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Entries in Monster Fest (3)

Friday
Nov232018

NIGHTMARE CINEMA

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Sarah Elizabeth Withers, Faly Rakotohavana, Maurice Benard, Elizabeth Reaser, Zarah Mahler, Mark Grossman, Eric Nelsen, Richard Chamberlain, Adam Godley and Annabeth Gish.
Writers: Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugues, Richard Christian Matheson, Sandra Becerril, David Slade and Lawrence C. Connolly.
Directors: Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Ryûhei Kitamura and David Slade.

Screening at Monster Fest VII on Friday November 23 at Cinema Nova, Carlton.

Rating: ★★★★

The five-part anthology Nightmare Cinema continues co-producer Mick Garris’ dark obsession with short-form film narrative, the kind that he ushered to cult status as the driving force behind the TV series Masters of Horror. Rife with a degree of references, homages and nods that only a super-fan will fully appreciate, Garris has corralled a rogue’s gallery of international horror director heavyweights, resulting in a stylistically diverse creep show but one that sustains the shared goal of chills, thrills and giggles.

The deceptively simple premise features five would-be protagonists who stumble/are drawn into an empty picture palace, where visions of their own demise unfold before them based upon horror sub-genres. Argentinian filmmaker Alejandro Brugués (Juan of The Dead, 2011; ABCs of Death 2, 2014) starts the party with ‘The Thing in The Woods’, hurling young actress Sarah Elizabeth Withers into her own Friday the 13th–inspired battle for survival. Costumed to recall franchise favourite Kirsten Baker and facing off against a high-concept villain called ‘The Welder’ (Eric Nelsen), Withers (pictured, below) proves a good sport when the going gets gruesome, her director changing tact at the midway point from slasher tropes to something else entirely.

Brugues’ segment is a loving nod to 80s VHS nasties and could just as satisfyingly been conjured from the mind of longtime Garris cohort, Joe Dante. The beloved director of The Howling (1981), Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987) instead opts for a horror hospital riff called ‘Mirari’, in which a scarred woman (Zarah Mahler) reluctantly appeases the wishes of her handsome fiancé (Mark Grossman) and undergoes reconstructive work by the hands of Richard Chamberlain’s too-charming plastic surgeon. Dante indulges in some of the film’s most icky practical effects work while displaying his skill with the short-story format; Mirari recalls the classic Twilight Zone episode ‘Eye of he Beholder’, reigniting the debate as to whether Dante or Dr George Miller delivered the very best bits of Twilight Zone The Movie (1983).

It is following Dante’s segment that we are introduced to name player Mickey Rourke as The Projectionist, a Mephistophelian figure who oversees the unspooling of each film from his darkened booth and wanders the aisles of the cinema dispensing enigmatic menace. Rourke doesn’t have a lot to work with, unfortunately; he is no Cryptkeeper, guiding the audience on their fearful journey, or voice of subtext wisdom like Rod Serling. He largely lurks, albeit with Rourke’s still potent onscreen presence.

Nightmare Cinema settles into its truly horrifying groove with segments three and four, the most fearlessly ambitious of the compendium. In ‘Mashit’, Japanese director Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus, 2000; Azumi, 2003; The Midnight Meat Train, 2008) unleashes the titular demon (pictured, top) on a morally corrupt Catholic school. The insidious Father Benedict (Maurice Bernard) and the nun-led-astray Sister Patricia (Mariela Garriga) are no match for a dorm of possessed children led by a horned, malformed deity from Hell or a director who can deftly deliver a jump-cut scare.

Hollywood’s most under-valued horror director, David Slade (Hard Candy, 2005; 30 Days of Night, 2007) provides the psychologically troubling vision, ‘This Way to Egress’. Shot in richly textured black-&-white, it stars Elizabeth Reaser (pictured, above; currently seen in the hit Netflix show, The Haunting of Hill House) as a mother of two brattish boys slowly losing her mind in the waiting room of her ‘specialist’, Dr Salvador (Adam Goodley). As time passes, the pristine office surrounds become overwhelmed by a dark filth; the faces of those that she passes in the halls grow increasingly deformed. Slades’ film is a masterful take on mental health, depression, social disconnection; while it foregoes the visceral horror of the film to this point, it is a warped walk in a convincingly disturbing, Cronenberg-esque realm.

Finally, Garris himself steps into the director’s chair for ‘Death’, in which musical prodigy Riley (Faly Rakotohavana) starts to see dead people as he recovers in (another) creepy hospital ICU after a carjacking that claimed his parents. Hunted by the murderer (Orson Chaplin) and haunted by his mother (Annabeth Gish), Riley’s plight in the hands of Rakotohavana proves not only thoroughly creepy but also surprisingly moving; Garris nods to The Sixth Sense perhaps once too often, but does so with heart and conviction.

The all-encompassing title implies a genre of its own, so it is fitting that so much of Nightmare Cinema draws from then reinterprets the horror visions of filmmakers that have gone before, delivered by Garris and his peers with a true understanding of a horror fan’s fixation.

Tuesday
Nov212017

LANDFALL

Stars: Kristen Condon, Rob Stanfield, Daryl Heath, Andy Bramble, Bailey Stevenson, Shawn Brack, Tony Bonner, Anthony Ring and Vernon Wells.
Writer/Director: Travis Bain

WORLD PREMIERE: Monster Fest, Sunday November 26 at 12.30pm at Melbourne’s Lido Cinema.

Rating: 3.5/5

Pitching all the elements at just the right serious/comic tone to pull off a tongue-in-cheek thriller like Landfall is a tough ask; too much either way, neither works satisfactorily. So all credit to multi-hyphenate Travis Bain, who gives it a damn good shake in his slyly funny, convincingly twisty exercise in narrative acrobatics and Tarantino-esque pop culture riffing.

Set against the same F.N.Q./tropical cyclone backdrop as his debut Scratched (2005), the director introduces young couple Maisie (Kristen Condon) and Dylan (Rob Stanfield) in a beachfront home with time running out. Just as they decide to head for higher ground, an ambulance, its lights darkened, pulls into the driveway. Imposing themselves on the young couple are three unsavoury types, decked in paramedic garb – the badly injured Ringo (Bailey Stevenson), a gravelly-voiced George (Andy Bramble) and the weapons-wielding leader, Paul (the imposing Daryl Heath).

The group dynamic is skilfully constructed, with barely a breath taken before all the elements are in place – the details of the crime committed, the McGuffin in the corner of the room, the backstory that binds the diverse group together. Bain does not allow the premise’s occasionally creaky credibility to sneak into his story until well into the second act, when burly cop Wexler (Vernon Wells) becomes entangled in the increasingly convoluted intrigue. The extent to which Bain's script explores all possible avenues for his characters and their motivations becomes a tad exhausting, though ultimately answers all the questions he poses.

But the young director has more on his mind than uncoiling genre machinations. A film-buff’s pedigree begins to reveal itself, notably in a terrifically funny piece of dialogue between Paul and Wexler, in which the criminal riffs on his favourite movies. Heath’s thuggish brute offers up (in this critics opinion) a long overdue takedown of The Shawshank Redemption (1994), which Bain then recalls in the film’s final moments; the biggest laugh comes when Paul drops one particular fave, allowing Wells a priceless few frames of film to respond.

Spinning his violent home invasion thriller off into QT territory is a bold move; some viewers and critics may be less forgiving of the dogleg tonal turn. However, what Bain does achieve with an especially assured touch is a knowingness that lifts it out of its ‘competent B-thriller’ confines and ups its value as genre homage.

On those terms, Landfall unexpectedly plays like a mash-up of two undervalued Nicholas Cage pics – the goofy three-crims-on-the-run comedy Trapped in Paradise (1994), and the actors’ own twisty kidnapping thriller, Trespass (2011), opposite Nicole Kidman. The film is also under the spell of Cape Fear (1991), Reservoir Dogs (1992) and The Ref (1994), to name just a few.

The other benefit brought from accepting Bain’s pitch-black comedy stylings is that several performances sharpen from broad caricature into cutting satire; best amongst them are the terrific Heath, Condon’s counter-intuitive damsel-in-distress and young Stevenson, as the firebrand Ringo. Further confirmation of the pic’s cheekiness are the cameo turns from Shawn Brack and Australian acting legend Tony Bonner as mates, ‘Trev’ and ‘Kev’.

 

Saturday
Nov182017

TARNATION

Stars: Daisy Masterman, Emma-Louise Wilson, Danae Swinburne, Blake Waldron, Jasy Holt, Joshua Diaz, Sean McIntyre, Sarah Howett and Mitchell Brotz.
Writer/Director: Daniel Armstrong.

WORLD PREMIERE: Monster Fest, Friday November 24 at 9.30pm at Melbourne's Lido Cinema. 

Rating: 3.5/5

It is easy to imagine Sam Raimi giggling with gleeful pride should he ever stumble across Daniel Armstrong’s Tarnation. Stretching a meagre budget and pushing a game cast are two of Armstrong’s great strengths as a director; another is clearly a love for the works of Michigan’s favourite filmmaking son, whose Evil Dead epics are paid the type of knowing homage only a true fan could conjure.

The unselfconsciously preposterous plot centres on wannabe singer-songwriter Oscar, played by the endearing Daisy Masterman with the same spirited abandon that Bruce Campbell displayed 36 years ago. We meet Oscar as she gets marched from her singing gig by her band’s manager (Sean McIntyre), a creepy golf-enthusiast who recommends she get some R&R at his log cabin just outside of the township of Tarnation. With BFF Rain (Danae Swinburne) and two ill-fated beau-hunks along for the ride, they are barely through the door when the spirits that possesses the property start playing up.

With its veranda awning and Tardis-like interiors, the cabin is a masterfully recreated version of Raimi’s Evil Dead cottage, and Armstrong uses every corner of the set to offer shout-outs to his favourite genre works. Like-minded fans will have a blast spotting references to such cult pics as Friday the 13th, Night of The Creeps and Basket Case. The prolific young filmmaker is not above trumpeting his own contributions to DIY-horror, with posters for his past films From Parts Unknown (2015), Murder Drome (2013) and Sheborg Massacre (2016) pinned to the wall.

While it is clear that Armstrong has little regard (or budget) for elements such as logic or continuity, the on-screen energy that he skilfully crafts puts him in the same league as contemporaries Kiah Roache-Turner (Wyrmwood: Road of The Dead, 2014) and Christopher Sun (Charlie’s Farm, 2014; Boar, 2017) and Ozploitation greats like Brian Trenchard-Smith (Turkey Shoot, 1982; Dead End Drive-In, 1986). His nighttime sequences achieve more with one source light and a fog machine than most would with twice the resources, while his old-school practical effects (including a possessed and rotting kangaroo whose design recalls the goat-monster from…that’s right, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell) are top tier.

As with any independent filmmaker worth their weight, Armstrong calls in favours to realise his project. Oscar’s band is played by soundtrack contributors The Mercy Kills, who have utilised Armstrong’s vision in the past for their film clips; Tarnation reunites the director with the star of Sheborg Massacre and From Parts Unknown, actress/stuntwoman Emma-Louise Wilson, who brings some well-timed and tasteless laughs as the wheelchair-bound ‘Wheels’.