Last weekend I headed over to Sheffield’s premiere horror festival Celluloid Screams to check out all the wonderfully horrific offerings they had on. I’ve been the last couple of years and the festival is always great for screening new and exclusive films, tonnes of excellent shorts and a couple of classics. This year was no exception.
Here’s a list of the features I watched and my thoughts on them. I’d love to write up about all of the great shorts too, but I don’t have the time and wanted to get this up for Halloween so apologies:
Director: Ben Wheatley | UK | 2012
Ben Wheatley’s follow up to the excellent Kill List is very slight and a little flat at times, especially towards the end, but fun and admirably unique. Alice Lowe as Tina is the crux of the film, creating the film’s most natural and relatable character, and displays her crucial vulnerability effectively enough to make it work in amongst the quirkier and more outlandish elements. In my opinion this is Wheatley’s weakest film so far, but it’s still entertaining, original and refreshingly English.
Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut
Director: Clive Barker & Restored by Russell Cherrington | USA/UK | 1990/2012
This newly pieced together version of Clive Barker’s own adaptation of his book Cabal, created from footage found on a VHS work print, the ‘Cabal Cut’ of Nightbreed is not quite a ‘lost masterpiece’ but it’s interesting to see the painstaking work gone into restoring the film to what more closely resembles Barker’s vision. It remains an ambitious and imaginative film with a memorable villain (David Cronenberg!) but the performances are weak and the drama cheesy.
Director: Steven Kostanski | Canada | 2011
This is gleefully silly low budget madness taking its cues from dated direct to video/DVD genre films as well as adding lashings of gore and daft humour. Sensibly short at only an hour, it’s a whole lot of fun. Effects and performances are kept knowingly and enjoyably low rate and that’s where much of the humour is mined. It rockets along at quite a pace so you don’t have time to get bored of the schtick either. It’s not for everyone, but I loved it.
Director: Dario Argento | Italy | 1987
As with most of Dario Argento’s films, this is pretty nonsensical and very clumsily plotted, but filled with stylish and effective scenes of horror. It was great to see on the big screen even if it was the truncated version. The end is utterly ridiculous though, with which looked inspired by The Sound of Music at times!
Directors: Ti West, Adam Wingard, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner | USA | 2012
This much anticipated found footage horror anthology is quite consistent for such a film, but never rises far above average. The first film, ‘Amateur Night’ was simple and fairly effective. Ti West’s ‘Second Honeymoon’ started well but ended a bit abruptly and unsatisfyingly. ‘Tuesday the 17th’, following a bunch of teenagers on a trip to the woods had a cool idea for its villain but weak gore fx and a familiar premise that made it rather forgettable. ‘The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’, which used a Skype-style webcam method of filming was a little too Paranormal Activity for my liking but had its moments. I quite enjoyed the haunted house finale with ’10/31/98′ although it wasn’t particularly scary. The bridging elements (‘Tape 56′) were a little too shaky for my liking and gave me a headache more than anything. Like most anthology films it was ok but not mind-blowing.
Director: Todd E. Freeman | USA | 2012
This medical body horror about a couple that volunteer for an experimental treatment to a terminal illness which ends up being worse than the disease itself was my least favourite film of the festival. Slow paced and dull, little makes sense in the film and not just in a ‘mysterious and surreal’ sort of way, it’s more that the characters don’t react to situations as they should and their actions are poorly motivated. It ends rather unsatisfactorily too with a lead up to a sequel rather than tying the film itself up properly. With weak performances dragging things down too this was a lifeless affair despite a few nice ideas and one or two messed up moments of body horror.
Director: Ciaran Foy | Ireland/UK | 2012
This British horror has the originality, quality and emotional impact to help it stand out from the crowd. The first two thirds in particular are very strong, with more of a psychological slant looking at the protagonist’s agoraphobia, but things take a turn for the worse as the film turns into a more generic monster movie towards the end, turning his hooded assailants into something more sinister. Saying that, it’s still quite effective in its latter form and is an engrossing watch, I just felt it didn’t sit well against the first third. Allegorically, although heavy handed, it’s quite an interesting film. It could have been more subtle with its key message/theme though. Overall, Citadel is a fresh, decent horror film, but with a few tweaks it could have been exceptional.
Director: Dominic Brunt | UK | 2012
Like Harold’s Going Stiff last year, this is a film that uses the zombie sub genre to craft a more human drama, here about a husband and wife solving their relationship problems in a remote rural cottage during the ensuing apocalypse. While I didn’t find this quite as moving as Harold’s Going Stiff I still found it refreshing and effective. Some of the more generic horror sequences are shot and edited badly with horrible fast cutting shaky cam, but the core drama is strong and there are some powerful moments towards the end as well as two decent lead performances.
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead | USA | 2012
A clever, engrossing and original meta horror about a man forcing his old friend to go cold turkey to beat his drug addiction. It wasn’t as terrifying as promised, and could have done with a little more drama in places, but overall it’s a thought-provoking and fascinating look at storytelling with a number of mysterious and surreal elements that keep you glued to the screen throughout. These add a nicely creepy and unsettling atmosphere, but as mentioned it isn’t as scary as perhaps it would like to be. In other aspects the film is very strong though, with the two lead characters much more likeable and interesting than in most horror films largely due to pleasingly natural performances and great writing.
Director: Steve Stone | UK | 2012
This is a solid, simple ghost story where a TV crew follow a psychic to a mysterious abandoned building in Siberia where hundreds seem to have been kept prisoner for sinister reasons. This isn’t groundbreaking in any way and the script and direction veer from pedestrian to poor in places, but it delivers enough scares to remain an enjoyable watch. Interestingly, the director chooses to mix ‘found footage’ with standard filmmaking and this works aesthetically, but I wouldn’t say it felt justified. Attempts to make the story more human and dramatic don’t work amazingly well either, compared with some of the other films at the festival, but there’s enough meat there to keep you interested in the characters.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
Director: Rodrigo Gudino | Canada | 2012
Like Entity, this slow-burning haunted house film was rather straight forward and not amazingly original, but I felt this worked a little more effectively. It helped that I’m a big fan of gothic haunted house films, but I thought this had more subtlety and a well focussed theme of loneliness. It’s genuinely creepy too with plenty of effective scares. One of my few gripes would be with the voiceover from beyond the grave which bookends the film – the performance is weak for this and it kind of dragged. Also, the production values, although slick, have a bit of a TV feel to them which took a little away for me. Overall this was a nice old fashioned chiller though.
Director: Richard Bates Jr. | USA | 2012
Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is a strange, ugly, unpopular girl whose home life is no better than her school life, due to her overbearing mother and spineless father. She finds solace in her twisted blood-drenched fantasies and macabre interest in surgery. This is a wickedly funny pitch black comedy with some disturbing yet beautiful dream sequences. With some wonderful cult star casting (Traci Lords as the mother, John Waters as a priest and Malcolm MacDowell as a teacher) this isn’t your average tale of teen angst. I could see the end coming a mile off (although I think I’ve seen the short it was based on) and I didn’t find the dramatic elements as affecting as they could have been, but this is a sharply written and darkly entertaining film that fans of Heathers and Welcome to the Dollhouse should enjoy.