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Major Calm's Final Dispatch From FrightFest!

Beaks here...

Oh, good. I was beginning to fear that Major Calm was going to leave us hanging on FrightFest. But here he is with a final batch of reviews. I can't believe he didn't like MIRRORS!
Hi guys Major Calm here, with my reviews for the 5th and final day of London’s Frightfest. Once again, apologies for the delay since my last post. For anyone that’s interested, my coverage of the first four days can be read here (, here ( and here ( A couple of Day 5’s movies have already been in wide release in the US but, in the interests of consistency and for all those outside the US, I’ve included my thoughts on Mirrors and Death Race too. As always, I’ve added a short second opinion from either one or both of my fellow travellers for the movies that they attended. So, without further ado, let’s set out on the final stretch... The Dead Outside (UK) The sole survivor of a zombie onslaught that claimed his family, Daniel (Alton Milne) finds shelter in a Scottish farmhouse where he forms an uneasy alliance with April (Sandra-Louise Douglas), another survivor with a dark secret. When a further, uninfected woman shows up looking for refuge, their loyalties are thrown into question, as the threat increases from the approaching undead. Hailed by one deluded audience member as ‘the best of the festival’ (I hope it’s the ONLY film you saw or it’s time to lay off the crack-pipe buddy), The Dead Outside is anything but. Slow to the point of almost being in reverse, Kelly Anne Mullaney’s turgid little movie plays like Bubba’s Chilli Parlour’s older, more pretentious film-school cousin, replacing that film’s amateurish camerawork with bounteous, gratuitous slanted camera angles to equally mind-numbing effect. Mullaney and co-writer, producer, cinematographer Kris Bird seem to be under the misapprehension that they are making something more profound than the average zombie movie, filling the script with seemingly endless soul-searching exchanges between the three leads whilst skilfully side-stepping any themes that might actually be worth exploring whilst keeping the whole endeavour suspense-free. To that end, the zombies, themselves, never seem like any real threat as they amble across the field like a bunch of disoriented pensioners, escaped from a nearby old folks’ home, stumbling around without their Zimmer frames. Maybe it’s just because they share the audience’s disinterest in the protagonists’ dull conversations. Maybe it’s because they have become dazed by the relentless ‘shout-every-line’ drone from the woefully miscast Douglas. Or maybe it’s because they’re getting tired of appearing in the seemingly endless stream of recent zombie movies. The Disappeared (UK) Blaming himself for the disappearance of his younger brother Tom, young Matthew Ryan (Harry Treadaway) re-enters society after a prolonged stint in psychiatric care. After hearing Tom’s voice on a video recording of a police news conference, Matthew starts to uncover the dark secrets behind his brother’s abduction, all the while questioning his own sanity. A stunningly atmospheric and intelligent thriller, Johnny Kevorkian’s The Disappeared was, for me, by far the biggest surprise of the festival. It’s a slow-burner for sure, but it’s also a beautifully crafted gem of a movie with a pay-off that’s more than worth the wait. From the ominous council-estate setting that puts a whole new spin on the haunted house genre to Ilan Eskeri’s haunting score, all technical credits are top notch. Cinematographer Diego Rodriguez’s work stands out, in particular, extracting the kind of disassociated beauty from a gritty urban reality that only a foreigner’s eye could see. The acting, likewise, is of a uniformly high standard. Greg Wise and Tom Felton both deliver solid support as Matthew’s father and best friend respectively. But the movie belongs to Treadaway, whose performance as the lonely, guilt-ridden investigator is nothing short of spectacular. More than anything though, The Disappeared highlights debut feature director Kevorkian as a talent to watch. With movies such as this, and Oliver Blackburn’s excellent debut Donkey Punch, it seems as though, after years of treading water in a sea of rom-com and costume-drama mediocrity, the genre arm of the British film industry is swimming determinedly back to shore. 2nd opinion: My fellow traveller loved The Disappeared, naming it her second favourite movie of the festival after the stunning Let The Right One In. Mirrors (USA) Disgraced cop Ben Carson (Keifer Sutherland) takes a job as a night security guard at a once opulent but now (literally) burnt-out department store. Before long he realises that the mirrors amongst the wreckage are unnaturally clean and, finding himself under threat from his own reflection, frantically attempts to uncover their sinister secret before it’s too late. Of course, had he been more observant, he would have noticed the acres of amazingly fire-retardant curtains, not to mention the clothes and wigs that adorn the strangely un-singed dummies all over the building. Yes, it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that we’re in the land of the ridiculous. From the hideous expository dialogue – Amy Smart’s Angela lets us know about a hundred times that she’s Carson’s sister – to the extraordinary lapses in logic – we’re told that the electricity in the building doesn’t work yet Carson has no problem turning on the lights in a completely flooded basement and, seemingly, has no qualms about walking through the water once the electricity is live – the whole endeavour is utterly ridiculous. For the first half of the movie its stupidity is tolerable, buried beneath a few effective scares, but then, as if he realises what a mediocre piece of trash he’s making, director Alexandre Aja ups the ante and goes completely demented. All of a sudden Sutherland’s character switches into a kind of demon-hunting Jack Bauer, comically threatening nice old men and forcing his gun in the face of a nun with the same kind of verve Bauer reserves for terrorists on 24 - his desperation escalating to the point where Sutherland, himself, appears to be frantically searching for an exit from this hideous train-wreck. At the very same moment, the dialogue starts to reach hitherto unforeseen levels of inanity. Carson starts exclaiming “Damn it!” a lot and we’re helpfully told some enlightening facts such as “Water causes reflections. It’s science” and “My family’s not dying tonight”. The hilarious moment that Carson’s estranged wife apologises for not believing him that all the world’s mirrors are on a murderous rampage is the stuff of comedy genius. As Mirrors limped towards its abysmal (and inevitable) ‘twist ending’ before my very eyes, I found myself bemoaning the po-faced mediocrity of its first half for holding the movie back from its true potential as one of the greatest bad movies ever made. As it stands, however, it’s little more than a unintentionally comic pot-boiler made by a group of talented people who really should know better. 2nd opinion: Both my fellow travellers thought Mirrors was awful, although both would readily admit to enjoying it as a camp, misdirected laugh-fest. Death Race (USA) Ex race-driver Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is set up for the murder of his wife and sent to a futuristic penitentiary to serve out his sentence. Once there, he is coerced into taking part in a new, televised spectator sport known as Death Race which sees inmates competing for their freedom in gladiatorial vehicular combat. His movies may not quite rank amongst the worst ever made yet, to my mind, Paul W.S. Anderson is thoroughly deserving of the title ‘Worst Director in the World... Ever”. Not even the awesomely untalented Brett Ratner can match Anderson’s uncanny – and seemingly unknowing - ability to drain every ounce of potential from each and every high profile project he lays his hands on. From the spectacularly awful Alien Vs. Predator to the legendarily dreadful Soldier, he has proved time and time again that no sizeable budget or potentially huge franchise is too good for his videogame-style, B-grade touch. His movies have, however, always held a certain ‘fascination of the abomination’, each teasing us with the promise of destroying the source material in a more guiltily enjoyable way than the last, providing hours of pleasure for the Friday night ‘beer-in-hand’ crowd. So it is with some trepidation that I must admit that I loved this movie. Yes, you read correctly, Anderson has made a truly fun movie in Death Race. Statham is actually an actor I rather like. He knows what his forte is and plays to it, never taking himself too seriously. This seems to have rubbed off on Anderson. For once the cheesy videogame touches seem to work with a knowing irony within the logic of his narrative’s world and the frequent and exciting race sequences are delivered with a real flair, hitherto unseen in his work. He’s backed up by a surprisingly strong supporting cast which, for once, he makes the most of. The scenery-chewing Joan Allen lends a touch of class as the villainous warden and Ian McShane underplays the seasoned mentor to witty effect. Hell, even Tyrese Gibson is good fun as Statham’s ridiculously-named rival Machine Gun Joe. Make no mistake, this is no Citizen Kane. But if you like the occasional violent, fast-paced action-movie trash to balance out the Oscar contenders, they don’t come much more entertaining than this. Maybe it’s time to drop the ‘... Ever’ bit from his title after all. 2nd opinion: Both my fellow travellers really enjoyed Death Race, hailing it a surprisingly exciting and fitting end to a great, varied festival. Short Films Of the short films on show this year I only caught a few: The Amazing Trousers – a fun, 30’s-style morality tale with great turns from Kris Marshall, Alice Eve and David Bamber. He Dies At The End – a silly, but rather enjoyable short about an office worker receiving mysterious messages from his computer. Psycho Hillbilly Cabin Massacre! – a funny, well-crafted if not overly drawn out tale of role reversal in backwoods horror. The Chest – A completely bizarre – and nonsensical – Turkish film about a boy and his wooden chest. The Listening Dead – A partly effective silent-movie about a pianist’s relationship with his nagging wife and the female ghost that haunts him. Left Turn – Sean Ellis’s derivative and ineffective short about a couple terrorised separately by the same elderly hitchhiker. Previews Of the previews that appeared this year, the following stood out: Book of Blood – A forthcoming Clive Barker adaptation, Book of Blood looked like a welcome throwback to 60s and 70s British horror. Grace – A stillborn baby comes back to life with a thirst for blood. Adam Green’s first movie as a producer looks intriguingly dark and, frankly, anything he is involved in is worth seeing. Into the Dark: Exploring the Horror Film – Produced by Frightfest’s own Paul McEvoy and Exec-Produced by George A. Romero, Into the Dark is shaping up to be an excellent documentary about the fascination we have with horror movies, containing interviews with numerous key voices in the industry. Lesbian Vampire Killers – Starring Matthew Horne and James Corden from the UK TV show Gavin & Stacey, Lesbian Vampire Killers looks like a lot of fun, coming across like a modern, more ironic take on the Carry On films of the 60s with a genre twist. Dead Set – Charlie Brooker (a well-known satirical journalist in the UK) introduced an amusing clip from his 6-part TV show. The basic concept goes something like this. Britain is overrun by a zombie apocalypse and the only people unaware of what’s going on are the contestants inside the Big Brother house – a group of people hand-picked to not get on with each other. Trailers Of the various trailers on show, the highlights were Outlander (astronaut from the future crash lands on earth during the Viking era with a nasty monster in tow), The Mutant Chronicles (Thomas Jane leads a band of futuristic soldiers against a mutant attack) and the remake of Friday 13th (which looked surprisingly good considering it comes from the ‘dream team’ of Michael Bay and Marcus Nispel). Finally I must, once again, make a shout-out to directors Adam Green and Joe Lynch for the hilarious short films that they shot especially for Frightfest 2008, collectively known as The Road to Frightfest. They can now be seen online at: So, to sum up, another great (albeit exhausting) year at London’s Frightfest. For those that are curious... My Top 5 movies of the festival: 1. Let The Right One In 2. Dance of The Dead 3. The Disappeared 4. Time Crimes 5. The Chaser My Bottom 5 movies of the festival: 1. Bubba’s Chilli Parlour 2. The Dead Outside 3. Autopsy 4. Freakdog 5. The Broken Whereas not all the movies on show were to my taste, they were, with a few exceptions (‘Bubba’s Chilli Parlour’ and ‘The Dead Outside’, I’m looking at you), nothing short of interesting and diverse choices for a festival that aims to provide a wide cross-section of the best in upcoming genre movies. Here's looking forward to the 10th Anniversary of Frightfest next year, when the festival moves to one of the biggest – if not THE biggest – screen in London, the Empire Leicester Square. Until next time... Major Calm
Thanks, sir! It's been a pleasure.

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