FrightFest 2012: Seasoning House, Nightbreed, Hidden in the Woods, V/H/S, [REC]3
Posted on Saturday August 25, 2012, 00:10 by Owen Williams in Under The Radar
The biggest Film4 FrightFest yet kicks off on Thursday night with The Seasoning House, although not before Ross Noble (whose film Stitches is playing here this weekend) has taken the stage and suggested killing an orphan for the bloodthirsty throng. There are, he discerns, apparently no limits to what we’ll tolerate. Which is reasonably good news for this year’s festival-opening world premiere. The Seasoning House is the directorial debut of FX guru Paul Hyett, but it’s a stranger and more low-key work than you might expect if you know the barnstorming stuff he’s previously done for the likes of Neil Marshall (who gets a little cameo in this). Set in a vaguely undefined part of the Balkans during a vaguely undefined 1990s conflict, it’s about a deaf-mute slave girl, nicknamed Angel, working in a “brothel” (in the loosest sense of the term) that trades in kidnapped and trafficked war orphans for the pleasure of the local soldiers, until an event that rather turns the tables and sees Angel becoming an unlikely avenger… (and not in the Iron Man sense). I was on the set for this – it was filmed at RAF Uxbridge last winter - and it’s kind of alarming when a director is talking about his rape house movie as a “really cool” concept, and the producer is cheerfully showing you all the most violent and gory bits in an edit suite. So I was relieved that, despite the violence, of which there’s a lot (although it’s almost all against the soldiers), the film, and even the appalling subject, are quite deftly and sensitively handled. There’s not a shred of female nudity for example: no prurient exploiting of the actresses or their characters’ awful situation. As fatuous as the term is, it certainly isn’t a “torture-porn”. And stylistically it’s interesting too, dividing neatly between a sort of stoned, dreamlike, ambient-scored first half – reflecting the permanently opiated girls and the emotional numbness of Angel – and the crunchy stuff that comes later. Sean Pertwee makes for a hateful villain, and first-timer Rosie Day gives an astonishing central performance as the wordless Angel. A bleak subject and in many ways a tough watch then, but definitely worthwhile, and insulting to nobody. It’s not without a couple of dark laughs, either. I particularly liked that the odious brothel-keeping murderer Viktor likes to relax in a red silk dressing gown, as if, on some level, he thinks he’s Hugh Hefner.
Friday at 10am is an odd place to bury the new “Cabal Cut
” of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed
, given the groundswell of support and the nationwide collective of fans desperate for screenings. Testament to that support though is that the Empire’s Cinema 1 is almost full (about 1300 people, who’ve travelled from as far as Helsinki, Germany… and darkest Kent), despite the early start. That’s not bad for a film that was thrown away by its studio 22 years ago, and only now exists in extended form thanks to the recent uncovering of some ropey VHS rough cuts. I won’t go into detail about the history of the film and this new version here (seven-page feature in Empire
issue 279; still on the shelves; go and buy it!) but suffice to say that if you’re a fan of Clive Barker, or of horror in general, and you’d written Nightbreed
off as an unholy mess, now’s the time for a revisit. The hour or so of uncovered footage adds back loads of detail from Barker’s source novel Cabal that was missing from the theatrical cut, and restores countless shots of Image Animation’s extraordinary creature effects, previously left on the cutting room floor. The monsters are the point, and there are a lot more of them now, but it's got a far more emotional centre too: the film is now grounded in the love story between Boone and Lori (and Lori is a completely
different character than she was previously; Anne Bobby must be delighted). I don’t even mind the poor quality of a lot of the scenes. The VHS add-ins are a temporary solution, pending a “proper” restoration when (and if) the original negatives can be found at Fox (sign the petition here
), but there’s a definite vibe from that grainy tape effect that takes me back to watching films I wasn’t supposed to be watching on nth generation VHS copies when I was a kid. Everyone still remembers VHS right? That shared experience is going to really date us soon… On-hand for the presentation, as always, is Russell Cherrington, who first ran away with the rough-cut footage and came up with the Cabal Cut, and Mark Miller, the producer at Barker’s Seraphim offices who found the footage in the first place. They’re joined by new editor Jimmi Johnson, Nick Vince (Kinski), Hugh Ross (Narcisse), and Simon Bamford (Ohnaka). Bamford snuck his underage niece into the screening and dared me to mention it. Job done.
I didn’t like Hidden in the Woods very much. It’s a shrill, Chilean, gonzo, ‘70s-homaging blood orgy about two sisters and their monstrous inbred brother, left to fend for themselves after their revolting father is sent to jail (it's sort of like a lunatic mash-up of The Woman, Cut and Run, and Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden). In his absence, they live a secluded life, indulging in a spot of cannibalism here and there when the opportunity arises, until their uncle and his drug cartel buddies show up looking for their missing drugs. And then Dad comes back. The film's grindhouse stylings are efficient, but it’s wearyingly, unremittingly loud and shouty, and I found its in-your-face unpleasantness actually just got tedious after a while. There are also some maddeningly stupid scenes, like an early one in which two people with guns somehow fail to take down a man with a chainsaw, and the way it sexualises its women as it abuses them is kind of disturbing. “I like big tits. For me, big party,” says director Patricio Valladares. Reprehensible sleaze then, and not necessarily in a good way. But it was made with money from the Chilean government, who thought they were getting a social drama, so the back story at least is amusing.
Far better is V/H/S, a found-footage anthology that ably demonstrates the format is only as tired as the directors using it (which in this case means not at all). These five short segments are, to a man, scary, clever and funny, riffing elegantly on the vampire seduction, the road trip, the slasher in the woods, the haunted house and the exorcism (both at once), and another genre I won’t mention because it’s a spoiler. What’s particularly impressive is that there isn’t, as portmanteau film tradition from Amicus through Creepshow seems to dictate, anything like the usual weak entry. Pick of the bunch is probably either David Bruckner’s Amateur Night or Joe Swanberg and Simon Barrett’s The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger. But it’s very relative, and the other segments (Glenn McQuaid’s Tuesday The 17th; Ti West’s Second Honeymoon; the Radio Silence collective’s 10/31/98; and the wraparound linking narrative Tape Fifty-Six) come very close behind in the rankings. Innovative use of the format here and there too, with one story taking place on Skype, while others are filmed digitally. VHS is the format that the guys (and therefore the audience) are watching in Tape Fifty-Six, but the film isn’t beholden to the humble camcorder.
And neither, oddly, is [REC]3: you’d have thought that would be a pre[req]uisite (sorry). Readers of George RR Martin will be familiar with the phrase “Red Wedding”, but that’s nothing to what goes on here once the traditional Catholic zombie rabies virus starts infecting the guests. No surprises there, but it’s a jolt when, after twenty minutes or so of two wedding photographers trading footage, the film suddenly crashes into full widescreen and more “normal” formal filmmaking. It’s an odd choice to eject the basis of the entire series – especially in a prequel (subtitled Genesis) that’s in some way supposed to set the scene for [REC]s 1 and 2 – but, in the end, I’m not sure it makes much of a difference. I’d heard bad feedback, so I was pleased to find that [REC]3 is actually really good fun, and an interesting spin on the franchise, adding in liberal doses of both comedy and romance: at its wonkily soft heart, this is a film about a couple trying to find each other as their wedding combusts around them. Again, without getting into specifics, it builds nicely on what we learned in [REC]2, which was itself not at all what we expected from [REC]. But I’ve got to admit I’m not entirely clear how we get from this wedding to that block of flats… [Update: Ahhh, the link is 3's vet and 1's girl-with-the-dog. Hat tip to P84 for clearing that up: you've seen [REC] more recently than me...]