ShiversMain Selected FeatureExtra - Frightfest reportSelected ReviewsSelected NewsFull contents of this issueBuy it
Selected FeatureSelected FeatureSelected FeatureSelected FeatureSelected FeatureSelected Feature

All the Fun of the Fear

A review of the Horror fare that thrilled and chilled us at the recent London Fright Fest

We apologise for the printing error which made this feature hard to read in the issue.

Revelation: James D'Arcy and Natasha Wightman reveal all

Fright Fest 2001 reviewed by David Miller

Selected from Shivers #93

You’d be a hard-hearted Horror fan if you didn’t agree that Fright Fest 2001 was a howling success. The Prince Charles Cinema once again proved to be the ideal London venue, blasting away memories of the Fantasm events in the chilly concrete confines of the NFT, with its often chilly staff. Despite the Prince Charles’ indy roots, the films were given top-notch presentations, and several directors remarked that they’d never seen their movies looking so good.

The programme had been chosen to appeal to a wide range of tastes, with a bias towards European Horror but taking in a couple of mainstream US offerings as well. Remarkably, the opening night saw two new British movies, although neither could truly be claimed as a Horror film.

Fuelled by the gory pictures in Shivers #83, expectations for The Bunker were high. The director’s talk of the influence of Val Lewton pushed them even higher. So what happened? There’s little point in setting up a near-perfect Horror scenario to chuck it all away and make a muddled psychological drama. I think somebody felt that a zombie film wouldn’t win any BAFTAs. I’ve news for you, fellas – neither will this. Compared with the full-throated roar of approval that followed Brotherhood of the Wolf, the bewildered dribble of applause at the end of The Bunker was reminiscent of a village cricket match. For a full review see this issue.

Things cheered up a bit with the next offering, Revelation. It is indeed a curious beast, and again, not a Horror film at all, although there were some lipsmackingly gory moments. So if you’ve ever wanted to see Celia Imrie flambéed or Terence Stamp skinned alive, then this is the film for you. Directed by Stuart Urban, the film almost defies classification. When it was previewed in Shivers #87 it was described as a ‘quasi-religious mythical adventure, the thinking man’s Raiders of the Lost Ark’.

Cracking Effects

While the story, the search for a mysterious relic called the Loculus lacked Spielberg’s comic-book brio, it pelted along at a terrific lick – lots of short, exciting scenes crammed with incident. There are computers and DNA labs and a couple of cracking visual effects like a squad of mysterious troops that appear out of nowhere. Yet for all the modern gadgets it looks charmingly like a film made in 1978. Even the cast – Udo Kier, Terence Stamp, Ron Moody, as Isaac Newton, no less – reinforce this impression.

Udo was really given a role to get his teeth into as the baddie – a kind of immortal Masonic Moriarty. The vulnerable, baby-faced hero was played by James D’Arcy, who enjoyed a good chemistry with co-star Natasha Wightman as Mira, a damsel-in-distress who turned out to be damned sight more than she let on.

About halfway through, it struck home that Udo aside, it was a completely British cast – there was no token American brought over to give a bit of US appeal. Perhaps the producers realized that this film demanded so much of the viewers that there was no point trying to hoodwink them. The cinematography was gorgeous and the international vistas spectacular, and though the ‘Revelation’ itself – the secret of the Loculus – elicited more than one titter from the audience, the film is happy to be in the realm of fantasy. Perhaps this wasn’t the film we expected to launch the British Fantasy revival. The fact that it got made at all is a bloody miracle.

The first night of the Fright Fest concluded with chop-socky in Kiss of the Dragon, from director Chris Nahon and Leon scripter Luc Besson. This was shown with a short film, The Window.

Through the Cubbyhole

If the makers of the Australian entry Cubbyhouse had considered the straightfacedness of The Bunker, or that film’s crew had been lifted by the Antipodeans’ exuberance, both films would have been much the better. As it was, Cubbyhouse was a barnstorming romp reminiscent in every way of the Saturday morning kids’ pictures – except that it was shown on a Saturday afternoon.

Among the Aussie cast, guest star Joshua Leonard, the stumbling, mumbling hero of The Blair Witch Project stuck out like a sore thumb. The rest of the Aussies were going hell-for-leather, which left his minimal, though rather interesting, performance in the shade. The plot was slight – a possessed garden shed is actually a gateway to an infernal vortex – but everything thundered along merrily and this scarcely mattered. There were red-eye effects and through-the-grass-Evil Dead effects and a dirty great big CGI monster at the end. One character got pulled down a drain – boots, bones, glasses and all – which really stretched the credibility. It’s funny what aggravates you sometimes.

Later Saturday afternoon saw the British première of Nonhosonno, Dario Argento’s latest, here retitled Sleepless. After laughing my head off at Argento’s Phantom of the Opera last year, I didn’t know what to expect. The dubbing was, as ever, hilariously bad, but there were some strong and memorable scenes. The music, by longtime Argento collaborators Goblin, was wonderful, Max Von Sydow was sublime, and though the Nursery Rhyme plot motif became idiotic, the set-piece killings, like the death by cor anglais, were worth the price of admission alone. The opening sequence on a deserted train thundering through the rain was gritty and miserable and, like Revelation, reassuringly old-fashioned.

The Devil’s Backbone

Saturday evening was given over to The Devil’s Backbone, Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro’s return to the form he showed in Cronos, (arguably the best Horror film of the Nineties). The Devil’s Backbone owed much to The Innocents – with barely-glimpsed spectres gradually gathering force for a supernatural whammy.

Federico Luppi, who gave the heartbreaking central performance in Cronos was again exceptional as the owner of the Orphanage. It didn’t help that the lengthy review in Shivers explained a lot of the plot at the beginning – Del Toro preserves the mystery of the ghostly ‘one who sighs’ almost until the end and I was willing him to get on with it. That aside, this was undoubtedly the most beautiful film of the festival, with lingering views over the dusty Spanish plains and moments of heartstopping suspense. While Sunday saw the heavy Heavy Metal Horror Cradle of Fear, from those charming Cradle of Filth chaps, and a preview of the Urban Gothic Sandman episode (see page 24), without doubt, the star film was the French Fantasy Brotherhood of the Wolf.

Monday brought the hypnotic, almost unwatchable physical torture of Kim Ki-duk’s Korean film The Isle, although there was disappointment that the French cannibal film Trouble Every Day, a film by Claire Denis, starring Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo, was pulled at the last minute. Ginger Snaps was shown instead and went down very well, as did Jeepers Creepers and the preview of Resident Evil from director Paul Anderson – more of that in the next Shivers.

It seemed a shame the Fright Fest had to end. Praise is due to the tireless organizers, (Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray) they promised much and certainly didn’t let us down. There was a real family feeling at the Prince Charles, kept up by the short films (a loud hurrah for Kim Newman’s witty, 100-second epic Missing Girl, in the Universal Shorts series), trailers and the regular distribution of freebies. I think the programme was better than last year’s, and if they carry on at this rate, next years will be phenomenal. As always, rest assured that you will read about all the latest Fright Fest news in Shivers.

Shiver #93, Halloween coverSee Shivers #93 for the full version of this feature.

To order Shivers or subscribe, go to VI DIRECT. Photos
© Romulus Films Ltd / Cyclops Vision. Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction