Ginger Nuts of Horror
Frightfest Glasgow 2015
It's that time of year again. On Friday afternoon I settled into my seat in GFT 1 to gorge myself on horror for two days along with four hundred other weirdos. I missed the first film because of work, but here's what I saw.
The Paper Round. A man has the same newspaper delivered every morning. The same date, same headline, same paperboy. It becomes apparent that this is the form his haunting takes. It starts off creepy but soon turns sad. An effective short from the UK.
The Hoarder. A disparate group of people are brought together by circumstance and bad things happen to them one at a time. It's as formulaic as it sounds, and the script is somewhat bloated with expositional dialogue. But the director manages the suspense quite well, the acting is competent, and the setting is excellent - a big bland storage centre. Every corridor, every turn and every door look the same so we're never sure where we are. British but set in New York. Fun.
Wyrmwood. Australia can be a difficult place to categorise, but if there is a single character trait that summarises the nation it's probably a lack of respect for tradition. Their horror movies often lampoon some of the things horror aficionados hold dear. Playing fast and loose with zombie lore, logic and the laws of physics, this is the most fun I had all weekend.
So there's this meteor shower, right, and it turns everyone into running zombies, and stops petrol from being flammable. But that's okay because you can run a car on zombie breath. And a few people are immune cos, like, you know science and shit, and they have fun dressing up as Ned Kelly and shooting lots of zombies, and there's a girl who kicks ass and has a telepathic link with the zombies and can control them, and there are nasty soldiers and a proper mad scientist who likes disco music.
You know what? There's no point trying to explain this film. Just enjoy the witty dialogue, laugh-out-loud jokes and bloody slapstick humour. The lead performances are strong enough to give it some heart. Highly recommended - I would watch it again.
88. A young woman is given a plate of pancakes in a diner, but has no idea who she is or how she got there. Her handbag contains a lot of gumballs and an automatic pistol. She accidentally shoots a waitress, and runs away chased by police. Her continuing story unfolds and we are drip-fed the bits she can't remember.
So it's psychological thriller time, in the tradition of Memento or Jacob's Ladder. It's as complex and unsettling as either of those two films and is well acted by a strong cast, including Christopher Lloyd splendidly playing against type as a murderous gang boss.
It's based on the real psychological phenomenon of dissociative fugue state, in which a person who has suffered extreme trauma will create a new personality to deal with it. For my money, the confusion was part of the film's charm and I would have preferred not to have the pre-credits explanation of the condition. But then I was in horror mode and I think they're aiming for a more mainstream market in this one. A rich and satisfying movie that I recommend you watch sober.
The Asylum (Backmask). This was the last film on Friday night, and this slot usually has something trashy, fun and disposable so that anyone who has to go and catch the last train home won't miss much.
This was in that vein, and there was a lot wrong with it. It felt like a string of horror cliches played with a straight face. By this time I was four movies and four beers in so I'm not sure if they were being subtly ironic or if they genuinely thought they were making a great scary movie and haven't watched enough of them to spot overused tropes.
Having said that, the young cast did a decent job with some pretty ropey dialogue, and the director and DP know their stuff - some of it was quite visually striking.
I get the feeling it's been savagely edited, because there were big gaps in the story so that the set pieces had little context to make them work. It couldn't stand a longer running time than about ninety minutes but we could lose some of the repetition and add in some character detail and some explanations for why these teenagers all behave like such fucktards. Perhaps this will be recut for a DVD or streaming release and a more satisfying film could be made from the material. As it stands it's a bit of a mess.
Clown. I heard a lot of people in the cinema slate this film, and it's true that it has its flaws, but it might be my favourite film of the weekend.
Kent is a loving father who finds an old clown suit in an empty house and wears it to his clown-obsessed son's seventh birthday party. Then he can't get it off. The next half hour is pure farce as he has to go to work and get on with life dressed as a clown, complete with white-face, red nose and curly wig. Then it gets dark - it turns out it's not a costume but the skin of a Nordic demon that likes to lure children into the forest and by putting it on he has become the demon.
It sounds ridiculous, and it is. The comic aspect is fully exploited, but there's a lot more. The relationships within the family are brilliantly portrayed by a strong cast and a tight script. Kent's father-in-law is a gently overbearing man who seems jealous of his son-in-law and constantly undermines him, but in a nice way - doing little jobs for the grandson and generally maintaining the feeling that he is more loving and more capable than Kent is.
All the way through there are parallels with paedophilia. The clown is a predator who wants your children, yet for most of the film we are invited to empathise with him as he represses his craving. Even when he gives in the really nasty stuff starts we still cheer for him. The first child victim is almost an accident, and the second is a school bully, a child so obnoxious that the audience is thinking yeah go on, eat that wee bastard.
The wife's journey is intriguing too. She has to deal with being married to, and still in love with, a monster. Her conflicting emotions are painful to watch, especially when she is promised bring me one more child and you can have your husband back, and almost becomes a procurer for him. She only really turns against him when he becomes a danger to her own son.
The highlight of the movie is a scene in a big jungle gym type soft play area. It's silly and funny, but every parent who's been to a place like that will recognise the panic when you can't find your child, and the distrust when you see a stranger. It's so chaotic anyway that two children are dead before anyone notices anything strange.
Peter Stormare turns up in the savant role, constantly trying to cut off Kent's head and stealing every scene he's in.
It's a film with more levels than are apparent if you just watch for the jokes and the horror thrills - it's an exploration of our ambivalent attitudes to our loved ones and how bad they have to be before we can betray them. Give it a chance.
The Stomach. A short film - original and well-made about a very different kind of medium and those who want to exploit him. Uncomfortable but good.
Blood and Black Lace. Sometimes called the first ever Giallo film this is considered a classic, and in this beautiful restoration by Arrow films I can see why. The visual style, the framing, the colour, the relentless targeting of beautiful women and the anonymous black-gloved killer are all things that would appear in Dario Argento's work later.
However, it's a film that would cause uproar if it was made now, and accusations of misogyny are hard to rebut. There is a sadistic glee in the way each woman is made to suffer, and a particular delight in desecrating beautiful faces, perhaps more like Fulci than Argento.
But I'm glad I've seen it. The cinematic artistry is apparent and it's a piece of horror history.
The Woods. A feature length documentary about the making of The Blair Witch Project. Sadly it wasn't all that interesting, and there definitely wasn't enough material for the running time. It shouldn't have been at the festival at all. Cut to twenty minutes it could be an extra on a special edition blu-ray release or something, but even then I might have got bored before the end.
The Treatment. The Frightfest audience is hardened to most things, and will cheer a good death and laugh at things a normal audience would squirm at. I once heard them cheer a rape scene, which sounds appalling but you had to be there and understand the context. This was the only film of the weekend that got no sniggers, just a respectful, or perhaps a shocked, silence.
In Clown paedophilia was in the subtext, but in this film it's the main subject. It's dark, twisted and uncomfortable to watch. It's also gripping and tense and works as a whodunnit. I didn't guess who the bad guy was until the director wanted me to know.
A couple are found handcuffed to pipes in their own house and their young son has disappeared. He turns up dead a couple of days later. The detective investigating the case goes off the rails a bit because his brother was abducted as a child and never found. Meanwhile it's happening again to another young family and the race is on to save their child.
In style and tone it's more like an episode of Wallander than any horror film you've seen, and it's based on a novel by English crime novelist Mo Hayder and filmed in Belgium so it's more Nordic Noir than European horror. And while it's hardly a fun romp it's a big meaty movie that slaps you in the face.
Horror is always about pushing boundaries and now that cannibalism, torture and sexual violence are become commonplace I wonder if paedophilia is only taboo left when film-makers really want to shock an audience.
This is a very good and disturbing movie, but not one I would want to sit through again.
[REC] 4 - Apocalypse. [Rec] is one of my favourite films - it was probably the last zombie film that actually scared me. The sequel was good too, but suffered from having teenage protagonists and some pseudo-religious explanations. They were also already labouring the found footage trope. The third film was much more comic in tone, and lots of fun but a bit of a disappointment if you were expecting a scary horror movie.
I'm pleased to say that with the fourth film they've found their mojo again. It has some of the humour (and one character) from the third film, and a strong sense of its own absurdity, but they are at least making an effort to scare us again. It's set on a ship this time with lovely claustrophobic corridors, and the faceless government soldiery types now have faces and are part of the action. They've also completely abandoned the found footage style.
Not the ground-breaking and gruelling experience that the first film was but a solid horror film.
There are Monsters. Four teenagers from film school set off with cameras and sound recording equipment to make a documentary film. Weird shit ensues and everybody dies.
Maybe I'm getting old and jaded but I'm immediately put off a film if all the protagonists are young, pretty and American, especially if they swear and smoke weed. This film is pretty derivative in style and execution, with lots of shoogly hand held close-up shots of out-of-focus faces. It's exactly the kind of film I loathe.
It has some good points though. The central idea of the monster is a good one, and they film those bits well. The scene in which the Jonah Hill lookalike is trapped in a car by two children in animal masks is hilarious, and the premise, which is invasion of the body snatchers meets 28 days later, is a good one.
But they haven't put enough effort into turning those good ideas into a properly constructed film. Perhaps the make up and special effects people have a future and one day this will be a collectors' item, like Peter Jackson's Bad Taste. Or maybe we'll all just forget it ever happened.