FrightFest 2005 - the 5th Anniversary of London's annual horror festival took place from 26th-29th August at the Odeon West End. Read the review of Day Four below or click on the other links to see reviews for the other days.
It was another early morning for us all with a 10:45 start to the day, and the promise of many more trailers, shorts and appearances to squeeze in in-between the final day’s movies. First up was Born To Fight which I’d already seen with Rawshark a couple of months previously, but we were both keen to see how its mix of martial arts and outrageous stunts would play to the FrightFest crowd.
Born To Fight
David Hall Another heavy night, another daylight arrival home, so I gave both morning films a miss. I’ll catch up with this on one on DVD…
Soulmining You can read my original review for Born To Fighthere. There’s not much I can add except that it was just as much fun on second viewing – if anything the exposition as the athletes arrive at Pha-Thong didn’t seem quite so drawn out – and it certainly played well to a packed house. In fact, once the fighting began in earnest there were probably more “ooohs”, “aaahs” and cheers from the crowd than for any other movie during the weekend. A great way to start the final day.
Director Panna Rittikrai
Cast Chupong Changprung
Paul, Alan and Ian took to the stage directly afterwards to conduct the third and final round of the quiz, this time focussing on the past six years of FrightFest. After a short break it was time for another short, Mrs Davenport’s Throat written (and introduced) by David McGillivray and directed by Keith Claxton. This was another simple idea well executed, centred around a driver collecting the rather mysterious Mrs Davenport at an airport.
Day of the Dead 2: Contagium
David Hall …but I might not catch up with this one!
Soulmining If you’d logged onto the FrightFest forum pre-festival then you’d know that this was the odds-on favourite to be the worst film of the weekend. It certainly had my vote. A sequel, in name only, by a bunch of amateurs who held the rights to the brand name? It didn’t bode well…
And neither did the start, with a frankly embarrassing scene set in a military hospital which supposedly led to the original outbreak. Fast-forward – rather confusingly – to “5 days earlier” and we’re introduced to a bunch of knuckleheads working at the local asylum who’ve clearly never acted before in their lives. By now I’d realised that this wasn’t going to get any better and frankly I’d had enough – this was simply too excruciating for words.
As Alan Jones said to me outside, “We knew it was going to be bad, we just didn’t realise how bad!” I sat alone in the bar and tried to drink away the memories of those first fifteen minutes. Proof then; Day Of The Dead 2: Contagium – it will drive you to drink. The reaction afterwards? It was either appallingly bad, or appallingly bad but hilarious, depending on who you talked to. Rather worryingly, Jim was already talking about ordering the DVD…
Director Ana Clavell & James Glenn Dudelson
Cast John Freedom Henry
Ian and his team of assistants did his best to cheer up the unfortunate people who’d sat through the last film by handing out tons of freebies promoting House Of Wax and Constantine as they filtered out of the auditorium. Before the next film began we were treated to a couple more new trailers, this time the remake of The Fog and Zathura, the latest film from the team behind Jumanji (as if we couldn’t have guessed from its trailer).
David Hall Already notable on the basis of being the first Thai feature directed by a Brit, Paul Spurrier's spooky exorcism-tinged chiller was, for many, one of the surprise highlights of the festival. Young Dau is not like the other children in her village, having been taught voodoo from an early age. When her grandmother falls ill, the teenager finds that even magic has its limitations and - strapped for cash to pay for medicine - she heads to Bangkok to look for better paid work, leading her into the seedy underworld of Thai strip bars.
Moving in with new friend and mentor Pookie, Dau finds out very quickly that her new life comes with a very high price. She is abused by a club owner and gets on the wrong side of one of the other girls. When things really get out of hand Dau turns to the magic she learned as a child with chilling and disastrous consequences.
This is heady stuff indeed - a potent mix of exploitation, social commentary and possession horror. Spurrier treads a very fine line throughout and perhaps his creepy cameo as the abusive club owner who ends up getting the blowjob from hell was a way of combating accusations of prurience. He clearly knows his subject matter though, and gets fantastic performances out of a largely inexperienced cast. A name to look out for in the future.
Soulmining Having championed this film to Paul McEvoy back in June, and subsequently interviewed director Paul Spurrier for this site, I was desperately hoping that P was going to be as interesting as it sounded. This is a Thai film with a difference in that whilst it was made by a Thai crew for a Thai audience, the director is actually British – the first time a Westerner has made a Thai language movie. So what would Paul bring to the Asian ghost story genre, and more importantly, would another creepy long-haired Asian girl dominate his film?
Thankfully, no, this is a little different in its approach, hence the positive reaction at the end of the screening. As Paul himself says, it’s largely a drama which just happens to have a few horror elements in it, the central story coming from the close relationship between new bargirl Dau and the more experienced Pookie. Voyeuristic or not, life in a Bangkok bar has never been portrayed so accurately, and without passing judgement on either the girls that work there, or their regular customers. The first half of P – like Audition – is largely shock free, but this allows us to connect with the characters before the ‘khee’ hits the fan.
The fact that the spirit is based on common Thai folklore gives it an authentic feel, and the performances seem completely natural – Suangpon, in her film debut, deserves special praise in the role of Dau. Spurrier handles the horror elements tactfully, using only the bare minimum of CGI to enhance Dau’s features as she’s possessed by the flesh-hungry ‘phii bawb’ spirit. Actually, it’s an outstanding achievement for Spurrier, who not only wrote and directed P, but also starred in it, edited it, worked as first DP and composed the music! The film – shot in beautiful cinescope – looked superb up the Odeon’s big screen and it will be a travesty if this is not picked up for international distribution. The campaign starts here!
Director Paul Spurrier
Cast Suangporn Jaturaphut
Director Paul Spurrier won the audience over immediately afterwards by telling us how he used to attend Alan’s Shock Around The Clock events back when he was a film student, before fielding one of the more entertaining Q&A sessions of the weekend.
Straight after that director Julian Richards appeared to introduce a short film competition (for inclusion on the forthcoming DVD release of The Last Horror Movie) where we would select the winning short. The five shorts in question were Automaton, Self Help, The Chop, The Divine Eugene Hicks and The Golf Sale, all of them reasonable but none of them quite as good as the other shorts that we’d seen during the weekend. The judging, by cheers and applause, gave no clear winner, but eventually Alan persuaded us to whittle it down to our two favourites, and Self Help won it by a show of hands.
Generally a promo reel should make you want to see a new movie, but in the case of Tobe Hooper’s Mortuary it did precisely the opposite, so I ended up in the bar with Zomblee where we were introduced to the “FrightFest drunks” (a couple of lovely girls who sadly had to skip the last two films in order to get a train back to Devon) and then went over to congratulate Paul Spurrier on his excellent film.
After a quick introduction to Antibodies from director Christian Alvart, there were more trailers in the shape of Saw II, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and Doom, the latter of which received a huge groan from the audience.
David Hall At first glance this German serial killer flick looks despairingly like another ersatz Se7en / Silence of the Lambs knock off. But Antibodies doesn't quite play out like that - first off, serial child-killer Gabriel (André Henniicke) is arrested straight away by the Berlin police, so there are no gruesome murder puzzles to be solved.
Instead the mystery revolves around the slaying of a young girl in a quiet Catholic village. The cops in Berlin are certain that Gabriel is responsible but the local village plod Michael (Wotan Wilke Moehring) has never been convinced. Suspicious of the townsfolk, he's always maintained that the culprit is closer to home. When Gabriel reveals that he was there at the time of the crime but it was someone else who killed the girl, Michael becomes drawn into a psychological cat-and-mouse game with the twisted pederast and a chilling, layered mystery in which almost everyone in the town - including his troubled teenage son - is a suspect.
In most serial killer flicks we are drawn to the compelling psycho figure. But while Gabriel amuses himself by quoting Hannibal Lecter, director Alvart focuses on the real heart of Antibodies' darkness - Michael. He's a man in moral and spiritual freefall - teeming with barely suppressed sexual repression, self-loathing, and a disturbing inability to communicate with his teenage son. Moehring's powerhouse turn blows pretty much everyone else off the screen (including Henniicke) and he gives one of the most compelling portrayals of a tormented, religiously conflicted cop since Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man.
Ultimately Antibodies falters. Like a lot of tricksy, labyrinthine psycho thrillers not everything adds up and Alvart overplays the religious card, tacking on a weird redemptive final shot that doesn't quite sit right with what has gone before. Overall though, this is subtle, gripping stuff.
Soulmining 2002’s Tattoo proved that Germany can equal Hollywood when it comes to making a decent serial killer flick, and this year we have Antibodies. The film begins with the capture of Gabriel, a killer of young boys, but the question is here, was he also responsible for the murder of a young girl called Lucia in a remote Berlin village? Local cop Michael is the only one to question his assumed guilt, and Gabriel holds all the answers – so what really happened?
Mixing elements of The Silence Of The Lambs and Se7en, this is another solid addition to the thriller genre. By taking one specific incident we’re able to examine the dynamics of this rural village – in a series of flashbacks – as the real story slowly unfolds. Alvart’s film is expertly paced, feeding the viewer tiny snippets of information little by little, until – with a mounting sense of dread – you realise exactly what kind of sick game Gabriel is playing with Michael. The relationship between the two, which even acknowledges its influences, effectively echoes the iconic exchanges between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter.
Woltan Wilke Moehring (try pronouncing that after a few beers) gives a cracking performance and it was just a shame that we didn’t know he was going to fly in for the screening as I’m sure we’d have come up with some probing questions for him. Alvart also does well, possessing an instinctive knack of composing his frames with great beauty, and marrying his images to a suitably haunting soundtrack. As for the ending… well, it’ll all end in deers, believe me.
Director Christian Alvart
Cast Wotan Wilke Mohring
Christian Alvart was joined on stage by the star of the film, Wotan Wilke Mohring, for a Q&A after the screening and one of our film-savvy crowd was apparently the first person to notice that the prison cell’s production design had been directly influenced by Manhunter.
Before the closing film began, Paul and Alan announced the winner’s of the FrightFest quiz and I was delighted to hear that I’d finished in the top ten, so winning another goodie bag! Then director Greg McLean and Wolf Creek’s two leading ladies, Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi, appeared to introduce their movie, and after one final trailer – for Cry Wolf – we were into the 22nd and final feature of the weekend.
David Hall Always try and save the best for last. Wolf Creek was the film of the festival for me - a stripped-down 95 minute immediate genre classic. If director Greg McLean falls some way short of replicating the sheer balls-to-the-wall terror of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (clearly his biggest influence), what he does manage, quite brilliantly, is to give a healthy chunk of screen time to developing characters you really grow to like and care about. So when things start to go wrong there is a real, palpable sense of unease, and when McLean shifts gear in sudden, unexpectedly brutal and uncompromising fashion, it hurts to watch.
Much kudos should be afforded the three leads - Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, and Nathan Phillips. They are people you know and have hung out with - recognisable, likeable, flawed and funny - not a bunch of glib charm-monsters that you can't wait to see disposed of.
Other highpoints include the outstanding cinematography capturing (I imagine) the beauty and cruelty of the South Australian landscape, the hideous 'head on a stick' sequence, John Jaratt as the 'Mick Dundee from hell' figure, and one of the best first screen kisses I've ever seen in a film - horror or otherwise.
The only sour note around Wolf Creek surrounds the decision to flirt Open Water style with the 'loosely based on a true story' angle, which has led to criticism of the filmmakers exploiting some all too recent real life events. The irony is that they needn't have played any spurious connections up, so strongly does the film tap into contemporary fears around traveling / backpacking.
Rawshark covers the film in more depth in his sterling review here, which you should read immediately. Afterwards you should go see Wolf Creek for yourself. Apparently McLean and his crew are already at work on another horror (Rogue, which has just been greenlit by Dimension Films – Soulmining), which is very good news for genre fans. Aussie rules indeed.
Soulmining So here we are, four days and 21 features later, ready for the last film of 2005’s event. Traditionally the closing film at FrightFest isn’t always the strongest (Cut in 2000 anyone?), but the advance buzz on Wolf Creek has been positive ever since it first screened at Sundance at the turn of the year. With the UK the first country to give the film a domestic release there was quite an air of anticipation within the auditorium for this one.
Wolf Creek is based on ‘true events’, but essentially it takes the statistics – a horrifying 30,000 people are reported missing in Australia every year – and then takes one or two specific murder cases to fashion this grisly ‘what if’ scenario. So we have two girls and a guy stranded in the outback when bushman Mick appears from out of nowhere to offer his help. We just know that Mick’s got other plans for the trio, it’s just a case of when, where and quite how badly is he going to torture them?
The waiting is unbearable. For the first time this weekend I felt genuinely uncomfortable and on edge. The relief when the terror actually starts is short lived because really there is no relief whatsoever – Mick is a sick, twisted individual, as single-minded and unfeeling as Leatherface or any of the other best horror icons. Without a doubt Wolf Creek is horror in its purest form and the film is an undoubted triumph. With steady direction from McLean and edgy performances from the cast (including the great John Jaratt who relishes his role as Mick – just wait until you hear his Crocodile Dundee gag), this was the perfect – if unrelentingly grim - movie to close FrightFest with. A must-see film for all horror aficionados, I strongly urge you to visit Wolf Creek – just don’t forget to pack a spare pair of pants.
Director Greg McLean
Cast John Jarratt
With Wolf Creek adding the icing on the cake to what had already been a great day, we filed out of the OWE and back outside into the night on a real high. Everywhere you looked there were groups of fans sharing their highlights, thanking the organisers, and saying goodbyes to their new friends. Despite my initial misgivings about the line-up on Saturday, the latter half of the weekend threw up some excellent new discoveries with the likes of Marebito, Night Watch, P and Antibodies all hitting the mark. The selection of shorts, trailers and special guests were also greatly appreciated, enhanced by the move to the new venue, and so once again FrightFest triumphed and proved itself to be the most essential horror film event in the UK.
Thanks must go, as always, to the hard-working trio of Paul McEvoy, Alan Jones and Ian Rattray whose enthusiasm and dedication to the event makes it what it is – a festival by fans for the fans. Thanks also to all the other fans that I met over the course of the four days for helping to make FrightFest such a special experience this year. It wouldn’t be the same without you guys and gals. Same time, same place next year then?