GRIMMFEST 2016- SUNDAY 9TH OCTOBER – Reviewed by James Pemberton
And so at last its the final day of Grimmfest and with another heavy line up of films packed in, 6 altogether and starting early today at 10:20am, so early that I overslept and by the time I got into the centre of Manchester the screening of DARLING had just started so rather than run across town to get in and miss possibly 10 minutes of the film feeling agitated, hungry and still barely awake I went to get some breakfast.
From the talk I heard DARLING went down well and its one I hope to catch soon. I did arrive in time, well really on time for the screening of…..
BEYOND THE GATES (Dir- Jackson Stewart, USA, 2016)
Two estranged brothers Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John (Chaise Williamson) reunite at their father’s video store to help clear out the place since its been liquidated and since dad has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Whilst clearing out the old VHS stock they stumble upon an old VCR board game called Beyond The Gates and along with Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) decide to play it. The board game starts to have a weird effect and leads to some mysterious deaths of some of the brother’s friends but they only have one choice but to play on as the game may hold a clue to their father’s disappearance. Entirely steeped in a retro admiration for 80’s horror and VHS culture BEYOND THE GREATS is an entertaining treat that creates an effective homage to those films that you grew up watching which is only heightened more by Wojciech Golczewski’s synth score.
The brothers are convincingly sketched characters and Stewart builds them up before launching into the gory horror, by having certain, if slightly cliched traits. Gordon is straight forward and sensible and a former alcoholic and John is a slacker and also is hanging around with dubious friends. Whilst it does take a while to go into full horror once it begins the film delightfully brings up some excellent gore effects and even though the climax looks slightly cheap and limited by budget constraints and time there is a certain hint that this is a deliberate decision to further increase the retro VHS trash fest feel and use of prosthetic make up effects. There are also some nice supporting turns by Barbara Crampton looking stunning as usual as the host of the video game and Jesse Merlin gloriously over the top as an occult store owner (“Do you like……board games?”). It may seem overly retro fitted to the point that it might not quite work for some but there’s no denying BEYOND THE GATES is entertaining for anyone who grew up with VHS.
TONIGHT SHE COMES (Dir- Matt Stuertz, USA, 2016)
After a girl goes missing her two friends and some strangers are drawn to a cabin in the woods where they party, drink, laugh, masturbate, fail at having sex all the while not really paying attention to the seemingly naked women who is approaching them and who is not at all she seems where. From reading the run down of this film in the festival brochure I was expecting something that was going to be a bleak film with a downbeat nasty tone instead I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. Starting off like a teen slasher film even with point-of-view of the killer style camera shots TONIGHT SHE COMES starts off with a lot of energy and never lets up even when things take a complete U-turn and go even crazier, cramming in crazed hillbilly satanic rituals, completely over the top kills and a scene which seems to involve characters spilling every bit of blood from their body, including a bloody tampon!
Stuertz also brilliantly works a twist on the characters with the hillbilly’s being the ones who have a plan and are willing to go to any lengths to stop what ever evil lies outside the cabin and the partying outer town folks being the ones who are ignorant, sleazy and pretty much prone to fucking everything up and making things just as bad, a trait which reminded of the brilliant subversion in TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL. The film also pays great homage to exploitation cinema, backwards hillbilly horror, slasher films and even body horror or alien films certainly with its ending XTRO springs to mind and trust me you wont forget the ending. Full of dark comedy, unpredictable shifts in gear and down right tons of use of blood and brilliant use of practical effects throughout, its a thoroughly twisted and original mish mash of genre extremes. It would be hard to further describe watching this its just best to go with the flow and be prepared for an energetic and crazed hour and half. The film opens with a title card saying “This film should be played loud” and that’s a truer statement as any.
I skipped THE REZORT as I had interviewing duties with Matt Stuertz who was present for the world premiere of his film and since our editor in chief Andy Deen who originally was on the interviewing tasks, was not well and was unable to make most of Saturday and today. From what I heard the film had some favourable recommendations though some saying it was decent enough if nothing to shout about. Hopefully another film to catch soon.
VILLMARK ASYLUM (Dir- Pal Oie, NORWAY, 2015)
Five contract workers take on the task of checking a huge sanatorium for hazardous waste before its inevitable demolition. However the massive building hides some secrets of its own and the workers soon face a more darker threat from within the sanatoriums walls. At first reading the synopsis of VILLMARK ASYLUM I instantly thought well this sounds familiar, SESSION 9? It does seem almost identical in parts to setting and plot set up. Though Anderson’s film is more psychological focusing on one characters mental breakdown that worsens inside the asylum, VILLMARK focuses on more physical presence that is a threat to the contract workers. The film does make fantastic use of its setting however it lacks deeper characterisation and starts to rely too much on characters stumbling around in the dark hearing noises.
The characterisation is also pretty standard and in many respects you end up not really getting that too concerned with their fate and it becomes a by the numbers game of predicting who will be knocked off next. Visually well made especially with the use of the sanatorium building, but pretty standard throughout and I just couldn’t get that feeling that I was watching a Norwegian version of SESSION 9 out of my head.
THE RIFT (Dir- Dejan Zecevic, SERBIA, 2016)
A US military satellite crash lands in Eastern Serbia leading to a team of American and Serbian agents on a mission to secure the area and retrieve the remains. But all is not what it seems when they arrive at the crash site they find that something has come back with this satellite and something that is not of this world. Made in Serbia and co-written by Milan Konjevic who also co wrote another Serbian made horror film which starred Ken Foree called ZONE OF THE DEAD, THE RIFT is certainly made with the intention of being sold to an international mainly English speaking audience especially with having horror icon Foree in one of the lead roles cementing its genre selling potential.
Its an interesting if often muddled combination of horror and sci-fi that acts like a part haunted house film as well and often contains some neat visual ideas and tries to expand beyond its low budget. Whilst its not all bad the film it seems to be combining many ideas into a short running time that stretches the films already low budget and moments that drag in the middle section, along with clunky dialogue and certain scenes that come off as confusing the further it reaches towards it’s conclusion. However it works enough to hold your attention and seemingly wears its B-movie credentials on its sleeve as the director knows to combine the relevant genre moments even incorporating a TWILIGHT ZONE-esque feel to the story.
It’s also good to see Foree in a lead role and looks especially cool when he goes all crazy mode swinging an axe and also there’s a brief cameo from Mick Garris as well. Whilst the language is not in Serbian this is wholly been funded and made in the country and in many respects seems to be a chance for a foreign director to showcase his talent to a wider audience and the language of genre film-making is an especially smart way to do this. A flawed but overall entertaining enough final film for Grimm and much better than last years closing festival film.
After this there was a talk with Foree via Skype from Los Angeles which was an interesting and nice end to the weekends proceedings. Overall this years line up has been strong and whilst some films have been disappointing even then they still contain some interesting ideas and from the the best of the festival there’s been a few that will possibly make it onto my best of list at the end of the year or might not as it will be a tough call. But for now here is my top list of new films screened at Grimm of the best to the, er, not the best………
1. TRAIN TO BUSAN
2. TONIGHT SHE COMES
3. DIRECTORS CUT
4. TRASH FIRE
6. BEYOND THE GATES
7. THE UNSEEN
8. MY FATHER DIE
9. ANOTHER EVIL
10. THE TAG ALONG
13. LET ME MAKE YOU A MARTYR
14. VILLMARK ASYLUM
15. THE RIFT
16. THE CHAMBER
Well done Grimmfest, see you next year!