BERLIN

It's FrightFest's first trip to the European Film Market at the Berlinale and proved to be a great success. Read all all about the goings on as Alan Jones and Paul McEvoy brave the winter weather at one of the top five film festivals in the world.

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  • DAY ONE  |  PRELUDE

     

    DAY ONE  -  PRELUDE

    Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome to the 64th Berlin Film Festival. Not that I planned it this way at all, but it’s exactly twenty years ago that I attended this banner German festival the last time. Then I was working for SKY Movies (Chris Smith of SEVERANCE fame took over from me eventually once Barry Norman arrived) and they had sent me to cover one of the films in competition, Peter Weir’s fabulous FEARLESS, in which Jeff Bridges played a man whose personality is dramatically changed after surviving a major airline crash. I’ll never forget it as Weir was an absolute gentleman and remembered me years later on THE TRUMAN SHOW. And Rosie Perez who I adored gave me the greatest interview and went on to win a major Berlin award for her performance. We met up again later that year at the Venice Film Festival where she graciously posed for my Christmas card that year. Have a Rosie Christmas was the theme.

    Anyway, I digress. 1994 was a freezing cold, snowstorm winter and although I have returned to Berlin many times since, to cover RESIDENT EVIL, V FOR VENDETTA, EQUILIBRIUM, loads in fact, it has never been during the Festival period. Film Festivals to me should only take place in the summer, who wants to shiver in line, when you could be outside in the sun if nothing good is showing? My first and last time in Avoriaz, France’s premiere fantasy festival in the Alps in a subsequent January, didn’t change my mind either. Paul and I decided to come to Berlin this year and trawl the market screenings because it is so important we have the best FrightFest line-up ever in August. Many changes are being forced upon us because of the Empire cinema reconfiguration so we know the more stellar the programme the more those adjustments will feel seamless. Had we attended Berlin last February we would have snagged BIG ASS SPIDER to name just one of the movies that sadly got away during the frantic Cannes splurge. To that end Paul has set up shop with Jinga Films, I’m staying with my best friend Buddy Giovinazzo (director of COMBAT SHOCK and our 2012 FrightFest attraction A NIGHT OF NIGHTMARES), all our Euro-Fest friends are here meaning we can pool notes, so let the screenings begin.

    What have we got our eyes on? Well, some of the movies we’ve already seen like STAGEFRIGHT, a brilliant slasher musical, THE BABADOOK, the creepy monster book Australian sensation, and The Mo Bros’ superbly suspenseful KILLERS, which of course we are showing in Glasgow later this month. Even so there’s loads to see over the next six days and we’ll be watching COOTIES, THE PACT 2, GOAL OF THE DEAD, THE SAMURAI, STARRY EYES, LEMON TREE PASSAGE, THE GUEST, DEAD SNOW: RED VS DEAD, PARTS PER BILLION and ESPECTRO to name the tip of the massive market iceberg. Hopefully we’ll catch Christophe Gans’ THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST with Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux, and Fabrice Du Welz’s new action flick COLT 45 too. Plus we’ll be meeting up with all the people, producers and sales agents who have given us movies in the past and have new titles for us to ponder. Exciting times ahead and you can read all about it here every day.

    Until next time.

    Alan & Paul

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  • DAY TWO  |  AN EARLY START

     

    DAY TWO  -  AN EARLY START

    It was an early start for us at the 64th Berlin Film Festival today. I must make it quite clear that we are on the market section, nothing to do with the competition strand, as I've see quite a few of those already. My tip even though my review is embargoed for the time being? Hossein Amini's THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY based on the Patricia Highsmith thriller from 1964. We had already seen STAGEFRIGHT so gave that a miss while telling all our festival programmer friends to make sure they didn't. Lots of people went to see Nacho Vigalondo's OPEN WINDOWS and gave it the thumbs up. But Paul and I decided to do the rounds of our sales agent friends instead to see what they had on the horizon for us.

    First stop was the Martin- Gropius-Bau, the Berlin equivalent of the Cannes Palais situation, where we stopped by Simon Crowe Films, here with THE LAST SHOWING starring Robert Englund, and our old mate Julian Richards of Jinga. Then it was off to the close by Marriott Hotel to meet up with the MPI Media Group who are selling STARRY EYES, about an actress willing to do anything to become famous, Adrian Garcia Bogliano's LATE PHASES, a new werewolf shocker starring STAKELAND's Nick Damici as a blind war veteran on the case, and Ted Geoghegan's WE ARE STILL HERE, currently in production and the reason why our producer friend Travis (CHEAP THRILLS) Stevens isn't in town. The latter ghost story has a couple relocating to a sleepy New England town following a family tragedy and being haunted by the vengeful spirits of a murdered family. MPI are also looking after XX, a new anthology directed by women including the Soska Sisters, Mary Harron and Karyn Kusama.

    At XYZ Films we talked about THE DEAD LANDS, Kevin Smith's hugely exciting TUSK, the manhunt saga PRESERVATION, the zombie comedy LIFE AFTER BETH, the home invasion with a twist chiller HOME and the giant wasp horror STUNG. And at WT Films our conversations were all about the A.I. sci-fi thriller DEBUG, from Vincenzo Natali's producer Steve Hoban, and the supernatural thriller DEVIL'S MILE, the Xavier Gens' produced TEDDYCAM, and the HIDDEN IN THE WOODS remake, although Paul's nose was firmly planted in the FREE THE NIPPLE brochure for most of the time.

    Our first screening was Jonathan Milott and Cary Mumion's COOTIES, starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson and Leigh Whannell as teachers facing students transformed by a virus into feral flesh eaters. Very funny and creepy with the cast going the distance for extra laughs. SAW creator Whannell is especially hilarious. Then it was a more sobering view of the same subject matter in Manuel Martin Cuenca's CANNIBAL, starring Antonio de la Torre as a Granada tailor by day, but a women-hunting maniac by night. Olimpia Melinte, the Spanish Marion Cottilard, plays the two sisters, one of whom he kills, the other whom he falls in love with. Very measured, very art-house, but completely engrossing, surprising and nuanced by the two central extraordinary performances, this is a very special movie indeed. All in all a good day and tomorrow looks set to be the same with a packed roster of titles to wade through.

    Until next time.

    ALAN

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    Alan Jones and Buddy Giovinazzo collecting their accreditation.

  • DAY THREE | LUCKY WITH THE WEATHER

     

    DAY THREE - LUCKY WITH THE WEATHER


    Apparently we have struck it lucky with the weather this year, it's unseasonably mild and everyone has commented on what a difference it's making to the event. I also have to say, the screening room situation in Berlin is far better than its Cannes equivalent. They mainly take place in Potsdamer Platz at the Cinemax and Cinestar multiplexes and both venues are top notch in terms of sound and picture screen quality.

    As for GOAL OF THE DEAD, well that turned out to be a two-part mini-series, which frankly was annoying as it should have been made clear from the start of the screening. Obviously the success of 'The Returned' series has had an impact in France otherwise I doubt whether it would ever have been produced. Think 'Match of the Day' meets NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and that's what this okay drama is like, although it does sport some really impressive gore effects; slow motion bullets through heads, brain explosions and impressive CGI innards displays. It's just that the plot is way too generic despite the whole football twist as a once famous player returns to his home ground for a grudge match and realises he's hated wholesale by the fiercely loyal clubbers. So much so that a doctor has injected dodgy steroids into one home defender that mutates him into a zombie infecting the whole team. Some funny gags, a lot of sexual innuendo and way too many longeurs, I have no idea if some enterprising TV station in the UK will pick this up in the hope of some 'Walking Dead' by default interest.

    Otherwise the festival is now in full swing with many people turning up for the weekend when the most films are playing. And there's a lot of announcements in the trade press of genre interest. Like Rodney Ascher's THE NIGHTMARE sparked by his personal experiences and following a disturbing investigation into demonic visions undergone by victims of sleep paralysis. And THE 2ND REIGN OF NIGHT, the directorial debut of Antonio Sole telling of an anthropologist who unwittingly resurrects an Egyptian god plunging the world into eternal darkness. That's produced by Loris Curci of the original HIDDEN THE WOODS fame and who, years ago, used to run the spectacular Dylan Dog festival in Milan. There's also BLACK WATER VAMPIRE from the SAVAGED sales agents Raven Banner, AUTOMATA starring Antonio Banderas, and Andy Nyman, about robot breakdown in the future and Dante Lam's THE DEMON WITHIN.

    Quite the best movie so far in the market is Till Kleinert's THE SAMURAI, a unique and startling essay in German small-town mores and sexual funny games. A package arrives at the home of young police officer Jakob (a remarkable Michel Diercks) addressed to Lone Wolf. The phone rings, it's a guy asking if his package is there, and could it be delivered straight away. Intrigued more than put out Jakob goes to a lonely house in the woods and finds a man in a dress waiting for the samurai sword hidden in the parcel so he can cut a swathe through the local village population. But this extraordinary item is a lot more than that and as the heads roll so does the intrigue and puzzlement. Who is this maniac and what does he want? The final answer is shocking, hard as nails and thrilling. Best described as DRESSED TO KILL through a Jorge Buttgereit filter, you will not believe Pit Bukowski's incredible performance as the wild-eyed psycho that goes way beyond the call of acting duty. Plus it looks fantastic, the soundtrack is a dance club dream and the gore effects are unusual to say the least. Every genre film festival will want this movie, only the brave will dare show it.

    Until next time.

    Alan.

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    FrightFester Giles Edwards at the European Film Market in Berlin.

  • DAY FOUR | YOU'LL BE DAMNED

     

    DAY FOUR - YOU'LL BE DAMNED

    With the news that GUMMY BEARS THE MOVIE 3D is in production, and ZOMBEAVERS - with the tag line 'You'll be damned' - is also headed our way from the producer of CABIN FEVER and THE RING, it was an early start today, 8 am, to see THE HUNTED, directed by and starring Josh Stewart - Arkin in THE COLLECTION. It's another found footage drama about two hunters searching for a giant stag in the West Virginia forests who eventually come to release a supernatural force also lurking in the woods. Ho hum! With nothing to set this apart from the many other POV nightmares, file this under too little, far too late. A bit like the final movie last night IN DARKNESS WE FALL concerning campers in Formentera, Spain, exploring a hidden cave system and fighting for survival. Think THE DESCENT on the cheap with little of that classic's shock and awe.

    Other movies being touted in the market today include NYMPH, Clive Barker's JACQUELINE ESS, Abigail Breslin in FINAL GIRL, Paco Plaza's DAMNED FRIDAY, Alex de la Iglesia's SHREW'S NEST, Oona Chaplin in PURGATORY and S.O.D.: SIGHTS OF DEATH starring the has-been cast of the year - Danny Glover, Daryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, Michael Madsen and Stephen Baldwin. All of the sales agents representing these movies can be accessed by one of the great benefits of this festival, the shuttle van service, which literally take you where you want to go in minutes. It's like having your own personal taxi service.

    I gave THE PACT a rave review when it opened a few years back and I have to say I enjoyed the hell out of its sequel, titled what else but THE PACT II. Like the FINAL DESTINATION series that appeared just enough time after each other so you'd forgotten some of the basic gimmicks that made them work, it's the same with directors Patrick Horvath and Dallas Hallam's latest episode in the Judas Killer saga that skirts the fine line between being supernatural and entirely plausible. This time trauma scene cleaner Camilla Luddington learns she's the adopted daughter of one of the maniac's past victims and she's the target of a possible copycat murderer. How an FBI profiler and her cop boyfriend fit into the creepy picture make for neat twists and jolting shocks. A third movie is clearly going to happen thanks to the 'happy ending' and personally I can't wait.

    LEMON TREE PASSAGE is nothing new in the vengeful ghost department, but director David Campbell takes an Australian urban legend and makes a creditable melodramatic effort. It's said that if you drive down the title road and see a flash of light, you'll be haunted by the spirit of a man killed by speeding teenagers. But when a car load of non-believers take the journey, one of them becomes possessed by a girl raped and killed on the same stretch of highway. So one urban legend trumps another. While that makes things a bit convoluted in places, this moody slice of Ozploitation works for the most part and builds up a nice head of suspense before all is revealed and a curse is lifted. What with this, WOLF CREEK 2 and PATRICK, it seems Australia is launching a new wave of horror.

    And let's end today's rundown on an absolute high. Adam Wingard's THE GUEST is every bit as great as you've heard. It works brilliantly as an homage to 1980's action horror flicks given a sharp twist, and it is a superb showcase for ex 'Downtown Abbey' star Dan Stevens in his Hollywood hunk makeover persona. He plays David, a soldier who turns up at the bereaved Petersen family's door, saying he's a friend of their recently deceased son Caleb, and that he promised he would call on them to tell them all how much he loved them. At first David seems the perfect guest, friendly, helpful and happy to problem solve. But then strange things start to happen: Mr Petersen gets the promotion he always wanted when his rival suddenly commits suicide, the bullies making school life hell for teenager Luke get beaten up. Waitress daughter Anna starts putting it together when she calls up army records and learns no one called David exists. What's going on and how can the family stop the explosive, cold-blooded murder right on their doorstep. The Halloween maze finale worth the price of entry alone, this is one terrific and fun roller coaster ride through superbly choreographed and bloody mayhem with Stevens a revelation.

    Until the next time.

    Alan.

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  • DAY FIVE | TOO MANY MOVIES

     

    DAY FIVE - TOO MANY MOVIES

    Far too many movies were viewed yesterday, it was a non-stop rush from one screening to another and I didn't finish the day until midnight. So let's mop up some of the rest now. Tommy Wirkola's DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD was more of the same Nazi zombie carnage as the HANSEL & GRETEL WITCH HUNTERS director's first episode. But as that same was pretty good then, it certainly suffices now in a stoked up to the gore max continuation. After a quick précis of DEAD SNOW, the action picks up with sole survivor Martin (Vogel Hoel) crashing his getaway car in the mountains after fighting SS officer Herzog for control of the vehicle. Waking up in hospital he discovers he's being blamed by police for his friends' murders and that he's had Herzog's severed arm attached to his shoulder by mistake. That means he now has the zombie creating power, something he needs when Herzog's dead army advance towards the small town of Tarvik and he resurrects the Nazi leader's most hated Russian adversaries. Once more the humour is very broad (supplied mostly by the Zombie Squad, three US geeks who travel to Norway to help Martin trash the opposition), the action relentless and the gore outrageous - live intestines used to transfer petrol from a bus to a tank, a wheelchair victim constantly being mutilated and revived in a nod to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, and copious brain removals. What comes as a welcome surprise is the very moving climax set to Bonnie Tyler's classic power ballad 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'. Wirkola has done the impossible here, improve on his original in ways that do not betray his core conceit and the Berlin audience loved it giving the movie a round of applause during the final credits.

    I wish I'd liked LIFE AFTER BETH as much. All you need to know about this zom rom com is that it played Sundance and got rave reviews. For genre haters who have to have their dead stuff served up with quirky allegory and 'meaning' or else it's not art, director Jeff Baena (who wrote I HEART HUCKABEES) couldn't have calibrated it for the snobby Sundance crowd better. Dane DeHaan is devastated by the death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) from a snakebite, and when she mysteriously returns from the grave, can't quite cope with the mixed emotions it raises. With Beth's family trying to act normal as the whole world turns upside down outside their door, you'll either give this annoying apocalyptic fantasy a pass or you'll just see it for what it is, an attempt to press the zombie restart button for the pretentious art-house crowd. Although the sight of Beth, staked through the heart in EVIL DEAD make-up with an oven strapped to her back ranting and raving is quite a sight, count me out and give me Wirkola's honesty any day.

    We haven't heard from Belgian director Fabrice du Welz for a while. After hitting the headlines with the FrightFest fave CALVAIRE, he lost it with VINYAN, and is now back with the French 'policier' COLT 45. Unfortunately it's nothing to write home about and was dogged by production problems, enforced reshoots and a long time on the shelf, all moaned about by du Welz in the French press, which probably hasn't done his movie any favours. This is basically about a superstar shooter in the Paris police who gets caught between two rival departments, while his skills are being sought by a dubious elite squad beyond the law. It's a very ordinary thriller, with tepid suspense, no real action sequences of note and an ending that just peters out. Let's hope his latest production ALLELUIA, based on same source as THE HONEYMOON KILLERS, finds a better reception.

    One film you are going to be hearing a lot about in the future is Zak Hilditch's THESE FINAL MOMENTS because it is going to be picking up a host of critical awards and audience acclaim as it wends it's way around the festival circuit. It's an apocalyptic story that has been told many times before but never so chillingly or with so much palpable heartbreak. The world is about to end in 12 hours time and James (an on the button Nathan Phillips) is on his way to his best friend in Perth to party humanity's deadline away. But en route he rescues young Rose (an astonishing Angourie Rice) from two paedophiles and makes it his last mission to reunite her with her father. Vividly and brutally depicting how some people decide to spend their final moments, Hilditch's hyper realistic shocker contains graphic violence, nudity, drug-taking and intensely wrenching emotional scenes to hair-raising effect. The finale carries a deep impact all it's own too in an altogether wonderfully acted future nightmare.

    Until next time.

    Alan

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    Cinestar complex deserted at 9 am, where most market films play.

  • DAY SIX | GLASGOW NEXT STOP

     

    DAY FIVE - GLASGOW NEXT STOP

    My time in Berlin is coming to an end and this will be my last report before Paul takes over to tell you all about his favourite movies like STARRY EYES. The last few days has been packed with meetings and watching promo reels for exciting upcoming items like Simon Rumley's THE LAST WORD and Johannes Roberts' 47 METERS DOWN, being touted as 'OPEN WATER underwater'. I began today with APRIL APOCALYPSE and wished I hadn't bothered as it's yet another zom rom com from director James Tarmol, with his entire family involved somewhere either in front of or behind the camera. In this one nerdy George Lopez builds up the courage to sweep April, the annoying girl of his dreams, off her feet in the middle of a zombie meltdown with completely forgettable results.

    Far better and one of the best movies on show in the market is Alfonso Pineda Ulloa's ESPECTRO/SPECTRE which is best described as a paranormal SLEEP TIGHT. After being brutally raped and left for dead, clairvoyant Paz Vega loses faith in her psychic gift, develops agoraphobia and moves herself into a new apartment. Convinced her freed-on-a-technicality rapist is still stalking her, she installs an elaborate security system in the apartment and obsesses about the volatile lesbian neighbour next door. Then she starts seeing visions of a girl dying horribly but researching the address can't find anything about a past crime that occurred within the same four walls. It would be unfair to say anything else about the story but it's superbly directed, with Vega going for it big-time, surprising blood-letting and nods to THE SHINING helping the gory narrative thrust along. This is one movie that has been composed for the wide screen and truly looks fantastic played that way.

     

    But streets ahead of the market pack is Nacho Vigalondo's quite brilliant OPEN WINDOWS. We always knew that the FantasticFest poster boy was a clever director, the proof being TIME CRIMES and EXTRATERRESTRIAL, buy this cyber REAR WINDOW is a thriller masterpiece and is set to blow everyone away with its technical virtuosity and plot driven smarts. Elijah Wood plays the webmaster of a site devoted to movie star Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey) in Austin to promote her new fantasy 'Dark Sky' as winner of an online competition. Unfortunately his prize is a hoax, it's all an elaborate scam for him to play a part in an audacious plan to kidnap the actress for a very contemporary reason. Won't say more than that but this is one tricksy and left field suspenser that defies description while having everyone reaching for superlatives to do so. Berlin couldn't have ended on a finer note for me.

    Our overall opinion of Berlin as a festival we should really attend every year has been borne out by the number of titles we have now firmed up for August. And you don't feel ripped off in the German capital as you do in Cannes. Prices here are reasonable and not inflated by greed. I may have mentioned some of the films under consideration, you might have guessed others already, but the vast majority haven't even been whispered about here because we have every intention of making FrightFest 2014 the most memorable and unmissable in our 15 year history so far.

    See you in Glasgow....

    Alan

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