So we've had a little perusal of the line-up for this year's Fright Fest and here's our take on the films on (sacrificial) offer on the opening day...
Day One: Thursday 23rd August 2018
We kick off in the 80s with the UK premiere of The Ranger, Jenn Wexler’s feature directorial debut. A police officer gets fatally wounded during a drug bust on a group of punks, aforementioned punks take refuge in a cabin in the woods where they cross with a park ranger who has a connection to one of the group...
A chainsaw in a horror film is celluloid shorthand for Texas Chain Saw Massacre, likewise a machete for Friday 13th, and if you set a horror film in a cabin in the woods then you’re telling us to think Evil Dead, Cabin Fever, and…well, Cabin in the Woods. An 80s set slasher in a cabin in the woods sounds familiar, but I don’t mean this as a slight on The Ranger, it looks like a film that embraces the cabin in the woods subgenre and hopefully will have a play with the tropes that go with it. While I doubt it’ll be a genre defining film, I’m looking forward to The Ranger- and if there’s some well-chosen punk in the soundtrack then this could be a really enjoyable slasher throwback (maybe Friday 13th meets Green Room- sounds good to me!).
Continuing with the 80s set films we have the European premiere of Summer of ’84 from directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Davey (Graham Verchere- Nathan Burgle in Fargo) believes his neighbour, Mr Mackey, is the serial killer dubbed the Cape May Slayer. With friends in tow, Davey investigates, which Mr Mackey responds to with good humour. Danger grows as they close in on the truth. It and Stranger Things come to mind straightaway, but since I love both of those that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Summer of ’84 takes its own path and veers away from being derivative of other 80s set horror (or horror inflected) films/series then this could be well worth a watch. It seems to be bringing in decent (but not rave) reviews.
Just before looking at the next film in the Fright Fest line-up I had the thought: “this is a good start”. The first two films are ones that I’m going to watch out for and I’m looking forward to th-
Then I saw the next film. Mega Time Squad.
A small time criminal gets his hands on an ancient Chinese time travel device…and faces “demonic consequences” of playing around with time. The description on the Fright Fest website includes the phrase “cheerfully vulgar”…maybe I haven’t had enough coffee yet, but everything about this screams zany and whacky and unfunny. Mega Time Squad is directed by Tim van Dammen who created the SFX for Deathgasm and while at least one of the ermanos has professed to be a fan of it, Deathgasm did nothing for me. I could well be wrong with Mega Time Squad, and New Zealand has previous for great horror comedies- Black Sheep, The Frighteners, What we do in the shadows- but I think this is a film I’ll probably try and avoid.
And so on to the Cineworld Discovery Screen which has two films on offer. Bad Samaritan and Blood Fest. Bad Samaritan is a film which looks like it’s aiming to hark back to 90s thrillers (cough- horrors)- Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho, and Cape Fear (remake)- or so says the Fright Fest blurb). Those are some big shoes to fill. First glance at the cast gives encouragement- David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Kerry Condon- but this is helmed by Dean Devlin, he of Geostorm which pitted Gerard Butler against ecological terrorism or some such nonsense. As with Mega Time Squad, I may well be wrong, but my initial response to hearing of Bad Samaritan is one of dread (and not in a good way). Even the title makes me worry. The plot itself sees a small time criminal/valet, who runs a scam in which he robs clients while they dine at a restaurant, have the misfortune of breaking into the house of a serial killer (with a side of sadism). The blurb for this film contains the words “crazy” and “outrageous” which set off alarm bells. I sense a pale imitation of Silence of the Lambs and Cape Fear mixed with Don’t Breathe and I have the strong suspicion you’d be better off watching those films as a trilogy than Bad Samaritan. We’ve seen many, many serial killers on film and unless this brings something new to the party then I’m not sure what the point of it is.
My initial enthusiasm for the films on offer on the first day of Fright Fest had fallen a little having considered Mega Time Squad and Bad Samaritan, but the second film on the Cineworld Discovery Screen, I think, sounds brilliant.
Blood Fest. A festival showing iconic entries from the horror genre draws flocks of horror fans (so far so Fright Fest) but the mastermind behind the event has a “diabolical agenda”. Our heroes must rely on their knowledge of the horror genre and trivia to survive Torturville, Vamp Camp, Clowntown and Hodderton High. The cast looks interesting and the premise promising. My reservation about Blood Fest is that getting the right tone with a comedy-horror is difficult and few films actually achieve it with any degree of success.