Monday 27 August 2012

FrightFest 2012 Day 1: Dario Argento, V/H/S and [REC] 3


Among all the film festivals I attend throughout the year, horror film fest FrightFest in London is my guilty pleasure. For any fan, there is no better place to watch horror films than in a massive, packed screen with an adoring audience who laughs, screams and applauds at all the right places. The atmosphere is fantastic and very sociable, the organisation is brilliant, with a programme packed with surprises, guest appearances, new trailers, and more often than not Q&A's with the cast and crew at the end of each screening.

Plus I always love the idea of watching as many films as possible back to back, without the thirty minutes adverts, with a truly appreciative and passionate crowd. Indeed it is sad the way I almost cannot be bothered watching films in multiplexes any longer, because of their utter disrespect for film, so film festivals are my lifeline. And Fright Fest 2012 did not disappoint! Well me anyway as I appreciate some have lamented the quality of films on display this year, but personally, I saw at least 5 films who would deserve a spot on my top 10 this year so far.

I eased myself into the FrightFest madness by attending the Total Film Icon Interview, and this year, it was the turn of Italian film master, Dario Argento (Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae...). While I have shamefully not seen that many films of his quite yet but working on it (and only managed 15 minutes of Suspiria because of a dodgy Lovefilm disc which froze), and while some claim that his best years are far behind him, his influence on the genre is undeniable.

Dario Argento looking ghostly at FrightFest

This interview however turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax. The reason for this is that it was conducted in English, and while the director's grasp of the language is decent enough, it was not enough to allow for more insightful answers. Indeed the first few minutes were almost painful, with many monosyllabic answers! For example, when asked what he thought about some recent films influenced by his work, such as Black Swan, his answer was: "Sometimes, it's good, sometimes, not good". I see. On that note, you do have to laugh when some less enlightened film goers turn their nose up at horror fans while lapping up Suspiria's rip-off Black Swan, fools!

Of course having a translator would have slowed things down, but it would have made for a richer experience, and I had the same issue with Isabelle Huppert and her extended Q&A at the BFI last year, even though she is fluent in English, we did miss some nuances I believe.

Dario Argento did warm up however, and offered a few general insights about his work. When asked about the legendary opening scene of Suspiria, he said it was not so much planned but came up like a nightmare to him, each scene adding itself in his mind. Speaking of which, he explained that nobody has bothered calling him about the Suspiria remake, and when asked if he thinks it can be remade as a better film, he wished good luck to the director! He also chuckled when he found out that this new version is supposed to be even more psychedelic than his own and said it was impossible!

He also gave a sombre opinion on modern cinema, lamenting that just everybody is in for the money nowadays, and that fantasy is gone, all is about the money.

When asked about Dracula 3D (which sadly, due to rights issue, the festival was not able to screen), he explained that it was his wish to make a film in 3D that was the main trigger for the project. Interestingly, it was not modern 3D that inspired him but the viewing of Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder at a recent 3D festival. While he has changed a few plot elements, we can expect a few Dario's spin on it, and a lot of violence!

And then of course we had to be subjected to the curse of the public Q&A's which has been particularly horrid this year. Among uninteresting questions, my favourite was that film festival classic: "Hi yes, so hi, erm, this is not so much a question, so yeah, so great films you make, so yeah, as a fellow scriptwriter, so erm yeah, anyway thanks!". And that was the pick of the crop.


And then it was on to my first film of the festival, V/H/S. The film came preceded with a bit of a reputation, with reports of audience members fainting in Sundance when it was presented (which probably has more to do with the "found footage" subjective camera style of filming more than anything else!) I was a little concerned because of earlier reports hyping it up a little too much, and I am always wary of anything that is supposed to revolutionise the genre, how many times have we heard this same tired formula?

V/H/S is a collection of five short stories by different directors including Ti West, with a wraparound storyline that sees a bunch of hoodlums given the task to retrieve a V/H/S tape in an empty house. While there, they found several tapes and proceed to watch them, making up the different stories we see.

The first one has three college guys pick up two girls in a bar and bring them back to a hotel, only to find themselves with a nasty surprise when one of the girls turns out to be not quite what she seems (and no this is not a Crying Game spin off). The second one has a couple on a road trip being stalked by a mysterious woman. The third one gives the "teens in a wood cabin stalked by a mysterious killer/entity" scenario a new spin. The fourth one has a woman experiencing weirder and weirder events in her house while talking to her boy-friend through Skype. And the fifth one see some more college guys end up in a house for a party, finding themselves a very different kind of party indeed.

V/H/S is frightening and very efficient, with some very interesting ideas, although, in some parts, not quite as original as it thinks it is, with a couple of plot devices proving familiar to anybody with a bit of knowledge of 80's/90's horrors. And the problem of these porte-manteau type of films remains, not giving some stories enough screen time to develop and properly engage the viewer.

Nevertheless, it might not revolutionise the genre, but this is a superior example of independent horror film that shows the major studios and their toothless remakes how it should be done. The visual style is impressive, adding all sort of editing jumps and visual shenanigans to remain true to the original VHS source of the footage. I liked the way it leaves several stories open to interpretation also, not feeling the need to explain everything while not being frustrating. A word of warning though, I suffer from motion sickness and seeing this on a massive screen, the subjective camera, especially in the first story, made me a bit queasy, so do not sit too close to the front!

One last note, I am beginning to worry about Ti West. While I adored his first film House of the Devil, his second one The Innkeepers, seen at Fright Fest last year, disappointed me and so did his segment, the second one with the couple on vacation. While I respect his desire to keep the pace slow, it does not always works so well. There is a fine line between taking the time to unravel the audience and basically bore the audience, and while he pulled it off so well in his first film, he seems to be on a slippery slope.

I took along my contributor Mairéad Roche for the V/H/S screening, as an experiment since she is not a horror fan at all, and I picked what I felt might be the scariest films of them all to see how she would get on. She will publish a post about her experience shortly, the result might surprise you!

V/H/S will be released in the UK in January/February next year, we were told at the screening. It is out on the 6th of October in the US.

And for my second film of the day, Spanish sequel [REC] 3 - Genesis. The first two films came out of nowhere and took horror films by surprise, becoming minor classics in the process. The story of a reporter finding herself in a quarantined apartment building with his occupants hit by a demonic possession outbreak, added a fresh new twist on the found footage/subjective camera sub genre and was devilishly frightening, with the second one expanding on the mythology.


This threequel however is a bit of a departure from the first two and some have complained that it has lost some of the franchise's originality in the process. Indeed, after twenty minutes, the subjective camera is abandoned altogether, for a more classic filming style. I have to admit, I was quite grateful for it, as a full day of subjective camera was proving a little too much to bear! [REC]3 has also become the new contender for the loudest film ever projected in Frightfest, beating last year's Trollhunters. The Empire Leicester Square main screen is incredibly loud, which is fantastic for horror films and add to the atmosphere, but here, in between the Spanish disco, loud arguing and the first demons attacks, I actually felt like my head was about to explode.

In this new film, the action has moved from the location of the first two films to a country house for a wedding. It is not long before an uncle, having been bitten by an infected demon on the way, turns into a blood thirsty creature and begin slaying/infecting all the guests (and you thought YOUR uncle was embarrassing at that last wedding!). Newly weds Clara (Leticia Dolera) and Koldo (Diego Martín), having been separated in the initial attack, find themselves stuck with a small group of survivors and fend off the demons onslaught while trying to be reunited.

It is true that this newest sequel is not particularly original, and heavily borrows from previous zombies/infected films. And while there is a satisfying level of gory mayhem, none of the deaths are as inventive and remarkable as what you would find in something like Brain Dead. Having said that, the film is fast paced, often funny, and like often with the genre, best enjoyed late at night with a packed audience which will scream and laugh at all the right bits.


The film also distinguishes itself with some particularly likeable characters, even the supporting cast in the few scenes they have, with a few nice touches of humour (particularly with the child entertainer/unofficial SpongeBob SquarePants impersonator). But shining through is the loving couple, and especially Leticia Dolera, who positively radiate as the bride, whose innocence and perceived frailty is put to the test, and who proves surprisingly deadly with a chainsaw! And no films about zombies/infected is complete without a character wielding a chainsaw, as far as I am concerned.

There is even a touch of romance added to the proceedings, which had the audience truly root for this lovely couple. The director Paco Plaza (who co-directed the first two with Jaume Balagueró) and the actress were on stage for a short Q&A, and it came as no surprise that they are actually married, as loving his camera his while filming her. They were both delightful on stage.

I wonder where the franchise with the already announced [REC] 4 - Apocalypse, as this one feels more like a detour, fun but not adding much to the mythology and backstory , unlike what [REC] 2 did.

[REC] 3 - Genesis is out on the 31st of August in the UK and on the 7th of September in the US.

And that was it for day one, a gentle introduction before the madness of day 2 where I saw five films back to back! I shall split them into two different posts, join me in the following days as I continue with my Fright Fest cover.

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