Frightfest the 13th, The Empire Cinema, Leicester Square, London

My Frightfest 9 from throat-slicing best to disemboweling worst…

I didn’t see enough at this year’s Frightfest. There’s the first confession. My weary eyes viewed only ten blood-drenched scarers that included seeing my favourite of them twice, thereby shirking the opportunity to see a fresh and fearsome alternate title about murderous sushi. There’s the second. The third is a more positive one – that after only my second toe-dipping visit into the bloody waters of this 5-day fear frenzy in the heart of London’s otherwise shitty West End I’m fairly in love with the Frightfest experience. A wonderfully enthusiastic crowd of horror geeks and gorehounds fill the usually sterile Empire with an atmosphere of anticipation, generous (sometimes misplaced) enthusiasm and general glee at the whole horror-ness of the thing. It’s beautiful to celebrate a much-maligned genre – horror is never given it’s artistic due to a great enough degree – and these guys do it with style, grace, much, much laughter…and the occasional sliced eyeball of course. Nom.

Anyway, here’s what I thought of the few I saw of this year’s offerings:

1/ V/H/S – Was I, an ex video shop guy, ever gonna pick anything else as my winner? A grimy, nausea-inducing found footage anthology that harks back to the golden age of Amicus and titles like ‘Tales Of Terror’ in a thoroughly post-modern, simultaneously retro-fetishist (horror fans do still love their videotape, I can personally vouch for that…) fashion. It may not tie it’s strands together in the neat little bow you’d expect but provides an enormous amount of ingenuity, humour, shock and straight-up terror along the way. With only one weak sequence and negligible book-ending this is the best horror anthology in years – and the most terrifying found footage film in a good while too…

2/ Rec 3: Genesis – Who would have imagined that after two grueling hand-held survival horror teethgrinders helmer Paco Plaza (one half of the original directing team) would serve up a Brain Dead meets Evil Dead 2 slapstick n’ gore frenzy as a third installment? A huge departure from the sober, bleak scares of the first pair of zombie thrillers, it’s an absolute delight to see a sequel treated in this way – a complete stylistic departure that can also sit comfortably with the in-built mythology. Imagine if Exorcist 2 had been directed by Sam Raimi and you’ll have some small idea of what a fantastic leap into the inexplicable is. Fresh, hilarious and, yes, romantic, it’s a piece of genre entertainment to reckon with.

3/ Sleep Tight – From the other half of the original Rec team, Jaume Balaguero, comes a detailed stalking procedural that has a little in common with Polanski’s earliest and finest, a dash of Hitchcockian obsession and more than a little of ‘The Resident’ this film held one of Frightfest’s finest performances from lead man Luis Tosar and some of the most disturbing, hands-to-face scenes you’re likely to watch through your fingers this year. Smart, sophisticated and stylish – not really a horror film but absolutely horrifying nonetheless.

4/ Sinister – Now THIS is how mainstream American frighteners should always be (see ‘The Possession’ later for exactly how they shouldn’t). Ethan Hawke battles with his own ego and a clutch of mysterious super 8 reels in an attempt to reveal the truth behind a series of disappearances and murders. Obviously more gets bitten off than is chewable and everything gets very, very dark very, very quickly. Well written and boasting a handful of believable characters this bold, genuinely frightening slice of Hollywood horror had more than it’s fair share of the weekend’s biggest scares. Writer C Robert Cargill also offered the most inspiring and eloquent Q and A of the weekend following the extremely well received screening…cool guy.

5/ Berberian Sound Studio – I didn’t applaud when this film ended. I didn’t know quite what I’d just seen, was unsure whether I even liked it at all, and it’s still bothering me today. An hypnotic, claustraphobic tribute to Giallo, this beautifully designed, atmosphere drenched film goes nowhere and does almost nothing. It’s clearly intended to be weighted with metaphysical meaning and demands close, repeated inspection like no other film since last year’s similarly obtuse Kill List. Though it’s 5th on the list right now, a couple more sittings might see it rise to the top of the pile…or drop off it entirely. Essentially a film about an English man taking a job at the titular studios in Italy and coming up against various minor obstacles to his work, it has an unsettling sensibility and thought-provoking sound and imagery that will stick with you for days. I can’t wait to see and hear this again…

6/ Chained – From Jennifer Lynch, who once gave us the execrable ‘Boxing Helena’ comes a slow-paced, contemplative delve into child abuse, torture, murder and the reasons behind all of the above. Vincent D’Onofrio gives the stand-out performance of the weekend as the mercurial serial killer driven by a twisted childhood. It is sufficiently pressing and unpleasant but ultimately nothing more than you’ve seen a dozen times before in the endurance horror genre. The much maligned ending didn’t detract or distract from the body of the film for me – though it certainly won’t be to all tastes.

7/ American Mary – Much-hyped and anticipated, the Soska Twins exploration of the underground world of body modification was simultaneously pointless and idiotic. With uniformly dreadful performances from the entire cast, the marvelous lead Katherine Isabelle aside, this was a throwaway confection masquerading unconvincingly as a tale of feminist empowerment. No scares, no meaning, no believable motivations, nothing of interest. Watch ‘May’ again instead if you need a dose of angsty fetishism/feminism.

8/ The Possession – What starts as a well-written, believable character piece involving the disintegration of a tight-knit family soon degenerates into first dull repetition, then confusion and finally laugh-out-loud idiocy. Displaying everything that’s wrong with modern U.S horror – predictability, total lack of conviction, armfuls of stolen ideas etc. – it’s a film that even Javier-Bardem-when-he’s-in-the-wash Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance can’t save. If you are unfortunate enough to see this big budget crapola look out for some of the funniest attempts at horror in recent memory and a line in the epilogue of such magically retarded proportions as to provide the only scare of the film – your genuine fear for the sanity of the writer.

9/ After – It’s frustrating to watch a film and understand where they were trying, however artlessly, to steer the thing. None of it works, the saccharine slop elements entirely alienated the ‘fest crowd, and it’s confused synthesis of Stephen King nostalgia and Twilight zone tricksiness leave it in a kind of fantasy hinterland that satisfies on no level. An amateurish, lazy mess of a film with the best of intentions and a heart of gold – neither of which come anywhere close to saving it. Dismal.

So there we have it, my opinion on stuff as if it was An Important Thing. As far as horror goes I know my Argento from my Fulci, My 'Cat O’ Nine Tails' from my 'Cat People' and which version of The Haunting ISNT directed by Jan De Bont but I’m sure there are some much more well-viewed aficionados out there who’ll set me straight on this list…please feel free to let me know what SHOULD have been included here and why…

Until next year, thank you Frightfest. Now, when exactly is Sightseers coming out?!