FrightFest Glasgow returned to the Glasgow Film Theatre on March 2 and 3, 2018, for the festival’s annual weekend of fright fare screenings there. Among the many fine slices of cinema on display there were the long-in-limbo homage to the heyday of B-movie science fiction Attack of the Bat Monsters, the creepy occult chiller Pyewacket, and the startling creature feature Primal Rage.
Attack of the Bat Monsters is a 1999 American indie film that FrightFest Glasgow featured as an undiscovered gem, and it is just that. Writer/director Kelly Greene has crafted a loving, low-budget homage to low-budget science fiction B-movies of the 1950s, with thinly veiled references to Roger Corman, Lon Chaney Jr., Bert I. Gordon, and other personalities from both sides of the camera during the era that it evokes.
Self-important producer/director Francis Gordon (Fred Ballard) wraps his Monster from the Mineshaft project three days early, and decides to begin and finish a second film within that short time frame, using the same cast and crew. Unfortunately for him, some of those people walk out on the project. Luckily for him, his long-suffering, hard-working assistant Chuck (Michael Dalmon) is there to make things happen, which includes hiring beatnik writer Barry Barnstone (Rob Bassetti) to pull some all-nighters and deliver a screenplay, coaxing faded alcoholic has-been actor Larry “Cat Creature” Meeker Jr. (Douglas Taylor) to star, and begging monster maker Paul Birch (David Jones) to work with Gordon — who he hates — once again.
Attack of the Bat Monsters has fun at the expense of its targets, but in a rather sweet, high-status manner. The humor runs from the occasional broad gags, such as female dancing extras accidentally using super strong tape on certain tender parts of their anatomies, to clever takes on what occurs behind the scenes during filmmaking. One particularly funny scene involves wise-cracking, chain-smoking starlet Beverly (Casie Waller) giving acting advice to one of the dancers, such as how many steps to take before falling and demonstrating lobby card poses.
Though it took quite a while for Attack of the Bat Monsters to find its widest release ever, it is a charmer that deserves to find a wide audience. The performances range from very good indeed to a bit over-enthusiastic, but that adds to the nostalgic feel of the proceedings. Kelly Greene and his cast and crew deliver a feel-good winner.
Canadian offering Pyewacket is a terrific occult chiller about the strained relationship between a teenage daughter whose father has passed away, and her widowed mother. Leah Reyes (Nicole Munoz) has turned to the dark arts during her grieving period, much to the displeasure of her mother (Laurie Holden), who moves the two out to the countryside. A seething Leah performs a ritual in the forest, summoning the titular demon to dispose of her mother. As horror film fans know, this almost never works out for protagonists, and that is certainly the case here.
Writer/director Adam MacDonald also wrote and helmed the terrific survival thriller Backcountry (2014), and this follow-up is an effective scarefest that treats its characters as real people, not stereotypes. Munoz and Holden are wonderful in their lead roles, and the supporting cast acquits itself well, too. Though viewers are treated to scenes with Pyewacket, a gripping segment involving one of Leah’s friends during a sleepover shows that suggesting without fully showing something can still work as well as ever in cinema. MacDonald is fantastic at building tension and creating characters that viewers can truly become invested in, and Pyewacket and Backcountry show him to be one of the best horror filmmakers going today.
For all those fans of mythical hairy forest creatures who have bemoaned not seeing enough of the monsters in some recent films, along comes Primal Rage, which puts its beasties front and center, and presents them as both very violent and highly intelligent. I’ll stop here to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that this Native American forest spirit known as Oh-ma should be considered armed and extremely dangerous. The Native folklore doesn’t end there, as viewers are also treated to the Whispering Woman, who may remind some folks of a certain EC comic book witch.
Directed and co-written by Patrick Magee — cinematographer/editor Jay Lee is the other co-writer — Primal Rage is filled with maiming, mutilation, and all other sorts of gory mutilation, with plenty of gruesome practical effects on display. The Oh-ma design is particularly nifty, as well. High praise goes to everyone who worked in those departments.
The story and main characters carry more weight than the average creature feature, and the two leads are convincing as a married couple having problems. Ashley Carr (Casey Gagliardi) picks up her husband Max (Andrew Joseph Montgomery) after he serves a year-long stretch in prison for a crime involving drinking and driving. The two try awkwardly to relate to one another through both verbal and intimate means of communication, but it isn’t long after Max cracks open a beer while Ashley is driving that they come across a man in the road who looks to be in horrible shape. They are then pursued by something mysterious and after taking a long fall into a river, they run across a band of redneck hunters who seem to have evil on their minds. Oh-ma now has many decisions to make regarding who to dispatch of, and how. The local sheriff (Eloy Casados) reluctantly lets down his skepticism toward the Navajo tales he grew up with to get to the bottom of things.
Magee, a renowned special effects and makeup artist, makes an impressive directorial debut with Primal Rage. If you like your monster movies with stunning practical effects and grisly dispatchments, put this film high on your must-see list.