Britgeek here, back with the UK column after a busy week away in old London town, where, for five blood-spattered days, I attended Film4 FrightFest 2011. This is one of the best horror and fantasy film festivals in the world, and effectively a second Christmas for genre fans, 25,000 of whom packed the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square for a long weekend of movies from across the globe.
With screenings of the Guillermo del Toro-produced DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK and Lucky McKee's terrific THE WOMAN, to Britain's own KILL LIST and the more mainstream, fun-as-hell FINAL DESTINATION 5, a gorily great time was had by all.
Big props to FrightFest organisers Paul McEvoy, Mr. PR President Greg Day (who we watched die on screen in Jake West's nifty ESCAPE TO LONDON short film), Ian Rattray and Alan Jones – affectionately known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – for all their hard work in making the festival a memorable – and exhausting – experience. We are but two days removed from the fun 'n' guts and I'm already looking forward to next year. You just can't beat the social atmosphere of FrightFest, it's unmatched by any other festival that I am aware of. It's truly unique. If you've ever thought about attending, think no longer and just go. You won't regret it.
37 feature films played over two screens at the festival, as did a number of shorts in the International Short Film Showcase. One in particular that stands out is London-based Belgian expatriate Axelle Carolyn, an immensely talented writer and director whose haunting first film THE LAST POST has certainly made an impression on me. It stars the wonderful Jean Marsh as an elderly lady in a nursing home who keeps seeing a figure that no else can. Excluding the credits, it runs for under 10 minutes and yet packs a considerable amount of emotional depth, not to mention some edible camerawork. THE LAS POST is a beautiful and touching debut, and I look forward to seeing more from Carolyn.
Speaking of FrightFest and all things horror, one of the most talked-about genre films in recent memory, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, is to become a tourist attraction. Writer-director Tom Six – with his signature hat in tow – and UK distributor Bounty Films have teamed up with the London Bridge Experience & London Tombs for its upcoming Halloween programme, PhoboPhobia. From 7pm till late, October 27-31, After Dark Extreme Scare – THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE will give guests a fright based around scenes and locations from the first movie, including the nefarious Dr. Heiter's lab. It will also feature, of course, a “live” human centipede comprised of actors, which I'm sure won't be too pleasant. I guess the staff had better not be late for their shifts come Halloween if they know what's good for them. More information is available here.
Only time will tell if British audiences will get to see THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE). Bounty Films' appeal to the BBFC against the refusal to classify the film is going forward, but it's a process far more complicated and expensive than many realise. I will be speaking with the BBFC's David Hyman in the next couple of weeks about all things censorship, so do be on the look out for that interview.
Now, let's see what's new to the home entertainment scene with a few DVD reviews and a competition, shall we?
KILLING BONO (DVD)
Based on the memoir of current Telegraph rock critic Neil McCormick, KILLING BONO is the wildly exaggerated telling of U2's meteoric rise in the world of music, and the slow, laboured rise and fall of the McCormick brothers (former school friends of Bono and co) and their band Shook Up!. Disaster seemingly awaits the brothers at every corner during their pursuit of success in a business bursting with colourful characters, such as a foul-mouthed record label rep played rather hilariously by Peter Serafinowicz. KILLING BONO is a fun and endearing Britcom featuring the swansong performance of the great Pete Postlethwaite.
SCHLOSS VOEGLODE (DVD)
Also known as THE HAUNTED CASTLE, the latest release from the Masters of Cinema Series is F.W. Murnau's SCHLOSS VOEGLODE from 1921. Now although it is a film less effective than his masterpiece NOSFERATU, which came a year later, it remains an intriguing and visually satisfying work that, with a perhaps misleading title as it is much more of a drama than a horror film, is a fascinating look at the early years of cinema and one of its most influential directors.
Based on the novel by Rudolf Stratz, SCHLOSS VOEGLODE depicts the gathering of a hunting party at a manor house in the countryside, only for their plans to be cancelled due to bad weather. While confined to the building for the evening, a Countess learns that the man suspected of killing her brother is also in attendance.
Despite being a staple of German Expressionism, Murnau's slow-burning THE HAUNTED CASTLE is surprisingly lacking in such atmosphere and tone, and only two scenes in particular – horror-tinged dream sequences – feel of this nature. This is a particularly interesting film and a great stylistic piece, with excellent composition of shots and use of chiaroscuro lighting.
Extras: The Language of the Shadows (a 31-minute documentary on the early years of Murnau's career) and an illustrated booklet.
Aside from co-writing the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with George A. Romero and penning the novel RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, which would later be adapted for the screen by ALIEN writer Dan O'Bannon and become something of a cult classic, the career of John Russo hasn't exactly flourished, especially compared to that of his old partner Romero. 1982's MIDNIGHT is just one of the largely under-the-radar films Russo wrote and directed, and it's easy to see why it's such a little known work. This extremely low-budget satanic cult slasher has very little going for it. Russo seems to have been attempting to capitalise on the raw backwoods style of Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but fails to provide any shocks. Not even Lawrence Tierney can save it from being not much more than a boring mess. However, he is part of an inadvertently giggle-worthy scene where he is knocked unconscious by his stepdaughter, after she lightly taps him on the head with a phone.
Extras: Vampires, Rednecks and Zombies: The Fear Career of John Amplas; Midnight at Your Door: The Shocking Sacrifices of John Russo; Introduction by John Amplas; trailer; reversible sleeve artwork; double-sided poster; collector's booklet written by NIGHTMARE USA author Stephen Thrower.
Competition time now, and next week sees the DVD release of PAGE EIGHT, a political thriller with an all-star cast that includes Rachel Weisz, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon and Ralph Fiennes. It aired over the Bank Holiday weekend on BBC2, but courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, I have three (3) copies to give away in case you missed it or are dying to give it another watch. It's available from September 5, so expect a review next week. All you have to do to bag yourself a copy of PAGE EIGHT on DVD is answer the following question and email me your name and answer, with the subject 'PAGE EIGHT Competition'. As always, you can tweet me your answer for a bonus entry. This contest is open to residents of the United Kingdom only and closes at midnight on Tuesday, September 6. Winners will be selected at random and contacted.
For which film written by PAGE EIGHT director David Hare did Kate Winslett win an Oscar?
Good luck to all entrants.
Luck was certainly on the side of the following three readers as they have each won a copy of the brilliant TRUST on DVD for the last competition. Congratulations! Director David Schwimmer's character in FRIENDS was of course Ross Geller. Your prizes will be on the way to you soon.
Mark Newbold, James Pengrum, David Sayers
Next week I'll be giving away a couple of copies of Peter Jackson's HEAVENLY CREATURES on DVD – the newly remastered edition out on September 12!
As we head towards another opening weekend, the current UK box office top 10 look something like this:
1. THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE - £5,696,848
2. ONE DAY - £2,208,724
3. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES - £1,659,575
4. THE SMURFS - £1,478,650
5. FINAL DESTINATION 5 - £1,450,464
6. COWBOYS & ALIENS - £792,898
7. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 - £765,191
8. CONAN THE BARBARIAN - £622,268
9. SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD - £607,051
10. MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS - £408,985
THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE is still leading the way, taking over £25m all-in-all thus far, making it the most successful comedy at the UK box office, beating a record previously held by 2004's BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON (yeesh).
I'm glad to see that RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is still hanging in there at number 3, as it's not only terrific, but the biggest surprise of the year. Who really expected it to be anywhere near as good as it is? I practically lapped up all the references to the original.
The new entry in the FINAL DESTINATION franchise has arrived modestly at number five (oh, the irony), with a similar performance across the pond. No doubt audiences are tired of the series, but pessimists should go and see it as it's a lot of fun and incredibly refreshing, turning the formula that the first movie created and essentially turning it on its head by becoming self-aware the whole way through. And it has the best death scene of all five films. Splat.
The following hit cinemas across the UK next week, and there are a couple representing the British contingent that are not to be missed:
Friday, September 2: 3D SEX AND ZEN: EXTREME ECSTASY, APOLLO 18, THE ART OF GETTING BY, ATTENBERG, DAYS OF HEAVEN, THE DEAD, FRIGHT NIGHT, THE HEDGEHOG, KILL LIST, ROBOTROPOLIS, SELF MADE, WEEKENDER.
Shot-in-Africa zombie romp THE DEAD is worth feasting your eyes on, but Ben Wheatley's brilliant KILL LIST is definitely the real must-see of the week. Original, disturbing and unnervingly intense, KILL LIST has you in its clutches from the very beginning and refuses to let go, right up to its shocking climax. Always unpredictable, this harrowing story of an ex-soldier-turned-hit man is like a buddy comedy gone horribly, horribly wrong. The less you know about the film going into it, the better, but just know this: you need to see it, and as quickly as possible.
Thanks for reading as always and I'll see you next week.
PS. Who watched the return of SHAMELESS (the original and best) last night?
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