FrightFest 2012: The Whole Bloody Affair - Part One

James Marsh, Asian Editor

Now that the blood has had time to curdle, the ominous shadows have retreated from whence they came and the screams of terror finally ceased ringing in my ears, it seems an opportune moment to look back over the many delights of Film4 FrightFest the 13th. The first point to address might be how I, Asian Editor and Hong Kong resident, came to be in London covering the event for Twitch. The festival only showcased one solitary Asian title (but more on that later), and there was another Twitch contributor (the irreplaceable Shelagh Rowan-Legg) in attendance, albeit briefly.

FrightFest is a festival that has long been on my radar and I have struggled time and again to coincide my annual visit back to my motherland with the August Bank Holiday weekend. Until now, I had only managed to attend the UK premiere of Eli Roth's feature debut, Cabin Fever, way back in 2003, when the event was hosted in the more modest confines of the Prince Charles Cinema. I was determined for 2012 to be different, and between South Korea's PiFan festival in July and Fantastic Fest, which takes me from one side of the world to the other each September, I was able to engineer a trip to England, and more importantly, to attend a full FrightFest for the very first time.

Since my brief flirtation with the event almost a decade ago, FrightFest has exploded into a five-day orgy of all things bloody and horrific, that neither the Prince Charles nor a single cinema screen could contain. This year's festival boasted their largest line-up to-date, welcomed more guests than ever before and for the first time in its history spilled out over 3 separate screens at the grandiose Empire, Leicester Square. And once I successfully traversed half the globe to get myself to London, there was nothing left to do but dive right in to the bountiful programme of murder, bloodshed, hauntings, tauntings, torture, rape and revenge brought together by the courageous programming team of Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray.

And this is what I saw:

Day 1 - Thursday, 23rd August


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Opening Film: The Seasoning House (Dir. Paul Hyett, UK)

With boyish enthusiasm, I was fast off the blocks to share my thoughts about the festival opener and had my review of Hyett's directorial debut up early the following morning. Read it here.


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Cockneys Vs. Zombies (Dir. Matthias Hoene, UK)

Likewise, my review of this James Moran-penned horror comedy made it onto the site in time for the film's UK release. Read it here.


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Grabbers (Dir. John Wright, Ireland)

The first midnight screening of FrightFest 2012 was an entertaining, if largely derivative alien invasion flick that I had caught at PiFan a month earlier, meaning I could head down to the pub and get mingling. Essentially Attack The Block meets Whisky Galore!, it's the story of a small coastal village in Ireland that becomes host to an invading race of interstellar squid. When the locals discover that the critters lose interest when its prey is intoxicated, the residents set out to stay drunk throughout the night until they can get help. It's harmless, schlocky late-night fun, and Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley make for likeable heroes as the mismatched cops, even if their fledgling romance fails to ring true. The plot soon becomes a checklist of favourite moments from other movies, but the CGI more than holds its own and the witty script helps win the audience over.

Day 2 - Friday, 24th August


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Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut (Dir. Clive Barker/Russell Cherrington, UK/USA)

I have never seen Clive Barker's Nightbreed, but the FrightFest staff did a great job of briefing its audience about what we were going to see. Barker's original cut of the film was shredded to ribbons by the studios and extensive re-shoots were commissioned that took the film far away from Barker's original story, Cabal. However, nearly 20 years later, Russell Cherrington has slavishly reassembled the closest possible approximation of the film Barker originally set out to make, after Mark Miller set out on an extensive search for the lost footage - only to eventually find it on a VHS tape in Barker's own office!!

Unsurprisingly, the resulting film varies wildly in quality, and blown up on the Empire's massive screen some of the footage was close to incomprehensible, but in spite of that, there were no complaints from this packed crowd as we all embarked on an Indiana Jones-esque journey of cinematic archeology. What is the film all about? That's a damn good question, but it definitely involved a demented psychiatrist-turned-serial killer, played by Canadian horrormeister David Cronenberg, Craig Sheffer as our haunted hero, and a monster-filled underworld called Midian, all of which collide in an insane finale involving hillbillies. If there is sufficient interest in The Cabal Cut, then Morgan Creek and 20th Century Fox may be persuaded to shell out for a proper restoration, but that will only happen if festivals and audiences like this one show their support for the film.


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Total Icon Interview: Dario Argento

Since 2009, leading British movie magazine Total Film has worked alongside FrightFest to highlight the career and contributions of a noted master of Horror Cinema. Past recipients have included The Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper and producer/actor Larry Fassenden. This year, it was the turn of hugely influential Italian director Dario Argento, who was interviewed live on stage by Total Film's Deputy Editor, Jamie Graham. Sadly, however, the event proved to be somewhat underwhelming. For all Graham's efforts to get Argento to wax lyrical about his career and numerous films, there was no getting around Argento's less than perfect English.

That said, they soldiered on for the benefit of the Empire's 1300-strong crowd and we were privy to some delightful anecdotes. In particular, Argento spoke of the difficulties working with Dutch actor Rutger Hauer on their recent debacle, Dracula 3D. Hauer apparently went missing from set one day, only to be discovered much later, canoodling in the nearby bushes with "some girls." Argento was also consulted about David Gordon Green's upcoming remake of Suspiria - arguably his most revered film. Apparently Argento, who wrote, directed, scored and narrated the film, hasn't been consulted in any way about the new version, and seemed less than enthusiastic about the idea. When asked directly what he thought about the project, Argento said simply, "If they think they can remake Suspiria, bring it on."


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Hidden In The Woods (Dir. Patricio Valladares, Chile)

One of the least well received films of the weekend, Valladares' latest is the gruelling story of two sisters fending for themselves against a brutal, misogynistic world. You can read my full review here.


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V/H/S (Dir. Adam Wingard/David Bruckner/Glenn McQuaid/Ti West/Joe Swanberg/Radio Silence, USA)

The hotly-anticipated US horror anthology was one of the weekend's hot tickets, but I was fortunate enough to see the film at PiFan back in July, so used this slot as an opportune moment to grab dinner with some old friends. I shared some thoughts about V/H/S in my FrightFest preview here.


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[REC] 3: Genesis (Dir. Paco Plaza, Spain)

Plaza's solo sequel already opened in Hong Kong way back in May, so my plan was to duck into the Discovery Screen and check out Scottish psycho-thriller Sawney: Flesh Of Man. If all ran smoothly, I would have time to watch the sneak peek of Neil Jordan's Byzantium that producer Stephen Woolley brought along, and then duck out in time to catch the start of Sawney. Of course, luck would have it that a technical hiccup delayed proceedings by about 15 minutes, and so after I'd had my fix of a delightfully seductive Gemma Arterton strutting her stuff through the ages as a predatory vampire, Sawney was well underway and I opted to stay and re-watch [REC]3: Genesis. And I'm very glad I did.

While the film has its detractors, I thoroughly enjoyed it first time round - and perhaps even more so on second viewing - without the cloud of expectation hanging over my head, instead surrounded by a packed auditorium of horror fans looking for a fun ride. What struck me most this time out was how well the film works as a romantic comedy. The chemistry between Leticia Dolera and Diego Martin is almost unbearably sweet and genuine, while there is more than enough action, blood and humour to keep horror fans happy. Sure, the film strays far from the intensity and claustrophobia of its predecessors, but regardless, Plaza has delivered a slick, accomplished crowd-pleaser of a late-night splatter flick that stands alone and deserves a success and longevity awarded very few threequels.


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Stitches (Dir. Conor McMahon, Ireland)

Friday's midnight slot offered up the UK Premiere of McMahon's killer clown comedy that boasts the big screen debut of Geordie stand-up comic, Ross Noble. The comedian plays the titular sleazy children's performer, who is accidentally killed by a gang of unruly kids during a birthday party performance. Six years later, with the kids now in their last year of high school, Stitches returns from beyond the grave to exact his bloody vengeance on the children that did him in. Noble gives a spirited performance, but Stitches is all about the kills, and McMahon wastes no time in dispatching his young attractive cast, in a series of hilariously grisly and elaborate death sequences. My personal favourite was when a bitchy teenage girl falls foul of an umbrella in the most gruesome and blood-splattered manner imaginable, but the tone is kept light and all the violence played for laughs. If that wasn't enough, any film that opens with the lines "Fuck me, clown, fuck me!" emanating from a dilapidated caravan perched on the edge of a cliff is surely set to be a winner.

Still to come: Coverage of Saturday, Sunday and Monday's thrills, chills and (blood) spills! 

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  • James Dennis

    Nice coverage. Saw Argento's Giallo at Frightfest a couple of years back. I think from now on they should just do a retrospective of his work and let sleeping dogs lie. How much more fun would a big screen outing for Phenomena be anyway.

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