Top five things to know about today's horror movies

Nigel Floyd takes a nervous peek at FrightFest

The annual Film4 FrightFest weekender kicks off at London’s Empire cinema in Leicester Square on Thursday August 23 with a sprawling line-up of some of the finest new horror films from across the globe.

With everything on show from Hammer classics and Hollywood premieres to inventive microbudget indie fare, navigating this hugely popular festival can be a daunting prospect. Luckily, Time Out’s horror movies expert Nigel Floyd was more than happy to take on the task of watching a large bulk of the programme before it’s unveiled at the festival. Here are five things he learned on his dark voyage into the cinematic unknown…

  • 1

    British horror is all over the place, literally and metaphorically.

    There are loads of new British horror films, but it’s hard to spot a pattern among them. Helping us to see the funny side of horror are the ‘geezer gore’ of ‘Cockneys vs Zombies’, the pun-tastic black humour of comedian Ross Noble’s killer clown in ‘Stitches’, the Ealing comedy-inflected vigilantism of ‘May I Kill You?’ and the Anglo-Irish sci-fi silliness of ‘Grabbers’, in which islanders protect themselves from squid-like, alcohol-averse aliens by getting blind drunk.

    By contrast, both ‘Tower Block’ and ‘Community’ deal realistically with violence on London housing estates, and there’s nothing funny about FrightFest’s opening film, ‘The Seasoning House’: a deaf-mute orphan wreaks revenge on those who slaughtered her family and consigned her to a Balkan military brothel.

  • 2

    For Italian horror, the past is the future

    The conspicuous absence from FrightFest 2012 of Italian horror icon Dario Argento’s latest film, ‘Dracula 3D’, confirms that the maestro has not rediscovered his mojo. But he will be interviewed on stage at the festival on Friday August 24. (There are other high-profile guests: Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David, will talk about her controversial shocker ‘Chained’, in which Vincent D’Onofrio’s serial killer abducts and enslaves a nine-year-old boy, while cult director Buddy Giovinazzo (‘Combat Shock’) returns with his creepy supernatural chiller ‘A Night of Nightmares’.)

    Argento’s influence is evident in Federico Zampaglione’s ‘Tulpa’ (a killer stalks the patrons of a private sex club) and the Manetti Bros’ ‘Paura 3D’ (three male friends find a beautiful, chained woman in a rich bachelor’s cellar), both of which pay explicit homage to the Visconti of Violence’s giallo thrillers. Ironically, the best Italian-set film on offer is directed by an Englishman from Reading, Peter Strickland. In the subtly disquieting ‘Berberian Sound Studio’, Toby Jones’s timid English sound engineer suffers Lynchian dissonance while working on a gruesome horror in Rome in the ’70s.

  • 3

    The past will haunt you

    The most anticipated retrospective title is ‘Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut’. Butchered on its initial release back in 1990, British fabulist Clive Barker’s adaptation of his novella will screen in something like its intended version. In Barker’s film, an ancient prophecy is fulfilled when a psychotic shrink (David Cronenberg), racist cop (Charles Haid) and bland hero (Craig Sheffer) meet at mythical necropolis Midian…

    FrightFest’s Retro Day showcases restored prints of James Whales’s ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935) and three Hammer titles – ‘The Mummy’s Shroud’ (1967), Christopher Lee as ‘Rasputin: The Mad Monk’ (1966) and Terence Fisher’s 1967 adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s satanic pot-boiler ‘The Devil Rides Out’.

  • 4

    There is no escape from horror remakes, sequels and prequels

    ‘Maniac’ is a remake of William Lustig’s infamous 1980 slasher movie, with Elijah Wood in the lead role previously played by co-writer Joe Spinnel. It’s hard to imagine what new perspective they’ve found on a derivative, sleazy film about a mother-fixated serial killer who scalps his female victims.

    The only true sequel is ‘Outpost II: Black Sun’, which develops the first film’s ideas about ghostly Nazi soldiers raised from the dead. But did we really need the prequel ‘Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings’? Or ‘The Thompsons’, a belated follow-up to the mediocre 2006 vampire movie ‘The Hamiltons’? We did not.

  • 5

    Zombie movies repeat themselves, first as tragedy, then as farce

    And it doesn’t get much more farcical than ‘Cockneys vs Zombies’, directed by Matthias Hoene and co-written by ‘Severance’ scribe James Moran, in which the old geezers at the Bow Bells Care Home are besieged by flesh-eaters released from a seventeenth-century plague pit. Unashamedly living down to its catchy title, it is very bloody silly.

    Paco Plaza’s misjudged ‘[Rec] Genesis’, by contrast, soon abandons its scary ‘found footage’ origins in favour of comedy zombie mayhem, which turns the heroine’s wedding celebrations into the reception from Hell. Cheaper, baggier and even less funny is broad Dutch zombie comedy ‘Kill Zombie!’ (aka ‘Zombibi’), which plays like ‘Harold and Kumar Meet the Undead’.

    But there is much to savour in this year’s FrightFest. Every year, there is at least one film which, without the knowledge and passion of FrightFest’s programmers, London’s horror fans might miss altogether. Last year it was the Israeli meta-slasher ‘Rabies’ (‘Kalavet’); this year, it may be The Soska Sisters’s flesh-slicing ‘American Mary’ or Jaume Balagueró’s nerve-tingling ‘Sleep Tight’. The organisers don’t take the fans for granted. Die hard horror fans should repay the compliment.

FrightFest is at the Empire Leicester Square from Aug 23-27. See for details.