This August bank holiday saw a cavalcade of menace, bloodletting and death flow through the screens of the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square as FrightFest 2015 displayed its wares for the 16th year.
Slicker than ever, this year offered more than 70 horror films as well as various shorts programmes, events and parties. I managed a maximum of 25 films through the course of the weekend, which offered up a gooey cross section of Horror in 2015.
A stark drop in Zombies but an upsurge in Demons, low on distress and torture but high on tense pursuit and a huge focus on the independent scene across the globe – this year had a lot of awesome going for it.
Best films of FrightFest 2015
Here are the ones you should be remorselessly hunting down. With a crossbow.
MOST BALLS OUT INSANE FILM
So let’s get to the heart of the matter, horror is often about extremes both visually and thematically, what was the most fucked up thing on offer? Aaaaaaaah! directed by Sightseer’s Steve Oram.
Offering up a wickedly hilarious juxtaposition of great ape behaviours mapped on to humans (or is it human behaviour mapped on to apes?) and told with no dialogue whatsoever, just animalistic hoots and gruntings, the whole thing is an orgy of violence, defecation, food flinging, fucking and strict hierarchical social structures.
At it’s heart is a genuinely affecting melodrama about an alpha male using good natured savagery to enter a family unit and woo the daughter into having the best sex scene of the entire festival. The bluntness of the bestial activities throughout would be depraved and shocking in any other film but here they push up against human norms creating situations that are just hilariously surreal, such as Toyah Wilcox having a heart to heart with her daughter in grunts as she takes a shit on the kitchen floor.
Whilst the film is often unpleasant it’s never unwatchable and for every wince there’s an equally strong laugh to be had. In one sense it’s a difficult film to recommend, there’s no way to prepare you for the atrocity and there’s nothing out there to compare it to, but this why you should see it because never in your life will you see anything else like this. Oh, and the annoying one from The Mighty Boosh gets his cock bitten off, so that’s another reason to see it.
What are you sniggering for? It’s not all decapitations with rusty farm tools, there’s plenty of laughs to be had at a horror festival too. Aaaaaaaah! survived on the gusts of mirth it pulled forth from my honk-hole, and Ted Geoghegan’s exhortation that we laugh (in the right places) during his grief-focused, ghost splatter tale We Are Still Here was a welcome admission of the sense of ridicule horror can generate through its extremes.
Sam Raimi perfected it throughout his Evil Dead series and Peter Jackson still holds the high tide mark with Braindead but shooting for those lofty heights, and getting near as damn it, is Jason Lei Howden’s DEATHGASM all about a Heavy Metal band who play ‘The Black Hymn’ and summon hideous demons that possess everybody in the neighbourhood.
This obviously culminates in sloppy, prosthetic ridden slaughter of both human and demon alike and throughout everything the film is damn funny. It’s funny when folk are just hanging out being geeky, it’s funny when they’re being threatened, it’s funny when faces are getting cut off by power tools and when somebody asks whether time-zones matter in the approaching summoning of a demon that will bring about the end of the world, it’s fucking funny.
Matching the strength of the laughter is the strength of the gory insanity (testament to Aaaaaaaah! that this isn’t the most insane thing I saw), the strength of the relationships built between the characters and the strength of the Metal. I know there’s an article elsewhere on this site about the best metal films, it’s wrong. This is the ultimate metal film. By the end my face muscles had cramped into a grinning rictus and my hands had cramped into Devil’s horns. Which afterwards made going for a piss difficult.
FILM THAT MOST SURPASSED EXPECTATION
When you go into a programme of 25 films over five days, you know not everything is going to be golden. You’ll spend time poring over listings to find the best route through the schedule and in some timeslots you have to resign yourself to films that will be of interest, but maybe not the shining examples of cinema. Sometimes they’re the clanger you feared they were going to be (yeah, I know, I was surprised too when the Peruvian found footage movie turned out to be shit) but sometimes you turn up a diamond in the rough.
The programme presented Bait as a revenge thriller directed by Paddy from Emmerdale (Dominic Brunt), which didn’t set expectations high. When Brunt introduced the film he spoke of being a long time FrightFest attendee and his nervousness at presenting his film to the FrightFest crowd was palpable. And unnecessary because Bait is a fantastic piece of work.
Embedded in a perfect, naturalistic portrayal of every Northern Market Town is a strong friendship, superbly performed by Joanne Mitchell and Victoria Smurfit, whose cake shop collides with a slimy, dead-eyed loan shark and his unstoppable brute of a debt collector. The structure of the film is engrossing as story pieces float about unconnected until the quartet become entwined by their actions building toward an inevitable chaotic, catharsis. It sounds like it could be second rate Shane Meadows but whilst Brunt never loses sight of his salt of the earth characters or his parochial British setting, his years of devotion to the genre give this film the tone of stark terror that sets it apart from other gritty British dramas.
The debt collector is Vorhees-like in his pursuit of unpaid monies and Jonathan Slinger’s loan shark is a masterclass of emotionless manipulation and sudden violence. I was expecting nothing more than a bit of an edgy soap opera when I sat down to this and instead I got a snarling, twitchy soap opera fully prepared to kick my face off. Which I applaud, obviously.
BEST FILM ABOUT BEING FRIENDS
No, I’m not taking the piss. Friendship and its dissolution under satiations of heavy stress form a large part of the horror canon, represented this year in the shattered loyalties of Landmine Goes Click, the simmering tensions of Rabid Dogs and the shared secrets of Night Fare.
As well as all the friendships that went wrong at this year’s fest there were a lot of strong, positive friendships creating a rock solid core at the heart of their respective films. Aaaaaaaah! had the strong bond of the alpha/beta, DEATHGASM had brotherhood in metal and Bait showed the strength best friends can draw from each other in the worst of situations.
The best of these however was Perry Blackshear’s They Look Like People.
Wyatt and Christian were best of friends who lost touch when Christian moved away to New York. The film begins when Christian finds Wyatt waiting at his flat one day and their friendship picks up immediately from where it left off. The only problem is Wyatt is there to rescue his best friend from impending alien invasion.
Made on a tiny budget using an old school auteurist approach (two pages of end credits, one for the cast, one for Perry Blackshear’s name to be endlessly repeated in a list), the film thrives on the slithering moments of dread witnessed by Wyatt as he glimpses alien activity behind their veil of normality (strong echoes of Carpenter’s classic They Live). Everything climaxes in a scene that pushes both tension and friendship to their fullest. The warmth of that friendship is They Look Like People’s strongest element, though, and it’s what makes the film stay with you once those two credit pages have flicked by.
Scheduling a film festival must be a tricky thing. Choosing which films should be viewed when (just when is the right time of day to see a woman clutching a foetus in her teeth?) is further complicated by the repeat viewings of the films cycling through the three main screens. The insane Saturday midnight movie appearing on your screen was another screen’s early Saturday evening appetiser and this means that the gold can crop up in unusual places in the programme.
And so I sat down at 11am on a Monday morning ready to watch a French film about a grumpy taxi driver and found myself at lunchtime headfucked and elated by Julien Seri’s truly remarkable Night Fare.
Essentially a game of cat and mouse between a pair of friends and the taxi driver they ran out on without settling their fare, the film refuses to let up at any point in its sense of pursuit. The friends bicker throughout gradually revealing a complex past between them, which informs the film’s moral compass. The taxi driver on the other hand is played as nothing less than the iconic character he’s destined to be. There’s surely going to be an action figure of this guy before long.
Always silent and shrouded in shadow, the taxi driver evokes the eerie truck driver of Spielberg’s Duel as he second guesses everybody’s whereabouts. If only Spielberg had given his truck driver a samurai sword maybe he would have meted out the same particular brand of justice as Seri’s singularly minded cabbie of fury.
The other major character supporting the film is Paris itself. The night streets thrum in the sodium glare that endlessly reflects off the sleek taxi as it cruises about. Echoing the neon stylings of Winding Refn and the grubby nighttime stalking of Khalfoun’s Maniac remake, the film is a visual joy throughout. In fact when dawn breaks it threatens to run out of stream, which is where Seri plays his wild card as Night Fare abruptly swings into one of the most audacious final acts I’ve seen.
For some this sudden tonal shift will be too much, it will derail the movie without hope of recovery. If you’re one of those people, don’t worry I’m sure they’ll release another Saw movie for you soon. However, if you give the film time to explain, all becomes abundantly clear. It’s a bold risk putting 10 minutes of exposition at the end of such nail-biting pursuit but it pays off in its final shots, soundtracked in pure synth-bombast glory leaving you in a state of total exaltation. If I punched the air at that point I’d have knocked it out. Fucking brilliant.
OTHER HONOURABLE MENTIONS
Over Your Dead Body is Takashi Miike’s best since 13 Assassins. It’s good to see that his persistent profilicism has yet to dull his genius.
We Are Still Here is a perfect homage of Fulci and Gordon with a shit storm of gory mayhem plastered across the end. A proper horror film.
Turbo Kid has a lot of heart and a lot of guts. Most of the latter get spilled.
Tales Of Halloween is an 11 film anthology which, remarkably for such a high number, contains no clanger. Also made me shit myself thanks to a grinning ghost.
Rabid Dogs felt out of place but its invocation of hyper violent French thrillers such as Doberman was most welcome.
Some Kind Of Hate aka Some Kind Of Irresponsible Shit.