Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Headshots


d. Chris O’Neill; w./p. Rochelle Carino, Chris O’Neill; cast: Nika Khitrova. Olivia Castanho, Chris O’Neill, Dani Savka, Christina De La Ossa, Thomas Ohrstrom

Passable LA-set, UK-produced horror thriller that successfully pulls off an impressively complex structure and an end-of-act-one narrative switcheroo. British actress Jaime moves to Hollywood, hoping for a break, where she finds that all the women are desperate wannabe film stars and all the men are creepy professional photographers. When Jaime stops calling home, her brother and sister lock up their tea shop and jet across the Atlantic to search for her. Some creepy exual fetishism leading to savagely calm stabbings and face peelings provides the horror and raises the question: how do you get blood out of velvet? London-raised Russian-Lithuanian Khitrova was in Enchantress before she moved to the States. Ex-pat Yorkshireman O’Neill’s first feature was crime romp Absolute Debauchery. This premiered in December 2018 at the Culver City Film Festival. An opening caption reckons 42,000 people go missing in LA every year and “none are ever found” – rather damning of the LAPD! A VOD release is planned for late 2019.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Trash Arts Killers Vol.2


d./w. various; p. Sam Mason Bell; cast: Martyna Madej, Jackson Batchelor, Tritia Devisha, David Black, Simon Berry, Alice Mulholland, Natalie Bailey, Tyne Stewart, Mark Margason

Nine shorts make up this 63-minute flatpack anthology, once again exploring the more experimental end of the scene, manifest in a tendency for minimal dialogue and copious monochrome. There are some interesting ideas on show but they’re frustratingly under-explored, especially Martin W Payne’s gory game of strip-chess Mate. Stretched to ten minutes this could have been agonisingly tense, but here it’s over before it’s begun: a great idea, well executed, going nowhere. Robbie Hampstead’s Final Demand is also a one-gag horror comedy, but it’s a funny one. Thomas J Davenport’s Sad Dad shows promise in its story of a father feeding his zombie son but it just stops with no real pay-off. Probably the most successful clip is kinky scifi comedy Sex Robot from token Aussie David Black. Other film-makers present are Emma Jane Lloyd, Jessica Hunt, Gant Murphy, Britmic and the ubiquitous Bell. There are proper credits for all films at the end.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Follow the Crows


d. Alex Secker; w./p. Alex Secker, Marcus Starr; cast: Max Curtis, Daniella Faircloth, Marcus Starr, Craig Fox, Matthew Mordak, Tony Manders, Stu Jackson, Ashly Robinson, Alex Pitcher

Bleak, grim and satisfyingly depressing, Secker’s debut feature is a study of Hobbes-ian lives in a post-apocalyptic world, the nature of which is never specified (because it’s not needed). A young man, travelling alone, takes as a companion a young woman, initially with the aim of simply teaching her basic survival skills. They meet other survivors, and so does an older man, making his own way across the landscape. Most encounters end with at least one person dead. Despite its languorous pace and 94-minute running time, this doesn’t feel over-long or drawn out. The unnamed characters are all credible and real (apart from one who, fortunately, doesn’t last long). Darren Potter’s cinematography drains the Wiltshire countryside of colour, but gradually restores it in the final act as hope surfaces. Terrific lead performances and a fine score add to the quality. There was a screening in Swindon in February 2018. Spare cast/crew DVDs were sold online. Not to be confused with Molly Crows, or indeed, Crow.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Curse of the Witch’s Doll

d./w. Lawrence Fowler; p. Lawrence Fowler, Geoff Fowler; cast: Helen Crevel, Philip Ridout, Layla Watts, Neil Hobbs, Claire Carreno, Michelle Archer, William Frazer, Laura Janes, Ethan Taylor

Fowler’s surprisingly impressive debut feature starts off unpromisingly with a nonsensical scenario but a mid-point twist explains and excuses the curious tale of a mother and daughter in 1942 who leave Kent for a massive, empty manor further north. The cast is solid: Crevell (Survival Instinct) does a good job carrying the first half; Ridout (Dogged) – who looks like an older Martin Freeman – owns part two as a creepy doctor; Archer (Unhinged) has a terrific extended cameo as a mental patient. Sadly the script falls down, with no real clue to the nature of either the witch or her doll (a radio controlled prop). There’s a brief 17th century prologue and an unnecessary present-day epilogue which would have worked better as a stand-alone spin-off short film in the DVD extras. Shot in Northamptonshire in 2017 as Conjuring the Witch’s Doll. The sleeve shows a completely different doll.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Blood Junkies


d./w. Bruce Naughton; p. Keith Bradley; cast: Sean Hay, Mary Goonan, Gordon Slater

Shot in 1993, the absolute doldrums of British horror cinema, this hour-long 16mm vampire picture is set in a bygone world of AIDS, pagers and smoking in pubs. Predating both the social realism horror of I, Zombie etc and the junkie-porn vogue sparked by Trainspotting, it has an ancient vampire preying on heroin addicts in Edinburgh tower blocks. The bloodsucker (a powerfully disconcerting performance from Hay) comes into conflict with both a senior copper leading an anti-junkie vigilante gang and a council medical officer who falls under his powerful spell. Hugely impressive for the time, it features plenty of blood and gore courtesy of Scott Orr (Zombie Diaries etc) and no fewer than three historical prologues, one featuring a small child who must be about 30 by now! Distribution rights were bought by a US ‘label’ which turned out to be a fundamentalist Christian organisation trying to prevent horror films from being released. After a single Edinburgh screening in 2001 the film vanished but in 2019 an old Betacam copy surfaced and Night Kaleidoscope helmer Grant McPhee arranged a Glasgow screening with forthcoming VOD/DVD release.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Far from the Apple Tree


d. Grant McPhee; w. Ben Soper; p. Grant McPhee, Olivia Gifford, Steven Moore; cast: Sorcha Groundsell, Victoria Liddelle, Lynsey-Anne Moffat, Adrienne-Marie Zitt, Margaret Fraser

McPhee’s third trippy feature confirms him as one of the most interesting film-makers in Britain today. It feels more accessible than Sarah’s Room or Night Kaleidoscope, which may be the director maturing and/or new scripter Soper. When art student Judith is taken on as protégé/archivist by successful artist Roberta, she finds images of Roberta’s daughter Maddie among the photos, videos and film. Roberta seems to be moulding Judith into her daughter’s image; as her resistance breaks down so does her identity. A film about art, artifice and artificiality, Far from the Apple Tree has a briefly overt but deliberately unexplored subtext of witchcraft and occult conspiracy. McPhee and DP Simon Vickery crafted the film from a wide range of film and video formats which reinforce the disoriented viewer’s empathy with Judith/Maddie while constantly reminding us (not least through constantly shifting aspect ratios!) that what we are watching is also both artificial and art. Shot in March 2017, it premiered in Manchester two years later. Score by Rose McDowall from Strawberry Switchblade!

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Frankenstein’s Creature

d. Sam Ashurst; w. James Swanton; p. Craig Hinde; cast: James Swanton

The first British Frankenstein film for 45 years (TV movies and US co-productions notwithstanding) is an extraordinary avant-garde piece of filmed theatre. Swanton (Double Date) debuted his one-man adaptation of Shelley’s novel in 2015, telling the well-worn tale entirely from the Creature’s viewpoint. Film journo Ashurst shot this in 2018 as a single take – static, wide shot, monochrome – yet this is much more than just a camera pointed at an actor. Swanton performs his 90-minute monologue in an alcove of an old church, his only props some clothes and a wooden chest, his face pancaked like Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, his theatricality and voice just this side of Donald Wolfit. Sometimes he approaches the camera and addresses us directly, sometimes he is still for over a minute, sometimes Ashurst overlays images of Icelandic wilderness or close-ups of Swanton. Mesmerising and utterly brilliant, this premiered at the 2018 Frightfest. Lawrie Brewster released a limited run of 200 DVDs. You do need to be reasonably familiar with the novel and not (like the bozo who reviewed this for Variety) just have seen a couple of Frankenstein films.