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Film4 FrightFest 2012

Euro delights and disappointments, retro found footage, manic shocker

V/H/S

Film4 FrightFest

23-27 August 2012, Empire, London

FrightFest website

Film4 FrightFest the 13th duly delivered on blood, thrills and controversy with a blast of the best and the worst of current horror film. Evrim Ersoy reports on some of the most talked about films in this year’s programme.

V/H/S

An interesting exercise in combining the portmanteau picture and the found-footage genre, V/H/S is the new offering from some of the hottest indie directors on the block (Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence).

Following the usual genre rules, it sets out a wrap-around concerning a bunch of deadbeat guys who are hired to break into a house and find a certain VHS for an undisclosed amount of money. As they are faced with a mountain of tapes, their attempts to find the right one are the pretext for the other stories until the very final tale, which, in an unusual touch, explains the nature of what has gone before.

At two hours, the film outstays its welcome by at least one segment and the wraparound is a muddled affair delivering none of the punch expected from such a tale. However, despite all this V/H/S works very well, with some of the segments genuinely inducing a sense of dread and unease while others create a videotape reality that just delights with its own twisted logic.

The final story also pulls out all the stops making sure the entire anthology ends on a high, sending the audience out into the night feeling as if they’ve been through on a ghost ride.

All in all, definitely worth catching – although not necessarily at the cinema given the lo-fi specs.

Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s

Director/writer Mike Malloy’s love letter to the underrated poliziotteschi genre of the 70s is an impressive magnum opus that not only serves as an introductory lesson to newcomers but also offers in-depth analysis that every lover of the genre will delight in.

Compiling clips and new interviews with cast and crew associated with the films, Mike Malloy divides his epic documentary into chapters explaining various aspects of the genre (beginnings, real-life crime, politics, misogyny, etc) and revealing the history bit by bit. This fragmentary approach works incredibly well: rather than alienate any audience member, Mike Malloy sensibly draws everyone in before weaving a tale of an era so madcap and unusual it’s almost impossible not to be enthralled.

Mike Malloy’s talent is apparent not only in the assured pacing but also in the well-conducted interviews with stars, directors and other crew members of the era: Henry Silva, Franco Nero and Enzo Castellari all make an appearance bringing with them some unusual tales that may never have been heard if not for this film.

An amazing achievement, this 137-minute bonanza is a brilliantly entertaining documentary: full of life and action, it’s a joyful tribute that fits the spirit of the genre it celebrates so well.

Tower Block

A disappointing exercise in survival, James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson’s Tower Block focuses on the residents of the 31st floor of a block of flats who find themselves the target of a sniper. As the incompatible bunch try to work together to survive the day, their numbers continue to dwindle.

Boasting a set-up that’s bound to intrigue, Tower Block unfortunately runs into the first of its many problems before long: the occupants of the tower block of the title all appear to be archetypes. Perhaps it’s writer James Moran’s intention to populate the floor with a microcosm of Britain and try to see how we all can work together, but, on screen, the entire cast appears theatrical and robotic and the relationships and dialogue are distinctly wooden.

However, there is also much to be admired in the film: the set pieces are incredibly tense, and once the action gets going, the stark terror caused by the sniper is shown without any compromise. This is a film that delivers on the visual front with plenty of gusto. Shame, then, that the final result ends up being so uneven: a third act descent into Scooby Doo territory and really does the rest of the film no favours. By the end of the film, we’re left with a sense of disappointment at the hollowness and emptness of the plot.

It’s hard to shake off the feeling that Tower Block might have worked better as a 30-minute short. In its current form it is just another forgettable urban thriller in a long line of low-budget British films.

Tower Block is released in UK cinemas on September 21 by Lionsgate.

Tulpa

It’s hard to tell where Federico Zampaglione’s disappointing attempt to create a neo-giallo film went wrong: Tulpa is such a strange creation full of conflicting moments that it becomes impossible to distinguish the individual good and bad points after a while.

Opening with a beautiful sequence where a bizarre S&M meeting between an unnamed man and a woman goes horrifically wrong, Tulpa centres on Lisa Boeri, a corporate financial analyst in a fast-paced cut-throat company by day, and a member of a mysterious club for spiritual and psychical release of a sexual kind at night. When someone starts to murder Lisa’s sexual partners she realises there’s a psychopath out there who has her in firmly in their sights.

While the murders in Tulpa adhere beautifully to the giallo tropes, the pacing is so uneven that any enjoyment to be gleaned from the film soon turns to boredom. Add to this a second half that grinds to an almost complete halt and it becomes impossible to understand who the film is intended for: giallo enthusiasts will not find enough visual pleasure to enjoy the film while genre newcomers will be bored stiff after a while by the awful script and the rather outrageous dubbing.

A huge mess of a film, Tulpa can only be recommended as a guide to what not to do when trying to make a neo-giallo. Here’s hoping that Mr Zampaglione’s next film fulfils the promise of his first feature Shadow and confirms him as a filmmaker to follow.

Maniac

Set across a dreamy and melancholic cityscape, Franck Kahlfoun’s take on William Lustig’s notorious 1980 shocker might well be the best genre film to be released this year.

Shot largely in first-person P.O.V., it features an intense performance from Elijah Wood, who manages to portray Frank as a man both frighteningly sadistic and heart-breakingly pitiful. Frank works as a mannequin restorer and seller at a dilapidated shop in LA, which used to belong to his promiscuous mother. He has uncontrollable feeling of abject hatred and fear of women, which explode in acts of unparalleled violence. When Frank meets Ann, who wants to use his mannequins in a photography exhibition she’s preparing, the two connect in an awkward but not implausible way. However, as their relationship develops, it becomes harder and harder for Frank to control his destructive impulses.

Utilising mirrors, windows and other reflective surfaces, Khalfoun creates a glossy but emotive visual language: while the horror of Frank’s barbaric acts is never underplayed, his character comes across as a tragic figure rather than as the one-dimensional psychopath that is the stereotype of the genre. Cleverly using the soundtrack to intensify the city and Frank’s experience, Khalfoun grabs the audience when they least expect it: added into the mix are the rare appearances of Elijah Wood’s face, his eyes exhibiting a dead, hollow quality that makes his acts even more disturbing. His voice-over, delivered in a child-like whisper, speaks volumes about a man whose life has been lost for a long time: reminiscent of the protagonist Paul in Tony Vorno’s forgotten grindhouse gem Victims, Frank is equal parts abhorrent murderer and unexpected victim.

It’s hard to think of another piece of filmmaking that will manage to pack the same visual invention and emotional punch into a measly 89 minutes. Do not miss.

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