Horror may currently be in a slump, but the 2008 American Film Market has shown a huge light at the end of the tunnel. This year showcased a record number of horror titles and Dread Central was on hand to catch a great deal of them. Some were good, some were bad but all showed that this genre still has plenty of lifeblood left. Many exhibitors were also kind enough to show us movie promos, while others coldly showed us the door (Lesbian Vampire Killers, I’m looking at you). The most promising show previews were easily Night of the Demons and Clive Barker’s Dread, with plenty of new projects being announced. Check out our full AFM ’08 coverage here.
So without further ado, we present you with our yearly AFM round-up:
What a hell of a way to kick of the market! The latest from writer/director Tom Shankland (Waz: The Killing Gene) is a UK-lensed evil children movie (not to be confused with the 1980 film of the same name). When two families meet in a secluded home for Christmas vacation, things take a turn for the worst when all the kids succumb to a mysterious illness that turns them into homicidal maniacs. Snowed in and cut off from the outside world, the parents soon find themselves in a brutal fight for survival against their own twisted offspring.
Scary and visceral, “>The Children is the stuff of nightmares and one of the creepiest horror films in ages. With a solid cast, eerie visuals and unnerving score Shankland takes his time building the characters and dread before unleashing absolute hell in the second half. The screenplay wisely keeps things ambiguous and never explains what is driving the kids mad (and even suggests that the adults might be suffering from a different psychosis). After seeing The Children, there is little doubt that Shankland is one of the new masters of horror. Easily the best film of its kind since the original Village of the Damned.
4 ½ out of 5
CLIVE BARKER’S BOOK OF BLOOD:
Director John Harrison’s adaptation of the “The Book of Blood” which frames Clive Barker’s infamous shorts collection. The story follows Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward), a professor and psychic researcher who recruits a team of paranormal investigators to study a haunted house. Among them is Simon McNeal, a student and supposed-medium, who quickly becomes a living catalyst for the angry spirits – with very gruesome results.
Though there’s plenty of Barker’s trademark sex n’ flesh, Book of Blood is a disappointingly dull experience. It may be faithful to the source material, but like The Midnight Meat Train, there is so much extra padding that the film version gets bogged down in repetitiveness (only without the aid of Ryuhei Kitamura’s slick visual style). Harrison’s flat, made-for-TV movie direction lacks any real atmosphere and events move at a lethargic pace, further demonstrating why Barker should stick to directing his own work.
2 out of 5
The first film adapted from splatter punk gods John Skipp & Craig Spector tells the story of down-on-his-luck hick Jarrett (Marc Blucas) whose luck changes when he meets a mysterious sexpot (Nicki Acox). After several steamy encounters, a psychotic man (Lost’s Naveen Andrews) enters the picture and Jarrett realizes that he’s been inducted into a group of blood-thirsty lycanthropes.
Despite an interesting cast and a screenplay by Craig Spector, Animals is a flat-out embarrassing adaptation. Horrendous direction, editing and visual effects ruin any trace of suspense or eroticism and turn what is supposed to be a backwoods character study into a student film-level redneck soap. The CGI werewolves, which look like giant ‘roided-up ghost chihuahuas, look like they were stolen from the FX department of The Asylum’s upcoming Wolf Man knock-off. It’s enough to drive any Skipp and Spector fan to drink.
1 ½ out of 5
Macarena Gómez (the Spanish hottie from Stuart Gordon’s Dagon) stars as a plucky med-student/serial killer who dismembers unsavory people on her college campus. The police are baffled and have no leads so they enlist the help of an experimental brain analyzer which they hope can identify the killer. Naturally, science opens up a whole new can of worms…
Wild and over-the-top, Sexykiller tries hard to become a cult classic with mixed results. The self-referential script seems more like a product of the Scream era and the whole novelty about a female turning the tables feels like old hat these days. The movie starts out more annoying than funny with its mix of bubblegum humor and stale slasher jokes, but eventually picks up steam in the second-half after several bizarre plot twists. Fans of off-the-wall Spanish splatter-comedies will feel right at home here.
2 ½ out of 5
If you thought you couldn’t get phone service in Hell, think again. Satan owns a cell (and probably AT&T too). When four dumb Japanese school girls call his number at midnight, they discover that the Dark Lord will grant them each a wish. But there’s always a catch: All callers eventually wind up dead. Fearing for their souls, the girls proceed to sulk around and not do much of anything.
The days of tech-based ghost horrors are long over in Japan, but the makers of End Call obviously never got that memo. But unlike even the worst post-Ring knock-offs, this one doesn’t even give us the basic ingredients for a spook show. Not only is End Call devoid of scares or atmosphere, for most of its agonizing 100 minutes, nothing much happens at all. To add to the confusion, the plot jumps forwards and backwards in time for absolutely no reason. You’ll find more joy in tentacle-rape.
½ out of 5
Mike Wilson (Dameon Clarke), a prolific psycho takes a disgruntled video store clerk (Mathew Gray Gubler) under his wing to teach him the dos and don’ts of serial killing. But when Mike’s girlfriend discovers his secret identity, all hell breaks loose and the duo must find a way to escape the authorities.
This micro budget mockumentary tries to be Dexter meets The Office with a dark and dry sense of humor. The two leads are charismatic enough and deliver solid performances, but this is largely a one-joke affair without the smarts or wit to make it memorable. Stick with American Psycho for real serial killer satire.
2 out of 5
In the snowy Canadian town of Pontypool, edgy radio personality Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) arrives at work for another grueling day of creative battles. Broadcasting from a church basement, the grizzled shock jock locks horns with his creatively-challenged producer but quickly finds his troubles have escalated when reports of a zombie-like outbreak begin flooding the station. Quarantining himself in the radio booth, Mazzy tries to make sense of the chaos and find a way to warn people about the zombie infection, which seems to be spreading through the English language.
Fiercely intelligent and original, “>Pontypool is Night of the Living Dead meets Talk Radio with a dash of William S. Burroughs. While the small cast has a great dynamic, this is largely a one-man show and the charismatic McHattie delivers the performance of the year. The one-location script feels like it was adapted from a play, but director Bruce McDonald makes good cinematic use of his surroundings and keeps things moving through a brisk ninety minutes. Smart, funny and intense, Pontypool is a small film with a big head on its shoulders and is not to be missed.
4 out of 5
A young Romanian woman (the incredibly hot Olga Fedori) takes up work in a British airport and is invited over to spend the night with a female co-worker. There she meets the girl’s psychotic parents (Perry Benson and Dido Miles delivering frightening performances) who imprison her and force her to be “part of the family” in a gruesome household of perversions and discipline.
While the premise fits the typical Texas Chainsaw mold, “>Mum & Dad has a few twisted tricks up its sleeve and makes the most of its micro-budget. Writer/director Steven Sheil goes for a pitch-black satire on family values with several disgusting shocks and a lot of dark humor. Well-paced and tense with terrific performances, this is a surprising debut effort, even if it does end on a fairly standard note.
3 ½ out of 5
This historical drama recounts the story of renowned serial killer/cannibal Albert Fish (Patrick Bauchau) who murdered several children and the obsessive six-year manhunt to bring him to justice in the 1930s.
Like David Fincher’s Zodiac, The Gray Man sticks to the facts instead of sensationalizing its subject which is a real breath of fresh air amidst so many bad serial killer biopics. Even with its modest budget, the film does a great job capturing all the period details helped in part by good cinematography and an understated score. Debut director Scott Flynn has done a good job creating a classy and disturbing piece of true crime anchored by a superbly creepy performance from Bauchau.
4 out of 5
Adam Mason, the director of Broken and The Devil’s Chair, reigns down psychological madness and Old Testament-style vengeance in this nuanced fable that combines horror, drama and western influences. Clark (Ian Duncan) and his newly-pregnant wife Summer (Tess Panzer) are driving threw the Nevada desert on the way to deliver the news to her parents when their car breaks down. Taking refuge in a ghost town, the two meet a lone drifter (Andrew Howard) who believes he is God’s avenger and sets his sites on the two to answer for their supposed crimes.
Beautifully-shot and expertly-crafted, “>Blood River is a disturbing little gem that never takes the easy way out. Mason weaves an unsettling character study and slowly ratchets up the tension, and while there are several grueling moments, he never resorts to “survival horror” or “torture porn” tactics. This is a dense, intelligent and thematically-rich film that never takes its audience for granted. That’s a rare thing in this day in age.
4 out of 5
Jamie “I Hate Kangaroos” Blanks delivers a remake of the 1978 Aussie classic with James Caviezel and Claudia Karvan as a bickering couple who go camping in the wilderness. But Mother Nature doesn’t take too kindly to their presence and unleashes the elements at a spooky, supernatural rate.
After his brief skirt in Hollywood with the god-awful Urban Legend and Valentine, Blanks seems more comfortable on his home turf. Like Storm Warning, Long Weekend is beautifully-shot and well-acted, and Blanks does an admirable job building a sense of menace throughout the film. It’s undeniably well made, but the remake also covers the same ground as the original and feels kind of superfluous in the end. Viewers unfamiliar with the original will most likely get more enjoyment out of it.
3 out of 5
Writer/director Ed (The Blair Witch Project, Altered) Sanchez’s latest follows a honeymooning couple (Amy Smart, Tim Chiou) as they attend the “Hungry Ghost” festival in China – an event which honors the carnivorous walking dead who supposedly roam free during the seventh full moon. When the newlyweds find themselves lost in an ancient backwoods village, they discover that the legend is true and must fight to survive the night.
Though it suffers from an overabundance of shaky-cam, “>Seventh Moon still delivers enough creepiness to rise above the usual horror dreck. The pasty-white Chinese demons, which look like practical versions of I Am Legend’s infected (take note, Francis Lawrence!) will send chills down your spine. There are moments when the cinematography makes it painfully difficult to grasp what is happening, but there are still several memorable scares and set pieces, and the finale is especially frightening.
3 out of 5
Sadly, we weren’t able to catch every genre film this year but we heard from others that Norio Tsuruta’s Orochi, Elio Quiroga’s The Beckoning, and Richard Dutcher’s Evil Angel were all greeted with unanimous praise. There were also a few amazing films that we are currently forbidden to talk about, but we can easily say this AFM was the best yet and that fans have a lot to look forward to next year.
Special thanks to all the exhibitors who were kind enough to let us check out their films.
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