Diary of a Geek Week at the Glasgow Film Festival 2019

The fifteenth year of the Glasgow Film Festival has been its biggest yet, with over 42,000 admissions and guest including White Collar‘s Matt Bomer, Beast‘s Jessie Buckley, former Python Michael Palin and legend of Swedish cinema Christina Lindberg with her new film Black Circle, while premieres included The Hole in the Ground, The Vanishing, Level 16, The Dead Centre, The Rusalka, Automata, The Witch: Part 1 and Freaks while here we round up some of the other screenings of interest to genre fans.

Here Comes Hell – Friday 1st March – Glasgow Film Theatre

The debut feature of director Jack McHenry, co-written with Alice Sidgwick, the introductory prelude to Here Comes Hell promises horror, terror and demonic possession as a group of friends gather at Westwood Manor, a once magnificent house whose interior now harbours damp rot, resentment, shadows and sinister intentions.

New owner Victor’s visitors including tennis player Freddie and his girlfriend Elizabeth, Texan oil heir George and Victor’s own sister Christine, there is another surprise guest invited to the soiree, the celebrated medium Madame Bellrose whom he has asked to conduct a séance to contact the late Ichabod Quinn, notorious occultist and former resident of the house now tumbling into decay.

Initially presented as a black and white pastiche of a forties melodrama akin to The Uninvited, when the restless spirits of the country house are awoken Here Comes Hell swaps the trappings of costume drama for the bloodied hand-me-down rags of Evil Dead, complete with possessed hag, hanging eyeballs and infected hands going bad, shamelessly recreating scenes and mimicking the camerawork of that film.

The inexperienced acting of the young ensemble (Charlie Robb, Timothy Renouf, Jessica Webber, Tom Bailey and Margaret Clunie) more pantomime than period, the script is neither sufficiently original or authentic to the setting to be any good nor sharp or knowing enough to be post-modern, a comedy which is singularly unfunny at every turn as it descends to slapstick and profanity.

The shift of styles grinding like mismatched gears, the physical and technical aspects of Here Comes Hell – the costumes, the lighting and the superb central filming location – are superior to the artistic, and while it was likely enormous fun for cast and crew to make the experience conveyed to the unfortunate viewer is considerably less rewarding.

Giant Killer Ants (Dead Ant) – Friday 1st March – Glasgow Film Theatre

Closing the Friday night of FrightFest was director Ron Carlson’s Dead Ant, a musical comedy giant monster movie which may be renamed Giant Killer Ants for release, a title so banal that it might find an audience sufficiently lowbrow to be taken in by its witless attempts to be entertaining.

The band Sonic Grave are on the road to the No-Chella festival, their manager Danny (Tom Arnold ostensibly playing himself, as always) having arranged for them to take the stage for three songs on the proviso they open with their sole hit, the power ballad Don’t Close Your Eyes; the band are less than enthused, their rampant egos at odds with the actual mediocrity of their fading talents.

Hoping to inspire creativity on the road, they arrange for a supply of peyote from shaman Bigfoot (Twin Peaks‘ Michael Horse) who also gives them a stern warning: “Don’t destroy anything on our sacred land or you will be cursed until the next sundown.” Inevitably, under the effects of the hallucinogen, driver Art (Bad Kids of Crestview Academy‘s Sean Astin in a terrible wig) kills a fire ant.

Regrettably for a film sold as a comedy, Dead Ant is as funny as watching other people take drugs, people you don’t like very much. Guitarist Pager and lead vocalist Merrick (Rhys Coiro and Jake Busey, the latter surprisingly subtle on occasion) may be convinced they are the next Mötley Crüe but spend more time shouting at each other rather than the devil in what could have been a career dead-end had it not stayed in the vaults since production in 2016.

Built around terrible effects and needless nudity, the scurrying swarms of ants often seeming to hover above the desert they are traversing, the film is Bill and Ted meets Tremors without the charm or heart of either, the script by Carlson, Hank Braxtan and Dan Sinclair neglecting to make any of the band, their road crew or their groupies more likeable or interesting than the ants.

While perhaps intended to satirise the worst of eighties rock band excess, Dead Ant is not so much aghast at the past as longing for the good old days of ogling barely clad teenage girls, nor is it adequate as a science fiction B-movie; as mad as it was, Saul Bass’ Phase IV at least had style, while Sonic Grave only have empty volume.

Finale – Saturday 2nd March – Glasgow Film Theatre

Across Denmark, all eyes are on the television for the big finale of the football season which means a quiet night for Agnes Berger and Belinda Andersen (Anne Bergfeld and Karin Michelsen) at the gas station and attached convenience store; of course, those few customers who do visit are going to be the weirdos with no friends and nothing better to do.

Supposedly home to the happiest people in the world, a forward-thinking nation of green fields, sunshine and wind turbines, Agnes and Belinda will find that after dark there is another side to their home as represented by the series of increasingly odd and hostile men who question them, harass them, film them without their consent, returning through the night despite pleas to leave them alone, vandalising their property.

Directed by Søren Juul Petersen from a script co-written with Carsten Juul Bladt based on Steen Langstrup’s novella All the Things She Wishes She Didn’t Understand, do Agnes and Belinda deserve what befalls them in Finale? So, Belinda didn’t flatten the boxes she put in the recycling, and perhaps she feels her colleague behaves above her station as she prepares to leave with her boyfriend for their new life in Hamburg, but are they bad people?

Coasting on the “Scandi noir” reputation for artfully crafted productions of nuance and shade in their performances and narratives, Finale is little more than a drawn-out, indulgent, vulgar and deeply unpleasant exercise in graphic torture porn told in two intercut strands, the mutilation and degradation of Agnes and Belinda and the flashbacks of how they came to be hostages of “the Ringmaster” (Damon Younger).

Endlessly picking up the telephone to call the police but never actually staying on the line long enough to make the call or leave a message advising of their situation or asking for help, incapable of improvising weapons, locking doors or taking basic precautions to ensure their safety, Belinda’s ignorance is matched by her selfishness; convinced she saw a woman bound and gagged in the back of a car she refuses to call the police lest it make life difficult for her troublemaker boyfriend.

Finale a purposeless parade of nastiness, faceless men threatening women for the delectation of the anonymous masses watching the live stream on the Internet and by extension those in the audience, the plastic masks of cruelty remind of The Purge but without the satire or social commentary, and when the victims finally fight back it is less with a sense of release as more of the same, simply with the tables turned.

The Hoard – Saturday 2nd March – Glasgow Film Theatre

“Ten percent of all hoarding cases involves extremely haunted properties” is the claim, and thus was born the reality television phenomena Extremely Haunted Hoarders, dedicated to decluttering and exorcising all the junk from the lives of those possessed to hang onto every keepsake, heirloom and secondhand piece of bric-a-brac.

Murph Evans of Rockford, Ohio, has been classed a stage five hoarder, accumulating items for over fifty years across three properties; when one is filled, he simply purchases another and starts over, but with the threat his residences being condemned unless he makes an effort to clear them out and begin repairs it is time to call in the professionals.

The team consisting of host Sheila Smyth (Lisa Solberg), psychiatrist Doctor Lance Ebe (Pontypool writer Tony Burgess), handymen Duke and the Falcon (Marcus Ludlow and Justin Darmanin), clairvoyant Chloe Black (Elma Begovic) and her ex-husband Caleb (Ry Barrett) on tech support, they have forty-eight hours to install order and sanitary conditions to the decades of dust, decay and dead cats.

The late night closing film of FrightFest, The Hoard is a merciless parody of the abject awfulness of cheap exploitative reality television, a mashup of the likes of Storage War$, Ghosthunters and every daytime property makeover show to ever sap the will to live of the housebound.

Composed of cuts, zooms, pans, montages and time lapse sequences spliced with talking head interviews, the style and structure of such shows are so basic that they are not hard to mimic, and as ridiculous as it is, the premise of The Hoard is no more preposterous than the shows it is spoofing and the ensemble are clearly enjoying themselves.

With the Lemon House rumoured to contain a portal to hell when in fact it’s just yet more furniture, it is a comedy which is aware of the tragedy which underpins it, that hoarding can be an expression of genuine mental illness, though the evidence presented onscreen suggests that it is the paranormal cleaning crew, kleptomaniac Doctor Ebe in particular, who are more disturbed than the kindly, patient and greatly put-upon Mr Evans.

Directed by Jesse Thomas Cook and Matt Wiele who co-wrote with Burgess, the joke seems played out by the half-way mark when the investigations lead to the discovery of a fourth property, the Maitland House built in 1874, and there is a shift in the tone as it is revealed that every item Evans owns was obtained through death.

Moving from pastiche and knockabout comedy to over-the-top horror in the final act, The Hoard is far from sophisticated, preferring to be juvenile and crude and managing to be unpleasantly grotesque on occasion, but it is the perfect undemanding capper for a Saturday night whether at a horror festival or at home, haunted or not.

The Glasgow Film Festival 2019 has now concluded




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