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Monday
Jan122015

DUST DEVIL: THE DANE MILLERD INTERVIEW

The legend of the Jingra makes for an ominous bigscreen villain in Dane Millerd’s There’s Something in The Pillaga. The writer/director’s found-footage thriller tells the story of two blokish mates who, with digital camera and two local lasses in tow, head deep into the scrubland of western New South Wales on a lark. But they soon learn that the stories of a bipedal bush beast, the infamous ‘Yowie’ as told of since ancient Aboriginal times, may be based upon a terrifying reality.

“Impending doom is a strong and often neglected tool in filmmaking,” says Millerd (pictured, above), a journo-turned-filmmaker who, as a boy growing up in the regional hub of Gunnedah, was familiar with the tall tales told of the Jingra. “I wanted to make the film as illusive and under the radar as the many sightings I have recorded and reported in my research. ‘Less is more’ works for me, especially with creature features.”

Fittingly, the inspiration for the film came from a fearful recounting of a real life incident, in which Millerd’s cousin ventured into Pillaga State Forest in search of a hermit-like character, only to have her night turn into one of regret and terror (albeit at the hands of cruel, prank-playing mates). The vastness of the region lends itself to irrational fears (“It is dry, lonely and desolate and no place for the unprepared,” says Millerd), as well as fostering such supernatural entities as The Pillaga Princess, a forlorn woman who wanders the forest; ‘Hairy Mary’, a former prostitute who became a denizen of the bush night; and, of course, the enigmatic Yowie. “I wanted audiences to fear the unknown and I think that is what has been achieved,” says the director.

The key protagonist in the film is rough’n’tumble lad Jay, played with a boorish but disarming charm by Brendan Byrne (pictured, above right). He is a vivid outback archetype with which Millerd is very familiar. “Having spent years in the country, I had met many alpha males that were similar to (Jay),” Millerd says, citing his upbringing as fertile ground for inspiration. “There are also Chopper Read, (Wolf Creek villain) Mick Taylor and Romper Stomper inspirations that created the ‘Jay’ we see on screen.”

He is also quick to praise Byrne (pictured, left; with co-lead Leoni Leaver), a part-time actor who doubles as one of the film industry’s most respected armourers; in addition to his acting duties, his company Shadow Wolves Productions oversaw firearms management onset. “Brendan’s interpretation certainly left his own mark on the character,” says Millerd, who allowed his key cast members (Fay Beck, Rebecca Callander, Craig Hawley, Leoni Leaver) plenty of rehearsal time and creative freedom during the shoot. “I trusted them and they were allowed plenty of leverage. It needed to be that way as the film lent itself to loads of improvisation. That said, there was a script and certain things still needed to be done and followed and the actors followed it to the letter.”

The barren bushland setting, hand-held camera work and found-footage premise has drawn inevitable comparison to The Blair Witch Project, as well as the naysayers who bleat that the genre is in its death throes. “Yeah I’ve heard the cries,” shrugs Millerd, who knows the detractors will be silenced when they see the finished film. “I call this ‘stolen footage’ and when you see it you’ll know it’s a new genre. We avoided a lot of to-camera stuff, excessive titling in the intro (and) other obvious clichés." The filming technique was fine-tuned during downtime on the production, which was shot for a total of 20 days over nearly three years. "We put lots of time into locations and rehearsals so by the time we got out there, we had it sorted. (With) Paul Denham, my co-producer and DOP shooting it, I knew it would be great.” (pictured, right; Millerd, second from left, on location with cast and crew)

Millerd was determined that, second only to a tangible sense of menace and steady stream of convincing shocks, the people of the region knew that There’s Something in The Pillaga would represent them, their wilderness and its otherworldly inhabitants with due respect. “The locals were more than supportive,” he says. “In fact, it was a pre-requisite that locals worked on set, as we wanted them to feel a part of it. In the end we got a better product as a result.“

There's Something in The Pillaga had its regional premiere in Gunnedah and will be touring New South Wales in the weeks ahead. For full screening details, visit the website here.

Thursday
Nov202014

DR. DEAN'S WOMEN OF HORROR

As festival programmer of the 2014 A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival, Dr Dean Bertram highlights an emerging trend amongst the modern horror narrative – the strong female protagonist. The days of the screeching ‘final girl’, destined to survive because of her virtuous nature and moral fortitude, are fading into the anachronistic ether if the films of the 2014 event are any indication. Bertram’s favoured female horror lead could be the Devil’s descendant, an avenging rape victim or a mysterious young newlywed; even the ‘final girl’ archetypes that populate his programme travel unfamiliar and frightening fresh paths. SCREEN-SPACE profiles a selection of the women who carry the torch (and knife and gun and axe…) for their gender in Bertram's modern horror compendium, which starts tonight in Sydney's inner city…

ROSE LESLIE as BEA in HONEYMOON
The casting of Scottish actress Rose Leslie (pictured, above) suggested that Bea, the effervescent new wife of Harry Treadaway’s Paul in Leigh Janiak’s tummy-tightening study in paranoia and sexual politics, was going to be no damsel-in-distress. Having established her ballsy, take-no-crap acting credentials as ‘Ygritte’ in Game of Thrones, her transformation in this ‘Stepford Wives-meets-Body Snatchers’ shocker is subtle and disturbing; working from a smarter-than-usual script, she deconstructs gender expectations as they exist in both the real world and the traditional ‘cabin-in-the-woods’ setting of Janiak’s shattering debut. “Her talent and charisma are so natural and authentic,” the director told Under the Radar. “We really walked through every little bit of the script tracing where Bea is, internally, every beat along the way.”
HONEYMOON screens Saturday, November 29. Tickets available here.

PAULIE ROJAS as JORDYN in ANOTHER
When asked how the striking Paulie Rojas (pictured, right) was cast in his fever-dream demonic possession opus Another, multi-hyphenate auteur Jason Bognacki told Grolsch Film Works, “We were looking for someone who looked fragile to the touch but who could transform into a forceful, demonic presence.” Nailed it. As the part-time pharmacy employee whose hellish lineage awakens a potent evil within, Jordyns’ tormented physical and emotional arc makes the sort of acting demands only the horror genre can. Bognacki manipulates his leading lady’s doe-eyed beauty into a fierce, brutal weapon of force; Rojas gives a fearless, forceful rendering of power and passion.
ANOTHER screens Saturday, November 22. Tickets available here.

ASHLEY C WILLIAMS as JULIA in JULIA
As the ‘middle part’ of the original Human Centipede, Ashley C Williams didn’t have much scope to create a meaningful female character. The imbalance is redressed in Matthew A Brown’s brutal revenge odyssey, in which Williams’ titular victim emerges from her milquetoast dental hygenist cocoon and carves her way through the douche-bag attackers that drugged and raped her. The director cites Takashi Miike’s Audition as an influence; the Japanese great’s eye for modern noir imagery and niche sexual taboos courses through the veins of his gruesome vision. Not-so-subtle undertones of Sapphic sisterhood are exploited, with Williams locking Australian Tahyna Tozzi in several dark embraces.
JULIA screens Wednesday, November 26. Tickets available here.

SARAH JEAVONS as SAM in INNER DEMON
Australian-based Canadian director Ursula Dabrowsky plucked first-time actress Sarah Jeavons (pictured, right) from obscurity to play Sam Durelle, a protagonist who morphs from the traditional shrieking ‘final girl’ victim into a fearlessly malevolent force of her own. “She had the look I wanted and I had a gut feeling about her, but I needed to know if she could act,” the director told Festivals’ Launch Pad webpage. “It’s always exciting for a director to cast an unknown and then see them blossom in front of your very eyes.” Jeavon’s bloody, bold Sam embodies the ‘New Feminine Hero’ perhaps better than any other; a pretty, petite blond destined for the meatgrinder in a more conventional work, the actress explodes in a third-act fury of defiance that defines Dabrowsky’s non-conformist take on women in horror.
INNER DEMON screens Friday, November 21. Tickets available here.  

ALYSA KING as KYLIE in BERKSHIRE COUNTY
Granted, Audrey Cumming’s feature debut is positively dripping in overplayed horror tropes – the surly babysitter finding her inner warrior while fending off home invaders in a remote mansion (see last years’ You’re Next, for example). But the film has hit big with festival audiences who have responded to Alysa King’s portrayal of the put-upon au pair Kylie, the actress (pictured, right) finding deeper layers and more recognisably human traits in her character just as the film begins to ramp up the tension. King has that ‘everygirl’ essence which has made memorable the great slasher film babysitters of generations past – Carol Kane in When a Stranger Calls; Jocelin Donahue in The House of the Devil; and, of course, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.
BERKSHIRE COUNTY screens Thursday, November 27. Tickets available here.

Saturday
Nov012014

FIRST BLOOD: THE LAUNCH PAD INTERVIEWS

Having established itself as one of genre cinema’s showcase international events, a World Premiere slot at Sydney’s A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival is much sought after. The festival founder and director, Dr Dean Bertram, prides himself on the career kickstart his programming can provide; in 2013, he introduced The Launch Pad initiative, a strand dedicated to promoting his festival’s commitment to new and untested visions. In 2014, Bertram commissioned Screen-Space to interview the four filmmakers whose latest works bow for the first time during this years programme…

FURY: THE TALES OF RONAN PIERCE (USA; 114 mins; pictured above)
Stars: Michael McCarthy, Jordan Elizabeth, Brad Potts, Wade Gallagher and Kane Hodder.
Director: Kevin McCarthy.
A rampaging revenge tale set in a drugged-up, testosterone-fuelled world of bloody carnage and righteous kills, debutant helmer Kevin McCarthy directs his brother Michael to one of the most eccentric, unhinged portrayals of the justice-seeking vigilante ever put to film. Says McCarthy, “In the world of Fury, we wanted to ensure that each of our dark, demented characters were developed fully enough to evoke some serious hatred from the audience, which in turn, would make their deaths that much more epic and satisfying.”
READ THE FULL SCREEN-SPACE / LAUNCH PAD INTERVIEW HERE. 
VIEW THE TRAILER HERE

HOW TO SAVE US (USA/ Australia; 78 minutes)
Stars: Jason Trost, Coy Jandreau.
Director: Jason Trost.
Having directed the off-the-wall visions The FP, All Superheroes Must Die and Wet and Reckless, Jason Trost enters the realm of fully-fledged auteurism with How To Save Us, a moody, Mallick-like study of memory and regret set amidst the chilling landscape of a ‘ghost apocalypse.’ “My favorite genre movies are where the human element is front and center,” say Trost, who shot the film in the wilds of Tasmania. “As dark as the movie can get, I really just wanted to tell a story about hope and leave people knowing that it's okay to talk about your past.”
READ THE FULL SCREEN-SPACE / LAUNCH PAD INTERVIEW HERE. 

INNER DEMON (Australia; 84 minutes)
Stars: Sarah Jeavons, Kerry Ann Reid and Andreas Sobik.
Director: Ursula Dabrowsky.
Such horror movie conventions as the country-shack serial killer and the ‘final girl’ plight are worked over with an incisive deconstructionist’s eye in Inner Demon. Ursula Dabrowsky’s follow-up to Family Demon (and mid-section of thematic trilogy she hopes to complete in 2015-16) is a bloody thrill-ride that connects with visceral and cerebral intensity. “I want to push the audience a bit, make them think, make them wonder, what the hell is going on here?” says the Adelaide-based director. “It’ll be interesting to find out what horror fans think.”
READ THE FULL SCREEN-SPACE / LAUNCH PAD INTERVIEW HERE

PLAGUE (Australia; 83 minutes)
Stars Tegan Crowley, Scott Marcus, Steven Jinai and Sarah Ranken.
Directors: Nick Kozakis and Kostas Ouzas.
Desperate survivors of a zombie plague hole up in hot shed in the Australian outback, only to be driven apart by infighting, gender politics and a dark stranger who happens into their midst. The debut work from co-directors Kozakis and Ouzas is a claustrophobic study in psychological torment, with the ever-present threat of ‘the afflicted’ jangling the nerves of protagonist and viewer alike. “When you are fighting for your survival and the preservation of your species, it is fair to say that traditional morality and ethics evaporates very quickly,” says Ouzas.
READ THE FULL SCREEN-SPACE / LAUNCH PAD INTERVIEW HERE.

Visit the Official Website for the 2014 A NIGHT OF HORROR/FANTASTIC PLANET FILM FESTIVAL for full programme details and ticket sales.

Sunday
Aug312014

MIDNIGHT MADNESS SHINES LIGHT ON HORROR'S BEST AND BRIGHTEST

When programmer Noah Cowan launched the Midnight Madness sessions in 1988, he included two sequels (Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization Part II; The Metal Years; Tony Randel’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II), the latest from a grindhouse god (Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage) and an ‘apocalyptic rave’ short from the Antipodes (Aussie Ray Boseley’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em). The Toronto Film Festival’s genre sidebar can launch careers; names to emerge include Peter Jackson (Meet the Feebles in ’90; Braindead in ‘92), Trey Parker (Orgazmo in ’97), Christophe Gans (Crying Freeman in ’95; Brotherhood of the Wolf in 2001) and Pascal Laugier (Martyrs in ‘08).

Now under the masterful genre eye of Colin Geddes, this year’s line-up welcomes two films that have played to Oz festival crowds - Mark Hartley’s Cannon Films tribute, Electric Boogaloo (his second Madness slot, after 2008’s Not Quite Hollywood) and Taiki Waititi’s vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows (pictured, above). So what else can audiences in the mood for edgier fare expect from Toronto’s dark heart in 2014…?

BIG GAME (Dir: Jalmari Helander; Finland/Germany/United Kingdom)
Helander’s high-concept/high altitude lark finds Samuel L Jackson (pictured, left) back in a muthaf---in’ plane…well, for a little while, anyway. Terrorists blast Air Force One out of the sky (too soon?) and Jackson’s POTUS finds himself in the rugged Finnish countryside, guarded from further harm by a 13 year-old with a bow and arrow and wilderness savvy beyond his years.
What to expect…: Jackson in an hilariously self-deprecating turn and on-screen chemistry with Finnish acting find Onni Tommila that most Hollywood films only dream of. Helander directed the 2010 cult hit Rare Exports; industry word is his follow-up is even better.

CUB (Dir: Jonas Govaerts; Belgium)
‘Lord of the Flies-meets-Wolf Creek’ is the buzz about Jonas Govaerts’ Cub, a woodlands-set adventure-horror mash-up that pits a group of cub scouts on a camp-out against a psychopath and his band of feral minions.
What to expect…: Govaerts’ debut carries with it high expectations, not generally prescribed first-timers. He is a Grand Prize winner at the revered fantasy/horror event, Sitges, for his 2008 short Of Cats & Women. The trailer promises some hard-core kids-in-peril jolts; Belgian horror is defined by stark, confronting, original ideas and stylish execution (La Muete, 2010; Ex Drummer, 2007; Daughters of Darkness, 1971).

THE EDITOR (Dirs: Matthew Kennedy, Adam Brooks; Canada; pictured, below)
A must-see if the films of Fulci, Argento and Bava litter your DVD collection. Local lads Kennedy and Brooks pay homage to/take the piss out of recognisable tropes from 70’s Italian horror, most notably the garish, gruesome subgenre known as giallo. A film editor becomes the suspect in a series of psycho-sexualised murders when actors from the film he is editing state dying, usually horrifically and elaborately. 
What to expect…: From the Astron 6 team, the decidedly off-centre collective who rattled cages with their no-budget shockers Manborg and Father’s Day. Expect grotesque imagery, sly subversion and blood…lots and lots of blood.

THE GUEST (Dir: Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett; USA)
A family’s grief at losing a son during the Afghanistan conflict allows for a sweet-talking stranger claiming to be a fellow vet to infiltrate their home. The latest from MIFF alumni Wingard and Barrett, northern faves since their 2010 mumblecore thriller A Horrible Way to Die.
What to expect…: Hard-edged paranoia; cold-hearted exploitation of the bereaved; a ballsy heroine a’la Sharni Vinson’s Erin in Wingard’s TIFF 2011 hit, You’re Next. Downton Abbey fans might be divided over the lengths their villainous heart-throb Dan Stevens will go to be bad. Co-lead Maika Monroe is the belle of the 2014 midnight ball, also starring in….

 

IT FOLLOWS (Dir: David Robert Mitchell; USA)
Not the first film to explore a teenager’s blossoming sexuality as the source of all evil, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is nevertheless one of the most inventively knowing variations on ‘first love as horror’ in recent memory. Maika Monroe (pictured, right) is 19 year-old Jay, whose backseat deflowering plunges her into a shadowy suburban landscape haunted by a demonic phantom that edges closer to her until ‘the curse’ is passed to another.
What to expect…: Mitchell knows teen angst, judging by his great debut feature The Myth of The American Sleepover. And he clearly knows horror, with this sophomore effort referencing The Shining, Halloween (particularly Rich Vreeland’s synth-heavy score) and Profondo Rosso, to name a few. Most likely Mitchell’s last low-profile indie before Hollywood snares his talent.

TOKYO TRIBE (Dir: Sion Sono; Japan)
Santa Inoue’s cult manga property about gang violence in Japan’s capital is afforded the ultra-stylised aesthetic of the fearless Sion Sono. Three members of the Musashino Saru are slaughtered by Mera (Ryohei Suzuki), leader of the Bukuro Wu-Ronz, when they inadvertently stray into off-limit territory. Seeking vengeance, Saru member Kai Deguchi (Young Dais) faces off with old friend Mera, and a bloody war escalates.
What to expect…: After the ‘WTF-just-happened??’ insanity of Midnight Madness 2013 audience fave Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Sono reteams with producer Yoshinori Chiba, who guided the brilliant but erratic director through two of his best films, Cold Fish and Guilty of Romance. If the film is anything like the insane poster, which is already a collector’s must-own, expect a wild ride.  

TUSK (Dir: Kevin Smith; USA)
Smith takes on the body horror genre with this macabre, blackly-funny adaptation of his own podcast piece, ‘The Carpenter and The Walrus’. Justin Long (pictured, right) heads deep into the Canadian hinterland to search for a missing friend, only to find a salty ol’ seadog (Michael Parks) with a penchant for human-to-seal home surgery.
What to expect…: Smith turned the first draft script around in 20 days. An avowed fan of the Great White North (he honed his craft at the Vancouver Film School), Smith will bring a rich Canuck sensibility. And he is working again with his Red State star, the incomparable Michael Parks. As he told The Hollywood Reporter, “One of the world's greatest actors bringing to life some of the most f---ed up dialogue I've ever written.”

[REC] 4 APOCALYPSE (Dir: Jaume Balaguero; Spain)
Having kicked off Spain’s most successful horror franchise (US$53million across the trilogy to date), Jaume Balaguero returns to wrap things up in this fourth instalment. Manuela Velasco is also back as Angela Vidal, the intrepid reporter who survived the horrors of the first film; the ‘authorities’ have quarantined her on a specially equipped ship, miles off the coast. But the virus that drives the infected into a murderous rage has found its way on board, too…
What to expect…: An overwhelming sense of claustrophobic horror. The [REC] series has excelled at tight-space terror; the steely corridors of an oil tanker guarantee lots of shock and awe moments.

Full details and ticketing options for Midnight Madness and all the Toronto Film Festival sessions can be found the event's website here.

Saturday
Jun282014

LONDON A HORROR HAVEN AS FRIGHTFEST BLOODS NEW PROGRAM

The 15th staging over the August long-weekend of London’s annual genre freak-out, Film4 FrightFest, promises that irresistible mix of cutting-edge horror/fantasy works and reverential retrospectives for which it has become world renowned.

Upgrading to the state-of-the-art Vue West End cinema for the 2014 season, one of Europe’s most respected film gatherings will screen 64 features from as far afield as New Zealand (Guy Pigden’s I Survived a Zombie Holocaust), Belgium (Fabrice du Welz’s Alleluia), Serbia (Milan Todorovic’s Nymph), Japan (Hitoshi Matsumoto’s R100) and Germany (Till Kleinert’s The Samurai). The first Venezualan horror film to play to an international audience, Alejandro Hidalgo’s The House at the End of Time, will highlight the Discovery Screen 1 sidebar. Australian directors feature prominently, with David Campbell’s Lemon Tree Passage, Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek 2 and Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook set to unspool.

Opening the event on August 21 will be the UK premiere of The Guest, a down’n’dirty homage to the 80’s action/horror heyday. Starring Dan Stevens as the returned serviceman who ingratiates himself into the family of a fallen comrade, US director Adam Wingard further subverts the ‘home invasion’ sub-genre that he mined so successfully in 2011’s You’re Next. Closing out the daunting 5-day screening schedule will be William Eubanks’ The Signal (pictured, right), a paranoid sci-fi psych-out starring Australian actor Brenton Thwaites alongside Laurence Fishburne.

Frightfest headlines a strong line-up of new works from the American horror film sector, many of which will be screening for UK audiences for the first time. These include Eli Roth’s highly-anticipated cannibal survival epic, The Green Inferno; the re-emergence of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer filmmaker John McNaughton with The Harvest, starring Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton; Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey in Nacho Vigalondo’s sinister cyber-thriller, Open Windows; and, Life After Beth, debut director Jeff Baena zombie-themed rom-com that was one of the must-see films of Sundance 2014 and is being touted as the breakout hit for stars Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan.

The organisers of Film4 Frightfest take pride in their reputation for sourcing resonant films with cult potential This year, films that are made for midnight-session thrills and giggles include Jordan Rubin’s undead rodent romp, Zombeavers; UK director Phil Hawkins’ meta-themed The Last Showing, starring Robert Englund as the old school projectionist who refuses to go quietly; the pitch-black succubi comedy All Cheerleaders Die, from directors Lucky McKee (The Woman) and Chris Sivertson (I Know Who Killed Me); Lowell Deans’ Wolfcop, about a cop who…becomes a…wolf; Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno in Nicolas McCarthy’s chilling demonic possession thriller, Home; and, Among the Living, described as ‘Stand by Me-meets-The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, from the French filmmaking team of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside; Livid).

Documentaries programmed include Alexandre Phillippe’s Doc of The Dead (pictured, right), in which key creatives from the undead field (George Romero, World War Z author Max Brooks, effects guru Tom Savini and Re-animator director Stuart Gordon, to name a few) examine the genres popularity and longevity while fielding the question, ‘Would you survive a zombie apocalypse?’; Erik Sharkey’s heartfelt profile of poster-art maestro Drew Struzan, entitled Drew: The Man Behind the Poster; and, the world premiere of David Gregory’s in-depth study of a director’s career derailed by Hollywood counter-creativity, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau.

Finally, those craving a stroll down a dark memory lane will be treated to four of the most iconic genre films ever to screen at the one event. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street will be seen in remastered hi-definition; Giulio Paradisi’s 1979 star-studded psychedelic science-fiction vision, The Visitor, will perplex, bemuse and enthral; and, banned in Germany upon release and denied British certification for nearly thirty years, Jorg Buttgereit’s shocking 1988 body-horror epic, Nekromantik, will have a fully-restored screening for the edification of the truly daring horror film watcher.

The Film4 FrightFest 2014 shorts program will be announced in the weeks ahead.

Full details of all the films screening and ticket sales can be found at the Film 4 Frightfest official website.

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