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THE SEASONING HOUSE (2012)
London FrightFest 2012 opener “The Seasoning House” was a highly anticipated screening for British genre fans, marking the directorial debut of Paul Hyett, a respected and prolific special effects craftsman who has worked on an impressive number of productions including “The Descent”, “The Woman in Black” and many more. The film has a grim premise, being set in a Balkan brothel, where unfortunate young women are kidnapped and forced into prostitution to service soldiers and mercenaries. Also living in the house is Angel (Rosie Day), a deaf mute girl orphaned by the conflict, who keeps herself alive by working for the ruthless Viktor (Kevin Howarth), cleaning the captives and keeping them too drugged up to resist. Her own plans for escape are complicated when a group of soldiers arrive (led by Brit character actor stalwart Sean Pertwee), who just happen to be the ones responsible for the death of her family.
Unsurprisingly, “The Seasoning House” isn’t exactly fun viewing, and Hyett does a good, thankfully unexploitative job of powerfully evoking horror while maintaining an air of awful realism. For the first hour at least the film is claustrophobic, nastily atmospheric and frequently difficult to watch, Hyett slowly building the tension and working in a few messily unpleasant and extremely well executed gore scenes as Angel starts taking her revenge. Sadly, the film loses focus during the final act, becoming more of a generic stalk and slash chase thriller and increasingly recalling “Eden Lake”, leading to a predictable finale that lacks the kind of gut punch that its earlier scenes suggested. Still, there’s a great deal here to admire, if perhaps not enjoy, with Hyett showing himself to be a talented and promising helmer, making great use of his locations and delivering some very effective shocks.
Whilst it never quite manages that little bit extra that might have lifted it from being very good to truly great, “The Seasoning House” is nevertheless a superior example of modern British horror cinema.
COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES (2012)
As can be guessed from its lame, distinctly unpromising title, “Cockneys vs. Zombies” is an attempt to wackily combine comedy zombie splatter with a spoof of Guy Ritchie style East End London gangster geezers. Directed by Matthias Hoene and featuring a cast of semi-recognisable Brit faces and cult veterans, the film follows a couple of supposedly lovable rascals as they plot a bank robbery to try and find the money to save their grandfather’s retirement home from demolition. After a construction company accidentally unearths an ancient tomb, zombies are let loose in the capital, and the lads have to fight their way back across the city to try and save the pensioners from becoming dinner.
To be honest, anyone who thinks the premise of “Cockneys vs. Zombies” is a stroke of inventive genius may well uncover something resembling entertainment in its mercifully short running time. Sadly, for everyone who doesn’t find repeated gags about old people swearing and brandishing guns sidesplittingly riotous, the film is a complete misfire, and a genuinely painful viewing experience. Equal blame for this must be laid at the feet of director Hoene and writers James Moran and Lucas Roche, who seem to have been under the impression that they’d pulled together a charming caper filled with amusing rogues, while instead vomiting forth an exceptionally irritating mess that lurches from one ineffective and unfunny comedy set piece to another.
Cringeworthy dialogue and predictable setups aside, there’s an absolute dearth of imagination on show, and with only a few splashes of CGI guts and gore along the way, very little point in watching for even the most masochistic or self-loathing of viewers.
Having gone down well at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, Jon Wright’s “Grabbers” has been attracting a fair amount of interest. The film certainly has an excellent hook, being set in a remote coastal Irish village which is attacked by blood sucking aliens whose only weakness happens to be alcohol – naturally, this results in the villagers all banding together in the local pub and trying to keep themselves as drunk as possible to ward off the slimy invaders.
With a premise like this, “Grabbers” is of course a comedy horror, and one which wisely never takes itself seriously in the least, Wright and writer Kevin Lehane presenting it as an unashamed love letter to much loved creature features such as “Gremlins” and “Tremors. The film manages to pull off the notoriously difficult balancing act between frights and gags thanks in no small part due to a wonderfully earthy script and some likeable and amiable characters, with its alcohol related humour largely hitting the spot. A fair amount of craftsmanship obviously went into the film, and this really shows on screen, and there’s a pleasing attention to details that really helps ground a premise which could easily have been played for something more crass and lowest common denominator.
Wright’s direction is tight and well-judged, making great use of the local scenery and some surprisingly impressive special effects, and though the film might have benefitted from a few more monster attack scenes, it’s a great time from start to finish and will hopefully find a wide audience beyond the genre.