Wednesday, 28 August 2013

FrightFest 14 aka FrightFest the Last

I know I wrote last year that I was having serious doubts about continuing the long weekend marathon that FrightFest has become, but we decided to put ourselves through the wringer once again this year. I'm not sure it was the right decision and again, I have real reservations about buying the weekend pass next year. Perhaps the time has come to evaluate the proposed programme and to opt for tickets for selected movies only. That would provide less wear and tear on our weary old bones and might also result in less fighting to stay awake during some of the less involving offerings. Apart from anything else, the big screen at the Empire Cinema is being split in two later this year, and the organisers will then be forced to rethink the whole layout of the fest weekend. Mind you an increased selection at smaller screens might avoid something of the current mob scene which is one of the weekend's lesser appeals.

With all of the above bitching, you would be right to conclude that I was somewhat less than enchanted with the whole shooting match. We did manage to take in twenty films over the four and a half days, which is only six less than we could have scheduled, but it was still something of an effort and, dare I say, a disappointment. Having decided in advance to skip the five late night showings (in terms of getting home each evening while transport was still running), to try to limit the usually amateurish first-film offerings from British directors, and to studiously avoid any movie reeking of 'found footage' (we had our fill of it last year), there were still technically enough options left to make for an entertaining weekend. Why then were there so few films that really left me enthused? I will try to capsule each film that we saw, but there were only a few which I have any desire to discuss at length:

Opening night: "The Dead 2: India" - Never having seen the first offering from the British Ford Brothers, I gather that this movie is more of the same, but on a larger scale. A British engineer with a cute tyke in tow has to ward off hordes of white-eyed zombies (over and over and over) to get back to his rather hideous and pregnant girlfriend. Super!
                           "Curse of Chucky" - The fifth entry in the malevolent doll series still features the voice of Brad Dourif and its somewhat strained scenario references the previous films. Chucky remains a reliably scary entity and at least Jennifer Tilly appears in a cameo at the film's end, but I think Chucky has now had his movie day. Until someone decides to "re-imagine" the whole deal of course!

Day One: "The American Scream" - A mildly entertaining documentary on how some obsessed families in one small New England town plan all year to turn their homes into houses of horror to celebrate Halloween. Certainly no reason to give it an 18-certificate however.
                  "Dementamania" - Billed as 'The Fly meets The Office' this film chronicles the meltdown of an uptight City worker when he steps on a wasp after his morning shower. Both the day and his mental state deteriorate rapidly, until he (and we) no longer know what is really real. Reasonably well-done but somewhat forgettable.
                  "Sadik 2" (I gather there was never a "Sadik 1) - We usually try to include as many foreign language movies as possible on the grounds that they are less likely to ever receive a British release. This French one follows a group of six friends who are off to a rented cottage for their annual New Years Eve reunion, little realising that they are scheduled to be picked off one by one by the crew shooting a snuff movie in another part of the building. A surprising twist after a somewhat leisurely start, but ultimately not much cop.
                   "Haunter" - A professional turn from young Abigail Breslin, far removed from her "Little Miss Sunshine" days, where she plays the rising 16-year old daughter of a dead family doomed to repeat each day a la "Groundhog Day" until their spirits can be freed. An interesting spin on the boundaries between the dead and the living from the interesting director Vincenzo Natali.
                   "Wither" - We chose this Swedish film over the popular choice of "V-H-S 2" since nothing could encourage me to watch the parent movie a second time. This was yet another variation of the "Sadik" scenario where a group of friends on a holiday jaunt meet bloody deaths. It was engagingly made with plenty of gore, but just went on too long to avoid being overly repetitive.

Day Two: Arriving too late in the morning to secure any of the alternate selections, we were 'stuck' with the main screen programme:
                  "The Hypnotist" - I must confess that I had high hopes for this Swedish film after "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" premiered here some years back. This one is not in the same involving category and is more akin to the Scandinavian made-for-television series that have been gracing BBC4's television screens most Saturday nights for the past years. Although the film was Sweden's entry in the Oscar race -- the story of a disgraced doctor using his hypnotic abilities to unlock the memories of the teenaged survivor of a family massacre -- it's an adaptation of a popular novel that might have been more at home on the small screen.
                   "Frankenstein's Army" - Russian soldiers in the last days of World War II stumble upon a secret Nazi laboratory where a mad scientist is creating unstoppable new soldiers from the body parts of the dead. While the monster creations are very visually imaginative, the film is something of a hard watch since all of the cast are speaking in 'funny' accents. It's a movie that may well find a cult audience in due course. Anything is possible!
                   "No One Lives" - We skipped the middle film of the afternoon ("Hammer of the Gods"), since I had no desire to involve myself in gratuitous Saxon violence; I had my fill of that with "Game of Thrones". This next film on the programme from the now US-based director Ryuhei Kitamura was a somewhat muddled affair. Some time after the massacre of fourteen students, a gang of toughs hijack the car driven by the slaughter's perp and his comely hostage, whose father has posted a substantial reward. The resulting bloody mayhem as psycho faces off against psycho left me a little baffled, as the two lead actors looked remarkably interchangeable.
                   "R.I.P.D -3D" - I had read several pretty negative reviews of this film, but hoped that the combination of an engaging premise and the presence of the ever-watchable Jeff Bridges would be sufficient compensation. The title stands for 'Rest-in-Peace Department', a posse of deceased cops from various eras, who police the after-world against marauding mutants, all very derivative from the Men in Black series, but less imaginatively envisioned. Bridges plays a gentlemanly Western type (very definitely hamming OTT) who is teamed up with a new recruit, the slightly boss-eyed Ryan Reynolds who has been dispatched by baddie Kevin Bacon. They must battle to save the world from a deadly scheme that will erase the boundaries between heaven and hell. When they return to earth they are seen by earthlings in different forms -- Bridges as a voluptuous blonde and Reynolds as a dweeby elderly Chinaman. That's the level of the so-called humour. The 3-D effects added virtually nothing and seemed to be out of proportion much of the time. The film could have been a whole lot better I reckon and it is apparently one of the many flops of the Stateside tent-pole summer.

I had intended to cover the entire week-end in one blog entry, but this has rapidly fallen into the 'too-long-to-read' category. I will therefore return to the subject, hopefully well before my regular Wednesday entries, to deal with the last two days. I should be able to drum up some enthusiasm for the task since the two movies I liked best (and really liked) were shown on days three and four respectively. That's it for now...  
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