FrightFest 2008 Diary Day 3

The Film4 FrightFest 2008 Diary – Day 3

The Film4 FrightFest 2008 Diary – Day 3 first published by Little White Lies, 23 Aug 2008

Includes capsules of: Fear(s) of the Dark, Dance of the Dead, Manhunt, The Chaser, Bubba’s Chili Parlor, The Midnight Meat Train, Tokyo Gore Police

Fear(s) of the Dark showcases some of the world’s most talented animators in a pithy, feature-length anthology of terror-themed shorts. The images are restricted to black and white (with occasional splashes of orange in the credits), but there is still plenty of room left for dramatic variations in style from piece to piece. The film’s biggest problem, however, is the decision to cut up the already relatively brief episodes and to intersperse them with abstract narrated interludes. No doubt this further enhances the visual contrasts between the different episodes, but it also somewhat dilutes their individual impact. It is hardly a coincidence that the best piece here – a hermetic haunted house tale by Richard McGuire, drawn in the starkly grey-less style of Renaissance – is also the only segment allowed to play uninterrupted. Perhaps these would better have been left as self-standing short films in series, without any attempt to impose on them an overarching shape. Still very much worth a look, mind, and positively brimming with impressive animation. 

In a world where there have recently been far too many zombie comedies, at least Gregg Bishop‘s Dance of the Dead distinguishes itself with some sharp writing, amusing characters, and a real affection for geek culture (always a winner with the horror audience). And while this is not quite Heathers, the high school setting allows for some amiable teen satire to give all those rotting corpses a certain freshness. 

Oldschool in another sense is Manhunt, Patrik Syverson’s low-budget survival flick from Norway, which is set in the Seventies, has the subtly distressed look of filmstock from the Seventies, and pays loving homage to the redneck mean-spiritedness of that decade’s best horror. Original it is not, but there is ferocious sound design, a fantastic final girl – and, at 78 minutes, it knows just when to cut and run.

Best film of the day is The Chaser, Na Hong-jin‘s frenetic psycho-noir thriller in which a corrupt cop turned pimp faces off against a serial killer and up to himself. It runs so fast and twisted a course through a range of tones and genres that just trying to keep up will leave the viewer as breathless as the monstrous protagonist – and it has a real social conscience to boot. 

At the other extreme, Joey Evans’ ultra-low-budget Texan zombie apocalypse Bubba’s Chili Parlor is just plain tiring, without the accompanying thrills. There is a compelling enough can-do story behind it – bartender Evans and his bartender friend made it for US$11,000 borrowed against Evans’ future pension – but unfortunately the final product is aimless in its pacing, poorly edited, badly written, and terrible looking – and none of these in a good way, despite the film’s laboured attempts to ironise its low quality as part of the drive-in movie experience, complete with intermissions and faux ads. The presence of films like this and I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer on this year’s FrightFest slate simply devalues the festival’s credibility – surely there is better stuff out there than such insultingly sub-mediocre fare.      

Ah, that’s more like it. In Ryuhei Kitamura‘s The Midnight Meat Train, adapted from a novella by Clive Barker, an aspiring photographer stalks a well-dressed butcher that he has glimpsed on a late-night New York subway, and who may just be responsible for a series of missing persons cases. Featuring the best ever performance from Vinnie Jones (as the butcher), this devilishly ambiguous thriller leaves viewers  to decide whether to take the conventional or the less-travelled tunnel through its narrative network – and the results are a stylishly bloody descent into madness, murder and hell itself. So get a ticket, take the ride, and who knows where you might end up.

In the midnight slot comes a movie designed to push every midnight button. In Yoshihiro Nishimura‘s Tokyo Gore Police, a self-harming female officer in a privatised police force of the fascistic future is hunting the mysterious man behind a biomechanical virus that transforms the infected into mutant killing machines. Garishly coloured, wilfully offensive (but always in a cute way), interspersed with hilarious TV commercial inserts à la Robocop, and full of over-the-top action, fetishistic metamorphoses and impossibly bloody body horror, this film has to be seen to be believed. Totally insane.

Anton Bitel