Arrow Video FrightFest – Twenty Blood Years | Day One – Daddy issues, hungry alligators and Argentine zombies

Celebrating its 20th-year, FrightFest returned last night to the Cineworld Leicester Square and the Prince Charles Cinema in London and here’s my take on the opening night screamings that I managed to see…

COME TO DADDY
30-something hipster Norval (Elijah Wood) receives a surprise invitation to visit his estranged father who he hasn’t seen since he was five years old. Arriving at his dad’s beach-house, he is shocked to find him drunk and reluctant to tell him why he has asked him to visit… but all is not what it seems, and very quickly Norval finds himself on a dark path of self-discovery…

I have a real soft spot for Elijah Wood, not because of his Lord of the Rings/Hobbit connection, but because of the offbeat film projects he chooses to add to his already impressive CV: in particular – I’m talking about Grand Piano and Maniac (in which he delivers probably his career-best performance). And he certainly impresses here as the doe-eyed hipster (complete with Frankie Goes to Hollywood dress sense, undercut hair style and moustache) whose sheltered Beverly Hills upbringing implodes when he discovers his life has all been a lie and that he now has to man-up or else. I won’t spoil it by saying how, but it does involve Stephen McHattie’s graggy, booze-fuelled character and the introduction of three mysterious characters – including a man in chains (Martin Donovan) and a particularly unsavory one carrying a flaming crossbow (Michael Smiley). Can I just say that McHattie is really creepy here, but its Smiley who ends up stealing the show — particular in the latter half of the film when things get really gruesome (watch out for the ‘shitty pen’).

Making his directorial debut, Ant Timpson is no stranger to FrightFest having produced The ABCs of Death, Deathgasm and the brilliant Turbo Kid. A USA/Canada/New Zealand/Ireland co-production, Come to Daddy is supposedly drawn on Timpson’s own experience with the death of someone close to him, and making the film became something of a cathartic experience. Stylistically, it has shades of a 1970s thriller (the title credits and soundtrack particularly so), while the beach house and its setting reminded me of the in Mario Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon (which was set in 1970). The black humour is also terrific here, with both McHattie and Smiley providing the lion’s share: and the one joke that got the whole audience laughing involved having sex with Tory politician Michael Heseltine (not sure if US audiences will get that though).

A deviously edgy offbeat thriller with some father and son bonding at its core.

CRAWL
From Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D) and producer Sam Raimi comes this claustrophobic thriller with extra snap. When a hurricane hits her Florida hometown, competitive swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) heads to her old family home in search of her missing father, Dave (Barry Pepper). Finding him injured in the crawlspace underneath the house, the two soon become trapped by a congregation of alligators that have escaped from a local farm. But with the waters rapidly rising and the storm intensifying, its a race against time for the father and daughter to escape the sinister predators.

This text-book disaster thriller is hugely entertaining: featuring characters you care about (the father-daughter dynamic is at the heart of the drama and both Scodelario and Pepper are excellent), sharp direction, bags of suspense, and a couple of genuine ‘jump out of your seat’ scares. And like all good disaster films, there’s a family pet to route for — in this case its Dave’s loveable mutt Sugar.

While you have to suspend your belief with regards to the ‘flesh wounds’ that Haley and Dave receive while tackling their scaly adversaries (who are portrayed here as unrelenting killing machines), it just makes the MacGyver-styled action all the more gripping. While most of the action is confined to a flooded basement, there’s some great exterior set-ups (as the town outside is flooded) involving a gang of looters (who get their just desserts) and a couple of volunteer rescue workers. And the CGI of the alligators is particularly good, although there’s one or two instances that reminded me of those el-cheapo Sharknado films.

I AM TOXIC
As a bacteriological war wages in the Northern hempishere, famine grips South America and those infected are call the ‘dry ones’. When a man (Esteban Prol) suffering from amnesia (the first stage of the infection) is lured into a desert compound, he finds himself at the mercy of three sadistic wild men and a knife-wielding feral girl (Fini Bocchino). Tortured and caged, Dog (as he is named) finally gets a chance to get his own back when the girl releases him…

Pablo Pares’ blistering Argentine-made apocalyptic horror fuses The Walking Dead with some Mad Max II-stylings and Fulci-esque zombies. It’s a grim ride, but utterly compelling thanks to the solid cast (who all look genuinely grubby and in need of a hose down), well-choreographed fight sequences and stunning cinematography (particularly the desert landscape). But the fun really starts when Dog returns with a pack of ‘dry ones’ to take down Father (Horacio Fontova) and his tribe…

Bone crunching horror with a Latin twist — but you’ll be rushing to have a shower afterwards!

 

 

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About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on August 23, 2019, in Horror, Survival Thriller, Thriller and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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