Film Festival Review by Marc Lissenburg
I am sure I am not the only one who embraces the current digital age which permits pristine prints of new and classic movies in our own domestic sanctuaries courtesy of DVD and Blu Ray discs. While the convenience and luxury of these formats breathe new life into antiquated classics, there has developed a flip side which in turn has had a detrimental effect on the communal viewing experience.
The technology currently used at the vast majority of multiplex cinemas nationwide has steadily replaced the format that brought images to the silver screen for well over a century. More cost effective and reusable hard drives containing movies is firmly poised to hammer the final nail into the coffin of Celluloid.
But it’s not just romantic traditionalism at stake here. There is solid scientific evidence to suggest that films reels running through a projector indeed interact far more effectively with the human brain. (Basically individual images on a celluloid film, when played at 24 frames per second, result in the brain briefly retaining each image thus creating a perception of motion).
It’s a situation recognised by Robert Nevitt who, in his role of festival director, saw his magnificent and loyally supported CELLULOID SCREAMS Horror Film Festival at the Sheffield Showroom enter its fourth year, this October.
The venue, situated prominently opposite Sheffield train station is a converted 1930’s building that is a now a thriving and precious independent cinema. Its comfort, facilities and friendly yet professional staff equate to the perfect setting for a weekend of horror movie mayhem.
As eager horror fans filtered through the doors of the Showroom to pick up their weekend passes, the spacious welcoming walkway was adorned with some unique artwork. The venture called PAPER CUTS basically meant artists were free to recreate poster art from classic Horror Movies in a personalised and therefore alternate style. Some were comic book (Evil Dead), some were minimalistic (The Exorcist) and some were just killer (Suspiria)!
Once email confirmations were traded in, we received a full set of tickets for all the movies over the weekend and a rather generous goody bag. Not only did it contain an A5 sized official festival programme, some great promotional items were also included. A ‘REC 3’ bottle opener (more about that baby later), a SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE basket ball shaped stress ball, stickers, postcards and on top of that, everybody got a free movie. (I got a WAR OF THE DEAD DVD, where as my buddy got a CHENOBYL DIARIES Blu Ray... fucking BLU RAY? I knew I should have pushed in front of him!!)
The roomy bar offered the perfect place to toast the festivals start, mull over our gifts (while trying unsuccessfully to swap discs!) and generally take in the attendees simmering anticipation.
7.30pm and proceedings kicked off with real gem. SIGHTSEERS is the result of director Ben Wheatley’s wish to ‘clean his palette’ after KILL LIST with something more comedic. Although there was humour in abundance, the movie was entwined with a delightfully malevolent tone and topped off with some vicious gore!
It’s a tale about two caravan dwelling lovers Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) whose exploits soon spiral out of control. Tina, still an emotional mess since the untimely death of her dog (darn those pesky knitting needles), has a thing for crotch-less knitted panties (hail the knitting needle!) along with a potpourri kink! Chris has a passion Tram and Pencil museums and extreme detestation for litterbugs. Together they become the Lake Districts answer to Bonnie and Clyde with a shot of Henry and Otis thrown in for good measure!
Their exploits include dispensing their own brand of justice to jobs worth’s, Lambrini fuelled cackling Hen parties and stuck up yuppies while coveting a pet along the way!
Kudos has to go to the organisers for, not only strategically placing "Banjo the lost dog" posters around the venue but for also handing out "If the caravan is rocking don’t come a knocking" do not disturb hangers.
The screening was followed by the first Q & A of the weekend whereby Wheatley tantalisingly confirmed his next project would be a "psychedelic war film along the lines of Hill Street Blues meet monsters"! To say I am intrigued is somewhat of an understatement...
It was a cracking start with the screening of a highly recommended movie, from a director who, if he carries on at his current rate, will be creating some incredible work over the next few years.
So from the first actual movie to the first real test of endurance as it were. NIGHTBREED – THE CABAL CUT weighed in at a bumper 146 minutes and is essentially a labour of love by restoration director Russell Cherrington. The version we were shown fluctuated between crisp previously released footage and fuzzy VHS material that fundamentally was sourced from Clive Barkers original ‘complete’ edition.
Like 1987’s Hellraiser, the movie has a very distinct 1980’s chic to it. Unlike Hellraiser, (and regardless of the newly spliced in footage) the picture still abandoned my interest somewhat in the latter half due to it losing its nasty edge in favour of the pure fantasy world of Midian.
The subsequent communal Q & A with Cherrington and legendary cenobites Simon Bamford (Butterball) and Nick Vince (Chatterer) did however stoke my interest, especially when they suggested we possibly have not seen the last of Clive Barkers endeavours as a film director. Given the shockingly poor state of Barkers health I was surprised to hear this but nevertheless, all three guests maintained he was on the up health wise and a future film project could well be on the cards.
Of the trio, it was truly uplifting to be honoured with their presence. Interacting with special guests is a massive part (for me anyway) of the festival experience. Most notably, not only were they cordially signing fans memorabilia with genuine interest (and for free), their own 12 x 8 gloriously coloured photographs harked back to the Nightbreed / Hellraiser era when personalised for a non exploitive £5 a pop.
Enlightening Simon Bamford to the cumbersome ritual that was laserdisc viewing back in the day as he and Nick Vince added their prized signatures to Clive Barker’s, Oliver Smith’s and Doug Bradley’s on my collector’s edition Hellraiser LD was a wonderful gratuity to the first day’s events. The night ended in the bar with the bongo drum driven tomfoolery of the self acclaimed ‘worst band in Sheffield’, FRIENDS OF BATMAN. While the entertainment was aural slapstick, it at least provided an opportunity to chug a little after hour’s festival ale.
I miraculously managed to ‘drink responsibly’ on Friday (just the 6 pints!) which meant a hearty fry up, pint of coffee and rejuvenating shower later I was gratefully accepting a free pair of old school red and blue 3d glasses before entering the Showroom’s screen 3 for Saturdays inaugural programme.
ZOMBIE CHIC 3d was a fantastic way to ‘wake us the fuck up’ as Rob so eloquently put it. It was a gory mini movie about a pompous dinner party that succumbs to a zombie invasion. Shot in stereoscopic 3d, the movie looked terrific and showed that Hell hath no fury then a woman whose drapes have been ruined by blood and brains!
Then it was onto MANBORG. Too short to be a movie, too long to be a short film maybe its best described as a 60 minute sci fi horror "Sho-vie"! Coming out of the Canadian Astron-6 stable, it was a potent mix of over the top gore, stop motion action and homage laden characters delivering some hilarious dialogue. If the caffeine didn’t work, a movie called MANBORG did while proving "it’s never too late to be a hero".
The energy shot of the first showing was numbed a little with the rather sobering revelation that the version of Dario Argento’s OPERA, although a stunning 35mm print, was ultimately a UK trimmed version. To some this was unforgivable; to others the opportunity to experience a 35mm print of an Argento classic was good enough.
Either way it did serve to emphasize the festivals’ commitment of staying true to it its title even if a few notable frames of violence were sacrificed. A real mockery was made of this censorship when screening director Ryan Hayom’s preceding short, YELLOW. The giallo tinged movie was significantly more vicious with its gimp marked frenzied scissor attacks and graphic depictions of blood splurging murder.
But any infuriation regarding arrogant expunging of visual bloodshed by our beloved BBFC was soon to be thwarted with the sheer extremism of the following programme. In fact, the retrospective on Brazilian filmmaker Dennison Ramalho’s work was the only segment of the festival to boast an ‘official warning’ in the programme notes.
I tend to be a little weary of phrases like ‘contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing’. They rolled that one out for the utterly shite CLOSED CIRCUIT EXTREME at Frightfest which rendered the caution as merely propagandised posturing. But as Ramalho’s work played it was clear that the blasphemous mood and extreme imagery did go some way to justifying the cautionary programme notes with aplomb. The movies were 1998’s NOCTURNO (11 mins), 2003’s LOVE FROM MOTHER ONLY (21 mins) and the pick of the bunch from 2010 NINJAS (23 minutes).
The latter has been adapted from a short story, "A GOOD COP", and is a brutal portrayal of how extreme suppressed guilt and vicious violence can transcend into madness as oppose to salvation when religion is turned to. An apparition of Christ producing a hand gun from his festering stomach and a poor chap forced to walk with the encumbrance of 9 inch nails hammered into the base of his heels are just a couple of the remarkably stimulating sequences contained within.
We were then onto one of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the entire weekend – VHS. The anthology of ‘found footage-esque’ short films admittedly had some memorable moments, and considering it had a 2 hour run time, flew by. But for me, the bottom line with movies that revolve around being rudimentarily constructed by the actual protagonists are by their very nature simply not cinematic enough for my tastes. Admittedly the 20 minute chunks of web, spy and any other ‘cam’ you wish to name movies were far more palatable and effective then influx of feature length ‘FF’ yarns surfacing at the moment. They ranged from the spooky to the gory with a dollop of no holds barred alien weirdness to boot. At least they had an element of diversity within its tales. If you enjoyed the style of THEATRE BIZARRE, you may well appreciate VHS. On the other hand, it could well open the floodgates for cheap imitations sponsored by Nokia!
CELL COUNT was the early evening feature. The movie is based around an experimental health facility in which inmates are treated for a nameless yet lethal disease with the intention of being released back into society. A clear exercise in ‘isolation Sci Fi Horror’, the gore was certainly above average with some quality effects while great attention was paid to creating an intensely anxious atmosphere that kept the audience speculating about the eventual outcome. The ending had a bit too much ‘action hero’ to it then I would have personally liked but it was ultimately refreshingly original story with protagonists who had their emotions and bodies shredded in equal measures. Director Todd E. Freeman was on hand to partake in the second post screening special guest Q&A of the day and cleverly alluded that CELL COUNT 2 is a distinct possibility.
So as we approached 10pm on the Saturday night of CELLULOID SCREAMS 2012, the festivals’ near legendary ‘Secret Movie’ was about to be publicized. I hate the term ‘online community’ but if there was one thing that was a constant in ‘tweets’ and pre fest chats it was the pondering and hopes for what Saturday nights clandestine offering would be.
AMERICAN MARY and MANIAC were two optimistic titles being bandied about, but the actual film was Irish director Ciaran Foy’s feral youth nightmare about a tower block of the movies name - CITADEL. Such was the popularity of this intriguing piece of cinema (fact it ultimately won the audience vote for the festivals best movie) a separate detailed review can be found here. And for anyone who was disappointed NOT to watch Frank Zito resurface in 2012 looking like Frodo, is it me or does Aneurin Barnard in the lead role in CITADEL have an uncanny resemblance to Elijah Wood???
The final film of the night was Chilean ‘shocker’ HIDDEN IN THE WOODS. It’s lambasting from some quarters of being trite torture porn paradoxically stoked my interest if I am being honest. For all the uniquely crafted atmospheric offerings we had seen so far, it was midnight on Saturday, my brain was in meltdown and dollop of meaningless ultra violence washed down with oceanic lashings of gore was just the nightcap I needed!
Considering I was quite happy to watch an hour and half of some poor fucker tied to a chair and be cruelly lacerated for no apparent reason, it’s something of a damning verdict that I found the movie to be a little hackneyed.
It was as if the gangster oriented story, apparently based on true events, simply tried too hard to be provocative. There were violent rapes, incestuous rapes, rapes that transformed the victims into cannibals, a hooker spitting frenzy (that was staggeringly rape free), a chainsaw death or two before, its back to, yep you guessed it, some much needed rape! It sounds extreme when you describe it but it was just a little tedious in its execution. Was I offended? No. Was I bored? Yes.
Saturday’s conclusion exemplified the need for ‘festival stamina’ as it were. A 10.30am start with the final whistle not to be heard for around 13 and a half hours coupled with a final day jam packed with another six movies (plus shorts) meant a few hours valuable sleep and an injection of energy on Sunday morning was what we all craved...
Arriving at the Showroom Sunday morning, warm familiarities among the weekenders counteracted the quite chilling South Yorkshire wind.
The general consensus seemed to be that the extra hour facilitated by the clocks going back barely registered as knowing looks of "Hey we are exhausted but here we go again!" were exchanged. There may have even been a few punters who thought they would compromise Sundays inaugural picture, (the Argentinean MEMORY OF THE DEAD) to top up their ‘ZZZ’s allowing them to partake in the final horror pentathlon fully recharged. Anyone who DID actually do that must have had divine inspiration because.... for the first time in CELLULOID SCREAMS history, a movie had to be cancelled. Considering the fest’s title, it was perversely ironic then that some digital hardware would ultimately relieve the Showrooms screen 4 of its sound capabilities.
A blameless, helpless (I dare say embarrassed) and HUGELY apologetic Robert Nevitt regrettably conveyed the unfortunate announcement a few minutes after the programme should have kicked off. Of course it was disappointing, and a few murmurings of why they simply couldn’t play a different movie or just switch it to an alternate screen were fundamentally explained by Rob when I caught a few minutes with him later that day.
He explained that with the current DCP (Digital Cinema Package) hardware, it takes around two hours for a feature film to be ‘ingested’ onto an auditoriums server which obviously means simply showing an alternate movie at the last minute in not feasible. The possibility of screening a previously shown movie from the schedule, although not ideal, could possibly lessen the blow of a film being cancelled. But even this has technical complications surrounding it. Then there are the strict regulations governing the submitted schedule to the local authorities. It essentially means simply popping in a disc of a fans favourite (would anyone have complained had the Blu Ray of THE BEYOND been offered for example) runs into legal issues of its own and could lead to jeopardizing future festivals.
The cancellations impact was heightened in many ways by its timing. Had it occurred middle of the day when folk are trying to juggle grabbing a bite to eat with not being late for the next feature, I dare say it would have been less of an inconvenience. But when a tired audience haul themselves into the final day of the fest, first thing in the morning, only to be faced with a no-show, it made it a bitterer pill to swallow.
With a few hours to kill we decided a visit to the local Forbidden Planet outlet was in order...
It was shut.
OK... oh well, time for a Sunday morning beer. With a moderately cold bottle of Stella in hand it was time to christen my novelty REC 3 bottle opener key ring...
It didn’t work.
Oh well they do say these things come in three’s don’t they?
For me however, the festivals low point was about to be completely erased by my personal favourite movie from the entire weekend. I don’t care if it didn’t make the top 3 in the audience vote, it resonated massively with me. BEFORE DAWN is an amazing effort from husband and wife team Dominic Brunt and Joanne Mitchell. I urge you to read the supplementary piece I made especially for this movie which also includes a summary of the post screening Q & A with its married creators, you can check it out here .
The show was most definitely back on the road and the fun continued with the next feature which proved to be hugely popular. It was an eerily captivating movie called RESOLUTION by directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, whose attendance REALLY lit the place up in many ways!
The story swivels around Chris, a cabin residing recluse who has become inseparable from his crack pipe; and Michael his best friend, who receives an anonymous video tape of his addicted amigo. Foregoing the choice of rehab, Chris finds himself forced into a few days of ‘cold turkey’ due to Michael handcuffing him to a pipe. From here on in the narrative employs a mix of mysterious and nefarious characters as it treads largely unchartered genre territory. In many ways I left the auditorium thinking THIS is the movie that CABIN IN THE WOODS should have been...
The subsequent Q&A produced some legitimately intelligent questions about the movie from the audience which clearly impressed our guests and ultimately served to pay them respect about their refreshing piece of work. Obtaining a little food to satisfy my munchies took longer than expected so rather than show lack of festival etiquette by entering the screen 20 minutes into proceedings, I unfortunately missed Steve Stone’s ENTITY. I heard positive things about the movie but without seeing it myself unfortunately cannot elaborate on the reports it was a slickly produced, well acted slice of atmospheric modern horror.
The penultimate movie was yet another example of an eerie short movie being nurtured and developed into a full feature. The director, Rod Gudino, has gained numerous awards for his shorts while holding down his day job – being the president of the ever expanding RUE MORGUE horror dominion. THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH is a solemn yarn with a measured pace that is a delicately creepy throughout.
The movie concerned itself with an alienated son and antiques collector Leon (Aaron Poole) who, when visiting the final abode of his mother before her passing, discovers evidence it was the nucleus of bizarre yet devoted cult who venerated seraphs of sorts.
It is a multi faceted piece of film making, with duel narratives that ominously snaked around each other. Loaded with religious iconography and hidden messages, I can’t wait to take another look at this picture. Upon exiting the auditorium I heard one patron describe it as "...THE PACT on sedatives...!" Make of that what you will, but I found TLWATORL to be a very intelligent and haunting piece of cinema, that had an almost claustrophobic feel and a touch of class with Vanessa Redgrave’s dulcet narration.
So at the 10.40pm on a Sunday night and all too quickly it seemed came the ‘Closing Gala’, and of course final feature, EXCISION. The movie was laden with truly abhorrent characters in a surreal tale of teenage angst, dysfunctional families and proof positive once and for all that Nora K (More commonly known as Traci Lords) is a quality actress.
Maybe there was an element of me simply not wanting the festivities to end, but I thoroughly enjoyed the concluding picture of the weekend. With dream like blood drenched surrealism combined with cringe inducing family drama, the short film by director Richard Bates that evolved into this unusual feature was quite simply the perfect way to denote the final curtain of CELLULOID SCREAMS 2012. Not that the fun ended with the roll of the final credits...
There was still time for a few gifts to be bestowed to the crowd by the festival organisers. I wanted a bright orange penitentiary style WALKING DEAD series 3 promo shirt (not sure why as I only wear black these days) but ended up with a FALLING SKIES camping flask thing. My disappointment turned to elation when my fatigued brain worked out I could actually fill it with neat whiskey to keep me warm when shopping at Morrisons. COOL!
Anyone who has indulged at a quality Film Festival will know just how exhausting it can be. To the layman this doesn’t seem unfeasible as ‘all you are doing is sitting there watching movies’. But to those of us lucky enough to attend these events we know it requires quite a strong constitution to be able to endure a minimum of 5 horror movies a day. (My advice, for what it’s worth, is to eat well, drink sensibly and have an inexhaustible supply of psyche friendly porn to ease you into sleep once back at the hotel!)
Bar those two niggled ‘c’ words in the form of a ‘cut’ version and a ‘cancellation’, the weekend was amazing. I was overwhelmed at just how hard the organisers and volunteers tirelessly worked to make this a hugely enjoyable event. After talking to Rob, I know a huge amount of thought went into, not simply WHAT movies to screen, but in which ORDER to screen them. The sequence of events was meticulously planned and flowed superbly.
With some cracking entertainment, an uber-friendly crowd and treasured memories, CELLULOID SCREAMS 2012 etched itself in my own personal festival hall of fame. Here’s raising a glass and looking forward to mark 5 in 2013!
For more information check out the official site here.