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Friday, 1 September 2017

FrightFest 2017

Well, seven out of eight's not too bad! No longer having the stamina to face the full five day fest, we cherry-picked eight possibilities, based on only minimal info, and chose fairly well. At least it's better than last year's one out of three. There's only time to comment briefly on our selections taken in the order viewed:

The Glass Coffin (Spain 2016): With only very minor exceptions this is a nicely played one-hander. Glammed up A-list actress Amanda boards her waiting limousine en route to an awards gala honouring her distinguished career. Wallowing in self-satisfaction as she rehearses her acceptance speech and helping herself to the copious champagne, she gradually becomes aware that she is a prisoner, trapped in luxurious cage, and threatened by a commanding voice to abase herself in various ways. Any disobedience or attempts to escape are rapidly met with painful violence from the strapping chauffeur. Why she is there and who her tormentor might be are the mysteries to be unravelled. At a quick 75 minutes, the film does not outstay its welcome as one wonders how the increasingly distraught Amanda might escape her fate.

Fashionista (USA 2016): This was the choice that left us distinctly cold, although I gather it was shown previously at the Glasgow fest earlier this year to great acclaim -- I'll be dipped if I know why. From UK-born but Austin-based director Simon Rumley whose two previous movies I found distinctly underwhelming, it's a long 110 minutes of watching our heroine April, who runs a second-hand clothing store with her husband, boss her staff about and spend an inordinate amount of time sniffing the schmattes. She takes up with rich guy Eric Balfour (one of the ugliest actors about -- the kid's boyfriend out of "Six Feet Under") who plies her with expensive gear, until she works out that he's a dangerous crook. Meanwhile there's an anorexic female in some rehab clinic who may or may not be April's alter ego. Your guess is as good as mine.

68 Kill (USA 2017): This is a heist-gone-wrong epic that is constantly engaging despite being increasingly gory. Dominated by his way-out girlfriend who wants to rob her sugar daddy, wimpy Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler, the lead in the long-running series "Criminal Minds" which I've not seen) finds himself in increasingly threatening and nightmarish circumstances. Although the actor made his film debut back in 2004 in "The Life Aquatic..." and has also appeared in several other movies that I've seen (as well as voicing one of the annoying animals in the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" series), I did not recognise him. However his bewildered face and play-it-as-it-comes approach makes the film. All of the female characters are frighteningly fierce, but the wimp is the winner. I'll watch out for him in the future.

The Bar (Spain 2017): We chose this film for its director, Alex de la Iglesia, who burst onto the genre scene with the off-the-wall "Accione Mutante" in 1993 and whose subsequent movies have also dealt with comically black horror. His latest follows the fate of eight strangers thrown together by unknown factors when the coffee bar they are in is quarantined by HAZMAT-suited soldiers and two patrons are gunned down when they attempt to leave the premises. It's a one-set movie and each of the personae becomes increasingly defined -- the glamour-puss, the bearded hipster, the homeless Bible-quoting derelict, the dissatisfied hausfrau, the aged proprietor and her faithful waiter, and a couple of mysterious businessmen. A dead and diseased body is found in the toilets and paranoia reigns as each wonders which them might be infected. The closed set opens out to the basement storeroom where some of them are banished and then to the sewers from which escape and salvation might be possible, but the action does not become as claustrophobic as it might. We never do work out exactly what is going on in the outside world but we root for those who may or may not reach safety.

Mayhem (USA 2017): Another film where the premises become quarantined, but here a large office headquarters where a definite hierarchy exists between the downtrodden proles and their boardroom masters. A known but occasional 8-hour virus has entered the building causing a breakdown of inhibitions and an outbreak of violence. We watch the action through the eyes of ambitious lawyer Steven Yeun who has just been unfairly sacked and Samara Weaving who has come to complain about an eviction notice. The pair try to work their way up to the top floor where they hope to find some kind of justice, but have various obstacles along the way as the employees' pent-up frustrations segue into physical and sexual action. Anyone who has ever held a dead-end job in a corporate maze will cheer the 'peasants' revolt. 

The Villainess (Korea 2017): Unfortunately this long, long movie was very late starting which didn't put us into quite the best frame of mind to appreciate its sinuous plot and mind-blowing action. The film starts with a Tarantino-esque bout of fighting a la "Kill Bill" as small Sook-Hee singlehandedly overcomes dozens of opponents. She is picked up by a national agency to become one of its pet assassins with the promise of a new identity and freedom after ten years' service. It's not helped by the fact that she has given birth to a little girl, a souvenir of the husband killed on their wedding day -- and we gradually get the backstory of her early life and the treacherous past that has shaped her. However she is still in thrall to the Agency and despite finding a new husband, the past is far from dead -- unlike the fate of most of the characters who inhabit the tale. A good film which was feted at Cannes, but perhaps not one of the best Korean thrillers -- and certainly not really at home at a FrightFest.

Meatball Machine Kodoku (Japan 2017): Word fail me to describe this OTT movie from the director of "Tokyo Gore Police" which is reminiscent of the black and white 'Tetsuo' films where the hero grows metallic appendages; here the human players are invaded by some alien entities and become Tetsuo-like characters with appendages in full Technicolor gore and glory. It's something of a love story between a middle-aged nonentity who's just been told he has incurable cancer (shades of "Ikiru") and a damaged young woman who works in his favourite bookshop. As they both morph into uncontrollable machines being menaced by a cop who has become an even more murderous creature, they are helped by some kung-fu fighting policemen who are valiantly but futilely trying to restore order. None of it makes much sense but it is a glorious riot of mindless gore and a laugh a minute.

Tragedy Girls (USA 2017): The closing movie is a fresh and funny mash-up of the teenaged slasher film as best-friends-forever McKayla and Sadie write their blog warning of impending murder and mayhem in their small community -- most of which they are responsible for after capturing a roving serial killer (played by one of my genre faves Kevin Durand). They pose as concerned citizens but are increasingly involved in perpetrating the violence that has hit their town -- memories of "Heathers" but bloodier. Interestingly the black girl (Alexandra Shipp) is the daughter of a happy and well-off household while her white bestie (Brianna Hildebrand, who made her mark in "Deadpool" as Negasonic Teenage Warhead) is pure trailer trash. The cast also includes Josh Hutcherson of Katniss fame but rather interestingly the boyfriend who comes between the girls is played by one Jack Quaid, Dennis' and Meg Ryan's not so little boy. These evil little hussies manage to get away free and clear -- and that's the modern moral of the power of social media!

Wow, that's it for today with the annual proviso that our FrightFest years could well be at an end at last. Finally I just want to say that I've been getting an inordinate number of hits from Russia of late. Maybe they think Pretty Pink Patty's Pictures is some sort of porn site, in which case they'll be sorely disappointed....
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