FrightFest 2007 took place between the 23rd and 27th August 2007 at the Odeon West End cinema in Leicester Square. Read the review of Day One below or click on the other links to see reviews for the other days.
David Hall: With an unprecedented 25 movies, seven short films, trailers and various tasty exclusives over (almost) five days, this years FrightFest was always going to be somewhat of an endurance test. That’s no disrespect to the line up, more an indication of the kind of sensory overload that inevitably occurs when you are taking in the pick of a year’s horror and fantasy (while trying to chat, booze, eat and catch up) over such a short space of time.
This year coverage duties were divided between myself and the venerable Soulmining, well known amongst festival regulars and now something of an honorary member of the core FrightFest gang. It’s a testament to the consistency of this year’s festival that there were very few opportunities for disagreement between us. Even so, one or two movies inevitably divided, which I hope makes for interesting post-fest reading.
It was a festival that kicked off with much laughter and ended in more than a few tears, which I guess, is at it should be. So without further ado, let’s fest…
Black Sheep (2006)
David Hall The importance of selecting the right movie to open a festival can never be underestimated. Kick off with your strongest movie and you run the risk of setting too high a standard to follow. Start with a film that turns out to be a damp squib with the audience and the festival begins on a downer, which nobody wants.
Happily for everyone Jonathan King’s fledgling flock fable turned out to be the perfect curtain raiser; a silly, short, sheep in wolf’s clothing tale that turned out to be a (Shepherd’s) delight for most of the FF faithful. The template is clearly early Peter Jackson, no matter how much King wants it to be An American Werewolf in London, but King’s movie has a NZ film fund assisted sheen that Jackson’s early flicks never had (good or bad – you decide) and he appears to like his actors a bit more - there’s none of the screaming, OTT antics of Bad Taste or Braindead here. He admirably reigns in the potential for broad farce throughout a breezily entertaining first half, before letting rip with the sheep shagging gags.
An amiable, bright cast of NZ unknowns play things relatively straight. with the stand out being Peter Feeney as the wonderfully snide farmer with a ‘fucked up idea of animal husbandry’. Horror comedy is always the trickiest beast to master, especially when your film revolves around some of the least potentially sinister animals known to man. King gets the chuckles right, but despite some excellent in-camera special effects and a wonderful transformation scene that nods to The Howling his film is never remotely scary.
Soulmining The Kiwi sheep shocker provided us with plenty of bad puns - "the violence of the lambs" anyone? - and its mixture of splatter and humour were expertly combined to give us a light-hearted start to our mammoth weekend of movie-going.
Every sheep joke in the book is in the film, so there are plenty of laughs. This tale of genetic experiments gone awry (think last year's Isolation with a comic twist) also manages to make the woolly creatures sinister (something The Dark struggled with) and the filmmakers were fortunate to benefit from the expertise of WETA with their effects shots. Whilst not as gory as early Peter Jackson, this is still a solid debut from NZ director Jonathan King - and made for the perfect festival opener. Right, I'm off to the baaaaaa...
Director Jonathan King
Cast Nathan Meister
David Hall: In between the opening Black duo (Black to Black?) we were treated to a breezily entertaining 28 Weeks Later ‘event’ – essentially a teaser for the forthcoming DVD. In that respect it did the job just fine, as I haven’t actually seen Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s well received sequel but the titbits and extras made me curious to check it out now that it’s out on disc.
Just before Black Water a wheezing Neil Marshall – who had just arrived by rickshaw (!) – rocked up with a specially cut trailer of his upcoming Doomsday. Despite a tech error screening the clip in black and white (we were treated to a colour shopping before the festival's close) this really does look the business.
Marshall’s high octane Road Warrior homage is clearly going to be major news when it hits next May and could be just the tonic for those of us reeling from the fact that the beloved Escape from New York is being remade by Len (Un)Wiseman. Paying homage to the era of steel gloves and futuristic knights in armour, Doomsday looks post–Apocalyp-tastic and is surely going to have every fanboy reaching for that battered VHS of Metalstorm: the Destruction of Jared-Syn. Or maybe not..
Black Water (2007)
David Hall Australian genre cinema has a fine tradition of primitive, elemental horror; think of the dreamlike eeriness of Picnic at Hanging Rock or the backwoods creepiness of The Long Weekend. On paper, Black Water would appear to fit right into this aesthetic with its minimalist tale of a killer croc terrorising three holidaymakers in the mangrove swamps of Northern Australia.
As Wolf Creek and Open Water recently proved it is perfectly possible to wring nerve-shredding terror from this kind of minimal scenario, especially if you take time to set up strong relationships between the characters, or explore some inherent tensions within the group. Black Water has none of these. It has some nice shots of three pretty, banal characters stuck up a tree and a large, barely witnessed crocodile.
In this kind of scenario you should carry a feeling of dread about what will happen. Here I was so uninterested in what was unfolding I was willing the croc into some kind of further action, hoping that maybe another boat (with some interesting characters) might turn up and get ripped to shreds. It didn’t happen. As an aside, fans of croc schlock would do better hunting down the little seen Dark Age starring Wolf Creek’s John Jarratt as a park ranger on the trail of a monster croc. Bonzer mate!
Soulmining We move from New Zealand to Australia for Black Water, and instead of hungry sheep we've got hungry crocodiles. Well, one very hungry crocodile anyway. What I like about this film are the central characters who are portrayed as normal individuals, no frills. As our three protagonists set out on a boat trip I was immediately suspicious of their gun-toting guide... yet was pleased to see this was just a red herring.
Unfortunately when the cast find themselves stuck up a tree equally the film has nowhere to go. Will they live or will they die? At times the second half of the film drags so badly it feels like it's moving in slow motion, but it does have its tense moments. Just one final observation - where did that oar come from?
Director Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich
Cast Diana Glen
David Hall summary: A suitably interesting opening night then, with the woolly were-sheep largely getting the thumbs up and Black Water (from the feedback I garnered) dividing in classic FF style. An early return home beckoned, for the first and only time of the weekend..!