FrightFest 2006. The 6th Anniversary of the UK’s best annual horror festival took place between 25th and 28th August 2006 at the Odeon West End cinema. Read the review of Day Three below or click on the other links to see reviews for the other days.
’Grim Sunday’, featuring low-budget Brit horror in the woods Broken, Simon Rumley’s extremely powerful The Living and the Dead, French chase-thriller Them, German cannibal movie Grimm Love, the soon-to-be cult classic The Lost and a demented Vincent Cassell in Sheitan.
Soulmining: One of the best things about FrightFest is the way the forum community has developed and expanded over the past six months, so whether outside the OWE or up in the bar area there's always a group of like-minded souls ready to swap opinions and stories.
On Sunday I arrived at the cinema nice and early as I needed to find one of my new friends and lend her some books, which she'd been seeking for her degree course. After a quick chat with the Broken team it was inside for their introduction, preceded by another entertaining short, Snatching Time.
Soulmining The knives were already being sharpened for Broken after Adam Mason’s past history with the FrightFest crowd, but thankfully any bloodletting in the aisles was averted as his latest film shows that he’s learning from the mistakes of his early work and is finally beginning to repay the faith that the festival organisers have shown in nurturing his talent. This is a brutal, some would say misogynistic picture, following a young mother’s torture and slavery at the hands of a mysterious nomad and it certainly wasn’t to everyone’s tastes. Yet belying its tiny budget and technical deficiencies Broken is a compelling watch with some unflinchingly gruesome moments (the leg crack is a beauty) and a very determined performance from Nadja Brand in the lead role. Nice atmospheric soundtrack too. It will be interesting to see what this team can do with greater resources at their disposal.
Zomblee A dark film, Broken. And perhaps a little too long at 98 minutes. If a scene or two were shaved off, its impact may have been increased manifold. However, this remains a strongly intriguing idea that, considering the singular location and dearth of characters, holds its own well. The brutality, which totally suits the overall tone, is harsh indeed; you will squirm over the ghastly needlework on display and director Adam Mason (who seems to be a really nice guy by the way) refuses to give you a chance to prepare yourself for some particularly grisly moments. Personally speaking, I found the last half of Broken to be a much pacier affair than the first, and the ending is suitably savage.
Rawshark Yes, Broken is a dark, vicious little movie that gets under your skin, much like the razor blade inserted into Hope’s belly at the start of the film. The opening ten minutes sets the tone as Hope (Nadja Brand who also produced the film) attempts to escape from a coffin, but instead gets a rifle-butt in her face for her efforts. Recovering consciousness, she finds herself in a Saw-like situation as her woods-based captor (Eric Colvin) tests her for her suitability as his new ‘gardener’. It’s not perfect, the lighting in some scenes is awful, and the acting and script could have done with some more effort here and there, but there’s no doubting Broken is an unrelenting and brutal achievement on such a minimal budget. Expect a DVD release soon.
Director Adam Mason and Simon Boyes
Cast Nadja Brand
The cast and crew of Broken
Soulmining: Adam and his team managed to avoid the typical Q&A session afterwards and instead invited people to come and find them in the bar if they had any questions, so I duly spent some time talking to Simon and Eric about the production and then got introduced to various proud parents until Alan Jones collared me and asked why I wasn't back inside watching The Living And The Dead.
I’d been thinking about skipping this one, but on Alan’s recommendation decided to give it a go and dashed back downstairs having only missed the introduction and opening credits.
The Living and the Dead (2006)
Soulmining I’m glad I did make it in to see The Living And The Dead as it turned out to be one of the major talking points of the weekend. A raw piece of filmmaking dealing with death and mental illness this is a bold and challenging British film. Offering a totally different kind of horror from the rest of the festival programme this was a profoundly shocking experience which left many audience members dazed and numb after the screening. With standout performances all round and in particular from Leo Bill as the afflicted son, this ought to warrant a glowing review, yet I found the film so harrowing to watch it’s not something I’d feel comfortable recommending to everyone, and it’s not a film I’d willingly want to watch again. A brave movie nonetheless.
Zomblee Perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire festival, and certainly the most poignant offering on display, Simon Rumley’s film is a weighty and thoroughly compelling work, lined with a truly momentous central role from Leo Bill as mentally challenged James. Obsessed with proving himself by looking after his bedridden mother in his father’s absence, his mental health spirals further and further out of control in this challenging home-grown psychological tour-de-force. Intense and sublimely uncomfortable, it will be a real shame if enough audiences don’t get to discover its powerful spell.
Rawshark Truly unique and immensely powerful, The Living and the Dead was the standout surprise of the festival for me – a truly amazing British film that restores your faith in the power of risk-taking cinema. Ok, so there’s no doubting that The Living and the Dead is extremely challenging and very tough to watch (especially the needles in the arm scene), but the brilliant acting and superb direction (think Kubrick meets Aronofsky) make it a fascinating art house ‘horror’ detailing a family’s downward descent towards tragedy. Leo Bill’s performance of mentally challenged James is worthy of awards, and he is well backed up by Roger Lloyd Pack and Kate Fahy as the father and mother respectively. Outstanding.
Director Simon Rumley
Cast Leo Bill
Director Simon Runley and actress Kate Fahy from The Living and the Dead
Soulmining: Director Simon Rumley and lead actress Kate Fahy took to the stage afterwards for a Q&A with Alan Jones where they received much praise for their work - I also spotted Jonathan Pryce in the audience lending his support.
I didn’t hang around for the next break, instead darted across to Starbucks to grab a quick coffee with James Moran who was in town to catch another screening of Severance with his sister.
Next up was In The Place Of The Dead, the latest short film from FrightFest favourite David McGillvray whose banter with Alan Jones is always a hoot – if David ever gives up the film business a career in stand up comedy surely beckons. Again directed by long-term cohort Keith Claxton and starring at least one ex-Eastenders actor, In The Place Of The Dead focuses on a married man seeking a rent boy during a religious holiday in Morocco, with inevitably disastrous consequences.
Soulmining There’d been a really good buzz surrounding Them all weekend with those in the know tipping this to be one of the finds of the festival. No-one was giving much away as to the nature of the plot, and to be honest, this is the kind of film you’ll enjoy more the less you know about it. All I’m going to reveal is that it concerns a French teacher and her lover trapped in an old country house by unseen forces. Tonally it’s reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, with the camera placed in the midst of the action as the duo panic and try to protect themselves from their hidden assailants. With much of the film taking place at night the terror is heightened by effective use of torch light and dark shadows, in fact it's such a nocturnal movie I wonder if the filmmakers ever considered filming the whole thing in B&W. The result is a solid thriller with a powerful climax.
Zomblee Set in Bucharest, this is one for the thrill-seekers out there who love the idea of a couple being stalked around an old house, and although directors Moreau and Palud certainly manage to create some lurking menace, I felt the overall result to be disappointingly average with not enough payoff. That could be because I sort of fell asleep for half of it. Sorry.
Rawshark Stylish, but ultimately rather empty, the French film Them takes its ‘true story’ incident and stretches it to almost breaking point to fill out a rather long 80 minutes of feature film. Essentially one long stalk and chase sequence, the film concerns French teacher Clementine and her partner Lucas who find themselves under attack from an unseen menace. There are some nice spooky moments (the walk through the room with the plastic sheeting for instance), but it would have been so much more effective as a tight 15-minute short. Disappointing.
Director David Moreau and Xavier Palud
Cast Olivia Bonamy
Soulmining: We were all asked to complete questionnaires after the screening of Them so giving plenty of feedback to assist with Metrodome’s marketing of the film in time for its slated UK release next January.
Guillermo del Toro signs autographs at Frightfest 2006
Out in the downstairs foyer area Guillermo Del Toro was holding court by the Cinema Store stall, all ready to meet his fans and sign an array of cards, posters and DVD sleeves. Very affable, talkative and enthusiastic - as indeed he was at the Hellboy signing two years ago - he proved to be a big favourite with the FrightFesters.
Simon Boswell and Alan Jones on stage
Before the next film there was a special appearance by Simon Boswell (composer for Sante Sangre, Shallow Grave and – my personal favourite – Hardware, amongst many others) who talked about his new album Close Your Eyes which mixes music from his soundtracks with newly recorded vocals by himself and an array of actors/directors. We also got to see his first music video from the album, directed by Richard Stanley, which featured the sight of Dario Argento doing a spot of rapping! Fascinating stuff and welcome addition to the day's packed programme.
There was just enough time for another dose of Trailer Trash, including such gems as Abby, Home For The Intimate Ghosts and Vampire Kids (currently being tracked down for a future Zombie Club night), and then it was straight into Butterfly: A Grimm Love Story.
Butterfly: A Grimm Love Story (2006)
Soulmining Continuing the festival's "based on true events" coda, Butterfly: A Grimm Love Story can actually back up that claim as it's genuinely based on the tale of Armin Meiwes, the 'Cannibal of Rothenburg' who advertised for a willing victim via the internet. Don't be fooled by the 'banned in Germany' outcry, this is purely down to the legalities of the murder case rather than any explicit content within the film itself - although to be fair, there are some strong images within and the cock munching scene in particular caused a few blokes to flinch. While the actual case is quite fascinating this fictionalised account suffers from a lazy narrative and is hampered by a wholly superfluous wraparound story in which M:I:III's Keri Russell researches the two men's backgrounds and looks for the videotape of their actual encounter. What could have been a thought provoking insight into the mind of a modern day cannibal is diluted by this indulgent, self-important approach to its subject matter.
Zomblee Detailing the events that led to the infamous ‘Cannibal of Rothenburg’ case, Grimm Love forgoes the contemporary convention of subtitles in favour of speaking with ze German accents. Yes, really. And, of course, if this were a 60’s World War II movie, then that would be fine, but surely today’s audiences are sophisticated enough to demand a little more authenticity? The story is interesting enough but it all feels uneven, as if drafted in a hurry, and you will be left asking questions that go annoyingly unanswered. You may also be left wondering if German men really do refer to their dicks as ‘things’.
Rawshark I had seen Grimm Love before and hated it, so I had no intention of seeing it again. There’s an interesting film to be made around the story of Armin Meiwes, the Cannibal of Rothenberg. This isn’t it. This is just a cheap and exploitative cash-in with an awful script that Keri Russell and Oliver Hartwin will want to erase from their CVs as fast as they can. Instead I took the chance to wait in the bar and chat to the ever-growing numbers of walk-outs the film produced.
Director Martin Weisz
Cast Thomas Kretschmann
Soulmining: The FrightFest team had some more surprises up their collective sleeves before the next film. First up NZ director Chris Graham arrived to talk a little about his forthcoming horror film The Ferryman and show us the promo trailer, and then Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead) was introduced to the FrightFest crowd.
Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright on stage with Paul McEvoy
I’d wondered if he might show up with some Hot Fuzz footage, having spotted him outside the cinema on Friday night, and I wasn’t wrong – we got two trailers for the new Simon Pegg / Nick Frost police comedy, one of which was an exclusive and we were told wouldn’t be released to cinemas. Naturally these were both well received!
The Lost (2006)
Soulmining Rawshark had been bigging up The Lost all Summer and for good reason. Based on the novel by Jack Ketchum this is a real tour-de-force personified by a breakout performance from Marc Senter as Ray, the black-hearted yet charismatic villain of the piece. Ray killed a couple of girls four years earlier and got away with it, but with the cops still on his back he's a pressure cooker just waiting to explode - and sexy, high class Katherine (the beautiful Robin Sydney) might just be the spark that sends him over the edge. An outstanding debut from Chris Sivertson (the editor on EMB fave May) this has the same down-and-dirty feel as The Devil's Rejects and is similarly gripping to watch, no matter how unpleasant these people are. Seeing the rage hiding behind Ray's eyes builds up a huge expectation in the audience, and when it finally spills over, well - as Paul warned us beforehand - it delivers like a kick to the stomach.
Zomblee Not so much a horror film as a taut, well crafted and character-driven teen thriller, The Lost takes place in smalltown USA where a local pretty boy’s murderous past is coming back to haunt him. Rawshark had already told me about this one beforehand, pointing out the superb soundtrack – more a collection of songs if I remember correctly – that compliments the overall mood perfectly. An excellent cast really help bring this one to life; Marc Senter excels as the short-arsed, vain dickhead in the middle of the action, and it’s great to see real legends like Ed Lauter (who’s shagging someone a third his age here – go on Ed!) on fine form. Excellent.
Rawshark Another film I had seen before but, unlike Grimm Love, I was really looking forward to seeing this again with a packed-house FrightFest audience. A dead-cert cult hit, The Lost features an amazing soundtrack (isn’t that what a collection of songs is called?), superbly crafted violence and terrific whirlwind performances from both its young and old cast, especially Michael Bowen (Buck from Kill Bill) who is great value as cop Charlie Schilling intent on bringing ‘killer’ Ray Pye to justice. From it’s boot walking opening through to it’s sudden violent ending, The Lost is bleak and distrubing film-making at its finest, and further proof that producer Lucky McKee could quite possibly be the saviour of US independent cinema. We await his next film The Woods with much anticipation.
Director Chris Siverston
Cast Marc Senter
Soulmining: With all the extra guests and surprises which had been squeezed in to this third day, it was no surprise that the timetable was running late by this stage. Just time for a quick dash to Subway and then back for the final film, a midnight screening of Sheitan.
Soulmining Two words for you – Vincent Cassel. No matter what the quality of the finished film (Jan Kounen’s Blueberry anyone?), with Cassel on board you’re always guaranteed a watchable performance from the French master. From the moment he appears on screen as a moustachioed shepherd with a crazed grin, you just know you’re in for a treat here! Actually Sheitan is so much more than a one man show; this deranged tale of a bunch of clubbers caught up in the middle of an inbred farming community is sharp, inventive and wickedly funny. Imagine the unsettling oddness of Calvaire crossed with the manic energy of Dobermann and you’re only part way to appreciating just how way out this movie is. As much fun as you could possibly have without taking your clothes off, this was the perfect antidote to tired eyes and one of the highlights of FrightFest for me.
Zomblee Tired. Sleepy. Time for bed.
Rawshark And so on to the second French film of the day, which showcases an irrepressible performance from star and producer Vincent Cassel. Original and often fairly surreal, Sheitan takes a demented journey as a group of teens crash out in an old house on the country where the locals are far from being le sharpest tools dans le box. Cassel’s hilarious (double) performance attempts to hold the strands together but the whole is unfortunately slightly fragmented and chaotic, especially for a midnight showing and tired sleepy eyes. Still, its inventiveness is always engaging and make sure you stick with it for a hilarious final shot family freeze-frame. Also features a cameo from Cassel’s squeeze, Monica Bellucci.
Director Kim Chapiron
Cast Vincent Cassel
Nico Le Phat Tan
Soulmining summary: And so ‘Grim Sunday’ came to a close, probably the most exhausting day – both physically and mentally – of the four day festival. From the visceral horror of Broken, the harrowing drama of The Living And The Dead, the sustained suspense of Them right through to the true life terrors of Butterfly: A Grimm Love Story and the nihilistic nature of The Lost, this truly was a line up for the most diehard of fans and left many feeling tired and emotional afterwards.
Thank goodness then for the light relief provided by the day’s special guests and the astute scheduling of the bonkers Sheitan which rounded off the day with more than a few laughs. If we could survive Sunday without losing our minds then tomorrow’s final day ought to be a walk in the park…