Frightfest Days 2 & 3: The Horseman, Landis, Trick 'R Treat, Giallo, Hierro And More

The third day of the Film 4 Frightfest has come to a blood-soaked close and I've made it back safely to camp. From where I'm sitting now (slouched, in fact, and really quite exhausted from all of this sitting in the dark) this year's Frightfest is already one of the two or three best yet, and Frightfest itself has bloomed into the single most exciting genre fest in the UK. Come along next August and join in, I could use some folks to lunch with.

I want to run through all of the feature films screened in days two and three very quickly. We'll do it in chronological order, and I'll do my best to not let any one picture outstay it's welcome. If you want more basic plot or cast and crew details, the Film 4 Frightfest website is probably the best place to begin.

The Horseman – dir. Stephen Kastissios

A rather traditional and suitably grimy revenge thriller from Australia. The plot actually has two movements, two sub-lists of revenge victims. There's a feeling that we're coming to a close at the end of 'episode one' for us to then suddenly realise there's a way to go and you might be a bit miffed by this, or indeed rather relieved. Myself, it was a little of both.

Much of the film feels real and immediate in such a way that the sudden drops into the generic or overly conventional disappoint hugely. The film always recovers from these troughs, however, and fans of Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Straw Dogs or maybe even The Limey will see similar ground covered with something approaching the same level of relevance and, occasionally, prowess.

Shadow – dir. Federico Zampaglione

Even more episodic than The Horseman, this film seemed to come in three distinct movements. The first is a game of cat-and-mouse in the woods, the second implies supernatural elements and the third is rooted in the current vogue for onscreen torture and torment. Our lead characters are an Iraq vet who likes to ride his bike in the woods, his love interest, two snarly, hammy hunters and what appears to be Doug Jones doing an impersonation of Richard O'Brien but is, in fact, the quite remarkable Nuot Arquint.

Heavily debated was the film's twist climax with the majority of folk seemingly hating it and a handful swinging along. Without giving anything away, I'd compare it to the surprise resolution of Switchblade Romance in that you might consider it cliche, it definitely doesn't quite add up but it does inject a whole new level into what we have seen. Without this ending, the film would have seemed far less worthwhile, I'm convinced – but those closing scenes still played like the last fart of a dead duck. A real shame.

The Horde – dir. Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher

As this was a screening ahead of the film's official world premiere at Venice – that label must be preserved for the Venice programme booklet at all cost! – this film is under embargo and can't be reviewed. Fair enough – I don't want to waste my time writing about it anyway.

Macabre – dir. The MO Brothers

Shot in a curiously steady fashion, skewing towards so-called middlebrow realism, this was a completely outrageous work in many other respects. Two strings of victims suffer at the hands of cannibals, essentially and while the official Frightfest word is that this is the bloodiest film they've ever shown it is most definitely not the goriest – I'd like to see their distinction between blood and gore that allows them to get away with that claim.

And that ends Day 2. Be aware that I skipped mentioning Beware the Moon and An American Werewolf in London seeing as I featured them in my last post and will have a video interview with John Landis going live on the site in the coming days.

Smash Cut – dir. Lee Demabre

This was a tribute to Hershell Gordon Lewis that actually managed to meet many of his standards. And yes, I did mean that as a front-handed insult.

David Hess, here in starring as a film director who turns to real life murder, pretty much carried this film single handedly. I will credit the movie as having a good handful of great gags stirred in with the haystacks of cruddy ones, and Michael Berryman's wig finally dethrones Joe Pesci's rug from JFK as the best hairpiece in the movies, but overall, this was about watching Hess give a bizarrely seductive performance. It wasn't anything like 'good acting', as if that really means anything, but it was certainly a star turn.

Hierro – dir. Gabe Ibanez

Despite a desperately familiar set-up and any number of off-the-peg dramatic devices this was, at the time of screening, the best film of the line-up so far. Much of the credit there must go to director Ibanez who had a great eye for the emotive and resonant, creating a generous collection of poetical images. In terms of shot design and composition, much of this film was truly masterful and it therefore stung somewhat when one conceit or the other didn't fly so well, or a futile or misbegotten bit of editing tricksiness screwed up the flow (yes, step printed slow-mo, I'm looking at you).

The star of Hierro is Elena Anaya who I've been enjoying in Spanish films since Sex and Lucia but who has never looked so much like Mark Ruffalo before. I swear – some shots in this film, I thought I was looking at his twin sister. Weird.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – dir. Niels Arden Oplev

This 2 and a half hour adaptation of Steig Larson's internationally best selling novel played like a good TV mystery drama in the European vein – a Rebus, Wallander or Spiral as opposed to CSI or Without a Trace, say. It wasn't at all bad, despite being intermittently dull and oftentimes predictable. The best scenes were great though, and there's one particularly cinematic clue with a series of sequenced photographs that reminded me of something similar in American Gangster. When the film doesn't work it's because the adaptation is too faithful to the novel, sticking to the workings of a medium in which long strings of dialogue and verbal exposition are as welcome and functionally suitable as chunks of action.

Giallo – dir. Dario Argento

The most derided film of the festival so far is sadly the latest work of Dario Argento, a man that many of us here adore so deeply. What a sadness, then, that Giallo just hasn't landed properly. The audience did seem somewhat rather too keen to laugh, with some of the biggest chortles coming at the kind of silliness I've seen the crowd swallow hook, line and sinker during other films of the fest. Adrien Brody's two roles require quite drastically different approaches and while most are saying he bungled both, I think he did okay with the cop at least. There was a good smattering of quality stuff here but the overall effect was like being served a plate of expertly cooked roast potatoes served in a sauce of cat's excrement.

Curiously, some of the foyer crowd maintain that this is a deliberate satire that has been unfairly slayed while some others are claiming Argento has disowned the film. To the best of my knowledge, neither of those things is true.

Trick'r Treat – dir. Mike Dougherty

From the ridiculous to the sublime. This picture was pretty much unanimously welcomed as the highpoint of Saturday's schedule, if not the entire festival. Mike Dougherty's witty compendium of Halloween folklore is something of a throwback to an 80s vibe, with Frank LaLoggia's The Lady in White being an obvious bedfellow and Creepshow a clear antecedent. But Trick'r Treat is even better than Creepshow, with a great cast, some truly great, clever camera work, a pretty tight edit and not too many missteps at all. If only the punch line to the Dylan Baker story hit harder and more square on the nose, I wouldn't have any serious quibbles at all.

You can now try to stem your disappointment of Warner Bros. shafting this film out of a theatrical run by pre-ordering the Blu-Ray. In a Q&A after the film, the VIP quarter's biggest and best loudmouth genius John Landis thrust his hand in the air and questioned Dougherty on why the film had been for so long left on the shelf by the studio. Despite Dougherty's best attempts to remain diplomatic, Landis wrapped up by yelling his dismay at Warners, at the top of his lungs: Fuck them!

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl – dirs. Yoshihiro Nishimura and Naoyiki Tomomatsu

Words cannot do justice to this Ritalin-deprived, epilepsy inducing live action cartoon of gross and satirical stereotypes, absurdist action choreography and stream of consciousness narrative deviance. Nishimura previously gave us Tokyo Gore Police, Tomomatsu was responsible for Eat the Schoogirl and it really is simply algebra to put those together and get a good working idea of this new movie.

If you still think that Speed Racer or The Matrix are anime come to life, then get a look at this and weep.

And that brings this update to a close, just as I'm about to collapse and have sweet dreams of Trick'r Treat. Next time: people sewn together, mouth to anus, in an unholy human centipede. It's well worth coming back for...