Review: Leeds Film Festival's 11th Night of the Dead
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Once again horror fans faithfully flocked to Leeds Festival's sell-out Night of the Dead. From the downright predictable to the bizarre, Shadowlocked's Leo Owen reviews this year's four main features...
Director/writer: Jesse T. Cook
Running Time: 85 mins
Starring: Dave Foley, Art Hindle, Robert Maillet, Kevin Nash, Jimmy Hart, Herb Dean
The writer and director of 2008's horror flick Scarce, Jesse T. Cook, revisits the genre in his latest film Monster Brawl. “The time will come when monsters shape the futures of all” begins a suitably jocular voice-over that introduces us to the “most highly-anticipated extreme sport ever”. Making a horror enthusiast's hypothetical pub chat a reality, Cook pits some of the genre's most celebrated figures against each other in the wrestling ring.
Eight of the most powerful ghouls of all time from all four corners of the earth come together and are structured into “two conferences” with middle and heavy weight “monsters” and “creatures”, such as “Witch Bitch”. An American TV show set-up is quickly established with presenter, Buzz Chambers hosting from a secret cemetery location.
“Graveside” interviews with characters like the gravedigger and “the brains behind the brawl” add a ridiculous credibility to the film. We travel from the Ionian Islands in Greece to meet Cyclops to The Mummy in New York, Lady Vampire in Arizona, Werewolf in New Jersey, the Undead in Pennsylvania and Frankenstein in Germany - but it's the mockumentary-style segment introducing Louisiana-based Swamp Gut that's the funniest. Top Trump style intros to the contestants' powers and weaknesses allow for subtle humorous touches like The Mummy's stats stating he suffers from “chronic arthritis”.
The presenters' spiel replicates the melodrama of the wrestling ring with dramatic atmospheric builders like “a blood-curdling battle to the death” and “the loser must leave this world”. Characters use famous wrestling moves (head grips, slams, the figure of four leg lock...), there are bikini clad ringside ladies and WWF Manager Jimmy Hart is cast alongside real life ref Herb Dean.
Although not all the behind-the-scenes pre-fight footage works (Cyclops' training comes to mind), Cook writes some genuinely funny lines. Cyclops is preposterously described as coming “from a long line of one-eyed blacksmiths” while Zombie Man threatens to “beat you then eat you”. Cultural film references are used as in-jokes with a nod to Battle Royale and presenters crying out “Ding dong the witch is dead”. A subtitled interview with Swamp Gut that focuses on saving the environment and a news piece using the acronym “MILF” (“Mummy I'd Like to Find”) are particularly inspired.
Clearly influenced by Tales From The Crypt, although Monster Brawl sounds amazing on paper, on screen its repetitive format becomes a tad samey, detracting from its humour, suggesting it would have made a hilarious short. Characters fight to the end while Cook drags out his subject matter to the death, mercifully finishing with a bizarrely abrupt ending.
Directors/Writers:: Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson, Simon Rumley
Running Time: 90 mins
Starring: Scott Ainslie, Mike Anfield, Kate Braithwaite, Daniel Brocklebank, Siobhan Harrison, Amy Joyce Hastings, Jodie Jameson, Luke de Lacey, Brendan Gregory, Holly Lucas
In a similar vein to 1965's Dr Terror's House of Horrors, Little Deaths utilises the anthology format, creating three distinct thematic segments written and directed by film-makers who've previously dabbled in horror.
Sean Hogan's House and Home opens Little Deaths, throwing us into the erotic-sadistic world of a seemingly respectable middle-class couple. Victoria and Richard pose as Christians offering homeless people home comforts. Picking up Sorrow as she begs, it soon becomes clear their intentions are far from honourable. Alarm bells ring when V and Richard reflect: “We all have appetites – some of us just have different tastes...no-one gets hurt much.” Both leads are excellent, calmly deranged throughout, while Hogan's use of blurred footage effectively simulates drunken scenes. A neat end with an unexpected twist gives House and Home its tight thriller structure.
The second section, Mutant Tool, is written by Andrew Parkinson and claims to feature “the biggest dick you'll ever see”. Flashed scientific video footage introduces the short's main subject-matter before we meet our leads - dealer Frank and his ex-drug addict prostitute girlfriend, Jen. Given a new drug that claims to open up “the third eye” by Frank's scientist business associate, Jen finds herself mentally linked to an alarming character strapped up like the Vitruvian man wearing a metal helmet. Played a bit like a Blue Jam episode in its straight-faced surrealism, Mutant Tool is compelling in its mounting intrigue and tension - not to mention its downright disturbed plot premise.
Little Deaths' final segment, Bitch, is courtesy of the more prolific Simon Rumley, and shows the deterioration of Pete and Claire's somewhat bizarre relationship. Rumley favours off-camera action to keep us guessing. Although Bitch is a tad drawn-out, it's perversely compelling, with a surprise climax.
Despite Little Deaths clearly having an S&M thread throughout and focusing on victims, it is much more than torture-porn, both cleverly and imaginatively executed. Think extreme Tales of the Unexpected. Problems with financiers has rather criminally delayed its UK release, so keep your eyes peeled.
Director/writer: Antonio Trashorras
Running Time: 75 mins
Starring: Leonor Varela, Ana de Armas, Diego Cadavid
The directional feature début from the writer of The Devil's Backbone immediately immerses us into its unknown horrors. Opening split screen shots of a girl running, snippets of a police investigation and bodies being dragged all suggest an attacker is loose before we meet our heroine.
Chambermaid, Rosa, is taking medication for insomnia and plans to dump her boyfriend. Preparing for a photo shoot audition, Rosa visits a 24 hour laundrette where she meets an unsavoury character who seems to threaten her existence. Much of the action then takes places with Rosa holed-up in the laundrette.
Trashorras' Bond-style opening credits are particularly nicely envisaged, neatly leading us into Rosa's first audition. Music is well chosen (“There's something creepy in the dark”) and trippy camera work seeks to imitate the effect of sleeping pills. Shots showing the inner workings of the body and flashbacks help us to understand characters' experiences. Rosa makes a sympathetic lead, making it easy to relate to her feelings and situation.
Unfortunately half way through, Rosa transforms into the classic horror film “survivor girl”, seemingly losing her mind. In tiresome stupid-girl-mode, Rosa slips on blood and deliberately destroys her only means of communication, her mobile.
The first half of Blind Alley is full of promise, with suitably tense alley footage, a red herring tramp-like character, a nicely-timed phone call from Rosa's ex and subtle twist clues. Although it's not without funny moments, Blind Alley is too drawn-out and suffers from plot holes. By playing on stereotyping, our fear of strangers and morality, Trashorras forces us to question our decision-making and who we can really trust.
Director: Yoshihiro Nishimura
Writer: Yoshihiro Nishimura, Daichi Nagisa
Running Time: 117 mins
Starring: Yomiko Hara, Eihi Shiina, Kazuki Namioka
The director of Mutant Girls Squad and Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl, returns to his usual spot, closing Night Of The Dead. Helldriver is characteristic of Yoshihiro Nishimura's previous work, but this time experimentally collaborates with a new first time writer.
“For as long as I can recall I've been running,” says our heroine, Kika (Yomiko Hara). Meeting her crazy mother and uncle, it's hardly surprising. A meteorite hitting her mother unfortunately doesn't have the desired effect but seems to result in a strange ash cloud spreading across Japan. Anyone not wearing a gas mask is quickly infected and soon six million people are sporting antler-shaped tumours and hungry for their neighbours.
A wall is built to protect the healthy by dividing Japan but this solution comes with its own problems. It doesn't help that the government have decided those infected still have rights and aren't considered dead or that the horn-like antennae are illegally sought after as a high.
Typically zany costumes open Helldriver as we witness a guy in a hologram cat suit scaling the wall. More conventional-looking undead munch alongside double-headed zombies and flying zombie babies. Never content with simple horror, Nishimura also introduces a car comprised of human body parts and a mega zombie. Particularly inventive are the scenes involving neck pole dancing, a painful-looking vaginal bite and a downpour of heads.
In keeping with Nishimura's previous work, Helldriver rejects any attempt at realism, with even dismembered body parts appearing plasticky. Expect plenty of manic laughing and frequent blood showers, predictably resulting in a blood-splattered screen and camera; Helldriver is in fact so red it makes ideal drinking game fodder - it's easy to become completely numb and desensitised to the repetitive extremely graphic violence. Like Nishimura's last two films, Helldriver uses obviously dramatic close-ups, slow-motion and simultaneous fight scenes to capture the action. It too, has a resistance movement and strong female lead who petulantly moans “You are one persistent arse-wipe”.
In an attempt to make its ludicrous subject-matter seem plausible, Nishimura utilises live news reports. The most surreally comical footage comes from the “one household, three family” public announcement and the bizarre cartoon explaining a new law. It's just a shame Nishimura didn't devote as much time to making the premise behind the ash cloud vaguely plausible or giving us a sneak peak into Kika's back-story.
Visually arresting throughout, Helldriver clearly attempts to make some form of social commentary with Nishimura's Prime Minister sporting a Hitler moustache, Nazi references and yet another character self-harming. As always with Nishimura expect the unexpected and impossible. As a road movie surrogate family flick, Helldriver is undoubtedly his most preposterous project yet – overly indulgent in its running-time and astounding 45 minute title sequence.
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