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.