The Best Feature Films of Celluloid Screams 2015
Celluloid Screams took place from the 23rd-25th October at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield, marking the festival’s seventh spooktacular year! Robert Nevitt and his team Polly Allen and Sarah Williamson offered up a selection of interesting films that again show how versatile the genre can be. There were recurring themes in place with slow-burning, psychological thrillers, creepy kids and crazy black comedies. Below I review the films that stood out the most for me this year. Unfortunately due to being ill mid way through the Saturday schedule I’m unable to consider The Witch, These Final Hours and Darling. If you attended the festival or have seen any of the films listed below, please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree with my choices.
1. The Invitation (2015)
- Directed by Karyn Kusama
- Country: USA
From Karyn Kusama (Director of Jennifer’s Body) comes this year’s festivals most outstanding film. The Invitation centers on Will (Logan Marshall Green) who along with his current girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is invited to his previous home by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard). Eden is now married to the smarmy David (Michiel Huisman). The couple host a dinner party for a group of their old college friends and also introduce some new faces. If it wasn’t already a tense/awkward situation, events are about to turn even more uncomfortable. Will is uneasy, following a devastating family tragedy that impacted him and Eden but he soon suspects that his ex-wife and her new husband have a more sinister hidden agenda for this spur of the moment gathering than he first thought.
With secrets and lies threatening to tumble out over the course of the evening, The Invitation will leave you reeling as it builds up tension throughout. A strange, unexplainable tone manifests, keeping the audience on pins. The performances are incredibly naturalistic from the entire cast making it easy to invest in the characters and be constantly concerned about what will happen next. Several characters are introduced at once, which would usually be problematic in terms of development, however writer Matt Manfredi manages to create interesting personalities for each of them, leaving us with intrigue for each of their intentions. The pace is a slow-burner but its all worth it for the gut wrenching pay off. Without revealing too much as The Invitation is certainly a film to go into blind, it plays around with conventional horror tropes and defies typical expectations. Race, gender and sexuality were represented in a refreshing light,distancing itself from the expected stereotypes of the black woman or gay guy in horror. The Invitation breaks new ground, serving up copious amounts of intrigue to keep its audience captivated right until the shocking end.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
- Directed by Jason Lei Howden
- Country: New Zealand
Much like last year’s Housebound and What We Do in the Shadows, Deathgasm is a rip-roaring gory comedy from New Zealand. With a combination of Evil Dead style carnage and heavy metal, Deathgasm will have you rocking out while basking in its gruesome special effects. Self-proclaimed metalhead Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is sent to live with his closed minded Aunt and Uncle after his hellraiser mother gets into trouble with the law. Summoned to live with his chavvy cousin who beats him up at any given opportunity, Brodie seeks solace in the one thing he can trust, heavy metal music. He teams up with hardcore rocker Zakk and a couple of geeky guys to form the band Deathgasm. However things turn horrible wrong when Brodie accidentally evokes an evil demon through some ancient, ominous sheet music. While the music may rock, the town is no longer safe as the inhabitants become possessed and thirsty for blood!
Screening as the final recent film of the festival, Deathgasm was a much needed breath of fresh fair. It’s tons of fun, accompanied with a witty script. There’s a sweet love story at its core between the lead character and blonde, girl-next-door Medina (Kimberly Crossman), its a traditional look at when opposites attract but the audience will find themselves rooting for the pair as the film unfolds, with both characters proving they’re equally as badass. James Blake is the breakout performance of the film as moody, metalist Zakk, a mentor of sorts for Brodie. Sarcastic and deadpan, Zakk without a doubt has the best one lines within the film. Zakk attempts to be unlike-able but he’s the kind of character that has a softer side underneath that he’s reluctant to show. The cast have great chemistry and share some pretty outrageous moments. Look out for a small role from Cameron Rhodes who starred in last year’s popular New Zealand genre-bending horror Housebound. While the gore is eye-poppingly insane and holds no barriers, there are some crazily fun visual scenes of the effects of heavy metal when you’re passionate about the genre. Deathgasm is an awesome, thrill ride that’s ideal for a festival audience. If Metallica, The Evil Dead and Superbad had a love child, Deathgasm would be the result!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
3. He Never Died
- Directed by: Jason Krawczyk
- Country: USA/Canada
Henry Rollins gives an incredible performance in the hilariously dry-humored He Never Died. Very much a character driven piece, Rollins plays Jack, an immortal cannibal who has found himself stuck in a bit of a rut with no care for the humanity around him. Its not until he gets a blast from his past, that he gets the much needed push he requires in order to turn his rather lengthy life around. When someone important in Jack’s life is threatened by a group of thugs, he sets the wheels in motion to seek revenge, providing him with a purpose from his mundane existence. All Jack has to do is resist the urge to eat people and remain sober! Henry Rollins makes the entire movie, playing Jack as a character to root for. He’s completely deadpan and apathetic but we stay with him the entire time due to Rollins entertaining screen presence.
The supporting female actresses Jordan Todosey as Andrea and Kate Greenhouse as Cara share a natural and believable chemistry with Rollins. He Never Died uses its horror concept as a metaphor for depression which is so intrinsic in today’s society. Jack’s world is bleak and grotty, apart from visits to his local diner and a few games of bingo every week, he hasn’t got much going for him, demonstrating how easy it is for someone to become stuck in a viscous cycle. It also challenges ideas about our own mortality. Jack has been alive for far too long and hasn’t got much to offer the world anymore. The notion of struggling for a purpose to live when you can’t die is a key theme adding an interesting dimension to the comedy elements. The style of black comedy combined with gory violence the film incorporates is appealing for horror fans with a twisted sense of humor. Despite the brutal on-screen violence the comedy ensures that everything remains very tongue in cheek. Parallel’s can be drawn with 2011’s Some Guy Who Kills People in terms of its similar tone themes however both films are their own beasts. He Never Died is one of 2015’s genre cinema highlights that you won’t want to miss.
★ ★ ★ ★
4. Goodnight Mommy
- Directed By: Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz
- Country: Austria
This Oscar nominated chiller has proved to be one of 2015’s most eagerly anticipated films in horror. Nominated for best foreign language film at the 2016 Oscars, Goodnight Mommy isn’t unfamiliar territory for the seasoned horror fan but that doesn’t make it any less gripping. With classic themes of isolation and paranoia, this offering from Austria is another slow burner that uncovers some brutal revelations surrounding innocence and childhood. Goodnight Mommy tells the tale of twin boys Lukas and Elias (played by Lukas and Elias Schwarz) who are sent to live in the reclusive countryside following their TV presenter mothers (Susanne Wuest) life changing cosmetic surgery. The young boys soon suspect that something else is lurking beneath the bandages that is far from their loving mother.
Goodnight Mommy is a tense piece that shifts the dynamics to a startling effect. For their début film, the Schwarz twins are very convincing allowing us to empathize with them until the film’s direction veers off expectation. Susanne Wuest is the perfect Mommy Dearest, there’s an interesting conflict at play between her attempts at being the disciplined yet loving mother versus her image conscious celebrity status. Much like The Invitation that was screened before it, Goodnight Mommy takes its time to unravel, allowing us to admire the breathtaking cinematography and be gripped by the tension built by the strained relationship between the two boys and their mother. Its certainly a film to enter into without prior expectation, however the pay off does come in as not so new territory. Its final shot is spine-chilling as we absorb in the events that have played out. Goodnight Mommy is a psychological cat and mouse game, its beautifully shot and heart wrenching however don’t expect anything ground breaking so take it for what it is.
★ ★ ★ ★
- Directed By Michael Thelin
- Country: USA
Since its first UK showing at Frightfest in August, Emelie has generated a lot of hype and was nominated for several awards. The Michael Thelin directed feature takes the over done concept of the domestic thriller, in this case the psycho babysitter however shifts gears and places it from the point of view of the young children rather than the usual paranoid wife/mother. The Thompson family face a dilemma. Its their anniversary and their regular babysitter Megan has made other arrangements. Megan suggests her friend Anna take over her duties for the night. Anna arrives and all is well, the lively Thompson children take to her and the parents go to dinner happy. It soon transpires that something is not quite right with Anna as she starts upsetting Jacob and Sally by tormenting them with unpleasant cruelty and an obscene video. Young Christopher is too young to understand however this bad babysitter has more sinister plans lined up for him!
Once Upon a Time actress Sarah Bolger plays Emelie, the imposter in charge of the Thompson children and she does the unhinged routine very well, keeping us on edge. Emelie is a tough one to decipher. Its plot is predictable and it just feels like a better crafted lifetime movie with a recognizable storyline but with actors who can act. Without a doubt its the child actors that stand out the most. Joshua Rush plays Jacob at that transitional age between childhood and becoming a teenager, he is on to Emelie, realizing her behavior isn’t the norm, making him her number one antagonist that could blow apart her main goal. Carly Adams acts visibly distressed as Sally, she faces Emelie’s torment the most, her reactions are believable making it heartbreaking to watch. Thomas Bair is completely naturalistic as little Christopher, as a young child actor he’s just being himself and its clear Thelin allowed some improvisation. Emelie is a film that doesn’t quite take the risks it should and could. Once the stakes are raised it fails to push the boundaries and we’re left with something that we’ve seen time and time again. As previously stated its a well-shot and acted version of a typical lifetime movie concluding with an obvious outcome. It gradually builds, keeping up the intrigue but then becomes disappointing when it doesn’t offer up anything remarkable. Maybe an unexplored, wasted opportunity, Emelie is certainly an interesting film that’s worth checking out if you like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and films with similar unhinged female tropes.
★ ★ ★
6. The Corpse of Anna Fritz
- Directed by Hector Hernandez Vicens
- Country: Spain
El cadáver de Anna Fritz promised controversy and certainly piqued our curiosity when we were told that there had been walk-outs at the London Film Festival. Going straight for the jugular, if the subject matter makes you queasy, its probably one to avoid however it was nowhere near as offensive as made out to be. Beloved actress Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) is unexpectedly found dead. As her corpse is wheeled to the morgue snippets are played from the news giving an insight into celebrity culture, of how she was admired and criticized on the red carpet as well as her personal romantic life, it then marks her the news of her shocking and tragic early demise. With the recent deaths of several prolific celebrities its no surprise that a horror film dealing with the subject matter has been made.
Its a tale of revenge and misogyny when a morgue worker allows his two friends to have an all access pass to Anna’s dead body. These unexplainable vile characters take things one step too far but events take a twisted turn where the three men become embroiled in a cat and mouse game that they never would have imagined. The Corpse of Anna Fritz has some disturbing ideas but the problem is the characters are too underdeveloped, we aren’t given any insight into what triggers these men to be so vile. Their young, attractive and are heading to a party yet decide to partake in a freakishly obscene act. In that case, it seems to be a window into our obsession with celebrity and all that encompasses. As a famous starlet Fritz is untouchable but now she’s dead she’s fair game, is violated and can’t do anything about it, or so they think! With some decent ideas, Anna Fritz just becomes a standard, suspenseful morgue chase. With that said the ending is certainly quite satisfying. The Corpse of Anna Fritz is a well executed idea but lacks character development and becomes a bit too obvious. Much like Emelie, its a shame it didn’t have more to offer.
★ ★ ★
Coming Soon: The Top Short Films of Celluloid Screams.
Hayley Alice Roberts