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Live for Films at FrightFest 2016: Day Four

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Yesterday was a great day, with The Rezort a nice eye-opener; the short film showcase warming me up with some quick hits of imagination, humour and motherflipping GWILLIAM; before The Master Cleanse eradicated me of toxins, so that Beyond the Walls could blow my mind, and The Love Witch could have her way with me. A wonderful day, and what FrightFest is all about.

Day Four began with a quick swap out: Beware the Moon being a signing not a screening, I instead slipped back into the Main Screen for Downhill, before finding out what Johnny Garret’s Last Word was, checking out panels on Women in Genre and Special FX, and then seeing Siren and Rob Zombie’s latest.

DOWNHILL

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Joe is a pro mountain bike rider who, as prep before a race, does a downhill section with his girlfriend, Stephanie (Natalie Burn), and best friend, Charlie (Eyal Meyer). Tragically, Pablo comes off and dies, and Joe swears off mountain bike racing altogether. A year later a friend invites him to a race in Chile and he agrees to go to try and get over his grief. After an unpleasant bit of business in a local bar, where a gang of toughs try it on with Stephanie, the couple make it to the venue and head off alone for some practice.

While halfway up the mountain, the two come across an injured man who they think at first has been in a car accident. They call down the mountain for help and Pablo (Ariel Levy) and his girlfriend Magdalena (Ignacia Allamand) arrive. Just as they discover the man has been shot, not in a car accident, the toughs from earlier shoot the place up and begin to chase the group through the woods.

Directed with verve by Patricio Valladeres, the camerawork during action is suitably frenetic during action scenes, with gnarly use of POV GoPro footage not just during the bike racing – but for a brutal drowning too. Natalie Burn and the lead tough, Luke Massey, stand out, but some of their non-English support unfortunately deliver some shonky line readings in their second language.

Chilean survival horror, with a heady and surprising dose of rituals and tentacles, Downhill merrily free-wheels until a final very sharp turn into what-the-fuckery that adds interest and hits you like a crossbar to the soft bits. Lovecraft-y and out of the ordinary, it’s a shame that this card is not played sooner.

3-out-of-5

JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT’S LAST WORD

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Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word is a horror version of Making a Murderer from the always interesting and provocative Simon Rumley’s Red, White and Blue is still one of my favourite FrightFest screenings as it came out of nowhere to blow my socks off with its heavy duty thematics wrapped in genre movie trappings. Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word does a similar job, while carefully walking a line between fact and fiction – Johnny Frank Garrett’s case and situation are real and ongoing.

On trial for the rape and murder of a 79-year-old nun Johnny Frank Garrett’s jury are ready to sentence him to death the second they sit down to “deliberate”. Adam Redman (Mike Doyle) is the only one not suckered in by the baying, chanting mobs outside, and the prosecuting lawyer’s fiery rhetoric. But when he poses his doubts he is asked if to cure these ill feelings he needs them to pray again.

10 years later those associated with the trial begin to die under mysterious, possibly suspicious circumstances. It seems as though Johnny Frank Garrett has cursed those who did him wrong and now Adam must try and discover the truth and clear Johnny’s name to save both his soul and his son’s life.

Rudley’s status as an outsider looking in and fascinated with Americana and its workings and failings creates a film that is an indictment of the American justice system, and it – and everyday life’s – use of religion as required: to justify hard, bad decisions, but also to be dismissed quickly when it worries a child.

Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word is simply a cut above, and currently my film of the festival. Powerful and devastating, it is a class affair that brings trappings such as shocks and kills to please genre fans, while packing in a tragic miscarriage of justice that is just as horrifying.

5-out-of-5

Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word does not currently have a UK release date.

WOMEN IN HORROR

This year FrightFest have dipped their toes into panels and Women in Horror was the first. Writer Rosie Fletcher (Digital Spy) chaired a meeting of minds between producer Jennifer Handorf (The Devil’s Business), director Kate Shenton (On Tender Hooks), director Anna Biller (The Love Witch) and actor and director Alice Lowe (Sightseers, Prevenge).

It was a lively and funny debate, but the frequency in which these women have been spoken to or treated horrifyingly by an industry in sore need of far more female talent was terrible to hear. It was brilliant to see FrightFest doing something like this, and I very much hope that it is just the beginning, and that we see lots more from these fantastic filmmakers and the women that they go on to champion and inspire.

Unfortunately the time was changed for the Special FX demo, so I could no longer attend that one as I wanted to see…

SiREN

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Siren is an expansion upon the story of a character from the first section of horror anthology V/H/S, with the “I like you” girl getting backstory, a full feature, and a name: Lily.

The product of a cultists summoning ceremony gone wrong, Lily (Hannah Fierman) is captured by Nyx (Justin Welborn) and forced to work in his super extreme supernatural sex club where she sings songs that make you relive all your best sexual experiences at once.

Meanwhile, Jonah (Chase Williamson – John Dies at the End) is on his bachelor party with three friends. These scenes are Hangover funny, and as distancing to an audience as “bro’s” can sometimes be, when they are this funny they are fairly easy to forgive and empathise with.

After the first strip club they hit up is an hilarious bust, they run into Nyx – who invites them back to his. This seems like a big mistake, but everyone is a little high on shrooms and has had a few beers and goes along with it.

Siren is extremely funny, and the bro-to-bro dynamics are amusing and ring true. Welborn’s Nyx is sinister and mysterious in all the right places, and his assistant, Ash (Brittany S. Hall), is memorable and intimidating. The Lily effects are good throughout, only slightly creaking in two shots of her flying with Jonah. Jonah and Lily’s relationship has to work to make the film work, and the pair are a surprisingly sweet push-pull couple who share the sex scene of the festival – thanks to Lily’s tail being put to use in an unexpected manner/hole.

3.5-out-of-5

Siren does not currently have a UK release date

31

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A thrash of rednecksploitation from Rob Zombie (House of 1000 Corpses), 31 sees a group of carnies get kidnapped on Halloween 1976. Among them are Venus, played by Meg Foster (They Live), and Charly, Sheri Moon Zombie (The Lords of Salem).

The five awake to find themselves before Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell) – a maniac in a powdered wig who tells them they must survive 12 hours being hunted by crazy murderers in order to survive his game: 31.

The various “heads” that stalk our gang are all wonderfully Rob Zombied creations, from a dwarf nazi with switchblades, to a pair of potty-mouthed clowns with chainsaws, and they, along with the rest of the production design are horrible and mad – but perfectly realised. The games playing field is a disused factory, which could have got visually dull with 90 minutes of rusty pipe, but Zombie has the crew stop in at various inner locations like a sex doll big top, and a nightmarish banquet table, that make each experience stand out for itself.

Down, dirty, and fucked up, 31 has all the constant sweat and screaming you would expect from Rob Zombie, and it does what it does well – it just feels basic in comparison to what he has been doing building up to now, and a slight return to safety and a narrative he has already mastered.

3-out-of-5

Day Four went extremely quickly, and that’s because it was another really good one. Tomorrow is the finale already and I plan on beginning with The Windmill Massacre, then taking in some more short films, Monolith, We are the Flesh, and Found Footage 3D.

Check out our FrightFest coverage.

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