2018 was an ostensibly weird year for Frightfest. The coolest and best horror festival in the world (a scientific fact) didn’t manage to nab Halloween, Suspiria, or Mandy, three of the most obvious big genre releases of the year. The lineup, while peppered with interesting, smaller flicks as always, didn’t scream BIG YEAR.
However, as with all the best festival experiences, 2018 turned out to be an incredibly strong year for Frightfest. There were considerably more hits than duds, and only really a couple movies that made me want to tear my hair out (Incident in a Ghostland, and Climax — maybe The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot, too, just ’cause it was so unbelievably dull).
It was difficult to pick a Top 5 this year, more difficult, in fact, than years when bigger movies like You’re Next have played. Honourable mentions go to The Ranger, Summer Of ’84, Piercing, Heretiks, and Hell Is Where The Home Is. They’re all brilliant and well worth seeking out, but were pipped to the post at the last hurdle, so to speak. The best of the best, in no particular order:
Sci-fi has been taking a decisive turn back towards the tactile real-world scope of eighties classics like Blade Runner lately, with flicks such as Annihilation, Mute, and even the stormer of a sequel that was Blade Runner 2049. Filmmakers appear to be moving away from CGI to create these fantasy epics, either out of budgetary concerns or, in the case of one Leigh Whannell, because he wants to make us feel as much as possible (though money was certainly a factor, too).
Upgrade is, quite plainly, one of the great modern sci-fi movies. It’s an all-timer in the making, the kind of movie you want to rush out and show to all of your friends. The Invitation‘s Logan Marshall Green gives a career-making performance as Grey, a technophobe reliant on a brain-insert following a horrific accident. STEM helps him fight for his dearly departed wife’s honour, but also gets Grey into some fairly sticky situations (often to hilarious effect).
Throughout the movie, Whannell keeps the action grounded with the gory real-world consequences simultaneously acting as a calling card for his already bonafide horror credentials. In his directorial debut, Insidious: Chapter 3, the Aussie filmmaker gave us a sense of what he could do, but it’s in this, his first original project, that he really shines.
See it: On DVD and Blu-ray now
What Keeps You Alive
One of the lesser-known but hugely fruitful film-making partnerships out there is that of actress/writer/producer/all-rounder Brittany Allen and director/writer/producer/man of many talents Colin Minahan. Since their very first collaboration, on 2014’s Extraterrestrial, their bond has grown exponentially, first with 2016’s clever zombie movie It Stains The Sands Red, and now with What Keeps You Alive.
Their greatest collaboration yet, and the finest example of what these two very talented people can produce when they work together, the flick is a brilliantly inventive twist on the typical revenge movie. First and foremost, the couple at its heart are lesbians (Allen stars alongside Jigsaw standout Hannah Emily Anderson). And, for the most part, they’re the only characters onscreen. The situation escalates, getting bloodier and bloodier, but never follows the expected route.
What Keeps You Alive was also scored by Allen, her very first time doing so, and it rattles along with a defiant pace, as the two women at its core — strong in wildly different ways — fight for their survival. The title comes first as an aside, but later stands as a stark warning. This is vital, impassioned, must-be-seen-to-be-believed film-making. Long may the Minahan-Allen partnership reign.
See it: On DVD and Blu-ray from November 27, 2018
Wolfman’s Got Nards
It’s hard to make a decent documentary about fandom. Hell, a doc about Frightfest played at Frightfest and didn’t make much of an impact (of course, if it was about the fest itself and the people who’d created it, rather than random attendees, maybe it would have). Wolfman’s Got Nards is that rare movie that captures fan spirit — even rabid, lifelong obsession — without ostracising those who are relatively new to its subject matter.
Sure, it’s unlikely anybody watching the movie will do so without first familiarising him/herself with The Monster Squad, but for those who haven’t obsessed over it for the past 20 years (er, like me) there is still so, so much to enjoy about it. From the love of famous fans like Adam Green to the commitment of merch collectors and the contributions from the filmmakers and actors behind it (one of whom conceived and directed the movie), it’s pure joy from start to finish.
It will take a very hard-hearted person not to shed a tear over the loss of one Squad member, but this is a surprisingly moving portrait of lifelong fanaticism regardless. Wolfman’s is a must-watch for Monster Squad fans, obviously, but horror aficionados will find it hard to resist, too. It’s up there with More Brains! as a companion piece for a classic horror movie, and I don’t say that lightly.
See it: On the festival circuit, check Twitter for dates
When footage for Matthew Holness’s directorial debut Possum debuted at Frightfest last year, it left the room cold. Not bored cold, but physically cold, such was its indelible impression on the assembled crowd. The clip concerned star Sean Harris (in yet another career-making performance) and a terrifying, largely unseen puppet (the Possum of the title). It didn’t give much away, but a horrifying seed was sown.
I spent much of the subsequent year waiting for it to drop on me like a big, horrible pile of bricks, but the reality was even worse than I could’ve imagined. 2018 has already given us Hereditary, which was like an extended nightmare, but if possible Possum is even more horrifying. It’s not too surprising coming from the star and creator of cult oddity Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, but even so this is a wonderfully horrible surprise.
More often than not, these kinds of movies don’t find their audience until they hit home video. It would be amazing to see Possum supported in theatres on both sides of the pond, but whenever and however you eventually catch up with it, rest assured it’s something very special indeed. And its wicked delights will surely haunt your dreams for months to come.
See it: In U.K. theaters from October 26, 2018, in the U.S. TBC
Anna and the Apocalypse
This scrappy little Christmas horror/zombie movie/musical/teen comedy hybrid made quite the impression on the festival circuit, but its wonderfulness cannot be overstated. Even for a grumpy Christmas-hater such as myself, it’s impossible to resist its festive charm. Juggling all these wildly different baubles would be difficult for seasoned pros, but the mostly unknown cast and crew take to the task with the confidence of someone putting their tree up in August.
Anna and the Apocalypse is that rarest of treats, equal parts sugary-sweet, laugh out loud funny, and gory as all hell. There’s a kill with a zombie snowman that’s so brilliant and clever it ranks with the greatest undead offings of all time. The school bully sings a song about how brilliant he is at killing zombies. The boys eagerly discuss which celebs are now zombified. Each new moment brings with it more joy than the last.
We’ve seen a resurgence in great Christmas horror over the past few years, from Better Watch Out, to Krampus, to A Christmas Horror Story. Anna and the Apocalypse easily ranks with those films but it also stakes a claim for a brand-new sub-genre, a mutant kind encompassing everything we love about a variety of movies that never once feels derivative or mashed together. An absolute triumph.
See it: In limited theaters from November 30, 2018 in U.S. and U.K.