Over the Halloween weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Fangoria x Monster Fest, Australia’s premiere cult horror movie festival. Each year, Monster Pics tours a slew of fresh international and domestic cult films across our major capital cities, and this year’s slate was particularly enticing. I managed to fit seven films into my schedule this year and wrote full reviews for the opening (3 From Hell) and closing (Color Out of Space) features. This article is comprised of some brief thoughts for the rest of the movies I watched. Many thanks to the Monster Fest team for their efforts in bringing the festival to cinemagoers across the country.
Bliss is a bold and brash work that manages to stave off staleness despite its substance consisting of a number of well-trodden tropes. It does this through sheer brute force, the intensity of this addiction allegory leaving a mark long after the credits close. Dora Madison plays Dezzy, an artist starved of cash and creativity, who tries to snort her way to an artistic breakthrough, but finds herself on the wrong end of a bloody blender. Shot on Super 16, it’s a gorgeous looking film that paints LA as an acid-washed neon-nightmare, with camerawork reminiscent of frequent Gaspar Noé collaborator Benoît Debie’s . The tone is grunge at its most squalid, and at its best it feels like a hallucinatory trip into the depths of hell. My main criticism is that some of the performances become so abrasive at times that they veer dangerously close to parody, and as much of a slap in the face that this film delivers, it doesn’t completely mask the templated nature of the skeleton that holds the accompanying meat and gristle together.
Tammy and the T-Rex (Gore Cut)
Tammy and the T-Rex is a tale about a teenager whose brain is transplanted into the body of an animatronic dinosaur, from the director of Mac and Me, that is still somehow 100 times crazier than the premise sounds. The backstory of this movie is almost as insane as the film itself: produced solely due to the availability of a robotic dinosaur prop and initially released as a family film, this version sees over 10 minutes of over-the-top gore restored, injecting a wildly manic vibe into the already ludicrous proceedings. It really has to be seen to be believed. Paul Walker, in his first on-screen role, emerges in a crop-top, acting like he can’t believe he’s actually in a movie, and things only get madder from there. Nary a minute passes by without something to scoff at. There’s no question that it’s an atrocious film, but it’s so thoroughly committed to its insanity that it’s hard to hold its awfulness against it. Tammy and the T-Rex is so deliciously bad that it actually turns into a good deal of fun – but the laughs to be had are mostly at its expense, not often with it.
Quentin Dupieux continues in a similar absurdist vein that his filmography consists of to date. I was hugely impressed by Rubber, my favourite of his, and quite enjoyed the other works of his I’ve seen, including the recent Keep An Eye Out, but Deerskin kept me at a distance. It’s certainly not banal, but neither is it Buñuel – it feels substantially less purposeful than the rest of his catalogue, seemingly intent on testing the patience of the audience more than anything else. Eventually things do take a turn for the better, with the monotony making way for murderous malarkey, but to what end? Some may say my confoundment is the exact point, but I’ve seen salient satirical precision from Quentin Dupieux before, and it’s not on the same level here. I’ll continue to be a fan of him, through his directing work and music under the alias of Mr Oizo, but I wasn’t quite sure what Deerskin was aiming for, and I felt it missed the mark regardless.
Adam Egypt Mortimer starts off his directing career with a bang and impresses with how effectively he is able to instill a consistent and pervading sense of dread in his first time out the gates. Daniel Isn’t Real is a new spin on the ‘my dark friend’ narrative, attempting to forge its own path with a fresh set of lore. Unfortunately, the approach taken leads to the feeling that everything is being made up as it goes along, and whilst the ending is tied to the beginning, everything else in between feels obviously incongruous with the whole – one big deus ex machina. This makes it difficult to comprehend the intent, particularly in regards to its treatment of mental illness, potential metaphor lost to its mess of madness. There is an abundance of talent on display here – the score from electronic musician Clark is superb, and the practical effects work is horrifying – but I was ultimately left disappointed that Daniel Isn’t Real did not completely realise its full potential.
Come to Daddy just edges out Bliss as my favourite film of Monster Fest. Elijah Woods gives a fabulous performance as Norval, an ‘artist’ who, after receiving a letter from his long-estranged father, sets out to pay him a visit at his secluded coastal house on stilts. Ant Timpson (producer of The Greasy Strangler and Turbo Kid) impresses in his feature-length directorial debut, and whilst Toby Harvard’s script doesn’t deliver 100% of the time, Timpson’s direction is confident and assured throughout. Come to Daddy makes a surprising tonal shift about halfway through, rivaling 2019’s hot property Parasite for sheer audacity, but I much preferred the relatively restrained first half to the outrageous escalation of the second. Once the film commits to the gear change, it loses the ability to earnestly engage in the same manner in which it was successful prior, though some good ol’ fashioned comical body-horror helps make up for it. I hope Mr. Timpson has plans to get back behind the camera again pronto.
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