1 Minute To Midnight: Edinburgh Short Film Festival Sunday October 20th 2016
Review by Benjamin Brown
A recent student on the MSc course in ‘Film, Exhibition and Curation’ at the University of Edinburgh, Benjamin has an unabated passion for the 7th art of the moving image and a truly eclectic taste in films’. blogsite: https://theparallaxviewer.wordpress.com/
As the clock strikes twelve…1 Minute To Midnight presented a marvellously morbid selection of pitch black comedy, unsettling sci-fi and scintillating, edge of your seat thriller for your viewing pleasure, a rich feast for the senses. What follows is a brief recap of two personal favourites; Boris in the Forest and Nasty.
‘Flesh For Frankenstein’ – Boris in the Forest:
First up Boris in the Forest, the programmes well-rehearsed, and note perfect opening act. Directed by up and coming American director Robert Hackett, Boris features the veteran U.S. character actor Mac McDonald. Often typecast into playing the stereotypical figure of the big, brash, boorish American, McDonald is perhaps best known for playing Captain Hollister in the popular British sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf. He is very much again treading familiar territory here as ‘Merv Blanco’, a Californian uber-nerd in the mould of The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy who has journeyed across the Atlantic to visit the purported birthplace of the late great screen acting legend, Boris Karloff.
Born in Camberwell, London as William Henry Pratt, all that remains to commemorate the importance of such hallowed turf is a small, rather unassuming blue plaque, with the building itself having since been turned into a greasy, gaudy kebab shop. Fresh from LA, perhaps Karloff’s spiritual home, Merv arrives armed with a camera in hand and a vague sense of entitlement characteristic of the quintessential American tourist, the 21st century’s sports casual wearing, culture plundering conquistadors. Unsurprisingly, a culture clash is quickly established between the overzealous American and the shop’s proud Turkish owner, who boasts of running London’s finest kebab shop. This conflict of interest makes for some wonderfully witty, acerbic dialogue, with the quick fire exchanges expertly edited and featuring numerous Coen brother’s inflected distorting wide angle lens close-ups.
‘If you’ll do me the honour I’ll try the speciality of the house’ remarks Merv on learning that more riches still lie in wait upstairs, and it is here that the real world gives way to the baroque, chiaroscuro milieu of a 1930s horror film. Atmospheric use of set and sound design work beautifully in concert to draw the viewer into the frame until they’re practically right there with the character, and the deliciously depraved ending is more than a little reminiscent of Delicatessen (1991). Indeed an alternate title could easily have been ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’, and replete with irony and allusion Boris is a darkly comic, affectionate ode to one of Hollywood’s greatest doyens of darkness.
‘The Evil Dad’ – Nasty:
All of this ‘feeds’ rather nicely into the third film to feature on the programme, Nasty, in many ways a fitting companion piece to Boris. Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, Nasty is likewise a homage, this time to an unashamedly schlocky strain of cinema, the ‘video nasty’. A colloquial term coined in the early 1980s referring to films deemed gratuitously or excessively violent, it was even believed by some that exposure of ‘nasties’ to children was the root cause of the spike in violent crime witnessed amongst youths. With Nasty set in 1982 and centring as it does on an adolescent boy’s discovery of old video nasties in his father’s garage, the film clearly channels such fears and concerns perpetuated by the tabloid media at the time.
Unearthing such classics as ‘Driller Thriller’ (a nod to Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer), Douglas becomes inexorably drawn to these gory, grainy films, transfixed by their evocative imagery he spends night after night gazing in front of the television screen. Opening with the fairly conventional setup of an ongoing investigation into the disappearance of the boy’s father, early passages adopt the tone of social realism with the acting nuanced and naturalistic and the events feeling realistic and believable. However, as with Boris an initial sure footing in any kind of recognisable reality is undermined when the warped, variegated world of the video nasty begins to bleed into the character’s own. Horror and fantasy permeate into the real in such scenes as one where the boy’s mother is sucked into her own bed by two giant disembodied arms, a probable allusion to the cult ‘home invasion’ horror Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
In an inversion of Ringu (1988), Douglas walks through the television screen and right into the film itself. The film he enters is called ‘Evil Dad’, and here it is less a case of Boris in the Forest more ‘Douglas in the Forest’ as the boy wanders into a woodland clearing only to find his parents both dining out on human flesh. ‘Join us’ grunts the dad as he squats over the fetid remains of a corpse, a truly ‘tender’ moment of familial union and a delightfully dark ending to what is an ultra-stylish and thoroughly entertaining work from a highly promising young Welsh filmmaker. Watch this space.