FrightFest 2009 Diary: Day 2 first published by Little White Lies
Day 2 – Friday 28
Of the six films screened today, I’m not allowed to talk about one, I don’t want to give too much away about another, and I have nothing new to say about a third – not least because near everything that could be said about it has already been said by a fourth. Can you tell that the exhaustion is already starting to set in?
Beware the Moon (2009)/An American Werewolf In London (1981)
Friday featured what has been billed as the centrepiece of the whole festival, the world premiere of a digitally remastered version of John Landis‘ 1981 horror comedy landmark, An American Werewolf in London, attended by the ever-jovial director himself along with a large pack of his original crew. There were people dressed as werewolves and Nazi demons in the lobby, the competition for autographs was unusually fierce, and there really was the sense that genre royalty, or even papacy, had arrived. The problem was, though, that despite the extraordinary clarity of this new print, the film offered no real surprises.
It is not just that every single member of the audience has at some point in their lives seen An American Werewolf…, but also that the film was preceded by the world premiere of Beware the Moon, Paul Davis‘ feature-length documentary on Landis’ film, in which all the key scenes are shown and anatomised in great detail. Nothing quite spoils the magic like first being shown how the trick works, and while Davis’ piece is charming enough, it is overextended, being even longer than the film it celebrates, and never really escapes its status as a DVD extra (which viewers tend to watch after, rather than before, the main feature). This was as much the fault of ill-conceived scheduling as anything else, and Landis himself, on-stage to introduce An American Werewolf in London, asked: “How many people just saw Beware the Moon? Well shit, now you know everything, there’s no surprise.” So true.
Shadow, the atmospheric debut feature of Italian rock musician Federico Zampaglione, also enjoyed its world premiere today. Iraq war veteran David (Jake Muxworthy) goes mountain-biking in the European hinterlands, where an encounter with beautiful fellow-traveler Angeline (Karina Testa) and two sadistic hunters leads to something altogether more horrific lurking in the misty shadows. Co-writing with his father, Zampaglione finds an ingenious way to link backwoods slash-and-dash and scenes of shocking torture to broader geopolitical themes – but given the traumatic life-and-death struggle that the film traces is rooted in one hell of a twist, perhaps the less said here, the better. Special attention, however, must be drawn to Nuot Arquint, an actor whose alarmingly cadaverous physique Zampaglione is wise to exploit fully in presenting one of the creepiest, most grotesque-looking antagonists seen since Max Schreck embodied Count Orlock in Nosferatu (1922). And if that does not whet the appetite, there is a scene of gratuitous toad-licking too…
The Horde (La Horde, 2009)
Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher‘s zombies-in-the-hood shocker The Horde (La Horde) will enjoy its official world premiere later this year in Venice, so the screening today had instead to be termed a ‘special sneak preview’. Unfortunately, this also means that it is under a draconian press embargo, with all reviews strictly vetoed. Enough said. [later review here]
The Horseman (2008)
Thank goodness, then, for the films that opened and closed the day, which left one less at a loss for words. Steven Kastrissios’ The Horseman is that rarest of things, a revenge flick that is never anything less than responsible about the bludgeoning violence and visceral torture that it presents on screen, with a morally complex powder keg of a man at its centre. The ironically named Christian (Peter Marshall) has discovered that shortly before his young daughter died her lonely death, her body pumped full of drugs and semen, she had been involved in a low-rent pornographic shoot – and so the grieving father (and pest exterminator) sets out on a bloody vendetta against all the men who had been there. Except that a fractured narrative chronology, and both Christian’s and our own ignorance of how exactly the girl came to die, lend extreme unease to the protagonist’s every vindictive act, as we wonder just how far we are happy to travel down Queensland’s dark highways with this man who harms himself and murders others. It is a hard-hitting, sympathy-confounding thriller that painfully interrogates our own muddled feelings about the sex industry, retribution, and the limits of love, fatherly or otherwise – and it is grounded in an electrifying performance from Marshall.
The midnight slot went to //Macabre//, the feature debut of writer/directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto (aka the Mo brothers), which builds from its realist opening towards a multiple orgasm of a horror climax that just keeps delivering again and again and again, in bloody splashes of escalating insanity and nightmarish mayhem. The night before eight-month pregnant Astrid (Sigi Wimala) and her husband Adjie (Ario Bayu) are due to leave Indonesia for a new life in Australia, they and their friends pick up strange hitchhiker Maya (Imelda Therrine) on the rainy road and agree to drop her back at her isolated home. There Maya’s serene mother Dara (Shareefa Daanish) shows her gratitude by inviting them all to enjoy a ‘special feast’ – and before you have time to count the clichés, the group find themselves trapped in a scenario that combines the family freakishness of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), the foetal anxieties of Inside (2007), and the food-focused fears of Dumplings (2005) – all spiced with some local flavour. Macabre may not exactly be doing anything new, but it takes unrestrained glee in playing out its borrowed tropes to their absolute extremes – and it certainly lives up to its title.
© Anton Bitel