MAYHEM 2016 is sadly over but at least that gives me chance to talk about the films that were shown. As usual it was a great selection and this year, one that seemed to focus less on out and out horrors, although there were still a couple of gems in there. Here’s a rundown of my thoughts on the feature films and opening performance.
Day one started with a live reading of two classic tales from the author H.P. Lovecraft. From Beyond and The Hound were read by Lawrence R. Harvey of The Human Centipede Part II&III with a supporting score from The Duke St. Workshop. The music and accompanying visuals enhanced the tales no end and really added to Harvey’s well-paced delivery. This was an excellent start to the festival and built upon the success of the live reading of The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula from last year. I really hope Mayhem continue to include content like this in festivals to come.
The first film of the festival was Julia Ducournau’s Raw, the film that had been hitting the headlines on the run up to the festival with stories of audience members fainting. Whenever a film has such a build-up, it is impossible not to be intrigued and start to imagine what it could possibly be like. There were definitely moments in the film that turned the stomach slightly but it was perhaps not as extreme as it has been made out to be by the press. Although I did find one scene involving hair difficult to watch. I don’t want to say much more for fear of giving anything away but the length of this sequence made it all the more effective. Expectations aside, the film is beautifully shot and acted and plays out like more of a coming-of-age tale than expected. All in all, not as shocking as has been reported (definitely not a fault of the film) but an excellent film that more than lives up to the positive hype surrounding it.
Headshot from the Mo Brothers rounded off the evening in ass-kicking style and it was its UK premiere no less. Billed as being ‘the film that puts The Raid in the shade’ I felt that whilst definitely hot on its heels it didn’t quite manage to eclipse it. Headshot felt a little bit more like star Iko Uwais’ first film Merantau albeit with more gunplay. The fight scenes though were pleasingly bone-crunching and there were some excellent set pieces throughout. If I had to pick a fault with it, it would be that the style of the film didn’t show off Uwais’ considerable martial arts skill enough, favouring fast cuts over longer takes, but maybe that’s just me.
Moving onto the Friday, the day started with the Mexican We are the Flesh. I must admit, this wasn’t one of my favourites of the festival. It was very well shot and had an intriguing premise but it really didn’t do anything for me. I can deal with a film being shocking but I felt We are the Flesh got the balance wrong, as if it were somehow trying too hard. Major kudos to the actors though as they put their all into the film in every sense (ba dum tssshh), it just wasn’t for me.
The Rezort which was introduced by director Steve Barker was a welcome change of tone. A zombie film in the Westworld/Jurassic Park tradition, it managed to make a political point without losing its sense of fun. This is a very different zombie film to Barker’s previous Outpost films but one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Making the zombie island retreat believable on the budget available was no mean feat too!
On to a definite highlight of the festival now; The Greasy Strangler. After Headshot this was the film I was most looking forward to and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Many films give away too much in the trailer but The Greasy Strangler doesn’t have that problem. It merely hints at the strangeness of the full film; it even has a spot lit dance sequence. I don’t think I’ve laughed as much at the cinema for a long time and it managed to sustain the laughs throughout. Repeated gags dint get stale and the gross-out sections were brilliantly done. You will be able to tell if the film is for you within the first 5 minutes, if it is you’re in for a great time. If not, it might be worth watching something else. The performances from the main cast were excellent with some brilliant supporting characters too. A particular highlight being a group of three tourists who have two conversations that go around in circles and go on for so long that they become hilarious. Free drinks for all!
Planet of the Vampires was the late night film on Friday but general tiredness forced us to head home. We’re weak, I know!
Saturday kicked off with They Call Me Jeeg Robot, an Italian superhero film of sorts. The film was darkly funny, inventive and had one of the best villains of the festival. It has many superhero film tropes and functions as an origin story for the main character but any glitz of Hollywood superhero films is here replaced by a dirtier, grimier feel. It would be interesting to see if it becomes a franchise in the future.
Next up was Pet which featured two terrific performances from Dominic Monaghan and Ksenia Solo. What starts out as a typical ‘creepy guy kidnaps woman’ thriller becomes something much more. To say any more here would risk spoiling it but is safe to say it has plenty of twists and turns that keep the audience guessing.
British film The Ghoul, introduced by director Gareth Tunley, the third film of Saturday was billed as a psychological thriller in which the boundaries between fantasy and reality become blurred. Whilst I didn’t fully buy into this description I still found much to enjoy, particularly the performance of Tom Meeton as the central character. There were lots of great ideas in the film that I think could have been built upon and expanded more, in the end I felt I was left guessing a little bit too much, but maybe that’s because my mind was still fried from The Greasy Stranger the night before. I though the overall tone of the film though was excellent and well worth a second watch when less tired!
We rounded off the feature films for the day with The Devil’s Candy. I must admit I hadn’t really looked into this film much before the screening, only knowing that it was promoted as a ‘heavy metal horror’. We were told before that it wasn’t Deathgasm–like which initially I was disappointed at. That all stopped when the film started to play. It was the most pleasant surprise of the festival; creepy, menacing and strangely touching.
Once again we bailed out before the light night screening of Blood Feast which meant we also missed out on the short film GWILLIAM, gutted!
Sunday began with Don’t Kill It, starring Dolph Lundgren as a demon hunter. I really don’t think I need to say much more, if that sounds up your alley you’re in for a treat. I loved it! Lundgren is superb and showed he has great comic timing and delivery and some of the set pieces are insanely brilliant. Well worth a watch and a great start to the day!
Japanese film Creepy followed and couldn’t have been more different to Don’t Kill It. Tense and brooding, this was definitely a slow-build that ramped up the tension in the final act. Yes, it’s relatively long but that’s part of what makes it so effective. We are given little bits of information that add to the mystery throughout and by the end when everything falls into place you’ll be almost screaming at the characters to try and help them. Excellent!
The penultimate film of the festival was I Am Not A Serial Killer, starring Max Records and none other than Christopher Lloyd(!). This one was intriguing and I’d heard lots of good things about the book. It’s always great seeing Lloyd on screen and this was no exception. I also thought the atmosphere the film created throughout was excellent and overall very reminiscent of the Coen Brothers.
The Void rounded off the festival with a bang! A practical effects extravaganza from the team behind the very different Biocop but silly, this ain’t! It really didn’t disappoint and was a great way to close the weekend. The cast were terrific (with many not making it to the final scene) but the real star of the show was the effects. They were simply stunning and the hard work the crew put in to them really shows. I can’t wait to revisit this one on Blu Ray. One last thing about the film, it also managed to be genuinely creepy throughout and the claustrophobic hospital setting also gave it a certain Assault on Precinct 13 vibe.
All that’s left to say is: Roll on next year!