FrightFest 2009 Diary: Day 1

First published by Little White Lies

Day 1 – Friday 27 August (Triangle, The Hills Run Red, Infestation)

The air in Leicester Square shimmers with anticipation (and gothic hair gel). It’s the tenth anniversary of FrightFest, and a larger than usual crowd of genre-fans, journalists and other ne’er-do-wells has assembled to check out the horror festival’s new digs, collect their day or weekend passes, fossick through the goodie bags, skip through the glossy programmes, and find their seats in the Empire’s cavernous tombspace. Who cares that this may be the last sunny weekend of the Summer? Five days of nervy high-jinks and gruelling depravity await in the dark, and Little White Lies will be there to witness the whole apocalyptic spectacle.

Despite the poor reputation that horror sometimes attracts to itself, and the vituperative manner in which the Daily Mail and its ilk like to caricature those who get their kicks from on-screen murder and monstrosity, the people who attend FrightFest are like an ever-expanding family, welcoming and always friendly, if at times also passionate and argumentative about the genre that binds them. This festival often feels like an annual reunion, as the same familiar faces are seen once again, old acquaintances are renewed, and new ones forged.

As last year, the festival begins with a short, specially commissioned piece by Adam Green (director of Hatchet) and Joe Lynch (director of Wrong Turn 2) – known collectively as ‘the Douche Brothers’ – in which the pair knowingly lampoons both the festival and the genre. This one has the two Stateside ‘brothers’ wandering into the ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ pub sequence from An American Werewolf In London (a newly remastered version of which will screen later at the Festival), and struggling to fit in with the local crowd. Affectionately funny, even corny, it is the perfect way both to make everyone feel instantly at home, and to give the sprawling festival the veneer of a coherent shape. There will be a different ‘Douche’ short shown every evening over the weekend.


Chris Smith’s first two films, Creep (2004) and Severance (2006), have both been featured at past FrightFests, so having as this year’s festival opener the world premiere of his third film just adds to the sense of homecoming. It also, if you will, squares a circle, for while few would claim that his earlier features were anything more than middling contributions to the genre, Triangle is something altogether different, and marks the writer/director’s true elevation to the very best of British. He appeared to be casing a black shadow over the festival from the start when, appearing on stage with his star Melissa George to introduce the film, he committed the cardinal sin of dropping what seemed to be a major spoiler – but as it happens, this film is so dizzyingly complex, so impenetrably labyrinthine in its construction, that spoilers simply do not apply (not that I’ll repeat here what he said).

“I feel like I know this place. I recognise these corridors,” says single mother Jess (George) as she and her companions wander the empty halls of an ocean liner in which they have sought refuge after a storm overturned their yacht. “I’m having déjà vu every time I turn a corner.” If recursions and repetitions are the lifeblood of horror, then Triangle features them aplenty,  not just because its scenes are played out time and time again from (impossibly) different perspectives, but also because it constructs its nightmarish narrative using elements familiar from countless other films. Here one can easily trace the intertextual play with Dead Calm, Adrift, Ghost Ship, The Shining, TimeCrimes, Carnival of Souls – and even the infernal crabs from Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End put in an uncanny appearance.

In such an allusive terrain, viewers may well feel that they too “know this place”, and yet Smith’s mind-bending mystery will leave everyone as lost as Jess, no matter whether they are trapped in an unravelling mind, a never-ending twilight zone – or in the prisonhouse of cinema itself. In the Q&A afterwards, the filmmaker declared: “Such a tricky film, even in the edit, to get it right – it was tricky to write, tricky to shoot.” You’d better believe it – but all that Sisyphean labour, as Smith worked and reworked his materials, has resulted in a film of astonishing, even bewildering ambiguity. The triumph of Triangle is precisely the twisted geometry of its storytelling, as it loops back on itself without ever quite becoming a circle.

The Hills Run Red

By the middle of the Nineties, horror seemed to have died a quiet death until the meta-slasher Scream (1996) came along, using reflexivity alone to breathe new life into the genre’s old bones. Many Scream clones later, this postmodern approach (in fact dating back as far as Michael Powell’s 1960 classic Peeping Tom) had itself been done to death, but there has been the odd resurrection in the Noughties, from The Last Horror Movie (2003) through Cry Wolf (2005) and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) to tonight’s second film (in its UK premiere), Dave Parker’s The Hills Run Red.

In it, film student Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink) goes out into the backwoods with his friends and a video camera, on the trail of legendary lost Eighties slasher classic The Hills Run Red (featuring iconic masked killer Babyface), only to discover that he is himself becoming a part of what he so obsessively desires to see. As a horror film about horror films, replete with not only crowd-pleasing shock and gore but also funny deconstructions of the more fixed clichés to be found in slash and dash (like the mute, invulnerable killer and the lack of any out-of-city cellphone service), The Hills Run Red gets to have its cake and eat it too – but while the cake is sweet enough, it is still difficult to escape the impression that there is little here we have not seen before, ironic self-referentiality and all. Still, the on-stage hope expressed by Parker that “you enjoy the movie, and you’re grossed out” was certainly met, and his post-screening stories of several stronger scenes being cut out by Warners will no doubt set some viewers on their own quest for another ‘lost’ horror film.


Following a screening of the passable ‘zombie western’ short Deadwalkers, the midnight(ish) slot went to the UK premiere of Kyle Rankin’s Infestation. “Even post-apocalypse, I’m a drunken asshole.” So says feckless, clownish office worker Cooper (Chris Marquette), who has awakened to find himself and others wrapped in weblike cocoons, and the city – perhaps the world – taken over by giant, anthropophagous insects. His dangerous journey to destroy the creatures’ giant nest will also be a search for the leadership, love and responsibility that he has always lacked – but before he confronts the monsters head-on, he must first face up to his absurdly domineering father (Ray Wise).

There is little in this creature feature that has not already appeared in Eight Legged Freaks, Aliens or The Mist, but it is all carried off with a  hilariously schlubbish charm, as though the fate of humanity were being left in the hands of The Office‘s personnel. The insect effects are delightfully icky, and there is a pleasingly unresolved sting in the film’s tail too, but most memorable here are the engaging performances, the quirky characters and the low-key humour.

© Anton Bitel