The Celluloid Screams horror festival has just wrapped for another year and it was a privilege to be at this year’s show. Ever since I first became aware of the festival back in 2014 I have wanted to go. Unfortunately, due to prior commitments, I have always been unable to attend. But this year I finally got to see what Sheffield’s answer to FrightFest had to offer.
Whilst there I was enthralled by the friendly atmosphere and pervasive sense of fun. Horror fans are always a delight to be around. Every screening was packed, almost every audience member was well behaved and the ability of horror audiences to jump, laugh and squirm at the right time makes experiencing each film a true communal bonding experience. Supported by friendly organizers who were always happy to engage with the audience and a myriad of extras. Including a DVD, Blu-ray, book and merchandise stalls, Q&A’s with film directors and stars, novelty drinks and karaoke at the bar. With the heart-warming cherry on the cake being how everyone came together and donated money to help the wife of a friend of the festival after her tragic loss. It was a remarkable display of solidarity. And everyone should be proud.
But the atmosphere of a film festival is only half the experience. Films are of course also needed. So here are my thoughts on all the feature films I managed to see. All kept at 50 words or less and ranked from worst to best. This is by no means a comprehensive overview of the festival as I was unable to see everything. But I hope this gives you an idea of some films to check out in the run-up to Halloween.
You might be the killer– A cinematic eye-roll, that thinks it’s too cool for its genre. Content to point out slasher clichés and nothing more. It’s nice seeing Alyson Hannigan again and Scream fans may enjoy it. But this makes me miss the days when slashers were fun and funny without being glib and self-effacing. Verdict: (1.5 / 5)
What Keeps You Alive– A movie that substitutes unrelenting building tension for lazy exploitation and torture yarn, because it does not know the power of subtlety. The first half is a tense build but once the twist happens it swiftly falls as a steady pace gives way to cartoonish over the top villainy. Verdict: (2 / 5)
Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss By Passing Through the Gateway Chosen By the Holy Storsh– Making shouting funny, is hard. The thick of it can do it. It’s always sunny in Philadelphia can do it. This movie cannot do it. Despite Taika Waititi’s presence and the cult plot providing great opportunities for dark comedy, the film is too light and undisciplined to fulfil its potential. Verdict: (2.5 / 5)
Nightmare Cinema– Subpar slasher satire, plastic surgery horror and catholic demon slaying, a terrifyingly surreal odyssey through depression and a survivor’s guilt ghost story make up this uneven anthology film. The final two films, however, elevate it into the realms of watchable. Verdict: (2.5 / 5)
Puppet Master: The littlest Reich– Welcome to your new guilty pleasure. The Puppet Master reboot features a silly plot, subpar CGI and very politically incorrect jokes. But has charming lead characters, impressive practical effects and if like me, you have a twisted sense of humour, Puppet Master will have you laughing till the end. Verdict: (2.5 / 5)
Assassination Nation– A gonzo, violent and righteously angry middle finger to Trumps America, that at times is very annoying and is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. But never the less it is worth the price of admission for sheer entertainment value. Verdict: (3 / 5)
Mandy– The artiest excuse to make a Nicolas Cage movie ever. The first half is a visually beautiful but narratively boring excuse for when Cage goes full blood-drenched psycho. If you want Nic Cage insanity this delivers. And the visual inventiveness may make up for the lack of dramatic engagement. Verdict: (3 / 5)
Halloween (2018)– Everything a Halloween sequel should and shouldn’t be. The Laurie Strode/Michael Myers story gives you everything you’ve wanted since the original. But the time in between that is padded with high school dope comedy that becomes obnoxiously overbearing. Tension and character work make it a must-see despite its flaws. Verdict: (3 / 5)
Summer of ’84– A great example of a fantastic ending saving an otherwise by the numbers nostalgia trip. This fun mixture of Stranger Things and The ‘Burbs starts as a fun distraction but at the end reveals itself to be a lot more thought-provoking and unnerving than expected. Verdict: (3.5 / 5)
Cam– This film began by giving me unfortunate flashbacks to Unfriended, but soon turned into an intriguing look into the world of online cam girls that deals with themes of identity, female empowerment and sexuality in the digital age in a mature, non-judgemental, and intensely gripping way. A welcome surprise. Verdict: (3.5 / 5)
Wolfman’s got nards– This documentary about the sub-cultural impact of The Monster Squad is an affectionate analysis of fans, cult movies and their effect on the creative forces behind them. Although occasionally self-aggrandizing and waffly, its subjects’ humanity always shines through and will even have Monster Squad newcomers and haters shedding tears. Verdict: (4 / 5)
Knife + Heart– A psycho-sexual, magical realist, giallo seed-fest, with no shame and the power to enrage “moral” and storytelling puritanical’s but to those who can get past that, they will find a beautiful, frightening and often darkly hilarious mood piece which although it explains a bit too much, feels like pure cinema. Verdict: (4 / 5)
Tigers are not afraid– An unrelentingly grim coming of age story that pulls no punches regarding the impact of the Mexican drug war on children. A magical realist edge, reminiscent of Devil’s Backbone helps to underline the tragedy of a tale that was undoubtedly the best film of the festival. Verdict: (4.5 / 5)
So ends my personal retrospective of Celluloid Screams 2018. It was truly wonderful to share a cinema screen with so many likeminded people for four days. Even when the films let me down, a smile was never far from my face. I definitely hope to return next year. Until then I hope I have given you guys an idea about some upcoming releases that you can check out and hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Happy viewing.