FrightFest 2005 review

Day One
A new location. Extended running hours. And a genuine, honest-to-God living legend in attendance. Welcome to FrightFest 2005!

After five happy years at the Prince Charles Cinema, this year FrightFest relocated into Leicester Square itself giving it, as co-organiser Alan Jones pointed out, the feeling of a proper film festival. To be honest, I had some concerns about the move – the intimacy of the Prince Charles had added to the atmosphere in previous years and the move into a bigger, slicker venue seemed somehow wrong. Yet right from the off the move into the Odeon West End turned out to be a fantastic decision – excellent sound and picture quality, a huge stage for the guests (a bit of a pain for people in the front row though I should imagine) and a lot more space for the organisers, guests and fans to mingle in. If we could only do away with the incessant bag checking and get them to turn the lights on during the Q&As it would be perfect…

Day One of the 2005 event was turned over almost exclusively to George A. Romero to celebrate the arrival of his first zombie movie in two decades. On arrival, co-organiser Ian Rattray quickly urged me to get into the auditorium for a surprise – several Greg Nicotero made-up zombies roaming around looking suitably nasty! The bulk of the first day was taken up with retrospective screenings of the first three of Romero’s Dead films, all projected from DVD. Alan got the ball rolling with a quick introduction during which he was attacked by one of the zombies (“Just what I’ve always wanted!” he cried as the zombie closed in for the kill) and it was into a slightly fuzzy projection of the classic Night of the Living Dead (1968). We all knew it off by heart of course, but that didn’t stop it being greeted by thunderous applause and, even if the image was rather soft, it was wonderful to see what some of still hold to be the single most important genre film of the latter half of the 20th century on the big screen.

After far too short a break came Dawn of the Dead (1978) looking much sharper and inevitably greeted with near hysteria in some quarters. I still maintain that it’s a vastly over-rated film (it’s still too flabby and that mid-section is torturous…) but it was great to see it on the big screen for the first time since I last caught it on a one-week run at a local flea-pit on the Isle of Wight back in 1980 – supported by, of all things, The Great British Striptease (1980) starring Bernard Manning and some very ropey looking strippers…

Another way-too-short interval (thankfully we got better breaks later in the day) followed before a beautiful screening (apparently from the excellent Anchor Bay Region 1 disc) of Day of the Dead, still, for me, the best of the series. The gorgeous presentation made this even more of an experience and there seemed to be even more people in attendance for this one than for the previous two films – not bad for a film which had been so roundly slated twenty years ago!

The film was followed by the first highlight of the day – and indeed one of the best things I’ve ever seen at any FrightFest – a lengthy talk and presentation by legendary special effects make up wizard Gregory Nicotero. An affable and energised motormouth, Nicotero hit the stage running and kept the crowd suitably entertained for at least half an hour as he shot through virtually his entire career in make up, tossing out some brutally honest assessments along the way, especially when he rightly pronounced Cursed (2004) as the piece of shit it is (“Sorry…” he muttered at one point).

Part of the presentation comprised an 18 minute show reel that the newly founded UK wing of Nicotero’s company, KNB, sends out to prospective clients showing off some of their work. Sadly, because the tape was in NTSC format, it projected in black and white but it was worth it nonetheless. There were the to-be-expected clips from Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992) as well as some tantalisingly brief shots from behind the scenes on Sin City (2005) and the forthcoming The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005). But the best bits were undoubtedly the many test shots of gags from Land of the Dead, many of which were shot for the final film but which won’t even be making the unrated DVD cut. Particularly impressive was the gag Nicotero seemed (justifiably) the most proud of, a spectacular new technique that allowed him and his team to film multiple zombie bites in the same shot – hard to explain but incredible to watch and rightly greeted with rapturous applause for an appreciative crowd. Given that this reel will never be released on DVD, those in attendance at FrightFest would be the only members of the general public to ever see this unique and fascinating footage.

Nicotero ended his slot by pulling out three of the prosthetic zombie heads from Land of the Dead and very generously (and trustingly!) handing them round for the audience to play with! Already something of a legend in fan circles, Nicotero no doubt won some new fans and friends with his laid-back, enthusiastic manner and wealth of fantastic anecdotes.

We finally got that longer break we all so desperately needed and everyone wandered off, zombies in slow-motion pursuit, for food and drink before reconvening for the big film of the day. Alan introduced it as the start of FrightFest proper before bringing on stage what he hailed as a “living dead legend”, the very wonderful George A. Romero. The reception was, predictably, ecstatic and Romero seemed genuinely moved by it. He was on stage for a only a few minutes to say a few words about the film, and then we were into Land of the Dead, the long awaited and much delayed fourth entry in the Dead sequence.

During the summer of 2005, the Internet seemed abuzz with negative word on Land and I really wasn’t sure what I was going to make of it – he may have made The Crazies (1973), Martin (1977) and the Dead trilogy but his recent record hasn’t been great. In fact, since 1992’s so-so The Dark Half, he’s only managed to direct one film, the frankly terrible Bruiser (2000).

It’s particularly pleasing then to report that the internet has got it wrong again and that the grand old master is well and truly back on form. Land of the Dead may be louder, faster, shallower and more superficial than the previous Dead films but it’s a damn fine effort in its own right. Forsaking the relentless bleakness of Day of the Dead – it feels more comfortable to imagine the events of Land taking place some time between Dawn and Day Land imagines a post-zombie world where the surviving humans have sealed themselves into a heavily fortified city while the zombies, variously known as ‘stenches’ or ‘walkers’ are left to fend for themselves in the countryside. But all is not well in the human city as the wealthy elite barricade themselves into the luxury tower block Fiddler’s Green and the poor forage for what they can in the streets below, constantly facing the threat of imminent zombie attack. Meanwhile, out in the surrounding countryside, the stenches are evolving and under the leadership of one particularly clever specimen, a zombie army is marching on the city…

Early drafts of the Land of the Dead script – then titled Dead Reckoning – didn’t really strike me as being all that inspiring; the central conceit of a huge, zombie killing battletruck seemed too reminiscent of… well, the dreadful Battletruck/Warlords of the 21st Century (1982). But Romero has done a fantastic job in transferring a rather suspect idea to the screen in some style – the emphasis is much more on action here than it ever was in the earlier Dead films and Romero proves himself as adept at the big set-pieces as he is at the more metaphorical aspects of the film.

The post-apocalyptic society is well realised and Romero finally got to use some of the ideas that he’d had for Day but which had to remain unfilmed until now when that film fell foul of budget restrictions. The cast is excellent, particularly Simon Baker, Robert Joy and Asia Argento, but their thunder is well and truly stolen by an under-used but utterly brilliant Dennis Hopper (looking curiously like Christopher Lee from some angles) as the ruthless leader of the exclusive Fiddler’s Green community.

The film certainly doesn’t skimp on the violence – a fact not evident from the film’s 15 certificate from the now more relaxed and lenient British Board of Film Censors – and some of the gags got hearty rounds of applause, none more so than the hilarious bit with the apparently headless priest. It’s not nearly as blood-drenched as Dawn or Day but it still delivers the goods and the promised unrated DVD release should be a joy to behold.

Romero returned to the stage after the screening to a hero’s welcome and he was remarkably candid and really rather charming during a Q&A session with Nicotero and the film’s producer Mark Canton. Although some of the audience questions meandered a bit (as they disappointingly tend to do at FrightFest – there were plans afoot on the FrightFest forum to try to sabotage these kind of meanderings but it didn’t seem to come to anything!) but Romero, Nicotero and Canton were great value as they gave their opinions on everything from Land of the Dead to Resident Evil (2002) to the scourge of remakes.

Having just seen Ji-woon Kim’s Dalkomhan insaeng/A Bittersweet Life (2005) the night before, I decided to bail out of this one and instead repaired to a nearby pub to gatecrash a leaving party for someone leaving my day job and to catch up with the newest member of the EOFFTV family instead. A Bittersweet Life is a super stylish revenge thriller of the sort that the Koreans do so well – gangland hitman Sun-woo falls in love with girlfriend of his crimelord boss after he’s assigned to keep tabs on her and find out if she’s having an affair. When Sun-woo decides to let the woman’s lover live, he sets in motion a chain of events that leads to some quite astonishing mayhem and bloodshed.

Dark, atmospheric and relentless, A Bittersweet Life is further proof that the South Koreans have raised the bar on action cinema and that the rest of the world is struggling to catch up. The noir-influenced photography gives the film an elegant sheen, the acting is first-rate throughout and if the pace sometimes flags, the set-pieces more than compensate. The first of the weekend’s Asian offerings was a good choice though it’s hard to gauge the reaction of the audience as I wasn’t there to watch it with them.

After a quick chat with a clearly very tired but happy co-organiser Paul McEvoy (justifiably very pleased with the way the move to the new venue had gone) it was time for the last film of a very long day, a midnight screening of Jake West’s Evil Aliens. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through it to be honest – I’m not a fan of his previous offering, the disappointing Razor Blade Smile (1998) and, by now feeling the debilitating effects of alcohol and tiredness, things were looking dicey to say the least.

The fact that I managed to stay awake and reasonably entertained throughout probably says it all, though to be honest I’m at a loss to explain why. Evil Aliens is as daft as they come, brimming over with low-brow humour and low-rent gross-out effects but it’s something of a mess – there’s no plot to speak of, just lots of people wandering about looking for an invasion force of Predator-like aliens. Playing like a British remake of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987), it manages to keep the gags coming thick and fast and the blood flowing nicely, mostly distracting you from the fact that nothing much is actually happening. And it stars Emily Booth, something of a goddess around these parts, so that certainly helped no end.

West was on hand with most of his cast – though sadly Booth was in Thailand and couldn’t be there as we’d thought she would be – to introduce the film and answer questions afterwards and the film was generally well greeted by a tired crowd of die-hards. It was certainly fun, though it did outstay its welcome and whether you’d ever want to watch it a second time is debatable – unless you’re as obsessed with Emily Booth as some of us are…

And so the first day of FrightFest 2005 came to an end – aptly named Dead Day, it was an epic that saw the worn-out punters shuffling off into the night like extras from a Romero film and I’m sure that most of them, like me, would be well pleased with what they’d seen. Day two is dawning as I type (the most I can hope for tonight is three hours sleep!) and is already looking good – the latest from Dario Argento, a documentary on the ‘video nasties’, more Asian horror, Scottish werewolves and the return of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ murderous rednecks. Let’s just hope we can all stay the course!

Day Two
The second day of FrightFest 2005 began with an announcement from the stage from Alan Jones that one of the planned films for Sunday, Anthony C. Ferrante’s Boo!, hadn’t turned up so would be replaced by the latest thriller from Wes Craven, Red Eye – and there was the faint chance that Craven himself would turn up. He also told us that at 5:00 on the Sunday they were going to try something that they’d never done before – a live satellite link-up to Hollywood to talk to Japanese horror legend Hideo Nakata, director of Ring (1998) and Honogurai mizu no soko kara/Dark Water (2002). Nakata would be answering questions from the set of either The Entity remake or the reworking of The Eye – Alan wasn’t entirely sure which film he was currently working on!

The first film of the day introduced me to an entirely new feeling – a Dario Argento film I simply didn’t care anything about. I’ve either loved his films with a passion, loathed them on sight (Trauma (1993) and Il fantasma dell’opera/The Phantom of the Opera (1998)) or initially hated them and grown later to like them immensely (La sindrome di Stendhal/The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)). His latest offering, Ti piace Hitchcock?/Do You Like Hitchcock? is the first in a series of made-for-television thrillers that Argento will be producing and the only one he will be directing himself.

It’s an odd one – at times it looks like an Argento film but it never actually feels like one. Having been made for TV, the violence is toned down almost to the point of not being there at all (those who complained that Il cartaio/The Card Player (2004) was atypical and anaemic are going to hate this) and the mystery elements have been placed centre stage. The problem is that the mystery – inspired in equal parts by the Hitchcock masterpieces Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954) and Dial M For Murder (1954) – simply isn’t that interesting and fails to hold the attention as it should.

It’s a good looking film thanks to the photography of Frederic Fasano and Pino Donaggio’s score is excellent, at times cheekily quoting from the score he did for Hitchcock impersonator Brain De Palma’s Body Double (1984). But the story simply fails to engage and the characters are so limp and lifeless that it’s impossible to engage with them on any level. The result is a so-so film which doesn’t inspire one to seek it out for a second viewing. Maybe it’ll gain in stature in years to come though this time I really do have my doubts. I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies – we saw the subtitled print as Alan assured us that we’d be in fits of hysterics at the apparently dreadful dubbed version!

A lot more entertaining was Ban the Sadist Videos!, a brand new documentary from Anchor Bay and Blue Underground chronicling the dark years of the mid-80s in the UK when the ‘video nasties’ were being held up as the source of all evils in British society. As you’d expect from a documentary directed by David Gregory and produced by Carl Daft (who was on hand to introduce the film from the stage) it’s a corker – those of us who were there at the time will recoil in horror as we remember the unsettling experience of suddenly facing the real prospect of becoming criminals simply for trading in films and for those young enough to have missed it, it’s a valuable piece of social history.

The documentary will be released soon as part of Anchor Bay’s Box of the Banned set due in September (a collection of several previously banned titles, including Day of the Woman/I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Zombi 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), The Driller Killer (1979), The Evil Dead (1981), Last House on the Left (1972) and Nightmares/Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981). It ends with a look forward to part 2 though Daft wouldn’t be drawn on when that would appear, referring us instead to Anchor Bay UK main man Mo Claridge who was in the audience for the screening.

FrightFest 2005 marked the official launch of the new FrightFest Presents… DVD label, a collection of titles from around the world that are unavailable on disc anywhere else. The titles already announced are Eros Puglielli’s giallo Occhi di cristallo/Eyes of Crystal (2004), Andreas Marschall’s Tears of Kali (2004), Eric Valette’s Malefique (2002) (shown at the 2003 FrightFest) and the first ever Irish zombie movie, Conor McMahon’s Dead Meat. To whet the appetite for the new range, McMahon’s film was up next. It was introduced by Ian Rattray and the producer Edward King who had been planning to make his own film for years, promising that it would be shown at a FrightFest at some point, and by the youthful director himself who wondered if we’d be able to understand the thick Irish accents.

He had nothing to worry about and has done an outstanding job with this, his debut feature. I had suspected that we’d get another amateurish shot-on-video Romero wannabe but, although it does occasionally betray its ultra low-budget roots and first-time-director status – too many close-ups and an abundance of those odd Dutch angles that low-budget film-makers seem to revel in) it turned out be nothing of the sort.

Set in the stunning Leitrim countryside, it tells the tale of a mutant strain of Mad Cow Disease which not only turns the entire local bovine population into killers but starts bringing the recently deceased back to life. European tourist Helena (Marian Araujo) finds herself on the run from a growing army of the undead with locals Desmond (David Muyllaert) and The Coach (David Malard), all heading for possible rescue at a remote location.

It’s a fun (though it get’s darker as it goes along) tribute to Romero with an excellent cast of unknowns (Araujo in particular is a real find), plenty of crowd-pleasing gore, lashings of genuinely funny Irish humour and a unique death scene involving an eyeball and a Hoover… It also features some genuinely tense and unsettling moments – the nightmarish nocturnal encounter with a pack of zombie children and the attack on their car by an enraged cow being among the highlights.

Dead Meat covers no new ground but then writer/director McMahon probably wasn’t out to do that – he wanted to pay homage to the classic zombie films of the 60s, 70s and 80s and he’s done exactly that in his assured debut. It’s an excellent start for the FrightFest Presents… range and just good enough to place McMahon on our ‘ones-to-watch’ list. Next up should have been the first of the weekend’s shorts, The Eel, but technical difficulties prevented it being shown until Sunday. Instead we got an exclusive FrightFest presentation of a specially made trailer for a film whose name I’m afraid I’ve already forgotten (anyone out there remember it?) but which looks like a low-budget offering from the UK’s tired S&M underground scene.

It was followed by Rinjin 13-go/The Neighbor No. Thirteen, a slice of Japanese madness from director Yasuo Inoue and introduced by Paul McEvoy who proclaimed it to be “fucking insane!” And he wasn’t wrong – based on the popular manga by Santa Inoue, it tells the slow-moving but creepy tale of a young boy who was so scarred mentally and physically by the torment meted out by his classmates that his personality fractures and his violent, obsessed alter ego acts out a life-long vendetta against the ring leader.

Like a lot of less mainstream Japanese horror films, it seems to have divided the audience into those who couldn’t warm to its chilly ambience and ever-mutating storyline and those of us who loved its invention and creepy atmosphere. It unravels somewhat right at the very end (it really isn’t clear what was supposed to be going on) but it was never less than riveting, with excellent lead performances from Shido Nakamura Shun Oguri as the disparate halves of the same personality and a great cameo from J-horror legend Miike Takashi as a complaining – and doomed – neighbour.

Inoue has complained that the violence in his film is preventing many festivals from showing it and, although it’s never as explicit or as over-the-top as some of the other film’s we’ve already seen this weekend, the violence is disquieting, mainly because of the cold, matter of fact way that Inoue films it. The scene of the murderous #13 emerging from the shy and friendly Juzo to try to drown a young boy in a bathroom washbowl is genuinely shocking and likely to cause problems in many Western markets.

Once upon a time, it was possible to lament the fact that the British film industry never took to werewolves in quite the same way that they did to vampires but Neil Marshall’s wonderful Dog Soldiers (2002) showed that when we put our minds to it, we can deliver the lycanthropic goods. So it was particularly pleasing to find that this year’s FrightFest was offering another home grown werewolf film in the shape of the world premiere of Craig Strachan’s Wild Country.

Strachan has described his film as “Ken Loach goes horror” while his producer Ros Borland hails it as “Gregory’s Girl with werewolves”, neither description really filling me with any real desire to see it at all. They really should re-think their marketing strategy as what Wild Country actually is is a fun, fast-paced and often creepy tale of teenagers lost in the beautiful Scottish wilds being tracked down by a mysterious wolf-like creature. After being forced to give up her new-born baby, teenager Kelly Ann (Samantha Shields, excellent in her feature debut) joins several of her friends on a cross-country hike. After they find an apparently abandoned baby in the unstable ruins of an old castle, they find themselves being picked off one-by-one by the wolf-monster as they blindly try to find help in the pitch dark.

The best film of the day so far, Wild Country is an excellent addition to the British horror canon, with knockout performances (how refreshing is it to see teenage characters that you actually care about), a good, barely-glimpsed monster courtesy of Brit effects veteran Bob Keen and a nice streak of gallows humour. The ending is slightly odd (it isn’t really clear that the monsters are actually werewolves until the last minute) but this is otherwise an excellent film from Strachan, whose previous work includes the rather less impressive Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis (1997) and Hidden (2000). I’d urge you all to give this one a try.

Strachan and Borland were on hand afterwards with leading ladies Shields and Nicola Muldoon for a brief Q&A where he addressed a problem that seems to have troubled a couple of films this weekend – it had struck me that Land of the Dead and parts of Evil Aliens had seemed rather dark and it had occurred to me that there may be problems with the Odeon West End’s presentations. Strachan seemed somewhat bemused by the fact that some scenes in Wild Country were completely impenetrable, particularly the lengthy sequence in the monsters’ subterranean lair. He assured us that when he’d watched the print earlier all seemed OK. One can only hope that if there are projection issues that the Odeon gets them sorted out for the rest of the weekend.

During the short break before the next film, I opted to stay in my seat and was approached by a young man handing out rubber bat rings and stickers to promote the next film on the menu, the unknown quantity The Roost. It later turned out that this was young director Ti West himself, making the most of his first trip abroad to personally plug his film. West took to the stage to briefly introduce the film which, as is so often the case with the less well known FrightFest films, turned out to be the day’s real winner. Shot on the lowest of budgets with help from American indie horror specialist Larry Fessenden (Habit (1997), Wendigo (2001)), it’s a quite brilliant piece of low budget film making that mixes eco-horror and zombie splatter with some considerable style.

Four rather miserable 20-somethings find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere where they have one of those car accidents that only ever happen in horror films and seek shelter in an isolated farm they find nearby. But there’s a swarm of hungry, flesh-eating bats hiding in the barn and their bite causes what’s left of their victims to rise from the dead and kill anyone they can get their hands on.

It’s always gratifying to be in at the start of something and the chance to be there at the birth of what must surely become a cult following for both The Roost and West was fantastic. West’s direction is amazingly confident for a debut feature and he makes startling use of the locations (previously used by Hitchcock for Marnie (1964)) and the surrounding countryside. The shaky, hand-held camerawork gives the film a you-are-there, quasi-documentary feel which only adds to the unbearable tension. The four main members of the cast, all unknowns with few previous credits (only Wil Horneff seems to have done much so far, turning up in Ghost in the Machine (1993), the remake of The Shining (1997) and an episode of C.S.I.: NY among others) make the most of characters who are, frankly, rather unlikeable yet we still end up caring what happens to them. Tom Noonan is on hand as a horror host in black and white sequences that bothe bookend the film and even intrude on the action near the climax to rewind the “tape” and offer acidic comments on the action!

With its unsettling music score and even more unnerving sound design, excellent direction and twisting plotline, The Roost turned out to be the real find of the weekend so far. West returned to the stage for another all-too-brief Q&A and seemed a genuinely likeable guy with a clear love for the genre that I’m sure endeared him to many of the appreciative FrightFest crowd. Any chance that this could be added to the FrightFest Presents… DVD range? Hopefully and the sooner the better – this is one chiller that’s positively crying out for a wider audience and we’ll be watching West’s career with interest.

The final film of the day was the long delayed remake of the Herschell Gordon Lewis gore-fest Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), 2001 Maniacs, directed by another newcomer, Tim Sullivan, but produced by genre veterans Eli Roth (Cabin Fever (2002)) and Scott Speigel (Intruder (1989), From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999)). Paul McEvoy promised us plenty of “tits, ass and gore” and that’s exactly what we got – in spades! Anyone familiar with Lewis’ original (the best of his films, which I know isn’t saying much) will know exactly what to expect and won’t be disappointed.

Several horny, good looking students are lured into the very remote village of Pleasant Valley where they wind up being guests of honour at the “Guts and Glory Jubille” celebrations. And thanks to the townsfolk’s singular culinary choice also end up on the menu… Robert Englund (whose first on-screen appearance was greeting with applause) is outrageous as the one-eyed mayor of Pleasant Valley, happily hamming it up to great effect as he presides over a carnival of slaughter. Lin Shaye is outstanding as the owner of the local hotel, a murderous Southern belle who cheerfully organises the town’s young women in their orgy of sex and mayhem. The rest of the cast are largely undistinguished, cookie-cutter 20 somethings, all cut from the same interchangeable cloth.

But really no-one cared much about the cast – we just wanted lashings of gore and we certainly got plenty of that. We also got the share the frustrations of a hillbilly in love with his unwilling sheep, some wonderfully PC-baiting dialogue and the most annoying singers ever captured on film – their tormenting of one of the leads as they follow him around singing about his trials and tribulations is hysterical and reminiscent of Sir Robin’s band of painfully truthful minstrels in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

2001 Maniacs is nothing new and won’t be picking up that many awards any time soon but it was the perfect Saturday night closing film – gory, silly, sexy and deliberately tacky, it’s a lot better than Lewis’ over-rated original and brought day two of FrightFest 2005 to a rousing climax.

Day Three
The penultimate day of FrightFest 2005 kicked off the first of this year’s short films. One of the great things about the FrightFest line-ups of years past was the opportunity to see some of these shorts that you’ll likely never get a chance to see anywhere else – a few of the previous years’ offerings have turned up in late night/early hours TV screenings but for the most part, they sadly vanish without trace. Last year, FrightFest experimented with the notion of showing all the shorts in one block but this year they’ve been scheduled through the last two days.

The Ten Steps had in fact already turned up on BBC2 in one of those late night slots and is easily the best short film FrightFest has ever shown. The premise is so simple one can’t help but wonder why no-one had thought of it before – a teenage girl left alone for the evening with her obnoxious little brother finds herself having to descend into the basement when the fuses blow plunging the house into darkness. Having already suffered a panic attack in the cellar when the family first moved into the house, she’s understandably terrified. But dad’s on the mobile phone to help her out by counting down the ten steps that lead into the darkness…

To say any more would be to ruin the wonderful climax but suffice to say that it was the single most effective and unsettling moment we’ve seen so far all weekend. There will be those who claim that they saw it coming but doesn’t everyone claim that after the event? Director Brendan Muldowney turns the screws slowly across the film’s 10 minutes running time and by the time the credits roll we’d been so expertly wound up that there was a moment of stunned silence before a rapturous round of applause.

These short films are, tragically, almost impossible to track down (the FrightFest brochure suggests that a future FrightFest Presents… DVD release might be a compilation of some of the shorts already seen at previous festivals – let’s hope so!) but make it a mission to track this one down and be prepared for 10 minutes of unadulterated genius and add Brendan Muldowney to that one-to-watch list.

The first feature of the day was the three year old The Collingswood Story, getting its long overdue UK debut. Clearly influenced by The Blair Witch Project (1999) (and that’s OK by me – I’m firmly in the camp that loved it!) it’s an effective and frequently downright chilling no-budgeter presented entirely as though we were eavesdropping on a series of webcam Internet telephone calls.

The set-up is slow and deceptive – Rebecca has left home to go to university and to help them keep in touch her boyfriend has set her up with a webcam and some net-phone software. It’s Rebecca’s birthday and John sets her up with some bonkers phone cam “freaks” to keep her entertained. One of these is online psychic Vera Madeline who warns the couple that Rebecca’s new home town, Collingswood, was the site of a series of brutal cult-related murders, one of which took place in her new house. As the film progresses, Rebecca sets up her laptop with an extra long phone lead so she can keep John with her as she explores the house – but when she starts poking around in the attic they both get a lot more than they bargained for.

It’s another simple concept and another one that worked remarkably well. Director Michael Costanza takes care to ensure that we actually get to know and like Rebecca and John before he plunges them into their nightmare, ensuring that out discomfort in the film’s closing minutes is all the more difficult to endure. The performances of the two leads, Stephanie Dees and Johnny Burton, are so natural and unaffected that it almost becomes uncomfortable eavesdropping on their conversations like this.

The climax is fantastic and unbearably creepy as Rebecca ventures into a darkened attic armed only with a flashlight and her trusty laptop only to find… Well to say more would be to ruin it all and that would be doing The Collingswood Story a grave disservice. There has already been a Region 1 DVD release for the film but it seems to be rarer than hen’s teeth at the moment (anyone any idea where I can find a copy online?). Do whatever it takes to track down a copy and be prepared for one of the best and most genuinely unnerving indie films of the past few years.

The Victim was the next of the day’s short films, a clever, affectionate tribute to Alfred Hitchcock shot by Robert Grieves as a series of colourful, stylised animatics that retagged some of Hitch’s best known scenes. The Birds (1963), North By Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960) were just three of the classics getting the treatment in this hugely enjoyable and inventive short.

Takashi Shimizu shot the extraordinarily weird Marebito in just eight days before heading off to the States for his lacklustre remake of his own international hit Ju-on (2003), The Grudge (2004). Fellow J-horror icon Shinya Tsukamoto (director of the Tetsuo films) stars as Masuoka, a video cameraman obsessed with experiencing genuine terror after filming a terrified man’s gruesome suicide in the Tokyo underground system. His search for real fear leads him into a bizarre underworld beneath Tokyo where he finds a naked girl chained to a rock. He takes her home, names her F and tries to work out who this odd girl might be – she walks on all fours, has worryingly sharpened teeth and seems to survive only on blood. But is everything really all as it seems? Who is the woman who keeps following Masuoka claiming that he has a daughter she believes is staying with him? And who, or what, are the Deros, the “detrimental robots” that lurk in the network of tunnels beneath the city?

Marebito – also known in some quarters as The Stranger from Afar – looks for all the world like the work of a man knowing that he’s about to sell his soul to the Hollywood machine and making one last stand for arty non-commercialism before being consumed and tamed by Tinsel Town. It was made as part of a deal between the Film School of Tokyo and the Eurospace cinema in Tokyo that resulted in the creation of the Bancho film label, a series of eleven films divided into three groups – Eros Bancho, Comedy Bancho and of course Horror Bancho, the idea being to give students a chance to work with some professional crews.

Not having seen any of the other titles in the Horror Bancho series (Hiroshi Takahashi’s Sodomu no ichi, Hiroyuki Minato’s Tsuki neko ni mitsu no tama and Yoichi Nishiyama’s Unmei ningen) it’s hard to say how successful the project was but if Marebito is any indication of the quality of the rest of the films they might well be worth tracking down. Shimizu finally gets the chance to move away from the Ju-on films that he seems to have been obsessively making and remaking for some years and proves beyond doubt that he’s a lot more than just a one-trick pony. He’s helped enormously by Tsukamoto who turns out to be every bit as compelling an actor as he is a director, turning in an intense and riveting performance as a man obsessed.

Those who have yet to warm to the delights of J-horror will find Marebito just too slow and off-the-wall for their tastes but if you’ve been living off a steady diet of these most unsettling of genre films for the past few years you’re going to love this. Defiantly uncommercial (at least to Western eyes), with a plot that’s hard to follow and ultimately inconclusive, it’s not for everyone. But if you’ve a taste for the bizarre, the challenging and the relentlessly eerie, this is the one for you. Ignore the negative reviews that are bound to follow from some quarters and trust me on this one – the best J-horror I’ve seen for several years.

Director Jake Kennedy has got to be one of the most pissed off men in the country this weekend – his short film We All Fall Down was due to be shown next but when it arrived, the disc or tape turned out to be completely blank! Just how fed up must he be today…?

With the announced Anthony C. Ferrante film Boo! having failed to turn up as expected, we were given a chance to see the latest Wes Craven offering in its place. Red Eye was being hailed in some quarters as a change of direction for Craven but as Alan Jones pointed out in his introduction it’s nothing of the sort – a mere detour rather than a full-blown departure for pastures new. Rachel McAdams is Lisa, a young woman scared of flying, who finds her trip home from her grandmother’s funeral even more terrifying when the apparently charming Jackson (a brilliant turn from Cillian Murphy) turns out to be an assassin who is threatening to have her father murdered if she doesn’t help him complete his plan to assassinate a politician and his family.

It’s lightweight stuff, a typical summer blockbuster, but it’s definitely something of a return to form for Craven whose notoriously inconsistent career had bottomed out again recently with the so-so Scream 3 (2000) and the truly awful Cursed (2004). Slick and effective, it cranks up the tension to almost unbearable levels, boasts a taut, well thought out script and makes the most of limited and claustrophobic sets. The performances are all excellent – McAdams makes for an appealing heroine, turning the tables on her tormenter in the final stages to enthusiastic applause from the FrightFest crowd; Brian Cox is under-used but as wonderful as ever as her father, completely unaware of the danger he’s in; but the show is stolen by Murphy, proving again after Batman Begins (2005) that he does villainous rather well.

The final fifteen minutes or so find Craven back on home turf as the deranged and wounded Jackson goes on the rampage, proving almost unstoppable as he takes a pen to the windpipe, several beatings and even a couple of bullets in his dogged pursuit of Lisa. Craven might want to get away from his horror roots but after the failure of his non-genre dream project, Music of the Heart (1999) he’s clearly not prepared to wander off too far. The hinted at possible appearance of Craven himself never happened by the way, but no-one seemed to mind.

On Saturday, we’d been told that at 5:00 we’d be able to talk to J-horror legend Hideo Nakata via a live satellite link from Hollywood, though the organisers were already joking then that it was all going to go horribly wrong. And sure enough, it went spectacularly belly up when the link failed and we ended up with a few minutes of a bored looking Nakata answering a couple of questions from an unseen American interviewer before the link died!

But all was not lost – the star of the afternoon turned out to be Stephanie, a student writing a dissertation on Nakata and Japanese horror who was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to talk to the man himself via mobile phone on stage in front the FrightFest crowd, asking her own questions as well as those posed by the audience. Though clearly scared to death, she did a fantastic job and fair play to Alan, Paul and Ian for giving her the chance.

It was the first time this weekend that we got anything like the community atmosphere that we enjoyed at the Prince Charles – the Odeon West End is a fantastic venue but as we’re all still getting used to it, there seems to have been a change in mood that was certainly rectified by the supportive and understanding reaction to the disastrous satellite link – and to Alan, Ian and Paul’s attempts to keep us all entertained while the technical problems were investigated. So some good really does come from everything after all…

The big film for Sunday night was the international hit Nochnoy dozor/Night Watch, the much hyped Russian blockbuster finally picked up for UK distribution by Twentieth Century Fox. The company seemed rather paranoid as it despatched its own security team to confiscate mobile phones from all those watching the film for fear of bootlegging. It’s not entirely clear what they were expecting – it would be one hell of a phone that was capable of recording an entire 114 minute film in anything like watchable quality. And why take phones with still capabilities? There are pictures from the film all over the Internet, the film is available for (illegal) download from a number of peer-to-peer servers and there’s even a Russian DVD release that’s not impossible to track down, so surely any of us who wanted our own copy or stills could get them anyway… It seemed an unnecessarily draconian step from Fox who made few friends tonight and succeeded only in causing minor chaos in the lobby as we all queued up afterwards to get our phones back.

But what of the film itself? Could it live up to the extraordinary hype that preceeded it? Well, almost… Introduced by director Timur Bekmambetov in a brief taped speech, it’s a visually dazzling and complex epic that charts the never-ending struggle between the forces of Light and Dark as they hold an uneasy truce that has endured for centuries but which is now in danger of being broken as both camps search for the Great Other, one of a race of superhumans. When the Great Other makes its choice between Dark and Light, the truce will be over and the stage set for the last battle between good and evil.

Visually, the film is stunning – CGI is used extensively but with imagination and verve (witness the jaw-dropping descent of a rivet from the engine of a stricken airliner through the night skies over Moscow, down an air vent and into a woman’s cup of coffee!) and the script has a genuinely epic feel to it. But it is very confusing (thanks possibly to it having been re-edited for its UK and US releases) and sometimes Bekmambetov gets so carried away with his rapid-fire editing, jerky camera effects and CG-enhanced action that it isn’t entirely clear what we’re meant to be looking at.

It’s entirely possible that repeated viewings will be particularly rewarding and it’s by no means a bad film – quite the contrary, it’s an exhilarating ride and it brims over with ideas and concepts that we’ve not seen before. It even manages to add a few new wrinkles to vampire lore (in the world of Night Watch vampires aren’t invisible in mirrors, it’s the only way you can see them when they choose to hide in the mysterious Gloom). But it was probably a bit too much for weary eyes this late into FrightFest – it’s breathless pace and retina-scarring imagery might have been better appreciated on opening night before the infamous Sunday FrightFest fatigue had set in…

Having safely retrieved my mobile phone it was on to the final films of the day. The Eel was the short film postponed from the day before and was introduced by its director Dominic Hailstone. I’d tried to watch The Eel before in its Internet incarnation but the image was so small and dark that it was impossible to make out what the hell was going on. I was certainly not expecting that ending – an eel thrashes around in a tank of water before transforming into a Lovecraftian monstrosity in a blaze of excellent physical effects inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). An excellent score and moody black and white photography adds to the menacing atmosphere in what turned out to be a pleasantly nasty 3 minutes.

And then we were into the only chance for London audiences to see Paul Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist on the big screen. Controversially shelved by producers Morgan Creek who felt it was too cerebral and re-shot by Renny Harlin as the dreadful Exorcist: The Beginning, the Schrader film had been highly anticipated in some quarters as it surely couldn’t be as bad as Harlin’s atrocity. Could it?

Well, the good news is that it is better than Harlin’s film. The bad news is that it’s still not very good. The first hour or so was the best, benefiting from a strong performance from Stellan Skarsgård as Father Lankester Merrin, suffering a loss of faith in post-war British East Africa after a particularly harrowing experience at the hands of the Nazis in Holland. He’s supervising the excavation of a strange church which seems to have been built then buried immediately – but to what end?

Unfortunately, the film unravels completely in the final stages as Merrin comes face-to-face with the demon in the pagan temple beneath the church, the evil sprit that the church had been built to contain. The climactic confrontation is completely at odds with what The Exorcist (1973) told us about Merrin’s first encounter with the demon – the struggle is hardly the life-or-death battle that the first film made it out to be (Skarsgård barely breaks into a sweat) and no-one seems at all sure whether the demon is meant to be Lucifer himself (it manifests as a slightly effeminate, bald figure almost identical to a mosaic of Satan in the church) or Pazuzu (never named as such in the film).

Some of the theological debates that Schrader seemed determined to focus on raise some interesting points and it was certainly commendable to try for a more psychological approach to now over-familiar material but it’s all so laboriously presented that frankly I just lost interest in what was going on. Add to this some of the worst CGI ever committed to film – the computer generated hyenas and oxen are unbelievably shoddy – and a damp squib climax and Dominion disappointingly turned out to be almost a complete disaster. Only a strong score and some excellent performances keep it watchable.

It was a sad way to end Day Three of FrightFest 2005 and a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who have long been admirers of Schrader’s work – maybe I was just expecting too much. Still, I’d return to this ambitious and undeniable more intelligent version of the tale long before I was dragged kicking and screaming into a repeat viewing of Harlin’s fiasco.

Day Four
Thanks to the vagaries of the London Underground timetabling policies (and, to be fair, my own dodgy memory – I’d forgotten that my local station closed on Bank Holidays) I got the Odeon West End just in time to catch by the skin of my teeth the first of many bone-crunching set-pieces that make up the quite extraordinary Thai action thriller Kerd ma lui/Born to Fight. Following in the wake of the even more extraordinary Ong-bak (2003), this is more of the same non-stop action, all of it delivered full contact with no wires and apparently no regard for personal health and safety.

After his partner is killed arresting notorious drug lord General Yang, cop Daew joins his sister on a charity trip with a group of athletes to a remote village. Where, quite by chance, Yang’s militia turn up, slaughter half the village in a tremendous set-piece and hold the rest hostage until they get their leader released. But they have something else up their sleeves in the rather nasty shape of a nuclear missile aimed at Bangkok…

The distinction between actor, stunt man, athlete and suicidal maniac seems to be particularly blurred in Thailand and it’s a small miracle that no-one was killed during the making of this quite astonishing film. Bodies are regularly beaten, broken, thrown from moving vehicles and otherwise badly abused for your entertainment in some of the most outrageous action scenes you’ll ever see, all underscored by an excellent, pounding techno score – we were all worn out by the end cheering, applauding and wincing at every one of them. A personal favourite was the head-on collision between a truck and a motorcycle that saw the bike-riding Daew escaping certain death by leaping onto the roof of the truck at the very last second.

At heart, it’s just Die Hard in a village but the plot is the last thing you’re concerned with here. The sentimental nationalism won’t travel well either but when you’ve action of this calibre – all of it seemingly performed by the actors themselves; can you imagine Hollywood “hard men” like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme or Diesel wanting to go through this even if they were allowed to? – that shouldn’t hamper its international appeal. If you are lucky enough to catch Born To Fight (a Region 2 DVD is on it’s way any day now) be sure to sit through the end titles to catch behind the scenes footage of the stunts being prepared and evidence of just how close to serious injury and even death these madmen came when it all goes horribly wrong.

Brit horror legend David McGillivray (who penned such 70s faves as House of Whipcord (1974), Frightmare (1974) and Terror (1978)) was on hand to introduce his belated return to the genre, the short film Mrs Davenport’s Throat which he wrote and produced for director Keith Claxton. I had the good fortune to interview McGillivray many years ago and he hasn’t changed one bit – he’s still as dry and self-deprecating as ever, taking some good-natured (and probably unrepeatable!) pot-shots at Alan Jones who took it all in great spirit. The film itself is perhaps a little overlong but packs quite a punch with its genuinely surprising twist-in-the-tail. A chauffeur picks up Mrs Davenport at Lisbon airport and drives into town. He turns out to actually be an aggrieved associate of her late husband looking for the considerable sum of money he owes – but Mrs Davenport isn’t all she seems to be either and turns the tables in spectacular fashion.

Despite a sluggish start, this is a well-crafted and ultimately quite gripping short whose twist you simply won’t see coming. And the final shot is genuinely chilling in its implications. The great news is that McGilivray is already hard at work on another project – he’s been away too long and its wonderful to have him back.

Wonderful isn’t quite the word anyone would choose for Day of the Dead 2: Contagium, an unofficial in-name-only “prequel” to the Romero classic screened just three days ago. Cribbing most of its moves from Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead (1985) is suggests that the zombie outbreak chronicled by Romero was caused by the accidental release of a secret germ warfare weapon retrieved from a defecting Russian agent – and now it’s loose in a psychiatric hospital…

Oh, where to begin… There’s nothing in any of the publicity material I’ve seen to suggest that Day of the Dead 2: Contagium was meant to be a comedy yet it raised more laughs than any other film this weekend. It’s hard to work out if that’s what the makers wanted but one gets the horrible feeling that they were taking it all terribly seriously – at least they started off that way and gave up when they realised what an appalling piece of shit they were making.

Lousy dialogue, dreadful effects (apparently a third of the budget was wasted on them) and acting so awful that even Edward D. Wood would have thought twice combine to create a truly terrible film good only for laughing at in derisory fashion. Which is what we all did of course. Particularly at the performance of Andreas Van Ray as the hospital’s head doctor, as eccentric a turn as you’ll see anywhere. Quite what any of this has to do with Day of the Dead is quite beyond me. Fans of Romero should be aware that the same production company, Taurus Entertainment, have just completed Creepshow 3 – you have been warned…

P is an unusual film in that it’s a Thai ghost film, featuring traditional Thai mythology, but shot by an Englishman. Director Paul Spurrier was on hand to introduce the film, endearing himself to the crowd with his tales of how, while studying at film school, he would rather read Fangoria than Cahiers du Cinema and preferred horror films to the “classics” decreed required viewing by his tutors. The film itself is a remarkably assured, affecting and genuinely creepy tale of lost innocence – it was apparently Alan Jones’ favourite film of the whole festival and it’s easy enough to see why. Suangporn Jaturaphut stars as Aaw, a young village girl gifted in the ways of Khmer witchcraft who is lured into working as a hooker in a sleazy Bangkok bar in order to earn money to buy the medicine to cure her ailing grandmother. As she entertains her foreign clients (one of them played by Spurrier himself), she uses her magic to dispose of rivals but fails to remember the rules laid down by granny with disastrous consequences – she’s soon transformed in the organ-stealing phii borb, a vampire like creature from Thai legend and is on the rampage through the city.

Although slow to get going, P proved to be one of the genuine finds of the weekend, an atmospheric and frequently brutal gem that also manages to be genuinely moving. Aaw’s descent into the clutches of the phi borb, her desperate attempts to contain the evil she’s unleashed by chaining herself to a radiator hoping to starve it – and herself – to death and the ultimate Exorcist inspired sacrifice of one of her friends add a depth to the film that would otherwise have made it a less interesting film. As it is, it’s definitely worth tracking it down although in his post-film Q&A, Spurrier noted that the film had yet to open in Thailand after the government there decided to try to deny the existence of the sort of sex-tourist frequented joint portrayed in the film – so the chances of it turning up any time soon might be slim.

Spurrier also noted that he only got to appear in the film because of the startling scene where Aaw gets her revenge on the owner of the club who breaks her in on her first night on the game by conjuring up a snake that bites him somewhere extremely painful while he’s in a toilet. The actor originally cast for the role understandably bailed out when he found that a genuine cobra was going to be let loose in his pants and as Spurrier was the only other Westerner on the set he got the part by default!

The longest breaks we’d been getting all weekend were the ones before the last two films of the day and they’d been a welcome chance to rush out in search of food and drink. Today, however, the hour long respite was being eroded by some unadvertised extras, the first of which was the chance to help choose which of five short films from the Tartan Shorts competition would be included on the forthcoming UK DVD release of Julian Richards’ excellent The Last Horror Movie (2003). Richards himself was on hand to help introduce the films which began with William Sinclair’s Automaton in which a jealous man uses a strange device to enter the mind of a woman and force her to kill her new lover.

Lawrence Axe’s self-help was the simplest of the set – a young man listens to one of those self help CDs unaware that something is creeping up on him… In The Chop by Jim McRoberts a young schizophrenic roams the streets having a conversation with the voices in his head until he finds an axe and gets an idea how to use it. The Divine Eugene Hicks by Anthony Hurley features a vain, narcissistic employee at a fertility clinic with some odd ideas about eugenics. And finally in Geraldine Geraghty’s Golf Sale an American tourist follows those ubiquitous golf sale signs that crop up almost everywhere in London and gets more than he bargained for…

The idea had originally been for us to vote on forms but when they seemed to go missing, Alan Jones took the stage to try out a “clap-o-meter” approach to picking the winner – the louder we applauded, the more chance the film had of winning. Of course it didn’t work and an increasingly frazzled Alan succeeded only in whittling it down to two contenders, self-help and Golf Sale. Finally a show of hands declared self-help the winner and you’ll be able to get the chance to see it when The Last Horror Movie is released on 24 October.

A lengthy (and black and white – if we’re back at the Odeon next year they need to invest in an NTSC compatible video projector) series of clips from Tobe Hooper’s latest film, Mortuary, was another added bonus though judging from the footage on offer it’s not going to amount to much more than another teens-menaced-by-zombies snooze-fest. There was also a trailer for the Masters of Horror TV series in which 13 of the biggest names in the genre (Argento, Dante, Carpenter, Landis et al) have contributed one hour-long episode each. Unfortunately, the trailer made it all look rather dull and predictable and one can only hope that these genuine giants of the genre have not had their wings clipped by TV.

Director Christian Alvart was on hand to introduce his gripping serial killer thriller Antikörper/Antibodies, a compelling and thoroughly nasty piece of work that borrowed liberally from Manhunter (1986), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Se7en (1995) and fashioned it into something fresh and inventive. Rural cop Michael Martens is still trying to solve the mystery of who killed a young local girl when he learns that notorious serial killer Gabriel Engel, the Dark Angel, has been apprehended. Believing that Engel might have been the culprit – though he’s only killed boys during his reign of terror – Michael travels to the city to interrogate him. But Engel is planning to play some very disturbing mind games with Michael, games that will eventually test Michael’s Christian faith and put the lives of those he loves the most in jeopardy…

Revolving around a towering performance from Wotan Wilke Möhring as the tortured Michael, Antibodies is a fabulous, dark-hearted thriller that builds slowly to a nerve wracking finale. It’s not your usual serial killer flick – after the stunning opening sequence there are no killings – as it takes a more psychological approach to a now well-worn subject. Exploring weighty subjects like faith, guilt and the idea that evil may be a virus easily transmitted to anyone exposed to it, and with a plot that twists and turns in the most unexpected directions, Alvart has fashioned a truly compelling film, one of the highlights of the entire weekend. The only drawback were the terrible subtitles – all too often they were unreadable as they vanished into a white-on-white blur though thankfully the big ideas were all put across effectively and coherently. Alvart came back on stage for a Q&A and introduced leading man Möhring who had paid for his own trip to London just to be here for the screening. During the talk, Calvart confirmed what some of us were already dreading – that the almost de rigeur Hollywood remake was already on its way…

And so after 21 features, 9 shorts, 1 documentary and more clips and trailers than I can remember now, the final film of FrightFest 2005 was looming. And it was the one film that I was really looking forward to, the much-hyped Australian shocker Wolf Creek. Based loosely on a number of different killing sprees that have haunted the Australian Outback for years it begins slowly as we follow three 20-somethings as the set off on a road trip across the Outback to Sydney. The travellers – Australian Ben and English tourists Liz and Kristy – stop off at the meteor crater in Wolf Creek National Park but find themselves stranded when their car mysteriously breaks down and the watches all ominously stop… But help is at hand in the garrulous shape of Mick Taylor, a cheery ‘Ocker’ who offers to take them back to his camp and fix the car. Only when Liz wakes up alone in a shed to find that she’s been drugged, gagged and bound do we get to the truth of the matter – Mick is a brutal killer and the travellers are his next victims…

Although the build-up is slow the payoff is everything I could have hoped for. Once Liz wakes up the film steps up several gears and never slows down again until its chilling climax. Truly frightening, Wolf Creek is the bleakest, most emotionally draining cinematic experience I’ve had for many a long year. The violence is brutal, matter-of-fact and a far cry from the gimmicky deaths of your average slasher – the ‘head on a stick’ sequence in particular is horrifying, all the more so for Taylor (brilliantly portrayed by John Jarratt) appearing to be so normal, so ordinary. No wise-cracking one-liners or stereotypical cackling and ranting here – just a cold-eyed, ruthlessly efficient killing machine who simply doesn’t care one jot what happens to his victims.

Greg McLean introduced the film with his producer and two leading ladies and hoped that the film would prove to be as “fucked up” as we’d heard it was. He was in luck – it is, and a lot more besides. The last time I felt this shattered by a movie was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) from which Wolf Creek borrows some of its grimy, relentless ambience. Yes, it’s that good. There will, inevitably, be a backlash against the hype that’s preceding the film. Ignore it – this is the best horror film to ever come out of Australia, the best genre movie from anywhere for an awful long time and one that will stick in your mind long after the end credits have rolled. Quite brilliant and the perfect closing movie for the sixth FrightFest.

And there it was – FrightFest 2005, the first in its new home and the biggest and most ambitious yet. The new venue was generally excellent though there were problems – the old FrightFest communal spirit took a lot longer to get going this year; the stage lighting was terrible (though to be fair, no-one, not even the organisers, seemed to know where to stand to be seen properly) and the seats, particularly for those of us who are ridiculously tall, are far less comfortable than they were in the Prince Charles. But overall, it’s a fine new home for the festival and the teething problems encountered this year will all be ironed out for the next bash. As we all trooped out into the warm late-summer night there was already word that another one-day FrightFest was on the cards, possibly as early as November.

All that remains now is to congratulate and thank Alan, Ian and Paul for another excellent weekend and say a big thanks to all those of you came up to say hello during the four days. And leave you with our traditional summing up:

The Good: Romero’s Dead quartet (that’s going to take some getting used to…), Dead Meat, The Neighbour No. Thirteen, Wild Country, The Roost, The Collingswood Story, Marebito, Red Eye, Night Watch, Born to Fight, P, Antibodies and of course Wolf Creek.

The Bad: Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and Day of the Dead 2: Contagium.

The So-So: A Bittersweet Life, Evil Aliens, Do You Like Hitchcock? and 2001 Maniacs.