It is amazing the effect that a succession of increasingly rubbish sequels can have on the perception of a film in the public consciousness. Before I had seen Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) this is how I perceived the film. I was thinking of increasingly jokey, cheap Freddy Krueger vehicles. And I was way off.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is an absolutely classic horror film, with a lot of really interesting and original ideas. Chief amongst these is the blurring of the lines between dream and reality. This is a theme explored in many films, often taking themselves far more seriously than this piece of genre fare. But it is something that it is very hard to do without becoming utterly infuriating. I think A Nightmare on Elm Street does it better than any other film I have watched. For me, this is a real point of difference for the film, when compared to something like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). This is not to say that Craven’s film is better (if I was forced to choose one, I think I would go with Halloween … just), rather that it is just wholly original in its approach. Rarely in my experience is the slasher genre melded with something a little more supernatural like it is here. Krueger’s villainous and otherworldly ability to attack in dreams from beyond the grave differentiates him from many other horror villains.
The film kicks off with a cracking opening scene, that really sets the tone for the film. It is dark and grimy with ominous music. The setting has a somewhat industrial feel to it, something that is revisited on a number of occasions throughout the film. And the final part of it is the creation of Freddy Krueger’s glove. I can’t think of a more perfect way to kick off the film. I’ll do my best, but be warned there may be spoilers in this next little bit. The film pulls a really wonderful Psycho (1960) like swerve early on that I did not see coming, as the young woman that appears to be at the centre of the story is brutally murdered. This death scene is really inventively shot, again thanks to the dual worlds of dream and reality. The attack begins in the dream-world, so the viewer can see Krueger slashing and attacking. Masterfully though, Craven shoots the latter half of the scene from the real world. So we see Tina launched off her bed and pinned to the roof, as she is attacked and bloodied. But we cannot see Krueger as we are back in the real world, so it appears that she is being tossed about and attacked by an invisible force.
I think this first death scene is an early illustration of Craven’s flair for the visual. He is not concerned with body count or gore (though both those feature), but rather he crafts a number of iconic visual moments during the film. One other fantastic one occurs when Krueger very literally stretches the boundaries between dream and reality over the top of the bed where one of the teenagers sleeps. Following Tina’s death at the hands of Freddy, the film settles on it’s true main character, Tina’s friend Nancy played by Heather Langenkamp who gives a really excellent performance. The narrative sees Nancy attempting to alert the police (including her father) of what or whom is really behind a spate of murders. The character of Nancy is a fantastic heroine. Many credit Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode in the original Halloween as being a hallmark, feminist heroine in a horror film. Whilst this is partially accurate, for me at least, it is a little overblown. Whilst she fights off the villain a number of times, she has the frustrating quality of leaving the knife lying around unattended when she thinks she has Michael Myers dead, but clearly does not. And she is eventually saved by the male Dr Loomis. Conversely, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, I think we have a truly industrious and independent female hero. What’s more, once she arrives at the ‘endgame’, Nancy is no shrinking violet, rather calling Freddy out so they can end this thing. Essentially of her own volition, she slays (sorta) Freddy Krueger. She formulates the plan to kill him, and after painstakingly booby trapping the house, more or less achieves that. I think that she is a really interesting and layered character, and the performance is also exceptionally believable for this kind of film.
The film in general does a really good job of building on the intriguing and visceral start. It does a much better job of fleshing out the back-story and motivation of the villain than many horror films. There is just so much to sink your teeth into with the film. The theme of dreams and their meaning, and influence on life; the occasional invocation of Christian iconography as the victims look to a cross for protection; the continuation of the exploration of the theme of teenage promiscuity kicked off by Halloween and heaps more. In addition to the visual brilliance I have already mentioned (although I will mention another couple of examples – the ultra-high & narrow shot of Nancy in the bath, and Krueger walking through bars of a jail cell), another technical area where the film excels is the soundtrack. There is a lot of music, it is intrusive but somehow not at all annoying, rather it enhances the atmosphere tenfold. The music somehow manages to build tension without giving anything away, which is a fine balance to get right.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is an extremely clever horror film which innovates both narratively and visually. The great thing about really good horror films of this era is that they don’t spend all their time mindlessly killing people, so there is time to build characters and tension. This film does both those things, and many more, extremely well.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here.
For a combination of reasons, the horror genre has always attracted its share of B Movies. There are numerous reasons for this, and even today it continues – there are far more straight to DVD releases in the genre than any other.
For today’s instalment for Halloween Week, I thought I would share three ‘classic’ horror B movies with you, with the public domain films included. A spanner was thrown into the works when I went to pop this up for you all today, when I found that Openflix on Youtube, my favoured source for public domain films has been shut down. I have managed to track down versions from other Youtube sources though, so hopefully these stay up for the long haul. Enjoy these guys, they are all great fun of some sort or another.
The Killer Shrews
I mean really, how can you go wrong with a name like that. Especially when the first time that the words “killer shrews” are said, lightning strikes. This is a classical B movie setup – a night on an island crawling with unknown killer animals and humans who seem to have something to hide. You can also throw into the mix typically awesome B movie dialogue and the fact that I’m pretty sure the shrews are dogs, and there is a typical old school horror flick.
Monster from a Prehistoric Planet
This Japanese ‘classic’ takes all the best bits from King Kong and Godzilla and essentially butchers them. But who doesn’t love a shoddily made monster flick homage. Starts out on a very cool isolated island (complete with very unfortunately presented native inhabitants), where scientists are searching out animals for a new theme park. And oh don’t they find some creatures to catch. If hilarious monster special effects & costumes are your thing, then check this one out.
The Vampire Bat
This horror/mystery combo is probably the most interesting of these three flicks. Discounting the poor quality of the print, this film looks fantastic. Apparently it borrowed a lot of the Universal horror sets of the time, so that would have helped. The film is a gothic tale of unexplained deaths and the interesting thematic concern of the clash between logic and supposed superstition. Also features Fay Wray, famous of course for her screamtastic turn in King Kong.
Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here.
Of all the people that Halloween is important to, above all are the kids. They get to engage in trick or treat, dress up as basically whatever their heart desires and score some free candy. Studios often tap into this by releasing Halloween or sorta-horror themed kids films at this time of year. For Halloween Week I checked out a couple that had opened recently in Australia.
Despite thinking it was a cute idea, expectations were pretty low for me when I checked out Hotel Transylvania. Having Adam Sandler attached to a film generally has that effect these days. Looks like others had the same thoughts, as the early morning weekend session that I went to saw me all alone, in my local complex’s biggest cinema. Having said that though, the film has performed really quite well at the box office, despite not being a received that well by critics. I suspect that word of mouth may have had something to do with that, because the film is really quite charming and more enjoyable than a majority of animated flicks I have seen of late.
The titular Hotel Transylvania is run by Dracula (voiced by Sandler) who set it up as a place for his fellow monsters to escape the oppression of humankind. There is a wonderful inversion of horror norms running through the entire film, with Dracula and co all doing anything they can to avoid crossing paths with any people. The simple storyline sees preparations for Dracula’s daughter’s 118th birthday party thrown into disarray when backpacker Johnny stumbles across the hotel. Along with Dracula, the film features a veritable who’s who of film monsters – The Mummy, Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s Bride, Quasimodo, The Invisible Man and The Wolfman all at the hotel to celebrate the occasion. It is great to see that the visual look of these characters has been thoughtfully designed, delightfully reinterpreting their most iconic iterations. Much of the fun in the film comes from the riffing on horror conventions, Dracula as a doting dad one such example.
The character of Johnny is a hilarious one, a brilliant cipher of every backpacker you have ever met, with the lingo and the spirit of this lifestyle spot on. Despite the occasional juvenile moments (it is a kids flick after all), the script in general is very clever. Skewering with abandon but also throwing in enough simpler jokes so that kids will not be bored. And also avoiding the Shrek trap of aiming too hard for pastiche and forgetting to tell a story at all. I guess one aspect of this film which jars a little and is probably a little off-putting for family audiences is a couple of instances where Dracula flies into a rage. These are only very brief moments, but they are genuinely frightening and would be especially so for young kids. It seems strange to include them at all when they do not add a whole lot to the film overall. The film also nearly finishes with a truly terrible song and dance number. But saves grace a bit by actually closing with a Pink Panther-esque, traditionally animated credits sequence which was a cool way to finish things off.
I was hoping to be mildly entertained by this, but it exceeded that. I had a really good time with this film, and found myself laughing quite a lot actually. Proves that in an animated film thoughtful design and a clever script can go a very long way.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
The second kids film that I checked out was the rather more anticipated Frankenweenie, a stop motion film from the mind of Tim Burton. The folklore goes that when he was working at Disney in the 80s Burton decided to make a short film. Instead of happy singing & dancing, Burton turned out the short Frankenweenie, a much darker tale. So dark was it in fact, that Burton was fired from Disney as a result. It is rather ironic then that the House of Mouse are actually behind this version of the film. They’ve come around to Burton’s vision, albeit the best part of 30 years later.
This film looks utterly fantastic. Black and white is used, as it should be in any old school horror homage, and it makes everything look really sharp. Burton employs 3D cleverly too. There are no gimmicky flourishes here, just some subtle enhancing of depth, and I think it makes the film look much better. I rarely see films in 3D, but I am glad that I forked out the extra bucks for this. Right the start Frankenweenie is referencing classic horror films, especially James Whale’s Frankenstein. The plot sees Victor, a lonely child with no friends besides his beloved dog Sparky, distraught when his dog dies. Inspired by a wonderful new science teacher, Victor gets his Dr Frankenstein on, and brings Sparky back to life with a little help from a lightning storm. The plot follows this reanimated dog and the effect that it has on the community where they live. Things get especially interesting when Victor’s classmates discover the secret of his success and try and replicate it for school science fair glory.
There is a beautiful, and you would have to suspect autobiographical moment early in this film. Victor proudly sits down with his mother and father and shows them his latest home movie – starring none other than Sparky of course. It is a great little moment, showing the love of film that Burton no doubt has and the love and obsession that kids devote to cinema. The narrative takes place in a strange little town populated by a cavalcade of rather strange folk. There is some quite black comedy throughout, especially involving the death of Sparky. Thematically, there is a real focus here on the role of science in society and especially the reception that science receives in some communities. The small town folk recoil at some the scientific ideas being taught to their children. It is clear which side of this ideological schism Burton sits, and whilst some of this is amusingly done, more is a little heavy-handed.
If Frankenweenie falls a little flat at times, and I think it does, I think it can be attributed predominately to an undercooked script. There is nothing particularly bad about it, but a lot of it is missing the shot of spirit to really jump out and grab the audience. The film also moves at a relatively slow pace for a kids film, meandering along for large chunks of its running time. In addition there are some massive logical inconsistencies in what occurs. It is strange that I notice this, because typically I am happy for this kind of film not to have to worry about any of that. There are some great moments though. One is when the film shifts gear toward the end to an unveiling of various monsters. This plays out like a B movie mash-up, taking inspiration from Gremlins, Godzilla and numerous others.
Overall Frankenweenie was a pretty satisfying experience, though it does not soar too high I don’t think. Having said that, it is one of the best looking animated films I have ever seen and any fan of old school horror should check this out for the delightful pastiche throughout.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here.
Redd Inc was part of the feature film program at The Blue Mountains Film Festival and is a cracking, visceral Australian produced horror film. Director Dan Krige was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about the film as part of Halloween Week. Be sure to like Dan’s facebook page here so you can keep up with all of his future work.
You’re probably in a better position to give a quick synopsis of the film’s plot than me. What is it about?
Redd Inc is about a convicted serial killer who escapes from prison and goes about punishing those he holds responsible for his incarceration. He does this in a bizarre office setting, giving his “workers” the seemingly impossible task of proving his innocence. Or face the consequences.
How did you come to be involved with the film? Your first feature West is not a horror film, and you also wrote that movie, whereas this script was written by someone else.
The producer sent me the script a few years back. It was a great read and I’d never seen a horror movie set in an office before. It seemed to me the perfect setting for a horror film – the offices where many of us go to work are the settings of the most common master/servant enslavements. And with most of us having a mortgage or credit card debt, we’re all slaves to some kind of boss.
Is it more constraining, or liberating to work with someone else’s script, rather than one of your own?
A good script is a good script. And Redd Inc was a great read from the start. The main difference coming onto a project that is pre-existing, is that you have to find your own take on it, the way to make it personal for yourself. And that was easy with Redd Inc – we’ve all felt like we’ve been chained to the desk at some time in our lives.
Making a low budget genre film in Australia, what were the major challenges you faced making the film?
The main challenge was the tight schedule. Getting everything shot in a very short amount of time. But I’ve learned that if you plan meticulously, you can get the day shot and the performances you’re after.
The cast is a good mix of experienced recognisable faces such as Nicholas Hope and Alan Dukes, as well as some younger actors that were not familiar to me. What was the approach to casting the film?
It was important to me to cast the two main roles of Thomas Reddman and Annabelle first, as the top of the cast “pyramid” if you like, and build the rest of the cast beneath them. So once I had Nicholas Hope and Kelly Paterniti cast, then I looked for other actors to compliment them.
The characters generally speak in American accents. Was this decided upon to increase chances of overseas distribution, or are there other reasons behind this as well?
Yeah, it was decided early on to set it “somewhere” in America. To me, American English is the international language of the English-speaking film world. There was nothing particularly Australian about the story, so there was no reason to set it here. And yes, it has helped immensely with international sale. Redd Inc is being released in North America in January under the title Inhuman Resources.
Tell us about your gore guy. Who he is and how you managed to get him to work on the film? Also, could you explain a little about the importance of gore guys generally in horror culture?
Saying the same “Tom Savini” to a horror fan is like saying “John Lennon” to a Beatles fan. Tom is known as the “godfather of gore”. his pioneering special effects make-up is second to none and his credits include Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow to name a few. Hardcore horror fans are more interested in the pedigree of the guy who does the gore than the director of the film (especially when the director is an unknown like me). So getting Tom Savini on board really put Redd Inc on the map in terms of the horror world. As far as getting him to work on the film, he had officially retired from special effects make up, but once he read the script he decided to come on the Redd Inc ride, which was a real coup for us.
One of the interesting aspects of the film, is that unlike many horror films it does not present an entirely black and white view of the good vs evil divide. Could you explain the idea of the anti-hero in this film?
I’ve always been interested in the anti-hero. My first feature West plays with the black and white moral boundaries and I really wanted to explore that idea in the world of horror, which is traditionally very black-and-white or good-versus-evil. Many audience members have said they ended up feeling sorry for the character of Redd at the end of the film, despite the terrible things he does. That’s the highest compliment to me.
Obviously Halloween is coming up soon. Give us your all time greatest horror movie marathon
An American werewolf in London, Audition, Deep Red, Rec, Friday the 13th, Halloween and of course Redd Inc.
What’s next for you, anything we should be keeping an eye out for in the near future?
There’s a few things in the pipeline. You can catch me on the ABC tv series Redfern Now which hits the screens very soon. I’m also shooting a comedy about cricket called Backyard Ashes in Wagga Wagga next month. And I have a feature with one of the US studios that will shoot late next year, all things being equal.
If people want to check Redd Inc. out, where should they be looking?
Redd Inc is available at jb hi-fi, iTunes, Bigpond movies, and all good DVD outlets, like Video Ezy and Blockbuster. It’s the perfect movie to watch at Halloween!
The awesome Jon Fisher from The Film Brief has kindly submitted this review of Canadian indie horror flick Pontypool as part of Halloween Week. Be sure to take a look at Jon’s site.
Pontypool is a quiet, carefully paced thriller that hints at becoming a full-throated horror film without quite getting there. Scratch that – Pontypool does manage to be a horror film, but not the kind we’re accustomed to seeing, all guts and blood with little to think or care about behind the mayhem. This is a film that knows that the potential of the zombie genre lies not in the splatter and viscera, but in the terror that lies in its very premise – mankind being thrust back into the food chain as its civilised societies and its safeguards collapse in the blink of an eye.
This film – made in 2008 on a shoestring budget of around $30,000 – has an interesting twist on the zombie genre. Rather than focusing on a disease that is transmitted via blood, bile, or the bite of an infected corpse, zombies are created through a disease transmitted by words – certain words (including, as we learn, terms of endearment that are meant sincerely like ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’) carry the infection, seep into the victim’s mind, who becomes crippled by the most horrible word salad syndrome possible before deciding in their exasperation that the only way to cure themselves is to attack those around them.
The idea is ludicrous, of course, and at times the film feels a bit like a half-thought-through idea that an undergraduate student of a writing course might come up with (or worse yet, like an M. Night Shyamalan film), but there are moments of true tension and suspense. The film is set almost entirely within a radio station – another detail that could come across as too clever by half, but is convincingly presented – and we see the events unfold from the perspective of a former shock jock turned radio announcer (played terrifically by Stephen McHattie, who evokes Tom Waits here and seems like the sort of actor who should be better known than he is) and his crew. After an encounter with a seemingly confused woman on a snowy road in the quiet Canadian town of Pontypool, the announcer begins his night shift, before finding himself reporting on the aforementioned zombie apocalypse.
Pontypool never quite transcends the innate tackiness of its idea (which was adapted from a novel by Tony Burgess), and it lurches from contrivance to contrivance towards the end. But in the celebrated zombie genre, this is a film that has the guts to underplay its hand. With a few nifty performances and one or two sequences that intrigue rather than disgust, Pontypool attempts to be – and partially succeeds in being – a peculiar and worthwhile entry into a cluttered genre.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
As far as horror novelists go, Steven King is basically the guy. After a couple of failed to read his books, I knocked Carrie over on a holiday once, and loved it. It’s a lean, taut page turner that in the right hands could make a killer movie. By all accounts (I shamefully still haven’t seen it) Brian De Palma achieved this with his 1976 adaptation.
Here is the first teaser for the inevitable remake which is coming your way soonish. I’m not a huge fan of teasers in general, I don’t think they usually give you enough of a taste of the film. And this is not much different. But given the source material and the presence of Hit Girl herself Chloe Moretz, I’ll be checking this one out when it opens.
What do you guys think of this one?
It is now 7 days until Halloween. Although I am not a huge celebrator of the holiday, it’s reach is not that huge in Australia, it is a damn fine excuse to watch some horror movies, both classical or new. So this is the first in a whole week of Halloween posts. Today’s blog is a review of one of my all time favourite horror flicks – John Landis’ classic An American Werewolf in London (1981). This is another one of those reviews that I wrote ages ago and for some reason never got around to posting. I have applied a little spit and polish though, so hopefully it reads ok. First of all, check out the awesome original preview I found on Youtube. They would never make a teaser like this today.
Everything I read about the John Landis film An American Werewolf in London before watching it emphasised the fact that it is a comedy-horror, a genre that does not sound particularly appealing to me. But besides some humorous flourishes in the script, I don’t think I would consider it particularly comedic at all really. Nor is it very dark atmospherically despite there being some touches of gore. All things considered though it is a very enjoyable 80s film.
The film opens in the English countryside where two young American men are backpacking. They stumble into a not overly welcoming village pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. There a fantastic array of locals offer very little hospitality, but do urge the tourists to “stay off the moors”. Anyone who has seen a film in their life will be able to guess that as soon as the guys leave the pub, they wander straight off the road and into the moors. The early scenery is fantastic, lots of beautiful rolling green hills that turn sinister when rain and fog come along in order to emphasise the utter isolation of the locales. The inevitable attack comes from a hair-laden beast and the result is that one of the backpackers, Jack, is killed whilst his mate David is left mauled, saved only when the locals from The Slaughtered Lamb come to his rescue (the rescue is prefaced by some interesting agonising by the patrons over whether or not they should go help them). Thus ends the film’s cool beginning which serves as a prologue really. It’s really well done, and sets up the rest of the story quite nicely without taking too much time.
Three weeks later David awakes in a London hospital, still recovering from the injuries he sustained in the attack. It has been explained away as the result of an escaped lunatic, but he knows that was not the case. Whilst in the hospital David begins to have dreams and visions. Some are of him running nude in a forest. The best of them are first person shots of something low to the ground (presumably a werewolf) racing through the forest at great pace. These sequences are fantastic with a great sense of tension and speed. Less engaging is a dream involving rubber masked hoodlums in a bizarre shootout. The other issue I had with this aspect of the film is that it is not always coherent, you’re not always sure what is a dream and what is not, what is real and what is a vision. This is a tactic that can definitely work in films, but here is just confusing. One of the recurring visions that David has is that of his dead mate Jack who now is one of the undead, roaming the earth in purgatory. He tells David that he will turn into a werewolf in two days and that he will not be released from his undead fate til David is killed. So he urges him to commit suicide. This is a strange dynamic, especially for a film that generally maintains a relatively n upbeat vibe. But it works, one mate begging another to commit suicide is an interesting plot point that is utilised well by Landis. Eventually, despite his still questionable health David is released and goes to stay with the cute nurse Alex who cared for him in hospital. Without giving the entire plot away, Jack’s warning comes to pass and David becomes one dangerous dude. The second half of the film involves Alex, and the curious Dr Hirsch attempting to save David, and the people of London. The ending of the film has been bagged. It is a little rushed, but there are plenty worse out there. And it manages to fit in the film’s emotional highpoint, which is really well done.
Much of the success of werewolf films (especially later ones) is dependent on the creature itself. An American Werewolf in London both passes with flying colours and fails this test. The creature itself is fierce and just the right size. It does not look too fake, and the decision for the creature to walk on all fours is a good one, enabling the audience to liken it to a dog… but the scariest dog you’ve ever seen by a long shot. Even better is David’s visceral transformation into the beast. Unlike in other werewolf films, the transformation from human to werewolf form is not an easy one. Landis shows David’s bone structure painfully stretching as he begs for help. The special effects are fantastic with the whole transformation shown onscreen. Nowadays no doubt CGI would be used for the transformation, but why bother when this looks so incredible. These sequences are one of the highlights of the film, and I doubt a werewolf transformation has been done better. Wisely Landis does not overplay the transformation, and the fact that it only occurs twice (I think) throughout the film makes it even more special. In a similar vein, the zombie makeup on Jack is incredible, clearly an inspiration for Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) which followed five years later. I think the work in this film is just as impressive, with a combination of traditional makeup and latex used to spectacular effect. Just as in Cronenberg’s film, Jack’s appearance detiorates the longer he’s been dead, from initially almost human to nowhere near it. The story goes that Rick Baker’s work was so impressive, the Academy introduced the Oscar for best makeup just so they could award it to him.
Less impressive though are the attacks by the creatures, where blood compensates for special effects that range in quality from average to bad. The attacks are a lacklustre, scattershot affair, not particularly making sense or delivering tension. The one exception is the film’s best scene. It involves an attack in an underground station. The werewolf is not spotted til right at the end of the scene, and leading up to that the scene plays out through the horror of the victim, all shot from the werewolf’s point of view.
Performance wise, An American Werewolf in London is good across the board. David Naughton as David and Jenny Agutter as Alex Price give engaging turns as the two leads, and their sexual chemistry, despite occurring at lightning speed, is believable. The other standout is John Woodvine as Dr Hirsch who conveys a really resolute and interesting presence in his supporting part. I absolutely love the music in this film too. Rather than standard horror film fare, pop songs are used, and it fits the vibe of the film perfectly. There is a fantastic love scene between David and Alex set to Van Morrison’s “Moondance”. Even better is the deployment of the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic “Bad Moon Rising” to preface David’s initial transformation under a full moon into the werewolf. I think that when filmmakers manage to seamlessly weave pre-existing songs into their films and have it work, it is something to be admired, and this is one of the better (and more surprising) examples I have come across.
This was a really enjoyable film, much more so than I was expecting. There are some flaws, but they are vastly outshone by the film’s pluses. This is a borderline perfect beer and popcorn film. Fun, a couple of frights and some awesome effects make for wonderful viewing. Highly highly recommended.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
I’m too old to be going to bed at 4am after finishing my last whiskey. That said, I was feeling surprisingly chipper after a phenomenal vegan pie I grabbed from the awesome Rubyfruit Cafe in Leura on my way to the feature film screenings for this year’s Blue Mountains Film Fest. I believe this is the first year that features have featured at the festival, and hopefully this is a part of the program that continues to develop, because the three on offer were varied and enjoyable.
Leading off was the documentary profile of legendary Australian musician Joe Camilleri entitled Joe Camilleri: Australia’s Maltese Falcon. I knew only a little about Camilleri, mainly through his time as a member of The Black Sorrows, so I found this doc to be really quite informative. I definitely was not aware just how broad and long running his career had been. The film was a quite engaging love-in of Camilleri. The man himself was a very intriguing interview with a magnetic presence. The film features a reasonable amount of insight into Joe’s early personal life and formative influences. Joe and those around him speak of his life as a first generation migrant, growing up in a suburban home of 10 kids. We also learn that Joe quite amazingly left school at the tender young age of 13 and worked a myriad of rubbish jobs on the journey to where he finds himself now.
The doco does delve a little into Joe’s later adult life, at times being a very personal account of his life’s regrets. But mainly, and understandably, this is a portrait of a very prolific Aussie artist. The film also manages to get that difficult balance that all music docos face – getting the ratio of performance clips to talking – just right. This film is definitely worth checking out if you ever get the chance. If like me, you only really know of Joe through the Black Sorrows, there is a lot more to him both personally and professionally than that and this film is an enjoyable way to learn more. Here is a preview to whet your appetite.
Second up on the feature film program was Daniel Krige’s Australian produced horror flick Redd Inc. One of the great things going for this film is the cracking premise. We’ve all had days at work when we feel like death… or feel like murdering a colleague. In Redd Inc. six strangers wake up in a strange room, handcuffed and chained to a desk. They are in for a very bad day at the office. The film takes some interesting twists and turns, so I won’t go into too many plot details at the risk of spoiling things for you. In broad terms though, these six people have been imprisoned by an escaped psychopath who gives them the impossible task of somehow proving that he was innocent of the murders he was convicted. I have heard people say that Australia makes no genre films. Which is just false, of course we make em. Plenty of them are good too. Like this one.
I must admit that I don’t watch a lot of modern horror film, but I found this an enjoyable, if hard to watch at times, ride. Redd Inc. really ramps up the gore, and to help achieve this facet of the film, the filmmakers enlisted Tom Savini. For those non-horror nut readers, Savini is the makeup/special effects maestro behind stone cold horror classics Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th amongst many other films. Getting Savini onboard was a good investment, because the onscreen gore really pops (all too literally in one scene) and looks a whole lot better than many films with much higher budgets. The performances are good too, led by the menacing Nicholas Hope as Thomas Reddman. Director Daniel Krige has brought to the screen a really slick film. It is not easy to maintain interest, both visually and narratively, when the action is confined to the one room, but Krige achieves that with aplomb.
The film was followed by a Q and A, with Aussie actor Rhys Muldoon interviewing director Daniel Krige, which was highly enjoyable. The two had a really good rapport and Muldoon took the discussion in some interesting directions, discussing horror influences and the themes of the film.
Closing out the feature film program was Letters from the Big Man, which the night before had picked up the Gold Yowie for best feature. The film follows Sarah (Lily Rabe), a woman who is looking to escape her past, or at the very least an ex-boyfriend. She takes a contract doing surveying work in a forest and it is there that she discovers a sasquatch. Or more precisely, the sasquatch allows himself to be discovered by Sarah.
One of the undoubted stars of this film, especially early on, is the scenery on display. Steadicam shots follow from on high as Sarah’s car journeys away from civilisation and along winding mountain roads. The journey continues through river rapids, in another sequence featuring breathtaking scenery. After these initial journeys through this forest, Sarah settles in to a small cabin, as does much of the story that follows. A lot of the incredible scenery, dense forests, and even just some of the tone of this flick reminded me a bit of Kurosawa’s stone cold classic Dersu Uzala. The film looks really sharp throughout. It is really well edited, with fades and cuts, especially nice are the early sequences cutting between Sarah and the sasquatch’s daily routines.
One of the ways in which Sarah’s increasing discovery of the world of the sasquatch is conveyed, is through the artwork she creates during her time in the forest. Initially she draws shadowy figures, staring out from the forest. These pictures evolve into more fully formed sketches and paintings of the mythical creature. It is great to see a new take on the cinematic sasquatch develop through the film. The sasquatch who reveals himself to Sarah is an ethereal being of sorts, with ESP-like powers to manipulate subtle energies and emotions in humans. They are essentially physically stationary presences throughout the film, but comforting rather than menacing presences. One character explains that they exist “between realities”. And somehow director Christopher Munch has managed to really draw out this existence beautifully.
At one point during the film, snippets of a stage performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest enter the equation. When a friend watching the play with Sarah asks her what the hell it was about, she replies “magic and nature, nature and magic”. I’m not suggesting that Letters from the Big Man is a work quite on the level of Mr Shakespeare’s. But despite some side-roads into a government conspiracy and a sorta-romance, like the play this film is about “magic and nature”. A pretty interesting exploration of those themes too.
That is all she (he?) wrote from the 2012 Blue Mountains Film Festival. It was a hell of a time. Hopefully I will be back on board writing the Online Cinema for the festival’s website (if you haven’t checked that out yet, then go here and do so) and reporting from the festival again next year.
Kathryn Bigelow’s last film The Hurt Locker ended up being all kinds of huge. Well not box office huge, but most other kinds (like Best Picture Oscar huge). I actually didn’t love that film on first viewing, but was still keen to check out the trailer for her follow up, the Osama Bin Laden hunting Zero Dark Thirty.
Without looking to double check, I believe this film was actually in production before Bin Laden was captured, so this has probably undergone a fair rejigging throughout its formulation. I think this looks fantastic. Some great looking Middle Eastern locations (not sure where exactly the film has been shot) and a cool cast including Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, James Galdonfini and Mark Strong. Really well formulated trailer too. What do you guys think?
The third and final day of short film screenings at this year’s Blue Mountains Film Festival was Yowie Awards Night, with nine awards on offer. The day started for many festival attendees with the Actor’s Q & A, held in Katoomba’s Hotel Blue. The Q & A was a great event actually with a fair bit of spirited back and forth on many issues affecting the life of an actor in Australia. Also some hilarious back and forth between the very funny Rhys Muldoon and the dry wit of Tiriel Mora. Mr Muldoon had the quote of the session for me though, stating that “Art’s job is to take something horrible and make something beautiful.”
After a beer or two by the pool table (I reigned supreme over a filmmaker who shall remain nameless) it was time to check out the night’s six finalist films (other finalists had been sprinkled throughout the first two nights). Leading off was music video To Rise Again, dir by Cristina Dio, which was one of my favourite music clips of the festival. The song was a nice singer songwriter tune with a pretty cool clip which told a nice little story of life on the streets in the short running time.
Dave Wade’s second film of the festival Cropped, was one of the definite highlights of the final night’s films. Just like the first, A Tale of Obsession, the film could be broadly described as a black comedy. But the films are very different. However both feature delightfully warped and genuinely funny scripts courtesy of Wade. Cropped is shot in stark almost semi-arid farm landscapes and rocks a very clever central premise. In fact, the comedic genius of the film is the fact that it recognises the humour inherent in the utterly absurd premise and plays it relatively straight performance wise. Alyce Platt in the lead female role is really excellent, the pick of the bunch in three really wonderful performances. Again, I think the crowd was generally with me on this film as it garnered a lot of laughs and a round of applause as big as any of the fest. Although missing out on the Yowie Awards, Cropped did win the highly coveted “Causing this blogger’s mum to snort loudly twice” award, which is kind of a big deal.
The final film of the festival was the eventual Best Doco winner, A Place Like This. This simple film, featuring a man and his garden (and a pretty incredible war story) was definitely a worthy winner. A simply shot film with a pretty intense tale at its heart was one of my favourites of the festival. Following the conclusion of the screenings Bob Downe hosted the Yowie Awards ceremony. I tell you what, the Oscars and friends could learn something from this guy. Side splittingly funny, and got through all the awards in a snappy 45 minutes. The lucky (and deserving) award winners were:
Golden Yowie for Best Short: The Missing Key dir Jonathan Nix
Golden Yowie for Best Feature: Letters from the Big Man dir by Christopher Munch
Silver Yowie for People’s choice: Cockatoo dir by Matthew Jenkin
Silver Yowie for Best Drama: Tie Am I Ok dir by Matilda Brown and Jack and Lily dir by Damian McLindon
Silver Yowie Open Category: Cockatoo dir by Matthew Jenkin
Silver Yowie for Best Documentary: A Place Like This dir by David May
Silver Yowie for Best Comedy: How Many Doctors Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb dir by Marie Patane
Silver Yowie for Best Animation: The Last Photo dir by Lisa Pascale
Silver Yowie for Best Music Video: 5 Minutes From Now dir by Robert Alcock
After that it was the after party and on to the after after party. There are few more enjoyable experiences than sharing a bottle of whiskey at 4am with new friends. And that’s how I brought to a close the main part of the 2012 Blue Mountains Film Festival.
I’ll be bringing you a recap over the next few days of Sunday’s feature screenings (might take me a couple of days though as I am back at the dreaded day job now). Massive thanks to everyone who I met, chatted with, laughed with, shared a drink with and beat at pool over the festival. In all seriousness, this festival was one of the best weekends of my life. And I think Festival Director Tom Taylor deserves massive congratulations for what he has achieved with the festival, especially considering he somehow balances one of those dreaded day jobs with the organising – a pretty spectacular achievement.