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Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Sounds like SCREAMFEST had a really good year this year. We have a spy, calling himself Major Calm, who sent in a bunch of reviews. Of the flicks he talks about, I have seen BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE AND FALL OF LESLIE VERNON, THE LOST and PAN'S LABYRINTH. PAN'S and BEHIND THE MASK are really great and THE LOST has a lot going for it, but it didn't really hit 100% for me. I'll have my review of PAN'S LABYRINTH up soon. Enjoy the Screamfest round-up!!!

Hey Harry

Long time reader. First time contributor etc. etc. Having attended the excellent Frightfest in London a week ago, I felt compelled to write in and air my views on ten of the movies in the generally very strong programme that they ran. Apologies for the slightly potted reviews but there is a lot of ground to cover. So here goes:

Pan’s Labyrinth

From the second Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron stepped on stage to introduce their film you could tell you were about to see something special. Their giddy enthusiasm was more in tune with a parent’s presentation of a newborn child than a screening of a movie. And aptly so, as what unspooled was, by Del Toro’s admission, an intensely personal film. As fans of Del Toro’s movies will know, however, an intensely personal Del Toro film is not going to be your average coming-of-age tale. At least not the average part anyway.

A unique genre hybrid (part fantasy, part horror, part war movie), the film follows Ofelia, a young girl sent to live in the country with her mother’s new husband, a Fascist Captain, in post Civil-war Spain. Unable to deal with the confusion and horrors of the reality that surrounds her, she withdraws into a self-imagined fantasy existence where she is set a series of tasks that she must complete, in order to redress the balance of both worlds, by a mysterious faun named Pan.

To elaborate further on the plot would be unfair as this is a movie best discovered for yourself. Like its companion piece, ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ it is a complex allegorical narrative that can be interpreted in a number of different ways. What you take away from the film will not necessarily be the same as the person seated next to you, but whatever level you take it at ‘ face-value escapist entertainment or moral political fable ‘ you will undoubtedly leave the theater feeling deeply rewarded.

Tech and Thesp credits are all top notch too, although particular mention should go to Sergi Lopez’s terrifying Captain Vidal, Guillermo Navarro’s stunning cinematography, Javier Navarrete’s beautiful score and CafeFX’s amazing FX work. The latter being a particularly astonishing achievement, given the film’s limited budget and enormous number of FX shots (300, according to Del Toro).

This is that rare breed of movie that caters for all the demands of the fantasy and arthouse crowd but also remains accessible enough to be enjoyed by a wider mainstream audience. Following the screening, the amiable Del Toro asked the audience to go out and publicise the movie if they liked it, as the promotional budget is next to nothing. Coming from a man who is prepared to sink all his fee and back-end points into the movie, it’s hard not to answer that call. The fact that the film is Del Toro’s masterpiece just makes the deal sweeter.


The plot, what little of it there is, goes something like this. Victor Crowley, a hideously deformed child, is accidentally axed in the head by his father as he is trying to rescue him from a fire. Years later he returns to (quite literally) tear apart a group of youths taking an ill-advised late-night tour of the swamp.

That’s it. No more. No less. And all the better for it. This is a welcome return to 80s style slasher horror. Back-to-basics gore shot through with a dose of self-referential humour. And what gore it is. Heads are twisted off and pulled apart. Arms are ripped off. Intestines are ripped out. I think it’s safe to say that the blood flows pretty freely in this one, but it’s all done in such a humorous, over-the-top way that it’s hard to find it offensive. In fact, blood being gratuitously splashed against the surrounding trees is just one of the many recurring gags in the movie.

The scene-stealing prosthetics are ably backed up by an unusually strong cast who were quite clearly having a great time making the movie. Joel Moore and Tamara Feldman stand out in the ‘geek-turned-hero’ and ‘hot-mysterious-girl-with-a-secret’ roles. But the movie belongs to Deon Richmond, taking his role from ‘Not Another Teen Movie’ to the next level as Moore’s hilarious African-American hatchet-baiting buddy. Of the multiple genre cameos, including Robert Englund and Kane Hodder, Tony Todd deserves special mention for what must surely be the strangest, campest performance of his career.

Make no mistake, Adam Green is a director who knows his audience. Hell, he is his audience. And he knows that his audience wants lots of blood, inventive deaths and a healthy dose of nudity for good measure. Sure, the movie’s a little rough around the edges (by his own admission Green was only able to get one take of many shots) but, when it’s this much fun, who cares?

See No Evil

Ok. So let’s see

A moderately budgeted slasher movie starring a WWE wrestler (??!!) about a killer with a meathook-on-a-chain weapon who lives in an abandoned hotel with a whole network of secret corridors (??!!) has a thing for chicks with religious tattoos (??!!) and plucks out the eyes of his victims to cleanse them of their sins (??!!) because his mother caught him masturbating over porn (??!!) whilst he was sitting naked in a cage as a kid (??!!) directed by an ex-porn director and co-starring a load of faceless actors who can’t act.

Truly awful, yet strangely enjoyable in a guilty pleasure sort of way.


Dubbed Open Water 2 in every country except the UK, Adrift actually shares little more with Open Water than the basic premise.

College buddies Amy, Zach, Lauren and Dan reunite on a yachting trip to mark Zach’s birthday. Along for the ride are Michelle, Dan’s latest fling, James, Amy’s husband, and Amy’s new baby Sarah. Once out in the middle of the ocean, everybody goes for a swim, including the aquaphobic Amy, only to discover that they forgot to lower the ladder before jumping in. Oops! What follows are their desperate attempts to get back on the boat made all the more frantic as baby Sarah begins to cry.

Whilst the stranded-at-sea set-up is fairly reminiscent of Open Water, the mood of the film is an entirely different beast. Open Water was shot through with the immediacy of hand-held DV, evoking an almost fly-on-the-wall documentary feel to the proceedings. Adrift, however, goes for a much more stylised, cinematic approach, leaving the audience in no doubt that this is very much a piece of narrative melodrama.

Filming on water is notoriously difficult and, by all reports, this was no exception, but you’d never know it. The cast are uniformally good, each imbuing enough individuality into their characters to make them unique without ever making them cookie-cutter stereotypes. The cinematography is also excellent. The camera deep in a blood red sea looking up at the desperate protagonists as they frustratingly watch a plane leave a vapour trail overhead is just one of many stand-out moments.

The film is not without its flaws, however. The group are frustratingly stupid at times, taking far too long to come up with the eventually successful solution to their predicament when, frankly, it would have been a great deal easier to pull off when all of their number were still around to do it. Also, Dan’s less-than-surprising emotive revelation towards the end of the film is a little over melodramatic and silly. And the ambiguous ending will frustrate as many as it pleases.

But, overall, a film to be highly recommended. Not a very cheerful number though.


Talking of not so cheery numbers

A woman wakes up in a coffin. Escapes. Gets a rifle butt to the head. Wakes up with her head in a noose, standing on a precarious platform, with a razorblade sewn into her stomach

What starts out as a British ‘Saw’-a-like quickly turns into a different animal altogether as the woman, ironically named Hope, becomes prisoner and servant to The Man, a forest-based recluse determined to make her part of his new family. Needless to say, after several days in the encampment, his survivalist traits start to rub off on her and the stage is set for a battle of wills between the two.

If you don’t have a strong stomach then this is not the movie for you. In fact you really need a pretty cast-iron stomach for this one. Having said that, if you like your suspense full-bodied, then this is well worth the endurance test. This is a totally unique movie with no punches pulled and no easy explanations that dares to explore much darker and more complex themes than the average thriller.

Shot on a budget of ten thousand pounds (roughly $18,000) Broken is an astonishing achievement boasting some awesome DV camerawork and excellent performances from the three leads. The directors, Adam Mason and Simon Boyes, work with an assured touch that directors with ten times their experience and a thousand times their budget would be jealous of. Expertly building an atmosphere of dread as Hope’s struggle to be reunited with her daughter becomes ever more desperate, leading to the shattering finale.

I hope this film gets a decent release. It’s not for everyone, but talent like this deserves to be seen and nurtured. I look forward to seeing what Mason and Boyes can do with a proper budget.

Butterfly: A Grimm Love Story

Butterfly is inspired by the true story of the ‘Cannibal of Rothenburg’ relating to a German named Armin Meiwes who ate a man who had volunteered himself as the meal over the internet.

Martin Weisz’s bleak, stylised movie outlines the back-stories of both men from childhood to the event in question, attempting to explain their motivations for taking part in such a dark fantasy. Employing a framing device that involves an American student (Kerri Russell) investigating their origins, Weisz takes the audience on a very dark ride indeed.

This is not so much a horror movie than a very disturbing tragedy about two deeply lonely men who need each other to become whole. The two leads deliver powerful performances, managing, amazingly, to make both characters completely sympathetic. Russell’s section of the film is little more than a narrative conduit for the audience but she, too, delivers a fine performance, transforming from naïve investigator to damaged voyeur by the end of the movie.

The film has some faults. It is a little overlong and the ‘desaturated-color-and-crushed-blacks’ look of the film gets a little tiresome eventually. But it is, nonetheless, very powerful and, ultimately, deeply depressing.

Strangely, the audience responded pretty badly to the movie, laughing at lines of melodramatic dialogue that probably would have been funny if they weren’t supposed to have been spoken by the characters’ real-life counterparts. I suppose, in many ways, this is the principal weakness of the movie. Without constant reminders that this actually happened, it would be easy to dismiss it all as being a bit ridiculous and far-fetched.

The Lost

Honestly I’m not able to comment on how faithful an adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s novel this is, as I haven’t read it, but I can tell you that The Lost is a terrific movie in its own right.

Chris Sivertson’s film is a relentless exploration into the life of Ray Pye, a small town drug-dealer and murderer who, we are told on a titlecard at the beginning of the movie, puts crushed beer cans in his shoes to make him look taller. After a chance meeting with a naked female camper, Ray decides it might be fun to kill her and her friend ‘just to see what it would feel like’, enlisting his friend, Tim, and girlfriend, Jennifer, into covering up the murders with him. A few years later the police are still trying to pin the murders on him, with little success, but various circumstances including the arrival of a new girl in town start to chip away at Ray’s self-control.

It is impossible to comment on this film without highlighting Marc Senter’s performance. Ray Pye has, on paper at least, no redeeming qualities. He is just an out-and-out narcissistic bastard with no care for anyone around him. Yet Senter manages to make him extraordinarily charismatic, even humorous at times, for an audience that has already witnessed him perform hideous, thoughtless murders at the beginning of the movie. This is an astonishing tour-de-force from a relatively unknown talent that makes otherwise excellent performances from all the other actors involved pale in comparison. To be honest this suits the film perfectly because, in Ray’s world, Ray is the center of everything and if he starts to lose that power... well, you’ll see what happens at the end of the movie.

Unfortunately it’s at this point (the last ten minutes or so) where the movie, like Ray, begins to unravel. What had, up to this juncture, been a carefully measured exercise in escalating dread becomes borderline-silly melodrama. The brutality becomes so over-the-top that it is hard to stay grounded in the reality of what has gone before and Ray becomes little more than the ranting psychopath that we’ve seen a thousand times before. But this is a very small drop of wrong in an ocean of right. Until this point Sivertson puts virtually no foot wrong.

Simply put, the film works well on virtually every level as a character study of an imbalanced mind in a society that encourages taking everything that you want when you want it, and a thriller about what can happen when that imbalanced mind finds that he can’t always get it.

As much as I recommend The Lost, it must be pointed out that it is not a film for the faint of heart. This is truly one of the most visceral, relentlessly brutal and disturbing movies to be released in a long time.


A supposedly ‘psychic’ ex-journalist conman (Nick Moran) gets drawn into a web of murder by a sultry femme fatale, whilst being followed by a mysterious man who has suffered hideous burns.

I really wanted to like this movie. Its director, Hadi Hajaig, went to great pains to explain to the audience that he had raised all the finance himself and was taking the unusual step of distributing it himself after he had received a few paltry offers by other distributors. His dogged persistence seemed highly admirable until I realised why he had only received said paltry offers.

Because, frankly, the movie is just not very good. It’s not that it’s bad. Just not good either. It is perfectly well shot and nicely acted but it is so distinctly average. And worse, it thinks it’s really clever. It’s not spoiling much to reveal that the movie relies heavily on a ‘big twist’. Sometimes a slow burning, seemingly average plot can be redeemed entirely by this ‘big twist’ that spins a clever angle on everything you have seen before. This is not one of those movies. Because this ploy only works if the audience can actually understand the ‘big twist’. Now I may not be a rocket-scientist but I consider myself a pretty film-savvy guy of average intelligence but it took me a good twenty minutes after the movie to come up with any explanation for the movie and even that was tenuous at best. So I was left with a bog-standard film noir with a silly supernatural angle tacked on.

When the film was over, Hajaig asked the audience not to reveal the ending. I wish that I could have done but, for now Hadi, I guess your secret’s safe.

Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Behind The Mask was my favourite movie of the festival. The film follows a documentary crew charting the progress of Leslie Vernon, a Jason Vorhees-style serial killer in the making. Vernon is an affable guy, deeply dedicated to what he sees as his life’s work and much of the humour is derived from the fact that he treats the slaying and its preparation as a relatively normal job.

Whilst largely following its documentary conceit, the film also manages to weave a very smartly written plot, full of its own twists and turns. The performances are all first rate and the humour is dead on, never missing its mark. One particularly nice touch is that most of the film is shot, documentary-style, on DV with a basic soundtrack, but when the film bursts into moments of full-on slasher mode the movie becomes 35mm with full surround sound and grandiose music.

If marketed properly Behind The Mask do huge business. It is every bit as smart and entertaining as Scream and deserves to do as well. This one really has breakout hit written all over it. The audience certainly seemed to think so anyway.

The Host

Finally South Korea’s awesome monster-movie ‘The Host’. Director Joon-Ho Bong whose 2003 ‘Memories of Murder’ is one of my favourite movies of recent years, has crafted a bizarre hybrid of comedy, drama and creature feature, most closely reminiscent of the 80s classic ‘Q - The Winged Serpent’ in tone.

Following a bout of pollution in the Han river, a huge water-bound creature goes on the rampage taking Kang-Ho Sung’s daughter with it. So he and his family band together to try and get her back, constantly restrained by government forces with a different agenda.

The movie has a number of outstanding action set pieces, the attack on the riverfront at the beginning of the movie being particularly memorable, but what stands out more than anything else is the humanity of the film. It is, at its core, a story about one family’s struggle to survive and redeem its faults, resulting in a lot of humour and a fairly hefty degree of tragedy as well.

The CG monster is great. Always a threat, yet treated in a slightly irreverently humorous fashion. After all, this is a monster movie that is keenly aware of how silly monster movies are, managing to skirt just the right side of parody to create both a homage to the genre and something entirely new.

The cinematography and production design should also be noted. The carefully chosen palette of desaturated colours (reflective of the mood of the film) coupled with the beautiful framing of expansive urban locations, makes for a truly striking cinematic spectacle.

My only two criticisms of the movie would be that it is a little too long (we were apparently screened the longest cut of the movie in existence) and some of the Asian slapstick humour is a little bit of an acquired taste for Western audiences.

These are minor quibbles, however, with an otherwise pretty faultless movie.

Anyway, that was about the sum of my Frightfest experience. I was hugely impressed by not only the quality of the films on offer but also the general enthusiasm of all involved, particularly Paul, Alan and Ian, the event’s three organisers. I am already looking forward to next year.

If you use this please call me Major Calm.

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