As London’s West End streets contended with a flood of zombies, bloodied surgeons, dead celebrities, movie characters and all manner of various party-going monstrosities this October 29, a separate crowd found themselves gathered at Leicester Square’s VUE Cinema geared for 12 hours of cinematic malevolence at the hands of esteemed fear merchants Alan, Ian, Paul and Greg – aka. Frightfest!
Moved (for the first time) just a few doors down from its usual haunt at the Empire, this year’s annual overnight stint of debauchery proved once more that the guys behind the fest are always looking to add value for the punters, whether it’s a single evening event or the full-blown five day August showpiece. Case in point this year: The UK Premiere of Tom Six’s already-controversial The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence. Upon arrival at the cinema bar – an impressively spacious, mingle-friendly arrangement – ticket holders’ eyes were immediately drawn to two things. First, the multitude of complementary Tru Blood branded soft drinks and, second, a security-banner-enclosed terrarium housing one particularly large, and very real, centipede. We’ve also been assured that ‘Centipede Wrangler’ is indeed a legitimate (and possibly quite lucrative) job title.
A couple of unexpected extras were also dished up to the crowd in the form of ‘Frightfest Lovely’ Jen Moss’ new short film The Morning After, with the director herself and actress/musician Kate Nash in attendance, and a peek at the new trailer for James Watkins’ upcoming adaptation of the chilling tale of ghostly vengeance The Woman in Black. This one’s looking like it’s going to deliver the spine-tingling goods in spades. Bad Meat screenwriter Paul Gerstenberger and lead Jessica Parker Kennedy also took a star turn with their informative, frank, and reactionary (they hadn’t seen the finished film prior to this screening) Q&A session. The fact that director Rob Schmidt (Wrong Turn) had his name officially removed from the not-so-finished product should tell you all you need to know about what these two guests had to contend with, and they took it with an ever-affable stride revealing what could have been a potential cult hit had financial ruin not befallen the project.
Also joining the paying attendees this evening were The Human Centipede director Tom Six, his sister/producer Ilona, German superstar and now pop culture icon (for his performance as Dr. Heiter in the original film) Dieter Laser, the sequel’s villain Laurence R. Harvey – himself a massive horror geek – and all bar two of the follow-up’s terribly unfortunate centipede segments. A lively Q&A session was well received, and Laser’s audience-erupting live introduction to the film, in-character as Dr. Heiter will remain a lasting memory.
The main attractions on this frightful evening came in the form of Bad Meat, Livide, The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence, Faces in the Crowd, Sudor Frío aka. Cold Sweat and finally The Watermen. The effects of sleep deprivation, too much coffee and energy drinks, and a malfunctioning air-conditioning system aside, how did they fare? Let’s see, shall we…
A group of juvenile delinquents find themselves in hot water when their parents abandon them to the abusive staff behind a ‘scared straight’ style boot camp. When the similarly poorly treated on-site chef decides he’s had enough of the taunts and roughhousing at the hands of the camp’s staff and self-styled Hitler supervisor, he shoves a load of rotting, infected meat in the employees’ dinner before taking off in the middle of the night with no intention of ever returning. Said meat has the unfortunate side effect, however, of transforming the already aggressive staff into snarling, hulking, cannibalistic Neanderthals who, after a period of vomit-soaked coma set about trying to sink their teeth into the terrified teens.
What starts off as a relatively entertaining romp marred only by occasionally shoddy performances and archetypical characters, and at times reminiscent of a slightly larger budget Troma flick, ultimately finds itself robbed of any and all worth by one simple fact: Bad Meat is an unfinished film.
Behind the scenes, the financial collapse of backing studio Capitol Films saw the final two weeks of principal photography unable to happen, leaving almost half of the film never committed to celluloid. It also appears that most of Bad Meat was shot in sequence, as just when the ball gets rolling, the fighting begins and characters are about to meet their grisly ends… it finishes. Framed here by a particularly nonsensical wraparound obviously shot separately in a cynical attempt to make the unfinished film usable, many viewers will find themselves questioning whether they actually fell asleep and missed the entirety of the third act. It seems that things are hotting up, and then all of a sudden the audience is returned to the wraparound for a mind-shreddingly inept display of writing and editing incompetence, featuring a bewildering attempt at a twist that likely left even the person who directed it scratching their head in utter confusion. Roll credits.
In truth, the parts of Bad Meat that were originally intended to form the story aren’t altogether terrible. The cast are generally likable, and there are plenty of laughs to be had with ever-increasing promise of more to come. With the characters also steadily showing signs of developing beyond their initial archetypical natures, it’s superlatively dismaying to quite literally have it all switched off without warning. Bad Meat should never have been released. Leaving it to simply rot away and disappear would have been preferable to this intelligence-insulting mess of a final product. Fans of wacky, balls-out cult cinema will be doubly frustrated at the glimpses of the very enjoyable little movie that it could have been. Stay far, far away from this one.
Inside (A L’Interieur) directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury return for an entirely different type of terror tale with the mesmerising Livid (Livide). Young Lucie ends her first day as a trainee caregiver with a home visit to the comatose Mrs. Jessel. When her trainer lets her in on the truth of Mrs. Jessel’s wealth, including the existence of a stash of hidden treasure somewhere in the house, it takes a mere few hours before she, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s brother have broken in with plans to seize the goods. The comatose old lady has no use for them, surely?
Of course, this being a horror movie things don’t quite go to plan and, without giving too much away, suffice to say that – sadly for Lucie and her companions – Mrs. Jessel and her mysteriously absent daughter are much, much more than they appear.
Livid is a stunning new slice of cinematic fear – a dark and intimate fable addressing a Del Toro-style fairytale fascination, filtered through the nightmarish dreamscapes of Dario Argento. The sets, locations and cinematography here are gorgeous and immersive; the limited cast members are spot-on in their portrayals, and the otherworldly villains are frightening and vicious. With only a few potential victims in play here, Bustillo and Maury make every drop of blood count with death scenes that are gruesome, impacting, and beautifully staged. The methodical development of the story’s intricacies and mythos ensure it’s a riveting experience throughout, only marred by a particularly undercooked and unintentionally visually humorous denouement. The French continue to show us all how it’s done – Livid is not to be missed.
Director Tom Six returns with an ill-conceived attempt at elevated shocks in the sequel to his cult phenomenon The Human Centipede: First Sequence. The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence takes the meta approach with its tale of mentally disturbed loner Martin, a man obsessed with the original film who pines for nothing more than completing his plan to construct his own human centipede of twelve unlucky individuals. Converted to black and white, Six is obviously attempting to create a serious, gritty, grimy and disgusting tone with the film; eschewing the restraint and low-key (considering the subject matter) approach that made the first film so successful, he instead falls foul of rising to the resounding popular vocalisms condemning the original by those shocked by the mere concept – without having seen the movie themselves.
And so, in his attempt to show ‘everyone’ just what depths of graphic sickness he can drag up to the screen, Six turns his grotesquely original creation into a parody of itself. A rather plodding and vacant affair, THC2: FS ought to be subtitled ‘Crazy Martin Cracks Heads with a Crowbar: The Movie’ because that’s what the majority of it is. Repeated set pieces see the bug-eyed Martin (wonderfully portrayed by Laurence R. Harvey in a definite case of pitch-perfect casting) get into an altercation of some description with a victim, before shooting them and smacking them in the head with a crowbar. Queue an excessive amount of gurgling blood erupting from their cranium, offering a plain view of Six’s reckless abandon of restraint. We’re supposed to believe that these people survive such brutal head injuries without issue. Not that it matters, as to both Martin and the narrative itself, these people are mere pawns, numbers – ingredients for the stewing finale, and nothing more.
All of this eventually builds to a grue-filled climax involving gory mutilation, faces stapled to arseholes (and subsequently ripped from them), an impromptu birth in a car foot well (the resultant fate of the now-under-the-pedals newborn has been excised as part of the BBFC required cuts, but you can likely guess what it is), brutal rape, a centipede being funnelled up someone’s colon, and a laxative-fuelled scatological set piece that feels lifted straight from an episode of South Park. While the first film remains an essential, twisted triumph of imagination with an effortlessly iconic villain, with his sequel Six succeeds only in knocking the series down enough pegs that it resides at precisely the level of unnecessary base vileness and laughable excess its predecessor is unfairly accused of. It remains a shocking curio, and will undoubtedly find a massive audience through sheer curiosity and the will for blunt trauma, but the magic is most definitely absent.
Argentinean director Adrián García Bogliano unleashes one of the most original (or plain absurd, depending on your viewpoint) storylines to come along in quite a while with the bombastic Sudor Frío (Cold Sweat). Facundo Espinosa stars as the recently jilted Román, who with the aid of his friend Ali manages to track his mysteriously disappeared ex, Jackie, to the run-down doorstep of her new online beau – a blonde-haired chap glimpsed only via webcam chat windows.
When Ali enters the house to retrieve Jackie, she quickly discovers that not all is as it seems. The blonde haired boy is a twisted, half-human mannequin, and the real inhabitants of this home are two elderly ex-members of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance. These two geriatric psychopaths have been abducting women for experimentation, attempting to have them read and unlock mathematical equations for reasons never explained. They also happen to be in possession of a decades-old box of dynamite, the nitro-glycerine from which is used to keep their prisoners under control lest they face a particularly messy exit from this world.
When Ali fails to return, Román sneaks into the home to also discover the twisted setup inside and help the two girls escape. So begins a cat-and-mouse chase around the house as the trio desperately try to evade their captors, and the very real possibility of blowing themselves up at any moment. Bogliano’s film is fraught with implausibility, but moves along at a gleeful pace with some rapid-fire editing, illustrious use of slow motion, and a striking, pumped-up soundtrack. Performances across the board are just as they should be, with lead Espinosa going above and beyond with his effortlessly convincing portrayal of Román, and the fuelled-fuelled deaths are satisfyingly splattery including a climactic slow-mo bodily explosion that is immensely impressive. Elements such as a scene involving the explosives-drenched Jackie forced to peel every inch of clothing from her body with painstakingly measured precision in order to avoid immediate death, before spending the rest of the film crawling on her back with merely a thin shirt struggling to conceal her ample assets, may be construed as distastefully exploitative to some, yet Bogliano’s eye and encompassing attitude of silliness manage to keep the imagery on the right side of acceptable, remaining titillating in a true B-movie manner without falling into a more grotesquely objectifying mindset.
Sudor Frío is goofy as hell, underdeveloped and distinctly nonsensical — but it’s directed and shot with style, gusto, some genuine tension and a knowing sense of its own limitations. You can’t fault honesty, and for that it becomes well worth a watch.
Jason Mewes heads up the cast of The Watermen as a millionaire playboy who, along with his best friend, his friend’s brother, and a trio of hot chicks set off for some shenanigans at sea in his private boat. Unbeknownst to them, however, their captain is in cahoots with a gang of local watermen who, stricken by the consequences of a failing economy and overfishing, have taken to abducting and murdering humans as a cheap source of crab bait!
Honestly, we’ve all seen this kind of thing a thousand times before. The cast range from quite awful to utterly wasted on the material (the dependable Richard Riehle could easily be replaced with any nondescript actor here), with only Mewes managing to inject the necessary spark to proceedings before he’s removed from the picture altogether. Repeated stalk-and-chase scenes and murky, uninspired visuals blend together to create a plodding and uninteresting attempt at horror, which simply can’t be saved by some admittedly well-presented gore.
The seemingly invincible protagonists become more tiresome than scary, with their nigh-unintelligible muttering being a source of amusement rather than fear, and by the time our heroic buff protagonist is smacking a greasy John C. Reilly lookalike in repeated slow-mo reminiscent of Jean-Claude Van Damme actioner AWOL (Lionheart for our US readers out there), you’ll only be wishing for it to end. Some great boobs and startling gore just aren’t enough to make The Watermen anything even approaching worthwhile; indeed, when Jason Mewes tugging on his bared scrotum in front of a webcam provides the height of a film’s entertainment value something has gone very, very wrong.