Saturday, 14 September 2013

"Waiting Firecrackers", the Buck Theorem album


As anyone who attempts to make music knows, it usually takes far longer than you anticipated when it comes to recording. A life drama, procrastination, trying to work out what works and what doesn't, these things take time and interfere with getting the thing completed. Well, I have completed my first solo album on which I actually play stuff. I am sure my love of soundtracks and lo-fi production are self-evident if you should take a listen. The running themes, it turns out, are that of a latchkey kid milling about the house and watching B-movies on TV whilst birds tweet outside and also some sci-fi rocket-launching. You get the idea.

It also features a cover version of The Police's "So Lonely", which is in no way my favourite track of theirs but just one I found myself humming around the place and thought I might have a go at. I think I can date The Police as my first favourite band - along with Adam and the Ants - when, one Christmas, my Dad decided that what  needed was "Zenyatta Mondatta". It remains a favoured album and I've been listening to it since I was, oh, twelve.

It comes with a booklet containing photographs and lyrics.
I am, as ever, in great debt to James Eastwood whose opinions and help in recording key parts of the album (his recording set-up is far more sophisticated than my own) meant I actually did this thing.

It's a free download, so help yourself. I hope you enjoy it.


Monday, 2 September 2013

FRIGHTFEST 2013: Post-mortem

I figure “post-mortem” is the kind of thing that horror bloggers write.

Anyway, I am not so sure that I am hard to please. “The Dead 2 India” works for me, despite its flaws being more obvious than its predecessor. Hell, I even dug the “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” episode from “V/H/S 2”, which was probably my guiltiest pleasure of the festival. But on the other hand, the random logic and smugness of “The Hypnotist” and “Odd Thomas” just made me picky and petty. If it was the dominance of rape that marred last year’s selection, this year is was simply tiresome illogical character-cam… but even then “The Conspiracy” tried to do something new and, even more, “Willow Creek” showed how that aesthetic should be done.

But, in the end, it was a better collection of films than I anticipated because there was nothing I was really, really jazzed up to see. Last year I was really eager for “Maniac” and “Berbarian Sound Studio” (both of which were magnificent). But I got plenty of surprises and happily have a handful of favourites.

In no particular order:

·         Dark Tourist

·         Big Bad Wolves

·         Willow Creek

·         Cheap Thrills

…And worthy mentions:

·         100 Bloody Acres

·         No One Lives

·         You’re Next

I changed my mind about “You’re Next”. I had heated discussions with my friend who didn’t take to “Cheap Thrills”. I bitched about “The Hypnotist” and its logic. I thought the audience this year was even more fun than last year and admired how full-on and appreciative we all were throughout the long weekend.

Here is a list of my favourite things from the films I saw:
·         The ‘monster’ designs in “Frankenstein’s Army”.
·         That tent-based long, long take in “Willow Creek”.
·         The quality of performances throughout, even in exploitation fare such as “100 Bloody Acres”, but especially “Haunter”, “Willow Creek”, “Cheap Thrills” and “In Fear”
·         Zombie-cam in “V/H/S 2: A Ride in the Park”
·         That birth scene in “V/H/S 2: Safe Haven”
·         What creeped me most: aliens in “V/H/S 2” episode “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” because it seemed resembled much as I feared when I was a kid (even though it probably isn’t especially good). Also:
·         Guiltiest pleasure: “V/H/S 2” episode “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”
·         What scared me the most: the noises of “Willow Creek”
·         What scared me the most runner –up: the empty Irish lanes of “In Fear”
·         What bothered me the most: “Dark Tourist” and “Big Bad Wolves”
·         Worst monsters: “R.I.P.D2” and “Banshee Chapter”

Favourite visuals:

·         The image of a man wearing a red bullhead (“The Conspiracy”).

·         The hotel (“In Fear”).

·         The avalanche in “The Dyatolov Pass Incident”

·         The monsters of “Frankenstein’s Army”.

·         The opening of “Big Bad Wolves”

Actually, I am not sure a “Favourite Visuals” list is going very far, because there were so many good, individual moments to enjoy. But those are five favourites anyhow. I mean, “V/H/S 2: Safe Haved” was  probably chock full of vivid unsettling images in its short running time than any two or three of the other films thrown together. But there was so much to chose from… the finger moment from “Cheap Thrills”, Chucky inanimate and then the first time Chucky speaks, the wandering dead of “The Dead 2: India”, that moment in “No One Lives” when the killer infiltrates the gang’s hideout and pops out from where he’s been hiding, the first telekinesis assault in “Dark Touch”… and, yes, even the avalanche scene from “The Dyatlov Pass Incident”. I think we were spoilt.

So long, Frightfest 2013. It was a pleasure.

Frightfest Day5

DAY 5: Frightfest 2013

On the last stretch now, but still much to go. There have been ominous mentions that the big screen, with its capacity of holding 1330 Frightfesters, is to be closed down; even though the showrunners aren’t saying too much it would seem it is going to split into two separate screens (at time of writing, official announcement by the Empire is pending). Already I am thinking that Frightfest would be a slightly lesser experience for loss of the big theatre… but that’s just the pessimist in me.

“Dark Touch” has a fine grey Irish atmosphere in which its young protagonist, maltreated and confused, discovers and explores her psychic powers. At first her telekinetic powers are uncontrollable and she reads the phenomenon around her as the house having a rage, but once she is taken in by another family who try to draw her out of herself, Niamh soon works out what she’s about and learns to focus her powers against the abuse and inanity of adults.  Marina Da Van’s film starts well enough and there are a number of decent set pieces when Niamh’s power lets loose, but the film struggles as it goes on: some of the adult behaviour seems a bit daft and certainly there was unintentional humour causing audience laughter; at other times, certain things do not quite seem clear enough. This means that the birthday doll party scene ends up as unconvincing and unintentionally funny because surely the adults would have had more sensitivity than to let Niamh go to a doll party (after she experienced her infant sibling’s death) and perhaps it is not quite vivid enough that she casts some psychic influence over the other kids (otherwise their mutilation of the dolls is ridiculous). Similarly, the finale is agreeably downbeat and striking some resonance with the kids emulating the inanities and casual control of their parents, but it also feels as if some footage making the sequence fully coherent has been left on the cutting room floor. Full of promise, it nevertheless ends up unsatisfying and feeling somewhat incomplete.

On the other hand, lair Erickson’s “Banshee Chapter” – 3-D! – has very little to offer at all except a bunch of tiresome clichés. It has some found-footage/character-cam aesthetic, which means we reach the ridiculous situation where found-footage is in 3-D. This gives way to the director’s camera, but Erickson films with the same swirling and swinging camera as a character-cam, so the entire film feels like “found footage”. It’s a mess. The premise is that the American government experimented on people with mind-altering drugs; Internet journalist Anne Roland investigates (and is badly played by Katia Winter). Ted Levine steals the show as a burnt-out ex-beatnik dopehead but to little avail. The Frightfest programme states that this is “Based on real documents, actual test subject testimony and uncovered secrets about testing run by the CIA”, but if true their main achievement was in summoning post-“Ringu” spooks. Despite the “true story” angle, this is of very little interest, tired and trivial.
“ODD THOMAS” is one of those oh-so-cute supernatural-superhero wish-fullfillment tales that have characters with first names like “Odd” and “Stormy”. Eponymous Odd Thomas is a young man with the ability to do whatever the hell the script needs him to do: he sees dead people and spends his time avenging their deaths (wait, how many would he need to save in small town USA?); but he also sees wraith-like death creatures that are never quite called demons, even though devil worshiping turns up elsewhere; and then there is a guy who apparently wants to be a serial killer even though he is actually plotting to be a mass murderer (the script throws this all together). And then Odd Thomas can see dead people except for when he is being haunted himself… er? The film can barely go five seconds without a special-effect of some kind. It seems to be some teen-orientated adventure but with jokes about Ed Gein’s belts made of nipples and a mall massacre: that weird, particularly American mixing between the daft and the genuinely disturbing without an inch of self-awareness leaves the whole thing a bit clueless and unfocused and a hodgepodge of horror junk that just leaves it as a pile of various crap thrown against the wall. “Odd Thomas” has found far more favour with others than from myself, because diverting as it may possibly be, it just seems to me to be more mainstream filmmakers waving various horror tropes and attributes at the audience and ending up incoherent instead of genuinely and gleeful chaotic. There is little sense it actually knows what it is doing except chucking a bunch of stuff onscreen.  It is based on the novel by Dean R Koontz and directed by Stephen Sommers, and you can take those as warnings.
Jorge Michel Grau’s “We Are What We Are/Somos lo que hay(2010) was the very first film I ever saw at Frightfest, years back. It was the only film I saw at Frightfest that year (because they banned “A Serbian Film” at the last minute) and I thought it was minor classic. Bill Sage’s American re-interpretation is moody, slick and getting much praise, but it is elegant and stylised where Grau’s original is dirty and desperate. The original is about a broken underclass beyond repair, it’s about starvation and struggle where Sage’s remake is mostly about ritual and bullying patriarchy. Sage doesn’t really get into the nasty stuff and the very ritual that ought to show without qualm the exact gristle of the family’s cannibalism is all off-stage, so that we get a sympathetic backstory about the ceremony but not its truth. On its own terms it is a fine variation slice of  American Gothic, but it is a far less nourishing and angry affair.
Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado introduced their “Big Bad Wolves” as a kind of revenge upon their parents who brought them up on Grimm’s fairy tales wherein the monsters are euphemisms and allegories for paedophiles. “Big Bad Wolves” succeeds on that level and many others: as a shocker, as a mystery (did he do it?), as black comedy and as a scathing indictment of torture and men who want to be, in various ways, big bad wolves. After a deceptively elegiac opening, inclining towards fairy-tale, the brutality sets in: the police are beating up the prime suspect in the case of a missing little girl but they aren’t careful and cause the investigation to tank when their ‘interrogation’ is. Meanwhile, the girl’s father has his own plans to make the prime suspect confess. All the clues are there but you may not notice them the first time round for the film moves between black-humoured farce, social commentary, very real horror and stark violence that you may not quite see its greater game.  A brilliantly scripted and cruelly played condemnation of man’s inclination to violence as a recourse and resource.
And so, "Big Bad Wolves" is the very last film to be screened at the Empire's major screen. Festival organiser says he cannot reveal too much but looks forward to something different and better. And why not? I for one will miss the gigantic auditorium.
But I will still be back next year for Frightfest.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

FrightFesat Day 4: 2013

By day 4, the real world is but a dim memory. At this point in the festival, all I am is a creature that moves from film to film with often very brief sojourns into the sunny centre of London for subsistence. Upon reflection, I am finding “You’re Next” a much better and more playful film; “100 Bloody Acres” and “Cheap Thrills” are my favourites so far with “No One Lives” and the cult episode from “VHS2” close behind for sheer entertainment (actually, I really dig the whole aliens-invade-sleepover “VHS2” episode without necessarily thinking it is especially good). What next?

“Missionary” is a dull and clichéd tale of a fanatic seducing his way into a family with idea of turning it into THE perfect family. The spin on this one is that he is a Mormon, but it’s not a film of any insight with this particular angle. Yes, we all remember “The Stepfather” and this kind of film only goes to show how witty that film was and remains. Some mostly decent performances give way to unintentional humour and underwhelming climax, the kind you know will have the antagonist yelling about family – and so it does. This ends up a bore and not the “Godspoitation” flick the Frightfest programme promises.

Jeremy Lovering’s “In Fear”, however, really does work up quite an atmosphere of unease, turning Irish country lanes into an inescapable maze of, well, fear. That the film manages to wring every ounce of tension from what is just a couple going round in circles in a car is quite a feat, helped no end by two fine performances by Alice Englert and Iain de Caestecker. For the most part, the whole thing is increasingly unnerving with the slightest of premises, and certainly knowing that Lovering held back the script from the cast during filming so that they did not know what was going to happen gives the enterprise an interesting edge. Eventually, it becomes more a think piece, not just a scare show, and the otherwise underwhelming title does take on a little more resonance, as in what would you do when in fear? Even if it nudges towards the existential, the highly authentic ambience of increasing isolation and terror is likely to remain long after the film is done.

Suri Krishnamma’s “Dark Tourist” is the kind of film that exists in its own little corner, digging deep into places that few horror films go. It may well compete with “Henry: portrait of a serial killer” as the quintessential study of the serial killer phenomenon, exploring both the reality and the mythology surrounding them. Michael Cudlitz gives the performance of Frightfest amongst a pleasingly wealth of good performance appearing at the festival: he is security guard Tim Tahna who likes to spend his holidays visiting places that were important in the lives of serial killers. The film slowly builds up its shocks but it also pushes for genuine insight and perhaps resolves itself as a horrified cry against the horrors and damage we can do to one another. “Dark Tourist” does go to places where most other films couldn’t even imagine and as both social commentary and disturbing character study, it is exceptional.

I did have a slightly funny experience with “The Conspiracy” because I misinterpreted something that director Christopher MacBride said when introducing it onstage and thought it was  a genuine documentary about people in the conspiracy theory community. It took me a little while to realise that I was, yes, watching a fiction, although I did feel that something about it was a little off. This is a fake documentary/character-cam horror but the angle at which it enters the genre – paranoia rather than slasher or supernatural, for example – does make it stand out. The conspiracy content is fascinating. Eventually, inevitably, the whole character-cam doesn’t really add up as it ends up being part fake-documentary, half horror vignette. But the sequence where they go undercover does provide a memorable descent into horror much in the manner of a “VHS” short. If it is a film of two halves that never quite gel, “The Conspiracy” at least does try to reach into different areas of horror and doesn’t let the character-cam Isabotage its intent (but yes, it doesn’t quite answer who is editing this? when it comes to the apparent “found footage” segment). A solid and slightly unusual, if flawed, experiment.

The above image is one of the most memorable I took away from Frightfest - it's gorgeous - and I wouldn't have usually posted it here for fear it might be a spoiler, but as you can see from above, it is being used for film promotion, so...

“The Last Days” by Alex and David Pastor is an apocalyptic feature, but not in a “The Dead 2: India” kind of way. The premise is that mankind experiences a sudden fear of going outside, which leaves them cooped up and underground and falling apart. One man decides to find meaning in this deteriorating world by resolving to make it across Barcelona to find his girlfriend. It is true that perhaps on paper this sounds less than thrilling, but it feels to me more akin to those 1970s post-apocalyptic films such as “The Quiet Earth”, “A Boy and his Dog”, “The Omega Man”, etc. and led more by concept than action. It has number of memorable action set-pieces, but it spends as much time on the mundane world of work that the characters come from and the dawning of a new age. The directors did send a message to Frightfest that the ending would totally divide people, but indeed it was one that made a pleasant change from the norm and headed towards something with hope and promise rather than endless horror.

Friends had mentioned that I should see Bobcat Goldthwait’s “Willow Creek” and indeed, even though it was a “found footage” film – which already flagged it as potentially another shaky-cam bore – it was also a Sasquatch film. And that interested me because a simple monster flick seemed like a great idea. Also, Bobcat had opened the festival and was very appealing, I had really liked “The World’s Greatest Dad” and I was most curious. “Willow Creek” was meant to be screened in one of the small theatres in the cinema and they had to shift it to a bigger screen due to popular demand. Well let me state from the start that I loved “Willow Creek”. A genuinely endearing couple travel to the eponymous Bigfoot land, out in the wilds of America, to try and have their Sasquatch moment, filming themselves all the while. And indeed, this film is how to film a found footage premise. It looks filmed in-camera (there are only 60+ cuts) and the sound is all diagetic, so you don’t wonder who has been watching and editing and scoring the footage – or why?! It is half exploration and gentle satire of the tourist culture and business of Bigfoot and contains a long sequence that proved one of my absolute favourite sequences of the festival: a long take that surely outdoes even “The Blair Witch Project” and takes its time to deeply reach into your most primal fears. Indeed, a woman in the audience did scream and I found myself seriously unnerved (it also occurs to me that no one laughed that she screamed because we were all so engrossed ans poked by the moment too). Another audience member was overhead saying that it was “so bad it’s good”, but I thought it had excellent and engaging performances by Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson – I cared! – and ended up being intelligent and probing and genuinely scary. I thought it was great.