Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. One of these years I NEED to hit FrightFest. It sounds so up my alley and after spending some time with the braintrust of the fest at Austin's own genre celebration Fantastic Fest I can tell I'd have a helluva time out there. Not to mention reading all these reviews every year and seeing how strong the programming is. Of the reviews provided by Major Calm below, I've only seen DANCE OF THE DEAD (read my review here) and can completely vouch for it. It really is a great, funny horror comedy that I hope we see hitting theaters stateside. Enjoy the rest of Major Calm's coverage!
Hi guys Major Calm here, back with a rundown of Day 3 in part 2 of my coverage of the excellent London-based Frightfest. As with days 1 and 2 (my coverage of which can be read here) I will include a 2nd opinion for any movies that either one or both of my fellow traveller’s attended in the interests of giving a more balanced and demographically diverse view. So without further ado... I skipped the first movie of the day, Fear(s) of the Dark, an animated anthology, which I understood from other members of the audience was enjoyable but nothing special. Dance of the Dead (USA) Zombies attack a small town on the night of the High School Prom and the only people left to save the day are the geeks and misfits who couldn’t get a date. Gregg Bishop’s Dance of the Dead is a the kind of balls-out horror comedy that hasn’t been in circulation since the late 80’s and, crucially, it manages to be both funny and thrilling in equal measure. Boasting a razor-sharp script full of spot-on references to the movies it riffs on, it manages to achieve an almost perfect hit-rate for the wall-to-wall gags that come as thick and fast as the zombie-slaying action, with great little touches always keeping the proceedings fresh – our heroes find refuge in a large house surrounded by the undead, only to discover that they’re holed up in a funeral home. Bishop’s cannily inventive direction is largely to thank for the ride – the zombies don’t just rise from the grave, they leap from it with animal-like grace and ferocity, bounding at speed after their prey – but much credit must also go to the excellent (and largely-unknown) ensemble cast, each and every one displaying a talent for comic timing well beyond their limited years. Easily the most raucously audience-pleasing movie of the fest, Dance of the Dead deserves to be a monster break-out hit on DVD (it’s inexplicably bypassing a theatrical release) and is sure to cement Gregg Bishop as a major talent to watch. Completely unmissable and utterly awesome in every way, Dance of the Dead is hands-down the best comedy horror movie in recent years. 2nd opinion: Both my fellow travellers absolutely loved this movie, with it prominently featuring in both of their ‘top 3 of the fest’ lists. When its company is as strong as the other contenders in the festival, that is really saying something. Manhunt (Rovdyr) (Norway) Four young friends go camping in 70’s Norway. When they inadvisably offer a young woman a lift, their vacation quickly becomes a brutal fight for survival as they are hunted by some very nasty locals through the backwoods. There must be something in the Norwegian water. After the blazing success of Roar Uthaug’s excellent Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt), there has been a sudden slew of horror movies in a country not exactly known for the genre. Manhunt is the latest offering in it’s slasher subset, co-written by the director Patrik Syversen and his excellently named girlfriend, Ninni Bull T. Robsahm, who also plays one of the leads. Eschewing Cold Prey’s epic cinematic scale for a tone more akin to down-and-dirty 70’s-style exploitation, Manhunt suffers by comparison as it lacks the depth of character and narrative of the former movie. It would, however, be unfair to suggest that this was anything but a very conscious decision on behalf of the filmmakers. Whereas one of the strengths of Cold Prey was the empathy the viewer felt for its unusually likeable victims, Syversen and Robsahm have gone in the opposite direction, choosing to make many of the characters almost impenetrably loathsome to no less realistic effect. The setting, too, sidesteps the inventive snowbound wilderness of Cold Prey in favour of the utterly generic ‘backwoods in hicksville’ setting so familiar in recent years – the perfect stage for the equally unimaginative ‘hunted by the locals for sport’ plotline. Yet, in many ways – and against all odds – the film succeeds within the modest parameters it sets for itself. It is never less than slick and pretty to look at, whilst retaining the nostalgic late 70’s feel it is striving for and, by and large, the performances are pretty strong. But, like many iconic movies of that era, the real stars here are the killings. Vicious and visceral, each shotgun blast, booby-trap impalement or throat slashing leaves a more bitter taste than the last which, if you like your slashers laced with an authentically exploitative flavour, could be regarded as a positive quality. At that level the film scores - and it’s never less than enjoyable - but it’s hard not to feel like it has been done one too many times recently to register as anything, internationally, more than another drop in a vast ocean of the generic, even if, in its native country, it’s another much-needed shot in the arm of cinematic diversity. The Chaser (Chugyeogja) (South Korea) Joong-ho Eom (Yun-seok Kim) is an ex-cop turned pimp whose business is dwindling owing to several of his girls going missing. After pressuring Mi-Jin (Yeong-hi Seo) out of her sick bed to meet a client, Joong-ho hits the streets to find the person who is trading his workers. But the truth is far more sinister. His girls have fallen prey to a sadistic serial killer and, before long, he realises that the killer, Young-min Jee (Jung-woo Ha) is the same client to which Mi-Jin has just been sent. A chance encounter in a minor car accident brings pimp and killer (interrupted mid-murder) face to face and before long the murderer is apprehended. Yet, despite the killer’s confession, the startlingly inept police force – burned by a recent scandal – are unable to gather any solid evidence to support it. A legal loophole will allow Young-min to go free unless Joong-ho, with Mi-Jin’s young daughter in tow, can track down the scene of Mi-Jin’s murder. It’s hard to believe that this is based on true events with even the farcical behaviour of the police allegedly a pretty accurate portrayal. The Chaser is the kind of noir-thriller that Hollywood wishes it could produce (which is why, perhaps, a remake is already in the works). It’s a bleak, unapologetic epic that confounds the viewer’s expectations at every turn as only Korean movies know how, whilst retaining the technical sheen of a Hollywood blockbuster and the pathos of a beautifully crafted indie. As much about the characters themselves as the narrative they inhabit, The Chaser was a massive (and much needed) hit in its native country, featuring truly outstanding performances from all three of its leads, steered with expert precision by writer / director Hong-jin Na in, unbelievably, his feature debut. If there were any criticism to be made – and it is a minor one – the comedic representation of the police, whilst maybe accurate, feels a little at odds with the rest of the film. Regardless, The Chaser, is an epic, beautiful noir that should not be missed. 2nd opinion: Both my fellow travellers thought The Chaser was a great piece of filmmaking, although both felt that it was a little long, suggesting that several semi-comedic scenes set in the police station midway through the movie could have been excised. Both also felt that, despite its undoubted quality and power, it suffered slightly from its similarity to other Korean police thrillers such as Public Enemy and Our Town (both excellent films in their own right). Bubba’s Chilli Parlour Bubba gets a free shipment of ‘government beef’ that has the unfortunate side effect of transforming all who eat his chilli into brain-craving zombies. Bubba and a few survivors must fight to stay alive (until dawn when all the zombies inexplicably die apparently). Wow! I would go as far as to hail Bubba’s Chilli Parlour the worst movie I have ever seen were it not for the fact that it qualifies more in the home movie category than feature film (so don’t worry, The Cottage, your lack of any redeeming qualities ensures that your championship title remains secure for a while longer). So where do I start on this one? Well, I could highlight the appallingly inept technical qualities of the movie. I’m all for supporting low-budget, first-time filmmakers but lack of budget is no excuse for inability to frame an image well or, indeed, edit the footage into something more coherent. I could shine the spotlight on the script, a hideously derivative narrative with no sparks of originality, and even less sparky dialogue. I could even turn to the gratuitously tacked-on ‘grindhouse’ commercial breaks that occur at multiple illogical intervals throughout the movie (one can’t help but think these were a desperate attempt to excuse the rest of this abysmal train-wreck). Maybe I could point to the uniformly horrendous performances that make the already leaden dialogue sink faster than it already does. No, I’m going to have to judge this turkey as a whole. A messy, disastrous, staggeringly inept whole made nigh-on insufferable by its literary pretentions of grandeur. I can’t fault writer / director Joey Evans for trying. But, hey Joey, thanks for playing. This game’s just not for you. In the interests of fair play, however, I will concede that Bubba’s Chilli Parlour does elicit one genuine laugh – when a white-trash slut yells “Say my name” mid-coitus only to get the response “I don’t know your name” from her ‘date’. Further reason to justify its inability to qualify for the championship title. As a note to the otherwise canny Frightfest programmers, whilst I acknowledge and applaud the diversity of exhibiting genre movies of all budget levels, I humbly request that you please spare us the likes of this amateurish nonsense for future festivals. 2nd opinion: My fellow travellers and I had planned to skip this garbage until I persuaded them it might be worth a look. I’m not sure they’ll ever forgive me... and I can’t say I blame them. The Midnight Meat Train (USA) Leon (Bradley Cooper) is a photographer looking for the shot that will garner him a place in a prestigious exhibition. Unable to sleep and curious to explore the beating heart of the city by night, he journeys into the subway, only to photograph the victim of a vicious murder moments before she is killed. Further investigation leads him to the mysterious Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) and, as he becomes more obsessed with the events going on onboard the subway train of the title, Leon exposes himself and his girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) to previously unimaginable danger. On its very limited release in the US, many horror-fans and specialist genre movie critics would have had you believe that it is an unfairly maligned piece of imaginative filmmaking that has been inexplicably dumped by its distributor, Lions Gate Films. Others, including most critics from major publications, would persuade you that it is a brainless, empty and unnecessarily nasty entry into the horror oeuvre. Well the news I bring is that it’s really neither. Whilst perfectly watchable, the narrative is overly simplistic and, at many points, completely nonsensical, often requiring characters to act with almost complete inconsistency from one scene to another. Likewise the performances could be described, at best, as adequate. Aside from my personal inability to take Vinnie Jones seriously - no matter how much he scowls – it’s impossible to ignore Leon’s often risibly moronic actions and his abrupt descent into ‘madness’ is the stuff of comedy rather than horror. What prevents me from completely writing the movie off, however, are the extraordinary visuals and the technical panache with which the whole endeavour is carried off. Ryuhei Kitamura, the Japanese director of Versus and Azumi, here making his US debut, guides the proceedings with such an assured hand that the virtuoso effects-enhanced visuals make even the most savage of scenes seem strangely artistic, going a fair way to elevating what could have been a total (meat) train-wreck into something that is consistently engaging and hard to dislike. 2nd opinion: Whilst one of my fellow travellers agreed with me, almost entirely, that it was a never-less-than-entertaining thrill ride but not much to write home about, the other one absolutely hated the movie, causing her to get almost irrationally angry when leaving the auditorium. Prior to the screening of Tokyo Gore Police – the final movie of the day - there was a sneak peek of the first ten minutes of another Clive Barker adaptation, Book of Blood. Whereas my fellow traveller thought it looked awful – still enraged, no doubt, by The Midnight Meat Train - I thought it looked quite interesting, playing much like a welcome flashback to the low-key, stagey supernatural hokum familiar to fans of 60’s and 70’s British horror. We skipped Tokyo Gore Police as crazy, manga-inspired mutating penis weapons and fountains of blood erupting from a man’s severed arms are not really my thing, but the general consensus from the rest of the festival-goers seemed to be that it was enjoyably over-the-top Japanese lunacy best served with alcohol. So, there you have my experience of Day 3 of Frightfest. I hope my reviews have been informative so far. I’ll be back in a few more days with my reviews of Days 4 and 5. Until then... Major Calm