Brand New Cherry Flavour
by George Daniel Lea
It's best to acknowledge right off the bat that this one is going to divide the crowd; it is consciously and deliberately divisive, appealing to a very particular -and oddly finite- audience. Those that it does not speak to or who don't understand the influences it's drawing on will have a difficult, frustrating time with it, and even some of those who do may find the brazenness of its references and influences too stark or derivative.
That said, for those who ache for a certain kind of horror media; for a deviance and transgression that is often either lacking or poorly handled, this may be just the tonic the witch cooked up in her cauldron:
From its title on down, the show is a collage of horror, science fiction and outre cinema influences thrown together in the format of a television show. In terms of setting, cinematography, storytelling and theme, it's David Lynch, its most clear and overt influence being Mulholland Drive, though it also strays into Twin Peaks and even, occasionally, Blue Velvet territory. In terms of lighting, back-mythology and metaphysics, it's Darion Argento (this could easily fit into Argento's own “witches” trilogy, it's most obvious influence being Suspiria, several scenes from which it directly homages).
Other influences? How long have you got?: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick. . .hey, why not a bit of Cronenbergian body horror to round things out? The list goes on. There is a certain insular, hyper-aware quality to the work, in that it is a cinematic TV series about Hollywood, the cinema industry and the myriad corruptions and perversities that constitute them. For some, this has proven far too direct and autobiographical; the tale of corruption in Hollywood and the predatory culture it has accrued with regards to young women is hardly novel fare these days. At the same time, despite its familiarity, there is also an esoteric element to the culture it draws that may be alienating to some (especially given that said culture is so wholly execrable).
However, for those of us who enjoy a little sewer-trawling, a little muck-raking in our horror (most notably those of us who are fans of excoriations such as that provided in Barker's Coldheart Canyon, which proves another seminal influence), there really is nothing like this: for all its light and colour, for all its passion and erotic energy, there is sincere muck here; the kind of filth that gets under your skin, behind your eyes and makes you want to flay yourself raw and bathe in bleach. There's a toothsome, textural quality to the light and oppulence and privilege of high Hollywood that is couterpointed by the sheer depths of dirt it wallows in, and it is as pruriently wonderful as it is repulsive.
Therein lies the key tension of Brand New Cherry Flavour: no one escapes unscathed. Simply by existing and operating in this culture, within these systems, everyone is diseased, tainted. So, when you have a protagonist -Lisa Nova- who is a species of avenging angel who wants to tear it all down from the inside for the wrongs done to her, it's hard not to get caught up in the swell of that vengeance as she herself does, especially when supernatural elements come into play.
However, the show isn't about to let her -or its audience- off the hook so easily; beyond the unhealthy metaphysics she courts in order to get her revenge -a species of occultism and witchery not a million miles away from those that predominate Argento's films-, she is also revealed to be a tainted and corrupt soul, with her own host of sins to atone for.
This is an extremely difficult dynamic for any TV show to walk; incorporating characters none of whom are entirely sympathetic, all of whom are corrupt and broken and worthy of punishment in their own peculiar ways, can have the effect of alienating the audience, providing no anchor or or point of identification.
However, Brand New Cherry Flavour pulls it off by introducing layer upon layer of ambiguity: even the most execrable characters -and there are depths of shit here that some might find difficult to wade through- are, ultimately, human, and have histories and traumas that elevate them from mere antagonists or receptacles for divine justice. It would have been so, so easy for this show to have fallen into a binary dynamic; a war between protagonist and antagonist that merely escalates as the show goes on.
However, that isn't Brand New Cherry Flavour's bag; despite the influences it clearly draws on, it isn't particularly interested in giving the audience what they expect or even particulaely want. Rather, once the element of ritual magic is mooted, it happily starts introducing elements and scenarios that are baffling to the point of surreal (if I say that the protagonist's penchant for periodically vomiting live kittens is perhaps one of the least strange circumstances to crop up, maybe you'll get some idea of what the show is all about).
The patently Lynchian storytelling the show adopts will largely determine whether viewers respond to it or not. At times, it may be so baffling or bizarre as to alienate or confuse. For others, it may merely come off as an aesthetic rather than mythological choice; a patina of strangeness and absurdity rather than a quality bred in the show's bones. There are times when, perhaps, the show revels in its own superficial strangeness a little too much, but that glee is rarely anything less than infectious. It also enjoys tension in a way that many audience members may not: there are moments in the show that rival Quentin Tarantino's legendarily loaded dialogues in terms of their subtexts and the fraughtness bubbling away just beneath the surface (standouts include a scenario in which local magic practitioner, Boro, is revealed to be a missing woman named Jennifer, who has a family and children that have been searching for her over a year or more. Reintroduced to said family, there is a dinner scene that is nothing less than seat-squirming, as tensions unravel, accusations fly, mysteries are revealed and Boro herself revels in the distress and emotional carnage she precipitates).
However, unlike the Lynchian tales it draws inspiration from, Brand New Cherry Flavour does, ultimately, provide mythological justification for even its most absurd elements (even the “vomiting cats” phenomena has a justification, of sorts, which becomes apparent towards the end).
In this, the show could be accused of undermining its own strangeness or maybe even of narrative cowardice; unlike Lynch himself, who often doesn't bother to explain anything beyond subtle suggestions or implications, here, mysteries are resolved, absurdities are explained and a much more coherent, traditional narrative becomes apparent beneath the surface gloss of surrealism and absurdity.
That said, the gloss itself is powerful enough to lend the show a lustre all its own, its cinemaphile's adoration of what it also excoriates so deep and pronounced that it's difficult not to get caught up in its enthusiasm.
For some, the show may be too meager in its revelations, whilst for others, the revelations themselves might seem incongruous or unsatisfying, given the ambition its influences imply. The show could have resisted going with clean-cut answers or expository scenes, certainly in this first season, leaving some of its strangeness and absurdity to hang or be picked over by its audience.
That said, the tensions the show draws between its characters are complex and satisfying, the superficial grue and grotesquery is luscious and joyously rendered. There are some sincerely distressing, creepy set pieces as well as moments of tension that are intensely real and powerfully unpleasant (abuse is a consistent theme throughout, so be warned).
As an aesthetic exercise, it's a distressingly beautiful piece of work, if not massively original: whilst it does distinguish itself from most other shows of its ilk and on the platforms it flatters, the overtness of its influences means those audience members sufficiently versed in the cinema it references may find it too derivative. The nature of its storytelling is pleasantly strange and almost nightmare-like at times, but does resolve itself too cleanly and too quickly, leaving one or two threads hanging for a potential second season.
That said, this represents a form of horror that is often all too lacking in visual media (at least outside of independent and small-market video games): that which foregoes established templates and genre proscriptions in favour of something wild and experimental. At times, it feels like a violent, erotic thriller, at times, an angry parable of social justice. Others, it is a supernatural horror, others, a bleakly hilarious dark fantasy. Characters react and respond in variously unexpected and strange ways that leave their motivations -not to mention their states of mind- in serious question, often accepting the sudden occurrence of magic and dark miracles in a manner that is deliberately underplayed. In this manner, Hollywood itself becomes a haunted garden; a place where there are secrets lingering beneath the plastic-fantastic veneer, the synthetic systems that chew people up and spit them out on a regular basis.
The show has no clear or defined central thesis as such; no concrete or identifable thread that runs from beginning to end (in the manner of Breaking Bad et al). Rather, it takes concerns and settings and themes and concepts and blends them together into a luridly-coloured, compellingly grotesque soup, often leaving it up to the audience as to where their loyalties lie (or what interpretation of the material they take away).
If there is consistent element, it is in the almost-universal corruption of proscribed systems, be this in the form of the predatory cultures of Hollywood (that devour and abuse talent to such a degree the notion becomes meaningless) or the ritual magic that characters become swept up in (which ultimately reveals itself to be another form of control and abuse).
The show does not allow for either its characters or the audience to get away with clean or easy answers; ambiguities abound. Whilst magic, by virtue of its existence, might seem like the ultimate instrument of liberation, it is ultimately revealed as a corrupt and predatory practice, relying upon suffering and sacrifice in a manner not dissimilar from the systems of Hollywood itself. That the show has the wherewithall to draw this comparison and sidestep the impending binary that could have rendered it too simplistic is notable, as it demonstrates a consciousness within the writing that simply will not allow for solipsism or pat moral conclusions.
By this pilot-season's conclusion, the notion of clean-cut loyalties or agendas becomes near-redundant; everyone, from the naïve and flailing protagonist Lisa Nova to the ancient and seemingly-immortal Boro, are lost in their own desperations and confusions, such that the former appears to excise herself from the narrative at its culmination (though whether that is truly the case remains to be seen).
So, mileage will certainly vary with this one: it is a cineliterate, intelligent, acute piece of work that also has a great sense of fun and enthusiasm for its subject matter. Performances are universally excellent -Rosa Salazaar and Catherine Keener are absolute stand-outs, here-, set-pieces are stylish and strange and often distressing. The visions of grotesquery and surrealism are compelling, especially with regards to Boro's peculiar form of sympathetic witchcraft, and the Hollywood setting allows for enough in the way of banal dirt and filth to anchor the show in some sense of identifiable reality.
However, it is deliberately designed to be esoteric; it will appeal strongly to those who enjoy its myriad influences and the peculiar aesthetics that are its strongest suite. For those starved of a little strangeness in their visual horror, it will provide a treat as sweet as its title. For others, it will certainly prove alienating, as this is precisely what its creators intend.
For my part, I enjoyed it enormously, as I am one of those who takes great pleasure in recognising the references that occur almost from scene to scene, as well as in the often-foetid and lurid subject matter (there is a sincere horror-connoisseur's cornucopia of body-horror grotesquery, physical mutilation, violence, transformation, ritual weirdness and more than one can shake a barely-born kitten at throughout). I found its deviance and tendency towards transgression engaging and cannily handled, the imagery it plays with my peculiar kind of weirdness and its willingness to make its characters suffer -and boy, do they suffer- amusing in a near-the-knuckle, sadistic fashion. Is there a message hidden somewhere amongst the grotesquery, the style and eroticism? Yes. Several, in fact; the most pertinent being an excoriation of how the film industry treats women, particularly those who are young and talented.
But, the show is more consumed by its imagery and aesthetics than any inherent meaning. It would rather the audience piece together their own significance, based on whatever they happen to take from the visions it presents. In that, it may be too inchoate or lacking in clarity for some, in the same manner that the host of influences it blends together may rob it of definition and identity for others.
A compelling experiment; fascinatingly bizarre, though it does occasionally sag under the pressure of its maintaining its own strangeness. Whether or not it can capitalise on its own overtly cult status and designs remains to be seen, largely depending on if, when and in what manner season 2 comports itself.
TODAY ON THE GINGER NUTS OF HORROR WEBSITE
THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR FEATURES
Despite being a horror fan for many years, I’ve always just missed out on the chance to go to FrightFest, now in its 22nd year. I’ve always been somewhere else, or tickets have sold out too quickly and I’ve missed my opportunity. But this year my wife Tara saw the tickets go on sale and without hesitation we both snapped up a full festival pass – with a pandemic on, some of the regulars have been more reluctant to go, which meant that tickets were more available than usual.
Thursday evening saw us rocking up at the Imperial Pub in Leicester Square - somewhat of an unofficial drinking establishment for a great many FrightFest attendees – and made to feel very welcome by general all-round good egg (and excellent FrightFest ambassador) John Higgins, downing some drinks in advance of the opening film later that night.
The main IMAX screen in the Leicester Square Odeon would be our home for the next five days and nights, and it’s a beauty. With a screen three storeys tall, it’s the best way I can think of to watch a film.
Unexpected (and very welcome) guest Mark Kermode kicked off the proceedings, the houselights dimmed, and horror commenced…
The cinema was jam-packed, and the buzz was positive for “Demonic”, the new feature by Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”, “Chappie”) made during the pandemic.
Carly Pope plays Carly, a woman who learns that her estranged mother Angela – convicted of burning down a care home some years before – is in the care of an organization called Therapol. She’s in a coma, and they’re using revolutionary technology to enable people to enter her thoughts and communicate with her. Carly goes to visit her mother and learns of the terrible secrets behind Angela’s killing spree.
Despite an interesting premise and set-up and some good performances, “Demonic” goes downhill fast. The virtual reality effects resemble either an isometric adventure game from the late nineties or are saturated with a filter that renders everything with a level of granularity that defeats the object of seeing it on a big screen.
It falls apart in the last act with some risible lines of dialogue – evoking titters of laughter or disbelief from the audience members around me. It’s one of those kinds of films where a character makes a wild guess about what is going on, and it turns out that they’re spot on and it’ll be the only exposition you’ll get. Top it off with an unconvincing rubber suited monster and the Spear of Destiny introduced in a throwaway line, and you’re left with nothing but a bitter disappointment.
I was once upset that Blomkamp had lost out on the Alien sequel gig – based on this and the diminishing returns of his previous films, I needn’t have been concerned. What a waste. The big question about this possession movie is – what possessed them to make it?
The Brilliant Terror
A brief sojourn to one of the smaller screens for this, a documentary about grass roots horror film making – the world of independent microbudget horror movies. It was the world premiere of the movie, introduced in person by directors Paul Hunt and Julie Kauffman. What could merely have been just a very good documentary was thoroughly elevated by the appearance of Mike Lombardo, a creative working out of Pennsylvania. Mike is a revelation; a powerhouse of enthusiasm and passion for horror, and a joy to watch. Packed to the gills with examples of his work – and interviews with loads of people working in the scene – the documentary was genuinely revealing, respectful of the scene, and was a highlight of the festival, washing away the bad taste of “Demonic”.
“The Brilliant Terror” covered the tortuous production of Mike Lombardo’s “The Stall”, an ambitious 13-minute short set in a bathroom toilet stall during a Lovecraftian apocalypse. With freezing night shoots and difficult actors and locations, it’s hard to fault Lombardo’s dedication to the (often thankless) craft. It also provided a brilliant insight into a lot of women working in the grass roots horror movement, striking out with varying success into the industry. A wonderful glimpse at a common yet often forgotten part of horror.
It was the International Premiere of this Québécois zombie comedy, and other than the premise I knew nothing about it. The title (which does it no justice) evoked memories of low budget horrors such as “Body Melt” and “Bad Taste”, so my expectations were as low as my usual yearly chances of getting hold of FrightFest tickets.
To keep the golf courses playable all year round, an experimental fertilizer is used on the greens – which somehow ends up seeping into the water supply and transforming people into bloodthirsty mutants. Set amongst a rich gated company on an island separated from the mainland by a single bridge, a young teenager (Iani Bédard – the spitting image of Alex Bain – aka Simon - from “Coronation Street”) and his toddler sister are forced to team up with a survivalist security guard named Dan to survive.
It’s a horror comedy that’s light on gore but with genuine laughs and – other than a few comedic misfires – taps into a rich vein of humour that never feels forced. The characters are likeable, and there are some moments of genuine poignancy and pathos in it. It chugs along at a jaunty pace with no real surprises, but it’s done with respect for the genre and a certain amount of flair. There are a few elements that feel like they’ve been airdropped in from a different film – a pair of twin female assassins, for one – but it seemed to go down very well with the audience. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it.
Hello! I am David’s oft mentioned wife, Tara. It’s a pleasure to meet you all. There were a few films that David wasn’t too bothered about watching so I said I’d step in and give it a go at writing a couple of reviews, can’t be that hard right? (I’m joking of course).
I went into this film armed only with the knowledge that genre favourite Robert Rusler was in it. In fact, I found out about it from his Instagram, so I was stoked to see it playing at FrightFest. What I DIDN’T know because I hadn’t done any kind of research into the film at all, is that it was in fact a sequel to the 2019 Marcel Walz film Blind. So, you could say I went into this one blind if you wanted to attempt a terrible joke.
Quick synopsis of Blind (not that it matters as there’s a brief recap at the beginning of Pretty Boy) Faye, an actress (Sarah French) loses her vision in an accident and that effectively ends her acting career. Alone in her house in the Hollywood hills, she tries to put her life back together with the help of her friends. And on top of all of that, Sarah is stalked by a creepy mask wearing stranger who proceeds to kill everyone around her.
As mentioned before, the start of Pretty Boy essentially recaps the events of Blind. The creepy mask wearing stranger (from here on in known as Pretty Boy) is walking down a road holding an unconscious Faye, wearing a blood-spattered turquoise seventies style tuxedo.
Elsewhere, Preston (Jake Red) is hosting a Valentine’s Day party that is exclusively for singletons, including Rayna (Heather Grace Hancock) who he is trying to sign to his record label. Pretty Boy shows up and well, things don’t end well. After Faye escapes from Pretty Boy’s grasp, she is wandering the streets where an old man (Robert Rusler) finds her and offers comfort and help, or does he?
Genuinely didn’t know what to expect from this and yes, much like Tommy Wiseau’s masterpiece The Room, some of the script and acting is questionable at best, I thought it was a lot of fun. A lot of unintentionally funny bits got a lot of laughs from the small crowd in the Discovery 2 screen; however, it does take a darker turn in the last act with some of the content a bit uncomfortable (forced pregnancy anyone?), but I liked it for being stupid fun. If you can leave your expectations at the door, then this film might exceed them. I’d quite like to see it again.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion
Harry Shum Jr plays video archivist James and comes across a wildly disturbing clip, one that sends him down an investigative rabbit-hole, to uncover a conspiracy that may be connected to the disappearance of his wife some years before.
FrightFest was hosting the European Premiere of this American horror thriller, inspired by the unsolved Max Headroom Signal Hijacking in 1987, when the broadcasts of two television stations in Chicago (showing Doctor Who) were overridden with footage of an unidentified man wearing a Max Headroom mask.
With shades of “Videodrome” and seventies thrillers such as “The Parallax View” yet grounded in the nineties with its murky bulletin boards and its proto-Dark Web, “Broadcast Signal Intrusion” is a pacy thriller, the horror moments coming in the form of the bizarre and otherworldly video clips he encounters – in the exact words of my wife, “they’re nightmare fuel.”
The Broadcast Signal Intrusion clips themselves were inspired by the real life “Tara the Android” clips from 2009, again a bizarre mystery all to themselves. You can watch it here, if you want to be genuinely unnerved. The author holds no responsibility for sleepless nights or if you get sucked up into a paranoid conspiracy investigation.
It was entertaining throughout with enough twists and turns to hold my interest but as with many films of a similar theme I start to get a little nervous towards the last act, hoping that the pay-off is worth the build-up. That admitted, I’ll confess to being a little disappointed in the ending, which was rather more ambiguous and abrupt than I’d hoped.
This is partly down to timing; no fault of the filmmakers at all of course but having seen the excellent “Censor” a fortnight before – which treads a similar path of investigations leading the protagonist into possible madness or altered reality – it didn’t feel like anything new. Genuinely creepy moments, beautifully shot and performed with an intriguing central premise, but a little unfulfilling.
Dawn breaks behind the eyes
I was so thoroughly relieved I knew nothing about this film, other than the positive buzz on the internet. It was this film’s theatrical premiere and opens as a lusciously slot unnerving piece about a couple and their troubled – and damaged – relationship, as they move into a new inherited property. The gorgeous poster conjures memories of 70’s Italian horror, all Giallo and Mario Bava, and the film is a loving tribute to that style.
I thoroughly recommend you go in completely blind – avoid trailers and reviews (other than polite non-spoiler ones like mine, obviously) and your experience will be all the better for it. It’s a bit of a sensory overload, and thoroughly beautiful.
Reminiscent of both Peter Strickland’s Berbarian Sound Studio and Gaspar Noé’s Climax – two films I’ve raved about before on these hallowed pages – “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes” was right up my proverbial street, and one I’m eager to see again once it gets distribution – there’s a lot to unlock there, I feel.
Mask of Evil Apparition
I should stop getting my hopes up, shouldn’t it? I adore “Dark City”, the 1998 movie by Alex Proyas – a film which, in my mind, shared a similar storyline to “The Matrix” but was by far the better film. “Mask of Evil Apparition” is a short set in the same universe, showcasing the work of his virtual production studio. I’ve been waiting for a “Dark City” sequel forever, so went into this with not a little excitement.
Sometimes all you want is a little straightforward narrative. Ambiguous and vague is all well and good, provided the story is strong enough to propel it forward and maintain your interest. “Mask of Evil Apparition” is a nonsensical lunge from scene to scene, all looking like it’s taking place on the set of a weirdly lit nineties point and click adventure game. Embarrassingly bad, and thankfully only twenty minutes long. And ends mid-story, so what’s the point? What is it with decent directors phoning it in?
Sweetie, you won’t believe it
I don’t know what I was expecting from this. Kazakhstan doesn’t have – shall we say - a huge reputation for horror films, and the title doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue – but it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Coming across as a weird bastard hybrid between “The Hangover” and “The Hills have Eyes”, “Sweetie, you won’t believe it” (and I’m not typing that again) follows three hapless friends on a fishing trip gone horribly, horribly wrong. Daniar Alshinov plays Dastan, soon to be father and henpecked husband, and he and his fishing companions (literally) piss off the wrong people, leading them into a life-or-death fight for survival against shotgun wielding oddballs, shopkeepers straight from Kazakhstan’s equivalent of Royston Vasey, and a one-eyed psychotic with a penchant for martial arts.
More than just “Deliverance” with blow-up dolls, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, gory, with a surprising amount of heart and a lot to say about friendship and loyalty. It seems to veer wildly between styles and moods, but this is one of those films where that’s a boon and not a drawback. I look forward to “Sweetie, you won’t believe it 2: Steppe Brothers” (they can have that title for free).
When the Screaming Starts
Again, off to one of the smaller screens for this. With some ticket confusion (with our PDF printout telling us the viewing was in screen 2 but that our seats were in screen 1 – a headscratcher to confuddle even Christopher Nolan) we eventually found ourselves in a screening where my wife and I turned out to be two of the few people in the room who weren’t cast and crew!
With heavy (must be deliberate) vibes of “Knives Out” from the poster, we weren’t sure what to expect. It was the World Premiere for the film, and it’s quite daunting knowing you’re in a room with the people who made it – still, unlike “Demonic”, the laughs in a comedy are intentional.
Aidan Mendle (writer/producer Ed Hartland) is very enthused on the concept of becoming a serial killer and invites a documentarian and his crew along to record his rite of passage to becoming a murderer. His initial attempts (hilariously) meet with little success, and so Aidan decides to become a murder cult leader instead.
This horror mockumentary treads familiar ground – it’s “What We Do in the Shadows” meets “Man Bites Dog” and Ed’s wannabe psychopath Aidan – confident and enthusiastic, yet hopelessly naïve - gets some of the best lines, in a performance reminiscent of that of Tim Key. It’s a great ensemble cast, clearly all friends who work well together, and is spirited, great fun and – most importantly – funny. Like Aidan’s best laid plans, it sags a little towards the end, but at just shy of ninety minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. Great fun, and it deserves to do well. The enjoyment from the cast and crew was palpable as well, which was a delightful way to see a film for the first time.
The least FrightFest film of the whole five days, but a bloody joy. Thorn is the High Priest of a modern coven in California - caring, spiritual, inspirational – but a secret from his school past (namely he was once one of the popular kids), see him banished from the group and forced to confront his past. And, possibly, dance.
No horror at all to speak of here, unless the thought of Aubrey Plaza voicing a pinecone fills you with any kind of dread. It’s a gentle comedy – a less gross “Grosse Point Blank” with warlocks, filled with the sort of quirky humour you’ll recognise from comedies such as Flight of the Concords. It’s been compared with Jim Hosking’s “The Greasy Strangler” but – in my opinion – doesn’t quite match the level of insanity and sheer weirdness of that.
With brief appearances by horror stalwart Barbara Crampton (screaming her ever reliable lungs out) and Ray Wise as Merlin (“He’s my favourite fucking wizard”), it’s sweet, strange and life-affirming.
Sound of Violence
Having its UK premiere at FrightFest, “Sound of Violence” tells the tale of Alexis, a music student who saw her family die brutally at the hands of their father, shellshocked with PTSD having returned from a military tour of duty. The experience awakened something within her; a bizarre orgasmic synaesthesia of colours whenever she witnesses acts of extreme violence. Like Brian and Aylmer in Frank Henenlotter’s “Brain Damage”, her craving for this experience drives her to depraved and murderous ends.
As well as her musical talents, the audience must suspend their disbelief a little in that she’s a master engineer as well, crafting elaborate musical/torture instruments to fulfil her violent needs. That might make it all sound a little “Saw: The Musical”, but it’s classier than that. I think I found it harder to sympathise with the lead than the director intended, but it was a great debut with some stand out set-pieces – with a particularly wince-inducing scene involving a harp with razor-sharp strings.
The director, Alex Noyer, was a little emotional at the conclusion of the film – and who can blame him, having his feature debut shown on a screen three storeys tall. “Sound of Violence” is something he should be very proud of, with an original premise that gave us something a little different.
Dominic Brunt is no stranger to FrightFest, having had a number of his premieres there. We were first made aware of his work in the brilliant “Before Dawn”, his relationship drama with zombies thrown into the mix. This time he’s sharing directorial duties with Jamie Lundy, from his story which has been adapted into a screenplay by Dominic.
The film – the world premiere - was introduced by the pair of them, clearly visibly moved by how many people had come to see the film. Jamie discussed how the inspiration for the story came from his own battles with alcoholism and mental illness, and the film began to enthusiastic applause – Brunt is clearly well-loved in the FrightFest community, and rightfully so.
Evie, upon finding a mysterious talisman washed up on the beach near her home, begins acting troubled – violent towards a classmate on a school trip, abusive towards her mother. We then skip forward in Evie’s life where she’s ricocheting between drunken nights and one-night stands, her only real friend a woman she works with. She contacts her estranged brother Tony, and we learn of the tragedy that befell her family in the intervening years. It’s a reunion that will ultimately open barely healed scars, and end in tragedy.
It’s a retelling of the infrequently told Selkie myth and looks stunning. The seascapes are panoramic and oppressive, and the performance by the two leads – Hollie Dempsey and Jay Taylor as Evie and Tony respectively – is incredible: so natural, honest, and painful. An appearance by genre favourite Michael Smiley as Father Robert - priest, and friend of the family - tops it all off. Joanne Mitchell brilliantly plays the mother of Evie and Tony, all pent-up frustration at her daughters’ behaviour and weary resignation. The tragic nature of the story could so easily have made it fall into Shane Meadows territory, but despite the bleakness of theme, there’s a certain lightness to it and a dark humour that penetrates the misery. The rolling oceans and bleak landscapes are as much a character as any of the humans that inhabit this tale, and it may well give you a new fear of the depths. I think – rarely - in this case I’d have preferred a tad more ambiguity to the ending, but other than that minor gripe, I can’t fault it.
Hi, its Tara again. Here is the other film that David didn’t see. The Retaliators promo stuff was great, bags, tee shirts and baseball caps along with stickers and badges. There was also a vox pop thing afterward where you could put over your thoughts. I did one. If you see a redhaired woman wearing a dress with eyeballs on it, its ME!
The makers of The Retaliators really like rock music, so much so that this film has cameos from rock musicians and bands such as Five Finger Death Punch, Tommy Lee (playing a strip club DJ playing Girls Girls Girls by Mötley Crüe), Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach and Spencer Charnas from horror movie parody song band Ice Nine Kills.
FrightFest was the world premiere of The Retaliators and so just before the film began, we saw a zoom call that Greg (one of the FF organisers) had recorded with various cast members, the aforementioned Jacoby Shaddix and Spencer Charnas, Michael Lombardi who plays the main protagonist Bishop, Katie Kelly who plays Bishop’s daughter and Marc Menchacha who plays the grizzled old world-weary cop, Jed. It was a lovely thing to see the actors genuinely excited for the film to premiere at FF and their enthusiasm was infectious.
We open with two young women in a van on a road trip. Of course they get a flat tyre and so of course something bad is going to happen to one of not both of them. A group of what look like escaped lunatics (all bloodied and bitey) approach and it doesn’t end well for the young women.
Elsewhere, John Bishop is a widowed cool Pastor (rock bands in church!) raising two daughters, Sarah (Kelly) and Rebecca (Abbey Hafer). They have a lovely relationship, him being a genuine nice guy although perhaps a little too nice. In one scene at the Xmas tree lot, Kevin Smith alumnus Bryan O’Halloran takes the Xmas tree Sarah and her family had selected. Rather than stand up to the bully, Bishop just lets it go, prompting his eldest to ask why he didn’t stand up for his daughters.
Meanwhile, we see a wheelchair bound fellow enter a garage. He’s doing a drug deal with a Very Bad Man. The deal doesn’t go well for him.
Later, Bishop allows Sarah to go to a party, after she’d practically begged him to let her go. As she gets to the gas station to fill up the car, she comes across the Very Bad Man. After hearing sounds of someone banging from the inside of his car trunk, they catch each other’s gaze and Sarah drives off, trying to get away. The Very Bad Man catches up to her, runs her off the road, zip ties her hands to the steering wheel and pushes the car into a lake.
Bishop is devastated at losing his daughter and Jed, the detective, comes into his life to help solve the crime but to offer Bishop an opportunity.
I won’t mention too much more, but if you like bloody gore, rock music and the most creative use of a piece of jewellery that almost made me puke, then this is for you.
We’d only learned of Slapface a few days before, as the director/writer Jeremiah Kipp had featured in “The Brilliant Terror”. I’d wrongly assumed that Slapface was also from the school of grass roots horror film making so was intrigued by what that would look like on the big screen. Naïve of me – Kipp has an IMDB credit list as long as your arm – even more so if you’ve got a particularly long arm.
Lucas (looking uncannily like a young Finn Wolfhard) lives with his brother Tom in their home in the woods. With their parents having died in an accident, Tom is forced to bring up his younger sibling, something he’s finding increasingly difficult as Lucas goes more and more off the rails. To placate a trio of female bullies, Lucas is forced to enter a nearby dilapidated building where he meets something quite monstrous – the two strike up an unusual relationship, one which will change the lives of everybody in the boy’s world.
“Slapface” was an absolute triumph. In my arrogance, I’d mentally began criticizing the director’s choice of revealing the monster – and too much of it - too early, but I couldn’t have been any more wrong. Even familiarity with it doesn’t dampen its impact – in fact its presence removes any hint that it’s a metaphor. As Kipp said in his introduction, it’s a monster – plain and simple.
The two leads are terrific – you could have removed any trace of the supernatural from the story, and I’d have been equally as captivated. It’s a story about irreparably damaged people doing awful things to one another – sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly - and its bleak, compellingly beautiful, and broke my heart.
We’re all bored of zombie films by now, aren’t we? Pardon the pun, but they’ve all been done to death. Occasionally something comes along with a novel take on the genre that shakes it up a bit, but for every “Train to Busan” there’s another dozen straight-to-streaming Walking Dead variants.
Admittedly the antagonists in “The Sadness” aren’t zombies but rabidly angry maniacs (“28 Days/Weeks Later”, anybody?) but the premise is the same – humans fighting or locking themselves into siege against overwhelming and growing numbers of things that want to eat you. Or in “The Sadness” eat and rape you – hopefully, for the victim, in that order.
It was the last film, so saw a packed cinema. The posters declared it “the most violent and depraved zombie movie ever made”, which you have to agree is a pretty bold claim. The writer/director Rob Jabbaz introduced it, stating that the film was made by Machi Xcelsior Studios “which is funded by crypto and camgirls, so if you’ve ever jerked off to a camgirl, you helped make this film get made and made this man very happy.”
It starts sedately enough, following boyfriend and girlfriend Jim and Kat, preparing for the day, arguing over holidays – all very kitchen-sink and ill warning for the madness ahead. There’s nice Mister Lin from next door with some fresh Thai Basil for them! And because we’re doomed to have COVID influences in every film made in the foreseeable future, it’s set during a pandemic where the virus is feared to mutate.
Man, does it mutate. The not-zombies-but-people-suddenly-driven-by-their-base-instincts make their play in a crowded café, throwing a pan of hot fat over the chef and clawing away at his bubbling burning face. “The Sadness” is a succession of increasingly violent and depraved set pieces – including a particularly shocking scene on board a packed subway train.
It’s great. And there’s just enough rumination on the human spirit and the nature of conscious thought to provide something apart from the eyeball gouging, blood-soaked orgies and grenades thrust into mouths. There’s more of a tendency towards sexual violence than I’d like, but – unlike the rest of the visceral blood flowing – it’s mostly implied rather than shown. A great crowd-pleaser and an ideal way to finish a horror festival where – with certainly many of the films I saw – veered more towards ambiguity, metaphor, and atmosphere.
So, that’s it. our first FrightFest, and hopefully the first of many. Although if they all feature films like “The Sadness”, my heart might not hold out that long. The Digital FrightFest event (where you can see many of the films mentioned above) runs from the 1st to the 5th of September.
David Court is a short story author and novelist, whose works have appeared in over a dozen venues including Tales to Terrify, StarShipSofa, Visions from the Void, Fear’s Accomplice and The Voices Within. Whilst primarily a horror writer, he also writes science fiction, poetry, and satire. He’s also a freelance writer for Slash Film.
His last collection, Contents May Unsettle, was re-released in 2021 and his debut comic writing has just featured in Tpub’s The Theory (Twisted Sci-Fi). As well as writing, David works as a Software Developer and lives in Coventry with his wife, three cats and an ever-growing beard. David’s wife once asked him if he’d write about how great she was. David replied that he would because he specialized in short fiction. Despite that, they are still married.
Tara Court is the co-host of The Killening Podcast (@Killening) – an irreverent and sweary look at horror. She also hosts a Sunday night radio show on Edge Radio – The Weekend Immune System.
TODAY ON THE GINGER NUTS OF HORROR WEBSITE
THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR MOVIE REVIEW WEBSITES
The Cove/Escape to the Cove (2021)
Written and directed by Robert Enriquez
Review by: Mark Walker
In the near future, a pandemic has ravaged the earth. Fear, greed, and destruction have made way for such terrors as famine, pirates, and zombies. CAIRO YAZID's, only chance for survival is to join forces with a curmudgeon, SOLOMON, also still untouched by the fatal virus, as he is the only one who knows the secret location of the safe place known simply as THE COVE. (IMDB)
Warning – there may be a couple of minor spoilers for the Cove in this review
The Cove or, Escape to the Cove (depending on whether you are in the UK or the US) is the latest from director Robert Enriquez and opens with a 28 Days Later-esque montage of Cairo Yazid (Garrett Barghash) as he makes his way through empty streets and past abandoned shops and cars. So far, so post apocalypse. It is an effective opening that sets the scene and introduces the near future world, destroyed by a terrifying pandemic (very topical!).
A chance encounter with another lone traveller also introduces us to the “Wanderers” – this movie’s ‘Zombies’ – victims of the virus, who shamble around looking fairly unthreatening until they try to take a bite out of you. Olivia (Dana Kippel) tells Cairo about The Cove, an oasis of safety and peace and they agree to travel together to find it. As they reach the coast, they stumble across the mildly insane Luther (Mike Markoff) and his pirates (no eyepatches) who are also trying to find a way to The Cove. Unfortunately for Luther, the whereabouts of The Cove only seem to be known to Captain Benjamin Solomon (Enriquez) and he is not talking. Luther’s band of reprobates largely appeat to want to find The Cove so they can do unspeakable things to Solomon’s daughter who is one of its residents.
When a tragedy forces Solomon and Cairo together, Cairo begs Solomon to take him to The Cove, but the ex-soldier is not keen to go, partly because of his strained relationship with his daughter and partly because he sees his life being lived in the Marina he has come to call his home. What follows next is a fight for survival between Cairo and Solomon and Luther’s pirates as they decide, with brute force and violence, who gets to go to The Cove.
So, let’s identify the elephant in the room from the get-go.
This is a low budget, independent movie and, as such, you are not going to get the same production values as you would with your typical Hollywood blockbuster. I say this only because I think a lot of people base their views and opinions on unfair comparisons between low-budget filmmaking like The Cove and the latest Marvel movie. Both types of film have their place in the world of entertainment and the intrinsic value of either cannot be judged against the other.
Hopefully, this won’t be my last review for GNoH, but I felt I had to get this out in the open at the start.
Don’t worry, I won’t repeat myself every time I write a review.
So, remember, this is low-budget filmmaking.
Having said that the screener I was sent streamed in 4k and looked nice in the home cinema, piped through my projector. Brighter scenes were nice and crisp and, although there was a bit of noise in darker scenes, it did not detract from the image.
The soundtrack was stereo, but the amp did a nice job of creating faux-surround and gave a pretty decent soundstage. In fact I really enjoyed the soundtrack from Ralf Lichtenberg which added a suitably downbeat and brooding atmosphere to the film.
While the idea of a secret oasis in post-apocalyptic/disaster/zombie films is a well-worn trope, I do love a good Zombie movie so was looking forward to watching this one.
Cards on table time. From a Zombie perspective, I was a little disappointed. While we had a little bit of Zombie action at the start of the film and both of the posters lean heavily on the Zombie influence, there was a surprising lack of Zombies throughout the rest of the film. While the movie turns out to be more of a drama about the relationships and tensions caused by the break-down of society, the lack of zombies was a bit frustrating. The film introduced the concept of ‘Sea Lions’ for example - Zombies lurking the water, swimming around like Sirens, with glowing blue eyes, just waiting for someone to put a foot wrong and fall in the water. While they are used in a couple of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ scenes, I really wanted more of this fantastic idea; I would watch a whole film about these watery devils!
The credits end with a disclaimer and joke, ‘No Zombies were hurt in the making of this film’ – no kidding, there were hardly any in it!
The film also felt a bit confused as to who the lead was. Was it Cairo or was it Solomon? It focussed a lot on Cairo, who wasn’t really fleshed out much as a character, and I can’t help thinking that it would have been more interesting if it had been his short-lived friend, Olivia, who had teamed up with Solomon. We learn very little about Cairo throughout the film, other than that his parents are dead – and we learn that in a prologue at the start of the film. Solomon had a better, more interesting backstory with his estrangement from his daughter, a result of him killing his own wife when she became infected. Solomon’s history with the military was also only hinted at, but was key to his relationship with Luther, and I couldn’t help feeling that I would have liked to have learned more about that.
It felt as if the film’s running time of 1 hr 37 mins could have been used a little more effectively to fill some of these gaps. With the lack of Zombie action, it would have made for a more compelling character study of Solomon to delve a bit more into his background. Perhaps a few more background scenes could have taken the place of the early establishing shots of Cairo and then Cairo and Ollie walking through abandoned city-scapes as these felt a little drawn out. They do an excellent job of world-building at the start of the film, but a few of them could have been lost, without any detriment to the set-up.
The acting is up and down, but everyone does a decent job, and the odd dodgy line of dialogue does not really cause a problem for the film as a whole. Enriquez does a great job as Solomon and Phillip Cook is very effective as his friend Lt. Colonel Samuel Cook. Mike Markoff is clearly having a whale of a time as Luther, and they are lucky none of the boats in the marina sink after the amount of scenery chewing involved. Joking aside, though, it is effective, and he comes across as insane and unpredictable (and generally a bit of a shit). In some ways, his character was underused and could have been more of a threat to Solomon and Co, but he was still fun to watch.
As I said at the beginning, this is a low-budget film and it wears its origins on its sleeves. However, I think it has wrung every dollar out of that budget and it is a good-looking, well-shot indie. While I enjoyed the story and the outcome, I did feel its focus was slightly ‘off’ and could have been more interesting if it had explored Solomon further and made more of its Wanderers. However, I did not find myself looking at my watch to see if it was close to finishing (as I did the day after, watching a much bigger budget horror from a more established director) and any film that includes a cameo from Eric Roberts, has to be worth a watch!
The film doesn’t really deliver anything particularly unexpected, and the ending came up a bit sudden when I would have liked to have seen a slightly more epic battle between Solomon and Luther. But The Cove mostly delivers what you want and what you expect (minus the Zombies) and, sometimes, that is all you need!
If you put a gun to my head and asked me to score the film (which is always a bit arbitrary) I would go for a 5/10, which is still a good film in my eyes. If you think the write up on IMDB sounds good, then give it a whirl but I would not come looking for a Zombie flick, because that isn’t what you will get. What you do get is a fairly decent tale of survival that will keep you entertained for an hour and forty minutes. I think the scores on IMDB are a little unfair - this is by no stretch of the imagination a ‘masterpiece,’ but it is a testament to what you can achieve with a low-budget and determination.
Mark is an NHS worker living in Gloucestershire with his family and a plethora of pets, including rats, guinea pigs, a rabbit, beetles, tarantulas, chickens and degus. When he is not working or feeding the animals (not to each other) he writes screenplays and short stories as well as working on his first novels that, one day, might see the light of day. Funnily enough, the subject matter of the majority of this writing is Horror. While he has dabbled in drama and family films, he is always drawn back to ghouls and ghosties and all things grotty. He currently has a number of short stories published across three compilations.
He has had a fascination with the dark side ever since begging and begging to be allowed to stay up late and watch things like The Horror Express or Salem's Lot, before crapping himself to sleep (which is a euphemism, he hastens to add). Introduced to the works of Dennis Wheatley by his mum, it was only a matter of time before he was getting Stephen King for Chistmas (books, not the actual man) with notes from his grandparents asking if his mother knew he was reading this stuff. This also led to his mum questioning his friends as to the state of his mind as his interest in horror grew... which was strange, seeing as it was her fault for telling him to read Wheatley and letting him stay up to watch Salem's Lot in the first place!
Anyway, fast forward to now and he still loves watching and reading horror, as well as trying to write it. Favourite books and films? Well, that will be a long list. Mark has always loved Stephen King but is hoping working with GNoH will help broaden his horizons to new writers, which can only be a good thing. Film-wise, it is hard to pin down as he enjoys a wide variety of films from both the past and the present. From Alien, The Thing and The Shining to Ringu, Midsommar and Fear Street, if it has monsters and things that go bump in the night, he is happy.
He can currently be found trying to corrupt his daughters by sharing many of his favourite films and rising to their challenge when they say the last one wasn't all that scary....
TODAY ON THE GINGER NUTS OF HORROR WEBSITE
the heart and soul of horror movie reviews