Traditionally, the fifth day is when festival fatigue starts to set in. When the final film for the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights can begin as late as 2355, it means that, by the time it’s finished and you’ve taken public transport from Shepherd’s Bush to Islington, walked home, brushed your teeth, undressed, et cetera, you’re going to get a fair bit under the eight-hour minimum since you have to be back at the cinema as early as 1045 the next day. I don’t object to the system; it’s good that FrightFest squeezes in so many films, but five days of it taxes your body. Personally, I feel like I’m still recovering, and that’s before you even factor in the heavy drinking that some attendees choose to indulge in. So by the end of the fifth day I was ready to go home and give horror films a rest for, ooh, a couple of days or so, but a startlingly brilliant selection for final film shook me out of my ennui. More on that later.
Short Film Showcase Three
The third short film programme opened with “Here We Are” since, as you’ll remember, technical issues had stymied its international premiere the previous day. Another sci-fi short, it was considerably more interesting than “The Garden”, but didn’t quite manage to justify its sixteen-minute runtime despite featuring a death scene of rare and frightening beauty. Next came “Dissociative”, whose plot you can probably guess from its title alone: a man suffering from a mental illness investigates his wife’s murder only to find that the killer is him himself. “Death Metal” picked things up; its director Chris McInroy was responsible for last year’s “Bad Guy #2”, and “Death Metal” displays a similar mix of tongue-in-cheek genre fun and extreme violent humour. The film it most resembles is actually DEATHGASM, which was also screened at last year’s festival. The longest short of the programme, “The Babysitter Murders”, was also the most professionally realised. Its plot, a comedic deconstruction of the 1980s slasher, presented nothing that we haven’t seen before in the subgenre of horror short films, but everything about its lighting, sound, effects, and cinematography suggests a feature film, and one hopes its talented crew get to make one and soon. From the exact opposite end of the spectrum of professionality was “Hell’s Garden”, a two-minute quicky that apparently took just as long to make. The Eli Roth-approved “Madre De Dios” displays exactly the sensibility one would expect, a nauseatingly violent and invigorating, if meaningless, seven minutes of pure sick. “Neon” won much praise but, for me, never quite clicked, being an overly-ambitious tale of mutants seeking love. Still, its production values were commendably high. “Thanatopraxy” has silly, sexy fun with a scenario straight out of Re-Animator, but played for relatable comedy rather than weirdness. “Isadore”, the tale of a derangedly ambitious theatre director, was a hard short to watch; I don’t really like to use the word, but it was unbearably pretentious, all dark-carnival aesthetic and drama A-Level script. “Bricks” was just what was needed as an antidote, a class-conscious retelling of Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” in modern Britain, and the programme ended with “It’s All In Your Head” which, like many horror shorts, deals with the childhood idea of monsters under the bed and puts a funny spin on it. Its effects were excellently realised.
Directed by Adam Rifkin, Director’s Cut purports to be a deranged fan’s director’s cut of the (non-existent) Adam Rifkin crime thriller Knocked Off. Writer Penn Jillette stars as Herbert Blount, a Kickstarter backer of Knocked Off, who becomes an increasingly obnoxious presence on-set until, finally, he kidnaps star Missi Pyle and finishes the movie on his own terms. Pyle, along with Rifkin and a large number of others, plays herself in a brilliantly meta film that plays out as a satire of the entire industry itself, and does so in a manner much more satisfying than previous attempts such as Burn Hollywood Burn: An Alan Smithee Film. It’s a difficult movie to describe, but its humour mostly comes from amateur editing software, the believably-realised ego of its main character, and some understanding of how film works. If this doesn’t become a cult classic, then I’ll…kidnap Missi Pyle.
The Windmill Massacre
Boasting one of the least confidence-inspiring titles in movie history, The Windmill Massacre was actually one of the fest’s most surprising pleasures. A group of predictably diverse, slightly stereotyped characters – a tightly-wound business guy, his innocent yet disillusioned son, a young woman with mental health problems, a Japanese tourist, a badass military man, and so on – agree to a bus tour of the windmills of Holland, but aren’t expecting to start being offed one by one. A solid script and a refreshing supernatural twist prevent this one from being the by-numbers slasher you might expect.
Did I just say “by-numbers slasher”? Just as I might have been getting worried that I’d make it out of the whole festival without seeing one, Red Christmas came along. To allay my fears. In the extremely un-Christmassy nation of Australia, a family gets together to exchange presents at the height of Summer, the way they do things down there. The family can’t stop bickering, because one daughter is a free spirit, the other an uptight Christian, and the only son has Down’s and wants nothing more than to keep the peace. Things only get worse when a robed, Elephant Man-like figure appears bearing a letter for his mother. The thing is, unbeknownst to anyone, he’s the long-lost sibling of the others, having been saved from abortion when a fundamentalist bombed the clinic – yes, yes, stay with me though, there’s no more plot to come after that. He also has Down’s, which was his mother’s reason for wanting to abort him, and he soon starts slaughtering the entire family because, well, because I suppose there wouldn’t really be a movie to watch if he didn’t. The thing is that, while some of the retro styling you can see works well, Red Christmas is far too long, far too slow, far too stupid, and takes itself far too seriously, to be even an entertaining throwback. Fest fatigue was hitting me hard by this point, and I just wanted to go home, get myself a quick nightcap, then sleep for about fourteen hours.
Train to Busan
…but I had one more film to go before that was possible. When I was first going over the schedule for this year’s FrightFest, I read the synopsis for Train to Busan and instantly looked for something on a Discovery screen to go to instead, only to find that it was the one film as the festival that was not running against any other film or event at all. It was practically mandatory and that made me bristle, because I’m fed up with zombies and Train to Busan is about a bunch of zombies on a train. Well, listen, I was being a snob and a hypocrite, and Train to Busan actually turned out to be the perfect film on which to end the festival. From practically its opening moments it blasted all the fatigue from me. I was dismayed at first to find that it was two hours in length, but those two hours flew by quicker than the ninety-minutes average of all the other films I saw. Train to Busan is a heart-stopping experience, equally adept when it’s presenting zombies as a metaphor for self-interest, a brilliant take, as when it’s delivering setpieces that it’s hard to believe you’ve just seen. Its zombies, who are extras and not digital creations, are often depicted not as individuals but as a wave of sheer sickening inertia in a similar fashion to the opening night’s Cell, but, unlike Cell, there’s nothing bad to say about Train to Busan, which is a live-action sequel to the animated Seoul Station, and which also happens to be the best zombie film of its generation (ya-boo-sucks to you, 28 days later…, Shaun of the Dead, and Zombieland).
Did you attend this year’s FirghtFest? What were your thoughts on these three films? Let us know in the comment box below!