One of the worldâ€™s leading genre festivals, “Arrow Video FrightFest” kicked off this year with â€śThe Rangerâ€ť by Jenn Wexler, the first female-directed movie to open FrightFest in its illustriousâ€”and goryâ€”19-year history.
The programme (as ever) is a rich and varied assortment of brand names, discoveries and the occasional classic revisited (the iconic â€śHalloweenâ€ť screened for its 40th anniversary, in a stunning 4k restoration).
2018â€™s festival of frights suitably climaxed with Gaspar NoĂ©â€™s â€śClimaxâ€ť (which we saw at Cannes, and loved) and among the very coolest presentations was Roxanne Benjaminâ€™s short, â€śFinal Stop,â€ť an experiment in sound design made with the support of Sennheiserâ€™s immersive Ambeo 3D headsets. Is 3D sound the future of horror cinema? Itâ€™s too early to tell, but the result was undoubtedly fascinating.
Above: “Tigers Are Not Afraid” has won numerous awards on the festival circuit.
“Terrified” is the third directorial feature from DemiĂˇn Rugna.
On a quiet suburban street in Buenos Aires, paranormal activity is afoot. DemiĂˇn Rugnaâ€™s impressive chiller is like a winning mix of Sam Raimi, John Carpenter and Lucio Fulci, with great scares and spooky atmosphere. Occasional structural wobbles are forgivable because â€śTerrifiedâ€ť is consistently good fun and boasts nail-biting sequences, the kind you watch with your hands over your face, peeking through the gaps between your fingers. Frightening and funny, “Terrified” is a calling card for director Rugna.
“The Night Eats The World” is based on a novel by Pit Agarmen.
The Night Eats The World
Zombie movies ran out of steam a long time ago, but at least â€śThe Night Eats The Worldâ€ťâ€”a French productionâ€”finds the opportunity to craft an intriguing story from a rotting sub-genre. Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) goes to an ex-girlfriendâ€™s house party to retrieve a box of old cassette tapes. He suffers a nosebleed, falls asleep in a room and wakes up the next day to find the world has been overrun with flesh-eating undead cannibal fiends.
A portrait of social anxiety and loneliness using the zombie apocalypse scenario to symbolise a manâ€™s emotional struggle, â€śThe Night Eats The Worldâ€ť is impressive.
Two sisters fight against a witch and an ogre in “Incident in a Ghostland.”
Incident in a Ghostland
Pascal Laugierâ€™s â€śIncident in a Ghostlandâ€ť skirts similar territory to his acclaimed 2008 horror film, â€śMartyrs.â€ť Arriving at a new home in the middle of the countryside, a mother and her two teenaged daughters are attacked by a pair of freaks (one looks like a witch and the other an ogre). Years later, the youngest daughterâ€”now a successful writerâ€”is called back home to take care of her mentally ill sister, who never got over the event. Unbearably tense, deeply unpleasant and brilliantly executed, Laugierâ€™s dreamlike psycho-drama isâ€”like â€śMartyrsâ€ťâ€”is a total nerve-shredder.
“Braid” is strikingly photographed by Todd Banhazl.
The first ever movie to be financed by cryptocurrency, Mitzi Peironeâ€™s â€śBraidâ€ť fits neatly into neo-giallo, psycho-horror and hagsploitation categories (if youâ€™re looking to pigeonhole it).
When two down and out artists turned drug dealers decide to rob their friendâ€™s house, they re-enter a strange world theyâ€™d abandoned long ago â€¦ or did they? â€śBraidâ€ť is gloriously bonkers and, although it begins like a Tarantino movie wannabe, this strikingly photographed drama soon develops its own surreal identity. It wonâ€™t be every horror fanâ€™s cup of tea, but for those who like something a bit different, â€śBraidâ€ť is well worth seeking out.
Young Estrella is haunted by the ghosts of people murdered by the cartels in “Tigers Are Not Afraid.”
Tigers Are Not Afraid
Issa LĂłpezâ€™s â€śTigers Are Not Afraidâ€ť looks at the drugs war and the devastating effect itâ€™s had on the social fabric of Mexico, from a childâ€™s point of view. Rich with imagination, haunting symbolism and disturbing imagery, LĂłpez deftly handles the high wire act of grounding real-world violence with fantasy embellishments. Itâ€™s not an easy thing to do at all, the director deserving all the plaudits sheâ€™s received from festivals, where it has won numerous festival awards. Even Guillermo del Toro is a fan. â€śTigers Are Not Afraidâ€ť is must-see world cinema horror.
A group of suburbanite kids believe their neighbour is a serial killer, in “Summer of 84.”
Summer of 84
Like their debut â€śTurbo Kidâ€ť the follow-up film by directing collective RKSS (FranĂ§ois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell), â€śSummer of 84,â€ť is a love letter to 1980s kidsâ€™ movies. While the nostalgia factor and plot involving a group of kids solving a mystery will draw comparisons to Netflixâ€™s â€śStranger Things,â€ť â€śSummer of 84â€ť is a gripping and surprisingly dark thriller, one which cleverly overturns the nostalgic trappings in favour of a very bleak conclusion. The â€śJoe Dante meets Alfred Hitchcockâ€ť vibe is executed with panache, and Rich Sommer is brilliant as the nice guy neighbour who may or may not be a serial killer.
Logan Marshall-Green in “Upgrade.”
Gunned down in a robbery and paralysed, car mechanic Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) receives experimental surgery from a tech guru heâ€™s befriended through work. A chip implanted at the base of his neck allows Grey to walk again and a whole lot more. To say anything else about the plot would reveal too much.
â€śUpgradeâ€ť by Leigh Whannell (co-creator of â€śSawâ€ť and â€śInsidiousâ€ť franchises) is a hugely inventive sci-fi actioner. The fight choreography, especially, is unique and unlike anything youâ€™ll have seen on screen before. Made for peanuts and looking ten times its budget, â€śUpgradeâ€ť boasts an excellent lead performance, great special effects and kick-ass action.
“The Witch in the Window” tackles depression, life’s disappointments and suicide with unexpected gravitas.
The Witch in the Window
Andy Mittonâ€™s ghost story treads familiar ground, but its emotional resonance is deeply affecting. A father (Alex Draper) heads out into the countryside with his son Finn (Charlie Tracker). Heâ€™s bought a house in rural Vermont, a fixer upper, and he wants to spend quality time with his boy. Of course, the home heâ€™s bought is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman locals believed to be a witch. What unfolds is something very special and melancholic, cleverly upending any genre expectations you might have. Draper is outstanding as the father, a man who just canâ€™t do anything rightâ€”in his eyes and his familyâ€™s.
Evil puppets mentally controlled by a Nazi cause havoc in “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.”
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich
A relaunch of Charles Brandâ€™s cult series, â€śPuppet Master: The Littlest Reichâ€ť was written by S. Craig Zahler, a filmmaker and screenwriter who has made a name for himself in recent times with â€śBone Tomahawkâ€ť and â€śBrawl in Cell Block 99.â€ť
Zahler has used the â€śPuppet Masterâ€ť scenario to tackle the horror of contemporary US politics, the ludicrous presidency of Donald Trump and specifically the rise of the fascistic alt-right. Itâ€™s a film brimming with bad taste gags, outrageous one-liners, great gore effects and is far from subtle on any level whatsoever. But it works a treat.
Sam Elliott gives the performance of his career in Robert Krzykowski’s debut film.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot
The very best film at â€śFrightFestâ€ť this year wasnâ€™t a horror film at all. The title might be goofyâ€”â€śThe Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfootâ€ťâ€”but the fantasy-based movie itself is anything but goofy. A gorgeously directed drama and deconstruction of the American hero myth, actor Sam Elliott received the role of a lifetime and, in a just world, would be up for an Oscar. Like John Ford directing from a script by the Coen Brothers, â€śThe Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfootâ€ť is a stunning indie oddity about America, heroism, dignity and self-sacrifice.
Images via Clout Comms Â© respective film studios.