Dr. Lauren McIntyre is a horror obsessive, tattoo connoisseur, natural Goth and cat wrangler. Lauren has spent the last few days trying not to spontaneously combust in the 30+ degree heat. Say hi to her on Twitter: @noddinggoth
Darren Gaskell is a horror obsessive and “enthusiastic” karaoke performer. Darren has spent the last couple of weeks learning the German version of a Eurovision Song Contest winner. Say hi to him on Twitter: @darren_gaskell
*** WARNING: THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS AHEAD AND SOME EXTREMELY RUDE WORDS (YEP, INCLUDING THAT ONE) ***
For the second time in as many months, Dr. Lauren and Darren made the long trek to their respective sofas for another packed day of films and shorts courtesy of the lovely Mitch Harrod, Soho Horror Festival’s programmer and all-round horror hero. June 27th 2020 saw the Pride Edition of the SoHome Horror Festival, a culmination of Mitch’s long-held dream to bring exclusively queer horror content to as wide an audience as possible.
Darren: So, SoHome Horror Festival. The second one of this year and this one was the Pride Edition, so lots of LGBTQ features and shorts. First up, we’re taking a look at the features, the first of which was…
THE FEAR OF LOOKING UP (dir. Konstantinos Koutsoliotas)
SoHome said: “While chasing a cryptic serial killer inspired by the God of Sleep, a young police officer’s life spirals into turmoil following the equally cryptic death of her girlfriend. Dealing with the need for both justice and revenge, Jamie’s handle on reality starts to slide as grief begins the blur the lines between reality and nightmare. Part police investigative noir, part cosmic fantasy and very much a deeply personal exploration of grieving; all with a healthy shot of Lovecraft (minus the misogyny and homophobia). Prepare to be hypnotised…”
Darren: This is about a detective who is investigating a series of murders when a personal tragedy sends her into a spiral of, well, madness isn’t probably quite the right word…
Dr. Lauren: What did you think of this?
Darren: I really liked it. However, I think there were stylistic choices made which may have annoyed quite a few people.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah.
Darren: For instance, I was talking to Hayley [Alice Roberts] who I’ve vlogged with and writes for Love Horror and The Horrorcist as well as her own website [Hayley’s Horror Reviews]. Anyway, Hayley was a little bit put out by the sound design. I totally get what she meant. In some of the sequences it was difficult to hear what the main characters were talking about because of the background noise.
Dr. Lauren: Also, the main character was quite softly spoken so that’s a justified comment.
Darren: I’m sure it was purposely done. In an odd way it kind of reminded me a bit of The French Connection where scenes had been shot in locations and they’d not overdubbed it, they’d taken the sound directly from there. I think that was one of the complaints that viewers of The French Connection had, that they were struggling to hear the actors over the background noise. Here, it seemed a choice rather than budgetary limitations. I reckon they could have done ADR.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah.
Darren: Which is a long-winded way of me saying that this film set out its own particular choices as to how it wanted to look and sound. People who were looking for something to play in a very straightforward and linear way would have been driven absolutely fucking batshit by some of this.
Dr. Lauren: To be honest, I found some of it quite confusing because there was a lot of flashbacks in it and it was quite slow as well. I was having trouble following along at times. I felt a bit like I wasn’t having a great time with it in terms of plot. It looked and it sounded amazing, The performances were really strong as well. I thought that the lady who played the main character…
Darren: Friday Chamberlain.
Dr. Lauren: Her performance was quite understated. I think the lady [Kathryn Haynes] who played her girlfriend gave the best performance for me. She was the best one in it.
Darren: I loved Friday Chamberlain’s performance in this. I’m not going to say I have a bit of a Friday Chamberlain crush now [NOTE: He does. Sincere apologies to you, Friday.] but her work in this is very good. The performances fit the feel of the movie, some of them were so low-key that the reaction could have been that they were underacting. A few of the supporting characters were very, very underplayed.
Dr. Lauren: Also, because I was a bit confused as to what was going on for some of it I wasn’t sure I was having the best time with it but the way they pull everything together at the end is really nice. I felt a lot more satisfied with it once the ending happened than I did part way through the film. So I’d say that if you are watching it and struggling with it then stick with it.
Darren: The payoff is worth it.
Dr. Lauren: For sure.
Darren: And the effects…
Dr. Lauren: They’re incredible.
Darren: The effects are really, really, really, really good. I’m guessing it wasn’t a mega-budgeted movie but visually it’s utterly stunning.
Dr. Lauren: I was getting Color Out Of Space vibes, especially with the colour palette.
Darren: Same here. Certainly with the colour palette and with some of the effects, without wanting to spoil it too much.
Dr. Lauren: I wish that I’d have been able to watch it on a big screen rather than on my television.
Darren: I know that of late there have been many horror films straying into this particular area but there’s definitely Lovecraftian stuff going on.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah. Definitely, but it wasn’t hitting you in the face with it, it was all quite subtle.
Darren: The odd visual steered you down that path but it wasn’t slavishly going full Lovecraft all the way through. It wasn’t slavishly trying to go for anything to be honest. It had its own unique way of telling the story. I got a lot out of it but equally, for the people out there who didn’t get it, I understand why as well.
Dr. Lauren: It wasn’t my favourite one of the day but it was satisfying enough and I did really like the ending.
Darren: I’d be looking out for what the director and the main players do next. It was more than interesting enough for me to seek out their other work.
Dr. Lauren: I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody but I would recommend it to those who like slow-burning crime thrillers but with the caveat that there are also fantastical elements to it too.
Darren: It sets out like a standard serial killer tale.
Dr. Lauren: Kind of a Scandi Noir thing.
Darren: Even then, it doesn’t pay a huge amount of attention to the investigation.
Dr. Lauren: No, not at all.
Darren: It heads off in a completely different direction to the one you might be expecting. I was impressed by it.
DAVID’S SECRET (O SEGREDO DE DAVI) (dir. Diego Freitas)
SoHome said: “Ancient secrets, like the roots of ancient trees, are always threatening to burst through the ground and untangle for all to see… Unassuming and introverted film student, Davi, tries his best each day to keep himself to himself and lead a normal teenage life. But when mysterious figures awaken, and the roots of his past begin to ensnare him, Davi finds himself unable to stop feelings- long buried- from coming out. Magical realism and grisly verite violence collide in this visually arresting debut, Marking yet another phenomenal and challenging entry from the burgeoning Latin America genre scene; you won’t need to get Down with the Sickness to see this vision of Disturbed.“
Darren: So, the second feature was the Brazilian movie David’s Secret. Or O Segredo De Davi. Apologies for my horrendous accent.
Dr. Lauren: I really liked this. Another slow one and there were points were I wondered where it was going but I enjoyed it.
Darren: It’s about a film student whose tragic past comes back to haunt him and sets him on a very specific quest. It’s a very strange quest where you’re not always sure what’s real and what’s not.
Dr. Lauren: Yes.
Darren: It’s interestingly done. This was a weird one for me. Once I got to the end of it I really wasn’t sure how much I liked it but I sat and thought about it for about twenty minutes while I was waiting for the next thing to start and at the end of that twenty minutes I realised that I really did like it but it took a while for it to sink in.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah, same, same. I totally agree. There’s a lot to think about.
Darren: The bit where I initially thought it sagged in the middle didn’t seem as pronounced. Yeah, of course it could have been a bit shorter.
Dr. Lauren: It’s quite long.
Darren: 112 minutes.
Dr. Lauren: Okay.
Darren: I’m not saying it should have been 90 but I think it could have lost maybe ten minutes and I don’t feel it would have suffered. It does get a little bogged down in his psyche at some points. Overall, that’s a minor gripe. It’s a very interesting piece of work. And quite grim in places.
Dr. Lauren: And really creepy as well in parts. That whole stalking of Doris thing…
Darren: Oh, that was horrible. I’d got a lot of affection for the character of Doris, she’s very sympathetic and I really, really didn’t like that bit of the movie. Very effective.
Dr. Lauren: Just thinking about some of the stuff he did. That whole expectation some men have that women will go out with them or go for lunch with them or whatever because they’ve done something for you and they’ll socially pressure you into reciprocating something that you’re not necessarily comfortable with because that’s what they want you to do. So in the film the guy buys her a book and then uses it to try and strongarm her into going for coffee. I fucking hate that.
Darren: It plays for it and gets that uneasy feeling. You were meant to feel creeped out and it certainly felt uncomfortable.
Dr. Lauren: It’s revolting, yeah.
Darren: The film’s disturbing but at the same time it’s not overly gory.
Dr. Lauren: No, it wasn’t actually, was it? It was quite understated in terms of that.
Darren: Again, I’ve talked to a few people since and the fact that it wasn’t linear threw some and by the end they weren’t sure what happened and what didn’t, what was in his head and what he went out and did. And that’s not a criticism of the movie for me. I think the film purposely leaves some of it ambiguous. Yes, there are things that happen. There are certainly things that don’t happen. The bits in between, to a certain extent you’re left to make up your own mind about it.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah, and I’m fine with that. It’s one of those things that makes me want to go back and watch films again. Now that I’ve got a baseline knowledge of it I can go back in and see if what I was thinking on first watch was correct or if my feelings will change or if I get to work other things out. All of that does make me want to watch this again.
Darren: That’s a good point. It has value in going back to pick through everything and follow all of the threads. I’m pretty sure there are things I may have misinterpreted. I’m positive there are things that went by me on that first viewing.
Dr. Lauren: It’s the same with things like Hereditary or Midsommar or the Benson and Moorhead films. You think you know what’s going on but you also think “I want to go back and check”.
Darren: Which is a positive thing to say about the film. This was shot maybe a couple of years ago but now these South American horror films are starting to surface and I’ve seen some really good ones this year, which is great. The South American horror scene seems to be picking up really well.
AFTER DARK (aka VAMPIRE VIRUS) (dir. Charlie Steeds)
SoHome said: “On a drunken night out, Jennifer is seduced into spending the night with a mysterious stranger and later wakes with no memory of the night’s events. Soon, a strange infection causes an unusual sickness within her, and with the help of her reluctant best friend Jennifer must figure out the cause of her sickness, before she becomes something monstrous… Our resident director, Charlie Steeds, is back with an exclusive advance screening of his latest neon drenched, merlot dripping delight; boasting one of the most maniacal and brilliant soundtracks we’ve heard in years.”
Darren: From the downbeat grim and grit of David’s Secret to over the top vampire action in After Dark. Which isn’t going to be called After Dark. It’s going to be called Vampire Virus.
Dr. Lauren: Vampire Virus.
Darren: We saw the version called After Dark which was missing a tiny bit of VFX work and some audio but it’s basically the same one that’s going to come out soon. And this is the absolute antithesis of David’s Secret.
Dr. Lauren: I think after the first two films I was ready for something more upbeat. I could not have taken another slow burner.
Darren: This definitely isn’t. It’s in and out of there, does its vamp business and then flounces out.
Dr. Lauren: It was really interesting hearing Charlie Steeds [director of Vampire Virus] talking about how the film funding came about. He was approached by a company and was given a basic outline of a plot plus a bunch of stipulations and asked for a price. I didn’t realise films got made like this! And they said “You can make a sexy lesbian vampire film but you can’t have any gore in it. And you can’t have too much sex in it so no orgies”.
Darren: No blood, no orgies. If anyone jumps into bed, it can only be two people.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah, what the hell? I think it was slightly misbilled as a sexy vampire lesbian relationship. There was no relationship in that story! That was a hook-up at best.
Darren: The two sexy lesbian vampires didn’t even really pursue each other for a lot of the movie.
Dr. Lauren: There’s a bit of dancing in a club and then the girl who gets turned smashes a glass in her hand and the other one licks it and they go home together and that’s about it. I don’t know about you but if I was dancing in a club and I cut my hand that badly and the person I was dancing with licked my hand I’d be out of there pretty quickly.
Darren: It would depend on who was licking the blood from my hand.
[Dr. Lauren bursts out laughing]
Darren: Oh shit, that makes me sound really bad. I’m just trying to think of someone in that situation now.
Dr. Lauren: Well, if it was Alison, your wife!
Darren: I was thinking more in a fictional sense. If it was real and it was Alison that would be absolutely fine. Having said that, Alison would be like “I am not fucking licking blood off your hand, what kind of weirdo are you?”. Okay, say if it was someone played by Barbara Crampton, I’d be thinking that would be all right. You know, it’s Barbara Crampton, she’s nice.
Dr. Lauren: Barbara Crampton is not going to be turning you into a vampire!
Darren: Oh fuck, I sound like a proper fucking weirdo now. I’m so sorry, Barbara.
[The next few seconds are just Dr. Lauren and Darren laughing]
Darren: Right, instead of me rapidly digging a bigger hole for myself let’s go back to After Dark. You know what you’re getting, it’s got its vampire checkbox list of items and it has fun with them. It’s not breaking any new ground but it goes along at a good pace and you can tell everyone who made this was having a laugh.
Dr. Lauren: I did find it very silly and I don’t know if that was intentional or not but at the end of the day it was the feature that I got the most enjoyment out of.
Darren: Yeah. I think there was some serious intent there and even though some of the deaths weren’t particularly gruesome they were quite effective and done as nastily as they could get away with. They knew the tropes, they were aware of how daft it was and they were playing up to it. Some of the performances, certainly the main vampire played by Jessica Alonso, showed the actors were just going for it. Perhaps some people will think that’s too flamboyant but it kind of fits here.
Dr. Lauren: It was giving me waves of Razorblade Smile. It don’t know if that’s a compliment.
Darren: Razorblade Smile….okay, that wasn’t such a great movie but I got something out of it. The thing about Razorblade Smile is that it’s just so on the nose, it’s going for all of the vampire tropes. There’s no nuance in it.
Dr. Lauren: No, there’s not. It’s like being hit in the face with a brick. A vampire-shaped brick.
Darren: Back to After Dark, though. It certainly ticked the box for outlandish Eastern European vampire accents.
Dr. Lauren: Oh my God, I’d forgotten about you going on about that. There were some things that….I don’t want to say grating because they weren’t…but there were small details that really did distract me. Once you’d pointed out the thing with the accent I could not hear anything else but that. There was the thing about the plug sockets where it was supposed to be set in America but the plug sockets in every building were all UK ones which I then couldn’t stop looking at.
Dr. Lauren: And the worst thing, something I think probably no one else had a problem with, is that the vampire dental anatomy is all over the shop.
Darren: Yeah, once you mentioned that to me I was just looking at the fangs.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah. I’m gonna be nerdy for a second here. Some of the vampires have their fangs where their canines are – your pointy teeth – and vampires, including the main one, have their fangs where their lateral incisors are. If you think about your big front teeth, one tooth outwards from that is where some of the vampires had their fangs. It was inconsistent between vampires and I just could not stop looking at it.
Darren: Neither could I, once you pointed it out. Thing is, you came with the science, which was something interesting for me to look at in terms of fang placement. All I brought was that they sounded like The Count from Sesame Street. “THREE HOT DOGS! AH HA HA HA HA!”.
[Dr. Lauren laughs because, let’s face it, Darren is being an utter dumbarse at this point]
Dr. Lauren: Oh. Oh, my God. It was enjoyable enough. I imagine it’s the sort of thing that would be on the Horror Channel early evening.
Darren: It played well enough to the audience as it was but I think if everyone had been watching it in the same room it would have been a riot.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah, I think it would have been really fun with an actual audience in a cinema.
Darren: Let’s be honest, it’s probably not going to win any major awards but it’s plenty of fun and it’s extremely watchable and I had a good time with it.
Dr. Lauren: There was a lot of love for it on the Facebook group afterwards. Oh, and we should mention that the soundtrack was bloody amazing.
Darren: Oh yes! I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned the soundtrack. I’m a massive fan of Tangerine Dream so the synth soundtrack was something I totally loved. I thought it was brilliant.
Dr. Lauren; The soundtrack was great. It should get some sort of release.
Darren: The music was particularly well curated. If you don’t take anything else out of After Dark – and there is stuff to take out of it if you ask me – if you come out of it and don’t have any comments about how good the soundtrack is then maybe the whole thing wasn’t up your street to begin with.
Dr. Lauren: It’s a tricky type of music to put into a soundtrack at the moment because there’s so much synthy, 80s, Stranger Things, kids on bikes stuff out there that they all kind of blend into one after a while. However, the one for After Dark was really good.
Darren: It was familiar but distinctive at the same time. They hadn’t chucked in a load of generic synthwave.
KILLER UNICORN (dir. Drew Bolton)
SoHome said: “After the annual “Brooklyn Enema Party” ends in deadly consequences for a group of friends, young club boy Danny vows to never go out again. But a year’s gone by, and some people just have to douche and dance, especially when a new love interest enters the scene. Little does Danny and his friends know though, that someone knows what they did last summer, and its got everything it needs to exact revenge: a size-queen-sized knife and a unicorn mask. Get your poppers at the ready (beer will also suffice) and prepare to get slayed.”
Darren: From vampire daftness to almost off the chart silliness to round off the day. It’s Killer Unicorn.
Dr. Lauren: This was my most anticipated feature of the day.
Darren: I was wondering what this one was going to be like. It’s a drag queen-centric slasher which is almost every bit as outrageous as its title and its premise would suggest. It’s so camp, it’s so exuberantly gay, it’s so over the top.
Dr. Lauren: It’s so gay.
Darren: It’s a great time. Having said that, you’re probably going to land on a specific side of the fence with this one. It might possibly be so grating to you that you’ll switch off but if you can go with the first ten or fifteen minutes you’re set for the rest of the movie because the atmosphere it creates and the dialogue and the bitchiness, well, that’s how it is all the way through.
Dr, Lauren: Yeah. The only thing I found a bit difficult to get to grips with is that there are so many characters.
Darren: It’s absolutely loaded with them. I’m wondering if the filmmakers went around all of the drag queens they knew and said “Do you want to be in a movie?” and they all said yes and then they thought “Oh shit, we’ve got to find a role for everyone now” because there are lots of lots of people in this movie.
Dr. Lauren: There are some good drag names in there as well. Jess Jizz. I think there’s also one called Viva Section.
Darren: Yes, there is Viva Section in there. We’re in classic slasher territory when an unknown killer is stalking a bunch of people for something that happened in the past.
Dr. Lauren: Is that definitely why or is it a coincidence? It was quite late and in the day I was definitely starting to flag by the end.
Darren: It’s kind of established that it probably is a revenge thing for a previous wrongdoing of sorts. It’s like I Know What You Did Last Summer but if Sarah Michelle Gellar was a heavily made-up drag queen that called other people cunts.
Dr. Lauren: Cunt Stanley was another of the drag queens!
Darren: Cunt Stanley! Yes!
Dr. Lauren: She was amazing.
Darren: The moment I knew I was definitely going to enjoy it was during an early scene and they’re talking about one of the characters and the line is “That’s why people don’t like her, it’s because she’s a cunt”.
Dr. Lauren: I thought it was great. I thought the Killer Unicorn guy was probably quite cold for a lot of the film. He was basically wearing some shoes, a rubber unicorn mask, a pink furry waistcoat and some spangly pink hotpants and he was wandering around the place. It looked like it was snowing at one point.
Darren: It didn’t look very warm. Whoever played him, big up to the cause. And it’s giving the audience what they want. The guy was built.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah.
Darren: So you have an aesthetically pleasing killer. Some of the deaths were surprisingly brutal.
Dr. Lauren: My favourite one was the one with the sex swing.
Darren: That was horrible. Conceptually, the idea of what was happening was upsetting but then you actually got to see the after effects of it which, if anything, was even worse.
Dr. Lauren: It was pretty gross.
Darren: Generally it was knockabout fun but some of the killings slightly took you out of it.
Dr. Lauren: It wasn’t gritty but for a movie called Killer Unicorn it was grittier than I’d expected.
Darren: As soon as something really horrible happened there was always something campy and fun to pull you back into it but yes, it was much bloodier than I expected it to be.
Dr. Lauren: The performances were a a bit variable.
Dr. Lauren: My favourite was Mdme Mortimer.
Darren; Mine too.
Dr. Lauren: I thought she was excellent. Every single time she showed up, she was hilarious. Her voice just cracked me up as well.
Darren: Yeah, it was the contrast of how she looked and then how she sounded. That was great. You’re right, every time she had a line, whether it was written to be funny or not, I was in bits.
Dr. Lauren: She absolutely stole everything she was in.
Darren: She was great. And you’re right about the performances, considering there’s quite a lot of drag queens in there, some of them didn’t play up to it quite as much as I’d expected them to. All right, none of them are what I’d call low-key but they also didn’t go as full on as I’d probably wanted. Maybe they thought they’d tone it down a bit as it was a movie. I would have rather they went as big as possible. Quite a few of them do. And I did like the joke with the door that keeps shutting and it only opens one way and they’re trapped on the wrong side and it keeps opening but they never quite get back to it before it closes again. I know they did it over and over again but that didn’t get old for me. I thought it was funny every single time it happened.
Dr. Lauren: I enjoyed Killer Unicorn.
Darren: And there’s a really good last line from Mdme Mortimer which refers to Jamie Lee Curtis.
Dr. Lauren: Yes, there is.
Darren: Well, there’s another line right at the end after the credits but the line that closes the story itself is a good one.
Dr. Lauren: I didn’t see to the end of the credits, tell me what it was.
[You’ll have to watch it to find out, the bit where Darren talks about the post-credits scene has been cut from here]
Dr. Lauren: Ah, I should have stuck around for that.
Darren: Killer Unicorn might not have been my absolute favourite of the day but it was a pretty good one to finish on.
Dr. Lauren: As a best film of the day, that was probably David’s Secret but I think I got the most enjoyment out of After Dark. It was the one I had the most fun with.
Darren: In their own way I enjoyed them all. I had the most fun with Killer Unicorn. The one that I probably thought was the best movie…..hmm, I’m torn here. I really liked David’s Secret and I really liked The Fear Of Looking Up for completely different reasons.
Dr. Lauren: You can have two different movies,
Darren: David’s Secret held together better as a movie but The Fear Of Looking Up was just so different. It was very much “This is our movie, this is how it is and we don’t fucking care”, that sort of style. There’s a lot to admire about that. I know some people didn’t get it and found it too much of a slow burn and that’s fine but I like it when filmmakers put that kind of stuff out there. I’m going to sit on the fence right now. I’d guess that if I watched David’s Secret again I’d probably end up enjoying that one more but I’m going to be a wuss and not decide.
Dr. Lauren: That’s fine, you can do that.
A huge thank you to Mitch Harrod for inviting us into the Soho Horror Family, for giving us a festival unlike any other and for encouraging us to write about it. We love you lots. Dr. L & D xxx
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