I’ve been going to FrightFest now for 11 years.
It’s weird putting that figure in to context: a couple could have had a kid that would now be ready to enter the cusp of secondary school. The difference is that a kid is just a kid, whereas we’re talking about horror movies, which are far more important.
What I get from the festival is a sense of where ‘horror is at’ as a genre. Typically the films you see at FrightFest aren’t ones which always go on to get a general release, or if they do, are so limited in their run they may as well have not been.
The festival is very much a butterfly net for catching quality flicks.
Looking back over the years of there have been a number of trends; the wave of Brit-flicks in early 2000s, the rise and dominance of Asian cinema and over the past few years the trend of American mainstream films being upstaged by younger talents with visions.
Horror has always been a banker for studios as they appeal to a defined demographic, so in periods of prosperity or which are just plain shit, there’s always a steady stream of horror movies out.
That said, the range of films from the world over was narrower, the majority representing a US view. That isn’t itself a criticism, but it does mean content chiefly reflected a teenage world-view with western ambitions and interests.
Therefore, kudos has to be given to films like Last Phases and The Babadook for giving us new characters in new situations of peril. What’s more, the film Housebound, which preserved the personality of its Kiwi roots, was a hit among the audience because it didn’t rely on stock stereotypes.
Two of the biggest problems with horror films remains frayed or predictable plot structures and the reliance on stock characters we’ve seen a million times before.
I lost track of the amount of times characters wandered down cellars with flashlights in the middle of the night or when the music went all quiet only to be turned up to 11 a moment later.
The starting point for all horror films should be the story and not a good intention to copy ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer.’ Genre filmmaking is not an excuse for a lack of genuine thought supplemented with a shot swiped from John Carpenter’s Halloween.
When it came to a lovingly crafted and thoughtful film, it was Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins’ Show Pieces that hit the nail on the head. Where creators have firm visions to make you think rather than just to go ‘boo’, the results will always be better. The short film ‘Goblin’ was proof further of this.
The horror genre needs to get comfortable ditching worn ideas and themes. As good as the horror films were which paved the way for the scene we have today were, they should no longer be the template by which we produce horror for today.
The Green Inferno, while well-crafted, was ultimately derivative. We should be demanding the ‘new horror’ with every season of the festival.
A worrying trend is the extent to which new talent and indeed new franchises get worn out very quickly. I was genuinely saddened to see VHS Viral (the third in the series) place the nail in coffin of a film series that was genuinely inventive in its initial inception.
Sin City 2 was another let-down: a film relying on a tried tested formula just dishing out more of the same only with less care and attention than the first.
The fact that the festival ended with the sci-fi film The Signal (and not a very good film at that) and not a horror film spoke volumes about the fact that there wasn’t really anything exceptional in horror this year.
But hey, that’s as good a reason as any to turn up next year.