Short Film Showcase Two
The second of the short film showcases was really something astonishing to behold; I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a brilliantly-curated programme of shorts. It started off in stylish yet not entirely convincing fashion with “Francois”, before hitting its stride with “No Touching”, a Buffy-recalling short built around the inimitable Zoë Bell plus companion fighting back against the perverted actors who play monsters in a haunted-house attraction. “The Puppet Man”, the highlight of the selection, sees a great villain, some brilliant lighting, a kick-ass soundtrack and a cameo from the always-welcome John Carpenter. “Dawn of the Deaf” was a story about deaf people far more convincing than My Father Die; when an unexplained, Cell-like pulse affects everyone in London who hears it, only the deaf are left in a sort of reversal of Day of the Triffids. Much of what we see is ugly, and yet the film is extraordinarily beautiful. “Curve” is ten minutes of brilliantly, exhaustingly sustained cruelty as it focuses on a woman struggling not to slip from the curved concrete surface above an enormous abyss in which something unexplained yet malignant lurks. “The Monster” is a loving tribute to old monster films of the Universal/Hammer type, a love story based on the idea that the monsters in those films were played by real-life monsters. The real-life monster that we meet is a perfectly fine chap, struggling to remain polite on a film shoot full of immature bullies and one kind, lovely lead actress. The French short “Pearlies” deals with a sinister version of the Tooth Fairy (who is, in Romance cultures, depicted as a mouse rather than a fairy). “Pearlies” offers inventive visuals, a memorable villain, and some very well-pitched comedic violence. “Carnal Orient” rounded off the programme, as “Here We Are” suffered from technical issues that led to its being moved to the third showcase. “Carnal Orient”, a bizarre and mostly dialogue-free short, offers a mixture of Hazy, David Lynch surrealism, some insectid nastiness and a clever critique of Orientalism.
Johnny Frank Garret’s Last Word
A mentally challenged man, Johnny Frank Garret, is executed for a horrific crime. Just before going to the electric chair, he writes a long and mostly incoherent letter detailing the revenge he will take from beyond the grave and, what do you know, it turns out he really does return from the dead to take vengeance. The film benefits much from its restrained, Americana-infused direction by Brit Simon Rumley, in addition to a script which gives its characters proper depth, and a commendable performance from Mike Doyle as the conscientious juror who begins to suspect he might have sentenced an innocent man to death. Based on a documentary, “The Last Word”, Johnny Frank Garret’s Last Word does feel more than a little exploitative. And yet its director, in attendance, said he talked the film through with the real-life Garret’s family, who approved of it despite Garret becoming a one-dimensional villain after his death. In any case the film runs out of steam during its final act, but the build-up that gets us there remains worthwhile.
With the remake of Blood Feast playing on Saturday night – and proving to go down a treat – the original, newly remastered by Arrow Video, was programmed on Sunday. The progenitor of gore movies to come, its full-colour scenes of ripping flesh shocked at the time, but its power is diminished somewhat by its red-paint blood, its odd ideas about anatomy (the human body appears to be filled with giblets) and its ridiculous plot: despite being just sixty-seven minutes long, it’s still sprinkled liberally with padding, and its technical elements, including dialogue, are shoddy. But all of that’s to be expected from a piece of exploitation cinema more important for historical than artistic reasons.
There’s something of a tradition of programming just one or two pure science fiction features at FrightFest; don’t ask me why. In contrast to the almost impeccable taste the organisers show in picking their horror films, the SF numbers are usually duff, and Realive – despite generally favourable reviews – is no exception. A young man who is dying freezes himself, and wakes up in the sort of sterile, shiny future you’ve seen everywhere from videogames to TV adverts. He’s been unfrozen by a company for reasons that aren’t fully clear; when Sylvester Stallone was awoken in the classic Demolition Man, it was because everyone in the future had forgotten how to be a tough maverick cop on the edge who doesn’t always play by the rules, but Mr. Average in Realive doesn’t seem to have any value to the future’s economy. A flood of immigrants from the past whose skills are obsolete and whose understanding of the culture could actually possess an interesting economic threat in a smarter movie – the inverse of the “Goobacks” episode of South Park. Instead, our boy wanders around a facility and gets awkwardly exposited at by the sort of characters who seem to think of their own time-frame as the future. In its defence its plot does eventually go somewhere, but the film is two hours long and by then it’s just too late.
After a couple of experimental projects, the supernaturally-themed Lords of Salem and the animated The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, Rob Zombie returns to exploitation mode with probably his most Rob Zombie film to date. A group of travelling carnies, including the inevitable Sheri Moon Zombie, are kidnapped and transported to an industrial facility, wherein they meet Papa Murder (Malcolm McDowell), who dresses like a Georgian aristocrat and, together with his aristocratic friends, intends to place bets on their survival over 31 hours, pitted against a series of colourful assassins, including Sick-Head (a Spanish-gabbling midget dressed as Hitler), Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head (chainsaw-wielding brothers), Sex-Head and Death-Head (German S&M couple), and Doom-Head (charismatic psychopath portrayed by Richard Brake). The film features all of the black humour, extreme violence, and awesome music that you’d expect in all the right places; if you’ve enjoyed a previous Zombie film, you’ll like this one, and if you haven’t, then you won’t. For the festival, however, it was a brilliant choice to close on Sunday night, really firing audiences up before spitting them out.
Did you attend this year’s FirghtFest? What were your thoughts on these three films? Let us know in the comment box below!