Editor’s Note: The following dispatch is part of Ronan’s coverage of the Irish Film Institute’s annual Horrorthon
The hectic madness of day two proved perhaps a little too much to handle, and the ensuing exhaustion saw to it that today’s opener went missed in favour of some quality time with a pillow. Apologies to Eurocrime!, if Twitter reactions are anything to go by I’m all the worse off for not having seen it. It thus fell to V/H/S to welcome me back to the Horrorthon for day three, a task it stumbled in attempting to fulfil. Interesting enough though some of its segments are, the film as a whole struggles to rouse much in the way of fright, inducing much more (deliberate) laughter than fear. It doesn’t help that the framing narrative is by far the weakest of the six; every return to the hideous bunch of thieves at its heart immediately undoes whatever good work may have preceded. Sometimes interesting, far more often just exhaustingly dull, V/H/S isn’t much more than an overlong bore.
Spirits needed uplifting after so groggy a start to the day, and who better to help than Sir Christopher Lee himself. His blood-red eyes upon the big screen in Dracula: Prince of Darkness are sure to be among the more memorable sights at this year’s Horrorthon. The Hammer sequel is, interestingly, far more faithful to Stoker’s text than its predecessor, finding a means by which to incorporate that good old zoophagus Renfield. The quartet of upper-class Englishmen and women at the core of the story offer plentiful comedy in the propriety of their mannerisms, holding the attention well for the impressive forty five minutes or so it is before the count himself appears. Lee, reportedly dissatisfied with the script, utters not a single line in the film, something of a shame but a nice conceit which allows his imposing stature and probing eyes to convey his menace, a task they’re more than well equipped to complete.
I’ve not seen Dead Hooker in a Trunk, the debut feature of Canadian directorial double act Jen and Sylvia Soska, but after American Mary you can be sure I want to. Easily the highlight of today’s line-up, the film follows the titular Mary, a struggling med school student who finds herself drawn into the criminal world when she takes a lucrative offer to patch up an unfortunate torture victim. One of the most gruesome films of the festival so far, American Mary spends a good portion of its plot in the world of body modification, allowing for plentiful bifurcated tongues alongside its heavy and constant flow of violent bloodshed. The Soskas’ measured direction of their nastier scenes is masterful, as too is their command of comic dialogue, influences from Audition and Tarantino’s less indulgent work abundant. Lead Katharine Isabelle spouts her snarky lines with the most marvellous menace, always amusing but never to the detriment of her more fragile, dramatic scenes. The film’s not without certain significant flaws, yet it all amounts to such wince-inducing fun that they’re easy to forgive.
Among Friends was the main attraction for the night, with director Danielle Harris and a handful of cast and crew along to introduce the film and answer questions afterward. Harris commented at one point that her main aim in getting into direction was to have some fun: to do what she wanted to do and to make movies with her friends. This, her first solo effort, certainly appears to be just that; if only it were as good a time for the audience too. Accomplished though the film’s gore is—and it is much, as the story winds on—it’s all supported by groan-inducingly easy humour that eventually contributes just a trying sense of puerile nonsensicality to everything. Following a gang of friends held hostage by a friend at a dinner party, it resides constantly in the shadow of the far superior The Loved Ones, never even nearly reaching the sharp humour or stomach-turning horror of that film. With the exception of a particularly well-executed fantasy sequence featuring one particular big-name cameo, Among Friends is a failure to capitalise on the potential of its plot, a minor waste of a talented group of people.
Keen for something a little more odd and intimate, I closed day three with Federico Zampaglione’s ethereal giallo Tulpa rather than the main screen showing of classic comedy Young Frankenstein. Influences aplenty from the Italian horrors of yesteryear are to be found in Zampaglione’s film, many moments calling back to just last night with Deep Red. Tulpa chiefly follows an executive at a high-profile company whose ties to the eponymous swingers club begin to threaten her life when its members are killed off one by one. Staggeringly gory at times, it’s a film that thrives on the strength of its atmosphere, Zampaglione’s crimson-soaked aesthetic and the frantic tones of his score beautifully evocative of the genre’s best. Where the film falls, it falls hard: the cast is hardly the most distinguished, often painfully unconvincing, and the story—particularly in its ending—leaves an awful lot to be desired. If atmosphere were all, Tulpa might have been one of the best films of the festival. As it is, it’s a handful of harrowing gore flattened by mediocre storytelling.
Coming up tomorrow: The Monster Squad; Shiver; the surprise film; Excision; and After.