Wednesday, October 28

Getting Seriously Scared: Transylvanian Talks (and Jam)

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The Bram Stoker Film Fest 2016 got its eighth annual event off to its customary early start at on Thursday 27 October at 1030am with “Tales of Fear”. This US feature-length of six horror shorts (director: Corey Logsdon), based on 1950s horror comics set in Smalltown, USA. Although carefully atmospheric, like most 50s horror, it was entertainingly hammy rather than creepy, although there was a good short on a child murderer who has the tables turned on him by his latest victims. Spanish short “Three Wise Monkeys” (dir: Miguel Angel Font), was a take on the “hear no evil, see no evil” saying when the ornamental monkey takes on a life of its own.

Bram Stoker Film Fest 2016

“Valley of Ditches” (dir: Christopher James Lang), is a three-hander starting with 20something Emilia, trapped in a stranger’s car somewhere in the desert. Here the stranger tortures her by stabbing her with a shovel and then attempts to murder her. There are flashbacks to an abusive father, from whom she is planning to escape with her boyfriend, and then to the latter being gruesomely murdered by the scripture-quoting stranger in front of her.

Finally he handcuffs her to her dead boyfriend’s body and leaves her in a shallow grave. Coyotes approach, so desperate measures are called for: unable to remove the handcuffs, Emilia gnaws determinedly through her boyfriend’s leg to free herself, to slightly disbelieving noises from the audience, and escapes to safety. There’s a last scene of Emilia breaking into the torturer’s house and stabbing both his wife and then him to death, although it’s never explained how she finds out where he lives. Viewers could assume, she memorised his car registration number to track him down, although if anyone was planning to drive two people around in your car to murder both of them, wouldn’t they either disguise their numberplates or hire a car instead? Another continuity error was that during a shot of the murdered quoting scripture to a bloodstained Emilia, framed against the desert sky, there was an airplane vapour trail that abruptly vanished from one shot to the next, which would in real life take a good ten minutes.

Whether you saw it as torture porn at its nastiest or effectively cheap film making, as all that is needed is three actors in a desert, one shovel, a car and a pair of handcuffs, “Valley of the Ditches” left audience at a bit of a loss as to what the film was about. Even more odd is the fact that the actress playing the tortured Emilia is one of the co-writers.

British feature “Fox Trap” (director: Jamie Weston) was, as the alternative title of “The Beauty Queen Massacre” suggests, inspired by classics such as the “House on Sonority Row” and “Black Christmas”. This is a lively high school tale of teenage bitches getting their well-deserved comeuppance starts with a gang of schoolmates organising a prank on the odd one out classmate (“that retard” as one of the heartless blondes describe her). It goes horribly wrong, badly injuring her, and they decide to cover up for it to stay out of jail. One member of the prank-pullers, hapless good-girl Frankie (Becky Fletcher, who also produces), gets blamed for the accident and is carted off by the police.

Years later, they all are invited to a deserted mansion miles from anywhere for a “happy reunion”. Everyone decides to accept this offer, including the now-released Frankie, who could be reasonably expected to never want to see any of her former friends again after they stitched her up. In the mansion, everyone finds a creepy gift of a doll that looks like each of them, and as night falls and creepy noises start being heard, they still don’t twig that now might be a good time to make their excuses and leave. As the jagged barbs start and the arguments commence, the Michael Myers-esque masked killer starts to move in.

As the gang fall apart and the film gallops to a gory conclusion, there are plenty of monochrome flashbacks and “Scream”-inspired self-aware one liners, such as the hero shouting at the villainness: ‘While you were running around being Survivor Girl.’ This slasher wears its heart on its bloodstained sleeve, and is possibly too reminiscent of similarly-themed “Valentine”, using the same motif of the defaced year book as well as the jacuzzi murder. “Fox Trap” even uses in whole the “Sonority Row” 2009 remake line in full, as one of its victims yells out to an unseen assailant: ‘I haven’t got time for ‘catch me, rape me’…’

Speaking to Horror Asylum, the film’s producer and writer Scott Jeffrey mentions their inspiration was ’80 and ’90s slashers such as “Curtains” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer”.

“We love those films [but]recently we seem to be flooded with paranormal films. We wanted to give a wink back to all those classic slashers we all love in a modern day setting, and we felt it was time the UK had a new slasher.”

Jeffrey continues: “We changed the [original]title from “The Beauty Queen Massacre” because originally the plot was about a group of models invited to a house to take part in a competition, but little do they know they’re being picked off one by one.”

As well as the traditional fair offering the Transylvanian Food Company’s deliciously tart jam, there was the World Vampire Congress later on Thursday, offering a variety of talks on the subject.

Whitby actor Katrina Stead performed a short play based on Stoker being interviewed by journalist Jane Stoddard, published in British Weekly, in July 1897. Starting with a re-enactment of Johnathan Harker’s fateful carriage ride into Transylvania in full Victorian regalia, she portrays Stoddard asking the author if there any moral lesson in the novel? “I should prefer reader to find it out for themselves,” Stoker mysteriously replies; and there’s a veiled mention of him seeing the 19th century literary agency as a vampire.

Chair of The Whitby Dracula Society 1897, Stephen N. Farr, spoke on “The Writing of Dracula in Whitby” reflects on Stoker’s 1890 holiday in Whitby of four weeks. Echoing his creations, Stoker arrives by train as Mina Murray does and leaves Whitby as Dracula does. The Whitby Gazette mentions him staying in August in No 6 Royal Crescent but makes no mention of his returning. On Tuesday 19 August 1890, Stoker enters Whitby Library and Dracula was born as he chooses the name of his undead anti-hero, and shifts focus of story from Austria to Transylvania. The author also uses local legends such as the black dog or “barguest” which lives in Church St, and coach and horses in Haggersgate, who were phantom horses which take the lost souls across the bridge, as well as the local shipwreck which all feature in the novel. He also borrowed the story of the 1885 shipwreck of the Dmitry beached on Whitby’s Tate Hill Sands, all of which then turn up in supernatural form in his novel.

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