FrightFest 2015

Danni Glover reports from the front line of cimematic terror. Click for more, if you dare.

Banjo
Banjo

If anyone is out there, if anyone can hear me, I have just survived a weekend of terror unlike any other. A rainy bank holiday weekend in the centre of London. It was alright though, I had a packed schedule of horror movies to occupy me. Film4 FrightFest sliced off the end of summer like a maniac with a chainsaw yet again, and though the Vue at Leicester Square was hotter than hell’s sex dungeon and twice as smelly, the FrightFest Faithful made it our home for five days of fear. This year’s festival brought with it the added excitement of the launch of a partnership with Icon Film Distribution, which will bring horror fans a curated selection of films under the banner FrightFest Presents, many of which were featured in this year’s lineup. It’s always encouraging to see genre films getting distribution, and I struggle to think of minds more qualified for the task than those that put together this year’s diverse and outstanding lineup.

After a mixed reaction to the festival’s opening film Cherry Tree, Turbo Kid (co-directed by François Simard and Anouk and Yoann-Karl Whissell) kicked off the weekend with a bang. A referential but sincere BMX movie, Turbo Kid was a hit at Sundance and SXSW and is destined to find a dedicated audience among the same VHS aficionados who loved Black Dynamite and Hobo With a Shotgun, though if there’s any justice it will be recognised as being funnier and less dependent on recreating the unconvincing schlock of the 80s than either film. It draws some comparisons to Mad Max: Fury Road too (a post-apocalyptic wasteland where the water source is controlled by a tyrannical despot), but it’s less political, more in a pastel palette of pure enjoyment. I fell absolutely in love with Laurence Leboeuf’s character Apple, who gave the film a slightly manic emotional core. Turbo Kid was apparently originally conceived as a segment for The ABCs of Death and I’m so glad it was rejected, not only because we would then have been deprived of Lee Hardcastle’s excellent T is for Toilet but also because Turbo Kid uses every second of its running time without a dip in energy. It’s available on Blu-ray on October 5th, but I recommend seeing it on the big screen if possible.

France quite rightly has a reputation for disturbing horror cinema. Julien Seri’s Night Fare bridges the psychological trauma of Les Diaboliques and the extreme torture of Martyrs. Night Fare tells the story of a cabbie who goes on a murderous rampage after two likely lads skip out on the fare, but Maniac Cop this ain’t. Night Fare is a sophisticated exploration of guilt and justice featuring a stunningly physical performance from former MMA fighter Jess Liaudin as the Driver. It’s violent but surprising, with a dark synth soundtrack by the composers of the Hotline Miami soundtrack. Night Fare is due for a cinematic release in France in November.

The surprise hit of the festival for me was Emelie. It’s not a gritty English-language reboot of a modern French classic, it’s a babysitting feature where the kids are the heroes. Truthfully, on paper it’s not up to much, but in fact it’s a relentless heart-in-the-mouth thriller that takes the titular babysitter’s psychological violence to extremes from which lesser films might shrink. The film’s horror is dependent on the viewer loving the kids (Heroes’ Joshua Rush and first time actors Carly Adams and Thomas Bair) as if they’d been at all Culkin-esque it might have had an unpleasant aftertaste of schadenfreude, but their loving family dynamic and genuine cuteness were a home run. Sarah Bolger, of TV’s Once Upon a Time and The Tudors gives a stunning turn as the sinister babysitter revelling in childlike destruction and adult debauchery, inappropriate to the point of abusive and motivated to perversion by a dark past. Emelie is one of the films soon to be available on the FrightFest presents label, and although it may be hard work for viewers with children, it is a challenging, worthwhile, scary watch.

Emelie
Emelie

It was a good year for anthology pictures. The fashionably un-seasonal A Christmas Horror Story seamlessly weaved together four festive stories with attention paid to the connecting premise, but it was this year’s closing film Tales of Halloween that got me excited for pumpkins and bonfires and bloodlust. Tales of Halloween features a behemoth eleven stories by Darren Lynn Bousman, Axelle Carolyn, Adam Gierasch, Andrew Kasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, John Skipp and Paul Solet, starring Barry Bostwick, Pollyanna McIntosh, Grace Phipps, Barbara Crampton, Pat Haley, and a cavalcade of killer kids. Tales of Halloween is good clean fun with a campfire storytelling vibe, chronicling great American Halloween traditions such as trick-or-treating, pranks, scary stories, costume parties, Jack-O-Lanterns, and of course the summoning of subterranean demons. The stories were linked in pleasantly subtle ways, and although each director brought their own unique vision and style, there was a pleasant coherence that made it more of a Black Sunday than a V/H/S/. It’s available on VOD on October 16th.

But the difference between FrightFest and other film festivals in the UK is the community. There’s no other film event I attend regularly that has the same sense of camaraderie, even family. Which is why it was such a delight not only to see longtime FrightFest attendee Liam Regan’s freshman feature Banjo, but to see it sold out first thing on a Monday morning. Banjo started life as a short film, Confessions of Peltzer, but after some guidance from Troma studios became a feature-length film described by the director as “Drop Dead Fred meets Basket Case”. The film follows Peltzer, a downtrodden and bullied office employee reunited with his childhood imaginary friend Ronnie, who wants Peltzer to follow up a teenage school shooting with an office massacre. Regan’s script is packed with references to Tromaville and the films of Henenlotter, but without feeling copycat, safe, or already done. He’s got a really original voice, and I’m hopeful to see great things for him. Although Banjo does not have a release as of yet, Regan is already planning his next feature, Parent’s Evening which he describes as “I Spit on Your Grave meets Mean Girls”. Keep your eye out for this guy.

Finally, a brief list of recommendations from my personal favourite strand of the festival; short films. Please, please, please seek out Alex Pachón’s You Will Fall Again, Abigail Blackmore’s Vintage Blood, Bryn Tilly’s Umbra, Mike Williamson’s Deathly and Amber Benson’s Shevenge. Short horror cinema is in an exciting place just now, with several shorts featuring on Channel 4’s new enterprise All4. It’s also where we see the emergent talent of the most interesting genre filmmakers (Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook started life as a short film, as did Turbo Kid and Banjo). You owe it to yourself to get into shorts at the end of the summer.

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