This year I went to Frightfest for the first time and I saw 14 films over 3 days, including one that I won’t mention as I’ve put it on my Lates strand for the 2017 Cambridge Film Festival programme, which hasn’t been published yet. I paid for a Horror Screen pass which saved a few quid on each ticket and lent me an air of swaggering grandeur. I’ll review them slightly out of order, and in batches, OK?
I like multiplexes. I love the excess of huge screens and surround sound. I especially like multiplexes with lazy-boys. My heart will always yearn for an art-deco Odeon with usherettes and plaster statues backlit in neon but these days, I like a Cineworld that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a Cineworld – and if it has its Frightfest hat on, all the better. The Prince Charles is also a great venue, although we nearly melted to death in the upstairs screen during Saturday’s Duke Mitchell party. Downstairs the seats are raked upward like a plane taking off and you come out crooked afterwards; upstairs the entire row whacks you in the back like Regan’s bed every time someone behind you crosses their legs. But at the PC, whatever is on the screen usually makes up for it.
Freehold – Dominic Bridges (writer/director) and Rae Brunton (writer for this and the “Outpost” trilogy)
My first and favourite film. I don’t like “Amelie” – maybe it’s closet iconoclasm or maybe it’s just because I don’t have a sufficiently sweet tooth. But a Goya-eyed, homeless Spaniard folding himself into the crawlspaces of a wideboy estate agent’s apartment and ratcheting up the poltergeist antics from mischievous to revolting – right up my strasse. I loved Luis Tosar in “Sleep Tight” at the 2012 Cambridge film festival, and this was one step further in the right direction. Mandeep Dhillon and Kola Bokinni are great comedy foils to the hapless estate agent Hussein (newcomer Mim Shaikh) and writer/director Dominic Bridges developed a thoughtful, scary and fun story from a simple clickbaity concept (inspired by this news article I do believe).
Providing English subtitles for pigeon interactions is always funny, but here it’s used as a bittersweet device that foreshadows the denouement and lent it the original title: “Two Pigeons” (which works well but I’ll concede is no good for touting horror). Here’s hoping that “Freehold” propels Javier Botet (left, hot) from body horror stalwart (he plays the monsters in the first two “REC” films, in “The Conjuring 2” and in “Mama”) to barefaced actor, maybe in a remake of “The Tall Guy” – he’s really funny and that just doesn’t come across in a hag suit.
Bad Match – David Chirchirillo (writer/director)
David Chirchirillo wrote the “A is for Amateur” section that launches “ABCs of Death 2” with the story of an assassin huddled in an airvent and plagued by bugs. He was subsequently bullied into writing a “Fatal Attraction” for the Tinder generation, and grudgingly accepted, resolving to subvert the rehash with a solid and interesting twist. We’re still to see him really come into his own but when he does get his teeth into a passion project, it will be worth the wait.
Radius – Caroline Labrèche (writer/director), Steeve Léonard (writer)
An odd couple get hit with irony lightning – you know, the kind that gives you a poetic context-relevant power. An expansion of a great “Misfits”-esque concept, but the two lead characters, Jane (Charlotte Sullivan) and Liam (Diego Klattenhoff*), dampened it for me with their surly, detached Eastendersy grimness. Like “Amateur” it brings up the issue of morality/redemption – the lightning gives them both amnesia, and with it a clean slate. Liam isn’t the cleancut hero he resembles, and Jane secretly likes pizza. We learn this from a list of facts provided by her husband, whose complex reaction to the two amnesiacs’ burgeoning romance just sort of evaporates against their furrowed brows. Everyone else in the screen seemed to really enjoy this, and the scenes which depict Liam’s discovery of his Radius power and explore its potential are pretty thrilling, so maybe I’m being unfair about the character dynamics and I just have a cold cold heart and I would have responded better if there had been a gag or two, like Jane whispering “B.O.” in Liam’s ear the millionth time everyone near him collapsed. There’s so little humour that the comedic potential of one scene of jeopardy became tonally confusing. The image of people spontaneously toppling like fainting goats is already a little bit funny, and there were more than a few gigglers in the room as we watched Jane pelting through stairwells to save Liam from an elevator, where his power brought a whole new meaning to SBD for the other passengers. Anyway here’s a video of the Labreche and Leonard Q&A at Frightfest.
King Cohen – Steve Mitchell (writer/director)
Documentary about Larry Cohen. He launched the blaxploitation genre (but didn’t want to call it that – he said, “all films are exploitation!”) and there are some great anecdotes around some of his finest films. The anecdotes delivered by the man himself need to be taken with a pinch or two of salt – one was interspersed with clips of Fred Williamson denying every detail with cigar-chomping amusement. I left desperate to buy “Q: The Winged Serpent” which I saw a long time ago but had forgotten about the astounding Michael Moriarty performance and excellent stopmotion effects – all I remembered was that it scared me and stayed with me, in a hot sticky, crazy clot at the back of my mind.
Dead Shack – Peter Ricq (writer/director), Phil Ivanusic and Davila LeBlanc (writers)
I feel like calling this an alpha horror movie. It holds all the horror torches but uses them to trailblaze new territory. Another alpha horror movie might be “Cabin Fever” or “The People Under The Stairs”, I guess. It’s Canadian so it knows how and when to be funny. It also knows how and when to show its characters’ vulnerability. “Dead Shack” actually won me over with its use of tilt-shift to pan across suburbia during the opening credits. The trailer doesn’t do it justice and the teaser features different cast members – including the pale little fella who was in “Stranger Things” and was presumably whisked away for his role in the new “IT”. The only person I recognised from the actual cast was Lauren Holly, and I’m so happy that she was given such an interesting villain role to get her teeth into. “Dead Shack” doesn’t flip horror hard like “Tucker and Dale Vs Evil” but it’s just as funny, charismatic, exciting and respectful to the genre. 10/10
*Hahaha great name, sounds like a sexy Spanish horse in a talking car