After last year’s ‘Virtual Edition’ of The Dead of Night Film Festival (review), we finally got a traditional DoNFF in 2021, returning with a weird and wonderful selection of horror films. Some of these feature-length and short films were haunting, others were disturbing, and a fair few were humorous. If you were looking for jump scares, then you may have been disappointed, but there were definitely some terrifying moments. As much as I love creature features – and there were some great creature SFX on display – I feel that the scarier films were the more realistic ones.
The Nick was a short film with a simple concept and a solo actor, about a woman bleeding from her finger and her blood turning into a large sticky patch. Stuck, she tries everything we would do if we accidentally glued ourselves to the floor. I feared that when she reached up to the kitchen counter, a knife could have tumbled down. You were literally glued to your seat watching her desperate attempts to break free. This was one of the more realistic offerings, and one of the more haunting.
Another realistic, yet haunting film for me was Hungry Joe. Joe is always hungry and will disturbingly eat anything. In a council estate setting, the single mum struggling to look after her kid, and the authority figures (a doctor and headteacher) not believing her, are all truthfully portrayed. I felt sorry for Joe’s Mum, more than any other character in the films I watched at DoNFF. Her acting was brilliant, the colour palette in Hungry Joe was muted and depressing, and then there’s the disturbing eating scenes with Joe. That said, there were a lot of gross-out and disturbing moments in DoNFF, and the following films deserve a special mention.
Cyst is a B movie set in the 1960s about an insane doctor trying to get rid of large skin cysts with a laser, but in doing so he creates a zit monster. There are multiple scenes of huge spots being popped, and the creature itself is a gross homage to something between John Carpenter’s The Thing and a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers villain. The 1960s aesthetics and over-the-top acting from the insane doctor are what elevates this slightly from your usual gross B movie.
The most shocking offering was probably Crappy Christmas: Operation Christmas Child, a claymation short about a child being abused by the clergy of the church. This didn’t pull any punches and the claymation effects – from locations, costumes, and characters – were well done. It also had one of the most awesome and hilarious death scenes, featuring a Viagra-induced cock penetrating through the back of the skull. There were also a lot of brilliant death scenes in Last Christmas of the Universe, where Santa is fighting against a post-apocalyptic tribe.
There were two films I was really looking forward to at DoNFF this year: Bad Candy and Werewolves Within. Bad Candy was an anthology film featuring Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, and featured some amazing special make-up effects, specifically with a vampire bat creature. A few of the story ideas are equally amazing, like the ex-army buddies (including the vampire bat creature) acting like vigilantes, and a Halloween-obsessed girl drawing images of creatures that come to life. Unfortunately, many of the short stories seemed to just fizzle out, and some of the characters being punished – like the unlucky nurse/necrophiliac in love – seemed out of place compared to, say, the pimps.
Whilst Bad Candy was a bit of a disappointment, Werewolves Within wasn’t, which was a surprise considering how little werewolf action there was. A bit like Cluedo, we have a bunch of townsfolk trapped with no hope of outside help and sinister events occurring. The humour and acting in this movie were superb, and there’s great chemistry between Finn and Cecily. This film kept me guessing as to who the culprit was, and sometimes whether there was even a werewolf at all! That’s because there’s a subplot about drilling in the town if they can get a unanimous decision from the townsfolk, which sounds like something from Scooby Doo, Where Are You! The location, the soundtrack, and the script are all superb and make up for the fact that there isn’t much werewolf in this horror comedy.
Overall, DoNFF 2021 was a very varied festival in terms of the film selection and the emotions they evoked. The films were entertaining and some (like Werewolves Within!) I would definitely watch again.