All posts by Mike

Film4 FrightFest 2015 Preview

It’s that time again where give the batteries in our torches a quick shake to get them working, brush the cobwebs out of the cellar doorway and gingerly tip-toe through the darkness and tap-tap-tap on the lid to the coffin where we keep Mike Shawcross. Come on, Mike. Time to wake up, drink the blood of a few buxom-virgins and tell us what you’ll personally be seeing at this year’s FrightFest, following yesterday’s announcement from Film4.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

Another year, another FrightFest and the UK’s première genre festival continues to grow and grow. In its 16th year it continues to impress with what looks to be an incredible line up, another screen and more parties. There does seem an aspect to bring the FrightFest community together with a few more social events. The Duke Mitchell Club was fantastic fun last year and one event I will be visiting this year. We have a Karaoke party as well (not for me!)

As for the films, so many I want to see, so many I’m going to have to miss out on… bigger festival more choice, bigger headache. Over the last few years the Discovery screens have shown the breakout films, the gems people talk about for weeks to come. The Borderlands was last year’s big discovery film; I wonder what will it be this year?

turbo kidOpening night brings monster wasps with Stung, post-apocalyptic sci-fi Turbo Kid and Irish witch-horror Cherry Tree; although personally I think Turbo Kid stands out here. Friday on the main screen and highlights look like We Are Still Here, a ghost story with vengeful spirits [which Paul Field recently raved about on the Failed Critics Podcast]. James Wan delivers more horror as producer on Demonic. I do like his work so will be staying in my seat for this one. Hellions looks interesting, starring Chloe Rose as she attempts to survive from trick-or-treaters from Hell on Halloween night. In the discovery screen 1 – Aaaaaaaah! from Steve Oram looks worth a watch, starring Toyah Willcox. Horror-comedy Bloodsucking Bastards is another one I’ll be checking out. DS 2 (Discovery Screen 2) we have III, a Russian film blending religious iconography with a violent disease, which I’ve been interested in for a while, and Final Girl, which sounds fun with Abigail Breslin as a lethal assassin hunting down a gang of murderers preying on young females! Creature-feature The Sand I may be staying off the beach for…

I’ve told you there is far too much choice! In DS 3 on Friday Zombie Fright Club could be great fun! Martial arts and zombies? Of course I’m IN! Body looks a possible selection as well as three girls break into the wrong mansion. As for the Eugene McGing’s haunted house mystery thriller The Unfolding…? I’ll wait to see what people think of that one first!

Into Saturday then and Shut In might be worth the early morning watch, starring Macaulay’s brother Rory Culkin. Bait is Dominc Brunt’s (you know Paddy from Emmerdale) second feature as a director; a true-life crime thriller starring Victoria Smurfit. Frankenstein has a strong cast with Carrie-Ann Moss, Danny Huston, Tony Todd and Xavier Samuel, directed by Bernard Rose (Candyman) and I fancy this one. Black magic goes awry in Deathgasm which sounds fun and, depending on if I get in, the Film4 screen is perfect for late night horror. If you like documentaries then there is Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD in DS1. I tend to miss them as I prefer feature films, but I’ve heard extremely good things about this documentary. The Hallow sounds like a must see film; a success at Sundance and directed by Corin Hardy (who will direct The Crow reboot), set in Ireland this horror film is full of demonic monsters in the woods. I’d love to see the zom-rom-com Night of the Living Deb, featuring Ray Wise, but it will clash with Deathgasm… choices, choices, choices! DS2 shows Another Me, starring Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) stalked by a doppelgänger, which looks good. DS 3 screens a few retro showings and the Duke Mitchell events!

Sunday and, after the success of The Babadook, Inner Demons must be worth a visit. I’ve seen these kinds of films before at FrightFest, but a Christmas horror story surprisingly doesn’t really seem out of place in August and is another to consider.over your dead body

I can’t resist a Takashi Miike film, so looks like I’ll be in the DS 1 first thing for Over Your Dead Body. More end of the world drama in These Final Hours and Summer Camp (from the team behind [REC]) may be worth viewing. Think I’ll miss high-school reunion slasher Most Likely to Die. Over in DS 2 more retro screenings with Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, cult fantasy film Hawk The Slayer and 80’s classic Hellraiser…. All of which I’ll miss! April Mullen has a second film at FrightFest after showing 88 in Glasgow earlier this year. I liked action-thriller 88, so on that basis alone I may look at Farhope Tower, even though not much more information has been released about this yet.

Monday is the toughest day of the festival! The twisted comedy about a sarcastic ex-girlfriend coming back from the dead, Nina Forever, looks interesting – as does the UK première of Emelie. And then we have one of my highlights – Tales of Halloween, the closing film and an anthology film, with directors Adam Gierasch, Axelle Carolyn, Neil Marshall and Lucky McKee joining in the fun. Big film to end on.

DS1 presents Paul Hyett’s Howl (which I saw a trailer for in Glasgow) and sees a group trapped on a train overnight with an unknown create – and I think I’m going to give it a go. The Lazarus Effect in DS 2 has a decent cast with Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplas and Sarah Bolger (who is also in Emelie) and sounds like a modern day Flatliners. In DS 3, Banjo (from FrightFest regular Liam Regan) is showing, starring Laurence R. Harvey and Dan Palmer – this will be on my list!

This year there will be 3 short showcases. I have to mention these as (and unashamedly plugged) I have worked on three films which have been sent for selection, so I may be in a couple of these showcases!!!!

Overall a hugely impressive line-up. You can listen to me and the rest of the Failed Critics on the podcast [to be released on 3rd September] as I uncover the best and worst of the festival for 2015!

Film4 FrightFest will be held in London on 27th – 31st August 2015 and you can find more details on their website. Tickets go on sale at noon tomorrow.

Celluloid Screams 2014: Sheffield Horror Film Festival Preview

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

Celluloid Screams plays a terrific line up from Friday 24th to Sunday the 26th of October at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield. Boasting a strong mix of new and old films, there is also an all-night line up starting at midnight on the Saturday for all those hard core horror fans, who just can’t get enough of the genre. This is extreme cinema to say the least, in all 17 feature films and 17 short films. If that wasn’t enough there is also a collection of shorts from Astron-6, a truly exhaustive schedule and a real test of stamina!

celluloid screams posterIt all starts at 7pm on the Friday with The Editor, a film by Astron-6 who are in attendance for a Q & A and will be at the festival all weekend by the looks of things. Their film is a comedy horror in the vein of the Italian Giallo films, with intentionally bad dubbing and lots of gore; sounds like a crazy film to open the festival. Rey Cisco (Adam Brooks) is editing a schlock crime thriller, when somebody starts killing the cast and crew from the film. While everyone acts suspiciously in true Giallo fashion, the evidence points to Rey and detective Porfiry (Matthew Kennedy) is convinced Cisco is the killer. The short film Timothy will play after The Editor.

The second film of the night is Housebound, directed by Gerard Johnstone. This Australian horror comedy has been getting great feedback from its previous festival showings at FrightFest and Grimm Up North. Starring Morgana O’Reilly (from of course Aussie Soap Neighbours) as Kylie, she is placed on home detention by the courts. Her crazy mother is convinced the house is haunted and soon Kylie starts to believe her mother isn’t that crazy. Followed by The Muck (Short).

The final film is at midnight and is another horror comedy, Creep. A videographer answers an advert for a one-day job in a remote mountain town, yet his client isn’t what he seems. Patrick Brice directs a story he co-wrote with Mark Duplass, with both of them also starring in the film.

And if that wasn’t enough for the opening evening, the last film is followed by two more shorts; The Gas Man and Dead Hearts.

11am on Saturday and Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is a black comedy to start the day off with. Directed by Stuart Simpson and starring Glen Maynard and Kyrie Capri. Warren Thompson (Maynard) a lonely ice-cream van driver is obsessed with daytime soap star Katey George (Capri); how far will is obsession take him. Split (short) plays after this film.

Starry Eyes tells of a young actress, Sarah, who is struggling to get her break in Hollywood until she takes a casting call for a new film; how desperate is she to get the part? What will she exchange to join the elite of Hollywood? Alex Essoe who gives a solid performance as Sarah in a film directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. (I won’t be seeing this one again. Whilst I thought it was good, it’s not one I want to sit through again so soon.) Two shorts will be shown after Starry Eyes; The Stomach and Tuck Me In.

What We Do in the Shadows is next. Another feature and another comedy with a strong reputation from previous festivals. Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who both wrote the screenplay and both star in the film as well. This mockumentary follows 3 flat mates as they try to overcome the common obstacles of sharing a flat, wardrobe failures and of course paying the rent… and of course being vampires. Two shorts follow this; Mr Denton and Ghost Train.

Spring is directed by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s a film which had a very good showing at the London Film Festival recently and sounds like a must see film. A young man with troubles flees America to Italy where he falls for a woman; yet she has a dark secret. The Jigsaw (short) is next, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead from Spring are in attendance for a Q&A.

Brian Yuzna is the special guest of the festival and a number of films he has been involved with will be playing. He will be on hand for a Q&A after his first film Society, directed by Yuzna, starring Billy Warlock and Devin DeVasquez. This was Yuzna’s first film and many still consider this his best one. A film with a strong social commentary and a very warped sense of humour and horror. Ink is the short that will play with Society.

the editor

The all-nighter starts at midnight with Bride of Re-Animator, another of Yuzna’s directed films. Starring Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Herbert West who alongside Dr. Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) discover how to create human life, now they just want to make the perfect woman. Baskin (short) plays after.

Maximum Overdrive, taken from the short story “Trucks” by Stephen King and directed by King himself, is the second film of the all night line-up. Starring Emilio Estevev and Pat Hingle as they fight to stay alive when all the machinery comes to life and threatens to kill them all. Two shorts, Nightsatan and The Loops of Doom are next.

Night of the Creeps, directed and written by Fred Dekker is next. The population is turning into zombies infected by an alien parasite; a group of teenagers fight back. Starring Jason Lively, Tom Atkins and Steve Marshall. With the two shorts Rotor and Flesh Computer.

The final film of the all-nighter is Killer Klowns From Outer Space directed by Stephen Chiodo. Aliens in the guise of clowns terrorize a small town in America. Only the young town members can see the danger and they soon fight back. With Dedalo (short).

11am and the Sunday schedule starts with Suburban Gothic and the shorts Emptied and Canis. Suburban Gothic, from the director of Excision, Richard Bates Jr., is a complete departure from his first film. With a superb script and a fantastic performance from Matthew Gray Gubler (Life After Beth), also starring Kat Dennings and the brilliant Ray Wise. A must see film.

Dagon is a Brian Yuzna produced film, based on the H.P. Lovecraft short stories “Dagon” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” with a screenplay by Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon is on directing duties. Paul and Barbara end up in a small Spanish fishing village after a boating accident. However, the village harbours a dark secret which Paul slowly uncovers as people start to disappear. Yuzna will give a Q&A after the short Autumn Harvest has played.
A short showcase from Astron-6 is next on the schedule.

Into the final evening and there is The ABC’s of Death 2, directed by 26 directors including Aharon Keshales, the Soska Twins and Julian Gilbey to name a few. Having just seen the first one I’m not sure where they will go or what this new bunch of directors will throw at us.

The secret film is next! Speculation is rife, Rec 4, It Follows and Tusk to name a few.

The closing film is Dead Snow 2. Director Tommy Wirkola continues from where the original story ended in Dead Snow. Martin’s day just keeps getting worse, after the events of the night, he thinks he’s escaped the Zombie Nazis; but it’s not over yet. Now Herzog has a new mission and Martin must find a way to end this nightmare for good. The sequel is bigger, bolder and I thought much funnier than the first. I’m really looking forward to seeing this again; this was one of my favourite films from this year’s FrightFest.

If that wasn’t enough – and you can still stand – there is an after festival party!

This is a fun line up with a lot of emphasis on FUN; and I have to say I’m really looking forward to attending the festival. There are a number of films I’ve not seen like Night of the Creeps, Spring, ABC’s of Death 2, The Editor and Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Whilst there’s also some I’ve not seen since the decade they were released; Maximum Overdrive, Society and Bride of Re-Animator. One thing’s for sure, it will be a laugh and a test of my film watching stamina as I said this is extreme cinema! God knows what state I will be in on Monday!

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!

FrightFest 2014 Diary – The Tour

As well as seeing the likes of The Guest and Truth or Dare at FrightFest 2014, Mike also found time to take in a short film or two, including Damon Rickard’s The Tour.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

the tourAlongside all the main films, FrightFest also runs a short film competition, usually sponsored by the Horror Channel.When I watched the shorts during my first year, the quality ranged from very good to downright terrible. The next year, I didn’t bother. It wasn’t until the second year at the Empire, when I didn’t fancy anything in the discovery screen and it was raining, I reluctantly stayed for the shorts. Well, I wasn’t expecting what I saw; the quality was outstanding. The majority of them were brilliant. Even the worst ones were above average and since then I’ve made a point of seeing the short showcase.

The shorts used to play in the main screen and the competition winner was announced at the end of the presentation. This year, the shorts were split into two sessions and were moved into the discovery screen. I had originally planned to watch both sessions, as I was interested in seeing both She and The Tour. However, She was up against Starry Eyes, and The Tour against V/H/S Viral, two major films I really wanted to see. As it turned out, I wish I had gone to see the shorts instead now!

I have been lucky enough to see The Tour since the close of the festival. Damon Rickard is a FrightFest audience member and he has co-written and co-directed this piece with Alex Mathieson. It stars Jessica Cameron and Heather Dorff both from Truth or Dare (which also played the festival), and Tom Gordon.

A small village relies on a local haunted house, Darkmoor Manor, to bring in tourism revenue to a local community; they claim it is England’s most haunted house, although its doors are closed to the public. Tom (Tom Gordon) is the tour guide and the film opens as he is concluding a tour. Two female American tourists have been on the tour and Tom is out to impress the women, inviting them for a drink. Cassie (Heather Dorff) and Morgan (Jessica Cameron) accept the offer and the conversation turns to the house. Cassie and Morgan aren’t impressed with the claims of the house and Tom promises to get them inside and give them the real tour of Darkmoor Manor!

This is an excellent short film and I really did enjoy it – I’m even more annoyed now I missed it on the big screen. The cast are extremely good. Tom Gordon delivers a great performance; he’s charismatic, cheeky and very confident in his role and hopefully we will see more of him in the future. Heather Dorff and Jessica Cameron are also excellent. Dorff plays the sassy Cassie with considerable ease, while Cameron plays the more timid character (maybe a departure from her usual roles) but she does it very well. Having these two actresses in the film is a major coup for Rickard, especially considering it’s his first production. He has done very well with the casting of this short.

The cast are backed up by a solid script. It was very well written throughout, allowing for some decent twists along the way and a couple of solid scares as well. Visually the film looked great, especially the interior house scenes that were very impressive. You can see Rickard’s knowledge of the genre coming through in this production. He knows the beats to hit, he knows timing is essential in a horror film, and in a short you have far less time to make those beats work. Rickard and Mathieson have crafted a very fine short here. There is potential to turn this into a feature – maybe one day they will? I would pay money to see that!

For more information on The Tour, you can check out their Facebook page or find them on Twitter. Mike’s FrightFest Diary reviews will continue soon with a look at the more amusing side to FrightFest.

FrightFest 2014 Diary – The Guest

Mike’s FrightFest diary reviews continue with this latest entry, a review of the opening night of the horror film festival and its first screening of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s latest movie, The Guest (released in UK cinemas today).

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

the guest 2The opening night of Frightfest on the Thursday (21 August 2014) is just main screen films; no discovery screens, no decisions to make, I just have to take my weekend pass seat and enjoy. Well, hopefully enjoy. The three films on show were The Guest, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and Zombeavers. With Sin City 2 going on general release on the following Monday nationwide, I had made plans to see The Congress starring Robin Wright at Cineworld and then return for Zombeavers. As with all my films at FrightFest, I refrain from watching trailers and reading reviews, just using the synopsis from the FrightFest website as my only guide. Except on Thursday, I don’t need any help so just sit back and enjoy.

The Guest is directed by Adam Wingard and written by long time collaborative partner Simon Barrett. The cast feature familiar actors such as Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey – ITV), Maika Monroe (The Bling Ring), Leland Orser (Faults – which also played the festival), Sheila Kelley (Lost – TV) and Brendan Meyer (Tooth Fairy). The plot revolves around a young soldier who appears on the door step of the Peterson family, claiming to have served in the army with their son. Mrs Peterson (Kelley) welcomes David (Stevens) into the house and he is invited to stay with the family while he is in town. David is charming and as he soon gets to know the Peterson’s and their problems, a number of deaths occur. David takes the son, Luke (Meyer), under his wing and teaches him to fight back against the kids bullying him at school. Yet the daughter, Anna (Monroe), is a little more reluctant to accept David and as she starts to uncover the truth it soon becomes clear David isn’t who they think he is.

An interesting opening film for FrightFest. In my book, it’s a thriller – a dark one at that – yet Stevens’s character is never really sinister enough to push it into the horror genre. However, it is extremely entertaining and I really did enjoy it. While it may be dark, there were some very nice comic touches, usually coming from Stevens and his ultra-dry and extremely cool performance. He really did impress me here, as I can’t even recall his performance in The Fifth State (and I don’t watch Downton Abbey). The action sequences were very well done and he coped with them with ease. A new action star in the making or even a new James Bond? I think he might just be on the young side for that role, but I’d be happy to see him do it.

Maika Monroe also turns in a solid performance and is a young actress on the up, soon to be seen at the London Film Festival in It Follows; definitely an actress to watch out for. Monroe’s character Anna is streetwise, she has an older boyfriend, parties and enjoys life, even with her father trying to keep her under control. She is a rebel, but she’s not out of control, and is always a little wary of David. The rest of the cast are all very good, they are all aided by the punchy screenplay. It starts on the run (literally) and doesn’t really slow down. It’s to the point, doesn’t rely on building the character back stories, but does a really good job of giving you enough detail to allow the story to flow. I got a really good idea of the family dynamics as the film progressed and why it was fairly easy for Stevens’s character to gain the confidence of most of them. Then comes the story of David and it’s a little out of left field, something I wasn’t expecting and just adds a new dimension to the film. I’ll leave this one for you to find out about yourselves.

The final third of the film zips along with the added twist and the final confrontation being very well put together, it’s tense and quite bloody at times and a solid ending to the film. The music from the film was also very good. Composed by Steve Moore, the score is electric, a typical 80’s synth sound; much like Drive or recently Cold In July.

Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S and V/H/S 2) and Simon Barratt have crafted a tense, solid thriller here, with some decent action sequences and quite a bit of blood – although not enough to make it a true horror film in my eyes, but some may think differently. Wingard continues to impress me and I really did enjoy You’re Next, along with the V/H/S 2 segment, ‘Phase I Clinical Trials’, which I really liked. I’ve not seen A Horrible Way to Die yet so think I’ll check that out now.

In the end it was a super film to open the festival with, and one I’ll be going back to see with my mates when it opens nationwide on the 5th of September.

Mike will be back to review some of the other films he checked out at this year’s FrightFest soon.

Interview with Jessica Cameron and Ryan Kiser (Truth or Dare)

Following his review of the sickest film shown at this year’s Film4 FrightFest, Truth or Dare, Mike Shawcross got chatting with its director, co-writer and star, Jessica Cameron, and lead actor Ryan Kiser.

Mike Shawcross: Truth or Dare sounds like an inventive twist on a traditional but much loved formula, what is it that inspired you to tell this very dark story or make this movie?

Jessica Cameron: Well originally when I was a child and played a game of ‘truth or dare’ with my friends, I always envisioned that they would ask me to do something horrible like stab myself in the leg with a pencil. And at the time before the internet I would have to like research in books and ask librarians; who were very concerned really. If I was to stab myself in the leg with a pencil, where should I stab myself to cause the least amount of damage? So I always had this in my mind that the truth or dare games as a child never went that dark, it was always very much “call up this boy and say you like him”. You know, trivial things like that. But in my mind, I just always went to this really dark place even when I was 6 or 7. And when I grew up, I would see many a truth or dare film, or films which would try a similar concept, and none of them really went as dark as I went when I was a child, so they always felt lacklustre. And then upon moving to Hollywood I came across this like stereotypical sort of male unemployed actor and I was like, “here’s a guy I fear more than anything because he’s walking on this ledge and he’s so easily tipped off this ledge of insanity”. Then I was talking with my producer and co-writer Jonathon Higgins and the idea emerged; that concept of the truth or dare scheme happened, and I happened to know a gentleman by the name of Ryan Kiser who I felt was perfect.

DSCF8632MS: Who is here today as well.

Ryan Kiser: Yes indeed I am.

JC: And I was like, and now not only do we have the perfect role and the perfect character but I know the perfect guy to bring it to life. And then we kind of just let the story organically go where it was supposed to be. We knew the characters we wanted in it and then we sort of – as we wrote the script – we sort of went to where it organically felt right to go. We didn’t have any reservations, nothing was off the table, nothing was “you can’t go here”. We sort of wanted it to go where it went.

MS: So basically you left it open and as each scene played out you took it somewhere else?

JC: Completely.

MS: Ryan, as an actor, did you feel comfortable doing that?

RK: Yeah, totally. It was very organic, on-the-day type of stuff. A lot of it was in the script but, yeah, I felt really.. I mean [starts laughing] as comfortable as you could feel doing some of the stuff I was doing. But no, it was a great experience for me shooting it for sure. Something I will never forget.

MS: It seems like you have a genuine affection for the b-movie horror genre and it comes across strongly in your performance in previous films. What is it exactly that you love about the genre?

JC: You know what, well the horror genre and b-movies in specific, I really loved the fact that nothing is off the table – or at least shouldn’t be. When you are making a movie that’s outside the studio system, it really does give you a free sensibility. If you are smart, in my opinion. Where you can kind of do whatever you want because you don’t have a studio head, or multiple studio heads, telling you what you cannot do. And I really like the freedom as an actor; I’ve enjoyed the freedom for many years. As a director, I like the freedom to be able to do what is right for the character, what’s right for the story and what’s right for the role. As a horror fan, that’s what I want to see. I’ve been really let down in the last, really, ten years by studio horror films because I feel like they are all playing it safe. They’re not doing what they should, they’re not going where they naturally should progress to, but they are playing it safe by doing something that will be not-rejected by the mainstream community and as a horror fan that hurts my heart because I feel like I’m being ignored and the mainstream community who doesn’t embrace the horror genre is being catered to. I don’t think that’s fair. You know, I really want as a filmmaker– the reason why I wanted to make films, is because I feel there is a horror community that’s incredibly loyal, brilliant and beautiful and wonderful and they are not getting what they want; and I’m part of it. So I want to make movies that I want to watch, that I want to see, that will become like that movie I watched 30 years from now. So much of the films you go and see in the cinema today, I forget about right after I see them. I certainly won’t remember them five years from now. I definitely won’t remember them ten years from now. They’re generic, they’re watered down and they are safe. That’s not what I care about as a horror fan and it’s not what I stand for as a horror filmmaker.

MS: Do you think that it’s so monetary driven now, Hollywood, that that is the problem; that they need to be able to make the money?

JC: I think that they are focussing on the wrong things. Don’t get me wrong, I could care less about money.

MS: But they big studios do though, don’t they?

JC: They do.

RK: Yeah, they really do.

JC: Yes but bless them, I feel it’s hurting them. You look at the actual gross revenue that they are generating, I feel like they would be doing larger numbers if they would just fucking say “fuck It” and throw caution to the wind. They’re not. They’re playing it safe because it’s what they’ve always done. I feel they are wrong. I feel the horror fans will come out for something that’s not safe, that’s not perfect, that might be flawed but is at least trying to go where the film should be and where films haven’t gone before. And that is what I think is so brilliant about the independent community right now, is that you are seeing more and more people step up and standout and say “fuck it, this is right for the storyline, and this is where we are going”. And I, as a horror filmmaker, that’s the reason why I want to make movies. Don’t get me wrong, here’s the situation; honestly, if the studios or anybody started saying “fuck it we are going to do this right and we are going to fulfil the fans, the horror fans, as they want to be fulfilled and give them what they want”, I would be out of work. There’s nothing left for me to do. You know I’m an actor first and foremost. I’m a filmmaker honestly by force, simply because people are not doing what I want to see. And I’m the type of girl that if you don’t give me what I want, I will do it myself. I don’t fucking need you. I will make it work.

MS: As for the directional skills you need, did you just go for it, decide ‘this is what I need’, and see how you got on and learn from the experience of Truth or Dare?

JC: You know, as an actress, I’ve spent many years on sets. And sets that have been really wonderful experiences as well as sets that have not, where things have gone horribly awry. And I always like to sit back and watch and take an objective opinion on ‘did this work or not work’. So that’s really how I learnt. I would just watch and saw what was working and what wasn’t. As far as directing my own movie now that’s my approach and how I approach them anyways. I also try to hire the most talented people I can with the budget that I have. You know the DP has done X amount of films and he’s brilliant and so he’s going to make me look better. I intentionally cast Truth or Dare as I did with people who I know are phenomenal and that wasn’t a fluke. I knew they would rock the role, I knew they would be amazing, I knew they wouldn’t need as much guidance as someone who had never done this before, I knew they could handle the material. And who knew that I could be sitting here, a year and a half after filming the movie and raving about them. So I kind of stacked the deck in my favour, which I think is really smart, and that’s what they do at the studio levels. You know they hire people who are known entities, I just did it in the independent genre community.

MS: And festivals like this are crucial to the independent b-movie industry?

JC: Oh, absolutely. For a lot of amazing horror fans, this is the only chance they will get to see the film with an audience in a theatre, which is tragic in some ways but also makes them so crucial. And I think it’s wonderful coming out to London and seeing the community that has really encouraged this. It’s phenomenal to actually witness it in person. They’ve come out from all over the UK just to attend this festival, because they know that a lot of these movies that they are seeing, they’ll only get to see in this environment one time and they want to cherish that experience. It’s fantastic. And the really other great thing is that the film festival circuit does cater to us and they do an excellent job of making sure we are getting everything we could want or need. They are really an assist to us filmmakers and to the independent film community. How kind the festivals have been to me and my movie will never be forgotten. Especially FrightFest. FrightFest has gone out of their way to make me feel at home, at ease and worthy of playing my movie at such a prestigious festival, which is phenomenal.

MS: And the fans who you have met this weekend?

JC: They are [laughs], the fans here at FrightFest are in my opinion the best in the world.

MS: And you’ve been to a lot of festivals!

JC: Yes, I’ve been to a lot of festivals. They are phenomenal. Here’s the thing, they are just so pure, they are so genuine. I feel like everybody wants my movie to be amazing and they just want to watch it. The amount of fans will have printed off their own promotional materials for me to sign, it blows my mind. In America they usually wait for you to give them something to sign. Here they are printing them off on their own and a lot of times better than the stuff that I have.

RK: Oh yeah.

JC: Could you print me off 10 of those that would be great, they’re so impressive. And they are genuine horror fans. They are not just here to see my movie, they have been here all weekend and we can talk on the same level about this film that we saw that we loved. I’ve been talking a lot about The Guest which I really enjoyed, the opening night movie at FrightFest. I’ve been able to carry on conversations about the movie with people who are coming to see my movie because they are in that theatre with me while I enjoyed these films that I have nothing to do with. You know that’s what you get here, which is just so phenomenal, to actually get to speak to these people and see them face to face. I feel like they’re the people that are tweeting at me and facebooking me online, and I get to meet them, which is really enjoyable.

DSCF8670 (2)

MS: Talking of online, you embrace social media to promote your films, do you think it’s a massive promotional tool now?

JC: I think social media is the way of the future. I think it’s the way of the future for every industry and I think the film making world is slower to the uptake than most. I think that it is just now a minimum requirement for every actor, actress as well as film to have active social media pages and to be really engaged in their audience. As an independent film maker, to me, that’s what I have as an asset. To me, I can actually have the same reach that larger films that have much bigger budgets do. Simply because I can reach them directly. I don’t need to hire a PR firm and get some mainstream press. So it’s really levelled the playing fields for those of us that don’t have millions of dollars for PR. If I am making the content that the fans are wanting to see then they will find it.

MS: Ryan, are you a big fan of social media?

RK: Yeah, definitely. I’m super active. Not quite as active as Jessica is.

JC: Yeah you should try working on that.

RK: [Laughs] No, I’m actually on top of it. I’m pretty comfortable whoring myself out.

MS: The thing is, is it actually whoring yourself out?

RK: No, it’s not really.

JC: I think it was whoring yourself out 3 years ago when you were ahead of the curve. Now it’s become an expectation. Furthermore in L.A. there is now a project that will cast you based on your social media following.

RK: Yes, I do say that in jest because it is fun and I like to interact with people who are doing and watching the same things I am. Watching my stuff, watching Jess’s stuff. And definitely social media is a great way to build any business including in the film industry.

JC: But also it’s the only way we can interact with the fans directly when we can’t physically be here.

MS: And this is it. I mean, and obviously, if you interact with the fans, the fans then think ‘yes Jessica is doing this’, ‘Ryan is doing this’, and ‘I’m going to go and see your films’. When you get people that just ignore you, you think ‘what is the point of being on Twitter if that’s their attitude?’

RK: Yeah.

JC: But also, furthermore they guide my filmmaking choices. I don’t want to make a movie unless the fans are going to be behind it. That’s where I am at in my career, I need the fans and I really want to give back to the horror community that’s been so great to me. So should I make a movie that was a miss, I want to know. And the fans, not the people paying me the cheques, are the ones who will be honest with me and tell me if something is great or something is not.

MS: You need negative and positive, you just can’t feed off the positive. You need the negative to improve yourself as a filmmaker and an actress.

JC: I just realised I’ll probably get a billion negative tweets now! [Laughs] Please don’t harass me with negative tweets, I’m sorry!

MS: Do you see yourself as a modern day scream queen?

JC: I absolutely fucking do! We are now in the age of the new scream queen and I believe we haven’t seen a resurgence of the scream queen since the 80’s when she kind of died a mysterious, random, very fast death. In my opinion, from what I know about the women who were working then, they went off and got married and popped their babies and left the genre, which is tragic to me. I’m like, you can still do that and still work within the genre, it’s not an either/or situation. But I think this is a first time in my time as a horror film fan over the last fifteen years who’s really seen a resurgence of the scream queen. And I think it’s really fantastic, you know. We are able to see these wonderful amazing women kicking ass on screen. And furthermore I think we are getting these filmmakers; Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, the Soska sisters, Ricky Bates, that are writing amazing roles for women. Let’s put women who fucking love the genre in those roles that are written perfectly for them and really rock it.

MS: Talking of the Soska Twins, American Mary was a massive hit at FrightFest when it played. Do you think women directing horror films is the way to go? Do women have less morals than men?

JC: Here’s the thing, do we have less morals? That’s debatable. I have a lot of morals, I just don’t give a fuck what people think. It’s a film. Just because I feel strongly, doesn’t mean my characters in the film feel the same way. There’s a character in my movie that’s a paedophile and I do not support paedophilia, obviously. But it’s right for the character, so we fucking made him a really hardcore paedophile. By doing that I’m not encouraging it, or that ‘it’s awesome go do it’. I am simply saying that’s right for the character and was right for the story. For me, I don’t even know if it’s a male versus a female thing. I grew up in an environment where I was told always be me and that in being me people are going to love me or people are going to hate me, and that’s not my problem. The only thing I have to worry about is to be me. So every day when I wake up, that’s kind of my process. And I do! You can google it. You can buy an “I Am Jessica Cameron” tee shirt. My favourite is you can also buy a “Who is Jessica Cameron” tee shirt which is ironic because why are you wearing a tee shirt which says that if you don’t know who I am?

RK: I want one!

JC: I just try to be me. If you love me, that’s great. If you hate me, then you are entitled to your own opinion, good luck, God bless. All of the above. As far as if women can go places men can’t? I don’t know. We have the Soska Sisters who are kind of being held as the echelon of what a female film maker should be, with very good reason. They are brilliant, they are beautiful, they love what they do and they are probably the most passionate people I’ve ever met in my life. Should they be held up with regard to ‘this is what a female film maker should be’, I don’t know. I think that’s what all film makers should be; male, female, I don’t care. If you are not as impassioned as the Soska’s are about your movie then what the fuck are you doing. It’s great that we have them in the genre, I think it’s wonderful they are paving the way. I would really like to see the men step up to the plate that they’re setting and say we can be as impassioned and make as interesting films as they are. I’ve yet to see it, but I am hopeful. I think there are more women who are not getting what they want to see and that is why they are stepping up to the plate. I really can’t wait to see what the Soska’s do next. They always surprise me. I’m actually friends with them and they always surprise me. Every single time I spend time with them they blow my mind and that’s just who they are. I want to see more of that, whether you have breasts or a penis I don’t care. That brilliance, that passion, that drive. That to me is what really rises the bar of film making.DSCF8665

MS: Truth or Dare, which plays tomorrow at Frightfest….

JC: Oh, yes! I’m so excited!

MS: Written, Directed and starring yourself….

JC: Co-written, to be fair.

MS: Co-written, sorry. What was the overall experience like? I mean, you are dealing with the whole package there.

JC: It was the right project to do ‘all of the above’ on because when you direct a movie, you live with it a lot longer than you do as an actor. So I was really glad I didn’t do it prior to this movie. It was a lot more stressful and more time consuming than I ever could have hoped or I could ever have dreamed. It was really worth it, I could not imagine it any other way. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was definitely very stressful. I slept one or three hours a night at most, we shot nine days over eleven, so that in another way is stressful and I cast my crew who were very talented and very much into it which was fantastic. I always said I would never do it again but I’m getting ready for my next one.

MS: Ryan, how was it working on Truth or Dare?

RK: It was great, it was really intense and I didn’t know what was going to happen until I turned up. It was funny, I was driving down there, we shot out in the desert, and I rode down with one of my co-stars Brandon Van Vliet, and one of our PA’s. And Brandon’s like “so what are you going to do?” and I’m like “I don’t know” [starts laughing] – which is scary, or not, but a lot of it just was–

JC: I’m just hearing this!

RK: [laughs] I had a good idea from what Jess and I had talked about and what we want the character to do, but I didn’t really know what was going to happen until it happened.

JC: We realised on or after the fact, that most days while filming we had to shoot ten or twelve pages, it would be like 80% of Ryan monologuing with various specific actions. We’re like “he has to turn on the camera, take out the voice recorder, turn on the camera, take out the gun”. You feel like the actions, and the dialogue.. and obviously I co-wrote the script, I should have been more aware of how much monologuing I had Ryan do.

RK: It was great though.

JC: It wasn’t until we got the lines every day, I would have seventeen lines and Ryan was like page after page after page…

RK: But it was good because I wasn’t really acting, I was just doing exactly what was right in front of me at that moment. Because I couldn’t think about the whole element; I couldn’t think about the whole of it because it was overwhelming actually. But that’s the way I like to work. I like a lot of pressure.

MS: And Jessica, what’s in the future for you?

JC: Let’s see, in my immediate future we are getting ready to make my next directorial effort which is Mania, a fucked up lesbian love story. Because I don’t like actors and I’m not really a fan of casting, I cast Heather Dorff and Devanny Pinn in the lead roles [laughs]. They are also perfect for the roles. I could take auditions from anyone, but nobody is going to nail it like these girls are. There has been a little bit of a backlash and people are like ‘why are you casting the same girls’? And I’m like ‘because they are fucking phenomenal’. If you saw my movie, you would not question why I would want to work with them again. They can do amazing performances in a blink of an eye. I don’t have to spend time trying to get a performance out of them. So we are going to shoot that and we are going to shoot it cross-country and really try to involve the fans as much as possible. I’m trying to think of more things to do to involve the fans because I feel like right now that’s the only thing that is missing. We have social media and such so they can interact with us but how do we get them more involved in the film? So if you can think of a solution to that, let me know, I’m open to hear it. I just wrapped shooting Save Yourself in Canada, which is a wonderful film in which I starred with Tristan Risk from American Mary, directed by Ryan M. Andrews, so that’s in post-production. Utero is in post-production. I shot another Christmas slasher film, which of course I love, that’s in post-production. And then we are getting ready to figure out what we are going to do for 2015 and then also settling distribution for Truth or Dare. So it’s been a busy year.

MS: Can I ask you about the distribution and funding? Do you get the film made, then worry about the funding, or do you need the funding first?

JC: You have to think about the funding to get the film made, right, because you have to pay people. I get people to work for not much, but I still have to pay them something more often than not. And I still have to feed them. And no matter, try as I might, I can’t get grocery stores to give me groceries for free. So you have to think about the funding first, and it’s a trick in and of itself and that itself alone is a skill. Luckily for us we are at the point now where we have so many people who are in our corner, but the trick is how do we balance the funding versus the fan attraction. So for Mania, you can go to www.killtheproductionassistant.com and see our interesting crowd funding, where they will put a pin your state, so we can travel to the states with the most amount of pins in them. The reason why we are doing it that way – while we do have interest from people that would give us money, however, the important thing about taking the money from someone else is they don’t want us to shoot it cross-country, involving the fans. They want to shoot it in the state of California because it’s easier and cheaper. So the hardest part is balancing the fan attraction with the movie we want to make and bringing everybody on board.

MS: And distribution, getting your films out there, is that another hurdle?

JC: It’s definitely a hurdle. I’m really trying to specifically work only with companies that see the value in what we do and people who are very heavily into social media. That’s the direction we are going for. I’m much more focused on building relationships between people. I don’t want a distribution company, no matter how great it is, to take Truth and Dare and then devalue it. Ideally I want to get a relationship with a company that will do something amazing with Truth or Dare and support everything I do. I would love to have a company that I felt strongly about that would take on Truth or Dare and then continue with as well.

MS: And Ryan, the future for you?

RK: I just want to keep on working on these films. Recently I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of complex and really dark roles. I don’t play the boyfriend – rarely. I get the roles actors like to get, so I hope to continue doing that. I’ve got a couple of things on deck that I’ll be working on late this year and early next year, that are kind of in the same vein. So I feel lucky for that.

MS: And House of Manson?

RK: House of Manson, yes. We’re super excited – the cast and crew – we are all really excited to see our own movie, because it felt really good when we actually shot it and from the clips that I’ve been seeing here and there, that my Director Brandon [Slagle] is so excited about that he has been sharing them with me on occasions. It looks good. It should be coming out towards the end of 2014 here, maybe early 2015. Maybe hitting a short festival run and some sort of distribution after that.

MS: Brilliant. Well, that’s it. Thank you very much.

JC: Thank you darling so very much.

RK: Thank you.

JC: I can’t wait to see you at the screening.

MS: Truth or Dare should play exceptionally well at FrightFest.

JC: I hope so. I’m hoping someone will vomit in the vomit bag. We’ve had people pass out, we’ve had people run out, we’ve had people vomit but they always made it to the toilet. Nobody vomited in the actual bag! That’s what I made them for!

RK: I’d love to see that. Use the bag if you are going to vomit! Don’t hurt yourself, use the bag!

MS: People just want them as souvenirs.

JC: If you vomit in the vomit bag, I will send you another one. We will mail you a fresh one. No, actually, I’ll mail you 5 so you have extra, so when you watch it on DVD, you don’t ever destroy your final one.

Truth or Dare played to UK audiences at the Film4 FrightFest 2014 in Discovery screen one. Check out the red band trailer above or read what Failed Critics thought of the film here, including our full review.

Check out the House of Manson trailer here.

FrightFest 2014 Diary – Truth or Dare

In his FrightFest Diary: Part 2 entry for Failed Critics, Mike Shawcross described the Jessica Cameron directorial debut Truth or Dare as “the nastiest piece of work I saw” and that “Jessica Cameron is one sick woman!” Find out why in our full review of the movie.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

truth or dare 2Sometimes looking through the list of discovery films showing at the Film4 FrightFest Festival is a little daunting. Some films have very little feedback and I’m never really sure what I’m letting myself in for. However, Truth or Dare didn’t have that problem. Having followed the film’s festival run on Twitter and Facebook, I had decided if this film made it into the festival then I had to get a ticket. Obviously by writing this review the film did make it and I did manage to get myself a ticket!

Truth or Dare is the directorial debut from actress Jessica Cameron and made its UK premiere at FrightFest in the main discovery screen on the final day of the festival. Cameron also co-wrote and starred in the film alongside Ryan Kiser (Potpourri), Heather Dorff (Hand of Glory), Shelby Stehlin (Exit 727), Devanny Pinn (The Devil’s Nightmare), Brandon Van Vliet (Potpourri) and Jesse Wilson (7 Lives Exposed on TV). A group of young people known as the Truth and Daredevil’s take the old party game ‘truth or dare’ and add a much more dangerous twist to the proceedings; or do they? Derik (Kiser), a viewer of the YouTube videos, isn’t impressed and feels he could be a great addition to the team. Turned down and laughed at on TV by the Daredevils, Derik takes his revenge. Ambushing the groups next stunt, he brings his vision of the game to the online viewers – a much more twisted and dangerous vision than they could have ever imagined.

After the first 10 minutes, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this film; it was obviously low budget and with a shaky opening as the cast seemed to be finding their feet, plus an audio sync issue, wasn’t helping the situation. I really was wondering if I should have seen something else. However, once the sync issue was fixed and Kiser made his appearance things took a turn for the better. The film kicked into gear and I found myself really enjoying it. Now I say enjoying it, let’s put this into context; Truth or Dare is a nasty little film made for the horror community. It’s made to be enjoyed in a cinema with like-minded fans and FrightFest (as with all the other festivals the film has played) was the perfect place to see this film. And possibly the only place to see it on a big screen.

I do know that the film has already been banned in some areas and nearly didn’t play FrightFest; the BBFC were actually present for this screening. It will be interesting to read their verdict. I would say if you are offended easily then maybe this isn’t the film for you, but if you like your torture porn, this is the film for you!truth or dare

How nasty is this film? Pretty nasty at times, though the French and definitely the Asian horror scene has pushed similar boundaries in recent years, it’s the US mainstream horror scene Cameron is really challenging here. Over the last few years, horror fans have been turning to the US indie horror scene where the films and filmmakers are breaking the mould of safe and restrained horror. Not governed by big studio politics they are making films they would want to see as a horror fan. Sometimes they do manage to get to a mainstream audience, You’re Next a prime example, but in general you’ll need to visit the festivals or hope they make it to DVD to see a real horror film or a film as twisted as this one. This is why Cameron has stepped out of the role of scream queen and into the role of filmmaker, writing and directing films she would want to see as a horror fan.

Cameron and her co-writer Jonathan Scott Higgins’s choice of characters is also very interesting. People may initially think they are just adding to the shock value of the film – and yes they are in some respects – but they are actually employed to great effect for the storyline. When secrets are revealed in the game, it provokes disdain and increases the tension between the group. This actually adds a more psychological layer to the film. Derik (Kiser) is not the only villain anymore. This was an intelligent piece of writing and added more depth to an idea which in lesser hands could have become quite mundane as the film progressed.

I’m not going into details about the truths or dares used in the film, except to say that some are pretty gruesome and I really wouldn’t want to spoil them for you! Let’s just say a couple even made me squirm, and it takes a lot to do that.

The script also gains its stride once the game is underway, balancing menace, drama and comedy very well throughout the rest of the film. Though Kiser does have a lot of dialogue, he deals with it extremely well and gives a super performance; his on-edge boundless energy adds an element of danger to the game as he always seems on the verge of snapping. I am looking forward to seeing what he brings to his next film House of Manson. The rest of the cast are all very good, though I wasn’t impressed with Van Vliet at the start but as the film went on his performance grew on me. With the film being shot in chronological order, I do wonder if everyone was just getting warmed up or if the technical error was clouding my judgement.

As I said in my FrightFest Diary, I really enjoyed Truth or Dare. At last, some balls-out torture porn at the festival, with lots of gore and buckets of blood. This is why I come to FrightFest. This is what I want to watch. Jessica Cameron’s first film may be rough around the edges, but here her statement of intent is clear to see; she is bringing the horror back to the fans and if no one else will do it, she will step up and do it herself. I really am looking forward to seeing what she does next. Whatever it might be, I can guarantee it won’t be dull or safe!

Mike will return shortly with more reviews of the films he watched at this year’s FrightFest, plus our interview with both Jessica Cameron and Ryan Kiser!

FrightFest 2014 Diary – Part 2: What was seen and worth seeing

By Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

Cast and Crew of The CanelFor me, this was a quality year. However, I get the impression I actually missed the poorer films either by good discovery screen choices, buying extra main screen tickets or by doing something else; like interviewing Jessica Cameron and Ryan Kiser for their film Truth or Dare [keep an eye out for that interview and review on the site soon]. Or you could just get caught up with talking all things Sinister and its sequel with the writer of the film, C. Robert Cargill. In past years for me it was always about the films. This year, I really wasn’t bothered if I missed the odd one here and there. I even skipped Sin City: A Dame to Kill For to go and see The Congress at Cineworld as it wasn’t showing in Manchester; and after seeing Sin City 2 last night, I was glad I did!

I’m not glazing over the films here – and we do intend to post more detailed reviews over the coming days – there are just far too many films to cover and do them and the festival justice.

The Guest was a superb opening film, one I thoroughly enjoyed. Possibly one of the best opening films I’ve seen. The closing film, The Signal, was one I wasn’t really feeling and instead went to the Phoenix bar for the party. General consensus was while it was a good film, it shouldn’t have closed the festival.

I do like a good horror comedy as they usually work very well with this audience: Zombeavers, WolfCop, Dead Snow 2 and Life After Beth. Both Zombeavers and WolfCop had their share of funny moments, but I felt both were just not funny enough. In fact, I was really quite disappointed with WolfCop in the end. Dead Snow 2 however was the funniest thing I saw. Packed with laugh out moments, this was when the festival vibe got me. The Arrow screen audience responded superbly to the film with big laughs, cheers and applause; that’s the Frightfest way! This was my 2nd favourite film of the weekend. Life After Beth had a superb cast was extremely well written and very funny at times, another festival favourite of mine.

Werewolves seemed to be one of the themes this year, with Late Phases, WolfCop and Blood Moon. I missed Blood Moon and never really heard too much about it, while Late Phases I saw and really enjoyed this. A blind vet takes on a werewolf to revenge the death of his dog – brilliant fun!

Honeymoon was a decent start to Friday. Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway carried the film quite well. Julia was a rape/revenge film taking its inspiration from Asian revenge films with overtones of Drive thrown in as well. Great soundtrack for this one, and one I liked very much. The Canal, another strong film, follows Rupert Evans as his character’s life and mind start to fall apart after his wife goes missing. Calum Heath, who plays Evan’s son, was superb.

Another disappoint for me was The Babadook. While Essie Davis gives possibly the finest female performance of the festival, the film wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t get “this year’s Sinister“, which is what it’s marketed like; actually it’s much more like The Canal. I really need to see it again.

Films I would have liked to have seen but ended up missing were Digging up the Marrow, Housebound, Deadly Virtues, Blood Moon, and The Drownsman, though I’ve not seen or heard anyone talk about that one. There was also R100 (which is actually repeated on Film4 on the 3rd September), Exists and Bad Milo. I know it sounds wrong to some but many people really enjoyed the musical Stage Fright; I do like musicals!

Truth or Dare was the nastiest piece of work I saw and I fully enjoyed it for that reason. Jessica Cameron is one sick woman! However, she popped my interview cherry and I thank her for that; a superb guest all weekend; so full of energy and all things horror! I get the impression she really enjoyed FrightFest!

Starry Eyes felt like a disappointment after it ended but it’s gotten better the more I think about it – not much, but it was good. The Harvest had a tremendous cast in Shannon, Morton and Fonda, Morton was brilliant, another of my favourites. Among the Living was one I was looking forward to and one which didn’t disappoint me. It had touches of Spielberg and King but with a French horror twist and a decent score.

Open Windows and Faults were big surprises for me, especially Faults. A dark comedy with Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in top form , as Orser tries to save Winstead from the cult ‘Faults’ which has her in its grip, another strong film. Open Windows, whilst a lot of fun, possibly may not hold up to repeat viewings. But Elijah Wood continues to make interesting film choices and Sasha Grey does a decent job in this one.

Now before my number 1 film, another that I had high hopes for was V/H/S: Viral. While better than V/H/S, it wasn’t as good as the sequel. My main problem was the wrap around story which didn’t seem to link the main films or have any connection with them at all. Plus, it was near enough impossible to work out was going on. The 3 main segments I did like, but in the end it could have just been a Creepshow film. I should have just seen the short film Showcase instead!

My favourite film of the weekend was The House at the End of Time, a horror film from Venezuela – the first one – and wow! What a film; and one of the jumpiest films at the festival! From the cast, which includes Ruddy Rodriguez (a former Miss Venezuela) to the kids who were both very good, to the sound design (which was incredible) and the very well told, very clever story. Outstanding!

The Duke Mitchell film club brought along a film, Coherence, which many people really enjoyed and one I will be looking out for. They also did a Film Party after it, where many of the guest directors, producers and even actors brought a little something to share with the crowd. For 90 minutes we got terrible music videos, trailers, shorts and party games. It was superb, very funny and a great break from all the films. They hope to repeat it next year and I for one will be going.

One last mention has to go the fans. They are brilliant. Some keep themselves to themselves but you could just start talking to anyone and you could end up in a conversation for hours. I’d often go for the drinks and they would have to come and find me, because I got talking to someone at the bar, sometimes I didn’t even make the bar!

The after festival party was at the phoenix where the plan was to leave at 3am it was 5.05 am when we eventually walked home, maybe a little drunk; but still on a high having experienced my favourite FrightFest in 8 years! I will be back next year!

Coming up next at some point this week will be our interview with Truth or Dare director Jessica Cameron and star Ryan Kiser. We’ll also take a more in depth look at some of our favourite films from FrightFest. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, All Cheerleaders Die and The Den reviews are already live on the site!

FrightFest 2014 Diary – Part 1: Challenges and changes

By Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

New VenueEight years ago I first came to FrightFest, back when it was still in the Odeon at the bottom of Leicester Square, where I did 2 years before it moved venue to The Empire at the top of the square. Here the festival stayed for 5 years; each year it grew in audience and also the amount of films being shown at the event. I really enjoyed the festival during its run at the Empire. Their screen 1 was superb and with 1000 plus horror fans sometimes the atmosphere was astonishing. Due to Empire’s move to an IMAX screen after last year’s festival closed, we were the last people ever to see a film in that screen 1.

This year the Vue cinema, still at the top of the square, became home for FrightFest and, with it, the festival’s biggest changes and challenges. Over 600 passes are for the full weekend and the biggest screens at Vue hold just over 400 seats; the solution was to have 3 main screens, Horror, Film4 and Arrow. My pass was for the Horror screen though I had wanted the Film4 screen, but I’m not sure if that made too much difference in the end, aside from being with the regular FrightFesters. Films would rotate round each screen except for the opening film, The Guest, and closing film The Signal; both would start at the same time while the rest of the screenings would have staggered start times, which actually worked really well. It kept the flow of people moving around the cinema quite nicely. Another reason was to allow guests of the film to be able to do Intro’s and Q & A’s for each showing. Maybe this did have an impact on the number of guests attending the festival as they could be at the event for 5 or 6 hours instead of a few hours for 1 screening; or maybe I just missed a lot of the guests. I don’t seem to have as many pictures with people as I normally end up with, that’s for sure.

Alongside the main screens were 2 discovery screens, both holding double the amount of seats that these screens in the Empire would have. At first I thought that this was possibly the festival’s biggest problem. You could potentially lose over half of the screen’s audience to discovery screens or not wanting to see a film and sometimes by just missing them like I did twice by talking to people in the bar! On the Friday I was just missing that great atmosphere that 1 screen gave the festival. By the first evening showing of Dead Snow 2 on the Friday – funnily enough not in my screen but the Arrow screen – the FrightFest vibe was starting to take hold and I began to really start enjoying myself. The weekend just kept getting better and better.

There were some hiccups. To get discovery screen tickets I had been issued a bar code and the idea was to scan in the bar code at the tills and pick your discovery tickets. These became available after the first film and I got to the till pretty quickly. I am in a group of 6 and we had organised ourselves before the festival so we knew which films we needed tickets for and how many. The problem when they tried to scan in the bar-code, it had faded and it was over a perforated fold, it was extremely difficult to get the scanner to read any of our 6 tickets. It would eventually pick it up, but it took 40 minutes to do 2 films. In the end the manger re issued the bar codes with no perforated paper and we ended doing 6 more films in 20 minutes. Having held up the queue long enough we bailed and went back the next day to pick up the rest of the tickets. Once over that initial problem the new system worked a lot better than having to queue up at 8am every morning and actually only a few showings fully sold out. A lesson learned for next year, print the bar codes at the festival and don’t panic over screens selling out!

Really though I have to say that the Vue worked better than the Empire for a number of reasons. The biggest fault at the Empire was that the foyer contained the media wall, the merchandise shop, the bar area and confectionery stand, it became quite claustrophobic at times. Stopping to talk, get a signature or photo just added to the confusion. While the Vue being on numerous levels meant that the media wall was in the foyer with the confectionery tills, the merchandise stall was next to the bar on the first floor, the bar area was a decent size and a great place to socialise where you never felt you were getting in the way of anyone. I also feel the actual screens gave me a better experience. I usually sat in row D at the Empire and on many occasions struggled with subtitled films as I couldn’t read the subs due to people’s heads. Not a problem at the Vue, even from row D. Empire’s main discovery screen was tiny (around 100 seats) and sometimes didn’t sound very good at all. Vue’s Discovery screen 1 was superb, much bigger screen, and boy was it loud, which is what I like.

So the venue change, the format change and the discovery screen ticket allocation all improvements on last year for me. While discussing these topics with one of the main organisers we suggested only have discovery screen films on during the day programmes, allowing the main screens to be nearly full during the evening; something to think about.

As for the films? Well, you’ll just have to wait for Part 2 when we’ll give a brief summary of what was seen and what was worth seeing.

Frightfest 2014 Preview Part 2: Change and sleepy queues

By Mike Shawcross (@shawky1969)

FrightfestSaturday usually boasts a strong line up and this year, it’s got some decent looking films and even a Party! Films in the main programme during the day include All Cheerleaders Die, Starry Eyes and Dead Within.

All Cheerleaders Die is from the director Lucky McKee (The Woman) and Chris Siverston (The Lost). An All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and The Craft mash up, it sounds quite a bit of fun and one I’m disappointed to be missing; though it has a DVD release in September.  Starry Eyes is a film from directors Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer and starring relative newcomer Alex Essose. A story of selling your soul for your dreams, as a desperate actress will do anything for her major break in Hollywood. Yet another one that sounds worth a watch. The Harvest starring Michael Shannon, Peter Fonda and Samantha Morton and directed by John McNaughton sounds a very strong film indeed. Boasting a solid cast and a something in the basement premise this really does sound worth seeing. I may have to rethink my Discovery Screen choice for this one.

In the discovery screen and playing against The Harvest for me is Dead Within; from director Ben Wagner. A couple struggle to stay alive in a remote cabin in the woods after surviving a pandemic; not only fighting the dangers from outside they soon have to fight their own paranoia from within. Not high on my watch list; over in the other Discovery screen is Bad Milo, a film I was up for seeing but may change my mind! Directed by Jacob Vaughan and starring Ken Marino (We’re the Millers) about a bloodthirsty creature living in the lower intestine of Duncan (Marino) and emerging from his rectum to eat anyone that is annoying Duncan. Sounds bizarre and ridiculous and just the sort of Discovery film that will generate a lot of buzz! I think I may watch The Harvest.

Next in the Discovery Screens are White Settlers and The Short Films (Part 1). Over the years I’ve come to enjoy the short film showcase usually sponsored by the Horror Channel; some have been exceptional, but this year it is tucked away in the Discovery screen and I will be giving it a miss. White Settlers directed by Simeon Halligan (Splintered) and starring Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman) set in the Scottish Borders as a young couple move into a remote farmhouse and are terrorized by a group of masked intruders. Sounds a typical house invasion film, but I’m hoping for something different. I know Simeon; he runs the Grimm Fest film festival in Manchester so I’ll be supporting this film anyway.

Mitch Jenkins directs an Alan Moore penned film; Show Pieces in the Discovery screen 1. A trilogy of stories written directly for the screen by Moore and which sounds fun; I like anthology films, and I do like most of Moore’s adaptations so I’ll be seeing this one.

Saturday evening’s main films are Life After Beth, directed by Jeff Baena in his debut feature and with a stunning cast; Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C Reilly, Anna Kendrick and Molly Shannon.  A zombie rom-com with a twist it sounds a blast and I will be not be missing this one. The Babadook is one which has already gained quite a bit of buzz on twitter this year, and a film I’m looking forward to seeing. Directed by Jennifer Kent in her first film and starring Essie Davis (The Matrix sequels), Daniel Henshall (Snowtown) and Noah Wiseman. The story of a widow looking after her son while his fear grows that there is a monster in the house, she starts to feel a sinister presence around her.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For needs no introduction or build-up; this is the biggest film at the festival this year. The original Sin City was a festival favourite and I’m sure the sequel will play very well; but it’s actually a film I’ll be missing. It opens nationwide a week later plus it’s playing in the midnight slot for the Horror screen so I’m off to a Frightfest party instead. (NB – This has now moved to the opening night)

In the evening discovery screen 1 we have a TBC, Digging up the Marrow and Creep. Digging up the Marrow is a film of two halves. Literally. Opening as a documentary exploring Monster Art it then becomes a horror film as the documentary makers investigate a so called “real” monster. Sounds quite appealing and I do like Adam Greens films, but against The Babadook it has no chance. Creep directed by and starring Patrick Brice alongside Mark Duplass in this improvised film. Taken from a 10 page outline, Duplass and Brice make it up as they go along. I’ll be at the party!

In the Discovery Screen 2 there is The Mirror, a UK production from director Edward Boase and starring Jemma Dallender (I Spit On Your Grave). Based on a so called true story of a haunted mirror reported by the Daily Mail and Huffington Post, I think I’ll be waiting for the DVD.

The following two events in the discovery screen are from the Duke Mitchell film club. Coherence directed by James Ward Byrkit is showing first followed by a Film Party in the final showing of the day. Both events should be worth a visit, though I’ll be attending the Party over the film.

The Sunday line up in the main screen looks very good and I’m only straying into the Discovery Screen for House at the End of Time in the evening session. Discovery screen 2 is showing some retro films for the day, they include The Visitor from 1979 and directed by Giulio Paradisi.  A Nightmare on Elm Street, Robert Englund is in attendance at the festival. Nekromantik from 1988 directed by Jorg Buttgereit and The Shining from 1980, directed by Stanley Kubrick. The final film of the day is a new film; Another from director Jason Bognacki. Sounding like a giallo/hammer hybrid I think I’ll stay in the main screen.

Open Windows directed by Nacho Vigalondo and starring Elijah Wood, Neil Maskell and Sasha Grey; who all have had previous films play at the festival before, comes this new cyber horror film. One I wasn’t interested in until I read the synopsis. Worth a look. In the Discovery screen 1 there is  Expedition; while it sounds good, I’m not sure I want to watch a dinosaur found footage film.

Faults starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Thing prequel) and directed by Riley Stearns, his first feature looks an interesting look into the effects that a cult can have on people and their families; really looking forward to this one. In Discovery Screen 1 there is the documentary Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, a look at the life and art of Drew Struzan, it does sound a decent documentary and one I’ll pick up on DVD.

Among the Living from the directors of Livid and Inside; Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo and starring Beatrice Dalle comes this coming of age horror film. I am looking forward to this one. Playing alongside this is Doc of the Dead, another documentary about surviving a zombie apocalypse; I’m not really a zombie fan so I’ll stay in the main screen.

The Samurai, a German film and one I really know nothing about. I was hoping to jump into the discovery screen but they don’t really interest me. The Shining, and Lost Soul. So I’ll stick with The Samurai – it might surprise me. Lost Soul is another documentary and doesn’t really draw me in, though it gets good feedback, but may be another I’ll pick up on DVD.

The House at the End of Time, is a debut film written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo. The first horror film from Venezuela to be shown internationally, this sounds a promising feature; a much better option than Stage Fright in the main screen or Another. Stage Fright, directed by Jerome Sable and starring Minnie Driver and Meatloaf is a musical, a mix of Friday the 13th and Glee, and while that sounds a strange mash-up, it’s not one that’s caught my imagination.

The final film of the day is Home. There is nothing playing against this film. From the director of The Pact, Nicolas McCarthy, Home stars Catalina Sandino Moreno in a story of demonic horror. I prefer the new title of At the Devil’s Door. Sounds a good end to Sunday.

The final day is a mix of main screen, discovery films and tiredness and of course the after festival drinks at the Phoenix Club.

Alleluia, directed by Fabrice du Welz and starring Lola Duenas and Laurent Lucas. The 2nd film in the Ardennes trilogy, the first film being Calvaire. Worth a watch if the first one arrives in time from Amazon! In the discovery 1 there is Altergiest from director Tedi Sarafian, writer of Terminator 3, which put me off a little. This horror/sci-fi thriller is Sarafian’s directional debut and is based on true events, which put me off again. Deadly Virtues from director Ate De Jong, sounds a run of the mill home invasion film, though my 2nd option if I’ve not seen Calvaire before the festival.

Nymph has me in 2 minds; a killer Siren, a Nazi concentration camp and featuring Franco Nero (Django) this doesn’t sounds too bad. Directed by Milan Todorovic and starring Kristina Klebe, I might change my mind. At the moment my plan is to see Lemon Tree Passage in Discovery 1. An Australian urban legend and directed by David Campbell. We’ve been here before with a group of non-believers wanting to disprove the legend, and of course things are never what they seem. Blood Moon from Jeremy Wooding, who directed The Magnificent Eleven (which was alright!) comes this werewolf western starring Shaun Dooley.

Xmoor directed by Luke Hyams and starring Melia Kreiling and Nick Blood comes this UK creature feature. One I’ll be avoiding. The Jessica Cameron Truth or Dare which she co-wrote, directed and stars in alongside Ryan Kiser and Heather Dorff, is my draw in Discovery 1. The film has had a fantastic run on the festival circuit and one I’m looking forward to seeing. Extraterrestrial sounds excellent, from director Nacho Vigalondo, who gave us Timecrimes (which was also excellent) comes this sci-fi romantic comedy. This is one I’m gutted to be missing.

VHS Viral, the 3rd outing in the VHS franchise and one I’m really looking forward to watching, after really enjoying VHS 2 and not really liking most of VHS 1, this one boasts a decent line up of directors including Nacho Vigalondo, Gregg Bishop and Marcel Sarmiento; could be a highlight of the festival. The Remaining plays in Discovery 1, directed by Casey La Scala is a religious-slanted horror film. Playing on the biblical end of the world scenario it’s one I’ll be avoiding. In Discovery screen 2 the 2nd part of the Shorts will be shown, with one short, The Tour starring Jessica Cameron and Heather Dorff, a real coup for Frightfest’s own Damon Rickard in his first short.

The final film of the festival is The Signal, starring Breton Thwaites (Oculus), Olivia Cooke and Laurence Fishburne. Directed and co-written by William Eubank this sounds an interesting film to end on and one I’m looking forward too.

Following the final film will be drinks in the Phoenix bar, where Mike Shawcross will be attending to celebrate and dissect what has been and gone over the previous 5 days – and of course have a well-earned pint or two!

FrightFest will be running from 21-25 August 2014. You can keep up to date with Mike’s reactions here, on our Twitter page (@FailedCritics) or by following him at @Shawky1969

Frightfest 2014 Preview Part 1: Change and sleepy queues

FrightfestBy Mike Shawcross (@shawky1969)

Frightfest, now in its 15th year will go through its most radical change yet; moving from the Empire to the Vue in Leicester Square has meant more change than just a venue! At the Empire; Frightfest has been able to grow, not just in ticket sales but also in size by offering many more films by having multiple screens. These were called the Discovery Screens and last year they even managed to have three of them.  While the Empire boasts an impressive 1300 plus seats in screen 1; this was the home to the main programme for the festival. The Vue’s biggest screen is 413 seats; this alone would not accommodate the weekend passes and herein lies the biggest challenge for the festivals organisers.

Their answer was to show the main programme over three screens; giving each screen its own sponsor name and rotating the films at staggered times in a day and evening session. Screen 5 (413) is the Film 4 screen; 6 (264) is the Arrow screen and 7 (411) is the Horror screen.  Then there are two discovery screens which will play a film in this same period; if you want to watch a discovery film you will only miss your screen’s film in that time slot.  Unlike the previous years the discovery films will only play once; this means that some planning is actually required to give you the optimum set of films you would want to see in the discovery and main screen.  Within my group of friends we ended up debating this for a good few hours; a good way to pass the time in the sleepy queue. We were leaning towards the Horror screen, when under further discussion we came round to the Film 4 screen. Once at the till and needing 3 isle seats we actually ended up back in the Horror screen!

Talking of the sleepy queue, this has become as famous as the festival itself, usually starting on the Friday; this year the first person was in the queue at midnight on the Thursday! At the end of the day people camp out for tickets or for a place at the front of a stage all the time, so I don’t really see it being that ridiculous. However passersby enquiring what we are queuing for had a slightly different view to me! Over the last 2 years I’ve joined the queue around 6.30 am on the Saturday; being in the same place both years about 100 people from the front. This year after a couple of films, a hearty meal and some late night coffee we joined at 2am; about 40th in the line. With chairs, no rain and a good sense of humour it’s actually a great night!

The Vue cleared the longest sleepy Q in record time, just over an hour, however it soon fell apart. The online booking system crashed in spectacular fashion and frustration and anger was vented at both the Frightfest organisers and the Vue cinema on social media. While not really the fault of Alan, Ian and Paul they were involved in organising the recovery of the booking system with Vue. Lessons will be learned from this year’s event, there will be hick ups and issues, there always are. Both the London and Glasgow film festivals suffer online problems every year; the internet is good, it’s just not that good!

On the Friday at 2pm the films are announced and this year I have to admit the line up is rather strong; opening the festival is the British film The Guest, starring Dan Stevens. The closing film is the Brenton Thwaites (Oculus), Lawrence Fishburne-starring sci-fi thriller The Signal.  These two films will play in all three screens at the same time!

Two more films play on the Thursday evening after The Guest. Housebound from New Zealand, directed by Gerard Johnstone and billed along the lines of if you liked The Loved Ones this is for you. I really enjoyed The Loved Ones. Ending the first night is the crazy sounding Zombeavers, directed by Jordan Rubin at a brief 80 minutes I can see this being fun late night movie, hopefully!

Friday; the main screen’s day films are Shockwave Darkside 3D, Green Inferno and Late PhasesShockwave Darkside is directed by Jay Weisman in his first feature and from the producers of The Banshee Chapter which wasn’t too bad. Personally I will be looking at a discovery film for this one. Green Inferno is Eli Roth’s first film as Director in 6 years, some may argue that’s not a bad thing, I don’t mind his films, though hearing feedback on Inferno I’ll be trying for a discovery film! There seem to be a few werewolf films in the line up and here’s the first one; Late Phases directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano (Cold Sweat/Here comes the Devil). Neither of these I have seen, boasting a decent cast I would not be too unhappy if I ended up in this; though the discovery films look better.

The opening two discovery screen films are Honeymoon (D1) and Wolf Creek 2 (D2), I saw Wolf Creek 2 at the Glasgow Frightfest and can see why they’ve brought it down to the main event; it’s great fun. Honeymoon stars Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway and my choice for this slot. Directed by Leigh Janiak in her first feature, the film has gained some critical acclaim while playing the festival circuit.

Next in the discovery screens are Preservation directed by actor Christopher Denham in his 2nd full feature; his first was Home Movie which I haven’t seen. Hunting trip goes wrong, they become the hunted by local hunters with extra relationship issues thrown in as well; sounds a well worn path. Though with Wrong Turn 6; really? This is in Discovery 2 I might end up back in Inferno here. Having seen all 5 and wondering how they got 4 and 5 even made I’ll be steering clear of this one.

The last two discovery films are Julia directed by Matthew A. Brown, his first feature film. Starring Ashley C. Williams from The Human Centipede, this is one I do fancy with its neon-noir label and what looks like a brutal revenge thriller. While R100 sounds like a typical off the scale Asian film, which is a draw to me as I’m a big fan of Asian cinema.

The evening session on Friday boasts Dead Snow 2, The Last Showing and a T.B.C. film. Dead Snow 2; Directed by Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) and by all accounts better than the original sounds a blast, with Russian zombies fighting Nazi zombies, but it plays against 2 films I’d really like to see in the Discovery screens (oh the decisions!).  Robert Englund has a film at the festival (well two actually as Elm Street 1 is playing), in The Last Showing directed by Phil Hawkins; sounds like a found footage with a difference. A UK production also starring Keith Allen this would be a draw if Englund is on the guest list.

Over in the discovery screen The Forgotton is a UK film directed by Oliver Frampton and from the producers of the Boederlands comes this tensely plotted, gritty urban supernatural horror.  In discovery 2 Exists is showing. Another found footage film, which will not be high on my agenda. (Not a fan of FF films) From the director of The Blair Witch Project; Eduardo Sanchez comes a “in the woods” survival film against a fearsome female creature, sounds far too much shaky cam for me!

Then in the Discovery screens are The Canal and The Den. The Canal is an Irish film from director Ivan Kavanagh and stars Rupert Evans (Hellboy) and Steve Oram (Sightseers), along the lines of Don’t Look Now and Suspiria this ghost story is dark and disturbing. A midnight hit at the Tribeca festival it may be worth a visit. The Den directed by Zachary Donohue is his first feature. A modern day Rear Window using the computer as the window; sounds an interesting idea, but one I might catch another time.

Finally comes 2 discovery films that will draw a lot of attention. WolfCop and The Drownsman and I’m torn which one to see; as well as them being up against Dead Snow 2! Wolf Cop sounds the mad sort of film which Frightfest late night viewers will lap up. With strong sales at cannes, WolfCop has already secured a sequel; I can see this being one hot ticket on Friday night! While The Drownsman also looks a pretty strong film; directed by Chad Archibald (Kill / Neverlost) neither I have seen. But I like the idea of this film; as Madison (Michelle Mylett) has hydrophobia her friends try to break her fear but only unleash The Drownsman!

The rest of the line up will appear in part 2.

Frightfest Glasgow 2014: A Review

 

Wolf Creek 2
Wolf Creek 2

By Mike Shawcross (@shawky1969)

Having been a regular visitor to the London Frightfest for the last 8 years I eventually dragged myself up to Scotland to see what the Glasgow event was like. Needless to say I’ll be going back next year, I had a great time. While not as intense as the August event I liked the more intimate feel of this smaller gathering. A fair few familiar faces littered the audience and I also had a chance to meet some social media friends for the first time, just like the Failed Critics’ one and only James Diamond [I didn’t pay him to phrase it like that – James].

Ti West in conversation was an extra event on the Thursday night. With West’s new film The Sacrament playing over the weekend I guess it made good sense to host it something like this. Being a fan of House of the Devil and The Innkeepers I was looking forward to both the event and the new film. Even with his small filmography West delivered a solid 90 minutes of interesting and insightful stories of his short career. The people he worked with, like Larry Fessenden and Eli Roth, and how he secured his cast for his films; mostly through friends and chance meetings. In the Q&A he provided strong positive answers and was very willing to share his experiences. I do hope that this conversation gets aired on the internet if you like West’s work then it was an interesting 90 minutes from a director with a promising future ahead of him.

Killers (Dir:The Mo Brothers) – Day 2 Closing Film.

To know this was a replacement for The Raid 2 is a bitter pill to swallow; however it was described to me as something similar to I saw the Devil, while actually not in the same class as I Saw the Devil, it’s not that far away.

An established serial killer from Japan baits an Indonesian reporter into committing murder, the two men from a strange bond as both their lives start to unravel until they both meet in a gripping climax. This was my favourite film of the 2 days, only just though. The production, the acting, the score are all very good; it builds a steady tension towards the excellent final scenes of the film. As much as I enjoyed it, I suspect I would have enjoyed the Raid 2 more. (4.5/5)

The Sacrament (Dir: Ti West) – Day 1

A mock-documentary heavily influenced by the Jonestown incident in the 70’s. Possibly more disturbing than most films on show over the 2 days, this is a chilling story of what could and obviously has taken place before. A community run by one man, known as Father (played rather brilliantly by Gene Jones) and his hold over his followers.

The cast is excellent and West is clever enough to use actors who have experience with operating camera equipment.  I guess listening to West the evening before had set me up for this film and I really did enjoy it. (4.5/5)

Proxy (Dir: Zack Parker) – Day 1

This was excellent, from the cast, the script and to the constantly changing narrative. Parker kept me on my toes throughout the film. Every time I thought I had a handle on where the film was going it would spin it off in another direction. An uneasy watch at times, but none the less a gripping one; I’m interested in watching the film again, I wonder if Parker has littered the film full of clues as some scenes left me wondering what really was going on. With its Hitchcockian feel this is well worth checking out. (4/5)

The Afflicted (Dir: Derek Lee & Clif Prowse) – Day 1

My surprise film of the 2 days, while the overall concept hadn’t gripped me and the fact it was another found footage film left me quite cold, the style is starting to wear thin for me. Yet Lee and Prowse proved me wrong, they work wonders. A great opening had me hooked, the twist is great and then from there it’s a brilliantly handled horror film. My advice though is don’t watch the trailers, just see it! This is all I’m going to say about it…. (4/5)

Wolf Creek 2 (Dir: Greg Mclean) – Day 1

Mick Taylor (Jarratt) returns to our screens after nearly 10 years, while not a massive fan of the original because it lacks any humour, it’s still a good piece of serial killer horror.

The sequel now with added humour is a much bigger, better film, evident in the opening 10 minutes alone. Jarratt has much more fun with Mick helped by a much better script, though he’s still as brutal, he just seems like he’s really enjoying himself! Mick Taylor might just make it into that honoured group of on-screen killers, if he gets another strong outing like this one. I only hope I don’t have to wait another 10 years to see him again. (4/5)

Video Nasties – Draconian Days (Dir: Jake West) – Day 2

Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape from 2010, gets a sequel or rather Jake West continues the history of film censorship in the UK. With an insight into James Ferman; director of the BBFC as the UK became the most censored country in the Western world.  Hungerford and the murder of James Bulger were associated with Rambo and Childs Play. With These accusations only cemented Ferman’s believe that the public needed to be protected from video nasites. A solid and interesting documentary and well worth seeing (4/5)

Mindscape (Dir:Jorge Dorado) – Day 2

A solid mystery thriller but a strange choice for the line up. While not a horror or even a dark thriller, this might have been more at home in the main festival line up. However I did enjoy the film, a very good cast, with a decent script and enough mystery to keep me intrigued till nearly the end, where it does become a little obvious. The score and the production were very good, with some nice cinematography throughout the film. (3.5/5)

The Scribbler (Dir:John Suits) – Day 2

A comic adaptation, from a comic I’d never heard of; penned by Daniel Schaffer who also wrote the screenplay. Really not sure what I thought of this, a film of moments; some missed opportunities and the curse of the origin story. The look of the film and its concept are great, but nothing I can really get into without spoiling it. The cast are all fine, and Dillahunt gives the best performance. Overall they are let down by a screenplay which never really builds any tension and just stumbles into the final act. Should have been better – but worth a look (3/5)

Almost Human (Dir:Joe Begos) – Day 2

Nearly a very good low budget sci-fi horror where the poster actually oversells the film. The cast were ok, generally it had some decent ideas while heavily borrowed from other alien films through the years. Its opening was pretty good it just all fell flat for me due to the very bad script, it really needed some humour. By the time the film found its feet and gave me something to laugh at I had given up. Again there were quite a few people who did enjoy it, just not me. (2/5)

Torment (Dir:Jordan Banks) – Day 2

I really struggled to like this film, a home invasion film where there was nothing new on show or with a decent twist to freshen up this well worn familiar plot line. The cast were underused and to be honest didn’t look that interested anyway, the longer it went on the less interested I became with it. Like found footage this concept is a little over used now and really needs something a bit different to make them stand out.(1.5/5)

Savaged (Dir: Michael S. Ojeda) – Day 1 Opening Film

I guess you could say it was the Crow meets I spit on your grave, which in concept sounds pretty cool; and done well would have been bloody cool. Well it was entertaining, but it entertained for the wrong reasons, the bad script and the poor delivery by the 2nd rate actors had the audience laughing at it rather than with it, was enough to condemn this to the worst film of the 2 days.    (1/5)

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive Tom HiddlestonBy Mike Shawcross (@shawky1969)

Being a big fan of horror genre I’ve always considered the vampire sub genre as my favourite type of horror film. From the ageless story of Dracula, the oh-so-cool Lost Boys and the gritty dirty vampires from Near Dark or Stake Land, I’ll never grow tired of the blood sucking forces of evil. Unless they make them sparkle that is.

Hearing Jim Jarmusch was writing and directing a vampire film, starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and John Hurt I had to say I was somewhat excited to say the least. But that was all I knew, I had seen nothing else, no trailer, no synopsis; and that for me is the best way to see a film.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a love story, a romance between vampires, spanning centuries.  It’s unlike any vampire film I’ve seen before, and I’ve tried to come up with something remotely similar and failed; hopefully someone may know of one, I would be interested to know if one does exists. This isn’t a vampire falls for girl or boy and romance blossoms like most teen vampire films, here the vampires are in love, and with an intense passion  that only 100’s of years could mature; this concept alone had me hooked.

Tom Hiddleston is Adam, a brooding vampire who’s will to remain alive is dying as fast as the human race. He is suicidal, resigned to composing funeral marches, he lives in solitude on the outskirts of Detroit. His only contact with anyone is with Ian (Anton Yelchin) who supplies his instruments and anything else Adam requests;  and a local Doctor (Jeffrey Wright) who supplies his blood.

Adam isn’t alone though, there are more of his kind, Eve (Tilda Swinton), Marlow (John Hurt) and Ava (Mia Wasikowska) are the only vampires which fill this story. Eve and Marlowe are in Tangiers, supplied with their blood from a local Doctor, and it’s blood of a high quality according to Marlowe. Eve is Adams wife,  and it’s their relationship which is the centre of the film.  Like Adam they keep themselves to themselves and trust only a few people.

The final vampire is Ava, Eve’s sister in name rather than blood; she is a little more trouble than she’s worth and Adam only tolerates her for Eve’s sake. She is young, carefree, irresponsible and is living in L.A. ; she just doesn’t have the same control as the others;  it’s the consequences of her actions which puts Adam and Eve in danger, as they leave Detroit for Tangiers; their problems go from bad to worse.

Jarmusch strips away the vampire action; if you are looking for kills and cool vampire deaths this isn’t the film for you. The focus is on the relationship between  Adam and Eve; their eternal love they share for each other, his love of music, her love of reading and the world they live in; even while it is dying around them. Pure blood is rare, the majority of the human race is infected by the polluted water supply. Blood is bought like a drug; Jarmusch rather  plays on this, as the vampires take their “hits” of blood they exhibit pleasure, a rush as the blood brings them to life; one of my favourite little touches.

Much of the vampire lore is intact, being invited into a house, the sun is deadly and blood sustains their life. Yet the script does make fun of some of these traditions, as Ava breaks some of these rules and mocks them. The script is superb, it’s sharp and witty with little anecdotes of people they’ve met through their long lives; the ultimate in name drops.

The world Jarmusch has created for these vampires is fantastic, it’s a visual treat from the derelict house filled with Adams instruments to Eve’s apartment stacked to the ceiling with books; you get the impression she has read them all a number of times. The detail is fantastic and it doesn’t stop at the set design the look of the vampires is stunning as well; their porcelain skin, their thick matted hair and their striking eyes;  Adam and Eve are two of the coolest looking vampires I’ve seen in a long time. It really is a wonderful film to look at and listen too.

Overall it’s ultra cool, extremely stylish and really it’s the “Drive” of the vampire films.  Hiddleston and Swinton are superb, they carry the film effortless; while the rest of the cast all deliver decent if quite short parts through the film, none of them seem out of place.

However I’ll warn you now, this is a slow burn, I mean a real slow burn. It is a film which will divide audiences; some will call it dull and it manages to achieve absolutely nothing. Yet some will enjoy the story, the detail, the dialogue and the cast; calling it a film for film lovers….. Personally I thought it was superb and I’m not saying that to be cool; I really am looking forward to seeing it again.

The Impossible

The-Impossible

By Mike Shawcross

This review may contain spoilers.

Films depicting real natural catastrophes can be very hit or miss, and mostly they miss. Hollywood disaster movies often descend into melodrama and over-produced stylised action to raise the tension, and flesh out their simple survival plots. When these events are as recent as the tsunami of 2004, which cost the lives of over 200,000 people, and the images are still so vivid in our memories due to the large scale media coverage, is a film what we really need?

Maybe not, but the fact that this is a Spanish film with Juan Antonio Bayona (director of The Orphanage) in charge gave me some hope that the tragic events might be told in a more honest way. It also bodes well that Bayona decided not to specify the nationalities of the main characters, so as to create a universal film in which nationalities were irrelevant to the plot. I can understand the reasoning in casting an English-speaking cast, as if this had been a subtitled film a vast majority of people wouldn’t have bothered to see it. Of course this would lead to the inevitable American remake and the overproduction of the disaster.

Bayona centres his film on one family; a happy, normal family. If there are any tensions we are unaware of them; this isn’t a film about reconciliation or forgiveness. This is a simple story of survival, courage and hope against the odds that the members of the family are still alive. The fact that the film keeps them central throughout  makes it work even more for me. This is their story, their ordeal. It makes no difference that they are not locals, or even that they are Westerners; at the end of the day they were still part of this disaster. They were just lucky enough to survive it.

Maybe that’s why Bayona wanted to take this family’s story, because it is remarkable and it is worthy of being told. I think the director has done an excellent job. It’s an extremely sensitive subject and will invoke quite a few negative feelings and naysayers. I have no idea how survivors will react to it either, but I hope some commend Bayona for his efforts. The scenes of the Tsunami hitting the resort and the aftermath are extremely powerful. I really got an understanding of the force of the water, the speed the wave was travelling, and how helpless people would have been as it hit the land. The aftermath was devastating to look at as well, as Bayona shows us graphic scenes of the victims and the harrowing distress of the survivors from the family’s view point.

Naomi Watts (Maria) in a physical demanding role really delivers. Her emotion never seems false, and she is just superb. Her scenes in the wave are excellent; and we can really see the fear in her eyes. Alongside her, Tom Holland (Lucas) as the eldest son gives a solid performance for such a young actor. This is also the best I’ve seen McGregor (Henry) recently (he was ok in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, but here he really impresses). The score is quite simply beautiful, with pieces of music composed by Fernando Velzquez whose previous works include The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes. He’s also composed the score for the forthcoming Mama, which is released in February.

My final thoughts are about the emotional connection I had with the story. I’m a family man with three kids, and maybe that’s why I was so emotionally moved by this film. That said, I suspect I would still have been moved by this tragedy if I was single. This is an uneasy watch about a disaster of massive proportions, but it is ultimately a powerful and uplifting story.