Andrew Brooker continues his challenge to watch 365 films in 365 days. Here’s how he got on back in May.
This week Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by regular Failed Critic Andrew Brooker as they delve in to Ridley Scott’s latest instalment in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant, complete with Spoiler Alert as well as a spoiler free review.
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.
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?
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.
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?’
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.
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.
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)
Sometimes 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!
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!
By Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
For 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!
By Mike Shawcross (@shawky1969)
Saturday 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!