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 Four below or click on the other links to see reviews for other days.
The last full day of the festival sees the sequel to The Eye, (funnily enough called The Eye 2) kick off proceedings, followed by cult offering (and paranoid thriller) One Point 9 with its amazing cast line-up. The third instalment of Tartan's serial killer films The Hillside Strangler then takes to the screen, followed by the world premiere of the subtitled Japanese live-action anime film Casshern. The last film of the official festival is Brad Anderson's The Machinist to be introduced by the director himself.
Also reviewed here is Creep, a new UK horror film which was screened on the Tuesday evening along with a Q&A with Director Christopher Smith and star Franke Potente.
The Eye 2
Rawshark Damn, I overslept. Really wanted to catch this one too. Oh well, over to Jim for his review.
Jim The Eye 2 tells the story of Joey, who is a bit of a mess (mentally not physically - actress Shu Qi who plays the lead is little short of stunning) after another failed relationship, this time with a married man. At her wits end she attempts to commit suicide with pills, but after an emotional roller coaster of a death sequence (involving those familiar phantom apparitions from the first film) she is discovered, saved and taken unconscious to a nearby hospital. When she comes round she finds out not only that she is pregnant (from the married fella, yes) but that she's also acquired an unfortunate gift. Apparently, the combination of her near death experience and the spiritual effects of her pregnancy have pushed her closer to the supernatural world, so much so that she can now see ghosts around her everywhere. But that's not all - the big scare isn't that she can see ghosts, it's what these ghosts are trying to do.
The Eye 2 is a beautifully shot and skillfully edited movie that is helped tremendously by some well-timed, obtuse sound effects to accompany the film's biggest scares. This is a very western style in origin (you can blame Raimi for pioneering that technique) but it's a style the Pang's have been nurturing for a while, and one that juxtaposes nicely against the very eastern beliefs of spirituality and reincarnation that Asian cinema is so fond of.
While being much gentler than and essentially not as good as the original, the two films have a lot in common, not least the title which is the biggest leap of the imagination (The Eye 2 has nothing to do with eyes at all). But both films do share the underlying feeling of paranoia brought on by being able to see the ethereal and a lot of tension is built up using this basic premise; is that person looking down over there a ghost or are they just listening to their walkman? You can just imagine the fun to be had.
This flick maybe won't stay with you as long as the original did, and they pay-off at the end is a bit of a let-down, but there's much fun to be had along the way. When ghosts aren't falling from the sky, they're floating past in the street or jumping in front of trains, and it's scary moments like these that help The Eye 2 keeps it's head above water.
Director Oxide Pang
Cast Shu Qi
Country Hong Kong / Thailand
Release Date The Eye 2 has no release scheduled for the UK.
One Point 0
Rawshark 'Nature’s Fresh Milk’. One Point 0 was yet another Frightfest ‘Wow!’ movie for a large proportion of the audience, with great, great visuals, a very intriguing (although slightly predictable) plot and a cast to die for that includes Deborah Unger, Udo Kier and Lance Henriksen.
Jeremy Sisto plays Simon, a computer worker who believes he has become infected with a virus. Spooky and creepy in tone, this cool paranoid thriller is pretty much set in one location (apart from a few hilarious trips to the local supermarket) and uses some neat effects (the nano-tech sofa) and amazing photography to create an unsettling vision of the near-future.
Who’s watching who? What are the empty brown boxes all about? Is it all to do with The Game, a virtual reality sex arena? And more importantly, why is everyone dying? This film will be a cult favourite that should launch the careers of the director / writer duo Jeff Renfroe and Marteinn Thorsson.
If you like your Pi's Cube’d, you’ll love One Point 0. Can’t help feeling they should have called it 1.0 though.
Jim Being someone who did most of his growing up in the 80s, near-future dystopian nightmares are not a new concept to me, although rarely do you see one bought to the screen so effortlessly. Comparisons to sci-fi classics like Brazil, Avalon, Cypher and Overdrawn at the Memory Bank are obvious not just because of the subject matter but also because of the style of filming. When you don't have much money you improvise, and the writer director team here work wonders with a small cast, a cool location and a collection of different coloured lens filters. In fact, no stone is left unturned to make this low budget art flick look like stunning mainstream sci-fi, and the end result is a neatly polished vision of a disturbingly twisted future which is more realistic than any of us would like to admit.
But it's not all doom and gloom. Henriksen provides light relief as the building's on-the-ball handy man, while the landlord with a meat obsession gets a few laughs, but the winner in the comedy stakes is the shop assistant in the supermarket. It's like he's in the wrong movie - when asked by Simon if someone's following him the guy flatly replies, "Yep, a guy with a hat and trench coat."
Is he? Was he? Wasn't that in Simon's mind though? Am I not getting this film at all? Oh, who knows, I guess it's all part of One Point 0's charm.
Director Jeff Renfroe
Cast Jeremy Sisto
Country USA / Iceland / Germany / Romania
Release Date There is currently no release date for One Point 0 in the UK.
The Hillside Strangler
Rawshark Sorry... I realise some people may enjoy this sort of film, but in reality this is a pretty sleazy ride really, especially with the added horror / guilty joy of seeing C. Thomas Howell (in full-on William H Macy mode) return to our screens as real-life loser / killer Kenneth Bianchi.
There are a couple of good moments, the dialogue is fairly snappy, and the performances are reasonable, but there’s just something about the dirtiness of it all that is so off-putting. Producer Hamish McAlpine introduced the film defending it’s excesses by saying that serial killers normally have 'such a good a sense of humour' they usually end up being sympathetic, so in this case they decided to increase the offensiveness of the acts in order that the audience 'dislike' the main characters. Fine, but does that really mean you have to linger excessively long at all of the women's (perfect) breasts as they are being killed? Hillside Strangler should please the dirty rainmac brigade, but few others.
Jim I was overjoyed to see that C Thomas Howell still working, but Christ he could have picked a better comeback movie (if you discount the recent Hitcher 2). I completely agree with Rawshark on this one, if watching girls get raped and killed brutally with comedic overtones is your thing then I'm sure you'll enjoy this. Personally, I had to grit my teeth through this one and was very tempted to leave from the end of the first reel.
Bundy still has the nod for sickness, but The Hillside Strangler is close in terms of seriously bad taste. The biggest worry is that I can't actually pick any faults with the production at all, in fact all the performances are decent and the look is suitably sexploitation 70s. The problem is clearly the subject matter and the style, and for once I agree with the BBFC - graphic sexual violence in movies is just unnecessary. Shame on you C Thomas Howell, shame on you.
Director Chuck Parello
Cast C. Thomas Howell
Release Date There is currently no release date for The Hillside Strangler in the UK.
Rawshark Welcome to the 'World Premiere' of the subtitled Japanese smash-hit Casshern, a very long live-action adaptation of a 1973 anime. Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya (top Music Video director), this film has style in bucket-loads, as it uses live-action, animation (cell and clay), projection and much more to combine a film that is a visual feast. It sometimes feels like you’re watching a series of music videos strung together but this fantastic ‘superhuman meets robot army’ story takes in many references from Dune, Saving Private Ryan, The Terminator and The Dark Crystal.
Forget about the story - it often takes leaps of logic that are quite hard to follow unless you are familiar with the original, and some parts do drag - what you’re here to see are the visuals on offer. Wait until you see the first superhero fight between Casshern and the Neoroid leader, it’s electric stuff. Just wish I knew what was going on.
Jim Asian fantasy cinema is mind-boggling at best and Casshern follows the usual pattern of cult anime turned live action epic. One minute you'll be witnessing the most amazing pyrotechnic feast your eyes have ever seen, the next you'll be bored rigid with tiresome supposition.
Like The Princess Blade at the Frightfest a couple of years ago, the backstory plot is rushed through at cracking pace over the first half hour and then everything seems to stutter. Super-powered good guys and bad guys always seem to be lumbered with a ton of internal conflict - be it a failed romance, a troubled relationship or a good old-fashioned all encompassing revenge mission - and they like to talk about it a lot. Actually, if these guys stopped talking and leapt into action a bit more, movies like Casshern would improve immeasurably and Eastern sci-fi fantasy might just break into the western market in the same way that Eastern horror has. Until then though, this is all we have - overly long movies with a lot of set up, too much prancing around, not enough action, and heavily drawn out endings.
Still, it is very pretty when the action arrives it does look amazing, it's just that it does tend to bang on a bit. One for eastern film fans with strong bladders.
Director Kazuaki Kiriya
Cast Yusuke Iseya
Release Date Casshern currently has no UK release schedule although it is anticipated that it will be shown in cinemas early next year.
Rawshark Well, Frightfest began with a 5-Star movie, and suitably (for me at least) it ends with one too, as Brad Anderson steps up to introduce his new (Spanish-funded) film, The Machinist.
I'm sure most reviews will focus on Christian Bale's memsmerising performance as Trevor Reznik, and justifiably so as he is surely destined for an Oscar nomination (at the very least) for this role. Where's that Oscar checklist... ok, 1. Role requires physical change - check (Bale lost over 60 pounds to play the imsoniac lead), 2. Accent - check (Bale's Yank accent pretty pitch-perfect), 3. Character finds redemption - check... you get the picture.
Yet The Machinist is so much more. Without giving too much away (it really does deserve to be seen knowing as little as possible about the story) the film uses an intricate plot mixed with a cool visual style right from the beginning as we are introduced to Reznik's character dumping a body into the river (or is he?). From here on in events begin to take strange turns, but it's when a 'Reznik-caused' accident at work occurs (leaving Michael ironside with only one arm) that things really shift into the world of weirdness.
Anderson has really crafted a true gem of a movie that stuns and shocks, especially towards the end when all the puzzle pieces (perfectly) fit into place. It's good to see Michael Ironside return in a meaty role, and Jennifer Jason Leigh 're-imagines' her classy hooker turn, but it's really Anderson's and Bale's movie all the way. Place your bets now on a Brit Best Actor Oscar next year for this truly phenomenal jaw-dropper of a movie.
Jim Oh man, I can't believe Michael Ironside was in this movie and I had to miss it. Curses...
Director Brad Anderson
Cast Christian Bale
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Release Date The Machinist is released theatrically in the UK on Friday 18th March 2005.
Tuesday, 31st August 2004 - Special Screening
Rawshark I had heard that Creep was not really all that, but seeing as this add-on special screening was going to feature appearances from the director, Christopher Smith and Lola herself, Franke Potente how could we not attend.
And it's a good job we did too, as Creep proves to be an above-average UK shocker that more than delivers it's requisite share of shocks, scares and general unpleasantness.
Franke plays German tourist Kate who finds herself accidently locked inside Charing Cross underground station late one night. When her co-worker (also locked down there, eh?) attempts to rape her, he is dragged away by some mysterious tube-line creature and killed. Trapped underground Kate enlists help from a homeless couple and Vas Blackwood as they try to battle the Creep (or, as he was orginally known, the Runt).
Fairly standard plot then (It's no Deathline), but yet somehow it comes off, largely thanks to confident direction and well-worked jump-scare tactics. Potente is as good as ever, yet it's Sean Harris (yes, he was Ian Curtis in 24 Hour Party People) who impresses as the rubber-suited albino-killer. There are one or two moments of pure grusomeness, and a perfectly pitch-black humour ending. Whether you'll enjoy it as much if you have no expereince of London's delightfully unreliable Tube transport though is another matter.
After the screening Christopher Smith and Franke Potente took to the stage for a Q+A and they made a great double-act, riffing on such topics as Franke Potente action dolls, and many a (pretty creepy) tale of working on location with rats.
Director Christopher Smith
Cast Franke Potente
Country UK / Germany
Release Date Creep will be released in cinemas on October 15th.
So that's that then. The end of Frightfest 2004, and from many accounts it was by far the most succesful festival held yet. Many thanks to organisers Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray for their tireless efforts at trying to keep everyone awake during the intervals, and for organising such a strong line-up of films and guests, including the Hellboy crew, Brian Yuzna, Franke Potente, Cecile de France and many many more.
Best films of the festival then? Clearly Oldboy and The Machinist were in a class of their own, but special mention also to Monster Man, Code 46, Buppah Rahtree, One Point 0, The Ordeal and Switchblade Romance.
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the film’s central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.