Film Four FrightFest - Monday

It's the final day of the FrightFest and I'm actually sorry it's ending. This weekend has given me a new respect for a genre I'd written off as throwaway schlock, and I'm gonna keep my eyes open for new movies by some of the people who showcased work here. 

Banshee Chapter

Banshee Chapter, AKA 21 Jump Scare Street, is a movie by director Blair Erickson (who we interviewed right HERE) which explores the aftermath of a shady government experiment into the effects of dimethyltryptamine (DMT for you cool kids). A lad by the name of James is making a documentary film on the experiment, known as MK-Ultra (which is a real thing by the way. Look it up.) and manages to get his hands on some of the incredibly rare DMT-19, which has been cut with a mystery chemical from a mystery source. He is filmed drinking the blue liquid (MK-Ultra? More like Always Ultra! Am I right?) and nothing much really happens, until a mysterious broadcast starts to play on his radio. Then he and his friend Renny are seemingly attacked, and James disappears forever.

Cut to later when his sexy British friend Anna (Katia Winter), who is a journalist for a news website with the most relaxed policy on work absence I've ever seen, is investigating what might have become of James. We're shown that the police blamed Renny for his disappearance, but without a body there was no way to hold the poor sod and was let go, vanishing himself a few days later.

Anna gets in touch with Ted Levine, doing an extended Hunter S. Thompson impression as cult gonzo writer Thomas Blackburn, and together they themselves take some DMT-19, which Blackburn's hippie mate Callie has managed to put together herself. Then monsters. 

The film's a mess, in all honesty. It leans far too heavily on the Jump Scare lever to try and draw you in and hopefully make you forget about the incredibly patchy plot. Things go silent, then stay silent... and silent. And silent still... and she goes up to the window/door/peephole/curtains/porthole... and silent... and then BOOM a monster's face and we're all meant to be hurled back in our seats by primal fear. But we're not, because it took 3 full minutes to get us there and we expected it like we expect the Coke ad at Christmas.

Even the style is confused; what starts off as a documentary, with Anna narrating, is forgotten about 20 minutes in and carries on like a regular movie. But still shot like a documentary. At some points she looks to the camera as if checking on the man holding it, then it's as if there is no man and she acts like there's no camera present. 

The dialogue is wooden and obvious, with plenty of annoying little foibles that seem to crop up in lazily written scripts (English people don't say "What was with you back there." and yet when written into American movies it's like a bloody catchphrase.) The only thing that elevates this picture from utter gutter balls is the performance of Ted Levine from Silence of the Lambs and Monk. 

His Hunter Thompson homage is pretty on the money, even if it does perhaps go too far in its accuracy when (*the character shoots himself in the head*) He's charming and engaging in a movie that's neither and bad lines sound half decent coming out of his mouth in the sound of his voice. He never oversteps it into cartoonish parody and overall gives a very respectful version of the late Thompson. 

The end makes no sense, is barely explained and comes entirely out of nowhere as if the film makers weren't quite sure what to do when faced with the final page and just put something down in the hopes that they'd have an idea on the day. Except they didn't.

Some of the "test footage" is quite unsettling, but it soon gives way to the cheap scare disease running rampant throughout the movie. 

1 1/2 out of 5

Odd Thomas

Based on the first of a series of novels by Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas is not about a guy called Thomas who is Odd. It's about a guy called Odd who is Odd. Played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek), Odd is a guy who sees dead people, but then by God he does something about it! They come to him, silently asking for help, and he's compelled to avenge them in whatever way he can. At the start we find Odd in his little flat above a garage, which is also where the ghost of recently murdered young girl Penny Kalisto finds him. Odd follows her through the small New Mexico town of Pico Mundo until they come across Harlo Landerson, the man responsible for Penny's newly deceased predicament. 

Odd chases him down and roughs him, explaining how everything works via voice over, and he's joined by the Chief of Police as played by Willem Defoe in his first and only non-terrifying role. We meet everyone in his life pretty quickly, and the town comes across as real and populated. The whole movie actually kind of feels like the feature length episode of a TV series that you've been watching for years, and each character feels very familiar to you after only a scene or two. 

There are a few clunky lines of exposition; "Well their last mother was a junkie who left them on your doorstep to raise all alone..." but Anton Yelchin is so warm and disarming that he manages to pull off any of the dafter things he has to say. Even the voice over, which feels a bit much at points, doesn't ever cross over into irritating and I think that's got a lot to do with Yelchin. 

Addison Timlin as girlfriend and sassy girl sidekick Stormy does occasionally shine the "sassy" part of her character a little too brightly, and her permanent duck-face expression is a bit distracting, but her chemistry with Yelchin is undeniable and while their back and forth never quite reaches the Lee Pace/Anna Friel "Pushing Daisies" zenith, it's still pretty great.

That the movie always feels like a TV series isn't a bad thing either. If this was on TV every week I'd watch it, and I hope that something along those lines spins out from the film. A miniseries approach, taking on each of the books, would be preferable rather than going the Dexter route of loose adaptation followed by original tales. It'd be a shame to have presented such a vibrant universe and then have to put it back in the box and forget it was there.

For the budget they had, the CGI used is sparing and for the most part very good, particularly on the shadowy Bodachs. The supporting cast are all giving everything they have and even cameo appearances, like Patton Oswalt as peculiar artist Ozzie, have personalities and hinted at backstory.

The ending was easy to call, but still very effective. It even made the goth I was sitting next to cry, which is a mark of success to my mind. I dug this so much I went right out between movies and bought book, which I'm currently enjoying to no end because I'm reading it in Anton Yelchin's voice. 

4 out of 5

Rewind This!

I didn't miss VHS to be honest. It was around for a long time during my formative years, but there were too many problems to deal with too often. My videos always got chewed to shit by the machine and more than once I had to take scissors to the tape and cut out the more mangled parts, sticking it back together in a crude editing job to get a bit more life out of the thing. Once DVD arrived I got a player damn near right away and never looked back. I don't even know where my videos are now. Crushed and pulped and recycled into toothbrushes for prisoners or undetectable firearms for anti-terror air police or something or something. Doesn't matter.

Not to me anyway, but to the subjects of Rewind This! a documentary love-letter to the bygone format, the VHS has never gone away and will never go away. Josh Johnson talks to VHS collectors who spend their free time amassing huge libraries of weird and rare tapes of movies no one even remembers anymore, like Burt Reynold's classic "Monsoon", purely just so someone has them. 

We hear from those who've most benefited from the rise of the home video cassette, from Troma Entertainment Lloyd Kaufman to Basket Case director Frank Henenlotter to porn directors to archivists. Every aspect of the entertainment revolution that was the VHS is examined carefully but not overly so. We find out why VHS eventually defeated BetaMax in the format wars, but there are no dry statistics or graphs to chew on; everything we learn comes straight from the people involved and is told is such an interesting way that I really started to feel nostalgic for the video by the end of it.

The video wasn't just great for consumers, but it presented a new outlet for creative types to get their work shown where it might otherwise have languished or not been made at all. The proliferation of the horror in the 1980's can be directly attributed to the introduction of the video shop and their need to fill the shelves with as much content as possible. 

Rewind This! is a mesmerizing and heartfelt look at something that will soon be forgotten outside of niche circles, and if you've never even watched a proper video before you need to check out this movie. If you lived during the time of the VHS then this will remind you of all those trips to the video shop, all those blurry yellowed movies and that one porno your Dad had under the shoes in his wardrobe that you secretly shared with friends. The tangible feel of the video, and the atmosphere around it at the time, is very well presented and recreated in Rewind This! It absolutely deserves all of the awards and applause it gets. It's just a shame it'll never be out on video.

4 out of 5

Words by Gazz Wood

Gazz Wood is a writer from The Northern Film School at Leeds Met University. As well as writing for Wireless he can also be heard on the monthly podcast Possibly of Interest with TV Producer Howard Cohen and special guests from the world of British TV and Cinema, plus his own weekly show Gazz Wood Has A Podcast. He can also be followed on Twitter @GazzPH90