FrightFest

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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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.