FrightFest 2011 – Day 1 Review

Another year, another FrightFest to get excited about. Last year we kicked off Filmwerk with a daily review of FrightFest 2010, so we will follow suit this year and provide daily reviews as well. We also have recently posted individual reviews of the films we managed to see beforehand.

As just stated, last year was our first time covering the entire event so, naturally, lessons were to be learnt. Mainly to the tune of “if you are going to be conducting interviews, photo shooting the attending talent, watching the films and meeting fellow attendees – then it’s probably best to catch as many of the films as you can before you go in”. So I cheated a bit this year and grabbed as many screeners as I could. I know I couldn’t do all the other work and safely watch the majority of the films otherwise. I think last year I only managed around 13 of the films on site. This year was about the same, but thanks to grabbing some in screener format I ended up seeing about 25. The downside to this is that often when you watch many on a screener disc it isn’t quite the same as seeing it on a big screen. But even attending the festival you can’t physically see every film that screens due to the clashes.  So I was stuck between a bit of a rock and a hard place so thought I’d just watch as many as could beforehand. Most of the screeners I got were for the Discovery Screen listed films, so I was thankful that most films I saw this year were with the massive crowd in Screen 1.

We duly appreciate the FrightFest team can’t accredit more than one person for most publications, so I did my utmost to cover all bases this year before going in.

The FrightFest organisers Alan Jones, Ian Rattray, Paul McEvoy and Greg Day took to the stage to welcome everyone along. Thanks went out to the sponsors, the distributors, the staff and of course the fans for keeping the festival alive for; now twelve years old.

Onsite they had everything ready. The giant FrightFest banner was in place along the wall next to Screen 1. The media wall was opposite ready for the attending talent to be interviewed and photo shot. The cinema store was onsite with a variety of merchandise to pick up – from retro Grindhouse trash DVDs to FrightFest mousemats, mugs and t-shirts. And let’s not forget to mention the Empire Cinema, whose location the festival is housed at and their very friendly and staff behind the bar who even made the effort to demonise their appearance for the event.

Now for the past few years American directors Adam Green and Joe Lynch provided what was called The Road To FrightFest. The two of them charted their fictional trip to the festival paying homage to horror along the way. Each video segment got more and more bizarre and humorous. This year however Adam and Joe were a bit busy to provide this again (although they were in attendance for the entire weekend), so instead the festival managed to get 5 UK directors to provide a homage to John Carpenter. Friday’s opening short was Jake West’s take on Escape From New York (Actually titled Jake West’s Escape From London). They covered some of the highlights of the Carpenter movie whilst tying it to FrightFest and is notable for PR man Greg Day making his return to acting as the PR President of London in a wonderful homage to the Donald Pleasance character from the original film. It’s cheesy, it’s fun and got the mood going.

Friday’s opening film I did watch on site, and it was the Guillermo Del Toro produced creeper Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce are in the leads, but it’s the role of the daughter where we spend most of the time. Basically she’s been sent away from her mother to live with her father (Pearce) and his girlfriend (Holmes). And it’s a big (Del Toro-esque) mansion that they are staying in. The idea is that the dad wants to do the place up and put it on the market to make a bit of a profit. The trouble is, it’s also home to some nasty little critters that like to eat the teeth of children. Obviously in films like this, the kid gets freaked out and blamed for everything that goes wrong as the adults think she’s just having trouble adjusting.

The problem is that while the film looks rather grand and has the odd spooky moment – it just isn’t as powerful or as scary as you’d hope it would be. It also has one of the oddest final scenes in a film – when you consider what has happened previous to this. There were too many break downs in logic for you to truly sympathise with anyone. Proving that these little monsters exist was a big one for me. There are only so many scenes I can put up with where the young girl is tormented and the parents get there just after the little buggers scarper away. When the adults finally come round to this you wonder by the end why something more hasn’t been done. So I think I left the theatre thinking “what a load of old cobblers.” But I enjoyed Guy Pearce, and I enjoyed watching what happens to Katie Holmes. Otherwise this is a creepy film for kids.

Next up was Final Destination – 3D which seemed to have gone down better with the audience as a whole.  Those of you familiar with the package will know what to expect, and it is easily one of the better instalments in the series, mainly due to its impressive suspension bridge opening and a wickedly evil ending. They do try to expand the rules with this one, but by the end there is little evidence left over to suggest that they really matter.

The final film for Friday was the aptly titled The Theatre Bizarre. Six tales told from within an abandoned theatre told by a marionette Udo Keir. As with most anthologies, this one is a mixed bag. Things do not get off to a good start (Richard Stanley really needs to put in a bit of effort if he expects to return to full time film making), but slowly each section delivers something better. In fact the stand out segment isn’t even that horrific. It’s a charming little piece about a young girl’s first encounter with death (when she witnesses the aftermath of a road accident).

That was the end of the first night. I cut this one short as I didn’t want to burn the candle at both ends too quickly. So it was away into the night, returning for more tomorrow.

Steven Hurst

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