Well, this weekend played host to the second Bram Stoker Film Festival here in Whitby, so here are some quickie movie reviews of most of the films shown; I missed seeing The Collector and Demon Resurrection, and The Macabre World of Lavender Williams was cancelled due to a corrupted disc.
There was an interesting premise to this one, as it documents the last day in the lives of several people on an ordinary day in Los Angeles. The stories are tied together by a radio DJ, who is in the process of a complete mental breakdown after a fire nearly killed him and his family. I suppose this is supposed to be done in the "fly on the wall" style, with handheld shots mainly used and most of the dialogue sounding rather improvised. I would say it was a bit overlong and the message of cherishing each day as it might be your last is a bit heavy-handed, but it's an interesting idea handled with a great deal of polish.
Or as I call it "Night of the Living Dad". After his wife and children are killed, a zombie tries to protect his newborn zombie baby (I am dead serious with this; you even see the birth) and forms an unlikely bond with a human woman. Yeah, this film has a very weird premise. It's also shot in black-and-white and is almost entirely silent; not even the human characters speak aside from the odd grunt. Again, this went on longer than it should have, though the acting was okay considering the lack of dialogue. It was an experiment in silent film-making with a concept that was somewhat hard to swallow.
An Australian short about how a government experiment unleashes a plague of zombies and one man has to fight for his life. Pretty basic, and I get the feeling it's trying to push the lead character as the Australian Ash; the character's even called Bruce. It also makes the distinction between 28 Days Later-style Infected and traditional zombies more clear (as if it wasn't already). What can I say about this one - it was a splatterfest; nothing more, nothing less.
Winner of the festival's Best Special Effects award.
A German (I think) short about a trio trapped in a church basement when zombies invade. This was very dark and it was hard to see what was going on, not helped by excessive shaky-cam. Good gross special effects though, as you'd expect from this kind of film. Has a very depressing and abrupt ending though.
The vague recollections of a stoner and what happened to him and his stoner friends when they went on a trip to a remote cabin. We all know this kind of premise, but it really defies categorisation; it's like a cross between a horror film and a stoner comedy. The whole thing looks like an E.C. Horror comic, which seems to be the signature style of the director Devi Snively (who once again attended the festival). As you might expect from the involvement in drugs, it features a suitably whacked-out hallucination sequence. Has some very nice moments of dark humour and riffs on all sorts of horror conventions (the redneck turns out to be harmless while the smart-suited businessman is a killer).
Winner of the festival's Best Screenplay award.
A short about a masked killer that stalks a factory worker. Not much to say; it was short, gritty and pointless.
Not a lot to say about this short either, about a man who wakes up in an open shallow grave with amnesia. It was okay, but the twist was a little predictable.
This Belgian film won numerous awards; I have no fucking clue why as it's the biggest pile of artsy-fartsy nonsense I've ever seen. The plot's all over the place; does it involve the occult? A serial killer? An abusive mother? I don't know; plot points are dropped so damn quickly and the whole thing makes absolutely no sense. The first act, revolving around the lead character as a child suffering possible abuse at the hands of her grandmother (who apparently is a witch) would have been okay as a short, but the second act is where it falls apart. Literally NOTHING happens in it, and the third act isn't much better. Too much time is wasted with absolutely nothing. Also, what's with the extreme close-ups? I feel like the characters are trying to snog me. Overall, this was a load of overrated arse.
Again, this was a stinker. The plot's something about the shadows coming alive and attacking people, but then vampires are brought into the mix and that whole shadow plot is dropped. The plot is needlessly complicated and drops points and characters abruptly. The worst of it is that none of the characters were remotely likeable; everyone's either an idiot or an arsehole. The director of this film was at the festival, and I had to resist the temptation to give him a piece of my mind; this film sucked.
A pair of serial killers find out that their next victim isn't all she appears to be. This short worked; it was well-filmed, well-acted and didn't outstay its welcome. Not much else to say.
Up Under the Roof
A short about a boy who hears strange noises in his attic at night, and fears that a monster might be up there. It's reminiscent of fairy tales in how it plays on a child's fear of noises in the night, but it also reminds me a lot of the Lovecraft story The Rats in the Walls. This was a beautifully-made short; my pick of the short of the festival.
Called Dark Souls in English, this is about a man's attempts to find out what's going on when a bizarre disease overtakes his daughter. The explanation made me think of the black oil from the X-Files; I kept half-expecting Mulder and Scully to pop up at any minute. There's not a lot to say, but there were some unintentionally hilarious moments and parts didn't make a whole lot of sense. It was okay.
A short about what it's really like to be a vampire's assistant. I get the feeling it's taking the piss out of Darren Shan's works, as it's not as glamourous as the protagonist would believe. This was well-scripted and fun, with great performances.
Winner of the festival's Best Short award.
Not a lot to say about this German film where a man believes he's sharing a motel room with a serial killer. There's a twist to it, but again there's not a lot to say.
French comedy about a pair of vampires who try to blend in with society, but the husband has difficulty stopping his wife from eating the neighbours. The ending's a bit predictable, but then it could have gone any number of predictable ways. Maybe it was a bit too twee and cute, but it was good fun all the same.
A writer who tries to write a horror film to make ends meet gets some unwanted assistance from a psychopathic undead muse. This is a very dark comedy that moves at a nicely brisk pace. The whole film is snappy and likeable, with great performances from its cast and some great horror-related jokes. This was a lot of fun, and I'd recommend seeing it if you get the chance.
Winner of the festival's Best Picture and Audience Awards.
A Czech short about, obviously, attempts to contact the dead. This was interesting to see as this more than any other film made clear the distinctions between different country's views of horror, to the point where it becomes a sub-genre of its own. It was short and inoffensive with a nice gothic style.
Dans ton Sommeil
French thriller about a grieving mother who inadvertently winds up trusting a serial killer. The whole dead son angle is dropped pretty quickly (the husband quickly leaves the film with no explanation too), though it's implied that gives her a kind of maternal instinct to protect the killer. This was well put-together but the ending was bloody depressing; I always get the feeling that modern horror film-makers don't hold much hope for humanity, judging by the endings.
Renfield the Un-Dead
A Dracula sequel where it turns out the madman Renfield is still alive as some kind of uber-vamp in a modern city. This film is loaded with in-jokes and references to vampire films (it also has an obligatory Twilight joke). Clearly it's played for laughs as it's brain-meltingly stupid. The guy playing Renfield is great, and to its credit it does try to tie into the Dracula story and make some semblance of sense. However, some really wonky CG effects let it down, suggesting the ambition somewhat outstripped the budget. It's also far too long, clocking in at over two hours. So yeah, it's really stupid popcorn entertainment, but at least it's not Dracula the Un-Dead (no, I still haven't got over that aborted atrocity of a book).
Greasepaint and Gore
A documentary about the work of Roy Ashton, who did most of the make-up work on the Hammer films. A lot of his work was also on-display at the Hammer exhibit, and on the whole this became more of a celebration of Hammer films in general with some nice anecdotes from the writers and actors involved (including Christopher Lee himself!).
A Japanese monster movie about a creature known as the Kappa which evil Japanese Nazis want to use for suitably evil purposes. This film doesn't even try to disguise just how cheaply its made; you can see the strings, the models are even more obvious than usual, and so on. It quickly becomes apparent that the film's actually a piss-take; a homage to the 60s era of giant monster movies, making jokes about all sorts of things for fans of the genre (and even some really obscure gags like a Westerner who speaks Japanese while all the Japanese characters have their voices dubbed). Who would've thought the Japanese monster genre was capable of such self-flaggelation?
Thriller about three survivalists who go off into the woods, and events gradually drive one of them kill-crazy. It becomes a cat-and-mouse film, as the mental state of the killer gradually deteriorates. There were a couple of silly hallucination sequences which seemed out-of-place, but otherwise this was tight enough.
A short about two writers who lock themselves in a room to write out a script, only to end up killing each other. Not a lot to say; it was fun, with numerous jabs at artistic conflict when working on such a project.
Using the poems of Heinrich Hoffman as the basis, this short shows how a child's imagination ends up running away with them. This had a great grim fairy tale-like quality to it, with a suitable look and overall it was good fun.
The 3rd Letter
A sci-fi short in a dystopian future where everyone has to have bionic hearts in order to survive, and one man finds out his battery's running dry and his insurance has been cancelled. The look of the film kind of reminds me of Brazil and looks suitably gritty, and has a fairly traditional moral dilemma; would you be willing to sacrifice a loved one to save yourself? It leaves the ending open, which seems like a bit of a cop-out.
Western steampunk short in a post-apoc world where children are kidnapped to be sold or forced to pit-fight. Maybe it's just because I love steampunk in general, but this film looked great and flowed well.
Short about a priest who, after his wife is raped and murdered, undergoes a near-death experience after he attempts suicide. While I don't entirely remember the story of Job, never being a religious person myself, I suspect this is like a modern adaptation. I was pleasantly surprised by this film; it was well-written and put together, completely turning expectations on their heads.
The last of the indie films, this follows a girl who has to spend a month with her dad at this hippy commune he's in charge of. As you might expect, the eccentric-but-harmless community hides something much more sinister. The director stated that she wanted to try and make a film in the style of The Wicker Man, and she's actually pretty successful, maintaining that same creeping sense of dread and anxiety that can't be explained but won't let go. This is really what an American version of The Wicker Man should've been (though I prefer to think that the remake never happened), and I thought it was very well-done.
Winner of the festival's Best International Picture award.
Other films screened:
Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde
Dracula: Prince of Darkness
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter
The Wicker Man
The Devil Rides Out
Awards were also given to Hammer Studios for Services to the Horror Genre, and to The Wicker Man as Most Iconic British Horror Film. The director, Robin Hardy, appeared in person to claim the award and host a Q+A session, and even gave people a ten-minute sneak-peek at his new film The Wicker Tree (no, it's not a Wicker Man sequel, before you ask, though it goes along similar lines).
Next year I'll try and give more advance notice of the festival, as I would definitely recommend attending it if you're a fan of horror films (and I'm not just saying that because it's local!).