DAY THREE is now upon us. Billed as the first horror film to come from Laos, Chantaly is a slow and ponderous ghost story in which a reclusive young woman with a heart condition is haunted by visions of her dead mother. Shot exlusively within the confines of her home, it has a claustrophobic and quietly ominous tone, the supernatural elements dialled right back in favour of the increasingly frail Chantaly’s relationships with her father and would-be suitor as she struggles to retain her grip on both life and reality. The performances are solid, and it remains engaging despite its slow pace, achieving a hazy, ethereal quality as the mystery of the spectre is slowly revealed. One thing that threatened to spoil the film though was the punishingly blatant product placement by some local Laoitian beer company. The logo and product pops up repeatedly in scene after scene, to the point that it started to feel like a gag. I found it so jarring that it actually went full-circle and stopped being annoying, adding instead little levity to the film’s rather distant and understated tone. Not what the director intended, I’m sure, but there you go.
American-made vampire film, Kiss of the Damned has a strong 70s euro-horror feel to it, albeit polished up to a fine HD sheen. Vibrant, slick and lithely edited, it’s a thing of beauty to behold, with its sumptous settings and lavish outbursts of eroticism and violence that never feel less than imminent. Insatiable addiction rages through the film. Human screenwriter Paulo finds himself obsessed with beautiful vampire Djuna, who in turn finds herself powerless to resist his advances. Djuna’s unstable and voracious sister Mimi drops in on their romance however, on the run on account of her increasingly reckless exploits, and a power struggle emerges that threatens to expose the entire vampire community. The story itself takes no great risks, in fact in many ways it is quite mundane and predictable, but the richness of the presentation and the intensity of feeling make their mark nonetheless.
Ghost Graduation is a Spanish ghost comedy set in a high school. A hopeless young teacher gets a a job at a new school and discovers that it is home to five teenage ghosts who died in a fire whilst in detention. They are the usual array of 80s high school stereotypes, haunting the school out of boredom, and it’s up to the teacher to find out how to help them pass on. It essentially feels like The Frightners via The Breakfast Club, and there are plenty of good running gags, such as the therapist who is rather undermined by his dead psychiatrist father sitting in on all his sessions wearing a noose and rolling his eyes, or the kid ghost who was drunk when the fire went up and who now spends the afterlife perpetually hammered. It’s an enjoyably daft throwback comedy with plenty of laughs, although it could have done without the schmaltzy ending.
After a horror-themed pub quiz, it’s time for HK- Forbidden Superhero, not horror but rather a film about a man who gains super-pervert powers from wearing womens knickers on his head. It’s from Japan. But then you already knew that. Hentai Kamen discovers his powers one day quite by accident as he attempts to rescue the girl he is in love with from a gang of kidnappers, and from then on he sets about fighting crime in a variety of kinky ways. Wearing a mankini, suspenders, and of course a pair of womens knickers, he has a variety of video-game style special fighting moves at his disposal, most of which involve his testicles. At one point he breaks a man’s nose with his crotch. Spectacularly silly from start to finish, it’s also frequently extremely funny and thankfully managed to avoid being at all creepy, though it will melt your mind.
DAY FOUR starts with Silent Scream, an episode of the Hammer House of Horror TV series that the company turned to after they stopped making feature films. Peter Cushing plays a shopkeeper who asks a newly-released prisoner to look after his animals for him whilst he’s away. It’s a wickedly funny tale, and Cushing puts in a great performance as a mild-mannered shopkeep, with his quietly sinister decorum standing in sharp relief to Brian Cox’s earthy ex-con. But what is Cushing’s dark secret?
Few things are as likely to get my blood boiling as quickly as the phrase ‘hipster zombie film’, but despite The Battery fitting this criteria fairly well I found myself increasingly warming to it. Set in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, two professional baseball pitchers are making their way across the American wasteland. Regarding each other as would long-suffering brothers, Ben wants to stay on the road and deal with the zombies as he finds them, whilst Mickey longs to have a roof over his head and spends all day hiding away underneath his headphones. They bicker and fight, and the performances are good enough and the dialogue funny enough that I found myself growing invested in their characters, even if it all does feel very.. well.. hipsterish. A slow-moving road movie, the story builds nicely, but then in the third act it all just….stops. I suppose you could call it a bold move, but my investment went flying out the window and it had me genuinely wondering if they just ran out of money.
Welsh director Cardog James’ The Machine is a sleek and stylish science fiction film set in the dystopian near-future. A technological cold war with China has plunged the UK into its deepest ever recession, with the arms race turning to the production of ever-more intelligent machines. Deep within an underground MOD research facility Vincent, a neuroscience and cybernetics genius, rehabilitates severely wounded soldiers by means of augmentation, driven by the hope that his work might lead to a cure for his neurologically handicapped daughter. He recruits a new lab partner, Ava, and by replicating her brain patterns onto a computer the two researchers turn their efforts to creating a revolutionary self-aware artificial intelligence, but the project is hijacked by the MOD who want to mould this sentient entity into a new kind of weapon.
The Machine is an intelligent film, provoking internal debate about the moral implications of transhumanism and of the creation of artificial consciousness. Does our accelerating technological advancement make a post-human future inevitable? That said, the story is admittedly not hugely original, and on paper the script might seem a little stale, but it’s elevated above this by some truly excellent presentation. It looks fantastic, successfully capturing some of the essence of Blade Runner, with long dark corridors and leaden, rainy skies providing a hint of noir, as does a striking visual homage to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It feels bleak and melancholic, set in a future that is both otherworldy yet familiarly mundane, and the excellent synth score is cold yet pulsing.
It’s a film that’s perhaps best watched in an abstract frame of mind- I found myself far too immersed in the excellent visuals and general feel to be preoccupied with the aforementioned limitations of the script. Stylised visuals aside, there is plenty of straightforward sci-fi action on offer as well, with great special effects, especially given the film’s modest budget. One more thing to look out for- whilst it might not be a horror film, it does feature a little homage to one of the most chilling moments in Donald Sutherland’s acting career. You’ll know it when you see it.
Bad Milo! is a black comedy about a man who has a murderous demon living up his arse. Ken Marino plays Duncan, an overworked and stressed-out office worker at the end of his tether, and before long his stomach problems give rise to Milo, a big-eyed, razor-toothed little fella who pops out on occasion to sate his taste for both revenge and human flesh. First he just goes after minor annoyances in Duncan’s life, but the trouble really starts when he turns his attentions to Duncan’s wife Sarah.
The film has a strong Gremlins/Basket Case feel to it, compounded by some great 80s-style latex puppet effects. Milo is adorably cute one minute, then the next the little fucker is off biting some poor sod’s cock off in a back alley. He even looks like a shaved Gizmo come to think of it. It’s a wicked yet charming film built on a solid comic performance by Marino, along with Peter Stormare (Fargo, The Big Lebowski) as a spaced out new age therapist who helps Duncan to learn to control his little intestinal fiend. A bloody good fun 80s throwback film that’s damn hard not to like.
We wrap up the day with Mystery Grindhouse, in which a hopelessly obscure cinematic abomination is mercilessly torn to pieces by female comedian Nicko via the time-honored tradition of piss-take commentary. Not only that, but everyone is encouraged to join in with riffs of their own. As a die-hard Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fan with a worryingly large number of the IMDB bottom 100 films under my belt, this is all music to my ears. The film in question is Night Train to Terror, which is actually three films, each so hopelessly shit that they’ve been hacked to bits in the editing room to cut each down to about twenty minutes. These were then slapped together alongside interludes of the most agonisingly awful 80s pop band in the world performing on a train whilst God and Satan sit in another carriage solemnly discussing the fate of the characters in the films. God, we learn in the credits, was played by Himself, which I thought was rather good of Him.
One of the films is about a serial killer at a mental hospital, I think. Another is about the members of a bizarre ‘death club’ who get a thrill out of the threat of death by doing things such as letting a giant, badly animated stop-motion killer wasp choose which one of them to sting, or by lying about underneath a swinging wrecking ball in sleeping bags to see who gets squashed. The third film has a sinister Damien-like character in it, then it cuts to some Nazis for some reason, then to some truly spectacular special effects in which, for the big death-by-monster set-pieces, and apparently in all seriousness, the director has tried to get away with switching the actors with animated claymation figures bearing their likeness. The whole thing is a masterpiece of hack-bullshit from start to finish, and Nicko’s commentary consistently has me gripped by belly-laughs throughout. Next year could we have a six day festival of just this please?