Film4 FrightFest 2012 – Day 3

Film4 FrightFest 2012 – Day 3 film still

A Manetti brothers double-bill is something for horror fans to look forward to on Day 3 of FrightFest.

August 25

Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s (2012) – Main Screen 10:00

"I figure I'm doing okay, why change what's working?" So, near the beginning of Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s, says actor Henry Silva of his willingness to keep playing gangster roles throughout the Seventies in the cheap, quickie Italian crime flicks known as poliziotteschi – and his attitude summarises the entire philosophy behind this faddish copycat subgenre flicks, emerging in the wake of the by-then moribund spaghetti westerns, and themselves destined eventually to suffer a similar fate of self-immolation through exhaustion, underfunding and all-round overkill.

Yet despite their failure to capture the American market that they often slavishly imitated, poliziotteschi were for a while incredibly successful domestically and in other countries outside the US – and as long as they continued bringing in both audiences and money, why indeed change what's working?

The man who would go on to become the subgenre's most iconic star was also an emblem of its copycat nature. For Maurizio Merli (who died in 1989) was originally hired for Violent Rome merely because of his physical resemblance to Euro superstar Franco Nero – and  poliziotteschi were in a similarly parasitic relationship with the US cop movie boom of the early 1970s – and in particular with The French Connection, Dirty Harry and The Godfather – often stealing from them storylines, scenes, even verbatim dialogue.

Beneath their visceral mix of system-fighting cops, torture-loving crooks, and fugitive lone-wolf gangsters, however, these testosterone-fueled action thrillers also concealed much reflective commentary on local politics, in a nation where the mafia and various terrorist organisations ruled the streets with extreme violence.

Written, directed and edited by Mike Malloy (who also contributes to its fabulously muscular score), Eurocrime! is a thoroughly researched, comprehensive tutorial on this subgenre in seven well-organised chapters. Yet far from being a dry academic exercise, it adopts explosive titles, frenetic split screens, vividly high-lit poster art, in-your-face film excerpts, animated interventions and a driving pace to mimic the flashy machismo of its subject – all illuminated by a rogues' gallery of talking heads drawn from among the film's most prominent actors, directors, writers, stuntmen and dubbing artists. It is a rambunctious, often hilarious trawl through the archives, told with much good humour, but also with careful contextualisation and genuine cultural as well as critical analysis.

Like Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, this is a documentary on a lost piece of film history, earning its titular exclamation mark in sheer, balls-to-the-wall vibrancy. Sure Malloy shows the insane, generally unsafe stunt work, and the way that life imitated art imitating life when it came to these productions' mob connections, but even the section on dubbing manages to be utterly engaging – and no punches are pulled in examining the misogyny that permeated these films.

To viewers who know nothing about the subgenre, Eurocrime! will come as a genuine eye-opener, and will provide a lengthy wishlist of genre films, made on the fly for little money and under difficult circumstances, that came both to define and to reflect a particular place and time.

Outpost II: Black Sun – Main Screen 12:45

UK Premiere

Before the Second World War had yet come to an end, cinema was already bringing us armies of Nazi undead (1943's Revenge of the Zombies) – and over the subsequent decades, in films like The Frozen Dead, Shockwave, Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies, this irresistibly schlocky exploitation trope (the goose-stepping dead!) has continued to give monstrous expression to a very real fear of fascism's brainless tenacity.

Now in the New Millennium, when the true horrors of the Third Reich are only half-remembered, there is the risk that cinema's resurgent Nazis are reduced to a kind of comedy kitsch (see Dead Snow and Iron Sky) – but other recent films, notably Town Creek, War of the Dead and Steve Barker's Outpost, have played the 'SS spirit' subgenre more straight and serious.

Barker's creepy debut had its long dormant Nazis re-emerge from an East European bunker amidst a contemporary civil conflict, suggesting an uncomfortable continuity between old fascisms thought to be long-buried, and the modern world into which they can so easily and dangerously be resurrected. Its sequel Outpost II: Black Sun continues this theme, only on a more ambitious scale that reflects both the rapid territorial expansionism of the Nazi ghouls, and Barker's bigger budget this time round.

In a vengeful search for aging SS officer Klausener (David Gant), second-generation Nazi hunter Lena (Catherine Steadman) falls in with engineer Wallace (Richard Coyle) and a Special Forces unit as they close in on the bunker that is the outbreak's epicentre, only to realise that the 'unified field' machine reviving Klausener's army of the dead is of interest to more than just moribund Aryans – with civilians, as always, caught in the crossfire of the undying struggle for power.

"Nazis, mate – proper cunts", says Hall (Ali Craig), falling in laconic line with a long history of comedy Scots that can be traced from Dad's Army via Star Trek to the similarly Nazi-themed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Yet despite this film's joyous revelling in such B-movie absurdities as mad scientists, zombie ghosts, cackling witches and ticking bombs, Barker's approach to these is largely po-faced, enabling him to find a balance between the pure thrills of genre and some altogether graver themes.

For even if there is a pulpishness in Outpost II reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark or even Hellboy, the revived Stormtroopers here slash and burn everyone in their path with a stabby relentlessness too nasty to be simply fun, while, in showing a Nazi machine literally fuelled by piles of civilian corpses, the film finds a vividly horrific image for the atrocities that powered fuelled Hitler's Germany. On top of all this, good all-round performances, high production values and a very open ending ensure that Barker's franchise is shaping up to be an unmissable trilogy of totalitarian terror.

Kill Zombie! (2012) – Discovery Screen 12:50

UK Premiere

George A Romero may famously have kickstarted the modern cinematic zombie with his ground-breaking, Pennsylvania-set Night of the Living Dead, but these days, when it comes to undead armageddon, we're not in Pittsburgh any more.

New Zealand has its Braindead, Japan its Wild Zero, Versus and countless others, Australia its Undead, England its Shaun of the Dead (and more recently Cockneys vs Zombies), Pakistan its Hell's Ground, Norway its Dead Snow, Cuba its Juan of the Dead, Taiwan its Zombie 108 – and now Holland brings us Kill Zombie!.

Indeed, this feature from co-directors Martijn Smits and Erwin van den Eshof is just the latest of many national collisions between Romero-style zombie outbreaks and crazy comedy, by now a thoroughly conventionalised exercise in genre-crossing where the only kind of individual identity on offer comes from the odd splash of local colour – in this case, the spectacle of Amsterdam-West reduced to apocalyptic pandemonium, as well as a vision of Dutch multiculturalism working (and playing).

After getting into a fight, Moroccan brothers Aziz (Yahya Gaier) and Mo (Mimoun Ouled Radi) and bumbling Surinamese thugs Jeffrey (Sergio Hasselbaink) and Nolan (Uriah Arnhem) are locked up overnight in a police station with bank worker Joris (Noel Deelen), and wake to find their borough overrun by infected flesh-eaters. Aziz heads off with kickass policewoman Kim (Gigi Ravelli) on a romantic quest to rescue his girlfriend-of-one-day Tess from the office tower that is the epicentre of the outbreak, while the others go to empty the safes at Joris' bank – but soon all will come together on this fool's errand, taking on the Netherlands' banking and business sectors with the never-say-die spirit of the nation's polyethnic underclass.

Kill Zombie! is energetic, pacy and often surreally broad, with plenty of gross-out, green-tinged gore and even an appearance from popular Dutch singer Ben Saunders to emulate the better known celebrity cameo in Zombieland. That, however, is part of the problem. Everything here, from the combat presented as a score-barred video game to the cartoonish split screens to the literal 'boss' fight at the end, comes with a vibrancy that always seems second-hand, and also somewhat  degraded.

When Jeffrey finally gets his hands on a giant rotary machine gun, he cannot help uttering the phrase, "Say hello to my little friend," only to be taken to task by Mo with the words "It's so old to quote Scarface" – yet Mo will later prove unable himself to resist citing the same line from De Palma's film (significantly also a tale of migration and assimilation). It is as though Zombie Kill! has been infected by its own undead rot, and is just shuffling, however self-consciously, through genre routines that never really seem fresh or fully alive. So when zombies go Dutch, the results are fun enough, but hardly extend the genre's boundaries.

Paura 3D (2012) – Main Screen 15:15

UK Premiere

As a storybook voiceover narrates how the Russian maid Elena, who had seen something "beyond the pale" in the house where she is employed, had one last thing to do before leaving for good, we watch Elena heading downstairs to the basement, where her bloody doom is shown from the point of view of her unseen killer. This blend of show and tell in the prologue to Paura 3D serves as apt introduction to a film that is constantly negotiating a shadowy subterranean corridor between giallo and fairytale (chiefly ETA Hoffmann's gothic conte 'The Sandman').

Cut to modern-day Rome. Overhearing wealthy customer Marchese Lanzi (Peppe Servillo) announce that he will be out of the country all weekend for a car rally, young mechanic Ale (Domenico Diele) persuades two friends – lovesick student Simone (Lorenzo Pedrotti) and guitarist Marco (Claudio Di Biagio) – that, in the Marchese's absence, the three of them should drive out in Lanzi's well-tuned Maserati to his luxurious, and now empty, country villa for a weekend of living it up. Only what they do not know (but we do) is that they are not in fact alone at the villa. Something else lies hidden and waiting down in the basement - and maybe, as one character certainly believes, there is a monster residing upstairs too.

Near the beginning of the Manetti brothers' film, Simone attends a university lecture on  Mario Bava's trademark use of colour, lyricism and dreaminess. The scene is clearly designed to place this film within the giallo tradition for which Bava was founding father – even if, apart from  the nightmarish lysergic psycho-delia of the animated opening credit sequence, Paura 3D is dominated by a drab colour scheme more reminiscent of cheap video than anything Bava ever made.

Where the film stays much truer to its giallo roots is in its twisted, paranoid psychology, and its careful, often wrong-footing control of perspective. Obnoxious to a fault, Simone, Ale and Marco are hardly the most likeable trio, and the scenes in which they make themselves at home in Lanzi's villa are irritant and overlong – but once the slightly stoned Simone has headed down into the basement, the film does not stop for breath, leaving viewers no less disoriented than this would-be romantic hero as it veers from torture porn to tense cat-and-mouse to unhinged schizo-drama, with just the hint of a supernatural creature feature.

Ultimately merging elements from Michael and The Woman, and confounding all the usual distinctions between victim and persecutor, Paura 3D looks into the depths of human depravity, and introduces, through a harrowingly exposed performance from Francesca Cuttica, a modern Frankenstein's monster deserving of our sympathy as much as our terror.

Nightmare Factory (2011) – Discovery Screen 15:30

Anyone who loves horror will have heard of make-up and modelling doyen Greg Nicotero, and anyone who has been following the movies (of any kind) from the last three or so decades will inevitably have seen some of his company KNB EFX Group's handiwork. With its mix of talking heads and behind-the-scenes footage, Donna Davies' profiling documentary bears all the tried-and-tested hallmarks of a DVD extra, and it is difficult to imagine it projected onto a big screen anywhere other than at a specialist event – but it certainly earns a place at FrightFest, both for its extraordinary gallery of participants, and for its broad historical sweep.

A veritable who's who of the post-'60s landscape of American genre cinema - George A Romero, John Carpenter, John Landis, Frank Darabont, Robert Rodiguez and Quentin Tarantino – all line up here to offer soundbite-sized testimonials for Nicotero (who is after all their regular collaborator), while also commenting on the crucial role played by make-up and practical effects in what they do. Meanwhile, Nightmare Factory is not afraid to take the long view of monster making, tracing Nicotero's own love for grue all the way back to the womb, with his mother Connie shown suggesting that, as a result of her reading 'a blood-curdling book' during her pregnancy, "he came out drawing monsters".

Reared on his grandfather's collection of Super 8 creature features ("I'd seen Creature From The Black Lagoon 300 times by the time I was 10 years old") , and soon shooting "literally hundreds" of his own stunt-filled home movies with brother Brian, the teenaged Nicotero had a chance meeting with his hero (and fellow Pittsburghian) Romero, which led to an invitation to the set of Dawn of the Dead and an introduction to gore guru Tom Savini. Consequently hired to work under Savini on Day of the Dead, Nicotero found his true calling. Meeting Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman, he moved to LA and with them founded an effects shop there that would eventually become KNB.

Interwoven in Nicotero's personal history is the story of how practical effects have evolved over time, in a surprisingly direct "blood line" from the early make-up work of Lon Chaney and Jack Pierce through Dick Smith to his mentors Rick Baker and Savini, who in turn helped out Nicotero and his peers.

There are dark whisperings about how the rushed system of production currently prevalent in Hollywood production models and the rise of CGI and post-production VFX leave less room for make-up and modelling craft, and Berger expresses doubt as to whether there will be another generation of monster makers – but Nicotero himself, now a self-confessed "47-year-old horror nerd", remains positive. "I still have a passion for it, and clearly the passion that I have will affect someone down the road." If he is right, then Nightmare Factory forms part of the campaign to inspire the next Nicotero in forming and maintaining cinema's monstrous imagination.

Under The Bed (2012) – Main Screen 18:15

"Sometimes," Freud once famously commented, "a cigar is just a cigar."

A similar principle comes to dominate Steven C. Miller's Under the Bed, wherein a Freudian hothouse of family dysfunction and domestic repression gives way, in the third act, to an unexpected literalism, and that ravenous creature hidden beneath the protagonist's bed turns out to be, well, just a ravenous creature, devouring any subtext the rest of the film had seemed to promise.

In the years since his mother was killed in a fire that he had himself lit, disturbed Neal Hausman (Jonny Weston) has been living cross-country with his aunt – but now Neal returns home because his little brother Paulie (Gattlin Griffith) has begun exhibiting a similar conviction that there is something terrifying 'under the bed'. As the brothers' behaviour grows more unhinged, their father Terry (Peter Holden) will have none of it, while their stepmother Angela (Musetta Vander), though sympathetic, goes largely ignored.

So the stage is set for a tense psychodrama in which, behind the closed doors of American suburbia, something monstrous is imagined (and engendered) by hidden, nocturnal abuse, whether coming from aggressive, controlling daddy or that creepily kid-friendly guy (Bryan Rasmussen) in the house next door – and Miller handles the build-up expertly, with sinuous camerawork turning the interiors of this affluent middle-class home into a claustrophobic location of secrecy, suspicion and nightmarish paranoia.

Once, however, the monster comes out of its hiding place and sheds its psychosexual slough, all that remains is a silly, sub-Joe Dante clash between kids and creature, with a dénouement so bewilderingly arbitrary that disappointment is inevitable. Close, but no cigar.

The Arrival of Wang (2011) – ReDiscovery Screen 18:45

In a way, The Arrival of Wang practically defines the purpose of FrightFest's new third 'ReDiscovery' screen. It was already shown to reported acclaim at FrightFest's Glasgow event earlier this year, and now affords viewers an opportunity to see an earlier film by the Manetti brothers alongside their latest, Paura 3D, in the Main Programme.

Its unfortunate title might be met, like Free Willy, with the odd titter from British viewers, but Wang (Li Yong) is in fact the (assumed) name of a Chinese-speaking migrant whose unannounced arrival in Rome has caused a stir amongst the Italian authorities. So they turn to civilian translator Gaia Aloisi (Francesca Cuttica) to interpret Wang's measured words as he undergoes a basement interrogation at the hands of Stefano Curti (Ennio Fantastichini). Like Aloisi, we are initially kept in the dark as to Wang's identity, and for even longer about his motives, but find our sympathies quickly drawn to this illegal alien as he is subjected to ever more brutal 'hospitality'.

The Arrival of Wang comes with a high concept revolving around two crucial questions: who is Wang? and what is the purpose of his covert visit to Rome? The problem, however, is that these questions are asked far too many times within the film itself, and in more than one language too, so that their answers are deferred less by genuine narrative suspense than by a bloated, over-repetitive script.

Even the scenes where characters are seen outside the interrogation room – Curti smoking in a toilet cubicle, Aloisi playing cat-and-mouse in the building's endless corridors, flashbacks to Amunike (Juliet Esey Joseph) discovering Wang (twice!) hidden in her apartment – feel like unnecessary padding designed less to advance the plot than to stretch it to feature length. The Arrival of Wang is a distended 80-minute monstrosity concealing somewhere within itself a great short film.

The Manetti brothers' film is unlikely to be remembered for the cheapness of its look or the lo-fi quality of its special effects, but then it belongs to a genre (to say which genre would itself be a spoiler) where images are arguably less important than ideas. Sure enough, the most striking aspect of The Arrival of Wang is its ideology, playing upon the West's current anxieties about foreign terrorism and the East's rising economic hegemony.

All these issues may be filtered through the easily assimilated perspective of Aloisi's liberalism, but the blindfold that she is forced to put on near the film's beginning serves to encode a broader myopia – and so, for all its twistiness, the film's greatest shock is the unfashionably reactionary nature of its ending.

Before Dawn (2012) – Discovery Screen 18:40*

Early in Before Dawn, we see Alex (Dominic Brunt, also the director) wandering in a lost daze through the aisles of a supermarket, before stopping in front of the wine section like a zombie that has at last found what it craves.

Unemployed after being made redundant, and separated from his wife Meg (Joanne Mitchell) and their two children, Alex has arranged to spend the weekend with Meg in a remote, picturesque cottage while the kids stay with their Nan (Eileen O'Brien). He wants only to rekindle the dying embers of what has been lost, but with lawyer (and fitness fanatic) Meg showing a greater attachment to her mobile phone than to her ex, and Alex losing himself in a bottle (or three), it may well be too late to bring their relationship back from the dead.

As Alex vainly proposes that next year they all take the trip to China they had once planned together, Meg warns him what happens when you get stuck in the pursuit of old dreams: "You end up somewhere you don't want to be, you stumble through, you settle."

All this is before Meg gets bitten on the leg by a crazed man, and begins slowly transforming into a flesh-eating zombie. Indeed, while the couple had bickered and spent the night  in their separate rooms of the isolated holiday home, they did not realise that an apocalyptic outbreak was already turning the outside world upside down. Which is to say that Before Dawn is a zombie flick with a refreshing emphasis on characterisation.

By the time the undead invade the frame, they seem, for all their growling, bestial, life-devouring reality, like (semi-)vivid metaphors for the stasis that has developed between Alex and Meg, long since trapped in a habitual shuffle of recrimination, longing and addictive displacement routines (his alcohol, her exercise).

Stars Brunt and Mitchell and screenwriter Mark Illis are all veterans of the long-running ITV soap opera Emmerdale, which shares this film's setting in the Yorkshire dales – but while Brunt's directorial debut certainly comes in a social realist mould, Alex Nevill and Marc Colin Price's stunning cinematography sets the film far above teledrama, as do all the undead themes. In this vision of familial and societal breakdown, the new world is not so very different from what it has replaced.

The living dead just continue going through the same old motions, and love, though undying and eternal, is nonetheless stripped of all romantic sentiment and reduced to something more Pavlovian and primal. The results, haunting and bleak, reflect darkly upon our age of estrangement and isolation. The genre may be overcrowded, but Before Dawn is a strong and striking debut.

*And Discovery Screen 13:35 Sunday 27

Tulpa (2012) – Main Screen: 9:00pm

Remember Giallo, Dario Argento's bumbling love letter to the genre that made his name? At the Film4 Frightfest 2009, it was enjoyed (by LWLies and a theatreful of guffawing festival goers) as a genuinely hilarious piece of comic self-parody – although, incredibly, Argento himself seemed not to have been in on his film's joke (even if lead actor Adrien Brody certainly was).

Now Federico (Shadow) Zampaglione's Tulpa poses a similar problem. From the start, it fixes itself firmly in the classic giallo tradition, with a sadistically inventive black-gloved killer, a heroine in peril, kinky eroticism, a who-doin'-it plot, occult shadings, not to mention (beautiful) colour-coded lighting, modernist sets and jazzy sounds – but at the same time its random shifts from subtitled Italian to badly dubbed English, its tin-ear show-and-tell dialogue (with wooden delivery), its wild narrative leaps and its all-round cheesiness suggest that this is less homage than pastiche, exaggerating all the genre's most risible aspects to dizzying depths of silliness.

Accordingly, Tulpa brought the house down at its world premiere last night, as its increasingly absurd lines were accompanied by unrestrained giggling fits from FrightFesters. Giallo is a genre built upon disorienting tensions, but here the only tension consisted in trying to determine the filmmaker's (inevitably masked) intentions. On the one hand, if the film is a deliberate comic parody, then it suffers a similar fate to Hobo With a Shotgun, doing such a convincing impression of a certain kind of bad movie that it ends up very close to just being that bad movie. Yet even as we laugh at the film that Tulpa pretends to be, we are not really laughing with the film that Tulpa actually is. At least it could be said that we are still laughing, but on this reading, irony is the film's true killer, lurking in the shadows and hacking its way through the film's generic form, with messy results.

On the other hand, the apparent bewilderment of the film's cast and crew when confronted with the audience's riotous response points, perhaps, to an even worse conclusion: that Tulpa is simply, unironically, an awful, awful film. There is already a rumour that, on the basis of last night's screening, Zampaglione is planning extensive re-edits – but it might be better just to rebrand Tulpa a so-bad-it's-good flick for the midnight crowd, and let it slowly build a (thematically appropriate, as it happens) cult status.

Remnants (2012) – Discovery Screen 21:05*

World Premiere

"She was scared, okay – she was scared of blast burn and radiation poisoning, and she was dying," Hunter (JL Thomason) reassures Jonathan (Ross Britz) after the latter has just been bitten on the hand by a crazed woman who burst into their bunker. "She's a refugee of this war, she's not a movie zombie, okay?"

Post-apocalypic scenarios admit all kinds of genre materials, but Peter Engert's stripped-down Remnants takes pains to delineate as much what it is not as what it actually is. For although featuring relentless, largely mute assailants, it is, as Hunter suggests, not a zombie movie. Although its cast includes Edward Furlong, he has grown up not to be the post-nuclear saviour of humanity promised in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but rather a wife-beating redneck named Brad.

And despite, like Southland Tales, opening with the nuking of Texan cities (expressly including Abilene) and even featuring the repeated line (heard on a shortwave radio) "This is the way the world ends", Remnants will not pursue the postmodern political satire or LA neo-noir of Richard Kelly's film, but will rather stay in the Texan hinterlands, and remain deadly serious to its bitter end. It even begins with an impressionistic sequence of grim images from its ending, before skipping back a month to just before the nuclear strikes, so that from the very outset we are denied any prospect of a happy outcome.

Backpacking through the countryside, medical student Hunter is listening to radio reports of rapidly escalating strife in the Middle East, when the bombs fall on the horizon, instantly blinding a young boy near Hunter with their flashing blast. With the boy Satchel (Kennon Kepper) and his elder sister Jennifer (Jessie Rusu) in tow, Hunter commandeers an abandoned jeep, hurriedly throws some looted provisions together, and searches desperately for shelter, picking up Elizabeth (Monica Keena) – and getting shot – on the way.

Intertitles that ominously measure in hours the time from their first exposure make it clear that this is a race against irradiation – and by the time, later that evening, the four have secured themselves in a farmhouse cellar with Jonathan, his diabetic granduncle Wendell (Tody Bernard), as well as neighbour Brad and his heavily pregnant wife Angie (Christine Kelly), an off-the-scale Geiger reading taken inside their bunker reveals that they are already far too late, their fate sealed right in there with them.

Remnants allows certain predictable (which is to say realistic) scenes to play out within the cellar's claustrophobic confines – the scramble to make radio contact with others and find out what the government (if there still is one) is doing, the infighting and power struggles, the efforts to keep would-be intruders out – but once Jonathan's spiritual friend Rob (Andre Royo) has arrived with bleak news from outside, Engert's film comes into focus as less a story of survival than a bare-bones morality drama on the different ways in which the end might be faced.

For where some of these nine neo-troglodytes opt to keep themselves alive at any cost, others want to go down with a fight, others desire (or resign themselves) to take their own lives, and the rest accept the inevitable with humility and grace – but in one way or another, death is certainly coming, so that these characters define themselves by their commitment to different paths that are all ultimately equal in their futility.

The bloody last stand constituting the film's climax is as utterly pointless as it is heroic, and the triumphalism of the film's final line ("We won!") catches emptily in the throat of its speaker. Yet with nowhere left to go, and its few still surviving characters reduced to a zombie-like state of debility, this film about the end ends in a clearer version of its opening scene, with images of such austere beauty and sadness as to have the raw impact of an epiphany. Rarely has existential horror been so moving.

*And Discovery Programme 21:05pm Monday 27

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (2011) – Discovery Screen 23:35

UK Premiere

"He's making the wrong turn," complains Daniel (Dean Armstrong), "I knew it."

Even if his nine co-ed companions are devil-may-care fools, blithely happy to ride their snowmobiles into an oncoming blizzard with night falling, rule-bound, neurotic Daniel can read all the signs of trouble ahead – and his words speak of a knowing weariness with the trappings of the genre in which he finds himself.

Anyone familiar with the other Wrong Turn films will know that Daniel's sensible caution will count for nought – for in this franchise, the sex maniacs, the pranksters, the lesbians, even the obvious candidate for 'final girl', are all equally doomed to end up on the cannibal hillbillies' chopping block. It is only a question of when, and how. Best not to think about why.

Rob Schmidt's Wrong Turn was such a drearily derivative throwback to all the least interesting elements of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes that its sequels have at least the potential to outdo it, as Joe Lynch proved with his superior, self-parodic Wrong Turn 2: Dead End which upped the ante several notches by introducing a brainless reality TV show to the backwoods, and let an amped-up Henry Rollins run riot through the already chaotic mix of sensibilities.

Unfortunately Declan O'Brien's Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead was a return to the by-numbers approach of the original, and in a sense so is his second entry, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings – although in the meantime the writer/director has picked up a little more self-conscious craziness, perhaps from helming Sharktopus...

You might suppose, both from this film's subtitle and the setting of its opening in 1974 (the same year The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released), that this is to be a prequel and origins story. Certainly the beginning is very bloody, as the teen versions of Three Finger, One Eye and Sawtooth escape from their cell to wreak bloody vengeance on the doctors in charge of them – but once O'Brien has parodied The Silence of the Lambs (Sawtooth even wears a Lecter mask) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in rapid succession, we're back to 2003 (when the original Wrong Turn came out), and our foolhardy co-eds end up seeking refuge in the same hospital – once apparently a sanatorium with only mutants for residents. An old, abandoned asylum is a location rather different from the cabin featured in the other three films, but it is no less of a horror cliché.

O'Brien delivers everything that franchise fans who have stayed the distance could want: utterly gratuitous nudity, grunting mountain men, gore by the bucketload, and local cooking tips ("They're eating him alive like some fucked-up fondue!" goes one line, with graphic accompanying illustration). The characters, as ever, are largely interchangeable, but perhaps this hardly matters when they are all for the pot – and their near universal obnoxiousness only makes us relish their grisly fate all the more.

In any case, with its one screening scheduled to coincide with Franck Khalfoun's MANIAC remake, only compulsive completists will catch it at FrightFest anyway (although a DVD/Blu-ray release follows almost immediately). Meanwhile O'Brien is determined to keep his bloody mitts on the series – he has just completed Wrong Turn 5.

Maniac (2012) – Main Screen 23:30

UK Premiere

William Lustig's original Maniac(1980) was already itself a sort of remake, relocating the mad mamma's boy from Hitchcock's Psycho to the mean streets of New York, and hanging its low, 'generic' murder set-pieces from Joe Spinell's transcendent performance. Big-bellied, sweat-dripping, heavy-breathing and greasy-haired, Spinell's Frank was both grotesquely sleazy and utterly, confrontingly human – and the ease with which this repellent figure gets pretty photographer Anna (Caroline Monroe) to go on a date with him is just one of many signifiers that all that we see cannot be quite as it seems. It was a lurid blend of warped fantasies and horrific realities that seemed formally as unhinged as its titular anti-hero.

With their remakes The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and Mirrors (2008), Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur have proven extravagantly radical rewriters of established and not-so-established films, and now they have turned their pens to Lustig's film, shifting the action to a neon-lit, post-millennial LA, and replacing the original's objective camerawork with subjective POV shots. This time we are made, uncomfortably, to share Frank's madly murderous perspective, while for the most part he is himself seen only in mirrors, photographs or reflected surfaces (including a stunning recreation of the original film's poster image refracted in a car's door). Yet just as Lustig's supposedly 'documentary' footage occasionally gave vivid realisation to Frank's flights of fancy, here director Franck "P2" Khalfoun incorporates not just what Franck sees with his eyes, but with his mind's eye as well, so that his hallucinations, paranoid freakouts and vividly traumatic memories also form part of the film's heady visual texture, along with the odd shift to an externalised, if not always objective, point of view. It is a disorientingly trippy technique, more reminiscent of Enter The Void than anything else, forcing the viewer to become as trapped as Frank himself in the headspace of a crazed killer.

Frank's mother issues compel him to collect (mostly young) women, whose scalps he staples to a menage of mannequins in his bedroom at the back of an inherited workshop. When Frank meets French artist Anna (Nora Anezeder), who shares his obsession with dummies and preservation, the psycho has finally found his perfect match – and so, amidst all the murder and mayhem, a very twisted romance unfolds, even if it, surely, cannot end much better than The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (which the star-cross'd pair watches on a date).

Though only rarely seen in the film, Elijah Wood takes on the lead role of Frank, unnervingly combining the innocence of Frodo with the cold-eyed derangement of Sin City's Kevin. Wood's youth and waifish looks certainly help explain his attractiveness to women, although at the cost of Spinell's weightily abhorrent presence which was so key to the original's queasy impact. Here, though, it is the mobility of Maxime Alexandre's camerawork, best experienced from as close to the front of the cinema as possible, which creates the sense of nausea in the viewer, while the synth-heavy score (think Carpenter meets Goblin) drives the action forward without forgetting this story's Eighties' origins. All the beats of Lustig's slasher are there, but owing to its slickly sick stylisation, Khalfoun's remake never feels like a mere rerun – and if, by the end, we are left unsure exactly which of this American psycho's perceptions have been real, even the disturbed Frank's fantasies are a disconcerting - and strangely moving – window to a damaged brain.

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