Two days into the festival and I was already glad I’d come and the best was still ahead!
If there was nothing really exceptional on the third day at least there were no real duds either. What we did get was psycho killers, creepy kids and inbred cannibals, and the festival's biggest helping of gore.
First on the agenda was Cold Prey, a slasher flick from Norway, breathing a bit of life into the tired horror staple by having some really likable characters who were much more than merely victims and some spectacular snowbound locations. The supposedly surprise revelation of the killer's identity at the end was a bit pointless (if you've seen this kind of film before you’ll know who it is right from the start) and the film did feel a bit like Friday the 13th: Jason Takes a Holiday but at least it tried and the actors in particular are to be commended.
There have been more than a few Bad Seed-style movies over the years and Joshua is the latest. When Joshua’s sister is born the previously idyllic life of his parents gets turned upside down. As Josh’s mum, Vera Farmiga gives a strong performance; she is slowly driven nuts with a new baby that won’t stop crying (we know Joshua has a hand in this, we just don’t know how) and a son playing constant mind games. Sam Rockwell starts the film a little too lightly, almost like a comedy, but gets better as the film progresses, and in the final confrontation with Joshua he really excels. Jacob Cogan is the real star though; as Joshua he has to play everything deadpan. Playing the part with so little emotion can’t have been easy, particularly with the histrionics of the other actors but he never falters throughout. This wasn’t one of the films I’d been looking forward to but it came as a pleasant surprise.
A showcase for some genre shorts followed. Only one really impressed, Little Brats, a comedy about killing kids. I know that may sound sick but it was very funny and the kids did get revenge in the end.
I’d been looking forward to the next film as it came from the pen of Everett De Roche, veteran writer of such classic Australian horror flicks as Patrick, Roadgames, and Long Weekend. While the film starts out slowly and might lead you to expect a man versus nature theme similar to Long Weekend, this turns into a bit of a gore fest at the end. The over-the-top deaths met with applause from the gore-starved crown and set the scene nicely for the film that followed.
The ketchup really started to fly with Wrong Turn 2. This was the film’s world premiere and director Joe Lynch didn’t even try to contain his enthusiasm at the prospect of his film being shown to the FrightFest crowd. Eschewing the original's more restrained atmosphere in favour of plenty of gruesome deaths, this was a real crowd pleaser, no doubt helped by the free can of Japanese Kirin beer we were all given before the screening.
The next film was Disturbia, a clever Hichcockian thriller, but having already seen it on DVD I decided to skip it. I also didn’t bother with the Australian comedy The Devil Dared Me Too because, frankly, it looked a bit crap based on the trailer. Instead I headed home for some much needed sleep.
The day didn’t start well. Problems getting into London resulted in my missing the first film of the day, the adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. This had been one of the films I’d been looking forward to the most, offering a touch of real world horror to counterbalance all the psycho killers. By all accounts it was a harrowing experience and it would be a day that combined the bleak with the humorous.
Botched was a British comedy that merged the heist movie and the slasher film with mixed results. Set in Russia and featuring English actors displaying some dodgy accents (Sean Pertwee as a Russian mob boss in particular) along with Stephen Dorff as an unlucky jewel thief. The film supplied plenty of gore but the laughs were intermittent and this was nothing special. Special would come later in the day.
Next up was a Uwe Boll double bill (Postal and Seed)and the thought of two films by this critically reviled director was less than appealing, so instead I went in search of a zombie mask for the final day's zombie walk record attempt to celebrate the showing of the low budget Brit flick Zombie Diaries. A couple of hours later I still hadn’t found a mask and, tired of wandering the streets of London, I elected to watch the second Boll film, Seed.
Boll was on hand to introduce the film (as he had been for the first film, the comedy Postal) and he described it as his reaction to the current trend of hyping films as the most extreme thing you’ve ever seen. Eli Roth’s Hostel and Tarantino’s comments about it came in for special attention, with Boll describing the film as “American Pie in Eastern Europe.” As someone who thought Hostel was the most overrated horror film of recent years and the worst of the current trend for what’s been called “torture porn” I was in agreement with Mr Boll. But could he do any better?
Seed starts with scenes of real animal cruelty from PETA (and some of the film's profits will go to that organisation) as killer Max Seed watches on a TV screen. Is there a reason for showing this? That depends on your point of view, but it does get across the film's message right from the start – people are scum – and Boll did warn the audience before the film started. It is unsettling and upsetting but those are the reactions the film is aiming for.
Max Seed is a deformed, mask-wearing psycho killer, and that’s nothing new, nor is the fact he remains mute throughout the film, but unlike Rob Zombie’s recently released Halloween remake, which seems to want us to empathise with the killer (to the extent he’s almost the hero of the film), Seed elicits no sympathy from the viewer.
The film was short of plot (executed killer gets buried alive after the electric chair fails to kill him, digs his way out and sets about killing those responsible) but it’s not about plot, it’s making a statement about man's inhumanity to man and killer Max Seed says everything that needs to be said without uttering a word. A gory death is usually met with applause by the FrightFest crowd but when Seed kills a woman with a hammer the smattering of applause died out quickly. This wasn’t the fun gore of Wrong Turn 2, this was something different. Even with some dodgy CGI towards the end of the sequence, this was still the most unsettling and, yes, extreme thing I’ve seen in years.
Two people walked out of the screening. That wouldn’t be anything special at an ordinary showing, but for an audience of hardened horror fans it says a lot about the extreme nature of the film. It keeps the same tone throughout and doesn’t even wimp out at the end, delivering the darkest denouement I think I’ve ever seen.
I was so surprised I’d enjoyed the film (well, perhaps enjoyed is the wrong word) that I took the opportunity to shake Mr Boll’s hand after the film and tell him so. I think many people’s problem with Boll is envy — he’s managing to get films made without big Hollywood production companies and while they may not all be great (or even good), he’s not deserving of the title of worst director in the world; anyone who’s seen a Jess Franco film knows that. He’s passionate about his films and the horror genre and that can only be a good thing. During the Q&A after the film he complained about being short-changed by IMDb, saying that they allowed voting on his films earlier than anyone else’s, often even before they had finished editing them. When I got home that night I checked the user rating for Seed — it was under 2 with over 500 votes and ranked in the bottom 100 list. Given that this was the film's first screening, it adds a little weight to Uwe’s claims.
Seed wasn’t the day’s best film though; that honour went to WAZ, a dark thriller that owed more than a little to Se7en. Starring Stellan Skarsgard as a veteran cop partnered with Melissa George’s rookie, the pair are on the trail of a serial killer. Skarsgard is simply stunning in what may be his finest performance to date, while Selma Blair as an embittered rape victim brings a level of emotion to the story that goes beyond what was written in the script. This was a powerful film and it was one that stayed with me for days afterwards.
Before WAZ we got another sneak peak at a future release, this time the comedy/horror The Cottage, the new film from the critically acclaimed director of London to Brighton. While it did seem to tread similar ground to Severance, it had plenty of laughs and gore and I just hope they didn’t put all the best bits in this trailer.
Another packed day was over and emotionally drained I wended my weary way home.
Still to come: The final day featuring a marathon five films, including the festival’s high point and London’s Leicester Square overrun by zombies!
Read part one of A Look Back at FrightFest 2007.