The 47th edition of the long-standing Catalan genre film festival offered an amazing selection of fantastical cinema, an impressive list of guests, fun midnight screenings and a great zombie parade, all in a beautiful seaside setting.
Among the highlights at Sitges this year were horrific post-Spanish Civil War sisterly drama Shrew’s Nest, produced by Alex de la Iglesia, Sergio Caballero’s sci-fi oddity La distancia, excellent neo-giallo The Editor, Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed dark comedy The Voices, Dumplings director Fruit Chan’s latest film The Midnight After and intense Belgian serial killer thriller The Treatment.
Although this year’s edition opened with the disappointing fourth instalment of the [REC] franchise, excitement soon flared up again with the well-executed Belgian boyscout slasher Cub, which had an interesting multi-antagonist set-up and ingenious death traps. Also showing on the first weekend, the remarkably disturbing Creep was an American thriller about a terminally ill man who hires a cameraman to make a film for his unborn son. With sophisticated tone shifts and immaculate, taut direction, it was a deeply unsettling exploration of insanity and sexuality.
The unique and wonderful Etrange Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a spectacular line-up, which, as always, defied categories with the latest offerings from Takashi Miike and Marjane Satrapi, special programmes picked by Godfrey Reggio, Jacques Audiard and Sion Sono, musical events, emerging talent, short films and an exhibition on Fumetti.
Older treasures included Sergei Paradjanov’s sumptuously poetic Sayat Nova, Jerry Schatzberg’s seminal 70s road movie Scarecrow, Jörg Buttgereit’s ingeniously disturbing The Death King and Blaxploitation rarity Dolemite while the Pere Ubu Film Group’s did a live score to Carnival of Souls.
Marjane Satrapi’s dark animated killer tale The Voices won the audience award and we were particularly excited to discover David Robert Mitchell’s fantastical take on American sexual puritanism It Follows, David Wnendt’s uninhibited erotic comedy Wetlands, Nacho Vigalondo’s found footage thriller Open Windows, Austrian Western The Dark Valley, Aleksei German’s last film Hard to Be a God, hallucinatory French nightmare Horsehead and Austrian experimental dance film Perfect Garden.
To mark its anniversary, the programme also included a selection of the best of 20 years of the festival, including Nikos Nikolaidis’s demented noir homage Singapore Sling, Ian Kerkhof’s avant-garde documentary Beyond Ultra Violence: Uneasy Listening by Merzbow, Harmony Korine’s Gummo, Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions, the short films of the Quay Brothers, Duncan Jones’s Moon, Hungarian oddity Hukkle, Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo and Ben Wheatley’s Down Terrace.
The first edition of Film4 FrightFest in its new venue on Leicester Square, the Vue, was a resounding success, with an impressive line-up of films, terrific guests such as John McNaugton, Alan Moore and Jörg Buttgereit, and a lively sense of community. Stylistically and thematically, the programme was diverse, ranging from witty horror comedies to emotionally weighty thrillers and mind-boggling science fiction. After years of zombie domination, the monster of predilection this year was the werewolf, while children in peril and dangerous lovers also featured heavily and there was an underlying current of concern with the medium of film itself.
The festival opened with Adam Wingard’s wildly entertaining homage to 80s slasher/action flicks The Guest, about a mysterious soldier who ingratiates himself into the lives of a family after bringing them a message from their dead son with whom he served in Afghanistan. After a tense, enigmatic first part, the story shifted into black comedy, turning into a fun popcorn horror movie – which was very enjoyable, but it would be nice to see Wingard return to the more serious territory of A Horrible Way to Die at some point. Following the opposite trajectory, Faults started as a comedy about a washed-out cult expert who attempts to de-programme a young woman controlled by a mysterious cult, but turned into an increasingly strange and riveting face-off between the characters, in which roles become reversed. Also of note among the more comedic offerings, the hilarious and bloody Housebound from New Zealand was a blast, with clever twists and hugely satisfying characters, led by delinquent ball of rage Kylie and her well-meaning but clueless chatterbox mother.
The greatest find of the festival was undoubtedly Jennifer Kent’s wonderfully creepy and poignant monster story The Babadook. There were more children in peril in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer director John McNaughton’s return to the big screen, The Harvest, a chilling autumnal fairy tale of sorts.
Fabrice Du Welz’s intense take on The Honeymoon Killers story Alleluia was another heavyweight of the festival and the most accomplished of the unsettling psycho-sexual thrillers in the programme. Ate De Jong’s Deadly Virtues used bondage to explore the bonds of marriage in a story of home invasion with a twist. Despite its flaws, it was a captivating film with ideas and originality. Marriage was also under scrutiny in simmering two-hander Honeymoon. The dark rape-revenge thriller Julia investigated violent catharsis and female empowerment in interesting, if rather muddled ways – director Matthew A. Brown did not seem entirely sure of where he was taking his story. On a lighter note, Hitoshi Matsumoto took a delirious approach to S&M in R100, an insane Japanese comedy about a middle-aged widower who gets more than he bargained for when he joins an underground club whose dominatrixes include The Queen of Spit in an eye-popping musical sequence and The Queen of Gobbling…
With a greater diversity of complex characters, in particular female, than in previous years, the programme also interestingly reflected a strong male anxiety. Deadly Virtues made a point about the wife earning more money than her husband, an important element in the shifting dynamic of their marriage. In the same way, Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal added a twist to its familiar jealous husband story in that the wife is the one with the high-powered job while his job, seen as lowly, is dismissed by other characters. With physical castration featuring in a number of films in the programme (Julia being the most notable), there seemed to be a simmering unease about the place of men in marriage and society, and a fear of sexual and social emasculation.
The Canal was one of a handful of films concerned with its own medium, probing the ghostly quality of film itself. In R100, the story of the widower is a film being made within the film – and shown to flabbergasted executives. The excellent occult-tinged Hollywood ambition tale Starry Eyes focused on a would-be actress who sells her soul to a satanic production company for stardom. VHS Viral continued the found footage franchise with a great segment by Nacho Vigalondo while Jessica Cameron’s Truth or Dare took on reality TV with the same subtlety as the shows it satirizes. Among the documentaries, David Gregory’s fascinating Lost Soul – The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau was one of the most talked about films of the festival.
It was great to see werewolves used to dig into a variety of themes, even if the results were not always fully convincing. The Samurai, by German director Till Kleinert, was an intriguing, although heavy-handed take on queerness in a small town. It had a very memorable character in the transvestite sword-wielding lone wolf maniac who leads the solitary young local policeman into a journey of bloody self-discovery. Another interesting angle came from Adrian Garcia Bogliano in Late Phases, which stars the brilliant Nick Damici as a cranky blind veteran who moves into a retirement community terrorised by a mysterious creature. With most of its characters above the age of 60, it was a fairly brave, original and entertaining film about ageing, and how to face death with dignity.
Science fiction had a strong presence in the programme this year with Nacho Vigalondo’s mind-puzzler Open Windows, The Signal which closed the festival in beautiful, if somewhat mystifying manner, and James Ward’s convoluted chiller Coherence presented by the Duke Mitchell Film Club. For the first time, the Duke Mitchell brought their inimitable film party to FrightFest, invading one of the cinemas on the Saturday night with their anarchic mix of outlandish clips, excellent guests and wild shenanigans, which was much enjoyed by the packed auditorium.
FILM4 FRIGHTFEST IN ASSOCIATION WITH NE’ER DO WELL FILMS PRESENTS:
TURN OFF YOUR BLOODY PHONE IDENT COMPETITION
This summer, UK’s largest genre film festival Film4 FrightFest is giving up-and-coming filmmakers a chance to remind the audience of cinema etiquette and get their work shown on the big screen.
In 2012 a select group of filmmakers created a sensation in the festival with a quirky new brand of public service announcements.
In 2013, the festival recruited budding filmmakers alongside established names such as Andy Nyman, Patrick Syversen and Jacqueline Wright to encourage patrons to turn their phones off – the results were a series of amusing, sharp but always gory vignettes which continue to gather acclaim online still.
Now the festival wants to take the whole thing one step further.
Following on from the success of last year’s ‘Turn Off Your Bloody Phone’ idents, Film4 FrightFest (in association with Ne’er Do Well Films) is launching a competition to find the most inventive, crazy and funny ways of reminding the audience to not only turn their phones off during the screenings but also keep the etiquette of cinema-going alive.
To celebrate the 15th Anniversary of FrightFest, fans are encouraged to draw upon the festival’s rich, wild and varied history and create films which highlight the importance of behaving reasonably within the auditorium during the festival.
The competition is set to run between the 7th of March and the 11th August and will be judged by a prestigious jury including writer/director Sean Hogan and journalist and associate editor of Total Film Rosie Fletcher.
The five best entries as chosen by the jury will be screened at this summer’s Film4 FrightFest alongside works from some of the greatest genre directors at UK’s most prestigious genre film festival.
One of the most talented contemporary British directors, Ben Wheatley revitalised the British crime thriller genre with his brilliant 2009 debut Down Terrace, following it up with the acclaimed horror/gangster tale hybrid Kill List in 2011 and the hilariously dark comedy Sightseers last year. He talks to Virginie Sélavy about his new film, A Field in England, a demented bucolic psychedelic trip about a group of deserters and an evil alchemist set during the English Civil War.
A Field in England was released on Friday 5 July. It is the first film to be released in UK nationwide cinemas, on free TV, on DVD and on Video-on-Demand on the same day, in a partnership between Film4, Picturehouse Entertainment and 4DVD. More information on the A Field in England website.
Ahead of the release of his new film The Seasoning House, Alex Fitch talks to actor Kevin Howarth about his career so far, from his memorable lead role in The Last Horror Movie (2003) to his forthcoming zombie action movie GallowWalkers with Wesley Snipes. Howarth talks about resisting his typecasting as a horror film actor, working as a voice artist on video games and the experiences of working with make-up artist Paul Hyett on various projects before the latter turned director on The Seasoning House. (Originally broadcast 21 June 2013 on Resonance 104.4 FM)
The Seasoning House is released on 21 June 2013 in UK cities by Kaleidoscope Entertainment.
Writer and comic artist Mark Stafford talks to Virginie Sélavy about Michael Mann’s dark, atmospheric 1983 movie, in which German soldiers stationed in an old Romanian castle during WWII are faced with an ancient evil, and the use of Nazis in exploitation and horror films.
Writer and director Jennifer Eiss, and freelance journalist and co-founder of The Duke Mitchell Film Club Evrim Ersoy, talk to Virginie Sélavy about Jen and Sylvia Soska’s provocative, gruesome and stylish American Mary, discussing among other things the Soska twins’ description of their film as ‘feminist horror’, the hype surrounding them, and Katharine Isabelle’s performance as the disenchanted psychotic surgeon at the centre of the film.
First broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM on Friday 18 January 2013.
Director Sean Hogan talks to Virginie Sélavy about his feature The Devil’s Business, a tense, tightly scripted character-driven drama that starts like a crime thriller and ends in occult territory. Among other things, he will explain how he has managed to deliver fully rounded character, excellent performances (Billy Clarke as the hitman delivers a particularly spellbinding monologue while Jonathan Hansler is his chillingly evil victim) and skilfully maintained dramatic tension on a limited budget.
The Devil’s Business premiered at Film4 FrightFest last year and Hogan will also talk about the role of the festival for him and for horror cinema in general.
The Devil’s Business is released in the UK on 17 August 2012 by Metrodome.
Sean Hogan will also be directing The Hallowe’en Sessions from 29 October to 3 November at the Leicester Square Theatre. A group of mental patients gather for a therapy session to each recount the terrifying events that caused them to lose their minds. But is their mysterious therapist all she appears to be, and will her course of treatment prove to be kill or cure? Cigarette Burns and an award-winning team of horror/fantasy creators join forces to bring you a nightmarish evening filled with primal screams. Writers Kim Newman (ANNO DRACULA, MORIARTY: THE HOUND OF THE D’URBERVILLES), Stephen Volk (THE AWAKENING, GHOSTWATCH), Anne Billson (SUCKERS, STIFF LIPS) Paul McAuley (FAIRYLAND, the QUIET WAR trilogy) and Maura McHugh (JENNIFER WILDE, ROISIN DUBH) take you on a head trip through the darkest recesses of the human psyche, where no one – least of all the audience – escapes with their nerves or sanity intact… Tickets available from the Leicester Square website.