By Cleaver Patterson.
Horror films are a funny old business. Even those which fall within this field can be as different as day from night, and those that appeal to one fan may not to another. The films which made up the festival’s first full day programm–including an exclusive screening of English writer/director James Moran’s black comedy short Crazy for You, which highlighted the dangers of falling for someone with a ‘dotty’ obsession for murder–showed just this. With experimental, mind-bending terror from the UK, no holds barred, serial killer mayhem from the US and a sophisticated take on the old fashioned haunted house chiller, also from America, the films on show proved that, in horror, literally anything goes.
Highlights from Day 2
Dementamania (Directed by Kit Ryan): Where America has long cornered the horror film market in which terror originates from outside forces and the environment surrounding its victims, Britain has frequently leaned towards a more internal approach. Studios such as Ealing and Hammer built reputations on creating an air of stylish psychological disquiet in classics like the anthology Dead of Night (1945) and Bette Davis vehicle The Nanny (1965). In Dementamania, the first film by director Kit Ryan since his ‘bloody’ heist horror Botched (2007), Ryan attempts to capture the same feeling of character disintegration through suggestion and inference, but fails by falling for the old trick of focusing on image over content. Starring Scottish soap star Sam Robertson as sharp suited software analyst Edward Arkham, the film follows his progress through a day at work, and his slow and gradual mental breakdown as he is bombarded by forces that may or may not be of his own making. Like Edward’s public image–which he projects through his slick personal appearance and pristine designer flat, set within some bleak and featureless area of the City of London–Dementamania is unfortunately all about the external at the expense of the internal. The secret to creating successful ‘psychological’ horror is to establish empathy between the viewer and the character in question, which is something Dementamania lacks. Visually stunning, with moments of hallucinatory disjointedness and flashes of ultra-violence of which Cronenberg would be proud, this is sadly not enough to give the film the soul that could have saved Edward, and as a result provided Ryan’s film with a sense of cohesion.
Hatchet III (Directed by BJ McDonnell): Many scare fans like their chills edged with subtlety and, over the years, FrightFest has prided itself in offering an eclectic mix of films many of which emphasize subtlety over blatant viscerals. Hatchet III is not one such film, which is good for those who prefer in-your-face horror, literally! The third instalment–and what writer Adam Green promised during a Q & A immediately following the screening, would be the last in the popular urban legend/slasher franchise– unquestionably cuts the series dead. Picking up where the previous entry ended, Marybeth (Danielle Harris) is fighting for her life against the monstrous Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) who has just decimated the rest of her family, deep in the Honey Island swamplands of the New Orleans bayou. Cutting Victor down to size with a chainsaw and taking a memento from his remains along with her as proof, Marybeth heads to the local town of Jefferson where she tries to persuade police chief Sheriff Fowler (Zach Galligan) that she has once and for all put an end to the terror that has haunted the area for years. Believing none of it, and having Marybeth locked up on suspicion of murder, Fowler takes a group of men out to what was Victor’s home hoping to get to the truth behind Marybeth’s claim. What they discover leaves them feeling pretty cut up, as they find out that not only was Marybeth telling the truth, but that she may also not, as she thought, have stopped the horror after all. This ‘bloody’ series, whose previous entries took levels of gore and dismemberment to new heights for a mainstream cinema release in America, is certainly not for the fainthearted. The question for films of this nature, aimed at a late teen/twenty something target audience, is not whether they show lashings of blood and gratuitous gore, but more how much they show and how many increasingly inventive and grisly deaths they can get away with. Though Green tries to add color to the proceedings by painting an engaging backstory so as to evoke sympathy for Victor, as well as introducing a cameo appearance from horror legend Sid Haig, this is soon forgotten once the ‘bloody’ carnage kicks in. However, since that is what the audience for this kind of fodder are really after, the lack of any real storyline is, I expect, of little concern.
Haunter (Directed by Vincenzo Natali): At film festivals, with so much promising material vying for the attention of attendees, it is inevitable that decisions will have to be made as to what to see and what to pass on. Those who plumped for Haunter, the new twist on the haunted house scenario by American director Vincenzo Natali, were treated to a film which proved that even those from the oft derided horror genre can surprise you with their ingenuity, depth and visual beauty. The story revolves around teenager Lisa (Abigail Breslin) who is bored with life at home with her parents and kid brother. Stuck in an ever repeating scenario of eating, doing household chores and watching TV, she then goes to bed only to wake up the next day and do it all again. When she senses the ghostly presence in the house of a girl called Olivia (Eleanor Zichy), Lisa begins to realize that all is not right with her family’s daily routine, and that there’s more to her constant feeling of déjà vu than meets the eye. In films today, you are lucky to find one or two elements, be they story, direction, performances or setting, which work. To find a film where they all gel is well nigh impossible. This makes the discovery of Haunter even more of a delight. Though the story requires certain parts of the action to be repeated frequently as the film unfolds, you, unlike Lisa, never get the impression that you’ve seen it before. Breslin is outstanding as the daughter increasingly bewildered as she repeats the sinister ‘Groundhog Day’ she and her family are stuck in, but is unable to do anything to stop it. The film’s final denouement is genuinely shocking, helped by playing out within the interior of a house which, though anyone would be glad to spend eternity confined in, is also terrifying in its inescapable restrictiveness. An exquisite and at the same time claustrophobic film, Haunter will surprise and mesmerize viewers in equal measure.
Cleaver Patterson is film critic and writer based in London.