life is saved when Kumar stops her runaway horse. They become good friends and it is obvious that he is falling in love with her, but she neglects to mention that she is engaged to Kapoor who is currently overseas. Her father does warn her that she is tempting fate by continuing this relationship and partying. After her father's death, Kumar helps her regain her enthusiasm for life and she rewards him by making him her partner in her father's business empire. It is only when Kapoor returns that Kumar becomes aware of the depth of her feelings for her 'god', her only one true and lasting love.

However, the situation becomes impossible for all of them, even after her marriage and the birth of a (singularly Western-looking) child. Kumar mopes about and Kapoor begins to suspect the worst concerning his wife's past behaviour and fidelity. The story continues with some irrational behaviour on the part of all three protagonists and ultimately tragedy. In the traditional Indian style, the action is interspersed with love ballads, many of which I understand have become classic favourites. Perhaps it is my unfamiliarity with this music and the singular melodramatics of the plot that stopped my full appreciation of this film. It was also not helped by the introduction of Kapoor's idiotic 'guru' who became an immovable houseguest and whose behaviour was probably intended as comic relief -- which just didn't appeal to my Western tastes. Yes I'm happy to have seen this film and to be able to cross it off my list; I only wish I could say that I thought more highly of it.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Inglourious Basterds (2009) (+ Inglorious Bastards 1978)

Let me say upfront that I did like Quentin Tarantino's latest movie and happily watched the unnecessarily long two and a half hours that it lasted, for the various good points it provided. However that is not to say that I didn't find it overly leisurely or free from more than a modicum of self-indulgence on the part of a very self-important director.

The best thing about the film, as others have mentioned, was the discovery of a formerly little-known Austrian TV actor Christoph Waltz in the multi-lingual role of Landa 'The Jew Hunter' who becomes this generation's Von Stroheim (trademark: "The man you love to hate"). He was the personification of all that was evil about Nazi Germany, but so charming with it. I do not doubt that he now has a spectacular career ahead. The big problem is that the remainder of the cast which was reasonably well-chosen seem overshadowed by his performance. The French actress Melanie Laurent runs him a close second in her role of the Jewish woman who saw her family slaughtered by Landa's men, who is now living under a Christian pseudonym and running a Parisian cinema where the action reaches its finale. As for the big-name draw, Brad Pitt, I found his performance mildly embarrassing -- although part of that was down to the supposedly redneck character he was playing -- to the extent that horror director Eli Roth as his 'Jew-Bear' sidekick (a man I normally detest for unrelated reasons) was marginally more tolerable. Much of the other celebrity casting, especially the cameos for Mike Myers and Rod Taylor, struck me as a waste of time. Even the normally superb Michael Fassbender was in many ways superfluous here. At least we can be grateful that QT resisted giving himself an appearance.

The film is a revisionist view of World War II with only the use of various languages being a nod to realism. I did wonder briefly why part-Apache Pitt should have been put in charge of a group of eight American-Jewish renegade avengers, but decided that this was just another instance of Tarantino's poetic license and concept of vigilante justice. One could produce an argument however that the group's over-the-top violence is in the end no more justifiable than the Nazi top brass applauding the film-within-a-film of their hero Daniel Bruhl's slaughter of some 300 Allied soldiers. Anyhow the Basterds want to rewrite history and end the war by massacring the Nazi leadership at the cinema, while independently Laurent plots a concurrent disaster solely for revenge.

Tarantino's love of movies is not only demonstrated by the many cinema references throughout, but by having Fassbender's film critic, Diane Kruger's film-star, and Laurent's repertory cinema owner among the major players, and ironically having the final holocaust triggered by highly flammable nitrate film stock as the ultimate weapon -- a totally pleasing device. Pitt's last line of "I think this just might be my masterpiece" may imply QT's own assessment of his latest effort, but I choose to reserve judgment about this generally entertaining, but also deeply flawed entry.

For my own curiosity I thought it would be a wheeze to have a look at the earlier film from Italian director Enzo G. Castellari, which really only shares its title and whch has seen various edited releases under a number of alternate titles. Apparently Tarantino saw it a long time ago on television and relished a kind of secret oneupmanship that not many people knew about it and that this somehow made him special. Starring very minor actors Bo Svenson, Peter Hooten, and Fred Williamson, it is more of a "Dirty Dozen" scenario with a group of soldiers destined for a military prison escaping and reaping disproportionate havoc. Badly dubbed, except oddly for those characters speaking French or German, it is typical of the sort of film that used to be made with some frequency, but which fortunately is no longer in vogue (except if your name is Steven Seagal!).

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Fall (2006)

I was intrigued by the reviews for the above film when it eventually -- some three years late -- opened here, which varied wildly between describing it as a magical experience and overblown hooey. Apparently Variety called it 'absurdly elaborate' and the product of a 'wildly indulged' creator. The Indian-born director Tarsem (Singh) is the US-based director of music videos and his only previous cinema outing was 2000's "The Cell" with Jennifer Lopez, a visually-arresting but muddled and underperforming movie. This one was shot over several years in nearly twenty exotic locations and it is something of a miracle that it ever managed to see the light of day or to sustain its funding. But a rating of 8 out of 10 on IMDb suggests that I am not alone in having found it worthwhile viewing, despite the critical sniping.

Set in a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s, Lee Pace plays an injured stuntman (the background to his accident is shown in the black and white footage under the opening credits and is an important part of the story) who makes friends with a young immigrant girl, the enchanting Romanian Catinca Untaru; she wanders through the hospital grounds and wards as her broken arm heals. He begins to weave an elaborate tale which catches her burgeoning imagination concerning the exploits of five heroes -- an Indian (imagined by her as a native of India and not a native-American), an ex-slave, an Italian explosives expert, Charles Darwin with his pet monkey, and a masked bandit, all of whom are out to destroy Governor Odious who has wronged them. They are joined by a mumbling mystic who descends from a tree in the desert and their travels take them from one gorgeously elaborate location to another. In her mind, these characters take on the faces of various people from the hospital environment (much like "The Wizard of Oz") including a comely nurse who becomes entwined in the tale. Little does Catinca realise that the Pace is using their friendship to entice her to bring him morphine so that he can end his life. Reality mixes with illusion and the storyteller's death-wish colours the fate of the various protagonists.

It is apparently not an original story, but a reworking of a completely obscure Bulgarian film from 1981 caled "Yo Ho Ho"; one wonders how Tarsem even stumbled across the original movie. What he has created here can certainly be described as a folly, but it is a glorious one. The film may or may not be an act of hubris as his accusers would have it, but it is a truly beautiful one.

Monday, 7 September 2009

FrightFest Part Three

A further thought on the Argento fiasco: I have seen the suggestion that the director intended "Giallo" as a comedy, a parody of his own movies, and certainly the sprinkling of laughter in the audience might bear this out. However, while Argento may possess a black sense of humour, there have never been any comic sensibilities in any of his films, and if this latest one was deliberately meant to be amusing, it is an experiment that failed.

The only way now that I will have the stamina to cover the last two FrightFest days is to minimise the amount that I write about the remaining films -- not quite by a limited number of characters per Twitter (which is not my bag), but just a few tasters rather than any full-blown exposition and evaluation:

Dead Snow (2009): Norway is not exactly known for its zombie heritage, so this is a welcome addition to the dead Nazi genre from earlier European flicks like "Shock Waves" and "Zombie Lake". Like last year's "Cold Prey" we have a group of students on their spring break at a snowbound cabin in the beautiful Norwegian mountains. Their holiday is ruined by never-ending troops of rotting Nazis rising from the snow to exact some very gruesome deaths. Quite good fun actually.

The Human Centipede (first sequence) (2009): I only saw the first half of this Dutch peculiarity as we wanted to see the overlapping Discovery Screen movie (below). Inspired by a trio of dogs nose-to-bum, our mad scientist wants to recreate this with the human grafting of two female American tourists and a Japanese businessman. I didn't see the results, but since this was intended as the first of two movies, no doubt I can view the gruesome end-product in due course. I just hope that it is an improvement on the rather pixillated images on display here.

Pontypool (2008): This Canadian entry definitely proved the better film, although a very low budget one with a limited cast and setting (a local radio studio in small-town Ontario), but a fascinating premise. A rather terrific Stephen McHattie plays a down-at-the-heels shock jock who has to cover some weird happenings making news outside the studio. Only gradually do he and his station manager realise that the virus is spreading through the spoken word and he must evaluate whether he can continue to present the story without further threatening civilization. Intriguing.

Night of the Demons (2009): This was a totally unnecessary remake of the 1988 classic by Fest fave Adam Gierasch. It brought absolutely nothing new to the table and was a complete waste of the acting talents, such as they may be, of Monica Keena, Shannon Elizabeth, and the hasn't-he-fallen Edward Furlong. The only bit of interest was a brief cameo from the now nearly unrecognizable star of the original movie, Linnea Quigley.

Dread (2009): This British effort is based on a Clive Barker short story, but was actually pretty dreary. A college student wishes to research fear for his thesis and is assisted by an ever-so-willing "friend". Too late he discovers that the friend has his own agenda and he and a few of his colleagues become part of some infernal experiments. It all became rather nasty, without being particularly good. Interesting to note here that one of the characters is heavily disfigured by a strawberry birthmark, which is also a theme of the final movie below.

Colin (2008): It was no contest to decide to skip the main auditorium's World Premiere of something called "Zombie Women of Satan" to take in this British Discovery flick purportedly made for £45.00! We're in zombie-virus-spreading territory again, but the peg here (and I'm surprised that this has not been done before) is that the story is told from one of the walking dead's own point of view. We follow our friendly zombie hero Colin as he succumbs to the virus, fights its worst ravages, wards off the zombie hunters, and introduces us to other personal dramas as they occur. The lack of funding just about shows, but this could easily be developed into an even better release.

House of the Devil (2009): We're back to devil-worshipping in the suburbs and babysitter-in-peril movies with this American entry from director Ti West, but a pretty well-done one. Jocelin Donahue does a good job as the college student fated to become the host of the devil's spawn, but it is the other casting that makes this film of interest. The couple that employ her for the evening out in the sticks admit that they do not actually have any kids, but need her to "sit" their Alzheimer-stricken mother. He is Tom Noonan, the original Red Dragon from "Manhunter" and she is genre favourite Mary Woronov, who has actually retired from films but who was lured back to do this one. There is also a very small and totally unnecessary part for another horror icon, Dee Wallace.

Case 39 (2009): This is the first U.S. outing for German director Christian Alvart, who gave us the rather masterly "Antibodies" and he has been given an A-list lead with Renee Zellweger. Despite her Oscar, I normally find her a little difficult to take with her squeaky voice and chirpy chipmunk expression, but the cleverness of the script mitigated these drawbacks. She is a social worker given the case of an "abused" child whose parents have bolts on their bedroom door and who try to cook the kid alive in their kitchen oven. Until a suitable foster home can be found, Zellweger is cajoled into accepting temporary custody and only then does it become apparent that we are in fiendish-kid-from-Hell territory. Far better than expected with some grisly psychic-induced deaths, but without the ending that I would have foreseen.

Heartless (2009): The World premiere of this British film was the most hyped of the Fest, with good reason since it was the first feature outing since 1995 for Philip Ridley who gave us both "The Reflecting Skin" and "The Passion of Darkly Noon". This was apparently intended as a somewhat more mainstream offering with supernatural sensibilities, but was I thought a little muddled in the making. Perhaps a second viewing in due course will sort that out. The film is set in the urban wastelands of East London where fierce creatures roam at night and where violence is king. Jim Sturgess does a fine job as the photographer with the offputting strawberry birthmark (again), who makes a pact with a devil figure to become unblemished and to find love, but who finds that he must lose control of his soul in the bargain.

By this stage we were pretty much fested-out and decided to skip the final film, the premiere of "The Descent: Part 2" on the grounds that as a relatively mainstream movie, it would come our way soonish. Who knows, perhaps it will form my final entry before next year's llth frightful weekend.

Friday, 4 September 2009

FrightFest Saturday

Saturday's schedule promised a fair share of goodies, but like poisoned trick or treat candies, at least two of the offerings turned out to be deadly:

Smash Cut (2009): The UK premiere of this Canadian flick seemed to have a lot going for it and should have been an instant classic; instead it was a huge embarrassment. Starting with a quote from B-splatter maestro Herschell Gordon Lewis to the effect that movies are about making money, not making art, this film definitely had no artistic pretensions -- but I also doubt whether it will succeed as any sort of financial goldmine either. The would-be appeal is in the casting with a lead role for David Hess, the horrific sadist from the original "Last House on the Left" here playing a very minor horror film director. Also in the cast is the iconic Michael Berryman, the unforgettable mutant from the original "The Hills have Eyes" as the owner of the studio, decked out in a black fright-wig and little more than a figure of fun. Rounding out the cast is "adult" actress Sasha Grey (also recently taken up by Soderbergh) and some other talentless actors. The story, such as it is, concerns Hess' killing off critics and co-workers for their body parts to incorporate in his new "masterpiece". Talk about bad! I noticed that Hess was swanning about the Festival in full celebrity mode and I wonder whether anyone could honestly approach him without admitting how awful this outing was.

Hierro (2009): Another UK premiere for this Spanish film which sounded as if it might be a winner, but which was actually a paper-thin, if atmospheric, study of grief. Set on the island of El Hierro, Europe's southernmost point, it opens with a spectacular car crash from which the driver's son seems to disappear. We then follow the story of a single mother taking her small son on the ferry to this holiday isle and finding that he has disappeared while she dozed. When a decomposed body is washed up, she returns but refuses to identify it as her son's. Being forced to remain for DNA testing, along with the now wheelchair-bound mother of the first missing child, she thinks she spots her own missing son in the trailer of an eccentric local and sets out to rescue him. Her subsequent behaviour belies any rational explanation and one can only assume that her grief assumed the upper hand.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009): This was a third UK premiere for the first film adaptation from the three Millennium novels by the late Stieg Larsson; this movie has been a big hit in Sweden and throughout Scandinavia. Also known as "Men Who Hate Women", it is a leisurely (two and a half-hours) but very involving thriller, with only very minor nods to the horror genre. A disgraced journalist (Michael Nyqvist) is awaiting a jail sentence for libel and is asked by an elderly tycoon to investigate the disappearance of a favourite niece nearly 40 years earlier. He finds himself ultimately working closely with a goth bisexual sociopath (played by a remarkable Noomi Rapace) who has hacked into his files. Together they unearth both an old group of serial murders and a current bunch, all linked to the tycoon's large disfunctional family and in so doing solve the earlier mystery. While I wouldn't claim that this was particularly brilliant film-making, I would enthusiastically recommend this movie as well worth seeing. I hope that the two follow-up films: "The Girl who Played with Fire" and "The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" will be every bit as good.

Giallo (2009): One of the high points of any FrightFest is the unveiling of a new movie from Italian maestro Dario Argento and I think all of us in attendance were really looking forward to this one. Alan Jones, one of the festival organisers, introduced the movie by suggesting that we might need to join AA (Argento Anonymous) after viewing it -- and he was not wrong. This was undoubtely the very worst Argento movie ever and there have been some very so-so ones amongst his most recent outings. Shot in English and starring Oscar-winner Adrien Brody as a Turin detective and Mrs. Polanski, Emmanuelle Seigner, as the visiting stewardess who has come to him to find her missing model sister, the movie is nothing short of appalling. There have been a series of abducted young women, followed by a series of mutilated corpses, all the work of a yellowish (hepatic) maniac (who unfortunately looked like a slightly uglier version of David Hess). The pair of them mooch around not quite managing to catch the maniac or to locate her sister, but do take some breaks to drink and enjoy their cigarettes as if they were starring in some kind of 1980's advertisement. The film can not even boast more than possibly one of Argento's trademark flashy images. A solid disappointment all round.

Trick 'r Treat (2008): After the above, this supposedly minor US movie, also receiving its UK premiere, seemed like a brilliant revelation. It apparently sat on a shelf for a couple of years before getting a release Stateside, but it is actually a very nifty little effort and deserves a place in the horror heavens. While it is basically a compendium movie, an anthology of small tales from the town of Warren Valley, Ohio where they take Halloween as the most important holiday of the year, it is put together with great cunning and the stories interlink in a highly satisfying way. Featuring Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, and Anna Paquin amongst its cast, the writer-director Michael Dougherty presents a quirky and mischievous take on Halloween night myths covering the perils of trick-or-treating,the malevolent spirits abroad, and the general risk of ignoring any of those urban legends which just might be true. Good fun!

That leaves the last two FrightFest days to cover. I shall return to these when the spirit takes me.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

FrightFest - Part One

This year is FrightFest's 10th anniversary and it is the 5th year that I have written about this premiere "horror" festival. For my previous entries see my August archives at The fest has grown beyond the organizers' wildest dreams and at its new home at the Empire, Leicester Square some 1300 friendly fans were expected on weekend passes, day passes, and individual tickets. Despite our good intentions as mentioned below, we decided upfront to skip the late night films for a combination of reasons (largely travel logistics and creaky bones). However we have always managed to catch up with the missing gems (sometimes) in due course and I'm sure this will continue to be the case.

Triangle (2009): The World Premiere of this UK/Australian flick from Christopher Smith, the director of "Creep" and "Severance", was a model of creepiness and featured a fine performance from Melissa George as the mother of an autistic child on a yachting outing with a group of friends. When their vessel overturns during a freaky storm, they are stranded until a deserted liner hoves into view. Once aboard she experiences a strange sense of deja vu and the friends find themselves in an alternate reality where events occur and recur; George even at one stage ends up killing another version of herself. While not a little unconfused in its exposition, the film is certainly imaginative and I particularly liked a scrap heap of dozens of dead bodies -- all versions of one of her friends who has 'just' been killed.

The Hills Run Red (2009): The second movie Thursday evening was the UK Premiere of this American slasher, yet another tale of a horror buff in pursuit of a copy of a cult movie known only by its internet trailer where no print is thought to exist. He traces the daughter of the fabled director, played in flashback by William Sandler (the only 'name' in the cast), a lap dancer whom he weans off drugs and whom he convinces to lead him and his two friends to her father's old home through the woods where Babyface -- the film's monster -- preyed on his victims. His intention is to shoot a documentary and to even possibly unearth a copy; however, too late he and his companions discover that the movie is still shooting and that they are a part of the continuing horror.

The Horseman (2008): Back bright and early Friday morning for another Australian entry, which was more in the nature of a straightforward revenge tale rather than a horror flick as such, unless of course extreme violence and a hefty dose of torture porn qualifies it as such. A father who discovers that his teenaged daughter has died of a drug overdose shortly after taking part in a seedy porn video sets out to discover the circumstances of her death and to punish all and sundry involved in the enterprise -- the director, the distributors, the other actors, the drug dealers -- you name it. Along the way he teams up with a heavily pregnant young gal and he finds himself having to protect her while still dispensing his own version of grisly justice. I assume the movie's title derives from the Four of the Apocalypse since he was also a fearsome avenger.

The next scheduled showing was for a documentary intended as a DVD extra for the new digital restoration of "An American Werewolf in London" (1981) -- see below. However since we didn't fancy sitting through 98 minutes of this we decided to sample the new sidebar, the Discovery Screen, showing in one of the cinema's smaller theatres. Our choice was a cheeky little 2008 flick from the States called "I Sell the Dead" in which that well-known Hobbit and "Lost" actor, Dominic Monaghan, is half of a 18th Century bodysnatching team. After his partner is sent to the guillotine and while he is awaiting his own fate, Monaghan spills his history to a supposed priest played by Ron Perlman. He recounts how they moved from providing bodies for medical research for a fiendish doctor, played by "Phantasm's" Angus Scrimm, through dealing in other oddities including vampires, zombies, and even an extraterrestrial, in competition with another ruthless band of graverobbers. All of this takes place in a never-never world with cod Irish accents (I doubt the guillotine ever reached those shores) and the movie is an affectionate throwback to minor Hammer films of old -- done with a healthy dose of humour.

We followed this with the showing of the restored "American Werewolf" introduced by an ebullient John Landis. The film holds up well and is still vastly entertaining and influential, However I must confess that I don't possess a fine enough eye to enthuse over the enhanced picture quality.

The Shadow (2009): Next up was the World Premiere of an Italian movie shot in English by first-time director Federico Zampaglione, who is apparently some sort of local pop idol. The movie had the flashy look of music videos and purportedly told the story of a soldier returning from Iraq who is seeking some therapeutic R & R by mountain-biking through European forests. He is little prepared for running into some nasty hunters nor a Nazi-obsessed local psychopath who enjoys a little torture activity of his own. It may be something of a spoiler to reveal that this is all part of a fever dream as the said soldier lies on a field operating table, but I will not make this worse by telling you about the final "kicker" to the tale.

The Horde (2009): This was a special sneak preview of a French film which has not yet been released and we were asked not to review it at this time. That's fine with me since the story of a group of cops who go to a deserted block to seek revenge on some mobsters that killed one of their own and then find that they must band together to face the Walking Dead who have gathered outside the building did not exactly grab me. This is not a review!

So that takes us through Friday. Saturday was a day of great expectations, not all of which materialized into something worthwhile, but that will be discussed in the next entry. Stay with me.. .