Six months on from the main FrightFest event in London I was more than ready for another dose of festival madness, so when the "Unholy Trio" of Paul McEvoy, Alan Jones and Ian Rattray announced that they'd been invited back to Scotland to partake in this year's Glasgow Film Festival I knew that I had to be there. Growing up just outside Newcastle, I spent several Summer holidays in my youth north of the border, but this was my first foray back into Scotland in years.
Travelling up the day before the festival I found Glasgow to be a breath of fresh air – a vibrant and welcoming city, the perfect setting for a weekend away. A few of the other FrightFest regulars also made the journey up from London to be there so it was great to see a handful of familiar faces, although spare a thought for poor Rob who lost his passport and was prevented from flying - he was sorely missed.
After a "full Scottish breakfast" (what's the difference exactly?) and a quick scout around the shopping area we all convened outside the Glasgow Film Theatre at 1pm on Saturday 17th February. In addition to hardcore regulars there was a large contingent of eager Scottish horror fans and the cinema was busy - sales up on last year, the £20 day pass representing excellent value for money.
The cinema itself was lovely, a modern arthouse venue with comfortable tiered seating and plenty of legroom. Settled into my front row seat, and after a warm introduction from the three FrightFest chaps, it was time for the films to begin.
The Tripper (2006)
There was a worrying moment when we thought The Tripper was going to be pulled, since the only copy available was on disc and came with a copyright warning flashing up on screen every so often, but in the end the decision was made to go ahead with it anyway. A wise choice as this old fashioned slasher made the perfect curtain raiser for the day's entertainment, despite an unforeseen intermission midway through when someone accidentally paused the film!
The directorial debut from Scream-star David Arquette, The Tripper is a tongue-in-cheek eighties throwback about a disturbed child who's raised in the woods and develops an unhealthy Ronald Reagan fixation. Years later, with his selection of hand-crafted Ronnie masks, our human misfit stalks the woods in search of new victims to mutilate. It just so happens that a dodgy music promoter (Tommy Chong) is putting on a music festival in the area, so out come the hippies en masse to party well into the night. The film focuses on one group of teens (including Haas, King and Mewes) and the investigating cop (Thomas Jane - looking more and more like Super Size Me's Morgan Spurlock) who's trying to piece it all together.
It's pretty predictable stuff but it has its moments, notably a brutal attack by dogs on a group of doped-up partygoers, and the whole thing is laced with knowing humour. I'm still not sure exactly why I wrote the words "Pig - bush" in my notes during the screening, but I did note down the line, "You can't stop him, it's Reagan!" which is surely one of the greatest horror movie quotes in recent times.
The Tripper is obviously a very personal project from David Arquette and you can see that he's called in favours from all of his mates to help make this work (look out for a brief cameo from his wife, Courtney Cox-Arquette). In the end he’s crafted a fun old school horror film in much the same way that Adam Green did with Hatchet at last year's FrightFest. Whilst not quite as sharp as Green's film, nevertheless there's enough giggles and gore for The Tripper to become a cult hit and it certainly played well to the Glasgow audience on its premiere screening.
Director David Arquette
Cast Thomas Jane
After the bold programming of the Klingon documentary Earthlings: Ugly Bags Of Mostly Water back in August, S&Man (pronounced Sandman) was another documentary tackling a genre subject. Soft For Digging director JT Petty originally envisaged making a film about voyeurism and peeping toms, but when his main subject refused to be interviewed on camera he switched the focus of his documentary to the underground horror film-makers who cater for the more extreme end of the market.
JT heads to a Chiller convention in the States to hang out with a bunch of these people and see what makes them tick. Primarily the resulting film follows the Toe Tag and August Underground companies who make a lot of fetish horror (such as self-mutilation) to order and film-maker Eric Rost known for his S&Man series in which he follows and seemingly tortures a number of young women. It’s an insightful study of the grisly underbelly of horror where the line between depicting real and staged pain becomes somewhat blurred.
Intercut with insight from respected theorists such as Carol J. Clover (author of Men, Women & Chainsaws) it's fascinating hearing these people defend their work, the majority coming across as well-adjusted individuals, even if they do defile themselves for the pleasure of others! The two characters who really stand out from the crowd are Bill Zebub, a rather wayward individual who always seems to be drunk on set, and the aforementioned Rost who appears increasingly cagey as JT probes deeper into his methods and approach.
At times uncomfortable to watch, S&Man certainly isn't going to be to everybody's taste, and indeed resulted in a number of walkouts from people sickened by its subject matter. However, JT Petty proves to be an astute director and there is much more to this film than initially meets the eye, with a few clever surprises hidden beneath the surface. As the credits rolled I was interested to discover that my interpretation of the film differed wildly from those of my friends, and this sparked a lively debate afterwards which continued in the pub during the next break.
Director JT Petty
Cast Carol J. Clover
The Messengers (2006)
The Pang Brothers were seen as one (well, two really) of the most exciting talents to emerge from South East Asia in recent years, on the back of their early breakout hits Bangkok Dangerous (which they’re now remaking as Time To Kill with Nicolas Cage) and The Eye (now being remade by David Moreau & Xavier Palaud (Them) and starring Jessica Alba in the lead role). But more latterly their output - either singularly or together - has raised questions as to whether they've any substance beneath all that style, none more so than with their last film Re-Cycle which divided the FrightFest audience at the all-night event last Halloween. The Messengers is the brothers' first Hollywood feature and made number one at the US box office, so have they got their mojo back?
Well, the jury is still out. The Messengers is a fairly atypical American studio film, horror for a mass market audience - exactly what we've come to expect from Sam Raimi's Ghost House productions who've already given us The Grudge makeovers and Boogeyman. Nothing overtly gory, a few scares and jumps, slap on a PG-13 rating and watch the dollars pile up, thank you very much. Similar in tone to the The Return (although thankfully not as vapid) this is conveyor-belt film-making with little passion or soul.
That's not to say it's a bad film, far from it. The plot follows a family who buy up a sunflower farm in an attempt to make a fresh start after a recent tragedy. Daughter Jess (Stewart) gets all spooked, the handyman (Corbett) gets attacked by crows and they slowly uncover the dark secrets that continue to haunt the farm. There's nothing wildly original about the set up (or its resolution for that matter) but the locations look great and are shot with the flair we've come to expect from the Pang brothers. The effects too are well done and used sparingly.
I guess what you see is what you get with The Messengers. I went in to the screening with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised, yet there were others in the audience who claimed the film could have been directed by monkeys. As a generic picture it's perfectly enjoyable and does the job in hand, with enough shocks and atmosphere to hold the attention, but just don't go into the theatre expecting anything cutting-edge or original. Overall, it is what it is - undemanding viewers will lap it up, other more discerning viewers will be left disappointed.
Director The Pang Brothers
Cast Kristen Stewart
Penelope Ann Miller
William B. Davis
With the GFT’s automated aircon system blasting cold air across the front row it was a quick dash back to the hotel for an extra layer of clothes before the next film started. Turistas was perhaps the most anticipated movie of the day’s programme, having been pulled from the Halloween event due to a shifting release date. On introducing the film Alan announced that yet again its UK release date has been put back and it is now due to open here in June under the new title of Paradise Lost, but happily for those of us in Glasgow, Lionsgate still allowed this early screening.
I don’t know why I’m so attracted to backpacker-in-trouble films (The Beach, Brokedown Palace, Gone, I’ll watch ‘em all…). Maybe it’s the perverse pleasure of watching these unfortunate characters safe in the knowledge that my own travel mishaps are never quite as disastrous as theirs?! This time the setting is Brazil and our main characters are three Americans, two Brits and an Aussie chick who decide to hook up after their coach crashes in spectacular fashion in a remote village, miles from the nearest big resort. After discovering a hidden beach the naïve holidaymakers party with the locals only to wake up the next morning with fuzzy heads and all their possessions missing. Things aren’t going too well.
After a violent confrontation with some of the perpetrators, friendly local Kiko gives them a glimmer of hope as he offers to lead the group to the shelter of his family home further along the coast. Can Kiko be trusted? What do you think? With a scalpel looming large across the film’s poster you know that the backpackers’ ordeal has only just begun and the plot soon spirals into the realm of illicit organ-farming. Whilst not as grisly as the likes of Hostel, this is still shocking in places even if it doesn’t quite sustain its momentum into the third act.
The characters make mistakes but never alienate the audience (unlike those in Adrift) and there’s some fun banter to be had from Desmond Askew as the confident cockney Finn. The film moves at a fair old pace and John Stockwell really cranks up the tension, delivering some gripping underwater scenes and plenty of bikini shots – just what you’d expect from the director of Blue Crush and Into The Blue. I really can’t understand why Turistas has been so unfairly dissed on IMDb as it’s a great popcorn flick that effectively plays on the fears and urban myths of travelling in a foreign land, and it was really well received by the Glasgow crowd.
Director John Stockwell
Cast Josh Duhamel
Motel Hell (1980)
And so to the final film of this FrightFest event, a brand new print of Motel Hell being made available for a retro screening of this rare gem from 1980. An astute piece of programming, this camp classic proved to be the perfect antidote to tired eyes; exactly the right kind of low rent drive-in movie that makes for such an enjoyable late night viewing experience – especially with a packed audience of like-minded individuals.
Wily Farmer Vincent (Calhoun) is a purveyor of tasty meat products famous throughout the county. He also operates a run-down motel for weary travellers… the connection? “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!” Yes, it soon transpires that the old rascal and his sister (Parsons) are kidnapping unsuspecting passers-by, burying them in the back garden, and then fattening them up before they become the secret spice in his popular Pepperami.
However things get complicated when he takes in the recently-bereaved Terry (Axelrod) and a love triangle develops involving the two of them and Vincent’s son (Linke), who also happens to be the local law enforcement officer, so setting up a showdown between father and son.
If this all sounds implausible, well, it is – but that’s half of the fun. Playing as a satire to the likes of seventies shockers The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Last House On The Left, this takes the same template and litters it with humour, delivered in a straight, deadpan fashion which serves it well. There were moments in this film that had me howling with laughter, such as the strange bondage couple who turn up at the motel, the fake cows in the road used to stop motorists, and Terry’s “tubing” adventure with Vincent’s sister. Then there’s the scene with the green champagne – suffice to say that Terry is obviously a novice when it comes to drinking bubbly!
Rory Calhoun is a joy to watch as Farmer Vincent and Nina Axelrod provides the eye candy in the role of Terry, even if her blossoming relationship with the old codger rather stretches credibility! Motel Hell isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but with its mix of morbid humour and zany characters it can’t fail to entertain. Any film that culminates in a chainsaw fight between one man wearing a pig’s head and another swinging on a meat-hook like he’s Indiana Jones deserves your attention, and this was a sure-fire hit with the hardcore audience who’d stayed with the festival into the wee hours.
Director Kevin Connor
Cast Rory Calhoun
Jack and Elaine Joyce
So, another FrightFest event over and another unqualified success with the Glasgow all-dayer showcasing a solid batch of new films and one fun oldie to round things off in style. Of course, for some hardened regulars the fun didn’t end there, as Paul and Ian led a merry band of followers in the direction of the Buff Club to unwind with some alcoholic refreshments and the sounds of Northern Soul until well into the early hours.
As always, many thanks go to Paul, Alan and Ian for hosting such a rewarding day, and to all at the Glasgow Film Theatre for helping make the event such a success. With FrightFest’s proposed Dario Argento day now increasingly doubtful due to shifting release dates, the slate looks clear for the big one in August, but whatever the eventual line-up you can be sure that Eat My Brains will be on hand to bring you the best coverage. See you in August!