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Friday
Jun012018

BELGIUM'S HORROR MAESTROS FIND LOVE, FINALLY, IN DOCO LOVE-LETTER 

The horror auteurs of Belgium have often found favour with fans outside of their homeland. Director Harry Kümel's 1971 cult classic Daughters of Darkness is revered the world over; Emmanuel Kervyn’s 1988 gross-out shocker Rabid Grannies helped establish the Troma brand in the US. Yet the devoted filmmakers who have forged a dark, disturbing, occasionally brilliant Belgian horror sector are afforded little respect at home. With his documentary Forgotten Scares: An In-Depth Look at Flemish Horror Films, director Steve De Roover hopes to bring long overdue recognition to those whose visions of the macabre are rarely spoken of with the reverence they deserve…

“Horror has always been a genre that got extra piss poured over it,” De Roover delicately informs SCREEN-SPACE from his Skladanowsky Films office in Leuven, 30 kilometres east of Brussels. “You get a sense of absolute rebellion in many of the films and because a lot of them were made without proper funding, there is nothing which couldn't be shown. Typically, Flemish horror cinema has boatloads of nudity and everything nasty one could think up, just to piss off the establishment.” He cites Rob Van Eyck’s wildly successful Afterman trilogy (1985; 2005; 2013) as representative of his homeland’s approach to horror. “This ‘Mad Max from Belgium’ is full of typical Flemish activities of the old days like farming and hunting, but with a side of boobs, impalings, cannibalism and necrophilia.”

This determination to rattle the cages of conformity is central to Forgotten Scares, which takes as its starting point a claim from ill-informed journalists that Jonas Govaerts’ 2014 boy-scout/monster hit Welp (Cub; pictured, right) was “the first Flemish horror film”. De Roover exhaustively researched an industry that as far back as the mid 1970s was exploring cinema’s darkest, most challenging genre; films that existed in defiance of the nation’s cinema-going trends. Says De Roover, “I do think that this struggle [brought] a lot of extra creativity and an ever bigger drive to succeed.” De Roover admits to drawing inspiration from Australian director Mark Hartley's Ozploitation doc Not Quite Hollywood (2008), which covered a similarly undervalued Australian horror movement.

In an interview with The A.V. Club site, Baby Driver director Edgar Wright calls Daughters of Darkness, “a great movie, one [that] bridges the gap between the arty Roman Polanski or Ingmar Bergman horror movies, and the more campy, sexy vampire films of the time”. Its high brow vampiric eroticism is not often spoken of as 'classic' in its homeland, where it rarely screens. Kümel's masterpiece is given its due by De Roover, who calls it “an exercise in grandeur,” admitting, “It was the very first DVD I ordered online from the US.”

Also featured in Forgotten Scares is Kümel’s follow-up film Malpertuis (1971), starring Orson Welles, along with further works from Afterman auteur Van Eyck (Mirliton, 1978) and their contemporaries Guy Lee Thys (The Pencil Murders, 1982), the enigmatic Luc Veldeman (The Antwerp Murders, 1983), and Johan Vandewoestijne (Lucker, 1986).

The VHS boom years proved fertile ground for Flemish horror, says De Roover. “A lot of the popular films were made with the American market in mind, sometimes even as cheap copies of American cinema trends,” he says, citing The Antwerp Killer and Lucker (pictured, right) as Belgian entrants in the 80s ‘slasher pic’ craze. In addition to the insanity of Kervyn’s hilariously nightmarish Rabid Grannies (“I was in awe of the fun, bloody mayhem of that film,” says De Roover), this was also the era of Léon Paul de Bruyn’s tawdry splatter romp Maniac Nurses (1990) and his ultimately unrealized foray into Nazi-sploitation excess, SS Torture Hell. The documentary features previously unreleased footage from the set of the sado-masochistic epic, which ground to a halt when funding dried up.

Many of the sector’s most influential and revered genre personalities responded to the Forgotten Scares project, happy to step before the camera and recall half a century of Flemish horror inventiveness and artistry. In addition to Kümel, De Bruyn, Vandewoestijne, Govaerts and Van Eyck, De Roover secured the insight of actors Eric Feremans (The Antwerp Killer), Evelien Bosmans (Cub; pictured, below, with De Roovers) and Sven De Ridder (The Flemish Vampire, 2007); director Jeroen Dumoulein (short film De Vijver, 2014); and, the opinionated industry figurehead Jan Verheyen, director of Alias (2002).

De Roover acknowledges that in recent years Belgian horror has edged dangerously close to arthouse, even mainstream acceptance. Pieter Van Hees’ 2008 Antwerp-set chiller Linkeroever (Left Bank), starring Eline Kuppens and Matthias Schoenarts, tackled social commentary within its genre parameters; The Hollywood Reporter compared it to Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man and J-horror classic Dark Water. “Left Bank shows the bleakness of some of the lower-class neighbourhoods in Flanders,” says De Roover, who considers the award-winning a step towards the mainstreaming of Belgian genre cinema. “We have only been finding our own identity in cinema over the last couple of years. It took years to earn respect for our complete cinema output and to be taken seriously [by Belgian media],” he says. Veteran horror helmer Johan Vandewoestijne continues to produce quality work, including the black horror/comedy Todeloo (2014) and the serial killer romp Laundry Man (2016).

One of the many unforgettable sequences in Forgotten Scares: An In-Depth Look at Flemish Horror Films concerns the 2013 vision The Miracle of Life from directors Joël Rabijns and Yves Sondermeier, a mother/son drama that US distributor Troma thought would work better under the title The Thingy: Confessions of a Teenage Placenta. With Steve De Roover flying the tri-coloured flag of his nation’s horror directors, the glorious madness of such flagrant Flemish film excesses as Rabid Grannies and Maniac Nurses will live forever.

FORGOTTEN SCARES: AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT FLEMISH HORROR FILMS is currently playing the film festival circuit. It can be pre-ordered on DVD from Zeno Pictures.

Monday
May142018

SYDNEY AUDS BRACING FOR FEARFUL FREAK ME OUT SELECTION

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL 2018: “You’re invited to gambol on the wild and weird side,” spruiks Richard Kuiper, who returns in 2018 as guest programmer of the Sydney Film Festival’s lean and mean Freak Me Out strand of horror pics. The seven films are eclectic collection of the cinematic unpleasant – slashers, spirits and self-mutilators; robots, werewolves and log cabins. Says Kuipers, “See you in the grindhouse…”

THE RANGER (Dir: Jenn Wexler | 2018 | USA | 80 mins)
What the Program says: “Chloë Levine gives a dynamite lead performance as Chelsea, a clever cookie who leads her snotty pals to a supposedly safe haven. But this leafy locale holds dark memories for Chelsea and is home to a demented public official who really doesn’t like littering or young non-conformists.”
What the Critics say: “…strong performances from our leading lady and central psycho — not to mention several kick-ass punk tunes — and you’ve got a post-modern splatter flick that most horror fans should appreciate.” – Scott Weinberg, Crooked Marquee
Festival Cred: SXSW endorsed; also playing strong with both genre and arthouse crowds (Indy Fest XV, Indianapolis; Cinedelphia Film Festival, Philadelphia; Overlook Film Festival, New Orleans; The Newport Beach Film Festival). Bound for Montreal’s Fantasia event in August.
Key Player: Levine, a cult favourite in the making after smart genre parts in The OA and Cannes 2016 entry The Transfiguration. 

GHOST STORIES (Dirs: Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman | 2017 | UK | 96 mins
What the Program says: “Philip Goodman is a professional debunker of all things paranormal. (When he) receives a package from an academic he once idolized, he is propelled into a series of investigations that force him to confront everything he doesn’t believe in. And it gets worse, much worse."
What the Critics say: “In adapting their Olivier-nominated supernatural stage play for the screen, writing/directing duo Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman have lost none of the impact of their darkly effective vision.” – Nikki Baughan, Screen Daily
Festival Cred: Premiered to receptive hometown audiences at the London Film Festival; proved its Brit heritage could travel after strong showing in Busan.
Key Player: The reputation and enormous following of the blockbuster live theatre experience.

WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE (Dir: Colin Minihan | 2018 | Canada | 98 mins)
What the Program says: “The latest film by multitalented genre maven Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters, 2011) takes familiar horror-thriller ingredients and forges them into a story that upends convention and expectation. There’s the happy couple skipping off for a romantic weekend in the wilderness. Then there’s the old family cabin with its history and secrets. And of course the neighbours across the lake seem to know…something.”
What the Critics say: “A thriller with a truly clever turn…Just don’t spoil it for anyone.” – Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com.
Festival Cred: SXSW premiere; Toronto LGBT fest. Picked up for US distribution by genre savvy IFC Midnight.
Key Player: Minihan’s moxie. Takes a lot to not only attempt, but nail the Act 3 twist.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL (Dirs: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala, Katrin Gebbe, Calvin Reeder, Agnieszka Smoczynska, Peter Strickland, Yannis Veslemes, Can Evrenol, Ashim Ahluwalia | 2018 | USA, Poland, Hungary, India, Germany, New Zealand, Austria, Turkey, Greece | 117 mins )
What the Program says: When the producers of Field Guide… went searching for directors to adapt scary folk tales specific to their own countries, they struck pure gold. Ranging in tone from Franz and Fiala’s exquisite Austrian mood piece to Evrenol’s Turkish evil spirit shocker and Strickland’s hilarious Hungarian pantomime, Field Guide… truly has something spooky and stylish for everyone.
What the Critics say: “The segments vary as much in degrees of successful realization as they do in content and stylistic approaches, though each segment benefits from excellent visuals throughout.” - Jacqui Griffin, Film Inquiry
Festival Cred: After SXSW World Premiere, it’s played Seattle and Neuchâtel Fantastic Film Fest; bound for Fantasia.
Key Player: New Zealand producer Ant Timpson (a Freak Me Out alumni after Deathgasm and Turbo Kid), who corralled repertory mecca Alamo Drafthouse as a backer. 

UPGRADE (Dir: Leigh Whannell | 2018 | Australia | 100 mins)
What the Program says: “Logan Marshall-Green (The Invitation, SFF 2015) is Grey, an old-school mechanic in a near-future where Artificial Intelligence does almost everything. After low-life scumbags murder his wife (Melanie Vallejo) and leave him paralysed, Grey is implanted with STEM, a miracle-performing microchip. Soon, he’s transformed into a super-warrior bent on revenge.
What the Critics say: “Upgrade is a pure adrenaline shot of sci-fi body horror thrills.” – Jonathan Barkan, Dread Central
Festival Cred: Winner of Midniters Audience Award at SXSW.
Key Player: Whannell’s crowd-pleasing credentials (the blockbuster Saw and Insidious franchises) 

PIERCING (Dir: Nicolas Pesce | 2017 | USA | 82 mins)
What the Program says: “Reed is a seemingly ordinary husband and father. Except for his uncontrollable urge to kill. On a ‘business trip’, Reed checks into a hotel and calls an escort service. His plan to murder sex worker Jackie turns out to be anything but straightforward. Pesce’s lusciously filmed adaptation of Ryū Murakami’s 1994 novel delves into the darkest domains of human nature.”
What the Critics say: “A psycho-sexual horror show which lifts the lid on the twisted urges of two very troubled characters. It's great, if grisly, fun.” – Wendy Ide, Screen International
Festival Cred: Rattled the IFFR crowds in Rotterdam in February
Key Player: Fearless lead actress Mia Wasikowska, and Pesce, hoping to capitalise on the critical love for his 2016 debut, The Eyes of My Mother. 

GOOD MANNERS (Dirs: Marco Dutra, Juliana Rojas | 2017 | Brazil, France | 135 mins)
What the Program says: “Clara (Isabél Zuaa) is poor, black and unemployed. Against the odds, she lands a live-in nanny job in the posh São Paulo apartment of Ana (Marjorie Estiano), a pregnant white woman whose rich family have disowned her. As Ana’s delivery date approaches the women become lovers. But Ana has begun to act very strangely when the moon is full...”
What the Critics say: “An ambitious work not only in scope but design, influenced by Jacques Tourneur’s psychological horror noirs.” – Jay Weissberg, Variety
Festival Cred: Among the most lauded films at SFF 2018. In addition to Locarno’s Special Jury honour, it has trophies from Austin Fantastic Fest, Rio De Janeiro, Sitges, Torino LGBT Fest, Oslo, Biarritz and Buenos Aires.
Key Player: DOP Rui Poças and production designer Fernando Zuccolotto, who combine with other below-the-line talent to conjure a mesmerizing ambience.

 

Saturday
Apr142018

PREVIEW: XV CINETERROR FILM FESTIVAL

The southern Chilean municipality of Valdivia represents a rich melding of geographic and historic influence that makes this small but vibrant city one of the most beautiful destinations in South America. The city, 45 square-kilometres and populated by a mere 160,000 residents, was colonized by Spanish, then German explorers; the river system that winds through the undulating coastal landscape on its way to the Pacific Ocean ensured this commune within the Los Rios Region had military and trade significance in the early days of settlement, over half a century ago.

Valdivia holds specific significance in the week ahead for Chilean horror fans determined to see local and global horror on the big screen. From Monday April 16, the city will stage the 15th CineTerror Film Festival, a celebration of modern genre cinema that presents dark visions of the imagination from Asia, Europe and, of course, South America. The six-day event, comprising 14 features and three short film strands, will screen at the Lord Cochrane Theatre in the city centre.

“This year, our program of films are absolutely independent,” says CineTerror producer Nino Bernucci, “and we hope that audiences support this decision. We have sought films that are currently travelling the international film festival circuit, works that we believe represent the essence of what we are trying to achieve.”

Opening night honours have been bestowed upon Javier Attridge’s Wekufe The Origins of Evil (pictured, right; star Paula Figueroa), a locally-shot effort that explores the relationship between the high rates of sexual assaults in southern Chile and the mythical spirits that are said to inhabit the region. In a statement released by the festival organisers, Atteridge says, “I felt fascinated by this universe of myths and legends, stories told by our grandparents for generations. As I grew older I questioned the real origin of these stories.”

Equally challenging works across the 2018 program reinforce the belief that selection for CineTerror means the ‘horror’ in your horror film is legitimate. Also from Chile is Jorge Olguin's woodland-set chiller Gritos del Bosque; other works from Latin America include three features from Mexico - Juan de la Peña’s rural estate shocker Barrancas, the heightened pseudo-reality of Omar Jacobo’s La Puta es Ciega and the horror anthology México Bárbaro II (pictured, top); two Argentinian pics - the richly-coloured palette of the Giallo-inspired Mirada de Cristal, co-directed by Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano, and brothers Luciano and Nicolás Onetti’s Los Olvidados (a co-production with New Zealand); and, from Brazil, Samuel Galli’s demonic possession romp, Mal Nosso.

International works are flying in from France (Vincent Orst’s zom-com Le périple); Japan (Yoshihiro Nishimura’s mega-monster lark Tetsudon: The Kaiju Death Match); and Spain (Carles Jofre’s splatter epic Verano Rojo, bearing laurels from several festival triumphs including the Los Angeles Horror Competition).

Earning an honorary double-feature session at CineTerror is Indonesian genre master Joko Anwar. The prolific 42 year-old, who recently enjoyed blockbuster success in his homeland with Satan’s Slave, will be represented in Valdivia by his 2009 Puchon-honoured hit Pintu Terlarang (The Forbidden Door) and his blood-splattered 2012 jungle-set thriller Modus Anomali (Ritual).

The Closing Night film is the work of another local filmmaker made good, Chilean horror maestro Lucio A Rojas. His latest nightmare, Trauma (pictured, right), will screen to those brave enough to front a film that has been compared to Srdjan Spasojevic’s infamous A Serbian Film for its depiction of sexual violence and brutality in the service of political allegory (Screen Anarchy called it, “…one of the most savage and brutal horror films to debut in the recent era.”)

“It is not an easy film to watch,” understates Rojas, via the festival. “In fact, many of the crew could not watch it more than once, which may be how viewers react, too. We knew from the moment we wrote the script that it would be controversial.”

XV CINETERROR Festival Internacional de Cine de Terror de Valdivia is presented in conjunction with Corporacion Cultural Municipal Valdivia and Ilustre Municipalidad de Vadivia; it will run from April 16-21 at The Lord Cochrane Theatre. Tickets are available at the venue or via the events official website.

Friday
Apr062018

NEKROMANCER TEASES THRILLS AND GIGGLES IN FX-HEAVY FIRST PICS

“It’s like an Aussie Ghostbusters on acid,” boasted director Kiah Roache-Turner to his Facebook followers after the recent release of four images from his highly-anticipated film, Nekromancer. Co-written with brother Tristan, the sophomore effort is their follow-up to the low-budget/high-energy zombie splatter epic Wyrmwood: Road of The Dead (2014), which earned critical kudos and a global cult following.

During it’s late 2017 pre-production period, the brother’s sci-fi/horror/comedy mash-up had the international horror community buzzing when it was announced Italian actress Monica Bellucci (L’appartement, 1996; Malèna, 2000;  Irréversible, 2002; The Passion of the Christ, 2004) would headline the Australian production, opposite local talent Ben O’Toole (Hacksaw Ridge, 2016) and Tess Haubrich (Alien: Covenant, 2017). (Pictured, below; Bellucci, as 'Finnegan', in conflict with 'Luther', played by David Wenham)

Although the shoot and plot details have been kept under wraps, a synopsis accompanies Screen NSW’s funding approval page: “Howard North, electronics genius, is dragged into a conflict between The Tribe - a family of powerful demon hunters, and Asgaroth - an evil demon possessing the world’s internet, assisted by his devil-worshipping corporate acolytes. Molly, a Tribeswoman and warrior, is desperate to destroy the demon and is sure that Howard has the right stuff to become a true hero. They must learn to work together to exorcise the fiend from the web and blow him back to Hell.” (Pictured, below; co-stars, l-r, Bob Savea as 'Rangi', and Ben O'Toole as 'Howard')

The production shot at Sydney’s largest soundstage facility, Fox Studios, located in the inner city suburb of Moore Park, as well as at various locations around the Harbour city. The local sector was rife with genre film production at the time of Nekromancer’s principal photography; director Abe Forsythe’s zom-rom-com Little Monsters, which imported international names Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 2018) and Josh Gad (Beauty and The Beast, 2017) to star opposite local talent, was also shooting at several Sydney locales. (Pictured, below; hero 'Howard' with, l-r, nekromancers 'Torquel', played by Tess Haubrich, and 'Molly', played by Caroline Ford)

DOP duties fell to the brother’s Wyrmwood lensman, Tim Nagle. Other key production duties were filled by top tier talent from the local sector, including line producer Sam Thompson; production designer Nicholas Dare (Down Under, 2016); composer Michael Lira (The Hunter, 2011); costume designer Xanthe Huebel (The Loved Ones, 2009; Ruben Guthrie, 2015); veteran casting director Nicki Barrett (Somersault, 2004; Australia, 2008; Mad Max Fury Road, 2015); concept artist Dane Hallett (Jupiter Ascending, 2015; Aquaman, 2018); and, 2nd unit director James Chappell (director of the acclaimed short, Proceeds of Crime, 2017).

Nekromancer is a co-production between Hopscotch Features and the Roache-Turner’s Guerilla Films outfit; financing was sourced via Entertainment One (eOne), Screen Australia and Create NSW; eOne will partner with Sierra/Affinity for the international sales market.

Tuesday
Mar132018

LIVING SPACE: THE STEVEN SPIEL INTERVIEW

What begins as a cheeky nod to slasher film tropes ascends to all-out supernatural terror in Living Space, the accomplished feature debut of Melbourne-based writer/director Steven Spiel. A double-helix narrative that turns back on and into itself with increasingly skilful dexterity, Living Space reps a rare Australian foray into the horror of Nazi imagery set against a stylistically European landscape; the authentic aesthetic helped the film find favour at the recent European Film Market in Berlin, the first stop on a global sales roll-out that includes the all-important Marche du Film in Cannes in May. SCREEN-SPACE spoke with Spiel ahead of his film’s World Premiere, held in Sydney over the weekend as part of the Monster Fest ‘Travelling Sideshow’ program…

SCREEN-SPACE: Before the narrative amps up into some truly nightmarish moments, you have a lot of fun with the target audience’s appreciation of familiar horror set-ups…  

SPIEL: Brad (Leigh Scully) and Ashley (Georgia Chara) play a young American couple travelling through the heartland of Germany when their car breaks down in the middle of the countryside, forcing them to find protection in an abandoned property nearby. But, once inside, they find it is the home of a dead Nazi and his deceased family. So they go through a far amount of torment from that point on. It goes deeper and we use a great deal more psychological elements to flesh out the story, but that’s a basic outline.

SCREEN-SPACE: As the chilling ‘Officer’, actor Andy McPhee brings to life a truly memorable screen villain. What inspired the creation of such evil personified?

SPIEL: When I set out to write the film, I thought hard about whom the antagonist should be. I am really quite fearful of military iconography, that sort of grand authority figures, and the most frightening of all those types are the German SS officers of World War 2. So I threw all the familiar aspects of that imagery into the mix and the villain and the narrative grew from there. We use war footage in the film, because I wanted to acknowledge that we understood and were deeply respectful of the horrors of that period. But this is not any type of political statement at all; we just set out to make a solidly entertaining horror film. (Pictured, right; Andy McPhee, as Officer, with Georgia Chara in Living Space).

SCREEN-SPACE: Is horror a passion of yours, or was there one-eye on the genre’s international sales potential when you were deciding on your debut feature?

SPIEL: Well, it’s both actually. I’ve always been very passionate about horror. It’s a genre I have always enjoyed watching and I think when anyone sets out to make a film they should strive to make a movie that they would also like to watch. The characters, the arc have to be something that I would find intriguing. It is as crucial to the writing of the story as it is to the watching of the finished film.

SCREEN-SPACE: I’m assuming the indie-horror budget didn’t stretch to shooting in Germany…

SPIEL: We shot in Geelong, in Victoria, over a 12-day period. We got the whole cast and crew accommodated in Geelong, somehow. All the aerial footage, the countryside, everything that you see in the film is regional Victoria doubling as Germany. I worked very closely with our cinematographer, Branco Grabovic, and the post-production colouring team, both researching the look and feel of the German landscape and applying that knowledge to the final colour grading on the film. Being an independent film, we couldn’t get everyone over to Germany, which would’ve been ideal (laughs) but I think we executed it pretty well. (Pictured, left; cinematographer Branco Grabovic, left, with his director)

SCREEN-SPACE: You’ve stated that you don’t really want Living Space labelled ‘Nazi-exploitation’, despite your clever use of the iconography. What are the genre films and filmmakers that have influenced the story and mood of Living Space?

SPIEL: One that immediately springs to mind is Christopher Smith’s Triangle, with Melissa George. It’s a fascinating film that is both structurally complex and very entertaining. I’d also say Scorsese’s Shutter Island. These are films that explore the darker corners of psychology, unfold as engrossing mysteries, and end with a twist of some kind. All of my short films have that twist in the end, some sort of development that catches audiences off guard, and they have all informed what I’ve done in Living Space.

LIVING SPACE will screen in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Geelong as part of the 2018 Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow. For venues, dates and session times, check the official Monster Fest website.