For horror fans up and down the UK, the highlight of the calendar is Frightfest and since its first-ever event back in 2000, it has gone down as one of our best-known film festivals, with a reputation that extends beyond our tiny little island and deep into the American heartland. Genre favourite Guillermo Del Toro described it as the “Woodstock of Gore”. For their 2018 festival, they are presenting a selection of titles under the banner “the best of the fest on the small screen”. Movies that include The Dark, Secret Santa, Lifechanger, Boar, Pimped, and, Fright Fest.
Today we are rolling our last two into one article. First, we have the full circle of Ante Novakovic’s Fright Fest (A.K.A. American Fright Fest), following that up, we have another Australian exploitation movie – this time of the rape-revenge kind with David Barker’s Pimped.
Recently Arrow Video released a lost-slasher, a movie that even those who follow all things hack and slash hadn’t heard of – Doom Asylum. And I’ll be honest, I thought it was awful and forgot for all the right reasons. That being said, it made great use of location in an abandoned and decrepit asylum. I bring this up as Fright Fest (weird that this should be playing at Frightfest) takes place in a similarly abandoned locale. In Novakovic’s movie, we have a scuzzy no-rate horror director whose best days are far behind him in Spencer Crowe (Dylan Walsh) and a local politician who wants to put a fright fest on at the local abandoned asylum to win him some young votes (Kresh Novakovic). Crowe is to put on said event, the hope is it’ll keep the mayor in office and bring Crowe back from oblivion. On the road near this dilapidated gothic building is a bus transporting dangerous murderers from one prison to another. Guess what happens? Why yes, that is right, the incompetent Crowe causes the bus to crash, killing all but two people – one a horrific mass murderer and someone who seems to have been wrongly implicated in the murder of his parents. With the fright fest event a massive success, the murderous escapee heads for the lights and crowds and proceeds to kill everyone.
I may not be a fan of the slasher, but I do appreciate why they are so beloved. The glee derived for the utterly over-the-top violence is a common thing people love in horror and this is at its most concentrated in the slasher. Another aspect is their use of the villain as the main character, with each individual franchise/title having a big bad that is unique and identifiable; like a mascot. None of this is true of (American) Fright Fest, I am sad to report. Its roaming killer is just a guy in a barely distinguishable and cheap rubber mask and none of the kills stand out. The only kill that I remember is the scene in which Pancho Moler (Finkle), the stealth best character on the merit of him being somewhat memorable for reasons beyond his diminutive stature, is done in.
Irony – that is how I will describe this movie. A movie that has the same name as the festival in which it is playing is nothing more than a series of dulled, faded out tropes. There are ideas hidden within that, but they have been lost in the edit. If Novakovic brought out some of the more interesting aspects of the story rather than throwing in too many unfulfilled details, plot beats, and that ill-advised classical moody score, I would have been a lot more positive about Fright Fest. Still, there is nothing final about a festival cut – so who knows, there may be hope in the future for (American) Fright Fest, a hope that just needs to be brought into greater focus.
FRIGHT FEST WILL BE RECEIVING A HOME VIDEO RELEASE IN EARLY 2019 VIA FRIGHTFEST PRESENTS
Personally, I have become a bit of a fan of the outsiders of Australian cinema – even from the drip-feed of Ozploitation and new classics that see the light of day here in the UK. You could probably extend that too to New Zealand, Antipodean genre cinema is a bit of a hidden treat. New movies that fit that bill being released in the UK are a bit a coup for us woefully underserved fans. Unfortunately, this one comes under the rape-revenge banner, a type of genre fare that was at its most prominent in the 70s and 80s and subjected women to all manner of misogyny only to give them five or ten minutes of bloody retribution. There are movies that are a little more cunnings with the genre, this year’s Revenge and the Korean horror from a few years back, Bedevilled, are two such examples. Hoping to join that company is David Barker’s Pimped. In which two devious housemates, Lewis (Benedict Samuel) and Kenneth (Robin Goldsworthy), lure a mentally unbalanced woman, Sarah (Ella Scott Lynch), into a mean-spirited sexual trap. From which blood is let leaving victim and perpetrator in close contact for an extended time, for convoluted reasons, during which the movie becomes a platform for Lewis’s nihilistic and misogynistic views.
To call out a rape-revenge movie for being unpleasant is like a pot calling the kettle black, it’s what these movies are known for. Credit is due then that the specific type of pointed unpleasantness in Pimped comes from the beliefs that are argued convincingly with a great, committed performance by Benedict Samuel. What he is saying is bitter, cynical, anti-social and nihilistic. Far be it for me to say that in achieving such nonchalant nihilism, like it set out to, makes Pimped bad, far from it. Instead, this is divisive on a visual and tonal level. Barker’s movie could partner up with Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon to make a pretty good, if massively cynical, double bill. Pimped is rife with neon, red lighting, and heavy contrast – there is a big visual identity here. Where Refn presented a massive stylistic overload, Barker is slower, quieter and more deliberate. Outside of the excellently shot opening party, this could be described as a two-hander with just Sarah and Lewis talking for much of it. Other characters do come into focus, and there are bloody kills peppered throughout, even so, this is a slow thoughtful affair. Only one shot with lashings of neon and cinematography that plays on the vastness of the house where most the events take place and its emptiness. Perhaps Barker is giving these beliefs and ideas credibility, however, his presentation sets its characters up as isolated, overlooked, forgotten and lonely. Nothing is celebratory here, even the eventual revenge provides no answers for its characters.
Rape Revenge is far from the most popular sub-genre, for obvious reason, nonetheless, it would be churlish to overlook this dark and well-made movie. Fair enough, this is not a movie for me, and that is okay, there is no such thing as a movie for everyone especially in the horror community.