Monday 27 July 2020

NEW WAVE OF THE BRITISH FANTASTIC FILM 2020 #6 - Shorts Special: Reviews of Hokum (UK 2020), Clowns (UK 2020), The Isolation Horrors (UK 2020), Crow 9 (UK 2020) and Freakish (UK 2019)

Hokum (UK 2020: Dir Lee Charlish) One of the definitions of 'hokum' is 'trite, sentimental, or unrealistic situations and dialogue in a film..' but I'm pleased to report that Charlish's short contains none of those things. It's a film which is shrouded in the mystery and imagery of the tarot, suggesting a causality behind the events on screen.

A native American proverb "the soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears" introduces us two two criminals, Donnie (Jim Low) and Ash ( Peter James), who hold up a betting shop. Ash is the more reluctant of the pair and Donnie does all the shouting. As the hold up progresses there's a shot of a fruit machine, possibly suggesting chance? In any event real life takes over when one of the employees triggers the alarm: Donnie takes her hostage in the getaway car, drags her into a field and shoots her in the head, much to Ash's disgust.

The narrative then fractures in time. We see Ash burying the stolen money, and then Donnie catching up with and torturing him to tell him where it's buried. Beyond angry, when Ash won't tell,  Donnie strangles him to death.

With his route to the money choked off (literally) Donnie visits a local shaman (Adrian Annis) whose assistant, Fortune (Alex Kapila) is decidedly out of it. "Hi" she says distantly on meeting Donnie. "I can see," he replies - the film is not without humour. The shaman wants a cut of the money, and recommends that Donnie see a local clairvoyant who has the power to bring people back from the dead, providing she can access a photograph of the deceased person.

But a flashback to a few weeks earlier shows that Ash had been summoned by the same shaman and given a drink laced with a hallucinogen (a beautifully filmed sequence with a great soundtrack). Ash is told to appease the spirits by making them an offering, which he achieves by burying the money, which sets off the previously recounted set of events.

In its 26 minutes Charlish, who now has thirteen short films under his belt, knows how to tell a story interestingly and so that you have to work a bit to find out what's going on. As well as the tarot deck references (accompanied by some of his beautiful animations) there are some lovely little touches like a shot of souls rising in the air, and the clairvoyant's spell casting. This is a superb short film and you are advised to catch it if you can.

Clowns (UK 2020: Dir Kris Smith, Nikki Tomb) 'A simple camping trip soon turns sour for Jasmine and her friends as they are hunted down and terrorised by psychopathic clowns' is the imdb summary of this 30 minute short film. Smith and Tombs' enjoyable recreation of backwoods slashers has Jasmine (Annina Kaski, Millennial Killer), her adopted brother Josh (Shane Buckley, Apocalyptic 2077), lairy boyfriend Lewis (Tom Summers) and friend Cindy (Vicky Lasserman) off for a camp in the woods. More precisely, to an area that Jasmine's uncle has described as a hot spot for people going missing and sightings of murderous clowns - good choice!

Rather than moving on, the four remain at the site and get slowly wasted (it also transpires that Lewis is having a thing with Cindy, not known to her best friend Jasmine). Just as bedtime beckons, a young girl, Colette (Kellyann Summers, Invasion Planet Earth) and her rather gimp like sidekick Charlie (Steven Pereira) arrive, kick up a bit of a fuss and leave again. But later that night they return in their clown guises (as Coco and Chuckles respectively) and start picking off the friends.

At just half an hour there isn't much story to Clowns; it's more an extended mood piece, the violent events of the last ten minutes effectively set up by the bickering/arguing of the four friends and the arrival of the clearly quite mad Colette (who has stepped from the frames of a Rob Zombie movie) and simpering Charlie. It's a pleasantly nasty movie, with a mix of practical effects and (unwanted, by me at any rate) CGI blood splats, and the night shooting retains the claustrophobic feel of the piece.

The Isolation Horrors (UK 2020: Dir: M W Daniels, Emma Dark, Nicolai Kornum, Richard Markworth and John Whitaker) In lockdown some of us have acquired new skills (running, jigsaws etc) Others have just hibernated, confused about the while thing. But a group of indie filmmakers decided to make some short films on their phones and pull them together into a very entertaining 25 minutes on the theme of isolation.

Using a link story by Kornum (The Midnight Trip) which has him picking up a decidedly infected looking facemask in the street (why man?) and taking it home to inspect it, he's promoted to ring a number of his friends to check on their status, which in turn leads to their own short films.

First off is Emma Dark (Seize the Night) with 'Goryo': the ghost of Izanami, a Japanese pop star, appears in her home when she deletes viral footage of his Covd-related death sent to her phone - with Dark playing both roles. In Richard Markworth's 'Across the Landing' the director of Carrigan Wakes plays a little Englander who ends up murdering a neighbour who just will not socially isolate. In John (Umbilichord) Whitaker's 'Anomalous,' a man who stockpiles bog paper (quite the thing at the start of lockdown, remember?) ends up on the receiving end when the loo rolls gang up on him. And in the final film. 'Ghosting Isolation,' MW Daniels' fears for the well-being of his dad manifest themselves in a short piece in which dad (Daniels pere) is haunted by some rather frightening figures.

Considering the restrictions under which the film was put together, it's way more entertaining than expected. Hopefully all those involved will go on to make longer and better funded projects, which it will be a pleasure to cover in DEoL's 'New Wave of the British Horror Film' strand.

You can watch The Isolation Horrors here.

Crow 9 (UK 2020: Dir Michael Curtis) Curtis is a prolific video maker/musician whose 'Zombies in Hertford' series is well worth checking out if you have the stamina (most of his films are over an hour and a half), as they're full of inventive flourishes and funny songs. It's childish stuff but the surreal edge makes them really interesting (see the link at the bottom of the review).

His latest, Crow 9, clocks in at a more modest 25 minutes and is the second film in this post to have been inspired by the 2020 pandemic. It's in the form of a video diary filmed over a number of days by an unnamed narrator - let's call him Mike - who's in lockdown, having been furloughed. His day job is at the local biosphere where he's working on an app that distributes bird seed which has been treated to serve as an avian deterrent. The biosphere is also working on a virus of its own; the Crow 9 of the title.

Mike is bored, bored, bored. He gives us a musical interlude to alleviate the monotony, treats us to his keepy-uppy skills with a football and films the empty streets of Hertford on his daily constitutional.

But in the outside world strange things are happening. Odd voices emerge from the radio and phone in show callers talk about not being able to trust their pets any more; "My puss looks shifty: she knows but she's not telling." Mike tries to sign up for movie streaming but there's something wrong with his internet connection and he can't contact his brother. He does manage to call his friend Doris (Sara L Aston in a brief, hilarious cameo) but she's distracted by the birds outside the window and cuts the call short as she thinks they're trying to get in. Later Mike hears a disturbance in the kitchen and finds a freaky looking feathered fiend helping itself to what's left of his food. He manages to hide upstairs to escape the attacking avian.

Meanwhile the radio tells us that the virus has mutated, making humans stupid and rendering birds a threat to mankind. Mike accesses his work mainframe and manages to release the Crow 9 virus which he hopes will defeat the birds, who put out a radio call for people to flock to the local Corn Exchange building, telling them they will be safe. But the avians are lying! They have intercepted the counter virus, and the head bird informs the assembled stupid humans that they're about to take over. "Brand new world!" the birds chant, and the masses (including Mike) echo the victory cry.

I loved Curtis's short but very funny film, clearly shot on the hoof (or claw): Mike is a kind of liberal everyman, bemoaning those who don't obey pandemic distancing measures, and capturing the misery of the lone lockdowner. It's also the best visual record I've seen of the pandemic. Excellent stuff!

You can see all of Mike's videos here.

Freakish (UK 2019/2020: Dir Ross Heath) It's a bit of a question mark whether Freakish was released last year or in 2020. Ross told me that it was 'staggered' so I think I can count it as a this year release.

This 30 minute short, and the second in this post to feature a killer clown - the 'Freakish' of the title - focuses on a house with three generations of occupants menaced by him. The first is a writer who gets as far as typing the word 'freakish' on his old school typewriter before our titular hero springs up, with an appropriately manic cackle, and despatches him.

Six months later a couple, Jack (Kevin Mangar) and Kate (Lucy Lewendon) move into the house, not knowing of the fate of the previous dweller. Jack finds the dead author's typewriter, still with its single page containing the word 'Freakish.' And it's not long before Freakish himself makes an appearance at the window, causing Jack to give chase, and running into a couple of policemen who perhaps understandably don't believe his story about pursuing a killer clown. Which is a shame as the rozzers become Freakish's next victims. Back at the house Jack is still talking about clowns, much to the annoyance of Kate who thinks he's just had too much to drink. Kate's parents arrive for a visit; her sister was also due to turn up but we know that she's become another notch on Freakish's kill list, shortly followed by mum and dad. Looks like no-one's getting out of here alive.

Chris Shipton plays Freakish, a brick outhouse of a man who would normally be fairly easy to track down, courtesy of a couple of ear tunnels and a large tattoo on his neck that I'm pretty sure reads 'chorizo', except for his cunning clown mask disguise. One can sympathise with the killer's desire to off the cast, as after a few minutes in their company you'd probably feel the same. I'd single out Kevin Mangar for particular attention due to his almost total lack of acting skills ("Stop. I'm in pain!" he cries unconvincingly at one point after Freakish takes to him with his knife). Freakish is filmed without much flair (is this the world's first Dogme slasher?) and on occasion rather brutally edited, but it's all quite fun, and if you like the sound of it, you might be pleased to know that Heath is in pre-production with 'Freakish 2' due in 2021, just one of nine projects in various stages of completion due in the next couple of years.

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