Event Report: Film4 Frightfest 2009
So, the August bank holiday has passed for another year and that means one thing – The Film4 Frightfest in London has just finished. This year held a special meaning to the festival though, with it greeting its 10th year in existence having moved, during that time, from humble beginnings in the Prince Charles Cinema, to the grander Odeon Leicester Square and finally, for the first time this year, to the Empire Cinema (also in Leicester Square). The Empire houses the largest cinema screen in the UK, which was used to display the main catalogue of films this year round. Trust me, this thing is absolutely massive.
Second to this, also for the first time ever, Frightfest organisers Alan, Ian, Paul and Greg decided to commandeer a smaller screen to show those movies they felt should be in the Fest, but couldn’t be worked into the main programme. This screen was dubbed “The Discovery Screen”. Tickets were limited but the layout of the screen itself offered a brilliantly intimate experience with the films there.
Today, the fest began with its traditional half-day of screenings and a very special opener – the World Premiere of Christopher (Creep, Severance) Smith’s Triangle (review here). Both Chris and the stunning Melissa George were present for the screening, with a brief Q&A conducted afterwards. Chris could then be found in the foyer and outside happily signing items, however Melissa unfortunately seemed to disappear into thin air – possibly to escape the ravenous television reporters.
Since 2007 marked the premiere of his well-received Wrong Turn 2, Joe Lynch has been a regular Frightfest attendee. He and Adam (Hatchet, Spiral) Green have formed “The Douche Brothers”, and entertained the crowd throughout the fest with their mini The Road to Frightfest (last year's) movies. This year (day two, in fact) included a very special screening of An American Werewolf in London and the documentary Beware the Moon (review coming soon), with director John Landis and cast and crew present so it should come as no surprise that these two have used the movie as the basis for their shorts (see this year's The Road to Frightfest here). The first sets things off to a brilliant start, with the pair of them edited into footage from the Slaughtered Lamb scene and upsetting the locals, with later offerings providing some side-slitting laughs at the expense of Martyrs and Let the Right One In.
The second of the trio of movies this evening was Dave Parker’s The Hills Run Red (review here) - a very intense, entertaining, gory and twisted slasher flick which is well worth seeing. It’s no home run, but the bases are loaded. Director Dave Parker and actors Alex Wyndham and Janet Montgomery were in attendance for a Q&A and poster signings. Dave seemed to disappear while Alex mingled in the lobby and Janet was forced to abandon an ever-increasing queue of hopefuls to leave for another engagement. Mr. Parker was last seen being led from Leicester Square in the company of The Douche Brothers Lynch and Green – drunken debauchery is assumed to have ensued. Dave was around for the rest of the weekend also.
Finally, our evening drew to a close with the screening of Infestation (review here). It is indeed a very entertaining and funny flick. Not to be taken seriously in any way (the ever-dependable Ray Wise is great), but it is slightly marred by some dodgy CGI. It represented a great closer to the evening, however.
Frightfest Day Two
Day two of the Film4 Frightfest in London’s Leicester Square, and the festival began to kick into gear with gritty Australian revenge opus The Horseman (review here). Not much needs to be said beyond our existing review – this is a powerful, visceral, violent and harrowing tale of vengeance, and quite possibly the best revenge flick since Shane Meadows’ astounding Dead Man’s Shoes.
Next, with Director Paul Davis and others (including the legendary John Landis) in attendance we were presented the premiere of the extremely entertaining documentary Beware the Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf in London (review coming soon). This is a very fun documentary, stretching far beyond the normal “making-of” monotony and presenting plenty of humorous and interesting tales from the cast and crew. The DVD/Blu Ray release is approaching shortly, however it would only be worth a purchase if you’re a devoted fan of the film as replay value is extremely limited.
Following the documentary, a screening of An American Werewolf in London itself - boasting a brand new transfer and looking much better for it. It’s an oldie, but I’m sure any fright fan can attest that it never gets any less entertaining. After the screening, Landis led a particularly wonderful Q&A session, and was also on hand at the signing table to sign posters and other items, and generally brighten everyone’s day with his infectiously gleeful demeanour.
Federico Zampaglione’s Shadow (review here) proved a disappointing follow-up to the highs of the afternoon, with its Jacob’s Ladder-lite offerings failing to impress.
Thankfully, things improved greatly with a sneak preview of French running zombie flick La Horde (review coming soon). Since the official World Premiere is due to be held in France in the coming months, a review embargo is unfortunately in place however I will say that action-horror fans will love it. This is almost Left 4 Dead: The Movie.
La Horde was swiftly followed by the impressive, and mucho fun, short film Paris by Night of the Living Dead (review coming soon). Said short concerns a newlywed couple battling a zombie-infested city together. It’s essentially one big extended action sequence featuring guns, gore, and....more guns and gore. Things get gloriously over-the-top with rocket launchers and the like, and even a climactic few moments introducing Tokyo by Night of the Living Dead.
Finally, the Mo brothers’ Macabre (review here) rounded things off with a splattery explosion of carnage which certainly didn’t fail to entertain.
From there, precious sleep was readily sought for a pre-planned easy day tomorrow with Hierro, Fragment, It’s Alive, Trick ‘r Treat and Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl on the agenda for our viewing pleasure, in between enjoying the local London watering holes.
Frightfest Day Three
Frightfest day three, and after a bit of lie in, we took to the main screen for Gabe Ibáñez’s Hierro (review here) – a visually exciting but ultimately pedestrian piece following a distraught mother’s search for her missing child.
Fragment (review coming soon) had unfortunately sold out in the Discovery Screen, so time was taken then to get some proper food and drink (surviving on only fast food, bagels and reheated pizza slices is not good for the constitution) meaning we were in a good position for the entertainment found in the soon-on-DVD remake of Larry Cohen’s 1974 killer baby flick It’s Alive (review here).
Shortly afterwards, one of the highlights of the festival arrived with the UK premiere of writer/director Michael Dougherty’s astounding Trick 'r Treat (review here), with both Michael and (briefly) actor Brian Cox in attendance. Yes – this is the quintessential Halloween movie and absolute buckets of fun. God knows why Warner has sat on it all this time. In the words of the mighty John Landis during the Q&A with Dougherty – “Fuck them!”
The evening drew to a close with Sam Rogers’ disappointingly slow existential short The Sad Case (review coming soon) followed by the completely insane and ultra-gory Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl (review here).
Frightfest Day Four
Day four began for us in the Discovery Screen with Lawrence Gough’s tense and bloody Brit-flick Salvage (review here) getting things off to a good start with its low-key exercise in paranoia and terror. The real star of the day came up next, however, with the World Premiere of Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (review here). Far and away the sickest offering of the festival, the film is hugely entertaining – in no small part due to Dieter Laser’s fantastic turn as the psychotic villain Dr. Heiter.
Afterwards, a Q&A with the director and his producer (and sister) Ilona Six revealed that The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is the first part of a planned trilogy, with the sequel currently envisioned to be a slasher movie, tripling the size of the centipede itself. Oh, the possibilities.....
Two further World Premieres followed with the generic psycho-thriller Coffin Rock (review here) (feeling very out of place in the programme) and Adam Gierasch’s punk-rock schlock remake Night of the Demons (review here). Gierasch himself, his long-time collaborator (and now wife) Jace Anderson and members of the cast including the gorgeous Bobbi Sue Luther (Laid to Rest) took to the stage afterwards for an entertaining Q&A.
The atmosphere darkened somewhat with a screening of Anthony DiBlasi’s adaptation of the Clive Barker short story Dread (review here). Opening with a ridiculously effective axe murder, the film leads us down the psychopathic road of a “fear study” conducted by the increasingly unhinged Quaid (Shaun Evans). This is a film which will split audiences right down the middle with even those au fait with the original story having split opinions overall. Once more, cast and crew were on hand to answer questions afterwards.
To top off the evening, Pierre Laffargue’s blaxploitation-meets-supernatural-actioner Black was scheduled. Owing to exhaustion, we decided to catch that one on DVD and get to bed – but not before John Landis took to the stage once more to announce, in honour of the late Michael Jackson, a special screening of the entirety of Thriller followed by the lengthy Making-of documentary. A highlight there involved John bursting from the auditorium into the foyer exclaiming “Come in! Even if you don’t have a ticket, come in!”
Frightfest Day Five
The final day of Frightfest 2009 began with the now customary Zombie Walk though Leicester Square. This year, it was also accompanied by a charity Zombie Sports Day and marked the World Premiere of Warren Speed and Steve O’Brien’s low-budget Zombie Women of Satan. We’ll leave it to Foy to eventually get his hands on that one. While we did not attend the screening, word of mouth afterwards was less than pleasant.
It was thus that a great beginning to the final day was had for us with the UK Premiere of Ti West’s fantastic The House of the Devil (review here) – an expertly crafted love letter to the bump-in-the-night haunted house flicks of the 70s. Ti West was once again present at the fest (having been there to present The Roost in 2005), and led an entertaining Q&A after the screening where he dropped further information regarding the long-delayed Cabin Fever 2.
Apparently, Ti shot the film as a teen romp comedy that happened to include melting bodies and spurting bodily fluids. Upon turning it in, the studio didn’t like it and hired a new editor. According to Ti, the humour required to pull it off was knife-edge (star wipes, heart wipes etc. included), and the new cut he saw completely destroyed it. He tried to get back on board and was told that while they still wanted him involved, he could have no input – so he quit. At present, reshoots have been completed and the film is being edited. Ti was not allowed to remove his name from the final cut (however that may turn out), but has for all intents and purposes disowned the film.
Following that, the UK Premiere of Christian Alvart’s Case 39 (review here) was a disappointingly formulaic and slick studio offering that really didn’t break any new ground at all. Much better was the highly anticipated World Premiere of Philip Ridley’s return to filmmaking after 14 years – the impressive horror fantasy Heartless (review here). Prior to the screening, lead actor Jim Sturgess took to the stage with his band to perform two tracks from the film, having performed the vocals for the majority of Heartless’ soundtrack.
While the film itself was certainly one of the best of the fest, not so was the Q&A afterwards with Ridley and cast members. Noel Clarke spent most of his stage time messing around on his mobile phone, while Ridley proclaimed Heartless to be the birth of a new genre of horror – much to the chagrin of long-time horror fans in the crowd, who were left in a somewhat dumbstruck stupor. The film may indeed be good, but let’s hope Ridley was simply attempting some disingenuous humour.
Next, the big finale of the festival arrived with the World Premiere of The Descent Part 2 (review here). As you will already know, the sequel picks up right at the (American) end of Neil Marshall’s brilliant original and is a serviceable sequel – lots of gore and crawlers, but not much substance either.
With another year of the UK’s best horror festival coming to a close, it was then off to the Phoenix Artist’s Club to rub shoulders, trade opinions, get all sweaty (the place is like an oven!) and make drunken fools of ourselves with guests and festival-goers alike.
This report is but a small piece of the entire Frightfest experience. Throughout the weekend we were also treated to many special offerings – this year, a brief clip from Vincenzo Natali’s Splice was suitably impressive, along with a specially recorded message from George A. Romero himself presenting an exclusive clip from his latest opus Survival of the Dead. Another exclusive, and uncut, clip from the upcoming Dorian Gray was shown and gave a glimpse of the debauchery we can expect there (it actually appears to be surprisingly bloody) and some of the main players in the UK horror flick Tormented (review here) were around to present a first look at a making-of from the DVD.
If you’re a horror fan in the UK, you owe it to yourself to attend at least one Frightfest. Chances are you’ll be hooked from the beginning. Even if you live across the pond, just ask Adam Green or Joe Lynch and they’ll soon have you convinced to make the effort!
Hopefully see you all next year!
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