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September 1, 2023

A Binge too Far #34: 8th Horrorant International Film Festival – ‘Fright Nights’ report

8th Horrorant International Film Festival

The 8th Horrorant International Film Festival – ‘Fright Nights’ that primarily took place at the prestigious Elize theater of Athens, but also and as per usual traveled to other cities in Greece as well, was a great success on all fronts, including the quality of the program and the record ticket sales. The fact that we also had legendary filmmaker Luigi Cozzi as a guest of honor was a pleasure, and the fans showed their appreciation and love.


As usual the festival opened with last year’s best picture award winner, namely Filip Jan Rymsza’s Mosquito State (2021). The opening ceremony was accompanied by the screening of Han Jae-rim’s Emergency Declaration (2022). The closing ceremony was followed by the screening of Escape Room: La Pelicula (2022).


Competition Horror


This year I was part of the Awards Jury of the ‘Competition Horror’ program, that was rounded by legendary film critic Dimitris Koliodimos and renowned film director Dimitris Panagiotatos. Here are my reviews of this block’s features.


Anthropophagus II

Anthropophagus II


A bunch of college students (that don’t look anything like they’d possibly have the brains for school) led by their professor (who doesn’t seem to be university material either) leave their cell phones behind (quite conveniently for screenwriter Lorenzo De Luca) and willfully isolate themselves in a nuclear bunker so they enhance the experience of their thesis. However, there is a baby-eating cannibal in the facilities as well who might as well slaughter them all one by one.


Anthropophagus (1980) is the sort of film adored by fans of Italian exploitation that tend to only scratch the surface, as in reality it came too late into the game, when Mediterranean filmmakers resorted solely and quite desperately to extreme violence, and although it is actually a decent horror outing, it owes most of its legend due to its status as a ‘video nasty’. A legend that seems to be strong more than 40 years later as director Dario Germani tackles this sequel (although an official sequel called Absurd was released in 1981) which is featuring torture than even Joe D’Amato would be proud of (although it could not possibly match some of the excesses of his 1970s output) as well as inept acting and ridiculous dialogues that perfectly channel the golden age of ‘pasta paura’. It is never really scary, but it remains entertaining and a joy to watch from start to finish, which is not small feat in itself.


The Goldsmith (2022) poster

The Goldsmith


Three down on their luck small-time criminals target and eventually break into a vault full of handmade golden jewelry and the like that is located in the house of an elderly couple (the titular goldsmith is played by legendary TV actor Giuseppe Pambieri and his wife is played by genre film legend Stefania Casini), who soon become the unlikely captors, but this is only the first of many twists in this mystery horror that is quick to turn the tables and become a full-on ‘torture porn’ epic.


Directed by Vincenzo Ricchiuto (who also penned the screenplay with Germano Tarricone), this Italian production is well-shot and looks better than most of its counterparts from the States. It is also quite intelligent, benefits from some of the most exciting performances we’ve seen in European horror in many years, and is an all-around winner. It comes highly recommended and should be missed by no fan of the genre.


Blood Flower (2022)


Hailing from the unlikely Malaysia, director Dain Said’s exorcism-styled horror opus is about a young healer who is suppressing his special god-given gifts so he doesn’t get bullied by other kids, but when an evil spirit inhabits his house he will have to fight both the demon and the well-kept family secrets,


Eerie and original, this is featuring some very hard to watch violence that is often obsessed with pregnancy and infants. Aesthetically it owes a lot to the The Evil Dead franchise (1981 – present), but the prevalent Islamic religious element makes it thematically unique. The special effects that appear to be a combination of practical work and CGI are stunning too and make for a very cinematic viewing experience.


Project Wolf Hunting (2022)

Project Wolf Hunting


A select team of experienced and hardened police officers are on a mission to transfer a group of dangerous and notorious criminals via boat from the Philippines to South Korea. These are not your typical convicts that deserve prisoners’ rights and the like, but rather total scum that rape and kill for breakfast, so despite the numerous measures taken by the authorities to contain them, a riot ensues and all hell breaks loose.


Hailing from South Korea, this action/horror hybrid employs a total overkill with its violence (heads are crushed, throats are sliced, and whatnot) and numerous breathtaking shootouts, resulting in an absolutely entertaining two-hours-long show. The setting is clever and the visuals are delivered with mastery and finesse, as writer/director Hongsun Kim delivers an outstanding work of art; needless to say, it comes highly recommended.


Megalomaniac (2022) poster



This peculiar production from Belgium is doin the festival rounds right now and it is a unique exploration on the thin line between being a victim and a tormentor. Full of nihilism and brutality, writer/director Karim Ouelhaj’s opus is a work of art, mainly in terms of cinematography and direction, but it not solely a visual achievement as it also has a lot to say in terms of philosophy. The final scene is an exercise in sheer brutality and must be seen to be believed.


Skinford: Death Sentence (2023)


Jimmy or James Skinford who also goes by the nickname Skinny (Joshua Brennan), is a small-time con artist who aims to save his ailing father by stealing the riches of a truck. But once the plan goes wrong he is touched by a woman (Charlotte Best) that makes him immortal and a variety of weird situations ensue, including exploding bodies of human trafficking victims and several shootouts.


Hailing from Australia and directed by Nik Kacevski (who also wrote the screenplay, with Tess Meyer), this third chapter in the ongoing horror/action/comedy franchise takes us back and forth in time with its editing, and delivers a more than adequate thrilling ride. But despite its spectacular nature, it is essentially a festival-flavored experience.


What the Waters Left Behind...

What the Waters Left Behind: Scars


An unknown English/American indie rock act named The Ravens are on a failed tour across Argentina, when their drummer gets seduced by a mysterious gothic groupie who brings the usual troubles of tensions among band members and the like, but things escalate in Leatherface manner soon. Directed by Horrorant darling Nicolas Onetti, this is yet another sequel on this year’s program, and although it is not the kind of film that is pushing the envelope by any means and towards any direction, it is sexy, fun, and gruesome, so there is a lot to like and enjoy, so it comes recommended.


It Came from the Water (2022)


Miserably (and in a desperate attempt to appear current) set amidst our real lives’ recent post-apocalypse-styled Covid-19 pandemic, this is about a group of Polish teenagers who get fed up with the lockdowns and head to a local party for a night full of sex and drugs, but the celebrations get cut short amidst a different virus breakout, namely the cinematically common zombie one.


Featuring incredibly attractive but also very talented young Polish actors and directed with competency (and even occasional mastery) by Xawery Zulawski (who also wrote the screenplay with Krzysztof Bernas and Maciej Kazula), this may be far from being original or innovative, but it’s not your standard living dead programmer either as its fun and energetic tone turn it into a very entertaining spectacle overall. The director is the son of legendary Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, and his future behind the camera looks more than promising.


Note: The Lake (2022), directed by Lee Thongkham and Aqing Xu was also screened as part of this block, but I didn’t manage to review it in time for this article.


Panorama Competition


The ‘Panorama Competition’ was another excellent block made available in this year’s festival that showcased great films from a variety of horror-related genres and subgenres, and here’s my thoughts on them.


The Exchange (2022) poster

The Exchange


Directed by Vladimir Kharchenko-Kulikovskiy (his feature length debut, but he had previously helmed a lot of television series), this Ukrainian production was made amidst the invasion that country is facing from the malicious forces of Vladimir Putin, and cleverly uses the war as its backdrop to tell really captivating story, about a father who is trying to reclaim his son behind enemy lines.


Part war drama and part action spectacle, this dramatic filmic event is a piece of art to behold, essentially cinema for the ages. Obmin (its original title) is important cinema and engaging storytelling about things that matter, and while it is current, it never neglects to tell a fascinating story. This is a masterpiece that will be set apart from the rest of the festival programmers of its time and be forever cherished by celluloid aficionados.


Next Door (2022)


Written and directed by debuting filmmaker Ji-ho Yeom and hailing from South Korea, this is about the discovery of a dead body in the mysterious room ‘next door’ and the horrors and comedic situations that ensue. Suffering from a low budget that restrains the action in a few interior and poor sets, along with a premise that is far from original, this reveals a promising man behind the camera, but he’ll need better material to showcase his talents and it should be as far removed from the ‘single room drama’ as possible.


Haunting frame from Do Ut Des (2022)

Do Ut Des


Rich playboy and compulsive womanizer Leonardo (Gianni Rosato) is guilty of a terrible past, but he meets his match in the mysterious author Emanuelle (Beatrice Schiaffino), in this erotic thriller that includes several sexy moments, but also stomach-churning rape scenes that most audiences won’t be able to handle.


Directed by Monica Carpanese (who also penned the screenplay) and Dario Germani (who also handled the cinematography duties), this takes the central female character on a journey that echoes some of the antics of Emmanuelle (1974) and its many sequels and re-incarnations – there is even a scene that is bluntly referencing the Sylvia Krystel original – without becoming a proper re-imagination of any sort. Emanuelle’s Revenge (the film’s international title) is slick (the way it depicts the world of the privileged is lavish) but it is also hard to watch (the scenes of abuse are impossible to handle), essentially becoming the appropriate viewing experience of the subject matter, but these themes are very sensitive and should be handled with more care.


Tre Uomini e un Fantasma (2022)

Tre Uomini e un Fantasma


Three down on their luck men that are friends since childhood become small-time con artists and they steal a bag of chips from a little girl who turns out to be possessed and will ruin their lives.


Directed by Francesco Prisco and hailing from Italy, this horror/comedy hybrid employs a lot of untranslatable humor and some better-executed situation jokes, but in its heart it is a haunted house mystery which is why it feels out of place in today’s festival climate. If this concept was made by a poverty row studio of the 1940s we would be talking of a classic.


Sicosexual (2022)


Upon realizing her boyfriend is cheating on her, a young woman is falling in love with a buffoon Youtuber and embarks on a journey of exploring the dark aspects of her sexuality that include cuckoldry and rough sex.


Written, produced, and directed by Marco Velez Esquivia, this has one of the most descriptive titles of this year’s program, as this Columbian picture is an excellent investigation of female sexuality and even kinks in general, and although it doesn’t dig really deep (the story is really restrained and focused), it is a thoroughly interesting experience and a very sexy one at that.


Para Entrar a Vivir (2022) poster

Para Entrar a Vivir


A young couple (the stunning Barbara Goenaga and the pleasant Gorka Otxoa) find it hard to buy a flat on a budget, but with a little bit of help from their parents they buy a house! However, there is a catch. The house has some very dark history which seems nothing to worry about in the beginning as it fulfills all their consumerist wishes.


Directed by Pablo Aragues (who also penned the screenplay) and Marta Carbera (who also produced), this light horror/comedy romance story is suffering from its small cast and contained locations (most of it taking place within the walls of the aforementioned house), but benefits from the fun-to-watch lead couple and its mere 72 minutes of running time, allowing it to never outstay its welcome.


Note: Los Bastardos (2022), directed by Pablo Yotich and Pablo Bustos was also screened as part of this block, but I didn’t manage to review it in time for this article.


First Look


Making films is always hard, but making your first film is even harder, and since our festivals has its eyes always open to new talents, we managed to tackle via this block several pictures from debuting directors; the results are good and the future looks promising.


Mother Superior (2022) poster

Mother Superior


Set in 1975 and at the Rosenkreuz Manor, this is about a young nurse who accepts the task of caring a peculiar old lady, with whom it turns out she’s sharing a mysterious past. Written and directed by Marie Alice Wolfszahn, this German-speaking opus is hailing from Austria, and with its stunning period setting and quality photography, not to mention some really intriguing performances is a joy to see. Short and sweet at a mere 71 minutes of running time it has you lusting for more from its debuting filmmaker.


Brightwood (2022)


A middle-aged couple that is falling apart ends up in the forest to pretend once again that their relationship has any sort of life left to it, but it turns out that they cannot escape the woods and no matter which direction they go they seem strangely and inexplicably trapped in the wilderness; what’s more, in the end this will prove to be the least of their troubles.


Benefiting from an interesting premise, even if not entirely original, but lacking the mastery required for its execution – not to mention the budget – this is at least a film in which its debuting man behind the camera (Dane Elcar, writing, directing, and producing) is aiming for the stars, even if he’s still too young to be able to reach them. Ignoring where the filmmaking team’s skills reach their limits, this cannot hide its many first-timer-type naivety, and it often feels like a student film and looks like one of the many SOV horrors that came from the US in the 1990s. It will obviously not win any awards, but it is very charming overall; not to mention its rewarding and gruesome ending.


Contorted (2022) poster



Written and directed by Kang Dong Hun, and hailing from South Korea, this psychodrama with its supernatural horror sensibilities and aesthetics follows the story of a family that moves into an isolated house which came cheap but for a very deadly reason. As strange noises and other paranormal happenings occur, this looks and feel like a proper modern horror film, and whereas it is pretty much conventional (although not very predictable), it also appears to have been made with passion and professionalism, resulting in a very enjoyable and eerie ride.


Slasher (2023)


Set in the Spanish countryside (it was shot in Cordoba, Andalusia) this is about a young butcher named Julio (Sergio Alguacil) who inherits a grotesque mask that belonged to his father who was the local serial killer and that inspires the youngster to start a new circle of murder and mayhem.


Written and directed by Alberto Armas Diaz, this Spanish horror/comedy is failing on both of its aims as it is hardly ever funny, nor it is scary by any means, but it is somewhat salvaged by its professional enough cinematography. It is not a strong debut, but you can see things that are worthy enough for the audiences to give the young filmmaker a second chance.


Note: Attachment (2022), directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason, and The Other Child (2022), written and directed by Jin-young Kim, were also screened as part of this block, but I didn’t manage to review it in time for this article.


Exploitation Tribute


I was the curator of this block, in which I had the pleasure of working with Vinegar Syndrome, in order to bring three exploitation film classics from different decades. We had the pleasure of screening Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), Mario Azzopardi’s Deadline (1980), and Stewart Raffill’s Tammy and the T-Rex (1994), to appreciative audiences who asked for more and we could do no less than promising exactly this, for next year.


L-R: C. Mouroukis, Luigi Cozzi, K. Chatzipapas

Luigi Cozzi Tribute


The Horrorant International Film Festival is proud to have brought legendary Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi for the first time in Athens, Greece as our guest of honor. Mr. Cozzi was a pleasure to have at the festival and he was very kind with his many fans who wanted a photo taken with him or their Blu-ray discs signed. He was also very generous with providing lengthy introductions and Q&A sessions before and after the screenings of his classic films, much to the awe of his excited fans. Luigi Cozzi is a living legend, but he is foremost a fan, and other than consider him ‘one of us’, we now know that he is also a good friend of Horrorant. We were honored to present him with Horrorant’s Lifetime Achievement Award.


The Killer Must Kill Again (1975)

The Killer Must Kill Again


Womanizer and extortionist Giorgio Mainardi (George Hilton, who was happy to work on a non-Western for a change) recruits an unnamed serial killer and hit-man [Antoine Saint-John, later in The Beyond (1981)] in order to kill his wife Nora [Tere Velazquez from Ratas del Asfalto (1978)]. The plan doesn’t go well though and a couple that becomes a chance con-artist duo steals the murderer’s car with the corpse secured in its trunk.


Based on the Al Mare con la Ragazza novel by Giorgio Scerbanenco, this was directed by Luigi Cozzi (who originally wanted to name the film Il Ragno) when he was referred to the production company by Dario Argento, who was unavailable. To this day, it remains Cozzi’s sole giallo effort, on strict terms, and it is impressive as well for being so original – especially for the time it was made, so early in the game – due to a variety of reasons including the known identity of the killer and several humorous touches.


Contamination (1980) poster



A ship from South America that carries coffee arrives at the New York port, but it also contains green alien eggs that upon approaching explode and the liquid they throw turns the recipient human to explode in turn. Assigned on the case by the military is Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) who with the aid of Commander Hubbard (Ian McCulloch, no introduction needed) will try to solve the mystery of the eggs’ generator, which is a one-eyed alien monster.


Following the common Italian exploitation film path of the times, writer/director Luigi Cozzi managed to get funding for this by ‘selling’ it as an Alien (1979) knockoff, and whereas the Ridley Scott picture had an alien egg on its poster, the Mediterranean filmmakers came up with several eggs for their opus. Notoriously generous on the gore department and an all-around fascinating spectacle for splatter cinema fans, this also benefits from awkward dialogues and their pulp charm. It is a pure joy to watch from start to finish, and it comes highly recommended.


Paganini Horror (1988) poster

Paganini Horror


A rock group that consists of mostly female members finds it hard to come up with its new hit when it decides to employ an unreleased sheet of music by Niccolo Paganini, but the sinister song opens the gates of hell.


Written by Luigi Cozzi (who also directed) and friend Daria Nicolodi (who also stars), this steps on the expected but not quite realized success of Klaus Kinski’s Paganini (1989), but it fails as much as its inspiration, what with the TV-style approach (Nicolodi lifted ideas from a television series she was working on) and the poor visual effects. But whereas legendary producer Fabrizio De Angeli’s poor budget reveals its sorry self very often, the practical effects are done with quite some care and are competent enough to occasionally satisfy gore-hounds. On the plus side is also a brief but professional appearance by Donald Pleasence.


Greek Shorts


Unfortunately I did not manage to see this year’s Greek short films in time for this article, but these were The Night at the Theatre and Just in Time.


International Shorts


Unfortunately I did not manage to see this year’s International short films in time for this article, but these were La Masia, Lost Connection, A.P.P., La Calima, La Nueva, Bienvenue Chez Candy, With the Lights On, The Last Day, Signal, The Painting, Your Way, My Way, La Condena, Pablo?, Paralelos, Nesun Dorma. Nobody Sleeps, Night Show, Sangre Sangrienta, Zombie Meteor, It Dawns the Longest Night, The Skin, Reunion, Not Behind You, Light, 52 Hz, Anecoica, The 6 Relics of Helena Manson, Heleno, Pisanka, and Claudia.


L-R: Mouroukis, Koliodimos, Chatzipapas 

The Awards


Best Animated Short: It Dawns the Longest Night

Best International Short: Bienvenue Chez Candy

Best Spanish Short: Anecoica

Best Greek Shorts: A Night at the Theater and Just in Time

First Look Award: Attachment

Panorama Award: Next Door

Special Mention Award: The Caregiver

Best Special Effects Award: Project Wolf Hunting

Best Cinematography Award: Francois Schmitt (Megalomaniac)

Best Screenplay Award: Vincenzo Ricchiuto and Germano Tarricone (The Goldsmith)

Best Female Lead and Best Male Lead: Stefania Casini and Giuseppe Pambieri (The Goldsmith)

Best Director Award: Dan Said (Blood Flower)

Best Feature Award: Project Wolf Hunting and Megalomaniac

Lifetime Achievement Award: Luigi Cozzi

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