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Arrow Video FrightFest 2018: Day 1 – The Ranger, Andy Nyman, Summer of 84 and more

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(Anti)Christened “The Woodstock of Gore” by none other than Guillermo del Toro, FrightFest is a yearly horror film festival that aims to scare punters pants off every year with a five day feast of thrills and (blood) spills.

Arrow Video – whose meticulous genre film release we love here at Live for Films – took over as headline sponsors this year and made a wonderful first impression by putting lots of smiles on lots of fellow festival goers faces when they found some Arrow special editions in their goodie bags as soon as they entered the foyer.

There was loads that I was looking forward to seeing this year, and my initial Most Anticipated list included The Ranger, Summer of 84, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, Book of Monsters, Heretiks, Upgrade, Bodied and Crystal Eyes. But would they all be terrible? Would they all be excellent? Would it be half and half, with some other new finds sprinkled in? Yes, probably – but we’ll get through all that in the next few days…

Within minutes of picking up my Press Pass I had a lovely little chat with Andy Nyman (Severance, Ghost Stories) and remembered another reason this festival is so special. Everyone, including the guests, is there because they love horror; and regular Joes and film stars and filmmakers all mill around between films happy to excitedly chat about what they’ve just seen – or are about to see.

Me and Andy Nyman

I was a guest of the Horror Channel screen – whom we also love here at the site – and barely survived my walk to the cinema, getting jumped by a very in-character Jason Voorhees who obviously studied at the Kane Hodder school of photo opp choke-outs.

Settling in among friends and familiar faces from FrightFests past, I tucked away my thoughtfully supplied barf bag to watch festival opener: The Ranger. The first full-length feature from writer-director Jenn Wexler, The Ranger sees a gang of five punks fall foul of the police at a gig one night and take off to the woods to lay low in an isolated cabin owned by the family of Chelsea (Chloe Levine).

Unfortunately, the area is patrolled by a particularly strict park ranger (Jeremy Holm) who as well as having a murky history with Chelsea takes exception to her friends setting fires, spray-painting trees and blasting their boombox. Levine and Holm’s performances and relationship are brilliantly realised, with Levine providing a layered approach to what could have been a simple screaming victim role in the wrong hands, and Holm is wonderfully menacing – spouting infractions and punishment like Judge Dredd in a funny hat.

The punk aesthetic feels genuine throughout, and not just window dressing, and Wexler looks like a hot ticket to some very cool future films. The kills aren’t as frequent or gory as the barf bag threatened, but are really well done – in particular a gruesome bear trap escape. It was a great start to the festival – providing plenty of raw energy to get everyone going and in a party mood – and made me doubly look forward to interviewing Chloe Levine on Day 2.

Next up was Summer of 84: a suburban serial killer hunting coming-of-age adventure thriller from the makers of Turbo Kid (a previous FrightFest roof-raiser).

Directorial collective RKSS have created another excellent film that sucks you into another beautifully realised world with a dark underbelly. One summer (in 84, natch) a gang of boys led by Davey (Graham Verchere) begin to suspect that one of their cul-de-sac cohabitors is the killer who has been offing young boys in their area all year.

The group set out to get enough proof to bang up Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer) in a ‘Burbs style narrative thread that is frequently extremely funny, as well as tightening the screw to provide plenty of suspense whenever RKSS feel like derailing a nostalgia train full of “I remember those”’s.

Interlaced with this is a romantic strand that sees Davey trying to score with his girl-next-door ex-babysitter crush, Nikki (Tiera Skovbye). Nikki is never presented as a sex object or a prize to be won, and any time the boys attempt to refer to her as such they are swiftly brought down to earth by Skovbye’s nuanced sweet but double hard portrayal.

The boys banter and friendships ring heartachingly true with dialogue that may sometimes be a bit off-colour but is exactly how desperate teens talk, and the whole thing comes across like a hornier, spottier Stranger Things with an ending that is surprisingly dark and nasty and completely repaints the gang’s suburban malaise and forces them to grow up by summer’s end.

So we were off to a great start with an excellent opening day at Arrow Video FrightFest 2018. Day 2 promised much with a Barbara Crampton double bill of Puppet Master and Dead Night, as well as my interview with The Ranger star Chloe Levine and a Sennheiser sponsored short film that aimed to revolutionise cinema sound.

Check back in with us tomorrow for coverage of all that goodness, as well as the word on the French thriller, The Most Assassinated Woman in the World.

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