This year’s FrightFest kicked off with Cherry Tree, an Irish rural nightmare directed by David Keating as Darklands meets Wicker Man. Teenager Faith (the excellent Naomi Battrick) discovers that her father is terminally ill. The new hockey coach, the glamorous Sissy Young, offers her a Rosemary’s Baby style deal: if Faith will conceive a baby for Sissy to use in the coach's her weekend hobby (running a demented coven who worship a poisonous cherry tree) then Faith's father will be cured.
It’s slightly over the top, with Sissy eventually turning into a tree-human hybrid before being attacked by an Evil Dead killer tree root. There are some interesting locational themes that are never fully explored, such as a warlike field hockey match, but on the whole it makes you feel Shrooms delivered Irish chills better.
James Wan's Demonic, directed by Will Canon, is a jump-by-the-numbers haunted-house featuring students filming themselves trying to bring back the spirit of a murdered girl died in a massacre there. As producer, Wan's fondness for creepy china dolls, well documented in Annabelle, shows itself again in the deserted little girl's bedroom crammed with rosy-cheeked dolls. He also can’t resist adding a tiny wind up ballerina figurine which pointing helpfully to the best course to take (probably the nearest exit to another movie).
But the young filmmakers naturally don’t heed this warning, and instead encounter a twist ending visible a mile away in rubbish lighting. Filled with the traditional implausibly-good looking 20somethings impersonating teenagers, Demonic needed a little more humour and less shots of creaking doors closing themselves without human intervention.
Frankenstein is set in modern day LA, where our sewn-together hero Xavier Samuel is now living under a subway. Instead of being taught to speak by a blind hermit, he’s now tutored by sightless hobo Eddie (bass-voiced horror legend Tony Todd) who busks guitar while living out of a shopping trolley. Directed by Candyman's director Bernard Rose, this interesting adaptation uses Mary Shelley's original 1818 narrative as Samuel’s voiceover to clash deliberately with contemporary slang. Samuel meanwhile has to avoid the original pitchfork-wielding yokels perusing him, who are now tubby, check-shirt-wearing rednecks and psycho cops ready to shoot on sight. Still, at least he now has Google maps to guide him to his creator.
Bait is another Dominic Brunt gorefest from Yorkshire. Known for strong female leads as in Before Dawn and Inbred, Bait features two feisty Yorkshire lasses dreaming of opening their own cafe rather than selling cakes from a market stall in a grim northern town. To raise the money they need, they accept a loan from a deceptively unassuming loanshark (the impressively mundane Jonathan Slinger).
After being attacked by the loanshark and his goon, the two ladies fight back with a touch of Thelma & Louise, armed only with a Tazer and feminine wiles. As the movie’s tagline warns, Hell Hath No Fury. It can be slightly implausible, such as when one of the heroines (Joanne Mitchell) has an autistic son whom the villain plans to target, or when after being beaten up by the loanshark she hears a knock on the front door at night, and promptly opens it without checking through the peephole whom it might be.
Although funny, a hard watch bordering on torture porn, it features one of the better bathroom deaths you’ll see this year. Brunt and his real life wife Mitchell, who also took on the zeds in Before Dawn and is friends with her onscreen pal, took the Q&A afterwards with their usual wit and charm. The horror power couple explained that as Before Dawn’s undead invasion was a simile for a broken relationship, this time the loanshark stands in as a metaphor for the nastier side of money-making.
Another female-centred flick was Emelie, directed by Michael Thelin. This concentrates on a teenage babysitter who as soon as her employers head out the door, instead of getting some cartoons on TV for the kids, instead investigates the cutlery drawer for the sharpest knives and checking refuge chutes. What could possibly go wrong?
Deathgasm is shot in the blood-stained comedy vein of a 2015 Peter Jackson, with director Jason Lei Howden creating a small Kiwi town suddenly overcome by a zed-invasion. This apparently has been caused by the death-metal obsessed hero Brodie, plus his heavy-metal henchman Zakk, playing some cursed sheet music. When his aunt and uncle turn into the undead, he is forced to fight off his re-animated relatives with their own sextoys. There are some tiny deft touches (the town's fortune teller reading tea leaves sees a perfectly-formed skull at the bottom of the cup as a warning), but it's more of a one-joke movie.
Nina Forever has a Daphne du Maurier theme of the lead heroine who dies in a road incident, then haunts her ex and his new girlfriend Holly, by arriving when they are in bed together. Nina, much like Banquo's ghost or du Maurier’s Rebecca, appears in the most inconvenient moment as the blood-boltered corpse. She moves with a fractured grace, which the actress described in the Q&A as trying to move “like treacle” to suggest Nina’s broken bones.
Julien Seri's Night Fare might seem at first to be a straightforward French slasher, with two likeable, aimless party animals, Chris and Luc, who spend their evening partying and fighting for the attentions of a fair young Parisienne. Things are going well until the young men take a taxi to a friend's but unwisely decide to run off without paying their fare. When the outraged driver follows them to demand his money, he’s met with howls of derision ("He looks like Jason!"). One of Chris and Luc’s friends grab a decorated sabre to see him off and beheadings start. But what's really going on? You might think it's a snappy remake of Duel, but the film neatly turns the tables on the viewer in the last reel with an unexpected manga. Smart, creepy and unexpected, Night Fare was one of the festival’s standout flicks.
Tales of Halloween is a collection of 10 horror shorts based in a sleepy American town. One of the directors, Ryan Schifrin explained the appeal of the season when he said: "Nothing beats dressing up like a monster and prowling the streets you grew up on, while seeking egregious amounts of candy."
Neil Marshall (The Descent) directed Bad Seed, which centres on a pumpkin on Halloween which decides to seek revenge on all those who use them as a festive prop to be heartlessly used as decoration or turned into pumpkin pie. Sprouting evil green tentacles, it takes over the suburban streets. Morbid Mansion features two American competitive Halloween fans who can't stand to see the other have a more spectacular festive show, and war breaks out over who has the better front yard. A third short, Sweet Tooth, features a nasty teenage babysitter and her boyfriend terrify their young charge with tales of a sugar-crazed psycho who will stop at nothing for a sucrose hit - even disembowelment. Horrormeister John Landis cameos in The Ransom of Rusty Rex as a father receiving a ransom call after a Halloween kidnapping doesn’t go to plan.
The festival's guests, as always, got into the spirit of things, carrying portable horror icons such as Chucky (pictured), while Horror Channel's Emily Booth, whose revenge fairy tale horror short Selkie screened at last year's festival entertained the crowd in between screenings. In Emily's Booth, punters could dress up as a horror icon, grab a rubber prop, and discover their inner Michael Myers or Freddy (even Horror Asylum's reviewer had an axe-swinging good time). As well as the movies, guest stars included last year's guest Laurence R. Harvey (Human Centipede II's anti-hero) who appeared in this year’s Banjo; as well as horror legend Barbara Crampton, who acts in four of this year’s movies.
Halloween chills, horror booths and Chucky dolls - FrightFest 2015 was as unpredictable and fun as ever, with the chance to put yourself in your favourite horror flick, and see Dominic Brunt's latest Northern thriller as well as overseas nightmares.