Thursday 10th November
The first film up on this rather damp day (the festival is in Wales after all!) was one of my favourites of the festival, namely Midnight Son.
I’d agree with the Abertoir organisers here when they said this was one of those wonderful discoveries, when they just came across a film that was so much better than what they were expecting. It was certainly a lot better than I was expecting from the basic outline the programme had presented.
Midnight Son is the story of Jacob, a young man confined to a life of isolation due to a rare skin disorder that prevents him from being exposed to sunlight. We see him slowly, through a series of accidents and increasingly violent encounters, come to realise that perhaps drinking human blood can make him feel better physically. His life improves when he meets Mary, a street vendor and bartender, who also tends to share his nocturnal lifestyle. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when local police suspect that he’s not just obtaining his blood from the local hospital and the stage is set for a final and very bloody confrontation.
While it’s easy to make lazy comparisons to George Romero’s seventies horror classic Martin, Midnight Son has it’s own take on the modern vampire myth and, whereas Romero’s film has a fairly languidly paced art house feel about it, Midnight Son is a much pacier vampiric vehicle and it’s pretty clear early on that Jacob is most definitely not a normal human and his need for blood is almost certainly a physical one and not just psychological. This American independent movie deserves to be seen more widely and I hope it will benefit from a widespread DVD release.
Next up was another solid horror, this time a Serbian film set in Bosnia at the end of the war in the former Yugoslavia. The Enemy or Neprijatelj , to give it its proper title, was another favourite of mine as I’m a bit of a sucker for a good war-based horror flick; If I said that one of my favourite books is Paul F Wilson’s The Keep you’ll understand where I’m at.
On the seventh day of peace an engineering unit, based in no-man’s land, is busy removing mines to make the area safe again. When they are searching a bombed out factory they come across a man who has been walled up in the destroyed building. The weird thing is he seems perfectly at ease, just smoking a cigarette and smiling to himself. Thinking they’ve rescued him from a fate worse than death the men return with him back to base where his presence creates tension and disquiet amongst the troops leading to increased squabbling and violence and then eventually to death amongst the minesweepers.
This is a slow-burn wartime horror that gently and very subtly builds up an atmosphere of impeding doom and it’s not long before it sucks the audience into its creepy central premise. More of a psychological horror film than all out gore-fest it rewards its viewer’s patience with a satisfying and creepy conclusion. Recommended.
The Divide , directed by Xavier Gens (Frontiers), is a glossy, medium-budgeted, post-apocalyptic film that follows a group of people trapped together in an underground shelter beneath a high-rise building. As the days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months, social boundaries and rules start to break down as fear of radiation poisoning and shortage of food begins to take a hold…
Firstly I’d like to say that I really enjoyed this film for what it was – a trashy post–apocalyptic disaster movie, which I believe will be getting a fairly mainstream release sometime in 2012. However, to enjoy this film you really do need to suspend your disbelief and just go with the flow. As soon as your mind starts picking holes in the set-up and questioning why certain things happen (or don’t happen) then you might as well just walk out or switch off! There’s one bit in particular that involves some mysterious military outside force and its associated research scientists that I think had everyone scratching their heads, but that aside this is a fun sci-fi horror with some enjoyable performances from the likes of Rosanna Arquette and Michael Biehn.
On a much lighter note The Selling was a very funny ‘ghosts in a house’ sort of film, which, if there’s any justice, should get a general theatrical release since it went down very well with the Abertoir audience. The film focuses on two bumbling real estate agents who are struggling to make ends meet. They decide to try to flip an old house for profit so start fixing it up. Unfortunately for them they quickly discover that they’re not alone in the old pile and a host of a now deceased serial killer’s victims are haunting their new project and don’t take kindly to being disturbed. Mainly because he’s desperate for money, in order to pay of his mother’s medical bills, our hero, Richard Scary, perseveres and tries to help the ghosts find peace.
The Selling is a consistently funny horror comedy and should be applauded for hitting the funny bone so regularly. It too features a scene stealing performance by Barry Bostwick, this time playing a priest who attempts to exorcise the haunted house, rather unsuccessfully I might add! If you are a fan of films like What a Carve UP! and The Old Dark House I recommend that you check this one out.
Jovial and fun are not words I’d use to describe Abertoir’s next cinematic offering, namely Miguel Angel Vivas’s Kidnapped (Secuestrados) . This well crafted Spanish film made me glad I’m not a wealthy person and therefore not an obvious candidate for any would-be kidnappers or extortionists to try their luck with. Right from the get-go you know this film is going to be uncomfortable viewing and real edge of your seat stuff and it doesn’t disappoint.
Kidnapped follows the trials and tribulations of a rich Madrid family as they move into their new house in the suburbs and, on the first night of their residency, get held up at gunpoint and a ransom is demanded. The father is made to visit a cash point to extract plenty of cash while the other two thugs keep a watchful eye on the wife and teenage daughter. Well, I won’t be spoiling anything by saying that things don’t entirely go to plan and Vivas’s allegedly 12 shot film hurtles towards an impressive and shocking finale that pulls no punches.
It’s not often that you come across a film as well made and powerful as Kidnapped; I got a real sense of the audience being a bit stunned by this one, particularly when faced with several truly savage moments. Secuestrados is a great example of how a simple concept can turn into a nerve-shredding exercise in tension by a director who really knows his stuff. If you like your horror hard-hitting and gritty then search this one out.
The final film of this very long day was the somewhat more light-hearted, but still pretty violent in its own way, Horny House of Horror. Horny House of Horror is a typically crazy Japanese sex and horror romp, which I guess could be categorised as a so-called Japanese ‘pink’ film, for the considerable amount of female flesh it had on display!
The story, such as there is, revolves around three friends who let drink get the better of them and they end up visiting one of Tokyo’s more seedy brothels to celebrate the upcoming marriage of one of them. It soon becomes apparent that any damage inflicted upon them by their partners (should they find out) would be nothing compared to what the girls who work at this house of ill repute will do. What follows includes lots of slapstick, bad innuendos, nudity, soft-core sex, samurai swords and severe penile damage! You could almost hear all the men - myself included - crossing their legs in unison while watching some of the scenes in this movie! Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Mutant Girls Squad) is responsible for the splatterific special effects here and director Jun Tsugita ensures that all cheese is accounted for.
Horny House of Horror is a fun (and really twisted) 82 minutes, but is perhaps a bit too panto-ish for its own good to really leave a lasting impression with the viewer. If you like mad as a bag of badgers Japanese Category III films then you may get off on this!
Friday 11th November
The first film up was another of my favourites from the festival, namely the fantastic horror comedy musical that is The Dead Inside. Yes, I did say the words horror, comedy and musical all in one breath!
Wes, played by the excellent Dustin Fasching, is a burned out photographer paying the bills by shooting weddings and his girlfriend is Fi (an also excellent Sarah Lassez), who is the author of a series of zombie novellas called The Dead Survive. Both have misplaced their muses, hence are suffering, in their own ways, from creative block syndrome – I just made that up by the way, but I guess you know what I mean!
When Fi begins to show signs of mental illness, Wes does everything in his power to help her get better. But then things turn from bad to worse when she gets possessed by a malignant spirit who wants to return to the land of the living. The stage is then set for Wes to battle for the soul of his girlfriend with truly devastating consequences for both of them.
I have to say I haven’t seen anything this original in a long time and as someone who tends to avoid musicals like a sane person avoids midges then I was surprised when I found myself actually enjoying the musical numbers throughout the film’s running time. The Dead Inside is a charming, funny, moving and very entertaining film, which features two characters you actually care about; something, I’m sure you’ll agree, is sadly quite rare in the horror genre. If you get the chance do try and see this movie; It may be a tad too long, with maybe one musical number too many, but otherwise it’s an excellent film.
To mark the 40th Anniversary of its production, Shameless Screen Entertainment had supplied Abertoir with the world’s first HD version of Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet , with certain contents restored.
I’m not going to go into lots of detail here to describe this film since so much has already been written about it. I will, however, just say that the version we saw looked stunning and there were certainly small bits in it, which I don’t remember ever having seen before.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Four Flies on Grey Velvet this is one of Argento’s earlier films and revolves around a rock musician, Roberto, who accidentally stabs a mysterious man who had been stalking him during the start of the film. Fearing prosecution he flees the scene of the crime but soon starts to receive threatening letters and strange things start to happen to him and his friends.
This is a fairly typical early Italian Giallo film complete with confused plotting, dodgy dubbing, great locations, a streak of vicious violence and a cool jazzy score. In other words it’s a very cool movie, it just doesn’t make a great deal of sense come the final whodunit reveal. I have to say that Four Flies is one of Dario’s more coherent films; it’s also very stylish, and is therefore one of his most watchable movies. The ending is extremely cool too with a wonderful slow-mo car crash, topped off by a great central theme by Ennio Morricone.
The third and least seen part of Argento’s ‘Animal’ trilogy, Four Flies on Grey Velvet is certainly worth checking out, particularly now that it’s possible to see it in a decent transfer.
From one cool Giallo film to another, Andreas Marschall’s Masks was next on the agenda. Because I’d already seen this film at Celluloid Screams I ducked out of this Abertoir screening to grab some fresh air and exercise my stiff muscles, but I’ll certainly be keeping a look out for it on DVD.
Back in the 70s Matteusz Gdula invented an acting method, which was designed to make every actor ‘shine’. However, this intense method pushed his students too far and some died mysteriously and this eccentric thespian inventor committed suicide.
In the present day, Stella, an ambitious, but flawed drama student, gets accepted into the prestigious Gdula acting school. Once ensconced on campus she soon discovers that Gdula’s acting methods didn’t die with him as originally thought, and that a secret wing of the school still pushes its best students beyond the limits. Stella soon finds herself drawn into a bizarre and deadly web that surrounds the school’s darkest secret.
Masks exudes the style, colour (favouring a palette of blues here) and sound of the classic Italian Giallo movie from the 70s and early eighties. It is, in fact, a German film, and one, which obviously succeeds as a successful homage to that particular style of filmmaking. The film has a plot that, although reminiscent of Argento’s superior Suspiria, works on its own terms and the stylishly elaborate murder set pieces are nicely handled. The Giallo lives!
Keeping on with the theme of masks, the next film of the day was one of Vincent Price’s best, namely The Masque of the Red Death.
Directed back in the mid sixties by the great Roger Corman, no less, Masque sees Price playing the truly satanic Prince Prospero who offers safe haven for his fellow corrupt nobility at his castle during a time when the plague ravishes the land. The dark prince plans a huge masquerade ball for his guests, a night of debauchery during which no one is allowed to wear red. But, as with most things in life, things don’t go according to plan, even for the Devil’s own servants!
So much has been written about this film I don’t think there’s much else I can add apart from saying that this still holds up very well even today, with its amazing sets, great lighting and wonderful performances by all involved, in particular Price himself and the delectable Jane Asher, here playing an innocent villager sucked into events when she pleads with Prince Prospero to spare her father’s and fiancée’s lives. For your information he holds off their execution if she joins him at the castle as one of his female companions – the dirty old man!
One thing that did surprise me was how shocking the burning to death of one of Prospero’s supposed allies still is, as, dressed in a gorilla costume, he’s fastened to a massive chandelier and hauled upwards after being set alight; quite nasty stuff, even these days. Plus there’s the slightly disturbing use of a child pretending to be an adult who looks like a child – the disturbing connotations of some of Prospero’s guests admiring her in a sexual way does leave one with an unpleasant taste in one’s mouth for sure. I suspect if made today they’d use CGI enhancement or use a person of diminished stature in the mini ballerina role!
The final film of Friday was Alex Chandon’s latest gore epic, Inbred. I’ve been following Alex’s career for sometime now and it’s good to see him finally hitting a more even stride with this latest gory offering set in Yorkshire. While I enjoyed his earlier anthology film, Cradle of Fear, and tittered somewhat at Pervirella (especially the scene involving dolls screwing!) nothing has come close to the sheer crazy enthusiasm of his first shorts, namely Bad Karma and Drillbit, which both had a manic energy about them that was missing from his earlier features, but is pleasingly back for this tale of strangers visiting a very ‘local’ community with suitably nasty results.
I had actually seen Inbred before at, yes, you guessed it, Celluloid Screams, but even though I’d seen it very recently I wanted to watch it again with another audience to see how their reactions played out compared to those at the Sheffield screening. Both audiences really got the film and laughed along with the very crude humour and enjoyed the completely over-the-top nature of the gore-gags.
Alex obviously knows his audience very well (in fact, judging by the entertaining Q & A he did afterwards, he is the audience!) and it showed throughout the screenings with the very positive vibe they generated. Judging by the customer satisfaction levels at both festivals this film should get a general theatrical release and not be a straight to DVD title, as I sadly suspect will be the case. But then distributors and cinema chains are notoriously dumb!
I won’t go into the pretty simple plot, since we’ve been here so many times before, but I will say that Alex gets some great and wonderfully over-the top (and up to 11) performances out of his players and makes good use of his excellent locations. The film also looks more expensive than I suspect it was, partly due to good production values, especially the excellent special effects work, which really helps to nail the gore punch lines with much aplomb.
As I mentioned earlier Alex was there to introduce the film and gave an enjoyable question and answer session after the film had finished. My only problem with the latter was that, I reckon, I should have been the proud recipient of an Inbred T-shirt having shouted out the correct answer to one of his questions to the audience. However, somewhat unjustly, he obviously didn’t hear me and then proceeded to hand one of the shirts over to some guy near the front who had repeated my earlier mantra…bastard! So Alex, if you’re reading this, you owe me an Inbred T-shirt – an extra-large will do since they always shrink in the wash!
The day ended on another high note, (or should that be notes?) with the ‘Masque of the Red Death party’ in the bar area, which saw various people flouncing around in fancy dress enhanced by the excellent props that Gaz and his team had dreamed up to add atmosphere to the event. Sadly I didn’t dress up; I was still mourning the theft of my Inbred T-shirt!
In all seriousness though, the party was a roaring success with three horror-themed bands playing us out until the wee hours of the morning. These included The Laze, Ghostfire and Devilish Presley. I have to admit I enjoyed The Laze the most and would have been quite happy for them to have done a number of sets throughout the night, but I guess they’re only human…well, that’s what I heard. They concentrated on playing horror theme tunes in a kind of Goblin-esque way and they seemed to go down well with everyone I spoke to. The Laze were followed by Ghostfire who were very stylishly kitted out in gothic-themed clothes and they reminded me of a cross between Dr and The Medics and The Damned only they were less entertaining than these more established bands, both of whom I’ve seen live, in case you’re interested. That doesn’t mean to say they were bad; I just wasn’t blown away by them!
I think it was at this point that the fancy dress competition came into play, with the very friendly (and tall) Victoria Price as chief judge. Ms Price and the event organisers then drew up a short-list of possible winners and the audience cast the deciding vote through the loudness of their applause. I don’t remember who won the competition, but all the finalists looked pretty funky, that’s for sure.
The evening was then rounded off by the party’s headline act, namely Devilish Presley. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by this final band, which was probably my fault entirely as I’d had it in my head that they’d be a sort of psychobilly band, but instead they were leaning more towards straight punk. Now I’m not someone who hates punk (check out Far Q for a band who do it for me), but I just couldn’t get on with Devilish Presley, but many others loved the band and they did have good stage presence so it was still a pretty cool way to end another fine day at the festival.
Part 3 can be found here.