London After Midnight: The Best of Upcoming British Horror Fests

Oh dear, oh dear – it would appear that we have been a tad remiss in keeping you up to date with recent happenings in good ole’ blighty. Don’t panic folks! You will no longer be entirely reliant on Google for your news of all things British! I will grab the ‘London After Midnight’ page, give it a good few thumps on the chest, breathe some life into it, and see if I can’t get it up and running again! I’ll endeavour to keep you up to date with British festivals, Region 2 DVDs, and anything else that I think you guys over the pond are missing out on….and if you think I’ve missed something, tell me and I’ll be all over it like a bad suit.
In the first instance let’s get you up to date on the upcoming horror festivals. I’ll give you quick overview for starters and I’ll follow it up with more detail later. Here they are, and in true movie style, I’ll list them in order of appearance:

FILM4 FRIGHTFEST IN LONDON

Fright Fest 2009The next one for our diaries is of course, FRIGHTFEST which is always held over August bank holiday weekend, and this year runs from 27th August to 31st August. With more than 45 films showing over 5 days [including a Halloween all nighter], this festival sure packs a lot in!
Held at the Empire Theatre in London’s Leicester Square, and sponsored for the third year by FILM4, FRIGHTFEST hit the scene in 2000 and has quickly become the largest genre festivals in the U.K. [although it may now be under threat of losing that title with the new BRAM STOKER FESTIVAL making an appearance, but more about that later]. Among the many highlights this festival has to offer, the special guests include AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON director John Landis, THE HILLS RUN RED director Dave Parker, SMASH CUT star David Hess [who also played the original Krug in 1972’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT], special effects make-up artist Paul Hyett, and NIGHT OF THE DEMONS remake team Adam Gjerasch and Jace Anderson.
In addition to the fantastic film line-up, [which can be seen on the festival website at www.frightfest.co.uk] and the special guests, there are several special events, including ‘Andy Nyman’s 100 Best Deaths’. Here Andy will be the well informed and very amusing host who will guide the audience through a variety of screen deaths. Andy is best known for his roles in SEVERANCE and DEAD SET and also stars in one of the films screening at FRIGHTFEST this year, BLACK DEATH.
There will also be a special seminar for screenwriters called ‘The Horror of Writing,” which will give guests the opportunity to get involved in writing a screenplay and see it through to production development.
THE DESCENT PART 2 will close the show on the 31st with almost the entire cast and crew in attendance.
You can see more details of all the films showing, which include several premieres, and all the other special guests and events by visiting the festival website, where, of course, you can also buy your tickets!

BRAM STOKER FESTIVAL AT WHITBY

Ingrid Pitt and Kate OMare in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS
Ingrid Pitt (see with Kate O'Mare in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS) will appear at the Bram Stoker fest.

The next one to look out for is THE BRAM STOKER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL which takes place from the 16th to the 19th October. Set in the beautiful coastal town of Whitby, which originally inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula story, this festival is set to become as big, if not bigger than FRIGHTFEST. Scheduled to screen over 50 films, including lots of UK, and several World premieres, THE BRAM STOKER FESTIVAL would like, if they may, to take you on a strange journey…… Once you have been greeted by their 666Gorefest and Sin City Girls, you can enjoy the opening night celebrations, which begin with a fantastic Burlesque cabaret show, and will include TRANSYLVANIA presenting THE MOCKY HORROR SHOW, which is sure to be a blast…..after all, who doesn’t want to do The Time Warp again?! The show will be interspersed with guest speakers from the film industry and will finish with a late night feature. Guests are encouraged to attend wearing suitable horrifying/vampire/character attire…[note to self: Check wardrobe!]
Whilst one of the guests has been confirmed as Ingrid Pitt, famous worldwide for her roles in Hammer horror movies such as THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and COUNTESS DRACULA, another celebrity guest is being kept firmly under wraps. They say he’ll be revealed at the festival, but is a ‘Hollywood legend’ who has ‘terrified cinema goers worldwide’ and starred in over 50 films….intriguing I’m sure you’ll agree. I’ll report back later and let you know who this special guest was!
There are several more special guests and details of these and a full line-up of the films can be found at the festival website at www.bramstokerfilmfestival.com, where you can also buy your tickets. There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding this new festival, and I have a feeling that it’s here to stay, which can only be a good thing for us horror fans.

MAYHEM HORROR FEST IN NOTTINGHAM

Next up is the MAYHEM HORROR FILM FESTIVAL from 28th October to 1st November, in Nottingham, there isn’t a whole lot of information as to what’s showing yet, but it will feature Steven Sheil’s MUM & DAD [and I don’t mean he’s bringing is parents!] where Sheil will introduce his movie and host a Q & A autopsy about the making of horror movies. This festival is in its second year; having focused on shorts last year, it promises to be bigger and better in 2009.
I’ll add more information on this festival as I hear it. In the meantime you can see their website at www.mayhemhorrorfest.co.uk.

HORROR UK IN FAREHAM & ABERTOIR IN WALES

Colliding with the above there’s the HORROR UK FESTIVAL which takes place in Fareham, on 30th October to 1st November. This appears to be a small festival, with hardly any films confirmed as yet. It must be small because they say that entry is free for all film viewings and events. Their website is a work in progress, so in fairness to them, I’m sure it’ll look a bit more exciting nearer the time. www.horroruk.com.
Finally we have ABERTOIR, Wales’ only horror festival which takes place from 4th November to 8th November. Details for 2009 are scant, but last year featured over 30 films, live music by Daemonia [featuring former Goblin keyboardist Claudio Simmonetti], and Doug Bradley [aka Hellraiser’s Pinhead] performing his one-man show, An Evening with Death. Check out www.aber.ac.uk for updates, but be careful: once you get past the splash page, the website (as of this posting) consisted of old information from 2008.
So, there you have it, consider yourself well and truly informed….and I’ll endeavour to keep you that way…..

Severance (2006) – Horror Film Review


Christopher Smith’s British, comedy, horror, SEVERANCE, is advertised as THE OFFICE meets DELIVERANCE. Mixing genres like this is tricky, as it’s almost impossible to get the balance right: the comedy dilutes the horror and vice versa. Consequently, SEVERANCE is not as funny as THE OFFICE nor as scary as DELIVERANCE, but it still manages to entertain.
Seven colleagues who work for a weapons company called Palisade Defence are rewarded with a team-building getaway weekend in the wilds of Eastern Europe. The team consists of the boss Richard (Tim McInnerny), sexy girl Maggie (Laura Harris), stoner Steve (Danny Dyer), optimistic morale booster Gordon (Andy Nyman), smart guy Billy (Babou Ceesay)], pacifist Jill (Claudie Blakley), and handsome Harris (Toby Stevens).
SEVERANCE begins with a flash-forward of big boss, George [David Gilliam] and two foreign dolly birds running through the woodland. It’s a pretty camp scene, hammed up to ‘B’ movie standards, but the film doesn’t have the look of a ‘B’ movie; it’s too glossy, so we know the ‘ham’ must be intentional.
Smith then brings us back to join our team of work mates on the coach. After encountering a road block on their way to their luxury lodge and being abandoned by their driver, they decide, after some argument, to walk the rest of the way. The banter on route, whilst not hilarious, is amusing, and helps to set the characters.
When they arrive at the lodge what they find is far from luxury; however, with no choice but to use the grotty, old building, they go inside and make themselves at home. It isn’t long before they notice they are not alone. Surrounded by man traps and mines, the team are soon under attack by a gang of psychos with a beef against Palisade Defence….and staff cuts are inevitable.
Whilst this isn’t as gory as some horror movies, it does have its moments, and it’s clear that Smith knows what horror audiences are looking for: the odd severed limb here, the odd decapitation there. He serves up all the things you would hope for, but because a lot of it is done in a comedic way, it isn’t actually scary. Smith adds in all the expected ingredients, even the odd couple of bare-breasted women running through the woodland, but he does this with an invisible wink to the camera that made me smile. He even manages to find room for a pastiche of an old silent film.
Tim McInnerny, who was wonderful in the BLACKADDER series, is well cast as the stuffed-shirt boss.Andy Nyman, who was good in the Big Brother-based comedy-horror DEAD SET, didn’t disappoint in SEVERANCE either. Whilst I was expecting to find Danny Dyer irritating, I was surprised to find his character quite likable and funny. All round, the casting was excellent.
SEVERANCE is short of laugh-out-loud moments, but is mildly amusing throughout. It probably won’t make scare you, but it will entertain you if you don’t expect too much. It’s almost impossible to cross-polinate comedy with horror and engender both belly laughs and screams, but SEVERANCE does a reasonably good job.

B.T.K. – Horror Film Review

Recently released on region one DVD, Michael Feifer’s B.T.K. describes itself as ‘a fictional film based on a real character’. That character is the serial killer Dennis L. Rader, who was arrested in March 2005 for the murder of ten people, in a killing spree that spanned two decades. Rader was known as “B.T.K.” because of his penchant for binding, torturing and then killing his victims. He was perceived by those who knew him, as an ordinary, law abiding, family man. He was President of the Congregation Council at his church and Cub Scout leader. Married, with two daughters, no one suspected he had another, more sinister side.
B.T.K. does not tell us the story from the beginning, but picks up after Rader has been killing for many years already. The film shows us how, whilst working as a compliance officer (the perfect job for such a control freak), Rader chooses his victims by accusing them of minor offenses and seeing how they react. Those who argue don’t live long enough to regret it: Rader goes back to their house later and kills them. He gets his sexual kicks by watching them suffer, seeing the horror in their eyes as he suffocates or strangles them. There are a few gruesome moments, but the sheer terror of these doesn’t come across because of the unrealistic reactions of the victims.
I was curious to see how Kane Hodder, most famous for his role as Jason Vorhees in some of the FRIDAY THE 13th movies, would fare without his hockey mask. There is no doubt he can pull off a machete wielding, maniac; unfortunately, as Rader, his performance is average at best. Luckily for him, alongside Amy Lindon as Rader’s wife Susan, he almost looks good!
B.T.K. does not tell us much about what makes Rader tick. Feifer does make the odd clumsy attempt to put us in the picture, such as when Rader tells his victim about his urges and explains why he feels the need to do what he does, but it is patently apparent that this is the only way Feifer could get his message to us, and it feels as if he cheated by writing it in such a blatant way. In fact the screenwriting is below par throughout the film, which is surprising since this isn’t Feifer’s first serial killer film.
Feifer’s direction can only be described as average. There are moments that should have supplied the jump-scares; however, there is no build up of tension, and the musical score is weak, adding nothing to the atmosphere, so these potential moments pass by, unnoticed.
This is such a shame, because B.T.K. could have been a very frightening film. The story has potential. There’s nothing scarier than an average guy, living an ordinary life, who in his spare time tortures and brutally kills, before going home to his family and carrying on as if nothing has happened. Unfortunately, the story is not well told, and as a result the film is awasted opportunity.
NOTE: This film is not to be confused with B.T.K. KILLER, which was also released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s website lists no special features for its Region 1 DVD (released in the U.S. on May 12). The Region 2 disc features an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Feifer and Actor Kane Hodder, and a Behind The Scenes featurette.
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Donkey Punch – Horror Film Review

Oliver Blackburn’s horror-thriller had only limited release in the U.S. earlier this year, before arriving on DVD in April. The disc’s cover offers a comparison to DEAD CALM; unfortunately,  DONKEY PUNCH is not in the same league with Phillip Noyce’s memorable yacht-based thriller, starring Nicole Kidman, Billy Zane and Sam Neil.
Donkey Punch centers around three girls, relatively nice girl, Tammi (Nicola Burley), blond slut Lisa (Sia Breckin) and tough girl Kim (played by Ray Winstone’s daughter, Jaime Winstone). The girls are holidaying in Spain to take Tammi’s mind off her recent split from her cheating boyfriend. Within the opening minutes, they are drinking and picking up the boys. The boys in this case are Bluey ([Tom Burke), Josh (Julian Morris) and Marcus (Jay Taylor). The boys invite the girls to ‘play’ on their yacht. Actually, the yacht belongs to their boss, but while the boss is away…..
Aboard the yacht, they meet up with Josh’s brother Sean, and the party gets into full swing. After heading out to sea and weighing anchor, Bluey encourages the rest of the group to partake of his drugs stash; none of them need much encouraging, and before long they are all stoned. In a drug induced stupor, two of the girls and three of the boys head for the bedroom, leaving the most sensible pair, Tammi and Sean on the deck.
In the bedroom things quickly get heated, in one of those uncomfortable-to-watch sex scenes that a lot of horror movies deem necessary. Of course, in this instance it is necessary (although it didn’t have to be so gratuitously long), as the whole premise of the movie is that things go badly wrong during a bizarre sexual practise called a ‘Donkey Punch’. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s a good thing, and I’m certainly not going to enlighten you! Suffice it to say, the participants on this occasion live to regret it….well, not all of them, alas; bad girl Lisa does not survive.
Panic stricken and desperate to save their skins, the boys decide to throw Lisa’s body into the ocean and pretend she had too much to drink and fell overboard. This meets with violent resistance from her friends, and so begins a night of mayhem and madness.
The soundtrack, although not to my taste, was appropriate; the haziness of the music in those stoned scenes really helped to display how the characters were feeling. This is one of several good qualities about this film; it’s a shame the story wasn’t one of them. Even though Donkey Punch is very well directed, and skilfully executed, with the added bonus of the claustrophobic surroundings of the yacht, the screenplay lacks any real originality. It was easy to guess everything that was going happen from start to finish, and in the absence of any shock factor, a movie of this genre is a lost cause.
All things considered, Donkey Punch was not worth an hour and a half of my life. In retrospect, I probably should have guessed that from the title!
DONKEY PUNCH (copyright 2008, released 2009). Directed by Oliver Blackburn. Written by Oliver Blackburn, David Bloom. Cast: Robert Boulter, Sian Breckin, Tom Burke, Nichola Burley, Julian Morris, Jay Taylor, Jaime Winstone.

Eden Lake (2008) – Horror Film Review

Eden Lake (2008)James Watkins’ EDEN LAKE won Empire’s Best Horror Award 2009, and was also nominated for their Best British Film Award. The film has some fine, young, British actors performing brilliantly as the threatening teenagers, most notably Jack O’Connell [ring leader Brett], Finn Atkins [Paige] and Thomas Turgoose [whom the London Critics’ Circle awarded their Young British Performer of the Year award to, for his excellent portrayal of young Cooper].
Nursery worker Jenny [Kelly Reilly] and her boyfriend Steve [Michael Fassbender] are heading to an idyllic and secluded lake to spend a blissful weekend together. His plan is to propose to her in these perfect, romantic surroundings. Only a few minutes into the film their satellite navigation system advises them ‘at your first opportunity, turn around’. If only they’d heeded this advice! Of course, they ignore it, instead driving off-road to Steve’s favourite spot by the lake. Almost immediately their peace is shattered by a group of obnoxious teenagers, hell bent on making their weekend miserable.
The sensible thing to do upon encountering these obdurate youths would be to leave…..quickly. But Steve, using the mature argument of ‘we were here first’ is having none of it. Why anyone would stay within spitting distance of such unsavoury characters as a matter of principle, is beyond me, but it is a move that both Steve and Jenny will later regret.
When they confront the gang, for stealing their belongings and their car, there’s a violent altercation and Steve accidentally kills ringleader Brett’s dog. So begins the most horrifying story of violence, torture and savagery I have ever witnessed.
The problem with Eden Lake, is that, unlike most horror movies, this one is believable. In fact, in the U.K. teenagers like this [known as ‘chavs’, or ‘hoodies’] are not uncommon, and crimes not dissimilar to those in Eden Lake have actually been committed. No doubt a result of bad parenting – which was a result of bad parenting – these teenagers simply don’t seem to know when the line has been crossed, when things have gone, way, way too far. They have no conscience.
Because of the realistic nature of Eden Lake, it is extremely uncomfortable to watch. The nightmare ordeal this couple endure at the hands of this group of teenagers is disturbing and barbaric and leaves a nasty after-taste. Because of the unimaginable terror and the credible way it is directed and acted, this is not a film you will forget in a hurry.
Eden Lake shows perfectly how things can escalate out of control, how other people will join the violence to save their own skin, and how parents will do absolutely anything to defend their children, no matter how revolting those children are. It holds a huge mirror up to the worst society has to offer, and the reflection is a blinding and horrifying image.
If you like your horror movies truly horrifying, Eden Lake is as good as it gets.
EDEN LAKE (2008). Written and directed by James Watkins. Cast: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Tara Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Finn Atkins, Jumayn Hunter, Thomas Turgoose, Thomas Gill, Shaun Dooley.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane – Horror Film Review

Lost in distribution limbo, this slasher film is entertaining but not the holy grail promised by early reviews.

Director Jonathon Levine’s ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, starring Amber Heard (ALPHA DOGS), earned some enthusiastic buzz when it screened at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006 (Scott Weinberg called it the first “thinking man’s slasher film”), but that hasn’t helped the independent film find its way to American audiences. ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE was released over a year ago in the UK, but despite distribution deals with a couple of American companies, horror fans in the U.S. are still waiting for so much as a Region 1 DVD; most recently, a theatrical release announced for this Friday was abandoned by Senator Distribution. Fans have been told they’re missing out on seeing the ‘best modern slasher flick since SCREAM’ (according to Cinematical’s James Rocchi), but does ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE live up to the hype?
Mandy Lane is every teenage boy’s fantasy. She’s blonde, she’s beautiful, she’s innocent, and she’s unattainable. So when Mandy and her best friend Emmet [Michael Welch, better known for his part as Bella’s faithful friend Mike Newton in Twilight] are invited to a pool party (well actually, Mandy is invited and insists that Emmet tags along), all the boys are hoping to score. School jock Dylan, desperate to get into Mandy’s pants, is egged on by Emmet to impress Mandy by jumping off the roof into the pool. Predictably it ends in tragedy, and that’s the last we see of Dylan.
Nine months later, Mandy is still the object of every boy’s desire and all they can talk about is getting ‘first dibs’. Here, the movie is slow to heat up, spending some time setting up the characters. Nice guy Bird (Edwin Hodge), Party Animal Red (Aaron Himelstein), wannabe playboy Jake (Luke Grimes), the obligatory slut Marlin (Melissa Price) and bitchy Chloe (Whitney Able) create the archetypal group of horror movie teenagers. The only character missing here is the comedy sidekick. Most good horror movies have an element of fun, and it is here that All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is lacking, and because of this, it appears at times, as if the film is taking itself a little too seriously.

Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) - object of every boy's affection

The group celebrate the end of junior year, by heading off for a few days of madness and mayhem at Red’s ranch. Surprisingly, innocent, virginal beauty Mandy is happy to head off into the middle of nowhere with her rebellious group of friends. It quickly becomes apparent that she not only has to fight off all three boys, who are trying to charm her into bed (some with more finesse than others), but there is also a killer on the loose.
The killings here are not particularly inventive, though there are one or two cringe-worthy deaths. It’s a shame that whilst introducing the characters early on, the writer didn’t create at least some good qualities as it would have made me care more about them dying. At no point did I feel the terror that these teenagers were experiencing, and this was because the victims were taken so quickly that there was not enough time to build the suspense. Older movies in this genre, notably the Friday the 13th series build the tension by having the maniac chasing his victims, whilst they bumble around stumbling over the bodies of his previous kills. As All the Boys Love Mandy Lane borrows heavily from its predecessors, it’s a shame it didn’t borrow more of this tension.
Handsome, mysterious ranch hand, Garth (Anson Mount) is the first to fall under suspicion….because he has a gun. Of course, we all know it isn’t going to be that obvious, but the real killer is revealed surprisingly early on in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. That doesn’t mean we won’t get a surprise twist at the end though.
There’s nothing particularly new or extraordinary about All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. It’s another slasher movie, with a group of teenagers heading off into the middle of nowhere. Drink, drugs, and sex follow, and as any horror fan knows when you mix those ingredients together, things can only end badly. This film does, however, spend some time focusing on the hang-ups of today’s teenagers, who have issues with pecker size, body fat, and even pube length (I kid you not!). It’s reasonably well acted, and once it got going, it did keep me watching.
The photography has a grainy bleached-out look to some of the scenes, lending an up-to-date feel and helps to give the illusion that we have not seen this all before. Compared to others in this genre, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane does not deserve to be ranked as highly as the classics, but it has certainly earned a place in any horror connoisseurs DVD collection, if only for that twist……
ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (2006). Directed by Jonathan Leviine. Written by Jacob Forman. Cast: Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Whitney Able, Michael Welch, Edwin Hodge, Aarn Himelstein, Luke Grimes, Melissa Price, Adam Powell.
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