Frightfest: And All The Rest...

I watched 20 films at Frightfest (21 if you count Texas Chain Saw Massacre), and I had originally planned to review them all. But I wasn't counting on two things: 1. The fact that several of them weren't really horror movies, and 2. How little free time I'd have in between, as I was constantly using that time to run back to my room or to some fast food joint to eat. So on day two, when I realized I was like 6 reviews back with no time to write in sight, I decided to only review the films that I enjoyed. I took a similar approach last year with Screamfest, skipping reviews for films I didn't care for for the most part, because what good does it do if they aren't even distributed yet? The whole point of HMAD is to talk about films (which is why I encourage comments and read every single one), so if it's a movie that is premiering there and has yet to find a home for the US (or even the UK), chances are no one will have anything to say anyway, besides fellow Frightfesters, most of whom will be reviewing them on their own blogs/sites. And if it's not even a horror movie, why spend time writing up a full review, when no one will be coming to this site looking for a review once it hits?

But I figure folks might like to know a thought or two on the others, as well as "proof" as to which movies I watched, so here's a recap for all of those non-reviewed movies, as well as my thoughts on other FF-centric activities and the fest as a whole. Enjoy!

Hatchet 2
Obviously, this is the exception. It's most certainly horror and I most certainly enjoyed it. But as I said before, I won't be reviewing it in full as I had worked on it. Yes, in a very limited and entirely non-creative capacity (production assistant and end title creator, for the record), but my name is still there in the credits (twice! That's more than the producers!!), so I don't feel comfortable with it. However, fans who thought the original had too much humor will be very happy with this one, as it was largely eschewed in favor of more kills (more than double the number in the original, and for the most part, all more ridiculously gory) and a (slightly too) lengthy back-story concerning Crowley. Those who listened to a lot of Q&As when the original film was around will probably remember Adam Green mentioning that he specifically zoomed into the kid in the pig mask when Victor was being burned in that film's flashback, so here we get to know why. The humor is still there (Colton Dunn and AJ Bowen's characters being the funniest), but it's overall a darker film. Those who were disappointed that Tony Todd was only in the original for a single scene will also be relieved to discover he's pretty much the main character here, he has about as much screentime as Danielle Harris, who replaced Tamara Feldman in the role of Marybeth (and had slightly more to do, storywise). Bias aside, I was happy to return to the swamp, and I think fans will be too. A great way to kick off the festival.

Dead Cert
I described this as "An extremely sedated Guy Ritchie making his own version of From Dusk Til Dawn". Technically fine, and featuring a good lead performance by Craig Fairbrass, it's still a pacing disaster, as they tell us that there are vampires around but it takes half the movie for them to show up and do anything. FDTD worked because it completely came out of nowhere; we thought we were watching a straight up crime thriller. But here it's like "OK, these guys are vampires. And in about 40 minutes or so, they'll prove it." And even then, it's too talky, as the film's Van Helsing type explains that vampires are pretty much responsible for every single thing in world history (the guillotine? Invented to kill vampires). also, it all takes place in a strip club where the women do not strip (even more disappointing when you consider uber-hottie Janet Montgomery is one of them), which just adds to the movie's sedated presentation. Someone call Ritchie and have him do the gangsters vs. vampires thing right.

Isle of Dogs
Not a horror movie. It seems like it might be for a while, as a guy in a white mask (he looked like The Blank from Dick Tracy) shows up at the main character's mansion and begins stalking his wife, but it's all a big setup, with double and triple crosses and a complete lack of any characters worth rooting for. Any movie that begins with a dog being shot point blank has to really deliver some great, compelling stuff in order to make up for it and get any caring audience back on its side, but this one doesn't. Well made, however, and fans of Andrew Howard (Devil's Chair, I Spit On Your Grave remake) will enjoy his scenery-chewing.

Red Hill
Once I realized this wasn't a horror movie, I just as quickly realized it was one of the best Westerns in ages, as an escaped prisoner returns to the town where he used to live and begins systematically killing just about everyone there. But when he lets newcomer Ryan Kwanten go free, we learn that perhaps there is more to his actions than we were led to believe. Set entirely in one day and featuring some pretty terrific wide-screen imagery, this was one of the festival's best films overall; it's just a shame that they had to try to sell it as a horror movie. I probably would have liked it even more if I hadn't spent so much of its first half wondering when the horror would kick in (it would be like telling someone that Schindler's List was a comedy - "OK, this isn't BAD, per se, but where are the jokes?"). Highly recommended.

13 Hrs
Possibly the weakest film in the festival, it's another one of those youth-centric horror films where they are all characterized by their sexual history with one another. I don't often get chased around by werewolves, but when I do, I usually don't start arguing with my mates about why I am sleeping with one and who is trying to get back at who. But time and time again, it seems this lot are more concerned with hashing out their dirty laundry than killing the goddamn werewolf. Plus, it's from the producers of Dog Soldiers - there's a certain level of expectation involved that no one was capable of achieving. It also commits the cardinal sin of killing its most interesting character off the second he enters the fray. Again, it was technically fine (except for a laughably obvious bald cap on the wolf - these werewolves are furless!), but nothing can overcome such a weak script.

Monsters
This one comes thisclose to being considered a horror film - there are giant monster aliens in it, after all. But they never really cause any problems for our characters until the very end, and when they're not on-screen you would never in a million years think you were watching a genre film. Instead, it's a successful hybrid of several genres: a road movie, a romance, a drama... you get a little bit of everything. And lead actor Scoot McNairy (who sounds EXACTLY like David Duchovny, which was a bit distracting - they really should have had a different name for his character, Culder) is terrific; he possesses a laidback, dryly hilarious charm that will hopefully be exploited in bigger Hollywood films in the future. It drags a bit in the early parts of its 3rd act, but the ending (which asks the audience to put 2+2 together on their own) more than makes up for it. As someone put it later, "Think Before Sunrise, but with occasional monsters in the background".

We Are What We Are
And you are boring. I like the basic idea, but man, this is one endless movie, as the entire thing is about a group of possibly vampires seeking one (just ONE!) victim to feed on for their blood ritual (the patriarch of the clan dies at the film's beginning, so it's up to his three, basically incompetent children to carry on his work for the sake of their mother). I like the idea of an actual family of vampires (or cannibals, I never quite knew for sure), as opposed to an honorary one, as it leads to some amusing sibling rivalry, but it's ultimately a movie about 3 people seeking to do one fairly simple thing (and failing to do it!); it needed a little more meat on its bones. Lots of folks seemed to enjoy this one, but I was just bored for the most part. Still, any movie with an army of hookers can't be altogether bad.

Video Nasties
I've long wondered why no one has ever made a documentary about the Video Nasties, which were a group of about 70 or so horror films that were banned outright in Britain in the early 80s after failing to earn BBFC certification when they hit home video. It starts off strong, with a rockin' montage featuring all of the titles, and then an amusing (if slightly overlong) tribute to the often terrible quality of VHS tapes that these films were presented on, but then it just gets too dry, spending too much time on the government officials and studies that were involved, and not enough time with the people that were affected by their actions. Why not have Sam Raimi (Evil Dead was on the list) or Tobe Hooper (boasting three films, including the rather tame The Funhouse) talk about how possessing their films could put you in jail? Better yet, why not talk to some of the folks who WERE arrested for owning something like Cannibal Holocaust? It's also quite short (only 60 minutes), and the topic, I think, deserves a more wide-reaching look. I'd bet the book "See No Evil" by David Kerekes and David Slater is a far more complete look at this rather peculiar time for horror fans.

Red, White, and Blue
The final shot of this movie is one of the most heartbreaking smacks in the gut I've ever seen in a movie. Unfortunately, to get there you have to sit through lots of unpleasant torture scenes, unsympathetic main characters (our heroine, for example, is a girl who has HIV and yet won't even let her sexual partners wear a condom, nor does she tell them about her condition), and far too much typical indie movie excess: repetition, long stretches of dialogue-free time-passing (no mundane task our characters have to carry out for their jobs is too dull for it to get at least 30 seconds of screen time, it seems; enjoy riveting vaccuuming footage!), hand-held footage up the wazoo... I just couldn't get into it. Maybe if it played on the first day I could have enjoyed it a bit more, but after too many revenge/torture type movies as it was, this (the final film for me, as I had already seen the next and true final film, Last Exorcism) was just the straw that broke the camel's back. Can we have a moratorium on movies in which a guy being tied up and tortured is the only thing that puts it in the horror category? How about some goddamn suspense, or even a jump scare? Christ, I would have welcomed When A Stranger Calls' killer ice machines and endless phone calls at this point.

Andy Nyman's Quiz From Hell
The first time I had to do a works cited page in high school, my teacher explained about how you don't need to cite things that are common knowledge, like "George Washington was the first President of the United States." But my paper was, shockingly, about movies, and there was a lot of stuff that was common knowledge as far as I was concerned (such as, at that time, that ET was the highest grossing film of all time). This is even more of a problem when it comes to horror films, some of this stuff is so ingrained into my head that I almost found it laughable (i.e. "What is the name of Michael Myers' first victim?"). But I struggled with quite a few, particularly the soundtrack section (they would play a few seconds of a song or score from a horror movie, you'd name the movie), which was difficult without the context for several (not to mention tricky - I actually got Halloween wrong, as it was actually the more synth-y Halloween II). A terrific, super-fun addition to the festival, and I'd love to see more interactive, non-film based activities added for future Fests.

Road To Frightfest
As in years' past, Adam Green and Joe Lynch made 5 shorts, one for each day of the festival, that parodied a famous horror movie (American Werewolf and Twilight Zone being the previous topics) as it detailed their attempts to get to Frightfest on time. This year was Blair Witch Project, which was a bit unusual (hasn't it been parodied enough?), but it paid off with an amazing 4th episode surprise (one that, sadly, few people seemed to get). And episode two had a lengthy discussion of the Shocker soundtrack, which I assume was there just to amuse me specifically (I was certainly the only one to cheer at the mention of "Shockdance"). And since this was my first Frightfest, it was great to see them in their proper context - the others I had watched at home, without knowing who Emily Booth was or why they seemed to be concerned with getting to some place called the Phoenix. And as before, the final episode (in which they "die") was an in-joke heaven, with tons of self-deprecating humor (Joe's family eating out of the trash was a particularly hilarious/awful gag) and proof of how much effort they put into these things (Adam's actual wedding, which was months ago, was the setting for one joke). There were some technical issues with the projector that kept them from airing at their intended times (we actually watched episodes 1 and 2 on day two), but I hope it doesn't sour them on the idea of doing them again next year. Especially with the increasingly downbeat selection of films, they were always a welcome dose of levity. Look for them online soon!

Overall, I had a fantastic time at the fest. Sure, I didn't love every movie, but I didn't outright hate any either, and I can at least say that they were all superb on a technical level, at least (not something I can say about other festivals I've attended). And it's not like I expected to be blown away by every film - its impossible to expect someone to like/love all 30 films, even if they were just high from the experience itself. And I only missed one main screen film the entire time (not counting skipping screenings of the three films I had already seen: Loved Ones, Last Exorcism, and Damned by Dawn, which I didn't care much for the first time when it played at Screamfest last year), but luckily both the comfortable Empire seats and insanely friendly attendees and organizers (Paul McEvoy is possibly the most delightful man I've ever met) made it easy to keep coming back, and as tired (and broke) as I was by the end of it, I was truly sorry that it had to end. And from what I understand, this one actually paled compared to previous years' - if this was a subpar year, I simply cannot wait to come back again for a "good" one. See you next year!

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Baron Blood (1972)

AUGUST 31, 2010

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

Due to my lack of remembering the “30 Days” rhyme correctly, I booked my return to the US a day "late", and thus I was still in London today, August 31st (I switched April and August), despite Frightfest finishing the night before. But I was sort of happy, as it allowed me to accomplish two things (well, hopefully, in one case) – 1. See some of London beyond the path from my hotel to the Empire cinema, since it’s no guarantee I’ll be able to go again next year, and 2. Prove that I don’t “bank” reviews for Horror Movie A Day, as I watched Baron Blood despite having watched enough films for about 3 weeks in the previous 5 days.

(Of course, if I was able to get all my reviews up in a timelier manner, this would be even more concrete proof, but oh well. Beyond actually sitting there with me watching them all, I can probably never really prove that I’m watching one every day. *Sigh*)

Anyway, Baron Blood had somehow escaped me while I was going through the Mario Bava box set a couple years back. Some of the films weren’t horror, so I skipped those (I sadly admit I’m not a huge Bava fan, so that plus my limited time meant those others posed little interest to me), but I thought I had gotten the HMAD-ready ones. Ironically, it’s actually one of my favorites of his. Elke Sommer is oddly "off" in her performance (not that I'm an expert on the lass, but I don't recall her being particularly bad in anything else I've seen), and as always there are too many goddamn zooms, but otherwise it’s a solid, well made film with some effective scare sequences, an awesome looking bad guy, and a creepy little ginger kid.

There are also long stretches with no one talking, which is always a plus in these things, especially when you have “sadist” being pronounced “saddest” and other odd little translation/accent “glitches”. And again, Sommer isn’t about to win any awards, so keeping her quiet only helps. The story is also rather thin – it’s basically about some folks resurrecting a guy accidentally and then trying to kill him again. But this allows Bava’s visual style to shine through more than some of his others, and it’s easily one of his best looking films – the primary colors are as gorgeous as ever, and even with the zooms, the camerawork is more interesting than some of his earlier films, as he was getting more creative as time went on.

(This reminds me, I must give Bay of Blood another look now that I have a good DVD of it.)

The pacing is a little off, however. About 2/3 through the film, we meet a medium, and are treated to a lengthy séance scene, which slows things down. Plus she dies right at the end of it and they never really mention her again, so the whole thing could have been excised with little problem. There are also two scenes in a row of Eva being chased around by the Baron, which is one too many. I also get slightly eye-roll-y when plot points can be easily explained by mere technical errors; when they resurrect the Baron, the clock strikes two (the time of his death – nice of his killers to do things right on the hour) even though it’s midnight, which is supposed to be scary. But I was just thinking “maybe the clock is broken?”. It would have been scarier, or at least slightly less goofy, if it was two and it struck 12 times for midnight (in other words, striking more than it should have, instead of less). It’s like Phantom Menace – “a communications disruption can only mean one thing – invasion!” Yeah, or some fucktard Gungan drove his cart into the transformer.

The kills are pretty awesome though, and there are several of them. I particularly liked the poor sod who got put in the spiked coffin, and the first kill, of a doctor, was a nice surprise – I thought the doctor would help him out throughout the picture, sort of like Christopher Lee in The Oblong Box. And the ending is awesome, with the secret to killing the Baron becoming clear. Not only is it interesting visually, sort of turning the movie into a zombie film for a bit, but it’s also far more satisfying on a storytelling level than the usual “let’s just fight him for 30 seconds and knock him off a roof or set him on fire” type deal.

Beyond the trailer, the only extra is a Tim Lucas commentary. As usual, the track comes off as an audition for an all voice-equipped version of the IMDb, as he just rattles off the bios of everyone on-screen (and some who are not even involved with the film), but he does point out some interesting stuff, such as the fact that the edited US version (this is the uncut one) removed the romance between the two leads (a good choice, actually), and had a slightly different ending. He’s also quieter than usual, there are quite a few sections where he doesn’t speak at all or offers just a quick little anecdote. It’s been a while, but I remember him being pretty chatty on the others. However, at the end of the track, he says that he’ll continue a story in Lisa and the Devil’s track, so maybe he recorded all of these at once and was getting sick of talking? Either way, it’s not a bad track per se, but since some of these folks are still alive, I’d rather hear this stuff straight from the source, with him as a moderator. He’s undeniably well informed on the subject, but the lack of personal attachment (or deep critical analysis that someone like Ebert can bring to a track of this nature) makes them a bit hard to focus on after a while.

What say you?

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Bedevilled (2010)

AUGUST 30, 2010

GENRE: ASIAN, REVENGE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FRIGHTFEST)

Hey all right! Another overly serious revenge flick! This one with the added bonus of suggested child molestation! You know, it's a good thing that everyone at Frightfest is so nice and that the after-movie entertainment (read: drinking at the Phoenix) is so lively, because the number of movies like Bedevilled were bumming me out. I mean, we're all sitting for five days in a theater with little leg room, eating lousy popcorn... the films needed to be getting us pumped up! Almost all of the "fun" horror films (i.e. Hatchet 2, Primal, Alien vs. Ninja) were in the first two days of the festival, and today in particular was a giant downer, with the only fun movie being Last Exorcism, which I already saw. In fact, even though I was tired and way behind on reviews, I was seriously considering watching Last again just so I could be part of a (hopefully) lively crowd, the way they were at first.

Now, I'm not saying all horror movies have to be enjoyable and cheer-ready. On the contrary, that would annoy me even more I think. No, I just want a balance - if we're watching a dry documentary about censorship, and then a politically minded, humor free zombie film (The Dead), then I think the next film should have an element of fun to it (especially in hindsight, as the film that followed this one may have been the most depressing, humorless film in the entire festival). I probably would have liked Bedevilled even more had it been the alternate in a day of otherwise high-spirited entries, as opposed to part of the group.

Because while it is a slow burn, the payoff is worth the wait, and it's the rare Korean horror film that is more concerned with characters than crazy visuals and convoluted back-stories/twists. The two main characters are former childhood friends who reunite after one of them (Hae-won) is attacked in Seoul and decides to recuperate at the island where she lived when she was a child, where the other girl (Bok-nam) still lives, longing to escape to the big city. The island only has about 9 occupants, and she is the only able-bodied woman, so she is harassed by the elder women, and the only option for the three men (she is married to one, but it seems they all just have their way with her whenever they please). She also has a daughter, and we eventually learn that her abusive husband is not the child's father (re-read the first paragraph for a clue as to how this particular plot point becomes important). Ultimately, she snaps and begins to strike back at the oppressive residents, including Hae-won, though we do not understand why until the end of the film. It's not exactly a twist, so I wish they had revealed this a bit sooner, since it's sort of confusing why Bok-nam is suddenly trying to kill the woman who, as far as we know, has been trying to help her, albeit in a limited way (as we see from the opening in Seoul, she's afraid of confrontation, but this hardly seems grounds for trying to cut her goddamn head off with a sickle).

It also makes it a little hard to tell who we were supposed to be rooting for when the two women come to blows in the climax. The residents are so hateful, the audience actually DID cheer when Bok-nam first began her killing spree (it's rare to hear a thousand people clapping at the sight of an old woman taking a large knife to her throat). But when she turns her sights on Hae-won, she once again becomes a villain, even when we see why her friend has earned a spot on her "to kill" list. It's like, the people who root for Jason or Freddy don't suddenly change their alliance when he only has one girl left, but that's sort of what it's like here. It doesn't help that Hae-won basically disappears from the movie for two long chunks as we learn all about Bok-nam's horrible life, as well as the bulk of her revenge rampage (Hae-won is sleeping, apparently).

But it's a testament to how engaging both the characters and story are that, despite being what was I think the longest movie in the entire festival (just under two hours) and not in English that I stayed awake through the whole thing, making me 2-2 for the Asian horror films (usually the most likely to put me to sleep) after impressively remaining awake through Dream Home two nights before. I was never operating on more than 4-5 hrs sleep each day at the festival, coupled with jet lag and a lot of walking around (keep in mind I spend most of my day on my ass whether there's a film festival or not). One nice thing about slow burns is that you are determined to know when/where the horror comes into play (as long as the story and characters are interesting, anyway), and in this particular film's case, the horror is quite good and fairly fast paced, as she makes her way around the island, killing just about everyone. The anticipation kept me alert; the action kept me wide-eyed. However, I could not escape a call of nature that struck about halfway through the film. I held out as long as I could, and once the film seemed to be over I bolted out, only to discover that there was indeed another couple of scenes (bookending the ones at the top of the film, before the island stuff). And thus I can make another minor complaint about the film - the ending gets a bit draggy. Even before I left I felt that it could have been wrapped up sooner, so the fact that there was another 5 minutes after that makes it even more of a red mark. Just an FYI - it's OK for a character to "die" only the one time; we don't need a hero or a villain suddenly spring back and carry out another act. And we certainly don't need both.

No one from the film was there, so I don't know what the release plans are for the film. As it is Korean but not about ghosts, I doubt we will see it come to the States on DVD right around the time of a remake, which is the usual process (especially now that Tartan US is no more). Though, I would actually love to see how a remake would be handled, as the vastly different attitudes toward women here would be a good challenge for the screenwriters - there's no way a line like "A woman is only happy when sucking on a cock" (SAID by a woman no less!) would work over here. Even if it was Betty White saying it, which would probably be their first (shitty) idea.

What say you?


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The Dead (2009)

AUGUST 30, 2010

GENRE: ZOMBIE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FRIGHTFEST)

When directors Howard and Jon Ford got up before The Dead and told us that they were inspired by the original Dawn of the Dead, they set the bar pretty high; that's like a priest getting up to do his sermon and telling the parishioners that Jesus helped him write it. But since there had been so few (OK, none, at least on the main screen) outright zombie movies in Frightfest thus far, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

While the zombies certainly behave in a Romero-esque manner (meaning: they are slow), the rest of the film seems more inspired by Diary of the Dead than Dawn, as our characters are constantly on the go, instead of holing up somewhere. And there's no satire to be found - the movie is deadly serious, almost to a fault. I also wouldn't expect to see lead actor Rob Freeman become a cult favorite the way that Ken Foree has - he's pretty dull, in fact. Word of advice to filmmakers who are about to premiere their film on the 5th day of an increasingly lackluster festival lineup: don't even mention the title of one of the all time greatest horror films (not just zombie) before anyone sees it. After we've made up our minds, go ahead and namecheck whatever the hell you want, but I think I would have enjoyed the film more had I not been given grand visions of an epic zombie tale that fired on all cylinders.

Because it is actually pretty good for the most part. Freeman might be stiff as a board, but Prince David Oseia as his "partner" is terrific as the soldier who is trying to get to a shelter where his family is believed to be, and you will be compelled by every step of his journey, even when the plotting gets a bit repetitive. In fact, the movie would have been even better if they had given the two men more of a conflict, and sort of presented the Enemy Mine of zombie films. It could have been very easy for them to be at odds with each other, given their vastly different backgrounds, but they become best buddies rather quickly, and apart from arguments over whether or not to use their last bit of water to try to fix their vehicle's radiator and things along those lines, they don't really have any problem with each other for the duration of the film. I think milking their "we're stuck together" situation for a while longer could have been vastly beneficial, even if it meant taxing Freeman's acting skills further.

It doesn't help that the zombies are pretty far from menacing. I prefer slow zombies, but even I'll admit that fast ones can be scarier in smaller numbers, which is the order of the day here. Apart from a swarm near the end of the film (which poses little threat - Freeman seemingly takes them all out with a few bullets and a machete), we never see more than 3-4 at a time, and when you add that to their deathly slow pace (even by slow zombie standards), there are a number of scenes that should be "oh shit" moments but come off as more of a minor inconvenience. It's like "Hey, there's a couple of zombies nearby. Speed it up a bit? Cheers." And the whole movie takes place in the open desert, so there's not a lot of scares to be had due to confinement, either. Remember that scene in, ahem, Dawn of the Dead, where Flyboy is stuck in that boiler room with a single zombie and an ass-ton of metal that made his poorly fired bullets ricochet? That was pretty scary/tense, right? Nothing like that here.

But it certainly works as a road adventure, and even though the zombie scenes aren't particularly suspenseful, they are at least numerous and quite surprisingly mushy. I don't think we ever go more than 5-10 minutes without another zombie "attack", and we get a number of hacked off limbs and such each time. It's never over the top or cartoonish (an argument over whether or not one of them should drive is about the only moment of humor in the film), but given the tone of the rest of the film, it's a surprise that they even have gore at all - you can almost expect the zombie deaths to be as dry as everything else. And the zombies sort of all look alike, but there are a number of handicapped ones (they're pretty much all poor/starving Africans) - we've seen zombies crawling or dragging themselves toward a victim before, but usually as the result of an injury we saw them suffer, not because they didn't have any legs to begin with. It's a unique approach, and of course, a very realistic one (as realistic as zombie films can be anyway) that provides some of the social context (which is about the only other relation I saw to Dawn - unlike most modern zombie films, it has something to say).

With more of an attempt at human conflict and better zombie scenes, this could have been one of the best zombie films in years (certainly the best serious one; all of the great recent ones have been more comedic in nature). Instead it's merely a pretty good one, and I'm not sure that's enough for US audiences to give it a chance if/when it ever finds its way here. I'd certainly recommend it to those who are sick of funny and/or fast zombies, but unlike the directors, I won't oversell it for you. Hope you enjoy!

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Buried (2010)

AUGUST 29, 2010

GENRE: SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FRIGHTFEST)

Since most of my "culture shock" in London was limited to the minor differences in Subway sandwich options (no oil, but they put corn on an Italian cold cut sub?) and the whole "driving on the wrong side" thing (which of course almost got me run over twice in my first day), I didn't have much of an issue living here for a week. I'm the kind of guy who eats the same thing every day and hates any sort of change (getting a new cell phone is basically a world-ending event for me), so I was pretty impressed with myself for adjusting rather quickly and pretty much living normally while I was here in London. But one thing that really floored me was that a film could not show unrated in this particular area; the BBFC (Britain's MPAA) HAD to rate a film with an 18 (NC-17, more or less) before it could show. And since A Serbian Film required far too many cuts to get its 18 rating, the great folks who run Frightfest opted to just pull the film and replace it with Buried, which would probably get a PG-13 if not for language.

Because while it is a very gripping and intense film, the entire thing is Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin. He's got a cell phone and some lighting supplies, but otherwise he is the only thing we see for 90 minutes. No violence (we don't see how he got in there), no gore, no nudity (sorry, ladies)... but the dude drops F bombs like he was auditioning to take over at Horror Movie A Day. So it was sort of an ironic replacement; I couldn't imagine two genre films being any less alike.

But man is it a great film. You think it wouldn't be able to sustain itself for that long, but I could have even watched it longer. Reynolds has always been an appealing actor to me; he's often the best thing about lousy films (Amityville, Wolverine), so it's great to see him in something that matches his talents. And he's personable, which keeps you from losing sympathy for the character as he begins screaming at people on the other end of the phone line (poor Donna...). At times, the film could easily lose the audience as a result of his borderline inexcusable behavior, but Reynolds makes it work and even makes it charming - rare has a "fuck you" to a woman who is actually being helpful been a crowd-pleasing moment. He also provides a sarcastic response to a stupid question that killed me - the locale in question should provide him a lifetime membership.

And even though he has to repeat certain information sometimes (we hear who he works for and his job occupation at least a dozen times), the film never gets repetitive. You would think that 90 minutes would be too long for such a simple plot, but writer Chris Sparling manages to keep the tension high and the drama compelling. The slowly dying phone battery, the eventual sand leak, a snake (!!!)... there's almost enough here to make up a movie even if the phone was just there to provide light and a camera to record video messages.

But most of the movie is him on the phone, trying to get help and also contact his family. Bureaucratic government agencies, his employer, the aforementioned bitch Donna (whose relation to Reynolds I forget)... these are the only other "actors" in the film, and some are recognizable voices (Stephen Tobolowsky as his employer's lawyer is the most recognizable, and he is spot on perfect for the particular role he has to play). Again, we have to hear his basic story over and over, but each provides a different sort of tension, be it whether or not his employer will help him, or if the government is even looking for him, or whether he can figure out how to get the number on the cell phone (it's not his, and it's not in English) in order for the kidnapping task force to track his signal. And again, he's trying to contact his family before it's too late, which provides the film with its heart. I will admit I teared up at one point, due to a "that's probably what I would do/say" moment near the film's end that just wrecked me (being 6000 miles away from home for a week didn't help).

It's also, shockingly, amazingly shot. Apart from one intentionally surreal moment, it doesn't seem like the camera is in some impossible location, nor does the coffin seem oversized for convenience's sake. And yet, director Rodrigo Cortés manages to make the film visually interesting throughout; constantly finding new angles and even lighting schemes (blue cell light, orange lighter, green night lights provided by the kidnappers, and a red flashlight!). And Reynolds moves around a bit (causing him some pain it seems), so it's not like Kill Bill with him just laying on his back punching the roof of the coffin the whole time.

So in a way I'm kind of glad that Serbian was pulled. I hate the reason why (as several folks said, everyone in the theater was an adult and adults should be able to see whatever they want), but there were so many dark/depressing movies already, it was nice to have something slightly more enjoyable in a conventional sense. I mean, yeah, it's essentially a movie about dying in the most horrible way possible, but Reynolds provides some humor and it never causes an audience to recoil in disgust, as Serbian certainly would have, from what I understand. And I suspect it will be one of those movies that I'd get sick of hearing how great it was by the time I saw it and end up being disappointed, so I'm glad I got to be one of those folks who "overhype" it for everyone else, hahaha. Lionsgate is releasing it this fall, I assume in some sort of normal release (and not a Blood Creek style "let's dump it in shit budget theaters no one's ever heard of" way) - I urge you to check it out. It MIGHT work just as well at home (is this the first film that takes place entirely in an area smaller than the screen the audiences saw it on?), but originality, not to mention great, award-worthy acting in a horror film, are things that should be financially supported. Over the past few days I saw a lot of films that will never ever see a proper release in the States, and this is one of the few that's not suffering the same fate - let's reward the Gate for their decision, yeah?

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The Pack (2010)

AUGUST 29, 2010

GENRE: SURVIVAL, ZOMBIE (?)
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FRIGHTFEST)

What is it with actor Philippe Nahon? Why must he continue to star in French horror films that are great until the final moments, where a boneheaded screenwriting decision undoes most of what works about the film*? While it's not as crippling as High Tension's twist, the final reveal of The Pack (French: La Meute) is actually worse of an idea, because unlike the other film, it doesn't seem like a botched execution was the problem here - it's just a stupid, stupid idea.

Though I guess it IS a bit botched too, because it's hard to tell where the ending fits. I'm going to spoil it, so stop reading if you want to be annoyed then instead of now! See, the final shot of the film reveals that a chunk of what we just saw was actually a dream, but it's a bit muddled as to where the dream path began. The character wakes up still tied to a device we saw her on about halfway through the film, but next to her is a burned shack, which is something that happened much later. But either way, it nullifies what was a pretty great, unexpected and ballsy ending. It's sort of like The Descent's two endings if they were in reverse... as if we saw Sarah trapped inside talking to her daughter, and then woke up in her car.

But until that point, this is a pretty kick-ass French survival horror film, but with the added bonus of zombie/mutant things that live in the earth and are awoken when blood is spilled over their resting place. It's effectively gory, surprisingly humorous, and was definitely one of the few films at, ahem, FRIGHTfest that actually had some frights. And that is largely due to the multiple standard situations at the top of the film, before anything really bad happens. Our heroine (the very fetching Émilie Dequenne) picks up a hitchhiker, is menaced by some bikers, meets a seemingly kindly woman, and seeks help from the local sheriff. Writer/director Franck Richard does a fine job of making it unclear who is on who's side in these early parts. It's like, we KNOW that some of these nice folks are villains, but not which, nor do we know who is working with who. Are the bikers part of the gang, or just some random assholes? Is the sheriff's hick demeanor an act? I must admit I was surprised when we finally learn he true nature of some characters. Plus, some turn out to be allies anyway, which made it even more interesting.

The film also has one of the best all-time "flashback to explain how a character managed to get the drop on another character" sequences. Someone is subdued, and then we see how they did it... but an additional flashback shows that the "subdued" character came prepared. It's a delightful surprise that I just ruined for you. But whatever, I told you before that I was going to spoil the end, so what's it matter if I spoil the middle?

And again, I loved that it had humor. I love most French horror films that I see, but none of them are particularly humorous in any way (Inside was a real knee-slapper, eh). Calvaire (which is similar at times, and also featured Nahon) is probably the only other one I can think of off the top of my very jet-lagged and sleep deprived head that made me laugh out loud, and even that pales to this one. The hitchhiker's reaction to Dequenne's warning not to try to make a move on her is an A+ classic, and Nahon gets in a few chuckles as well (not to mention always wears the same profane shirt that he seemingly borrowed from Hugh Grant's roommate in Notting Hill). And the obvious question that comes after a disembodied head flies through the window might be my favorite dry response to something odd since Severance's "You found a pie?"

There's also a bit of Psycho in the film, in more than one way. Our heroine is largely MIA for a while as we focus on the villains, which is very much in the vein of Hitchcock's trick (and if she does indeed dream the entire 2nd half of the movie, one could even see it as even more like Psycho, as she would in fact have been incapacitated around the same point). Also, the villains are essentially a mother and son who are holding on to a dying business, with the son being torn between his domineering mother and his attraction to a female newcomer. Like I've mentioned before, I always like seeing that our films are obvious influences on others, especially nowadays as the American horror films are so often inspired (or flat out remakes) of foreign horrors, i.e. the recent Finale, which is essentially an American attempt at Argento-style surreal horror, or the number of humorous "slacker" zombie films that came along after Shaun of the Dead.

It's a shame that Frightfest showed this one first thing of the day, as that meant a smaller crowd. Speaking on the authority of someone who saw all but ONE film that showed on the main screen (two if you count Tobe Hooper's 1969 hippie drama Eggshells, which was showing while I watched Burning Bright on the smaller screen), I truly believe The Pack was one of the best films at the festival, yet it was the one I feel I discussed the least with all my new friends, since almost none of them had seen it. Plus, and I will talk about this more as I continue my review coverage, the abundance of torture/revenge type films got depressing after a while - this being one of the few "fun" movies, it would have been nice to have at night, or at least in between two of the overly serious or revenge-y ones that made up the bulk of the fest's offerings.

What say you?

*I just discovered that he has been in over 50 movies since High Tension, and thus for all I know this could be the only other one that even HAS a twist, let alone a shitty one.


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Dream Home (2010)

AUGUST 28, 2010

GENRE: ASIAN, HERO KILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FRIGHTFEST)

I was on the fence about sticking around for Dream Home (Cantonese: Wai dor lei ah yut ho), since it was late and I'd have to read the subtitles (in other words, I might as well have brought in a pillow). Also, everyone I knew skipped it in order to hit the pub early. But I figured I'd give it a chance, since I really did want to try to see every movie, as well as (if memory serves) beat my record for most theatrical films in a single calendar day (six!). If it sucked, I'd leave, if not, I'd fall asleep and wonder what I missed.

Well not only did I stay, I stayed awake! Apparently I had consumed the exact right combination of caffeinated and sugary products during the day to keep me awake but not jumpy (which is worse in a theater - the seats are comfortable but after 12 hrs sitting still is not the easiest regardless of the comfort level). And the movie was a delight, combining over the top slasher kills with a sort of touching story about a woman trying to provide a nice place for her ailing father, and it even had a little bit of light social relevance, which is very rare for an Asian horror film (at least the ones I see - not a lot of current world metaphor to be found in the latest "wet haired ghost girl attacks people through technology" offering).

The kills are, obviously, the biggest draw. Eyeballs popping, guts spilling, impalements... it's all here, and quite glorious. All of them drew applause from the crowd, and were well done to boot. The only exception was when our heroine killed a pregnant woman who didn't even seem to be one of her targets (more of a wrong place wrong time deal). I mean, I wasn't exactly hoping any of the characters would die, but they were also largely a bunch of jerks: every man in the movie cheated on his wife it seems, and the group of youths who serve as the "main" deaths are drug pushers and borderline date rapists, so no loss there. But the pregnant lady might have been a bit too far past the "OK" line for this sort of thing... even the Friday the 13th movies only killed one pregnant girl in their history, and she wasn't even showing. Plus it's one of the most brutal kills in the movie - she ties a bag around the lady's head and sucks the air out (after knocking her down onto her belly - likely killing the baby in the process right there). At least if it was more of an accidental type thing it would be OK.

Luckily the movie recovers, providing kills that remain in the realm of good fun (again, like a Friday movie), as well as providing an unusual fragmented narrative in which we gradually learn what has pushed her this far in order to obtain the titular dream home. It doesn't build toward a twist or anything, but it allows to fill in the story without having to save all the kills (which all occur in a single night; the movie spans two decades) until the end of the film. And some of them are fairly touching - I particularly liked the ones involving when her family was forced out of their home to make way for development, which cost her her friendship with a kid who lived across the way. They communicate through a string and two can device, and at one point manage to turn the word "asshole" into an endearing part of their normal conversation (which has a pretty great payoff at the end of the film). Most of the others are just about her getting screwed over by bank loans and the housing market problems (that's the relevance I mentioned), but these give the film an unexpected heart.

I was also happy to see something on film. Being a Frightfest virgin, maybe this is just how they do it, but there have been so few films shown on film at the festival so far, I was beginning to forget what a cigarette burn even looked like. The digital projection here is superb, but nothing will ever look as good as a nice 35mm film print, as far as I'm concerned. Ironically, the reel switches were in odd places (mid-scene, as opposed to over an establishing shot or something like they usually are), and the print, which has played other festivals, had a few minor scratches. But given the large number of world premieres FF hosts, I would think they would have more film prints, playing for the first time and looking wonderful.

Besides the pregnant lady killing, my only other problem with the movie was a goddamn Snorri-cam shot. Can we PLEASE stop using this for "our main character's head is spinning due to recent events" situations? Even if they actually turned to the (normal) camera and said "My head is spinning due to these recent events", it would be less annoying and disruptive than this setup. I can probably count on one hand the number of times it was used to good effect. Plus it seems that they didn't even have the same camera for it, so not only is it annoying conceptually, it's ugly on a visual level as well. Wouldn't a POV shot make more sense anyway?

Back to the positive, I was also impressed with how well the kill scenes worked in such confined spaces. We're used to slashers being out in the woods or big houses, but they're all in tiny apartments. So there's not a lot of room for a chase or whatever, but the kills are not exactly quick either. And our killer is a bit klutzy (she didn't set out to be a killer, after all), so there's always a bit of hope for each victim as they momentarily get the upper hand on her. And you think they COULD succeed, unlike say Jason or Leatherface, who are just too formidable (and good at their job) to get taken down by the average victim. It's a terrific way around what could have been a major hurdle.

Like Bloody Reunion, it seems our Eastern brothers have a pretty good knack for slasher films - it's a shame we don't see more of them. I don't know how well they are received in their native countries, but I think this one will be pretty much loved if it gets a Stateside release. Look for it!

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I Spit On Your Grave (2010)

AUGUST 28, 2010

GENRE: RAPE-REVENGE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FRIGHTFEST)

I actually just watched the original I Spit On Your Grave for the first time a few days ago, as I knew I'd be seeing the remake at Frightfest and wanted to see them "in order". As you can probably tell by the frequency of reviews with the rape-revenge tag here at HMAD, I'm not exactly a big fan of the rather limited sub-genre, and I knew enough about it to know that I had seen pretty much everything the movie had to offer in its trailer. But I have been hearing good things about the remake, and I am happy to report that I agree: this is a superior film to the 1978 one in just about every way.

Much like the (also superior) Last House On The Left remake, it's essentially the same movie, just better (at least for the most part, more on the changes later). It looks nicer, it's shot better, the actors aren't lousy, and the villains aren't complete idiots. I mean, yes, they're still morons who think it's a good idea to rape someone, but when she gets to her revenge portion, they don't all just assume she's OK with them and willingly go along with her into bathtubs and such. We have to suspend our disbelief a bit (OK, kind of a lot) to buy that she can lift these dudes into suspended traps and drag them around, but at least it otherwise doesn't come across as a cartoon, as it did in the original (seriously, one guy actually grabbed onto the boat motor in the 1978 one!).

The film also has some genuine suspense throughout the film, on both sides of the equation. EVerything in the original was just so matter of factly presented; there was no buildup to either her attack or her revenge. But here, director Steven Monroe (yes, the one who directed Sasquatch Mountain. He's improved.) effectively builds suspense from her original isolation and her eventual attack (she even manages to escape from them before anything bad happens, only to make things worse for herself). And then when it comes time for her to get her payback, she fucks with them for a bit. One of the rapists has a family, and thus she sends them a tape of her attack, befriends the wife, and eventually "kidnaps" the daughter, driving the guy insane. It's a lot more interesting than watching her strip and get into a tub with one of them, anyway (not that I am opposed to Sarah Butler showing skin - this is one insanely beautiful woman).

That particular rapist is played by Andrew Howard, who makes his second Frightfest appearance (he's also the main villain in the non-horror Isle of Dogs), and his character is not in the original. Perhaps it was inspired by the oft-mistaken tagline from the original film that promised FIVE men instead of four, but it's probably the biggest change in terms of structure. Since he is the sheriff, she goes to him for help, unaware that he's the worst of the lot, and it's his paranoia that drives much of the group's actions once they realize she might still be alive. I just wish they hadn't cast Howard in the role - he's a good actor, but as soon as he appeared I knew he was bad, rendering the next 10 minutes weightless, as they are trying to make you think he's on her side. It's like, just get on with it, there's no way he's a good guy.

Another improvement is that she kills them in "movie satisfaction" order, saving Howard for last. In the original, she killed the worst of the lot 2nd, rendering the climax a bit unsatisfying, as she was taking on two borderline anonymous folks. It'd be like killing Hans Gruber in the first reel and having the final showdown be against Tony or Franco. And she gets ironic payback against all of them - the guy with the video camera (he likes to "watch") gets his eyes plucked out by crows, the one who sodomized her gets a shotgun up the ass, etc. How she became such a torture maven is a bit unclear (someone with these survival instincts should have been able to get away in the first place, no?); more than one person I spoke to after the screening said that she should have been a horror novelist or screenwriter, which would have been enough to justify this particular aspect of the plot (I countered that maybe she just liked to watch the Saw films).

Another minor blunder is that she is characterized as a complete klutz. She spills wine all over herself, gets lost trying to find the place, drops her phone in the toilet, etc. - how is it she can manage to set up a wired shotgun trap without blowing herself away in the process? But this is where Butler's casting pays off - she's so personable and cute, you just go along with it. Or at least, I did.

And even though this was an edited (albeit only slightly) version, it's still pretty messy. They don't do as much damage to her face this time (woo!), but she does a number on the five guys - I don't think I've ever seen so many shots of drool/blood pouring out of people's mouths in a single movie, all the result of her taking bats, pliers, needles, and yes, acid to their faces. And while it's actually less disturbing than the geyser of blood coming from under the water in the original, the obligatory castration features a mangled prosthetic (and then some), which of course got a huge round of applause (as did just about all of her revenge actions).

Speaking of the applause, the movie is a bit morally questionable. We cheer for her torturing these guys, even though she's actually being tougher on them than they were on her. You never really feel BAD for these assholes, but at the same time, I couldn't help but wonder how the film would be received had the sexes been reversed. So it's sort of a "crowd-pleasing rape movie", which is just odd. I myself don't really care - the fest has been a bit short on "stand up and cheer" movies. Plus I wasn't really expecting anything too upsetting; as soon as I saw the film's tagline ("It's date night"), I knew that they weren't going for the same sort of "serious" approach as the original, and the rape scene is much less painful to watch (it's shorter and partially off-screen). But I'm not sure if others will find it as acceptable. I guess we'll find out soon enough; Anchor Bay is releasing the film Stateside very soon. Perfect date film?

What say you?

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Cherry Tree Lane (2010)

AUGUST 28, 2010

GENRE: SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FRIGHTFEST)

Lots of folks ask me what films I am looking forward to at Frightfest, and I have trouble providing an answer, because I really don't look too closely at each film's premise or anything, preferring to go in blind, with leveled expectations. One exception, however, was Cherry Tree Lane, because it was directed by Paul Steven Williams, who directed The Cottage, a film I quite liked, and I had been looking forward to his followup.

However it's a far more serious film than Cottage, which I wasn't expecting (perhaps I should have looked more closely - see what I mean about expectations?). What I loved most about that film was its successful blend of blakc comedy and horror, which is tough to pull off, as one usually ends up dwarfing the other. Cherry does have humor, but its a far more serious film, with upsetting subject matter (including rape), which makes those occasional jokey moments a bit awkward.

The film is essentially yet another home invasion thriller, with a bland, not perfectly happy couple being held hostage by three youths who have been ratted out by the couple's son, who is not home. Thus we essentially have a realtime account of the trio tying them up, holding them at knifepoint, and waiting for the son to come home so they can exact their revenge. Williams expertly keeps the tension up until that inevitable moment - at one point we literally watch water boil. You know something bad will happen, but you're not sure when or from what direction (the couple's awkwardly placed dinner table had me suspecting that they would be ambushed from the curtain-covered plate glass window next to them).

The humor is a bit Tarantino-ish at times, largely stemming from mundane things, such as one of the villains not knowing how to work the TV, which ATM they should use to withdraw money from the husband's accounts, the fact that the son has "crap" games for his PS3, etc. Most of these asides come before it gets too dark (i.e. with the mom being raped - thankfully off-screen), but it's still not a totally successful blend.

Tonal issues aside, it's a damn fine suspense flick, because new wrinkles are constantly being added (the trio invite a few lady friends over, the father finds a way to free himself but it takes time he doesn't have, etc), and with so much of the violence kept off-screen, we're often left in the dark as to what exactly is happening (we stick to the dad's POV for the most part). And, though not intentional, the thick British accents left me a bit unclear as to what exactly they planned to do to the kid when he came home, or even why they were after him (they are upset at him for "grassing" them, which I later learned was the same as "ratting" - I actually thought he had stolen money from them, for some reason). And of course, you know the dad will eventually get free, but you're not sure what he'll do when he does. Will he run? Avenge his wife? Kill the kids, or be killed himself?

Indeed, the ending is actually a bit ambiguous, with the dad spying a "bad guy" and contemplating his next move as we cut to black/credits. Like F, it leaves things up for discussion, though the film as a whole wasn't as successful, so there wasn't much discussion to be had, unfortunately (it didn't help that the following film was completely ridiculous, and two of the later films were among the festival's best offerings - Cherry, falling squarely in the middle of the quality spectrum, sort of got left by the wayside as a result.

Still, fans of Funny Games (why?) and other films should enjoy this thriller, which might not have as much to say (i.e. it's not pretentious), but is far more suspenseful. And it features clips from Night of the Living Dead, so win-win.

What say you?

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The Tortured (2010)

AUGUST 28, 2010

GENRE: REVENGE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FRIGHTFEST)

Any movie that has been on the shelf as long as The Tortured has automatically comes with low expectations. Originally filmed in 2007, the film had some minor reshoots a while back, but it doesn't seem to have helped much. I don't know what scenes are new and which were there all along, but there are tell-tale signs of tinkering throughout, as a recognizable actor is reduced to only a few seconds as a glorified extra, Erika Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe's acting is all over the place, and the film keeps changing between a dramatic thriller about parents pushed to the edge, to a traditional "torture porn".

But the real problem with the movie is it's ending, which was NOT changed from what I understand. To discuss further I will have to spoil it, so stop reading if you want to be "surprised" (read: have your intelligence, fuck, your VISION, insulted) by the ending if and when it ever actually sees a proper release.

So the movie concerns Metcalfe and Christensen planning to kidnap and torture the man that kidnapped, tortured, and killed their son. That man is played by Bill Moseley. Moseley may not be a household name, but he's certainly a recognizable face and very popular amongst the horror fans that are likely to be the primary audience for any film with FROM THE PRODUCERS OF SAW! on its poster. But apparently, the folks involved with his casting either didn't realize that, or just assumed we're all idiots, because as anyone can plainly see from the moment they tie him up in their basement, the man they have captured is not Moseley.

As we learn in a very Saw-like flashback montage at the end of the film, when they went to hijack the prison van that was carrying Moseley, they failed to see that there was another prisoner in the van with him, some schmuck who got busted for tax evasion. And yes, he does share a physical resemblance to Moseley, but not enough for any horror fan paying attention to be fooled into thinking its him. Since the van is overturned and all parties take facial injuries, I guess we're supposed to think that Metcalfe and Christensen are so worked up about the whole thing that they never really bothered to notice that the guy they took had different eyes and facial features when they picked him up after he was thrown from the van (with Moseley still safely inside). Perhaps on paper this would have worked fine, but on-screen it's just a complete failure. Even if you're not thinking "they got the wrong guy" in terms of the story, you WILL be thinking "they got the wrong actor?" anytime there's a closeup of his face. I think they actually cheat a few times and really put Moseley in there, but the damage is done right from the start, when his face is at its least injured. Some more careful editing might have helped.

But even so it's a laughable movie at times, thanks to some truly terrible dialogue from the parents. Metcalfe: "Imagine the worst pain you've ever felt in your life... this will be even worse than that!" Metcalfe isn't the worst actor in the world, but he's the least threatening guy ever - even Ashton Kutcher might have been a better choice for this role. And while the torture bits are nasty and well-done (particularly the elephant mask and "ear piercing" scenes), they never really amount to much either - they're just there to keep the movie from simply being a morality drama of two angry/upset parents debating over whether or not what they are doing is right. And thus the torture scenes don't really fit - "should we do this?" is often followed by both of them seemingly enjoying what they're doing.

The kidnapping stuff is actually quite gripping, however. The scene where the kid is taken is well-staged, and both actors are quite good at depicting the otherwise unimaginable pain of losing a child. They blame one another, have flashbacks (the flashbacks to the kid's birth, moments after they discover he is dead, is truly gut-wrenching - and I'm not even a parent!), turn to drugs, etc. And the scene where they take "Moseley" is a fairly decent suspense piece, with a terrific car crash to boot.

But I guess that's what happens when you reshoot a movie with a different crew - you get a bunch of good scenes, a bunch of bad ones, and an almost complete lack of cohesion. I mean, the whole thing comes down to them realizing that they've been torturing the wrong guy, and yet we never really see them reflect on it - they just sort of go "oh shit" and drive away from the house as the credits start to roll. Like the Saw films, once we know the twist we have about 90 seconds to go until that final cut to black, but unlike those films, there's no sequel forthcoming.

Also, and I may have asked for this before, but can we get a moratorium on using "Mockingbird" as a creepy theme song for the killer? It's NOT CREEPY. And even if it once was, it sure as hell isn't anymore, after being used so many goddamn times. I guess we can give this one some benefit of the doubt, since it was shot in the previous decade for Christ's sake, but still. Enough is enough. How about "Shoop Shoop" from Cher? That song could be kind of frightening if it was playing on a scratchy record in some killer's basement, right?

What say you?


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F (2010)

AUGUST 27, 2010

GENRE: SLASHER, THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FRIGHTFEST)

In addition to boasting the most search engine-unfriendly title since P, F can also boast being one of the all time best high school set slasher films. Granted that's not exactly the highest praise (Yay, you're better than Slaughter High and Cutting Class! So are most infomercials.), but the bar for such things is set so low that I wasn't expecting much out of the film anyway. It's not perfect, but it's a solid, well shot slasher/thriller hybrid that fans of Ils (Them) or Eden Lake should probably appreciate.

It's also a really ballsy film to make, and I'm curious how well it will be received in the States, if its released there at all. We're not too big on anything involving students killing people at their high schools thanks to Columbine and the like, and the fact that it has a rather ambiguous, non-"triumph" ending will make it an even harder sell.

On the other hand, the killers are apparently all Parkour experts, and anything Parkour-related is welcomed with open arms here, even if it means ruining one of our most American-y franchises (Die Hard). At first it's pretty creepy to see the hooded, faceless killers silently bounding about on top of bookcases and such, but it gets a bit silly at times, as it seems they are incapable of just running on the ground. At one point they have a victim plain in their sights, and he's seen them as well, yet they jump up onto a shelf to continue the chase. And the kill scenes are all kind of the same, with one killer being seen and scaring the victim into the arms of the other killer (I believe there are only two).

However, they mostly all work, due to a good use of the school's environment. The wood shop, the gym, an office, a science lab... the backdrop never gets boring, so even with the slightly repetitive execution of the kills, its never monotonous. I do wish they had allowed for a few kill scenes with just one killer, as it seems our hapless faculty (and a few students) are always hopelessly outnumbered, which reduces the tension somewhat.

I also liked how it was pretty much in real time, a rarity for any film but especially for a slasher. Since they are not trapped inside, the obvious audience questions - "Why not just leave?" and "Why doesn't so and so notice that whatshisname is missing?" - are answered simply due to the fact that it's only been a few minutes since someone disappeared anyway. And as for why they don't just leave, with the exception of the main character played (terrifically) by David Schofield, no one knows anything is up, and when he tries to warn them, he is dismissed due to the fact that he lives in fear of the students anyway (at the top of the film we see a student attack him after he gives him a "F"ailing grade), and is also a drunk. And if you keep the realtime aspect in mind, you can assume that no one had the time to consider he might be right, since they end up dead not too long after that anyway.

Speaking of the deaths, godDAMN are they gory. The prosthetic work is terrific, and certainly unexpected. Some of them are off-screen, but they make up for it with a Fangoria-cover ready corpse when discovered later. And the kids are nasty - immolation, head smashing, electrocution... few get off easy. In fact, the "lightest" death in the film might actually be the one killer who gets offed, just a few stabbings. It's sort of refreshing to see the killer get a rather simple death, as it seems many modern slashers want their killer's "death" at the end of the film to be the most ridiculous and over the top.

Speaking of the ending, some hated it, but I liked the ambiguity. I won't spoil it (not really possible to spoil an ambiguous ending other than to say its ambiguous though, right?), but it's rare to see this type of a movie have an ending that people can discuss afterward, which makes it a perfect film festival option, because there are plenty of folks around who want to offer their theory on what might happen next or who the killers were. Thus, if you have seen the film (and I'm guessing many readers have - it seems my entire readership is there at Frightfest with me!), I encourage you to offer your thoughts below!

In my notes I wrote down "music" but I honestly can't remember what specifically I liked about it (definite drawback of seeing a bunch of movies back to back). I can tell you it was composed by a guy called Neil Stemp though, and that he worked on the execrable LXG, aka the film that killed Sean Connery's desire to work. Hurrah for the IMDB! I can cover my sloppy note-taking and even sloppier memory with random factoids.

What say you?

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