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Film4 FrightFest 2013 | Day 4

The Grief Tourist

The Grief Tourist

By Cleaver Patterson.

Horror that derives from the everyday and mundane is frequently one of the most disturbing types, particularly if it falls under the guise of a holiday—whether its an innocent weekend away, an annual excursion or a trip to your seaside bolt-hole in order to escape the city rat-race. Three of the film’s shown on the fourth day of the festival proved that instead of offering a chance to unwind, time away can frequently be hell on earth.

Highlights from Day 4

In Fear (Directed by Jeremy Lovering): Another debut feature, this time from director Jeremy Lovering (who cut his teeth helming episodes of such popular television programs as Sherlock and Spooks), In Fear builds an atmosphere of rising paranoia from, quite literally, nothing. Without revealing too much of a plot that depends largely on the ‘unknown’, this is a film where everything is cut to the bare minimum—including the cast and the setting (most of the action taking place within the confines of a car)—creating an air of claustrophobia from the opening scenes that is sustained until the closing credits.

In Fear

In Fear

Tom (Ian De Caestecker) and new girlfriend Lucy (Alice Englert) are on their way to meet some friends for a weekend music festival in Southern Ireland. As a romantic surprise, Tom has booked a night in a remote hotel en route to the festival venue to cement his relationship with Lucy. Following an altercation with some locals at a rural bar, the couple are understandably keen to make it to the safety of the hotel for the night. However, with dusk drawing in it soon becomes apparent that they are lost, with the country roads looking increasingly similar in the late afternoon light. As tensions become strained between the two, they begin to realize that they may not be the only ones traveling the lonely backwood lanes, and that someone is using them in a game of cat and mouse that can only result in one thing.

There is something to be said for making a film using new talent—be that in-front of or behind the camera. Without the pressure an established career can create, you often find those concerned give a more natural performance, unfettered as they are by expectations built on what has come before.

Such is the case with those involved with In Fear: De Caestecker and Englert are relatively fresh to the big screen with Caestecker previously best known for a recurring role in the British television soap Coronation Street, whilst the only other major role so far for Englert, the daughter of Oscar winning screenwriter Jane Campion, was in the recent fantasy Beautiful Creatures (2013). Here, both young stars throw caution to the wind as they capture wonderfully the uncertainty and reservedness of any couple in the tentative, first throes of love. However, with the desperation of their situation becoming increasingly apparent as the evening wears on, it is their disintegration, both as a couple and as individuals, which is most impressive. Englert, in particular, gives a harrowing performance as her character’s storyline climaxes with a situation which leaves both her, and the viewer, asking how far one might go to seek retribution when pushed to the edge of endurance.

In Fear

In Fear

First time freedom has also allowed Lovering to play with expected conventions as a filmmaker. The most interesting of these examples is apparently that, in order to produce genuine fear, he did not provide the main cast with scripts until just prior to shooting so that they, quite literally, wouldn’t know what was happening next. Clearly the ruse worked. The fear shown by De Caestecker and Englert as the truth behind what is happening to them becomes apparent—played out against a setting that (though filmed in England’s West Country) captures perfectly a sense of Southern Ireland’s ancient magic and wild romanticism—is genuinely disturbing. In fact, this is a reasonably accurate summation of the film as a whole.

The Grief Tourist (Directed by Suri Krishnamma): The latest work from English director Suri Krishnamma is a serial killer film that tries too hard to unnerve the viewer by being clever, but in the process simply serves to nauseate by its sheer unpleasantness.

The film follows the story of Jim Tahana (Michael Cudlitz), a nondescript factory nightwatchman from New York: someone you wouldn’t look twice at in the street. However in his spare time Jim has a strange hobby. He spends his annual holiday traveling across America visiting the birthplaces and hometowns of the country’s most notorious serial killers, this year choosing that of New Orleans mass murderer Carl Marznap (Pruitt Taylor Vince). However, upon visiting the locations of Marznap’s atrocities, another side to Jim’s personality emerges with devastating results.

The Grief Tourist

The Grief Tourist

The best way to treat this film is with the brevity of a tourist visiting some foreign clime, who has a vague interest when there but is equally glad to return to the safety of their own home when the holiday ends. Cudlitz gives a suitably intense portrayal of a man obsessed with both his own damaged past and those of some of history’s most disturbed murderers, whilst Taylor Vince is just plain creepy as the twisted Marznap, who periodically haunts Jim’s increasingly unhinged mind.

The film’s only saving grace is the performance of Melanie Griffith as Betsy, a diner waitress from Marznap’s hometown. A woman blighted by her own personal issues, she befriends Jim only to make a lucky escape when his true nature comes to the fore. Her surprisingly deep and sensitive role here marks a welcome return for Griffith after a long break from the big screen, and shows how good an actress she can be if given the right opportunity. It’s just a shame that she chose to display this in a film that only serves to raise the question of whether such mind-soiling subject matter is really justifiable, even in the name of horror entertainment.

Corruption (Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis, 1968): Eminent surgeon Sir John Rowan (Peter Cushing) is going to marry hot model Lynn Nolan (Sue Lloyd). Though separated by considerable years, age doesn’t matter when you are in love. At least not until they attend a hip and happening party one night in Chelsea. Arriving late, Lynn is soon in the thick of things, receiving the adulation and admiration of all present including the photographer of the moment, Mike Orm (Anthony Booth). Feeling like a fish out of water and taking an instant dislike to Mike, Sir John attempts to take Lynn—who is now being photographed by Mike in an impromptu photo-shoot—home. As a fight breaks out between the two men, they knock into a large photographic lamp which is standing in a corner, sending it crashing onto the floor right on top of Lynn. Her screams of agony as the scorching bulb of the light disintegrates in splinters around her brings the fracas to an abrupt halt. However her tortured cries are drowned by those of horror from the party-goers as they lift the lamp and discover all that’s left of Lynn’s once beautiful face.

Corruption (1968)

Corruption (1968)

Corruption (the little-seen cult classic from the 1960’s, also known under the much more unpleasant title of Carange) was one of the few films Peter Cushing said he regretted making, which is something considering some of the productions he appeared in. Watching the newly restored film over forty years since its first release, one can understand his misgivings. Permeated by an underlying dark air, this tale of a brilliant (but crazed) surgeon who attempts to rejuvenate his fiancé’s damaged beauty with glands he has extracted from the heads of decapitated prostitutes is permeated throughout by a sense of grimy seediness.

The environments where the grisly goings-on play out—from the hip Chelsea mews and the scene of Lynn’s unfortunate accident, to Sir John’s weekend cottage by the sea, which houses some bizarre laser equipment that he uses to operate on his scarred girlfriend—bolster this air of decay (either with the wanton excesses of the opening hedonistic house-party, or the otherworldliness of the remote holiday home). By the time the whole shebang meets its explosive climax from which no one escapes unscathed, the viewer cannot help but feel sullied.

However, it this feeling that is also the film’s appeal. The story is so preposterous that, though the whole cast, without exception, look like they believe one hundred per cent in what they are doing, you never feel scared—slightly queasy but not nauseated like you do with a lot of modern movies. As with many genre films of the period (and all really good horror), it may be frequently unpleasant, but it’s always leavened with a hint of fun.

Corruption (1968)

Corruption (1968)

The other redeeming feature is the cast. As pointed out, they all took the proceedings more seriously than perhaps may have been called for. But how could you expect anything less from a group of young actors (Cushing was the oldest amongst them), who all went on to become inextricably linked with British poplar culture. Anthony Booth is now probably best known as the father-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but not before appearing in the infamous Confessions sex films during the 1970s, whilst Kate O’Mara—who featured in the film as Lynn’s sister Val—was never off our screens, large or small, during the forthcoming decades. As for the real star of the show? The mesmerizing Sue Lloyd, who had started her career as a real-life Vogue cover girl, made a successful living from the cheap and tacky. Starring with Joan Collins in The Stud (1978) and The Bitch (1979), she went on to become Queen Bee in the British soap opera Crossroads, alongside her soon-to-be real life husband Ronald Allen. During the late 1980s, Joan tried to get Sue a role on Dynasty, namely Alexis’ cousin Sable Colby, which would have meant that she’d have been related again to Kate O’Mara, who starred as Alexis’ sister Caress Morrell. This would mark a serendipitous turn of events, but unfortunately it never came to pass. We can only imagine the fun if it had…

Cleaver Patterson is a film critic and writer based in London.

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