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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.

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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.