FrightFest 2013: Round-up 1 – Dispatches From The Dark Heart of Cinema

We lock ourselves in Empire Leicester Square for five days of death and dismemberment with some of the most fervent genre fans around. We escaped the baying throng long enough to deliver this, the first of our roundups...

Blog by jamie@theskinny.co.uk | 23 Aug 2013
  • You're Next

Offering more films than ever before, an eye-watering 51 over five days, FrightFest has returned for its 14th year to put a bit of spook back into the August bank holiday. A hardy and enthusiastic mob packed out the opulent Empire Leicester Square for their annual blood-binge, and were presented with a successful evening overall.

Following a wonderful new incarnation of the famed 'Turn Your Bloody Phone Off' idents, in which coorganiser Ian Rattray caved in the skull of an obnoxious cinema mobile-user, World's Greatest Dad and God Bless America director Bobcat Goldthwait kicked-off the event proper with a fine opening speech praising his audience and the organisers. His new film, Willow Creek, screens on Saturday and Sunday, and the erstwhile Police Academy star knew exactly how to get the crowd going. "We're not babies, we want to see the good stuff!" was his mantra, and all were delighted to concur.

The opening film, however, was something of a letdown after Goldthwaite’s rabble-rousing. Howard and Jonathan Ford's The Dead 2: India follows on directly from the filmmaking brothers’ original zombie picture, the plague having now spread to the sub-continent. American engineer Nicholas (Joseph Millson), working on wind turbines in the middle of nowhere, must get to his newly pregnant girlfriend Ishani (Meenu Mishra) in Mumbai when things get a bit bitey. He’s aided by a Short Round-inflected sidekick (Anand Gopal) and, erm, a paraglider.

The filmmakers were on-hand for an introduction and at pains to point-out how much fun they had while shooting. A lot of that fun is evident on-screen; despite featuring risible dialogue, very little internal logic and some almost impressively wooden performances (Millson apart), it manages to remain charming until a tonally misguided mercy killing at around the hour mark.

Returning to the stage after the credits, the Ford brothers had to play second fiddle to the supporting cast members they brought along with them, Sandip Datta Gupta, who plays Ishani’s traditional and traditionally gruff father, and nine-year-old Gopal. Both were instant hits. The former was urbane and self-deprecating (“At 50 I decided I wanted to be an actor, at 51 I went to drama school… I’m 53 now!”), while the latter was adorable, delivering what appeared to be a rehearsed awards acceptance speech. If horror fans could go "awwwwww", they surely would have. Any goodwill toward the film which had dissipated was effortlessly recovered by the pair.

Things progressed with a slightly more recognisable franchise: Curse of Chucky, the sixth instalment of Don Mancini’s classic killer ginger doll saga. Writer-director Mancini and star Fiona Dourif (Brad’s daughter) took to the stage to provide context, promising a genuinely scary Chucky film after the broadly comic appeal of the previous two outings. With some gruesome and ingenious kills from the diminutive plastic psycho and some deliciously arch call-backs, Curse of Chucky went down a treat. Very funny, pretty icky, and featuring a couple of smart surprises, it might not have actually scared anyone, but no one seemed to mind.

The main attraction of the opening night, however, was surely Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s twisty stalk ‘n’ slash opus You’re Next. Star Wendy Glenn was here to briskly introduce, then the crowd got their teeth into what is a sharp and lean genre classic in waiting. Focusing on a family gathering (Wingard and Barrett’s other V/H/S alumni Ti West and Joe Swanberg are included in the party) disrupted by a team of mask-sporting psychos, what unfolds is not quite what one might expect as one dinner guest fights back. And hard. You’re Next offered just the perfect balance of laughs and brutality to send the throng off into the night with a grin on their faces, eager to return a mere eight hours later to continue the mayhem.

With seven more films in the main screen alone on Friday, here’s hoping they got some rest.

FILM4 FrightFest takes place 22-26 Aug, Empire Leicester Square, London http://www.frightfest.co.uk