The 2018 Abertoir Horror Festival
Every November, Alchemy’s resident horror fiend GAVIN BADDELEY makes his annual pilgrimage to the Abertoir festival in Wales. And every year he comes back to report on the best new horror movies previewed at the event. Take it away Gavin…
The photo above somehow captures the exuberant inventiveness, patient attention to detail, and glorious insanity that make Abertoir such a fabulous festival.
By way of explanation…
2018 was the festival’s thirteenth year, so there was a loose FRIDAY THE 13TH theme, linked to the hugely successful horror franchise of that name. Every year Abertoir hosts a mad off-site screening – this time, the entire audience was decanted onto buses, and driven into the wilds of Wales for a screening of FRIDAY THE 13TH III in the original 3D (the first of the movies where the killer, Jason Voorhees, dons his trademark hockey mask) . Our destination was a barn that bore an unnerving resemblance to the barn where most of the killings take place in the film. Upon arrival we were all presented with our 3D glasses, velcroed – of course – to hockey masks. Once the film finished, we were greeted outside by a huge roaring fire, BBQ, and Sean S. Cunningham, originator of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, freshly flown in from Hollywood!
Every year, over six days, Abertoir puts on a wide range of horror-related events – including live music, talks, special guests, and even themed cocktails! But of course the meat in the sandwich is the horror movies. This year there were ten retro screenings of vintage classics, and sixteen new horror films being previewed at the festival. For those fans not lucky enough to attend, hearing about the previews is of most interest, giving a snapshot of the upcoming genre films to look out for (some of which will already be available by the time you read this). While I didn’t see everything screened, without further ado, here are the eight new horror films that made an impact on me at Abertoir 2018…
Fans of Brit director Peter Strickland’s distinctive previous films – particularly BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO and THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY – will guess what to expect with IN FABRIC. Newcomers to his work may be more perplexed. Essentially, it’s a satirical spinechiller about a cursed red dress sold in a bizarre department store, but it’s told in a style that owes as much to elements like vintage European arthouse erotica or 70s fashion catalogues, as it does to any traditional horror film or comedy. IN FABRIC is strikingly original and stylishly strange, if perhaps rather too long for the less dedicated viewer, at nearly two hours.
PIERCING is something of a Rorschach test of a film – whether you see it as an edgy, harrowing thriller or a brutal black comedy probably says something about you. Either way, this slick, very contemporary tale of a psychopath who’s in search of a victim, before things take an even darker unexpected twist, will keep you on the edge of your seat. The performances and pacing are both pin-sharp, though I personally might’ve liked a little more plotting and flesh on the characters. Recommended nonetheless.
While the basic recipe of the Hindi horror film TUMBBAD is Gothic adventure, its Indian backdrop and period setting – between 1918 and India’s independence from the British Empire in 1947 – lend a heavy pinch of rich exoticism to the mix. A profane forgotten god languishes entombed in a strange chamber beneath a forbidden temple. Fabulous rewards await any mortal brave enough to broach his sanctum, but at what cost? TUMBBAD’s great, ghoulish fun – a little like if Clive Barker of HELLRAISER fame had hailed from Mumbai and decided to reimagine RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
CAM is set in the very modern – and similarly sleazy – world of cam girls, the adult models who make a living performing live on webcams. Our heroine in CAM – Alice in real life, Lola online – is keen to get to the top of her chosen profession, but when she employs some shocking stunts to attract attention to her show, the crucial wall between reality and her virtual fantasy world online begins to crack. CAM’s unusual setting is convincingly evoked (the film was written by a former cam girl) and the plot twists compelling, in this cleverly shot exploration of the psychological perils of cyberspace, that should appeal to fans of the dystopian TV series BLACK MIRROR.
Despite its dodgy title, BLACK FOREST (an over-literal translation of its original title EL BOSQUE NEGRO, and not to be confused with several other films of the same name) this wild Brazilian chiller is a dark fervid treasure. Something of a Satanic fairytale – maybe COMPANY OF WOLVES meets THE EVIL DEAD in a vast South American wood – it concerns a young girl who is adopted by the village medicine man. She chances upon a black magic spellbook, and before you know it, our sordid saga is knee-deep in blood sacrifice, brutal brigands and demonic chickens – and then things get seriously out of hand… Offbeat, outrageous, and by turns funny and disturbing, BLACK FOREST was perhaps my favourite film of the festival.
SUMMER OF 84 plays out like STRANGER THINGS meets, well, more STRANGER THINGS, and keen fans of the hit TV series looking for a fix, while waiting for the third season, will doubtless really dig this shameless, atmospheric wallow in 80s nostalgia. In fairness, it’s involving and very well made and the building tension is as heavy as the retro pop culture references. Here, our crew of high school kids is on the trail of a serial killer rather than a cosmic threat – but the resemblance of the SUMMER OF 84’s pubescent heroes to the kids cast as leads in STRANGER THINGS is too close to easily write-off as an eerie coincidence…
ONE CUT OF THE DEAD became something of a phenomenon in its native Japan. Made on a miniscule budget, it opened at just one small cinema and a festival. Purely through word of mouth, the film slowly spread into more theatres, ultimately making a thousand times its original budget in Japan alone. ONE CUT OF THE DEAD begins as the kind of cheap zombie film everyone but dedicated diehard fans have grown tired of. But stick with it, and the movie evolves into something that even those bored to death with the walking dead (if you’ll forgive the expression) cannot help but fall in love with. A real find, and deserving winner of the audience vote for the best film of the festival.
Last – and I’m afraid for me least – came the Scottish Christmas zombie musical ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE. It’s divided audiences, with some really warming to the incongruous blend of show tunes, gags and gore – very much HIGHSCHOOL MUSICAL meets SHAUN OF THE DEAD – however I’m afraid I found myself grinding my teeth every time the apocalyptic action paused so the perky teenaged cast could break into yet another dance routine and began singing about their feelings. There again, I’m not much into musicals, but if you are, also like zombies, and are looking for some seasonal Yuletide entertainment, then ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE could be just the ticket!
For more information on the festival, check out their website here – http://www.abertoir.co.uk/
Words by – Gavin Baddeley