SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ It's that time of year again: THE RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL in London! On now.. See you there!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

LONDON FRIGHTFEST 2012, 'QUICK PEEP REVIEWS': Outpost II-Black Sun; Hidden in the Woods; Paura 3D; Tulpa; Maniac; Under The Bed; The Possession.

*This review may contain spoilers ~ please watch before reading*

This year's FrightFest 2012 at the Empire Leicester Square had more special guests than ever before and surprised many with a focus on more extreme horror often involving torture of some kind (Paura 3D), and frustratingly, often towards women. But there were also some good old-fashioned ghost stories on offer (The Possession) and a decent stab at a modern-day giallo (Tulpa) as well as an appearance from the master of horror and giallo himself; Dario Argento, who said that while most critics compare his work to Mario Bava, he sees himself following Hitchcock's legacy and style much more than he does Bava's. Argento also said that he wasn't even approached over the Suspiria remake (quite shamefully in my opinion) which he thinks is a terrible idea, and would never choose to shoot a remake himself - but if he was forced to; then would probably go for old rival Lucio Fulci's films to remake (Lucio we could hear turning in his grave and glaring at his 'old friend's' wicked joke here).

While I agree with Argento about remakes generally, there was a remake at the festival that I enjoyed a great deal (Maniac) and also found a new name to watch in emerging talent Patricio Valladares; the director of Hidden in the Woods, who managed to shock and outrage even a hardened FrightFest audience (mostly the men, strangely enough!). A clever spin of family-friendly horror fare turned convention on its head (Under The Bed) and featured a star turn from a young actor (Gattlin Griffith) who is clearly a star of the future alongside the young star of The Possession; Natasha Calis. But the standout performance for me was Elijah Wood in Maniac - haunting and depraved. Much like the films at the festival themselves!

Here are my 'quick peep' reviews, written on the same night as viewed, of a few of the movies slicing and dicing and screaming their way across the FrightFest big screen this year, all were either European or World Premieres...

The Possession came with good pedigree with Danish director Ole Bornedal (of the two morgue-set Nightwatch movies - the original Danish language version and the US remake with Ewan McGregor) and producer Sam (the Evil Dead) Raimi on board the demonic ghost train to the heart of this FrighFest 2012 European premiere.

While the film did nothing new with the possessed child genre it was well shot and contained a few, mostly family-friendly scares. In the US the rating was toned down on appeal, to reach a wider audience - the Twilight generation if you like, but all horror fans can have fun with this one, whether hardened or hormonal.

I was sitting next to a couple on one side of me, for this penultimate FrightFest screening and one of the two had their head burrowed in the other's arms after a couple of the scares. On the other side of me, a group of young lads, probably not 18, looking like they could face anything on screen and not bat an eyelid - by the end of the film, at least a couple had jumped and sworn under their breath. Result Raimi!

Two young sisters join newly divorced Dad in his suburban home while Mum goes to the opera with her new dentist boyfriend. Dad lets the youngest daughter buy a weird wooden Dibbuk (demon inside - no extra charge) box at a jumble sale without realising it contains the terror of Judaism within - a spirit that seeks out the young and innocent (naturally, as what spirit would seek out very old drunken men with bad personal hygiene to live in, although - hey, what a movie that would make!).

The younger daughter gets possessed and all hell breaks loose (well, up to a PG-13 certificate in the US anyway!).

I loved the roaming sky-high camera looking down on the rows of suburban houses like a waiting spirit in the sky and the soundtrack that was composed of a deep note piano refrain, that occasionally turned into the soundtrack of Jaws for some reason. There were a number of unexpected scares involving teeth, deep throat, books in bed and bad table manners. Some of these shocks gave me a bad dose of the shiveries. The CAT scan was the most terrifying sequence in a horror film I've seen in a while. You know what's coming, but when it does - goosebumps on tap!

Best surprise of all, was that the girl playing the possessed younger sister, easily slunk into the rank and file of demonic movie kids alongside the evil likes of The Omen's Damien and The Exorcist's Regan. Possessed Em sitting on a swing in her short grey dress and Wellington boots glowering at the camera with black-ink filled eyes and wild hair blowing in the breath of a demonic breeze, sent chills to the base of the spine and back up again. Natasha Calis as Evil Em is a revelation - as convincingly in need of being saved as she is of being staked through the heart and splashed with holy water.

As a penultimate movie at FrightFest 2012, The Possession was a fun time to be had by all, and it's refreshing that a traditional demonic possession flick can still be as rewarding today in the horror genre as it has been in the past. While in an increasingly real-life hard-edged and randomly violent world, extreme horror and films with 'hoodies' as the boogeyboys probably deservedly thrive, and have a right to exist and confront fears of a modern age, while annoying those old enough to remember the original The Omen at the cinema (and it's right that horror films do annoy the older generation and cause controversy), there is still a place for old-fashioned fright films such as The Possession in modern horror. We've been here before in The Possession's world of targeted scariness, but there's enough that's different about this movie, to ensure longevity, especially the demonic exorcism by a young, fabulously deadpan, gangly and witty Jewish expert on all things demonic doing a job that his elders refuse to even consider being a part of - and the special effects too, including the deep throat crawling of nasties up and down the gullet, all earn The Possession real kudos for me.

The film is beautifully framed and while the ending in the hospital basement is perhaps a bit silly and contrived, it's a great ride to be on, and features enough contortions and red-eyed growling in the light of an overhead bulb or gloomy shadows to hold the attention. There were also at least a couple of deaths in this movie that I didn't expect and in the case of the last of these, the audience actually gasped when the moment came - also a moment that earned the legendary FrightFest rare round of applause. You can't ask for more in the closing hours of a five day long festival of horrors both sickening and, just sometimes, a little bit more magical and old-school demonic.

I didn't think I would enjoy this one. It reeked of straight to video and I'm not a fan of 'modern day Nazi zombies on the loose' franchises, of which (this may just be my imagination) there seem to be many.

However, this sequel to 2008's original 'Outpost' was a lot of fun. The gloomy, surreal, fairytale woodland setting and the well-utilised Nazi zombies (who also made an appearance on stage and scared families and tourists away from a visit to London ever again by patrolling outside the cinema for a while), were mostly hidden in shadow, and ensured the film remained a genuinely creepy experience. The battle scenes were well portrayed and the acting was fine and funny in the right moments.

There were some well-realised special effects of mad scientist Nazi death rays and the electric blue detonation where the sound went muffled, like we had all been deafened, had me worried for a few moments - a nice touch.

Great setup for a sequel. I may even be watching!

This film was a Grimm-like fairytale horror-crime story with a big nasty injection of wicked humour. It's no surprise Hollywood has already snapped up a remake from the original director (currently in development).

Hidden in the Woods earned a long round of applause at its FrightFest 2012 screening. A cross between Lucky McKee's The Woman, Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn (without the vampires!), it featured lush and vibrant cinematography of Chilean locations and a pounding country/blues-rock score mixed in with gorgeous, atmospheric piano and appropriately synthy gloom. Ominous sound effects also punctuated the action, in the best Lynchian tradition.

The men were scumbags, drug dealers and earned delicious revenge at the hands and teeth of the two sisters who had been kept captive since birth by their brutal father, himself at the mercy of the local drug baron who, in the film's climax, comes looking for them all, and the missing stash of drugs. The dad had allowed the local crimelord (with white twirly beard and luxury villa and two daughters kept in comfort and wealth, compared to the lives of the family we follow whose lives he has ruined) to rape his own wife and possibly his daughters too (something the dad himself was also prone to attempting, in scenes that were not shown in any detail).

The rape scenes here were the cause of some controversy at FrightFest, understandably, and they are upsetting but brief, shot frenziedly and not lingering at all. I also felt they had purpose within the plot to create this montrous father figure, demonising him to the extent that the eventual revenge felt all the more sweet. But they were hard scenes to get through, and less sanitised -rightly - than Hollywood's usual salacious version of the same awful crime.

The Dad; the monster - all hairy of body and thick of muscle, was the 'ogre under the bridge', with his two daughters' 'trip, trip, tripping footprints' above - the beast that could burrow out of soil with his bare hands. The best movie monster since Karloff did Frankenstein.

Regarding accusations of misogyny from some critics towards the film, I can only report back that the usherette I sat next to (I was on the aisle seat, she was perched on the stairs.. at least I hope she was an usherette and not something more sinister) munched sweets and chuckled throughout the screening (actually, beginning to think she was definately something more sinister now!) and there was also a question from a young female fan at the Q&A after the movie to the director that started with her saying how much she loved the movie and the bloody ending (that was very reminiscent of a sprawled Tim Roth from Reservoir Dogs, with most of the cast writhing on a slick of their own blood on the tiled floor of the local drug baron's villa while shooting at each other at close range) and even said she found the film 'sexy' - well, the scene between one of the daughters and the married man in the motel room was a rare moment of fairly consensual steaminess and the two girls did ooze a certain sexuality when chasing through the jungle after the poor henchmen of the local drug baron who didn't know what was about to hit them between the legs!

Within the Woods was an unnerving, unexpected, vibrant, hip, very bloody, gun-toting, great-Grimm fairy tale of a gangster movie with horror edging, that I think will result in more head-swirling films from this young director, Patricio Valladares - who is clearly a real, unpredictable talent to witness and wait for.

Valladares hinted at FrightFest that future films will be more crime based, less horror. Which is (when you take away such dreamlike, surreal additions as the feral cannibal brother kept locked up in a room by Dad and released by the sisters) what this film is at heart; a really quite brutal but sly crime movie in a heady, nightmarish, adult fairytale setting. It's a genre all to itself. It's what a FrightFest film should be.

A vibrant horror movie, suitably sick and tense, with three wayward youths having fun at a posh guy's villa and reaping the payback big time.

The woman in this cellar was a mess of mystery; I couldn't make out whether I felt sorry for her, or just wanted to forget the evil beast forever by the time the end credits rolled.

The long, languid build-up worked - making the grisly horror towards the end of the movie, even more painful to watch. Nice to see some equality in that a man and a woman were chained up in the cellar at the end, though less equality that the woman was naked and the man had his trousers on. I saw one thing in 3D that I hope I never have to see in 3D again. It didn't belong to the actress, but to a stand-in random porn star. Although it felt a little out of place, visual extremes like this in a horror movie are brave and subversive. The soundtrack with creepy gargling and whispers was excellently Suspiriaish and the 3D was used to good effect, especially (and exceptionally) in the opening colourfully and trashily-animated credits straight from the pages of a Brothers Grimm book that featured a little girl exploring a mysterious forest and not liking what she finds - her 'guardian angel' (or maybe she is liking, I'm not sure quite). In the closing sequences with a flickering flame in front of us, the 3D added a subtle intensity.

I enjoyed the frenetic energy in the chase sequence and felt genuine fear when the lights went out at the film's climax with just a lighter to give us hope. 'Felt genuine fear' in a horror movie - that's been a long time coming!

No giallo, or few, have ever really featured stunning dialogue and wonderful scripts.

This was no exception.

But the scenes in the S&M club, the odd occult barman, doorman (or door hermaphrodite) and general sense of unease were rewarding. Set in the world of big corporate business, someone is bumping off the boardroom at unnerving frequency. The manner of the deaths of the sharp-suited girls and boys, is dreadful - strung up on a merry-go ride with barbed wire hanging at the edges or locked in a box cut and bruised with a few hungry rats to gnaw away the hours with (in a lovely touch, the unseen man in the box is forgotten about until the end credits, when we go back to him as if we have just remembered there's someone left to save).

The film has a witty edge that could be mistaken for being entirely serious - hence some laughs in the audience at FrightFest. Giallo, as a genre, is often at its best when playful and painful in equal measure. This film clearly riffs on classic Italian horror director Dario Argento's work. Interestingly, Argento himself at the start of the festival in an onstage Q&A mentioned that many directors copy his style, sometimes good (as in Black Swan), sometimes really bad. Tulpa I think does reference classic Italian giallo with reverence and good effect, although few crime films are ever much good set in a corporate environment. When Tulpa breaks free from this environment, there's a lot more fun to be had, especially in the warren-like red light-bathed sex club or just escaping up trees in the Italian countryside in the dark.

I liked the way the killer grew more and more unhinged like their world was crumbling, about to be found out. I never would have guessed who the killer was. But then, I was having too much fun with the killer's nice (if a little weird) side to suspect.

Giallos have featured the occult before, but this one was still a refreshing homage to Hitchcock and Argento and everyone else inbetween - and the cheer when you know who (the odd chap) saved you know who (the pretty one) from you know who (the killer) - wow! That strange bloke needs his own show..

I found it hard to catch the night bus home after this one, convinced I was going back to a room full of nude mannequins with scalped hairdos patiently waiting there for me. I couldn't look my fellow bus passengers in the eye, I'd just spent an hour and a half looking at the world through a maniac's bloodthirsty eyes. That POV method of film-making sure messes with your head after a midnight screening on a Saturday night!

This was savage, shocking cinema - perfectly pitched by Elijah Wood as 'Frank', with a kind of resigned violence and divorce from reality.

This maniac is a shy guy with an interest in artwork involving mannequins and the selling of those figures on to those with similar interests or requirements that's a little bit of an odd job to want, but hey - someone has to do it. It's an artform all to itself. Of course, Frank spent a childhood of abuse watching his mum getting off with strangers on street corners or while hidden in cupboards. He even sees his own body as being that of a mannequin; his genitals are, to his way of thinking; a smooth mound of plastic. There's no way he could form a relationship with a body like that, or with the kind of memories he has of what relationships are like - a quick fumble on the bed with a few lovers at the same time while your kid watches from under the coat hangers. Frank can only have silent relationships with the shop dummies, but he personalises them with the hair of the ones he loves, to make them more real. It's getting that realistic hair you'd think could be tricky, although for Frank, it's easy.

I loves the opening title homage to the original Maniac movie from 1980 with the BIG RED LETTERS across the screen.

Unforgettable performances, a gritty, grimy, dead-of-night style, and truly toe-curling scenes of horror. A ferociously daring and chillingly languid remake with its own, unique, POV sense of (un)wellbeing. The shots of the killer's face in car windows and bathroom mirrors were clever and the one moment where the POV camera is set free, as if a rope of safety has snapped to circle round the maniac, suddenly exposing him as not being 'like the rest of us', was simply inspired.

This film was all very 80's-family movie at the start and came over like a cross between The Goonies and ET (hey, that older brother was also the guy in The Goonies wasn't he?). But then imagine a film where the young cast of The Goonies get sliced and diced by the ugly pirate at the end or where ET isn't cute and cuddly but evil and cruel, and eats Elliott at the end - this is that movie!

It worked, I felt, as an entry in the domestic stich-up horror genre. The film had a subversive wisecracking feel. There was some genuine relationship developed between the older brother and the frankly (at times) hilarious kid brother (Gattlin Griffith), who was outstanding in his role. The cast played the film dead straight, which I liked. There were a few cute girls on the scene for the older brother (returning from a period of recovery after a breakdown) but this direction wasn't especially pursued as it would have been in many an 80's horror, I like to think this was another act of deliberate subversion. If it's just hasty plotting, I apologise.

The next door neighbour and his doopy kids was fun. I liked what happened to some of this family at the end of the film. In fact, I cheered the horror on. Out of all the cast, I half-hoped the stepmom would survive, I'm not sure if that's because she walks around the garden braless and seems like she actually cares about the kids, or because she's the only one in the family without 'issues', in fact - she's outrageously normal in a suburban garden of barking. At the end of the movie, she's the one holding the rope for the kids as they try to escape from hell, while the real mother is in ashes in the garage - if that's not subversion of the all-American family, I don't know what is.

The bed wasn't especially scary, but the plot, about the monster that lives under the mattress so you have to sleep on top of cupboards and things (but surely after all those years living with a monster in your house, that dumb dad would have spotted something odd going on, I mean, at the dinner table wouldn't you be asking your kid why he looks so traumatised every bloody night?) was suitably creepy and weird, like a bad nightmare after too much stilton and crackers.

The monster was decent enough but the scenes in the demon's world were wonderfully surreal and full of energy and realisation, as good as the underwater sequences in Argento's Inferno, and unnaturally weird. It looked like these scenes were originally intended for 3D - if they weren't, they should have been.

This was a horror film with a subversive touch - The 'Burbs meets The Beast in the Cellar, with some outrageously yucky special effects and squished heads at the end (hey - this was a family-friendly horror movie waiting to stab you in the neck just before the end credits rolled, mid-popcorn and fruit shoot finishing off). Most of all, I had fun.

words: mark gordon palmer

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