Film4 FrightFest 2011 part 2

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Film4 FrightFest

25-29 August 2011, Empire, London

FrightFest website

Tucker & Dale vs Evil was one of the films that impressed Alex Fitch at this year’s Film4 FrightFest.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

I went into the screening of Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010) expecting the film to be a guilty pleasure, as a fan of both horror-comedy and the leading man, Joss Whedon regular Alan Tudyk. But the film surpassed my expectations and proved to be one of the most enjoyable of the festival, an uproarious comedy that takes the ‘teens in peril’ slasher genre and subverts its clichés.

Tucker and Dale (Tudyk and Tyler Labine) are an amiable pair of misfits with a close homoerotic relationship that comes across as less affected than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s reoccurring schtick. Travelling into the woods to fix up a shack previously owned by cannibalistic murderers of the Texas Chainsaw variety, Tucker and Dale amble from one misadventure to another and inadvertently present themselves to a group of teens on holiday as the slasher movie style killers the kids are already expecting to find in the woods. As the hapless duo go out of their way to be friendly, the kids variously impale, burn and shred themselves to death trying to escape the innocuous pair.

Hilarious, subversive and occasionally shocking, this is a very welcome example of a spoof slasher movie, a sub-genre that has almost always proved to be unwatchable when attempted in the past, with the gruelling Scary Movie franchise being the most interminable and depressingly successful (part 5 is due in 2012) example.

With its schlocky name, seemingly familiar plot and cast of TV actors, Tucker & Dale vs Evil might struggle to find an audience among the onslaught of bad horror movies that fill DVD rental shelves, but it is to be hoped that it will attract the cult following it deserves and mark the start of a successful career for fledgling director Eli Craig.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is released in UK cinemas on September 23 by Vertigo Films.

The Glass Man

On the second day of FrightFest, the main screen’s line-up consisted entirely of movies about people killing other people, which is to say they contained no supernatural elements, only monsters of the human kind. As such, not all of the films shown were actually horror films. Preceding The Glass Man was an underwhelming thriller/drama called The Holding (along the lines of Dead Man’s Shoes). The Glass Man itself straddles these two genres, and its only horror credentials are an extended cameo by Neve Campbell, star of the Scream franchise, and the fact that director Cristian Solimeno had the misfortune of playing the male lead in Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears (2007).

The Glass Man, however, is an excellent film. A mid-recession British take on one of David Fincher’s finest movies (I won’t say which one or you’ll get the twist immediately), the film concentrates on the travails of Martin (Andy Nyman), a businessman who has been fired from his job for an unknown reason; the film implies some kind of whistle-blowing. With a mortgage to pay and a lifestyle he and his wife have become accustomed to, he has been lying to her about still going to work for some time and amassed crippling debts when a hitman (James Cosmo) comes to his front door and gives him a choice between becoming his accomplice for the night or waking up Martin’s wife and…

A belated addition to the ‘yuppie in peril’ sub-genre that flourished briefly in the mid-1980s (Into the Night, After Hours), The Glass Man‘s relentless atmosphere of impending doom and Nyman’s constant nervousness about unarticulated peril keep the audience transfixed even though not a lot happens on screen for much of the running time. A terrific directorial debut by Cristian Solimeno, who proves himself to be an actor’s director, in a film dominated by the interaction between Nyman and Cosmo, judged exquisitely well.

The Wicker Tree

Some belated sequels, which no one particularly expected or wanted to see, are actually well worth a look. These include films that see actors returning from the original, for example Paul Newman in The Color of Money (1986), or ones that revisit the title and the source material, for example Return to Oz (1985). Others, while they retain one of the original creators, for example Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010 (1984), seem ill-conceived from the start, as few directors, if any, could top Kubrick at his best.

Unfortunately, and somewhat inevitably, The Wicker Tree (2011) is an example of the latter. The original film, The Wicker Man (1973), was in many respects an example of lightning caught in a bottle – a dependable British cast at the top of their game, an unusual story and a witty script that flirts with different genres but is hard to pin down. As the original film depended on many disparate elements fitting together in a production that was beset by problems, a sequel would have to be brilliant to match its reputation. A script of ‘The Wicker Man II’ by original writer Anthony Shaffer did the rounds for decades, but this was stymied both by his death in 2001 and Edward Woodward’s in 2009. The actor, almost unbelievably, was prepared to return to the role of Sergeant Howie, following in the footsteps of Donald Pleasance in Halloween 4 (1988) as another apparently fireproof hero. With Shaffer and Woodward gone, director Robin Hardy has come up with his own thematic sequel, which takes the audience to another Scottish pagan community who enjoy orgiastic celebrations and sacrificing Christians.

Christopher Lee returns in a brief cameo as a former patriarch of the community (possibly Lord Summerisle, depending on the vagaries of copyright law), but the cast of TV actors he’s surrounded with rarely lift the material above the standard of an episode of Midsomer Murders, which in tone, atmosphere and set dressing the film seems particular keen to recreate. As in the original, there are some great uses of music, some well-judged moments of tension and some good depictions of decadent Brits taking their desires to their logical conclusion. However, the comedy moments are often forced and occasionally embarrassing to watch while the horror is never extreme enough to be particularly shocking, with more disturbing and memorable cannibalistic orgies served up in recent years by Perfume (2006) and episodes of True Blood in 2009.

The Wicker Tree isn’t unwatchable, unlike parts of the misguided American remake of The Wicker Man (2006), but adds nothing to the original. A worthy sequel to the 1973 cult movie is perhaps one best left to our imaginations.

More FrightFest reviews online next week, including Lucky McKee’s controversial The Woman.

Alex Fitch