Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Frightfest the 13th - Part One

I hate writing this, but I think I may be coming to the end of an era. After faithfully attending all (or initially part) of this 'horror' fest for the last thirteen years -- and before that when it was a shorter weekend event at the National Film Theatre -- I may have reached my satiation point.  I still thrill to discovering an inventive horror or fantasy movie, but I no longer have the stamina to sit through an assortment of dross in search of the odd gem.  My weary old bones have started to rebel.  Last year we decided to stay at a nearby hotel in order to see the late-night selections without a mad rush to catch the last train home, but were rather disappointed with them -- apart from the increasing difficulty of keeping our eyes, ears, and brain open.  So this year we decided to 'limit' our viewing and only managed to see 19 films over the four and a half days.  I suppose that's still pretty impressive going, but unfortunately too many of the movies failed to warrant the time. So next year, who knows...

Unfortunately those nineteen included three of the worst films I have ever forced myself to sit through, eight which I thought so-so at best, leaving only eight that I found more or less praiseworthy.  Of these, there were a mere three that I would choose to watch again. I will attempt to write something about all of them over this and the next entry, and it will not be difficult for you to work out which were the bummers, which were the tolerable, and which were amongst the best:

I had been actually looking forward to "Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut", since the 1990 release of Clive Barker's fantasy was amazing albeit confusing viewing.  A couple of bright boffins decided to locate all of the fabled missing footage to pad out the theatrical print to better reflect Barker's original vision before it was hacked about by the studio, with the original 97 minute movie spun out to 153 minutes! It's a pity that they did this by inserting barely watchable video footage (in fact much of it looked like fourth generation footage) into the existing film.  I was under the impression that it is now possible to clean and sharpen videotape into something approaching modern standards, but this was not done here, leaving me with headache-inducing viewing, none of which made the storyline any clearer or more convincing. On the one hand I wish them well with what now seems an unnecessary restoration, but there is much to be done before they have a worthwhile or even viewable conclusion to their quest.

Frankly, I've had it up to here with scratchy found-footage films. The 'World Premiere' of the Irish film "The Inside" was both bad and painful to watch.  A bunch of gals celebrating their friend's birthday at an abandoned warehouse (why???) decide to document the evening on videocam and face violent vagrants and satanists in the next hours -- at least I think that's what was going on as the camera recorded the unmerry mayhem in the dim light.  Then there was the UK premiere of the much-hyped U.S. compendium "V/H/S", consisting of intermingled video footage by six varyingly "talented" directors, none of which was particularly scary, gory, or gruesome. After these three there was no way we could bring ourselves to watch the Spanish film "(Rec)3 Genesis", which again views the action through the eye of a camcorder.  Having seen the first two films in this series, I know well that I am in no rush to see this third entry, despite reviews claiming that it is rather more humorous than the preceding flicks.  I just may see it in due course -- but not this time around.

One thing that I've always like about Frightfest is the opportunity to see a number of non-English language films which may never receive any widespread distribution here.  Most of the other films we skip will, I know, eventually turn up on TV or DVD.  Despite the Far Eastern renaissance in horror film production, there was only one example in this year's programme, the jolly-sounding "Dead Sushi" (from Japan obviously) which was in a missed late-night slot and which I must therefore try to get hold of.  We did watch seven other 'foreign' films: three from Italy, one from the Netherlands, one from Germany (the best movie of the festival), one from Spain, and one from the unknown wilds of Chile.  The Chilean film "Hidden in the Woods", despite its exotic provenance was the least interesting of this bunch -- the sordid tale of an incestuous, drug-dealing dad living an 'eat-what-you-can-kill' existence in the wilderness with his two nubile daughters, and spawning a mutant feral son; if this makes it sound better (if this is the right word) than it was, forgive me. The Spanish flick "Sleep Tight" sounded promising and starred the well-known actor Luis Tosar.  He plays a kinky janitor morbidly involved with some of the tenants; he drugs his current obsession Clara to sneak into her apartment each night, with increasingly drastic results. I would classify this film as something of a near miss.  The Dutch movie "Kill Zombie" or "Zombibi" to give it its original title was a load of laughs, despite the hackneyed scenario of a mismatched band fighting off a horde of hungry zombies.  Unusually the four male leads played a pair of Moroccan brothers and a pair of pals from Surinam, with only the tasty female cop looking suitably Dutch. Filled with improbable sight gags and the requisite sprinkling of gore, this was something of a treat in the surrounding desert and a truly droll giggle. The three Italian films included "The Arrival of Wang", a sci-fi fable previously screened at the fest's Glasgow programme earlier this year and a stylish fantasy from the Manetti Brothers.  While waiting for the special effects to be finalised on that film, they shot "Paura 3D" in their downtime.  This was a pretty good example of the medium and followed three mates planning a wild weekend at the lavish villa of of a vacationing Marquis, before he returns unexpectedly and before one of their number finds the naked woman chained in the basement.  The Marquis is not just annoyed by the intrusion but turns inventively murderous as well, creating a number of effective shocks.  The third Italian film "Tulpa" was only completed a few days earlier and was hoping to enjoy a successful World Premiere for this return to the classic "Giallo". Unfortunately the hoots of derision from the audience throughout the screening must have been depressing for the attending director and his cast.  His big mistake was presenting this audience with a dubbed version, full of trite lines spoken by a selection of actors who could barely speak English, contrasting with the intervening scenes played in Italian with subtitles. A pity really since with some tightening and re-editing (all in Italian I would suggest) this black-gloved killer re-run with its occasionally stylish presentation might have become something rather better. That leaves the German entry "We are the Night", a well thought out Vampire story set in the decadence of Berlin.  The 200-year old leader of the all-female pack (they've killed off all the males) has been looking to replace her lost true love and hones in on and 'turns' petty thief Lena. Lena fights her transformation, and despite her new taste for blood and hatred of the light, she can't quite forget the lonely cop that befriended her. Good, slickly filmed, top quality pulp fiction.

Half-way through.  This leaves the nine British and American films of the weekend, which I will try to cover (or dismiss) next time round. In the meantime, watch out for marauding zombies.  Ho ho.        
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