Clive has done the blog proud this year, with a rundown of his top shocks from the 2015 Frightfest lineup. If you didn't make it, then here's your crib sheet for the best of the worst coming to the discerning horror fan over the next few months!
This year’s Frightfest marked one of the strongest line-ups in years. So strong in fact, that I decided not to limit myself to a top ten. As ever, it’s impossible to see everything (I managed 22 movies + various shorts over the five days), so here are a list of movies I wasn’t able to see but heard good things about: THESE FINAL HOURS, A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, SHUT IN, BITE, SUMMER CAMP, HOWL, THE LESSON, BAIT, NINA FOREVER, SLUMLORD.
Well done to Alan, Ian, Paul, Greg and the whole Frightfest team for an excellent festival. Also, congratulations to all the filmmakers whose shorts were selected for screening this year. Of those few I saw, I’d recommend the Clemens Brothers’ gratifyingly nasty SURGERY, and the gory but amusing oddity that is Brian Logano’s CROW HAND!! (His exclamation marks, not mine).
And so, without further ado, here are my picks for the best of this year’s festival:
THE DIABOLICAL (2015) – USA – dir. Alastair Legrand, wri. Luke Harvis, Alastair Legrand
A promising debut from director/co-writer Legrand. Initially this just plays out as a solid if unoriginal entry in the haunted house subgenre. Albeit one that’s given more weight by an impressive performance from Ali Larter (TV’s Heroes, Final Destination 2) as the single mother who is the focal point of the film’s supernatural attacks. However, the movie takes a surprising turn into altogether different genre territory in the second half, which elevated the whole experience for me. The viewer is left with a potential sequel hook that, for once, wouldn’t be wholly unwelcome.
CURVE (2015) – USA – dir. Iain Softley, wri. Kimberly Lofstrom Johnson, Lee Patterson
In another year, this excellent contained thriller from the underrated UK director Iain Softley (The Skeleton Key, Backbeat) would have been a top five film. The fact that it’s further down the list is a testament to just how strong this year’s line-up was. Julianne Hough (Footloose (2011), Rock of Ages) is the motorist whose scenic road trip turns deadly after she picks up hitchhiker Teddy Sears (TV’s Masters of Sex, The Flash). Despite obvious nods to The Hitcher, the actions of Curve’s plucky heroine soon twist the movie into being a survival tale in what is largely a two-hander. A taut, well-told thrill ride. Further proof (if it were needed after this year’s The Gift) that producers Blumhouse are currently the mainstream cineplex’s top genre purveyors.
ENRAGÉS aka RABID DOGS (2015) – France – dir. Éric Hannezo, wri. Yannick Dahan, Éric Hannezo, Benjamin Rataud, (from the short story ‘Man and Boy’ by Michael J. Carroll)
Genre hero Mario Bava was famously never able to complete his last movie Rabid Dogs. Here it is reborn as slick French thriller that throws the audience immediately into the aftermath of a botched bank robbery. As the escaping robbers grow ever more desperate, the stakes increase as hostages are taken, and the bodycount continues to escalate. Here the influences are more John Carpenter and Michael Mann than Mario Bava. With a talented ensemble cast including Lambert Wilson, Guillaume Gouix and Virginie Ledoyen, this violent crime story has some nice twists up its sleeve.
CURTAIN (2015) – USA – dir. Jaron Henrie-McCrea, wri. Carys Edwards, Jaron Henrie-McCrea
This year’s prize for most original movie goes to Curtain, a super low-budget horror set in a USA we don’t often get to see on-screen. One filled with tiny run-down apartments, and likeable un-Hollywood people struggling to survive on low-income jobs who dream of escaping to a place where they can really follow their dreams. But it’s the surreal high concept premise – A woman moves into her new (tiny) apartment, only to discover that her bathroom contains a portal to another dimension which is eating her shower curtains – which really hooks the viewer in. Danni Smith as Dani, the owner of the apartment, and Tim Lueke as whale-loving Tim, make an engaging pair as the odd couple trying to solve the mystery of the portal while evading the sinister Pale Man (Martin Monahan) and his followers. A bizarre treat reminiscent of early Frank Henenlotter and Don Coscarelli.
FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD (2014) – UK – dir./edit. Paul Goodwin
A documentary which charts the history of the ‘Galaxy’s Greatest Comic’, from its first explosion onto the scene in the late ‘70s to its nadir in the ‘90s, and its subsequent creative rebirth. Interviewees are a who’s who of comics luminaries, from writers like Pat Mills, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, to artists like Carlos Ezquerra, Brian Bolland and Jock. Alan Moore is conspicuous by his absence, and I personally would have liked Rogue Trooper to have got the same attention that strips like Strontium Dog and Nemesis the Warlock did, but this film does a great job of covering pretty much everything else 2000AD fans would want. The strong personalities involved, and decades-old scores that the documentary delves into, makes this a lively watch, but Paul Goodwin keeps things balanced and allows all sides to have their say. Essential viewing for all comics fans.
LANDMINE GOES CLICK (2015) – Georgia – dir. Levan Bakhia, wri. Adrian Colussi, story Levan Bakhia, Adrian Colussi, Lloyd Wagner
The high concept is right there in the title: Three American tourist are hiking in the mountains of Georgia when one of them (Chris, played by Sterling Knight (Transit)) steps on a landmine, and must then stay frozen in case it explodes. After an initial rather broadly played section where the landmine stepped on and a number of secrets are spilled, the film really picks up with the introduction of Kote Tolordava as local Ilya. Then director Bakhia starts to turn the screw, with a series of escalating psychological games as the films’ true villain is revealed. There is one nasty and protracted sequence of sexual violence which is the film’s only real misstep. However, the film then redeems itself with an unexpected twist going into its final third, and finishes with an emotionally devastating climax which stayed with this viewer long after the credits had rolled.
DEATHGASM (2015) – New Zealand – wri./dir. Jason Lei Howden
Juvenile but highly enjoyable horror-comedy that displays its love of all things heavy metal proudly on its tattooed arms. Equal parts coming-of-age teen drama, romantic comedy, and demon-killing gorefest, writer-director Jason Lei Howden really nails the teenage dialogue and metal sensibility. The three leads: Milo Cawthorne (Blood Punch), Kimberley Crossman (TV’s Power Rangers Samurai) and James Blake are a joy to watch. Judging by the applause, cheering (and horns being thrown); this, together with my number three film, was one of the Frightfest audience’s two favourite movies of the festival. Probably the goriest movie to come out New Zealand since Peter Jackson’s Braindead aka Dead Alive, this is funny, silly, and has a great metal soundtrack. Worth it for the dildo and love beads scene alone…
One way of crafting a memorable low budget genre movie, is to take the approach of Curtain (my number ten pick) and go for a crazily big concept. Another equally valid route is to go small and concentrate on creating memorable characters that feel like real human beings, which is what writer-director Perry Blackshear does with They Look Like People. The story of Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews (Found In Time)), a man who believes that everyone around him is being replaced by malevolent aliens (who look just like people) and who gets mysterious phone calls warning him about a war that’s coming soon. Wyatt moves in with an old friend, Christian (Evan Dumuoche (40 Days and Nights)) who appears to have turned his own life around using only self-help tapes and optimism. This is a movie that kept creeping up my list the more I thought about it. Despite superficially having plot elements in common with cult favourites Donnie Darko and Take Shelter, this has its own mumblecore charm. Beautifully played by the whole cast, but particularly by the central pairing of Andrews and Dumouchel. A truly touching portrait of friendship, and an affecting look at mental health issues.
THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE (2015) – USA – wri./dir. Perry Blackshear
WE ARE STILL HERE (2015) – USA – wri./dir. Ted Geoghegan (based on a concept by Richard Griffin)
Frightfest special guest and horror legend Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, You’re Next) had a number of movies playing at the festival this year, but of those I managed to catch this was by far the best. In 1970s New England, Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig (The Last Exorcism Part II, Upstream Colour)) are a retired couple grieving from the recent loss of their son (and only child) in a car accident. But when they move into a new house, something supernatural is awakened – something which demands a sacrifice. Writer-director Ted Geoghegan crafts a love-letter to 1970s haunted house movies, and to Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy. A fantastic cast, which also includes Frightfest veteran Larry Fessenden (Body, Pod), Lisa Marie (Tales of Halloween, Lords of Salem) and Monte Markham (a veteran of various US TV series from Mission: Impossible to Fringe) really commit to the heightened nature of the drama being played out. Lastly, without going into spoilers, the ending manages to be both moving and spooky as hell.
FRANKENSTEIN (2015) – USA – wri./dir. Bernard Rose (adapted from the novel ‘Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus’ by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley)
Writer-director Bernard Rose (Candyman, Paperhouse) makes a welcome return to genre greatness with this fresh and moving take on Mary Shelley’s oft-retold classic. In past, Rose has shown himself to be an able and imaginative adaptor of literary works, whether the source material is Clive Barker (Candyman) or Leo Tolstoy (Ivan’s XTC, The Kreutzer Sonata), and here he returns to the novel of Frankenstein and incorporates many elements that have often been omitted from past movie and TV adaptations. Set in present day Los Angeles; scientists Viktor Frankenstein (played by frequent Rose collaborator Danny Huston) and his partner (Carrie-Anne Moss (Fido, The Matrix Trilogy)) create a man-made human and then reject him when he proves to be imperfect. Much like the upcoming Victor Frankenstein which gives us the story via a different point-of-view character (Igor), here everything is filtered through the monster (Adam) and his POV. None of this would work if it wasn’t for a great central performance from Xavier Samuel (The Loved Ones, Twilight Saga) as Monster/Adam. Also, watch out for a scene-stealing turn from Tony Todd as Eddie the blind busker.
TURBO KID (2015) Canada/New Zealand – wri./dir. François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
The most fun I had watching a movie at Frightfest. On one level this might be an exercise in ‘80s genre nostalgia, but this is a movie whose makers clearly love all the movies they’re homaging. Set in Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic world (in the year 1997!), the titular Kid (Munro Chambers) lives in a fall-out shelter and uses his BMX to scavenge the wastelands for food and trade goods. After he meets Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) a manic-pixie-dreamgirl amusing turned up to 11, his carefully ordered life is shattered when he finds an ancient weapon and attracts the attention of local warlord Zeus (Michael Ironside) and his feral army, led by the insane Skeletron (Edwin Wright). Now the Kid and Apple must team up with grizzled arm-wrestling champ Frederic if they’re to have a hope of defeating Zeus. Michael Ironside is clearly having a ball as villain Zeus, but it’s the interplay between Canadians Chambers and Leboeuf (who is definitely the discovery of the festival) that gives this movie its charm. If you love cheesy late ‘80s post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi like Steel Dawn and The Salute of the Jugger or have fond memories of BMX Bandits: this movie is for you. Plus it has a Stan Bush song on the soundtrack, for extra ‘80s nostalgia bonus points. Very gory, very funny and very sweet.
NIGHT FARE (2015) – France – dir. Julien Seri, wri. Cyril Ferment, Julien Seri, Pascal Sid (original idea by Tarubi)
Night Fare starts off as a slick Drive/Only God Forgives influenced slasher, where a vengeful Taxi Driver (the hulking Jess Liaudin, a former UFC fighter) stalks his prey through a near deserted (and Neon washed) Paris nightscape. However, as the film progresses it slowly becomes that Julien Seri has a few more genre cards up his sleeve. I have to say though, that I was still totally blindsided by the turn this movie takes in its last third (which I won’t spoil). Those in the audience just wanting by-the-numbers slasher fare may have been dismayed, but for me the invention displayed and final resolution was what made this movie memorable. Whisper it, but Night Fare could just be the new Oldboy. I predict cult movie greatness for this one, and like Oldboy, probably an American remake.
THE HALLOW (2015) – UK – dir. Corin Hardy, wri. Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino (as Olga Barreneche)
This one came with some great buzz off the back of a number of previous festival screenings, and I assume the fact it wasn’t a premiere was the reason it ended up playing to a packed Discovery screen. Happily we were not disappointed. Adam (a brilliant Joseph Mawle (TV’s Ripper Street)) and Clare (Bojana Novakovic (from the US TV version of Shameless)) move into a remote millhouse in the woods in rural Ireland with their baby son. Adam’s job as tree surgeon, and his complicity in the destruction of the native forest arouses hostility from the locals. But when the Hallow, demonic guardians of the forest, prove to be more than just a fairy tale, the couple must fight to protect their child from a voracious ancient evil. Director Corin Hardy is a talent to watch, stirring bits of Lucio Fulci, The Quatermass Xperiment and Evil Dead-era Sam Raimi into the pot and conjuring up a magical and nerve-shredding thrill-ride. The best monsters since Pan’s Labyrinth, and maybe the best UK horror movie since The Descent. Go see it, but be warned that you might then have to go and install iron bars on all the windows of your home in order to be able to sleep soundly after watching this.
There you have it, Fright fans. What do you think? Did Clive get it about right? Any obvious omissions? Films on the list that don't deserve to be there? Let us know! Clive loves an argument…