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Artist Graham Humphreys' artwork for the Vincent Price Legacy Tour. Artist Graham Humphreys' artwork for the Vincent Price Legacy Tour.

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Abertoir Horror Festival Celebrates Its 10th Year

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Not many film festivals have an official patron saint, but Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales (which closed on Sunday night, November 15th) does and it’s Vincent Price. Each year it shows at least one of Price’s films, and in 2011 the festival celebrated the Vincentennial, which would have marked the actor’s 100th birthday.

That’s when Victoria Price, the horror icon’s daughter, made her first trip to the Welsh festival: “I was invited in 2011 by Gaz [Bailey], who is the organizer, and I had such an amazing time. So when I knew I was coming to the U.K. and Ireland to do the Legacy Tour, I reached out to Gaz, and I knew it was the 10th anniversary of the festival and my dad is their patron saint, Vincent Price is the patron saint of Abertoir, so it seemed like we should celebrate together.

The Japanese yakuza versus zombies film took home the Best New Feature prize at Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales this past Sunday.

The Japanese yakuza versus zombies film took home the Best New Feature prize at Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales this past Sunday.

And what a celebration it turned out to be. First, Price fan/historian Peter Fuller brought a collection of memorabilia (including an Edward Lionheart doll and Shrunken Head activity game) to share. Then Victoria Price did an amazing hour-plus tribute to her father with some wonderful personal photos and stories to share.

A small portion of Peter Fuller's collection of Vincent Price memorabilia.

A small portion of Peter Fuller’s collection of Vincent Price memorabilia.

I had the privilege of having an amazing father that I loved very much and who I think was an extraordinary human being in how he lived his life, his philosophy of life, how generous he was, how much he gave back; and I really wanted to continue to share with people his philosophy of life. In exchange for doing that, I get to hear stories from thousands of people of how much he meant to them, and that’s a huge gift to be able to share that love,” Price said.

Beth Accomando and Victoria Price, the daughter of Vincent Price, after the Dinner with Vincent at Abertoir: The International Horror Film Festival of Wales.

Beth Accomando and Victoria Price, the daughter of Vincent Price, after the Dinner with Vincent at Abertoir: The International Horror Film Festival of Wales.

The festival also held a Dinner with Vincent to serve a meal prepared from the actor’s famous and massive cookbook. Attendees could also see such Price’s horror films as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, and Scream and Scream Again.

Price makes the perfect patron saint for Abertoir not only because the actor made so many classic horror films but also because – as his daughter made clear in her talk – he was a man of passion and joy. Abertoir above all else is about finding passion and joy in the horror genre and then sharing it. Plus, having Price as their patron saint emphasizes the value they place on appreciating the genre’s past as much as its future.

Festival co-director Nia Edwards-Behi said, “In terms of our film programming, we pay due care to celebrating old classics of all sorts, and they’re treated with the same excitement as the new films we show. I also think that due to our relatively small capacity we’re able to offer a very friendly and welcoming experience.

Artist Graham Humphreys' artwork for the Vincent Price Legacy Tour.

Artist Graham Humphreys’ artwork for the Vincent Price Legacy Tour.

So welcoming and friendly that at the festival’s closing night ceremony, Danger 5’s Dario Russo presented a gift of a huge autographed poster from the show to Gaz Bailey, the festival director. Then longtime attendees of the festival revealed that they had commissioned artist Graham Humphreys (who was exhibiting his posters at the gallery in the arts center) to create artwork featuring Bailey and Edwards-Behi.

Both gestures were deeply appreciated by the organizers Edwards-Behi said, “Yes, it’s really touching to receive things back from our audience and from our guests like that. It’s a testament, I hope, to how much effort we put toward everyone having a really good time, but also it’s testament to how lucky we are that we attract such wonderful, kind, and generous people to our event.

Beth Accomando and Italian composer Fabio Frizzi after the concert and an interview at Abertoir: The International Horror Festval of Wales.

Beth Accomando and Italian composer Fabio Frizzi after the concert and an interview at Abertoir: The International Horror Festval of Wales.

This year Abertoir also brought back Italian film composer Fabio Frizzi to present his Frizzi 2 Fulci concert tribute to horror master Lucio Fulci.

Frizzi played music from his scores to such Fulci films as The Beyond, Zombi 2, and The City of the Living Dead. But he also included three new scores to short films he’d composed for including a fantastic looking Saint Frankenstein from actor Scooter McCrae.

At 64, Frizzi seemed invigorated not only by his tour of the U.S. and Wales but also by new technology and new opportunities like making short films with filmmakers he’s met on the Internet.

Frizzi explained how it usually goes: “The Internet is like this, ‘Hello, Mr. Frizzi. I’m a huge fan of yours…’ Maybe every week I get this. But there are some situations that are different. The three short films I play from during the concert are linked to Fulci, why? Because every one of those are fans to Lucio. I think human beings can adapt themselves to what is changing, but it is not easy. And you need a predisposition to do this. I always loved computers ever since the Commodore and the very first Apple. I was on the Net in Italy; I was really one of the first. And I always thought it was a great opportunity. Everything is part of doing your job. The white paper is totally the same thing as an upgrade of software that helps you. But you must also have some ideas in your head if not you cannot do anything.”

The Frizzi concert highlights another thing that makes this festival stand out: It is a multi-arts venue, which allows it to do things like a music concert, poster gallery exhibit, and theatre show as well as screen films. This year, the theatrical staging was actor Robert Lloyd Parry doing a one-man show as M. R. James reading two of his famous horror tales.

To add a little more fun to the screening of The Descent (which is also celebrating its tenth anniversary), the festival arranged for a trip to a local mine so attendees could experience the darkness, cold, and claustrophobia of the film’s spelunking first hand. The plans were to show the films outdoors in a tent by the mines, but 80-mile-an-hour winds prompted a move to the safety and warmth of the Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s indoor cinema.

The Descent took home the Best Classic Feature prize, which was voted on by the audience. Runners-up were Deep Red and The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

Kurt Russell stars in the slow burn western thriller Bone Tomahawk, which screened at Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales.

Kurt Russell stars in the slow burn western thriller Bone Tomahawk, which screened at Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales.

The Best New Feature Award went to Japan’s horror-comedy Deadman’s Inferno, in which yakuza had to battle zombies in an affectionate and gore-filled homage to both Japanese action films and zombie movie tropes. The intense indie American western Bone Tomahawk took second place, and Hong Kong’s deliriously nihilistic and oddly endearing Robbery took third.

The runners-up represent something of a trend Edwards-Behi welcomes to horror: the slow burn.

Many of the films I’ve liked best this year have been real slow burn thrillers – films like They Look Like People, The Invitation, or Bone Tomahawk, for example. It’s been refreshing to find films that really take their time over building characters and stories and treating the genre seriously.

The Danger 5 Season One marathon took the festival’s Overall Best Prize as the audience’s favorite.

Abertoir also showcases short films, which is important because it’s part of the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation (EFFFF), and the winning short gets to move on to the next level of competition.

Spain's Sanguine Craving took home the Best Short Film at Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales.

Spain’s Sanguine Craving took home the Best Short Film at Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales.

The Best Short Award went to Spain’s dark serial killer comedy Sanguine Craving. Rounding out the pack were Vintage Blood in second, Ultravioleta in third, and Invaders in fourth.

Being in the EFFFF also provides a great support system for a smaller festival.

The EFFFF is a great network of festivals across Europe, and beyond, that celebrate and promote European fantastic cinema,” Edwards-Behi stated. “The European notion of the ‘fantastic’ is really appealing to me because it’s such a broad umbrella term. Our remit is very much rooted in horror, but the appeal to the broadest of it as a genre. Being a member of the federation is a real honor and can really help us out, for example when we are trying to negotiate for a film.

Bailey repeatedly mentioned at the festival how difficult it was to get the American films The Witch and Bone Tomahawk. But Bailey’s enthusiasm and determination seemed to have been a combo that helped convince distributors.

But Edwards-Behi pointed out that negotiating with distributors isn’t the only challenge a film festival faces in an age of VOD and multi-platform releases.

The main challenge is the speed with which something can now be released online,” Edwards-Behi said. “Our policy is to only show pre-release films, and yet, this year two films we screened had in fact received U.K. VOD releases after we had secured our screenings of them. It can get a little frustrating in that regard because one of the purposes of a festival is to showcase new films and to encourage people to see new films on the big screen. If they’re already on VOD, that becomes a bit more difficult.

Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales puts out a special beer each year. This year one of the ales honored Vincent Price.

Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales puts out a special beer each year. This year one of the ales honored Vincent Price.

Abertoir may be small, but it offers a high quality experience because of that intimacy. For one, you can speak with the festival directors at any time. Then, guests like Danger 5’s Dario Russo and David Ashby, as well as artist Graham Humphreys, hung out all festival long and attended many films alongside horror fans so it was easy to chat with them. Things like that, along with strong film selections, are helping to build the festival’s reputation and popularity. In fact, this year festival passes sold out for the first time.

This was really exciting for us, especially coinciding with our tenth anniversary,” Edwards-Behi said. “What was really humbling was that we were only a few passes away from selling out when we finally announced our full line-up, so people were very trusting of us when they bought their passes!

Victoria Price told the audience that she has never liked the horror genre and hated seeing her father either do terrifying things on film or have horrible things done to him. But she has embraced the fans of horror.

Horror fans really get who my dad was; they’ve kept his legacy alive,” Price said. “He was certainly not the most famous actor of his generation by any stretch of the imagination, but his legacy has lasted. He is iconic and beloved and remembered because of the horror fans. But I also feel like the horror fans have embraced me even though I am not a fan of the genre and with so much love. And honestly, horror fans are just the most awesome group of people. They are kind and they are sweet, they’re funny and they’re smart, and they’re very dedicated to their genre so I feel it is an absolute privilege to be as embraced as I am by horror fans.

Abertoir not only creates a horror community for fans to meet, but it is run by people with a genuine passion for sharing their love of the genre in its broadest sense with others.

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Thelma Is Fantastic and Now You Can Watch the Opening Scene

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One of this year’s most beautiful and subdued horror films is Joachim Trier’s Thelma (review), which opens in Los Angeles tonight. To give you a bit of what the film is like, The Orchard have released the opening scene, which shows a man and his daughter hunting in the bleak Norwegian winter. When they come across a young deer, the true intentions of this trip become apparent…

Having seen Thelma, I can tell you that it’s truly something special. It’s a slow burn, to be certain, but it plays out gorgeously, resulting in a film that has yet to leave my mind.

Related Story: Exclusive Interview with Thelma’s Joachim Trier

Locations and tickets for Thelma can be found here.

Synopsis:
Thelma, a shy young student, has just left her religious family in a small town on the west coast of Norway to study at a university in Oslo. While at the library one day, she experiences a violent, unexpected seizure. Soon after, she finds herself intensely drawn toward Anja, a beautiful young student who reciprocates Thelma’s powerful attraction. As the semester continues, Thelma becomes increasingly overwhelmed by her intense feelings for Anja – feelings she doesn’t dare acknowledge, even to herself – while at the same time experiencing even more extreme seizures. As it becomes clearer that the seizures are a symptom of inexplicable, often dangerous, supernatural abilities, Thelma is confronted with tragic secrets of her past, and the terrifying implications of her powers.

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Award-Winning The Child Remains Playing Tomorrow at the Blood in the Snow Festival

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The award-winning supernatural thriller The Child Remains, which has been on the festival circuit, is returning to Canada to play tomorrow night at the Blood in the Snow Film Festival in Toronto. Tickets for the screening, which is at 9:30pm, can be found at the festival’s website.

The film has won awards in festivals across Canada as well as Best Foreign Feature at the Unrestricted View Horror Film Festival in London, UK.

Described as The Shining meets Rosemary’s Baby meets The Orphanage, the film stars Suzanne Clément, Allan Hawco, Shelley Thompson, and Geza Kovacs. Directed and written by Michael Melski, who co-produced the film alongside Craig Cameron and David Miller, The Child Remains is aiming for a Canadian theatrical release in Spring 2018 and a US theatrical release in October 2018.

Synopsis:
An expectant couple’s intimate weekend turns to terror when they discover their secluded country inn is a haunted maternity home where unwanted infants and young mothers were murdered. Inspired by the true story of the infamous ‘Butterbox Babies’ and their macabre chapter in Canadian history, The Child Remains is a twisting supernatural thriller that emphasizes story and suspense over shock and gore.

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Tony Timpone’s Elegy – AFM: A November to Dismember

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It used to be that the toughest thing about visiting the global cinematic bazaar known as the American Film Market was squeezing in as many movies as humanly possible before your eyes exploded like Cameron Vale’s in Scanners. At this year’s 38th annual AFM, held November 1-8 in Santa Monica, CA, I watched 17 movies in five days. Don’t be too impressed. That’s a big drop from past years, where I’d see as many as two dozen films during that span.

This year marked my 21st AFM jaunt, and change has been in the air for some time at this industry confab. Two screening days have been shaved off the program, and theater screenings have lost the 5pm and 7pm slots. Much of the Z-grade schlock has been whittled away and there does seem to be a higher level of product on display. No longer does every other movie star Joe Estevez. Now it’s Nicolas Cage! Sales companies feverishly hawked Cage’s VOD-bound Primal, The Humanity Bureau and Looking Glass, in addition to a plethora of cute puppy and sappy Christmas cable-ready movies.

So where’s the horror, you ask? You can still discover it at AFM, but 2017 offered a disappointing allowance for the most part. To put it into perspective, the opening day of my first AFM in 1998 yielded John Carpenter’s Vampires and Spain’s Abre Los Ojos (remade as the mediocre Vanilla Sky in the US) back-to-back (not to mention The Big Lebowski from the Coen brothers). For 2017, I did not see one film as good as those (well, maybe one…). Not a total washout, mind you, as I’m sure you will add a few titles to your watch list after perusing my AFM 2017 screening report.


I Kill Giants:
A lonely teenage girl (Madison Wolfe) defends her coastal town from invading goliaths in this somber tale directed by Denmark’s Anders Walter and written by Joe Kelly from his graphic novel. Not exactly a feel-good movie, I Kill Giants deals with bullying, depression, isolation and terminal illness. It intersperses the somberness with some excellent FX scenes involving the giants, who emerge from the surf and dark woods to taunt our young heroine. Not only is I Kill Giants too downbeat for my tastes, last year’s underrated and underseen A Monster Calls covered many of the same emotional beats much more eloquently and movingly than here.

** 1/2



Errementari:
Spanish helmer Alex del la Iglesia (Day of the Beast, Witching & Bitching) produced this Terry Gilliam-esque dark fantasy, about a cursed medieval-age blacksmith and his battle of wills with a demon out to claim his soul.

Directed by Paul Urkijo Alijo, the movie is like a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. Its climactic trip to Hell stands out as a highlight, pitchforks and all, as do the superb practical makeup FX.

***


Bad Samaritan:
A parking valet (Robert Sheehan) at a ritzy restaurant borrows the patrons’ cars to rob their homes while they’re eating in this thriller directed by Dean (Godzilla) Devlin and written by Brandon (Apt Pupil) Boyce. As he rummages through the house of the arrogant Cale (former “Doctor Who” David Tennant, cast against type and looking like a less seedy Charlie Sheen), valet Sean discovers an imprisoned woman, the waiting victim of the rich serial killer. The cops don’t believe the robber, but the bad guy catches onto him and soon begins destroying Sean’s life and those around him. Though Bad Samaritan builds some good suspense and remains moderately gripping, Devlin (late of the embarrassing Geostorm, which Irishman Sheehan also appeared in) is no Hitchcock. And at 107 minutes, the movie overstays its welcome.

** 1/2


Anna and the Apocalypse:
Christmas, teenagers, music and zombies… Anna and the Apocalypse has it all. As the snow falls and Yuletide cheer builds, a living dead outbreak hits the quaint British town of Little Haven. Can teen Anna (Intruders’ Ella Hunt) and her friends make it to their high school auditorium for presumed safety? Well, they’ll try, singing and dancing (and bashing in undead heads) along the way. OK, so the movie’s cute and a raucous scene of zombie mayhem in a bowling alley scores a strike, but the problem with Anna is the songs just aren’t that memorable. Where’s Richard O’Brien when you need him?

** 1/2


Incident in a Ghost Land:
Writer/director Pascal Laugier took our breath away with his vicious Martyrs in 2008, but 2012’s underrated The Tall Man garnered little notice. Packing a ’70s horror vibe, his latest recaptures some of Martyrs’ uncomfortable female-inflicted brutality. Two young sisters and their mom head to a remote family house, which is soon invaded by two ruthless psychos. Though the story echoes Tourist Trap and High Tension, Laugier pulls the rug out from us at a key point and takes us down an even darker path. I wish the villains had a little more depth here, but In a Ghost Land has enough shock and thrills to satisfy fright fans.

***


Cold Skin

Cold Skin:
Laugier’s fellow extreme Frenchmen, Xavier Gens, terrorized us with his Texas Chainsaw Massacre pastiche Frontier(s) in 2007 and explored postapocalyptic horror in The Divide (2011). Now he tries his hand at a Jules Verne-style creature feature. In the early 20th century, a weather observer (David Oakes) arrives for a year-long assignment at an isolated island near the Antarctic Circle where he meets the misanthropic lighthouse keeper (Ray Stevenson). A race of pale-skinned fish people dwells in the seas and raids the island at night in several bravura action set pieces, their motive unknown. The real threat here may be Stevenson, who keeps one of the creatures as a pet/sex slave. Gens plays the story like a fable, but ultimately I had a hard time warming up to Cold Skin. Where the movie succeeds is in the creature FX and photography departments.

***


Let the Corpses Tan:
French directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani won over the horror arthouse crowd with their giallo tributes Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears. Their latest flashy exercise tackles the much-loved Italian Spaghetti Western genre, but relocates the story to modern day and a Mediterranean hilltop villa. A gold-robbing gang holes up in the scenic, sun-drenched location, with a woman artist and her friends get caught in the crossfire when two cops arrive. The filmmakers do a fine job of paying homage to Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone here, but we’re talking style over substance. None of the characters really pops, and the whole thing grows a little tiresome. Fans of Cattet and Forzani and arty shootouts will still dig it.

** 1/2


Downrange:
After the weekly US shooting sprees of Vegas and Texas, this was the last movie I wanted to embrace. A group of friends find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere after a sniper cripples their car. Said sniper then begins blasting away at the college kids in graphic fashion, brains splattering the asphalt in gruesome close-up. Director Ryûhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train, Versus) does some flashy camera things, but the movie is so damn mean-spirited that it just left a bad taste in my mouth. The lowdown on Downrange: the story’s not very plausible nor the characters very likable.

* 1/2


Ghost Stories:
Just when I gave up on AFM 2017, the last movie screening I attended turned out to be not only the best genre film of the market but one of the best of the year period (IFC releases Ghost Stories next April). Supernatural debunker Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman, who co-wrote and co-directed with Jeremy Dyson) examines three extreme hauntings which just might make a believer out of him. Adapting their successful London play, Nyman and Dyson riff on past British horror anthologies Dead of Night and the ’70s Amicus flicks, but with a modern sensibility. Ghost Stories achieves its scares with class and distinction, as well as terrific makeup FX and a memorable supporting turn by The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman.

This one will send you out singing too; the “Monster Mash” plays over the end credits!

*** 1/2


So even though this year’s AFM was a bust, you will likely spot me canvassing those comfy Santa Monica theaters (kudos for solid projection, luxurious seating and friendly staff at the Arclight, AMC, Broadway and Laemmle) again next fall. On the market and festival beat, hope springs eternal!

For more information on the AFM, go to www.americanfilmmarket.com.

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