Saturday, 3 September 2011

FrightFest 2011 Part Two

Alright, Pat, take a deep breath and get on with the second half of this report -- although it's actually rather more than half, since there are still thirteen films left to plough through:

Compendia:  There have always been worthwhile examples of multi-part horror movies going back to the superb 1945 "Dead of Night" and including a number of scary horror compilations from the 1970s.  However the conceit of asking a variety of directors to contribute shortish sections to a single movie too often results in a severe case of the Parson's Nose -- the non-horror film called "Aria" (1987) being a good example.  FrightFest scheduled two of these films this year, both in late, late night slots, and neither worth the effort to stay awake: "The Theatre Bizarre" and "Chillerama".  The former was the brainchild of seven (!) directors including Richard Stanley, Buddy G, and F/X maestro Tom Savini, all held together by a weird framing narrative featuring the iconic Udo Kier as a human puppet.  It was something of a mishmash and only the eerie story of a tourist being seduced by a lusty witch in provincial France could be described as 'not too embarrassing', while the final tale of death by gross overeating verged on the nauseating.  The other film 'boasted' only four directors and was potentially the more imaginative example of bad taste. However after the idiotic story of a giant spermatazoa terrorizing the neighbourhood and a silly beach-party musical featuring gay lust, I gave up in the middle of the black and white, holocaust-set, 'Diary of Anne Frankenstein'.  Sometimes enough is too much -- especially at 2 a.m.

Jokey horror:  For some bizarre reason this sub-genre of gross-out splatter tickles my funnybone. "Deadheads" was amusing, but the least appealing of the three examples; we follow the cross-country roadtrip of a 'zombie' who is able to talk and reason, together with his new also-rational zombie bestfriend, and their strong-armed mute zombie muscle, as they go to find the sweetheart that he left behind.  A second American entry in this category was the very clever and extremely chuckleful "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil".  This film took the premise that all country bumpkins must be homicidal, redneck murderers and turned it on its head. Two relatively bright hicks, who only want to enjoy their new fixer-upper vacation cabin in the boonies, have to contend with a bunch of smartass college kids who fear the worse from these tame hillbillies and who largely end up as dead meat through their own stupidity. The third movie was the British "Inbred", which was not actually meant as a comedy; however the story is so far over the top in its gross-out effects that it squarely belongs in this grouping.   Four teenaged offenders and their two care workers head out to the countryside for a community service weekend in a remote hamlet.  So remote that most of the denizens appear to be their own grandpas and are largely inbred mutants, deriving their local entertainment from mutilating passers-by in gorily inventive ways.  They congregate at the local pub called The Dirty Hole (the sign reads 'NOT meals served here') and one can foresee the dire consequences likely to follow.  We're led to believe that there will be the usual survivors, but...

Miscellaneous American nasties: "Rogue River" was an effective bit of Grand Guignol as our heroine who only wants to spread her late father's ashes at a scenic beauty spot is waylaid by an apparently helpful local who offers a lift after she find that her car has been towed away.  Since this kind samaritan is played by The Devil's Rejects' Bill Moseley we just know that she is in for some torture porn. She goes home with him and meets his equally 'normal' wife but soon discovers the various half-dead earlier victims kept in trunks in the basement.  Still I prefered that film to "The Divide", a post-apocalypse tale of a group of miscellaneous survivors holed up in the basement apartment of their building's caretaker.  It rapidly descends into an adult version of "The Lord of the Flies" as their quest for survival takes less humane turns.  A lot of viewers rated director Ti West's "The Innkeepers" as one of the best of the fest. It tells of the last weekend before closing forever at a historic and possibly haunted New England inn.  For my money it was such a slow-burner that the anticipated scares, when they finally did arrive, came solely as an anticlimax. The best of this lot was Lucky McKee's "The Woman", from the fiendish mind of author Jack Ketchum whose "The Girl Next Door" (2007) remains one of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen at FrightFest.  It is the story of a seemingly upright family man (but actually a tyrant to his submissive wife and kids) who comes across a feral female while out hunting, captures her, takes her home, and chains her up for his own fiendish ends. Scottish-born actress Pollyanna McIntosh gives a remarkable performance as this 'uncivilised' creature who can only communicate in her own language of meaningful grunts but who retains all of her animal cunning in dealing with her abusers.

The British contingent:  Quite naturally the fest's organisers feel obliged to showcase new British productions, but traditionally these have been something of a mixed bag.  We often choose to watch one of the 'Discovery' offerings rather than another amateurish version of zombies taking over the countryside.  The four we did view were by and large intended to be the most commercial and professional offerings, but I just can't bring myself to enthuse over any of them. "The Glass Man" starred Andy Nyman as a man who has lost his job, but who can't let his wife into that secret, and who pretends that everything is normal despite his increasing financial concerns. One night hard man James Cosmo appears at his door threatening all sorts of dire violence if he does not come out and help him with his nefarious plans for the evening.  Fine up to that point, but then it becomes just a wee bit too far-fetched and too draggy to really care what is actually going on in Nyman's increasingly unhinged mind.  "The Wicker Tree", only the fourth movie from legendary writer-director Robin Hardy who gave us 1973's classic "Wicker Man" was a complete disappointment.  Even reuniting him with that film's classic villain Christopher Lee (in all of a 90-second cameo) didn't make this new story of the 'old religion' in rural Scotland a patch on his first film.  What next for him?  The Wicker Shrub?  The Wicker Bedding-plant?  Then there was the most over-hyped movie of the fest "Kill List", which has just opened here and which has been garnering rave reviews as a 'new British cult classic'.  Balderdash, says PPP; this muddled story of two buddies, supposedly ordinary suburban layabouts who are actually vicious hitmen, rapidly descends into a totally unbelievable satanic denouement.  Apart from anything else, the film is unlikely to make ten cents in the States unless it comes with subtitles.  I've lived here for most of my life and couldn't make head nor tail of the thick Yorkshire accents. Which brings me to the closing movie this year "A Lonely Place to Die", starring Melissa George, and I'm sorry to report another overdone and generally unbelievable thriller.  It starts with her and her buddies climbing in the Scottish Highlands and discovering a foreign little girl trapped in an underground chamber.  We later learn that she has been kidnapped for ransom and that two vicious killers are on the trail of George and her friends, gradually picking them off.  Also in pursuit is a negotiator and his tough bodyguards employed by the girl's probably criminal tycoon of a father.  It descends into a major bloodbath, but the screenplay's leaps of logic hardly kept this viewer on the edge of her seat.  Then again, we all know that I'm something of a fusspot.

So, that's all folks, for another year -- although at this stage I am seriously considering giving the next marathon a miss.  However a lot can happen in twelve months...  
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