FRIGHTFEST 2015: DAY FOUR
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY *** Canada 2015 Dir: Brett Sullivan, Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, 100 mins
An atmospheric horror anthology that borrows the interwoven-episodic approach of TRICK R TREAT and strives for a creepy / comic rendering of the festive season akin to the classic TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode “And All Through The House”. Increasingly inebriated radio talk show host William Shatner presents a Christmas Eve anecdote-fest that dovetails with a succession of stories unfolding in his town.
These involve students hoping to videotape spooky events at an infamous local murder site; a Griswald-esque family menaced by the legendary “Krampus” and a small boy metamorphosing into a “Changeling” after the traditional family Christmas tree hunt. Well produced and nicely shot, this is satisfyingly cynical about Yuletide and offers some sharp, funny dialogue (“It’s like Paul Bunyan and Count Dracula gayed up and bought their dream home!”) but sadly bungles its portrayal of the potentially terrifying Krampus and relies too much on irritating zombie elves for comic-splatter relief. At its best it’s creepy and dark hearted; at its worst, someone says “Merry Christmas, motherfucker” to the aforementioned Krampus.
INNER DEMON ** Australia 2014 Dir: Ursula Dabrowsky. 84 mins
Writer-director Dabrowsky’s film opens as a stripped down, derivative survivalist horror, as a pretty young woman in a tight white vest top (Sarah Jeavons) is abducted alongside her younger sister by a rough and ready woodland couple. HANSEL AND GRETEL references and echoes of WOLF CREEK dominate the repetitive cat and mouse scenario that ensues, while the commendable, if one-note Jeavons proficiently stitches up her own flesh wounds. Technically well made, the movie’s extended terrorisation is all too familiar, and a tonal shift in the final reels awkwardly shifts it into supernatural territory seemingly inspired by the shock endings of DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE and MANIAC. Never unifying its demons, human and otherwise, into a cohesive whole, it’s uninvolving throughout.
ROAD GAMES *** UK / France 2015 Dir: Abner Pastoll. 95 mins
Although not a remake, this old fashioned thriller takes its title from Richard Franklin’s early 80’s Hitchcock homage and its notion of Brits stumbling across murder in summery rural France from Brian Clemens’ AND SOON THE DARKNESS. Freshly dumped Brit Andrew Simpson encounters free spirited French hottie Josephine de La Baume in the countryside while hitchhiking and learns of a notorious serial killer in the area. They are both picked up by a chummy Frenchman (Frederic Pierrot) who is only too happy to offer them accommodation at his remote country manor, where his American wife (Barbara Crampton) seems more on edge than anyone. Pleasantly old-school in its employment of melodramatic thunderstorms, nervous acting secondary characters and a mysteriously vanishing love interest, this has appealing, attractive leads and effectively disquieting use of the language barrier alongside the typically strong Crampton in support. It is, however, a safe, inoffensive movie seemingly destined for Sunday night on BBC1, offering no real surprises or shocks en route to its guessable twist.
SCHERZO DIABOLICO **** Mexico / USA 2015 Dir: Adrian Garcia Bogliano. 91 mins
There are satisfying shades of the Coen Brothers’ thrillers in Bogliano’s return to home territory after intelligent American werewolf flick LATE PHASES. This follows the increasingly over-his-head misadventures of a bored accountant (Francisco Barreiro) whose attempts to better himself and earn more money leads to dicey encounters with prostitutes, tawdry office sex, abducted schoolgirls and, ultimately, murder. Barreiro’s bookish, milquetoast presence as the ordinary guy out of his depth is perfect for this tonal-juggling blackly comic thriller, full of Bogliano’s trademark sex, nudity and pervasive sense of threat. The unpredictable nature of the corkscrew plot pays off with visceral horror, baseball bat ultra-violence and even a show-stopping cranial detonation – all of it shot through with this talented director’s characteristic gallows humour.
SLUMLORD **** USA 2015 Dir: Victor Zarcoff. 87 mins
An effectively creepy thriller in the vein of all those 90’s American movies in which attractive middle class couples are terrorised by trust-worthy everyday figures, notably PACIFIC HEIGHTS. Although shot conventionally, SLUMLORD also exploits contemporary fears of surveillance culture, as reflected by recent found-footage chillers like ALONE WITH HER and 388 ARLETTA AVENUE. Pregnant couple P J McCabe and Brianne Moncrief have a relationship that’s about to disintegrate thanks to McCabe’s affair with the office temptress (Sarah Baldwin) but the biggest threat they face is their lecherous, monosyllabic landlord (an effectively repellent Neville Archambault), who spies on their every move via sundry hidden cameras and, when the fancy takes him, wanders around the house to use Moncrief’s toothbrush and sniff the shower curtains. Although offering a purely creepy antagonist rather than a sympathetic character study of an obsessive loner, SLUMLORD has shades of Mark Romanek’s remarkable ONE HOUR PHOTO and captures a similar, sustained sense of unease as Archambault’s psychosis fully reveals itself. Downplaying seediness and outright violence in favour of suspense, it is well acted, involving and, true to our cynical age, does not offer the cosy Hollywood wrap-up of its 90’s forebears.
Reviews by Steven West