Frightfest 2004 - the 5th Anniversary of London's annual horror festival took place from 27th-31st August at the Prince Charles cinema. Read the review of Day Three below or click on the other links to see reviews for other days.
Day Three, we're getting slightly bleary-eyed, but still so much to look forward to. Today begins with a screening of Dario Argento's latest The Card Player before Thai horror/comedy smash hit Buppah Rahtree : Scent of the Night Flower.
A selection of International Shorts follows, before Michael Winterbottom's latest film Code 46. A special 'treat' (the second reel of Alien Vs Predator) precedes the French film The Ordeal before the day comes to a close with a midnight screening of the third installment of the Ginger Snaps series, Ginger Snaps Back. But, for the second day in a row, it's Dario Argento who kicks things off with...
The Card Player
Rawshark A serial killer who plays poker with the police, gambling for his victims lives online? You've got to be kidding, right? Unfortunately not, and with a basic non-suspense plot-driver and weak script, The Card Player is essentially Argento-light, with poorly computer-gernerated playing cards replacing his usual masterlful set-pieces.
Most of the dialogue was apparently made up on set and it shows, with lines such as “let the wind flow through you” said in all seriousness. The Card Player does contain many laugh-out loud moments though, some of them actually intentional (the singing-dancing coroner is a treat), yet the film is lacking in gore and suspense, surprising see as this is from the master of Italian Giallo. Still, it does breeze along well enough, with Stefania Rocca as the sexy French policewoman, and Liam Cunningham as a disgraced Irish copper whose first line “This is all bollocks”. Quite.
Fairly enjoyable and accessible then, but ultimately lacking any real depth or thrills and a last scene that seems to come from an entirely different film. There are one or two minor twists in the film, and then it sort of sticks. Should have been playing Black Jack then.
Jim I had major alarm clock issues this morning...
Director Dario Argento
Cast Liam Cunningham Stefania Rocca Fiore Argento
Release Date The Card Player has no release scheduled for the UK.
Buppah Rahtree: Scent of the Night Flower
Rawshark Hearing that this was a cult horror/comedy smash in Thailand, it was somewhat baffling as the first 20 minutes plays almost as tragi-drama. A young guy pursues a shy girl, only to shag her for a bet and leave. Later on, feeling a little guilty, he returns to apologise, but finds out that she is pregnant. He promptly runs away to England, which is good for us because we are then introduced to a whole host of bizarre characters and the Horror and the Comedy begins.
Buppah Rahtree was the surprise-hit of the festival, and is a very good film that provides laughs aplenty (Dave is a great character – he even gets his own outtakes section throughout the end credits) and is genuinely creepy and shocking in parts, with jump-edits that really hit home the ghost element of the story. The gore quotient is nasty (check out the leg-sawing scene) and the film contains many gems, including an Exorcist spoof, slapstick humour (the dancing ‘fake’ exorcist is a classic scene) and great editing techniques. And of course, what now seems de rigueur at Frightfest, a TWIST! This is a good one though, and leads to a suitably poignant ending. A Beaming Smiler of a movie.
Jim I'd made my twist aversion common knowledge by now, so when the slightly predictable twist arrived the row in front rubbed it in. 'Twist!' they cried, 'Twist' I cried and 'Twist!' they cried again. That pretty much set a precedence for the whole weekend. Bastards.
Anyway, Buppah is pure crackerjack. It's an effective ghost story with a deliberate moral message, but it's also one of the most off-the-wall and politically incorrect flicks I've seen in ages. Wisely though it's never offensive, only funny, embracing the strong traditions of Thai cinema while toying with it's own western influences.
'Ah, I guess you've never seen that movie The Exorcist then?' says, er, the Exorcist. Priceless.
Director Yuthlert Sippapak
Cast Chermarn Poonyasak Kris Srepoomseth
Release Date There is currently no release date for Buppah Rahtree in the UK.
Short Film Showcase
Rawshark Rex Steele Nazi Smasher Ok cartoon short (Episode 13?) that’s only slightly amusing. As an animation showcase though it’s good fun in a ‘nazi-smashing’ way.
Xchange Moody atmosphere as a man dreams about a group of people out to kill him. It holds the attention and is well-filmed, but ultimately is a 1-page comic book story.
Who A Dialogue-free UK entry that is visually stunning. A man wakes (from a car crash?) to retrace his footsteps and discover a guilty secret. The TWIST works quite well.
The Other Nice B/W photography from this French short. It is well-acted and there is a nice little zombie nod towards the end, but the film is really more ‘art’ than ‘horror’.
In The Hermit's Lair Monster magic in another B/W short as this love-triangle monster flick uses too many shadows, leading to ambiguity. Effective, yet not entirely satisfying.
Another Brick in the Wall This is more like it! A fun-filled zombie romp (at last!) in B/W with plenty of humour and in-joke nods. There is a great fight sequence, inspired use of ‘A-Team’ weaponry and cracking dialogue. Laugh-out-loud funny and the definite crowd favourite.
Love From Mother Only Perhaps not quite as ‘enjoyable’, this Brazilian look at sex and devil worship is extremely graphic and rewarding. There were some walk-outs (huh? This is Frightfest?), but ultimately this is extremely well-filmed, performed and genuinely unsettling. This kid has a future.
Jim My problem with short films is that, since you've only got a few minutes to tell your story, you can't very well spend ages on moody, arty shots of people smoking, looking sultry or generally not doing much. And yet that's all most shorts are (especially French ones), so I was pleased, to say the least, when Another Brick in the Wall came on - finally a short that didn't fuck about. Love From Mother Only didn't fuck about either (plenty of fucking, not much fucking about) but it was Another Brick in the Wall which was the real crowd pleaser. It even included a list of fake shemps in the credits - cool eh?
Director Alexander Woo
Giovanni Pedde & Vittorio Testa
Tez Palmer & Matt Johns
Jaime Alonso de Linaje
Ezzio Avendano Lopez
Rawshark Michael Winterbottom’s film Code 46 is simply breathtaking. A very believable near-future full of videophones and touch-sensitive monitors (and current modern-day cars), Code 46 features stunning visuals, a cracking soundtrack (from David Holmes, who else?) and great performances from the two leads Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton.
In the same vein as 1984 or Brave New World, Michael Winterbottom's vision (along with regular screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce) takes place in a future not disimilar to today, and explores themes of people who are part of society and those who are seen as outcasts. Robbins and Morton's relationship (forbidden due to their similar DNA match) is a musing on the nature of love and ‘brief encounters’, albeit set in a beautiful hip, cool future. It’s tender, touching, but ultimately a tragic tale, and how you feel about Tim Robbins’ character at the end of the film is open to debate. The best art-house melancholy futuristic film since Until the End of the World.
Jim Like a bizarre mix of Lost in Translation and Blade Runner, Code 46 is one for sci-fi afficionados everywhere. Compelling, hypnotic and even subtly erotic, this film is a testament to how versatile the two leads really are.
Like all good love stories their relationship is doomed from the off, and if there's one thing Tim Robbins can do really well it's play the tragic hero. Samantha Morton does well too of course, but she has the added benefit of being drop dead gorgeous.
Code 46 is a little more refined than your standard Hollywood fodder, so it's refreshing to see it get a nationwide cinema release. Good luck to it.
Director Michael Winterbottom
Cast Tim Robbins
Release Date Code 46 will be released in the UK on September 17.
Alien Vs Predator Second Reel
No Trailer Trash! Sorely missed by many accounts, but replacing it, the organisers had managed to secure the second reel of Fox's big blockbuster hope, Alien Vs Predator.
Actually, it looked a pretty ok Aliens-lit roller-coaster ride, set initially in a very The Thing-like research station. The plot felt a little hotch-potch, but boy, it delivered on the excitement. We first see the all new Predator outfit. And then multiple Predators. And then their new and improved night vision! And the Alien Queen awakening, in blue-backlight...!!
All 'Wow' geek-pleasing moments for sure, but we'll have to wait and see the whole before seeing whether the full script matches the initial opening visuals. Me thinks maybe not.
The Ordeal (Calvaire)
Rawshark The Ordeal apparently prompted many walkouts at Cannes, and it’s not that hard to understand why. The film actually begins fairly comically as our hero (Marc) tries to escape the attentions of several older women he encounters from his job as a singer at Old People’s Homes. Yet as soon as he begins driving down a wooded dirt-track towards an isolated hotel, we know things are going to turn sour.
You've guessed it, the van breaks down, the hotel owner turns out to be more loopy than a Fatboy Slim record and the nearby villagers are a bunch of loons who enjoy sodomising pigs. Yes, there are some very extreme moments here (although never particularly graphic – it’s more about the tone of the film), but it is also, in parts, very funny. The classic village town dance (which really has to be seen to be believed) is side-splitting.
Ultimately though, this is strong stuff indeed and not a film for the squeamish as things continually darken throughout the course of the movie. The final image we have of Gloria at the end is one that will stay with you for quite some time.
Jim The Ordeal is possibly one of the most fucked-up movies I've seen in ages. It gives you that 'oh no...' feeling of terror that you only really get when you watch a really good psychological horror or, more importantly, one where you can really relate to the lead character. Remember how unnerving After Hours was since no matter what Griffin Dunne did he just couldn't get away from those crazy people? Well, it's a bit like that, except with more torture and rape.
Dark horror mixed with dark humour, watching The Ordeal is quite an, err, ordeal, and as such is more the sort of movie you watch once and never forget as opposed to buying and watching again and again. But you really do have to see it, and as soon as you can. Maybe think twice before buying though, especially if you don't know what you're letting yourself in for.
Director Fabrice Du Welz
Cast Laurent Lucas
Release Date The Ordeal currently has no UK release scheduled.
Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning
Rawshark Maybe it was due to the fact that this was the sixth film of the day and memories were becoming blurred, but whilst watching Ginger Snaps Back there was an overwhelming feeling of Déjà vu. Or maybe it was because Snaps Back is merely a retread of the (admittedly quite good) original, but this time in Period costume, and with none of the spontaneity or fun of the first.
Yes, it looks good, and the concept seemed cool going in (werewolves lay siege to a Fort in the wilderness) but the film only really ever succeeds in being bland due to there hardly being a siege or seeing anything new at all. A cool Indian warrior is wasted in an underused role and the guardians of the fort bicker a lot in the way that movie people do. It’s good to see the girls back again together (forever), but I just wish they had smiled at least once. Unfortunately Snaps Back is not a patch on the first. Rotten things, these werewolf curses.
Jim Man, a lot of people were getting festival burnout and didn't want to stay for Ginger Snaps Back, but we held out despite the fact that this was going to be both our third night bus home in as many nights. I argued with the doubters in the crowd that, despite what they'd read online, this was sure to be good. I mean, how could they go wrong - the sisters are back together and we have the 'werewolf fort siege' sub plot to keep the action quota high, surely.
Well, no such luck. What we actually get is a lot of old period melodrama with loads of supposition as all the guys in the fort argue amongst themselves. It's a real let down, especially considering how cool the original was. *Sigh*
Release Date There are currently no plans to release Ginger Snaps Back theatrically in the UK. Expect to see it on DVD in the next few months.
So, three crackers from the third day, as both of us thoroughly enjoyed the wacked-out zaniness of Buppah Rahtree, were blown away by the dream-like Code 46 and survived, though hugely appreciated, The Ordeal, a cross-between After Hours and Deliverance.
The Card Player was fun in a kind of late-night beer and pizza DVD, and the International Shorts Showcase was a huge success and an interesting element to the festival. More next year please. Shame about Ginger Snaps Back though.