Grimmfest: Halloween Horror Nights
Many people who attend festivals and conventions suffer a bit of a come-down when it’s all over. This feels especially tough for horror fans in October when several horror film festivals take place: we all land with a bump wondering what to do on Halloween night. Manchester-based Grimmfest has a solution: after their usual four-day event in mid-October, a couple of single-evening virtual events will finish off the month just nicely. Each of the 30 and 31 October programmes offered two feature films and a good two hours’ worth of short films too.
It was a fun, raucous line-up, which really softened the blow of zero parties this year. To give you a taster, here are the films they showed on the first night, UK premieres both:
You like monsters? Comedy? Spotting famous faces amongst the gore? This one started off amusing and steadily got bloodier and funnier.
Directed by Chris W. Freeman and Spain Willingham, Beast Mode is the story of Breen Nash (C. Thomas Howell), a desperate Hollywood producer. His last film was a flop, and for some reason, he’s trying to make something new with the same star, Huckle Saxton (James Duval), even though the guy is a lush who throws tantrums, sleeps with colleagues’ wives, and doesn’t turn up to rehearsals. When Nash accidentally runs over Saxton in his car, he taps his network for a solution, which looks good at first but only until midnight.
Howell and Duval have both been in big films in the past, but I don’t recall seeing either of them in comedies, and I really wasn’t sure at first. But Howell is a perfect, sweary sport, and Duval manages to play two roles equally well. And there are more names. I don’t have to say what these roles are, just laugh at their names, very much made up for Hollywood: Leslie Easterbrook plays “Zelda Zine”, Robert Costanzo plays “Chrome Mangle” and the wonderful Ray Wise plays “Trammel Steadfast”. So yes, Beast Mode is very much a satire as well as a monster flick, showing up the film industry for how shallow and fickle it is. The investors want the star to be well behaved, but still “interesting”; a vicious attack is applauded as a publicity stunt, and the naïve young stud just found looking after stock in a sex shop is simply told to “be a good actor”.
You can watch Beast Mode for the wit, watch it for the cast, or watch it for the horror action and gore. Yes, there are fangs, there’s transformation, there are many kinds of excellent special effects. There are a few odd leaps in the plot, but honestly, who cares? Films like this are ideal to wind down after the heavy festivals with what’s left of your beer and amuse yourself at what goes on behind the scenes at the same time.
A short, sharp black comedy from Canada, Homewrecker (directed by Zach Gayne) is a cautionary tale about making friends too easily. Like Blinders, perhaps, but about two women this time.
Michelle (Alex Essoe) is working at her laptop in a favorite coffee shop when Linda (Precious Chong) recognizes her from an exercise class and insists on sharing her table. Michelle isn’t the sort to be rude, and there is no saying “no” to Linda. From there, the connection becomes an obsession, and Michelle becomes trapped.
OK, so that might not sound funny: it’s definitely the cringey sort of comedy, based on the stark difference between the two women and how outrageous Linda’s mania turns out to be. The two are almost models of two different female stereotypes, but Linda is the more exaggerated of the two. Michelle is in her early thirties, a quietly confident interior designer, starting to wonder if a baby would be a good idea. Linda is bubbly, more than a decade older, and seems to live in eighties nostalgia and is desperate for more in her life.
Written by the two stars along with Gayne, the plot is a simple and sudden deterioration of a one-sided friendship, with manipulation, blackmail, violence, and quirky board games. The character writing is terrific, and the acting to match: I can feel for Michelle and I can feel unnerved by Linda, even from the start. What’s especially sly about the writing is the handful of questions Linda answers with just a single word, or not at all: “Are those your grandparents?” “No.”
Some of the action gets a bit silly, with three slapstick catfights, for example. On the other hand, everyday suburban women might just fight like that, who knows? Reinforced with twee music, the silliness lightens the occasional jarring violence… which feels just unrealistic enough to still be entertaining. I know both leads have been in much bigger and better films, but Homewrecker is a low-budget, undemanding piece of entertainment. Any actor can participate in those if they choose, and sometimes it’s just what an audience needs.
Grimmfest is getting bigger and bigger, with all-day events throughout the year in addition to their autumn festivals, and now an internet TV site. They’ve coped admirably with this year’s changes, so here’s hoping they continue to thrive.
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