The opening night of Mayhem 2013 was always going to be a hard act to follow. Screening Don’t Look Now in a church, with the director, Nicolas Roeg present, was a stroke of genius: the sound alone, echoing through St Mary’s, was awe-inspiring.
Friday, Day two of Mayhem, got underway with a screening of The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, Helen Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s follow up to their experimental and sensuous Amer. Telling the story of a husband’s search for his missing wife, Strange Colour does indeed feature strange colour, as you might expect from a neo-giallo. It’s replete with references to Martino, Argento and other Italian giallo specialists of the 1970s and shares the same sense of enigmatic blood-letting as the works of those older maestros. More structured than Amer, The Strange Colour of Your Tears retains the same sensuality and stunning visuals as that debut.
Delivery, directed by Brian Netto, was a low-budget slice of found footage horror; Paranormal Activity meets Rosemary’s Baby for sure, but skilfully done. Netto builds his story around a never-aired reality TV show pilot following a young couples attempts to have a baby (cleverly lampooning American daytime TV along the way). Things take a sinister turn as the mother starts to belief that her child is spawn of the devil. Although never reaching the same heights of sheer terror as The Borderlands, the other found footage movie screened at Mayhem this year, Delivery managed at least one genuine shock that made audiences bolt upright in their seats – more than can be said for most found-footage stuff nowadays.
Discopath concluded day two. Set in New York in the mid-1970s, Discopath started promisingly as a blackly comic depiction of a young man’s murderous insanity triggered by the disco craze sweeping the nation (who can blame him?) but seemed to go nowhere fast. A kind of Maniac meets Boogie Nights, Discopath doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its outlandish premise; whether it goes down in history as a trash-camp classic or a lame spoof, time will tell. What you think of it may well depend on your mood and how much you’ve had to drink beforehand.
Cut to Sunday and day four: Wake in Fright, Ted Kotcheff’s 1971 mini-masterpiece, rediscovered, restored and doing the festival rounds, proved that 1970s Ozploitation was a real force to be reckoned with. The brutal story of a city teacher’s descent into degradation in the outback, Wake in Fright features genuinely shocking footage of kangeroo killing that is sure to get the British censor’s scissors a-snipping when it finds its way onto DVD, so grab it now uncut while you can.
Spain has produced some great horror films over the years, and Painless is definitely one of them. Told in two timelines: the present and the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War, Painless portrays a doctor’s search for the truth about his past, in which he discovers the secret of a group of children discovered with a rare condition that renders them unable to feel physical pain; one of those children grows up to become an Ubermensch for the Nazis. Essentially a political allegory about how fascism grows from the inability to empathize with the pain of others, Painless is the haunting and at times deeply disturbing debut of director Juan Carlos Medina, and deserves to be on 2013 best lists.
This year’s BAFTA presentation In Fear, achieved a sure sense of claustrophobia as its protagonists, a young couple lost in the Irish countryside start to believe that they are being tormented by someone or something. Director Jeremy Lovering withheld the script from his actors in order to generate a sense of unknowing, and for the most part succeeds, managing to avoid Blair Witch clichés.
Speaking of the unknown, Todd Browning’s 1927 Lon Chaney classic The Unknown enjoyed a live score accompanied by the 8mm Orchestra. This Nottingham-based rock 5 piece managed to create a suitably bizarre soundtrack that Browning and Chaney would be proud of. The film itself remains fairly ‘armless.
In the evening the mighty David Flint delivered his Quiz of Fear. David was pressured to make his questions a bit easier this year, as most punters last time were flummoxed by his encyclopaedic knowledge of the weird and wonderful, including this reviewer who was shamed – shamed! – by his sorry performance.
The evening concluded with a late showing of the Israeli Big Bad Wolves, made by the same team who brought us Rabies which screened at Mayhem last year. Another meditation on the madness of violence, Big Bad Wolves also plays brilliantly with the tropes of torture porn. Unsettling but wildly enjoyable and unpredictable, it was the perfect end to another fantastic year of Mayhem.