Tuesday 4 September 2012

FrightFest 2012 Day 3: Giallos, Demons And Sushis

And on to day three of FrightFest 2012 with three films which could not have been any more different, as well as a chance encounter with an iconic horror film director I literally bumped into in the foyer of the Empire Leicester Square. It was a day of giallos tributes, mysteries, demonic possessions, loud bangs at night and flying, singing, murderous sushis.

The day started with Berberian Sound Studio, which is actually already out in the UK since last Friday so it does feel a little silly to report on it. (And I do wonder how some bloggers managed to do all 6 films a day AND write about them on the spot at the festival!). But then again, the film was such a shock to me, instantly finding its spot as my second favourite film of the year after Holy Motors (with which it would make an excellent double bill!) that I feel the need to mention it.

In it, mild mannered British sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) travels to Italy to a sound studio in the 70's to work on an a horror film by the famous director Santini (Antonio Mancino), which proves a wholly new and challenging experience for him, as he faces culture clashes, feisty Italians, an aloof secretary as well as an generally hostile crew, and finds himself increasingly disturbed by the footage he is witnessing.

The film is a delicate piece, perhaps smaller in scale than I anticipated, entirely taking place within the confines of a sound studio. But despite the well documented evils of multiplexes, nothing beats the shared experience of a great film, with optimal screening conditions and a captive audience and this was one of my favourite recent cinema memories. Thanks to its obviously incredibly precise work on sound effects, but also an assured and accurate direction, which manages to be very personal without being flashy, I savoured every minute of it, completely taken by its sweet music.

Berberian Sound Studio is a film fetichist dream, which whispers sweet, mysterious things in your ear. It has been a while since a film has been so obsessed with the film-making process (with a good dollop of nostalgic patina as it takes place in the 70's), with its extreme close up of old school film reels spinning and various sound recording devices. The film is not just a tribute to films in general, but to giallos and Italian horror films of the era in particular, with whom it shares its love of bright colours, and atmospheric randomness, with the film being shot an obvious reference to Suspiria among others.

We never see any of the horrific images of the film within the film, yet we "hear" them, and we do witness an almost abhorrent level of violence towards fruits and vegetables, as they are being used as props to create the violent sound effects. Cabbages and melons get repeatedly stabbed, sliced, smashed into pulp... not for the faint-hearted!

As the shoot unfolds and gets incredibly bizarre, with stranger and stranger events happening, it becomes obvious that Gilderoy's sense of reality is dismantling before his (and our) eyes, and the third act provides with some of the most baffling scenes I have seen in a long time, taking us further and further into its seductive enigma with a Lynchian twist.

I do not feel it always necessary to fully understand such a mysterious film to enjoy it as much as I did, even though I do have my theory on what actually happens in it. As a blogger friend perfectly pointed out, as long as you can feel that the director himself knows what it is going on, then you can safely lose yourself in its dreamlike world. I must add that the film is not without his humour, with a scene featuring a "dangerously aroused goblin" which had me laughing out loud.

After that came Sinister with Ethan Hawke, a film I have reviewed for Cinemart (read the review here) so no need to expand on this too much. It is a superior horror which did suffer a little bit from a short but intense period of pre-hype in the few days prior to the screening. I do wonder why I am such a horror fan as I actually hate (but really, actually love) being scared, loud bangs, jumping... and I was accompanied by a fellow blogger who mentally held my hand. I need not have worried. Despite the Empire's sound being cranked up as usual, and despite several efficient scares, it was not as jumpy as Insidious, and I made it till the end.

Director Scott Derrickson was not present but his spirited scriptwriter C. Robert Cargill came on stage to liven things up, being the typical film loving geeky Austin resident.

And just as as I was debating staying for the Japanese Dead Sushi, I spotted a familiar face with an even more familiar outfit in the crowd, minding his own business with a female companion, being left alone... Did anybody say The Human Centipede?! Yes indeed, it was Tom Six, director of the infamous horror film and its sequel, present despite having no new films to show. As usual when nervous, I cannot quite remember what I told him and what he answered, but he was a very cheerful and enthusiastic man, who signed my programme, insisted we had our picture taken and made a few jokes with me before waving a very theatrical goodbye! As it is more often than not the case, the director of some of the nastiest, most outrageous films turned out to be a lovely man. To think I have been touched by the same hands who touched the human centipede...

Tom Six on the right

At that stage, with most bloggers having left for the day, I decided that the best way to go through the midnight screening of horror/comedy Dead Sushi was to down three beers back and to back and enjoy the ride.

In Dead Sushi, a disgruntled former employee follows the ex-colleagues who caused his downfall at a countryside inn, and unleash a tissue-resurrecting serum into a whole wave of sushsi, which cause them to come to life, fly off, grow teeth, and attack any human in sight.

Yes it is as silly as it sounds. The Japanese slapstick humour is an aquired taste and can be beguiling to say the least. But this is the sort of film best enjoyed with a packed, drunk audience or at home with friends, drinking a sip of beer every time something stupid happens.

The dialogue is laughably bad and stilted, like some corporate video slogans, with some subtitles obviously written by somebody who speaks neither Japanese nor English, the "digital" special effects look like they were created on an Amstrad circa 1984, and to say that nothing makes sense is a wild understatement!

There are toothy tunas, flying sushis, a flying ship made of rice and fish, a man who turns into a giant tuna with a sort of plastic tuna mask you would find unconvincing at a kids fancy dress party, and Eggy, the "good" egg sushi who takes the humans' side, and who can sing and spew acid towards the baddies... It is safe to say that we all fell for Eggy, instantly becoming my mascot for the festival.

But it is inventive and never boring, proudly revelling in its own cartoonish and gory idiocy, and I defy you not to be entertained. You will laugh, probably shed a tear as I did (you'll see), and you will learn how to make proper sushi, so what is not to like? And if I have not said enough to convince you, may I add that the film features sushi violence AND sushi erotica...

And after a very late night, by a touch of destiny, after only four hours sleep, I woke up with no alarm clock the next morning, on time for the morning screening of American Mary, as if it was a sign of destiny, and I was so glad I did... More on that on my final FrightFest post!

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