FrightFest 2014 had relocated to the larger venue of Vue West End for its 15th annual outing, and was as full of original horror as always: everything from living room furnishings to sex aids used to scare viewers. “The Last Showing”, shot in only three weeks’ worth of nightshoots in a Manchester cinema, features horror-legend Robert Englund as Stuart, a staff member fired earlier in the day from his longterm job as a projectionist, and put in charge of customers’ snacks instead. Humiliated by a prospective career of shovelling popcorn and pouring fizzy drinks, he starts to plan revenge – after all, he’s seen enough gory deaths on the job, hasn’t he? So there’s an unexpected night planned for both the brash young manager who demoted him and the loved-up young couple who come up for a midnight screening of classic “The Hills Have Eyes II”.
Although it's surprising no one else seems to be there as well, the pissed-off ex-projectionist, after serving up some spiked fizzy drink to the young lady, manages to kidnap the girl and start terrorising her young man with creepy messages on the screen. Meanwhile Stuart takes his manager hostage and subjects him to some “Saw”-style torture, using film as an appropriate medium. All the while Stuart is using the CCTV footage of his cinematic cat-and- mouse game to create his own mini-movie.
Englund, riffing on his nice-guy vibe from 2006’s “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon”, somehow manages to make even Stuart’s cardigan and tie look creepy. After the film, Englund took to the Q&A with wit and charm, glass of wine in one hand, to talk about every actor's pet hate, seeing their own performance and seeing his “bald spot” on the big screen. He also had some entertaining stories about shooting, mentioning the horror of some real-life young movie patrons, fresh from a kids’ screening, seeing the actors’ blood-stained entrance.
“The Mirror” is a claustrophobic, funny, London flick based around three yuppies who have bought a smart new silver mirror online to decorate match their glam inner city pad. They decide to film themselves see if they can detect any real-life paranormal activity in their new place. Leaving aside the question of how these 20-somethings would be able to afford to live in such a glamorous gaff, they attach one camera to Matt (Joshua Dickinson) and another just filming the titular mirror. They start to film each other cooking, watching TV...and then sleepwalking, and going missing. The prosaic dullness of watching someone else’s flatmates slob around in their pyjamas bickering while eating toast, becomes a bit Big Brother meets “Poltergeist” as the strangeness kicks in.
This London revamp of last year’s “Oculus”, also works despite the slight absurdity of the heroes taking on living room furnishings. It’s also just as full of plot holes: if your flatmate seems to be suddenly possessed by evil mirrors and starts sleepwalking, then raiding the kitchen for chopping knives, and you have to start barricading yourself into your room for safety, why not just stay with a friend for few days?
Then when things get even worse and your flatmate simply goes missing, so you decide in despair to destroy the mirror, after smashing it to pieces, you find the damn thing the next day back on the wall completely unharmed...wouldn't it be time to kiss your deposit goodbye and get the hell out? Witty and unexpectedly breathing new life into the found-footage genre, “The Mirror” reflects – quite literally – the flatmates’ need for attention. They want to see themselves all the time, both in the mirror and on the screen, until they see what most frightens them.
The Q&A had the cast (Dickinson, Jemma Dallender from “I Spit on Your Grave II” and Nate Fallows) stay in character, as funny and laid-back as their slacker screen personas, explaining how most of the film was unscripted and improvised. The audience also met the film’s real life inspirations, the genuine flatmates who last year bought the original mirror, who recounted in an entertainingly-shambolic discussion of what happened. They claim to have lived through suitcases flying off walls, and furniture moving on its own, before they managed to sell it online to a German horror buff. The best question from the audience –“Why didn’t you use the original haunted mirror in the movie?” – deservedly won the prize of the film’s titular prop.
“The Babadook”, an Australian psychological horror, went down the familiar horror paths of slightly strange kid finding creepy picture book, about an ominous scary beast. With some good acting from the child and his mum, despite slow pacing, the film is genuinely creepy later on.
Shot in Brighton, “The Sleeping Room”, takes place in a former Victorian brothel where a modern-day call girl called Blue visits a punter. She discovers a hidden room where the workers used to sleep between shifts. Blue researches the brothel's past, which seems to echo her own. Like “The Mirror”, this is a smart, very British take on a familiar horror sub-genre (evil place starts haunting present) and gives it a few unexpected twists.
“Truth or Dare”, directed by Jessica Cameron who also acts in it, focuses on some American 20-somethings who plan to get famous by shocking the world on YouTube with horror-inspired dares. With some good lines, and an original idea, this charismatic director supplied viewers with sick bags in case the shock value proved a bit much. With only one walk-out, however, this seemed a bit optimistic for a sturdy audience of Brit horror fans, who seemed to find it entertaining rather than terrifying as the dares got gorier and the deaths piled up.
Cameron also acts in “The Tour”, a successful short about two American female tourists who visit a UK tourist trap of an ancient haunted house, where apparently visitors have a habit of disappearing. “But don’t worry,” adds the good-looking young tour guide cheerfully: “The footage was never found again!” He snaps their photo in front of the house, and after the tour, the two have a drink with the handsome young man. He asks about their European tour and suggests they might be more cautious of strangers they meet on their travels: haven't they seen “Hostel”? All meta-horror one liners aside, when he offers to take the tourists for the unofficial, after-dark tour of the haunted mansion, they grab their camera to film anything out of the ordinary. Smart, self-aware and memorable, “The Tour” is everything a horror short should be. Other successful shorts included the comedic Spanish “Vibes” (very funny, featuring a woman becoming a little too attached to her new vibrator), and “Zominic”, a very succinct two minute horror on babies and how hungry they can get.
FrightFest’s latest excursion shows that no matter how much horror fans can see, there’s always a new theme out there to scare.