The happy campers arrived as the 13th edition of the Abertoir Horror Festival was finally underway at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Running from the 13th to the 18th of November, Abertoir once again pulled out all the stops to recreate the slasher camping movie theme to coincide with a celebration of horror’s most prominent sub-genre. From a machete wielding hockey masked maniac to sleazy sleepovers, Abertoir have outdone themselves yet again bringing in authenticity to the proceedings with a serene summer camp decorated foyer area, where in true slasher movie style, nothing gruesome could possibly happen, right?
With this year’s core theme surrounding the golden era of 80’s slice n’ dice movies, Abertoir were proud to introduce a true genre icon later in the festival’s extensive line-up, the one and only, Sean S. Cunningham.
Sean S. Cunningham is renowned for creating the Friday the 13th series, unleashing the legendary Jason Voorhees into both the pop culture and horror movie consciousness. Not only is he famed for the classic Friday franchise, Sean worked alongside the late, great Wes Craven, producing his 1970’s cult classic, The Last House on the Left (1972). Following the success of Friday the 13th, Sean moved on to produce the House franchise, which very recently received a re-packaged restoration courtesy of Arrow Video.
While loyal attendees and a slew of new faces had Sean’s Q&A and masterclass to look forward to later in the week, the first night opened on a high with Robert Hiltzik’s ultimate, campiest, cult slasher movie, Sleepaway Camp delighting the audience and setting the tone for what the warped world of 80’s slasherdom had to offer.
Introducing the imitable Felissa Rose as the sweet-natured Angela into the horror movie fold, Sleepaway Camp despite it’s over the top acting and questionable scenarios deserves to be remembered proving to be an essential film when it comes to hack n’ slash summer camp movies. Sleepaway Camp boldly dared to be different by incorporating the concept of Friday the 13th while subsuming its own bizarre approach to both gender representation and satire. While many movies of a similar vein, starred actors blatantly in their 20’s, Sleepaway Camp broke the mould by casting genuine teenaged actors and actresses in the roles, with Felissa Rose being around thirteen years old when she played the controversial character. The film could be interpreted in two different ways, complete sleazy exploitation or a clever subversion and parody of the genre. Growing into a cult classic, Sleepaway Camp is an all-time favourite for it’s out of left field, twist-ending, and for daring to be different.
Up next was In Fabric, a multi-toned, surreal cinematic experience from director, Peter Strickland. Part British black comedy accompanied by a strong mix of stylish visuals, In Fabric was an unusual piece that got the audience engrossed in deciphering it long after the screening had ended. During a busy sales period in an elaborate department store, customers are drawn to a beautiful red dress that takes on a life of its own. In Fabric takes different kinds of trajectories not letting on where it will lead next. Combining different tonal senses can become jarring and confusing in some films, however, In Fabric got it pitch perfect with the humour effortlessly complimenting the offbeat plotting alongside the abnormal setting and character interactions.
Steve Oram and Julian Barratt’s sporadic cameos proved a central highlight aiding the odd, deadpan style of comedy the film incorporates. In Fabric balanced a gothic aesthetic in places with traditional British kitchen sink type drama. The film gave off subtle underlying Suspiria vibes with rich cinematography, peculiar characters and an unsettling undertone. In Fabric is off the wall but that is the element that successfully works in its favour. The only criticism it acquires is its painstakingly slow pacing where it intricately tells the same story twice over with two sets of characters. Despite this, In Fabric is a strong film that’s difficult to shake, exemplifying Abertoir’s flair for selecting films that aim to challenge and provoke in unexpected ways.
Following on was Piercing, a lurid giallo-style, crime homage based on the novel by Ryû Murakami. Piercing is an instantaneously divisive film, it doesn’t hold back on its uncomfortably visceral moments of graphic violence and gore. The plot is pretty much straightforward but it’s the perpetual twists that result in convoluting it.
A seemingly disturbed man bids goodbye to his wife and baby and checks into a lavish hotel assumingly on business. While already establishing a sense of unease and weirdness from the opening moments, this is the point the film invites its audience to buckle up and hold on tight as the lead character’s sinister intentions emerge from hibernation as he sets out to murder a prostitute. Piercing is difficult to invest in due to its representation of unsympathetic, detestable characters and long drawn out sequences of tension. Mia Wasikowska’s performance is the film’s strongest asset and the key driving force within the plot, keeping the audience on their toes, questioning is she completely innocuous and vulnerable or is there more danger surrounding her than meets the eye?
Piercing clearly sets out to arouse a reaction and is determined to push the envelope however it falls on the predictable side resulting in a cold sense of ambivalence. Even the inclusion of the maestro of Italian Horror Scores, Goblin couldn’t save it and only served to make us wish we were watching an Argento masterpiece instead. Piercing is interesting enough as a disturbing psychological piece but didn’t quite strike the right chord.
Still to come… South African Urban Legends, Do Serial Killers Really Exist? Hockey Masks and Campfires, testing our Horror Knowledge, and a slasher sleepover you’ll never forget!