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Friday, 4 September 2015

FrightFest 15 - The first three days

Having sworn two years back that FrightFest 13 was FrightFest the Last, we did buy a selection of tickets last year rather than opt for the whole package. So why you may ask did we succumb this year for the long weekend and was it worthwhile? Good questions! I can't really answer the first part other than to say 'why not?' and as for the second part, I guess the answer is 'more or less'. As usual the selection of films was something of the proverbial Parson's Egg, with a few stand-outs, a selection of OK-ers, and a few turkeys. Or perhaps I'm just losing my tolerance for mediocre frights or more likely my stamina for fourteen-hour marathons...

Anyhow, of the maximum 25 films that we could have scheduled, we only saw 21 -- skipping the three late-night ones (old bones and transport considerations) and choosing to lie in and miss one of the dubious early ones. Or you could say we only saw 20 (2 x half-movies) since we walked out of two of them -- the first because I found it unwatchable and the second because a) it was getting late and b) I'd just about reached saturation point (not a pretty sight!). Of these 2l, 5 were from the Discovery Cinema sidebars most of which were wise choices -- the hard-working organisers manage to make one's final selection difficult by including an increasing number of tempting titles each year. Here follows a brief summary of the first three days and eleven flicks:

"Cherry Tree" from Ireland and "Hellions" from Canada were both 'The devil wants my baby' movies long after Rosemary set the trend. The first was strong on witches and not much else, while the second used some scary burlap-headed trick-or-treaters to raise the hackles. Frankly I've had my fill of accelerating pregnancies and initially gormless teenagers fighting to survive.

I wasn't expecting much from the New Zealand/Canada co-production "Turbo Kid" since it sounded like it was going to be a teen-aged Mad Max rip-off, but it was a real hoot. Set in a parallel post-apocalyptic landscape, our young hero scavenges for goodies, especially old comics featuring his super-hero alter ego. Then he meets up with a sweet-natured robot called Apple -- an appealing turn from actress Laurence Leboeuf -- who joins him in defeating the mad tyrant Zeus (an initially unrecognizable and chunky Michael Ironside) who controls the dwindling supply of water. Comic book violence, brightly coloured, and frankly irresistible.

Our first sidebar selection was "The Rotten Link" from Argentina, and while a slow-burner it nicely builds up to a crescendo of violence. Set in a small village in the back of beyond, inhabited by an unhealthy selection of degenerates, our heroine -- who is something of the town bicycle -- is warned that she is likely to be killed once all the villagers have made use of her favours. She tries to avoid the most lascivious of the lot until he rapes her, but then completes the cycle by having some incestuous enthusiastic 'rumpo' with her idiot brother. That triggers the final over-the-top (and therefore highly enjoyable) denouement.

"Diabolical" from the U.S. joins the ranks of the myriad possessed houses movies which have become a rather yawn-yawn staple of modern horror. The twist here is that mother Ali Lauter is physically unable to remove her two kids from the property without their falling into a stupor. (Kind of like I was beginning to...) As for "Jeruzalem", I was rather looking forward to this one since there have been some brilliant Israeli horrors (a relatively new genre for them) at previous fests. However like too many movies from non-English speaking countries, the makers chose to focus on two Jewish gals from New Jersey mixing with some heavily-accented and barely understandable Arabs in Jerusalem to produce an English-language movie, presumably to court a broader audience. However the real killer for me was the use of (not found-footage which has become a cliché but) point-of-view video footage (or Google-specs, I don't know which) from one of the gals, giving a shaky and annoying flow to the action. Maybe things got more exciting as the Apocalypse descended, but I didn't stay to find out.

Our second Discovery film turned out to be the one very bad choice. "Final Girl" stars Abigail Breslin who was such a talented child-actress. However here, a la Nikita, she has been trained to be a killing machine from an early age. Her mentor Wes Bentley turns her loose on a gang of posh young men whose favourite pastime is hunting down unsuspecting female dates in the forest. Naturally Breslin sees them off one-by-one, but a more ungainly and unbelievably amateur fighter you would be hard-pressed to find. For her sake, I hope her future adult roles are more rewarding both for her and for her erstwhile fans.

"Bait" is a rather nasty yet well-done British flick of two no-longer-young friends who want to open a tea shop in a Northern town. They fall into the clutches of an initially charming, but brutal moneylender and his strong-arm gorilla who have bloodied other suckers. The ladies are being asked to repay tons of dosh that they have never in fact been lent, to compensate the villain for all the trouble he has taken (!), and a few sexual favours won't go amiss. They must fight back to save their sanity, their lives, and their souls. Like I said...nasty.

Two more American movies were "Frankenstein" by cult director Bernard Rose and "Some Kind of Hate" -- the first a clever take on updating the classic tale, the latter a so-so flick which its director describes as 'a feminist slasher movie'??? Rose's version of the famous myth has scientists Danny Huston and Carrie-Anne Moss creating a perfect grown 'baby' in the form of Xavier Samuel, but the creature's bodily perfection soon gives way to purpuric boils and lesions. He becomes the monster of legend as he escapes and tries to make his way in the hostile world that he finds, befriended only by a blind musician Tony Todd (Rose's Candyman). No happy endings here but some bravura story-telling. The other film (which included Breslin's equally uncharismatic grown brother Spencer in a minor role) is about a teenaged outcast sent to a desert reform school. Here he conjures up the vengeful spirit of a former resident who committed suicide, and soon all of  bullies are receiving their just desserts at her hands. Not exactly a feminist anything.

The last movie to be covered today was one of the best, but not really any sort of horror movie in the traditional sense. "Rabid Dogs" is a French thriller, reworking a Mario Bava scenario and starring consummate actor Lambert Wilson. He plays a concerned father whose car is hijacked by three on-the-run bank robbers as he is rushing to reach the hospital for a scheduled transplant operation for his comatose daughter on the back seat. The robbers have previously taken newly-wed Virginie Ledoyen hostage, and the six of them take off on a tense and violent road-trip just one step ahead of the pursuing police. The baddies are altogether not nice people, especially Francois Arnaud (Cesare from The Borgias) who is lasciviously coming on to the comely Ledoyen, while each of them tries to work out how to double-cross the others. The shock resolution comes right out of left-field, brutal and totally unexpected. Masterful film-making.

Well folks, that's your lot for today. I'll continue with the remaining ten movies next time.    
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