It's Frightfest time again and I'm gong to waste no time with waffle and get straight into my recommendations. Here are the movies that I think horror fans should be checking out starting with what the main screen has to offer. If you're attending the festival please let us know either via the comments section below or via our Twitter account what movies you're most looking forward to this year.
Directed by Adam Wingard
Hold on tight for a slick, fast, fun, killer thriller. A brilliant homage to 1980s action flicks and slasher horror given a sharp twist by YOU’RE NEXT director Adam Wingard, it showcases ex-‘Downton Abbey’ actor Dan Stevens in an inspired star-making turn. He plays David, a soldier arriving on the bereaved Peterson family’s doorstep, claiming to be the best friend of their son who died in action. Inviting him to stay, at first the charming veteran seems the perfect guest, always happy to help out. But then the random killing starts and when suspicious daughter Anna investigates army records she learns that no one called David even existed. What's going on and can the family stop the cold-blooded lethal weapon in their home committing even worse atrocities? Giddily violent, superbly directed. Join THE GUEST list for an absolute nerve-shredding blast.
You're Next was one of the most memorable horror movies of last year and found a well earned place in my year end Top 10. It provided a brutal shot in the arm for the home invasion sub-genre of fright flicks which have been popping up with some regularity over the course of the last ten years and, in Sharni Vinson's Erin, delivered one of the best final girls in recent years. That was my first experence of Adam Wingard as a director and it put him firmly into the top tier of fresh new masters of horror alongside Ti West, Jim Mickle and Mike Flanagan (to name only a few). I'm always up for a new twist on the slasher genre and The Guest certainly sounds like it's going to deliver on that front. Plus I'm intrigued at the prospect of a Downton Abbey ulumnus being front and centre as the villain in a movie that I have no doubt deliver on the mayhem front if Wingard's last movie is anything to go by. The comparison to 1980s action flicks is likewise intriguing. I've little doubt The Guest is going to be one of the highlights of Frightfest 2014.
Directed by Tommy Wirkola
HANSEL & GRETEL WITCH HUNTERS director Tommy Wirkola does the impossible with this sequel to one of FrightFest’s most popular 2009 attractions. He improves on his Nazi zombie original in clever ways that do not betray the core conceit of witty non-stop action, heartfelt emotion or crowd-pleasing carnage in this stoked up to the gore max continuation. After a quick précis of DEAD SNOW, sole survivor Martin crashes his getaway car in the mountains after fighting SS officer Herzog for control of the vehicle. Waking up in hospital Martin discovers he's blamed by police for all his friends' murders, he's had Herzog's severed arm attached to his shoulder by mistake and he now has the zombie creating power. Something he needs when Herzog's dead army advance towards the small town of Tarvik and he must resurrect the Nazi leader's most hated Russian adversaries for the deadliest and bloodiest combat.
Given my love for most things zombie it's truly remarkable that I hadn't watched Tommy Wirkola's Dead Snow until the inclusion of this sequel as part of this year's Frightfest line-up was announced. The first movie is a tour-de-force of undead Nazi mayhem that lovingly pays homage to the cabin in the woods genre with a lot of style and no small amount of blood and entrails. It was hugely entertaining and stuffed full of the sort of practical gore effects that seemed custom built to make me grin like a madman for 90 minutes. Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead is reportedly bigger, more inventive and delivers that all to uncommon thing: a sequel that is better than it's predecessor in every way. Given how good Dead Snow was the prospect of a bigger, gorier, more wildly entertaining sequel has me very excited indeed. This is exactly the kind of movie that demands to be seen in a packed hall full of ravening horror freaks. I practically guarantee this is going to be one of the highlights of this year's festival.
Directed by Gerard Johnstone
Like THE LOVED ONES? Then this one’s for you. Gore, guffaws and a scary whole lot more lie in wait for permanently pissed-off Kylie Bucknell, forced to return to the family house when the court places her on home detention. Her punishment for a botched ATM raid is made all the more intolerable by the fact she has to live with her over-bearing motor-mouth mother Miriam who's convinced the house is haunted. But after dismissing Miriam's superstitions, rebellious Kylie too starts hearing unsettling whispers in the dark, creaking floorboards and strange bumps in the night. Has she inherited her mother’s overactive imagination or is there indeed evil afoot between the windows and doors? Find out in this TALES OF THE CRYPT-style Kiwi comedy chiller sporting a great sense of local humour, pitch-perfect cast chemistry, a fiercely fun tone, a very creepy atmosphere and a good deal of splatter mayhem.
I know very little about Housebound but mention of The Loved Ones hooked my attention immediately. New Zealand is, of course, home to Peter Jackson who has given this movie his blessing, describing it as "bloody hilarious". Now...if the director of Braindead, which to my mind is neck and neck with Evil Dead II as the best horror/comedy ever to spring forth from the sick, demented imagination of a human being, is talking this up as something special...well...any horror fan would do well to sit up and take notice. The trailer certainly seems to evoke something of the energy and humour that Jackson so expertly harnessed in his early, more ardently blood-soaked endeavours. If the movie succeeds (and reportedly it does) in maintaining the off-kilter thrills and humour that are evident in the trailer I think we could be looking at another Antipodean classic.
Directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano
From the director of PENUMBRA, COLD SWEAT and HERE COMES THE DEVIL, a freshly horrifying take on the werewolf genre. Crescent Bay is not the best place to live out one’s golden years. Once an idyllic retirement community, the gated hamlet has been beset by mysterious deadly attacks. So when blind, cranky war veteran Ambrose McKinley (superb Nick Damici from STAKE LAND, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE and COLD IN JULY) moves in, the residents are put off by his abrasive personality, especially when his guide dog is mortally wounded on his very first night. But it’s his grizzled take-no-prisoners attitude that’s needed to survive the sinister secret the secluded tight-knit neighbourhood is harbouring. For beasts that are neither animal nor man roam every full moon and with the local priest in complete denial over what is truly going on, Ambrose cannot wait until dark before the howling begins.
Why are there not more great werewolf movies? If you trawl the last decade of horror cinema you'd be hard pushed to find a single shining example (feel free to correct me). For my money you'd have to go back to 2002 and Dog Soldiers for anything that could be labelled a classic example of this much maligned sub-genre. Could Late Phases be a contender for the first great werewolf movie since Neil Marshall's low budget marvel? It has a fine pedigree. Director Adrian Garcia Bogliano is an interesting talent who's 2012 Mexican shocker Here Comes the Devil played successfully at festivals the world over and was met with a mostly positive reaction from critics. Here too we have Nick Damici who via his frequent collaborations with Jim Mickle, most notably on the outstanding Stake Land, is fast becoming one of my favourite genre regulars. I have a good feeling about this one.
Among the Living (Aux Yeux Des Vivants)
Directed by Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo
First they gave us INSIDE, then LIVID and now French fear directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo offer their most intense nightmare to date. It's the last day of school before summer break and 14 year-old troublemakers Victor, Tom and Dan leave early to explore the countryside and commit petty crime. Ending up on the scenery-strewn back-lot at the abandoned film studio, they witness a masked figure dragging a kidnapped woman into an underground lair. Running home and getting punished for their truancy, no one believes their crazy story. But the mysterious maniac has followed them and plans to silence them forever, even if their parents get in the way. Let the twisted terror begin in a deft combo of Stephen Spielberg, Stephen King and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE that features gorgeous cinematography, unpredictable thrills and pulse-pounding horror that manages to fire on all chilling cylinders.
Here's a true story. My wife isn't the biggest fan of horror cinema but this does't stop me relentlessly subjecting her to movies that I consider classics of the genre. So it came to pass that on a Friday night approx two years ago I suggested that we sit down to watch Inside, Julian Maury and Alexandre Bustillo's astonishingly visceral, relentlessly intense, taboo-incinerating debut. I have no idea what perverse notion possesses me and makes me constantly subject my long suffering wife to these kind of no-holds barred shock-fests (Martyrs and Irreversible are in her near future) but to her credit she hasn't divorced me yet. As the end credits rolled on Inside I looked at her and asked her her opinion. She looked at me, eyes wet, physically shaken and said, "I hate you!" I knew right there and then that I was correct in considering Inside to be a genre movie of considerable power and effectiveness. Maury and Bustillo delivered again with their sophomore effort Livide and I have no reason to believe that with Among the Living they will do anything other than complete a hat trick of modern horror classic.