Our first full day at Frightfest opened with a Total Film-curated retrospective of the weekend’s guest of honour, director Tobe Hooper. In truth this turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag. Hooper’s debut feature Eggshells received its first screening in decades; whilst it may hold some interest for students of cinematic technique, its freeform pacing, random experimental interludes and seemingly endless setpieces rendered it intensely annoying, and we gave up after 45 mins. Similarly, the on-stage Q&A with Hooper fell flat thanks to an interviewer who seemed keener to focus on Hooper’s career failures and disappointments than his successes, which immediately put Hooper himself on edge. (Luckily he warmed up when the audience were allowed to ask questions.) Inevitably, the highlight was the screening of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a classic given added intensity by the Empire Cinema’s enormous screen.
Next up was Brit flick Isle of Dogs, another tedious piece of gangster nonsense featuring cockneys, strip clubs and brutal violence. The OTT ending left a few raised eyebrows, but for the most part this stinker groaned under the weight of its own self-importance and forced ‘grit’.
Much, much better was F, introduced by the director (an incredibly nervous Johannes Roberts) and probably the film of the festival so far. Roberts has essentially transplanted Assault on Precinct 13 into a British secondary school beseiged by hoodies at night; the film is both inventive in its efficient mining of every possibility for terror in a school, and tooth-grindingly tense, enhanced by admirably restrained acting and direction all round. Sensational.
Probably the best received film of the day was Australian neo-western Red Hill, which features an escaped convict returning to his home town with revenge on his mind. We were slightly split by this one; Matt loved it but Carl was distracted by similarities to High Plains Drifter, though he found it well-crafted.
Final film of the night was the predictably bonkers Alien vs Ninja, a shot-on-video runaround featuring some highly skilled ninjas on the trail of a bizarre rubber alien with holes in his head. As one might expect, total nonsense but enjoyably kinetic, with some surprisingly well-realised CGI-enhanced action.
[edit: corrected Johannes Roberts' name. If he's reading this, apologies for the error!]