Film Festival Review: Celluloid Screams

Celluloid Screams, the Sheffield horror film festival, continued to grow this year. Not only did it make screen 4 its own, 2014 marked its best year yet (both in terms of quality and, by the look of it, attendance). The team behind the festival’s hard work and dedication, not to mention their eye for a good film, has ensured another great year.

It all began with the Opening Gala, and The Editor proved to be a real crowd pleaser. The Astron-6 boys were over for the festival and introduced their new feature film. It’s a love letter to Italian giallo films of the ’60s and ’70s, poking friendly fun at many of their themes and peculiarities. Whilst it’s full of laugh out loud moments, clever dialogue and bubbling with ideas, it did feel about 30 minutes too long. It begins to become repetitive after a while, and whilst highlighting the misogyny in giallo films of the period is fair enough, doing so over and over again left a bad taste in the mouth. There’s a fine line between homage and exploitation.

Celluloid Screams also hosted a retrospective of Astron-6’s short films. In all honesty their rampant innovation and creativity works better in small doses than in a feature length format. Having said that they still strike a few bum notes amongst so many great ideas.

There were two sequels at the festival this year. ABCs of Death 2 was more of the same. 26 shorts by 26 different directors covering, sometimes very tenuously, every letter of the alphabet. It starts really well with Cheap Thrills director E.L. Katz’s take on Assassins, followed by Julian Barratt’s amusing and bloody wildlife “documentary”, B is for Badger. However, the quality soon starts to slip and many of the shorts are unforgettable. Whilst not as good as the original selection, it’s nice to see more social commentary. Dennison Ramalho J is for Jesus is a very cleverly worked film.

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, on the other hand, carries on where the first film left off ; takes the action to another level. Even more bloody, and even more ludicrous, the army of the Nazi dead comes head to head with their Red Army’s finest reanimated recruits. Insert the teen Zombie Squad from America, a zombie sidekick played beautifully by Kristoffer Joner and a whole barrel of (blood and) laughs.

Starry Eyes focusses on Sarah (Alex Essoe), an unsuccessful actress desperate to land her dream role. As she hangs out with young and beautiful hopefuls in Tinsel , Sarah grows increasingly desperate when finally seemingly landing a starring role after a series of sinister auditions. However, as obsession rapidly begins to consume her, Sarah needs to prove that she’s prepared to do anything for success. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s film is dark and disturbing but doesn’t quite click.

The highlights of this year’s festival, and three of the best horror films I’ve seen in 2014, all come from Australia or New Zealand. Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla stars Glenn Maynard, who puts in a fantastic performance as a lonely ice cream man whose obsession with a TV starlet finally drives him over the edge. However, it’s the mix of comedy and horror of Housebound and What We Do in the Shadows which steal the festival.

Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is Housebound. Literally. After a spate of delinquent crime she is sentenced to live with her slightly odd, but well-intentioned, mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) in the sticks for nine months. When strange things begin to happen her mother claims the house is haunted. Kylie, ably assisted by her probation officer Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), sets out to discover the truth. Gerard Johnstone’s film is a blast with one incredibly clever moment followed shortly by another which elicited a round of applause from the audience. Two pieces of cinematic genius.

The winner of the Audience Award, and probably the most anticipated (largely due to the co-director and star being Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords) film of the festival was What We Do in the Shadows. A New Zealand documentary crew follow three Wellington housemates for a few months. The twist is that Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) are vampires. Skilfully filmed in the style of MTV’s The Real World, the trio’s equilibrium is often tested by years of avoidance of household chores, temper tantrums and getting (human) blood on the couch. Their quiet and boring lives are punctured when Petyr (Ben Fransham), the Nosfaratu-like elder vampire in the cellar, decides to turn one of their dinner guests Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer). There are wonderful performances from the main leads (Taika Waititi channeling Matt Berry into Viago), a multitude of killer lines (you’ll never look at a sandwich in the same way again) and great cameos from Rhys Darby as the leader of a werewolf pack and Jackie Van Beek as Deacon’s familiar. It’s a worthy winner and one of the funniest films I’ve seen in ages.

In terms of shorts, Timothy and Ghost train stood out. Add to all that a great disco in the bar from Interplanetary Division and some stunning art(including Squee’s marvelous collaboration with Mute Art for their interpretation of Videodrome) and Celluloid Screams 2014 was easily the best yet.

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