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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

At The Fleapit: FrightFest 2010

On Monday Paul and I met up in Leicester Square, London, to attend our first FrightFest - having booked tickets for a couple of world premiers, namely Jake West's documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape and the Ford brothers' The Dead, a zombie film set in contemporary Africa.

The atmosphere at FrightFest was incredible, and so friendly, with celebs, directors, critics and sundry other 'faces' just breezing through the crowds of fans and mingling like they were old drinking buddies (which they quite well could have been).

The venue, The Empire Leicester Square, itself, which I haven't been to since I blagged press tickets for Nick and I to attend the premier of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (back when I was a working stiff), is about as far from "fleapit" as a cinema can get.

I think Paul and I are definitely going to try and go again next year - and maybe even see more films.

Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape was superb; incisive, balanced and very well researched - and in the process making a hero of Professor Martin Barker (who was present for a Q&A after the screening with several other luminaries) to everyone in the auditorium, and no doubt anyone who sees this documentary.

He was the one man brave enough to challenge the right-wing Thatcher government of the 1980's on the fraudulent statistics it was using to drive its draconian censorship measures through parliament - on a tidal wave of Daily Mail-fueled ignorance and bile.

The film is packed full of fascinating gems such as the figures of authority unable to distinguish between reality and fiction and self-appointed moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse's nonsensical assertions that she didn't need to see films to know whether they should be banned or not.

Then there was the incredible double-standards of certain bodies (e.g. senior police officers, politicians etc) that declared while they were able to watch these films without being corrupted others (by which they usually meant "the lower classes") shouldn't be exposed to this as it would lead to the collapse of British society.

Or the case that when children were interviewed about whether they had actually seen any of these so-called 'video nasties' they were claiming to have seen films that didn't even exist!

Much was made of the lurid publicity that the small video companies used to promote their wares - almost always far exceeding the actual content of the movie concerned - and the psychological impact of the graininess of video tape that does actually add an air of 'sleazy reality' to whatever is on display.

Certainly Jake (Doghouse) West's finest work to date, and with just enough clips from the films under discussion for most discerning viewers to realise the majority were pretty awful anyway and that - surprise, surprise - the moral majority didn't have a leg to stand on.



The Dead, on the other hand, was a major disappointment.

Beautifully shot on location in the wilds of Africa, The Dead tells of the only white survivor of the last post-zompocalypse evacuation from the continent, after his plane crashes off the coast.

Rob Freeman is Lt Brian Murphy, a military engineer, who finds himself stranded in the wilderness, constantly dodging the slow, ambling, Romero-style zombies.

Eventually he teams up with Sgt Daniel Dembele (Prince David Ose), an AWOL local soldier trying to find his missing son.

Beyond the road movie/journey premise of the story, The Dead brings nothing new to the genre and every time it looks as though something interesting might happen it gets thrown away in the next scene.

Two howling - spoilerific - examples spring to mind: at one point Lt Murphy is handed a baby by a dying woman and you think: "oh my God, how's he going to cope in a world overrun with zombies, with a newborn to care for as well?" The next scene he's meeting some refugees in a lorry and handing the baby off to them.

Then a little later, Murphy's asleep in a tree (a course of action maybe he should have considered earlier in the film, given what happens to him and Dembele at one point when they make camp) and his gun slips out of his hand to the ground. And there's a zombie walking past! Obviously zombies can't climb trees, but what exciting thing is going to happen?

Cut to next scene, it's morning, the zombie's wandered off long ago and Murphy climbs down and picks up his gun.

The only moment in the film that got any reaction from the audience was, quite early on, when Murphy drives his rusty old car over the head of a zombie causing it to pop like an overripe zit. That was met with much applauding and howls of laughter.

I'm easily satisfied by straight-forward zombie films, I'm not expecting great innovations every time, but The Dead is just dull, with its few shocks well telegraphed ahead of time.

It also suffered from strange jumps in editing that sometimes compacted sequences you thought should have been longer and at other times drawing out moments that could have been dismissed in a single beat.

You couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for directors Howard and Jon Ford, who told the audience beforehand how they'd put 20 years into the film and risked life and limb filming in such a dangerous area.

I just can't see this movie attracting even a cult following.

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