Frightfest 2002 review

Day One
Has it really been a year? It barely seems like yesterday that I was joining the queue to get inside the Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square for last year’s Frightfest and yet here we are, one year on, and the third weekend long horror festival is upon us.

Catching up with a few old friends outside, I also bumped into a flustered Alan Jones, one of the hard working organisers as he fretted about getting things under way promptly. It was never going to happen of course, but he tried his best! Eventually, Alan took to the stage with his comrades in arms, Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray (who apparently had only just become a father a few hours before!) to introduce us to director Andrew Green who, in turn, introduced us to his film Nine Lives which had apparently only been completed the day before and which had only been seen by five other people before being unveiled to the Frightfest crowd.

FrightFest has set a commendable precedent for starting the festivities with a new British film – sadly, however, Nine Lives was not going to prove as palatable as The Lighthouse (1999) (which opened the very first Frightfest in 2000) or The Bunker (2000), which opened last year’s. Nine Lives is, it must be said, something of a chore to sit through – promoted as “Peter’s Friends meets The Others“, it was not asking too much to expect an old fashioned ghost story. Instead, we got a badly acted tale of a group of deeply unlikeable 20-somethings being possessed by a vengeful spirit in a bog-standard slasher movie. Green manages to pull off a few decent scares but is let down by a poorly paced script – the first 20 minutes or so is painfully dull – some dreadful dialogue and by truly terrible performances. Promised appearances by members of the cast never materialised, though that’s probably for the best.

Green is the only one to come out of this mess looking good – his camerawork is effective and some of the suspense scenes were particularly well done. But he’s not much of a scriptwriter and he really needs a more experienced and talented cast to help him out next time. It’s probably worth mentioning here that none of the organisers had actually seen Nine Lives before it was shown due it’s tight schedule – it was a brave decision to go ahead with it anyway, though it’s a shame that it didn’t really get the festival off to the flying start it needed.

Things could only get better and the next film was always going to be one of the most intriguing of the weekend. The main theme for this first night was one of directorial debuts – Bill Paxton has already established himself as an excellent and popular actor and his first outing in the canvas backed chair, Frailty (2001), looked particularly good. Thankfully, it delivered the goods in spectacular style – it’s a dark, disturbing and brilliantly acted tale of a deranged father who implicates his two young sons in his divine mission to eradicate ‘demons’ disguised as humans. The story is told in flashback, by his oldest son Fenton, who relates to an FBI investigator how his father had been visited by an angel who had given him a list of victims and how he and his younger brother Adam had been affected by their father’s crusade. But is Fenton all he claims to be, and what secrets are buried in the rose garden…?

Paxton proves himself to be every bit as good a director as he is an actor and coaxes excellent performances from his two young co-stars – he even achieves the unthinkable and gets a good showing from Matthew McConaughey! Brent Hanley’s script takes a number of unexpected twists and turns that, in lesser hands, might have stretched credibility somewhat. But in Paxton’s hands they work perfectly – at the end, we still don’t know if Dad’s crusade was based on a genuine visitation or whether he’d simply gone insane. The downbeat and sinister ending offers no clues and leaves the viewer genuinely unsettled – this is a film that’s going to be hard to shake off.

Good though it undoubtedly is, Frailty was topped by the next offering, the highlight of the evening, Jom Solan’s debut short Pissboy (2002), the hilarious tale of incontinence, infidelity, revenge and cross-dressing. Archibald Shanks is a vicious loan shark with an embarrassing problem – he simply can’t control his bladder. And it probably wasn’t the wisest desicion to start dating the Tourrets Syndrome suffering wife of the doctor who’s trying to treat you – especially as he’s rumbled you and has planted a particularly revolting hypnotic suggestion that will be triggered by a simple pager call… A work of genius, Pissboy is full of wonderful moments – it’s worth it if only for the hysterical Doctor Who spoof! – and Solan’s confident, dynamic direction marks him as a genuine talent to watch.

The first evening came to a close with the first of the weekend’s Asian offerings, The Princess Blade, here receiving its UK premiere. A huge hit in its native Japan, The Princess Blade stars Hideaki Ito as a member of the much feared Takemikazuchi clan, a band of ruthless assassins who stalk a near future Japan. Based on the excellent trailer, I had high hopes for this one – too high perhaps as it didn’t quite manage to live up to them. It’s certainly a stunning looking film and former scriptwriter Sato Shinsuke deserves full credit for some outstanding visuals. The briefly glimpsed future cityscapes are wonderful and contrast nicely with the beautifully shot rural scenery where most of the action takes place.

The action scenes are mostly top notch, as you’d expect from action choreographer Donnie Yen, though like far too many recent action films, it can’t resist copping a few moves occassionally from The Matrix (1999). Yumiko Shaku is fabulous in the title role, a vengeful 20 year old who flees from the Takemikazuchi when she learns that one of them murdered her mother, only to be relentlessly pursued by them, and the supporting cast all work well with the rather stereotypical roles they’re given.

But the film never quite delivers what it promises. The pacing is too uneven, the love story brings the film to a grinding halt, some of the fight scenes are rather too frenetically edited for their own good and the sub-plot involving political rebels and their violent action against the government seems sketchy and ill-defined. Add to that an apparent unwillingness to explain much about what’s going on or who some of the supporting characters are and you have a gorgeous looking film that doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It wasn’t wholly unlikeable but it could have been so much more.

It was a disappointing end to the first day of Frightfest 2002 but as the Prince Charles emptied at around 1:30 in the morning, we could console ourselves with the quality of tomorrow’s line-up. I’ll reserve judgment on Halloween: Resurrection – the trailer doesn’t bode well I’m afraid – but as the day kicks off with the amazing Donnie Darko, continues with the highly fancied new Hong Kong/Singaporean shocker The Eye and culminates with One Hour Photo (directed by Static (1985) director Mark Romanek and the first of two films this weekend featuring Robin Williams) and another British offering, My Little Eye, it should be a good one.

Day Two
Day two of Frightfest 2002 kicked off with another pair of short films, beginning with the latest offering from Razor Blade Smile (1998) director Jake West, the twisted crime thriller/love story Whacked. Photographed by Jim Solan, the director of yesterday’s Pissboy, it’s a taut, dynamic and enjoyably weird short boasting some excellent performances. Which is a lot more than can be said for the second of the day’s short films, Ruby (2002), the latest from Adam Mason. Why Frightfest should continue patronising Mason is something of a mystery -the first year saw them screening his tedious The Thirteenth Sign (2000) while last year’s Dust (2001) was by far and away the worst film of the entire weekend. This year, we thankfully only had to sit through a few minutes of his inane drivel. Nadja Brand stars (either as herself or as Ruby, it isn’t terribly clear), first of all railing against an internet critic who gave Dust a good drubbing (Frightfest is given a plug) before suddenly turning the tables on her paedophile partner by gorily hacking off chunks of his flesh.

The film ends giving the impression that Brand and Mason were venting their spleen on the Frightfest crowd that had so roundly rejected Dust last year, with Brand screaming into the camera “This is what you wanted to see!” while forcing the camera to keep focussed on the gore. Another muddled, pretentious and virtually unwatchable piece of nonsense from Mason.

The first feature of the day was one of my favourite films of the last few years, Richard Kelly’s extraordinary and unclassifiable Donnie Darko (2001). Fresh, inventive and aptly described by Alan Jones as one of the most important films in recent years, Donnie Darko really is quite incredible, and seeing it on the big screen was a real treat. Donnie is a disturbed young teen which a strange outlook on life. He’s visited periodically by a mutant, six foot tall rabbit called Frank who saves his life when he lures him outside one night just as the engine from a jet airliner crashes through the roof of his house. And then things start to get really weird…

Moving, intelligent and crying out to be watched over and over again, Donnie Darko announces first time writer-director Kelly as a real talent to watch for in the future. He manages to make a movie about teen angst that actually makes you care about its protagonists (no mean feat), forging bizarre but believable and likeable characters that are acted brilliantly by the cast. Kelly’s use of sound is reminiscent of David Lynch and his choice of 80s-period songs is exemplary, particularly a fantastic reworking by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews of Tears for Fears’ Mad World which accompanies a deeply moving montage near the climax.

Donnie Darko is going to be one of those films around which an enduring cult will gather in the coming years. It’s bewildering ending leaves scope for multiple interpretations – quite appropriate given the film’s interest in parallel universes – that will keep its steadily growing army of fans debating for a long time to come. A truly remarkable film and one of the most inventive and original things we’re going to see all weekend.

Another short film came next, the 3 minute Sacrifice from John Richards. It starts with what looks like a Wicker Man inspired ritual in a Welsh village church, a baby ominously being offered to a naked woman on an altar, apparently to be sacrificed. The ending however reveals the truth which is hilariously unexpected.

The Pang Brothers’ The Eye was up next and proved once again that when it comes to supernatural horror, no-one is doing better than Asian cinema at the moment. Mun has been blind since the age of two but undergoes a corneal transplant that restores her sight, but at a cost – not everyone she can now see are still alive…

The Pangs had previously helmed the high-octane crime thriller Bangkok Dangerous (1999) and The Eye is their first horror film – let’s hope it’s not to be their last. Aided enormously by Angelica Lee’s excellent central performance, The Pangs have taken elements from The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Mothman Prophecies (2001) and created something that seems new and original. Rarely for this sort of thing, the ghosts are genuinely frightening – the old man in the lift is particularly creepy but the terrifying ghost in the classroom, demanding to know why Mun is sitting in her chair, provided the most potent scare of the weekend.

What sets The Eye apart from the many other supernatural horrors currently pouring out of the east is the attention the Pang brothers pay to their characters. The film simply wouldn’t work if Mun hadn’t have been such a well drawn and sensitively acted character. We needed to believe fully in her before we could believe fully in what she was experiencing and the brothers, together with Lee, do a commendable job.

The apocalyptic climax is as astonishing as it is unexpected, perfectly complementing the equally unpredictable beginning which caused some consternation among the crowd – the shock opening has been specially modified for the DVD release and has the same heart-stopping effect on the small screen! Look out for some of the directorial subtleties – the ghostly figures seen lurking at the edge of the frame, or the distorted face reflected in the windows of a speeding train.

Probably the most unsettling moment of the weekend so far was to be found in a hilarious collection of trailers and advertisements dug up from the Prince Charles’ vaults which were screened as a curtain-raiser to the latest instalment of the Halloween saga. Mid-way through this mixed bag of coming attractions (for the Val Guest sex comedy The Au Pair Girls (1972) and a very strange one for Star Wars (1977 – though the trailer is curiously copyrighted 1976)) comes a road safety advert featuring 60s and 70s radio DJ Jimmy Saville, who will mean little to non-UK readers but who is well know to British TV viewers for his long-running “dreams-come-true” TV show Jim’ll Fix It (1975-1994). This jaw-dropping piece features Saville sporting one of his more ludicrous haircuts slimily smarming up to a young girl in a hospital bed whose face has been horribly disfigured in a car crash! 1Note that this was originally written before the extent of Savile’s sex abuse became widely known.

Halloween: Resurrection is the eighth instalment in the series and picks up a few years after Halloween H2O (1998), deftly, if clumsily and not entirely convincingly, explaining how Michael Myers had survived and how Laurie Strode is now incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital dreading her little brother’s return. The first ten minutes – which finds director Rick Rosenthal back in the hospital milieu he explored in Halloween II (1981) – are rather good, but sadly it soon falls apart with the arrival of Busta Rhymes as an internet entrepreneur who is planning a live webcast from the old Myers house in Haddonfield. Predictably, Michael returns home and the body count begins to rise…

Tired, dull and predictable, Halloween: Resurrection really is scrapping the bottom of the barrel and it’s now long past time to let Michael hang up his knife and enjoy a well deserved retirement. The webcast idea may have worked had Rosenthal been able to make his mind up how he was going to present the film – he constantly jumps back and forth between straight narrative, Blair Witch Project style shakycam footage, Big Brother inspired voyeurism and even, briefly, the split screen technique seen in Mike Figgis’ Timecode (2000). Sticking to any one of these techniques would have been enough, but Rosenthal constantly jumps backwards and forwards to little effect. The ‘surprise’ ending (yeah, like we didn’t see that one coming…) suggests that this time next year, we’ll be settling down for chapter nine – not a very palatable thought at all.

After a short animated science fiction film, the well made but uninvolving Daddy by Stephen Cavalier, we came to the first of the weekend’s two films starring Robin Williams. Normally it would take the proverbial team of wild horses to drag me into any cinema showing anything starring Williams, but this one, One Hour Photo, had the distinction of being the first feature film for seventeen years from Mark Romanek, director of the fabulous Static (1985), who has spent the intervening years making rock promos for the likes of Madonna, Nine Inch Nails and R.E.M.

It just goes to show how ridiculous petty prejudices can be – not only is One Hour Photo an awesome piece of work, it’s also Williams’ best performance to date. He plays the sad and lonely Sy Parrish, an employee for eleven years at a one hour photo concession. Having no friends or family of his own, Sy has ‘borrowed’ one, the Yorkins whose photographs he has been processing for many years. Plastering the walls of his apartment with a collection of the family’s photographs, Sy soon starts to stalk Nina Yorkin and constructs a whole fantasy life around the family, coming to see himself as the kindly Uncle Sy. But when another customer’s photos reveal the truth about Nina’s husband Will, Sy’s vision of the perfect family crumbles and he starts to plan his revenge…

Williams is an absolute revelation here – compelling and utterly believable he pulls off the performance of a lifetime, making us both care for Sy and fear him at the same time. His subtle underplaying makes Sy one of the most creepy and unforgettable screen psychos ever – the increasingly tiresome Michael Myers just doesn’t come close! Indeed, he’s so good that only a few minutes into the film, you completely forget that you’re even watching Williams – he’s almost unrecognisable here and let’s hope that his recent taste for darker roles keeps in him in gainful employment for the rest of his career.

It will always be a mystery why Romanek took so long to get another feature off the ground but the wait has certainly been worth it. Commendably, Romanek avoids the usual clichés brought to features by those who have spent too much time in the promo industry – there’s none of the frenetic cross-cutting or desperate camera angles we’re used to here, just good old-fashioned storytelling, beautifully shot and hauntingly acted. This really is something very special indeed.

Day two of Frightfest ended with the British/French/US co-production My Little Eye, the second film of the day to use a webcast as its central conceit. Director Marc Evans was on hand to be interviewed from the stage by Alan Jones and introduced it as an “experiment in unpleasantness.” A group of five young people retire to a remote and snowbound house where they have to live together for six months under the constant scrutiny of a battery of webcams – if any one of them leaves, they will all forfeit the one million dollar prize money. But as the experiment comes to an end they begin to suspect that they’ve been set up for something they could never even have dreamed of…

Shot entirely by a the surveillance cameras dotted around the house and from a few hidden lenses inside household objects – most creepily from inside a torch – My Little Eye looks quite unlike anything else we’ve seen so far this weekend. It was an experiment that Evans himself admitted restricted him – there are no cutaway shots or POVs for example – but he still manages to make one of the tensest and most unsettling films of the weekend. It’s impossible to discuss the film in any detail without giving away the salient plot twists but suffice to say that it’s a must-see film that has trailed controversy behind it over the last few months. It had premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival but apparently distributors Universal have got cold feet and are unsure about releasing it.

Which would be a tragedy as this is definitely a film that deserves the widest possible audience. Deeply unsettling, its startling imagery stays with you long after it’s fantastically twisty ending. Evans said during his interview that he had another horror film lined up as his next project – I for one am waiting with bated breath.

Day Three
The third day of Frightfest 2002 began with Alan Jones taking to the stage with some excellent news – the day was going to end with an unscheduled bonus, the chance to see the first 20 minutes of the new Danny Boyle post-apocalypse thriller 28 Days Later… (2002). We were then due to watch the directorial debut of Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie, whose short Whistle was supposed to be getting the day’s proceedings under way. Sadly, a glitch with the Prince Charles’ digital projection system mean that we were going to have to wait and instead, the day kicked off with Swimfan (2002) which, as Alan Jones noted, was effectively a world premiere as it wasn’t due to open in the States for another two weeks.

I hadn’t really expected too much of Swimfan which was being pushed as a teenage variation on Fatal Attraction, so I wasn’t overly disappointed when it turned out to be a rather dull and forgettable thriller. It’s well enough made – the photography in particular is impressive and it’s slickly directed and surprisingly well acted – but it never really engages the way a good thriller should.

Jesse Bradford plays Ben, an outstanding swimmer who seems to have it all – a beautiful girlfriend, Amy (Shiri Appleby), a solid group of friends and a bright future ahead of him if he can impress the talent scouts from Stanford university who are due to visit his college in a few days. But then he meets the beautiful Madison (Erika Christensen), a new student, who seduces him in the pool one night. This one moment of weakness changes everything as Ben finds himself being stalked by the clearly deranged and obsessive Madison.

Director John Polson gives the film a slick, glossy look, but he never manages to quite convince us of what’s going on. The cast do their best with derivative and under-developed material but the script relies too heavily on people simply not being able to see what Madison is doing which stretches credibility too far at times.

Far better was the aforementioned Whistle which we finally got to see when the digital projection system came back on line. Jones’ confident and assured debut is a science fiction thriller about a hi-tech assassin who uses satellites to target his victims in London from his home in Switzerland. But when a mission goes tragically wrong, the assassin is so consumed by guilt that he abandons his family to travel to London only to find that he has become the next target…

One of the hallmarks of this year’s Frightfest has been the generally high standard of the shorts on offer and Whistle proved to be the best so far, boasting a strong cast, an intriguing story and a fantastic closing shot. Jones is another director whose future could well be bright and rewarding – here’s hoping that someone bankrolls his debut feature very soon.

Equally impressive was Christopher Morris harrowing 3 Minutes of Torture, based on a true story of wartime atrocity that is absolutely impossible to discuss without entirely ruining it. Suffice to say that these are among the most powerful three minutes of film you’ll see this year and, although I’m sure we’re all aware of the shameful difficulty in accessing short films, it’s one you should definitely go out of your way to track down.

Alan Jones took personal responsibility for the day’s second feature film, having selected Tuno negro (2002) after seeing it at this year’s Fantasporto Festival in Portugal. A smart and clever slasher, Tuno negro is far better than the negative reviews it’s received in its native Spain would suggest. A killer dubbed Tuno Negro (the Dark Minstrel) is roaming Spain slaughtering students who fail to pass their exams. Alex, newly arrived at the University of Salamanca, starts to receive threatening emails and internet chat messages from the killer and teams up with several other students to find out who’s behind the killings.

Clearly inspired by both Dario Argento’s gialli and Scream (1996), Tuno negro‘s tongue is never far from its cheek as it plays clever games with audience expectations. An excellent performance from Silke as the resourceful Alex holds together a refreshingly strong cast and the direction by Pedro L. Barbero and Vicente J. Martín rarely puts a foot wrong. Anyone who claims to have guessed the secret identity of the killer is lying – the ending is the film’s best shock and it’s perhaps no surprise that Tuno nego 2 is already in production.

Two of the titles that I’d been most highly anticipating were up next. Director Jeremy Dyson and star Mark Gatiss, two thirds of television’s wonderful The League of Gentlemen (1999-2017), were on hand to introduce Dyson’s debut short film, The Cicerones from a short story by Robert Aickman. Dyson cited the BBC’s A Ghost Story For Christmas series as a primary influence and there was a hint from Gatiss that the BBC’s once traditional Christmas Day ghost story may be on its way back – let’s hope he’s right. The Cicerones, just 12 minutes long, begins well with Gatiss cast as an Englishman abroad, exploring an Eastern European church where he hopes to find a particular painting. Instead, he meets a group of extremely strange and really rather worrying people…

Sadly, The Cicerones doesn’t quite work. Gatiss’ exploration of the church has some creepy moments and there’s an unsettling atmosphere throughout, but the ending doesn’t really work and feels decidedly anti-climactic. It’s clear though, both from the film itself, the often grotesque goings-on in Royston Vasey and by comments made from the stage, that both Gatiss and Dyson love horror and one can only hope that they give the genre another shot – preferably as part of any revival of the TV Christmas ghost story.

One of the great joys of the past few years has been the chance to catch up with the back catalogue of the Japanese director Hideo Nakata, still best known in the West for the first two Ring movies, but also director of the superb thriller Kaosu (1999) and an earlier, rarely seen ghost story, Joyuu-rei (1996). Dark Water (2002) – based, like Ring (1998), on a novel by Koji Suzuki – is his latest offering and sees him back in Ring territory with another terrifying tale of a young child returning from the dead.

A recently divorced woman, Yoshimi (a cracking performance from Hitomi Kuroki) and her her young daughter Ikoku (Rio Kanno) move into a new apartment only to find that the entire block seems to be dangerously waterlogged. A small damp patch on their bedroom ceiling grows at an alarming rate, it’s always raining and a child’s bright red satchel keeps turning up on the roof, no matter how many times it’s thrown out into a rubbish bin. Someone appears to be running around in the flat upstairs, but no-one seems to live there since the woman who lived there ran off, leaving her young daughter Mitsuko alone – until she too mysteriously disappeared…

It’s been a long time since I’ve been this genuinely terrified by a film. Dark Water almost seems at times like an even creepier reworking of Ring – both films feature young girl ghosts, a watery grave and a mother and child being targeted by the haunting presence. But, much as I adore Ring, Dark Water far surpasses that earlier film and firmly establishes Nakata as – in the words of fellow Frightfester Steve Jenkins – “the master of the ghost story.”

But as well as being flat-out scary, Dark Water is also deeply affecting – the epilogue in particular is achingly sad and the mother-daughter relationship is beautifully drawn, easily the most convincing study of a mother’s all-encompassing love for her child ever filmed. Yoshimi battles not only the supernatural in her efforts to make a better life for her daughter, but also an uncaring ex-husband and a sense of isolation and loneliness that makes her climactic and heart-breaking decision in the elevator all the more moving. Yoshimi is a tragic figure trapped in a world far more terrifying than any supernatural manifestation and it’s predicament that makes the film all the more effective. By far and away the best film of the festival so far, Dark Water is being released in the UK soon by Metro Tartan – hopefully the rest of the world will pick up this amazing film soon.

Author Patrick McGrath was on hand to introduce David Cronenberg’s adaptation of his novel Spider (2002), the story of a schizophrenic man, Dennis ‘Spider’ Clegg, who is released from psychiatric hospital and goes to live in a halfway house in the East End of London, not far from his childhood home. There, he strats trying to make sense of the traumatic childhood events that led to his current condition – his father murdered his mother and replaced her with a tarty lookalike. But how reliable are Spider’s memories and is the blurring of fact and fantasy concealing a much more upsetting truth?

One thing you can always rely on is that a David Cronenberg film – even his worst – will be daring, innovative and unpredictable and Spider is no exception. It’s his best film for years, with an outstanding performance from Ralph Fiennes whose portrayal of Spider is the best depiction of schizophrenia we’ve ever seen in a film. Virtually the entire film takes place in Spider’s fractured psyche as he trawls his unreliable memories in search of the truth about what happened to his mother. It demands the audience’s full attention throughout and rewards them with a film quite unlike the rest of Cronenberg’s work. The supporting cast are also excellent (particularly Miranda Richardson who takes on three roles as Spider’s confusion over his mother deepens) but all are overshadowed by Fiennes’ astonishing performance.

Spider seems to have effectively split the critics between those who love it and those who who are simply left cold by it. Which is pretty much what you’d expect from Cronenberg, who has the ability to polarise his audience like no other director. The slow, deliberate pacing of Spider won’t be to everyone’s taste and the need to pay close attention to what we’re seeing will alienate many. But Spider is a film that deserves a chance – approach it with an open mind and you’ll find one of the most intriguing and original films of the year.

Patrick McGrath returned to the stage for an all-too-brief and fascinating questions and answers session where he fielded audience questions (he dealt with the comparison to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman with commendable good humour!) and explained some of the subtleties of bothhis script and screenplay.

The day ended with that bonus attraction, the chance to see an almost complete assembly of the first reel of Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic epic 28 Days Later… Boyle and his his long-time producer Andrew Macdonald (they’ve worked together on everything from Boyle’s debut, Shallow Grave (1994)) were on hand to introduce the film, noting that the sound wasn’t quite right yet and that there were a few fixes to be made to the visuals.

Even here, in a relatively rough form, and with only the opening 20 minutes to go on, 28 Days Later… is shaping up as something quite special. The film opens with a group of animal activists trying to free a group of apes from a research lab, not realising that they’ve been infected by what a lab assistant calls “rage.” The liberation attempt goes horribly wrong when one of their number is bitten by a chimp and becomes a snarling, blood-spitting maniac who turns on her colleagues.

Cut to Jim (Cillian Murphy), lying naked on a hospital bed and hooked up to drips and monitors, He wakes to find himself alone, the hospital completely deserted as, it seems, is most of London. While exploring the abandoned city, he finds a church full of dead bodies and a group of deranged victims of the virus who pursue him through the streets. He’s rescued by a group of apparently uninfected survivors who fire bomb the pursuing maniacs before blowing up a petrol station. And then…

…the reel ends and the Prince Charles echoed to the sound of dozens of anguished groans from the crowd! It’s impossible, of course, to judge accurately from a not-quite-completed reel I’ll stick my neck out and suggest that 28 Days Later… is going to be the genre movie event of the next few months. It opens in the UK at the beginning of November but in the meantime be sure to check out the trailer at the official site (which makes excellent use of Brian Eno’s haunting An Ending (Ascent) from the Apollo Soundtracks album).

The third day of Frightfest 2002 has been the strongest so far – only Swimfan really failed to rise to the occasion but the rest – particularly Dark Water and Spider – more than made up for it. Day Four has a potentially very strong line up, but it’s going to have its work cut out to top today’s outstanding offerings.

Day Four
Just four more features to go and Frightfest will be over for another year. Having succumbed to the lure of sleep – there’s been precious little of that this weekend – I was running a bit late and barely took my seat in time for the first short, the Alice in Wonderland flavoured O (2002) by Jonathan Beamish. Based loosely on the Greek myth of Persephone, the director (who was on hand to introduce it) claimed that it made allusions to all kinds of child welfare issue, but if they were there, they were well hidden beneath the surreal imagery.

The first feature of the day was another offering from the staggeringly prolific (and probably certifiably mad!) Miike Takashi. Forget everything else you’ve ever seen and leave all preconceptions at the door – Happiness of the Katakuris is absolutely unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. A jaw-dropping horror musical (complete with claymation sequences, a Japanese pretending to be a member of the British royal family and some corking spoofs of The Sound of Music and The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Katakuris is one of those films that really does have to be seen to be believed. Certainly any attempt at a coherent synopsis is probably doomed to failure – it all has something to do with a luckless extended family who set up a guest house in the wilds of Japan in the shadow of a rumbling volcano. The guests have a habit of dropping dead within minutes of checking in, leaving the family with a seemingly never-ending series of corpses to dispose of.

Unclassifiable and hugely entertaining, Katakuris got the day off to a riotous start, one greatly appreciated by the very vocal crowd who really seemed to be getting into it. There simply isn’t anything quite like this anywhere, though amazingly it’s a remake of a Korean film, Choyonghan kajok (1998) – I doubt the original could be anywhere near as bewildering, inventive and downright funny as Takashi’s reworking, possibly the maddest film I’ll see this year.

All weekend, director Julien Magnat had been mingling with the crowds in anticipation of the first UK screening of his debut feature, Bloody Mallory (2002), worryingly described in advance as “Buffy meets Indiana Jones” – as I’m one of the few yet to warm to the questionable charms of Buffy (I just can’t get into a soap opera about a 20-something necrophile) it wasn’t really a pitch guaranteed to raise my expectations. But if Buffy was only a tenth as much fun as Bloody Mallory, it might actually be worth watching.

Sexy Olivia Bonamy stars as Mallory who axes her husband to death on their wedding night when he turns out to be a demon in human guise, then spends years working as part of the Anti-Paranormal Commando Unit, tracking down and eradication supernatural creatures of all kinds. She’s accompanied on her travels by the transexual explosives expert Vena Cava and young Talking Tina, a mute telepath who can transplant her psyche into any living creature. When the fallen angel Abbadon leads a pack of ghouls in an attack on a convent, then kidnaps the Pope, Mallory and her team are called in to sort out the mess.

Magnat made Bloody Mallory for a piffling 2 million Euros, yet the lack of budget rarely shows – there’s inventiveness by the bucketload and some glorious gags; Vena Cava’s machine gun equipped boots are hilarious, though the best is saved for the very end. For those Frightfesters who left as soon as the credits started to roll, you missed out on a brief return appearance by the main villainess, Lady Valentine, now masquerading as a famous well-dwelling, video-obsessed girl from a popular series of Japanese horror films…

There’s never a dull moment in Bloody Mallory and the cast give it all they’ve got to excellent effect – Bonamy in particular is fantastic as Mallory, a sort of grown-up Buffy with attitude, but even she’s given a run for her money by Jeffrey Ribier as the amazing Vena Cava. Great characters, top notch action and fantastic monsters (Morphine is particulary impressive) make Bloody Mallory a hyper-kinetic treat, one not to be missed.

Having already cast my Robin Williams prejudices to one side after Saturday night’s One Hour Photo, I was looking forward to Christopher Nolan’s remake of Insomnia much more than I had been before the festival began. And what’s this…? Another excellent performance from Williams? Looks like I need to sign that cheque for membership to the Robin Williams fan club straight away…

Williams is undeniably very good in another dark role as a writer of mystery novels implicated in the murder of a teenager in the frozen wastes of Alaska, but he’s blown away completely by Al Pacino as a Los Angeles cop with a troubled past, under investigation by Internal Affairs, unable to sleep in the constant daylight and suffering horrendous guilt after he shoots and kills his partner while pursuing the killer. It’s almost superfluous these days to praise a Pacino performance as the man can seemingly do no wrong – here he’s simply astounding and one can only agree with Alan Jones’ comment that this Academy Award nomination material. Nolan shows, after the convoluted Following (1998) and the reverse narrative of Memento (2000) that he’s just at home with a straight-forward, linear narrative and he confirms his reputation as one of the best directors of suspense currently of his generation. After the screening, Nolan himself took to the stage for a fascinating interview conducted by Alan Jones, and also fielded questions posed by the audience. Nolan came across as a thoughtful and literate man, deeply passionate about his work, and one full of praise for his excellent cast.

Frightfest 2002 finally came to an end – 15 features, 1 one-reel preview and 9 short films later – with its 16th and final film of the weekend, Ted Bundy (2002), the second in a proposed trilogy of serial killer movies from Matthew Bright, the first of which, Ed Gein (2000), played at the very first Frightfest. The film was intoduced by Bright, producer Hamish McAlpine and supporting actress Alexa Jago.

Curiously, Bright seems to have played the story of America’s most brutal serial killer, an outwardly charming and very intelligent man who claimed the lives of at least 150 young women, as a black comedy. The humour sits uneasily with the brutality of the killings (shockingly well staged here) but is mostly redeemed by Matthew Reilly Burke’s excellent portrayal of Bundy. But the strange, almost indecisive tone of the film works against it, reducing the film to just another slasher movie. Although it’s certainly watchable and never dull, and at least tries to stick to some of the facts (there are the inevitable omissions and distortions), Ted Bundy never really quite makes the grade.

In their introduction, Bright and McAlpine noted that some critics have interpreted the ending as a vote of sympathy for Bundy. Certainly it skates very close to that, though to be fair to them, it may just be that they were just trying to humanise Bundy, to make him no different to you or I – the point is that Ted Bundy wasn’t a monster, he was just the boy next door who did some atrocious things. It’s a tricky and dangerous game to play and Bright only just manages to pull it off.

And so it was all over for another year. The third Frightfest turned out to be the biggest and best yet. In their opening statement, the organisers noted that diversity was the key to this year’s line-up and they weren’t wrong – the beauty of this year’s line-up was that if one film left you cold, the next one was bound to be so different that it would more than make up for it. Not that there were that many causes for complaint with this year’s selection of titles. To sum up:

The Good: Frailty, Donnie Darko, The Eye, One Hour Photo, Tuno negro, Dark Water (my personal favourite of all the films shown this weekend), Spider, Happiness of the Katakuris, Bloody Mallory and Insomnia.

The Bad: Nine Lives and Halloween: Resurrection.

The Indifferent: The Princess Blade, Swimfan and Ted Bundy.

It just remains to thank Kasia, Steve and Pete for their company throughout the weekend and also to thank everyone who came over and said hello between films. But most of all, a big thanks to Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray for their tireless efforts to put on another outstanding show. Having seen close up just a fraction of the hard work these guys put into getting Frightfest together, I’m even more impressed by the fantastic job they do. Frightfest has now firmly established itself as the yardstick by which all other genre festivals in the UK must be judged – and they simply don’t get any better than this!