Friday, 16 November 2018


Day 3 brought the Celluloid Screams crowd spooky shenanigans by the sea, warped wishes from Mexico, Squad goals across the world, monsters in New Zealand, plus vigilante mobs and a camp counsellor cull in the good ol' U.S. of A. Where would Day 4 take us? You're about to find out...


Let's go with the imdb summary on this one: "A murderous shapeshifter sets out on a blood-soaked mission to make things right with the woman he loves".

Apart from that, I feel I should avoid giving away any details about the plot of Lifechanger because it's best that you go into it knowing as little as possible. If you really want me to provide a lazy comparison, think of it as The Hidden with less gratuitous carnage, more interesting existential musings and a welcome, unexpectedly warm dash of romance added to the mix (if you think the latter will lessen the body count then don't panic, it really doesn't).

Drawn you in? Okay, now forget that it's anything like The Hidden. Lifechanger has an M.O. all of its own and a lot of intriguing questions to pose. I was told this might be a bit of a slow-burner but I was gripped instantly by the situation of the central character and wondered where it was going next - not always where I thought, it turned out.

As the focal point of the plot, Lora Burke is casting gold as the engaging, good-natured but emotionally damaged Laura. From the minute we meet her she's a person we identify and connect with and will come to care about very much, which amplifies any potential danger to her all the more.

In a festival packed with gems, Lifechanger ended up being my favourite movie of the four days. I'm going to spoil it no further. All I can do is urge you to see this movie. It's bloody great.


Philip (Sean Harris) is a troubled sort, carrying around a nightmarish hand puppet - the Possum of the title - in a leather case. Staying with in the run-down house which used to be his chidlhood home, traumatic memories begin to surface and his attempts to destroy the puppet come to nought. Meanwhile, a local child disappears and Philip is very high on the list of suspects...

Director Matthew Holness is known, by me at least, for Garth Marenghi's Darkplace but anyone going into Possum thinking that it shares some - indeed, almost any - of Darkplace's DNA is in for a bit of a shock. You will not be laughing at any point in this movie. It's more than likely you'll be sitting there with a sense of growing unease. You may want to leave the cinema entirely.

I've rarely seen a movie with such an unrelentingly oppressive and fetid atmosphere and the skill with which this is evoked is beyond question. Whether you want to experience this for 85 minutes is entirely up to you. The grime threatens to spill from the screen, some of the dialogue is mumbled, the relationship between Philip and his stepfather makes your skin crawl - this is testing stuff, deliberately so.

I left the screening unnerved and a little overwhelmed, not really sure what to make of the film. Since then, the more I think of Possum the more impressed I am at its performances - both Harris and Armstrong are outstanding - its atmosphere and its unwillingness to pander to the audience. You may be looking for the film to give you an easy out but it doesn't do so. Not once.

Recommended, but brace yourselves.


Teenage wannabe film-maker Davey (Graham Verchere) suspects that one of his neighbours is a serial killer and enlists the help of his friends in order to gather evidence but the closer they get to the truth the more they find themselves in danger...

On the surface, Summer Of '84 is a familiar coming of age story. Bunch of teenagers hanging out? Check. One of them's a lot cooler than the others? Check. Main character has a massive crush on an older girl? Check. It also taps into the rich vein of nostalgia as makers RKSS did in their previous Turbo Kid.

However, there's also something much, much darker at work here. The cool kid, it turns out, has a really dreadful home life. The town's parents don't seem particularly invested in the possibility they're living alongside a potential serial killer. And there's a truly nasty kicker waiting for the group of friends as they edge ever closer to solving the mystery.

Some may not enjoy the shocking, jet black turn the plot takes late on but I thought it fit the mood of the piece very well indeed. The movie opens by making a point about how even though a place may look perfect it's merely a façade which is concealing something abhorrent. Summer of '84's conclusion echoes its initial gambit and then some, closing with a genuine, unresolved sense of disquiet. Growing up can be a painful experience.

The only duff note? I thought that Nikki, the object of Davey's crush, was somewhat peripheral to the proceedings and a tad underwritten but apart from that Summer Of '84 is a suspenseful, accomplished piece of work.


When comic book aficionado Edgar (Thomas Lennon) heads to a convention where the 30th Anniversary of the "Toulon Murders" is being commemorated, all he wants to do is sell off the Toulon puppet he's acquired so that he can make some easy money. What he hadn't counted on was the puppets being re-animated by an unseen force, triggering a whole new murder spree...

Written by S.Craig Zahler, scribe of both Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99, this foregoes the slow-burn of those but retains their gory sensibilities as utterly disposable characters are burned, decapitated, dismembered, slashed and stabbed in glorious colour. The special effects crew was definitely kept busy during this project.

Unrestrained by anything approaching good taste, this is a complete and utter riot for anyone who isn't looking to be offended. If you are looking to be offended, it's a veritable smorgasbord of points about which to complain. Case in point: the sequence in which Edgar's pal Markowitz battles with a "Hitler baby" doll, leading to a hilarious pay off accompanied by a line which brought the Celluloid house down.

There's plenty of exploitation cred in the cast too, with Michael Paré as a detective, Barbara Crampton as an ex-cop-turned-expert Toulon murder tour guide and Udo Kier as Toulon himself. The final moment of The Littlest Reich is totally in keeping with the generally off-kilter nature of the piece. Obviously I'm not going to give it away but what I will say is that you'll find it frustrating or an absolute hoot, depending on your point of view.


Webcam performer Alice (Madeline Brewer), who's looking to increase her popularity with a series of increasingly sensational web shows as her online persona Lola, suddenly finds her channel locked out and hijacked by a doppelganger who appears to want to push the envelope even further. Can Alice get her channel, her followers and her life back?

Cam is an intriguing ghost in the machine tale given real depth and authenticity courtesy of a brilliant screenplay by Isa Mazzei which shines a sympathetic and fascinating light on the lives of the web performers and, like any workplace, the politics which exist the industry (watch for Samantha Robinson from "The Love Witch" on particularly pithy form in a supporting role). The writing crackles with truth, whether it's the ongoing competition to be the most popular girl on the webcam world or the quieter, poignant moments showing Alice's attempts to keep the details of her real job from her family.

In the main role(s), Brewer is exceptional: smart, sassy, savvy but also with a convincing streak of vulnerability which she tries to keep hidden most of the time. The movie doesn't slip into demonising all of the guys who enjoy the webcam shows either although it makes many salient points that, as in all walks of life, there are some weirdos out there and some men who get off on the control of women. It happens and the movie deals with it in an assured way.

Cam is an excellent exploration of the complex dynamic between the webcam stars and their followers, delivering its high-tech horror with humour and heart.


Closing the festival with a movie bearing the snappy title above, "Storsh" (as I will refer to it from now on) is the tale of a couple (Kate Micucci and Sam Huntington) who move to LA and snap up an apartment which is suspiciously cheap to rent. They soon find that this is because a cult leader (played by Taika Waititi) committed suicide in their bathtub, encouraging his followers to break into the property in order to follow their leader through said gateway of the title by killing themselves in said tub.

The potentially dark material here is expertly skirted by dialling up the comedy and pushing the absurdity of the situation for all its worth. Micucci's aspirational go-getter and Huntington's slacker make for an engaging double act and it's pleasing how the initial view of Storsh himself - he must have been some sort of crackpot - begins to give way to "hmm, maybe there is something in what he was saying".

The frequent suicide attempts are a great excuse to feature talented comedy performers in cameo roles (Maria Bamford and Mark McKinney* to name but two) and although a procession of cultists attempting to do themselves in doesn't sound like an especially enjoyable evening of cinema entertainment, the execution - maybe I should have chosen a better word there - will more than like make you smile, maybe even laugh quite a few times.

Surprisingly sweet given the subject matter, Storsh is more delicately dark comedy than hard-driving horror but it will appeal to fans of the genre. The laughs dry up a little towards the end but that doesn't spoil what's gone before. Considering there's quite a lot of death in this movie it's a charming, offbeat yarn with an almost constant stream of chuckles. Give it a go, it's rather lovely in its own strange way.


And that, as they say, was that. The 10th Edition of Celluloid Screams delivered another strong line-up of films - quite possibly its strongest yet. I know I say that every year but I can always make a case for it. It gets bigger, it gets better, the Celluloid Screams family grows every year and the social side of the festival is just as important and enjoyable as the films being shown.

To everyone I met in person for the first time this year, it was great to finally get to chat. To the returnees who still speak to me, it's great to catch up. To those who I got to know in the festival's infancy and continue to annoy every single year, I apologise for the ramblings and occasional rants. You people are the best.

Of course, I can't close without thanking those behind the festival who spend a huge amount of time seeking out films and making sure that the extended weekend ran like clockwork - or made it appear it was running like clockwork even if it wasn't. When it looks effortless you know it really isn't.

So, a huge, heartfelt thank you to Rob Nevitt, Polly Allen, Lucy Swift, Clare Platton and the rest of this absolutely amazing team. You always knock it right out of the park and I'm in it for as long as you are. It's always a highlight of my year and I'm sure Celluloid Screams 2019 will somehow be even more awesome.

And to anyone who was trapped in the bar during my end of festival karaoke performance, I'm really sorry. Probably a good time to also apologise to Nena for mangling the German language. It won't happen again.

Or will it?

*Full disclosure - I'm a massive fan of The Kids In The Hall. "I'M CRUSHING YOUR HEAD!!!"

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