The pandemic of 2020 has provided access to numerous film festivals we would not have had the chance to discover otherwise—case in point, Arrow Video’s FrightFest from London. Filled with a variety of intriguing genre highs and lows, FrightFest emerges as one of the signature horror festivals. After the jump, check out my full coverage for all the films we have seen from the festival, including those viewed at previous festivals.

Films

THE ADVENT CALENDAR

Full review at the link.

ARE WE MONSTERS

The werewolf subgenre of horror has admittedly never been my favorite—I can probably count on one hand the number of these movies I have legitimately loved. Are We Monsters puts a decidedly different spin on the werewolf lore we all know and love to mixed results. Depicted as “creatures of evil,” as the werewolf population desperately spirals out of control, young werewolf Maya (Charlotte Olivia) may be the key to solving things as the blood moon fast approaches. The practical effects work for the numerous transformation includes the addition of elongated heads for the wolves, which comes across as slightly silly but still commendable. Even if Are We Monsters did not personally click for me, I admire the willingness to do something different with a subgenre that is typically very straightforward.

BAD CANDY

The next in the long line of Halloween anthology series trying to live in the shadow of Trick ‘R Treat, Bad Candy does not have the power of a single strong stand-alone segment. The stories flow well into one another, and all seem to be related to candy in some way. The “hosties with the mosties”, played by Gremlins alum Zach Galligan and Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor, run the Chilly Billy Radio Talk Show on 66.6 F.M. (get it?). This duo is essentially the film’s wraparound. Creepy, disturbing, and effective imagery during the home stretch comes too little too late, but a segment that takes us through a haunted house, found-footage style, was my favorite of the bunch. Bizarre stories include a woman who rapes a dead body at the morgue, a weirdo who puts razor blades in cupcakes and gets his comeuppance, a Scream 2 copycat death with a knife blade in a bathroom stall, and a young artist who realizes her artwork comes to life.

CRABS

A power plant explosion appears to cause crazy mutations to the entire crab population in the ridiculously fun new horror comedy Crabs from writer/director Pierce Berolzheimer. The characters—which include paralyzed Phil (Dylan Riley Snyder) and his cop older brother Hunter (Bryce Durfee)—deliver hilarious off-color remarks by the bucketful. When a dead whale washes up on shore, Hunter remarks that it “smells like fresh asshole.” Crabs exudes heavy Gremlins vibes (especially with the creepy creatures themselves) via the framework of an adult The Amanda Show comedy sketch. The 90’s vibes come strong with this one, and there’s even some Aliens and preposterous kaiju action violence blended in to top it off! The best part is that it literally never takes itself seriously. Crabs embraces the gonzo premise, featuring tiny (and giant!) horseshoe crabs terrorizing a small town. They get to do things like play records in the DJ booth, get drunk at the local pub, and invade a school prom. Who needs world domination when you’re having this much fun?

DAWN BREAKS BEHIND THE EYES

1996’s Scream is my favorite film of all time, so I’ll be the first one to admit I absolutely love its clever meta style. However, how meta is too meta? This is the questioned posed by chiller Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes. There’s a creepy wine cellar, vampires, orgies, fires, and whips! The film is visually stimulating and cleverly paced in the first portion. Dawn Breaks takes its time to evoke a sinister mood. However, it becomes emotionally bereft once it takes a sharp left turn near the film’s midway point. I will say that your milage may vary with this twist, as I can see some people loving it due to the lush style and effectiveness of act one. Like one of the characters says: “this shoot feels like an eternity”. At only 74 minutes long, Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes is simply too short to leave much of an impression.

FOLLOWERS

Being a fan of the found footage subgenre means unfortunately having to wade through a lot of dreck to get to the quality. Followers has an effective setup that establishes our lead characters: Jonty (Harry Jarvis) is an attention-seeking blogger freshly kicked off a reality show for having a viral freak out; Zorna (Loreece Harrison) is really into making documentaries, and longs for fresh perspective; Pete (Daniel Cahill) is a lone wolf badboy—“typically Scottish”; Amber (Erin Austen) loves taking selfies and showing off, but also sees a therapist and is the most emotionally unstable. Weird things start happening, and the group documents them as Jonty’s followers grow exponentially. Are the ghosts real? “Haunted laptops,” “angry furniture,” and leaked nudes playfully suggest a sinister presence. The film is framed to reveal unforeseen truths, narrated by Zorna as if she will have loads of insight. This angle is unnecessary, especially in the context of the ending. Though the climax is silly and fun, it doesn’t exactly fit the tone of Followers. I was entertained (especially with the character introductions) but there is not nearly enough horror here to justify a revisit.

FORGIVENESS

Please, have forgiveness on me for writing this review! Forgiveness has the most fascinating logline: three women wake up separately in a dilapidated hospital—one mute, one deaf, one blind. Working together to survive sounds like the logical next step here, but Forgiveness is more interested in reveling in the depravity of their scenario. Random dance breaks, rapists in piggy masks, lots of screaming, and gratuitous sexuality assaults the senses vigorously. Most baffling of all, the movie is almost entirely silent, with minimal dialogue. I was more puzzled than angry. For the right horror viewer, this will hit a sweet spot, even if it simply wasn’t for me.

MOTHERLY

There’s nothing quite like a mother’s love… For the first chunk of Motherly, there is little more to latch onto beyond a writer, her angsty young daughter (Tess Kozma), and intense scary music with occasional bloody imagery. Then, a spark of tragedy that re-emerges from her past launches fiercely protective mother Kate (Lora Burke) into a tailspin. Part home-invasion thriller, part intriguing mystery, Motherly goes for the jugular as it places significance on a simple game of hide and seek. You can spot the ending coming from a mile away, but I was still engrossed in this surprisingly solid thriller.

NOCTURNA: THE GREAT OLD MAN’S NIGHT

Thematically similar to 2015’s horror/thriller Dementia, Nocturna mostly stays in the drama lane throughout. It consists of skirting along one old man’s memories through a very sad deterioration of his mental and emotional state. At 100 years old, Ulysses (Pepe Soriano) doesn’t remember that his mom is dead, nor much of anything at all about his long life as he slips in and out of meaningful conversations amongst things that aren’t really there. The horror comes in the tragedy of not knowing what is real—memories come and go, and they get lost in the shuffle. Nocturna isn’t a bad film, and is acted with an assured approach to the material. However, as purposeful as it may be, Nocturna is structurally confusing in a way that creates a distance between the viewer and the characters.

POST MORTEM

I have to admit I didn’t love this one, yet in the same breath, Post Mortem is original and creative for a ghost film. The haunting visuals (like corpses rotting inside of a smoking chimney) and the intensity of the narrative allow ample wiggle room to stray from the norm. In a setup not dissimilar to Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, a photographer named Tomas (Viktor Klem) who sets up shots and family photos post-death finds more than he bargained for in a seemingly quiet little town. From the outset, the pace is slow but weaves in ominous touches of foreboding. Gradually, Post Mortem gets crazier by the second—floating in the air, streets cracking, photos coming to life, and a violent, ghostly presence are on the horror agenda for this one. The humor is strange (and I’m not entirely sure any of it really works), and that enticing visual style makes Post Mortem worthy of a watch.

PRETTY BOY

Full review at the link.

RED SNOW

A vampire author (Dennice Cisneros) inherits an adorable home in Lake Tahoe, then when she arrives, encounters an actual vampire! Set during Christmas, this bloody horror-comedy has all the right ingredients. The script is meta and smart, name-dropping Twilight, Noseferatu, and more. The main vampire, played by Nico Bellamy, is hunky and dreamy, the exact vibe I’m sure they were looking to imitate. Following the love story between Olivia and Luke leads to some cute possibilities. Their banter about Anne Rice vs. Stephenie Meyer made me giggle. Part rom-com, part bloody vampire movie, Red Snow toys with the lore, yet fails to do anything new or exciting with it. However, I would’ve been totally fine with that if the acting was better. Around the second act, the character inconsistencies start kicking in, and the spotty acting becomes more noticeable. A mean-spirited ending doesn’t seem to fit anything that came before. I think Red Snow is certainly entertaining, it is just a shame that the budget appears to hamper its infinite possibilities.

THE RETALIATORS

I found it very difficult to connect with this loud and super gory revenge thriller, detailing a pastor seeking vengeance for his daughter’s horrific murder after she was zip-tied to a steering wheel and left to drown. He will stop at nothing to find those responsible and make them pay, and his road to redemption is entirely too convenient for my taste. The Retaliators overstays its welcome by stretching out the story to its breaking point, and assaulting the senses with nearly non-stop hard rock music tracks to accompany countless scenes. The cheesy kills and one-liners are campy ridiculousness, and a Christmas setting is entirely wasted with little rhyme or reason to be set around the holiday. 

SLAPFACE

Full review at the link.

WHEN THE SCREAMING STARTS

The horror mockumentary style popularized by films like The Blair Witch Project and especially Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon makes a curious return in this darkly funny serial killer chiller. Norman Graysmith (Jared Rogers) is an Award-winning documentary filmmaker about to start his next project: the birth of a serial killer. His subject is Aiden (Ed Hartland), who “thinks about being a serial killer every single day,” and wants to kill his old vocalist from the band Cannibal Death March. In order to fulfill Aiden’s bloodlust, he decides to hold auditions for new members of his “family” with a hunger for the macabre—including creepy twins who want blood orgies—with the help of his longtime girlfriend who offers up sex in exchange for Aiden’s first kill. A dinner party massacre certainly fulfills the gore quotient, though it takes way too long to get there. The smattering of dark humor keeps things relatively light. The latter half of the film is so much fun, as the ripple effects of finally killing someone spread across the group and the documentary itself. 

Previously Viewed

BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION

Full review at the link.

COMING HOME IN THE DARK

Full review at the link.

DEMENTER

Full review at the link.

GAIA

Body horror, gorgeous cinematography, gnarly creature design, and a timely message… I think this might be one of the best from 2021’s SXSW. A focus on ecological horror puts it into small (but loving) company with films like The Ruins. What a wild ride!

KING KNIGHT

Full review at the link.

THE LAST THING MARY SAW

Full review at the link.

NIGHT DRIVE

There is no end in sight to the lengthy lineup of rideshare-based entertainment. Night Drive is the newest, injecting thrills and sci-fi into the heart of a strange character study. Driver Russell (AJ Bowen) picks up Charlotte (Sophie Dalah) for what should be a routine course. He is planning to attend a Christmas party later that night, but a wrench is thrown into his plans when Charlotte slips him a crisp $100 to make a second stop without putting it into the app. Their car conversation ranges from top five Christmas songs (in which Charlotte mixes up Bill Cosby and Bing Crosby) to guessing each other’s ages. Russell accidentally hits a guy with his car, Charlotte steals a mysterious briefcase, and the rest is a domino effect of bad decisions and surprising narrative directions. The back-and-forth banter between Russell and Charlotte is clever, varied, and chock-full of references to different movies. The final act goes full-tilt cerebral sci-fi, and it was definitely the best section of the movie. It left me wishing there was more to the story and less to the snappy dialogue. (Viewed at Chattanooga Film Festival)

NO MAN OF GOD

Full review at the link.

OFFSEASON

Full review at the link.

THE SADNESS

Full review at the link.

SHE WATCHES FROM THE WOODS

After a tragic accident leaves her sister dead, June (Meredith Garretson) is forced to undergo horrible electro-shock treatments and mental therapy that will permanently haunt her. On the day of the death, June found a random creepy doll in the river. Once you see the doll floating in the water, it takes you. Now, she is always hearing eerie voices. Though her dying mother didn’t even visit or call once while recovering, June returns home with her girlfriend Maeve (Paulina Lule) to make amends. She seeks to prove that her sister’s death was no mere accident. She draws connections through research, as the cops are no help (an obvious horror trope). This time, at least one of the cops is from June’s past, and he is “an ally.” She Watches From the Woods is perfectly adequate, but for those who like answers to mysteries, this is the wrong movie for you. The film spends so much time establishing mood and atmosphere that it neglects everything else. There is not quite enough here to hit a home run, yet there is a surreal beauty to the flashes of horror from the imagination of Beau Ballinger. (Viewed at Chattanooga Film Festival)

SOUND OF VIOLENCE

Full review at the link.

ULTRASOUND

Full review at the link.

I hope you have enjoyed my coverage for 2021’s Arrow Video FrightFest London! Out of the new movies I watched at the festival, my top three favorites are easy picks! Valentine’s slasher throwback Pretty Boy, French horror thriller The Advent Calendar, and emotional grief metaphor Slapface were the big winners for me. For more information about FrightFest, please visit their website.

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