The Horror Honeys: Film4Frightfest Diary 2015 with Sarah!

Film4Frightfest Diary 2015 with Sarah!

A Guest Honey Adventure with Sarah


Ah, late summer. That time of year where everyone is getting ready for autumn and all things dark and delightful descend upon London’s Leicester Square for five days of horror-tastic treats: FrightFest!

This year was quite an occasion for me. Whilst I did go to last year’s festival on individual tickets (seeing the likes of The Babadook and Life After Beth) this is my first year with a festival pass, giving me almost unlimited access to over 50 films and events across its main venue, the Vue Leicester Square, and its second home of The Prince Charles Cinema, AKA the greatest cinema in the world (I might be biased), just around the corner.

Alas, without the use of a time machine I will only be managing about 15 films this year, but my excitement is high so let’s get started.


Day One
Opening night is a fairly simple affair, only three films on offer tonight. However the atmosphere is buzzing as I collect my pass, along with my goodie messenger bag with three DVDs inside; The Woman, Banshee Chapter, and Beneath. I settle down in my home for the weekend, seat D29 in the Horror Channel Screen, receiving another goodie bag with Horror Channel t-shirt, stress ball and a mug proclaiming “Bloody Hot.” I may have also swiped an extra mug that said “TEArrifying.” Then the lights went down on this year’s opening film.

Cherry Tree

Not the worst start ever, but not exactly a stunner. This folklore inflected witch story concerns a young girl, Faith, who makes a pact with a local coven led by her hockey coach, once again proving to all of us that Gym class is evil, in order to save her terminally ill father. All she has to do is have a demon baby. There was a lot of potential here, and Naomi Battrick has some nice presence as Faith, but it ends up feeling simultaneously over the top and underwhelming. Although what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in the orchestra’s enthusiasm, the score overwhelming almost every scene. So, a decent idea, but all it left me with was a slight ick factor for centipedes.

Turbo Kid
Now this was the one I was most excited for after reading Kat’s review from SXSW (which you should all go check out). I absolutely loved it, it had me grinning like an idiot at the shenanigans and giggling like a schoolgirl at the fountains of fake blood. Should I be worried about that? Nah.
The film really does play like a mixture of a music video, a live action cartoon, Mad Max, Tank Girl, and the imagined playtime of a crazed 11 year old on too much sugar. It’s also a rare case of 80s nostalgia done right in a movie, and it’s all in the little moments that you notice and give you a smile between each outlandish fight scene. It’s well worth hunting down because it’s that level of fun you feel should be illegal. 

Gnomestick. That is all.
Also, does anyone else have a weird crush on Frederick the Arm Wrestler now?

Yeah, it's about wasps.
So that was day one. I had to skip the final film, a horror comedy called Stung. Partially it was in an effort to not miss the final train home, and partially because it’s about giant killer mutant wasps and screw that. But it was a great load of fun and I am very much looking forward to the first full day tomorrow.


See you then, my dearies!

*****

Day Two
We are now really in the swing of things, the first full day of programming. But after the sheer insanity of Turbo Kid, is there anything that can come even close?

YOU fix the sink!
The Diabolical

I am always eager for a new spin on the haunted house genre, and this one sees Ali Larter’s single parent trying to deal with some very intense ghostly manifestations in her house and gets her boyfriend to help her deal with the problem using SCIENCE!!! The appearance of a skin peeling ghost/zombie/body/thing barely a few minutes in tells you that the haunting side isn’t really the focus here, but I admire it for attempting a sci-fi take on the familiar set-up. I saw one part of the ending coming a mile away, and didn’t find it particularly scary, but it had some nice ideas and if you look at it more from the sci-fi side than the horror I think it’s a lot more interesting.

The Entity
I’m a shameless sucker for found footage, I straight up admit it, but when the pull-quote reads “Paranormal Activity meets The Ring” I can’t resist that. This South American film sees a bunch of film students working on a project about internet reaction videos and track down one where the people all died after seeing the footage they were watching. They meet up with the brother of one of the victims and he takes them to the cemetery that appears to be the origin of the curse. Personally I think that as soon as the people you encounter on a film project start dying no college grade is worth it, but I suppose that’s why I’ll never be the protagonist of a found footage movie. I liked the story at the heart of the film, to do with the Inquisition, and there was also this kind of cyclical nature to the haunting which reminded me of J-horror which I love. However the final execution is just a retread of what we’ve seen before. I thought they were going to do something extra with the whole internet voyeurism aspect, watching people watching things, but it goes nowhere.

We Are Still Here
This was another one of the really big films, and that came across as festival organiser Alan Jones introduced the film with director Ted Geoghegan and star Barbara Crampton. I’ve been desperate to see the film for a while now (go read Suzanne’s review) and I am so happy to say that I was not disappointed. I just loved this. It was simple, it was beautifully crafted and everything from the performances to the minimal special effects was spot on. It feels like a time capsule movie that’s only just been discovered, or like Geoghegan somehow took his crew to the 1970s to make the film before coming back to release it. One basement scene with a poor electrician also gave me my first genuine scare of the festival. That’s ultimately why the film is so good really, it is completely genuine; it wears its influences on its sleeve, lets the mature performances tell you the deeper story, lets the scenes breath without need for crazy editing or intrusive soundtracks. There’s also a nice wider mythology/backstory here that is hinted at, but never overly exposition-ed to death. From its snow covered landscape beginnings to the great pay-off finale, this is one you need to hunt down if you haven’t already.

James Wan’s Demonic
Mainstream horror sucks. You know it, I know it. Yes there are gems, but on the whole it’s just pointless jump scares and characters you don’t give a crap about. Whilst this isn’t on the level of the really great stuff, it is in the upper end of the mainstream horror quality bracket (I feel like I need to make a graph or something). So basically it’s not Sinister good, but it’s not Annabelle bad either.
The plot is essentially what happens after the typical found footage plot of “stupid young people go somewhere haunted and film everything.” Police detective Frank Grillo (there’s always room for Grillo) investigates the aftermath of a possible mass murder with the only survivor babbling that it was the house that did this. It has all the tropes we’ve seen before, but I liked the story and was charmed by the film in a “Hey, this is one I can stick on when watching films with mates.” kind of a way. Nothing ground-breaking, but entertaining nonetheless.


I was also slightly distracted when I realized that a character was named John Mitchell, which is the full name of the vampire in BBC’s original Being Human. I was like “pfft, you’re not Aidan Turner.”

I then had an encounter in the bar afterwards with We Are Still Here director Ten Geoghegan. We chatted 70s horror, Lovecraft influences, ambiguity in movie endings, and I told him how much I enjoyed the film. He was just the nicest guy to talk to and that is gonna be a festival highlight moment for me for sure.


Today was also the day I decided to wear my Horror Honey t-shirt. No, I’m not certain what I’m supposed to “#BeAfraid” of, but my guess would be the entire container of Chinese food somebody dumped into one of the toilets.

Bring on Day Three!


***


Day Three
We’re halfway there and, surprisingly enough, living on a prayer. And no, I’m not talking about the street preachers that were standing in front of the cinema yesterday. The thing you never realize is just how darn tiring it is to sit and watch films all day. So the spirit is willing, but the flesh wants a nap.

Stupid flesh, you can rest on Tuesday!

The Nightmare
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much with this, despite the packed out screening. I’m not the biggest fan of Rodney Ascher’s previous film,
Room 237; in fact I tend to put it on when I want a good laugh. I just also think that his sense of style gets in the way of the topic a little. However, I am really interested in the topic of sleep paralysis, having experienced the phenomena twice, so I thought I’d give it a chance. I actually liked it a lot, much to my surprise. Yes, there is the overly-stylized element, and Ascher never really comes to any kind of defined conclusion, but it is worth it for hearing the different experiences from the subjects and their view on what happens to them. It also points out a few links between sleep paralysis and the movie Insidious, which had never occurred to me before. It’s also just interesting that certain things overlap in terms of what people see. Shadow men are the common thread, as are seeing things sitting on your chest. It’s easy to see why sleep paralysis has been linked to peoples’ accounts of demonic possession and alien abduction. So it was interesting and I enjoyed it, but that was more because of an inherent interest in the subject matter rather how the film explored it.

Shut-In
Home invasion films are a subgenre, like haunted house films, which benefit from the occasional twist and shake-up to the formula. The prospect of a home invasion where the victim is an agoraphobic who won’t leave the house even if given the opportunity was curious to me. The execution was certainly excellent, very tense and claustrophobic. Beth Riesgraf gives a very layered performance as Anna, the titular shut-in; she’s innocent and vulnerable, but then slowly unravels into something else entirely as the film goes on and the plot gets darker and twisty. Home invasion films are usually my thing though, and this one does go to some darker places in Anna’s back-story that I tend to avoid in my movie watching. There was also some unnecessary animal death. So ultimately it was really well done, and I’m sure many people will like it, but personally it just wasn’t in my wheelhouse. 
Shut-In

Deathgasm
The best horror of the last few years has been from Australia and New Zealand, and now the list just got longer with this OTT tale of two metal heads who summon a plague of demons on their town. This film is gory, gooey, gross, and full of almost non-stop laughs. There’s also of course a metal soundtrack worthy of its subjects. Director Jason Lei Howden is a special effects artist, having worked on The Hobbit movies, and there is a major influence from Peter Jackson’s early films Bad Taste and Braindead. There’s also an unmistakable touch of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead in the design of the demons. I even felt nauseous in one of the death scenes, and that is not an easy thing to do, something which greatly pleased Howden when I told him. It’s loud, it’s extreme, and basically it’s brutal as fuck and you should watch it. (Read Head Honey Kat's SXSW review of Deathgasm HERE)

#BrutalAsFuck

The Duke Mitchell Film Club FrightFest Film Party
This was something a bit different; a weird mini variety show where actors and directors from across the festival introduce clips of trailers, films, and youtube videos that they think are cool and weird. Also tons of random prizes are given out and people are given the opportunity to play to win a Mondo vinyl soundtrack. Oh, and everybody who goes up gets a shot.  

Some of the highlights of clips included a workplace safety video, complete with limbs being ripped off, the trailer of Redneck Zombies, two different trailers for a 70’s home invasion movie, one for black audiences and one for white, and a preview clip of Beyond the Gates from Barbara Crampton. One guy had a 16mm PSA about fear called The Creeps Machine. The winner though was a youtube video of a kid cross-dressing as a possessed gothic bride and lip synching to "I Will Always Love You." 

Prize wise I missed out on an Aliens soundtrack vinyl by like a micro second because someone else put their hand up first to participate in a mini dance-off. I did get a packet of Oreos that were thrown at my head though.

It was just an awesome way to spend time after a day of watching movies. I’ll just have to save my dance-off moves for another day.


So a bit of a mixed experience today with some surprises and ending on a bang as I had to all but run to the station for the last train home. No horror movie can compare to Friday night drunks.

***

Day Four
Sunday is the day of rest, and I do have a very quiet day planned. Hopefully though it will be a case of quality over quantity.

Farhope Tower
Oh paranormal investigators, will they ever learn? And yet I continuously enjoy watching them screw things up. Usually. However, these guys make Scooby Doo and his friends look like bloody T.A.P.S. They are a paranormal investigation group, "the Unspecters," trying to get a television pilot off the ground and go to the infamous “suicide tower,” a skyscraper in the abandoned part of town in search of something with a bit more excitement and in the way of these things get more than they bargained for. This was the first real dud of the festival. It just left me annoyed and feeling like all the events were entirely pointless. The acting was wooden, the dialogue forced, and nothing felt established in anything even resembling a natural way. No wonder these guys can’t get a pilot picked up when they only have one camera that they keep forgetting to turn on to film things. No, wait, they also have a body cam on one guy, the only purpose of which is to show something plot relevant through a crappy filter. We get told that the building is evil, but unlike something like 1408 where there is a presence to the evil, this is something we just sort of have to take on faith.  We also never know in any detail about any of the apparently numerous suicides that have taken place here except the one that turns out to be part of one character’s mysterious past.

There’s also just some basic continuity problems that are borderline laughable. The establishing shot of the (admittedly very cool looking) building is in a run-down residential area, but later on when a character is on the roof of the building the busy city looks like it’s just across the road, complete with bustling traffic noises. They also say that the building has no electricity, but every night time shot of the building’s exterior comes with highlighting floodlights and an illuminated clock face. Speaking of light, there must have been some day for night shooting because this is the most bright and well ambient-lit abandoned building in the middle of the night that I’ve ever seen. A girl with a broken leg can limp on it after having the broken halves of her shin poked into place and wrapped in bandage. A flashback to what is supposedly the 1980s looks like the 30s. It just goes on. There is just nothing about this film that feels right, and it’s not even bad in a fun way. Don’t even bother.

~~~
With a little gap here there was the opportunity to do something different. We got an opportunity to be extras for the latest aquatic predator movie spectacular; Sky Sharks. Okay so Nazis, of course Nazis, have created flying sharks being ridden by undead super soldiers. Our role was to run out of the cinema screaming, presumably due to an attack from the titular sky sharks. On the upside we probably scared the crap out of some tourists. So when we finally get to see what I’m sure is a gift to humanity, keep an eye out for an amused redhead who is laughing just as much as she’s screaming.
~~~

Hellraiser
Finally got to cross this one off my list of shame. After an introduction from Nicholas Vince who played the Chatterer Cenobite, we settled down to this brand new restoration of Clive Barker’s 1987 film. I’m surprised by how much I liked it. I knew bits and pieces about the film, hard not to when it’s the same age as me, but finally getting to watch the full thing was quite an experience. I like the design of the effects, especially the very bloody and visceral reverse-melting scene. Also some of the shots and creepy imagery are really good for Clive Barker’s first feature film. Yeah, it’s a little over the top in places, and people suffer from a severe case of lacking peripheral vision. Kirsty, your dad’s face has pieces of his face hanging off, how do you not notice that? But hey, it’s the 80s.
Like everyone else who watches the film, I also loved the look of Pinhead and his posse. I like that they’re neither good nor evil really, more just entities of whatever purpose they serve. I don’t know if I’m going to hunt down and check out the sequels, but this was a great experience. I also told Nicholas Vince how much I enjoyed the film and he was nice enough to let me get a picture.
Nicholas Vince!

Barbara Crampton Reanimated
Appearing in 3 of the features in this year’s festival, We Are Still Here, Sun Choke, and Road Games, along with a small cameo in Tales of Halloween, Barbara Crampton was an easy choice for this year’s festival guest of honour. This little audience chat with festival organiser Alan Jones covered her life pre-acting life as a carnival worker, her career spanning from Body Double and The Re-animator to her soap opera work and her brief retirement before joining the cast of You’re Next. She really seemed to enjoy the collaborative process on the set of You’re Next, which led not only to her doing more films but also got her into wanting to help indie directors with projects. She is helping produce and appears in an upcoming feature Beyond the Gates, which is out next year. One Q&A later and we get the opportunity for autographs, so I am now the proud owner of a signed We Are Still Here poster. 



It was a very interesting ending to the most chilled day of the festival, rant about the worst paranormal investigators ever aside. But can it really soon be over?

***

Day Five
Say it isn’t so! It can’ be over yet, it just can’t! And yet it is, here we are at the final day of FrightFest 2015. But will it all end in a glorious high of blood and thrills, or on the equivalent to a cheap last minute jump scare?

Suspension
A stylised and Halloween inspired film looking at what happens to those left behind after a slasher movie. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, not so much. Ten years ago, Emily’s father went on a killing spree and she is now considered an outcast and mentally unstable by her peers. The only things that make her happy are her artwork that she uses to deal with her issues, and her mute younger brother Jeremy. Then, on the anniversary of the killings it seems that Emily’s father has come home to finish what he started.
Question: can you still call something a twist if the twist is obvious in the first five minutes? I thought it wasn’t even supposed to be a twist but then it was played like a huge revelation. I kept waiting the entire film for said obvious twist to be some kind of fake-out, a red herring before the rug was pulled out from under us. Nope. The end result means that Suspension falls short of really working, either as a horror film or as a look at dealing with trauma.
It’s not that there is nothing to like here. Ellen MacNevin is very sweet and vulnerable as Emily, and some of the scenes of her harassment from classmates are genuinely upsetting. There are also some really nice moody shots of Emily’s lone house in the foggy night and her killer father looks very Michael Myers inspired. Unfortunately this doesn’t make up from how thin the film feels. It tries, but just not hard enough for me.

Last Girl Standing
It seems I’m having a very slash-happy day today. I was a little worried about this one after how let down I was by Suspension, especially when it has a similar set up of “what happens to the final girl after they survive?” Thankfully, Last Girl Standing executes this so much better than Suspension. It follows Camryn, a young woman who five years previously was the lone survivor of a camping ground massacre by The Hunter. She lives in Austin, still plagued by nightmares. As a new co-worker Nick reaches out to Camryn, she begins to believe that the past is getting ready to repeat itself as she sees signs that the killer from five years previously isn’t really gone. 


The film is more of a very tense drama than a full-on horror film, examining Camryn’s trauma and anxiety-filled day to day life with this constant fear hanging over her. The performances are all solid and realistically played. You do get a sense that this is happening in the real world, despite the typical Friday the 13th-esque beginning of the film (bonus shout out to the simple but effective design of the Hunter’s mask). It also looks at the recovery of Camryn’s non-typical trauma next to someone else’s more realistic situation. It makes for an interesting combination between the outlandish slasher tropes that we’re used to and a more down to earth character drama. This mixture also means that when Camryn starts to see signs of The Hunter’s return you can never be utterly certain about whether it’s true or just a product of her damaged psyche. The conclusion is very satisfying and will definitely stay with you.

I also had an opportunity to talk to writer-director Ben Moody and his producer Rachel Moody after the screening. Both were very passionate about the project and glad to hear that I enjoyed it. They also said that they’re familiar with The Horror Honeys. So if you’re reading this Ben and Rachel *waves* Hi!

Emelie
Leaving your kid with a stranger is an unnerving prospect for parents. This thriller takes this to an extreme degree that is uncomfortable, unnerving, and very engrossing to watch. A young babysitter named Anna is attacked and kidnapped on her way to a job and a seemingly sweet young woman takes her place. Her behaviour towards the children alternates between kind and sinister (that poor, poor hamster), and it soon becomes apparent that she has a very specific agenda in coming to the house. The vulnerability of children, especially when in the care of an unhinged authority figure, is one of the few things that can make me very worried. Emelie manages to be truly unsettling whilst never going too far for the sake of shock value. When the oldest child, Jacob, starts to realise that the babysitter is more than she seems it becomes a cat and mouse game, with Jacob fighting to protect his siblings and anyone else who crosses “Anna” in her plans. It was something a bit different, no less creepy for its reality, and whilst there are a few flaws plot-wise I would recommend it for anyone who likes a good thriller.

Tales of Halloween
Here we are, the last film, and what better one to end on than one that takes us out of summer and looking forward to our favourite time of the year?

Eleven directors with a real deep love of the genre, ten short stories of blood drenched shocks and laughs with plenty of cameos. There is an obvious comparison to be made with Trick r Treat, another Halloween anthology film that has become something of a new traditional watch for many. Tales of Halloween has a much more playful tone to it, seeking more to entertain than to scare and I found it really enjoyable. The stories range from urban legends about a candy loving monster, demonic creatures of revenge, a twist on the masked killer stalking a helpless girl, a man-eating jack o lantern, and many more. It really has something for everyone. From the delightful animated opening sequence (done by an artist called Ashley Thorpe, whose work you should really look up, especially his soon to be released animated documentary about the Borley Rectory) it just throws you into this world and the fun begins. This will be a great one to watch whenever you want to be in the Halloween mood or with a big group of friends on the night itself. A great finish to the weekend.

All good things must come to an end, and I am now bound to the limbo of another 360 days without FrightFest. I can’t even begin to rank all the films I’ve seen, but I have to give big shout outs to Turbo Kid, We Are Still Here, Last Girl Standing and Tales of Halloween. This weekend has just been an amazing experience, I’ve met and talked to some awesome fans and filmmakers, and even when the film hasn’t been great the atmosphere of watching surrounded by fellow genre fans has been worth it. There really is a sense of community and friendship amongst the attendees. If I’m able to I am definitely going to make a habit of coming each year to enjoy five days of solid spooky entertainment.

So thank you to Film 4 FrightFest, thank you to all the organizers who made it possible, and thank you to you, dear reader, for joining me in my little adventure.


See you next year!