FrightFest’s Glasgow branch has been a strong part of the festival tradition, with a great range of shockers premiering to a full house of passionate but discerning genre fans. Day 1 offered up serial killers, cult horror, shocking traumas and furious Native American spirits, starting with the latter.
First up was Michael S Ojeda’s Savaged, in which deaf-mute Zoe (Amanda Adrienne) comes across two Native American men being murdered on her way through New Mexico to her boyfriend. She tries to help them, but falls foul of a monstrous band of racists instead. Zoe is kidnapped, tied up and endures the usual horrors that befall young women in these films, but escapes, barely alive, and is found by a shaman. The shaman restores her to health, but in the process accidentally binds the spirit of a furious chief to her. She promptly takes revenge on the men who wronged her, but is in a race against time, as her body is decaying fast.
Savaged aims for a comic-book sensibility, with James O’Barr’s The Crow obviously a big influence. However, for the most part the results are comedic rather than comic, with over-earnest dialogue and a progressively increasing level of ridiculousness rendering any attempt at sincerity a bit silly. Adrienne’s performance is strong, and the actors playing the monstrous rednecks attack their roles with a lot of energy, but the script is weak, essentially serving as a lead-in to a series of gruesome revenge killings that provide the film with its only real high points. It’s here that Ojeda’s sensibility works best, as Zoe plays tug-of-war with one of her attackers and his intestines, or takes a big bite out of a still-beating heart. It’s totally ludicrous and often misjudged, but bad film fans will find moments to enjoy.
Up next was a real key change, as Zack Parker’s Proxy took any lingering giggles and killed them dead. The writer-director took to the stage to introduce the film, declaring that he wanted to say as little as possible. This was definitely the right approach, and we’ll only discuss the premise in the most basic fashion. Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) is in the final stages of her pregnancy when she is brutally attacked, causing her to lose her baby. She subsequently attends a support group for some hope of comfort, where she meets the similarly grieving Melanie (Alexa Havins). She feels like she might have met a kindred spirit, but when secrets come to the surface the consequences are brutal.
With its focus on the trauma of losing a child and a relentlessly bleak outlook, Parker’s film will draw comparisons to that brief French Extreme New Wave, specifically Inside and Martyrs. It’s a fair match, but he’s much more interested in exploring the aftermath and repercussions rather than the traumatic incident itself. The attack on Esther is brutal but brief, while another act of violence later on is lingered on – not in a gratuitous fashion, but as a harsh reminder of the significance of the moment. Parker takes the time to explore consequences and how the lives of his characters are affected. It’s hardly a spoiler to note that he’s not interested in healing, but rather the growing rift between people and deepening mental wounds. The cast is superb, with Rasmussen’s underplayed, nuanced turn strongly reminiscent of Angela Bettis in May. Havins gives Melanie a glossy but fragile exterior, hinting at a whole world underneath her charming smile, while indie stalwart Joe Swanberg (You’re Next, A Horrible Way To Die) is on excellent form. With a run time of two hours, there is an argument for saying that it goes on a bit too long, but Parker’s determination to make us sit in his characters’ misery is hugely effective. Proxy is tough to get through, but ultimately worth the effort.
From psychic trauma to grievous bodily harm, the next film to play was Greg McLean’s long-awaited Wolf Creek 2. It’s been years since the project was announced, falling foul of financial issues, but it’s finally here. The question is, was it worth the wait? John Jarratt returns as outback nutjob Mick Taylor, who’s still using his skills gained while hunting pigs to track and torture helpless human prey. When a pair of German backpackers run into him, another chase begins that becomes increasingly bloody and chaotic.
McLean is obviously aware that he can’t play the same tricks again, and has instead brought a much bigger toy box filled with references and nods to everything from The Road Warrior to Babe. Straight off the bat, McLean goes for dark comedy, with an early blood-soaked, gag-filled murder getting a great reaction from the crowd. It’s a bit of a shame to see the character reduced to essentially an outback Freddy Krueger, especially as this is soon followed by an attack on the two German backpackers. The added humour sits uneasily with McLean’s continued interest in having Mick brutally assault young people. However, Wolf Creek 2 finds its groove with the addition of another character, an Englishman, who gets caught up in the chase. The director clearly enjoys stretching his action muscles, creating a great extended chase sequence, before deciding to throw everything into the pot. As things build to a bizarre finale that bears the influence of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, it’s fun to see a director willing to take chances with what is obviously his baby. It’s messy and inconsistent, and frankly the raw terror of its predecessor has dissipated almost entirely, but Wolf Creek 2 is surprisingly entertaining and never boring. It’s not more of the same; it’s something a bit different.
Ti West returned to the Glasgow Film Theatre to present The Sacrament, his found-footage take on a cult (or is it just a commune?) meltdown. We’ve already reviewed the film here, and while it might not match the heights of his near-perfect The House Of The Devil and The Innkeepers, it’s definitely worth a look. West’s continued status as a fixture of FrightFest is great to see, and he’s clearly a favourite with the crowd, a status he gave credence to by hanging around after the film to chat with fans and sign autographs.
After a teaser trailer for Blair Witch Project documentary The Woods Movie (it’s been 15 years since Blair Witch) and short film She, starring Fiona Dourif, the stage was set for the final film of the day: Clif Prowse and Derek Lee’s Afflicted. The found-footage horror had a great pitch: Chronicle with body horror. The writer-director duo star as Cliff and Derek, who decide to embark on a yearlong trip around the world when Derek discovers he has an AVM (look it up). A one-night stand in Paris leaves Derek bruised, bleeding and shaken, but when they reach a small town in Italy they realise that the AVM is no longer the main concern. He seems to have superhuman strength and speed, but refuses to eat and reacts badly to sunlight.
It’s great to report that Afflicted largely lives up to the Chronicle comparisons by understanding that a great pitch simply isn’t enough to make a great found-footage film. Prowse and Lee make sure that we care about the two leads with a cheery, funny first 15 minutes as the round-the-world trip is established as a YouTube adventure. After Derek’s unfortunate encounter with a beautiful but brutal French girl named Audrey (Baya Rehaz), the subsequent discovery of his new abilities is played with a combination of terror and excitement. The nerdy Cliff doesn’t waste any time ascribing him ‘superhero’ status, but he’s also horrified by the gruesome side effects (there’s some particularly effective projectile vomit). The second half shift builds on the relationship established in the first, as the script’s turn for the darker is impressive in its commitment. The final third is slightly less impressive, as the plot slows down to allow for the directors to show off the (very impressive) special effects. Although cracks start to show in the final third, Afflicted is a highly entertaining, inventive and likeable feature debut that ended the first day on a high note.
Day Two promises Video Nasties: Draconian Days, The Scribbler, Torment, Mindscape, Almost Human and Killers. We can’t wait…