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Failed Critics Podcast: 36th Cambridge Film Festival Special

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As the 36th Cambridge Film Festival nears its conclusion, we round-up and preview some of the best independent and international movies that you still have a chance to see!

In this episode, Owen Hughes guides you through our pick of the bunch as he’s joined by our world cinema experts Liam and Andy (who you may remember contributed to our World Cinema Special podcast back in January).

From Romanian and Greek, to Ecuadorian and Colombian films. From docu-dramas to short film compilations. On topics as diverse as incest and the Russian avant-garde movement. If you’re looking for a movie that’s just off the beaten track from the usual mainstream cinema, then we’ve got you covered.

In the podcast, we chat about:

Cloudy Sunday – Showing Wednesday 26th October, 4pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Next Generation Tiger Shorts 2016 – Wednesday 26th, 5.30pm (Cinemobile)
Wonderland – Wednesday 26th, 5.30pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Between Sea and Land – Wed 26th 8pm (Arts Picturehouse) & Thu 27th 12.45pm (cinemobile)
Alba – Thursday 27th, 5.30pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Illegitimate – Thursday 27th, 6.15pm (Arts Picturehouse)

Plus the Dutch Scottish drama Bodkin Ras, high-brow documentary Revolution – New Art for a New World, and Andy’s favourite from the festival, Austrian drama One of Us. All of which you’re too late to catch at the festival, but are worth digging out if you can find them!

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Vancouver International Film Festival 2016

Our Vancouver-based writer, Nicholas Lay (of In Layman’s Terms), recently found himself in the midst of the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival. Here, he rounds up seven of the more intriguing pictures featured this year…

godspeedGodspeed

Drama / Gangster

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Country of Origin: Taiwan

As an avid lover of classic Hong Kong cinema, the news that comedy legend Michael Hui (of the Hui brothers) was starring in Taiwanese director Chung Mong-hong’s new gangster flick, AND that said gangster flick was playing at VIFF, meant it was almost inevitable that Godspeed would be the first ticket I purchased at the festival this year.

A purveyor of satirical, character-driven comedy since the 1980s, Hui’s wise-but-cynical cab driver spins Mong-hong’s winding yarns into dry, droll gold as he and his companion, the wonderfully blank Na Dow, cruise down to southern Taiwan in order for the latter to perform the sort of drug deal we all know is going to go badly wrong.

Godspeed won’t be for everyone, but if you’re in the foreign language market for a violent, darkly humorous, subtle technical achievement (Nagao Nakashima’s ranging cinematography is gorgeous at times), then definitely make a note of this one for later.

Watch the trailer here.


Hello Destroyer

Drama

Director: Kevan Funk

Country of Origin: Canada

Without doubt the most depressing film I’ve seen this year (seriously), Kevan Funk’s debut feature, Hello Destroyer, is a bleak, painfully frank examination of the cycle of violence forever present at the heart of Canada’s national pastime.

Flirting with the blurred boundaries of an enforcer – regardless of the level the game is played at – the focus is Tyson Burr, an up-and-coming rookie riding the only talent he has ever been pushed to develop in the hope that, one day, his career may reach the pinnacle that is the NHL. Instead, one overly zealous decision, one single product of the nurturing he has received at the hands of the system; sees him gradually nudged back toward the cold, hard reality of the small town BC life he so desperately wants to escape.

The excruciating, systematically ruthless descent of Tyson as both a hockey player and a human being is ramped up by Funk’s intense style and a haunted, empathy-inspiring turn by Jared Abrahamson.

Trailer yet to be released.

inavalleyofviolence

In a Valley of Violence

Western

Director: Ti West

Country of Origin: USA

Those who’ve seen writer/director Ti West’s acclaimed micro-budget horror flick, The House of the Devil, will be familiar with his ability to transform a basic premise, a limited cast, a lead character who spends a large portion of time on their own, and plenty of glorious homage-paying into a workable, enjoyable picture. Finally moving away from horror, West turns his eye to the old school Western.

In a Valley of Violence follows a similar pattern to The House of the Devil, and certainly lives up to its name; as West holds nothing back in this backwater tale of fully justified (trust me, you’ll agree) revenge. Ethan Hawke stars as the wandering gunslinger, while John Travolta makes a random, but welcome appearance as the local Marshal.

There’s nothing all too groundbreaking about the film as a whole, but it looks great and West’s writing – particularly the comedy – is strong, as is the timing provided it by his cast. The modern subtext, deliberate or not, of Hawke’s character’s past and the small town setting – like recent neo-Western, Hell or High Water – is equally as interesting, but, if I’m being honest, the highlight is one hundred percent the quite marvellous canine performance of Hawke’s trusty mutt, Abbie.

Watch the trailer here.


Moonlight

Drama

Director: Barry Jenkins

Country of Origin: USA

Riding into town on the crest of the TIFF hype wave, Moonlight became one of the higher profile features at VIFF, due to the elevated levels of chat it enjoyed in advance. A moving journey along the path of one young man’s lifelong struggle as a black homosexual, trying to find his place in a forgotten, poverty-ridden corner of modern America; Moonlight is a highly relevant commentary on the stereotypes and social injustice that still plague a great number of people far more often than the odd flash on the news many of us are privy too.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins visual eye contrasts the striking and peaceful with the deliberately claustrophobic. One could argue he goes a tad overboard with the odd “artsy” sequence here and there, but it’s a minor complaint.

Featuring solid performances from the well arranged ensemble cast, Moonlight is more a conveyance of intriguing, vital subject matter than a “great” film. In these uncertain times, however, it certainly deserves a watch.

Watch the trailer here.

paterson

Paterson

Drama / Comedy

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Country of Origin: USA

Without question the highlight of my VIFF experience this year, Jim Jarmusch’s week-in-the-life of Adam Driver’s bus driving, poetry-composing lead character, Paterson, who lives in the town of Paterson, NJ, is a both a study, and itself a triumph of nuanced creativity, set against the mundane nature of everyday life.

Jarmusch has always been an unconventional filmmaker (in case you’re unaware, one of his films stars Forest Whitaker as a modern day, urban samurai and mafia guardian angel – and it is awesome), and Paterson is no exception to his repertoire. Pulling us in close to his characters’ eccentric normalness with a tight script and beautiful direction, Jarmusch masterfully sets up sequences of tension and relief that are clearly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but genuinely have you on the edge of your seat in the world of Paterson and Co. Moment after moment of sly comedic genius compliments such an approach, with everything from ordinary background objects, to the slightest facial reaction of our lead character playing a part alongside the amusing, dialogue-driven interactions that sustain his various relationships.

Driver, whose career goes from strength to strength, spearheads a top notch cast opposite Goldshifteh Farahani, with further stellar canine involvement (a running theme at VIFF) and a brief, but memorable cameo from Method Man, as Jarmusch revisits the Wu-Tang connection he established years back on Ghost Dog (which, if you’re yet to Google it, is the Forest Whitaker flick mentioned above).

Watch the trailer here.


Under the Shadow

Horror

Director: Babak Anvari

Country of Origin: UK / Jordan / Qatar

We often speak of the literal horrors of war, but rarely does the field of cinematic horror find itself in the midst of the battlefield. Iranian writer/director Babak Anvari sets out to change that with his subtext-layered, Under the Shadow; set beneath the harrowing barrage of Iraqi bombs raining down upon Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war.

The standard premise of a mother and daughter haunted in their own home is given a new lease of life by the backdrop of war, as Anvari dances on our nerves with a tightly wound depiction of his characters’ increasingly desperate predicament. The horror is both further emphasised and enhanced due to the depressingly intriguing military, political, and social quandaries faced by our two lead characters throughout.

Aided by standout performances from Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi, Anvari has fired the gun on adding an extra layer or two to the usual jump-punctuated screamfest formula.

Watch the trailer here.

weirdos

Weirdos

Drama / Comedy

Director: Bruce McDonald

Country of Origin: Canada

Balancing out Hello Destroyer’s dark take on small town life north of the border; Weirdos is veteran director Bruce McDonald’s black and white throwback to the folksy, teen-dream Canadian road trips of the mid-70s.

A true coming-of-age tale, Daniel Maclvor’s witty script follows Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend, Alice (a breakout performance by Julia Sarah Stone), as they seek out his metaphorically long-lost mother (Molly Parker, House of Cards) across the province of Nova Scotia. Rebellious teenagers having their insular, cherry-picked ambitions dashed on a regular basis is hardly anything new, but McDonald’s comforting sense of awkward calm ultimately succeeds in providing the heartwarming sense of hope necessary to bring the picture full circle.

One of the highlights of VIFF 2016, Weirdos is a softly spoken ride that does its best to convince you that, in the end, everything will be all right.

Trailer yet to be released.

FrightFest 2016 – Day Three

“You came here.  Of your own free will and volition.”

Here I am, sat in a dimly lit red corridor surrounded by strange models of bleeding hearts and instruments of torture, along with more than a handful of likeminded horror fans preparing our arses for a marathon horror session.

In a way, I’m glad that I couldn’t take the day off to hit day two yesterday. As much as I love the idea of a weekend of non-stop horror, the idea of sitting in a cinema for more than 12 hours a day for four days is scarier than anything they could put on screen. Strangely, I’m kind of grateful.

Luckily today sees a couple of films I really want to watch hitting that screen; some stuff I’ve been waiting to see for a while and some stuff from a director I really love to watch work. So now the doors are open and I’m going in to see what kind of tat has been left on my seat today. I’ll catch you on the other side.


The Rezort

“Seriously. Fuck this island!”

Kicking off this morning’s festivities is this little zombie number. Introduced by the film’s director Steve Barker – of Outpost fame.

This fun little thriller centres on a group of tourists who visit “The Rezort”: a place filled with zombie leftovers of a years ago outbreak that people now pay to visit and quench their bloodlust. These tourists are left for dead when the multi-billion dollar fortress on the centre of the island is hacked and its security compromised. With the horde now loose and no way to stop them, the survivors only have a few hours to escape the island before it is levelled in an attempt to quarantine the virus.

Superb world building, and a cast that includes Dougray Scott seemingly having a ton of fun with this not-wholly-original but slightly-different take on zombie films. It’s refreshing to have a film where everyone already knows what a zombie is and the whole Jurassic Park meets Dead Island thing it has going is awesome.

Basically, The Rezort is what happens when you take video games movies away from Uwe Boll.


Abattoir

“You’re the last piece of this house’s puzzle.”

Darren Lynn Bousman, director of several Saw sequels and bizarre musical Repo: The Genetic Opera has returned to the horror genre with some interesting new ideas.

A throwback to noir mystery thrillers, Abattoir follows Julia (Jessica Lownders), a journalist trying to solve the mystery behind a series of bizarre acts centred around houses where a crime has been committed. Stumbling upon it after the room her sister and nephew are murdered in is stripped from he house, she drags her cop boyfriend Grady (Joe Anderson, who we saw at the start of the festival in My Father, Die) along to investigate the stranger that’s seemingly responsible for these weird goings on.

What starts like a violent mystery thriller quickly becomes a fun ghost story. The old collector, played with a brilliantly creepy tone by Deadwood‘s Dayton Callie, is one of my favourite bad guys/story tellers in quite a while. Bousman has put a creepy little film together that culminates in a brilliantly bat-shit haunted house segment that doesn’t scare you as much as show just how many different ways the man can think of killing people. Loved it. Well worth the wait.


The Master Cleanse

“I just wasn’t strong enough to finish.”

TheMasterCleanse_FilmStill_Final_FeaturingJohnnyGalecki_PhotoByMichaelFimognari

Crap knows what this was. A strange creature-feature drama type thing that invoked memories of Gremlins, except not as scary. A strange choice for a horror festival, The Master Cleanse sees Johnny Galecki and Anna Friel as a pair of lost souls looking to improve their lives with the ultimate cleansing retreat. Shipping themselves off to the country resort run by Oliver Platt and Angelica Houston, the pair are put through a cleanse that (quite literally) puts their negative energy in front of them to confront.

I went in to this one pretty blind, not having a clue what I was letting myself in for. This weird little tale that starts with people throwing up little monsters that represent all the bad stuff in your life, just keeps going down the rabbit hole after that. The stars are decent in roles that, for the most part, I think are pretty alien to them. Strange little flick, I might need to watch it again to decide whether or not I like it.


Sadako Vs. Kayako

“One of you has to be sacrificed.”

So I went into is one a full blown skeptic. A fan of both Ringu and Ju-On, I wasn’t entirely convinced that a grudge match film was the way to go. I didn’t think it was the kind of film that really lent itself to the tonal shift you needed for something like this. There’s no two ways about it: you’ve got to bring the laughs Freddy Vs. Jason style or things could go awfully wrong.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong to be too worried. Sadako Vs. Kayako is a ton of fun on the big screen. It makes the smart decision early on to not take itself too seriously, substituting real creepy scares for (perhaps unintentional) laughs. It proves that Japanese cinema still has what it takes to be creepy and jumpy – even if we see very little of either here – but that it’s also willing to evolve a little to make itself relevant. While this is certainly Sadako’s film in so many ways; Kayako and Toshio are still the creepiest fucking things I’ve ever seen in my life!


Beyond The Gates

“Maybe don’t touch that again.”

tumblr_ocbtlmNMsg1ta2fv3o1_1280

Now, who’d have thought that a day that involved a Ringu film would actually have not only another film with a cursed video tape, but a better one? Certainly not this festival goer.

But here we are, not only a film with a haunted tape, but one that goes full on retro with its look. Remember those board games that had video tapes? I think Atmosfear was probably the biggest one in the UK. Well, here’s a horror flick, filmed to look like it was plucked from a 90’s Blockbuster video, that is based completely on a family playing this insane board game – Beyond The Gates – trying to beat the maniacal woman on the tape running the game and save their dad’s soul.

A couple of decent scares, but so, so many ludicrously funny bits. A cracking little movie that sits up there with Deathgasm for me. Just without the heavy metal and insane language!


Blood Feast

“Soon, my queen will be reborn.”

So we round off the day with a remake of the 1963 splatter flick Blood Feast. Now, I’ve never seen the original, but in his chat before the film director Marcel Walz assured us that original director H G Lewis was pleased with the film. If that’s true, I’ll never be watching the original. Because man oh man was this a terrible film.

We’re talking: the entire auditorium was howling with laughter at every uttered line; the painfully terrible script; and the even worse acting. This film, about a restaurant owner who starts slaughtering people to appease an ancient Egyptian God, starts with a warning about how nasty it is, how those with anxiety or heart conditions should not watch and how the filmmakers are not responsible for your well-being. That should have been the first warning. The second should have told us that if you wanted to watch a decent, well made film, you’d come to the wrong place. So bad was this film, that the close up of this guy sawing another guys dick off not only didn’t shock us, but with the level of torture this mans screenwriting had been putting us through, it was a welcome break from the rest of this accidently horrific film.


T-t-t-t-that’s all, folks.

A cinema fill of people shuffle out like old zombies at nearly 1am, thoroughly disappointed at the downward spiral the day took at the end. A couple of excellent and a couple of very good films today, but all we’ll remember is the confused mumblings of a repressed director who clearly wasn’t hugged enough as a child.

Hopefully, tomorrow doesn’t go the same way. Tomorrow closes out with my most anticipated of the weekend and I’d hate to feel this disappointed after 31.

Anyways. Home. I’ve got to get to my bed. Because I’m back in the road in 8 hours for day four.

FrightFest 2016 – Day One

“The World is not round. Not from where I stand. It’s warped. Contorted.”

I’ve always wanted to come to one of these festivals. A few days surrounded by like-minded horror fans watching new and interesting stuff made to make your skin crawl, your heart race and stain your pants.

As tickets for this year’s festival went on sale, I wondered and waited and couldn’t decide whether or not this was something I should actually do. “Fuck it” I thought. I’m jumping in.

Ok, so real life is getting in the way (as it does) and as such my FrightFest experience this year is three days out of five. I struggled through a long shit week at work, loaded up on Red Bull and Lucozade and hit the motorway for opening night. And there I was. Tired, grubby, and only just making it in time for the opening film of the festival. But I made it. Won’t you join me for a couple of days of horror?


My Father, Die
“Come on. Make me proud.”

Starting the show off with one hell of a bang, Sean Brosnan’s feature debut film blew the roof off the Horror Channel Screen. With a little chat from star and super bad guy Gary Stretch afterwards.

After watching his father beat his older brother to death, leaving him deaf from the same attack, Asher has waited years to avenge his brother’s murder. He gets his chance when his father, Ivan, is released early for good behaviour and he rolls himself back into town. Asher tracks his old man down and lays a vicious beat down to the murderous bastard, leaving him for dead.

But this monster of a man isn’t even close to being done. A brutal and bloody cat and mouse game ensues as Ivan tears the little town apart looking for his son.

My Father, Die set the tone for the rest of the weekend with its visceral violence wrapped up in an excellently made story. With no flab to the film anywhere, it’s as near perfect a film as you’re likely to see.

Gary Stretch’s Ivan is a terrifying monster of a man. Walking a fine line between scary and cheesy-funny, he walks the darker side of that divide brilliantly. I certainly don’t remember him being that big in Dead Man’s Shoes, but the man definitely bulked up for his role as the biker turned killer.

Joe Anderson’s turn as the deaf and voluntarily mute Asher was great. He was convincing as the scared boy in a man’s body, stepping up to protect his family; with a fun and surprisingly effective added touch of the film being narrated by young, pre-mute Asher.

The FrightFest listing for this film describes it as “The Southern Gothic progeny of CAPE FEAR, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and OLDBOY” and I can’t agree more. If you let Rob Zombie remake any of those films, you are going to get this nasty little flick. One of the best films I’ve seen in a while. The rest of the weekend has some work to do to keep up!


Cell
“Stay off your phone. They didn’t.”

Sadly, there was never going to be a good way to follow up Hillbilly Cape Fear back there, so the festival threw out the “Also Ran” of the night. The film that had to be shown on Thursday so it could be called the UK premiere before the cinema and VOD release the next day.

Cell is the latest adaptation from a Stephen King book. Starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson (henceforth know as “The 1408 Team”) it sees graphic novel writer and estranged husband/father Clay Riddell (Cusack) teaming up with grizzly Tom McCourt (Jackson) when the world is mysteriously zombified through untimely use of their phones. Instantly turned into violent psychopaths via their attachment to the iDevices, the monsters created by the strange signal are ever-evolving and ever-more dangerous as the pair struggle to survive on their way to Clay’s wife and son.

Aside from a couple of relatively interesting ideas, Cell doesn’t really offer anything worth watching. Team 1408 seem to enjoy their time together and it’s nice not to have a shiny happy ending, but besides that, you’ll probably do better with 28 Days Later. There’s a lot that could have been great here – but in fairness, the book isn’t one of King’s best – and there’s plenty of potential that’s been squandered. But this is nothing new, especially when it comes to King adaptations.

Just watch Team 1408 in their previous roles together.

Like I said, there was never any chance of a film keeping up with what My Father, Die this evening. Hopefully this is the night they just needed to flash a few mainstream stars around and we can get back to the goodness of great horror afterwards.


And that’s a wrap for the day.

Sadly, my time with opening night ended here. Struggling to stay awake during Cell and the prospect of a two-hour drive home meant I had to call it a night. It meant I missed the world premiere of one of my more anticipated films, Let Her Out, but that’s life. From all accounts, it went down an absolute storm and blew everyone away.

There’ll be no Friday wrap up for this year’s festival. I have to work to pay for the tickets after all. But I will be rooted to my chair all day Saturday and Sunday where I get to see really anticipated films like Darren Lynn Bousman’s Abattoir and Rob Zombie’s 31.

Stay tuned…

Vancouver Short Film Festival 2016

Red Handed

by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

The Vancouver Short Film Festival took place a couple of weekends ago at downtown’s Vancity Theatre, showcasing both rising and established filmmaking talent within the great province of British Columbia, Canada.

Present during the Friday night screenings, I was fortunate enough to catch the ‘Dark Deeds’ segment, featuring two particularly twisted reels that deserve all the accolades coming their way…


Red Handed

Dir: Edward Andrews

Red Handed is a black comedy about an unfit, self-conscious jogger who, in an effort to get fit, stumbles across a dead body deep in the woods.

A joyfully dark examination of humanity’s overly awkward manner of dealing with the unfamiliar – in this case, extreme self-preservation – British director Edward Andrews’ quick-fire flick succeeds in maintaining that all important element of ongoing, multi-layered surprise. Visually driven, the film inspires the perfect amount of reactionary cringe and assumed empathy from an audience no doubt aware that they certainly wouldn’t fare much better if placed in the same scenario. The cryptic narration and minimal character dialogue doesn’t detract in the slightest from Brook Driver’s witty writing, instead only encouraging Andrews’ eye for comedic revelation of the black variety. Edited with an intriguing, yet uneasy style reminiscent somewhat (in my mind) of Jonathan Glazer’s cross-format filmography, the conclusion in particular produces a seamless sense of dreadfully mirthful satisfaction.

Currently doing the rounds on the North American short film circuit, Red Handed has won numerous awards spanning direction, cinematography, editing, and score. Catch it if you can!

More information: www.redhandedshortfilm.com


Vehicular Romanticide

Dir: Andrew Rowe

Desperate and alone, Jennifer begins looking for attractive men to hit with her car as a means of starting conversation. It doesn’t really work, but it does land her face to face with the unconscious man of her dreams.

Described as “a darkly comedic neo-noir examination of female loneliness”, writer/director Andrew Rowe’s Vehicular Romanticide delivers a fresh, feminist-inspired thematic take on the much recycled realm of creepy-stalker-accidently-goes-too-far. Dripping with 1980s-tinged stylistic throwbacks – from static low angles and creative cuts, to the synth-heavy, Drive-inspired score – the picture’s technical side is undoubtedly set to take the festival circuit by storm. Leading us deep down into something more however, is the wonderful, frighteningly subtle performance of Lauren Donnelly. Juxtaposing Rowe’s ticking downward spiral of a character piece, Jennifer’s oblivious, vacant acceptance of her rapidly-disagreeable actions doesn’t deter from the idea that, somehow, she’s rather likeable. What Rowe throws down, she pulls back up, inspiring something bordering on the type of unnerving audience sympathy that only a masterful piece of cinema can achieve.

Andrew Rowe won the 2014 MPPIA Short Film Award for Vehicular Romanticide, with the film itself premiering last month at the Whistler Film Festival. It is set for an online release sometime this year. Look right, look left, look right again, and maybe it’ll soon hurtle into view…

The trailer for Vehicular Romanticide can be viewed here.

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 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.