Sunday, 3 November 2019

Arrow FrightFest Halloween Edition 2019


Arrow FrightFest
Halloween Edition 2019

Horror Marathon
Saturday 2nd/Sunday 3rd November 2019
Mini reviews for the movies Candy Corn,
The Haunted Swordsman, We Summon The Darkness,
Uncanny Annie, Swallow, Trick, Scare Package

After having to come to terms with maybe not being able to go to this year’s Halloween FrightFest Marathon, due to the illness of someone very close to me, I was delighted to find I was able to attend after all. I enjoyed it so much last year (read my review here) and, if anything, this year rammed it home to me that even though the movies might not always be all that great (I didn’t like too many of them except one stand out one which I’ve named this article after), it’s worth being there to pick up that vibration of a community spirit to the FrightFest events and, even though I’m mostly too shy to talk to people, it’s just an atmosphere of togetherness that I like to sit in my seat and bask in.

As to the movies themselves... well looking at a load of new horror films in one sitting is always going to be hit and miss (and personally, I think they only showed three horror films this year with one of those being very much a comedy-horror... the other four consisted of a fantasy puppet movie, two slashers and a film about the perils of marrying rich). This year’s selection was, perhaps, less interesting than last year’s but none of the films were in any way made in an amateurish way (a complaint that maybe could be levelled at one or two of the previous Halloween FrightFest screenings), so it was a solidly programmed affair, at the very least...

Candy Corn
USA 2019
Written and directed by Josh Hasty.

First up was Candy Corn. This film was obviously cheaply made but didn’t, as I said above, look unprofessional. This is an old school ‘revenge from beyond the grave’ story where the local town idiot, who gets picked on every year on Halloween by the former bullies of his old school, is accidentally beaten to death by them. However, he has recently got a job helping out a travelling sideshow carnival (yeah... you just know there’s going to be a ‘one of us!’ reference in this to Todd Browning’s original Freaks... not the only film in this year’s selection which does this) and when he is found by the head of the show, Dr. Death (played brilliantly by Pancho Moler), he is revived as a vengeance filled zombie creature to take out the people who were involved in his death.

While the film has a nice 1950s EC comics feel to it, it’s never really that great and the deaths are not nearly as imaginative as perhaps they ought to be for a film which relies on a traditional ‘body count’ mentality injected into the proceedings. It did, however, have a pretty great and memorable score, co-composed by Michael Broker and director Josh Hasty. People were even still whistling it in the queues for the toilets in the small break between films.

The Haunted Swordsman
USA 2019
Directed by Kevin McTurk

Next up was special effects guy extraordinaire, Kevin McTurk’s new short film (about 16 mins long), The Haunted Swordsmen. Like his previous two shorts, he and his crew have worked long hours on this puppet movie, building the characters and sets with exquisite detail and over many years. This tells the short story of a ronin who is trying to hunt down the demon who slew his shogun. For a puppet show, so to speak, it felt more epic and looked more breathtaking than the majority of the other films on the programme. It’s interesting because the main character’s face has no movement built into it (indeed, the mouth on that one character is done with CGI on the rare occasions he speaks because he was originally written without any lines) but due to the lighting and context of the shots of his face, you kind of project the expressions onto him yourself as you are watching. Ultimately though, the film was a bit of a teaser because it’s the part of a story where the defeated hero is given a new challenge or quest to find a magical weapon in order to defeat his enemies... so it does kinda feel like there’s a lot more of the story to tell. Still, it’s a really nice piece and I was really happy to be able to see this one on a big screen.

We Summon The Darkness
USA 2019
Directed by Marc Meyers

Next up was We Summon The Darkness, a movie which, like the great giallo All The Colours Of The Dark, is a straight thriller masquerading under the guise of a horror movie. Alas, it’s revealed as the movie plays out, that the supernatural trappings are all just hot air and, really, this amounts to not much more than a serial killer movie. After a strong start with a group of three women who really have some interesting chemistry, it kinda falls apart. Again, this is partially because there is a so called ‘twist’ half way through the movie but, honestly, anyone who’s been paying attention to the shenanigans of the girls in the first five minutes will know exactly what that twist is right from the word go. So it does get kinda irritating watching through this and waiting for the other characters to catch on. I was impressed with some of the performances but not the clich├ęd storytelling so this one was another ‘miss’ for me.

Uncanny Annie
USA 2019
Directed by Paul Davis

Ironically, it was the next movie, Uncanny Annie, which easily won the Halloween Edition FrightFest ‘best movie’ best screening for me this year. Ironic because, out of all of them, this one is actually a TV movie, made for a horror anthology series in the US called Into The Dark. So yeah, I was really glad this was here because there’s probably no other way I would have gotten to see it. The premise, too, is really simple but quite effective as a narrative hook. It’s simply a horror movie remake of the original Jumanji. A group of students play a board game one Halloween in memory of their dead friend who died the year before but, pretty soon, the evil spirit haunting the game has trapped their reality in the box and they are trying to play through the game while it starts killing off the players one by one. It looks fantastic, has a kind of gothic air about it (especially with the graphics on the board game... I’d love to own this set) and is, for me, the only movie in this years Halloween FrightFest which even approached being a little scary or having any tension about it. I also loved the way that, by the end of the movie, the game has become a kind of punishment for some of the players who are hiding some guilty, if kinda obvious, secrets. Plus it had a great one liner earlier on which was the funniest moment of this year’s programme... not to mention a ‘blood tearing out of the eyes’ moment which was obviously lifted from the Christopher Lee death scene from one of the Hammer Dracula movies (Tarantino put the same homage in Kill Bill Volume 1).  Had a really good time with this one.

USA/France 2019
Directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Next up was Swallow, the ‘best looking’ movie of this Halloween’s edition of Frightfest. Although, despite one of the programmer’s ‘allergic’ reaction/tirade to people wondering why it was showing here, I’d have to say I also would question its place here. It’s not a horror movie and as to the line of defence that says Frightfest represents The Dark Heart Of Cinema...? Well I didn’t think it was all that dark either, to tell the truth. It was kinda nice and gentle to watch though and mainly focused on the brilliant lead actress Haley Bennett, playing housewife Hunter, as the director filmed her and some other outstanding actors in beautifully uncluttered shots, more often than not using upright vertical slices along the frame to position various players and objects in.

Hunter has married a wealthy man and it shows the way she reacts to the everyday loneliness of being a housewife with not much to do, alone in a huge house with no company. It kinda follows in the footsteps, to a certain extent, of Marina de Van’s In My Skin (Dans Ma Peau) but, instead of developing an obsession with cutting and eating portions of her own body, Hunter develops an obsession with swallowing objects which... well.. aren’t mean to be swallowed. It’s kinda cool but low key and, I think, a little over hyped in terms of the effect it might have on people... it’s really not a disturbing film. It is a feminist movie, to an extent and I did like the tangents it went off on towards the end of the film but, ultimately, I’ve seen this kinda thing done before. That’s not to diminish this one though.... but I did and still do question why it was bundled into the FrightFest package (as I did with the film The Unthinkable, which was easily one of the best movies of the year last year but, again, don’t know why it was playing at FrightFest).

Ultimately though, Swallow is a stand out film and in terms of the impeccable cinematography, I did think as I was watching it that, the shot design coupled with the look of the lead actress made me feel like it was watching an early Cindy Sherman photograph coming to life. Also, the musical score was quite interesting and reminded me a lot of composer Bernard Herrmann. Not in the way that it was orchestrated as such but, more in the way that it seems to be accompanying the psychological environment of the movie and using short, repeat, motifs to slowly transform and surround the lead actress. This one is also definitely worth at least one watch if you happen to come across it.

USA 2019
Directed by Patrick Lussier

Trick was another of those ‘serial killers with supernatural trappings’ kinds of movies but, by the time you got to the end and the final twist (which, again, if you half squint at certain points in the movie, you can kinda see coming a mile off), it revealed itself to be just another slasher movie and, frankly, the Italians are much better at those kinds of things. It was a speedy ride and the performances were good  (heck, it even had genre actor Tom Atkins in it) but, ultimately, it didn’t have a whole lot of substance to it and the cinematography and the way it was edited were not enough to hold the picture up by themselves on this one. The one good thing it did have was that a couple of the deaths which, again, this genre thrives on, were at least a little more imaginative than those on show in some of the other films here.

Scare Package
USA 2019

Directed by Mali Elfman, Courtney Andujar,
Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins,
Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy,
Noah Segan and Baron Vaughn

Last up for the day was Scare Package, a comedy horror anthology which has seven segments and which boasts, on the poster, seven different directors. As to that last thing... count the names above and you do the maths.

This film, which is held together by a linking story set in a video store, has a kind of mission statement to it to basically ‘send up’ one or more famous horror tropes in each segment. Like FrightFest itself, it’s a bit of a hit and miss affair with the stories told within but the film started off really strongly with the first three segments being very funny (and also very gory, in places). I was completely on the film’s side before I even got out of the first segment so, frankly, found myself quite puzzled when the film rapidly went down hill after about a third of the way through. Some of the later scripts are just not funny and the postmodernistic references start to get on the nerves after a while. By about halfway through the film I was just waiting for it to finish and it was a really dull, slow crawl to the finish line Which is a bit of a shame but I think some of the writing was frankly not good in certain sequences. 

And that was the end of my Halloween FrightFest marathon, which started at 11am and finished around 12.30am the next morning. As expected, some films stood out while others quietly shuffled into the background but, I’ll say it again, the sense of community spirit that you get with horror folk attending these things it pretty cool and the ticket prices for the day passes are still good value for money. If I had one complaint about the format it’s that the intervals between the films are way too short. People need to go to the loo and eat or grab a drink. I think the festival could definitely do with starting an hour or more earlier and just having slightly longer gaps... especially when, due to Q&A sessions with people behind the films, things start to run a little late towards the end of the day and those gaps get even shorter. Other than that though, I had a great time, am looking forward to next year’s event and, as an added bonus, got to see one of the directors do a live pumpkin carving demonstration where he did a full Halloween pumpkin in exactly one minute (it was great hearing the audience counting him down too). As always, FrightFest is definitely worth a visit and if you’ve not been to one you might want to consider going next year.

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