FrightFest 2016 has been and gone, marking an impressive 17th consecutive year for the UK’s premiere horror film santa sangre.
With new headline sponsor The Horror Channel replacing Film4 and a move away from the heart of Leicester Square to London’s Shepherd’s Bush VUE cinema, could FrightFest retain its dark mojo?
Predictably the answer was yes. FrightFest’s four horseman of the apocalypse, Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray and Greg Day, plus the ever-growing FrightFest team, staged a five day extravaganza showcasing the best of fantasy cinema from around the globe. And the newest voices, three films in the Electric Shadows Top 10 are from debuting directors.
My Father Die was a solid opener, an accomplished calling card debut from Sean (son of Pierce) Brosnan, and although I could not stay for the final movie, Train to Busan, word from those attending was it marked a first class climax to a wonderful weekend.
Despite showcasing movies depicting humankind’s darkest fears and fantasies, FrightFest is borne of noble intentions. Alan Jones has said the team never forget that for many attendees FrightFest is their annual holiday, so the organisers are obliged to deliver a package tour of terror that will leave audiences grinning.
Jones has also commented that few people are fortunate enough to have the film festival experience, so he wanted FrightFest to give them just that; an event dedicated to providing as much movie stimuli as patrons could stand, plus the opportunity to meet talent and chew the film fat with like-minded souls.
The Horror Channel provided perhaps the grisliest promo spot the festival has yet had, and taking over the entire Shepherd’s Bush VUE seems to have been warmly received, with cheaper food, drink and hotels alongside the comfortable cinemas and decent sized screens.
But, what were the best of the fest? With relief I can say my Must-See List didn’t disgrace itself too much, six of the fifteen films listed making my Top 10. Although it seems I was wide of the mark on Abattoir and House of Salem, both receiving reviews distinctly south of the equator in the post-film foyer debriefs… due to interview obligations I was unable to check out either.
I did however endure Blood Feast, the worst of the weekend in my opinion. Anaemic and in dire need of a transfusion of wit, invention and generally a reason to exist at all…
Honourable mentions go to Siren, Bad Blood, Beyond The Gates and Here Alone, all of which colleagues said were first rate examples of fantasy moviemaking.
Now, without further ado, here is the Electric Shadows Top 10 of FrightFest 2016:
10. The Killing of America
Warning: trailer contains scenes of graphic, unsimulated violence
Leonard (brother of Paul) Schrader co-wrote and ghost directed this shocking 1981 mondo documentary. Taking the JFK assassination as its starting point, the film examines an obsession with violence and murder particularly unique to the USA. The movie’s thesis may contain bullet sized holes (no mention of brutality against Native Americans and slaves in the country’s infancy), but extraordinary archive footage and a sad relevance due to continuous mass-shootings make this required viewing.
9. Through the Shadow
Most adaptations of Henry James’ classic chiller The Turn of the Screw are indebted to Jack Clayton’s classic 1961 version, The Innocents. While Through the Shadow semi-borrows a couple of visual cues from that film, it emerges as a wonderfully assured take on James’ story in its own right, boldly relocating the action from the English countryside to the coffee fields of South America. Sexual repression, class divide and racial anxiety, plus ambiguous ghostly goings-on, all blend to deliver an intelligent take on one of horror literature’s finest moments.
8. Sadako vs Kayako
The happiest surprise of FrightFest 2016 was this funny, creepy reboot for J-Horror’s waist-length-haired ladies of terror. A canny script, inventive gore and committed performances provided a witty commentary on previous events in both the Ring and Grudge franchises and the horror world in general. Running Ringus around Batman v Superman, this proved there’s life in the old girls yet.
7. The Love Witch
The story of a witch casting love spells in order to ensnare the perfect man features a star-making lead performance from Samantha Robinson and is the best exercise in big screen eroticism since Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy. Director Anna Biller knows cinema. Alongside writing and directing The Love Witch, she produced it. And edited it. And designed the costumes and sets. And decorated said sets. And was art and production designer. And composed segments of the score (also employing Ennio Morricone compositions plus tracks from other Italian movies). Ravishing.
Owing a big debt to John Fowles’ classic novel The Collector (turned into a memorable Terence Stamp/Samantha Eggar movie), Pet is premium grade pulp horror. Dominic Monaghan delivers a wonderfully David Brent-ian turn as lonely dog lover Seth, kidnapping beautiful former classmate Holly, Ksenia Solo giving an effective, layered performance. Twists, surprises and back and forth power shifts make this a riveting battle of wits and nerve, whose secrets are best left to discover for yourself.
Iranian born Ali Abassi’s first feature is a shattering exercise in body horror, paranoia and supernatural ambiguity. Elena, a young Romanian maid, agrees to be surrogate mother to her Danish employers, unable to have children themselves. But, when the Danish woman’s frozen egg begins fertilising inside her, Elena is convinced something is seriously wrong. Squirmy, uncomfortable and with a remarkably sustained sense of dread, Shelley likes to ask questions rather than answer them, but this is 90 minutes of raw and unusual horror.
4. Man Underground
Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine’s mumblecore-esque comedy-drama is one of the most assured debuts of recent years. George Basil excels as a reclusive conspiracy theorist making a low-budget movie about his close encounter while working for the US government. Helping him bring his biopic to the screen is sole friend Todd, played with sympathetic humour by Andy Rocco, and Pamela Fila, captivating as local aspiring actress Flossie, intrigued by the two misfits. Warmhearted and with a nice sense of wonder about things big and small, it’s a delight.
Gattaca, Sleeper, Frankenstein and Tree of Life converge in this powerful sci-fi fable from Mateo Gil, writer of Open Your Eyes and The Sea Inside. In 2015 a terminally ill thirtysomething male volunteers to be cryogenically frozen until medical science can cure his cancer. In 2084 he awakens in a brave new world. Boldly flashing backwards and forwards between the future, present and past, the nature of existence, identity, love and time are all explored. Optimistic and disquieting, often simultaneously, Realive is scintillating sci-fi.
2. The Similars
Mexico City, 1968. On a dark, rain swept night a group of strangers wait in a bus terminus for the long delayed next service. As more people arrive, events grow weirder and darker. At first glance, The Similars may seem… familiar. John Carpenter’s The Thing and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead loom large in writer/director Isaac Ezban’s irresistible movie. But, Ezban is not interested in empty homage or lazy rip-off; The Similars is a polished gem of a movie, bursting with invention. The League of Gentlemen does 1950s paranoia sci-fi best sums it up.
1. Found Footage 3D
We’re electing not to include the trailer for fearing of spoiling some ghoulish surprises…
The title does not bode well, with both found footage horror and 3D nowadays being more miss than hit. But, Steven DeGennaro’s debut movie is all hit. The premise is deceptively simple and recognisable. A film crew shooting a found footage film about a marriage break-up in a haunted cabin find themselves in a real life found footage movie when odd occurrences begin to disrupt the shoot. Brimming with irresistible in-jokes and a wry self-awareness about the clichés and plot holes of the found footage genre, DeGennaro’s movie does a perfect balancing act between genuine comedy, affecting drama and scream aloud ghost-train scares. Give this man a Marvel movie now.
More information about FrightFest can be found on the official website.
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