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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Frightfest the 13th - Part Two

Only because I said I would, I am now committed to finishing my recollections of FrightFest, even if one or two of the movies have now slipped into the 'I wonder what that was all about' category. Anyhow let me deal with the remaining four British films first.

The organisers, quite rightly I suspect, feel they must give some prominence to British entries in their horror-cum-fantasy selection.  If the truth be known, we often avoid watching these if there is an alternate possibility in the Discovery sidebar theatre.  I'd be hard-pressed to explain this prejudice.  It's partly because they often seem less original than other countries' output and partly because I know, realistically, that many of them will soon receive a cinema or TV release here and that it will therefore be easy to catch up with them. In fact two of the remaining four have already been released this week.

The opening film "The Seasoning House" falls more into the category of a horrible storyline rather than straightforward horror. The directorial debut of make-up and splatter guru Paul Hyett, the tale is set in a Balkan brothel during war-torn days. It is populated by kidnapped girls kept in a drug-induced stupor and forced to endure continued sexual violence from both soldiers and civilians.  Our little heroine is a mute orphan who has seen her family slain and who is treated as something of a pet by the cruel head pimp.  In a breakthrough role, young actress Rosie Day scuttles in the crawlspaces of the house, tending to the girls, watching, learning, and planning her escape -- but not before meting out her own form of justice to the nasty group of soldiers, led by Sean Pertwee, who massacred her family.  Harrowing and rather unpleasant stuff, with a unhappy sting in the tail.  The closing film "Tower Block" was also some distance from a horror film pure and simple.  It concerns the residents of the top floor of a soon to be demolished government block of flats, waiting their turn to be rehoused, being picked off one by one by an unseen sniper.  Our feisty heroine is the ubiquitous Sheridan Smith, who seems to be flavour-of-the-month here, as she leads their diminishing number down to the ground floor and safety. The role enables her to flex her would-be action muscles, but the whole scenario and its ultimate explanation verged on the unbelievable. 

As for the two films which have now been widely released here, my reactions didn't quite agree with those of the local critics.  The first, with the unlikely comic title of "Cockneys vs Zombies" was a patchy business, but not without a certain charm.  When construction workers uncover a sealed ancient burial site, they unleash a subsequent plague of zombies (ho hum).  Fighting the growing horde of the living dead are a bunch of youngsters with little charisma and the residents of an old people's care home (also about to be demolished in the name of progress).  These include such cinema stalwarts as Honor Blackman, Richard Briers, Dudley Sutton, and Alan Ford, whose armed response tickled my old funny bone.  And there was one scene of Briers on his zimmer frame shuffling along to outrun the even more shuffling zombies that is bound to become a classic. The second film and one that I was quite looking forward to was "Berberian Sound Studio", which has been reaping lavish praise all round.  Set in Italy in the seventies when Italian horror and giallo were at their peak, it's the story of a mild-mannered introverted Englishman, nicely embodied by character actor Toby Jones, hired to work on the post-production sound effects on a particularly nasty example of the genre.  Apart from the front credits, we never actually see the movie in question, but its talk about witches, goblins, and extreme sadism begin to turn Jones' sensitive nature into something rather more unstable, as he hacks away at vegetables to achieve the necessary splatter noises and turns up the amps to get more convincing screams. With its not-so-sly references to the Italian horror scene of the time, I had expected something rather more interesting, but watching Jones' psychological collapse just didn't do it for me nor did the film's ambiguous ending.

Italian movie-making of that period was also the theme of the American documentary "Eurocrime!", which dealt with another strand of Italian cinema history, often ignored. Following on from Spaghetti Westerns, crime movies inspired by the like of "Dirty Harry" provided work for many second-string Hollywood actors and also created home-grown stars. These quickie hit-or-miss productions, ripped from the headlines, were filmed with rough bravado and with the actors being asked to do their own dangerous stunts, and were churned out by the dozen. The doc featured surviving talking heads like Henry Silva, John Saxon, Richard Harrison, and Franco Nero and was a fascinating compilation of an all but forgotten genre. I can't now say much about another American film "After", also receiving its UK premiere, since it was yet another story of two isolated survivors from some inexplicable disaster, who must bond together as their fragile world seems to be closing in -- and that's about all that's stayed with me. The programme blurb suggests that it was better than this -- maybe watching it was all a dream!

"Chained" was the latest offering from David Lynch's daughter Jennifer, which while infinitely superior to her first terribly-slated film "Boxing Helena", was again nasty, without being overly graphic, and which again had a frankly unbelievable denouement.  Serial killer taxi-driver Vincent D'Onofrio kidnaps and kills young Tim's mother (a blink or you might miss role for former A-lister Julia Ormond) and keeps the lad chained to pallet in his remote home, where the boy grows to manhood witnessing his tormentor's bloodlust  and helping with the cellar burials-- a path which he is encouraged to follow when D'Onofrio decides that Tim needs some sexual awakening. Finally there was "The Possession" an American movie from the Scandinavian director Ole Bornedal, produced by horror supremo Sam Raimi. The most positive thing I can say about this film was that it was probably the most polished and slickly produced of all of the weekend's movies -- Raimi's experience certainly showed and the slam-bang ending was strictly from his "Drag Me to Hell" school of shocks.  The actual story concerns weekend-father of two Jeffrey Dean Morgan, divorced from wife Kyra Sedgwick, who must face the disruption of a dybbuk when his younger daughter acquires and becomes obsessed by an antique wooden box with Hebrew inscriptions.  It was all rather well done but in the end a little forgettable.

So there we go!  Now the real mystery is whether or not this is my last FrightFest report.  Tune in next year for the answer to this puzzle, although I trust we will meet in the interim.
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