Frightfest Day One: The Seasoning House and Cockneys vs Zombies Ian White August 24, 2012 Features, Film4 Frightfest 2535 When I woke up this morning I felt like Daryl Hannah in ‘Clan of The Cave Bear’, when she was about to meet her tribe for the first time. Hold on, she was kicked out of her tribe wasn’t she? That’s how come she ended up with the shuffly grunty Neanderthal people. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve even seen ‘Clan of The Cave Bear’. It’s a bad example. Let’s move on. But this evening it’s the opening night of FrightFest 2012 – the 13th FrightFest since it was first conceived and staged by Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray and Alan Jones back in 2000 – and I’m buzzing with excitement and anticipation, looking forward to the next few days when Simon, Emily and I will be bringing you the reviews of all that’s scarily wonderful in this year’s festival. But what to wear for the opening night gala? I’ve never been to FrightFest before so I’ve got no idea about the dress code. Is it black tie and shroud, Jimmy Choos and a couple of Versace bolts in the neck? Will the stripy shirt I’m wearing clash with the technicolour ghouls on my press pass? It doesn’t matter. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, the people who make horror are some of the nicest people you could meet, and that goes for FrightFest organisers and the FrightFest audience too. As I take my seat in the main auditorium, there’s the expectancy of waiting for a great party to begin and, if the first two movies I saw tonight are anything to go by, this is going to be the best party yet! The Seasoning House The Seasoning House was a frightening, brutal, ingenious choice for the opening movie. It’s the directorial debut of gore make-up maestro Paul Hyett, whose work can be seen in pretty much every British horror of the past fifteen years, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. This film, which he co-wrote with Conal Palmer, is the first part of Hyett’s projected ‘War Trilogy’ and it’s a masterpiece of bleak and savage storytelling. The film is set in The Balkans, at the height of the conflict which mercilessly ripped open that part of Eastern Europe back in the 1990’s. Angel (Rosie Day), a young deaf mute, is ‘stolen’ from her home by soldiers led by the vicious Goran (Sean Pertwee) and forced to watch as they execute her mother right in front of her. She is given to Viktor (Kevin Howarth) an underworld kingpin who enslaves her and makes her care for the inmates at his Seasoning House, a brothel where other kidnapped girls are drugged into a docile stupor, groomed and prostituted to the military. Angel discovers a way to move undetected through the walls and crawlspaces of The Seasoning House, planning a way to escape. She begins a tentative friendship with one of the newest ‘recruits’. But when Goran makes an unexpected visit and one of his men murders Angel’s new friend, she takes swift revenge in a nastily crowd-pleasing battle-to-the-death which afterwards finds her being hunted through the guts of the building by the men who slaughtered her family. It’s a nerve jangling psychological horror that doesn’t miss a beat, ratcheting up the fear to an unbearable degree. If Polanski had made ‘Die Hard’ and thrown in a touch of ‘A Serbian Film’ with a twist of ‘Christiane F.’, the result might have been very much like this. In keeping with the heightened reality of its subject matter (Paul Hyett, during the Q&A following the film, assured us that seasoning houses do actually exist) the film unfolds in almost documentary style. It’s a phenomenal accomplishment for a first-time director. It’s impossible to tell the film was shot on a low budget. There is one particular flashback involving tanks and war planes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster, but very few Hollywood movies could ever dare give us the depth of Paul Hyett’s debut. It’s sad, shocking, exhilarating and uncompromising. The death scenes are tightly shot and uncomfortable to watch, and Rosie Day’s performance is remarkable. The eighteen year old actress is totally convincing as Angel, having to use all her wits and ingenuity to try and escape from this situation with her life. Without being able to speak a single word, she has the audience’s attention and sympathy from the first moment she appears on screen. Every extra minute she stays alive, every assailant she evades, every psychotic she kills, is a triumph. And the ending is quite brilliant. All in all, The Seasoning House is a lean but muscular piece of writing, directing and performance. Paul Hyett and his cast and crew deserved every ounce of the applause they were given when the end credits rolled. He, and they, are major talents and kickstarted this year’s FrightFest in awesome style. Cockneys Vs. Zombies And now for something completely different! It was obvious, way before Cockneys Vs. Zombies even began, that there was a tremendous amount of love in the room where this film was concerned. A five minute promo was shown at last year’s FrightFest, while the film itself was still being edited. And tonight’s audience were expecting great things. We weren’t disappointed. Brothers Terry and Andy Macguire (Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway, both giving fabulous performances) are planning a bank robbery. The old people’s home their Granddad (Alan Ford) lives in is about to be redeveloped into luxury flats, and they want the money so that they can look after him. Of course, Granddad knows nothing about this. He’s an old skool East Ender who takes care of what’s his and believes in doing things the right way. Meanwhile, two workers on a docklands building site discover the entrance to some kind of crypt… who knows, maybe it’s concealing something that could make them rich? But when they break through the seal, it’s not exactly buried treasure they find. It’s a plague pit from 1666, and a few of the skeletons still haven’t learned to lie down. By the time our naïve and well-meaning gangsters Terry and Andy, together with their cousin (Michele Ryan) and a couple of other cohorts, have bungled up the raid , they’ve got bigger problems than the armed police who are waiting for them outside the bank. Zombies are lose all over the East End. All they can do now is stay alive and find a way to rescue Granddad and his retirement home friends before London is reduced to burning rubble and zombie chow. Director Matthias Hoene has described his film as ‘Evil Dead 2 meets Withnail & I’ and that’s a pretty accurate description of the eighty-eight funny, scary, fast-paced minutes that make up Cockneys Vs. Zombies. Of course, there will also be inevitable comparisons to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of The Dead but personally I think Hoene’s movie is funnier, tighter and more well developed. It’s also more natural in the way it keeps us laughing. It doesn’t suffer from the sitcom-iness (hey, I just made up a word!) that kept the characters in Shaun such ‘knowing wink to the camera’ stereotypes. Terry and Andy, and particularly their big hearted-but-retired hard man grandfather, aren’t completely three dimensional, but they’re real enough for us to empathise with them and feel a sense of jeopardy for their situation. Cockneys deserves to be a massive hit. It hits the ground running and barely ever applies the brakes, and it has a thumping soundtrack full of classic tunes (and a very funny end title song by Chas & Dave) to assist the action onscreen. The screenplay is laugh out loud funny. The make-up effects (hey, it’s Paul Hyett again!) are brilliant, and the casting – particularly of Granddad’s gang from the old people’s home – is inspired and wonderful. Check out Richard Briers with his zimmer frame in a genius snails-pace chase sequence as he hobbles along, trying to evade the clutches of the zombies staggering behind him. Gasp at the best use of a double decker bus since Cliff Richard went on his Summer Holiday. And get completely befuddled by Dudley Sutton’s hilarious and totally round-the-houses use of cockney rhyming slang. But my favourite? Honor Blackman. The ex-Avengers and James Bond superbabe proves that even at retirement age she can still handle some close-quarter combat. And, just to underline there’s more to the film than great dialogue and inspired zombie action, wait for the moment when all seems lost and the brothers and their cousin gather together for one last stand on the London docks, with zombies gathering all around them. It completely caught me by surprise and brought a lump to my throat. The zombies might have brought London down (there’s some great use of East End and docklands locations, and London still looks pretty good even after it’s been convincingly demolished by zombie Armageddon) but Cockneys Vs. Zombies took the roof off the house. Look out for it and don’t miss it. All in all, two excellent world premieres and a brilliant first night at the festival. How am I going to get to sleep now? I’m too excited just thinking about what’s in store for tomorrow… Stay with us and find out!