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FrightFest 2017 Day One – Cult of Chucky and Death Note

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It’s FrightFest time! Horror fans Christmas is here again – nice and early, BACK in the Empire Leicester Square on some killer screens, with a blood-shed-load of awesome and disgusting delights for UK gorehounds. This year has got a slightly special tinge as it sees the return of some iconic horror villains, carving their way through new adventures and victims, and back into their fans hearts.

Yep, the patter of tiny feet means Chucky is back in Cult of Chucky, the rev of a chainsaw means that Leatherface is back in… well, “Leatherface”, and the grinding of a belt sander on some swamp hiker’s face means Victor Crowley is back in a secret Hatchet sequel/reboot – “Victor Crowley”.

Plus THE GUESTS. Horror legends Barbara Crampton (Sunchoke, Re-animator) and Kane Hodder (Jason flipping Voorhees himself) opened the festival this year, and after a very funny short from the also returning “Douche Brothers” – Adam Green and Joe Lynch – and a very sweet short from the daughter of Chucky’s puppeteer it was time for the main event…

Cult of Chucky

Cult of Chucky is written and directed by Don Mancini (Curse of Chucky, Seed of Chucky), and stars Fiona Dourif (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), Jennifer Tilly (Bound) and Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky.

Continuing straight on from the last film – Curse of Chucky – Cult of Chucky sees Nica (Fiona Dourif) banged up in a psychiatric hospital because no one would believe that Chucky killed everyone last time out, and pinned it on her. After shock therapy and hypnosis, Nica has become half convinced that she did indeed commit the murders herself… until, one day in group, her therapist pulls out a familiar looking Good Guy doll to aid in her mental rehabilitation.

Soon, those little white and red trainers are skittering up and down the halls – offing the patients and trying to make Nica look crazy. Chucky is back, but he is not alone – Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) is pulling strings from the outside, and the killer dolly is also joined by the titular cult… Luckily, Nica has reinforcements in the form of Andy (Alex Vincent) – the grown up survivor from Child’s Play who is now an ice-cold gun nut, and gets himself committed so that he can join the fight.

Confident, assured, and often horrifically beautiful direction from franchise father Don Mancini means Cult looks gorgeous – sleek, bright and shiny, with some gorgeous slow motion carnage and hauntingly composed tableaus. It feels like Universal have let Mancini and co. unleash a little more with this latest installment too as it frequently goes to very messed-up and unexpected places.

Fiona Dourif is again excellent as the wheelchair-bound hard-as-nails Nica, and gets to delve into extremely odd places herself. Tilly is a fantastic blast, whose combination of girlish voice and bonkers psychosis in Tiffany is a complete hoot, and along with Chucky’s devilish one-liners, frequently adds big belly laughs to a viciously bananas film.

Some frankly flipping insane plot developments leave the Chucky franchise in a very interesting place, and Cult of Chucky is the creepiest and craziest Chucky film yet.

Cult of Chucky is released on DVD/Blu-Ray in the UK on the 23rd of October.

Chucky was most definitely back and not playing around – reminding everyone that you do not much with the Chuck. Then, and after a quick break for a swig of coke and a handful of popcorn, it was time for a sneaky early look at Adam Wingard’s (You’re Next, The Guest) take on the beloved property: Death Note.

Death Note

Death Note is directed by Adam Wingard (Blair Witch), and written by Charley Parlapanides (Immortals) – based on the original by Tsugumi Oba and Takeshi Obata. The film stars Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars), Shea Whigham (American Hustle), Willem Dafoe (Platoon), Keith Stanfield (Get Out) and Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys).

Light (Wolff) is a high-schooler with a crush on rebellious cheerleader Mia (Qualley). One day, after getting knocked spark out by the school bully, a mysterious black book falls from the sky and into Light’s lap – the Death Note.

Light begins to read it and amongst myriad rules discovers that any name he writes in the book will die. Egged on by a Death God who comes with the book – Ryuk (Defoe) – Light begins to off bad guys, and his new found power and confidence also gets him a new girlfriend: Mia.

The feds call in a strange specialist “L” to investigate, who partners up with Light’s father (Whigham) to identify and catch the mass-murdering vigilante; but as the stakes get higher, and “L” gets closer, Light and Mia’s dynamic begins to fracture under the influence of the untrustworthy Ryuk.

There is a lot of set-up and structure – and a lot of guidelines in the use of the Death Note – to establish, and Wingard’s feature blasts through it all at a highly surprisingly brisk clip. It would be interesting to know how much sense this all makes to newcomers to the property, as it certainly feels fun, but way too fast, even to those familiar with previous iterations of the story.

Characters and their development never really get any chance to breathe or stretch, as there simply isn’t time, and Death Note just rattles along hitting 120 plot beats per minute. It’s ballsy, but Wolff and Qualley’s characters feel quickly sketched, then smushed together; you get an idea of what Light’s detective father is about, but Stanfield’s “L” never really connects as we are never given the chance to know who he is or what he is about. Likewise Ryuk, like the Death Note itself, is rich in backstory, but is just tossed in and not given a second thought. This is a real shame as Defoe’s voice work is excellent – but again his character is just a snapshot shown to us in a flip book version of a highly detailed mythology.

Death Note looks and sounds superb though – full of sodium lights, rain and neon, and pumping to a synthesiser fuelled rhythm. It is a drag then that Death Note manages to somehow be both too dense and too basic at the same time – cramming as much as possible in as quickly as possible. It is fast and frequently fun – but this a Cliffs Notes version of Death Note: a bafflingly flashy and featureless film – when it should have very obviously been at least a mini-series.

Death Note will be available to view on Netflix in the UK from the 25th of August.

FrightFest 2017 was up and running and slashing. The return of Chucky was the perfect kick-off, and seeing the Netflix-only Death Note on the enormous IMPACT Screen was a rare and cool treat, and we’ve only just begun!

Day Two is HUUUGE. As well as the anticipated word-of-mouth-dominators 68 Kill and Sequence Break, LEATHERFACE IS BACK in the brand new Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie from the makers of the terrifying Inside and the nightmarish Livide.

Keep it rooted to Live for Films for our coverage of those, and constantly hit refresh on our twitter for hot-takes on the movies, pictures from the festival floor, and maybe even a peek at our very cool upcoming interviewees…

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