Horrorthon and on and on…

It’s been a long and busy Halloween weekend as the Irish Film Institute once again hosts Horrorthon, their annual gore-fest for fans of the horror genre. Running over four full days, there is almost too much to see –  a good complaint by the way- as they bring together classics, new releases and previews.

Armed with nothing more than a sturdy(ish) constitution, focuspullr set off to embrace the darkness for a full-on weekend of Zombies, Hoodies, gory body modification and good old-fashioned terror, with some laughs thrown in along the way. Naturally with so many films showing, some cuts of my own had to be made, so here are some capsule reviews of my weekend highlights.

We kicked off with the Festival’s opening film Antiviral –  the debut feature of Brandon Cronenberg, son of body-shock Master David Cronenberg. This sci-fi horror centres around a clinic selling vials of celebrities’ infections to their obsessive fans. Taking certain sections of society’s almost pathological fixation on celebrity culture to an extreme conclusion, the film features a great central performance from Caleb Landry Jones as Syd March, the employee with a byline in stealing samples from the clinic,which he sells on the black market. Naturally things don’t go quite according to plan, not helped by the fact that the only way Syd can get the viruses out of the clinic is by injecting himself with them.  This is a good-looking film with great cinematography and an interesting premise, but it’s a little overlong and loses some of its bite as a result.

Room 237 is a fascinating Documentary exploring the perceived hidden meanings and sub-texts of Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, The Shining.  Using extensive film clips and voice-over narration to probe Kubrick’s multi-layered film, theories range from the believable to the outrageous. Some readings see the film as dealing with the slaughter of the American Indians, The Holocaust and Kubrick’s part in faking the Apollo 11 Moon landings, among others. It’s a fantastically well executed film which will leave you wanting to see Kubrick’s masterpiece one more time.

Ciaran Foy’s debut feature, Citadel, got a very warm welcome at its home screening. The Director was there to introduce the film and take part in a Q&A afterwards.  He told the packed house that the idea for the film was inspired by an assault on him by a gang of youths (on his way home from the cinema, incidentally) in which a dirty syringe was held to his throat. He suffered from Agoraphobia following the attack, a condition he ascribes to Tommy (Aneurin Barnard), the lead character in the film. Tommy’s life is made hell following an attack on his pregnant wife in the condemned council tower block they’re just about to leave. A gang of hooded youths armed with a syringe attack her and leave her for dead, while Tommy watches helplessly from the building’s stuck lift. Later moving into a council house on the same estate, Tommy and his new baby daughter are stalked by the malevolent teens, who it transpires, are not at all what they seem. Citadel cleverly mixes social realism with the Zombie/Vampire genre and makes great use of its council estate locations, which are beyond bleak, to say the least.

The Anthology film has long been a staple of the Horror genre. From the fertile ground of the 1970s which gave us Tales From The Crypt and The House That Dripped Blood, to name but two, through to more recent fare such as the straight to DVD schlocker, Trick r Treat. These usually consist of 5 or more individual stories within a story, which play out in turn while bringing us back periodically to the original framing story.  VHS is the latest addition to the genre, comprising 5 shorts; with each segment covered by a different director. These are firmly rooted in the modern Indie-horror style; with takes on slasher flicks, found footage films, haunted house scare stories and ’70s inspired occult weirdness. As with other compilation films, some segments fare better than others, but overall VHS delivers on the shocks with some genuinely scary WTF moments.

A couple of worthy mentions go to American Mary and Excision, both of which deal with female characters with a yen for home surgery.  In American Mary, director twins Sylvia and Jen Soska (Dead Hooker in a Trunk) give us the story of broke surgical student Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle). Mary is offered a sizeable amount of cash to perform some no-questions-asked surgery on the wounded accomplice of a sleazy night club owner, which propels her into a shady underworld of illegal body modification. Things take a turn for the weird when, thanks to a creepy tutor, Mary’s hopes of becoming a qualified surgeon are dashed, and she’s soon embarking on a bloody revenge spree.  American Mary is a well made, tightly paced shocker which cleverly finds inspiration in the underground sub-culture of tattooing and piercings.

In contrast Excision’s lead female character also has her hopes set on a career in surgery. Unfortunately the problem with Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is that she’s a seriously disturbed, delusional teenager whose wayward behaviour eventually wreaks havoc on the lives of her cosy, suburban family.  Pauline’s sister Grace (Ariel Winter) who has Cystic Fibrosis, is the apple of Mum Traci Lords’ eye. Hen-pecked hubby Bob (Roger Bart) just wants a quiet life but Pauline’s problems at home and at school soon put paid to that. With its clean, brightly lit suburban setting, Excision is reminiscent of Donnie Darko in places, but its gross-out comedy/horror mix pales next to that superior films more serious, sinister undertones. Featuring a cameo from the great John Waters, it’s an enjoyable enough film which builds neatly to its shock ending.

Of the Irish short films I managed to see, which screened before the main features, I must give special mention to Lorcan Finnegan’s unusual and excellent Foxes and Randal Plunkett’s Zombie flick, Out There.

So we must  leave Horrorthon for yet another year and come blinking back out into the sunlight. No doubt there are lots of other worthy films in the Festival which I missed out on, but such is the strength of the selections, that choosing what to see is a decision-making nightmare; albeit a deliciously enjoyable one.

Horrorthon finishes today at the Irish Film Institute.