Pusher (1996)

Posted in Danish Cinema with tags , , , , , , , , on Tuesday, 10 April, 2012 by Ed

Set in Copenhagen, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher explores the world of Frank – a small time gangster who makes the occasional drug deal in order to get by.

Frank finds himself in debt to a supplier, so when a former prison associate turns up unexpectedly asking to score a large consignment of heroin at short notice, Frank sees the opportunity to make back the money he owes. To do so he sources the drugs from the gangster he owes money to – on the assurance that both debts will be covered after the sale.

Pusher is shot in a very naturalistic style, which makes it feel real and immersive. More mainstream movies set in this environment can be overly polished and stylised resulting in the grubbiness of the world becoming sanitised. The movement of the camera and the framing of the shots often make the viewer feel like they are in the room for many of the claustrophobic scenes.

The character of Frank can be vile and crude at times but he is also strangely appealing as an individual – mainly because he appears to be trying to do his best in life and make it through with the cards that he’s been dealt. Unlike many characters of the gangster underworld he does not seem to revel in violence for status or pleasure. Thus he is a character with depth; he has virtues and flaws – all of which are believable and delivered competently by the actor, Kim Bodnia.

The film is segmented into each day of a week. As the story progresses to the drug deal which will pay off Frank’s debts a very subtle, but increasingly palpable, sense of dread starts to permeate the film. There is a definite vicarious concern for Frank and despite his best laid plans we sense that his world is about to fall in.

Of course the deal goes bad and Frank finds himself without either the drugs or the money and therefore up to his neck in debt to someone more than willing to take several pounds of flesh in lieu. Thus the film descends into Frank’s personal nightmare as he embarks upon a mission against the clock to raise the cash.

It takes nearly half the running time before we see the violence we suspected Frank to be capable of; this patience is testimony to the quality of the film. The character is crafted to create empathy which in turn leads to understanding and acceptance of his motivations and actions.

As the tension builds the film becomes a fascinating view into how its main character responds to the conflict he is placed in – yet on a much more human level than more standard fare in this subgenre. The horror of this film is in the violence, despair and desperation that Frank has to endure.

Pusher is an exploration of fate, luck and circumstance – how individual acts and decisions, even those beyond our control, lead us into situations that can change our lives. The end of the film, whilst not completely ambiguous, is open ended enough to make us consider whether events that may appear to be either benign or malignant can in fact be the opposite, and even if they are – we may never know. On this basis a film about Danish gangsters becomes something that relates to all of our lives, and that is a mark of brilliant filmmaking.

Advertisements

Transgressive Cinema on Exquisite Terror.

Posted in horror with tags , , , , , , on Thursday, 17 November, 2011 by Ed

I have recently been pleased to contribute to an exciting new horror project called Exquisite Terror. This is the brainchild of Naila Scargill, someone who has strong links to the UK horror and publishing scenes and I urge all readers of Transgressive Cinema to check out the good work going on over there.

To get you started, here are my offerings to Exquisite Terror so far:

Cannibal

This debut fea­ture from Bel­gian writer and dir­ector Ben­jamin Viré fol­lows in the foot­steps of the recent Mex­ican We Are What We Are by tak­ing the can­ni­bal sub­genre and exor­cising its leg­acy — which is rooted in 1970s Italian gore films such as Can­ni­bal Holo­caust. Can­ni­bal rejects the degen­er­ate tone of these early works and con­trasts the vis­ceral nature of humankind’s old­est taboo with styl­ish film­mak­ing and an absorb­ing storyline.

 

Continue reading at Exquisite Terror: http://www.exquisiteterror.com/cannibal

 

The Rig

This film opens to imme­di­ately estab­lish two points. Firstly, drilling for oil on the seabed has unleashed a strange and aggress­ive creature. Second, a severe storm is immin­ent and the oil rig is being evac­u­ated of all non-essential staff. Thus, prom­isingly, a threat has been defined and placed in an isol­ated envir­on­ment with a group of likely vic­tims. Sadly, The Rig fails to cap­it­al­ise on any ini­tial poten­tial and becomes more tedi­ous with every drag­ging minute of screen time.

 

Continue reading at Exquisite Terror: http://www.exquisiteterror.com/the-rig

 

Evil Things

Like foot­ball, Evil Things is a work of two halves. The first half main­tains its sim­il­ar­ity to soc­cer by being quite dull and pop­u­lated by char­ac­ters devoid of per­son­al­ity. The second is well set up and executed, with genu­ine scares.

A group of col­lege kids are driv­ing through a New York State snowstorm to cel­eb­rate a birth­day at a vacated, and remote, fam­ily home. En route they are har­assed and stalked by a black van, the driver of which is never seen. These sequences would have been more effect­ive had they not been pla­gi­ar­ised from Spielberg’s Duel. Arriv­ing at their des­tin­a­tion, the run-in is largely for­got­ten in lieu of get­ting the fire lit and start­ing to drink. For­tu­nately writer and dir­ector Dominic Perez avoids the clichéd frat-house antics that typ­ic­ally ensue, and the film is bet­ter for it.

Continue reading at Exquisite Terror: http://www.exquisiteterror.com/evil-things

Transgressive Cinema will continue as normal, and I will keep you updated with any writing I may do elsewhere in the future.

Suspiria

Posted in horror with tags , , , , , , on Tuesday, 18 October, 2011 by Ed

It is always prudent to be cautious with grandiose statements, but Suspiria is one of the greatest horror films ever made. Legendary Italian director Dario Argento utilised every aspect of his considerable talent to create the ultimate expression of terror; it is hard to define exactly why this 1977 classic is so effective, but that is part of its brilliance.

The plot is not a complex one.  Suzy (Jessica Harper) is an America ballet dancer who has travelled to a German dance academy to study her art. On the night of her arrival a powerful storm rages, and one of the students is brutally murdered.  Suzy becomes increasingly unnerved by a series of strange and mysterious events, and ultimately comes to suspect that the academy is run by a coven of murderous witches.

The setting allows a disconcerting sensation to germinate. The academy is a great gothic building, with large, highly decorated, rooms and seemingly endless corridors. When the storms begin outside, they lash and howl like something from mythology.

As one would expect from an Argento film, the Goblin soundtrack accents everything that is occurring on screen – but the score and sound effects for Suspiria are second-to-none. The instruments are combined with screams and growls; the pounding rhythms and repetitive melodies are mesmeric and hypnotising. The resultant aural effect is disturbing in its own right.

The cinematography combines artistry and innovation in a manner rarely seen in the genre. Lights in strange hues saturate the shots – occasionally bright red, deep green or cool blue; the physical source of this illumination is irrelevant and never addressed. This lighting is successful in catalysing the otherworldly sensation experienced by the viewer and has no other purpose. Such is the skill with which Argento presents his art we are not required to suspend disbelief for it to be effective – the technique simply works.

Suspiria is consentient with a lot of Giallo films. Firstly, a sense of mystery is central to the story – Suzy doesn’t understand what is happening and the film is structured around her trying to find out. Secondly, where kills take place they are frightening and violent – but also stylised and artistic. The opening death is one of the genres finest – for its build up, viciousness, imagination and presentation. It is a brutal slaying, but beautifully done – typically Giallo.

The film consistently builds its sense of dread. The evil lurks just around the corner, creeps about at night and tries to get in through the door. Argento creates a mood that sneaks into the mind and make one shift uncomfortably in the seat. This atmosphere is punctuated with highly efficient moments of visual horror and violence which ensures that the intrigue is matched by well structured pacing. This includes maggots raining from the ceiling and a cutthroat razor earning its name.

If filmmaking is an art form, and it surely is, then Suspiria is a masterpiece. There is not a single frame of film in which Argento has not tightly orchestrated the sound, dialogue, gesture and lighting to create an atmosphere of distress and unease. The result is that Suspiria evokes the same raw sense of fear as waking from a childhood nightmare.

It is true that Dario Argento eventually lost his way in his later career, but realistically nobody could maintain the level of achievement he set with Suspiria. The film is undoubtedly a classic, not just within the horror genre, but of cinema in general. Whether it is to study original and artistic filmmaking, or just to be genuinely scared and entertained – all lovers of film should experience Suspiria.

Funny Games (1997)

Posted in horror with tags , , , on Tuesday, 11 October, 2011 by Ed

When the music in the opening scene of 1997’s Funny Games suddenly changes from opera to heavy metal, without deviating from the scene of a family driving to their rural holiday home, we know that the juxtaposition is foreshadowing events to come.

Michael Haneke’s film was remade 10 years after its release, but unnecessarily so – as this original work is unsettling, powerful and brilliantly constructed.

A couple and their young son arrive at their destination: a large house by a lake, to be immediately met by a pair of strange young men. From the outset a wave of dread pervades the film which is escalated as the passive-aggressive nature of the two antagonists becomes increasingly sinister.

Initially the men rely on taking advantage of the family’s unease and reluctance to appear rude, but this quickly gives way to violence and ultimately the unwanted guests hold them captive. Even at this stage, the villains justify their actions and blame the family for the fate that has befallen them.

One of the subtexts of this film appears to be that the family represent social norms and the intruders the breaking down of society’s rules. The film is genuinely terrifying and this comes from the knowledge that we all live by laws and rules, some official, some almost unspoken – but when aggressive individuals decide that these do not apply to them, we are all vulnerable. As the director, Michael Haneke, states: “All the rules that keep society functioning mean nothing to them. Against characters like that, you don’t stand a chance”.

Funny Games has an exceptionally transgressive tone to it, but there is no graphic violence portrayed on the screen. Instead everything is implied – the focus is on the reaction of the characters to events unfolding and the emotional impact of the trauma being experienced. For example; the father is forced to choose between the degradation of his wife or his son experiencing pain; tight shots of faces show us little detail of the outcome but the effect is harrowing.

The director uses this work to explore the theme of violence in film and does so by not showing us any – but forces the viewer to examine their role as voyeur to the horror experienced by the family. Anyone in any doubt of this should consider the lingering shot of blood dripping down a flickering TV screen.

Haneke employs interesting techniques to achieve his aims; firstly the antagonists occasionally address the viewer directly. Whilst initially this has a distracting effect, it does ultimately inflict a sense of collusion on the audience. Secondly, there is a very unorthodox technique used whereby a character rewinds the film after a killing takes place rendering the murder fiction within the fiction. The viewer therefore has to consider their feelings towards the death as it occurred, and then their reaction to it being erased.

However Haneke does not moralise. His aims with this film are noble and he succeeds because he does not offer a conclusion to his exploration of the theme –that is left to the individual. For my part, I hold firm that vicariously experiencing disturbing or frightening scenarios within the safe confines of fictional cinema is liberating and exciting; but I appreciated Funny Games for the opportunity to examine this whilst watching a highly effective example of horror cinema. I do concede that as horror fans we are watching because we sometimes want the worst to happen, and on that basis we are collaborators with the nastiest evils the human mind can conjure.

Do not think that Funny Games is pure art-house though, because it is not. It can easily be enjoyed with popcorn and a beer as a taught thriller with strong horror elements. Indeed, if the visceral power of extreme cinema is something you wish to experience but without any of the intense and often gratuitous visuals, this would be a good starting point.

To accentuate this, in a scene in which a close-up could have shown an extremely vile image, a wide shot is favoured showing no details. In doing so the reality of what is being shown hits like a punch to the gut as we are forced to peer into the shot to realise what has taken place. This is then amplified as this view is held, and within it we experience every wave of the characters highly emotional response. It is hard to imagine such a scene being shot tenderly, but Haneke achieved it.

Funny Games is a film in which our unease is sculpted with every scene. The threat that it portrays is a real one, and on that basis the fear it generates is tangible in our daily lives. It eschews visual disgust in favour of creating an empathic reaction to horrendous scenarios inflicted upon characters that we can emotionally invest in. It is intelligent, thought provoking and artistic – but above all it is entertaining, exciting and, in an unconventional sense perhaps, truly horrific.

Inbred

Posted in horror with tags , , , , , , on Monday, 26 September, 2011 by Ed

A fantastic experience of violence and pitch black humour, Inbred is distinctly British and distinctly Alex Chandon. It has been ten years since Chandon directed Cradle Of Fear, and the nightmarish quality of that 2001 cult favourite has been retained in Inbred and fortified with a more consistent cast and superior production values.

The director’s latest offering to the horror genre pitches a group of troubled teens and their youth workers against a freak show ensemble of murderous villagers in rural Yorkshire. A trip to the local pub on their first night introduces the locals and sounds the warning that all might not be well – and are those really pork scratchings? From here fortune swiftly plummets for the unfortunate gang as they are exposed to bizarre and sadistic local customs which would make the inhabitants of “Summer Isle” seem welcoming.

The acting in Inbred is solid throughout, and the cast had clearly been selected to give the correct feel for a film which is designed to function as an effective horror movie (which it does) whilst not asking its audience to take it too seriously. Jo Hartley and James Doherty as the group leaders perform particularly well together: he the overly liberal youth worker trying to relate to the kids but failing miserably, and she the harder-nosed realist who coaxes tentative friendships from them. Their dynamic aided the younger actor’s interactions and provided humour and characters which were easy to identify with.

It was interesting to see a quintessentially American horror subgenre (out-of-towners entering the isolated domain of murderous hillbillies; see Wrong Turn et al) transposed into the English countryside. It was done well and took the correct tone to avoid the potential pitfalls: principally the scale of the landscape and likely proximity to civilisation, which could have been problematic. The humour allowed the viewer to suspend disbelief further than in a straight piece, but it was never allowed to become a slapstick farce – the balance was well struck.

As with Cradle Of Fear the physical effects were extremely well executed. True horror aficionados love practical effects, and with a plethora of gore including slit throats and blown-up heads, genre fans will find themselves roaring with approval once the action gets started. If CGI was used, it was done so sparingly and effectively.

Inbred does not simply provide the set-up and then unleash horrors upon its victims; instead a surreal community and its unique brand of underground entertainment is fleshed out before the carnage begins. If you’ve ever been to a tiny, isolated, village and wondered “what do they do for fun here?” – Inbred takes that thought and then brutally murders it in front of a cheering crowd by way of an answer.

Gratifyingly, directorial courage was not lost at the conclusion of Inbred. The violent attrition between the opposite sides of the rural divide was bloody and fun. The ending satisfyingly concluded the film in the tone it deserved – you wouldn’t expect all the protagonists walking off into the sunset together, but neither are we ambushed with an Eden Lake style buzz kill. Again the tone and balance were well crafted.

Sometimes the success and failure of a movie is not entirely down to the filmmakers, but the audience too. Watching Inbred for an in-depth exposition on rural life in modern Yorkshire would be a bit like watching Carry On Doctor for an insight into the workings of the NHS in the 1960’s. With grass roots horror at its black heart and a sick sense of humour, Inbred entertains from start to finish and will put an evil smile on your face. Hopefully Alex Chandon won’t leave horror fans waiting another decade before returning to the director’s chair.

FrightFest 2011

Posted in extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on Monday, 12 September, 2011 by Ed

FrightFest 2011 appeared to have one of its strongest line-ups for years, and after five days of intensive horror viewing in the country’s largest cinema I can confirm that it did not disappoint.

Despite the handicap of having Leicester Square being dug up for refurbishment ahead of the London Olympics in 2012, which meant horror fans could not flood out into the famous London landmark to socialise between screenings, FrightFest 2011 still had its trademark atmosphere created by the organisers and genre fans who love the festival so much.

Even the weather, which was typically British, could not dampen the spirits of the 1000-plus horror fans who gathered in the heart of London to see the best of brand new horror cinema at The Empire, Leicester Square.

DAY ONE.

Unlike all the following days, Day One of FrightFest doesn’t start until the evening. As we gathered in the massive Empire Screen One to take our seats the buzz and excitement was palpable. Eventually the house lights dimmed to a rapturous applause and we were treated to a “welcome to FrightFest” short-film based on Escape From New York, which was the first of many homage’s over the weekend to the works of John Carpenter. After this had got everyone in the mood the festival organisers, lead by the inimitable Alan Jones, took to the stage briefly to welcome us all to 5 days of horror, and introduced the opening film of FrightFest 2011.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (UK Premier) was a solid enough opening to this year’s festival. A typically strong performance from Guy Pearce and also from the child lead (Bailee Madison) combined well with exceptional creature effects to make an atmospheric offering. Although it was co-written and produced by the legendary Guillermo Del Torro it contained the hallmark of the great filmakers style, but lacked the uniqueness of his directorial pieces. None-the-less director Troy Nixey did a good job of reimagining  the 1973 original; and was perhaps judged by higher standards due to del Torro’s involvement.

Next up was the UK Premier of Final Destination 5 – 3D. Being in 3D and the fifth movie in an extremely homogenised franchise (I don’t have to run through the plot, do I?) – I wasn’t expecting much from this film. How wrong I was!

As predicted the plot had not so much been recycled, rather completely reused, from previous entries to the series; but this was thoroughly enjoyable, brainless, fun. Perhaps it helped being surrounded by the fantastic FrightFest crowd who cheered every kill like a score at a sporting event – but I enjoyed every minute of Final Destination 5 – 3D. This was the movie 3D was made for; usually surplus to requirements the 3D here was well done and creatively used. It was even subtle in places, adding depth of field and interesting reflections.

The opening “disaster scene” was amazing to behold, and the imaginative deaths – the trade mark of this series – did not disappoint. This is a perfect film to switch your brain off for a bit, have a couple of beers, and just enjoy the bloody carnage!

Day One closed disappointingly to the poorly conceived anthology The Theatre Bizarre (European Premier). Having read the synopsis I was looking forward to this one, but the lack of cohesion and loose editing on the overly-long and not particularly engaging stories saw me literally fall asleep at one point – although that could have been more to do with a combination of rum and the post-midnight timing! The directors stated that they did not confer when scripting their individual stories for the anthology – and it showed.

As the lights of London flashed by through my taxi window after Day One, I considered the irony that the one film I wasn’t bothered about on Opening Night was my pick of the day. Sometimes being a horror addict is all about switching off and having fun – tonight was a perfect case in point.

DAY TWO.

Having not got into bed until 3am, Day Two of FrightFest 2011 started sedately! After a great veggie breakfast, the only decent thing to do in order to prepare for a big day of movie action was to get into one of the many pubs on Leicester Square for a few rums. Once properly lubricated, we joined the FrightFest faithful for the UK Premier of Urban Explorers.

Set beautifully within the claustrophobic catacombs under Berlin Urban Explorers starts promisingly enough following a group of young adults who get their kicks investigating the hidden areas of the urban environment. Hooking up with a guide they found via the internet, they travel deep into the tunnels in search of a wartime Nazi bunker. So far, so good. Sadly after the initial set-up, this film became rather standard fare once the explorers start getting picked off by a murderous German living underground. Not without its merits, and the villain was interesting – but some of the characters were a little one dimensional and behaved in an unrealistic manner. Had the director made better use of the setting and delivered more empathetic characters, this film might have elevated itself beyond the average offering it became.

A quick stop for refreshments, and we’re straight into the World Premier of Crisitan Solimeno’s The Glass Man. Starring FrightFest favourite Andy Nyman and also Neve Campell sporting a just passable English accent; The Glass Man shows us the despair of Martin Pyrite (Nyman) who has lost his job and has spiralled into debt, the shame of which leads him to keep the desperate situation from his wife (Campbell). Just as the situation starts to completely unravel, a menacing stranger arrives who appears to offer salvation, if Martin will do his bidding for just one night.

The acting throughout was excellent, especially Nyman’s performance, but whilst the film started strongly it dissipated once it became clear that the movie was employing a trope which is starting to become clichéd now. I won’t spoil what it was, as there is a lot to be enjoyed with this movie – but I for one was left feeling a little empty at how events unfolded.

Is this the year of horror comedy done well? If the preview screening of Tucker & Dale vs Evil is anything to go by, it certainly could be. The titular Tucker and Dale are two hillbilly types who only have desires on renovating their cabin in the woods. When vacationing college kids arrive misunderstandings lead to a rapidly rising body count. Hilarious and gory in equal measure, this one was thoroughly enjoyable and went down a storm with the FrightFest crowd.

DAY THREE.

Day Three of FrightFest 2011 began with a morning preview screening of Troll Hunter. This Norwegian film has been gathering a decent following around the film festival circuit and prior to FrightFest it was certainly one of my “must see” movies on this year’s schedule. I was not disappointed. Fantastic in both senses of the word, Troll Hunter was impressively made and every bit as entertaining as you would hope from a film with a title like that! The CGI trolls were convincing and imaginative, the acting was solid and the humour was sprinkled throughout the script with an effectively light touch. A great start to the day.

Despite the allure of the pub doors having long since opened and the desire to pig-out at the nearby Maoz Falafel restaurant, we decided that no serious horror fan could miss the 30 year follow-up to The Wicker Man, presented by director Robin Hardy himself at this European Premier of The Wicker Tree. Well, we could have and we should have.

As the aged Mr Hardy graced the FrightFest stage and introduced the cast of The Wicker Tree, one could feel the warmth of the assembled crowd towards him. The Wicker Man is one of the greatest films of all time and a reference point for all serious students of horror cinema. I was not going to delude myself; I knew that there would be little point in comparing Hardy’s latest film to his 1973 classic – I resolved to watch it for what it was, in isolation, and not in comparison to its legacy. Even on that basis, The Wicker Tree was a terrible disappointment.

An evangelist, who is also a famous singer, travels as a missionary to preach Christianity on a Scottish island. Clichéd and riddled with holes, the plot – such as it was – trundled along getting further bogged down by performances that were either instantly forgettable or unbelievable in their delivery of the sub-par script. On the closing credits, we retired quickly to a local bar as I’d have felt embarrassment watching Robin Hardy talk about his film we’d just witnessed. I chose to remember him for his excellent previous achievements.

After lunch we returned to The Empire for a preview screening of Fright Night 3D – a reimagining of the 80’s vampire classic. I had my reservations about this one, the original is a film I remember fondly from my childhood, and I’m no fan of 3D. Although it did nothing to change my opinion of 3D cinema, Fright Night 3D was well paced and competently delivered. It chose not to get too laboured with the issue proving the existence of vampires, and got straight down to the action. David Tennant’s was amongst the strong performances that had all but the ardent opponents of remakes thoroughly entertained and ironically, for me at least, it breathed a bit of new life into the tired vampire genre.

The evening spot on Day Three was taken by the UK Premier of Lucky McKee’s The Woman. Notorious after an offended individual at Sundance had to be removed (such was his upset at the movie), it was clear the FrightFest audience was up for this one – even Mr McKee conceded that the Sundance punter had “made the movies trailer for him!”

The Woman is the kind of sensational, high quality, boundary-pushing filmmaking that makes thousands attend FrightFest every year. This film was moving, intelligent, insightful and, yes, brutal. It is not, however, a movie designed to shock or repulse. Co-written by the author Jack Ketchum and director Lucky McKee The Woman delves deeply in the nature of abuse and abusive personalities, how this affects others and society. It deals with the hubris of those who think their version of civility and existence is the one true way and what happens when they seek to enforce their world view on others. This movie could be seen as a metaphor for the attitudes such as those behind British Colonialism and also the current American foreign policy. It is also a story of personal empowerment, and how power can be used, abused or denied. The Woman tells the story of a father who encounters a feral woman whilst out hunting. He captures her and imprisons her in order to “civilise” her; a task in which he involves the whole family.

Lucky McKee manages to avoid the potential pitfalls that lesser talents might have fallen into with such a premise and also coaxes brilliant performances out of his cast, not least the mesmeric Pollyanna McIntosh as “The Woman”. Ms McIntosh’s portrayal of untamed femininity was so powerful it was almost unnerving to see her on stage for the post screening Q&A session, during which she divulged that she spent several days living wild to prepare for the part.

After such an intense movie experience we called it a night (after the obligatory trip to the bar) in preparation for Day Four of FrightFest 2011.

DAY FOUR.

Day Four started well, and early, with a preview screening of Xavier Gens’ new work The Divide. What began as a rather standard example of survivors in a post-apocalyptic setting elevated itself rapidly via some interesting character development; culminating in a tense, claustrophobic and violent payoff.

We ducked out for Andy Nyman’s Quiz From Hell, I’m sure Mr Nyman was as entertaining as ever – but we needed some liquid refreshment and there is no way we’d have been able to outscore the more knowledgeable FrightFest horror die-hards. We made sure we were back for this year’s International Short Film Showcase – after the high standard in 2010 I was really looking forward to this. It’s a dozen or so short films from up-and-coming directors, and whilst the standard wasn’t as high this year, there were still some real gems on display. For sheer over-the-top comedy gore, my pick of this year’s entries was Brutal Relax from Spain, directed by Adrian Cardona. Where other than FrightFest will you see a sea monster get beaten to death with a dead baby!?

The afternoon spot was filled by the UK Premier of Ti West’s The Inkeepers – this turned out to be another fantastic movie. Having first captivated the audience with the interaction between well developed and likeable characters, West begins the slow-burn of a haunted hotel story which leads to a fulfilling conclusion. I really enjoyed West’s previous offering House Of The Devil, but some people found the ending to be unworthy of the build up, I disagree – but I’d urge such people to give him a second chance with The Inkeepers; he directs with a competent hand and crafts the story in mesmerising fashion. I was particularly impressed with his sterling demonstration of how to create a proper jump scare (as opposed to a cheap smash-cut) – I actually left my seat, and enjoyed it because I hadn’t been cheated.

The 9pm evening spot was taken by the much-hyped UK Premier of Kill List, which followed the exploits of two hitman carrying out their work. It was a reasonable effort which quickly descended into a farce of ambiguity. It is a fine line to tread when trying to inject a story with plot points from the leftfield, and if you don’t feed the audience some point of reference earlier in the piece – it will fail, as it did for me with Kill List. Still, the acting was strong, and it wasn’t without its merits, it just fell well short of its hype due to a poorly constructed final act.

DAY FIVE.

The final day of FrightFest, and therefore tinged with sadness, expectation and no small degree of tiredness!

First up on the main screen was the UK Premier of the zombie-comedy Deadheads. This really didn’t work, but I’m no fan of the “told from the zombie perspective” sub genre so it was perhaps wasted on me. Two zombie friends go off in search of a girl whom one of them is in love with. Yes, really!

All hail Alex Chandon for coming to the rescue with the World Premier of Inbred. Seemingly with a bigger budget than his previous films and with a great cast, Inbred follows the story of a group of teens and their youth workers who end up staying in an isolated village in rural Yorkshire. Sadly (for them) the locals are all sadistic cannibals! Served up with Alex Chandon’s trademark blend of dark humour and explicit gore, Inbred entertained from the start and refused to compromise to the very end. Distinctly British, and distinctly Alex Chandon, Inbred is the kind of film that beats at the black heart of FrightFest and it was a distinct pleasure to see it on the giant Empire screen with over a thousand cheering horror fans.

With the alcohol and blood sugar levels dropping, we grabbed some dinner and drinks before rushing back to catch the closing movie of FrightFest 2011 – the UK Premier of A Lonely Place to Die. With beautiful cinematography, a stunning location, excellent acting (particularly from Melissa George) and a sensational premise: climbers find a young girl buried in an underground cell in remote wilderness – it was hard to understand how the original promise was allowed to slip away. Eventually too many suspensions of disbelief were asked, and a plot which got sillier by the minute resulted in a missed opportunity to build on a good start and create an excellent film.

As ever FrightFest provided five wonderful days of horror cinema, spanning the entire genre from tense supernatural thrillers to in-your-face gore films. The organisers provided something for everyone, and such was the quantity and quality of the films on display it really didn’t matter if a particular title wasn’t to individual tastes as something else exciting was always around the corner.

Frightfest is more than just the films though; it is the people who attend that make it something special. Everyone is friendly and wanting to chat about what they have seen; the organisers mix with the fans, and the actors and directors are always milling about between screenings. Long may it continue, and see you in 2012!

The Unofficial Transgressive Cinema FrightFest Awards 2011

Best Film

The Woman.

Best Director

Ti West, for The Inkeepers.

Best Screenplay

Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee for The Woman.

Best Actress

Pollyanna McIntosh for The Woman.

Best Actor

Andy Nyman for The Glass Man.

Best Kill

Gymnast in Final Destination 5 – 3D.

Scariest Moment

Male ghost in torchlight, in The Inkeepers.

Funniest Moment

Chainsaw and wasps nest in Tucker & Dale vs Evil.

Goriest Moment

Shot in the head, Inbred.

Salo (or The 120 Days Of Sodom)

Posted in extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , , , on Monday, 15 August, 2011 by Ed

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo (or The 120 Days Of Sodom) from 1975 is a truly transgressive work. Even by today’s standard it is both shocking and controversial. For the avoidance of doubt, Pasonlini is unflinching in his portrayal of the writings of the Marquis de Sade transposed into the fascist Italy of 1944. Thus, Salo is not for the easily offended; if you are hesitant about viewing it, you may wish to follow your instinct.

Without doubt an auteur, and driven by a sense of fairness resulting from the poverty he had witnessed, Pasolini’s left-leaning sympathies dominated many of his works; and here, in Salo, we endure a vision of the extreme rightwing and its desire to dominate and persecute. Pasolini was murdered before the first theatrical release of Salo, and well-founded speculation suggests a political motivation for his death.

Salo opens to aristocratic Italian fascists selecting a handful of young men and women by a process of examining their naked bodies and assessing their family lineage. These youths are then absconded to a large country house, decorated in the art deco style. Here the rules of their captivity are explained. It is stated that they are “weak chained creatures, destined for our [the fascist’s] pleasures”. In an interesting juxtaposition, the captives are never chained in any manner; they are prisoners of the fascist institution and as such escape is impossible, so it is never mentioned and binding them is unnecessary. The futility of their plight hangs heavily over this film from the onset, and it is impossible to avoid the comparison to anyone living under a repressive regime.

What then follows is an orgy of indulgence for the fascist’s sadistic perversions. Be very clear, this is a commentary about fascist ideology – not political Nazism. There are no swastikas, no iron eagles, no goose stepping, and no mention of Hitler’s Nazi party is ever made. Whilst Salo could be described as exploitation cinema, it is not anything like the glut of Nazi exploitation flicks that formed their own sub-genre in the 1970’s, which were misogynist and purely designed to titillate.

Indeed, despite graphic nudity of both genders featuring in nearly every scene, Salo is never once arousing. Pasolini appears to have been meticulous in ensuring that the film’s theme – the inhumanity of fascism – is never lost behind cheap thrills of that nature. Presumably it is for this reason that many censors around the world (such as the British Board of Film Classification), have eventually passed Salo uncut.

After the initial set-up, Salo is divided into three chapters: “The Circle Of Manias”, “The Circle Of Shit” and “The Circle of Blood”. In each Circle a female Fascist, dressed in formal wear, holds court next to a piano. The scene is that of any pre-war ball room, where a lady might entertain polite company with a story or song. Here, however, each story is delivered with a rapturous smile as the respective lady of each Circle recalls their own sexual abuse, usually as a child. The remaining fascists are mingled with the captives, and as the tale arouses them in the manner it is intended, they willingly and easily give in to their perversions – each of which stem from a desire to degrade, defile and humiliate.

During the “Circle Of Manias” the captives are stripped and forced to act like dogs – begging for food and eating scraps without using their hands. One girl is fed food with nails in it and forced to chew. A male is viciously whipped – his tormentor stating with glee “I rejoice when I see others degraded!” At dinner, a servant is raped.

The “Circle Of Shit” is one of the more difficult cinematic experiences. Pasolini conducts the subject matter in a manner which, in any lesser hands, would have been puerile and exploitative, but here it was psychologically disturbing. Again, a female fascist tells a lurid tale with an unfittingly pleasant delivery; this one is strongly coprophilic in nature. During the performance, a sobbing captive is punished by a male fascist making a delivery on the floor, one in keeping with the theme of the tale; he offers her a spoon and forces her to eat. Pasolini demonstrates his genius here with a camera shot that focuses sharply on an adjacent table which causes the girl in the scene to be just out of focus, so that the viewer cannot see the full details of her consumption. Once lulled into a false sense of security, the audience is exposed to a crystal-clear head shot of the poor girl – mouth open and crying.

Later a same sex wedding takes place between a male captive and captor – the former resplendent in a full wedding gown. In 1975, this would have been taboo and the attitude to homosexuality is the only aspect of this film that has a diminished impact on the modern viewer. None-the-less, the wedding dinner – attended by all – is comprised entirely of faeces, devoured with enthusiasm by the fascists; and the modern viewer is returned to the same state of disgust as their movie-going cousins of 36 years ago.

Until this point, Pasolini has assaulted the sensibilities with every available tool except violence. This is redressed in the third and final chapter: “The Circle Of Blood”. After some more cross-dressing and sodomy, a tale of torture and abuse is told – with the same charismatic contrast to the subject matter as the previous circles. The plot is developed during this, as the captives are marked according to their compliance.

Eventually the fascists give in to their most base desires, and an orgy of torture is meted out in a courtyard, overlooked by the captor’s rooms. A rampage of violence, which includes sexual burning, tongue slicing, scalping, branding and a particularly nasty eye gouging, is enough to disturb the most hardened viewer – but the most perturbing aspect is the enjoyment, even sexual pleasure, that the captors, who are non-participatory observers, gain from watching. They spectate from seats behind large windows, suggesting that even though the events are of their bidding and done for their enjoyment they may still justify their humanity by remaining somehow separated from the torture and killing. Pasolini inflicts this sense of voyeurism on the viewer (after all, we are watching it too) by having the fascists view the killing through binoculars, and the shots are framed with the outline of the lenses – moving from detail to detail with a deliberate relish.

By the end of the film the use of costume creates ambiguity as to who are the guards, who are the fascists and who are the victims. Maybe this speaks of the compliance and complicit nature of mass apathy or inaction. People may not agree with an immoral agenda, and may not be an active part of it themselves, but still they do nothing to stop it – especially if it is not victimising them personally. Perhaps Pasolini feels they are then as culpable as the fascists; and questions whether they too could become victims themselves?

Is Salo a “horror film” in the conventional sense? No, not really. However, it deals with humankind’s ability to degrade, torture and exterminate its own kind. It shows us that through a few barely tangible ideological or ego-based theories, we are capable of detaching ourselves from any form of empathy or consideration for others if it suits us to. On this basis Salo, more than most, is truly worthy of a place in the horror genre.