The Grimm Festival Programming Team has always tried for a balance between the popular and the profane; striving always to secure the films our audiences are keenest to see and are already talking about, but also to seek out the lesser known films; the stuff that will have them talking long after the festival is over. And this year is no exception.
Where we have changed things a little is in the launching of what we are terming the GrimmFest Fringe, over at the Lass O’Gowrie. This is essentially a development from what, in previous years, has been termed the “breakout screen”: it is where we will be showing some of the more left-field, challenging, independent films of the festival, alongside shorts and other events. It’s the place to find overlooked and under-appreciated cinematic gems, alongside some of our more controversial content.
Thus, we kick off on Thursday with the UK premiere of TO JENNIFER. This is the latest film from James Cullen Bressack, whose previous, debut, feature, the deeply troubling “found footage” home invasion shocker HATE CRIME was one of the talking points of last year’s festival, shaking even our horror-hardened Grimmlins with its raw, visceral, confrontational style. TO JENNIFER is a quieter film, its violence more emotional, and its horrors more psychological. But it is no less troubling for all that. Shot entirely on an iPhone, it sees Bressack continuing to experiment with the possibilities of the “found footage” format, and the spurious sense of “reality” it offers. The film is presented as the work of Joey, a geeky and intense young man, who has begun to suspect that Jennifer, the love of his life, is cheating on him. He decides to travel across country to meet her, enlisting a couple of friends to make a film of his adventures, which he intends to present to her as evidence of his commitment. Essentially a darkly funny road-trip movie, leading to a final confrontation, TO JENNIFER is also an exercise in deception, owing as much to “unreliable documentary” films such as CATFISH as it does to other found footage horrors.
Staying with the “found footage” format, Thursday also sees the UK premiere of HOUSE WITH 100 EYES, which chronicles the attempts of a suburban couple to create their latest snuff film, complete with such “DVD” extras as “”Director’s Commentary” and “Alternate Takes”. To this end. their house has been set up with cameras in every room, recording everything. The film is presented as having been pieced together from footage sent anonymously to a documentary filmmaker, thereby providing answers to the two questions which always tend to undermine the credibility of any Found Footage film, namely “Why are they filming this?” and “If it is found footage, how come it’s been edited so carefully?” In the process, of course, it does rather disqualify itself from being really considered a found footage film at all. Not that it matters. Directors Jay Lee and Jim Roof are more concerned with the process of filmmaking in general, and in particular with the narcissism and self-delusion of the amateur movie-maker. Dark and disturbing it may be, but HOUSE WITH 100 EYES has a strong satiric undercurrent. Smarmy suburban snuff enthusiasts Ed and Susan are oddly reminiscent of Paul and Mary Bland, the reluctant swinger protagonists of Paul Bartel’s pitch-black comedy classic EATING RAOUL, and the early scenes in which the couple are out and about trying to lure people into their murder van drolly parody a certain kind of leering gonzo porn. Veering between claustrophic tension, harrowing scenes of torture and murder, and mordant, extremely cruel black comedy, this is a film which continually challenges and disturbs the viewer’s expectations and preconceptions. Which is surely what the best horror cinema is all about.
We’ve also more traditional, but no less effective independent horror on Thursday with the premiere of HOME SWEET HOME. This is the first film in English from David Morlet, the French director who made the criminally-underrated MUTANTS a few years back. We’ve always been partial to a good Home Invasion movie at Grimmfest, and this is a fine, and peculiarly unsettling, addition to the genre. It has a careful, cold precision; taking its time with its set ups, just as the clinical, home invading psycho takes his time in his actions, and it looks beautiful; elegantly shot on Red, with a skillful use of framing, camera movement, composition and space to ratchet up tension, in a manner that John Carpenter and his HALLOWEEN DOP Dean Cundey would be proud of.
All this plus the shorts: 60s monster movie fantasies come into collision with the horrors of the real world in ATTACK OF THE BRAIN-SUCKER, a yuppie architect is unable to rid himself of a one-night stand in THE GIRL AT THE DOOR, and as a companion piece to the suburban snuff movie makers of HOUSE WITH 100 EYES, we’ve young serial killers in love, in ANGST PISS AND SHIT
On Friday, we begin with one of our rare documentary screenings, MY AMITYVILLE HORROR, a highly unsettling portrait of Daniel Lutz, whose family were at the centre of the famous Amityville Haunting which inspired so many books and films. Filmmaker Eric Walters takes the obviously disturbed and damaged Lutz on a journey to try to determine what exactly happened; bringing him into contact with various eccentric religious types, para-psychologists, and pulp journalists, each offering their interpretations, and all of them only confusing matters still further. Demonstrating that there is more than one kind of haunting, and that some are far more traumatic than others, this is a thought-provoking and profoundly upsetting film, likely to provoke strong reactions in the viewer. Which is precisely why we are screening it.
A film which has been provoking reactions of an entirely different sort is the much- (and unfairly) maligned SMILEY. An old-school teen-slashed, featuring a seemingly supernatural online killer and spinning updated riffs on such genre classics as CANDYMAN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, it brings the urban legend into the era of cyber-bullying. Continuing with the same theme, but in a rather different vein, we have ANTISOCIAL, which splices the body horrors of David Cronenberg’s seminal VIDEODROME with the communication-paranoia of Bruce McDonald’s cult classic PONTYPOOL to create a nasty New Year’s Eve parable about how excessive social media use is turning us all into zombies. Literally. I’ve always hated people who mess with their mobile phones during screenings. Looks like I was right to. They are putting all of our lives in danger. Sure, it’s only a movie - but make sure you switch your phones off while its playing. We won’t be answerable for the consequences if you don’t.
All this, plus a striking, surreally disturbing short from Israel, THE PLAN, and, in readiness for his Q&A in the evening over at the Dancehouse, SFX, make-up and prosthetics legend SHAUNE HARRISON will be hosting a special workshop, in which he will be demonstrating techniques and transforming one lucky Grimmlin into one of the walking dead.
Saturday’s Fringe focuses on issues of memory, be it a lack, or a superabundance thereof. We begin with a brace of shorts. First up, OUT THERE, a tale of fragmented recollection and repressed guilt in the middle of the apocalypse, which sees Randall Plunkett, the current Lord Dunsany, no less, following on in his illustrious ancestor’s footsteps as a master of the lyrically macabre. Then there’s SLEEPWORKING, which imagines a future in which people have inplants in their head which enable them to work while they sleep. Sounds like something we’re all dreaming of, doesn’t it? Not really, no. Because the result is a Philip K. Dick style nightmare of colliding memories and dreams, in which reality grows increasingly tenuous. And waking up might be the worst shock of all.
This is certainly the case for the protagonist of MODUS ANOMOLI, today’s feature film, receiving its English premiere, who wakes up to find himself buried alive in the middle of a forest. Digging himself free, he tries to piece together how he got there. The answer is far more disturbing than he could ever suspect… An inventively twisted psychological thriller, that continually challenges narrative expectation and character perception, this is very different in tone to the previous Indonesian film to hit these shores - the bone-crunching actioner, THE RAID. Indeed, in its preoccupation with buried truths and buried memories, and with its unreadable, ambiguous protagonist, it might almost seem to offer some allegorical statement about the complex, troubled, and often troubling, history of its country of origin. It might not offer the disturbing insights of the recent documentary THE ACT OF KILLING, but it does seem to be saying something similar about the darker reaches of the Indonesian psyche. At least, that’s my interpretation. Others might just like to settle down and enjoy the most unpredictable amnesia thriller since MEMENTO. Or whatever the last one was. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten.
But I mustn’t forget to mention CHRISTOPHER FOWLER. Best known nowadays for his inventively ghoulish short stories, and genre-bounding novels, which straddle horror, fantasy, and crime fiction, Chris was also one of the founders of influential media promotions company The Creative Partnership. You know that film about the chest-bursting Aliens? Remember the poster strapline, “In Space No-One Can Hear You Scream”? Well, that was one of his. Chris’s latest book, FILM FREAK, is a memoir of that time, and he’ll be along to regale us with tales of glamour and excess from his misspent youth, haunting the seedier of London’s flea-pits in search of cinematic strangeness, and describing how his early years as an obsessive cineaste led him to a career as a tyro film promoter in Seventies Soho. It promises to be an entertaining and enlightening show.
SUNDAY’s fringe presentation is a single feature. But don’t worry, you’re not being shortchanged. We saved the most disturbing, most extreme film till last. THANATOMORPHOSE (the title might be roughly translated as “death transformation”) is the story of an isolated and unsuccessful young sculptress, trapped in a somewhat abusive relationship, who moves into a new apartment, only to find that as her sense of isolation grows, her body begins to rot. The glib way to describe it would be as “Zombie Repulsion”, with the female lead’s mental decline here symbolised by her physical decay. But this really does not do the film justice. Certainly, it has the kind of claustrophobic, dingy apartment location, oppressive atmosphere and dark surrealism of Polanksi’s film. But it also has the flat, deliberate pacing and morbid, morose obsession with sex, death and decay that characterised the films of 90s cult German underground director Jorg Buttgereit (NEKROMANTIK, DER TODESKING), and takes the cinema of body horror to a whole new level. Featuring truly horrifying special effects by Canada’s infamous Remy Couture, the only make-up artist to have faced prosecution for on trial for “moral corruption through propagation of obscene material,” it is the most unsettling, upsetting, disturbing, and downright gruelling film any of us has seen in a very long time. Pretty much guaranteed to generate controversy, to be a major festival talking point, it is, in short, a cinematic ordeal, and is not to be entered into lightly. Consider yourselves warned.