Dr. Lauren McIntyre is a horror obsessive, tattoo connoisseur, natural Goth and cat wrangler. Lauren is currently lusting after that 4K Flash Gordon 5-disc box set. Say hi to her on Twitter: @noddinggoth
Darren Gaskell is a horror obsessive and “enthusiastic” karaoke performer. Darren is waiting for a doorstop of a book about Andy Milligan to arrive. Say hi to him on Twitter: @darren_gaskell
*** WARNING: WE DO GET A LITTLE BIT SWEARY ON OCCASION BUT WE’VE TRIED TO KEEP SPOILERS TO A MINIMUM SO THAT’S SOMETHING ***
Dr. Lauren and Darren travelled all the way to their respective sofas in order to attend the online SoHome Horror Festival on Saturday 9th May 2020. The brainchild of horror hero and Soho Horror Festival programmer Mitch Harrod, this brought four films and nine shorts to a group of genre aficionados around the globe. In this article, we’re going to discuss the feature films, starting with…
THE LAKE VAMPIRE (dir. Carl Zitelmann)
SoHome said: “Desperate to find a subject for his next novel, Ernesto Navarro’s true crime investigation leads him to Jeremías Morales, a retired police detective who is haunted by a murder case from back in the 1970s. Morales was in charge of the strange case of Zacarías Ortega, a man obsessed with drinking blood. Without realizing it, Navarro is dragged into a perverse game that began many years earlier and from which Morales has never been able to escape. But what’s more disturbing, man’s narcissistic lust for immortality or the means they’ll do to get this.”
Darren: A really strong start to the festival, a Venezuelan crime/horror drama which is about a novelist who talks to a retired detective who had investigated a series of murders in the 70s where the victims had been drained of blood. Absolutely brilliant, this movie.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah. Excellent. I must admit that I did get very slightly confused as there was a lot of delving into different people’s stories. There was a point where it was focusing on various old men and I got myself a bit confused but that was me, not the film.
Darren: It does hop around the timeline with not necessarily a huge amount of explanation. You kind of know more or less where you are in terms of the time but it doesn’t spoon feed you with dates and the like. It leaves you to work out where you are with the story which is a bold play. It does run the risk of slightly confusing the viewer as it introduces quite a few characters along the way…
Dr. Lauren: …and it also follows the same characters at different points in their lives. That took a little bit of getting used to but again that’s down to me. I should point out that I’d been up quite late the night before and I’d drunk quite a lot as well so I was a bit hungover.
Darren: So it might not have been the perfect start for you.
Dr. Lauren: No, but overall I think The Lake Vampire was my favourite film of the day so the fact that my hangover meant I was slightly confused by some of the characters by no means detracted from it.
Darren: I’ve now seen a couple of Venezuelan films recently and I don’t think Venezuela is a particularly massive hotbed of horror movies but I watched Infection, which I thought was fucking amazing and now this. If this is the standard of Venezuelan horror then bloody hell! They’ve got off to a right start here. The odd thing is that I don’t think this has been picked up from what I can gather.
Dr. Lauren: I can not believe that I have not heard anything about the film up until now. I can’t believe there was any Internet buzz about it because there should be.
Darren: Yes! Because it’s so good. It’s a really creepy and very intelligent detective horror movie. It reminded me of Zodiac, the Fincher movie. It’s got that kind of vibe about it. The 70s-era detective procedural but this time it’s combined with vampirism and all sorts of nefarious goings on.
Dr. Lauren: It was also pretty gross at some points.
Darren: Oh yeah, it was! And even the bits that weren’t overly gory were quite upsetting. There’s one bit where a finger is cut so someone can feed off the blood from it and that’s revolting. That’s really, really gross! It’s probably that it’s a more relatable injury which makes it worse. I was like “Oh, God….” – but yeah, I loved this. Even more of a surprise as I knew nothing about this movie coming into it.
Dr. Lauren: Neither did I.
Darren: If we’re talking Top Tens of the year, I’d be surprised if this didn’t stay in my Top Ten by the end of the year.
Dr. Lauren; Totally. Although it’s probably going to be slim pickings in terms of titles this year.
Darren: I actually do have ten at the moment, I thought I wouldn’t have by now. You’re right, there’s probably going to be less of a field this year but even in a stronger year this would be right up there.
Dr. Lauren: Not to diminish this film in any way but just that there are going to be fewer films coming out. The Lake Vampire was a very strong opener for the festival and I thought it was great.
Darren: Yep. Same here.
Dr. Lauren: I just hope it gets some sort of distribution so that people out there can watch it. It’s definitely going to one I’d recommend but I don’t know where anyone can get hold of it.
Darren: That’s the issue. It’s really frustrating when you talk to people about a movie that you loved and they ask you how they get to see it and you say “Well, it isn’t out”. Like last year, when I first saw The Siren and I got asked about where people could get it and I was like “It’s not on DVD and it isn’t streaming anywhere”. Same with A Ghost Waits this year. A few people have asked me about that and my answer is “You’re going to have to wait, I don’t know what’s happening with it yet”. So I hope The Lake Vampire gets a decent distribution deal. It’s great that Mitch [Harrod of Soho Horror Festival] programmed it and I have to thank him massively for that because I’m not sure it would have ever made it on to my radar.
Dr. Lauren: I’d never even heard of it. Not a sausage.
WITCHSTARS (dir. Federico Sfascia)
SoHome said: “On Halloween night, a night of secret debauchery away from their girlfriends, four teenagers gather together to imbibe in class A drugs, B grade movies & C level prostitutes. Little do they know that karma and punishment is going to be far more morally questionable; as at the same time as their party, a comet has crash landed on earth and bringing with it a debaucherous group of aliens.”
Darren: From something very serious to something slightly less so.
Dr. Lauren: The polar opposite of The Lake Vampire.
Darren: Which is a good thing in terms of the festival. You needed some knockabout fun to get you back into the swing of things and this….well, it’s a movie of almost indescribable lunacy.
Dr. Lauren: At the beginning of the film we know it’s Halloween and there’s a big pink meteor shower and a weird high-pitched screaming noise and at some point there’s an explanation that there’s some Mayan legend or something about these meteors being witches coming down to Earth but that’s all I could get.
Darren: It pushes that out fairly early on in the plot so the lead in to the rest of it is “Okay, we’ve told you why it’s going on now, we don’t need to go back to this”. The rest of the movie is people running around and melting and exploding and screaming and it’s insane.
Dr. Lauren: It’s absolutely batshit. The first part of the film, where you have the set up, it’s this woman streaming her Halloween evening and she’s doing stuff like carving a pumpkin and talking to the camera and you can see she’s getting lots of likes and comments. Then, all this stuff starts kicking off and it goes wrong for her. That first scene, I was so on board with it and really, really enjoyed it. I thought that if this was what the rest of it was going to be like then it would be everything I wanted in a film but after that it took a dip for me then it took quite a while to get going again. When it did, the level of energy was so high and it was so mad immediately that there wasn’t anywhere else for it to go and after about an hour I didn’t feel like I could sustain what it was trying to do. I got a bit bored.
Darren: For me, it was like being shouted at for 90 minutes by somebody who’s very enthusiastic. The first half has very much of an Evil Dead vibe where people are trapped in a location and there’s things possessing folks and lots of gooey special effects which, to be fair, are really good considering it was made for peanuts…well, not peanuts just in case someone’s got an allergy*…not much money. What they’ve done with the few resources they had, it’s impressive. The effects aren’t the most convincing you’ve ever seen but in the context of what’s going on they work well because everything’s fantastical.
Dr. Lauren: If you’re into special effects. think Evil Dead, think early Astron-6. Splattery, gross, tentacles, slime. It also reminded me of the low-budget Tartan Asia sort of films. They were super gory but so confusing that you were never sure of what was happening the whole time.
Darren: I was going to mention Helldriver.
Dr. Lauren: Tokyo Gore Police was what I was thinking of.
Darren: Yes. The reason it reminded me of Helldriver in particular because, very much like Helldriver, this didn’t quite know when it should stop. It’s interesting that you mention Astron-6 because one thing about something like Manborg is that they knew it would work for an hour but no more.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah.
Darren: So just as you’re getting to the point where you could be getting fed up of Manborg, it finishes. Witchstars continues for another 20 minutes or so.
Dr. Lauren: I think if it would have continued in the same vein as the first segment for about an hour it would have been grand. It didn’t quite work for me all the way through. There were some really good moments in it. It did have one of the funniest and grossest sex scenes I’d seen in a long time. I laughed my arse off at that.
Darren: There’s plenty of highlights in this movie but there’s quite a few flat spots as well. There’s a great joke about a cat-based TV channel. I think a bit of wee might have come out at that point, I was laughing so hard. And it’s got a thoroughly out of order joke about a girl who one of the guys has fancied for a very long time. It was the sort of thing where I thought “I really shouldn’t be laughing at this but I am.”
Dr. Lauren: I still am!
Darren: It’s almost as if they had too many ideas for the movie.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah, I was going to say that.
Darren: It’s kind of a possession movie and it’s kind of a live-action anime movie and it’s kind of a superhero movie because one of the characters gets super powers.
Dr. Lauren: And it’s got a faux retro, synthy, 80s type of soundtrack a neon colour palette as well. It looks good.
Darren: It looks great. I think I’m right in saying it’s an Italian movie and it’s certainly got that look of cheapy Italian gore movies of the 80s. Even the cheapest Italian gore movies of the 80s tended to look great. One thing about Italian horror movies – even if they’re bollocks they almost always look really, really good.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah.
Darren: I’m not going to say it was a failure because it wasn’t. It was interesting but flawed.
Dr. Lauren: Given how strong the rest of the programme was for the rest of the day, I wouldn’t say it fell flat but it just wasn’t up to the standard of some of the other things we were watching.
Darren: That’s fair.
Dr. Lauren: Saying that, judging by the festival’s Facebook group some people really loved it. Some others were wavering a bit, like us. There are definitely people out there who love it.
Darren: If you’re not put off by something like Helldriver then you’ll probably really like this. I have the same problem with this as I have with those J-Horror films where it’s so in your face and just goes on and on and on and they don’t know when to cut away from it. It’s not quite as bad as Helldriver because the running time of that was, what, two days? I remember sitting there in Helldriver thinking “When the fuck is this going to finish?”. They’re fighting wave after wave of bad guys and all I was thinking was “Please make it stop”.
Dr. Lauren: I didn’t feel like that during it.
Darren: And that’s the good thing. I never came close to that during Witchstars but it was like a big, fancy Italian dessert. You look at it and it’s gorgeous but after you’ve eaten about two-thirds of it you think “Yeah, I feel a bit sick now”.
Dr. Lauren: I know what you mean.
Darren: Obviously not panna cotta**. Something else.
Dr. Lauren: Let’s never speak of that. Someone did point out that the Witchstars soundtrack is available to purchase.
Darren: You see, I liked the soundtrack. I’d be interested in that.
Dr. Lauren: If you like your 80s synthy music you should check that out.
Darren: I might end up with the Witchstars soundtrack. I’m not sure I’ll be rushing back to the film but I’m much more interested in the music which was very good indeed.
Dr. Lauren: I thought the soundtrack was excellent.
EVERY TIME I DIE (dir. Robi Michael)
SoHome said: “In an attempt to help his ambulance partner’s mental health, Sam organises a weekend retreat to a lake house, but tensions among the friends and partners send good intentions spiralling into manslaughter. While most films would climax in murder, much like for PSYCHO, for Robi Michael’s ingenious debut, this is just the kick off point… For in Sam’s journey of redemption, heroism and self discovery, death is only the beginning.”
Darren: And the pendulum swung back from the very silly to the serious with Every Time I Die.
Dr. Lauren: Again, I should caveat this by saying that I did enjoy it but I think I would have had a better time with it had I not been at the end of my hangover and feeling sleepy. During the first half of the film I was quite sleepy and woke up during the second half so I think I may need to watch it again.
Darren: I think you had a better time with this one than I did. I thought the set up was good. Without trying to spoil it too much, it’s about a guy who’s part of an ambulance crew and his partner invites him over to stay for the weekend and there’s tension between the group of people who have been invited there. Obviously, things go wrong because you wouldn’t have a movie otherwise. They go wrong in quite an interesting way and I thought the central idea was intriguing. I was up for it as soon as I knew where the plot was going but then, I don’t know, it didn’t really hook me as much as I thought it would.
Dr. Lauren: So basically there’s Sam, the main character and his mate Jay, his wife Poppy, Poppy’s sister Mia and then Mia’s husband Tyler and they’re all in this house in the American countryside by a lake. Things start unravelling when Sam turns up.
Darren: Sam has issues from a past trauma which we’re told about fairly early. There’s lots of flashbacks and flashforwards from the flashbacks and there’s various different points of view. It’s all very smartly done and there’s been a lot of consideration put into it, it isn’t a straight down the line horror mystery but I found it really hard to get on with, mostly because I wasn’t that engaged by any of the characters.
Dr. Lauren: That was the one thing. I didn’t think any of the characters were actually that likeable, even Sam, who I’m guessing you should have been quite sympathetic to considering what was going on with him but I didn’t like him that much.
Darren: Which is a bit of a problem. Even if characters are not likeable, I’m fine with going along with them as long as they’re interesting. I’m fine with following characters I may not side with but if they’re intriguing enough to make we wonder how it’s all going to work out for them I’m okay with that. Sam just seemed a little bit whiny.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah. One of the main storylines running through this is an unrequited love kind of thing which you’d think would make you feel sympathetic towards Sam but I didn’t.
Darren: It’s weird. And as regards that unrequited love thing, neither side seems particularly interesting. I never felt much for either of them.
Dr. Lauren: She’s horrible to him.
Darren: She just seemed to be self-absorbed and not really bothered about him. Sam seemed to be just wrapped up in his own misery to a point where I sat there thinking “Oh, fucking hell, man, pull yourself together”. I mean, I can wallow in self-pity but he could have given me lessons in that.
Dr. Lauren: As I said, in the first half of the film I was feeling quite tired so I wasn’t giving it my full attention and perhaps I wasn’t engaging as much as I would have been but by the second half I felt like it picked up a bit. It might have been my brain waking up but I definitely clicked a lot more with the second half. It took various turns and went down a path I was not expecting at all.
Darren: Yeah, I think I know which bit you mean and I was surprised by that but then from going down that fairly strange and unexpected path it gets a bit tropey towards the end. It does that thing, without wanting to get too spoilery, where if you’re gonna make sure someone’s not coming back, make sure they’re not coming back.
Dr. Lauren: I know what you mean but I really enjoyed the second half of it. It perhaps went on a little longer than it should have done but the ending was fantastic. I don’t want to say anything about how it ends if people want to watch it because this got a lot of love. People really loved this. It’s one of those films that the less you know about it going in the better.
Darren: Yes. And I’m glad that people did enjoy it because it was one of those movies that I felt I should have really loved and didn’t.
Dr. Lauren: That’s how I felt about Witchstars. It was something I should have really loved.
Darren: On the face of it, this was right up my street. It was the sort of thing that should have landed with me. It wasn’t quite in the same sort of ballpark but it had that Synchronic sort of vibe to it.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah, there were a few people mentioning Benson and Moorhead in the chat about it afterwards. It was solid and I really did love the second half and really. really liked the ending. Mitch [Harrod] described the ending as being redemptive and that’s correct.
Darren: He’s right. It does earn its ending and that did land with me in a certain way but if it had really pulled off what I wanted it to do at the end I would have been in bits. I would still have been crying now. That troubled me slightly because you know for a fact that I’ll cry at pretty much anything in movies.
Dr. Lauren: Me too!
Darren: I was waiting for a really powerful ending and don’t get me wrong, it’s a good one but I didn’t push the right emotional buttons for me. I’m really sorry for not loving this movie because there’s so much about it that’s great. It just didn’t work for me.
Dr. Lauren: Maybe if I’d engaged with the characters a little bit more it would have made me feel different at the end but I was pretty satisfied, it just didn’t get me to cry.
Darren: Still, you should see it because it’s head and shoulders above a lot of stuff that’s out there…
Dr. Lauren: Oh God, yeah.
Darren: …but for me, for whatever reason, it just didn’t land. Equally, I’m happy that loads and loads of people loved it. It makes me look like a plank for not liking it. You know, these things happen. For instance, I love Darling. Everybody fucking hates Darling.
Dr. Lauren: Oh no, I didn’t like that at all.
Darren: See? There you go.
CHESTERSBERG (dir. Jamie McKeller)
SoHome said: “Chester Mapleforth was exhausted by the modern world. Too much noise and stress. Too many things constantly beeping and ringing. After inventing the underwater post-it notes in the late 1980s, a sudden wealth allows him to buy his little cul-de-sac and emancipate it away from the United Kingdom; enabling him to create his own country, and his own laws. So what’s the first law he passes: make murder legal.”
Darren: From something very serious to something extremely unserious to close the festival.
Dr. Lauren: It was a fair old tonal shift.
Darren: It was a day of pleasingly jarring tonal shifts, of which this was one. It’s Jamie McKeller’s Yorkshire-set horror comedy Chestersberg. I knew nothing about this going in. WHAT. A. BRILLIANT. MOVIE.
Dr. Lauren: It was a treat for all the senses, this one.
Darren: It’s gory and it’s funny and it’s very, very Yorkshire so it resonated with me.
Dr. Lauren: A bloke has come into some money and he’s bought this little Yorkshire village which has then seceded from the UK. It’s its own separate entity and it has all its own rules and regulations. And murder’s legal.
Darren: It’s just like most people in Yorkshire would want. Yorkshire doesn’t need to be a part of anywhere else. It’s how lots of Yorkshire people think, including myself. We don’t need to be a part of England. Fuck that lot!
[At this point, there was a short pause for both Dr. Lauren and Darren to stop laughing]
Dr. Lauren: It was filmed not far from York. I was talking to the director Jamie on Twitter afterwards and the main part of the film was shot a few miles out of the centre of York. The end was filmed in the York Maize Maze.
Darren: I saw the maze and thought “Is that the one near York?”. There’s also a sequence where someone’s being pursued in a vehicle and you see a little bit of the city centre. If you know that part of the country you’ll recognise where it was filmed. If you don’t, it doesn’t hinder your enjoyment of the proceedings one little bit.
Dr. Lauren: It’s very Yorkshire.
Darren: It’s very Yorkshire. It’s a faux documentary about a film crew going into Chestersberg to see how things work when you can murder anybody at any point in time.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah, I was thinking of something like Inbred but a lot better.
Darren: Yeah. I thought Inbred was decent but this takes it up a few notches. It’s if Inbred was a reality TV documentary.
Dr. Lauren: I’ll tell you what, it had me from the moment that bloke was trying to run away from the village with that massive box that said “SOCKS AND MUGS” on it. I’m taking my socks and my mugs and I’m leaving!
[Second pause here for Dr. Lauren and Darren to stop laughing]
Darren: For a film that you might think would be a one-joke thing, it’s not. There are tons of running gags going on. There’s a bloke who they’ll never allow to be part of Chestersberg who keeps turning up and wants to be a villager and they flatly refuse him every time even though he shows up with bits of body.
Dr. Lauren: He’s got a foot in a bag. And a bag of shins.
Darren: He’s got a bag of shins! He’s also got a jar of bits at one point. It’s also a comment on village life as well. There are characters who are trying to be the focal point of the community and they’re all trying to fight for power behind everyone else’s back.
Dr. Lauren: I thought it was good fun. It was puerile sometimes and really gory in parts, very silly but I really enjoyed it.
Darren: It’s also got loads of quotable dialogue.
Dr. Lauren: I was just going to mention that. “No lips, no bumholes”.
Darren: There is another subplot where other villages have seceded as well and there’s tension between these villages which all have different people running them. At one point they all gather because there’s a festival they run called Murderfest which you’re told in advance is always a complete fucking disaster. And it is. The bits in Murderfest, where they’re listening to the announcements, that finished me off. I was laughing quite hard up to that point but the Murderfest stuff made me think I was about to do myself an injury.
Dr. Lauren: I laughed loudly a lot through this film. I’d love to watch this in a cinema with a festival audience to see how it goes down, I think that would be really interesting. Equally, I think it would be a really good, light-hearted beer and popcorn, get your mates round sort of thing.
Darren: Jamie mentioned last night that the film had kind of hit the buffers at the moment because they have been trying to push it out to festivals and of course with the lockdown that’s not happening right now but I think he was very pleased that he was able to get it in front of at least some kind of audience for the time being. It worked extremely well just sitting and watching it at home. Alison [Darren’s long-suffering, unbelievably tolerant wife] was upstairs at the time and first thing this morning she said “What were you watching last night?” because I was bursting out laughing every couple of minutes. It works as a sit at home movie but you’re right, it’ll work well with a big audience.
Dr. Lauren: Of the movies we watched this weekend, this one and The Lake Vampire are going to be the ones I’ll be shouting about for a long time. If and when they get distribution they’re the ones I’ll be pushing people to check out.
Darren: Same here. They’re the two that stood out for me. The Lake Vampire if you want something creepy and downbeat and serious but if you want something to stick on, have a couple of beers and enjoy something that’s a massive amount of fun and a bit silly then you could so much worse than Chestersberg. Although we were having a look at Letterboxd last night and someone had given it half a star.
Dr. Lauren: WHAT? Chestersberg?
Dr. Lauren: Okay, if you’re not into gross humour and daft comedy maybe I can see how it might not be for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend it to my in-laws.
Darren: Good point. I think you have to be at least a little into the genre but I got the feeling that reviewer had watched the rest of the festival.
Dr. Lauren: Really?
Darren: I don’t know why it ground their gears so much. I was in pretty much straight away. After a couple of minutes I was thinking “I hope it continues like this because if it does, it’s going to be brilliant”. And it was.
Massive thanks to the lovely Mitch Harrod for organising such an amazing festival and bringing the Horror Family together even if we couldn’t see each other in person. Mitch, you went so far above and beyond to get this done and we all owe you a massive debt of gratitude, not to mention more than a few drinks. You’re an absolute star! Love from Dr. L & D xxx
* We talk more about allergies in our review of the SoHome Horror Festival shorts so check that one out when it’s available.
** Check our review of THE PLATFORM to see exactly why we’re avoiding the subject of panna cotta.