In London

FrightFest 2019: Living my best prairie girl life, seeing the giallo master, and the joy of watching good films

So FrightFest ended on Monday the 26th. Am I late with this wrap-up? Yes. Very. But it doesn’t matter. These films are good, and are definitely worth writing about still.

Last year was my first-ever time at FrightFest. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, so I bought tickets to what were two (essentially) random films. This year I came prepared. I watched a trailer for every film possible and read up on them.

So what I ended up with was a pretty fine selection of movies. They were all different aspects of what I love about horror/genre films.

And next year I’ll hopefully be able to attend more screenings. My budget is small, but my ambitions are large. Either way, it’s the quality, not the quantity that matters, right? (Thought it is very hard not to have film envy after reading everyone’s Tweets about films I couldn’t see…)

All of these are quality, and I highly recommend each and every one of them.

The Wind (2018) directed by Emma Tammi, written by Teresa Sutherland

Growing up, I was obsessed with stories of pioneers in the frontier. Being from Wisconsin, we had to study Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. Butter churning and sweeping dirty floors sounded awesome. I wanted to wear bonnets and ride covered wagons, and never die from dysentery! But as I got older and fully realised the harsh truths of the frontier, it began to fascinate me in different ways.

So when I first saw dusty and desolate imagery in The Wind’s trailer, I knew this film was exactly what I wanted to see. It’s another chapter in what is hopefully a new era of American “historical horror” (see The Witch).

The Wind follows a young couple, Lizzie and Issac, who live a rather isolated life in the West (filmed new New Mexico). The story switches between three plot lines: the aftermath of the death of their young neighbour, the time leading up to their neighbour’s pregnancy, and when Lizzie herself was pregnant.

It’s a story of isolation and jealousy, certainly. But it really about the unfair expectations of women, and how those expectations can manifest themselves into something horrifying.  The movie is filled with beautiful shots of the Rockies, which serves as a beautiful juxtaposition to the terrors Lizzie faces in the lonely cabins.

As the credits rolled, I was absolutely chuffed to see that it was written and directed by women. Tammi and Sutherland together made a powerfully female film. I’ve seen many not-so-glowing reviews, especially from people who hate this genre of slow-burn horror. But to be honest, it’s everything I wanted and more.

Tenebrae (1982) written and directed by Dario Argento

One of highlights of this year’s festival wasn’t even a movie. It was the appearance of Italian maestro Dario Argento.

Argento was in London to promote his new autobiography, Fear (FAB Press). The man did a brief Q&A before a book signing, but he also made the introduction for the showing of his 1982 giallo Tenebrae.

Tenebrae is one of Argento’s later giallo’s, and not really one of my favourites. But trust me, that’s not really saying anything. I love this era of Argento. This story follows an author as he tries to solve a series of murders, seemingly inspired by one of his own books.

It’s a fun bit of cinema, with lots of twists, and lots of blood. It’s stunning, as always, and has one of my favourite movie soundtracks to boot. Seeing and hearing it in the theatre was just another experience all together.

I attended the screening with my husband (a growing giallo fan) and my friend, who had never seen an Argento film in his life. It was fun to revisit Tenebrae with my husband. But it was even better to see someone experience greatness for the first time. The three of us have already planned future Italian nights.

Hearing from Argento himself was particularly interesting. His reflections on his life were very thoughtful, and it was quite clear that he took writing his autobiography very seriously. It was also announced that he’s working on directing another film in the near future.

I’m staring at my signed copy of Fear right now. And I honestly can’t wait to dive into this icon’s life story.

Ready or Not (2019) directed by  directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy

If you haven’t heard of this movie by now, you’ve probably been living in with your head in the sand. Ready or Not was an absolute blast, and it sure to be a crowd pleaser. I know that it certainly pleased the people in my screening.

The plot of Ready or Not is very much in the vein of films like Clue. You know, if Clue was a gory horror film about selling your soul to a demon.

On her wedding day, Grace (played by the delightful Samara Weaving) learns that she must play a game. Having been married into a family that is also a board game empire, she’s bemused, but agrees. She quickly realises that when she pulls a card for “hide and seek” it isn’t going to be such a simple game.

It’s best not to know too much about this one before heading into it. The twists are half the fun with this one.

But I will say the cast are pretty damn good. Particularly Weaving. Though my favourite Kristian Brunn had impeccable comedic delivery as always.

The Legend of the Stardust Brothers (1985) written and directed by Macoto Tezuka

Get ready for you new favourite cult film, everyone. The Stardust Brothers are here.

The Legend of the Stardust Brothers (Hoshikuzu kyôdai no densetsu) is as if The Rocky Horror Picture Show decided to go on a trip to Japan and try out a new drug. It’s surreal, wacky, and so much fun.

This little film has only just been shown outside of Japan for the first time very recently. Even within its home country it’s a cult film.

Though the plot will be familiar to everyone. Two young, ambitious musicians sign away their artistic freedom to sign a contract with a record company. They quickly rise to fame and fall even faster.

But to call this a typical music film would be a great injustice to The Stardust Brothers. For one, it’s not really a straight-forward movie. It’s more like a series of music videos strung together with a slightly-incoherent storyline. The subject is approached with a great whimsy that only Japanese filmmakers seem to ever pull off.

My friend and I are completely obsessed. It’s definitely for fans of films like Rocky Horror and The Phantom of the Paradise. This movie is even dedicated to Winslow Leach.

Needless to say, I’m pretty desperate for Third Window Films’ Blu-Ray release. I’d like it now, please. And yes, I’ll also be buying the LP because the songs are absolute classics.

L-O-N-D-O-N…BOOTS!

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Wicked Wednesday: The Haunting of Hill House ep. 1 (2018) at the Welsh Chapel

I rarely win things in life. I once won a Princess Diana Beanie Baby in a school raffle, and I was pretty chuffed because I knew it was going to be worth a fortune one day (still waiting on that to happen).

But when I received the email saying I’d won entry for two to an exclusive screening of The Haunting of Hill House, I knew this was a step up from purple bears filled with beans. Plus it took place in the fabulous and freaky Welsh Chapel.

So Husband and I attended a fabulous event last night hosted by Netflix, including a Q&A with the new show’s cast. Turns out Netflix throws one hell of a bash. There was even a supposed ‘set recreation’ that you could wander about, but it was really a ploy to have an actor jump out at you.

And for someone who loves horror movies so much, I’m a massive baby. So having someone jump out at me didn’t exactly bring out the, er, gracefulness in me.

While it was pretty easy to be dazzled by the free cocktails and canapes, the screening of episode one was the highlight of the night. I have to admit, the trailer for the show is pretty underwhelming and slightly confusing. But I can confirm, this skeptic is completely converted after watching episode one.

Even my husband (who enjoyed Wise’s version 0%, and thought we were watching a remake of Burnt Offerings) liked enough to ask when we could watch the next episode.

For those familiar with the Shirley Jackson’s world of Hill House, the TV series revolves around the Crain family. In Jackson’s book, the group are supposedly haunted by the Crains, some of who met tragic ends in Hill House.

In Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House, the Crains have five children, all of whom deal with the trauma of their childhood in different ways. The show flits between modern day and decades before when they were all children in Hill House. It’s clear from

the first episode that the mystery will revolve around Mrs Crain and her supposed suicide.

There are a lot of nice touches for those who love the book and the original 1963 adaption (keep an eye out for the iconic spiral staircase).

In the Q&A, actors Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, Kate Siegel and Oliver Jackson-Cohen joined the stage. They only could hint at some of the terror to come, but it all sounded promising. They even had a few cute stories to share about the child actors in the show. Turns out five-year-olds can be great actors, but not-so-great at being patient.

Now, sure, I may have been persuaded by the champagne and funny ghost photobooth, but I feel pretty confident in saying that The Haunting of Hill House is destined to be great. If you love family drama mixed with talking corpses and ghosts, we’re both in for a treat.

All episodes will be available for streaming on Netflix on October 12th.

 

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My most anticipated things this Autumn

Helloooo, autumn!

Today is the autumnal equinox, which means I woke up to rain and cloudy skies. In both Britain and the States, I love this season. Wisconsin is my preferred between the two, because there is more crunchy leaves and happier people. But nevertheless, this time of the year is absolute magic. And I mean ‘magic’ in both a figurative and literal sense.

This is still a time of year that feel more like renewal than death. And most importantly, this is the time of the year that I get to be queen. Horror movies become socially acceptable again. Spooky TV shows come out. Other people start talking about Halloween. It’s all happening.

But there’s plenty of amazing things coming up this autumn. These are just the handful I’m looking forward to most:

1. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is by far the best horror comic to come out of the Archie Horror imprint. It is absolutely brutal, and SO much fun. When this show was announced, I was infinitely more excited than the news about Riverdale. Sabrina was always my favourite Archie character as a kid (I grew up at the height of the MJH and cartoon era), and I’m excited to see another, darker version of her.

This Netflix adaptation looks fabulously cast and seems to have encapsulated the feeling of Robert Hack’s art work. This take on the classic teenage witch promises to be dark and (hopefully) terrifying. Bring it on, Salem!

Available for streaming on October 26th.

2. Halloween (2018)

Sure, everyone is sick of remakes and sequels (see numbers one and three on this list). But this latest addition to the Halloween franchise looks genuinely good. It looks like a lot of love and care went into making it, which already sets it apart from many of the other installments in the franchise. This Jamie Lee Curtis film will actually be a direct sequel to only the first film, which means it will disregard the other films. This probably angers a lot of fans, but I think it’s certainly more interesting than any other direction they could have chosen.

Plus Carpenter is doing the score, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.

In cinemas in the US and UK on October 19th.

3. The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix

Admittedly, after watching the first trailer for this show, I’m significantly less excited for this one. I was hoping for a more detailed, intricate adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel, but instead this looks like…well, I’m not sure what it is. The trailer bares zero resemblance to anything about the book. Though I guess I had to expect some major changes if they were going to expand a 250 page novel into 10 episodes of television.

But Netflix and Mike Flanagan have worked well in the past before, so there’s plenty to be positive about. This will be the third adaption of Shirley Jackson’s iconic novel. While I love the Robert Wise adaption, I’ve always loved the book more and was really looking forward to a contemporary take on the work. So hopes up and fingers crossed.

Available for streaming on Netflix on October 12th.

4. Reading all the books

I’m naturally a slow reader, but I like to over-stuff my TBR every autumn. It’s wishful thinking to imagine that I’ll read everything I want to this season, but I will try. This month, the paperback version of Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic was released in the UK. I’m currently devouring it and crying over some of the best magical realism I’ve ever read.

Also, I do love to reread a childhood favourite of mine, Gooseberry Park. While technically set in early Spring, this book is so cozy, it always screamed autumn to me. My copy has been through a lot, so each read is nearing the book’s last.

5. Two Evil Eyes (Due occhi diabolicion Blu-Ray from 88 Films

This British film distributor KILLED IT with their release of Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball (Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro). 88 Films are easily one of my favourite companies, so I was overjoyed when they announced a Blu-ray release of this 1990 film directed by my two favourites, George Romero and Dario Argento. They’re sure to do great things with this release.

You can pre-order now from 88 Films’ website for a release date of October 15th.

6. Horroctober at the Prince Charles Cinema

The PCC is my home away from home. They take 50% of my paycheck every month (sadly, that’s not much of an exaggeration). Each October, the cinema curates a fabulous selection of Halloween and horror movies to show. Horroctober pretty much offers something for everyone, so guard your wallets wisely.


What are you looking forward most to this season? Thanksgiving? Christmas nearing so you can start playing Mariah Carey?

Treasure these few months because it will be 2019 before you know it, and we’ll be entering the bleakest part of the year. Cheery thoughts, ya’ll!

I finally made it to FrightFest – and it was glorious

I have been wanting to go to the London FrightFest for years. Each year I add tickets to the cart, and every year, my anxiety kicks in and I never follow through. Last year, though, I had enough of missing out. I remember standing outside the Prince Charles Cinema, promising myself I had to go in 2018.

I finally did make it this year. And boy, am I happy I went.

The Arrow Video FrightFest is the largest genre film festival in the UK. Over the course of five days, two cinemas screen the best of horror’s new offerings (and a couple of classics for good measure). From documentaries, to sequels, to short films, and wholly original feature-lengths, FrightFest offers something for anyone who is a fan of the genre.

I could only afford to grab tickets for two screenings this year, but judging by people’s reactions on Twitter, I missed a fair amount of excellent films. You can check out the full line-up on the FrightFest website.

Thursday night, my husband and I went to see the fabulous Summer of 84directed by the same trio behind the much-loved cult film Turbo Kid. 

Summer of 84 is a clever play on the current 80’s nostalgia boom seen in things like Stranger Things. It’s one part Goonies, another part Stand By Me with a large helping of movies like The ‘Burbs and Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window.

During the summer of 1984, a boy and his three friends work together to track down the local serial killer who targets teenage boys. But they soon begin to suspect that the killer may be their own neighbour, a much-loved and respected policeman.

While the film might sound like something you’ve already seen, don’t worry. The ending makes sure to destroy you and any hopes and dreams you had left. It’s pretty rare that my husband and I leave the cinema with the same reactions, but we both absolutely loved it.

It was fun to see actress Tiera Skovbye in another role. I generally dislike her on Riverdale as Betty’s crazy sister Polly Cooper, but the girl proved she has some good acting chops here. Rich Sommer, who plays the suspect local cop, does a magnificent job of being both likable and suspiciously creepy. The rest of the cast (especially those core four boys) do a fantastic job of being compelling, which is so crucial to films like these.

It’s funny, it’s horrifying, and it’s really fucking good. Summer of 84 is definitely a film to check out.

On the Friday night, I dragged my friend along to the film Dead Night. Star Barbara Crampton herself was in attendance to introduce the film (she was in a number of movies shown across the weekend). She comes off as engaging and sweet as you’d expect her to be.

Dead Night is sort of on the opposite side of the spectrum from Summer of 84, which was very much grounded in horrors from our own reality. This film, on the other hand, was mind-bending and incredibly strange.

A family go to a cabin in the woods for a retreat for the father, who is ill with cancer. Everything seems fine as they settle in until they find a woman (Crampton) asleep in the snow. Soon after they try to get her help, they realise that they’ve made a grave mistake by letting her into the cabin.

In Crampton’s introduction to the film, she warned that viewers would have to pay close attention to details. This, apparently, meant to me that I should go to the bathroom in the first 40 minutes. When I asked my friend what I had missed, he said “not much.” But nonetheless, I understood absolutely nothing. It wasn’t until after the movie that my friend informed me that I indeed did miss some things.

Thanks.

Dead Night is one of those films that probably appeals more to people who like their films more open-ended. I like mystery, but this was a bit too unexplained for my liking. Crampton was as fun as ever, though, delivering all of her lines with absolute glee.

Movies aside, I loved FrightFest. There’s something about being around others with the same interests as you. Walking into the festival felt like going home. I’m glad I finally went, as I’m now convinced this is something I need to go to every year of my life. 

 

RiffTrax live at the Prince Charles Cinema

Last night was a real treat. For the first time ever, RiffTrax were in the UK performing their riffs live at the Prince Charles Cinema. The guys were hilarious, sweet, and there was a genuine feeling of excitement and joy in the cinema.

The RiffTrax crew had two shows in London. The first being the classic Plan 9 From Outer Space, followed by Samurai Cop. Plus the bonus short of The Calendar: How to Use It, which simultaneously still has me laughing while giving me nightmares.

For me personally, I had been wishing for this event to happen ever since I emigrated to the UK. Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a staple of my childhood, and ultimately my adulthood. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbet were always my favourite team of robots and host on the Satellite of Love.

Since it was their first time riffing in the UK, the guys made some of their jokes more Anglicised. But to this Midwestern girl, the best jokes were still the ones that hit home. I’m cracking up even now recalling a great zinger about cold ham sandwiches at Lutheran funerals. Thankfully both jokes seems to hit home with both the Americans and the Brits in the audience (and everyone in between).

My stoic, Northern husband was even jubilant after the show, recalling his favourite jokes of the night. This was by far one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time. So thank you, RiffTrax. Thanks for making me hurt and cry from laughing. Please return soon.

Wicked Wednesday: The Exorcist at the Phoenix Theatre

Thanks to a friend who has seemingly endless connections and belongs to something mysteriously referred to only as “The Club,” I’ve been able to see a lot of West End shows for free. I’ve never been a theatre person, but London is filled with oddities that I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of experiencing. This week’s show brought me into home territory with The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty’s novel and film of the same name.

Seeing The Exorcist performed on stage marked my first horror play. The show was okay, but largely forgettable with strange pacing and inconsistent acting. Not that I’m any sort of expert on the subject (I’m not an expert at anything, but that’s besides the point). But one thing that did stand out to me was the practical effects.

Making a good horror movie is not easy. Even if it is “successful,” you’d be faced with one very large problem: nothing scares everyone. Making people suspend their belief takes a true skill, one that I would imagine is even more difficult when you’re on a stage.

The original 1973 film had a lot going for it. It had a wealth of locations and an absolutely fabulous cast. But it was shocking at the time. Filthy and uncomfortable.

My mom told me stories of how when she saw The Exorcist in cinemas for the first time, she had to leave to be sick.

Once something sets the standard, it can be impossible to replicate the feeling years later. While I think the original Exorcist film holds up incredibly well, many people don’t. And it’s for the same reason: the special effects. Regan, the young girl possessed by demon Pazuzu, has that iconic pea soup vomit and vibrant red blood.

The stage adaptation at the Phoenix was much more subdued. White vomit and an increasingly large wig to convey that the young girl was increasingly becoming more ill. I imagine it takes a great deal of stage magic to produce what this show did. At one point Regan tries to cut herself with a knife, and no blood is seen. She tries desperately to cut into her bone, but nothing happens.

But perhaps the most convincing effect was when the face of Father Damien Karras’ mother was superimposed over that of Regan’s. It was the time I felt the most “thrilled” by what was happening on stage.

It’s clearly not an easy story to bring to the stage. Many of the visual effects done electronically were missed because we just had really crap seats. But I still feel like the staging was fantastic.

Scaring a crowd of jaded viewers has to be difficult. But there were plenty of moments that The Exorcist truly creeped me out. It’s certainly a different feeling to watching it on screen, but it was definitely worth the experience.

Riverdale actor KJ Apa graces MCM London Comic Con with kiwi charm 

Sunday was the final day of MCM London Comic Con, and with it was one last big name to close out the weekend.

New Zealand actor KJ Apa, who plays Archie Andrews on the television show Riverdale, was in London to answer a number of questions at his Q&A panel.

Apa, wearing a shirt given to him by a fan at MCM, charmed the socks off the audience. The show is young (it only first began airing in January), but has already gained a dedicated audience.

Though things were easy straight off the bat for Apa. Being a New Zealander, he had to adjust to his new surroundings in America. Apa said that he needed to stop using certain Kiwi terms that his American counter-parts wouldn’t know, and said that it took the cast a little while to get their chemistry working. Thankfully they pulled it off well.

The 19-year-old actor showed plenty of affection for his television father, Luke Perry. Apa said that Perry was the one actor that he got on best with (name Jugheard actor Cole Sprouse as the second). That special relationship lead to some great acting experiences for Apa.

The final scene of the season in which Perry’s character Fred Andrews is shot, was one of Apa’s favourites to film.  Both actors received the script for the scene the night before filming, and Apa said he was thrown. But Apa said that his special relationship with Perry made that final scene very difficult to film, and they both had to stop to take a few minutes from the emotional scene.

The shooting of Fred Andrews (which may or may not be fatal) will lead to Archie becoming a lot darker as he looks to avenge his father. Apa promises that Archie will become much more intense in season 2.

As far as season 1 was concerned, Apa said that he initially thought that Jughead was the killer. The actor said he thought it would be cool, considering that Jughead is the narrator of the show. But once he dropped that idea, he moved on to suspecting Clifford Blossom. And he guessed it right early on, saying that he stunned one of the writers when he asked if Clifford was the one responsible for Jason’s death.

Perhaps Apa has a future in writing murder-mysteries.

Apa is a fairly new to acting, getting his first role when he was only sixteen. And it was something that came fairly naturally. He claims he didn’t even have to work on his American accent for Riverdale. When Apa first auditioned for the role of Archie, he brought his guitar along to his callback. Apa, who performs all of his own music in the show, said that he felt calmer with his guitar in his hands.

But a solo album doesn’t look to likely for Apa. Hopefully he sticks to acting, though, he has plenty of fans to carry him on.