Article Tags: Movie Reviews

  1. FrightFest the 13th is coming! By this time next week I’ll be knee deep in the annual five day celebration of all things horror cinema. I thought it would be interesting to highlight my most anticipated screenings, and then come back to this after the event to see what the highlights actually were. FrightFest doesn’t always play out the way you expect it to; there are always surprises and some keenly anticipated films that don’t live up to expectations.

    Him Indoors

    I’ve been excited about this since it was announced. Reece Shearsmith plays an agoraphobic serial killer, Pollyanna McIntosh his suspicious next-door neighbour. Premiering at FrightFest, I believe this short film promises to be something quite special.

    The Seasoning House

    The directorial debut of Paul Hyett, famous for prosthetics and effects work on films like The Woman in Black, Ironclad, Eden Lake, and the Descent. The plot for this sounds like nothing that’s come before: a deaf mute orphan in a Balkan brothel plans revenge on the men who murdered her family, avoiding detection by moving between the walls and crawlspaces. Hopefully this is just the sort of brave, challenging material that can make for astonishing FrightFest moments.

    Cockneys Vs Zombies

    OK, so perhaps not so challenging. James Moran, FrightFest regular and writer of Chris Smith’s Severance (as well as numerous episodes of Dr Who, Spooks and more) brings us this charming tale of Londoners battling the undead. FrightFest attendees were treated to a glimpse of material last year, and it looked far funnier than the name or concept would suggest. Alan Ford always provides value for money, and Michelle Ryan usually does a good job with this sort of material1. Watch the trailer and tell me Richard Briars fleeing zombies (slow moving, of course) using his zimmerframe isn’t a work of genius.

    Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut

    Any fan of horror should be acquainted with Mr Clive Barker. While his most famous cinematic offering is probably Hellraiser, in 1990 Barker directed an adaptation of his 1988 novella Cabal. I have very fond memories of both the novel and the film, and it’s always been a bit of a shame that Barker didn’t direct more (he stopped after Lord of Illusions in 1995, which is also well worth seeing).

    I didn’t know it at the time, but on Nightbreed’s release it was hacked about by the studios. Barker’s vision wasn’t compatible with what the studio had paid for, and so the film was recut, performances were redubbed, and a new ending was added. For years since there were whispers that a more complete version existed. Then a few years back, the whispers grew louder, became chatter, and the Cabal Cut started to become a reality.

    I never thought I’d get to see it, but thanks to the efforts of all involved it’s screening at FrightFest this year. How it’s going to look projected on the Empire’s massive screen, I don’t know. Whether the restoration actually elevates the film dramatically beyond it’s original incarnation remains to be seen too. But as a fan of the film since day one, I’m thrilled at the chance to see something as close to Barker’s original vision as we’re ever going to get. Boone, Peloquin, and the ‘Breed captured my imagination years ago, and I’m very happy to spend another couple of hours with them again.

    V/H/S

    I do love a good anthology film. V/H/S has been getting some very positive buzz from other festivals, has some great names behind it, and could well be one of the festival’s highlights.

    Stitches

    Comedian Ross Noble as a zombie clown, resurrected to get revenge on those responsible for his death in a fatal party mishap. How can anyone not be up for that?! Directed by Conor McMahon who gave us the quite splendid bovine zombie epidemic movie Dead Meat in 2004, I’m hoping for solid comedy horror here. (See also Grabbers - in which the only way our heros can survive a bloodsucking alien invasion is to get drunk).

    Sleep Tight

    Rec director Jaume Balaguero brings a more Hitchcockian number to FrightFest this year. I’ve heard very good things about this, so it’s very high on my list of most anticipated films for the weekend.

    Berberian Sound Studio

    Another that’s been generating buzz from other festivals. I’m totally in love with the concept behind this, but I’m not totally sold on Toby Jones as a leading man.

    American Mary

    I’ll admit I’ve not yet seen Dead Hooker in a Trunk, the debut feature from the Soska Sisters. But American Mary sounds just as challenging as some of the other features on display this year. Body modification isn’t exactly an overused trope in the genre, so this has the potential to offer something new and interesting. The sisters will be in attendance, so I’m looking forward to a decent Q&A afterwards. Don’t let me down FrightFest audience2!

    Chained

    It’s possible that Chained could be the festival’s most disturbing and upsetting entry. There are always a few films that cause non-genre fans to wonder why anyone would want to put themselves through the experience. I’ve mentioned it twice already, but it’s partly about challenge. Horror, sometimes more than any other genre, causes the viewer to challenge themselves. Not literally - as a test of endurance, or will - but to open yourself up to something horrible, unthinkable, and come away from the experience with a different perspective. The very best of horror does this. Recent examples like Martyrs, The Woman, Irreversible, and Requiem for a Dream3 are not at all pleasant experiences, they’re deeply upsetting, but they push the limits of the genre. This is my pick for the most affecting film of the festival.

    Before Dawn

    I try to regularly attend the annual celebration of all things zombie at Leicester’s Phoenix Square. I’ll post more on it nearer the time, but last year we were treated to a scene from Before Dawn (at that point it was untitled). The scene we saw as shot entirely in the confines of a small garage, and featured Paddy from Emmerdale (Dominic Brunt) trying to avoid being eaten by a particularly hungry looking zombie. It should have been laughable, but it was anything but. Tightly directed by Brunt himself, it was inventive and incredibly well staged. I’m a little disappointed this isn’t on in the main screen (Under The Bed, and After are on the in the main screen during its two screenings), because I’m not sure how I’ll fit it in…

    Homework

    There are three things I need to do between now and the start of the festival:

    • Watch Dead Hooker in a Trunk - it’s not fair to not watch the Soska’s debut feature seeing as they’re making all that effort for us.
    • Watch The Hamiltons - sequel The Thompsons is showing this year - never watch a sequel without seeing the preceding films first.
    • Watch Outpost - because Output II, see above.

    Soon…

    Not long now. I may post a few bits and pieces during the festival, but I’ll be sure to post a follow-up once I’m back. If you’d like to hear my thoughts during the festival, you can follow me on Twitter (@moviedan). If you’re going to be in attendance, then see you there, please do come and say hello!


    1. Honestly, she’s under rated. Yes, she’s also quite easy on the eyes. What of it? 

    2. Last year, after watching Ben Wheatley’s brilliant Kill List, one audience member asked “why did you make it so violent?”. This has entered FrightFest legend as the most moronic question in the entire history of moronic questions. 

    3. Yes, it’s a horror film. 

  2. There are a few films that I remember being incredibly aware of as a kid. Not as a teenager, I was aware of a hell of a lot of films by then, but as a really young kid. Planet of the Apes was one of them. I was too young to appreciate much of it, I didn’t understand the significance of the ending, but I remember being impressed with the look of it. Apes, talking. John Chambers’ makeup stands up today as an astonishing achievement, and Apes is almost certainly responsible for my love of Roddy McDowall.

    When Tim Burton decided to remake Apes in 2001, I was pretty certain it was a bad idea. By that time I absolutely got the original, and didn’t think it was something you needed to remake. I was right. I didn’t hate Burton’s remake, but I don’t think many people would describe it as being particularly good.

    And so to Rise. When it was announced, it sounded like another terrible idea. A prequel? Hasn’t that been done? I didn’t hold out much hope. And then a particular person got attached to the cast list: Andy Serkis. When Serkis gets involved in any project I take notice, regardless of the medium. His work on the console game Enslaved is outstanding, he turns in a great performance in Heavenly Sword, and everyone is aware of what a great job he did working with Peter Jackson on King Kong and Lord of the Rings. He’s a great actor, a master of motion and performance capture, and seemed like a magnificent choice for McDowall’s modern day counterpart.

    Put simply, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best film I’ve seen this year. Serkis is absolutely stunning under a layer of digital ape skin. Thanks to today’s performance capture technology, every facial twitch, subtle wrinkle of the brow, and expression of rage is translated directly into the digital portrayal. You can actually see Serkis underneath the layers at times, just like traditional makeup effects. It’s incredible to see.

    Serkis isn’t solely responsible for Apes roaring success. The script is brilliantly understated at times, never insulting the intelligence, and sensibly taking its time to establish each character. Rupert Wyatt’s direction is confident and steady, and he knows exactly how to make the most of the effects. It goes without saying that he’s absolutely one to watch in the future. Patrick Doyle’s score is excellent too (the second time in recent weeks I’ve mentioned Doyle in a review actually).

    My only minor complaint would be that James Franco doesn’t seem to be giving it his all. In a film where Serkis’ raw emotion is so powerful - the scenes with his digital ape and John Lithgow are incredibly moving, and there are similarly affecting moments where only Serkis and his digital apes are on screen - Franco seems to be irritatingly lifeless. You could argue that his character lacks the ability to react with suitably strong emotions, but at times I found his performance irksome. It’s not enough to ruin the film though, there’s more than enough life and emotion around him to compensate.

    Supporting cast beyond Franco are all great. Let’s be honest, you’ve got to pay attention to any film with Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, and John Lithgow on the cast list. Freida Pinto doesn’t really make the role her own, but it’s a pretty thinly written character in the first place. David Oyelowo does a decent job as Franco’s boss, and Tom “Draco Freaking Malfoy” Felton is excellent as the abusive ape sanctuary worker (so much so that it took me a while to place him).

    There’s also a raft of nods and in jokes to the original films, some of which are more welcome than others. There’s a pretty gratuitous use of a particularly famous quote from the original that really didn’t need to be there, but by and large the references are appreciated.

    Rise then: a resounding success. Best film so far this year, a worthy Oscar contender when the time comes (here’s hoping it’s not overlooked), and a film you desperately have to go and see at the cinema.