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Arrow Video FrightFest Day 1: Elijah Wood, Crawl and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

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And… we’re off! Across five days, with five screens showing a million seventy-eight films, Arrow Video FrightFest is celebrating its 20th year this August Bank Holiday in the Cineworld and Prince Charles Cinema in London’s Leicester Square.

Day 1 is a toe-dipper day, well, just evening, really, that showcases three films compared to five or six every other day. But WHAT a three films. 

Thursday night was a triple whammy of Elijah Wood, giant gators and evil scarecrows that let everyone know what they were in for and also served as a reminder of FrightFest’s eye for an indie gem and clout with the studios to also get the big boys showing too, with Come To Daddy, then a pair of previews of films that hit UK cinemas this Friday: Crawl and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Check out our Arrow Video FrightFest coverage

COME TO DADDY

Come To Daddy

Written by Toby Harvard (The Greasy Strangler), directed by Ant Timpson (Turbo Kid producer) and starring Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings) and Stephen McHattie (Pontypool) Come to Daddy is Timpson’s first full-length feature, but you wouldn’t know it. Assured, specific and confident, Timpson doesn’t flinch from a thing in this fucked up father and son story that showcases Timpson’s direction of actors, a flair for the bizarre and eye for the grotesque.

Norval (Wood) receives a letter from his estranged dad beckoning him to his secluded 60s UFO Tony Stark-style beach house, but when he gets there Gordon (McHattie) seems anything but pleased to see him, mercilessly mind gaming him until things take a sharp turn and this twisty and nasty thriller excitingly leaps over the rails.

Wood is fantastic as the hipster wanker in over his head and with his huge blue eyes constantly looking full of tears. McHattie is deliciously mean, taking absolute pleasure in ripping Norval to complete shreds, while the always-excellent Michael Smiley (Kill List) cranks the crazy to eleven when he shows up to shake things up later.

There is also a bevy of wonderfully mental side characters like Garfield Wilson’s sheriff with a thing for bad guy eyes and long awkward pauses, and Madeleine Sami’s flipside heart-of-gold coroner.

Oozing awkward stressful horrible humour, Come to Daddy is a smart and silly psycho psycho-thriller full of secrets, great performances — and a poo-y pen — that puts Elijah Wood through a wild and weird wringer.

Come to Daddy is being released soon in the UK on the FrightFest Presents DVD label.

 

CRAWL

Switchblade Romance and Maniac remake helmer Alexandre Aja’s latest stars Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner) and Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan), and, oh yeah, is produced by some guy called “Sam Raimi” (THE EVIL DEAD, DRAG ME TO HELL, DARK MAN).

With a set-up that reminds you of that meme photo of the spider farm next to a nuclear reactor, Crawl sees super serious swimmer Haley (Scodelario) returning home to do a welfare check on her AWOL dad (Pepper) during an enormous hurricane. 

They live next to an alligator farm. 

Soon trapped in a basement that is rapidly filling with floodwater and alligators from over the road, father and daughter must now fight for their lives.

The alligator effects are great and the bloodthirsty giant lizards carry real weight and threat. Aja also doesn’t shy away from wounding his main characters, so you are genuinely worried about who will survive and how much of them will be left. 

The cutest dog in the world — Sugar — is also a constant cause for anxiety for any fellow dog-lovers.

Aja casually and lovingly knocks this big-budget studio horror out of the park with suspenseful set pieces, nasty — what the BBFC would call — “injury detail” and a lovely pair of performances from his leads, as well as gator bait body-count upping bystanders. 

There are a couple of lulls into overly sentimental motivational cheese though, which will have you rolling your eyes when they should be wide with fear. One particular teary timeout tension breaker really takes the (gale force) wind out of the film’s sails, as does a gap in the otherwise great effects in that nobody’s hair is moving when they are outside in a hurricane for scenes at a time.

Crawl is a cracking creature feature. Gnarly effects, thrilling attacks and loads of big jumps making for snappy survival horror.

Crawl is released in cinemas in the UK on the 23rd of August.

 

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Directed by the brilliant André Øvredal (Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on a beloved American series of books and is written and produced by genius Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak and Pan’s Labyrinth).

On the run from jock bullies on Halloween night 1968, young adults Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti – Annie), Ramon (Michael Garza – Wayward Pines), Auggie (Gabriel Rush – Moonrise Kingdom) and Chuck (Austin Zajur – Fist Fight) take refuge in a big old cobwebby mansion.

They stumble across a secret room where a young writer, Sarah Bellows, locked away by her family wrote scary stories. Stella takes one volume of the tales with her and unleashes all of Sarah’s writings on the real world.

Scary Stories nails the iconic monsters who all just like the book’s famous illustrations and

human special effect Javier Botet brings his bone twisting brand of pretzel body manipulation to give them an added frisson of knotted-limbed reality.

The young leads are good, with Øvredal striving for the Stranger Things, IT kids vibe. They stand out well individually — with Colletti’s Stella and Zajur’s Chuck the standouts — but they never really gel together as a gang.

Instead of taking a perhaps easier route and doing Scary Stories as an anthology, Øvredal attempts to meld them all into one story with mixed results. All the vignettes feel the same, with a character being followed by a lumbering monster, and the attempts to fold the originally individual stories into an overarching narrative are sometimes clumsy or in need of big logic leaps

In spite of this, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is full enough of likeable leads and haunting tales to hopefully hook the next generation of horror hounds.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is released in UK cinemas on the 23rd of August.

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