I watched 20 films at Frightfest (21 if you count Texas Chain Saw Massacre), and I had originally planned to review them all. But I wasn't counting on two things: 1. The fact that several of them weren't really horror movies, and 2. How little free time I'd have in between, as I was constantly using that time to run back to my room or to some fast food joint to eat. So on day two, when I realized I was like 6 reviews back with no time to write in sight, I decided to only review the films that I enjoyed. I took a similar approach last year with Screamfest, skipping reviews for films I didn't care for for the most part, because what good does it do if they aren't even distributed yet? The whole point of HMAD is to talk about films (which is why I encourage comments and read every single one), so if it's a movie that is premiering there and has yet to find a home for the US (or even the UK), chances are no one will have anything to say anyway, besides fellow Frightfesters, most of whom will be reviewing them on their own blogs/sites. And if it's not even a horror movie, why spend time writing up a full review, when no one will be coming to this site looking for a review once it hits?
But I figure folks might like to know a thought or two on the others, as well as "proof" as to which movies I watched, so here's a recap for all of those non-reviewed movies, as well as my thoughts on other FF-centric activities and the fest as a whole. Enjoy!
Obviously, this is the exception. It's most certainly horror and I most certainly enjoyed it. But as I said before, I won't be reviewing it in full as I had worked on it. Yes, in a very limited and entirely non-creative capacity (production assistant and end title creator, for the record), but my name is still there in the credits (twice! That's more than the producers!!), so I don't feel comfortable with it. However, fans who thought the original had too much humor will be very happy with this one, as it was largely eschewed in favor of more kills (more than double the number in the original, and for the most part, all more ridiculously gory) and a (slightly too) lengthy back-story concerning Crowley. Those who listened to a lot of Q&As when the original film was around will probably remember Adam Green mentioning that he specifically zoomed into the kid in the pig mask when Victor was being burned in that film's flashback, so here we get to know why. The humor is still there (Colton Dunn and AJ Bowen's characters being the funniest), but it's overall a darker film. Those who were disappointed that Tony Todd was only in the original for a single scene will also be relieved to discover he's pretty much the main character here, he has about as much screentime as Danielle Harris, who replaced Tamara Feldman in the role of Marybeth (and had slightly more to do, storywise). Bias aside, I was happy to return to the swamp, and I think fans will be too. A great way to kick off the festival.
I described this as "An extremely sedated Guy Ritchie making his own version of From Dusk Til Dawn". Technically fine, and featuring a good lead performance by Craig Fairbrass, it's still a pacing disaster, as they tell us that there are vampires around but it takes half the movie for them to show up and do anything. FDTD worked because it completely came out of nowhere; we thought we were watching a straight up crime thriller. But here it's like "OK, these guys are vampires. And in about 40 minutes or so, they'll prove it." And even then, it's too talky, as the film's Van Helsing type explains that vampires are pretty much responsible for every single thing in world history (the guillotine? Invented to kill vampires). also, it all takes place in a strip club where the women do not strip (even more disappointing when you consider uber-hottie Janet Montgomery is one of them), which just adds to the movie's sedated presentation. Someone call Ritchie and have him do the gangsters vs. vampires thing right.
Isle of Dogs
Not a horror movie. It seems like it might be for a while, as a guy in a white mask (he looked like The Blank from Dick Tracy) shows up at the main character's mansion and begins stalking his wife, but it's all a big setup, with double and triple crosses and a complete lack of any characters worth rooting for. Any movie that begins with a dog being shot point blank has to really deliver some great, compelling stuff in order to make up for it and get any caring audience back on its side, but this one doesn't. Well made, however, and fans of Andrew Howard (Devil's Chair, I Spit On Your Grave remake) will enjoy his scenery-chewing.
Once I realized this wasn't a horror movie, I just as quickly realized it was one of the best Westerns in ages, as an escaped prisoner returns to the town where he used to live and begins systematically killing just about everyone there. But when he lets newcomer Ryan Kwanten go free, we learn that perhaps there is more to his actions than we were led to believe. Set entirely in one day and featuring some pretty terrific wide-screen imagery, this was one of the festival's best films overall; it's just a shame that they had to try to sell it as a horror movie. I probably would have liked it even more if I hadn't spent so much of its first half wondering when the horror would kick in (it would be like telling someone that Schindler's List was a comedy - "OK, this isn't BAD, per se, but where are the jokes?"). Highly recommended.
Possibly the weakest film in the festival, it's another one of those youth-centric horror films where they are all characterized by their sexual history with one another. I don't often get chased around by werewolves, but when I do, I usually don't start arguing with my mates about why I am sleeping with one and who is trying to get back at who. But time and time again, it seems this lot are more concerned with hashing out their dirty laundry than killing the goddamn werewolf. Plus, it's from the producers of Dog Soldiers - there's a certain level of expectation involved that no one was capable of achieving. It also commits the cardinal sin of killing its most interesting character off the second he enters the fray. Again, it was technically fine (except for a laughably obvious bald cap on the wolf - these werewolves are furless!), but nothing can overcome such a weak script.
This one comes thisclose to being considered a horror film - there are giant monster aliens in it, after all. But they never really cause any problems for our characters until the very end, and when they're not on-screen you would never in a million years think you were watching a genre film. Instead, it's a successful hybrid of several genres: a road movie, a romance, a drama... you get a little bit of everything. And lead actor Scoot McNairy (who sounds EXACTLY like David Duchovny, which was a bit distracting - they really should have had a different name for his character, Culder) is terrific; he possesses a laidback, dryly hilarious charm that will hopefully be exploited in bigger Hollywood films in the future. It drags a bit in the early parts of its 3rd act, but the ending (which asks the audience to put 2+2 together on their own) more than makes up for it. As someone put it later, "Think Before Sunrise, but with occasional monsters in the background".
We Are What We Are
And you are boring. I like the basic idea, but man, this is one endless movie, as the entire thing is about a group of possibly vampires seeking one (just ONE!) victim to feed on for their blood ritual (the patriarch of the clan dies at the film's beginning, so it's up to his three, basically incompetent children to carry on his work for the sake of their mother). I like the idea of an actual family of vampires (or cannibals, I never quite knew for sure), as opposed to an honorary one, as it leads to some amusing sibling rivalry, but it's ultimately a movie about 3 people seeking to do one fairly simple thing (and failing to do it!); it needed a little more meat on its bones. Lots of folks seemed to enjoy this one, but I was just bored for the most part. Still, any movie with an army of hookers can't be altogether bad.
I've long wondered why no one has ever made a documentary about the Video Nasties, which were a group of about 70 or so horror films that were banned outright in Britain in the early 80s after failing to earn BBFC certification when they hit home video. It starts off strong, with a rockin' montage featuring all of the titles, and then an amusing (if slightly overlong) tribute to the often terrible quality of VHS tapes that these films were presented on, but then it just gets too dry, spending too much time on the government officials and studies that were involved, and not enough time with the people that were affected by their actions. Why not have Sam Raimi (Evil Dead was on the list) or Tobe Hooper (boasting three films, including the rather tame The Funhouse) talk about how possessing their films could put you in jail? Better yet, why not talk to some of the folks who WERE arrested for owning something like Cannibal Holocaust? It's also quite short (only 60 minutes), and the topic, I think, deserves a more wide-reaching look. I'd bet the book "See No Evil" by David Kerekes and David Slater is a far more complete look at this rather peculiar time for horror fans.
Red, White, and Blue
The final shot of this movie is one of the most heartbreaking smacks in the gut I've ever seen in a movie. Unfortunately, to get there you have to sit through lots of unpleasant torture scenes, unsympathetic main characters (our heroine, for example, is a girl who has HIV and yet won't even let her sexual partners wear a condom, nor does she tell them about her condition), and far too much typical indie movie excess: repetition, long stretches of dialogue-free time-passing (no mundane task our characters have to carry out for their jobs is too dull for it to get at least 30 seconds of screen time, it seems; enjoy riveting vaccuuming footage!), hand-held footage up the wazoo... I just couldn't get into it. Maybe if it played on the first day I could have enjoyed it a bit more, but after too many revenge/torture type movies as it was, this (the final film for me, as I had already seen the next and true final film, Last Exorcism) was just the straw that broke the camel's back. Can we have a moratorium on movies in which a guy being tied up and tortured is the only thing that puts it in the horror category? How about some goddamn suspense, or even a jump scare? Christ, I would have welcomed When A Stranger Calls' killer ice machines and endless phone calls at this point.
Andy Nyman's Quiz From Hell
The first time I had to do a works cited page in high school, my teacher explained about how you don't need to cite things that are common knowledge, like "George Washington was the first President of the United States." But my paper was, shockingly, about movies, and there was a lot of stuff that was common knowledge as far as I was concerned (such as, at that time, that ET was the highest grossing film of all time). This is even more of a problem when it comes to horror films, some of this stuff is so ingrained into my head that I almost found it laughable (i.e. "What is the name of Michael Myers' first victim?"). But I struggled with quite a few, particularly the soundtrack section (they would play a few seconds of a song or score from a horror movie, you'd name the movie), which was difficult without the context for several (not to mention tricky - I actually got Halloween wrong, as it was actually the more synth-y Halloween II). A terrific, super-fun addition to the festival, and I'd love to see more interactive, non-film based activities added for future Fests.
Road To Frightfest
As in years' past, Adam Green and Joe Lynch made 5 shorts, one for each day of the festival, that parodied a famous horror movie (American Werewolf and Twilight Zone being the previous topics) as it detailed their attempts to get to Frightfest on time. This year was Blair Witch Project, which was a bit unusual (hasn't it been parodied enough?), but it paid off with an amazing 4th episode surprise (one that, sadly, few people seemed to get). And episode two had a lengthy discussion of the Shocker soundtrack, which I assume was there just to amuse me specifically (I was certainly the only one to cheer at the mention of "Shockdance"). And since this was my first Frightfest, it was great to see them in their proper context - the others I had watched at home, without knowing who Emily Booth was or why they seemed to be concerned with getting to some place called the Phoenix. And as before, the final episode (in which they "die") was an in-joke heaven, with tons of self-deprecating humor (Joe's family eating out of the trash was a particularly hilarious/awful gag) and proof of how much effort they put into these things (Adam's actual wedding, which was months ago, was the setting for one joke). There were some technical issues with the projector that kept them from airing at their intended times (we actually watched episodes 1 and 2 on day two), but I hope it doesn't sour them on the idea of doing them again next year. Especially with the increasingly downbeat selection of films, they were always a welcome dose of levity. Look for them online soon!
Overall, I had a fantastic time at the fest. Sure, I didn't love every movie, but I didn't outright hate any either, and I can at least say that they were all superb on a technical level, at least (not something I can say about other festivals I've attended). And it's not like I expected to be blown away by every film - its impossible to expect someone to like/love all 30 films, even if they were just high from the experience itself. And I only missed one main screen film the entire time (not counting skipping screenings of the three films I had already seen: Loved Ones, Last Exorcism, and Damned by Dawn, which I didn't care much for the first time when it played at Screamfest last year), but luckily both the comfortable Empire seats and insanely friendly attendees and organizers (Paul McEvoy is possibly the most delightful man I've ever met) made it easy to keep coming back, and as tired (and broke) as I was by the end of it, I was truly sorry that it had to end. And from what I understand, this one actually paled compared to previous years' - if this was a subpar year, I simply cannot wait to come back again for a "good" one. See you next year!