Saturday, 5 September 2015

FRIGHTFEST 2015: DAY ONE

CHERRY TREE *** Ireland 2015 Dir: David Keating. 90 mins


Director David Keating and screenwriter Brendan McCarthy reunite from the excellent WAKE WOOD for this commendably sincere old-school British occult horror. Naomi Battrick is solid as a 15 year old virgin who enters into a sinister pact with hockey teacher / head witch Anna Walton in order to save her dying dad (Sam Hazeldine); overseeing a centuries-old coven with the power to restore life via an ancient cherry tree, Walton offers a cure for Dad in exchange for Battrick providing her with a baby.
Echoing WAKE WOOD, this involves an ordinary, grief-stricken family taking desperate, dangerous supernatural measures in order to extend the life of a loved one, with the expected grim consequences. CHERRY TREE isn’t embarrassed to embrace full-blown horror or indulge in hilariously unsubtle symbolism during a demon-enhanced sex scene intercut with Walton literally slicing cherries and fondling centipedes. There are echoes of THE WICKER MAN and ROSEMARY’S BABY, among others, though it plays much broader and tends to get swamped in engagingly silly dialogue: Walton gets to say the line “I will become Queen of the underworld!” Clunkier than the trim, eerie MONKEY’S PAW-inspired WAKE WOOD, it is most effective in its less gaudy moments (a fleeting killing at a petrol station chills) but has the courage of its convictions to deliver a mean-spirited climax, capped by a splendidly malevolent final scene.

TURBO KID ***** Canada / New Zealand 2015 Dir: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell. 95 mins


A love-letter to the 1980’s that finds time for on-screen nods to laserdiscs, Rubik’s cubes and even those naked-lady pens, TURBO KID is a fabulously affectionate homage to everything from BRONX WARRIORS to BMX BANDITS set in the distant future year 1997. Comic book obsessive “The Kid” (Munro Chambers) sets out in a desolate post-apocalyptic world to his recently acquired, relentlessly cheerful female sidekick, Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). The culprit is one-eyed tyrant Michael Ironside, who killed The Kid’s family years earlier. Set to a pulsing, exhilarating synth soundtrack by Le Matos, the film is infectiously good natured rather than snarky and sarcastic, reflected by the charming two leads; Leboeuf steals it as a near-indestructible warrior (“This is my gnome stick!”) with a relentless line in child-like enthusiastic chatter. Ironside offers a deliciously mean hybrid of the memorable sadistic villains he has played in the past, sporting an eye patch and a scowl that could kill a donkey at twenty paces. Peppered with terrific one-liners and show-stopping artery-spraying action set pieces, it’s a rare splatter movie that manages to be simultaneously very funny, charming and thrilling all at the same time. A brace of beautifully staged, gore soaked set pieces include highly imaginative uses of buzz-saws, bicycles and flying torsos. All of this plus a marvellously knowing employment of the classic 80’s “You’re a robot?!” cliché.

STUNG **** Germany / USA 2015 Dir: Benni Diez. 85 mins


Pretty Jessica Cook and smart-aleck Matt O’Leary are in charge of the bar and buffet at a posh country house function for pharmaceutical corporate types when a swarm of over-sized wasps – affected by local fertilisers spiced up with growth hormones – lay waste to many of the guests. In an age of endless self-conscious MEGA-SOMETHING Sy-Fy Channel movies, STUNG is a return to 50’s B-movie basics, a straight-faced creature feature with solid production values, likeable characters and impressively unpleasant monsters. The monster FX are unusually good, with welcome echoes of Carpenter’s THE THING as giant wasps rip apart their hosts from the inside, resulting in Rob Bottin-styled physical mutations and even the destruction of a dog. It’s nicely played and satisfyingly gruesome, with Clifton Collins Jr contributing a genuinely weird turn as the slightly mental son of the central, filthy-rich matriarch with a suspicious growth on his shoulder. Lance Henriksen is under-used as the imperilled Mayor but it’s good to have him on board.

Reviews by Steven West


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