The Arrow Video FrightFest 2019 came, delighted and went. Let us take time to reflect upon a fantastic 20th anniversary weekend for the UK’s premiere horror film festival. Indulge us as we run through memorable moments from the weekend and the movies that played.
THE BUCKET LIST MOMENT – Dario Argento Interview and Signing
For FrightFest’s 20th anniversary, it was fitting that undisputed maestro of terror Dario Argento was in attendance. Watching an Argento movie at a formative age is the reason many of us have dedicated so much time to the genre. For the record, my movie was Suspiria, viewed age 14 when I should have been revising. I regret nothing…
Dario Argento joined the festival for a one-day appointment on Friday 23rd, supporting the English language release of his autobiography, Fear. His introduction to Tenebrae with long-time friend and advocate Alan Jones showed the warmth between the two, as did a later interview at the Prince Charles Cinema. The red icing on the cake was meeting the man himself. Thanks, FrightFest.
THE GEAR SHIFT AWARD – Come To Daddy
Ant Timpson’s Come To Daddy opened this year’s festival. A tale of father and son recriminations and attempted resolutions, it stars Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie (who also cropped up in Rabid), Martin Donovan and Michael Smiley. The film opens with a slow-burn first half as Wood and the old man McHattie gradually fray each other’s nerves.
Then Come To Daddy, well, it doesn’t so much change gears as swap vehicles entirely. The epic tonal switch may have left some with whiplash, but the shift into darker territories made for quality “FrightFest moments”.
THE PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH AWARD FOR BEST DEATH – Tenebrae
Sometimes the old ‘uns are the best ‘uns. Jane outrageously coming in ‘arm’s way still drew a great reaction from an audience most of whom had seen Argento’s 1982 masterpiece film plenty of times before.
THE MARMITE MOVIE AWARD – Knives and Skin
There are always Marmite movies at FrightFest. A film festival trading in the murkier musings of the human psyche will feature movies that float boats and leave others on the island. Jennifer Reeder’s magical realist teen-angst tale really bisected opinion. Some warmed to its Lynchian atmosphere, offbeat characters and a razor’s edge balancing act between profundity and pretension. Others… didn’t.
Which is one of the
joys of FrightFest: everyone experiences the exact same movie and wildly different
responses are passionately debated in Leicester Square shortly thereafter.
Speaking of being left on the island…
THE MY BOAT DOES NOT FLOAT AWARD – Bullets of Justice
I suspect the fifteen-year-old me would have gone ape for this post-apocalyptic man vs. mutant pigs actioner. The gross-out splatter (so many fluids coat this film), the extreme violence and batshit sensibility would have been, if you will, right up my alley. But, watching it aged fifteen-plus-considerably-more, Bullets of Justice was all a bit try hard. Like a pre-teen lad attempting to impress his mates by telling the one dirty joke he knows (but doesn’t understand), it ain’t suitable for grown-ups.
THOSE THAT GOT AWAY – Bliss, Darlin’, Dachra
With a record-busting seventy-eight movies playing over five days, there was never going to be chance to see everything. But, three misses stung in particular. Bliss, which dazzled the Friday night audience, I’m sure looked amazing on that huge main screen.
But, the FrightFest lurgy (lost voice, raging throat, all-round Brundlefly) sent me home early.
Darlin’ and Dachra sold out and stayed sold out.
But, part of the FrightFest fun is tracking down those films you missed as they one-by-one get released. It can be FrightFest every day.
THE MAD AS ARSEHOLES AWARD – The Drone
This should go to Bullets of Justice because it features many an arsehole, the contents of arseholes, and an arsehole for a face. But, as mentioned, I wasn’t a fan. Therefore (and partly because I didn’t see Mutant Blast), this award goes to The Drone.
Going the Child’s Play route, the latest from the Zombeavers team is about a serial killer whose soul possesses a drone and makes life hell for a couple who find it. The humour is both knowing and funny. The film references, including The Terminator, Alien 3 and The Dark Knight, are spot on. Plus, The Drone knows when to play it nasty. Good fun.
FrightFest prides itself on bringing global horror and fantasy voices to Leicester Square every August (and at Halloween, and March time in Glasgow). Alongside this, FrightFest audiences also enjoy the best of British cinema, including emerging talents in the First Blood strand.
The two standouts for us this year were Graham Hughes’ Death of a Vlogger and Staten Cousins Roe’s A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life. Both writer/directors selected modern preoccupations (social media and the self-help industry respectively) and took them to task horror movie style. Suspenseful and wryly humourous, seek these out.
Read our interview with Graham Hughes here
THE MAKE TIME TO WATCH IT TWICE AWARD – Volition
A wonderful fusion of Memento, Timecrimes, Looper and Black Mirror, Tony Dean Smith’s Volition proves imagination and talent are more effective than a $200m budget in creating great genre cinema.
A clairvoyant hustler sees his own death when he becomes involved in an illegal diamond exchange. From this wonderful neo-noir fantasy premise, Smith (and his co-writer-and-producer brother Ryan) spin an irresistible yarn dealing with predestination, free will, love, death and basically the human condition. With a touch of Back to the Future 2 mixed in.
Read our interview with Tony Dean Smith here
THE 2018 SUSPIRIA AWARD FOR SUCCESSFUL REMAKE OF A HORROR CLASSIC – Rabid
We suspected the Soska Sisters’ take on David Cronenberg’s 1977 chiller would be more than a simple cash-in. The women know what makes horror work; without any irony, we say See No Evil 2 is an underrated slasher jewel. They know body horror, that most Cronenbergian of preoccupations: American Mary was a paean to transformation as a remedy for trauma. For Rabid, they fruitfully graft their themes – notions of beauty, women in male dominated industries, male/female conflicts – onto the original story, against a fashion-house backdrop that destroys as much as it creates.
Rabid is also the Soska’s most visually controlled film to date, Kim Derko’s cinematography echoing the grisly gorgeousness of Peter Suschitzky’s work on Cronenberg’s movies. Leading us into…
THE JENNIFER TILLY AWARD FOR MOST OUTRAGEOUSLY FUN TALENT – Jen & Sylvia Soska
The Soska Sisters opened FrightFest in style with their brand of wild, impassioned, free-association geek-speak. As audiences left the Cineworld Empire on the closing night, the Soskas were there to thank everyone for attending. Over the weekend the “Twisted Twins” chatted with fans and posed for selfies, signed a few hundred Rabid posters and basically put festival-goers on a giddy high. Horror’s dynamic duo.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN AWARD FOR BLENDING HORROR WITH HUMOUR – Ready or Not
The trailer suggests Ready or Not is going to be a knockabout splatter farce. The film itself is a darker, more interesting affair. Yes, there is humour, but the terror of the situation never completely dissipates. Chiefly due to Samara Weaving’s performance, which anchors the many wild moments in reactions of true horror and fear. Satanic Panic also deserves mention for doing something similar, albeit leaning into the funnies far more.
THE BEST ACTOR AWARD – Sarah Bolger (A Good Woman is Hard to Find)
When introducing A Good Woman is Hard to Find, Alan Jones said in an alternate universe, Sarah Bolger would receive an Academy Award nomination for her work here. He’s not wrong.
As Sarah, the single-mum who becomes embroiled in criminal goings-on on a rough estate, Bolger delivers a performance of compassion, fear, outrage and resilience. If this was a Mike Leigh joint, she’d be feted at Cannes (and the film wouldn’t be half as good). But awards be damned (apart from ours, of course), we have a performance to treasure in what is…
THE FIRST OF TWO FIVE STAR MOVIES AT FRIGHTFEST 2019 – A Good Woman is Hard to Find
Abner Pastoll’s thriller is cinematic dynamite. From Ronan Blaney’s socially-conscious script Pastoll has fashioned an angry, street-level crime film, part Dead Men’s Shoes, Raining Stones, Kill List and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.
Yep, it’s that good and joins the following five-star movies that have played a FrightFest event since that first weekend back in 2000… (deep breath)
Audition, Donnie Darko, Insomnia (2002), Oldboy, The Descent, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Host, Let the Right One In, Martyrs, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), Amer, Kill List, Berberian Sound Studio, The Raid 2, The Babadook, Under the Shadow, Incident in a Ghostland, Tigers Are Not Afraid.
Which leads neatly into…
THE SECOND OF TWO FIVE STAR MOVIES AT FRIGHTFEST 2019 AND THE FESTIVAL’S BEST FILM – The Wind
It was a close run race between this and A Good Woman… but Emma Tammi’s directorial debut is an astonishing, feminist Gothic Western and just crosses the finish line first. Focussing on the female experience in frontier America, this is a psychological-paranormal hybrid that warrants mention in the same breath as Jack Clayton’s The Innocents.
Caitlin Gerard’s performance as Lizzie, the woman battling demons both inner and outer, is another performance to cherish. Our only grumble was The Wind didn’t play on the main screen. Check it out when it is released to rent and buy on Monday 2nd September.
THE LONG TERM SERVICE AWARD – Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray & Greg Day
Without the fantastic four, FrightFest would never have reached its 20th anniversary milestone. Meaning a lot of film fans would not have seen some of the best movies of the past two decades, and also would not have made lifelong friends.
No matter how busy they are, each of the organisers takes time to chat with festival goers, something that brings people back year after year. Mention also to the army of FrightFest staff and volunteers, without whom the behemoth that is FrightFest could now not happen.
Top 10 Film at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019:
- The Wind
- A Good Woman is Hard to Find
- Ready or Not
- The Wretched
- Death of a Vlogger
- A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life
- Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
- The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves
Until The FrightFest Halloween Day See on Saturday November 2nd…