A Night of Horror: Closing Night - 03/04/09
By: Mr Intolerance on April 6, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Share 

All good things must come to an end, and so it was with A Night of Horror. The closing night was rung in with one of the strongest films the crew had to offer (the US splatter-fest Splinter) and the awards ceremony and after-party, and you'd better believe that your fearless correspondent was there. Yeah, I had to miss a few nights due to work commitments, but hey, I made it to six out of the eleven Nights of Horror (many of which were 2 screenings a night), which is more than I can say for most of Sydney's so-called horror fan-base.

The final night was packed. When I turned up for the screening with the Taber Corn crew (director Linden Reko, writer/star Blake Ryan and star Ben Fruend), the queue was around the block from Newtown's Dendy cinema – no really, it was. This is a heartening thing – horror is out there folks, and people want to see it. It's not just for some mythical "chosen few", there was quite a wide cross-section of humanity at this section, as indeed there had been for all of the screenings – it's not just a genre for dateless wonders in black t-shirts, y'know?

Splinter (Dir: Toby Wilkins/82 minutes/USA/2008)

Splinter is a great film. No, I don't mean it's ever going to be spoken about in the same way as Casablanca or even Psycho, but it's a top-notch hi-octane thrill-fest about two couples who are both out in the wilds, for different reasons, admittedly, who have to band together against an evil that's never explained. Don't go in expecting "backwoods horror" from that scenario, because that ain't what this film is about. What you'll get here is a tense siege film a la Night of the Living Dead, effectively, with splatter bordering on Raimi/Jackson territory, genuine suspense, a monster that is equal parts vicious and grotesque, great laughs and a whale of a time to boot.

Seth and Polly are on a camping holiday. Seth is a pretty useless geek, Polly...well, you just have to wonder what a hot piece of arse like her, resourceful, courageous and strong, is doing with such a chump. At the same time you have Deke, a small-time hood, and his girlfriend Lacey (a sort of Starkweather/Fugate combo if there ever was one) generally going on the lam, until their car breaks down. Deke and Lacey kidnap Seth and Polly, and continue their getaway, until they run down a small animal, Lacey's puppy Ginger, who has been altered somehow in a way that makes the critter more vicious, nasty and dangerous than it ever was before. Even crippled after having been run down by a 4WD, the damn thing wants blood, and seems to be covered with (or more accurately, pierced from the inside by) a whole bunch of rather nasty looking spikes.

Our gang understandably freak out and head for the hills, pulling up at a service station, where the rest of the film is played out, Lacey coming across a similarly infected human in the bathroom. His intentions towards her aren't exactly friendly, and the whatever-it-is that's ruining everybody's day starts to bloodily (and I do mean bloodily) try to kill the rest of the gang, who are left to defend themselves with Deke's gun, their own wits, and whatever they can find in the service station, to survive – The Mist, anyone?

Now, you might be reading that and thinking to yourself, "Well, that ain't sounding all that scary," - well, you'd be wrong. Splinter is edge of the seat excitement from the word go. It's as gory as you'd hope for, and despite the fact that it's played dead-pan, extremely funny – the scares and the laughs play off against each other admirably. Plus there's the monster – an original concept to begin with, and a particularly nasty one to watch, bristling with spikes that infect you with whatever the hell it's got, before it assimilates you a la Carpenter's The Thing (there was one moment of gruesomeness where the creature assimilates half a person it's torn apart where the audience groaned and applauded in equal measures – bloody and fun? You'd better believe it!). Even dismembered body parts that are infected are still injurious to your health – sort of like that bit in Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn where Ash lops off his hand and it tries to kill him; imagine that, but not played deliberately for laughs. And I've got to just mention one scene that nearly had the audience bring the roof down with a combination of laughter and gross-out response: one character, infected, tries to get other characters to curb the infection by amputating his arm. Their surgical weapons of necessity? A Stanley knife to cut through the flesh, and a breeze-block to smash the bone. Fucking ouch!

Look, Splinter is a film you really ought to watch. Is it original? Despite the number of films I've identified riffs on, yes, it actually is. More fun than a barrel full of monkeys? You'd better fuckin' believe it! I watch a lot of horror cinema (as I'm sure a lot of you reading this do too), but I haven't been this entertained by a modern, dare I say it, contemporary horror film (even though it's a horror-comedy, the emphasis is strictly on the horror), with the exception of John Michael Elfer's Finale, for a long time. I really think y'all should watch this and become better people.

After the film screened, we got the awards, props go to Splinter as the best feature and the best feature special effects, I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer for best Austrailian feature, director Jason Eisner won a gong for Treevenge (a short film from the horror-comedies/animations shorts screening), as did Michael Masters and David Francis for Reel Zombies, Ursula Dabrowsky for Family Demons, David Prior for the 40 minute Lovecraft short AM 1200, John Michael Elfers for Finale, John Fallon for the 10 minute Canadian short Red Hours, Argentinian director Adrian Garcia Bogliano for best non-English speaking feature for I'll Never Die Alone (No Morire Sola), and Cristiana Donzelli for the best non-English speaking short Una Storia di Lupi (A Wolf's Tale) – a worthy winner if there ever was one. Also, the boys from Taber Corn won the Independent Spirit Award, which not only scored a thanks for yours truly, but also for Digital Retribution – thanks guys, we appreciate it, we really do; we like to think we do our bit for the Australian horror/exploitation/cult scene, it's nice when fellow travellers feel the same way. Again, thank you – we're very grateful for the recognition.

And from then on, it was time to drink heavily at the after-party at the Bank Hotel in Newtown. Many beers were drunk and many stories swapped, and then eventually when Taber Corn star Blake Ryan and I shambled downstairs, it was to flop on a couple of sofas at my place, drink cheap wine until the sun came up and watch Hell of the Living Dead until we were both paralytically drunk and passed out.

Can I just at this point thank the fine folks at A Night of Horror for their magnificent work of keeping new and independent horror alive in Sydney specifically, and Australia generally – 3 years and still running, and getting better each year. Dr Dean, Lisa, Bryant and Shane (and all the other multifarious folks who keep the festival running) – on behalf of the horror-loving community of the sad-arsed city of Sydney, I thank you from the bottom of my heart (our collective hearts, really) for the fantastic job that you do. Long may you reign. Hope to see y'all again next year.

Further: many, many thanks to the directors, writers, stars, cast and crew of all the films we were lucky enough to see – without you the scene does not exist. Keep making those movies, and we'll keep watching them!

Post-script: When Blake and I went to the pub for a Mexican counter-lunch and recovery beers the next morning, over the pub TV was playing a sexploitation documentary, featuring none other than the legend who walks on water who is John Waters! Sometimes life is good, and sometimes it just keeps throwing wonderfulness at you. I love being a movie fan.

<< Night Five - 30/03/09

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