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 Two below or click on the other links to see reviews for the other days.
David Hall: The first full day of the Fest posed a problem that - even as a rabid film fan - I’ve never had to deal with before; how do you watch seven movies in a row and keep your sanity? Personally I’m not sure that I did, but I couldn’t think of a better way to begin a movie marathon than in the company of Hatchet helmer and FF favourite Adam Green.
The Hatchet Live event kicked off the longest day of the fest in fine style, but would the boys and girls love Mandy Lane as much as Alan Jones? Read on and find out….
Hatchet (Live Commentary) (2006)
David Hall There were a few raised eyebrows when it was suggested that Green provide a live yak track to last years breakout hit, but for those few that made the pilgrimage it was certainly worth the effort.
Green is the real deal, a lovely fella whose infectious energy and unstoppable flow of patter has already made him something of a FrightFest legend. The only downside to the morning for me; Green told us everything we could ever want to know about Victor Crowley and co, meaning I would have to seriously revise my list of questions for my post fest interview with the man.
Soulmining A whole year has passed since FrightFest first brought Hatchet to our attention. Adam Green's old school horror was a hit at last year's event, so since he was here with his new film Spiral it was suggested that perhaps he might like to do a live commentary for Hatchet too.
I must admit I was a little skeptical about the idea, but have to concede that it worked a treat - Adam was interviewed on stage by Alan Jones and gave an insightful and amusing account of the filmmaking process, and some of the obstacles that he's had to face on the way. His choice of real make up FX instead of CGI and his battle with the MPAA in particular provoked much support from the FrightFest audience. Whilst my attention focused on the chat, it has to be said that the film looked great and certainly seems to merit repeated viewings. A sequel may follow if it is successful when it opens in the US this month.
Director Adam Green
Cast Joel Moore
The Sword Bearer (2006)
David Hall I must admit I was intrigued by the premise of this – the idea of a man who is able to retract a deadly blade from within his palm under moments of rage promised an easy afternoon of entertaining schlock. Shame then that this was the first out and out dud of the fest; a laborious, excessively preened exercise in sub-Besson stylistics that unfolds in limp generic revenge fashion while incorporating a laughably soppy romantic sub plot.
With few inventive sequences actually involving the weapon at hand (ho ho) – surly, unlikeable lead Sasha tends to beat people up with whatever instrument is around - it’s a dour, overlong bore. I’m all for moody anti-heroes but its hard to feel much empathy with a man who kills almost everyone he meets. Two things save it from a one star rating – easy on the eye heroine Chulpan Khamatova and a very silly but impressive forrest destroying finale where Sasha finally unleashes the power of his sword and gets wood. Ahem.
Soulmining Aka The Sword Borer. A Russian fantasy adventure featuring Sasha Knifehands, a fella whose hands conceal sharp blades, it sounds like fun eh? There was I expecting an onslaught of action and... nothing. It's actually more of an arthouse romance flick, all sumptuous visuals, lingering close ups and minimal dialogue.
I waited patiently in my seat, enduring the cat-and-mouse game between Sasha and the cops, but all in vain. When the showdown finally arrives it's half hearted and poorly executed, not helped by some laughable CGI effects. Still, whilst it wasn't for me, at least two of my companions absolutely loved it...
Director Filipp Yankovsky
Cast Artyom Tkachenko
The Signal (2007)
David Hall With a ferocious opening; homing in on the domestic realities of a world going mad under the influence of a nefarious television signal, with neighbours and loved ones turning on each other, The Signal immediately reminded me of early Cronenberg and Romero, always a good sign. After The Crazies style intensity of this opening segment (or transmission, for the film unfolds in three acts) the film abruptly shifts gears into broad based satire for a hit and miss mid section that everyone else I spoke to loved, before imploding in a cluttered and confused final act that reeks of desperation.
That opening act though is genuinely chilling and captures a feeling of existential dread and impending apocalypse through scenes of chilly domestic violence and paranoia like no zombie film of recent memory.
Soulmining Fresh from its Sundance success, The Signal arrived on a wave of good buzz. Similar in premise to Stephen King's The Cell, it's the story of what happens when a television signal sends us back to our most primal state.
Unusually it's told from three different perspectives (albeit featuring recurring characters) by three different directors. The first part depicting the 'crazy' taking hold is the most shocking of the three, so it comes as quite a surprise when the second part switches tone to become a black comedy. The final part is the weakest of the three, but even so it's an effective raw piece of filmmaking which really delivers.
Director David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry
Cast Anessa Ramsey
A. J. Bowen
David Hall King’s creepy short story is an enjoyable Shining-lite that works precisely because of its oblique, quiet spookiness. Its not a tale that immediately lends itself to feature treatment though, and for all the sterling work that Cusack puts in as cynical spook hunter Mike Enslin I couldn’t help thinking this might have made a more effective Masters of Horror episode. Of course it’s cleaned up at the box office so what they hell do I know?
What I do know is this, 1408 works effectively enough in ratching up a sense of unease but there’s always the nagging suspicion that any film that talks up such a good scare is going to have its work cut out actually delivering on the promise. So when 40 minutes of suspense gives way to CGI demons flitting around the room Ghostbusters-style and Samuel L Jackson turns up in the back of Cusack’s fridge, the tension unravels as rapidly as Enslin’s state of mind. Fun but forgettable.
Soulmining Stephen King's horror stories are more often than not plagued by disappointing movie adaptations so it's a pleasant surprise to report that Mikael Hafstrom's 1408 is better than most - reflected by its unprecedented success at the US box office.
King's short story (from Everything's Eventual) is nothing special - a ghost hunter who gets stuck in Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel - but it's the presence of John Cusack in the leading role that gives weight to the material. He's ably supported by Samuel L. Jackson (in a fridge) and the result is a multiplex winner that entertains for its 94 minutes - just don't expect to remember any of it the following day.
Director Filipp Yankovsky
Cast John Cusack
Samuel L. Jackson
Jasmine Jessica Anthony
David Hall The first film of the fest to have a genuinely transgressive, risk taking feel to it. Debutant Mitchell Lichtenstein vagina dentata themed black comedy (!) plays out like Heathers meets I Spit on your Grave, following earnest ‘true love waits’ teenager Dawn as she struggles with the traditional pressures of peer sexual pressure and the more unique problem of having an uncontrollable monster between her legs.
Alabaster pale lead Weixler gives a finely judged, understated performance that plays superbly well against the films broader more excessive elements. There are various wincing moments for both sexes though and one scene rivals Dead Ringers for leg crossing cavity calamity – as a creepy gynaecologist pays the price for an excessive exploration.
There are some problems – the character of Dawn’s half-brother Brad got a lot of laughs from the FF crowd, but the decision to have him harbouring an infatuation for Dawn from childhood seemed excessive even in the context of this seriously warped flick. And the film's sexual politics are seriously fucked. But it’s an exploitation movie at heart and you have to give kudos for Lichtenstein for staying away largely from the traditional route of portraying Dawn as a typical monstrous feminine. The final act is a bloody mess (in every respect) but Teeth has the genuine feel of a future cult midnight movie classic. Fear of fanny indeed.
Soulmining As a last minute replacement for P2 this arrived as a late addition to the programme. I was fearing a ponderous arthouse affair, so imagine my delight when it soon became apparent that Teeth was going to play like a normal teen horror/
It could so easily have been a disaster but what's good about this approach is that it's played totally straight and that the characters are believable. If you're wondering just how graphic the film is going to be, well... it's never gratuitous, but it might well have the gentlemen in the audience crossing their legs. It's also worth looking out for a funny-as-fuck performance from Nip/Tuck's Lenny Von Dohlen as the vulgar step-brother. A real crowd pleaser, P2 would have had to have been something special to beat the reception to Teeth.
Director Mitchell Lichtenstein
Cast Jess Weixler
All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (2007)
David Hall Like the blond ingénue of its title, this turned out to be a bit of a tease in the end. Not anywhere near as clever as it thinks it is, I liked rather than loved Mandy Lane. I loved the opening scene and credits drool montage with its nice n’ sleazy Larry Clark aesthetic, and the concrete landing of a drunken jock eager to mipress minxy Mandy ensures the picture opens on a cool, cynical note.
The dialogue is whip smart too – capturing the simmering, petty hatred that lurks behind some teenage relationships and some of the asides around drugs, sex and body issues are well articulated by a talented young cast. A faux degraded print grain gives things a heady 70s exploit feel too.
Unfortunately one of the strongest suits of the film – lead performance of Amber Heard - actually contributes to the films fatal flaw; Mandy’s docile appearance gives too clear signals about where the set up is heading and softens the blow of the big (final) reveal. For all the hype, the murders lack invention and there’s an over reliance on the (dreaded) false scare. Good to look at though, much like Mandy herself.
Soulmining One of the most eagerly awaited titles of this year's selection, Mandy Lane came as a disappointment to many. Not that people disliked it, just that the expectation was sky high with everyone wanting it to be the definitive modern slasher film.
It starts well with one of Mandy's male suitors diving off a rooftop into a swimming pool to impress her - and instead cracking his head on the concrete. From then on it's all about Mandy and her contemporaries spending a weekend away with a killer in their midst. To its credit, the film reveals the killer's identity early on, and there's a nice little twist towards the end which I didn't see coming. The washed out colour gives the film a seventies feel and there's a cool pop soundtrack instead of the usual heavy rock. As for the beautiful Mandy Lane herself, well I think I’m in love with her too and I'm sure she had plenty of other admirers amongst the boys in the audience!
Director Jonathan Levine
Cast Amber Heard
Robert Earl Keen
David Hall Don’t do Shrooms kids. The film that is. I spent the duration of this wishing I had taken something stronger than my free can of Kirin beer - preferably a mind altering substance that might have turned Shrooms into something resembling a watchable or in any way amusing or original experience. A bad trip, best avoided.
Soulmining A bunch of American kids take a trip into the Irish woods to smoke some mushrooms. Of course one of their party foolishly picks the deadly Death's Head variety which gives her the power of foresight, and - this being a horror film - she then witnesses her fellow campers getting viciously slaughtered.
Maybe I was just over-tired with Shrooms coming as the seventh film of the day, but it just seemed repetitive and I found it hard to keep my eyes open. Had I not been dozing I'm sure I would have guessed the twist which is blindingly obvious in hindsight - I really must have been out of it! A bit of a disappointment, and rather worrying in that the only Irish characters in the film are a couple of backward woodsmen.
Director Jonathan Levine
Cast Lindsey Haun
David Hall summary: A solid first day bookended (Hatchet excluded) by a couple of duds. At this point Soulmining and I had barely exchanged a word, so intense was the filmic diary, with barely twenty minutes between most of the flicks. Much expectation had surrounded Mandy Lane but overall the response was a little subdued.
Where would the first classic of the festival come from now that one of the early favourites had failed to gain wholesale approval? And how ironic that a replacement movie turned out to be garnering the most favourable word of mouth. Teeth had bark as well as bite, but whether it had legs or not, remained to be seen…