Thursday, 30 August 2012



Unlucky for some…

FRIGHTFEST, sponsored by FILM4, is a 5-day Horror and Fantasy Film Festival based in London that screens a multitude of UK, European and Worldwide premieres of the most highly-anticipated horror films of the year. Holding its first major event in 2000, Frightfest has since developed into a successful, not-to-be-missed annual event for fans of the genre. The festival is increasingly becoming recognised as not only the most highly regarded of its kind in the UK, but also in the world, alongside the likes of America’s largest and longest running horror film festival SCREAMFEST and fan-favourite TORONTO AFTER DARK FILM FESTIVAL.

Labelled by director Guillermo del Toro (PANS LABRYTNH, CRONOS, THE DEVILS BACKBONE) as “The Woodstock of Gore,” this UK horror event attracts the very best directors, producers, casts (and fans!) of the genre from all over the world, unveiling a unique mixture of talent from all enthusiasts across the industry.

In it’s thirteenth consecutive year, FRIGHTFEST THE 13TH did not disappoint. As my third consecutive year at FRIGHTFEST I was pleased to be back amongst the real buffs of the genre and immersed in gore galore! Although FRIGHTFEST now holds three established events (a smaller version of the summer festival with a similar set-up and held in February as part of Glasgow’s International Film Festival, and also an all-nighter held over the Halloween period) it is this occasion that really comes alive with buzz and excitement and the prosperity and diversity that the genre can offer.

When I arrived at Leicester Square’s Empire Cinema early Thursday afternoon, I followed the ritual of picking up my weekend pass and the festival programme and started rooting through line-up’s and the short descriptions of each chosen film. I took out my pen and started to *star* what I thought looked to be the promising films of the five days, whilst too looking decidingly at the DISCOVERY SCREEN line-up. Despite it always containing a few appealing films, every year I can never seem to tear myself away from the MAIN SCREEN for the sake of my ever present “fomo”- fear.of.missing.out! (Though it’s always these films that you pretend are not there and later end up buying on DVD and being pleasantly surprised). With the festival appearing to grow in size each year, another of Empire’s screens (labelled the RE-DISCOVERY SCREEN) was being used to show the highlights of their Glasgow Festival – as well as this stretching the festival to host a grand 50 films, I think it’s a nice touch to give people who perhaps cannot justify the travel for a two-day event or who cannot get away from work twice a year the opportunity to watch the films shown at Glasgow in the months beforehand.

The World Premiere of Paul Hyett’s THE SEASONING HOUSE opened the weekend on Thursday evening. Known in the industry for his work on various British horror movies as a special effects make-up artist (THE DESCENT, EDEN LAKE, THE WOMAN IN BLACK), Hyett’s directorial debut kick-started the festival with a gritty, Eastern European movie about a girl who is kidnapped by the army during the Balkan war in the mid 90’s and used as a slave in a seasoning house. Mirroring the likes of MARTYRS and HOSTEL, Hyett generates a feeling of relentless claustrophobia as malicious physical and sexual torture is tightly bound within the walls of the house.

The festival followed its standard routine of screening five/six premieres per day back-to-back as you reluctantly count down from twenty-four to that final one film – an experience that must closely resemble one’s feelings when they unwrap their last rolo!

The mad Manetti brothers returned this summer with PAURA 3D following the encouraging reception of their first horror/sci-fi film L’ARRIVO DI WANG shown earlier this year at Frightfest Glasgow. A very different film to their first, PAURA- meaning ‘fear’ in Italian- intended to create exactly that, throwing the sci-fi elements aside. With an intriguing situation and a nightmare waiting to happen for three young boys perfectly set-up, the film falls a bit short in its final hour and the impression of a layered plot and a likely enticing twist in the story, gives way to an uninteresting easy way out.

NIGHTBREED: THE CABAL CUT was also a pleasant inclusion in the programme. Following many questions and queries over a substantial amount of lost footage that was shot but not included in its heavily reduced studio release in 1990, Russell Cherrington and Mark Miller have been on a quest to restore the original footage that was shot to follow Clive Barker’s original (3 hour) script. Having not seen the 1990 studio release before I wondered how the film had ever become successful without the additional footage. What appeared to be the most important and somewhat vital explanatory elements within the now 2 hour 37 minute film had only just been found and included (easily identifiable by the differing quality of the three ‘parts’.) Although the determined pair still have a long way to go with the project in terms of digitally remastering the newfound reels and VHS clips, they believe it will eventually reach Blu-ray - A masterful achievement for the pair and a true gift for all original lovers of the Nightbreed.

Back in February we saw a sneaky preview clip of Federico Zampaglione’s attempt at his own Italian giallo horror film, TULPA. With a good audience reaction and an as-ever excited Federico bouncing around the stage, I knew that the premiere of this film was in store for us this weekend. With obvious and self-stated influences from the likes of Bava and Argento, TULPA was a true love letter to 70/80’s giallo style. But perhaps too true – although the film looked cinematically attractive and the music score was spot on (composed by his brother and Andrea Moscianese and not, in Federico’s words, “a typical score you’d expect from a giallo… [but] something modern”), the characters voices were badly dubbed and the script was poor. Whether or not it simply didn’t translate very well to English I guess we will never know (unless they release a purely subtitled version) but it was an unfortunate comedic disturbance on the audience, deviating them away from the dark and ominous themed plot, and drawing attention to what seemed like playful, hammy acting. Federico delighted in key plot elements of the typical giallo with the deviant sexual presence, occult themes and symbols (A “Tulpa” being part of a traditional Tibetan Buddhism) and more crucially the whodunit murder mystery with the hidden killer in black cloak and hat…and not to forget, the black gloves.

Matthias Hoene revelled in this year’s line-up as director of zombie-infested geezer gala COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES and co-producer of council house versus lone sniper TOWER BLOCK (the weekend’s closing film.) Beginning before the film had, with his stand-up-comedy-like-introduction, Hoene didn’t fail to get the audience in high spirits – and at least this time it was intentional!

Spoilt by the number of cast and crew that attend these premieres, Q&A’s that follow- always made interesting by some quirky question from the audience or a bonkers story from the director. I’ll never forget Glasgow Frightfest 2011 when Jason Eisner stripped and did the whole Q&A for HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN just in his underpants!

Also featured as an intricate part of the weekend is the INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILM SHOWCASE, ANDY NYMAN’S QUIZ FROM HELL, and some surprise guests and premiere trailers of upcoming releases (one of which was a first look at a new compilation trailer for Season 3 of THE WALKING DEAD due to be aired in the UK in October.) But what trumps these “special events”, especially this time, is TOTAL FILM’S TOTAL ICON INTERVIEW. This year, Italian horror director Dario Argento returned to Frightfest for the first time in four years (since his appearance at 2008 when his MOTHER OF TEARS got its UK premiere in the frightfest programme). While the interview with last year’s candidate actor/director/producer Larry Fessenden had been a highlight of 2011’s Frightfest, I knew that this time I was facing one of the biggest horror icon legend of the last four decades. Interviewed at length by Total Film’s Jamie Graham, Dario spoke about his upcoming Dracula 3D release and what inspired him to rework such a classic novel and, perhaps more interestingly, why he wanted to shoot it in 3D. But what was inevitably even more interesting than that was of course the questions about his previous influences; his mastery of the Italian giallo horror film (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, CAT ‘O NINE TAILS); how he entered filmmaking, and more specifically, the horror genre; and how he “imagined” or “dreamed” the artistically visual and audio elements so apparent in his most successful genre-classics (SUSPIRIA, PHENOMENA, TENEBRAE, INFERNO, DEEP RED.)


For a transcribed version of the entire interview, visit

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Exit Humanity


Four years after his directorial debut with winter chiller, Scarce (2008), John Geddes returns with this gritty zombie meets American West drama.

It’s 1865 in Tennessee, in the midst of the brutal American Civil War, and Edward Young returns from a hunting trip to find his wife contaminated with a violent disease and his son missing. Being forced to shoot dead his beloved wife, he searches the forests for his son - but it isn’t long until he finds him in a similar infected state. His life ripped from him, Edward has nothing left. Believed to have failed as a man, husband and father, he is desperate to fulfil his last promise to his son and take him to a waterfall. Edward packs his son’s ashes and begins his journey, leaving his former and once-content life burning to the ground.

The ‘story,’ told as a first hand account from a diary that Edward kept during his ordeal, is framed by a series of chapters and narrated by Malcolm Young (Brian Cox), an ancestor to Edward and the beholder of his diary. While voice-over narration can often seem displaced and fall victim to becoming detached from the interior diegesis, the storytelling here is well upheld and well-balanced throughout. And what better voice to expresses the overwhelming emotions of battle- of remorse and pain, of anger and vengeance- than King Lear himself, Brian Cox.

Frequent but short animations of sketchbook illustrations give the picture another attractive dimension, being graphically impressive whilst constantly reminding the viewer of the raw storytelling format.

The first chapter of the account deals firstly with Edward’s unbearable sadness and the agony he feels over the loss of his loved ones, and secondly with his conflicting curiosity with the zombie-like, plague-stricken people. Edward studies the newly developed, irrational behaviour of an infected neighbour, taking notes of their biting nature in order to aid survival.

Exit Humanity disregards modern cinematic advances in zombie narratives. Here, we scrap the past century of the likes of Romero and Fulci and return to the very roots of zombie-ism. Portrayed as the world’s first encounter of the walking dead, we are offered a refreshingly unique take on an apocalyptic disaster quite like never before.

The figures themselves are not racing around the forest with gruesome dishevelled features and missing half a head. Recently revived in the likes of ongoing TV series The Walking Dead, they boast simplicity and are tastefully crafted (as tasteful as a discoloured face, black eyes and drooling mouths can be!) For blood-thirsty fans that thrive on blood, guts and gore, this is not the film for them – perhaps see the previous review for a film of this disposition.

The contaminated population are not the malicious, inhumanly strong and overly threatening figures, but portrayed as rather sympathetically helpless- as monsters that once were men- as Edward fearlessly clings onto his affected son whilst crying out in despair.

It would be easy to label Exit Humanity as a zombie movie. But that wouldn’t do justice to Geddes. The word ‘zombie’ is never used in the film, the contamination being referred to as simply “another plague.” As General Williamson’s doctor fails to understand what the disease is, it is eventually explained to have been caused by a supernatural curse – another nicely fitting flagpole of the 19th century era and a somewhat different, but welcome, reasoning from that of the conventional scientific-experiment-gone-wrong justification.

The battle is not with the “plague” as such and Geddes never seriously initiates a human versus zombie feud. Instead, it is with General Williamson (Bill Moseley) and his possy who have heard that someone has immunity to the fatal bites. Prepared to kidnap and kill to get hold of “the one” and use them to produce a cure, is it the undead or living who really exit humanity? Moseley seems to have recently grasped the villain role firmly with two hands. First playing a child killer in Robert Lieberman’s The Tortured (2010) and now pulling off a convincing performance as a dastardly war captain trying to seize control of the population and showing no mercy for the innocent. Gibson however carries a large amount of the film as our true war hero, sweetly counterbalancing the wickedness of Moseley’s character. His emotional capacity is stretched by Geddes - and it certainly pays off. Gibson provides a truly compelling and heartbreaking performance of a lost man desperately trying to seek hope and redemption which he carries well throughout.

And of course, it would be hard to ignore the casting of much loved horror veteran Dee Wallace as an exiled witch ‘Eve’. With the ability to add grace to any horror film, this role fits our horror icon like a mask to a monster …[and is perhaps a warm-up for her more recent role as a guru in Rob Zombie’s upcoming The Lords of Salem, set for release later this year!]
After 108 minutes and when the credits started to roll, I struggled to uphold my initial thoughts that this was going to be a horror film. Yes, it has some resemblances to the established zombie film, but includes traditional conventions of the Action and Adventure, and even the Western style (with a two man gun stand off to conclude the combat) that we cannot ignore.

What Geddes unveils is well balanced, mixed-genre film revealing a true depiction of an honest man who has lost everything; an autobiographical tale of a broken man, stricken with grief and riddled with sorrow to the point of suicide, who finds a new reason to live. He learns to embrace a world of darkness; to embrace a life amongst the walking dead.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Zombie 108 (Z-108)

ZOMBIE 108 (Z-108) **

Funded by 900 genre fans and causing a big buzz within the horror scene, upcoming director Joe Chein delivers a pulsating, blood-gushing zombie flick.

A scientific experiment goes wrong and a virus is set loose in Taipei, turning the city’s people into ravenous zombies. While the Army and SWAT teams oversee evacuation, the neighbourhood Ximending’s gang- unaware of the chaos unfolding around them- try and disrupt their operations. But when they too come under zombie attack, the police and gang form an unlikely alliance for their best chance of survival.

It certainly isn’t an original storyline- something that perhaps would have saved it from being ‘just another zombie film.’ With obvious influences from the highly successful 28 days later franchise evident in the opening scene of rampage and disorder, a large proportion of the narrative feels in some way or another ‘borrowed.’ But what separates it from the countless number of zombie movies Chein has evidently watched and been openly influenced by, is the inclusion of a sideline plot. Whereas in zombie or post-apocalyptic movies we typically follow one group of strangers for the duration of the movie with individuals being picked off one by one until only the hero or heroine remains, Z-108 creates multiple characters stuck in different situations, stemming the narrative until they come together only towards the end. While the police and gangs are fighting off zombies and trying to prevent the virus from spreading to each other, we also see Linda (Yvonne Yao) and her daughter Chloe (Chloe Lin) being kidnapped and tortured by a mad-man making the most of the end-of-the-world crisis. Using captured zombies for manual labour to power the electricity in his home, and taking advantage of the helplessness of others and lack of police enforcement to kidnap, rape and murder women, the sociopath pervert (Chien Jen Hao) certainly broadens the scope of extreme shock and is a temporary distraction from the dull familiarity of the zombie led design.

What eastern directors, and Chein alike, seem to do so well is to take a step back now and again- giving the audience a necessary breather from the adrenalin pumping zombie action- and reflect on the emotions of the characters. A memorable example is when the gang leader or ‘big boss’ asks to kill his wife as she turns into a ravenous, blood spitting subhuman before him. The continually beating grunge/garage music which is likely to trigger a headache is replaced by a slower, more classical sound and the camera momentarily stops jumping around and trying to keep up with the pace of its soundtrack.

Die-hard genre fans have much to appreciate in the way of gruesome and grisly gore. With several exploding zombie heads, a mangled torso crawling along the floor and a body axed slowly to death, with a bit of martial arts thrown in, prepare for 90 minutes of stomach-churning as violence and bloodshed is not spared. Despite an impressive range of zombie effects (though neon yellow eyes and faces half mutilated as soon as they turn are perhaps a bit farfetched), the zombies themselves are run of the mill and the transformations are unimpressively sudden. Most of the characters ‘turn’ and there aren’t any that you can really cheer for (except perhaps the kidnapped woman who, when she exerts her revenge with an axe to the perverts limp body, you cant help but feel pleased for her.) The acting is acceptable but nothing exceptional, the generic foreigner confronting a naked zombie with, “you can’t have my number, bitch.”

A zombie movie that certainly doesn’t stand out from the rest, and by no means a zombie classic that can be compared to the likes of Romero’s work. Although a decent first attempt to parallel the successful, spine-chilling horror genre films of Japan, new-kid-on-the-block Taiwan haven’t quite achieved the necessary level for a rivalry with this movie. But with the execution of the first zombie movie in the history of their cinema, Z-108 will certainly put them on the map with expectations of future horror releases.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Simple Life


Five-time award winner at the 31st Annual Hong Kong Film Awards A SIMPLE LIFE is coming of age drama - but not the teen-angst tale that has been so deeply explored in the recent decades of cinema. Instead, a story of a woman coming to terms with retirement and old age.

Following a stroke, Ah Tao decides to retire as a maid and take up residence in a care home. But after 60 years of service to several generations of one family, she is still matron to one of the family members, Roger (Andy Lau), whom ensures she is in good hands when her physical health decreases. She struggles to be doted on as former masters and mistresses come bearing gifts and bring comfort, whilst trying to accept her condition as she watches both the old and young and less fortunate pass through the doors of the home.

 A Simple Life doesn’t just depict an honest and heart warming journey of a woman coping with the transition towards elderliness and frailty, physical deterioration and dependence. Amidst the gradual struggle and the inevitable and unfair robbing of health that old age brings, lies a touching story of a profound family friendship. Not blood-related members but as close to it (always referring to each other as god-son or Aunt), Ah Toa and Roger's relationship is not one of perhaps a conventional family obligation, but one of a deep sense of gratification and respect as their roles become conditionally reversed and their responsibilities for each other swap hands.

Andy Lau (Internal Affairs, 2002 and House of Flying Daggers, 2004) and Deannie Yip (who hasn’t acted in anything substantial in a decade) reunite after numerous past collaborations (The Truth, 1988 and Prince Charming, 1999), forming an inspiring and moving on-screen bond. Their sentimental connection is transparent in both their light-hearted and jovial exchanges (teasing one another as they walk through the park arm in arm), and when there is but little need for words.

Inspired by the true story of the producer (Roger Lee) and his servant, writers Susan Chan and Yan-lam Lee, and director Anne Hui bring plenty of heartbreak, but also a lingering sense of reassurance and joy, a welcomed measure of cheerful optimism, in this stunning portrayal of the latter period of one’s, ‘simple life.’