|What I did on my weekend off (Dead by Dawn 2014)
||[Apr. 29th, 2014|04:51 pm]
Evil Cheese Scientist
Once more you find me a shattered, happy wreck of a man, trying to glue my brain back together on the Monday after another year's festival of dark storytelling projected on Screen 1 at The Filmhouse.|
Dead by Dawn 2014
Adele Hartley is our festival director and she knows horror.
On our behalf, Adele sinks her hand deep into the diabolically putrid crud bucket of horror films that is churned out each year and drags the rancid cream of the ghastly crop kicking and screaming from the mire and lobs it with a fierce aim at the screen, so that we can enjoy it too.
Not for us that half-baked selection of cheap thrill no budget no script no brain stuff that filled the shelves of film rental places of yore, we are talking proper gooseflesh, intelligent, poetically mindless, dastardly storytelling to keep you up nights.
Here is what we saw.
Thursday 24th April
To celebrate a centenary of showman director William Castle, we kick off in great style with The House on Haunted Hill (1959). VIncent Price is rarely more devilishly handsome than here, a film that deserves to be called a classic. Castle's wonderful gimmick of a floating skeleton is present and the inflated dead then sits through the whole festival and is named William.
There may have been a few drinks after this, quite a few...
Friday 25th April
I had somehow got to 45.5 years of age without seeing Mr. Sardonicus (1961), this gap in the William Castle section of my brain was a joy to fill. While sat next to inflatable William, we pondered our Mercy / No Mercy Punishment Poll Cards and allowed the thorny story to entangle us. It works sublimely well, proving to be of superior flow to tales such as Dracula, which tend to trip on their cloaks.
A much repeated topic of conversation at DbD, revolves around how an everyday audience might not get on with or even be exposed to some of the films we see. Short films from less than a minute to around an hour, have trouble finding a home or a chance to shine.
The double bill of Where the Red Fox Lies and Les Gourffres, fuelled this year's uptake of that theme.
The first is a great set piece (we came up with our own titles for some films, this got Being Liz Sherman's Sister / My Hot Sister) it perhaps suffers from being more predictable to said audience, but it had exactly the right feel and this tightly crafted package would lead a less horror soaked crowd to realisation more slowly.
The second (our title The Arthouse Descent) was a brilliantly disorienting piece that took you on an unravelling journey of a woman awaiting her husband's return from investigating an unusual phenomena. It is isolating and vertiginous in its haunting of the screen.
Kier-la Janisse is up next, presenting School of Shock, a riot of public information and safety films.
This beguiling study lead us from the lengths you can go to in emotionally deterring (or is that scaring?) children from doing anything, ever, to ways of convincing heavy machinery users not to be decapitated, to hitting drivers over the head with sledgehammer imagery to deter drink driving, and was a formidable journey to join. From the ambulance chasing that is drivers ed movies of America in the 50's to the Donald Pleasance voicing Death and Cesar Romero voicing Plaque deterrent films, it was a treat and will have me searching for more. Thank you Kier-la.
Our first short, short is Division Azul (Spain 2012) and sees some special WWII forces being, well, special. It precedes Greatful Dead (Japan 2013 - Gureitofuru deddo), another film that says something about the DbD audience. It sits watching the dislocated psyche of our childhood damaged protagonist gathering no moss, without balk, it has seen harsher films, it winces as a whole with each hammer blow, but it is not deterred, that is why we are here in part, to judge if our escapist desire for mayhem is a thing under control or if we are mindless gorehounds looking for answers in entrails.
Okay, that says nothing about the DbD audience, it says plenty about me and my state of mind after a weekend of soaking up beer and blood in almost equal quantities.
And so I skip the opportunity to see Friday the 13th on the big screen, I was keen, but I could barely keep my eyes open at this stage. This meant I missed the short La Sed Animal (Spain 2013), which by all accounts was one of the best. Dang!
Saturday 26th April
One Please (2013 USA) is a great way to start the day and is my favourite short of the festival. Michael Berryman can do a really creepy thing with his ears and he does it while serving ice cream to a manicured lawn set community. The sound, the timing, the framing. All impeccable. Brilliant!
13 Sins (2014 USA) is a really neat re-working of 13: Game of Death, a film about the extremes people will go to for wealth. Both films spiral the lead protagonists out of their downtrodden ways, invest them with a new confidence and then tries to strip away what made them decent people in the first place. That a re-make can sit so well as a work in its own right must be down to the story idea and the consideration this re-working was given, it has thoughtful branches to the tale of the conspiracy of the wealthy few. Oh, and Ron Pearlman is in it, so that's cool too.
The double bill of Killer Legends (2014 USA) and Candyman (1992 USA) was a splendid idea.
Joshua Zeman and Rachael Mills research the origins of murderous urban legends and take us to some uncomfortable places. As a fan of the Foaf (Friend of a Friend story), I applaud examinations of the provenance of these tales. Here we explore the worlds of the hook handed killer, poisoned Halloween candy, babysitters in peril from within the house and finally sights are set on the Killer Clown.
There are moments to take your breath, mainly in the images of real death and an immaculately kept cross like table used for lethal injections, but it is perhaps the moment when Phil Donahue asks a man on death row if he knows that 'he killed Halloween' (he in fact was accused of killing his son), that tells you more about a land where so many of these stories originate than the stories themselves.
Watching this voyage of discovery and seeing the reality sink in that these tales soften the blow of how truly grotesque the reality is, yet spread a panic in campfire cautionary style tales, lead perfectly into Candyman.
Then Tune for Two (2011 Sweden) opens our next segment in gleeful unpleasantness giving a new dark image for a familiar family favourite song. Dead Banging (2013 Japan) is Eiji Uchida's second film of the festival. One can only assume the director has reason to focus on childhoods of diminished care and attention, as another leading lady battles her way through self doubt to become lead singer of Nosebleed, an all girl metal band, an all girl metal band with a zombie providing backup vocals. It's a great fun movie, full of ideas and self parody, but many of us felt, if not for the oddly translated subtitles resulting in bizarre unintended statements, we'd have been a bit bored by the end. I think that the existence of real Jpop phenomena, Babymetal may have stolen the impact of Kawaii Metal a bit too.
Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla (2013 Australia). Prepare to have your sympathy and sensibilities run over with an ice cream truck. With a dazzling performance by lead Glenn Maynard, this tale of socially inadequate Warren, shines. With a fantastic script and acting throughout. The 'man pushed to the edge' film just got a new poster boy.
Here comes Fool's Day (2013 USA), a short that would still have been really funny if it lasted to the first cup of coffee, but is bowel jangling funny because it carries on from that point. Watch ingenious youth hold on to classroom law.
Then, Takashi Miike comes back to the Dead by Dawn screen with Lesson of Evil (2012 Japan). It was getting late in the day and many an audience head was already fuzzy. This wasn't going to help any. Grizzly and relentless, this addition to the authoritarianism in the classroom horror genre leaves your head ringing.
The students getting it in the neck (and the chest and the head and the...) this time are more discernible in a visual sense, but just as disposable as ever, leaving us no one to really root for. Standards, body count and performances rank high and some amazing ideas and even homage to Cronenburg, all count heavily in its favour, the ringing in the brain comes not only from the shotgun blasts, that annoy our lead at times too, but from the myriad ideas being hit hard at the screen in a bewildering scatter array over a long run time. It is an ordeal and it is meant to be.
The Howling (1981 USA) is a firm favourite of mine. It has always suffered from the shadow that An American Werewolf in London, casts over that same year of release and while I admit that I think the latter is the better film, it should not detract from the joy that this garish Technicolor thrill ride of cameos, film and television references, over the top fx transformations and the wicked sense of humour, brings to the screen. I have also always favoured the werewolf on two legs design as a superior supernatural representation of the beast within, losing humanity is the key, but it is human appetite that fuels the monster and as such it is right that his form partially remains.
Sunday 27th April
As little children pour out of saccharine screenings with their parents, they are greeted by the shuffling horde returning to its temporary home. The Filmhouse is to be commended once more for its hosting of this festival, we sit all weekend next to Morningside ladies supping tea and juice bubbling youth and while eyebrows sometimes raise on both sides, we co-exist peacefully (knowing all that time that this is ours and even if we relinquish majority hold from time to time, it always will be ours, our red in the black, our escape to and from, our safe unsafe place).
At the Formal (2010 Australia) is a reassuring reminder that Society is not a film alone in its distrust of being in the right crowd and that making it through your schooldays can be more terrifying than any horror film.
Au Nom Du Fils (2013 France) is another highlight of scripting brilliance and devoted performances. I have no issue with people having faith, I have great issue with organizations of faith holding sway and covering up for their advantage takers and abusers of trust and power. This film has no truck with the organized in organized religion and says so with the darkest of humour and a brush dipped deep red. Films like this is why I am a horror fan, it might not be a horror film per se, but it does what the best of horror does when it is not an escape from the real terrors of this world. It takes on the reality of mankind's failings, stands up to them, accepts human fragility and screams at the top of its lungs at hypocrisy and injustice. This is my must see of the festival.
I watched Twilight Zone: The Movie more times than is healthy back in the day. To see its cartoon brilliance up on a big screen was fantastic.
2D & Deranged is the always welcome animated short programme (with added 3D).
Here is wonder, here is the grown up childhood gone bad, here is much fine, fine work.
Ones to especially look out for are;
The Blackwater Gospel an old favourite of mine.
Sangre de Unicornio ugly-cute.
Supervenus lesson for the body image conscious.
The Evening Cigarette the perils of the smoker.
Maleria astonishing animation that mixes comic art and stop motion photography.
and Rob Morgan's Invocation, the man does not disappoint, again.
Noooooo! there's just two tickets left to go. The Sunday of DbD is the best and the worst, that day, that long day stretches and contracts, the yawning infinite possibilities of the menu are devoured at an alarming rate. soon, soon we will have to crawl back to our holes and re-immerge to the world of the normal. Resist it all you like, it is inevitable and that is the biggest horror of these weekends, the light at the end of the tunnel, the end.
But, hey! Don't fight it, relax, enjoy what's left.
And what enjoyment there was.
Timothy (2013 Spain) brings a child's favourite television character to life, babysitters beware.
If I try and describe Housebound (2014 NZ), it's going to come across as a bunch of clichés strung together with comedic thread. That would not do it justice. Horror with humour can go horribly wrong. This one gets it horribly, horribly right.
Okay, let's try that description anyway; Teen under house arrest has to quiet the ghost that haunts many heads. Misunderstood youth teams up with paranormal researcher/security guard to exhume the past and bring justice from the grave. Estranged mother and daughter reunited by the justice system, are brought together in fighting a haunting presence within their home... I'll stop.
Lights Out (2013 Sweden) Fun with light switches in the dark is a longstanding terror set up that carries primal undertones. This presentation owes a lot to Damien Mc Carthy's style of shock horror, but stands on its own to pitter-pattering feet.
And finally (with spoilers)...
The much anticipated UK Premier of Oculus (2013 USA),comes a few years after the makers caused quite a stir with the short Oculus Part 3: The Man With A Plan. I have somehow still not seen that short in its entirety, but knew how highly regarded it was, so it was with some fear that the growing hype around this film as it got a release on home turf recently, might detract from its power. It didn't.
There are but a few short films that really scream make me longer, in fact so many films could do with being shorter or, in fact, a short, that it was an exhausting sigh of relief to get caught up in this family battling a debilitating evil presence in their lives and not think that it should have been shorter. It delivers. It delivers shocks aplenty, it drags us through the damaging past of the main characters and it jolts us back to the present. If anything I wanted something more, not so much in length, but in a hint that there are other tales to tell about the mirror that don't repeat the cycle.
This was an unsettling film in a similar way that The Abandoned (2006) was. Another film to end a Dead by Dawn, the inescapable horror of that cursed self movie jangled the nerves until your teeth felt like crying. Films like this are great at grabbing you with an ice cold hand that won't let go and fall into the category of unjust fate or the un-quite(able) vengeful spirit. They work extremely well in offering no way out, this horror without hope is the darkest of all and that never quite sits well with me. It makes me restless and frustrated but maybe, deep down, I really like that itch, that feeling that at least it's not me that bought the wrong antique, took the wrong job or inherited the spooky house, but it could be me and if there is no escape...
A quick drink in the bar, a long goodbye and a trudge home in the company of my demons.
My demons who all whispered, 'Again, again'.