What happens in Frightclub, stays in Frightclub! Well, maybe not since I promised Blueprint: Review maestro, David Brook, a report on the film festival weeks ago and have only just got round to delivering. Oops, sorry mate!
Back in late April (the 26th April to be exact) I headed over to The Custard Factory in the Digbeth area of Birmingham to check out a new cult film festival run by those fab folks at Midnight Media. Running from 12 noon on the Saturday and finishing at 8.30am on the Sunday this was to be a movie marathon I won’t forget for quite some time. Wearing day-glo pink wristbands, patrons of the festival got to either hang out in the merchandise area in between films or brave the rather rough streets outside – I chose the former and avoided possible confrontations with hordes of braying footie fans converging on the area for a big match nearby.
The festival mainly revolved around screening a number of retro titles that people would find hard to see these days, although there were a few more recent films on display. It turned out to be a nice mix of genres and styles of filmmaking and I thoroughly enjoyed the event, as did the friends I went with.
Because there were 11 films screened during the festival I’m not going to give each a full-blown review, just a capsule one instead, but at least that should give you an idea as to what the films were like and if you think any might be worth pursuing yourselves.
Directed by Mario Bava, Blood and Black Lace is a class act and is basically one of the first films to be labelled as a giallo, which is essentially an ultra-violent or sleazy murder mystery originating predominantly from Italy, although most European countries have produced a few of their own. Bava’s film utilises a lush kaleidoscope of colours, being set as it is within the fashion world and revolves around a fashion salon owned by the severely wealthy Cristina (Eva Bartok) and her greedy lover Max (Cameron Mitchell). Things get complicated when one of the models is murdered and her diary comes to light, but the diary soon disappears again when the model, who found it, is also violently dispatched. From then on anyone who gets near the book or thinks they know something about its contents is killed. As the bodies pile up and the police become just as confused as the viewer we realise it will all end in tears! This is a great example of this fascinating subgenre and well worth a look; recommended.
This is basically the first half of a Spanish mini-series, directed by Jose Luis Aleman, which delves into the mysteries of H. P. Lovecraft. A nicely made film, it follows the trials and tribulations of a Luisa Llorente, an expert on old real-estate properties, who travels to a mysterious mansion on behalf of her company to find out what happened to her predecessor, who was supposed to report back, but never did. Part detective story, part romance and part eldritch horror, this is a difficult film to try and explain as it has so many different levels. And obviously, being the first part of a two-part story it kind of ends rather abruptly and unsatisfactorily. However, there’s much to enjoy here with some nicely realised historical set-pieces, some decent acting and the hint of cosmic forces simmering beneath the surface, waiting for their chance to bubble free. This was enjoyable stuff, but left you wanting more. Luckily we got more later on, with the second part, but more on that later.
The first of the Ruggero Deodata films to be screened at this mini-festival, this is an enjoyable slice of Italian Polizieschi, where men are men and cops can be women, but they’ve got to have ‘tashes too! The film opens with an insane motorcycle chase that was actually filmed during rush hour in Rome without any permits (and therefore insurance) where poor real-life pedestrians were nearly mown down, all in the name of entertainment, and then rolls forward into a rather unconventional cop action-thriller where sexism is rampant and pathological, nihilistic behaviour is actively encouraged, and that’s just within the Italian police service! The two main crazy young cops, Alfredo and Antonia, seem to be constantly competing with each other, and with those around them as to who can be the biggest arsehole – it’s a close run thing, as they shoot suspects dead before they’ve committed a crime, sleep with witnesses, commit arson and are more than happy to rape a confession out of female suspects! This is crazy, but enjoyable stuff, in a surreal way; they certainly don’t make them like this anymore, which is perhaps a good thing!
I have to admit that we sat out of this film to concentrate on something more important, i.e. tracking down food for our tea, but I’d actually seen this Japanese film before at the Dead by Dawn film festival so I didn’t feel too bad missing it this time around. Part monster movie, and part martial arts splatter movie in the spirit of Ricki-O, this is lunatic fun. Basically a serial killer is leaving headless bodies behind and a special agent is assigned to cover the case, but he quickly gets more than he bargained for… a rather supernatural truth for a starter! This is packed with daft monster mayhem, a weird love story, some crazy stunts, and is a lot of fun. As with many films of this ilk one has to leave your brain parked in a jar at the door and just let it take you for a ride; you really can’t take this stuff seriously at all.
This German film, directed by Roland Klick, would certainly have been David’s favourite if he could have been bothered to come to the festival – hint, hint! This is a cult modern Euro-western where two gunmen separate after a heist and the one with the money ends up in the middle of the desert dying of thirst. A miner from a nearby, err, mine, rescues him and then perhaps wishes he hadn’t bothered. When the second gunman rolls into the ghost town things start to turn nasty, and later when a beautiful young girl who lives nearby falls for the first gunman things get even more complicated. Rocks, guns, vehicles and spades are all employed as the money changes hands several times before a satisfying conclusion. Deadlock is superbly shot, and rather surreal, with great locations and a dreamlike quality that stays with you long after the film has finished. If you like heist movies and spaghetti westerns this is the film for you.
The second and concluding part of this made-for-TV Spanish Lovecraftian chiller sees the Valdemar curse triggering events in modern times, events which could alter the fates of the rather eclectic group of central characters who have become ensnared in the clutches of a dangerous and shadowy cult that seeks to unleash the Old Ones on the Earth and finish the current reign of humanity. Featuring lots of CGI (some of it pretty decent) this second part was a bit erratic and made me think that perhaps they’d have been better just making a shorter, snappier film, rather than extending it out into two parts. The pacing was a bit up and down, but there is still lots to enjoy here. Cthulhu looks great and there are some nice comic touches too.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The second film by director Ruggero Deodata to be screened at the festival, this is the best of the short-lived cannibal craze that swept through 70s and early 80s Italian cinema. It’s also probably the best found-footage film, at least that I know of, and Cannibal Holocaust is still a powerful film to this day. On watching this uncut print, there can be no doubt as to why this was on the ‘video nasties’ list in the mid-eighties, in the UK, and it still punches hard even to this day. The film follows an anthropologist who heads into the South American jungle or ‘green inferno’ (as the film was titled for a while) to find out what happened to a missing film crew who were making a documentary about cannibal tribes in the area. He only finds their film cans, and once back in America he reviews the footage and discovers what terrible atrocities the film crew afflicted on the native people and animals and what equally terrible fate awaited them. This is still a disturbing film and certain images take a long time to dissipate from your mind after viewing it – you have been warned! The senseless acts of violence against animals are particularly hard to forget. Cannibal Holocaust, despite all its controversy, is still a very well made film and is, I think, an important film. I’d probably go as far as saying it’s a masterpiece of subversive cinema, full of memorable imagery, underlined by an amazing score, this is a film that is hard to forget.
This Australian psychological thriller, directed by Tim Burstall and starring George Mallaby, John Waters, Ken Goodlet, Delvene Delaney and Charles Tingwell, was a bit misplaced in the running order of the festival and should have been screened earlier and not at half one in the morning when most people’s concentration was probably starting to flag. This is a slow burner and requires the viewer to pay attention, which is tricky when you’re knackered! Nevertheless End Play has its moments and has an interesting central premise, whereby two brothers are both suspected of being a serial killer who preys on young female hitchhikers. Paraplegic brother Robert Gifford bears deep anger at his condition and seems rather misogynistic, while younger brother Mark seems only too happy to overlook some of Robert’s more bizarre behaviour until it’s too late for both of them. While the ending of this film was fun and some of the interplay between the brothers is interesting, there’s not enough tension developed and it’s only during the last ten minutes or so that the film really bursts into life, by which time I think most people in the audience were half asleep! Certainly worth a look and kudos to Paul for screening such a rare film, but it didn’t really reach any sweet spots for me or my friends.
Since I’ve already reviewed this film for Blueprint: Review I won’t say too much more about this one, apart from I used it as an excuse to try and grab some kip while it was playing out… This film, directed by James Bickert, still failed to entertain me second time around and my opinion of it hasn’t really changed. Dear God No! tries too hard to be excessively controversial and exploitative, missing the whole point of the grindhouse phenomena from the sixties and seventies. To see how exploitation films should be made watch Gator Bait (1973), which is so much better. If you are going to include humiliation, rape and murder in your movie at least make it feel like there’s a reason for it, rather than it just being shoe-horned in for the sake of it…
Death Promise (1977)
Directed by Robert Warmflash (what a name!) and written by Norman Albertson Jnr, Death Promise sees Charles Bonet starring as a Hispanic would-be kung-fu master who battles evil New York City slumlords after his father is killed suspiciously following an argument with one of the aforementioned nasty landlords. Helped by a couple of his equally handy buddies, one an African American and another an oriental from his own sifu’s dojo, our Hispanic hero kicks a lot of arse and doesn’t bother to ask questions later. The fights are fun, if rather daft, and everyone yells a lot - all the better for the in-shot boom mikes to capture the sound! There’s a sequence where our hero heads over to China for more kick-ass training, but this is so obviously shot in someone’s backyard in the states! All this kind of adds to the film’s charms and adds to one’s overall enjoyment of this exploitation classic. There are plenty of unintentionally hilarious scenes and snippets of dialogue, some ‘groovy’ acting styles on show and some cool fights, especially the end sequence on the roof-top, which actually showcases some decent fight choreography. Do you dig it, man?
Note, this film was a replacement for Olaf Ittenbach’s House of Blood (2006) (aka Chain Reaction), which, funnily enough, I screened years ago at one of my own festivals in Bristol. For your information that’s another film with hilarious dialogue, but hilarious for different reasons. It’s still worth a look if you like stylish gore films.
The final film of the festival was an excellent one to finish on, and probably managed to wake most of the audience up, even the most sleep deprived! It’s the late eighties and motorbike-riding ninjas are tightening their grip on the narcotics trade, dealing viciously with anyone who gets in their way. Enter multi-national martial arts rock band Dragon Sound who find themselves in the middle of a particularly nasty turf war. Once the lead guitarist gets involved with the foxy sister of one the main bad guys all hell breaks lose, literally, and before you can say ‘those crazy eighties’ the band are embarking on a rampage of round-house kicks and stinging ‘shuto’ blocks, punctuated only by an outbreak of truly massive moustaches and permed mullets! This is a film that just keeps on piling on the crazy ideas until your head feels like imploding. First up you have a multiracial rock band of orphaned martial arts students, who do martial arts demos on stage, practice, mainly bad, taekwondo on the university campus during the day and pretty much all live in the same house! Then you have ninjas on motorbikes, some of the worst acting (and martial arts) ever to grace the silver screen and some of the cheesiest dialogue that even the Chuckle Brothers would balk at! However, this film is wonderful entertainment and I nearly pissed myself laughing numerous times. Highly recommended…
Thanks again to Paul and Nigel from Midnight Media for running the ‘Frightclub’ festival, it was a real blast, and I look forward to the next one, whenever that might be. Maybe next time try and pick a Saturday when there’s not a football match on though… the irony wasn’t lost on me that those who society sees as being a little odd or outcasts because of their love of horror films were peacefully sitting watching movies indoors, while those more ‘normal’ types were outside trying to kill each other and all because they supported a different team!