Branded “The Woodstock of Gore” by director Guillermo del Toro back in 2001 after an early screening of The Devil’s Backbone, London’s internationally renowned FrightFest has become the annual go-to event for horror fans, press and the industry alike. This year will see Cineworld Leicester Square and The Prince Charles Cinema play host to the fest’s five-day fear-a-thon, which organisers Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray, Alan Jones and Greg Day promise will be the biggest and boldest yet.
Running from August 22-26, the 2019 Arrow Video FrightFest line-up features a record-breaking 78 films, embracing 14 countries and spanning six continents – including 20 World, 20 International/European and 28 UK premieres.
With such a colossal line-up full of curios from all across the globe, we thought it best to give preference to some of the smaller-scale films whose sinister synopses jumped right out at us rather than the (relatively) big-budgeters (Crawl, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, et al) that will enjoy wide theatrical releases. From pernicious pretend friends to ships that harbour sordid secrets to psychotropic vampire orgies, read on to discover the 10 movies we have the highest hopes for at this year’s FrightFest.
Come to Daddy (Directed by Ant Timpson)
After more than a decade dedicated to producing exploitation and offbeat cinema (The ABCs of Death, Housebound, Deathgasm, Turbokid), Ant Timpson’s decided to get behind the camera for the first time with Come to Daddy. Penned by The Greasy Strangler co-writer Toby Harvard (based on an idea inspired by the real-life loss of Timpson’s father), this dark, gore-filled comedic thriller stars Elijah Wood as 35-year-old Norval who, after 30 years without contact, receives a cryptic letter from his estranged father (Stephen McHattie) inviting him to visit his remote cabin by the sea. Once he gets there, he soon discovers that not only is his dad a disapproving alcoholic, but he also has a sordid past that’s rushing to catch up with him.
Based on Timpson’s track record as a producer — with pretty much every film he’s been involved with having generated some serious buzz on the international festival circuit — Come to Daddy just couldn’t have been left off this list.
Main Screens – August 22
Kindred Spirits (Lucky McKee)
Lauded as director Lucky McKee’s return to form after its Cinepocalypse Genre Film Festival world premiere, Kindred Spirits is said to serve as a quasi-companion piece to the director’s stunning 2002 debut May.
Thora Birch plays Chloe, a single mother in a cloak-and-dagger relationship with her neighbour Alex that even her daughter knows nothing about. To make matters more complicated, Chloe’s life is upended when her younger sister, Sadie (Caitlin Stasey), suddenly shows up after being incommunicado for a year.
Though she claims to want to start over, settle down and be a good role model for her niece — who views her as an idealised, stand-in sister — a grim incident from the past rears its horrific head once more. If anyone does female-fronted psychological thrillers well, it’s McKee — and while hype can be the death of a great movie, here’s hoping it proves to be the director’s return to form that critics are suggesting.
Main screens – August 23
Girl on the Third Floor (Travis Stevens)
Ant Timpson’s not the only long-time producer making the jump to directing this year. Snowfort Pictures CEO Travis Stevens will be attending the festival with his directorial debut, Girl on the Third Floor, under his arm. Melding toxic masculinity, vengeful spirits and Cronenberg-indebted body horror, Stevens’ unique vision sees Don Koch (Phil Brooks, aka former WWE wrestler C.M. Punk!) jump at the opportunity to fix up an old Victorian house as he sees it as a chance to make up for past mistakes. Meanwhile, his pregnant wife is concerned about the renovation timeline. With pressures rising and tempted by his old vices — especially from a mysteriously seductive neighbour — Don soon discovers that the house has its own dark and sinister history. The more he tears it apart, the more it tears him apart, too.
Stevens has produced some of the best indie horror output in recent years by far (The Aggression Scale, Cheap Thrills, Starry Eyes), so saying we’re more than excited to see his first step forward as a director is putting it pretty lightly.
Prince Charles Discovery, August 1-23
Bliss (Joe Begos)
Already touted as “a companion piece to Near Dark by way of Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer” by Bloody Disgusting, the latest project from one of the most unorthodox and inventive directors on the independent horror scene promises a gruesome, psychotropic vampire orgy. The film tells the tale of Dezzy Donahue (Dora Madison), a macabre artist willing to take whatever means necessary to reignite her creative juices. Recklessly indulging in all manner or debauchery and bawdy behaviour so as to complete her latest commissioned project, not only does she find the inspiration she was searching for but also develops a bad case of “Lestat’s lament”.
If director Joe Begos’ pre-Fantasia Fest tweet is anything to go by, we’re in for one Hell of a messed-up ride:
Next week we bring BLOOD, SEX, DRUGS and VAMPIRES on 16fuckingMM to @FantasiaFest and I’m excited to see how hard you motherfuckers party.
SEE YOU THERE. https://t.co/9HSV525T8Y
— Joe Begos (@joebegos) July 16, 2019
Main screens – August 23
Feedback (Pedro C. Alonso)
From the producers of [REC] and The Shallows, Eddie Marsan stars as Jarvis Dolan, the host of a successful late-night radio show “The Grim Reality”. When two armed masked men burst in and hold the entire studio hostage, they want Jarvis to confess to a scandal that could ruin his career. The only problem is that he swears he has absolutely no clue what they are talking about. But once the violence and killing begins, he soon discovers what his “grim reality” truly means.
Not a far cry from Oliver Stone’s gripping Talk Radio, Pedro C. Alonso’s brutal combination of revenge tropes and the toxic effects of fame is the perfect panacea for anyone suffering from Black Mirror withdrawal symptoms.
Main screens – August 24
Mary (Michael Goi)
From the mind behind Megan is Missing, one of the most harrowing cautionary tales ever put to film, Michael Goi makes a welcome return to the director’s chair with Mary, a film that’s being pitched as “The Shining meets The Conjuring”. Featuring an all-star cast headed up by Gary Oldman and Emily Mortimer, Mary navigates the murky waters of seafaring horror as a family looking to start a charter-boat business buys an abandoned ship that harbours sinister secrets. Of course, it’s not long before strange and frightening events begin to terrorise the family once out on the briny deep.
With Gary Oldman and Emily Mortimer involved, stellar performances are guaranteed, and we’re really intrigued to see how well Goi’s first feature since Megan is Missing fares, particularly given the experience he’s amassed since then as a key cinematographer on horror TV shows such as American Horror Story, Scream Queen and Salem.
Main screens – August 24
Daniel Isn’t Real (Adam Egypt Mortimer)
Having caught this next film at SXSW, we cannot praise it enough. Falling somewhere between Fight Club and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Egypt Mortimer’s latest feature taps into the historic hypothesis that imaginary companions were harmful or evil, and a sign of a social deficit, demonic possession, or mental illness. An unflinching examination of what can happen when the id, the ego, and the super-ego are all at war with each other, the film follows a traumatised 8-year old, Luke (Miles Robbins), who invents an imaginary friend named Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) who leads them into a world of fantasy and imagination. After Daniel tricks Luke into doing something terrible, Luke is forced to lock him away. Twelve years later, Luke brings Daniel back – and he now appears as a charming, manipulative young man with a terrifying secret agenda.
Who in the hell needs enemies when you’ve got pretend friends like Daniel?
Main screens – August 25
Depraved (Larry Fessenden)
In 2015, Bernard Rose reinvented Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the modern generation with an adaptation that highlighted the perils of frighteningly plausible cloning technologies. And this year it’s Larry Fessenden who has set his sights on breathing even more life into the modern Prometheus, filtering it through the motifs of hubristic science, monstrous murder, errant fatherhood, the awkwardness of the snowflake generation and a myriad of movie references from Universal through to Hammer. Fessenden’s take centres on Henry, a disillusioned field surgeon suffering from PTSD who creates a man out of body parts in a makeshift loft lab. The creature he creates must navigate a strange new world and the rivalry between Henry and his conniving collaborator Polidori.
With various indie cult classics already under his belt, Fessenden is one of the most-loved directors in the underground horror scene and there’s little doubt in our minds that this reworking will do justice to Shelley’s classic novel and help keep Frankenstein’s grotesque-yet-sentient monster well and truly alive.
Prince Charles Discovery August 1 – 25
The Furies (Tony D’Aquino)
Touted as “Halloween meets the Hunger Games,” Tony D’Aquino’s Ozploitation slasher sees two rebellious high school students, Kayla (Airlie Dodds) and her friend Maddie, abducted while out graffitiing their neighbourhood. Waking up in a coffin-like box, an axe-wielding masked man is hell-bent on murdering her. But she’s not alone! There are six more girls, each assigned their own personal maniac stalker, and implanted with retinal cameras so every moment of their terror can be streamed online for paying viewers.
Variety‘s assertion that D’Aquino’s debut feature “has the heavy-duty gore to excite horror hounds and packs enough of a girl-power punch to avoid dismissal as just another misogynist slasher movie” allows no excuses for missing this one at FrightFest.
Cineworld Discovery – August 25
Rabid (Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska)
Last year’s Venice Film Festival had everyone’s attention focused on Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s highly respected Suspiria, and a similar scenario will surely play out at this year’s FrightFest with the world premiere of The Soska Sisters’ Rabid revamp. Tackling Cronenberg’s much-loved body horror classic, Laura Vandervoort stars as Rose, a woman with her heart set on becoming a famous designer in the fashion world until a terrible accident leaves her scarred beyond recognition. Undergoing a radical untested stem cell treatment, Rose turns into the belle of the ball and starts to realise her ambitions. But everything in life comes at a price, and her new found perfection is no exception as she unwittingly sets off a bloody spiral of contagion.
Some of you are most likely aware that the film has already courted a bit of controversy this past month, with the directors getting banned from Twitter for sharing a still from the film — so it’s pretty safe to assume we’re in for quite the bloody treat. And, as an added bonus, The Soskas will also be introducing a special screening of a new-to-the-UK 2K restoration of David Cronenberg’s original version of the film on August 25.
Main Screens – August 26