scary

Today was a special one-off Frightfest event, which saw the return of the festival to it’s seedbed cinema, The Prince Charles, on Leicester Place in London. There are four separate Film 4 Frightfests a year – a full weekender in August, a Glasgow satellite event, an all-nighter at the ICA and, finally, what would usually be an all-Lionsgate fixture. This was the Lionsgate date, but this time only one of their pictures was on the program and some other distributors were called upon to make up the numbers.

As well as the UK premieres of Embodiment of Evil, Shuttle, and Repo! The Genetic Opera, the fest also featured the world premiere of Lesbian Vampire Killers and a special double bill of Not Quite Hollywood and Turkey Shoot. There’s something brief on each of those, as well as news bits from or about Darren Lynn Bousman, Dario Argento, Terrance Zdunich, Phil Claydon and MyAnna Buring after the break.

I think there’s a fundamental difference between festivals that offer all-in passes to those that don’t. Those who do foster a strong sense of community, inclusiveness and intimacy that even extends to the single ticket holders. Frightfest always offers an all-in pass, and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. That this pass saves you so much Dinari is probably worth noting too.

Let’s do a round-up of the day in chronological order, to help me keep my mind from splattery entanglement.

The very first film presented today was Embodiment of Evil, the latest and, by a small margin at least, greatest Coffin Joe movie. It does compare pretty directly to his previous pictures though is this time in colour, has a higher budget and benefits from some better FX. The most striking sequences are pointedly not FX based however – some piercing scenes that show, for real, people having their mouths sewn shut or hooks placed through their back so that they might be suspended in the air from them. And this business is all very clearly shown – a surprise in a studio distributed film (it kicked off with the 20th Century Fox fanfare and ident).

The storyline in this installment is at once as scatty and perfunctory as ever, with Coffin Joe being released from prison and reuniting with his cohort to continue his plan to beget a son. There’s a lot of powerful and resonant imagery in the film but it pretty much exists in a narrative vacuum and is offset somewhat by the issues of misogyny that dog so many films playing with age old fertility symbolism and the like.

Up a gear for film two, Edward Anderson’s Shuttle. This was a cheap slasher/kidnap film that had more good ideas than it handled well and sadly ran for far, far, far too long. The starting point is an airport baggage carousel, where two girl friends returning from a holiday meet two boy friends and form the basic meat for the inevitable kill sandwich.

Shuttle is quite an episodic film and the big twist that pretty much pays off the first episode was a good one in principle, but not perfectly executed; the big twist that pays of the second episode worked much better, but didn’t quite make sense. All the same, it was refreshingly well acted stuff for a film with such a meager budget and – at least until the slash action kicks in – the dialogue is pretty light and fresh too.

I believe Shuttle opened in some US cinemas on Friday March 6th, and slasher addicts would do well to search it out just for the smattering of smart concepts and neat enough twists on a very tired formula, though some patience is required. My favourite bit is the final shot of the travel sickness pills – pretty much worth waiting for.

Next up was the big Lionsgate picture – Repo! The Genetic Opera. Darren Lyn Bousman was in attendance, as well as the film’s creators Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith.

A good handful of the audience had already seen the film, probably via import DVD, and were happy to sing along. This did the atmosphere a great favor. For my part, I enjoyed a great deal of the film though found it often rather underdeveloped, as well as routinely becoming that kind of ambiguous which suggests the filmmakers themselves didn’t really know their own fictional world as well as they should. It sure beat Saws 2 through 4 into a cocked hat, however, to take an easy lead as Bousman’s most accomplished film so far.

After the screening, the film maker guests did a signing for the audience, a handful of whom were dressed as am-dram versions of Repo! Characters, and when that odd parade was over, I managed to steal a word with them.

Bousman told me that his next film is going to be Mother’s Day, a remake scripted by Scott Milam. This suggests that his Akula submarine heist movie, as reported here a few weeks back by Peter, must have hit some strange current and been tugged off course for a while. I learnt that Milam and Bousman became friends when it seemed like Bousman was going to direct Wichita, from Milam’s well liked script. That never happened – but some of the plans therein harboured will “sort of” make their way into Mother’s Day. Both are home invasion stories, so the translation should be smooth. And we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of Wichita somehow, one day, making it to the big screen, in some form or another.

Terrance Zdunich, who not only co-created and co-wrote Repo! but also plays the brilliantly charismatic Graverobber character in the film and provided the comic-book illustrations that bridge the plot jumps, also had quick a word with me. The news there was quite intriguing – his next project is a comic book set in Anaheim, and revolves around a dysfunctional family. Juxtaposing the Disney ideals aggressively advertised across Anaheim with this family is the heart of the matter, though Zdunich did stress this wouldn’t just be like “some Lifetime movie” because the lead characters will include a) cockroaches and b) Neanderthals. He’s finished writing the comic, and now he has to illustrate it.

Repo! is already available on R1 DVD, but the UK disc hits shelves on Monday, 9th March. If you’d prefer to see it on the big screen – and the audience energy really does add something – you can catch it on March 8th in London, 10th in Sheffield, 11th in Edinburgh and 12th in Glasgow. Skipping the many emogothpunk students of Oxford was probably not the best idea.

Film four was the “surprise film” that surprised nobody. Phil Claydon’s Lesbian Vampire Killers was given it’s first ever public screening of any kind anywhwere, and the director was along to present it. He was accompanied with nine of the actresses from the film – only seven of which, I believe, actually had speaking parts, though all of which were supposed to be sex objects of some kind.

The cruelest way to sum up Lesbian Vampire Killers is also very possibly the most accurate way too. This film is to Shaun of the Dead what Nuts Magazine is to Total Film. There are definitely a bucket load of similarities, but the important things are all very, very different. Killers will probably receive supreme notices from Nuts magazine and their boob-battered ilk, and not because the laddo critics won’t be able to see through the thin spread of bulldung, but because they’ll just go right ahead and spoon-feed their readers the review they’ll be expecting, even wanting.

Frankly though, I hated this stupid, sexist, homophobic film. I mark it down as stunted, puerile claptrap and a waste of the talents of James Corden, one of the co-stars. He miraculously manages to play all but the very worst scraps of his dialogue in a pretty natural and likeable way. It’s also a waste of the sound mixing team, who not only indulge director Phil Claydon’s never ending spiral of gimmicks with the musical soundtrack (most of the time, songs going from diegetic to non-diegetic and back again, and this change often hidden behind a record scratch noise or door slam, or the like) but also make great hay out of the full 3D stage for surround. That’s the best stuff in the film – the sound mixing – but it certainly didn’t make up for the rest of it.

After the screening, I asked director Phil Claydon if he had any news for us. My idea today was quite a simple one – to see who had news, and if anybody did have something new and exclusive to tell me, there’d be a post all about just that; anybody who could only share info I could find elsewhere on the web or that I already knew about, or those who only had lower-key news to share – they’d be mentioned in this main Frightfest post. Nobody got their own post, sadly.

The best Claydon could offer up was that he is in negotiations for another film, but as it will take some while to confirm, he said no more. Curse his common sense! After a bit of squeezing, I found out he has been approached for American films, but the one he’s circling right now is another British production.

I wanted to ask him something quite probing and respectable about Lesbian Vampire Killers because the audience Q&A had simply been embarrassing – people calling out “Can I have your phone number?” to the girls, and so on – so, I asked how much he felt the film was his, seeing as it had been scripted before he came onboard. Claydon told me that he felt great ownership of the film, saying that it now contained his DNA and that if anybody took the film away, he’d feel like a part of him was lost. That’s good, that he’s invested in his film…

however, if I woke up tomorrow and found out part of me was Lesbian Vampire Killers, I wouldn’t even wait for the paramedics and would cut it out myself as soon as possible. Even if all I had was a rusty knife.

MyAnna Buring is one of the stars of the film, playing a vampire slaying virgin with all of the emotional plausibility and sophisticatin of a bit part on The Days of Our Lives. It’s not her fault at all – the role is so woefully ill conceived there’s not anything much that any poor soul could do with it. She didn’t have any news either, I’m afraid, but did confirm that all of her appearances in the second Descent film are to be in flashbacks. I asked her how the new film would be reconciled with the ending of the first (or, an ending of the first – Descent fans will know what I mean) but she wouldn’t spill.

The next film was the highpoint of the day, and easily so. Not Quite Hollywood is a documentary about the “Ozploitation” films of the 70s and 80s, a wave that came rolling forward and crashed upon the shores of Australian culture in parallel to the more “respectable” pictures by Peter Weir and Gillian Armstrong. Not Quite Hollywood was heavily loaded with clips from the best Oz-brewed drive in and grindhouse fare, as well as interview clips with actors, actresses, producers, directors, critics and geeks Quentin Tarantino.

As is often the way in documentaries that feature Tarantino, he does a surprising amount of heavy lifting and gets a load of great ideas and observations into his short soundbites. This time, he’s not the only one and Barry Humphries, in particular, gives us gold nugget after gold nugget.

This documentary could have been, and perhaps should have been, five or six hours long. I’m definitely going to make it required viewing for my students and start praying for some kind of super-extended DVD version.

And then, finally, another Frightfest came to a close with the Ozploitation support: a twenty minute trailer real and Brian Trenchard Smith’s Turkey Shoot.

For those patiently awaiting the Dario Argento news, we finally reach it here. I was eavesdropping on a conversation between somebody who has apparently seen Giallo, Argento’s next… er… giallo, and two people who most definitely had not seen it but wanted – and wanted pretty desperately, it seemed – for the film to be good. They received bad news. Veiled bad news, but bad news all the same. The individual who had seen Giallo (and the inference was that they’d seen a completed version, though this was not absolutely clear – and, for the record, I trust absolutely for certain that they’re not lying for reasons I can’t divulge without getting somebody in trouble), they refused to comment explicitly on the film’s quality. They knew better than that. When pushed – and pushed, and pushed – they offered up only an elliptical statement about the film’s distribution. “Let me just say this. It hasn’t been picked up for anywhere in the world”. Back came the “Oh… no”, which was echoed with a “Right. No. So…”

So… clearly, Giallo isn’t what we wanted it to be. “Shame” isn’t the half of it.

The next Frightfest event is the all-weekend affair in August. Watch this space for full programme details as soon as they’re published in early July.

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