Horror Channel FrightFest 2017 has come and gone. Like any good horror icon, it will be back. But, let us take time to reflect upon a suitably wild eighteenth year for the festival. For the first time we have decided to round-up FrightFest with a series of awards. Awards which we hope will provide a flavour of what FF 2017 was like. So, until FrightFest 2018…
BEST “INTRO & Q&A” AWARD– Jennifer Tilly, Cult of Chucky
“I’m here now, bitches!” If we learnt one thing at FrightFest 2017, it’s that an intro to a movie and said movie’s Q&A will go insane if Jennifer Tilly is in the room. A force of nature, when director Don Mancini was late announcing her she burst onstage with, “I have a thing about people starting without me. But, I’m here now, so continue Don, I would love to hear your words of wisdom”. Before talking again and ending with the prediction that in the next Chucky movie, “Tiffany returns but Chucky has ripped her tongue out”. Jennifer Tilly – legend.
THE “BIG LEAGUES HAD BETTER BE BECKONING” AWARD – Joe Lynch, Mayhem
Joe Lynch and his brother-in-filmmaking Adam Green are FrightFest mascots. They regularly attend the 5-day festival, glad-hand the audience, and bring gloriously in-jokey short films (we’ve included this year’s above). Lynch is the director of solid B-movie fare, but with Mayhem takes a huge leap forward. Matias Caruso’s satirical script has a rage virus infecting a corporate law office the day Steven Yeun’s self-loathing attorney is framed for misconduct and fired. With the building sealed, he and Samara Weaving’s disgruntled civilian battle psychotic solicitors to reach the barmy big boss. Directing with the skill and energy of David Fincher or Edgar Wright, Lynch delivers a canny, kinetic kick in the corporate teeth. Hey DC, forget Todd Phillips, give Lynch the Joker origins movie.
THE “BEST COMEBACK” AWARD –Victor Crowley
If Joe Lynch brought Mayhem to FrightFest 2017, Adam Green brought carnage. What was originally billed as an enhanced edition of his 2006 gem Hatchet was revealed to be part 4 in the franchise. Series bogeyman Crowley gets resurrected and acquaints a new batch of victims with their insides. It ain’t subtle, but Green’s direction makes a modest budget go a long way, and again successfully splices splatter and humour.
THE “GEORGE A. ROMERO WOULD BE PROUD” AWARD FOR BEST ZOMBIE PICTURE – It Stains the Sands Red
When you think there are no more braaaaaiiiiinnnsssss left in the zombie movie, writer/director Colin Minihan and co-writer Stuart Ortiz deliver the most inventive “ambulant deceased” film since Shaun of the Dead. Brittany Allen (soon to be seen in Jigsaw) is excellent as a Vegas stripper trapped in the Nevada desert with Juan Riedinger’s persistent walker in tow. What elevates It Stains the Sands Red is its use of zombie as allegory. Riedinger’s undead is an embodiment of the go-go girl’s guilty past. She can run from it, sometimes she’ll be ahead of it, but it always catches up. Add in neat gallows humour and something we’d never seen before in a zombie film (you’ll know it when it happens), and the result is lip-smackingly good.
THE “TOO MUCH GORE TOO SOON” AWARD – Our Evil
A film drawing plaudits amongst FrightFest punters this year was Brazilian director Samuel Galli’s debut, Our Evil. The Sixth Sense meets The New York Ripper, it opens with a graphic scalping we think will give the BBFC pause. A latter double murder of two hookers is less explicit, but still stomach-churning. Galli is to be praised for doing new things with hoary supernatural conventions and we wouldn’t be surprised if a remake arrives. But, his gore, an acknowledged homage to Gallic shockers Martyrs and Inside, was too much too soon into the story, knocking his film off-balance.
THE “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT WASN’T TOTAL SHIT” AWARD – Inside
Speaking of Inside, the remake played this year. And it wasn’t total bilge! The original is an extreme cinema classic, deploying graphic imagery and confident characterisation. Realising they could not produce something as visceral as Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s sensational debut, director Miguel Ángel Vivas and [REC] writing team Jaume Balagueró and Manu Díez displace a lot of the violence done to the heroine in the original onto the supporting cast. As the unstoppable killer targeting a young, pregnant woman, Laura Elena Harring is perfect, holding her own against Beatrice Dalle’s memorably bonkers turn in the 2007 movie. The ending is botched, but up until then, this is a decent stab at remaking Inside for the masses.
THE “MAD AS ARSEHOLES” AWARD – Meatball Machine Kodoku
The final film in the Discovery screen had an audience discovering how wonderful Japanese splatter-punk is when viewed en masse on a big screen. FrightFest co-director Ian Rattray warned us we would have no clue to the story, but would love every single insane minute. He wasn’t wrong. There is sort of a plot – kindly, terminally ill debt collector becomes a guardian angel killing machine when alien invaders threaten his true love(!) – but this is a film of one mad moment after another. Genital mutilation, man-metal fusion, mammary machine guns, Japanese ennui… these are but a taste of what Tokyo Gore Police writer, director, editor, FX man etc etc Yoshihiro Nishimura showers over a disbelieving audience. It also made us want to check out the earlier 1999 and 2005 iterations of the story.
THE “UNBELIEVABLY WELL-SUSTAINED SENSE OF DREAD” AWARD – Killing Ground
Damien Power’s psycho-slasher retreads the well-worn ground of country-folk biting back at city slickers. It’s also the latest example of the “terrifying Aussie psycho” movie strand that includes Wolf Creek, Snowtown and Hounds of Love. Making the ordeal worth another go-round is Killing Ground’s dual narrative structure. A young couple wonder why the only other tent in a remote camping spot is deserted, while the audience discovers the horrifying truth in flashbacks. This approach, which intersects the timelines in gasp aloud fashion, means tension starts high and escalates. Not pleasant, and one plot thread is left hanging in an arguably cruel fashion, but Power’s film haunts the mind.
THE “MOST LIKELY TO HAVE A TRAILER THAT RUINS THE MOVIE” AWARD – Better Watch Out
Better Watch Out ranks high in our Top 10 of FrightFest 2017 (full list below). But boy, Chris Peckover’s film is a toughie to talk about. Packing more twists than a yoga convention, this festive frightener never fails to shock and surprise. We can reveal this: 12-year-old Luke is looking to finally make the move on hot babysitter Ashley. But, a home invasion seriously gets in the way. Set in America but shot in Australia, antipodean Levi Miller is impressive as Luke, joined by countrypersons Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould (brother and sister in The Visit, here Ashley and Luke’s best pal). Rounding out the youthful cast are Aleks Mikic and Dacre Montgomery as Ashley’s boyfriend and ex. Please Universal trailer team, just stick to something like the above teaser.
THE “PLEASE DO A SPECIAL FRIGHTFEST MARATHON SCREENING” AWARD – Crow’s Blood
Japanese horror series Crow’s Blood is an irresistible blend of high-school growing pains drama, psycho thriller and mad scientist cautionary tale. Its crow-feather black humour and surreal body horror recalls the manga of Uzumaki and Tomei creator Junji Ito (which should make Ito fans excited indeed). Of the six episodes series, two were shown back-to-back, to the general reaction of, MORE, MORE! A four-hour marathon at the Prince Charles Cinema would be an event indeed. If not, it’s coming to UK TV in early 2018.
THE “BEST DEATH” AWARD – Crow’s Blood – Look Before You Cross
We can’t stop talking about Crow’s Blood. Along with its engrossing, labyrinthine plot, it also boasted FrightFest 2017’s best death… that may not even be a death, the series is that mysterious. No mystery is that you’ll be out of your seat when one character steps into the road without remembering their Green Cross Code. And pays dearly.
THE “HEY ATOMIC BLONDE, THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE” AWARD – The Villainess
Atomic Blonde wanted to be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Bourne Supremacy. The Villainess merely wants to be the most kick-ass female-centred action film you’ve ever seen. An opening Hardcore Henry-alike POV smackdown sets the tone, but The Villainess also pulls in Nikita, Kill Bill, The Matrix, and John Wick for a ballistic barrage. Giving the whole thing weight is Kim Ok-bin as Sook-hee, the titular Villainess, who actually acts with heroic intentions throughout. For two hours this year, FrightFest became FightFest.
THE “DESPICABLY GOOD FUN” AWARD – 68 Kill
Imagine a quirky romcom in the Life Less Ordinary or Baby Driver vein. Now imagine that same romcom written and directed by Natural Born Killer’s Mickey and Mallory Knox and you have 68 Kill. A simple home invasion goes murderously awry when the hero’s girlfriend reveals herself to be totally insane. Matthew Gray Gubler is said hero, attempting to find love in all the wrong places. 13 Reasons Why’s Alisha Boe is memorable as his shot at salvation. But, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’s Sheila Vand is sensational, and unrecognisable, as white trash you don’t wanna cross. Bad taste, sick, violent and hilarious, 68 Kill is despicable. And good fun.
THE “ONE THAT GOT AWAY” AWARD – Ruin Me & Double Date
Over 60 movies played FrightFest this year. I managed to catch 22. Among those missed was one film on my Top 18 must-sees, but was a two-day sell-out (Ruin Me) and one not on my radar, but which set Twitter ablaze with best-film-of-the-fest talk (Double Date). Suffice to say, it is now a personal mission to catch up with both. Still not sure about The Attack of the Adult Babies though.
THE “BEST FILM” AWARD – Imitation Girl
FrightFest is not all about evisceration and terror. Though there’s always plenty of that. The festival is also a showcase for the finest in fantasy cinema. This year’s best movie was Natasha Kermani’s Imitation Girl. On paper it’s a Man Who Fell to Earth or Under the Skin clone. But, this tale of an alien taking the form of a sad-faced adult film actress is a compelling examination of love, sex, race, identity and basically the human condition. All done in 84 minutes. See it. Accept no substitutes.
FRIGHTFEST 2017 TOP 10
10. The Villainess
9. Meatball Machine Kodoku
8. Tragedy Girls
7. Cult of Chucky
6. The Bar
5. Better Watch Out
3. Killing Ground
2. It Stains the Sands Red
1. Imitation Girl
Agree or disagree with any of the above? Let me know in the comments section below!