It’s day three at FrightFest 2014, and with the festival fully underway it’s time for another day of ghoulish delights at the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square. So, with the likes of terrifying children’s books, blood-sucking cheerleaders, manic mothers and a slew of the undead on the cards, it’s time to hit the screen.
All Cheerleaders Die
Some thirteen years since directors Lucky McKee (The Woman) and Chris Silvertson (The Lost) first told this story in their 2001 low budget video affair of the same name, they return to remake it, but this time with a budget and a nice shiny production.
The question you’ll probably be asking yourself by the end of it is, why?
Now, the plot of this horror comedy riff on high school movies and 80s sex comedies is all over the place to say the least, so bear with me okay? It starts off with a simple enough premise: following the sudden death of Lexi, the school’s cheerleading squad captain, outsider Maddy manages to infiltrate the squad in an attempt to wreak revenge on the remaining cheerleaders for the death of the girl she secretly held a flame for. To do this she intends to turn the cheerleaders against each other and ruin the relationship between new squad captain Tracy and the school’s star quarterback Terry (who also happens to be Lexi’s ex). When Terry then goes on to kill some of the cheerleaders in a car accident, Maddy’s Wiccan ex-girlfriend Leena uses her magical skills to raise the cheerleaders from the grave to attack the quarterback and his jock teammates with their new found supernatural talents, raging sex drives and (literal) thirst for blood. Still with me? Good.
It is this messy, swerving plotline that is the biggest downfall of a disappointing movie. What could have been a fairly fun, trashy comedy horror revenge flick with a twist on the normal high school stereotypes, some deliberately overblown characters and a knowing nod to the audience, instead becomes so annoyingly convoluted and illogical that any moments of fun to be garnered from it are soon lost in the hugely potholed script.
After some thirteen years away from feature filmmaking, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer director John McNaughton makes a welcome return as he brings us a tale of obsessive love and control with his psychological thriller The Harvest.
When young Maryann (Natasha Calis) moves in with her grandparents in a remote countryside town, she attempts to befriend Andy (Charlie Tahan), a very sick housebound boy who is kept in his home under the strict care of his medically trained parents Katherine (Samantha Morton) and Michael (Michael Shannon). Her attempts are met with zealous resistance by the boys over-protective parents however, until one day she discovers that all is not as it seems when she is forced to hide in the house one day.
Morton puts in an incendiary performance here and she is quite outstanding in her role as the increasingly unhinged Katherine, as she boils over from quietly contained distain to all out psychotic, animalist rage. While there are points where her character veers into territory so over-the-top that it can become a little laughable, Morton does it all with such passion that you can’t help but be taken by it. In a reverse to the intense characters we have come to expect from him, Shannon too puts in a fantastic, subtle performance as the quiet husband who is utterly dominated by his wife, portraying a man who is deeply unhappy, but utterly consigned to his life, brilliantly. There is a great subversion to the normal gender stereotypes here and Shannon and Morton play off of each other superbly well. Tahan puts in a very fine turn as the increasingly put upon Andy too, handling the physical demands of his role admirably in a way that’s all the more impressive for a boy of his age, while Calis struggles at points to bring life to the pivotal role of Maryann albeit with some nice moments of sass.
Where The Harvest falls down somewhat, however, is its somewhat weak screenplay. It drifts into almost laughably unrealistic moments at points, the ‘twist’ will be a little too obvious for most people and why the cheesy winks to Easy Rider from Peter Fonda were deemed to be needed is a bit baffling, as they totally remove the viewer from the moment. This is certainly a mixed bag from McNaughton. While the film works well overall and there is a lot to like, especially Morton, there are also moments that take away from what really could have been a much more solid experience.
Alex Essoe shines as reluctant waitress Sarah Walker in this satirical look at the pursuit of fame and fortune, and the lengths that people may be willing to go to make it. Following Sarah as she goes on audition after audition in a seemingly fruitless attempt to get her big break in Hollywood, her frustrations appear to be a breaking point when she finally seems to be close to her goal after a series of increasingly weird casting calls with the mysterious Astraeus Pictures. The question is though – just how far is she willing to go to become a star?
Essoe impresses as the seemingly nice, but ultimately extremely driven and dark-souled Sarah as she quite literally transforms into someone altogether more beautifully assured. Her portrayal from a beautiful bubbly, albeit troubled, woman to pathetic wretch and back through to her ultimate end really is the driving force behind the success of Starry Eyes, while directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch wonderfully juxtapose the horribly false, bright reality of real life in LA with the dark, over-the-top world of Astraeus Pictures and the darkness that is inside Sarah’s character.
It has to be said that the middle act of the film does feel a bit soggy at points as it tries to stretch its screenplay through to the point of its finale, but it doesn’t really affect the story as a whole and the last act of the film more than makes up for it, with some superbly brutal scenes of bloodletting that lead to a fantastic conclusion bound to stick in the mind after the movie ends. With its fantastic mix of the occult, horror, wry humour and biting satire, Starry Eyes is a total winner.
I Survived A Zombie Holocaust
When new runner and wannabe screenwriter Wesley Pennington joins the production of a low budget horror movie out in the wilds of New Zealand it looks as though all is not as it seems with the zombie extras. It appears that perhaps they are being a little too method about their roles, and when they start to attack and devour the members of the cast and crew it falls to Wesley to try and save the day.
As soon as you hear the words zombie and comedy mentioned when describing a movie you quite understandably think of the likes of Shaun Of The Dead, but in fact I Survived A Zombie Holocaust has much more in common with fellow New Zealand horror comedy Brain Dead than its British counterpart. Both this and Peter Jackson’s cult splatterfest being utterly Kiwi in humour and style. Unlike Brain Dead, however, this directorial debut from Guy Pidgen doesn’t quite pull it off. Full of little nods to some of the great zombie movies that will be sure to keep the genre fans happy, some reasonably tasty gut-munching gore and over-the-top comedy abound, this certainly makes a fair fist at achieving what it sets out to do. Yet, while it does enough to raise the odd laugh here and there, and it is obviously full of good intention, it ultimately fails to really deliver the goods. With plenty of the jokes falling way short of the mark and with a running time hitting the 100 minute mark too this feels like it is stretching its ideas way beyond what it can deliver. Still, it’s a fairly fun little flick that’s certainly worth checking out when it hits DVD.
This Australian supernatural horror flick has been making waves since screening at Sundance, and it’s easy to see why. Six years after losing her husband in a car crash while being driven to hospital to give birth to their child, Amelia (Essie Davis) tries to raise her troubled son Sam (Noah Wiseman). Trying to deal with his constant nightmares, his behavioural problems and the painful reminders of the past that are being thrown up by his approaching birthday, the single mother is close to the edge. When a disturbing children’s pop-up book titled Mister Babadook mysteriously appears in the house, however, her problems with Sam dramatically explode to the point where her sanity is stretched to its limits.
So often these days, supposedly scary films utterly fail to deliver on their promise of chills, so it’s such a joy when one as effective as this comes along. With nods to the likes of The Grudge and even more so, The Shining, The Babadook is truly creepy, delivering both on scares and psychological terror. The horror is only made that more effective by the careful building of characters by writer/director Jennifer Kent as she takes the time to explore the strained, grief-ridden relationship between Amelia and the son that she tries not to resent, so that by the time the terrifying evil is unleashed in their home, you are fully invested in them and along for the ride. Essie Davis is a revelation as Amelia as she skilfully takes her journey from sweet, caring mother to sleep-deprived woman on the verge of a total psychotic breakdown with brilliant aplomb. It’s a massive performance and is one that by rights should see Davis become a household name. Wiseman does remarkably well too as Sam, his performance only more impressive for a boy so young.
Be sure to catch this treat as soon as possible. Just don’t expect to sleep too well afterwards! Dook! Dook! Dook!
Also playing: Live After Beth, Dead Within, White Settlers, Show Pieces, Digging Up The Marrow, Creep, Bad Milo!, The Sleeping Room, The Mirror, Coherence.