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Horror Fest '06:
Saturday 18th November, Portsmouth
review by Tony Lee

Horror Fest (part of the "film and new media festival" Portsmouth Screen) ran from 16 to 18 November 2006. This report covers only the Saturday screenings, 12.30 to 10 pm. The Menuhin Theatre venue (3rd Floor Arts Centre, Central Library, Guildhall Square, Portsmouth) was, unfortunately, not appropriate for such a lengthy event as this. The screen was apparently not suitable for widescreen films (picture spill over was visibly distorted left and right), or the digital projector was not set-up properly, and the seating was quite uncomfortable after just a couple of hours. However, this was reasonably acceptable for an otherwise worthwhile event where admission was free...

The show began with an unbilled short film, Richard Gale's Criticized, which is about a newspaper's film critic who gets kidnapped and violently tortured because of his entirely negative comments about a new filmmaker's work... Basically, this appears to be Saw meets Theatre Of Blood (1973) but appearances can be deceptive, and its two-man cast and intensely claustrophobic bathtub/ shower-stall setting makes a very strong impression, nonetheless. Indeed, as the quintessential shocker of this whole event it's a tour de force of quite startling originality and ambition that brings unrivalled qualities of nightmarish in-your-face horror to a genre wholly perpetuated by much lesser artists not fit to wipe the (surely pristine?) arse this genius filmmaker. Honestly, I can't praise this enough, and even my brother thought it was an utterly perfect masterpiece of Art. We are convinced the stupid film critic (who cannot be named for legal reasons) got exactly the fate that he deserved...
Unanimous score: 11 out of 10 (of course!)

Directed by Jason Todd Ipson, Unrest concerns a mixed bunch of medical students dissecting cadavers under the watchful eye of Dr Blackwell (British actor Derrick O'Connor). As sensitive, possibly psychic, heroine Alison, Corri English is never less than watchable, and despite this drama's obvious riffs on material better explored in the likes of German chiller Anatomie, and Shinya Tsukamoto's Vital, it benefits from subdued fantastic elements, relating to Aztec rituals. The climactic revelations aside, it is the filmmakers' keen focus on character development of the young doctors instead of unsubtle gruesomeness of clinical morgue details that makes this so entertaining. In spite of its allusive title, this is a horror feature that confounds initial expectations of another Re-Animator farce with zombies, and treats audiences to psychological thrills with acidic wit and good humour.

Unrest
Scot Davis, Jay Jablonski, Joshua Alba, and Corri English in Ipson's UNREST

Mark L. Smith's directing debut, Séance, is likely to win favour with many horror audiences for its lively sketches on familiar Scooby gang plots. College kids contact the child's ghost who haunts their low-rent dorm, but inadvertently summon up the evil spirit of said little girl's killer. As malevolent spectre Spence, Adrian Paul (TV's Highlander) gamely whistles 'Incey Wincey Spider' between the repetitive bouts of student-killing violence. It's hardly in the same league as recent frighteners such as the Japanese Dark Water and The Grudge, but this is still an enjoyably spooky addition to the ever-popular subgenre of 'tragic misadventures with Ouija boards'. For want of a cartoon dog and a Mystery Inc. van, this could have been just the sort of live action Scooby Doo (prequel?) feature that Raja Gosnell's two disastrously dumb movies should have been, but weren't!

Jay Lee's The Slaughter combines a low-key Lovecraftian theme regarding a monstrous female's return to conquer the Earth with a run-of-mill The Evil Dead plotline and sundry haunted-house clichés. First called back from beyond by a coven of happily naked witches, the evil vampire demon (boasting ghastly dental work) lurks in the abandoned family house until a group of students arrive to complete property repairs on behalf of a greedy estate agent. Too much introductory exposition robs this suspense thriller of narrative impact, so it's a welcome relief when the quirky humour really kicks in about halfway through. Surviving protagonists deliver some amusingly in-character rants, and unhappily curse their seemingly dire predicament's fidelity to (or contradictions thereof) established genre film lore.

The Slaughter
Zak Kilberg, as Iggy, under attack in THE SLAUGHTER

Given a fortnight to produce, from scratch, a short film with a horror theme, students from Southampton University came up with The Grave Keeper, an offbeat quickie about supernatural vengeance following an act of vandalism in a cemetery. Horror Fest organiser Joe Jenkins introduced his own short film The Museum, claiming it was made for �26.50 to demonstrate how cheaply such pictures could be produced. Although the switches from music and montage to dialogue scenes were quite jarring (simply a lack of technical polish?) this quasi-documentary was amiable enough festival-filler, with broad comedy provided by a prima donna parody of every film society's am-dram 'leading lady', and a climactic silent-movie stylised 'murder scene' that's surprisingly effective.

With its potential for quirky surrealism downplayed, Pat Higgins' KillerKiller has barely enough cinematic action to hold interest and its extensively talky scenes are damagingly reminiscent of filmed stage-play material. Some convicted murderers wake up trapped in a weird limbo and argue bitterly about their situation before each gets brutally executed in ways that supposedly recreate their crimes. If not ruined by its unappealing philosophical dialogues by mediocre actors, this offering is at least spoilt by far too much dreary chat and not enough spectacularly hard-edged violence. The female avenger doesn't make enough appearances to liven things up, but the few moments of savagely dark humour save this film's later chapters from total boredom.

Eddie Loves You works as a delightful spoof of Gremlins and the latter Chucky movies, but has a uniquely demented charm of its own. Discarded teddy Eddie returns, with homicidal intent, to its seemingly respectable middle-class (if repressed male) former owner, and the black comedy highlights of the resulting maniacal chases through a suburban house are often hilarious. Although the visual effects are occasionally a bit rough, its frantic pace and the wildly absurdist tone skate over such minor flaws. See this highly inventive short film if you get a chance. You will never look at vividly coloured soft toys in quite the same way again!

Jeff Thomas' overly ambitious Fallen Angels was a late addition to the Horror Fest line-up. It stars Michael Dorn (Star Trek: TNG / DS9), Bill Moseley (The Devil's Rejects), and relative newcomer Michael Kaliski. While local cops deal with the kidnapping of a young girl, FBI agents investigate the mystery of a tomb discovered beneath a prison that's been scheduled for demolition. Strange goings-on, lots of frantically garbled or slowly articulated explanations, and several exceptionally grisly murders punctuate an unevenly paced narrative concerning the infamous seven deadly sins and some 'angels' ejected from heaven for practicing sinful ways. Though this movie's storyline rapidly escalates from a cold-case CSI job to full-blown creature feature epic of biblical proportions there's only a vague sense of continuity and it's all puzzling and confused right up until the very end. Guest appearances by a whole host of genre stalwarts, including Michael Berryman, Kevin McCarthy, Reggie Bannister, Kane Hodder, David Hess, and Martin Kove, fail to add much weight to the moribund drama. The Prophecy trilogy, launched in 1995 by Gregory Widen, and starring Christopher Walken, handled this sort of brooding fantasy with far greater skill.

As a showcase for new genre cinema, Horror Fest definitely puts the south coast on the map. Hopefully, next year's event will find a more adequate venue, and attract a bigger audience.
Criticized

Unrest

Seance

The Slaughter

KillerKiller

Fallen Angels

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