Friday, 28 September 2012

The House At The End OF The Street


We’ve seen a number of humdrum horror film titles over the years but House at the End of the Street could perhaps be the most generic one yet. And I’m afraid to say that it is a rather suitable heading for the films predominantly dreary, formulaic content.

Newly-divorced Susan (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter Elissa (Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence) move to an upscale, rural town in order to make a fresh start. When they learn that the house opposite was where a young girl murdered her parents, and that the family’s son Ryan (Max Thieriot) still resides in it, the nosy neighbours and jack-ass jerks at school insist to use its devastation to cast a lurking shadow over the town. But as Elissa befriends exiled loner Ryan, she discovers that the house still suppresses a sinister secret.

After conquering her challenging, action-packed role in Hunger Games earlier this year, Lawrence’s role as a disgruntled high-school teenager must have been a piece of cake in comparison. The majority of her screen time is spent exercising her angst against her mother or looking momentarily shocked at, say, the sound of a broken twig behind her - one of the many triggers of an semi-conscious roll of the eyes!

As proved countless times before, small budget horror by no means spells disaster. But in this case, little imagination and a lot of cliché clutter makes for a predictable and lagging plot. Suffering significantly from a lack of impacting atmosphere, the teenage romance upstairs with the creepy-girl-hidden-in-the-basement does little more than go through the motions. The character of intriguing loner Ryan is captivating and Elissa’s instinctual pull towards helping the emotionally damaged allows their relationship to grow into an innocent and tender understanding. But we can only sit back and wait for the tragedy to unfold, rightfully suspecting that Ryan’s deep mental scars will be something to do with it. A little frustrating too is the time we spend watching the girl escape from the basement… and then watching Ryan capture her and return the key to its original spot (why wouldn’t he hide the key somewhere else!?) Director… clearly initialises an intriguing story of ones mental delusion and disguise, but its effect is ultimately minimalised by its poor execution, and further suffocated by the rest of the characters pitiful problems.

It’s hard to believe that my concluding reaction would be largely negative when after the first two minutes I genuinely felt reassured that it wasn’t going to go down the tragic Hollywoodesque horror route that the likes of The Wicker Tree (2010), Fright Night (2011) or Playback (2012) did. The opening scene of the family murders is loaded with suspense, plunging into a girl’s vicious attack on her family, with crafty, flashy cinematography to indicate her possessive or disturbed state. While it makes an inviting introductory scene, it is probably its own worst enemy by instantly causing high, but regrettably unmet, expectations for the following 100 minutes, looking out of place in both style and approach as the rest sits back into the comfortable and unimaginative conventional screen shots. Max Thieriot impresses in his first major film role, playing a convincing psychologically damaged adolescent. His adoption of unnervy and qwerky mannerisms works to conceal his true nature, with just enough stamina for the audience to question his intentions until the suspended climax.
Writing this I am still uncertain of the relevance to the film’s title considering that the house is not clearly at the end of a street or particularly secluded, as it would suggest. Perhaps there is an element of pickiness in my accusation, but it bothered me nonetheless. NOT to be confused with, but perhaps should have taken tips from, low budget Italian exploitation films, The House on the Edge of the Park or Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. Now let’s stop with the hullabaloo of houses locale!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Imposter


Infamous serial imposter Frederic Bourdin has stolen the identities of over 500 missing children worldwide. In 1997, the French 23-year old claimed to be missing child Nicholas Barclay from San Antonio, Texas, who had disappeared at the age of 13 three years prior. Despite lacking the physical attributes of their American speaking blonde and blue-eyed Nicholas, he successfully convinced the Barclay family that he was their long lost son, ascribing his changing physicalities to the trauma from the sexual abuse he experienced during his kidnapping. It was only when a TV crew member, who was filming the family at the time, raised suspicion of his doubts that this was Nicholas that further fingerprints and DNA tests were carried out. In March 1998, five months after he had come to live with the Barclay’s in the USA, Bourdin was imprisoned and later sentenced to six years in prison after pleading to passport fraud and perjury. But his impersonations of missing children worldwide continued long within the bars of his cell.

His story has become world renowned with an explosive mass of tabloid press, and his hijacking of Nicholas Barclay’s identity has been more recently depicted in a fictionalised account in French director and screenwriter Jean-Paul Salome’s The Chameleon.

But this year, fact finally and favourably replaces fiction as documentary specialist Bart Layton delivers the definitive biographical documentary of the decade.

Featuring a catalogue of recent interviews accompanied with several reconstructions (Adam O’Brian playing younger Frederic Bourdin), Layton forms a clear and vivid account of the journey of Bourdin’s impersonation of Nicholas Barclay from both his, the Barclay families and authorities perspective over those five months. Though it is the 1997 incident that the documentary is primarily concerned with, Layton is essentially successful in capturing the bigger picture of Frederic Bourdin’s psychological plight by including a brief pre and post-1997 report of his life.

Due to the nature of the topic the lack of emotional response from the participants throughout the feature is surprising. Instead, the detailed descriptions from various Barclay family members and Bourdin himself are effectively bold, candid, direct and largely emotionless.

The bio-doc immaculately unveils the mind and the manipulative mastery of Bourdin. His unnervingly confidence and his self-assuring ability to convince and persuade withdraws the suspicion of the Barclay’s involvement in Nicholas’ disappearance much less than it did in the film adaptation (that concluded with the uncovering of the family secret - that the death of Nicholas was at their hands.) Although unwelcome, it is difficult not to seep sympathy for the now-retired imposter Bourdin as he recalls his absent childhood and his longing plea to find love and affection. But his overriding selfishness and his natural blight, all the more clear in his final words in the documentary, reminds us of his ever-present determination to be accepted and his nonchalant attitude to exercise his cruel obsession at the expense of others misery and heartbreak.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Frightfest the 13th: The Bleedin' Good and the Bloody Awful

The good, the bad and the ugly from this year’s Frightfest…



  • Sleep Tight ****
Ever wondered what is lurking beneath your bed at night? Director of REC Jaume Balaguero delivers this dark and sinister psychological thriller about an apartment janitor Cesar who sneaks into resident Clara’s apartment at night and hides under her bed, waiting until she is asleep to carry out his disturbing fantasies. In addition to constructing a captivating plot about a man’s obsession, Balaguero creates a controlled suspense as well as a lasting intensity that seeps a creepy uneasiness.

  • V/H/S ***
Six tapes, six stories, six directors. An anthology of short found footage clips that will make you give late night skyping a second thought. Framed by a story of a group of hoodlums who are paid to break into a house to obtain a certain rare vhs tape, the rest of the stories are the ones that they regretfully come across during their search. Boasting variety in plots, lengths and twists, V/H/S uses several shooting methods, covering every piece of technology that has a record button!

  • Sinister ****
Ethan Hawke stars as true-crime writer Elis who is desperate to recoup his former success and make his next book a hit. But when he moves his family to a house that was once a crime scene in a series of family murders spanning five decades in a final hope for inspiration, he finds a box in the attic full of reels that contain footage of these deaths. Convinced that he is seeing mysterious figures lurking around his house that resemble those in the footage, he soon realises that he is way beyond his professional limits and that danger is creeping closer and closer to his family. A nail-biting supernatural thriller by director of THE EXORCIST OF EMILY ROSE Scott Derrickson that holds its restraint and suspense while offering plenty of scares that will keep you jumping out of your seat.

  • Chained ***
Jennifer Chambers Lynch directs this dark chiller, delivering what she herself describes as a psychological look into “how monsters are born.” Cab-driver Bob spends his days kidnapping girls off the city streets, taking them to his secluded house in the country and raping and killing them before burying their corpses in his garage. When he carries out this ritual on Tim’s mother, young Tim is left in the hands of the serial killer. Time passes and, after years of being locked up and kept as a slave, Tim must decide whether he is to stay chained up in his captures house forever or choose the life of a killer for his freedom. Whilst CHAINED is both an adequately moving and troubling account of a deranged man teaching a young boy his murdering methods, the plot tries to do too much towards its conclusion and a climatic twist opens doors that are never sufficiently closed.

  • Tulpa ***

SHADOW director Federico Zampaglione attempts to revive the Italian giallo horror genre in this classic whodunit murder mystery. Businesswoman Lisa spends her days at the top of the corporate game, but at night her little dark secret is exercised when she regularly visits an underground Club Tulpa where a Tibetan Buddhist guru teaches that personal freedom can be found through promiscuous free sex. But when her lovers in Tulpa are being murdered one by one, her secret world runs risk of being uncovered and her life is endangered. A colourful masterpiece that closely resembles the classic artwork and imagery of giallo directors Bava, Argento and Fulci but which ultimately suffers in its unnecessary and distracting use of bad dialogue and dubbing.


  • The Thompsons **
Our anguished vampire family return with a new name in this sequel to the 2006 feature THE HAMILTONS. Desperate for some place to go after being forced to leave their home town, the Thompson family are faced with an offer they can’t refuse: ancient vampire clan the Stuart’s offer them shelter, solace and a place to belong their cosy English town. But when they arrive it is clear that their intentions are not so welcoming. The story is comprehendible and the story runs smoothly enough, but the charming elements of its predecessor are absent: the mystery of whether it’s entirely a vampire movie is lost, and the poetic resonance that ‘they have a disease and are not monsters’ is imperceptible. With its content poorly sourcing the first film of the franchise, the quality of the plot stands alone and thus runs the risk of it simply being another teen-vamp movie.

  • Under the Bed *
A child’s worst nightmare is played out onscreen when Jonny and younger brother Gattlin are tormented at night by a terrorizing monster hidden under their bed. With an engaging insight to Jonny’s mental and emotional past instantly raising questions about the truth of his claims -  similar to the opening scenario in supernatural thriller THE HAUNTING IN CONNETICUT - we are offered a promising start. But when the brothers decide to team up in a bizarre battle with the bed monsters with nothing more than a home-made doctor-who-like torch, the haunting horror cripples into nothing more than a kid’s fantasy film accompanied by cheesy acting and pointless random chunks of narrative. As the brother’s night terror unfolds and the monsters enter next-door neighbour’s territory, it appears that the threat is no longer restricted to under the bed - perhaps it should have been.

  • After **
Two strangers survive a road accident and wake up to find that they are alone in their small hometown which is now an unfamiliar and unworldly existence. Being slowly engulfed by a foreboding black mist that conceals ravenous creatures, the two form an unlikely alliance to work out the truth about their lonely isolation. The sci-fi thriller goes through the motions of a struggle to understand the strange happenings in a race against time but the outcome is realised by the viewer long before the characters figure it out. AFTER is visually impressive in its bold exploration of dreamlike and imaginative atmospheres and, following a similar pattern than that seen in Gareth Evans’ MONSTERS, the blossoming relationship of the pair is a welcome diversion from the hardships of the situation. But again this falls short to being unconvincing and predictable- a severely dull watch after the visual splendour of the dark fantastical ‘world’ is appreciated.

  • Outpost II: The Black Sun **
During the close of WW2, German scientist Klausener worked on a terrifying new technology with the power to create his own immortal Nazi army. Now a NATO force is being deployed to go to Eastern Europe and stop whatever is relentlessly killing everyone in its path. Ruthless war investigator Lena teams up with adventurer Wallace to track down infamous war criminal Klausener. But when the duo are confronted by a swarm of Nazi Storm Troopers, they find themselves in dead mans land and are forced to team up with the Special Unit forces in an attempt to stop the supernatural machinery behind their monstrous regime. While containing some brief references, the sequel lacks considerable relevance to OUTPOST, replacing originality and horror rudiments with 100 minutes of explosively brutal action set pieces. The narrative and script is lifeless but coherently sustained - at least until its conclusion takes several bizarre turns, one of which in the purposeless, cackling wicked-witch type nurse who chases the good guys around the tunnels with a hypodermic needle! The characters are not in the slightest bit interesting (if anything too serious for a zombie flick), nor has anything been noticeably advanced with the race-running, knife-stabbing zombies- they’re still the blood-thirsty, human digesting brutal blighters we saw in the first! After the mediocre success of its predecessor, one wondered where else the franchise could go. But with this sequel set for a straight to DVD release and with a prequel in production, prepare for yet more Nazi Zombie regimes!

  • Hidden in the Woods **
Chilean director Patricio Valladares treats us to a large slice of exploitation of the rawest kind! Brought up in forest isolation, tormented sisters Ana and Anny seize the opportunity to escape their sexually abusive father when the social services call. Taking their incest son/brother with them, the trio journey through in the woods to flee their former lives. But big time drug boss Costello and his hot-headed henchmen are determined to stop them in their tracks to find out where their now imprisoned father is storing a multi-million dollar drug stash. Rape, revenge, prostitution and cannibalism drive the shock factor in this Chilean frenzy. But unfortunately this can only make up for the unrealistic and seemingly motiveless madmen mafia pursuit, which too heavily features exaggerated machismo gun shoot-outs that boast plenty of violent carnage, but cop out of showing any respectful special effects.


More Gore to look out for:

  • Paura 3D          
  • The Seasoning House
  • [Rec] 3: Genesis 
  • Maniac
  • Tower Block
  • Sawney: Flesh of Man
  • Before Dawn
  • Berberian Sound Studio
  • We are the Night
  •  Inbred
  • The Arrival of Wang
  • Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut
To see more about the event, this year’s films and what FRIGHTFEST has in store for future dates and festivals, visit