Celebrating ten years of terror, Celluloid Screams brought in a plethora of shocks, scares, mayhem, madness and even Michael Myers for its 2018 edition. Welsh Demoness who has attended the festival consecutively since 2011 talks her top five feature films that screened at the Showroom Cinema from October the 18th-21st, which marked one scaretastic special year for the Sheffield-based horror event.
But before we delve into the festival’s beastly best, here are some honourable mentions: Tigers Are Not Afraid, Wolfman’s Got Nards, Summer of ’84 and Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.
• Directed by Justin McConnell
• Country: Canada
Body Horror meets existential drama in Justin McConnell’s stunning shape-shifter feature, Lifechanger. Drew (Voiceover by Bill Oberst Jr.), faces a detrimental identity crisis every day of his life in which he must transform into another person to avoid an unpleasant death. Of course, this isn’t without its consequences as he transfers his being into innocent victims who without he would cease to survive. He sets his sights on Julia (Lora Burke), a lonely individual who spends her nights frequenting a downtown bar and drowning her sorrows. Drew and Julia’s worlds collide in extraordinary ways, but can Drew make amends for his past mistakes or will he continue to destroy others in his quest for love and meaning? Lifechanger is a doleful yet engaging film that ponders our place in this world and the devastating effects we can unwittingly have on others.
McConnell’s direction is undoubtedly superb as is his flair for gradual and meaningful storytelling. He writes Drew as ultimately conflicted and despite him regrettably committing an abundance of horrific crimes, McConnell provides him with an empathetic slant allowing the audience to invest in his character and get to grips with the motivations behind his actions. Oberst’s voiceover consistently drives the film’s melancholic tone that is unwavering throughout its entirety. Equally as fantastic in her performance is Lora Burke who brings a sense of sadness and remorse to her role as Julia. She plays her so empathetically that as an audience we strive to root for her happiness and the brief glimpses of her joy that is shown comes across as heart-warming.
Playing Drew’s many embodiments is a talented cast from Rachel VanDuzer to Steve Kasan who each do an impressive job in convincing the audience that we are watching the same person while bringing in their own identity and layers to the part.
Lifechanger is a mesmerizing and thought provoking, indie horror slow burn that proved to be Celluloid Screams’ sleeper hit of the festival. Despite it being one of the steadiest films in its build up, not one second feels wasted or dragged out. Lifechanger contains some realistically impressive gore effects, profound moments while remaining deeply compelling from beginning to end.
2. Knife & Heart
• Directed by Yann Gonzalez
• Country: France/Mexico/Switzerland
A heart-pounding neo-giallo that transports us back to the late 1970’s amidst the gay porn industry where a lovesick producer played by Vanessa Paradis attempts to win back her lesbian lover through creating her most ambitious blue movie to date. Once the cameras begin to roll, the blood begins to spill as it soon transpires there’s a homicidal maniac on the loose savagely bumping off cast and crew members. In true giallo-style, Knife & Heart doesn’t disappoint with an assault of artistic visuals, extreme tantalizing imagery, a pulsating synth score composed by M83 and a deeply captivating plot that ensures that all eyes will be fixated to the screen.
Shot on gorgeous 35mm, Knife & Heart proves to be the most provocative and progressive modern day made giallo movie as it fearlessly breaks new ground through its LGBT themes. Rather than coming across as a ‘tick boxing exercise’ in portraying minority groups within horror, the sexual, homo-erotic imagery feels natural without seeming exploitative. Knife and Heart develops its characters meaning we instantly endear to them despite the seedy world they inhabit. Vanessa Paradis is a revelation as Anne, displaying anguish within her love life and a sense of drive when it comes to what she does best, making movies. Knife and Heart guarantees to satisfy the gore-hounds inside us as it doesn’t hold back on the bloodshed. An unforgettable movie experience, Knife and Heart proves that giallo isn’t just a product of the 70’s and still has a strong, throbbing beating heart.
• Directed by: David Gordon Green
• Country: USA
The most eagerly anticipated horror movie of the year screened during the festival’s opening gala. Celluloid Screams took us back to Haddonfield at midnight on the eve of its nationwide release, meaning excitement was at its height. Halloween (2018) or H40 strips away every single event that occurred during the franchise’s sequels, giving them a cold shoulder and progressing with a brand-new narrative that follows on from John Carpenter’s original 1978 masterpiece. While H40 doesn’t entirely break new ground, patently following the trend of the majority of slasher sequels with revisiting the traumatized protagonist of the original resulting in an overdue face-off with their nemesis, it was sure satisfying to see that David Gordon Green and Danny McBride have written the wrongs of the abomination of Resurrection (2002) and the hot mess that was Jamie Lloyd’s arc from part 4-6. For more than a year, Blumhouse and its marketers have drummed up a sea of hype for the film which could either live up to expectation or completely crash and burn. There seems to be a consensus of ambivalence amongst fans who are overall pleased with the sequel however are aware of its flaws while remaining appreciative of what it has set out to do.
H40’s strongest asset is of course the inimitable Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode. Haunted by the trauma she faced at the hands of the maniacal masked monster in 1978, Laurie has put her life on hold at the expense of her family whom she has a strained relationship with due to her neurotic behaviour. She continues to embody the conventional traits of ‘the final girl’, the survivor in her resourcefulness and the extremes she will take to protect herself and her loved ones. Laurie Strode is certainly the aspect that the film got completely right with Curtis owning every single moment she appears on screen. Other than Curtis’s presence, Halloween offers up moments of gripping suspense and unnerving set pieces, particularly the public bathroom sequence alluded to in the trailer as well as Michael lurking in the closet ready to strike out at his teen victims.
Completely diminishing the backstory and subsequent remakes feels a little off at first, but as it progresses the fresh new take feels more than welcome, even the film turning its back on Michael Myers being Laurie’s brother. He is far more unsettling without a motive.
Halloween (H40) commentates on the lingering after-effects of trauma and comes out at a crucial time following the impact of the #MeToo movement. If there was ever a time to see strong women as allies together fighting back against the monster that has destroyed their lives up to this point, then this is it. Both Horror and Hollywood undoubtedly need the catharsis.
4. Assassination Nation
• Directed by: Sam Levinson
• Country: USA
Assassination Nation conveys a scathing look at modern day society within the Instagram generation in this cut-throat carnage of a flick. Four social-media obsessed teenage girls become the target of a neighbourhood uprising when the whole suburban community’s private data is hacked unleashing every intricate thread of information they’d never want the world to see! True colours are revealed in a vicious depiction of narcissism that sweeps today’s society, offering an insight into how scary life is becoming especially in the wake of Trump’s election.
Assassination Nation is a combination of The Purge meets Tragedy Girls with the running theme of fighting back against those set out to tarnish others for their own conceited vengeance. It’s a purely abhorrent film, featuring unlikable characters and a harsh view of the internet age, that said it’s without a doubt reflective of modern day youth and their sanctimonious adult oppressors. Assassination Nation does exactly what a horror film should do by offering up a metaphorical yet hideous glimpse into the times we currently live in.
Extreme in its execution but with a huge, timely statement to make, Assassination Nation is a vital film for today, and the epitome of the state of the current social media obsessed human world. Uncomfortably provoking, out of each film that screened throughout the festival, this was certainly the one that dangerously cut close to the bone.
• Directed by: Daniel Goldhaber
• Country: USA
Adult Webcam star Lola’s internet career begins to take off as she gradually moves through the ranks on the Freelivegirls website. Dabbling in the extreme and adhering to the dark side of certain web user’s fetishes, Lola has her work cut out if she wants to thrive and become top of her game! It all seems to be going well until her account mysteriously begins to take on a life of its own, destroying all Lola has strived for and putting her reputation in serious jeopardy. But who is behind this bizarrely disturbing hack? How can Lola be in two places at once? Is there something supernatural at play or something much more sinister occurring? Cam is designed to place the audience on the edge of their seat as they follow Lola’s plight in a guessing game where boundaries don’t exist. Madeline Brewer is astonishing as the young woman who has bitten off more than she can chew by embroiling herself in a seedy underworld that proves insurmountable to break from.
Cam is a tightly knitted thriller with a gripping concept that explores the adult entertainment industry through a compelling cautionary tale. It does slightly waver at the end, with its conclusion not being completely satisfying, but for the most part, it is a solid movie with great potential, executing its subject matter well. Excitingly plotted, with a stylish colour scheme and plenty of twists around the corner, Cam is a captivating and thought-provoking cyber-thriller and is one to watch this year.