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Another year, another bloodbath.  Think this is the third time I’ve paid a visit to the annual horror film festival and the quality and consistency of collection of films they select remains top notch.  There’s premieres, Welsh productions and underground stuff that over a slice of entertainment that will rarely grace the sewn up by Hollywood main cinema chains.  In addition there are guest talks and presentations from renowned faces working in the genre, and even a horror business band (White Blacula) on one night, custom brewed ales, suitably sick cocktails, all good..  Unfortunately through work and finances I am never able to do the virtual whole week they lay on  so instead select an appealing spread over a couple of days, but then again sitting around for longer than that could start getting as arduous as some of the other festivals I attend.

Fantasy and reality were somewhat blurred to start with when we arrived at the place we were staying to find a dead guy on the kitchen floor.  Some kind of prank tied in to the festival?  No, the real thing, viewed up close and personal while instructed to do chest compressions until the paramedics turned up and confirmed what was obvious, he’d been dead for hours.  Bit of a shocker to start but as we already had our film tickets booked there was only time for a “stiff” drink before blending into the dark and having our heads messed all the more by the first film.

“The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears”, from France, featuring a guy searching for his missing wife, was an absolutely glorious visual feast, but with such a labyrinthine, hallucinogenic plot that at its conclusion you could make no conclusion.  To me that didn’t matter, though it would prove divisive with those who liked things a bit more linear.  The sheer overload of surreal staged beauty and horror was a treat, especially with its heavy use of art nouveau (a personal favourite).  A deliberate tribute to the giallo genre of murder mystery horror, it was as much an artistic exercise as a conventional film.

“The Machine” was a Welsh production introduced by the writer/director and producer before hand, filmed largely around Bridgend.  And fair play, the production values they had put into it would surely be a source of pride.  Not really a horror (though not without some gore), more dystopian sci-fi with a real ground in possible future realities, as an imagined new Cold War with China led to boundaries being pushed with robotic/android technologies.  A big dose of Blade Runner could be felt in my opinion, but not derivative, a lot of interesting ideas, and with an element of humour too.  All in all very engaging and a surprisingly ambivalent ending.

Last one for us today was a complete contrast with “Bad Milo”.  With the lead played by American comedian Ken Marino this was a very sharp and pretty hilariously twisted horror.  The suspension of disbelief required was related to autonomous colonic growths a.k.a. the bloodthirsty arse demon of the title, and this had some genuine crease-up laughter moments, both in dialogue and ludicrous action.  Having only recently seen the classic 80’s rubbish “Basket Case” you could definitely get a feel for that, maybe with a mix of “Ted”, and as with both of them there was also the contrast with a tug on the heartstrings about the relationships involved.  Even if they were painfully close for comfort!

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The next morning, we returned for the first half of a short film competition that was being run, with a selection of hundreds whittled down to a few choice cuts.  Having had some experience of this myself (Swinefinger’s Frightfest submission) it was treat to see how these 10 minute of so efforts contained such variety, style and intensity.  My personal favourites was the detail of the stop-motion “Butterflies” that really resonated with its artists theme, and “Beware of Children”, which we can all relate to.  The eventual and easily arguably worthy winner was on the next day but I’d already checked it out online and so can you. “Fist of Jesus”.  The prospect of the entire bible being converted into a righteous bloodbath is probably the best hope for Christianity.

To full length again with “The Borderlands”, another UK production.  Found-footage style, which always has an element of awkward/obvious set up to start with, its theme of Vatican investigation into suspicious happenings was also pretty familiar.  That said, soon drawn in and won over with the good dialogue and the humour of the Cockney wideboy character in contrast to the theological angst.  Achieves some scares and unsettling atmospheres within the obvious constraints of its budget, until a seemingly dragged out ending takes a turn (literally) for the bizarrely unexpected and properly warped climax.  That in itself made it one to remember.

Final selection before hitting the road was Forgotten.  This German production was beautifully atmospheric (with the leading lady helping in that too) as it explored elements of a “ghost” story involving childhood friendships and the brutal realities behind it.  .  Again, this achieved some genuine jumps and kept the tension tightening.  The realism in the blood letting was also well done.  I felt I spotted the main twist relatively early, but maybe that was planned as the ultimate conclusion I found really harsh on an emotional level, so job done.

Quality stuff all round, always a warm welcome (unless its blue and cold) and really recommend taking the opportunity to get a dose of the disturbing next year.

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