Armed with several cans of a certain well-known energy drink, it’s time to settle in for day four of FrightFest 2014. With another spoil of European and UK premieres, as well as screenings of classic chillers such as A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Shining to choose from, it’s yet another day in a genre lovers paradise.
Ansel (played by character actor Leland Orser) is a cult expert who is down on his luck and without any money. While on a disastrous tour where he is holding seminars on brainwashing, he is approached by some hysterical parents. It appears that their daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is under the influence of a mysterious cult known as ‘Faults’ and they are willing to pay to have her deprogrammed. When the scheming Ansel readily agrees to help, he kidnaps the girl and finds himself locked in a hotel room with her, where he soon comes to realise that he may not be the one who is in control.
Much of what makes this black comedic debut from writer/director Riley Sterns so unique stems from its air of odd unpredictability that runs throughout. As its narrative quietly unfolds, it twists and turns, often ending up in weird and surprising places, until in the end you are left questioning where it may go next. Sure, most people will see the main twist in the tale coming from a mile away, but with the story making these unforeseen turns into strange situations, this is easily forgiven.
It’s from the two leads that a large part of the film’s pervading atmosphere of creepy oddness comes too. While Orser puts in a fantastically quirky turn as the increasingly desperate Ansel, it is Winstead who really shines as the expressionless and enigmatically icy Claire, as she slowly but surely shifts the balance of power away from her captor.
It has to be said that parts of the script are overblown, often promising more than it can ever hope to pay off and a side plot involving Ansel’s publisher can feel a little unnecessary at times, but with its stripped back appearance belying its subversive and ambiguous nature, there’s a hell of a lot to like about this movie.
Now renamed as At The Devils Door, this demonic horror from director Nicolas McCarthy certainly starts off well enough as its prologue shows us a young woman selling her soul to the devil. Now in present day, real estate agent Leigh (Catalina Sando Moreno) is sent to look at a new property for her books, which unknown to her was once connected to a series of incidents involving teenage runaways. After an encounter with a mysterious young girl ends badly for Leigh, her sister Vera (Naya Rivera) attempts to discover what happened when she finds herself drawn into a world of demonic terror.
Unfortunately, the promising start of this supernatural tale just isn’t matched by the remainder of the movie. The biggest problem is that rather than feeling like one cohesive narrative, it feels too episodic in its storytelling and approach. At its most effective it is quietly chilling, but too often it veers into overly loud shock tactics that do not really work and with these two opposing approaches working against each other, any genuine tension is often trampled underfoot. That’s not to say that it is a total failure though, far from it – there are several moments of genuine creepiness to be had and the leads all do a fine job, but on the whole it just doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Have you ever dreamt about Jason Voorhees slaughtering the cast of Glee? Let’s be honest, who hasn’t right? Well now your dreams can sort of be answered by the comedy horror musical Stage Fright – a movie that is part Broadway musical, part rock opera, part slasher movie AND that stars rock legend Meat Loaf. No, really!
Ten years after potential musical star Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) is horrifically murdered at the hands of a masked killer following her performance in the Broadway-bound musical The Haunting Of The Opera, her producer Roger McCall (Meat Loaf) is running a musical theatre summer camp where Kylie’s daughter Camilla and son Buddy now work the kitchens. When Roger makes the decision to once again stage the musical for the camp’s end-of-term entertainment Camilla decides to reveal her hidden singing talents (all very well performed by Allie MacDonald) and audition for the role that her mother once played. It is then that the masked Opera Ghost returns once more.
Putting the ‘camp’ in ‘Camp Crystal Lake’, Stage Fright starts off well enough. As it shows the events of Kylie Swanson’s demise and the humorous opening musical number at the camp kicks in, things certainly look promising for the genre-mashing romp, despite the humour in the lyrics being based on obvious, easy targets. It’s a real shame then that soon after this it rapidly loses its charm as the one joke of the movie is essentially stretched out over the remaining hour or so while the masked killer bumps the campers off in various, but ultimately unsatisfying ways and then screeches through one horrible faux heavy metal track after another. By the time the film hits around the halfway point it commits its greatest sin though, as it seemingly all but dispenses with the idea of being a musical spoof at all, apparently wanting to be a straight down the line slasher parody instead.
It’s a shame really, because director Jerome Sable has an obvious love for both the musical and slasher genres and the opening twenty-five minutes or so of the movie shows a promise of what a great film Stage Fright could have been. As it stands though, it is mediocre at best.
Among The Living
From the French directors behind the unflinching Inside and Livid comes this new slice of visceral terror that blends the mutant siege terror of Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes with a Spielberg-esque tale akin to the golden era of 80s child-led movies the like of Stand By Me and The Goonies.
Young troublemakers Tom, Dan and Victor decide to ditch school on the last day before the summer break and instead explore the countryside, smoke cigarettes and generally misbehave until they eventually arrive at Blackwoods – an old disused movie back-lot. It’s there that the boys witness a kidnapped woman being dragged from a car by a masked figure. Trying in vain to rescue the woman, the boys are glimpsed by this mysterious kidnapper and the boys flee, barely escaping with their lives. Back home and seemingly safe with their families, they are blissfully unaware that somebody has followed them home.
Anyone who has seen either of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s previous films will be more than aware that they certainly do not shy away when it comes to putting unwavering nastiness on-screen, and the opening prologue of Among The Living is no different as it kicks things off in very brutal style indeed. While it’s the nastiness of this opening and the rest of the ferocious violence strewn throughout that most people will take away from this film, it is with its love letter to 80’s Amblin movies that it really succeeds, Maury and Bustillo capturing that ‘summertime, child’s adventure with a creepy undercurrent of menace’ vibe very well indeed. All in all, Among The Living is a satisfying tale of terror, that while certainly not as effective as Inside is a definite improvement on Livid.
Also playing: Open Windows, The Samurai, The Expedition, Drew: The Man Behind The Poster, Doc Of The Dead, Lost Soul – The Doomed Story Of Richard Stanley’s Island Of Lost Souls, The House At The End Of Time, The Visitor, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Nekromantik, The Shining, Another.