Well I'm now three days into this five-day marathon although I am exhibiting rather less stamina than in previous years and have been skipping the late showings -- even when these held a strange appeal like the return of weirdie director Frank Henenlotter ("Basket Case", "Frankenhooker" etc.) after a hideously long gap. I shall have to try to catch up with his delirious-sounding sleazy tale "Bad Biology" on DVD. So what stands out so far?
"Eden Lake" (2008): This new British film was given its world premiere and rather neatly illustrates the fact that is becoming increasingly clear in my mind that there is a not too subtle difference between horror movies and films that depict horrible things -- and this seems to be where the genre is going. What we have here are a lovely young couple (Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender) who are planning a romantic weekend in the scenic woods but who end up being tormented and tortured by a gang of young and callous hoodlums. As Warner Brothers demonstrated in the 1930s, this crime theme is ripped from today's headlines. Yes there is a wave of teenaged violence and yes their cruel anomie can be terrifying, but when did real fears turn into horror? The movie is very well done, but despite the female half's feisty fight, modern reality would appear to have no happy endings -- at least not here.
I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer (2008): This extremely minor Australian tongue-in-cheek slasher was also a world premiere but far less likely to leave much of a mark on the horror afficionado. Using the apparatus of cricket for a series of inventive and grisly murders, one is unable to take this tale of a bullied schoolboy's revenge with more than a few grains of gore. And any movie which stars its female co-director and then gives her an extended full-frontal lascivious nude shower scene (albeit with an obvious body double) can not really be taking itself too seriously.
TimeCrimes (2007) and King of the Hill (2008?): Next up were this pair of Spanish films, the latter being a last-minute replacement for a Danish teacher-as-alien no-show. "Time Crimes" was definitely the more inventive and mind-boggling (and destined for a U.S. remake) as our middle-aged hero undergoes some time-shifting and ends up being pursued by a relentless doppelganger of himself, eventually finding that he has split into three separate entities, each functioning in a slightly different timeframe. The other was yet another example of adults (but not quite so likable here) being picked off in the wilderness by young killers. This definitely seems to be becoming the new face of so-called horror.
Trailer Park of Terror (2008): It seems that some years ago a young sexpot went on a murderous foray in her trashy trailer park, killing everyone and destroying the site; yet many years later on a stormy night, a busload of teenaged delinquents and their Holy Joe team leader are able to take refuge there. And guess what, all of the former redneck inhabitants are still there in the shape of murderous zombies and undead cannibals for one last blood-soaked night in the traditional horror-movie mode.
Mum and Dad (2008): This was a fairy proficient example of "the family that slays together stays together" sub-species as a deranged couple living in the shadow of Heathrow Airport (with its low-flying planes that might drive anyone crazy) use their two equally amoral children to lure airport co-workers to their "happy home" for a spot of torture, intimindation and mayhem. In due course our hard-done by heroine does manage to escape and to revenge the days -- with whoops and cheers from the hardcore audience here.
Fear(s) of the Dark (2007): This French-language compilation of short black and white animations, was stylish and adventurous in design without being overly horrifying. One was taken in by the rather spiffy styles of the eight different directors of the various sections and I for one viewed it as an interesting sampler of animation techniques rather than any sort of coherent horror film whole.
Dance of the Dead (2008): We're rather back in familiar horror territory here as the chemical fallout from the towers overlooking a graveyard manage to reanimate the dead on the night of the high school prom. Only an assortment of science geeks, heavy metal freaks, a couple of nubile females, and a gung-ho sports coach can save the day from the new undead. This was another instance of 'let's have fun with the genre' film-making, rather than a 'let's scare people to death' horror movie -- which is fine for occupying a forgettable 90-odd minutes.
Manhunt (2008): ThisNorwegian entry was yet another "let's menace holiday-makers with unseen killers in the woods". Are we spotting a trend here? At least we were spared yet another instance of rampaging teens, but how much of this sort of thing does the world really need? Not much is my take on the subject!
The Chaser (2008): This Korean thriller was a relentless example of the search for a serial killer, but was really just a little out of place in the FrightFest brief, despite its lashings of blood. An ex-cop turned pimp spends the full two hours trying to find the man responsible for "selling" his girls (when in fact he has been murdering them) and wants to discover the fate of his latest call-girl disappearance, accompanied for much of the time by her stone-faced seven-year-old daughter. This was a well-realised film, full of well-rounded characters, but bleak in its outlook and in the end unforgiving and dark. To be generous, horror does indeed assume many shapes.
Bubba's Chili Parlor (2008): This cheapjack and fairly pathetic entry shot on cheap video was another world premiere and is being distributed by the FrightFest mavens. They are welcome to it and I lasted for less than half of its short running time. A load of contaminated beef has turned the country bumpkins of the area into yet another load of hungry zombies. Sprinkled with cod adverts and scratchy intermissions this was far less than a 'grindhouse' rip-off, but rather a not particularly good example of poverty row film-making.
Still there is more to come over the next two days and being the eternal optimist, I have my usual high hopes.