The momentum was building fast heading into Day 2 of Arrow Video FrightFest, as horror icon Barbara Crampton swooped into town to introduce the European Premieres of Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund’s Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich as well as Brad Baruh’s Dead Night. Elsewhere boasted the world premiere of Jon Knautz’s The Cleaning Lady and the UK premiere of Pascal Laugier’s brutal Incident in a Ghost Land. Friday also saw the festival’s only Asian feature film, Shinichiro Ueda’s riotously entertaining One Cut of the Dead, take its UK bow.
Over at the Prince Charles, the legendary Scala Cinema was lovingly celebrated by former programmer Jane Giles, in conversation with Alan Jones. The festival had planned to screen a double bill of Julien Temple’s The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle and Jeff Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine, but the rights owners of the former denied permission to show their film, so the latter was screened on its own. The conversation, however, between Giles and Jones proved both enlightening and heartfelt, as they fondly recalled the glory days of Rock Around the Clock marathon screenings, legendary arthouse/exploitation double bills and the illicit shufflings that would regularly go on in the shadows of the back rows.
Braid (dir. Mitzi Peirone, USA) – European Premiere
When cops appear on their doorstep, wannabe drug dealers Petula (Imogen Waterhouse) and Tilda (Sara Hay) flee New York City for the secluded, dilapidated mansion of their unhinged childhood friend, Daphne (Madeline Brewer). On arrival, however, they must reassume the roles from an overwhelming childhood role play game, in which Daphne plays the controlling “Mother” to Tilda’s “Daughter”, while Petula becomes the gender fluid “Doctor” who overseas their treatment. What follows is a visually ravishing fever dream of psychological manipulation, pathological role play and fairytale horror as the three women scurry around the decaying halls of a once ostentatious abode. Scott Cohen plays the local cop who starts poking his nose where it most definitely doesn’t belong, but otherwise Braid proves a decidedly female driven odyssey. A sensory blend of early Roman Polanski (particularly Repulsion and Cul de Sac) with Sofia Coppola’s tales of female entrapment and isolation, Braid marks out its creator Mitzi Peirone as a bold new voice worth serious attention, while showcasing a triumvirate of intertwined, co-dependent, yet starkly defined heroines from a trio of hugely accomplished performers. Without a doubt the highlight of the festival so far.
Blue Sunshine (dir. Jeff Lieberman, USA) – The Scala Lives revival screening
A truly bizarre sci-fi horror film from 1977, Blue Sunshine stars Zalman King, director of salacious skin flicks such as Two Moon Junction and Wild Orchid, as a desperate young man framed for a gruesome triple murder. As he scrambles to collect evidence to prove his innocence he discovers that an experimental form of LSD is turning users into bald psychotic killers. Jumping wildly between a myriad different genres, Blue Sunshine proves baffling, shocking and unintentionally hilarious from moment to moment, as Lieberman’s direction works both for and against his high concept premise. King’s performance is laughably bad, but wholly in keeping with the film’s wayward tone. What emerges in the end is a truly unique late night experience, that is part Cronenberg, part Parallax View and a perfect example of the type of out-there cult classic on which the Scala built its legendary reputation.