Abertoir 2013 Day Three

My first film on day three was Chanthaly, a film that is not only the first film to be made by a woman in Laos, but also the first in the horror genre to come out of the country.  It is always interesting with Abertoir in the way that they schedule films from a variety of countries, which makes for some fascinating comparisons and contrasts in terms of sensibilities, cultural practices, histories and also restrictions.  The production of Chanthaly was carefully monitored in order to avoid causing offense in director Mattie Do’s native Laos which means there is no gore, very little violence but a quiet and reflective ghost story, with a focus on the family.  Considering the inexperience of the director it is an impressive and ambitious debut, with my only complaint being that it ran a little long.  However, it is deliciously creepy in parts, with scenes comparable to Ringu and the 2010 version of Whistle and I’ll Come to You and, perhaps most importantly has an awesome dog starring in it.  That’ll always win points with me.

ImageNext up was Kiss of the Damned – advertised as a homage to Euro-sleaze and on that it delivers.  Perhaps more interestingly is the fact that director Xan Cassavettes is the daughter of John Cassavettes – known in the horror genre for his role as Guy Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby, but also for his directorial work on films like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, lending that extra expectation to it.  Kiss of the Damned is like the ultimate guilty pleasure, containing vampires who live to have sex with one another, a simplistic plot with some awkward lines delivered ridiculously but it works!  It is so well-constructed and charming (not to mention it has an awesome soundtrack) that you’re willing to instantly surrender to it and be taken along for the duration.

Following this was another talk from Peter Hutchings, again covering the life and times of Peter Cushing.  The talk was an emotional one, filled with not only clips of the great man in action, but also personal anecdotes that left the majority of the audience at least a little misty-eyed.  Also another great excuse to see the Morecambe and Wise clip, alongside other media inspired by Cushing.

ImageOur last film before the Pub Quiz was Ghost Graduation – a film initially described as sounding a bit shit, having a terrible poster and was a last resort for organisers during a festival stay.  However, this lovely Spanish comedy film turned out to be the best last resort ever taken – storming to a confident win as the Best Feature of the festival.  There’s very little horror in it, even though it is a ghost story but functions more as The Breakfast Club (including at least one moment directly acknowledging this)…with spirits.  What it is, though, is touching with great comedic timing and with tons and tons of feel-good moments.

It proved great scheduling as the fun-filled film put everyone in the right mood for the Pub Quiz.  Now I’ve bemoaned the difficulty of the music round in this before, but this year (largely thanks to a bone thrown to us by Nia) we were able to secure a few more correct answers than previous years.  Despite not winning (but importantly, also not losing), the Pub Quiz is always great fun, particularly when complimented by the specially designed cocktails.

ImageThose cocktails would certainly help with the next film…Hentai Kamen Forbidden Superhero, which served as Abertoir’s annual slice of Japanese mayhem and weirdness.  Before this though, we were treated to the final episode of series one of Danger 5, but happily were given a preview of series two, that will hopefully make its way to Abertoir for next year.  Anyway, HK, is…odd.  There’s not much I can say about the plot other than it is about a teen who unlocks his superhero potential, via perverted means.  While the joke ran fairly thin fairly soon for me, there are some real laugh-out-loud moments in this one and a hellishly confident performance by the lead.  Look up screenshots and you’ll see what I mean.  Might be an idea to chuck a safe-search on first if you’re in a library or something though.  Actually if you’re in public DO NOT LOOK IT UP!

With Thursday over, we can now look into the long weekend of Abertoir 2013…coming soon.

Abertoir 2012 Day Two

Now moving on to day two of Abertoir, with something resembling an early night on night one I woke up surprisingly refreshed and ready to get down to some serious horror viewing, helped greatly by the 1pm start time.  Today’s first film was Madhouse, featuring the focus of this year’s festival Peter Cushing and Abertoir’s very own patron saint, Vincent Price (no, seriously it’s in the programme now.  Victoria Price has confirmed it…she’s that cool).  This was a first viewing for me but anything featuring those horror greats must have something to it, and indeed it does.  Gaz during an introduction to the film explained how this was one of the last horror’s of its kind before the juggernaut-like The Exorcist hit screens and left people wanting evermore violent and disturbing horror.  What Madhouse provides is a warm and nostalgic look at a time before this, with the knowledge that you’re in safe hands for entertainment with Cushing and Price.

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Keeping on the subject of horror icons, next up was the Court of Cult: British Horror’s Greatest Stars.  The court was presided over by Judge Gaz (do excuse the terrible quality on my camera, ’tis all my fault) and featured presenters arguing for their favourite cult British horror star.  Lively presentations were given in favour of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Sheila Keith and Michael Ripper to be awarded Abertoir’s favourite.  All the presentations were wonderful, but with a little help from Morecambe and Wise, Peter Hutchings secured a victory for Peter Cushing, rather fittingly.  However, had Russ Hunter been able to play the fantastic clip of Christopher Lee reading from The Exorcist….that might have swung it.  Nevertheless, we were not to be disappointed for long as it was screened just before Danger 5 later that night.  Worth the wait.  So worth the wait.

Up next was the second short film of the festival Grandpa, screening ahead of Across the River.  I’ve spoken before about how I feel that some short films can function as a pitch for a feature length version and I would strongly suggest this is the case with Grandpa.  There were quite a few half-ideas throughout it, with nothing completely fleshed out, which honestly, left me a little cold.  A couple of creepy moments worked well, but ultimately felt a little hollow.  This feeling would continue into Across the River – an Italian film with a focus on the history of tension between Italy and Slovenia using a ghost story as a way of exploring the themes.  Somewhere within this film is a creepy and effective ghost story that hints at human cruelty, but unfortunately, it is over long and spends far too much time in the set up, meaning that the necessary ‘scary bits’ are few and far between.  However, when there is a scare – it tends to be a good one.

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Next up was Painless, and as I’ve already reviewed this, you already know that I loved it.  Sharing a similarity to, Across the River, Painless is far less about the supernatural and more about troubled human histories and the cruelties within it.  I did not see Painless for a second time here, but will definitely pick it up on DVD.  I also missed The Station, largely due to its description as being like The Thing and having an emphasis on sci-fi.  Those who know me, know that sci-fi is often not my thing, so as already mentioned, whenever you can find a break at a festival – it’s usually a good thing to take it.

My long break (and a little bit of rum) left me nice and refreshed for the midnight screenings of Danger 5 and Return to Nuke ‘Em High Vol. 1Danger 5, as always, was a real treat and was again introduced by the hilarious creators.  Now, I’ve never properly experienced a Troma film before, so Return to Nuke ‘Em was quite the introduction.  I’ve already said in the videos how in the beginning, I laughed despite myself, thanks to a few well-placed cameos.  However, the controversial one-liners soon came thick and fast and while some may have been well-received, the sheer amount of them turned the film into something rather more cruel than first imagined and for me, it lost a lot of steam.  Still, I’m glad to have finally seen a Troma.    

Abertoir 2013 Round Up

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So, Abertoir is over for another year and while my liver is suffering and my craving for an actual vegetable is almost unbearable, I could happily have stayed for much longer.  What would be left of me is a whole different matter, but I can always recommend the festival to anyone.  This year was my third year attending the festival and it has been a great experience every year – even if I do make myself a promise to attend everything before red wine happens and it all falls apart a bit.  Of course, there were some films I had previously seen at Celluloid Screams in Sheffield – Painless (my review for allhorror.net is here), Discopath, The Body, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, Chiméres and The Battery – meaning I could have a few breaks without missing out, although Discopath, The Body and Chiméres demanded a second viewing.

As most of those who follow me on Twitter know, myself and Hayley of Hayley’s Horror Reviews have been producing some short on-the-ground festival footage, thanks largely to Hayley’s quickly-increasing editing abilities that have meant that we’ve been able to record a great deal of our instant reactions to films and get them uploaded fairly quickly.  The link to the playlist for these videos (and others from Sheffield and last year’s Abertoir) is here and we’d be grateful for comments, shares and even helpful tips or what you might like to see next year.

With that bit of housekeeping taken care of it’s probably best that I structure my thoughts following the festival on a day-by-day, film-by-film (or event) basis.  Of course, I’m not going to give away too much of my thoughts on films that I might get around to doing full reviews on at some point.  Will probably return to my method for my first Abertoir and review one film from each day…wish me luck.  Without further ado…my Abertoir 2013 Round Up, with thanks to Gaz, Nia and Rhys for putting on such a wonderful festival and working so hard.

Day One

The first film at Abertoir 2013 was originally intended to be a classic screening of The Haunting with Richard Johnson in attendance to take part in a Q&A session following the screening.  However, due to a scheduling conflict, Richard Johnson was unable to attend until the Saturday, but this resulted in some very special moments which otherwise would not have happened.  Instead, we were treated to a screening of The Mummy, featuring some wonderful eye-acting from Christopher Lee and one of the greatest backhanded compliments from the mouth of Peter Cushing.

Following this was my second opportunity to see Discopath – again screening with short film The Body.  The best description I can bestow upon Discopath is that it is a grubby and disarmingly, darkly funny film.  I feel like some of the negative response to the film is as  result of people expecting it all to be played for laughs – admittedly the premise does have a comedic value – but instead are confronted with a frequently unpleasant and gory film.  The Body before it is an example of a short film done very right – playing perfectly into its run time with wit and stylish design.

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The third film of the first night came from Lucky McKee, which of course, I was very excited about.  The Woman is one of my favourite films of the last few years and getting to directly fangirl at Lauren Ashley Carter at Celluloid Screams was a major highlight and I was expecting a similarly hard-hitting, social commentary.  Instead, we got All Cheerleaders Die.  I knew very little about it, and again those watching the videos/following on Twitter will already know that I loved this, partially for being so different to what I was expecting.  However, there are moments that are distinctly Lucky McKee, although it is missed with a humour and madness not always present.  The ending was probably one of the best I’ve seen too.

The final film of the night was Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, continuing Abertoir’s love affair with 1970s Italian horror.  As I’d seen this fairly recently I decided some sleep was a better option, but not before sticking around for episode 4 of Danger 5.  Last year, Abertoir showed the first three episodes before midnight screenings of the 1960s, Nazi-hunting, spy team parody full of strange non-sequiturs and perhaps more importantly, some great cocktail recipes.  These recipes in fact, formed an important part of this year’s festival as bar patrons were treated to The Perfect Fruiten Kahmoon (the best one) and The Perfect Swiss Kiss (surprisingly tasty), designed for us movie and booze hounds based on actual recipes from the show.  The creators of Danger 5 had also prepared a special introduction for each episode – often upping the strangeness considerably.  I can’t really accurately explain entirely what Danger 5 is, but it’s a slice of absolute brilliance.

ImageThis was my first day at Abertoir 2013 and as my rambling about it has dragged along a little, I think I’ll be posting the round up by days to avoid the dreaded wall of text.  Day Two through Six to come.  Six days!  How did we all survive that?!

Portmanteau Horrors

I’m going to start this blog by just stating that I’ve still yet to see a huge number of portmanteau or ‘anthology’ horrors but due to being excited about V/H/S wanted to take a look at those I’ve enjoyed most.  I’m grateful to any lovely people who can suggest any others to watch, either on the comments here, or on Twitter @caitd5.  Likelihood of spoilers is pretty high.

 

 Arguably the first portmanteau horror is Dead of Night and despite its release in 1945 is still thought of highly to this day.  It does hold up well, threading together the stories, blended with elements of comedy and the ever-spooky ventriloquist dummy and builds towards a shocking climax.  It sets the scene for future portmanteau films by weaving together the stories in an interesting way, preventing what could be a simple film gimmick into a successful, enjoyable and yes, at times scary piece of work.  This pioneering work clearly inspired the work of Amicus studios throughout the 1970s as they adapted horror comics into films starring some of the biggest names in horror.

One of these comic adaptations is The Vault of Horror and contains my favourite segment of any anthology horror (so far) ‘Midnight Mess’ and also my second favourite ‘The Neat Job’.  The framing device for the film involves a group of men (including Dr Who star Tom Baker) entering a lift, that instead of taking them to their desired floor opens out to a basement room where chairs are arranged in a circle.  The men all take a seat and begin to tell tales of strange dreams they have had in which they meet their demise.  While the content has certainly aged the stories have a camp, dark humour to them and the sense of the grotesque that I really love.  The idea of blood on tap, direct from the neck of a still-living human being remains a horrifying idea, as does the frustration and anger of a housewife who, unable to keep up with her husband’s meticulous sorting regimes decides to kill him, chop him up and store him in carefully labelled jars.

The segment ‘The Neat Job’ clearly inspired the Dawn French segment of the Psychoville Halloween segment in which the tale is modernised to include the perils of improper recycling.  Creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith use the anthology formula in order to set-up a variety of different stories that would be unable to fit into the Psychoville storylines but still, through a bit of clever writing, manages to further and set-up the second series.  It’s a device the pair used alongside Jeremy Dyson and Mark Gatiss for The League of Gentlemen Christmas Special to use some of their characters in a different way while still remaining true to the worlds they have created.  Mark Gatiss also used a form of portmanteau story telling in his fantastic series Crooked House, that moves through different times of the house and the effect it has on its inhabitants.

The thing I really love about anthology horrors is that they allow for a wide variety of horror themes.  It can deal with the supernatural, serial killers or any other sub-genre of horror in small chunks.  Most anthologies include paranoia, revenge, betrayal, grief and obsession which are integral to the nature of horror.  For example, in ‘The House That Dripped Blood’, one of the stories concerns a horror author who begins to see his serial killer creation Dominic around the house, often attacking his wife.  This theme of obsession and the dark interests of those who work in horror works well as a story opener.  The sight of Dominic is one of the more genuinely creepy things within the often camp nature of some of Amicus’ output.

Another great thing about the anthology horror is the line up of cult and horror names involved in the productions.  Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliot, Anna Massey, Tom Baker and Vincent Price have all been a part of one or more and the format often allows them to play against type.  A good example of which is found in ‘The House That Dripped Blood’ where Christopher Lee appears to be playing the role of a villain before a twist in the tale showcases his talents in a different way.  Of course, the performances that conform to their usual roles are just as fun, with Vincent Price explaining the breeds and cross breeds of various monsters in ‘The Monster Club’ being a particular highlight.

So that’s my little ramble about anthology horrors, inspired by the fact that V/H/S is out soon, the format of which (if successful) could allow new directors to collaborate with others and hone their craft by working on smaller tales, but with the creativity to weave them together.  My only problem with V/H/S is that its another found footage film and they really have outworn their welcome, but at least there’s a little change to the format and the handover to a variety of directors should inject some life into the genre.  Plus, who can argue with how cool that poster is?

Thanks for reading and as already stated at the start of the blog all suggestions for more anthology horrors are welcomed, either here or on Twitter.

Abertoir Day One

First off, Merchandise Monday will return next week.  Circumstances beyond my control (mainly my laptop and car being stolen) meant that there was no way I had time for an entry.  Still, things are slowly getting back on track so things will be back to normal.  Also this entry is two days late *slaps back of hand*.  So today I’ll be posting my personal highlights from Day One and Day Two of the Abertoir Horror Festival (website here) and then tonight it’ll be Day Three highlights, even though I’ve not seen any films as yet today.  So on with the highlights for Day One!

 

As mentioned before on the blog, the Abertoir Horror Festival this year is in honour of the wonderful Vincent Price, so it was only fitting to begin the festival with a screening of short The Pit and The Pendulum, followed by The House of the Long Shadows.  The House of the Long Shadows is perhaps best known for being the film where Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing all appeared and interacted with one another in one film.  Sadly and surprisingly this is not available on DVD, although the reasons were unknown.  If anyone does know, please get in touch and let me know.  This was my favourite film of the day with some great lines such as Price’s “Don’t interrupt me when I’m soliloquising.”  It was also nice that the first film of the event actually concerned Wales…even if it wasn’t in the most flattering way.

 

Following this there was a debate on censorship, particularly concerning the BBFC.  All the more fitting since star of recently banned, then overturned film The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), Laurence R. Harvey was a part of the panel.  He also stuck around for a Q&A after the film, in which he described his character Martin as a ‘problem solver’ and detailed how fun the shooting of the film was, meaning he had no idea how dark the material was until he saw it all put together.  Also on the panel was festival organiser Nia, researcher of the BBFC and extreme cinema Emma Pett and Martin Barker (who you may recognise from the Video Nasties documentary).  Barker began the debate by barging in, dressed as Mary Whitehouse, which meant that while there was a serious discussion it was also kept light and fun for the audience.  There are some attempts at photography below, although I’m still getting used to a new camera so the quality isn’t great unfortunately.

 

Mary Whitehouse interrupts proceedings

 

Laurence R Harvey, Nia and Martin Barker on the panel. Emma sadly off-screen.

 

It was in this discussion that I was convinced to stick around and watch The Human Centipede 2, despite being very cautious of the content.  You can read my review over at Altered Realities Radio by clicking on the picture below.

 

Also, follow me on Twitter (@caitd5) for more frequent, little updates.