Diary of a Geek Week at the Glasgow Film Festival 2018

Despite the severe disruption which led to the cancellation of several screenings and the absence of many planned guests, the fourteenth Glasgow Film Festival hosted close on two hundred events across the city, with premieres, retrospectives, special screenings, behind the scenes presentations and more. Showcased among the programme were a number of genre films including Mary and the Witch’s Flower, King Cohen, Ghost Stories, The Ravenous, Cold Skin, The Blacksmith and the Devil and Pyewacket, and here we round up a few of the other screenings of interest to the discerning viewer.

Attack of the Bat Monsters – Friday 2nd March – Glasgow Film Theatre

Described in the FrightFest programme as a “world premiere,” that is perhaps a slightly dubious claim as Attack of the Bat Monsters is actually almost twenty years old, the Glasgow Film Festival screening in fact the first public performance of a newly remastered version of the film, though an argument could be made that so few people had seen the film previously the distinction is moot.

Yet it is not the nineties which the film reflects but the fifties, the golden age of science fiction horror B-movies churned out with more regard to staying within the pittance of the budget than the quality of the final product or the safety or sanity of any of those involved in front of or behind the cameras.

It’s October 1959 in Southern California, and director Francis L Gordon (Fred Ballard) has cut corners and pushed his cast and crew to wrap The Monster from the Mineshaft three days ahead of schedule. With the shooting permit on the quarry location still valid and all his cast available, Francis badgers them into accepting time and a half if they will remain on and shoot a second feature; he has faith in his team, all he needs is a script.

Clutching a handful of cheques, production assistant Chuck Grayson (Michael Dalmon) engages the services of “human typewriter” Bobby Barnstone (Robert Bassetti) while eager puppy Jack Haroldson (Ryan Wickerham) steps up as leading man; with scream queen Beverly Carver (Casie Waller) signed up and character actor Arthur Considine (Robert Graham) in the scientist role, all Chuck needs to do is persuade alcoholic Larry “the Cat Creature” Meeker Jr (Douglas Taylor) to put down the bottle long enough to shoot his scenes and Attack of the Bat Monsters will be underway.

Written and directed by Kelly Greene, a film within a film in equal parts homage to and affectionate pastiche of both the genre and the production line process which cranked them out, the highlights of Attack of the Bat Monsters are told in cropped monochrome montage while the wider story of the shoot unfolds in colour, the restoration surprisingly kind to the original 16mm celluloid stock with the grain only evident in the night shots.

With grandstanding extras drafted from the catering crew and lessons in three syllable screaming and falling down for the Queenie Evans Dancers, the acting is consciously overplayed and consistently good. In keeping with the era it emulates the film is not ambitious in terms of style or narrative, but it is entertaining fun with a kindly spirit present in the characters, such as when Arthur confesses to Chuck that it is not for loyalty to Francis that they remain on set but for him.

Produced before such films as The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and Trail of the Screaming Forehead, had Attack of the Bat Monsters been widely distributed upon completion it might have played better but after two decades on the shelf it feels as though some of its energy has dissipated, and in keeping with Francis’ second rule of “we’ll fix it in the edit,” perhaps Greene should have taken the opportunity of the remastering to bring the film down to a sharper eighty minutes.

Primal Rage – Friday 2nd March – Glasgow Film Theatre

The closing film of the first full day of FrightFest, on paper the European premiere of Primal Rage, directed by Patrick Magee from a script co-written with Jay Lee and formerly known as The Legend of Oh-Mah, was not promising, a young couple lost in the woods and stalked by a fierce creature, yet it turned out to be one of the surprises of the weekend.

Released from Patterson State Prison having completed his thirteen month sentence for an unspecified crime, Max Carr is met at the gates by his wife Ashley; understandably, the separation has been difficult on them and their young son who waits at her parents’ home, and on the drive back home they are uncomfortable in each others’ company, unsure what to say, and when Max resorts to beer the conversation becomes angry.

A lonely twisting mountain road through tall misty forest, so dense the road is invisible beyond the next bend, a man runs in front of their vehicle and is struck, but his injuries are far beyond what occurred in the moment. Telephoning for help, the couple are attacked, pelted with rocks; knocked cold, Max tumbles down the slope into the river and Ashley must jump in after him, the two of them swept downstream into the wilderness which some call Bigfoot Country.

Unlike many low budget horrors which rely on clichés to move the narrative forward, most frequently the abject stupidity of the protagonists, Ashley and Max are not fools; their argument is as genuine as their devotion yet when the crisis occurs it is forgotten, behaving as adults, and they follow the correct survival procedures as the sun goes down.

Against better judgement, they are forced to throw their lot in with a band of sneering hunters the next morning on the promise of being conducted out of the forest, company far from welcoming, armed, belligerent and barely a step above animals themselves, but something else is following them, something which has become fascinated by Ashley, having stolen her clothes as they dried by the fire.

From The Legend of Boggy Creek to Exists, be it called Bigfoot or the Sasquatch or, as it is here, Oh-Mah, there has likely never been a depiction like this of the proto-human of the woods, primal and powerful but far from primitive, observing, stalking, using tools and tactics, clad in armour made from the bark of the trees among which it lives, its face concealed behind a mask which shifts the film from a minituarised King Kong ripoff to something more mythical.

As Ashley and Max the relative newcomers Casey Gagliardi and Andrew Joseph Montgomery are convincing, vulnerable in a difficult situation but brave when they have to be, while Marshal Hilton treads a fine line between cynical misanthrope and actively sinister as the leader of the hunters, a man convinced he is the alpha male in his territory.

Touching on the complexity of native American folklore, mysticism and shamanism, Shameless‘ Eloy Casados and Fear the Walking Dead‘s Justin Rain are the Sheriff and Deputy who argue when the evidence trail points to the history of their people, the spirits of the forest out of balance, while Magee captures the dread of what is unseen in the dark and the inherited fear of the forest as well as its bloody but evolving primal rage.

Friendly Beast (O Animal Cordial) – Saturday 3rd March – Glasgow Film Theatre

The feature directorial debut of Gabriela Amaral Almeida, the UK premiere of Friendly Beast (O Animal Cordial) took the late afternoon slot at FrightFest, a violent, claustrophobic thriller full of resentment and recrimination, blindly lashing out in frustration at any and all who are within reach.

It’s the end of the shift at La Barca, a single customer eating alone as the kitchen staff count the minutes until closing, while off to the side ambitious manager Inácio (Murilo Benício) says that there is a food critic due to visit the following week and he wants a special menu; the intention may be to impress the writer, but his tired workers are far from feeling the same.

Two more customers walk in, a patronising husband and his heavy-drinking wife, Bruno and Verônica (Jiddu Pinheiro and Camila Morgado); they are served by waitress Sara (Luciana Paes) but the rest of the staff can’t stay late and with the back door locked have to leave through the front of the restaurant, carrying the kitchen refuse with them.

Appalled and humiliated in front of customers, Inácio fires them on the spot, deepening the rift between him and head chef Djair (Irandhir Santos), but before any compromise can be arranged two masked men burst in, assaulting the women and demanding the money from the till. Inácio shoots one of them and disarms the other, but rather than calling the police he locks the doors and begins issuing his own demands.

Filmed in a single location, the various rooms of a small restaurant, Friendly Beast stands or falls entirely on the strength of the performances and Almeida’s script, and her ensemble convey every moment of the fear, outrage, fury and obsession she requires from them, but the premise is as constrained as the setting.

The heavy-handed soundtrack which moves from Carpenter to Vivaldi pushing the undercurrent as Inácio and Sara discussed table cloths while gazing into each others’ eyes, in the unpredictable siege situation they go full Bonnie and Clyde on a catering budget, Sara inexplicably siding with him against the innocents, carving knives at hand to open the raw pink flesh of those who defy them on the slightest provocation.

That Inácio would take hostages in the first place rather than summon the authorities already an unsupported narrative leap, with mobile phones ubiquitous in modern life and an early scene establishing they do function within the restaurant it is a further strain on credulity that not one of the staff or patrons called the police or an ambulance immediately that the intruders were subdued.

A contrived examination of the worst of people under duress with Djair the only one who accepts who he is and what is happening, Inácio and Sara are not criminal masterminds and have no coherent plan to get out of the unbearable heat they have created in the kitchen, and the menu on offer seems more concerned with satisfying its own urges than satisfying the patrons with anything digestible.

Secret Santa – Saturday 3rd March – Glasgow Film Theatre

Christmas is giving, Christmas is joy, Christmas is presents for good girls and boys! It’s time for the Hope family to come together, those that have been invited, to the home of matriarch Shari (Debra Sullivan), to put aside petty jealousy and the simmering resentment of a lifetime and make merry for an evening.

Having taken control of her life, alcoholic daughter April (A Leslie Kies) won’t be drinking this year, but with her new boyfriend at her side, the handsome and successful Ty (Michael Rady) she won’t need to – surely mother won’t find flaws to pick, will she?

Isn’t she doing better than frumpy sister Penny (Ryan Leigh Seaton), her knitted cat jumper unable to compensate for her perpetual scowl, and brother Kyle (Drew Lynch) actually had to beg a lift of uncle Carter (Curtis Fortier), something nobody do would unless they had no choice.

Here comes half-brother Jackson (Nathan Hedrick), Mister Sex Machine himself and his latest acquisition Jacqueline (Michelle Renee Allaire) – he couldn’t have picked her up in a strip club, could he? Still her perky assets at least take the conversation away from the latest marriage of mom’s greatest rival, her sister Carol (Pat Destro), never able to stop competing.

And who’s this knocking at the door? Can it be – dad? Yes, without telling anyone, April invited Leonard (John Gilbert) to the party, truly hoping that in the spirit of the season they can all get along for just one night, even if it means biting their tongues if they have to….

Directed by Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday‘s Adam Marcus from a script co-written by Debra Sullivan who also plays Shari, a perfect cutting bitch who is so vain she won’t admit in public to having a daugther who is forty years old, the UK premiere of Secret Santa was only marginally dampened by the absence of director and cast, stranded in London but sending video greetings to the FrightFest crowd.

Subversive even from the opening titles, every mouthful and conversation topic loaded with calories, fat and acid, it’s far from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Shari antagonising the catering staff and claiming credit for their work even before the traditional round of Secret Santa explodes into comic book violence and copious (digital) blood.

The budget is not generous but any technical limitations are overcome by the energy as the ensemble gather for the most chaotic festive celebrations since Gremlins, playing through different genres before inevitably arriving at the big present under the tree it always had its eyes on, the mayhem of full-on horror, and even screened out of season Secret Santa is an outrageous and bloody festive treat.



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