For me, staying to the end of a Frightfest day means having to catch the 1.30 a.m. nightbus home, which is an hour's journey, try to wind down when I get in and then crashing out between 3 and 4 a.m. Then: up for 8.30 a.m. to get myself together and into London for the first film of the next day. After 4 days of this, I tend to lose send of reality and time. Outside, this weekend, it was raging sunshine except for Day 3 when it is raining like crazy. Nevertheless, Leicester Square is both crowded to the brim - especially with the Frightfest crowd adding to the numbers - and very appealing. You have to steal meals and coffee breaks in the 15-30 minute breaks between screening, but it's all good fun. The Frightfest crowd never seems to flag or diminish it's enthusiasm either. it is definitely the kind of cinema crowd you otherwise dream of: silent, attentive; good-humoured, black-humoured, constantly enthusiastic and respectful. Oh, over the weekend there are complaints about some with their phone on, watching with their shoes and sock off and, um, two guys mutually pleasuring one another in the balcony during "R.I.P.D" (!!??), which the organisers have dubbed "The 'R.I.P.D. shuffle", but otherwise it's just the best audience for such films.
“THE HYPNOTIST” is one of those Swedish thrillers currently in vogue, earnestly if unimaginatively directed by Lasse Hallstrom. From the start it has the hypnotist hypnotising a comatose patient – um,er? – to try and get clues concerning the slaughter of a family – hey, how about some actual police-work? The patient is the boy of the family, found stabbed on the floor. But the policeman investigating and the hypnotist are soon troubled by a shadowy figure who kidnaps the former’s son. But actually, despite the gravitas and the fine performances, this is all a bit of silliness dictated by melodrama and the cheap suspense and token emotions rather than plausibility. Where’s the knife? Wouldn’t the knife wounds give away key clues? Wait, wouldn’t forensics pick up more clues from the crime scenes? Um, and since when do policemen take the parents of kidnap victims out on police investigations? Ah, the unlikeliness and the plot-holes pile up and despite its air of respectability, it all just melts into nothing long before an ending that calls for an action set-piece to give the impression of thrills. And, hey, he’s a pretty crap hypnotist, despite what the script says: hell, I could simply say think of a nice place and count back from 5 to 1 and then jump to conclusions. No wonder he was struck off (and indeed, the genuine, ambiguous tale of an incompetent hypnotist involved in a murder case might have been more interesting). Faintly insulting in the way the gungo-ho silliness of the next three films is not.
Richard Raaphorst’s gleefully bonkers “FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY” is sabotaged by its own character-cam aesthetic. Despite later revelations, it doesn’t really convince that this Russian soldier would be carrying around a camera all the time, during battle and all that. It’s a reductive device that undermines so much of the film’s outrageousness. The film is inhabited by incredible monsters and monster designs – ridiculous and creepy and (no CGI!) genuinely visceral creations – but the shaky-cam fails to show the creations to the film’s advantage: you do see them, but you don’t get to linger lovingly on them. For the most part, they are not given the space to really show how great they are: without proper framing, their greatness is ultimately somewhat diminished. Imagine another film where the fight scenes are properly framed and edited so you can really see them at work, fighting the soldiers – indeed, you would be hard pressed to really know what the hell is happening in any fight scene, who is dying and so on. Imagine if the action had been done by Ray Harryhausen, or by Guillermo Del Toro. But when it ventures into Frankenstein’s laboratory, the aesthetic settles a little and the film quite delivers on its bonkers premise. There is much to enjoy and Raaphorst is definitely one to watch, even if “Frankenstein’s Army” doesn’t present the material to its best advantage. The curse of character-held cameras strikes again.
“HAMMER OF THE GODS” seems to come across as one of those balls-out bloody bloke-fests with axes and swords. It is, and full of silliness and incongruous music that lets you know that this is not truthful historical recreation – but as it goes on it chooses to strike off its more tiresome antics and descends into the hell of sibling rivalry and increasingly moodier visuals. Undemanding it may be, but it is straightforward entertainment that is probably better than the lock-stock-and-two-smoking-axes reputation that precedes it.
“NO ONE LIVES” holds its cards close to its chest for a while before exploding in a crowd-pleasing bloody squib of exploitation satire. Watching this with several hundred to a thousand people at Frightfest proved an absolute riot. Once the film reveals its true intent – having set up a couple on the road and a nasty criminal gang destined to converge head-on – then the violence, absurdity and laughs are plentiful. Great, nasty, tongue-in-cheek fun. Certainly a party film.
I am not sure you can really do much with “R.I.P.D”: it’s just mindless mainstream supernatural special-effect extravaganza that seems stuffed with stuff but really has no decent centre or intelligence guiding it. There is a fairly sprightly script with a bunch of funny moments, but the story of a dead corrupt cop who carries on his career in the afterlife – see that title? – has nothing new or interesting in it. The one transcendent moment comes early when Roy Pulsifer wakes up to a frozen scene of a cops-vs-criminals shoot-out. Otherwise: Dead criminals that are more like demons… bad GCI … portals…. Stuff happens… some witty banter… something something apocalypse something… that’s it. Diverting and tedious. Oh it’s in 3D too but not that I really noticed.
EL Katz’s “CHEAP THRILLS” asks What would you do for money? but it works on a grander canvass as an allegory for the exploitation of the desperate man by the privileged. Two unemployed men – one just lost his job, the other a low-level criminal – meet up as old friends in a bar and meet a couple who are evidently absurdly wealthy. Then the wealthy couple start up a game of dares-for-cash and, of course, things escalate from there. This impeccably acted and written chamber piece (script by David Churchirillo and Trent Haaga) works hard to build it all up to its surely inevitable conclusion – these things usually only end up one way, it’s just a question of who – but it never forsakes its humanity or black humour for being just a think-piece. Pat Healy also provides one of my favourite performances of Frightfest 2013.
Day 3 and I am thinking that "100 Bloody Acres" and "Cheap Thrills" are the surprises and gems, especially the latter, with "No One Lives" a high contender. My griping about hand-held-camera and character-cam continues. Directors and actors wander around the lobby... people in crazy costumes and horror make-up abound. It is hard to convey to anyone who isn't in on the fun - those people who say "You're going to a horror film festival?" and look at you as if they may be forced to, you know, have you committed for your own good - just how much of a party and how delightful the whole event is. Almost every film comes with actors and/or filmmakers attached and the love of fiction, film and fantasy runs riot.