As plugged here a few weeks ago, Celluloid Screams is a horror film festival based in Sheffield that took place between 21-23rd October this year. With a lovingly selected mixture of horror films of all kinds – old, new, gory, scary or downright disturbing, there was something for everyone. I caught pretty much every minute of the festival in all it’s blood-drenched glory, only skipping a late night showing of Re-Animator because I was knackered and had seen it before not so long ago. Below is a full round up of reviews from the weekend. There were a whole load of quality shorts too, so I’m going to devote a separate post to those a little later.
A locally produced film, celebrating it’s Yorkshire premiere at the festival, Inbred is an ultra-gory horror-comedy that gives a blackly humorous spin on the Deliverance ‘city folk trapped in the wilderness’ formula. A group of misfit teenagers travel to the Yorkshire dales for a team-building holiday with two social-workers, but get treated to a type of ‘Northern Hospitality’ they weren’t expecting. It’s a gleefully offensive, silly, yet occasionally rather nasty film that balances it’s humour, drama and horror effectively to deliver a fast paced and entertaining 95 minutes. It’s also got some very impressive make-up and special effects for such a low budget release. Unfortunately, none of the core elements are quite strong enough to raise the film above the level of ‘decent’. The performances are merely serviceable and the presentation of the ‘locals’ pushes silliness to it’s limits with their joke shop teeth etc. As a whole package it’s fun and worth a watch though, so long as you’ve a taste for it’s humour and gore. It was refreshing to see such a professionally produced and original feature coming from so close to home too.
It’s business as usual for Yoshihiro Nishimura, director of Tokyo Gore Police and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (as well as make-up supervisor on Machine Girl). Yes it’s more uber-gory madness, with a leaning towards action as much as horror. A comet crashes into Japan, spreading an alien mist across the country, turning much of the population into flesh-eating zombies. These zombies are seemingly controlled by strange antennae sprouting from their foreheads, which double up as a mind-altering drug for the remaining humans. Kika, a young girl with a robot-heart and a chainsaw katana is hired by the government, alongside her cohorts, to rid the nation of the evil beasts (the leader of which happens to be her evil mother).
Like Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl and Machine Girl, Helldriver has moments of inspired lunacy that had me laughing out loud in disbelief (a car on zombie sword fight, a golf club wielding zombie that launches hundreds of disembodied yet living heads towards our heroes etc.), but on a whole the fountains of blood shtick got tired very quickly. Most of the truly crazy stuff happens later on in the film, the first half is made up of far too many repeated ‘blood-hose’ moments which don’t shock or amuse anymore. The film is in desperate need of a trim – there are dozens of slow-motion shots of characters dancing against a foreground of spraying arteries which just waste time. That said, it did have enough twisted humour and imagination to keep me entertained enough and by the end I still enjoyed myself. Nishimura just needs to exercise a little more restraint in the future to keep things from getting dull and repetitive.
A couple of lesbian vampires lure passers by to their huge stately home in the English countryside. When one of the women falls for their latest supposed victim and decides to keep him around for a while longer, it causes problems for the pair, especially when their ‘guest’ starts to get suspicious. Surprisingly it was this ‘cult classic’ that was the low point of the festival for me. I just didn’t get into it at all. There was plenty of T&A to keep things watchable and the vampire ‘feedings’ were quite brutal, but overall it was just slow and dull. The dialogue was turgid and the performances and characters were flat and paper thin too which didn’t help matters. Maybe had I not watched it at half past midnight after two brash and OTT comedy horrors I may have felt differently, but I doubt it.
Richard Stanley followed up his cult 1990 classic Hardware with the more ambitious and personal (at least with regards to location), Dust Devil. The relative success of these two early efforts got him the gig to direct The Island of Dr. Moreau, which of course was a massive disaster. Stanley got fired and replaced by John Frankenheimer then disappeared off the cinematic map for a long time, working only on a couple of little seen documentaries, shorts and segments of two ‘compendium’ pieces (including The Theatre Bizarre, which we’ll get to later). It’s a great shame really because his two sole features, although flawed, have a lot going for them and given time to mature he could have been a force to be reckoned with in the horror genre.
Dust Devil is an incredibly atmospheric supernatural horror-thriller set in Namibia, where a mysterious stranger stalks on the lonely and vulnerable, murdering them and using their blood and body parts for bizarre rituals. It’s a visually stunning film which makes the most of it’s desert location. It’s got a strong sense of dread and tension throughout too which builds to a surreal nightmarish finale. A lot of the acting is a bit ropey and it verges on the pretentious with it’s poetic musings on witchcraft, but overall it’s a dark and stylish film that still feels original 18 years on.
Some Guy Who Kills People
Executively Produced by John Landis, Some Guy Who Kills People effectively follows in the footsteps of his work with a strong blend of horror, comedy and drama. It’s the drama that surprised me the most, as it’s tale of a killer who is pushed into reconciling with his long lost daughter whilst offing a list of his former high school bullies is actually quite a touching one. What helps it work is an incredibly strong performance from the 13 year old Ariel Gade, who plays the daughter. She’s the emotional core of the film and with a run-of-the-mill shoddy child performance the film would have fallen apart. On the comedy side of things, TV favourite Barry Bostwick is the key player, delivering his generally silly, but still laugh out loud funny dialogue with gusto. Horror-wise it’s not particularly scary, but has some nicely gory moments. It’s just a shame the narrative doesn’t impress. It’s a nice idea and as I mentioned, it’s heart is in the right place, but it’s far too predictable by the end and fails to tie all the stronger elements together into a fully satisfying whole. It was still one of the best new titles of the festival though and I’d recommend people track it down once it gets a release of some sort.
Director: Andreas Marshall
Screenplay: Andreas Marshall
Starring: Susen Ermich, Julita Witt, Nadja Herzog
Duration: 84 min
Masks channels the giallo of the seventies (especially Suspiria) to create an effective homage to the Italian masters. Stella (Susen Ermich) is a young girl trying hard to achieve her dream of becoming an actress, but lacking the talent to back it up. After failing an audition she is approached to join the Matteusz Gdula acting school which courted controversy in the 70’s with it’s extreme methods and eventual death of some of it’s students and Gdula himself. The school in the present day seems fairly normal at first, but as Stella befriends Cecile, a student who attends ‘special’ private classes, she becomes more suspicious of it’s current practises. Once she joins these ‘one on one’ sessions herself she gets plunged into a nightmarish journey designed to rip out her inner demons and produce the kind of ‘method acting’ even Christian Bale wouldn’t dream of giving a go.
Although it looks a bit cheap and digitally shot from time to time, Masks knows what makes a giallo tick and gets the look, sound and overall feel of the genre spot on. It’s appropriately tense, atmospheric and mysterious, delivering some truly chilling murder scenes. It does feel too long though (I’m not sure if the 84 minutes I put is correct as IMDB says it’s 112 minutes) and was testing my patience towards the end. Your enjoyment of it will depend on your love of the works of Bava and Argento, but if they float your boat you’ll be in horror heaven with Masks, the closest anyone has come to their work for a long while.
The Theatre Bizarre
Directors: Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley
Screenplay: Zach Chassler, Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris, Emiliano Ranzani, Buddy Giovinazzo, John Esposito, Douglas Buck, Karim Hussain, David Gregory
Starring: Udo Kier, Virginia Newcomb and Amanda Marquardt
Duration: 108 min
The Theatre Bizarre is a portmanteau film that brings the directing talents of old favourites Richard Stanley and Tom Savini together with plenty of fresh blood to collect seven horror shorts into one whole feature. As expected the films vary in quality and tone, but as these types of collections go it’s a fairly decent one. None of the films are total stinkers – in fact Stanley and Savini’s two were possibly the least inspired efforts even though they were entertaining enough. The framing segments are actually worth watching too, with a nicely implemented human puppet-show aesthetic and a wonderfully hammy narration from Udo Kier. That said, few of the stories are great though, only Douglas Buck’s ‘The Accident’ truly stood out for me. It’s an odd addition to the collection and isn’t really a horror as such – it’s an extended conversation between a mother and daughter about death, intercut with a fatal accident they had both witnessed. This segment is touchingly portrayed, simple and massively effective. Unfortunately I couldn’t say the same of the accompanying segments, but it’s still a fun ride and fans of horror anthologies won’t be disappointed.
Coming from the director of Machine Girl I was expecting a repeat of Helldriver with Saturday night’s Tomie: Unlimited but although it’s got it’s share of gore and insanity it’s quite a different beast. Noboru Iguchi’s take on the popular Tomie manga series is one part J-horror, one part Lynchian nightmare and another part sheer lunacy. Tsukiko’s popular and more attractive older sister Tomie is killed in a horrific accident right in front of her eyes (and camera) and after a year Tsukiko thinks she’s ready to move on. However, when Tomie strangely reappears with no explanation, things start to go stupendously wrong for her and all those around.
It’s barking mad, with some truly inspired visuals that could only come from the pages of a manga. A number of scenes had me shaking my head in disbelief at the carnage on screen. However, like a lot of anime and other films based on these long manga serials, it just doesn’t know when enough is enough and bursts at the seams, creating a mess of a film that is too wild to properly digest. With a little restraint and a clearer focus this could have been something quite special though.
I don’t need to say too much about Halloween. I’m sure you’ve all seen it and if you haven’t you need to remedy that this instant. It’s John Carpenter at his best, delivering the prototype slasher film. Yes Bay of Blood & Black Christmas got there first (plus Psycho in many respects), but Halloween boiled it down to it’s essentials and is closer to the torrent of copycats that came after it. What’s amazing is how well it stands up after being imitated so often. It’s beauty for me is it’s simplicity. There are no gimmicks, no ‘whodunnit’ aspect, no overblown murders or showdowns, just pure, slow building tension and horror. Aided by Carpenter’s iconic score, the film is still one of the greatest horror movies ever made.
The Whisperer in Darkness
Director: Sean Branney
Screenplay: Andrew Leman & Sean Branney
Based on the story by: H.P. Lovecraft
Starring: Matt Foyer, Stephen Blackehart, Conor Timmis, Barry Lynch
Duration: 103 min
Unsurprisingly, given that is was produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, The Whisperer in Darkness is an incredibly faithful recreation of what made the much-loved horror author famous. Rather than taking Lovecraft’s ideas to form something totally different (Re-Animator, From Beyond etc.) Sean Branney has done his best to put the pages directly on screen and it works remarkably well. The Whisperer in Darkness centres around Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer), a skeptical professor of folktales, who gets caught up in the mystery of some sightings of strange creatures in Vermont. Presented like a monster movie from the 30’s (the era in which the book was written), the film looks great with it’s crisp black and white photography and maintains a great sense of mystery and intrigue in it’s slowly unravelling tale. The action-led and CGI enhanced finale doesn’t quite live up to this engrossing and likeably old-fashioned build up, but overall this is a very enjoyable experience that fans of Lovecraft owe it to themselves to see.
Harold’s Going Stiff
Harold’s Going Stiff holds the surprising title of being the one and only zombie movie that actually made me cry (a single tear at least). Another locally made film, it ended up taking home the audience award for feature of the festival and it’s not difficult to see why (although it wasn’t quite my favourite). Harold’s Going Stiff is set in South Yorkshire (shot a couple of miles from where my parents live and where I grew up) where an outbreak of Onset Rigors Disease (ORD) has been ripping through the men in the area. The disease is a neurological condition which begins by reducing mobility in the joints and gradually brings on a zombie-like state. The community tries to cope with the problem in various ways, opening community centres for the sufferers as well as setting up vigilante groups to track down and ‘dispose of’ those that break loose. In amongst all of this is Harold (Stan Rowe). He was the first to contract the disease, yet it has been moving through his system much more slowly than those recently infected. His affliction is a slow and painful one and whilst scientists try to use him to find a solution to the problem he is sent over a care worker, Penny (Sarah Spencer), to support him in his day to day needs.
Although at first glance it’s a daft-looking zombie comedy, the film develops into a deeply moving metaphor for coping with incurable diseases such as alzheimer’s. The relationship formed between Harold and Penny holds up the film and is beautifully portrayed. Neither actor has had much professional experience, yet they hit the balance of humour and pathos spot on. The film is shot in a documentary style and much of the dialogue was improvised, so there are occasional weak points in delivery amongst the cast, but considering the budget and inexperience of those involved it’s most impressive. The comedy side of things isn’t as consistent as the drama, with some of the low brow humour missing the mark and occasionally threatening to derail the central heart of it all. It still has it’s share of laugh out loud moments though and despite being rough around the edges, the film ultimately succeeds in delivering a truly original and touching comedy-drama that deserves a much wider audience.
Director: Adrián García Bogliano
Screenplay: Adrián García Bogliano, Ramiro García Bogliano & Hernán Moyano
Starring: Facundo Espinosa, Marina Glezer and Camila Velasco
Duration: 80 min
I’ve got a terrible aversion to ‘tortured captive’ movies so I was very worried coming into this. In the programme it had a picture of a girl tied up in a blood stained room and the synopsis talked of ‘revolutionaries stopping at nothing to force the compliance of their captives’. I really shouldn’t have been frightened though because this is not a gruelling endurance test filled with horrific scenes of mutilation, it’s an utterly barmy thriller from Argentina where everything is so ludicrously implausible that it becomes more farce than horror.
Roman (Facundo Espinosa) and friend Ali (Marina Glezer) arrive at an old stately home, looking for Roman’s girlfriend who’s disappeared after replying to a mysterious message online. Quite quickly they realise the whole setup is a trap to ensnare young women to their doom at the hands of two elderly ex-militants who take pleasure in testing their victims’ endurance by creating elaborate ‘traps’ involving nitroglycerine.
It’s hard to gauge quite what the filmmakers were going for, straight up horror or comedy, as it does seem to take itself quite seriously. Personally I found it’s absurd situations very amusing – one woman is coated in nitroglycerine and has to crawl around everywhere (after taking most of her clothes off of course) and in the big finale she is ‘chased’ by one of the geriatric psychopaths using his zimmerframe! I did get the feeling that it didn’t always think it was being so ridiculous though and for that reason I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly good film. It’s fun while it lasts and flies by, but it was one of the weakest films of the weekend.
Director: Justin Kurzel
Screenplay: Shaun Grant, Shaun Grant, Justin Kurzel
Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshall and Louise Harris
Duration: 118 min
From a weaker entry to my personal favourite, the weekend ended on a complete downer with the superb but brutal Snowtown. The film tells the true story of John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), Australia’s most notorious serial killer, through the eyes of Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), an easily led and troubled youngster who spends much of his youth getting abused by his mother’s lovers and his older brother. When Jamie’s mother (Louise Harris) starts seeing Bunting, the ‘soon to be’ murderer takes young Jamie under his wing. The film’s focus is really on the boy and his relationship with Bunting, observing how this charismatic psychopath had a great effect over weak minded individuals, drawing them in to assist him in his ‘work’. He initially claims to be doing what the law should be doing by ridding the world of paedophiles and other ‘low-lifes’. However, his justifications become less and less plausible and he is unmasked for the evil killer that he is.
The film is an incredibly difficult watch with an unflinchingly realistic portrayal of a truly dangerous man. What’s most surprising and commendable about the film though is how it manages to be so powerful without actually openly showing many of the violent acts. Only one scene comes right up front and actually follows a full murder and that is excruciatingly nasty, but most of the time we witness the lead up or aftermath alone. This works to it’s advantage as once is enough and our minds can fill in the gory details even more effectively than the film can, once the seed is sown. Also, by avoiding any sensationalising, the film retains a bleakly realistic tone that makes the fact that it’s based on a true story hit home even harder. It’s a masterfully directed piece that demonstrates that true power can only come through restraint. The only problem is, it’s so powerful it’s really bloody difficult to sit through. Like Requiem For a Dream it’s a film that can be easily appreciated, but you’ll not likely want to watch it more than once.