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Arrow Video FrightFest 2020 reviews: Alien On Stage, Benny Loves You, Redwood Massacre Annihilation and Relic

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Day four of the second Arrow Video FrightFest Digital Edition saw a special preview of Alien On Stage, the UK premiere of Benny Loves You, the world premiere of Redwood Massacre: Annihilation and a preview of Relic.

Check out our FrightFest coverage

ALIEN ON STAGE

Directed by Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer, Alien On Stage is a documentary about an amateur dramatics company in Dorset putting on a production of Ridley Scott’s seminal ‘79 horror sci-fi, Alien.

The group are more used to putting on pantomimes, but when the company director’s son asked him to write their next one he took a chance, tried something different, and instead wrote them an adaptation of Alien starring his mum as Ripley, with sets built by granddad Ray and the rest of the cast and crew all hailing from the local bus depot.

Harvey and Kummer smartly arrange their doc with a strict three-act structure that makes it easy to keep a handle on a large number of events, locations and cast of characters. Initially, we learn about the team and see them prepare for their first night at the Allendale Centre in Wimborne where it flops – but is seen by Harvey and Kummer who promptly organise crowdfunding to have them perform it at a theatre in London and decide to document the journey. The second section follows all the rehearsals, butterflies and fag breaks, and the third is extended highlights of the West End performance and post-show reaction.

Production value is upped with clever touches such as snatches of the original film’s score, MU-TH-UR style onscreen infographics that keep us abreast of where we are and ratchet tension with a countdown to the curtain-raising and a genius title sequence that recreates the film’s opening with pans along the undercarriage of one of the depot’s buses standing in for the Nostromo.

The cast are all absolutely loveable and the doc captures plenty of their so sweet human stories such as the actor/bus driver portraying Dallas, who is studying for a law degree, also providing the sound equipment courtesy of his mobile disco and my personal favourite: the lady playing Lambert with a super-strong West Country accent.

Act 2 is an honest to Ridley Scott nail-biter, with the clock ticking down, the lines not being learned and your frustration growing with the cast that they’re not taking it seriously enough with only days to go. The director is visibly fuming and you’ll be so involved that you’ll be just as stressed out when someone misses a cue.

Come the final act, you’ll also have a belly full of butterflies as the gang take to the stage and feel their enormous relief and joy with them too as the enthusiastic crowd lap up the show and cheer for all the brilliant budget effects. It’s total homemade underdog feel-good magic and by the time you get to see the show from a camera inside the alien’s head you will have an enormous smile on your face and be desperate to buy absolutely everyone involved a well-earned pint.

Alien On Stage is impossible not to fall in love with, it is like The Full Monty with a papier-mâché xenomorph and absolutely full to (chest) bursting with magic and joy.

 

BENNY LOVES YOU

Benny Loves You is written and directed by Karl Holt who is a genuine FrightFest alumnus having won the festival’s short film competition in 2007. He now returns with a feature-length version of his short from 2006, in which he stars alongside Claire Cartwright (Souljacker).

Jack (Holt) is a lazy mid-thirties toy designer who still lives at home with his parents in arrested development and still clings to his childhood teddy, Benny – a red, floppy-eared stuffed toy he was given as a boy and told would protect him.

But when Jack’s parents both die in hilarious, early Peter Jackson style circumstances, and he is dressed down and demoted at work, he decides to put away childish things and focus on his career and new love interest: very cool, no-nonsense tech support Dawn (Cartwright).

Benny comes to life, jealous and murderous. Benny doesn’t want to stay in a plastic container in the garage, he wants out, he wants Jack back and he will slaughter anyone else vying for his attention and affection.

Benny Loves You is full of big jumps and wonderful and horrible practical gore effects, and Benny himself is cleverly brought to life – running around merrily massacring via what looks like mostly practical with some CG augmentation. This combo makes for some truly glorious carnage as the huggable homicidal plaything takes out all comers with knives, an axe and even a chainsaw.

The comedy is extremely close to the bone, at times to the point of being potentially problematic, with a few gags about smacking children and the taking of an axe to a pet pug leaving you aghast at just how far over the line they are. Your appreciation and acceptance of this will fall in line with how dark your sense of humour goes, but Benny Loves You, much like Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich two years ago is gleefully offensive – wanting to shock to let you know that anything and anyone is fair game for a rude and crude laugh or to be hacked to tiny pieces.

It is a bit uneven and unhinged, but Benny Loves You has a wry and sly script and witnessing Benny in full-on bloodthirsty action is terrific fun.

 

REDWOOD MASSACRE: ANNIHILATION

Written and directed by David Ryan Keith, Redwood Massacre: Annihilation stars Danielle Harris (Stake Land), Damien Puckler (Grimm), Gary Kasper (Supergirl), Jon Campling (Adventure Boyz), Tevy Poe (What Love Looks Like) and Benjamin Selway (The Redwood Massacre).

Ten years after the events of The Redwood Massacre, Tom Dempsey (Campling) is contacted by a man who claims to know his daughter’s killer’s location. Wanting revenge and answers, Tom ropes in his other daughter: tough-as-nails kickboxer Laura (Harris), weapons and muscle: Gus (Kasper) and tech guru Jen (Poe) to head into the highlands on a hunt led by the mysterious and sus, Max (Puckler).

All sequels, especially the first one to a little-seen original, should also function as a standalone – or at the least exposition the viewer into being caught up as quickly as possible. Annihilation does the bare minimum here and relies on you getting the general gist enough to go along with it, but also being happy to let s first-timer dangle over character motivations and past events it implies we should know about already because they’re important.

Nevertheless, it’s a group exploring an underground bunker system looking for a hulking murderer to catch or kill that is set up to play as a slasher, has “massacre” in the title and even begins with the dictionary definition of the word “massacre” (cringe) but is actually anaemic for 70 minutes.

Danielle Harris is good and stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast through her presence and performance even when doing nothing. Gary Kasper’s Gus is cute and has nice interplay with Harris, but everyone else delivers terrible cold line reads in scenes that feel like they go on forever. Nothing happening for long stretches doesn’t help and just leaves you more mentally available to focus on how cheap everything looks and how creaky all the performances are.

The killer’s look and design is iconic and Benjamin Selway’s Hodder-esque physical performance, that features a nod to the best Jason of all-time by incorporating Kane’s signature chest heaving, is really good. It would just be great if he would, you know, kill someone or something, please.

Redwood Massacre: Annihilation has a few cool kills and one nasty Hostel-y legs sawing scene but for the majority of its running time is a slow, padded walk around an underground bunker finding some old bodies that is so devoid of energy the credits music kicking in will make you jump as it is the most exciting thing to happen in 90 minutes.

 

RELIC

Emily Mortimer in Relic

Written and directed by Natalie Erika James (Creswick) and starring Emily Mortimer (Mary Poppins Returns), Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon) and Robyn Nevin (The Matrix Reloaded), Relic is released in the UK on the 30th of October.

Kay (Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Heathcote) travel to her elderly mother Edna’s (Nevin) house after the police ring to say she has gone missing. After a few days of tidying and finding out from the neighbours that nanna ain’t right no more,she just shows up one morning and starts making a pot of tea.

Signed off by a doctor, Kay and Sam decide to stay with her for a few weeks. Edna refuses to say where she has been but her behaviour is becoming gradually more worrying as a strange black mold grows larger on her chest and around the house. As the three women’s relationships strain and change due to their different attitudes towards care and responsibility, the house becomes more labyrinthine and terrifying.

Sinister and deeply scary at a core level and addressing head-on the universal fundamental twin terrors of your parents getting old and getting old yourself, Relic is honest and affecting while also functioning as a straight-up scary elevated horror film which is shot immaculately and also features a chilling score from Brian Reitzell (Hannibal).

One of the horror films of the year, all three of the lead performances are exceptional and Natalie Erika James’ direction is masterful in this soul freezing nightmare maker.

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