Category Archives: FrightFest
The Love Witch (2016) | Prepare to be seduced, bewitched and beguiled – just watch out for the jimsonweed!
A deliciously visual confection that pays loving homage to vintage Hollywood glamour, melodrama and Technicolor, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is a beguiling and bewitching feminist exploration of pathological love, desire and narcissism.
She Loved Men… To Death
Wiccan convert Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is determined to find a man to love her entirely. Fleeing San Francisco after the death of a lover, she takes up residence in a gothic Victorian apartment in a quaint town northern Californian, where she begins her search for the man of her dreams.
But her sex magic – which requires the use of the hallucinogenic jimsonweed – is so powerful it sends her suitors to an early grave, and when she does meet her perfect match in a detective (Gian Keys) who is investigating her, Elaine’s desperation to be loved sends her over the edge…
With its purposefully stylised look, drenched in a ultra vivid colour palette, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch certainly took my breathe away and reminded me of how excited I felt when I first laid eyes on the hyper-real styling’s of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle, James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus and Todd Haynes’ Poison and Velvet Goldmine.
Praise be Biller for taking over seven years to bring her feminist opus to cinematic life – and doing all the writing, direction and editing herself (as well as the sets, songs and paintings), while also working closely with cinematographer, M David Mullen (Jennifer’s Body and TV’s Extant), to achieve her desire to create a fun movie that uses her own cinema fantasies to ‘penetrate the visual world of an iconic witch’.
It’s certainly exciting for cinephiles like myself to catch all the references that Biller channels into the film: like the opening sequence that’s an intentional nod to Hitchcock’s The Birds – complete with retro rear-screen projection; Douglas Sirk’s soapy 1950s melodramas; and female-driven pictures like Mildred Pierce and Leave Her To Heaven.
And when it comes to the borrowed music, Biller cleverly chooses some evocative 1960s giallo scores by Ennio Morricone. Now I might be mistaken, but I think I also heard a mock-medieval melody from David Lee’s Masque of the Red Death score from Roger Corman’s 1964 Pathecolor horror classic – another film that made masterful use of a primary colour palette courtesy of Nicolas Roeg.
For me, the heavy use of reds, purples and blacks and the witches’ coven sequences reminded me of some other psychedelic American International Pictures-produced horrors like Count Yorga, Vampire and The Dunwich Horror. But Biller has gone on record to say that she was never influenced by what she calls these ‘exploitation movies’ as they were made purely for ‘male pleasure’.
Playing the deluded femme fatale, Samantha Robinson is totally bewitching as Elaine, who is part Stepford wife, part Samantha from Bewitched, but with the darker shades of Sandy Dennis in That Cold Day in the Park and a couple of Hitchcock heroines lurking behind inviting deep hazel eyes that stare directly at the camera in almost every shot. It’s a clever technique that effectively seduces the viewer into being drawn into Elaine’s deluded candy-coloured world.
Here’s how Biller viewed her intentions: ‘I wanted to make a movie about a witch, because I think that every woman is made to feel like a witch by the men who don’t understand her: that is, mysterious, dangerous, different, abnormal. Elaine is monstrous, wreaking havoc wherever she goes, but she is also sympathetic, because she has essentially been driven mad by being a woman, and is struggling to find love and acceptance in a world that has disappointed her at every turn.’
The gender politics of Biller’s The Love Witch is certainly ripe for closer examination and comment, and I look forward to revisiting the film when it gets its UK Blu-ray release on 13 March from ICON Entertainment. In the meantime, do yourself a favour and catch this on the big screen – you NEED to see it in all its 35mm glory.
Oh and for those of you who are film location fanatics (like me), Elaine’s Munsters-like Victorian mansion can be found at 916 13th St, Arcata, CA 95521.
The Love Witch is out in selected UK cinemas now.
Now it its 17th year, FrightFest will see 62 new features screening at its new home at the Vue Cinema at Shepherd’s Bush, West London, next week (25-29 August). I’ll be there throughout the weekend not only to see as much as I can (and get my retinas burned in the attempt), but also to promote the first officially licensed Vincent Price Ale in the UK – Black Cat, which is sponsoring FrightFest’s big director’s lunch, and whose label has been designed by FrightFest’s resident poster artist Graham Humphreys. I’ll also be posting my thoughts of each day’s offerings here each day.
Here’s what’s on offer….
The opening night attraction is the European Premiere of MY FATHER DIE, Sean Brosnan’s brutal and beautiful feature debut – an ultra-stylish, über violent revenge thriller that’s a calling card for Brosnan’s brilliant talents. And our closing night film is another breakneck paced masterpiece – the UK Premiere of TRAIN TO BUSAN, so join ‘The Commuting Dead’ as director Sang-ho Yeon takes you on a first class horror action thrill-ride, mixing slaughter, suspense and splatter with incredible visual élan.
In between these two banner titles are the scream of the crop from all over the globe, strongly represented in our line-up of World Premieres by the incredible Italian supercar tension-ratcheting MONOLITH, the gory Dutch treat THE WINDMILL MASSACRE, the stunning South African nightmare FROM A HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET, Tricia Lee’s creepy Canadian chiller BLOOD HUNTERS and three American shock absorbers KNUCKLEBONES, ENCLOSURE and the Eurotrashy radical BLOOD FEAST remake.
Reflecting a productive year for British horror, there are twelve UK World Premieres, including Shaun Robert Smith’s intensely powerful BROKEN, Jon Ford’s visceral revenge thriller OFFENSIVE, Wyndham Price’s dark fantasy CROW, Kate Shenton’s auto-satire EGOMANIAC, Ben Parker’s claustrophobic THE CHAMBER, Marty Stalker’s shock-doc HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL and Andy Edward’s sun, sea and sex gore-fest IBIZA UNDEAD.
Five of the UK World Premieres make up the ‘First Blood’ strand, in which home-based directors are given a chance to shine with their debut efforts. These are: Phillip Escott’s harrowing CRUEL SUMMER, Brad Watson’s urban gang shocker HALLOW’S EVE, James Crow’s deadly HOUSE OF SALEM, Stewart Spark’s 666 Short Cuts To Hell entry THE CREATURE BELOW and Lawrie Brewster’s PTSD-inspired THE UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS.
Other festival highlights in the Main Screen strand include the European Premiere of Adam Wingard’s intense chiller of the moment, THE WOODS. destined to be one of the key horrors of 2016. We also have this year’s most ferocious possession movie in Cody Calahan’s LET HER OUT, as well as Todd William’s superb Stephen King adaptation CELL, starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson. Then there is the top box office Italian sensation THEY CALL ME JEEG ROBOT, Adam Rifkin’s tour-de-force DIRECTOR’S CUT, starring Penn Jillette, Rob Zombie’s ultra-violent grindhouse slasher 31, ‘Saw’ man Darren Lynn Bousman’s graphic novel inspired ABBATOIR, Simon Rumley’s latest visionary masterpiece JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT’S LAST WORD, Jackson Stewart’s supernatural switcheroo BEYOND THE GATES, the zombie theme park hell ride THE REZORT, the full-blooded cracker RED CHRISTMAS, the cryogenic chiller REALIVE, the home invasion twister MERCY, the darkly unpredictable PET, starring Dominic Monaghan and the beguilling THE MASTER CLEANSE, with The Big Bang Theory’s Jonny Galecki and Anna Friel.
South America is rapidly becoming a major genre player and FrightFest is proud to be presenting seven specialities from Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Mexico. Daniel de la Vega’s WHITE COFFIN is co-written by FrightFest favourite Adrian Garcia Bogliano, Laura Casbe’s BENAVIDEZ’S CASE stretches surrealist boundaries, Patricio Valladares’ DOWNHILL mines H. P. Lovecraft for inspiration, THROUGH THE SHADOW puts Henry James’ classic tale of terror ‘The Turn of the Screw’ through a south of the border filter, THE SIMILARS is pure ‘Twilight Zone’ inspiration, FRANCESCA a thrilling Buenos Aires take on giallo and WE ARE THE FLESH comes with serious artistic endorsements from fellow Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro G. Iñárritu.
The Discovery Screen strand is as bold as ever and includes a restored version of Shelden Renan’s controversial documentary THE KILLING OF AMERICA, Anna Biller’s gloriously art-directed THE LOVE WITCH, the cursed silent movie FURY OF THE DEMON, the Berlin Film Festival break-out, SHELLEY, the visionary sci-fi fantasy LOST SOLACE and the darkly hilarious ghost-busting ANOTHER EVIL. Then there’s Julian T. Pinder’s chilling murder investigation POPULATION ZERO, Martin Owen’s High-tec underground thriller terror LET’S BE EVIL, Tim Reis’ slimy creature feature BAD BLOOD: THE MOVIE and Michael Boroweic’s acute study of alien paranoia, MAN UNDERGROUND.
Plus, you can witness the stag party from hell in THE UNRAVELLING, the bad taste shenanigans of NIGHT OF SOMETHING STRANGE, , the viral thrills of THE EVIL IN US, the vehicular chills of PARANORMAL DRIVE, the die-hard dystopia of HERE ALONE, the eye-popping shocks of FOUND FOOTAGE 3D, and the ‘goriously’ insane ATTACK OF THE LEDERHOSEN ZOMBIES.
Ahead of its FrightFest Presents DVD release, there is an encore airing for ROAD GAMES, this time with a live interactive commentary with director Abner Pastoll and a London premiere for one of the most popular movies shown earlier this year at FrightFest Glasgow, Sean Byrne’s THE DEVIL’S CANDY.
The Duke Mitchell Film Club is also back with the UK premiere of Kim Sang-Chan’s outrageously infectious KARAOKE CRAZIES and a first showing of all three episodes of the mesmerising French TV mini-series BEYOND THE WALLS.
For passes and tickets, check out: http://frightfest.nutickets.com
For the full schedule: http://www.frightfest.co.uk/2016films/schedule.html