A meaty rundown of what was at FrightFest.
FrightFest weekend descended in a whirlwind of movies ( 64 in total!), icons, brand new talent and epic hangovers. I’m exhausted. As ever, FrightFest defines the year ahead in horror so this month’s column is dedicated to the upcoming trends and tropes to look out for. Warning: contains computers, maggots and male appendages!
A couple of years ago FrightFest got a bit of stick for the sheer volume of movies with scenes of rape and abuse of women. This year the girls are getting their own back. The best movies of the fest were dominated by females of varying levels of crazy. In The Babadook ( my favourite horror of the year), Essie Davis is a widow struggling to love her difficult son after the death of her husband, who is visited by a creepy character from one her son’s books. Then in Alleluia, from Calvaire and Vinyan director Fabrice Du Welz, Lola Dueñas is another lonely mother, seduced by a stranger and driven to murder by her obsessive love for him. It’s based on the true case of The Honeymoon Killers and it’s an intense exploration of middle- aged passion and blind obsession. Starry Eyes, meanwhile, sees a young actress in LA abused by her friends, her dead- end job and finally by a diabolical movie producer. It’s full- on body horror – maggotty vomit and all – though I loved it most because it’s an exploitation movie about exploitation. In The Harvest, from Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer director John McNaughton, Samantha Morton is out- and- out nuts as a mother and doctor caring for a very sick child. Here is a woman who does not like to be disobeyed… Finally, in Life After Beth Aubrey Plaza is zombified and goes hiking with an oven strapped to her back. It’s basically Warm Bodies with a female zomb and some actual jokes.
Seems you can’t turn around without finding some abandoned camera equipment or a stack of old VHS tapes lying around screaming “play me!” This year’s shakycam offerings included Mirror, a supposedly true story about a haunted looking glass; Exists, a Bigfoot movie from Blair Witch Project director Eduardo Sánchez; and entirely improv‑ed chiller Creep starring Mark Duplass. All three are worth a look. Then there’s V/ H/ S: Viral. This is the third part of the V/ H/ S trilogy which has featured segments by Adam Wingard ( You’re Next), Ti West ( House Of The Devil), and Gareth Evans ( The Raid, The Raid 2). The first two movies are patchy but decent. The third is disappointing. The framing device doesn’t entirely work ( not that it did in the first two), but worst of all, it’s just not scary. Standout segment is Nacho Vigalondo’s ( Timecrimes) “Parallel Monsters” about a guy who invents a portal to a parallel universe. It’s funny and intriguing but it’s sci- fi rather than horror. I see no need for a V/ H/ S 4.
More from Nacho Vigalondo in Open Windows, the most audacious film of the festival. If you’re craving something grounded, plausible and subtle… probably give this one a miss. Open Windows is pacey, brave, slippery, glorious nonsense. Elijah Wood stars as a superfan who’s won a competition to have dinner with a famous actress. Neil Maskell is a cyber terrorist controlling Wood through his laptop and his phone. “Internet” horror ( see Smiley, Chatroom etc) is difficult to crack
since by the time you’ve made your movie technology will have changed, making the film look outdated at best or like your dad trying to use Twitter at worst. But Vigalondo’s movie doesn’t have that problem since it’s not based on technology that actually exists anyway. Also check out The Den, if you have a taste for computer based horror – brings a new meaning to “hack and slash”.
In movies it’s long been accepted that sex and horror go together like torture and porn. In the past that’s meant ubiquitous nork shots, spurious shower scenes and big bottom close- ups with little narrative value. But perhaps the tide is turning. At FrightFest this year audiences were treated to an unprecedented number of junk shots. Yep, male genitalia had a true presence. Most striking was The Samurai, a bold, beautiful German movie about a policeman pursuing a sword- wielding transvestite through a small town while coming to terms with his own sexuality. Then there’s Among
The Living, from Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, a film about a group of teenagers who see a tied up woman in the trunk of a car, but aren’t believed by their parents or the police. It’s great looking but extremely frustrating and packed with genre clichés. There is however, a lot of full frontal nudity from the main antagonist, who is terrifying because: 1 He’s very tall.
2 He’s constantly naked. 3 He has no hair. 4 He has no suntan. For more lunchbox moments see also: Wolfcop, Julia, Zombeavers, Truth Or Dare and V/ H/ S: Viral.
Last month original final girl Marilyn Burns, aka Sally Hardesty from The Texas Chain
Saw Massacre, passed away. She was 65. TCM is my favourite horror of all time and Sally became the template for every final girl since. She’s an icon of the genre and her passing should be marked. Therefore ( as per a suggestion from @hannahchapter1 on Twitter), I proclaim 5 August as Burns’ day. On this day, in homage to the final act of TCM, fans of Marilyn Burns should let loose and scream for a solid 30 minutes flat. It’s what she would have wanted.
Check out Starry Eyes for some old- fashioned body horror.
Family mealtimes aren’t joyous occasions in The Babadook.