By Cleaver Patterson.
London’s Leicester Square may have been a washout on Thursday night, but that did not stop the annual FILM4 FrightFest festival getting off to a suitably gruesome start, after the four men (Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray, Alan Jones and Greg Day) who lay claim to this festival brainchild took to the stage in the Empire cinema’s main screening room to welcome a packed house, many for which FrightFest has become a yearly pilgrimage. In the years since its initial conception, this showcase of the best that’s new in the field of international horror and fantasy has prided itself in finding and promoting films that appeal to both mainstream audiences as well as those with more avant-garde tastes. This year, the festival, which is celebrating its fourteenth anniversary, has brought together films from as far-a-field as Australia, with the potential comic splatter classic 100 Hundred Bloody Acres (directed by Cameron and Colin Cairnes), as well as European offerings like Dark Touch (directed by Marina De Van), a tale of demonic goings-on set deep in rural Ireland, along with a strong selection from America including the supernatural fantasy Odd Thomas (directed by Stephen Sommers), based on the bestselling novel by horror author Dean R Koontz. With most of the films playing receiving their UK, European or world premieres, this collection of bizarre, unorthodox and innovative works proves that the horror genre is still alive and kicking in an industry constantly fighting for its survival.
Highlights from Day 1
If the opening night’s films were any indicator as to what they could expect, then attendees at the festival were clearly going to be in for a mixed weekend. Equal visually though poles apart in content, the two featured films proved that, if nothing else, horror fans have as wide and eclectic a taste as those of conventional cinema.
The Dead 2: India (Directed by Howard & Jon Ford): After the success of The Dead (2010), the African zombie movie which launched at FrightFest 2010, it was inevitable that the festival’s organisers would jump at the opportunity to showcase the brother’s follow up effort with The Dead 2: India—a film with the apocalyptic air of World War Z (2013). Continuing on from the original film, a boat arrives in India carrying a group of men who are returning home after working in Africa. Unfortunately one of them was bitten by an infected woman before boarding the boat and, as a result, has become a flesh eating zombie, a disease of which he loses no time in passing on to anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Elsewhere Nicholas (Joseph Millson), a young American engineer, is repairing wind turbines in the middle of no-mans-land. Escaping after being attacked by a group of the walking dead on the look out for fresh flesh, he contacts his pregnant Indian girlfriend Ishani (Meenu Mishra) who lives in the slums of Mumbai. Realizing that Ishani is in imminent danger from the rapidly growing zombie population, Nicholas sets out on a perilous journey across country to rescue the woman he loves and his unborn child before time runs out for all of them.
Visually The Dead 2: India is a stunning work. Filmed on location, it captures the earthy, rich glory of India’s rural landscape and ruined temple cities juxtaposed against the squalor of its teeming metropolises, which still seem stuck in the past compared with our world in the west. The first scenes to feature Nicholas—where he is introduced hanging like a steeplejack from the main core of a wind turbine, as its giant arms whir past in the late afternoon sun—are stunning and almost worth the admission price in themselves. However, viewers of this kind of film are not looking for a National Geographic travelogue. Other than copious amounts of gore, usually resulting from Nicholas killing numerous zombies with a bullet to the head, the film has little else to offer. With a storyline that centers mostly on Nicholas’s efforts to avoid death during his journey to Mumbai, this latest entry in horror’s ever popular zombie sub-group has little real meat for the viewer to get their teeth into.
Curse of Chucky (Directed by Don Mancini): Following the death of their mother Sarah (Chantal Quesnell), Barb (Danielle Bisutti) and her husband Ian (Brennan Elliott), along with their daughter Alice (Summer H Howell) and live in au pair Jill (Maitland McConnell), go to stay in the family home with Barb’s disabled sister Nica (Fiona Dourif). However, there’s another guest in the house—a doll called Chucky (voiced by Fiona’s father, Stephen Dourif) that was delivered to the house shortly before Sarah’s death. As time wears on, the family realizes this loveable child’s toy may not be all he seems, and that they are all in danger from something far deadlier than any mere human adversary.
There are some areas of horror that Hollywood has monopolized because, let’s be honest, it does them better than anyone else—probably the most prominent of these being the slasher film. This popular theme, which emerged during the late 1970’s and 1980’s with Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), not only introduced us to a new sub-genre, but also a whole raft of bogeymen who repeatedly came back to tear hapless victims limb from limb for as long as the box-office returns justified it.
However, up there along with Michael, Jason and Freddy was one character who caused as much controversy in real life as he did in his reel one—due in main to a notorious child murder case being linked indirectly to the films which featured him. Though everyone’s favorite playmate Chucky has made infrequent appearances since he first hit the scene in Child’s Play (1988), he has proved his longevity over most of his fellow film fiends who have fallen by the wayside despite numerous attempts at resuscitation.
And so, almost a decade after the lacklustre Seed of Chucky (2004), the devil doll has risen again. Curse of Chucky has everything you want from a classic slasher film: innocent kids in peril, not so innocent adults in peril, a smattering of illicit sex, a splattering of grisly gore and an anti-hero you know you should hate but can’t help loving.
What makes Curse of Chucky work is that, as with the original film, the whole premise, no-matter how preposterous it logically is, is approached with such seriousness (laced with black humour) that it is almost believable. This time round, the action plays out in a storm lashed secluded mansion that is both beautiful and terrifying with its slightly down-at-heel interiors and endless shadowy corners for our deadly dolly to skulk in. Though there are enough imaginatively grisly murders to keep gore-hounds entertained, Mancini (who wrote the film as well) has created not only a clever screenplay which ties together many strands from the previous outings, but also releases tension with a slew of witty one liners. Part of the film’s fun, like with the recent comedy Ted (2012), is seeing an apparently innocent toy come out with language that is anything but—such as in the scene where five year old Alice, who is hiding with Chucky beneath her blankets during a storm, says to the doll ‘I’m scared’ to which he replies with a sneer ‘so you fucking should be’. It may not be the language to use in front of the kids but, if honest, these films were never really intended as child’s play.
Cleaver Patterson is film critic and writer based in London.