Frightfest round-up: day 5

The final day of Frightfest opened with Jake West’s hour long documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape. A passionate but fairly even handed look at the censorship of horror movies in the mid 80s, the film assembled pretty much all the key figures from the period including (for the first time) MP Graham Bright. Perhaps most striking was how tame and even laughable some of this allegedly ‘depraved’ work looks now; the fact that most of these movies are available legally once again offers the reassuring suggestion that, whilst we should be vigilant against attempts to censor on spurious moral grounds and the immediate damage this can cause, it remains hard for such attempts to make long-term inroads into British culture.

The Dead was a real treat, the kind of slow, deliberate, contemplative zombie movie we’d given up hope of ever seeing again. The story of an American military engineer stranded in Africa during a zombie plague, it boasts some understated and touching performances as well as some magnificent photography, and easily manages to better Romero’s recent work in this field. One of the highlights of the festival.

Up next was Bedevilled, a Korean revenge film that eschews the baroque theatrics of some of its more famous countrymen in favour of a quiet desperation that spills over into bloodshed. Interestingly, the story is more or less the same as I Spit On Your Grave, but is about a million times more effective here, being told with both dignity and humanity.

Red White & Blue seemed to split the audience somewhat. The tale of Erica, a promiscuous woman who gains an unlikely guardian angel in the form of Iraq veteran Nate, it’s shot entirely on cheap looking video and appears almost unpalatably raw and unpolished. At times the apparently slapdash aesthetics work against it, but at others it’s utterly harrowing and unflinching, as one of Erica’s sexual encounters comes back to haunt her in the worst possible way. Noah Taylor gives an extraordinary performance as Nate, and as the whole unpleasant situation spirals out of control in the second half the film becomes one of the most gruelling experiences of the weekend.

The festival closed with the Eli Roth-produced The Last Exorcism, which has already been doing enormous business at the US box office. It’s an unabashedly mainstream film, and doesn’t really do anything with the faux-documentary style that we haven’t seen countless times in the last few years, but it’s all good clean fun and boasts a charismatic central performance by Patrick Fabian as a former exorcist seeking to debunk his craft. The conclusion is super-silly, which depending on your point of view either totally ruins it or takes the whole piece to a dumb next level. For my money, The Last Exorcism couldn’t hold a candle to some of the better films we saw this weekend, but it’s a superior popcorn flick that delivers enough spooky nonsense to be worth a look.

We’ll be summing up our thoughts on Frightfest 2010 later this week, but overall we had an absolutely brilliant time – enormous thanks to the organisers (especially Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray and Greg Day) for putting on such a fantastic event. See you next year!