Night of the Dead 2014
A Leeds institution; Night of the Dead is a horror movie marathon that runs through the night, ending in the middle of the next morning and featuring a mix of horror films, shorts, games and banter. It is one of the highlights of my year and like previous years I’m going to talk a little about the movies that were screened there.
Before that though, a brief word about the event itself. This year had a lot of changes for Night of the Dead, some good, some not so good. The event started almost 2 hours earlier than normal (and still overran! The event organisers summed it up neatly right at the start. “We won’t be on time because we thought ABC’s of Death 2 was 90 minutes long and when we got the film it was 2 hours and 5 minutes so that’s thrown the schedule right out.”) and was held on a Friday, both of which I felt were good ideas.
Less good was that it was held later in the festival causing it to clash with Thought Bubble, Leeds’ massive comic book convention which I also normally attend. Also in the loss column was the lack of Gip, one of the two regular presenters and a charismatic shouty Irish man beloved by all. He also attends Thought Bubble and chose it over NOTD this year. He was replaced, for some of the night, by Dom Brunt better known by most as Paddy from Emmerdale. A Leeds resident and massive horror film fan (he’s even directed and starred in a former Day of the Dead entry, Before Dawn) Dom was a fine choice but lacks the easy charm of Gip. Also he had to leave at 3 in the morning. In fairness to the man he was going on holiday the next day and had already delayed joining his wife on holiday for 3 days because he got the dates for the event wrong but still, less banter and fun than previous years.
This was the first year sponsored by Shameless Cinema, a small press distributor specialising in rare exploitation and B-movie films. They supplied a ton of prizes for the presenters to give away. So many in fact that by the end of the night they just resorted to giving everybody who was left a prize. I walked away with about £50 worth of DVD’s so I probably made a £25 profit on the event.
The biggest change though was in the style and content of the films chosen. Leeds International Film Festival asks audiences to rate the films shown and the offerings at Night of the Dead routinely end up in the bottom 10. In fairness this is because the offerings at NOTD are usually fucking terrible but then that is something I love about it. As a massive fan of shit schlock NOTD provides me with a chance to see some really obscure shit schlock. In previous years the hosts have pleaded with us to be nicer to the films but asking for sympathy from the NOTD crowd is guaranteed to backfire. However, I think they’ve started to worry about their bad reputation since attendance has been down and so this year they’ve decided to butter us up. There is usually one horror comedy and it is usually the best film of the night so this year they decided, fuck it, all horror comedies. And so 4 out of the 5 films we saw were horror comedies.
As a fan of horror comedies I did enjoy the films more this year but I kind of miss the shitiness of previous years. NOTD is a really unique experience, equal parts great and awful, like all good bad things it is hard to do intentionally and I would hate for NOTD to lose their special qualities by chasing the audience.
ABCs of Death 2
I haven’t seen the first ABC’s of Death yet but since this isn’t a film in the conventional sense that doesn’t matter. Boz from The Little Pod of Horrors has seen both and assures me that the sequel is better than the original by a country mile.
For those who don’t know the high concept here is that this is a series of 26 shorts, one for each letter of the alphabet, each directed by a different director and with each director given full creative freedom to do whatever they want except that they must include their letter and they must feature a death.
As you can imagine this is an extremely difficult film to talk about. Almost all the shorts rely on some kind of twist and they’re all less than 5 minutes long so talking about the plot even briefly tends to spoil the short. Even worse, the titles come at the end of the short and they’re usually some kind of last twist or final gag revealing a new layer on the short you just watched so you can’t even use the titles most of the time.
Nonetheless I will do my best.
Despite being nominally a horror film almost none of the shorts try for tension or scares. There is lots of gore and traditional horror subject matter but most of the films are blackly comic. Of the shorts that did try for horror I would say K is the most successful with a genuinely creepy moment in the middle that I haven’t seen before. S also works as a tense piece with a really nice twist.
Of the more humorous shorts though it becomes really hard to pick a favourite, almost all of them are funny and in different ways to each other. A, B, E, O, P, T and Y all made me laugh. Special mention though has to go to G, M and W. G is just, amazingly bonkers. The kind of thing where you watch it, have no idea what you saw but are glad you saw it. It represents possibly the most surreal 5 minutes of cinema I have ever seen. W is a parody of He-Man that doesn’t go where you are expecting it to but is full of great little observations. M, M is just gleeful. M was this year’s wildcard so it was open to any film maker to try and come up with a short and I can confirm that they made the right choice.
On the bad side, a couple of shorts are just kind of there, not overtly creative, not funny and not scary. N, V and Q in particular. F is probably the worst short in the film, it thinks it is profound and clever despite being mostly dull and uninteresting. Finally special mention has to go to L a short in which I have only the vaguest of ideas as to what actually happened.
The best film I saw this year. A clever little horror comedy from New Zealand, Housebound tells the tale of Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly). Kylie is a young tearaway with drug and alcohol problems. We’re introduced to her trying and failing to crack open an ATM with dynamite and a sledgehammer. After being arrested she is sentenced to house arrest at her Mum’s house, something neither she nor her Mum are entirely happy about.
Kylie is a horrible little shit. Rude, lazy and openly hostile to everyone and everything she has pretty much no redeeming qualities but her Mum still loves her and wants to help her turn her life around. Kylie, however, seems more interested in figuring out some of the mysteries in her Mum’s old house, especially once she finds out it used to be an insane asylum and becomes convinced that it is haunted.
Talking much more about the plot would do Housebound a disservice because one of the strengths of this film is that it continually surprises you. At several points the film totally upends both the kind of film it is and the story you thought it was telling. And not only are the twists unexpected and surprising but they all make perfect sense and play fair with the audience. Also some of the turns the plot takes are really funny, particularly when one character suddenly reveals that they know a hell of a lot more about ghosts then they’re letting on. You need to see Housebound, it is just that good.
Every other aspect of the film just works. The acting is uniformly superb, the jokes are funny and the scares are effective. And that in particular is rare. Most horror comedies are really just black comedies, or comedies with gore. It is rare that a film tries for scares and gags and rarer still that it succeeds but Housebound unequivocally does. This is even more surprising when you consider that its director Gerard Johnstone’s first film. Based on this he has a successful career ahead of him. He has an unobtrusive style but as a storyteller he gets every single thing that needs to work, working.
And its even more of a success when you consider that Housebound has an unlikeable protagonist. Unlikeable protagonists are somewhat in fashion and whilst they can be done well they are really hard to pull off. But Kylie is in enough danger and has enough charisma to work as a protagonist even as she acts like a shit to everyone she knows.
Housebound is simply a must see, the best horror comedy I’ve seen since Evil Dead 2 and probably the best horror film I’ve seen all year.
Dead Short Competition
In another change to previous years, rather than the shorts being spread out throughout the night this time they were all shown as a chunk. The reasoning behind this decision was that that for the first time we were invited to vote on our favourite short.
Normally the shorts are easily the best part of NOTD but this year they felt a little lacklustre. It might be because we watched ABC’s of Death earlier but nothing in the shorts measured up to the insane fun of G or M from that movie nor was there anything a tenth as good as Fist of Jesus.
And yes I have brought that short up just to have an excuse to link to it again. I love it that much.
That said none of these shorts were bad either and most had something to recommend them.
Waterborne gives us what I think is a cinema first, zombie kangaroos, and not much else.
How To Make A Nightmare was the only truly terrible short. It was pretentious, dull, over long and confused.
Slut, a 1970’s period retelling of little red riding hood, was well shot and acted and evoked the period beautifully. It ends wonderfully too.
Invasion told a very slight story and was mostly just an excuse to show off the rotoscoped animation of Hugo Ramirez and Olivier Patté. It does look very cool though.
Extreme Pinnocchio basically transports the entire Pinnochio myth to an inner city in France complete with midgets, transvestites, paedophiles, drugs and a garbage truck/whale. It has a wonderfully lived in grimy feel, some good gags and some memorable visuals but it is faaaaaar too long at 23 minutes and drags in places.
M is for Mobile was a failed entry in the ABC’s of death open slot. I suspect it was rejected for being too short but it is very funny with a great twist.
Bon Appetit doesn’t have any new ideas but it does have style.
Sequence of Death was “mind blowing” – that’s a pun.
Liquid is a Takashi Miike style Japanese psycho-sexual body horror that basically exists because the word liquid, when said in a Japanese accent, sounds a lot like re-kid. It has a nice central idea but isn’t scary or particularly stylish and its amazing how quickly a short can wear out its welcome.
This was the sole film for which we had the director present this year who came all the way from Tokyo to see his movie premiere at 3 in the morning. Fair play to him for dedication but it’s a shame for him to come so far and not win. I did get a chance to talk to him and learned that interestingly one of the actresses in his film is a famous porn star, but not the one who is naked for almost the entire running time.
The three really good shorts were Mouse X, Cannibals and Carpet fitters and Safari Heat.
Mouse X was one of the only shorts to try for overt scares rather than black comedy. It is inexplicable. A man wakes up in a chair with a bible, he sees a mouse on the floor, sees a hole that lets him escape to another room and quickly realises he is in some kind of time recursion interacting with himself at different points in time. The film is amazing at creating a sense of almost existential dread by refusing to answer any of the many questions it poses. It’s also stylish and has a great soundtrack which very subtly and effectively ramps up the tension to a spine chilling climax.
In contrast Cannibals and Carpet Fitters isn’t especially clever but it is charming. The tale of a battle between some cannibals and two ordinary carpet fitters in the west country of England has a sly deadpan sense of humour and stacks of likeability. It won the contest and I’m not surprised. In fact I kind of want it to be turned into a TV series where every week two ordinary blokes in the West Country battle supernatural horror.
What should have won though is Safari Heat, which defies explanation. Telling you anything about it will spoil the experience except to say it is a parody of Miami Heat, done in Claymation and set in Cape Town. However it quickly transforms into easily one of the most bizarre and amazing things I have ever seen. Sadly, I couldn’t find any version of it online to show it to you.
It was a testament to how good the offerings were this year that Wolf Cop wasn’t the best movie. In year’s past it would have easily been the best thing they screened but this year both Housebound, ABC’s of Death and, in a weird way Street Trash, delivered better results. Still, Wolf Cop wasn’t a bad film so much as a painfully average one.
With a title like Wolf Cop guess what this is about? Yes, it is about a werewolf cop. Specifically it is about a werewolf deputy who has to clean up his small rural town from the twin threats of organised crime and satanic shape shifters. Oh and he’s like Popeye but with booze instead of spinach.
That sounds fun doesn’t it? It sounds like Teen Wolf but with gore and dirty jokes. It sounds like it’ll be over the top silly, campy fun in the style of Troma, Sam Raimi or even Family Guy.
And to be fair to the movie there is a stretch lasting about 20 minutes in the middle where it delivers exactly on that promise. Our titular lupine cop (Lou Garou, because this movie thinks it is far cleverer than it is) starts tooling around town in a modified wolf mobile, ripping the faces off crooks, stealing liquor and making puns (“who are you?” “The fuzz!”) and it is glorious.
Unfortunately it takes a long time to get to that point and the build up to the payoff is just, not very interesting. I understand you need to have highs and lows, you can’t just do balls to the wall gore and gags from start to finish (although counterpoint, Evil Dead 2) but that doesn’t excuse the build up being boring. Wolf Cop lacks likeable or funny characters so all the character establishing stuff in the beginning is just a chore to sit through. Then it delivers what it promised us, and then far too quickly that part is over and we get a predictable and tension free climax or various people running around the woods.
I will give it credit for this though. I cannot remember seeing a penis metamorphosis in a live action film before, so kudos to wolf cop for that.
Street Trash defies a conventional critical approach because it is singularly unconcerned with mundane things like plot, characters or motivations, not when it can be shocking you instead. This isn’t a film, it’s an assault. Street Trash hates you, the viewer, and does everything in its power to provoke you to either getting up and walking out or giving in and laughing at it. If it were a sound it would be a child saying every swear word it knows until you either slapped it or couldn’t help it and giggled.
You certainly can’t call it a good film but a bad film? Bad by what standards? It isn’t telling a story, it isn’t trying to scare you, it isn’t trying to move you or connect on an emotional level. Street Trash has one ambition, to make you go, “what the fuck am I watching?” And it achieves this. It really successfully achieves this.
Describing the plot is a little bit like describing a particularly grimy fever dream you once had. Street Trash doesn’t really tell a story from beginning to end so much as it presents a series of vignettes of what life was like in New York in the 1980’s if you were scum. Among the various vignettes we have: 2 brothers living on the streets to escape their abusive ‘nam vet dad and their arguments with each other, a black guy stealing from a supermarket, another ’nam vet who has flashbacks and rules a junkyard like a kingdom, the gang rape of a mob boss’ girlfriend, a sweet junkyard employee who seems to care for one of the 2 brothers and is sexually harassed by her boss and a cop with anger management issues trying to sort out all the mess. Some of these plots will intertwine and resolve but mostly what happens in this film is pointless meandering that (the filmmaker) thinks is either gross or funny or both.
The main plot in terms of memorability, if not running time, has to do with viper. Viper is a drink that causes anyone who drinks it to melt.
A liquor store owner finds it behind a loose board in his basement and deduces it must have been there since prohibition. Well, bums will drink it at a dollar a bottle and he’ll have made a profit so why not? He has no idea it will make people melt of course, and neither does anyone else until Mike Lackey, who is sort of our protagonist, has a lucky escape from drinking a bottle himself. He then uses it to get revenge on anyone who did anything bad to him for the preceding 80 minutes.
Viper is set up early in the film and for the first 15 minutes reoccurs periodically to remind us it exists and to get some of the “plots” (biggest fucking scare quotes you can imagine around plots there people) moving. Then it disappears from the film entirely until Street Trash decides it needs an ending and sets about melting all the bad guys. Nearly every plot thread is unresolved , no ultimate point was made and no sense of closure is given.
Street Trash is a fucking terrible film and yet, I can’t say I’m sorry I watched it. And not because it’s so bad its good either, it’s too slow and in all of its technical respects, weirdly, too good to qualify as a bad movie. You get the sense that if James M Muro wanted to tell a decent story, he could. He just has absolutely no interest in doing so.
No, the reason I liked Street Trash is because I got to see some things I have genuinely never seen before. I haven’t seen a bum melt into a toilet and I’ve got to say here, the melting effects were really well done. No realistic but certainly evocative. I’ve never seen a gang rape played for laughs. I’ve never seen a game of penis keepaway.
My favourite part of the whole film was a minor character who worked for the Mob Boss. He was some punk kid that clearly hated the menial job he was doing and hated the Mob Boss, so he let’s bums gang rape the Mob Boss’ girlfriend. There’s an amazing scene where the Mob Boss and the Kid are sitting in the police station arguing. The Boss is threatening to kill the kid and the kid is insulting the boss. The angry cop sees this and pulls the kid to one side asking why he is insulting a man who can have him killed. The kid says it’ll be okay because the cop can put him witness protection and as the cop slowly shakes his head the dawning look of realisation the kid’s face as he puts together just quite how badly he fucked up is priceless.
I think, ultimately, I have to recommend Street Trash. You won’t like it, buy you won’t forget it either.
Oh and as an aside, we got to see this movie on film! A rare treat and the scratches and grime on the print really added to the atmosphere of early 1980’s urban decay. If you are going to watch this then watching a print version at 6 in the morning in a theatre full of horrible people is definitely the way to do it.
So let’s get the obvious joke out of the way. What a load of shit!
Here’s how Septic Man was sold to us. This was the mystery film at this year’s screening and it was described thus. A guy falls into a massive septic tank and starts to slowly mutate. Sounds like Toxic Avenger right, only with pooh? You think that that’s the first act and then this shit monster is going to go out and get revenge against the people who put him in the septic tank?
Here is what actually happens in Septic Man.
There is a city, it has a disease, a plumber is asked by a shady cabal to fix the sewer system (by himself for some bizarre reason!) whilst the city is evacuated. He does so but then gets trapped in a septic tank with some dead bodies. As he is stuck there he slowly starts to mutate. Lou Ferigno and his insane brother live at the water treatment site and won’t rescue him. Then Septic Man’s wife shows up and mercy kills him.
After Act 1 when he eventually gets stuck NOTHING FUCKING HAPPENS!
You can do films where the protagonist is trapped in one location. 127 Hours, Buried, Phone Booth hell Saw is basically this. It’s an idea that’s more appealing in the abstract (writers love high concept writing challenges like this because writers find restrictions to actually be freeing) than it is normally well executed. Phone Booth sounds like a great idea for a drama but getting 90 minutes out of it is tricky.
That said you can do it. The trick is to find something to fill up the time with. Flashbacks to how the hero got here, cutaways to the outside world as they try and track down our hero, watching our hero as he tries every clever and desperate method to escape his situation. You can even have a person there for them to talk to and write dialogue that reveals their character. If you’re particularly lazy you can throw in some dream sequences to fake out the audience.
But you have to do something.
Septic Man vaguely flirts with the idea of doing all of these things but it quickly decides it can’t actually manage to pull them off, gives up and defaults back to what it likes to do best; shadowy shots of an ugly man, in an ugly room, sitting.
Fully 50% of this film’s running time consists of looking at a dude being sad.
If that sounds like something you’d enjoy then Septic Man should be right up your alley but I despised this film. It ranks amongst the worst films I have ever seen. Not because it is technically bad but because there is nothing there. It’s a blank space where a film should be. It’s the cinematic equivalent of staring at a toilet wall. It’s like a bowel movement that lasts 83 minutes where you don’t have anything to read, boring and excruciating.
I literally have nothing nice to say about this utter turd of a film.
So that was NOTD 2014. 2 good films, 1 meh film, 1 film that was certainly memorable and 1 of the worst cinematic experiences of my entire life. That’s a marked improvement on last year which, as I said earlier, is kind of a mixed bag. I strongly recommend Housebound though, you will not regret it.