FrightFest 2014 Diary – The Heart of Dark Comedy

By Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

zombeaversOver the years at FrightFest I’ve always looked out for the comedies which play the festival. The very first film I saw was Black Sheep, a New Zealand horror comedy about zombified sheep hell bent on eating people. Watching it with that audience, it was hilarious, laughter is infectious at the festival and I got swept along with it. I’ve since revisited the film and it’s just isn’t that funny, or as funny as I remember it that night.

So, what did this year’s festival have in store for me? Well Dead Snow 2, Zombeavers, WolfCop and Life after Beth were the four I had planned to see. However, Dead Snow 2 was playing the horror main screen while WolfCop was in the discovery screen. A bad clash to say the least! The only way around this problem was to buy a ticket for the earlier screening of Dead Snow in the Arrow screen. Next, I just had to make sure I got myself a Discovery ticket for WolfCop, else I’d be watching Dead Snow 2 again or going to the Phoenix for a drink; I got a ticket.

Opening night and Zombeavers gets the midnight slot, playing to an almost full house; a few always disappear to the Phoenix or need to get the last tube or bus home, but this is an impressive turnout.

Zombeavers, very much like Black Sheep, plays on the animals of choice, becoming infected by some man made toxic waste – isn’t that nearly always the case? This bright green goo, having an adverse effect on the local beaver colony, makes flesh and bone much more appetising than gnawing on a lump of wood now. Introduce the food, a group of attractive college girls (of course) staying at a relative’s cabin by the lake. One’s trying to get over her cheating boyfriend, the others are there to keep her company. Obviously the boyfriends turn up at some point, just to add to the expected body count and group tension; the cheating boyfriend, who hates who and the one who would ditch the others in a beaver attack to save themselves. The typical old couple living next door, a hunter who you wouldn’t trust as far as you could throw him and of course don’t forget the dog; there is always a dog. Actually the hunter and the dog gag are a couple of the best things in the whole thing.

Jordan Rubin, directing his first feature, doesn’t do anything wrong really, it’s just by-the-numbers. He plays on all the same beats every other crazy, zombified animal vs humans film has used before. The cast are all relatively unknown (well, unknown to me) although I did recognise Rex Lin (CSI Miami) as the hunter and as I said before, he’s the best thing in it. Using animatronics, which on the whole are very good, gave the film some old school charm and definitely beats a colony of psychotic CGI beaver’s any day.

Now, I don’t mind these films on the whole, but the visual gags have nearly all been covered now. It needs strong writing and decent acting to make it stand out from all the other crazy killer animal films already out there. While there are some funny moments, they are mostly visual as the script and the acting were rather flat. It just didn’t stand out from the crowd in the end, which was a shame because I really wanted to like this film.

Dead Snow 2: Red Vs Dead was one of my most anticipated films at this year’s festival. Twitter was full of positive comments before FrightFest and being a big fan of the original I was extremely excited to see this.

Martin’s nightmare continues; he thinks he’s survived, that he’s escaped the Nazi zombies with only losing his arm (a small price to pay after the carnage he’s witnessed). But, it’s not over, not yet. He still has one gold coin and Herzog wants it back. In the fight for the coin, Herzog loses his arm but recovers the gold. Martin awakes next day in hospital with a new arm… Herzog’s arm! Found in the car, the doctors assumed it was his and attached it instead. Meanwhile, Herzog has remembered his original mission and now he’s going to complete it; plus he as a new arm, Martin’s arm. The local police are on Martin’s case as well and they plan to catch him before the big city cops arrive on the scene and get the glory. Martin knows Herzog’s plan through the arm’s connection to its former host. Armed with his new zombie arm and the zombie squad from America, he sets out to defeat Herzog and his army of zombies.

dead snow 2

Tommy Wirkola returns to his original Dead Snow and continues the story from literally the last frame of the first film. He takes everything he did in the first and makes it bigger and better in every way possible. Escaping the confines of the snow bound cabin, Wirkola really lets loose with the scope of the sequel. Now his zombie army are taking down towns and slaying everybody that gets in their way. It’s bolder in content, with more gore, blood and some “really did they just do that” moments that I just couldn’t stop laughing at. From start to finish I laughed and so did the Arrow screen. The FrightFest crowd I saw it with were laughing, cheering and clapping. Horror comedy at its best!

Vegar Hoel returns as Martin and carries the film easily, he is simply brilliant. Orjan Gamst is great back in the role of Herzog. While Daniel, Monica and Blake are played by Martin Starr (Adventureland), Jocelyn DeBoer and Ingrid Hass (Scott Pilgrim vs The World) and form the Zombie Squad. Stig Frode Henriksen is Glenn the tour guide who has some great lines and Derek Mears as Stavarin, the action police officer who knows nothing, and Amrita Acharia as Reidun, the cop that does know everything. They are all great characters and drive the story along backed by the strong script, super visuals and a great sense of fun.

For once my expectations were rewarded. Here was a sequel which was better in every way than its predecessor. My comedy of the festival without doubt and my second favourite film all weekend.

WolfCop was another film with a big social media following. How could this fail to be entertaining and, more than that, funny? I mean he’s a werewolf and a cop, the jokes should write themselves.

Lou Garou is a local police officer with a drink problem, a major drink problem usually resulting in a complete blackout of the previous night’s events. Yet his problems are about to get a whole lot worse, a lot bloodier and hairier than he could ever imagine. Cursed, he now becomes a werewolf, blacking out after each transformation. Lou’s memory is fuzzy and he blames the drink. Yet as the vicious attacks continue and the bodies mount up, all the clues point towards Lou being the culprit. With the help of his friend, Willie, he sets out to solve the case, but Tina, another police officer, is already one step ahead. She confronts Lou, but there are darker forces at work and Lou soon realises that he’s going to need the wolf to solve this case and beat the evil in his town.

Leo Fafard as Lou gives a solid performance as the “I couldn’t give a shit” drunken cop, and his transformation into a person who could give a shit is well handled. Amy Matysio is the standout cop, Tina, and she gives a good performance, if a little underused. The rest of the cast are all fine; Jonathen Cherry as Willie has the majority of the best lines throughout the film. The direction by Lowell Dean (13 Eerie) is solid, though it’s the writing which I felt was the weakest aspect of the film. It’s not bad and does have its moments, it just seemed a little flat. The action is very well handled and the werewolf attacks were gory and extremely bloody. The look of the werewolf was along the lines of The Wolfman, allowing him to wear the cop uniform and obviously be able to talk and of course have sex! One of the funnier scenes (or not, depending on your taste). Of course, being a wolf, he needs a car to reflect his ferocious animal nature; time to pimp the police car.

I really wanted to like WolfCop, I had bent over backwards to see it. I did like quite a bit of it really, but I just couldn’t figure out its tone and I’m still struggling to find it now. Either it was a little more serious than I expected or I just didn’t find it that funny, I’m not sure which. Alhough I remember some laughter, it wasn’t in the same league as Dead Snow 2, which I think that was what I was expecting. Yet, while not finding it that funny, it’s still a solid b-movie and worth having a look at. You may just find it a lot funnier than I did.life after beth

Life After Beth wasn’t a film I had noticed on my first look through Saturday’s schedule. With no competition in the Discovery screen, it picked itself and I left it at that.

Zach is missing his recently deceased girlfriend, Beth. He’s even taken to playing chess with her dad, Maury, and wearing Beth’s scarf in the middle of summer. Then one day, he thinks he sees Beth. He’s convinced it’s her and tries to prove he’s not seeing things. Beth is alive! Well, sort of. Her parents are keeping her housebound, but Zach wants to see her, rekindle their relationship and go hiking. But she’s turning more zombie every day and soon she wants to start eating people, even Zach.

Zach, played by Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, Parks & Recreation) as Beth are both superb. There is a strong connection between them which comes through in their performance and the writing which takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. From the quite depressing lows to the extremely funny highs, it’s a great ride and one I was sorry to see end. The rest of the cast are all extremely good as well; Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly as Beth’s parents; Paul Riser and Cheryl Hines as Zach’s parents; and a great performance from Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach’s older brother Kyle.

Life After Beth is written by Jeff Baena – it is also his directional debut and it’s a pretty impressive one at that. Some of the visual gags are superb and extremely funny, especially one particular scene with a cooker which was hilarious.

Boasting a strong cast, backed with a great script, this was a joy to watch and ranked third in my best of FrightFest list, behind Dead Snow 2 and The House At The End Of Time. I do believe it is scheduled for a cinema release soon. It’s one I would recommend seeing wholeheartedly. I’ll be going back to see it!

You can check out what else Mike has seen at this year’s FrightFest here, including Truth or Dare, The Guest and more!

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