Paul Bushe & Brian O’Neill, Directors of ‘Killers Within’

Horror fans might be forgiven for thinking they are at the wrong screening when they settle in to watch Killers Within at this year’s IFI annual film celebration of all things horror. Brian O’Neill and Paul Bushe’s feature bursts onto the screen with a gritty opening that seemingly provides the set-up for a crime thriller. A mother is violently attacked and her son taken away from her by a criminal gang. From here the films takes another turn into home invasion territory, as getting him back involves a group of friends and family plotting a tiger kidnapping. Their plan is to get their hands on enough cash to pay for the son’s release. Just when the audience settle in, there’s a seismic shift; things go somewhat haywire as we enter a world of mythological monsters and here is where the horror really kicks in, applied liberally with a double dose of action. It’s not your typical horror and to say much more would take away from the delirious fun that ensues.

Paul explains to Film Ireland that Killers Within is a genre-bashing film. “We initially set out to make a pure horror and it evolved and evolved again as we wrote and rewrote it. It became more thriller and then more action, with touches of sci-fi in there. Then we introduce a different type of villain that is not as prevalent in horror films.”

The bulk of the film takes place in Springfield Castle, Limerick, the home of a wealthy banker and his la-di-da family, who are set upon by Amanda Doyle, together with her ex-husband and three unlikely allies. The cast and crew lived in the Castle for the 10 days of the initial shoot. Brian says, “It was like Evil Dead stuff – where we live; where we shoot. We had a very bizarre existence there. There was no phone signal in the castle and you had to walk around 500 metres down the driveway to get a phone signal. In a way, it was like we were in an alternative reality living in this castle.” In this particular alternative reality, the band of ragtag amateur kidnappers and uppercrust elite family come together with catastrophic results as opposites clash, worlds collide and divides are crossed.

Leading the way is Sue Walsh, who plays Amanda, the Mother of the captive son. Her journey as a character is the stand-out role in the film, from victim to empowerment; she certainly is no damsel in distress, blazing her way through the film with a nutribullet blend of maternal love, unyielding determination and a ready-for-battle steely grit. “She was someone we hadn’t worked with before,” Paul says. “We didn’t know her at all. We did a big casting job and met some really extraordinary actors. It was such a hard thing to cast that lead female role because there’s so many things she has to embody more than anybody else in the film.” Brian explains how “as the protagonist, there was a lot of elements we wanted to hit. And Sue totally pulls that off.”

That’s the good, but what about the bad and the ugly? The monsters that comes to life are certainly impressive creatures but this element wasn’t all plain sailing according to Brian. “Creating the monsters for the film provided one of the biggest challenges. We ended up re-shooting a lot of scenes. We hadn’t anticipated how long it would take. By the time we got actors on set and even though the make-up was great, everyone was just fatigued and they were shot really badly. That’s on us.” Paul adds,”It’s that logistical thing. First time doing a feature like that. Brian had done How to be Happy and myself and Brian had made loads of shorts together and proofs of concept  – but just this kind of animal of a film, with prosthetics, stunts, then it’s raining and finally we had trouble with lighting and logistics on the night. So when we got to the edit, we knew we needed to go back and redo scenes. Thankfully the producer said yes, which was great. We had the opportunity to really rethink how we did it. Really liaise better with our stunt team. Think about make-up more. Just pure logistics really. Like how can we get a stunt actor into the scene? How can we get this done in 20 minutes rather than 8 hours.”

Talking to Paul and Brian it’s obvious they are passionate about film and how horror affords them to a chance to mix it up. Paul speaks about it as being a genre “with the most subgenres… Everything mixes with it and people accept that. They’ll take comedy in their horror, romance, action, whatever it is people will take it with horror.  That’s why Horror is such a broad topic. A lot of the films we like, like Dog Soldiers, From Dusk till Dawn,  they’re all genre-blending horror films. I love my pure horror as well but I love those blending of things. That’s what this film is – taking all these things we love, or are interested in, or find curious and sticking them all in one film together. And horror lets you do that.”

For an Irish horror, Killers Within could be a story told anywhere. “We didn’t want the film to be typical Irish film but there is some Irish in there, particularly in the dialogue,” Brian says. “But yes, the film could be set anywhere in the world. That was important for us making a genre film, not to be too colloquial. Paul goes on, “that’s part of how we write in general. Our influences are international and we write the story we want to see. It’s not specific to a location. This could be in the London, the Hamptons. It could be anywhere. It just happens just happens to be set in Ireland. If you look at English break-out films like Shaun of the Dead, yes they’re set in London or where ever but again that story is universal. The themes are universal.The characters are universal. The monsters are universal. That’s what we wanted to do here.”

If there was ever a PSA against tiger kidnappings, this would be it. Avoid those monsters, buy a lottery ticket, and join us in the IFI for a horrorful bank holiday screaming… I mean screening.

 

Killers Within screens Sunday, 28th October 2018 at 23.10 at the IFI as part of Horrorthon 2018 (25-29 October)

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Aislinn Clarke, Director of ‘The Devil’s Doorway’

 

In the autumn of 1960, Father Thomas Riley and Father John Thornton were sent by the Vatican to investigate a miraculous event in an Irish home for “fallen women”, They uncovered something much more horrific however, as their attention turned to a 16-year-old pregnant girl exhibiting signs of demonic possession.

Ahead of its screening at this year’s IFI Horrorthon, David Prendeville spoke to director Aislinn Clarke about her debut feature, The Devil’s Doorway.

 

How did the idea come about to make a film set in the Magdalene laundries and then how did it come about that it would be a found footage film?

In the initial stage the producer came to me. There was no script or anything at that point. He had an idea and he gave me a page-long pitch which was to do a modern-day horror partly set in an abandoned Magdalene laundry and shot on mostly GoPro so it would have been more like something like Grave Encounters. My feeling was that I didn’t think that was the film that I wanted to make but I felt there was something interesting to be done with the Magdalene laundries. I thought if you’re going to do a film about the Magdalene laundries you should go back to the ’60s, when there was the most people there and get into the heart of the human drama of those places rather than having the girls as spectres now as a kind of afterthought. I think all good horror has in its heart real human drama. I think it shouldn’t come afterwards, it should be the primary concern. If you look at something like Hereditary, it started out like a family drama and then came in the horror elements, not the other way around so I felt that would be the strongest way to do it. I’m a big horror fan, I watch everything. I know how much found footage there is out there and I know how much of it is really bad. Some of it is really good but even the really good stuff gets lost because there’s so much of it and so much of it so similar. I felt if you’re going to do one it needs to feel totally different. It needs to be bringing something new to that subgenre. So I thought you do something that found footage films don’t normally do, which is make it about something. It’s not just about how scary it is. I enjoy films like those too, I enjoyed Grave Encounters, Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity. I enjoyed those films but I felt this needed to be about something and I felt it was very obvious what it needs to be about. Then if we set it in the 1960s then we have to shoot on 16mm film because that’s how they would’ve done it.

 

How difficult was it to convince people that it needed to be shot on 16mm?

Really hard. Myself and the DoP Ryan Kernaghan had both shot on film previously together and separately so we’re both pretty used to that process. We shot some test stuff on different formats to illustrate how aesthetically different they were. To illustrate how much a film filter doesn’t trick you into feeling like its real film and if you’re selling something as found footage it needs to feel like an authentic document. You can’t just put a filter on top because they’re repetitive. They’re not organic. Subconsciously you can tell it doesn’t feel right. It will have repetitive flaws that would never happen on real film so we were able to convince them that this has such a nice aesthetic that was separate to everything else that we should do that. The concession we had in the end was that we would shoot anything that needed VFX digitally and match it up in the grade. That was in case there might be flaws on the film that would prevent us doing the VFX or that certainly would’ve made it harder and much more expensive to do. So that’s what we did. Ryan also got a good deal. He got a bunch of stock somewhere, really cheap. Some of the stock we used was expired. We used that for stuff we knew we didn’t need for the story but that was nice scene setting stuff. Some of it made into the finished film and it actually looks really good.

 

Did you feel as director that working within the found footage genre allowed in some ways for more creativity in how you approached certain scenes? I’m thinking of the birthing scene in particular here. It really stands out as being very powerful in the way that it utilises the found footage element to render the scene differently to the way it would be in other films.

It’s funny because it’s simultaneously limiting and freeing to have the constraints of found footage. You’ve only got a single camera so you can’t do things like get coverage for a scene. For the birthing scene in particular that suited me because I always knew how I wanted to do that scene. I always wanted it to be just her face. I was thinking of Dreyer’s Joan of Arc or Godard’s Vivre sa Vie. I was thinking also that there’s a tendency in modern films to show too much and there’s a weirdly prosaic effect. People are so used to being shown everything when it comes to gore and violence and all the rest that it has no effect. It just kind of washes over. But there’s something very uncomfortable about just watching a human face for an extended period of time. Also, what you do in your mind is going to be a lot more powerful than what you are seeing. There were conversations about coverage but I was adamant that that was how I wanted to shoot it. It also wouldn’t make sense within the story for it to be shot as if the priests were shooting it, as neither of them would do that. Neither of them could be in this room while that’s happening. This was the best way to do it. It’s my favourite scene in the film and I had to fight for it. I think it works. So yes, in a way found footage does have that thing that there are constraints but that the constraints are weirdly freeing. We also have conversations that are like monologues to camera with Father Thomas in particular. If that was shot in a more conventional way you would have reverses and show the other character and that takes a lot longer to film so that helped us film more quickly, as well as having done a lot of rehearsals before stepping on set. I think there’s a lot to be said for just a still camera. People move around a lot these days and there’s a lot of frenetic editing that’s fashionable. I like to just let a performance happen.

 

I understand you had three locations for the film? I also heard that the roof fell down in one of them the day after filming?

(Laughs) Yeah, that’s right. So the location we used for the church was actually the dining hall in a lovely mansion house in Belfast, formerly belonging to Lord Craigavon. Nobody had lived in it since the ’30s though it had been used as a hospital during the war. The day after we left the roof fell in. The house was kind of falling apart anyway. But it was kind of strange, if you wanted to read into things. People ask me about ghosts but I don’t really believe in ghosts. I wish I did, I think it’s a lot fun but I don’t. I think there was something else about one of the insurance documents had 666 engraved in it or something like that. There were theories flying around about a curse but, touch wood, I don’t think so.

 

The film has excellent performances in it as well. Could you tell me a bit about the casting process?

We auditioned everybody, particularly because the two executive producers were in LA. They wanted to see tapes. Helena, who plays the Mother Superior, I already knew and had my eye on. My husband and I both work in the theatre and he had worked with Helena there. I’d seen her in a few things. I had my eye on her but we did audition other people as well. Ciaran, who plays Father John, again I had my eye on him from theatre. We auditioned very widely. In the first round the producers were unsure about him but I knew he was right for the role. I think his first audition was a self-tape because he was in London or somewhere at the time. When I finally got him to come into the room with me, he nailed it. Then Lalor fell slightly outside of the age group that the casting director, Carla Strong, had for the role. Just you know you pick an age range and he happened to be slightly out of it. So he wasn’t in the first net we hauled in. But he heard about the project from a friend of his. He got in touch with me saying he’d really like to audition for this. It just struck something. So he came on down to my office. Again we had seen loads of people for that role and nobody was quite right. We had seen loads of people that were really good but not quite right. Lalor came down and just knocked it out of the park instantly. He was brilliant. Then in relation to Lauren who plays Kathleen, we had a different actor cast originally but due to scheduling problems she had to drop out during the shoot. We were literally already shooting when Lauren came down to audition. She auditioned on the set and that’s how she got the role. We shot the whole thing in 16 days and shot Lauren’s stuff in the second week.

Are there any films that particularly influenced you for the project?

Yeah that’s an interesting one. People assume that I’d be looking at stuff like The Blair Witch Project for something like this because it’s found footage but actually that’s not how I approach films anyway. Then you’re just repeating yourself or repeating somebody else. This is not really like that. It’s found footage but it’s no more like it than any other genre film. I was really thinking about the time, the mode of shooting, those sort of things so I was looking at a lot of documentaries from the early ’60s. In particular I was looking at The Maysles Brothers, cinema verite documentaries, stuff like Salesman because even the way you handle the camera, all of that, is going to effect the aesthetic of a film like this and it’s going to be totally different to how they handle the camera in Blair Witch. Its different equipment and of course they have the audio equipment too. Father John in the film doesn’t know he’s making a found-footage horror film, he thinks he’s making a documentary so that was the style I was trying to emulate.

 

What do you plan for your next film?

I have a couple of things in the works so, with different producers, so it’s just about seeing what comes together first in terms of financing. I’m working on a film with Fantastic Films so we’ll see where that goes. It’s in the horror genre again, I tend to gravitate toward horror or if it’s not horror, thriller or something dark. I’m attached also to direct a story that I haven’t written that’s a Bloody Mary origin story. I also have a folk-horror in development with a producer in London.

The Devils Doorway screens Friday, 26th October 2018 at 18.20 at the IFI as part of Horrorthon 2018 (25-29 October) 

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IFI Horrorthon Returns

             One of the most popular events in the Irish film calendar, the IFI Horrorthon, returns for its 19th season from 27th to 31st October. Showcasing the very best in Irish and international horror film, this year’s festival promises to be one of the bloodiest, most terrifying, and most enjoyable yet!

Highlights of this year’s slate include the opening film, Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan, in which passengers on a journey from Seoul to Busan are terrorised by a zombie outbreak. This year’s closing film is the Indonesian thriller Headshot, directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto, which centres on an amnesiac nursed back to health by a devoted doctor, until his violent past comes back to haunt him.

Commenting on the launch of the programme, Horrorthon spokesman Mick Fox said, ‘Programming this year proved to be the most rewarding to date. We kept discovering truly excellent genre films that made us programme more new films than ever before. 2016 is an excellent year for horror films, for horror fans, and it can be all enjoyed at IFI, over the Halloween weekend.

New horror sensation Raw, directed by Julia Ducournau, involves a vegetarian who develops a taste for all types of flesh following a hazing incident in her college. One of the most controversial releases of 2016, an ambulance had to be called to the film’s Toronto Film Festival screening, amid reports of audience members passing out during the film’s more graphic scenes.

Irish films showing at the festival this year include Jason Figgis’s Don’t You Recognise Me?, set in Dublin’s seedy gangland, Zoe Kavanagh’s Demon Hunter,and Mark Sheridan’s Crone Wood, a chiller set in Wicklow that centres on a couple in the first flushes of love who make a disastrous decision to camp out in the eponymous woods overnight. Each of the directors will introduce their respective screenings.

Three classic Peter Cushing films will screen this year as part of the Horrorthon Honours strand: 1971’s Twins of Evil, based on a Sheridan le Fanu story, 1968’sCorruption, and 1970’s The Vampire Lovers. More recent classics also feature as part of the programme with a Friday night double-bill of David Cronenberg’s Oscar-winner The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, and Stephen Herek’s 1986 comedy horror Critters.

Horror maestro Rob Zombie’s new thriller 31 will screen as an Irish exclusive on the festival’s opening evening. Starring Malcolm McDowell as Father Murder, the film follows five unfortunate carnival workers who end up trapped in a compound at the mercy of a group of sadistic clowns. It’s a film that’s sure to strike fear into the heart of any coulrophobe!

Festival favourite, the Surprise Film, will also return this year in its regular Sunday night slot; last year’s film was the critically acclaimed gothic chiller The Witch, directed by Robert Eggers. Previous Surprise Films have included The Others, The Machinist, andParanormal Activity. Also this year, IFI Horrorthon, in association with Universal Pictures, is pleased to announce a special preview screening of Ouija: Origin of Evil.This screening will take place outside the main festival on Tuesday October 18th.

Individual tickets for the IFI Horrorthon films are on sale now in person at the IFI Box Office, by phone on 01-6793477, or online at www.ifi.ie/horrorthon. Multiple film deals are available priced at €45 for 5 films, or €80 for 10 films, while a range of passes ranging from one to five days are also on sale either in person at the IFI Box Office or by phone.

As always, there will be range of special treats and offers available from the IFI Café Bar throughout the festival weekend.

Full festival schedule

TUESDAY 18th OCTOBER
20:30 SNEAK PREVIEW: OUIJA: ORIGINS OF EVIL

THURSDAY 27th OCTOBER
19:00 TRAIN TO BUSAN
21.25 FROM A HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET
23.10 31
23.10 DON’T YOU RECOGNISE ME?
The screening will be introduced by director Jason Figgis.
23.20 LOST SOLACE

FRIDAY 28th OCTOBER
13.20 IFI HORRORTHON HONOURS PETER CUSHING: TWINS OF EVIL
15.00 ATTACK OF THE LEDERHOSEN ZOMBIES
16.45 WHITE COFFIN
18.30 RAW
20.30 LAKE BODOM
22.20 DOUBLE BILL: THE DARK TAPES / THE RIFT
22.20 DOUBLE BILL: HIDDEN IN THE WOODS / SHE RISES
22.30 DOUBLE BILL: THE FLY / CRITTERS

SATURDAY 29th OCTOBER
13.00 IFI HORRORTHON HONOURS PETER CUSHING: CORRUPTION
14.50 MY FATHER DIE
17.00 THE CHAMBER
The screening will be introduced by director Ben Parker.
19.00 THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE
21.00 DON’T KILL IT
23.00 DEAD AND BURIED
23.10 IFI HORRORTHON HONOURS PETER CUSHING: THE VAMPIRE LOVERS
23.30 DEMON HUNTER
The screening will be introduced by director Zoe Kavanagh.

SUNDAY 30th OCTOBER
13.10 SHORT FILM SHOWCASE
15.15 EGOMANIAC
The screening will be introduced by director Kate Shenton.
17.15 JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT’S LAST WORD
19.10 SURPRISE FILM
21.10 PET
23.00 FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2
23.10 FOUND FOOTAGE 3D
23.20 CRONE WOOD
The screening will be introduced by director Mark Sheridan.

MONDAY 31st OCTOBER
13.00 DIRECTOR’S CUT
14.50 BEYOND THE GATES
16.40 LET HER OUT
18.30 PATCHWORK
20.30 CLOSING FILM: HEADSHOT

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Director Jason Figgis on ‘The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann’

Isabel+(Ellen+Mullen)+2

 

The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann is the story of a troubled teenager Isabel Mann (Ellen Mullen), who is seduced into an incredibly violent sect of day-walking vampires. Her classmates start to go missing and on the trail of the gruesome murders are two detectives – Witham (Neill Fleming), who believes her to be the prime suspect, and Barrett (Matthew Toman), who has his doubts.

Ahead of the film’s premiere at the IFI Horrorthon, director Jason Figgis tells Film Ireland about putting the film together.

After the DVD and VOD release of my horror feature Children of a Darker Dawn (2013) in the US and Canada in December of last year, I was already deep into post-production on my new feature film, The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann. Because we received some fantastic responses to the film based on its naturalistic and almost prosaic approach to Dystopian life after the Apocalypse, it made me realise that the journey to making the latter film was naturally following the same process arc.

I wanted to try and realise a horror film that was more about the relationships between the characters and the journey they were on – more than any horror that might emerge from the more genre specific aspects of the story. Yes, it is a film about vampires but the word ”vampire” is never uttered in the film itself. Perhaps it is about mental illness too? Some of these elements are more about what the individual takes away from the experience of watching the film than the film itself.

Ellen Mullen, who portrayed Cassandrain in Children of a Darker Dawn, was the natural choice to play the lead role of the troubled Isabel. She has a maturity as an actress that is uncommon in a girl of her age (16 at the time of shooting) and brought a melancholic beauty to the performance. We also brought back Adam Tyrrell from Children, this time as Isabel’s estranged boyfriend, Aaron. We needed a young actor with sensitivity to portray the vulnerability of a teenager who is unable to cope with the ultimate reality of what Isabel is going through. Several other actors returned from the previous film in supporting roles; actors I knew I could rely on. The other central roles were filled by predominately new actors, with Saorla Wright being a stand out as Isabel’s best friend Jacinta ‘Jay” Rossi.

We didn’t have any traditional funding from funding bodies so the process of realising the film was a slow one, with a lot of the post-production handled by myself. I ended up editing, grading and doing the full sound mix too. My producing partner Matthew Toman gave great support, as did Jason Shalloe as Line-Producer in the earlier stages of the production. Alan Rogers was my Director of Photography and he has subsequently gone on to shoot my latest two features – Family and Don’t You Recognise Me?, both of which are now in post-production. Michael Richard Plowman (Children of a Darker Dawn, A Lonely Place to Die, Age of Heroes) is another regular collaborator and he supplied a beautiful score that is complimented by tunes from three excellent bands – Irish chart-toppers Youth Mass (who supplied the closing song and theme), London outfit Moho Mynoki and US/Italy combo Soft Pill. We filmed the entire production in North and South county Dublin in several key locations around the city and suburbs.

 

The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann screens on Sunday, 26th October 2014 at 23.10 as part of IFI Horrorthon 2014 (23rd – 27th October). The film will be introduced by director Jason Figgis.

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Competition: Win tickets to ‘The Battery’ at IFI Horrorthon

battery2

 

The Horrorthon returns to the IFI this week with a five-day feast of films that promises to send shivers down your spine.

Thanks to the ghouls and goblins at the IFI we have two pairs of tickets to give away to the late-night screening of The Battery on Sunday, October 27th at 23.00.

Shot on a micro-budget of $6,000, The Battery sees two former baseball players form an uneasy alliance as they make their way through a post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled New England.

To win yourself a pair of tickets, simply answer the following question:

Who directed The Battery?

Send your answer to filmireland@gmail.com before lunchtime on Friday, 25th October when the knife-weilding Film Ireland hat will select the winners.

The Battery screens as part of IFI Horrorthon (October 24th – 28th) www.ifi.ie/horrorthon

http://watch.thebatterymovie.com/

 

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IFI Horrorthon 2012: Thursday Preview

The IFI Horrorthon (25 – 29 October 2012, IFI, Dublin)

The IFI Horrorthon bites off on Thursday at 19:30 with an opening night screaming of Antiviral (pictured) – the film premiered at Cannes, and is the debut feature of Brandon Cronenberg (son of David), who follows in his father’s footsteps with the story  of a clinic selling injections of illnesses harvested from sick celebrities to obsessed fans.

 

Also screaming Thursday is Rodney Ascher Room 327 at 21:50. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has been the subject of much debate and speculation, and various theories on its hidden meanings are explored by director Rodney Ascher in this fascinating documentary.

 

The first night of Horrorthon concludes with Detention of the Dead. The Breakfast Club meets Shaun of the Dead when a group of high school teens in detention find themselves surrounded by a zombie apocalypse. The balance of comedy and blood makes for a fun late-night film. Screaming at 23:50.

www.ifi.ie/horrorthon

Sweet dreams…

 

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Horrorthon returns to IFI

Danielle Harris

Five days of thrills, chills and spills in store as IFI Horrorthon returns from 25th-29th October, boasting the genre’s scariest, bloodiest, and best; including a special guest appearance from ‘scream queen’ star Danielle Harris, the Irish horror breakthrough Citadel, a long-awaited look at the extended Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut, amateur surgery antics in Excision, the story of The Shining in Room 237, and a first look at Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral.

IFI Horrorthon has spent the last year collecting some of the most twisted fantasies ever committed to celluloid from across the world and returns once again as easily the most frightful festival on Ireland’s cinema calendar. The packed programme of 32 spine-tingling features has more new horror films than ever before with 23 Irish Premieres. There are sneak previews of upcoming releases, the pick of the international horror scene, genre classics back on the big screen and special guests including Danielle Harris, a veteran ‘screen queen’ as IFI Horrorthon Guest of Honour.

This year’s Opening Film is the Irish premiere of Antiviral, the debut feature by Brandon Cronenberg (son of David) which premiered in Cannes earlier this year. In a dystopian future, the celebrity-obsessed populace clamour to be injected with the ailments of the stars. Be prepared for plenty of injections, bodily fluids, weird plotlines and a definite sense that young Brandon is infected with his father’s artistic impulses. Behold the birth of a body horror dynasty!

IFI Director Ross Keane said ‘This year’s IFI Horrorthon promises to be one of the best ever. The programming team has managed to pack in more premieres than ever before and we’re delighted to be joined by some really special guests. It’s great to see Ciarán Foy’s Irish horror Citadel making such an impact on the international festival circuit and we’re very pleased to be hosting the Dublin premiere. And of course we’re delighted that Danielle Harris will be presenting the Irish premiere of her directorial debut Among Friends in a programme that is really strong on female horror voices.’

Since she made her big screen debut in Halloween 4, Danielle Harris has become one of the most popular actresses in Horror starring in many of the Halloween and Hatchet franchises. The first ‘scream queen’ to visit IFI Horrorthon, Danielle Harris’ presence underlines the growing importance of female artists in horror, a trend evident throughout this year’s programme. In particular we’re pleased to present her directorial debut Among Friends that tells of a dinner party that goes wrong when the hostess decides it’s time to make her guests pay for their wrongdoings. Danielle will introduce the film and take part in a Q+A. She’ll also introduce screenings of genre classics Halloween 4 and Shiver and will add a touch of grisly glamour to the IFI Horrorthon long weekend.

Citadel is one of the best and most awarded of Irish horror films in some time; an urban horror story in which a grieving husband must protect his daughter from violent neighbourhood children. The film premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh, picking up the Best First Irish Feature Award and has since won a string of awards at film festivals around the world. Director Ciarán Foy will introduce the film and take part in a Q+A.

Film fans craving some amateur surgery and body modification won’t be disappointed; there are two excellent films with female protagonists supplying exactly that. Excision, undoubtedly one of the year’s best horrors, is a dark and disturbing tale of a social misfit with twisted dreams of a career as a surgeon which, needless to say, she starts to make a reality. American Mary by the Soska Sisters tells the story of someone who, in contrast to Excision, has the training (she’s a disillusioned medical student) but starts using her skills in the underground world of extreme body modification.

Other highlights of the IFI Horrorthon for this year include; a preview of Room 237, the widely admired documentary by Rodney Ascher about Kubrick’s The Shining (which will be re-released in a new version at the IFI from 2nd November); Sleep Tight, which sees the co-director of [Rec] pitch a misanthropic and increasingly obsessed concierge against a naturally positive tenant; andan extended and vastly improved ‘The Cabal Cut’ version of Clive Barker’s Nighbreed that will close the festival.

Finally of course there’s the Surprise Film; tickets don’t hang around long for those wanting to see Dublin’s best kept secret. This is always one of the most highly anticipated films and the rumours are flying but, as usual, the IFI Horrorthon team are saying nothing until the projector starts to roll.

Tickets for IFI Horrrorthon are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie. Individual tickets cost €9 (€10 for the Opening and Closing Films) range of special festival passes from 1-5 days are available on the phone or in person. IFI Daily Membership (€1) or IFI Annual Membership (€25) is required for all films.

For a full programme and more detailed information please visit www.ifi.ie/horrorthon

IFI Horrorthon Schedule

Thursday October 25th
19.30 Opening Film: Antiviral
21.50 Room 237
23.50 Detention of the Dead

Friday October 26th
13.00 Manborg
14.20 Midnight Son
16.30 Calibre 9
18.30 Citadel – + Q&A with director Ciarán Foy
20.30 Silent Hill: Revelation
22.30 Double Bill: Zombie Flesh Eaters/Deep Red
23.00 Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever
23.15 Rites of Spring

Saturday October 27th
12.30 Eurocrime!
15.00 V/H/S
17.10 Dracula: Prince of Darkness
19.00 American Mary
21.00 Among Friends – Q&A with director Danielle Harris
23.15 Young Frankenstein
23.15 Tulpa
23.30 Bad Meat

Sunday October 28th
14.00 The Monster Squad – 25th Anniversary Screening
16.00 Shiver – Introduced by Danielle Harris
18.20 IFI Horrorthon Surprise Film
20.30 Excision
22.20 Halloween III: Season of the Witch – 30th Anniversary Screening
23.00 The Devil’s Business
23.00 After

Monday October 29th
11.00 Short Film Showcase
13.00 Nightmare Factory
14.40 The Burning Moon
16.20 Sleep Tight
18.15 Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers –Introduced by Danielle Harris

20.20 Closing Film – Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut
The IFI acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council.

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Horrorthon: Biehn and nothingness

Michael Biehn

 

Usually the success of the IFI’s annual Horrorthon is dependant on the organisational skills of festival director Ed King. This year, however, that burden came to rest on guest of honour Michael Biehn who came to Dublin with three films on the bill: his directorial debut, a tense ensemble piece, and a sci-fi/horror classic – it should also be mentioned that he doesn’t particularly like horror movies. What could possibly go wrong?

 

As it turned out Horrorthon 2011 was arguably the most successful yet, thanks to a strong programme and one of the most enthusiastic audiences in film. As a snapshot of the horror genre, the programming reflected a field finally shaking off the yoke of torture porn and regaining its sense of fun. Up for viewer consideration this time out were 19 new films, 13 revivals, one documentary, a short film showcase and a collection of grindhouse trailers that made this writer reconsider everything he had ever thought about Sweden.

 

The choice of The Awakening as opening movie didn’t inspire at first, but was well worth the effort. Set in post-WWI England, the film pits hoax-busting proto-feminist Rebecca Hall against a ‘ghost’ at a remote boarding school. Hired by Dominic West, a schoolteacher, himself haunted in a very different way by his experiences in the trenches, Hall finds that it’s her own needs and fears that need dealing with, not those of the young charges at the school. The ‘dark night of the sceptic soul’ trope might be familiar to followers of ghost stories, but the glossy production design and precise set pieces elevate The Awakening above traditional haunted-house fare. In the same way that all good tales of the supernatural have a touch of a whodunnit structure, The Awakening’s reveal is meticulously constructed and, in the end, even playful. An effective chiller that manages to produce a few jumps without resorting to bloodshed. How British is that?

 

The first non-English language film of the festival, Kidnapped, was a brutal home invasion thriller where a gang of three hooded men take a family hostage. Giving the impression of being more or less in real time (there are only 12 shots in the film), Kidnapped is tightly paced and thoroughly mean-spirited. Though convention would demand that some kind of moral crisis interfere with the cirminals’ mission leading to a reprisal by the hostages, what hints of it there are, are mercilessly snuffed out. Think Funny Games without the social commentary. Only worthy of a side note, Sunday’s Surprise Film was the US remake Trespass, starring Nicholas Cage and Nicole Kidman. Now let us never speak of it again.

 

Australian films have become a popular addition to the programme in recent years. Both The Horseman and Red Hill were fan favourites, and these were joined by Snowtown, an account of how a suburb of Adelaide, and one family in particular, came under the thrall of serial killer John Bunting (Daniel Henshall). Obsessed with paedophilia and moral degeneracy Bunting set about killing men in his locale that he suspected of child molestation – often without evidence. The story is told through the eyes of vacant 16-year-old Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway) as his mother begins a relationship with the killer.

 

Bunting becomes a big brother figure until things take a turn for the sinister when Vlassakis is forced to turn a gun on the killer’s pet Alsatian. Here begins a downward slide that covers the deaths of four people in meticulous detail. One sequence involving the eldest Vlassakis boy’s murder starts at vicious and ends on a level that had seasoned gorehounds squirming. A powerful film, Snowtown is one part Mike Leigh, one part Jack Ketchum and deserves to find an audience from both camps. The chilling denouement will have you scurrying to Wikipedia to find out more about Bunting and his damaged associates.

 

Victims

 

Given the plum Saturday night prime time slot, Michael Biehn’s directorial debut The Victim was a modest piece of exploitation filmmaking. Made on a shoestring ‘after the cheque cleared’, it’s the story of a woman who takes shelter with a loner in the woods after her friend is accidentally killed by crooked cops. The pulpy revenge story lacks gore and suspense but was clearly made with simple goals in mind. In a detailed Q&A session, Beihn and his wife and collaborator Jennifer Blanc explained how he pulled in favours from friends and family to get the movie made and how it was playing to generally good responses at festivals – true to form, the Horrorthon audience were the most receptive.

 

It was Biehn’s performance in the following night’s tent-pole feature, and festival fulcrum, The Divide, that proved the defining moment of the event. Following a nuclear attack on New York, a disparate band of survivors cower for shelter in the basement of their building while an unknown enemy sifts through the ruins of the city. The group: a 9/11 fireman, an intellectual, a wise-guy, a devoted mother, etc. try to deal with the inevitability of their situation with determination until resource-sharing becomes an issue.

 

As food, water and the chances of escape become diminished, factions emerge, relationships disintegrate and mores are transcended. Expertly directed by Xavier Gans (Frontiers) and played to the hilt by an ensemble cast at odds with each other and the script – much of the film was improvised – The Divide works as a thriller in the Hitchcock mould (think Lifeboat with nukes) spiced up a hint of French nihilism thrown in. Are any of these characters even worth surviving, having cheated and debased each other for their own ends? The question is largely left unanswered.

 

In the Q&A that followed, Biehn said the theatrical cut to be released in January would have an additional 15 minutes of footage. Given the cut shown here was such a tight package it’s hard to see what could be added with out stalling the momentum. Still, it’s fair to say the majority of the packed house would gladly pay the price of admission to see the extended cut.

 

Schlock

 

As always with Horrorthon, the late night screenings did not fail to deliver on the schlock front. A double bill of The Exterminator and Maniac Cop played to a largely full house. One of the worst films ever made, Troll 2 was simultaneously one of the highlights for its sheer ineptness and lowlights for the behaviour of the audience – seriously, movies this bad don’t need heckling. Quiet down the back lads, some of these demons are trying to emote.

 

Regular visitor Tim Sullivan discussed his contribution to Chillerama, an anthology film of varying degrees of wackiness. He was also at the opening film to introduce One for the Road, a short he produced for Paul M Ward based on Stephen King’s short prequel to Salem’s Lot.

 

A new slot this year was the children’s film for Saturday and Sunday mornings. Flash Gordon and The Dark Crystal (in a flakey ‘vintage’ print) went down well, but the number of actual kids in the audience barely approximated for a third of the audience.

 

J-horror also made a welcome return on Sunday with Tomie: Unlimited. The story of a young girl having trouble coming to terms with the sudden death of her older more beautiful sister takes a turn when said sibling returns from the dead in pristine condition to take over the lives of everyone she touched. What starts as an enjoyable, if eccentric, examination of the bonds of sisterhood and the nature of grief quickly becomes overshadowed by set pieces of increased weirdness leading up to a denouement that defies logic. A sad reflection on the current state of extreme cinema from the Far East. A revival screening of Akira was as good as it got.

 

Naturally there were some outright duds. The Wicker Tree, Rabies, Urban Explorer and The Theatre Bizarre failed to pass muster. A Horrible Way to Die was redeemed by a satisfying ending and The Dead retained the attention if only for its rolling African landscapes. Anniversary screenings of Play Misty for Me (40-years-old) and Blow Out (30-years-old) made for refreshing mid-afternoon fare.

 

On the subject of classics, proceedings were brought to a close with a showing of Aliens in a 70mm print to mark its 25th anniversary. Cometh the sequel, cometh the man as Biehn introduced the movie to a rapt audience. By then it was all over bar the chest-bursting.

 Niall Kitson

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Horrorthon at the IFI

Behind You...

 

Horrorthon returns to the IFI this Hallowe’en for its 14th year of screams, gore, laughs, sneak previews, classic cult hits and special guests – including screen icon Michael Biehn

27th-31st October 2011

This year’s installment of the legendary bank holiday weekend gore-fest at the IFI is packed full of the best horror new releases from around the world; a fearsome line-up of the best gruesome genre classics; a great international selection that includes breakthrough Israeli Hebrew horror Rabies and an evil Santa from the Netherlands; and a special guest line-up that includes Horrorthon Guest of Honour Michael Biehn (Alien, Terminator, The Abyss), and his wife Jennifer Blanc Biehn, presenting his directorial debut The Victim, and an old friend of the Festival Tim Sullivan.

Derek O’Connor, Horrorthon Programme Associate said ‘This year’s Horrorthon programme is really one for the fans – anyone who loves horror movies will find something to their delectation, from beloved cult classics to the best of the new breed. And we couldn’t be more excited to welcome a bona fide Horrorthon Hero – Mr. Michael Biehn, star of Terminator and Aliens, and now a fine filmmaker in his own right – to Dublin. It’s going to be bloody marvellous! Happy Halloween!’

The Festival opens with The Awakening, an atmospheric investigation into a supernatural death at a boys’ boarding school. Hotly anticipated and boasting Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Dominic West (The Wire) as the lead attractions in Nick Murphy’s feature debut. Think The Others meets The Orphanage

Michael Biehn will be a dominating presence at this year’s Festival. The main event is catching twisted backwoods revenge flick The Victim that he wrote, directed and starred in alongside his on and off-screen leading lady Jennifer Blanc-Biehn and horror icon Scream Queen Danielle Harris. He’ll also be in Q+As in his capacity as lead actor in The Divide, Xavier Gans’ new apocalypse survival movie, and the all-time classic Aliens which will be shown in glorious 70mm.

Other highlights include The Wicker Tree, Robin Hardy’s belated and thoroughly irreverent follow up to 1973s seminal The Wicker Man. There’s a lot of excitement about a sneak preview of Snowtown, a portrait of Australian serial killer Robert Bunting that has been making waves on the festival circuit. And Christmas comes early with the arrival of Evil Santa from the Netherlands in the highly regarded Saint.

In fact this year’s Horrorthon has one of the strongest international line-ups in years with Spain’s stunning Kidnapped which does very much what it says in the title, Germany’s Urban Explorers which dodges Neo-Nazi thugs in a misguided search for the Führerbunker, Canada’s The Theatre Bizarre, and Israel’s Rabies leading the pack. Domestic filmmaking is not forgotten though – check out Jason Figgis’ intriguing haunted house documentary Cathnafola and new Irish director Paul Ward’s short film adaptation of Stephen King’s One for the Road which is showing alongside the opening film.

There’s no shortage of classics with Brian De Palma’s masterful labyrinthine conspiracy thriller Blow Out, starring John Travolta and John Lithgow, and Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut Play Misty for Me, both being obvious choices to catch on the big screen. For those seeking forgotten gems there’s the ground-breaking 1970s haunted house movie Burnt Offerings and the return of an old Horrorthon favourite, the Grindhouse Movie Trailers screening. And for Hallowe’en night itself where else would you be but at Halloween II, Rick Rosenthal’s brutally effective sequel to John Carpenter’s classic?

If you’re looking for something to take the kids out to for a bit of Hallowe’en magic don’t forget the two Children’s Hallowe’en Screenings, The Dark Crystal which uses the amazing puppetry of Jim Henson to incredible fantasy effect and Flash Gordon, Mike Hodges’ bonkers take on the Alex Raymond’s pulp hero.

Finally there’s no screening in Horrorthon that attracts as much gossip and attention as the famed Surprise Film. Anyone who claims to know what the Surprise Film is must be lying, as its identity is known to only one man – but book early as it will sell out fast.

Horrorthon Schedule

Tickets are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

Prices

The opening and closing night films are €10.

All other screenings are €9. Special festival passes

are available*:

One day pass €40 Two day pass €67

Three day pass €95 Four day pass €120

Full festival pass (all 5 days) €125

*The festival pass will cover all films except in instances where film times clash, so you must choose which title you want to see.

The full programme is available online.

Tickets are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

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Horrothon 2009: The Festival that Rose from the Dead

Grace

The 12th annual Horrorthon at the IFI demonstrated the power of a genre in resurgence. Niall Kitson conducts a postmortem on some outstanding debuts, and looks towards the future of the art of darkness.

There aren’t many occasions where the phrase ‘is this a dubbed movie or is it subtitled’ becomes a moment of comic genius in the IFI. As a fixture that unashamedly embraces fair to middling movies, the Horrorthon is a much-needed cinematic powerchord in a calendar dominated by chamber music. This is not An Education. This is indoctrination.

While the Hororthon formula, now on its 12th outing is a reliable bouillabaisse of shock, schlock and a few outliers worth a punt, it’s only fair to say the execution has been somewhat amiss in recent years. A reliance on revival screenings, some dubious anniversaries (did Jaws 2 really need the 70 mm treatment?) and a surprise movie slot with more than a hint of ‘hit and hope’ about it would be taken as evidence of a genre in danger of overindulging in post-modern spoofery at the expense of real chills.

Thankfully, 2009 saw a noticeable return to form with, arguably, one of the strongest programmes yet; a smattering of low-key character pieces proving more than an ample riposte to mainstream horror dominated by torture porn (the unstoppable Saw franchise) and Michael Bay-produced retreads for retards like Friday the 13th and the forthcoming A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Given such a backdrop of big budget conservatism, it was heartening to see horror movies haven’t become a mongrel concern, shuffling dead-eyed through the multiplexes and onto the home entertainment market, but still has the power to challenge without resorting to gothic fantasy and CGI-drenched hokum.

As opening movies go Jennifer’s Body wasn’t a half bad choice. A sassy, if slight, horror-comedy about friendship and demonic possession, Juno writer Diablo Cody’s exploration of friendship and adolescence tries and fails to wring a few scares out of a familiar rite of passage. In this case it’s the inevitable schism between geek next door Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and her smokin’ hot best friend Jennifer (Megan Fox) that becomes exacerbated when the latter falls prey to a trendoid emo band seeking to plug their talent deficit with an entirely different kind of performing art. Before you can say ‘enter succubus’ the group are charting and Jennifer has turned into a literal man-eater. Beyond that there’s not much else to tell. The set pieces are poorly paced and the characters too amplified to come across as anything other than objects of ridicule.

Perhaps the main stumbling block to the film’s success is director Karyn Kusama’s (Girlfight, Æon Flux) apparent lack of interest in horror canon or convention. Cody’s trademark dialogue provides the occasional barb and enough honesty to dent men’s belief in the fairer sex forever, but unsure of whether it’s a send-up of high school social hierarchy or of horror movies themselves, it fails at both. Not quite Heathers, not quite Buffy the Vampire Slayer this is fairly limp fare, but hey… Megan Fox.

Closer to home, The Disturbed marked the directorial return of Conor McMahon. Last seen behind the camera for zombie flick Dead Meat, McMahon’s difficult second film owes more than a little to the Dogme95 school, opting for a stripped down approach relying on a loose treatment for guidance. Another touch is the actors retaining their own names. Shot over a five-day period, it’s an exercise in torture porn with a supernatural twist. Starting out a typical weekend in the country, Dubliners Clyde (Mowlds) and Stephen (Murray) reveal an unwilling passenger in the shape of Sarah (Carla McGlynn) – a girl they have more than a few plans for. What follows isn’t quite in the same league as Funny Games for intensity or intellectual exploration. An element of scanger banter and some in-jokes from ‘the scene’ (Stephen Foy and McMahon himself have cameos) lighten the mood but none of it convinces. The limitations of working without a script leads to some fairly stock plotting and the deus ex machina ending will have screenwriting buffs gritting their teeth. It’s an uneasy mix and one wonders if McMahon was really serious about this project or just wanted to vent his frustration.

Of much greater interest was Grace, a body-horror film with a difference. The debut feature from Canadian Paul Solet elaborates on the plot of his six-minute short of the same name.

Obsessed with starting a family, anodyne couple Michael and Madeline resort to the aid of a new-age midwife to guide them through pregnancy after a series of failed attempts. When Michael is killed in a freak car accident, Madeline is rescued in a state of bloody distress. A brief examination reveals the child has not survived the crash. Refusing to give up on her child Madeline carries the baby to term only for the little tyke to pipe up and take in her first breath. Immediately named ‘Grace’, all seems well until the child reveals a craving for something her uber-liberal mother cannot conscience: human blood.

An examination of the clash between conservative family values and pampered bourgeois idealism, Grace is a deliberately paced (some might say slow), occasionally uncomfortable experience. Some of the most tense scenes are overtly polite moments: a mother-in-law offers some parenting advice based on her own experience; a couple share dinner at opposite ends of a huge dining room table, preferring soy milk to the real thing; Madeline’s obsession with animal documentaries. All of these elements create a pristine world of insipid liberalism and well-intentioned meddling with a hint of psychopathy. As a film, Grace feels every bit as fragile as its struggling protagonist. The set pieces are finely constructed and the biggest squirm of the evening came not from something played for shock value but for a moment of introspection as Madeline’s busybody, menopausal mother-in-law comes to terms with her aging body. While things do get a little Thelma and Louise at the end, the main problem is the leaden progression. Coming from an idea explored in just over five minutes, the film, expanded to 90 minutes, labours its points a bit too much for mainstream acceptance. Pun intended.

Also of note is another debut feature: Gerard Johnson’s portrait of a serial killer, Tony. Played by Peter Ferdinando, the eponymous anti-hero is a dowdy non-entity, the kind of weather-beaten extra walking everywhere, going nowhere. Rarely without a pair of shopping bags at his sides, Tony strolls aimlessly through the city streets, pausing to strike up awkward conversations with strangers. He’s inept, piteous and a prolific killer. Where Grace limped along, Tony ambles through its short running time. Johnson’s film is a series of random encounters where we learn of Tony’s yen for 80s action movies, his extensive VHS collection, and his flat, which has a funny smell masked only by a bowl of rotting bananas. The film is held together loosely by the disappearance of an 11-year-old boy, and the week-long period in which Tony goes from local curio to figure of suspicion. This could have ended up a rather drab piece of social realism in the mould of Alan Clarke’s Elephant but for some blackly comic moments involving a chance meeting with some junkies and, later, a less-than-successful encounter with a homosexual at a gay bar. Not to mention a cringeworthy scene at a job centre and a brothel, where it turns out cuddles are not on the menu. Caught somewhere in time between Roy Cropper and Ed Gein, Tony is a fascinating character and a captivating film. Cult status beckons.

While other entries over the weekend did enough to push boundaries as well as buttons (The House of the Devil, Resurrecting the Streetwalker, Black and concluding film The Descent Part 2), the tail end of the festival was well foreshadowed by another debut, Steven Kastrissios’ The Horseman.

A rape and revenge tale of a most bilious kind, The Horseman comes from a line of father and daughter thrillers typified by the likes of Paul Schrader’s Hardcore and Deliverance. Here, struggling single dad Chris (Peter Marshall) begins a crusade against a cabal of gym junkies responsible for plying his 17-year-old daughter with drink and hard drugs before having group sex, filming the results and selling it on the open market. After an anonymous tipster sends Chris a copy of the tape he begins a crusade to find everyone involved in the production, from distributors to the ‘cast and crew’. Posing as a handyman with a toolbox always to hand Chris dishes out no small amount of pain, going not so much for the jugular as softer, more sensitive parts of the male anatomy.

The bodging together of a taut, set-piece-driven narrative with a torture porn aesthetic actually works quite well here. It makes for abrasive viewing, yet at times the audience empathises with Chris’ rage. It’s hard to fault him, no matter how abhorrent his actions may be.

Balance is also provided in the shape of Alice (Caroline Marohasy), a pregnant teenaged runaway. Obviously in need of a father figure, the relationship between Alice and Chris looks to be heading in one direction only, until a subtle twist sparks a showdown of Jacobean proportions.

Having sat through the bulk of Horrorthon ’09, it was plain that the dross to quality ratio had been substantially improved. Singling out Grace, Tony and The Horseman for particular mention, it could be argued these films represent something better for the genre coming down the road. These smaller, more personal films, dealing with simple emotive themes of family and one’s role in society, seem particularly prescient given a current economic climate where families are being forced to deal with new uncertainties: the length of marriages, dissolution of family bonds, unemployment. On a purely practical level, with less money to go around to make movies it only makes sense that smaller scale pieces become the norm, or at least more popular. The challenge is to be smarter than the average slasher, accessible to all without impinging on core values. If that means toning down the make-up effects, fine. If it means more no-budget classics like Paranormal Activity then yes, please.

Of course the other end of the trope is the aforementioned mid-budget remakes of ‘classics’ like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. Too mean-spirited to inspire any kind of affection, for a fan base fond of the imperfections that defuse the chills, a horror movie too well made is a joyless experience – its own worst enemy. In this sense Horrorthon ’09 has done the genre an immense service in creating a snapshot of a genre and argued the Faustian pact for its very soul. This writer hopes the road of quality features of modest means is not eschewed for Michael Bay’s knack for getting teens to part with cash. Surely he can be offloaded to do another Transformers while the rest of us get on with enjoying a genre in resurgence. Now there’s a real horror of a movie.

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'The Disturbed' gets deal with Cinemavault

The Disturbed
The Disturbed

Conor McMahon’s Irish thriller, The Disturbed, which recently played to a sell out crowd at the Horrorthon film festival in the IFI over the October bank holiday weekend, has been picked up by Toronto-based Cinemavault for worldwide sales and representation at the American Film Market in Los Angeles.

The Disturbed tells of a demented couple in the woods who plan to torture their captive when they themselves fall victim to a dark presence. The film features Carla McGlynn, Stephen Murray and Clyde Mowlds, and is produced by Paul Ward and Conor McMahon.

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The Horrorthon Returns to the IFI in October

horrorthon

This year’s Horrorthon will take place during the bank holiday weekend (22-26 October 2009) at the Irish Film Institute, Dublin.

Ed King, Horrorthon director, launched the programme saying ‘It has been a terrific year for horror with an overabundance of brilliant new titles to choose from. The result is that this year’s programme is packed full of new films giving Horrorthon-goers more sneak previews of the goriest movies we could bear to watch.’

Opening this year’s festival is Jennifer’s Body; a slick, smart big-budget studio horror that proves that the horror genre is alive and undead in Hollywood. Despite the unlikely horror combination of ‘babe’ of the moment Megan Fox (Transformers) and writer Diablo Cody (Juno), Jennifer’s Body delivers the goods when it comes to terror; a small-town-teenage-temptress (possessed by a demon), a Satan-worshipping rock band, and a nerdy best friend who is the only one who can stop the madness.

Other highlights of the festival include the guest appearance of Irish director Conor McMahon’s home-grown fright flick The Disturbed; a world premiere (with Q&A with director Steven Peros) of The Undying featuring American Civil War era phantoms reinhabiting corpses and falling in love (with inevitably unhappy consequences); and a brilliant new documentary Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film.

Those looking for a bit of nightmarish nostalgia should head to the 1984 classic Gremlins in a rare screening of a top-quality 70 mm print. Director Joe Dante crafted this Chris Columbus written tale of Gizmo, Stripe and pals who should never, ever be fed after midnight into an anarchic roller-coaster ride of dark comedy, shocks and one of the sickest kids’ movies ever. Also making a reappearance due to popular demand are a trio of George A. Romero classics Day of the Dead, Zone of the Dead, featuring special guest appearances from cast members Joe Pilato and Ken Foree.

Most Horrorthon tickets are at normal IFI prices there also are a variety of good value festival passes from one-day passes to the full 5-day festival pass. Tickets can be booked at the IFI Box Office in person, by telephone on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

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A Horror Unto Itself

Hororthon 2008
Hororthon 2008

I’ve been covering the Horrorthon for a few years now and there are a few things that distinguish it from any other event in the cinematic calendar. Firstly, it has to be the least pretentious festival out there. For most of the year the IFI is a place where fanboys fear to tread but Hallowe’en week seems to do away with that inferiority complex. In fact, if you’re not wearing black you’ll most likely be issued with something on the door. By the venue’s standards it’s tantamount to outsider art but the overall sense of community can make the attendees as interesting as the films they pack in to – sometimes even more so. I can’t think of anywhere else that has the same number of familiar faces, often in the very same seats.

And it’s amazing what some free M&Ms or a dodgy DVD will do for your mood. Over the years I have been the ‘winner’ of copies of Hostel and The Wicker Man (not the good one) and, despite them being awful movies, it’s always a good thing to know you can catch a DVD box rocketing towards you at head height. Some skills can never be practiced too often.

Much like horror films themselves, the success of the Horrorthon is predicated on a simple cocktail of the sublime, the baroque and outright trash. So long as a movie manages to be just barely coherent you’ll at least get a clap out of it.

Usually my coverage becomes a breakdown of pleasant discoveries (Donnie Darko, The Lost, Joshua) and outright disgust at some of the worst filmmaking this side of Camp Crystal Lake (Chaos, Shrooms and the aptly named Botched).

So it now seems to be time to ponder the question: where did it all go so wrong? With precious little by way of highlights, would the 11th annual event be remembered as the year the rot set in? Has the law of the franchise – that of progressively diminishing returns – finally hit home?

Opening nerves
The opening entertainment this year was the Irish short All the Little Things. Directed by Jason Figgis, it was introduced as being in need of losing ‘about three minutes.’ In a seven-minute short that’s hardly an enticing prospect. As it turned out what we saw was something to do with a nightclub, Glenda Gilson and a lot of random screaming. Kind of like an audiovisual version of the Sindo. Only not as good.

Thankfully the main feature presentation, Quarantine, fared much better. Virtually a shot for shot remake of Spanish POV shocker [REC], the relocation of the story from Barcelona to LA works well, save for the central character who has been changed from a disillusioned newshound to an enthusiastic reporter. The lead’s emotional collapse, in the original a reversal from competence to terror, comes across as mere party-girl histrionics. Some people are just not suited to the world of hard news.

Quarantine was followed by the latest piece of Frank Henenlotter experience, Bad Biology, where a woman with seven clitorises meets a man with a sentient penis. How does one follow that? You don’t – it was the last movie of the night.

Friday may have begun early but it would not be until 7.15 pm before something off the beaten path made an appearance. Sadly, Mindflesh was not only badly structured; it had some of the worst effects of the weekend. It’s got taxis and ghosts and blurry evil creatures. You could cover the same territory by hanging around College Green at 3 am.

Somewhat better received was Timecrimes, a low-budget Spanish sci-fi effort that was self-aware enough not take itself too seriously. Or at least the audience wasn’t. The night was rounded out with a rare screening of Night of the Lepus, starring Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelley, Janet Leigh and a bunch of rabbits. Giant rabbits. Also showing to a sold-out screen 2 was Irish feature Seer. Directed by Eric Courtney, his opus had to be funded by local businesses in the absence of official funding. By all accounts it was a modest success and certainly went down better than much of the new material on show.

Absent malice
Saturday began with two exhumations: the best-forgotten Giallo, the Dublin-set The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire and also, more importantly, a 25th anniversary screening of Tony Scott’s The Hunger. Possibly one of the most influential vampire films of the ’80s (lagging just behind Near Dark). Some of the cultural markers may have withered over time (Bauhaus’ rendition of Bela Lugosi’s dead has retro appeal over it) but the onscreen pairings of Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and, later, Susan Sarandon remains as delicious a prospect as ever. I refuse to make the awful quip that the latter combinations’ tryst was ‘type oh positive’.

Otherwise the day would yield only two discoveries of merit: firstly Johnny Kevorkian’s urban gothic, The Disappeared, did a reasonable job of meshing elements of The Devil’s Backbone with The Sixth Sense (with a hint of The Matrix believe it or not). The story of a troubled teen who may or may not be having visions of his kidnapped little brother; the plot hangs together nicely until a third act cops out with an oddly comforting ‘mini twist’. Still, it doesn’t run over time and would make a reasonable midnight movie. Low budget digital feature making wins again, albeit on modest terms.

Much more unnerving was the centrepiece of the event that would divide audiences opinion. Martyrs. A work of genius or crass exploitation?

Best explained as a torture porn anthology film, Pascal Laugier’s picaresque marks another step forward for French brutalist horror. Starting as an homage to Hostel, Laugier twists his way through the movie references into Michael Haneke territory and back again as a psychotic revenge drama gets turned on its head at the halfway mark. A brief poll of some fanboys afterwards saw comparisons to that other example of French extremism, Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible. That a work of such power can come from within genre cinema is a testament to the filmmakers. What rankled most with this writer was the lack of discussion that usually follows the festival main event. This was particularly well handled in 2005, when Ruggero Deodato was on hand to discuss Cannibal Holocaust. In contrast, Martyrs, was shown in a vacuum with no introduction or discussion. Opportunity missed, and a real symptom of malaise within the organising committee.

Sunday would also prove a fallow period with only two items of interest on the bill surrounded by the God-awful Ghostwood (it’s got Patrick Bergin in it – never a good sign), Demons 2 and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Standout moments were a programme of grindhouse trailers and Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, a documentary about the sights, sounds and smells of the Australian exploitation film industry. Perhaps the most entertaining entry of the festival, it falls into the ‘pleasant discovery’ category. And it only took four days to find one. Always a leap of faith, the Surprise Film was Jennifer Chambers Lynch’s Surveillance. It bombed. So it wasn’t actually a surprise at all – in terms of reception anyway.

Limp
The final day saw two more anniversary screenings: Dawn of the Dead (30 years young and still relevant as ever) and, for some reason, Jaws 2. Also on the bill were the underwhelming British comedy/horror Mum & Dad and Ryûhei Kitamura’s (of Versus fame) The Midnight Meat Train, which saw off Horrorthon ’08 with more of a quiet burial than the raging cremation of last year, where Planet Terror left no fancy untickled.

So where did it all go wrong? Where did the vibe go? Where were my sweets? Where was Ed King to put everything in perspective with his insightful introductions?

Where was the quality control? Late night schlock pretty much picks itself, but with a history of unleashing 28 Days Later and 30 Days of Night on a vaguely-suspecting audience, surely they could have found something that would work outside their hermetically-sealed world of wonder? The obvious choice of Scandinavian vampire buddy tale, Let the Right One In had been initially scheduled but a print could not be delivered in time. Instead we got Child’s Play and Vinnie Jones with a cleaver. Gee whiz.

An over-reliance on the classics (almost half the programme) smacked of lazy programming and another dud of a surprise film hardly improved matters. It begs the question whether the same passion is there on the part of the organisers. After all, when was the last time you got interested seeing a Part 11 at the end of a title?

Horrorthon 2008 – Official website

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Open Up and Say AAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHH HHHHHHHH

Horrorthon 2007
Horrorthon 2007

Let’s face it, they’re not great movies. No reading of the bill for this year’s Horrorthon will find anything to trouble the Oscars (save for the ghetto of the technical awards) but that’s the way the fans like it. For better or worse, horror films are great fun and the fans can’t get enough of them. Be they American, Italian, Asian, there’s room for all sorts in the average gorehound’s DVD collection and they have a reputation for being fiercely loyal, if not unnervingly obsessive.

To celebrate 10 years of the festival, organiser Edward King, along with accomplices Michael Griffin and Conor McMahon constructed a programme encompassing all aspects of the genre from sophisticated modern studio pics to arthouse oddities to franchise classics with a healthy dose of after-hours schlock from Europe and beyond. Running for five days and 27 screenings there was enough of everything on show, from movies with brains to movies with brains getting eaten to movies with no brains whatsoever. Here comes the pain…

Dark places
The opening film, 30 Days of Night, played to a packed house on the Thursday night. Based on the IDW graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith the story focuses on the town of Barrow, Alaska where the sun is about to go down for a month and some unsavoury characters are about to move in. With most of the town gone south for more reasonable climes, town sheriff (and jilted husband), Josh Hartnet, finds himself stuck on guard duty with his younger brother, ailing grandmother and estranged wife. To top it all off a cabal of vampires have decided to turn the town into a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s not exactly a barrel of laughs.

Directed by David Slade (of the excellent Hard Candy), 30 Days manages to retain the sense of isolation the comic depicted so well, while trimming out the weaker facets of the back story. Hartnet, in his second genre role (if you count his cameos in Sin City), does an admirable job as the last hero in town, trying to balance civic responsibility with a less-than-prefect family life. The denouement, however, may be seen as something of a copout in comparison to the source material’s more quirky expressionism. Regular audiences will be more than happy with the solid direction, pacing, creature design and camerawork that’s pure eye candy. Cue round of applause and general sense of contentment. It should play well in the multiplexes.

Fans looking for a dose of the classics were well served. Jason Vorhees in Friday 13th Part 4 and Christopher Lee’s 1958 version of Dracula were well received, as were rare outings for Fright Night and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Lines of dialogue from Saturday’s sellout matinee Predator were greeted with enthusiastic cheering: ‘If it bleeds, we can kill it.’ How else are you supposed to respond to that?

The quirkier realms of genre were also out in force. Friday night’s Botched, is a horror-comedy focusing on a heist gone wrong. Starring Steven Dorff and filmed largely in Ireland the action takes place in a Russian skyscraper where a simple case of thievery turns to murder turns to a stint on a disused floor that doubles as… Let’s just say it gets messy in all departments from there. Suffice to say that what starts out as a botched robbery strays into being a botched comedy and a botched horror as well. Director Tim Ryan was in attendance afterwards for a brief and sparsely attended Q&A.

The first true find of the festival has to be George Ratliff’s’s psychological thriller Joshua. The tale of an effete New York youngster in a well-to-do family, the titular protagonist finds himself examining his place in the world following the arrival of a new sister. With a mother undergoing a serious case of the baby blues the youngster decides some family bonds are in need of a bit of a shake-up if his personal development is to continue.

A sharp script and excellent performances across a cast including Sam Rockwell and Michael McKean (sans poodle hair) make Joshua a truly chilling experience with a crushing inevitability to the outcome. The absence of any supernatural element makes for a refreshing execution of a master plan more cruel and cunning than any visceral set piece. The delicacy of the final scene takes one’s breath away.

Youth and experience
Also in the good books is Michael Lichtenstein’s satirical look at teen sexuality Teeth – a contemporary take on the vagina dentata myth. Celibate teen in distress Dawn finds her chaste lifestyle becoming as much a case of biological necessity as personal choice when she ends up castrating a frustrated boyfriend with nothing but the power of her nether regions. Dawn struggles to accept her burgeoning identity as a sexual being while balancing it with the terrible knowledge she can end up giving her suitors an entirely different kind of lovebite than they expect. It almost works but without the technicolour psychosis of Heathers or the high-gloss angst of Donnie Darko, Teeth suffers from a lack of identity, much like its unintentional femme fatale. There wasn’t an uncrossed set of male legs in the house.

Treading more familiar terrain All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is an old skool slasher where the prettiest girl in school has a knack for attracting boys who come to a violent end. It’s a smart and sassy flick with some truly bone-crunching set pieces. As the only sensible girl in the entire film, there is a sizeable chance that, by the end, you will feel rather attracted to the young leading lass as well.

For a realistic take on man’s inhumanity to man, Stuart Gordon’s Stuck is one of the true gems of the festival. Inspired by a true story (which could mean anything really), Stuck, has out-of-work project manager, Stephen Rea, meet nurse’s aide Mena Suvari through the medium of the road traffic accident. Stuck on the bonnet of Suvari’s motor Rea ends up being parked in Suvari’s garage while she figures out how to dispose of his body and get to work on time, all while under the influence of pills and booze. Rea’s struggle for survival involves him balancing out the physical acts of getting off the car to tending his wounds to dealing with Suvari’s attempts to have him offed by her drug-dealing boyfriend. It’s pure adrenaline from beginning to end but it’s hard to see where it will land in terms of distribution. Fingers crossed.

Summer Scars is Julian Richards’s (The Last Horror Movie) tale of council kids coming of age when a chance encounter with a tramp in the woods goes from bad to worse. The film’s linear narrative does telegraph the ending but at 75 minutes this digital feature doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s also fun to hear Ebonics in a Welsh accent.

Festival guest Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs) was on hand to introduce his digital feature Driftwood – getting its first screening in Europe at the festival. The story of foul deeds at an attitude adjustment camp where the teachers pack heat and the Dean’s daughter is the tastiest thing on the menu, Driftwood boasts decent performances from Disney actor Ricky Ullman (who gave up his day job in TV series Phil of the Future to do the film) and former wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. Think The Devil’s Backbone meets The O.C. and you’re about there.

With the film going direct to DVD, Sullivan is keen to talk up the importance of digital distribution as a means for independent filmmakers to get their work seen. Working through his MySpace page, Sullivan has been known to burn copies of his films and send them direct to enthusiastic fans. In commenting on his breakthrough underground hit 2001 Maniacs he also revealed that a sequel is in the works and will start shooting in February. He’s also not impressed with the torture-porn of Hostel and Saw – as it turns out neither were the crowd.

Always something of a minefield the surprise movie still managed to draw a full house despite a history of poor quality control. Previous year’s had featured WWE wrestler Kane’s vehicle See No Evil, the Darren Aronofsky-produced fright vacuum Below and Terry Gilliam’s flop The Brothers Grimm.

Introducing this year’s entry in double-quick time Conor McMahon apologised for the absence of King due to ‘tiredness’ and asked the film roll with no further ado before exiting the screen. A sound move given the travesty he was about to unleash.

Parting shots
Few things are as like a red rag to a bull as are the words ‘Bord Scannan na hEireann’ to a fanboy. You learn this the hard way. Greeted with no small amount of folded arms and scoffing, Paddy Breathnach’s Shrooms tanked badly – and not without good cause. Coming across as a bad impression of a sub sub-par slasher flick, it’s hard to credit how funding was ever awarded such a callow mess. Populated by identikit Americans (except for the obligatory über-stoner who was a dead ringer for Jason Mewes) and an English guide this doomed band of ignoramuses fall victim to a bad element from an abandoned orphanage while all out of their mind on magic mushrooms while being stalked by Charlo Spencer and the guy who does the MyHome ads on the radio. Incidentally, the Drogheda accent is the most repellent and atavistic way we Gaels have of speaking. The whole thing looked like that mulchy Specsavers ad set in the forest where everything looks like it’s going backwards – only not as freaky.

The choice of closing film raised eyebrows from the get-go. Passed over for cinema release in Europe following poor US box office returns, Robert Rodriguez’s half of his ill-fated Grindhouse double header with Quentin Tarantino, Planet Terror, came with poor word of mouth Stateside and an additional 40 minutes to pad out the European release. Thankfully the end result is quite, quite brilliant. Framed by a trailer for a fictional b-movie actioner Machete the tone is set for an adrenaline ride with brain in neutral. Starring Rose McGowan as out-of-work go-go dancer Cherry Darling, Freddy Rodriguez as a man with a past, Michael Biehn as the sheriff and Tom Savini as a cop about to explode, there’s only one way this zombie shoot ‘em up can go. Thankfully it races to the point with buckets of blood, exploding pustules and domestic discord making a nice bookending theme to the weekend. It drew enthusiastic applause and the mind boggles how this will not get cinematic release. Maybe the American audience thought grindhouse cinema was a torture-porn thing. And God knows we all hate that stuff.

See Horrorthon’s official website here

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