Friday 30 August 2013

[Fright Fest Special] The Shorts at Fright Fest

The amazing aspect of short films is their ability, under the proper creative guidance of course, to tell a complete story with as much running time as it takes to travel from my hotel room to Leicester Square (around 13 mins). In fact a well crafted short film can be more entertaining and engaging than most Hollywood feature length productions. This year at Fright Fest nine short films received their big screen premiers from new and established names in the genre. The event also played host to the imaginatively titled and conceived 666 Shortcuts to Hell film competition. Let us also not forget those highly entertaining and gruesome shorts encouraging the audience to turn off their mobile phones or risk facing bloody retribution. 


Two police officers break into the apartment of notorious criminal Vince Deacon (a chilling steely performance by Stephen McCole) beat him and tie him to a chair. Having now crossed the line the senior officer Jimmy Parton (Neil Maskett) threatens to torture and kill Deacon, much to the shock of his junior partner Nathan Reece (Ed Speelers) unless he reveals the whereabouts of a certain package. Realising that the officers have reached a point of no return that it can only have one outcome Deacon attempts to set the two policeman against one another before they decide to clean up their mess.

Writer and director Will Gilbey has crafted and helmed a tense psychological thriller with all the edgy grittiness of a British gangster flick. All three actors give sterling performances and Gilbey keeps the viewers' attention fixed on the mind games leaving other details such as the contents of the package a mystery never to be solved.

Chuck Steel; Balls of Steel Justice

If you love 80s action cop films then this claymation spoof/homage from Welsh based Immortal Pictures is the one to watch. Chuck Steel is the quintessential action hero cop, a lone wolf loose cannon whose  arrests and interventions turn the city into a war zone. Yet Chuck, along with his sex-crazed robot partner, is the only one who can save an accountant held hostage from a deadly ball busting (literally) end.

Every cliche from 80s cop films is packed into this laugh a minute animation, including the shouty police chief who is one angry cry away from a coronary, explosions and inventive deaths always followed by cheesy one liners, and grandiose martial arts finale. Think of every aspect of all four lethal weapon films and anything by Arnold Schwarzenegger and what you have is a very affectionate poke at some of action filmdom's most loved films.

The Body

A stone cold killer (Game of Thrones' Alfie Allen) chooses Halloween night to carry out the murder of his latest bounty so that he can escape with body in tow on the one night nobody would be suspicious. His plan seems to work until he is recognised by an old school friend who is impressed with the killer's "costume" and insists on showing him off at a party. The killer at first agrees but time is wearing thin and so is his patience.

Writers Paul Davis and Paul Fischer have crafted a macabre story laced with dark humour. The juxtaposition of Allen's stoney faced killer posing with his victim at a party full of fancy dressed party goers is entertaining yet never loses any of its sinister side. .Under Davis' direction a tense atmosphere is maintained right up to its unexpected end and Alfie Allen is in fine form as the killer .

666 Shortcuts to Hell

Filmmakers were called to make a film under restrictions around the 666 moniker including 6 lines of dialogue, 6 cast and crew on a budget of £666 and with a running time of 6 x 30 secs i.e. 3 minutes. Around 157 filmmakers responded to call from which six (ha ha) were chosen to compete for the grand prize of £6,666, a premier screening at Fright Fest and mentorship under the guiding hands of film production company Movie Mogul Films. The six-member panel judging the submissions make-up leading names in the horror genre including presenter & actress Emily Booth, actor Laurence Harvey (Tom Six having to withdraw due to filming commitments) and Paul McEvoy programme co-ordinator for the Horror Channel and part of the Fright Fest "four musketeers". 

The finalists comprised of up and coming as well as established filmmakers with an array of submissions which included a new twist on the tequila worm, the tale of a heartbroken zombie as told through the medium of 80s power ballads , and a warning to rogue government agencies about the dangers of experimenting with telepaths. Having watched all six films I can only imagine just how hard it was for the judges to choose a winner from this macabre motley crue. Heads might have exploded as in a scene from Cronenberg's Scanners, however thankfully sanity was secure and heads on necks remained whole as the winner was announced; Weronika Tofilska with her disturbing yet highly amusing 6 Feet Under, the story of a young woman working in the mortuary applying makeup to her deceased (and attractive) charge and whose imagination results in her getting a little carried away. 

Shortcuts to Hell not only provided an opportunity for talented filmmakers to have fun adding to the beating rhythm of the "dark heart of cinema" but as a testament to the storytelling challenge power of short films. Along with the nine other titles premiered during Fright Fest audiences have been treated to a smorgasbord of creative storytelling and imaginative visuals that have made us laugh, cringe and laugh  some more.  All hail the power of the short film. 

Tuesday 27 August 2013

[Fright Fest Special] R.I.P.D 3D Review - UK Premier

Stars; Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker
Director Robert Schwentke
Running Time; 120 mins

Recently and untimely deceased Detective Nick Walker is given an opportunity to serve the R.I.P.D (Rest in Peace Department), an afterlife enforcement agency tasked with capturing souls looking to evade judgment. Partnered with grisly veteran Sheriff Roy Pulsifier, Walker soon realises that his death in the line of duty is linked to a plot to build an ancient staff that will bring about the end of the world. The two are caught up in a race against time to find the artefacts before it's too late.

If the premise of R.I.P.D sounds a bit like Ghostbusters meets Men In Black it would be due to the number similarities the movie bears to its counterparts. It is hard to not think of Men in Black when you see the R.I.P.D precinct or Reynolds and Bridges chasing down souls using their somewhat out of this world weaponry. Even Mary-Louise Parker as the department's supervisor Proctor has the gruffness of Rip Torn's Z, whilst the supernatural apocalypse and spectral hunting draws influence from Bill Murray et al's 1984 blockbuster. Yet such comparisons are disingenuous as despite some shortcomings R.I.P.D is  an entertaining picture in its own right.

The word across the great oceanic divide has been that R.I.P.D was a flop of gigantic proportions which is why Universal apparently kept it hidden away until its US release. From the terrible acting (what even Bridges?) to the poor special effects, expectations from the Fright Fest crowd were low but on the whole it was a pleasant surprise that the film was not as bad as believed. R.I.P.D is not without its flaws. The emotional elements of the film, mainly Reynolds' undead detective trying to cope with his demise, lacked a little depth. Whilst this is a lighthearted supernatural action romp, the film would have felt more complete with a little visceral element (see Heaven Can Wait for how this was done). Kevin Bacon, who knows how to give a truly villainous performance, sadly fails to deliver in his bad guy role as Reynolds' treacherous partner, so much so that any number of lesser known actors could have played the part (probably for less money). 

Yet the biggest disappointment was the climactic battle to stop the unleashing of rotten souls bringing about the end of the world, which lacked that epic apocalyptic scale. The whole segment looked and felt like it was all taking place in a studio lot rather than city streets and lacked any sense of foreboding doom. With a budget of $130 million dollars, expectations for this finale were high on the visuals alone yet it was disappointing on all aspects and at times felt rushed. 

The negatives aside however the film is not wanting for exciting (but not jaw dropping) special effects and the 3D version being of much superior quality of recent productions. The action, under the directorial helmsmanship of RED's Robert Schwentke, is impressive and fast paced. However the truly entertaining and saving grace aspect of the film are the central characters and a script that gives the two leads some truly entertaining (though excessive) comic moments. Although failing to deliver on the emotional content of his character's inability to let go (more to do with the script perhaps) Reynolds executes his trademark charm and deadpan delivery that often leaves filmgoers divided, and he does so with great timing. This plays off well with Bridges essentially reprising his True Grit performance but resembling Buffalo Bill and looks as if he is having fun with some of the film's best comical dialogue. 

Overall R.I.P.D is a fun entertaining film that with low expectations will surprise and delight on many fronts. Fans of the Dark Horse comic upon which this is based might be hugely disappointed with how this has been adapted. It is evident to see why it draws comparisons to Ghostbusters and Men In Black which is hard to ignore, yet all comparisons aside, the film has a look and feel all of its own. Shame about the ending.

Sunday 25 August 2013

[Fright Fest Special] Review You're Next - London Preview

Stars; Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz
Director; Adam Wingard
Running Time; 95 mins
Release Date (Cinema) 28th August.

A family reunion to celebrate a wedding anniversary in a remote manor house turns into a bloody nightmare as a menacing masked figure traps the terrified group and begins picking them off one by one. The only person who stands in his way is a feisty family guest who puts her survival training to use protecting everyone in the house. Soon it becomes apparent the killer is not alone and the real fight for survival begins.

Although production finished on this project two years ago Adam Wingard's (A Horrible Way to Die, v/h/s) home invasion revenge picture is finally ready to grace the cinema screen. Packed with gruesome suspenseful action "You're Next" ticks all the boxes and adds a few of its own.

The film wastes no time getting the blood fest swinging into action. The opening scene features a masked machete wielding killer slaying his first victim then leaving the film's title scrolled in blood as a prophetic warning to the next victim. Although there is a brief pause as hosts Paul and Aubrey (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton) await the arrival of their adult children and with respective significant others in tow, the attacks resume in full brutal force. Simon Barrett's sharp script however is more than just a series of killings by a random maniac with a gradual unfolding events revealing a twist or two in the tale. Barrett injects some dark humour smoothing off the edges of what is a dark and brutal film. 

Director Adam Wingard maintains the suspense levels effectively with throwing in the occasional horror cliché. The clean editing switching from moments of calm into the full force of another attack keeps audiences glued to the screen and on the edge of their seats. This is helped by the cast performances conveying the right balance of grief and panic all  create a tense atmosphere. Shari Vinson, who has now left days in Aussie soap Home and Away far behind, throws herself into the role of the film's heroine Erin putting great gusto into the action yet never sacrificing any of the visceral elements.  

Great performances from the cast as a whole and an enigmatic script add intrigue and emotional content to the film but this mainly about the bloody action The killer's penchant of machete and crossbow wielding (as well as one or two nasty little surprises) are over the top in comically brutal way fuelled by the family's attempts to defend themselves. Out come an assortment of flesh slicing weapons of choice including axes, kitchen knives and under Erin's almost military-eque direction, a series of booby traps which when guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes. It is brutal and bloody but outlandish enough to entertain."

You're Next is an above average slasher home invasion picture dark and bloody but with just enough macabre humour thrill and entertain audiences. It a solid platform for its female star as a viable female action lead, and cements the director and writer's reputation as a creative force in horror.

[Fright Fest Special] Review Curse of Chucky - European Premier

Stars; Fiona Dourif, Brad Dourif, Danielle Bisutti, A Martinez
Director; Don Mancini
Running Time; 90 Mins

Chucky is back and this time he is unleashing murderous mayhem on a grieving dysfunctional family. The life of wheelchair bound Nica has been shattered following the death of her mother. The arrival of Nica's sister and her family stirs up old arguments and new ones about Nica's perceived inability to cope on her own. When each member is found horribly murdered she begins to suspect that the culprit might be the strange doll delivered a few days ago, one that seems to have itched itself to Nica's little niece.

Movie franchise, especially in horror with well known figures such as Jason and Freddy Kruger have become over-saturated to the point where no amount of tongue in cheek self mockery can possibly save them from public disdain. A principle problem is that at some the point those who originally conceived the characters jumped the creative liner long ago leaving their beloved creations in the hands of those who do not necessarily appreciate them. Somewhat unfairly, the Chucky series gets lumbered in with the likes of those iconic idols of splatterdom and terror in franchise hell, yet of all these the Chucky films have succeeded by going for quality over quantity. With the latest instalment, only the sixth in a series that has spanned twenty five years, writer/director (and Chucky creator) pulls out all the stops to deliver a fun filled ride of a movie that delivers on all fronts; dark humour, mild scares, and a strong script and properly fleshed out characters (pun intended).

Manicini seems to have by-passed the events of the previous two films, Bride, and Seed of Chucky and reset this latest story decades after Child's Play 3. This was a wise move as although the addition of Tiffany and Glen added some new life to the series, continuing this twisted family saga could have added a bore  factor spelling disaster for Chucky fans. By removing them from the main story, Manicini gets back to having the kind of fun with everyone's favourite killer doll that made the first film such a success.

The plot, at its core is very straightforward setting the scene typical of most horror films, that of a decaying old house playing host to a grisly death that brings together a troubled grieving family. What Mancini's script does well is introduce brief elements that keep the story moving along setting up it for the big battle at the end. It is with the principle human characters however that Manicini has the most fun injecting some dark humour but capitalising on all the horror hallmarks.

In Nica (a strong performance by Fiona Dourif) Mancini has scripted a quintessential scary movie heroine, brave and resourceful though seemingly surrounded by those who think they know what is best for her. Nica's older sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti in fine comic form) provides intrigue and comic relief as a shallow snob, a victim of the current financial crisis ashamed of her husband working as a barista and devastated at the thought of her daughter going to public school. Her high pitched whispers echo her snobbery fears matched only by her green eyed observations of her husband's seemingly amorous focus on the family nanny. Manicini establishes a tense sibling rivalry masked by Barb's false smiles shattered by Nica's refusal to be treated as an invalid. This adds a little depth of characterisation and it is this interplay that provides some of the film's best dialogue. 

Other players including the family priest (a rather one dimensional A Martinez) , Barb's husband Ian (Brennan Elliot) seems to float through the first half of the film all smiles and niceties but not for long, and Jill the nanny (Maitland McConnell) provides some moments of titillation. Alice (Summer Howell) is the typical "cute kid" in a sickly fashion juxtaposed brilliantly as she slowly echoes Chucky's maniacal influence leading to a sudden outburst laden with the occasional colourful metaphor. Nica is by far the strongest and multi-dimensional of the all the players which makes her journey through the story even more poignant. Yet the one the audiences flock to see is the most entertaining; the combination of the creepy animatronic Chucky doll with Brad Dourif's venomous yet hugely entertaining voice over creating an icon of horror that has stood the test of time.

The film is well paced and the sub plots in no way distract from the main story but keep the audience entertained as Chucky settles in before unleashing his own brand of mischievous homicide. It has the right blend of dark humour mixed in with grisly macabre which Mancini the director executes flawlessly. The stand out moment has to be the dinner table scene with spinning ceiling view shot as dinner is served and the players take their seat whilst the audience is left wondering which one gets the poisoned dish. It really is a clever piece of cinematography that is not only visually engaging but adds some tense comical anticipation.

If there is one aspect the film that leaves a question mark is the end, not so much from the characters point of view since their final journeys are satisfactorily resolved. On the one hand Mancini the writer seemed to have trouble closing the door on this chapter of the saga opting instead to cram in a number of alternative endings. However this also worked in keeping viewer engagement revealing one surprise after another for fans of the franchise. All in all though Curse of Chucky is an entertaining addition to the series with right blend of gruesomeness laced with laugh out loud dark humour succeeding in keeping the franchise fresh and audiences anticipating more where the others have failed.

Film 4 Fright Fest 2013 - Day 2 Friday 23rd August

The first day presented a heady mix of excitement and exhilaration even though Fright Fest for me did not get started until 9.00 at night. It was certainly an eventful and entertaining evening resulting in me crawling into my hotel room at an ungodly hour hoping I would survive the first full day of the event. The goal for that day was to cram in as many films as possible and report back to you all but this was a task that would prove to be easier said than done.

Day two started in the main screen with the latest addition to what is an over saturated market - the found footage sub genre. Amongst the high volume of these type of productions, the majority of which I can honestly say are poor, The Dyatlov Pass Incident (aka Devil's Pass) was one of the few that was of reasonable quality with a genuinely tense and unnerving atmosphere as well as an engaging story. It was also great to see Renny Harlin helming a solid picture again. This was followed later on with an early evening screening of Haunter, a solid ghost story with elements of The Others and Lovely bones with a spooky and twisted take on Groundhog Day. By any stretch not the best film premiering but it was refreshing to see a fairly creative and decent ghost story, This segmented into the main event which I had intended to miss and was pleased to have been swayed by an unexpected change of mind.

The star of the night had to be v/h/s 2, a collection of short "found footage" stories merged into a fantastic modern take on the horror anthology that used to grace the silver screen right up until the 80s and then disappeared into the ether (pun referencing Haunter intended). A sadly missed format which is now making a brutal and bloody return and with this latest offering, featuring a bevy of cult and horror directors who unleash mayhem on the senses of the audience. We laughed, cringed, and applauded furiously and came away feeling more cleansed and refreshed than a colonic. However the best was yet to come, and this epitomises Fright Fest perfectly. 

Gareth Evans, director of The Raid; Redemption, talked about the filming of his segment on v/h/s 2 with great passion and humour before unveiling a real film lover's treat; a world exclusive peak at a new film still in production. The scene from The Raid 2; Berandal due for release next year, excitedly teased actions fans with devastatingly bone crunching yet balletic display of "hari mau" martial arts as the assassin known only as Hammer Girl unleashed a carnage of punches, kicks, locks, and throws whilst armed with a pair of household hammers. D.I.Y will just never seem the same again after you see these put to deadly use.

A short film, the gripping and tense Turncoat, as well as conversing with like minded horror fans, writers and filmmakers added to what can only be described as a full on and engaging first full day of Fright Fest. If there is one thing I learned from today however is to queue early for the Discovery screens as sales for those go faster than tubs of ice cream from Empire Cinema's Ben and Jerry's stall. 

Friday 23 August 2013

Film 4 Fright Fest 2013 - Day 1 Thursday 22nd August

The banner above the entrance to Leicester Square's Empire Cinema says it all; a rallying cry for horror fans to enter and partake in a festival of cinematic bloody carnage that are some of the best modern and classic horror films ever committed to celluloid (well maybe not all of them). Yes Fright Fest has arrived, and one of London's most prestigious movie theatres has opened its doors to the "Woodstock of gore". This year not only marks Front Row's debut attendance at Fright Fest but a first for me personally as an avid film buff and horror fanatic. With my festival pass in hand I was ready to be enthralled, exhilarated, engaged and entertained, as well as have the proverbial fecal matter scared out of me. 

Day 1 actually consisted mainly of just the evening with an introduction by actor and director Bobcat Goldthwaite (more familiar to many as Zed from the Police Academy films) before launching into the first film of the event, The Dead 2; India.  Having not seen the first film it seemed pointless to sit through the sequel; word across the whisper gallery praised the film as a superior to its predecessor. One to watch on DVD. 

Whilst waiting for the much anticipated European premier of Curse of Chucky followed by a preview screening of You're Next, a quick glance at the festival guide revealed a schedule bursting with 50 screenings of films (95%of which were premiers) from all over the world. Reading the showing times for all three screens left me somewhat dizzy with all the excited anticipation of swine in swill but also heady panic of which film to watch and when, worried that I might make the wrong choices. Currently this is still an issue and once I have cracked my system of cramming in as many films as possible in much the same way one approaches an exam I shall patent and share with you all. The remainder of the time was spent bantering with other like minded horror fans on a variety of topics from deadly drinking games to a loathing of Michael Bay whilst trying not to inflict a starstruck stare at Human Centipede II star Laurence R. Harvey passing among the crowd. 

This was also my first time watching any film at the Empire cinema. The main theatre is impressive with a seating capacity of over 1300 cinemagoers, and a screen following a panoramic curved wall and towering over the immediate rows like King Kong from the Chrysler building, but without the chest thumping or attacking bi-planes. The size and style of the auditorium took me back to childhood days of similar styled cinema screens in Bristol's Odeon before the mid 80s makeover, and the late local wartime picture houses that were the Gaiety and Whiteladies Road with their theatre style art deco screens now sadly absent from modern day multiplexes. 

Curse of Chucky and You're Next were both highly impressive films but for very different reasons. Curse was a reminder that a familiar horror franchise can maintain a high standard of entertainment and You're Next breathed fresh life (or should that be violent death) into the modern day home invasion horror. What made the screenings enjoyable however was sitting in a theatre of hundreds of horror lovers laughing and clapping at the films' most inventive and entertaining (and yes violent) moments. I cannot remember the last time I watched any film in the cinema which was greeted at the end with a thunderous round of applause. This however could be attributed to the presence of key cast and crew from the films at the screening and a loyal fan base showing its appreciation.

A great start to what promises to be a cinematic marathon of horror screenings that will probably wield more cutting instruments than a metallurgist's hobby room and splatter enough blood and guts to rival an abattoir. Fright Fest is on, a bar has been raised high and I cannot wait to see how this will unfold.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Horror Channel Presenter Crowdfunds Latest Film Project

Actress and television presenter Emily Booth will make her short film début behind and in front of the the camera after a successful crowdfunding campaign. Based on an ancient Celtic myth Selkie will see Booth star as a sea creature who escapes enslavement looking for revenge, and serve as the film's producer. The ongoing crowdfunding campaign through the international renowned Kickstarter platform has already exceeded its funding target to cover the cost of the film's traditional special effects. 

Emily Booth is known in the UK to horror fans as an actress in cult films such as Pirvirella, Cradle of Fear, Evil Aliens and the BAFTA nominated short film Inferno. Booth is also recogniseable as a presenter for UK television including Channel 4's The Big Breakfast, Banzai for E4 before moving onto shows covering her true love, horror. Booth's body of presenting work focusing on cult and horror films include Shock Movie Massacre for the defunct cable channel Bravo, Eat Cinema, and in 2007 she joined The Horror Channel as a regular presenter and continuity announcer. Booth enjoys a genuine love of the horror genre, lending her support to the classic horror campaign, and is considered an authority on the subject.

For Selkie, Booth has assembled her own team to work on the visual aspects of the production including concept artist Danny McMahon and special effects artist Robbie Drake whose credits include Nightbreed and The Seasoning House. The film will be directed by her brother Simon Booth and will feature extensive use of traditional special effects make up that is in increasing decline with the rise of CGI. To meet the overall costs of the film's effects Booth launched a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter with a funding target of £5,000.
My aim is to create something truly unique and memorable, a dark and haunting adult fairytale, with a spectacular creature transformation sequence, all shot in Medieval locations. Yes it’s a challenge and will not be cheap which is why I’m using the innovative crowdfunding site Kickstarter. - Emily Booth
The campaign's rewards for donors feature the usual of any crowdfunding venture such as acknowledgements and credits, but also copies of the finished film, limited edition merchandise, screening invitations and for the top end donors, an exclusive set visit. The campaign has less than fifteen days till the deadline and has already exceeded its funding target by close to £1,100. Fans of the genre and Emily Booth can still pledge their support by visiting the film's Kickstarter page by clicking here.

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