My review for French zombie drama The Returned is now up over at Cigarette Burns! I really can’t recommend this film enough by the way, if you can check it out (either before you watch the television series or since, it’s not disappointing) you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Lets get two things clear. One, I love cake. Two, I’m not getting married. No, as it turns out, my team at work is currently all over weddings. One’s just got married, one is getting married and one has a daughter who is about to be married, and when talk of one wedding starts, it spreads to the whole team. Which eventually leads us to cake. Not only is cake generally amazing, but one of the best things about a wedding. And being the youngest at work, I often get asked what I’d do if I got married (which is apparently a very interesting and hilarious topic going by the responses I get from my colleagues…). So when me and my co-worker got talking about what cakes we’d love to have (turns out she’d have a Star Trek one too), I eventually wound up looking at geeky cakes again. So here are some beautiful cakes I found, enjoy folks! Oh and if any of these are your creations, please let me know so I can give credit and tag you.
And finally this amazingly beautiful Gustav Kilmt cake!
With Halloween only a few weeks away, I thought it would be nice to pay homage to the fun activity that is Pumpkin Carving. Everyone has to have carved a badly executed scary face into a vegetable (or is it a fruit?) at least once in their life. Whether it be something that keeps the kids entertained for a little while or turns into a competitive competition between friends, here are a few ideas to get you started. So grab some pumpkins, a few tea lights, the odd sharp instrument and prepare to get creative and messy…
As I mentioned before, Film4 FrightFest is a great place to meet people, including those that a few of us may admire. So I was really chuffed this year to have the pleasure of meeting special effects legend Greg Nicotero, who I’ve been a fan of for a very long time. Nicotero needs no introduction but for those of you who may need reminding, he is one of the founding members of the KNB EFX Group and has over 150 credits to his name (including The Walking Dead, Kill Bill, Evil Dead II, Misery). Nicotero was at the festival to receive the inaugural Variety Award, presented to him by actor Simon Pegg, for excellence in the special effects field. I was very lucky to meet him before the presentation and to say his is absolutely lovely is an understatement. A very warm character who gave a great Q&A (with some brilliant tips such as mixing in soap into your fake blood mix so it washes off more easily!), he was also there to do an introduction before a screening of Nightmare Factory, a documentary charting his career and the work that KNB do.
The true highlight of the day, and in all honesty for me the whole festival, was the late night uncut screening of the Maniac remake, starring Elijah Wood in the lead role as Frank Zito. As a huge fan of the original 1980 release, directed by William Lustig, I will admit that I was very nervous about seeing the feature, especially as some recent remakes or ‘reimagings’ haven’t done any justice to their original counterparts. I was all ready to hate it but any doubts I had in Maniac were swiftly disposed of within the first five minutes. I literally had to pick my jaw up from the floor once the credits had rolled. To say the film absolutely floored me is an understatement. Without a doubt, Maniac is my favourite film of the year.
Firstly I was surprised at how involved Lustig was, being producer on a remake that I thought he hadn’t even been approached for for his original idea. Don’t get me wrong, this remake is just as violent and nasty as the original and anyone who finds the depiction of violence against women in film uncomfortable are best to stay well away. Maniac doesn’t hide what it is and keeps itself exactly in tune with the 1980 feature. It has some terrifically gory and gut wrenching moments (all that scalping shot very up close and an extremely well done Achilles tendon slash), which combined with the POV narrative and camera work feels very real and places the audience right in the centre of the action with no room to hide. This makes the first person direction of the story a complex and interesting one, the audience being made to not only try to somewhat understand Zito’s psychosis but made to feel like one of his victims too.
And the camera work truly is dizzying, only occasionally breaking away to show Zito as a ‘third person’, mostly in a mirrored reflection, giving the audience its only break. Not only is it shot in uncompromising fashion, it is beautifully shot. If the POV narrative didn’t give you enough insight into Zito’s world, the composition and lighting of the camera framework certainly will. When it’s time to stalk and slash, the victim is always at the centre of the frame, even when we are being made to watch them behind cars and metal fences. During the day however the composition of the framework takes on a far more artistic attitude (soft lighting, projected angles, wonderful focus work) which not only externalises Zito’s world as an obsessive mannequin restorer but that of potential love interest Anna, herself a photographer.
Casting is truly inspired and Elijah Wood is on top form as the titular lead. Completely immersed in character, it’s hard to think of him as anything other than the compulsive, disturbed, obsessive and troubled Zito, who has Oedipal and psychosexual issues that would make Norman Bates look positively normal. Also wonderfully cast is Nora Arnezeder as Anna, who bone structure and figure so perfectly mimics that of a standard mannequin that it’s no wonder Zito starts to fall for her.
Bound to cause some controversy because of its content mixed with its artistic aesthetic, Maniac is a film not to miss. A thumping success of a remake with a truly killer 1980s inspired soundtrack to match (think Drive), the feature manages to nail the characteristics of the grisly original and perfectly translate them to a modern landscape. Superb and highly recommended.
My personal highlights of the Film4 FrightFest horror festival continued on Day Two starting with a Q&A session with this year’s Total Film Icon, the Italian horror director/writer Dario Argento. As a huge fan of some of his giallo films, I was really excited to hear what the legend had to say having never had the opportunity to see him in person before, and what resulted was an unintentionally funny interview that occasionally threw out a few hidden gems. Argento admitted that he has had nothing to do with the recent Suspiria remake, which is currently still in production, not even being approached for his own thoughts. His response to the whole thing was absolutely genius though, ‘I don’t think it’s so easy to do something better – I say OK try!’. Rounding off with a particularly interesting anecdote involving his Dracula 3D star Rutger Hauer going missing (all I will say is it involved finding him hours later in a bush with a girl…), Argento was definitely one of the highlights of the day. My only gripe would have been that the language barrier did make things a little difficult during the interview and perhaps having an Italian translator on stage with him might have given him the linguistic freedom to answer questions the way he really wanted to. That said, it was fantastic that FrightFest were able to get him over this year and give fans the opportunity to meet him, after last years Icon John Carpenter’s no-show.
First film of the day for us was horror anthology V/H/S which I’d been particularly looking forward to but felt let down with once it had finished. The film follows a group of guys who have been hired by a third-party to break into an old house and find a rare and collectible VHS tape. Except that once there, they find a hell of a lot of other tapes which contain a whole host of found footage… In some parts the film works really well and in others it just doesn’t live up to the promise it holds. The ‘slasher’ segment in particular, Tuesday the 17th (directed by Glenn McQuaid), doesn’t sit quite right alongside the other ‘tapes’ and would probably work best as a DVD extra, being the weakest of the five stories in a film that nearly outstayed its welcome with a running time of just under two hours. I like slasher films but this story had the opportunity to be fresh and inventive, instead proving to be boring and predictable (same goes for Ti West’s story Second Honeymoon). That said, the final two segments, The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger (by Joe Swanberg and Simon Barrett) and 10/31/98 (by collective Radio Silence), are absolute crackers and would make excellent short films in their own rights, both managing to provide the real scares of the film with minimal effort. In short, a feature worth checking out but one that could have been a great deal more with a little extra thought.
Second film of the night came in the form of REC 3: Genesis, the third installment in the popular Spanish REC franchise. As a huge fan of the first two films I was somewhat dubious as to where this film would take the series, with its non-apologetic inclusion of humour, but I need not have worried. Without a doubt one of the most fun screenings of the entire festival, alongside Brit flick Cockneys VS Zombies, REC 3 manged to walk that difficult line in film and deliver both real scares and laughs. A very self-aware film without being pretentious about it (take note fellow filmmakers), director Paco Plaza skillfully managed to put his own unique spin on the franchise’s core elements and still made it fit in perfectly with the series’ own universe. Whilst the fourth feature isn’t directed by Plaza himself, it sets up some interesting narrative ideas that make the next feature which make me rather excited.
Outside of the films shown during the day, two surprise gems of the festival came in the form of one short and a trailer. First up was stop motion animator Lee Hardcastle’s short The Raid… With Cats, a terrific claymation condensing the film down to a few minutes and replacing all cast with… cats. Absolutely delightful, if you’ve not seen it, I’ve included a link below, but all I can say is it was beautiful watching the artistry of stop motion on the big screen! Secondly, we were treated to the World Premier of the ABC’s of Death trailer, an upcoming horror anthology film featuring the multiple talents of a whole heap of worldwide filmmakers, which looks nothing short of wickedly brilliant!
This bank holiday weekend gone saw the wonderful Film4 FrightFest return to London for its thirteenth event, taking over the Empire cinema in Leicester Square. If you’ve never been to FF before, I wholeheartedly recommend going. Not only do they show some brilliant films and have a great atmosphere, but the crowd are one of the best you will ever find at any festival. This is a crowd full of fans who all love the genre and every year I can guarantee you’ll make new friends that you’ll see again and again. Last year was my first time, after wanting to go for years, and as soon as it finished I’ve been counting down the days until this years event began and it was absolutely fantastic. Here are a few personal highlights from Day One of the festival, I hope that a few of you can share yours with me too…
After a relatively funny (what can I say, I have a problem with humour…) introduction from comedian Ross Noble, this year got off to a start with the opening film The Seasoning House, directed by special effects maestro Paul Hyett. A psychological thriller set in a Balkan brothel during the conflicts of the 1990s, The Seasoning House holds a fantastic performance from lead actress Rosie Day in the role of a deaf-mute taken to the brothel as a younger teen and forced to look after the rest of the girls held there (a birthmark renders her ‘damaged goods’). Day is delightful to watch, an acting display relying solely on expression and body language which she pulls off with incredible ease. Her rapport alongside co-star Kevin Howarth, playing brothel owner Viktor, is solid as is his equally memorable turn which is heartfelt, conflicted and sleazy all at once. Both are actors I hope to see more of in the future. The film itself starts off well, but once the narrative leaves the actual house itself, it sadly takes a nose dive. That’s not to say that the film is awful, it’s beautifully shot, acted and edited, but fails to expand on the promise it shows in its first half. Some plot elements are ridiculously silly and predictable, as is Sean Pertwee’s rather unconvincing accent that sticks out amongst a sea of others that seem faultless. That said, this is Hyett’s directorial debut and apparently the first part of a planned trilogy, and I have no doubts that he’ll be a name to look out for in the future. A strong first feature which is worth checking out.
Next up on the Thursday night was the World Premier of Cockneys Vs Zombies, a filmwhich pretty much does what it says on the tin. This fun romp across the East End, brilliantly written by James Moran, was one of the most fun screenings of the entire weekend, bringing laughs by the bucket loads. Leads Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker are brilliant (and incredibly lovely in real life, along with fellow cast member Jack Doolan) as two brothers trying to save their Grandfather’s Nursing Home from closing down, amidst a zombie invasion. As you do. Full of some very British gags and a secondary cast of some of our country’s finest and memorable actors (Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Richard Briers, Dudley Sutton), weirdly Cockneys does feel a bit like a foreigners perspective of the capital, a wee bit too clichéd and over the top for my liking. However, the picture is a lot of fun and has a little more heart that some of the other zombie genre movies that seem to be churned out every month. A great ending for our first night!