FrightFest 2008 Diary Day 2

The Film4 FrightFest 2008 Diary – Day 2

The Film4 FrightFest 2008 Diary – Day 2 first published by Little White Lies, 22 Aug 2008

Includes capsules of: TimeCrimes, King of the Hill, Trailer Park of Terror, Mum & Dad, The Strangers, Freakdog, Bad Biology

An SF brainteaser with a noirish morality at its heart, Nacho Vigalondo‘s  TimeCrimes sees its errant protagonist accidentally sent back several hours in time, and desperately trying to disentangle himself from the paradoxes that he has left in his (future) wake so that he can return to the straight and narrow. Following the male gaze through to an ingeniously inevitable conclusion, it is a twisted, at times darkly comic tale of flawless construction. Best film of the day.   

The print of Ole Bornedal’s The Substitute failed to appear, and so had itself to be substituted by Gonzalo López-Gallego’s taut thriller King of the Hill (El rey de la montaña). An urban man gets lost in the Spanish countryside, and finds himself targeted in a deadly game of cat and mouse – but while this film may seem superficially to resemble Eden Lake, it is more concerned with human disconnection in the modern age, and allows a compelling moral message to emerge from its amoral woodland playgrounds. Solidly crafted, and well performed too.

Drawn from the Imperium Comics series of the same name, Steven Goldman’s Trailer Park of Terror is an affectionate trawl through the low-rent end of southern gothic. On a lonely by-road somewhere between 2000 Maniacs and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a bus-load of delinquent teens stumble into a ghost town of redneck undead and zombie trash – and you can guess what happens next. Even if the climax feels too routine to live up to the delirious set-up, the high production values remain a constant surprise, and there is no doubting that this grisly gorefest is a genuine crowd-pleaser.

Steven Sheil’s utterly assured debut Mum & Dad also riffs off The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but its setting in a house right under the flightpath of Heathrow Airport brings some peculiarly English shadings to the butcher’s table. Here the domestic horror of Fred and Rosemary West plays itself out as Mike Leigh-style awkward social tragicomedy, offering a view of murderously insane family dysfunction from the inside. With uniformly strong performances and excellent sound design, it is a disturbing slice of British life. Brilliant. 

There is supposedly an American remake of David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s home invasion thriller Ils (2006) in the works, but Bryan Bertino‘s The Strangers is the first, as it were, to get there second. It is so well made, so moody and tense, that its emptiness can almost be overlooked – but if you want something a little more than a po-faced, nihilistic thrill ride, best look elsewhere, as here it is a case of much quality ado about absolutely nothing. [ed. in the years since publication, I have radically revised my views on this film]

 Like his horror debut Shrooms, Paddy Breathnach’s Freakdog [aka Red Mist] is a deadly cocktail of bits and pieces from other horror films: the sociopathic med students of Flatliners, the killer-in-a-coma of Patrick, the murderer who uses host bodies from The Hidden, the shadowy ghost visible only on security cameras from Ju-On: The Grudge, and the disturbed young man whose traumatic childhood is revealed gradually in flashback, seen in literally hundreds of gialli and slashers before. The results are inevitably derivative (and the faux-American accents from the mostly Irish cast grate), but it makes for a heady enough mix. 

Marking the long-awaited return of cult director Frank Henenlotter, Bad Biology is, like his classics Basket Case and Brain Damage, a loving homage to all things exploitation. Made entirely independently, this badass polysexual freakshow is unlikely to be showing in a multiplex near you, but is the perfect feature for the midnight slot, where its conspicuous low budget and poor production values will go largely unnoticed. A warped romantic comedy that builds to a climactic union between casually murderous, seven-clitted mutant Jennifer (Charlee Danielson) and Batz (Anthony Sneed), a man whose steroid-injected penis has taken on a life of its own, it is the shocking ideas and grotesque visuals that count here – even if Batz’s underwritten characterisation wilts somewhat before Jennifer’s gleefully nightmarish post-feminism. You know it will go out with a hell of a bang – but wait till you see what emerges.  

Anton Bitel