Film Reviews

FrightFest 2023 – Herd / To Fire You Come At Last / Enter The Clones of Bruce

Join us as we take a look at some of the delights available at this year’s FrightFest!


The best zombie movies, the ones that stick around and are remembered, are about more than fighting hordes of shuffling zombies; they’re a commentary on humanity. You need look no further than the works of George A. Romero to see that, as his early zombie movies dealt with issues such as race and consumerism, and those films are often held up as the pinnacle of the genre, yet his later movies are often forgotten as they don’t really try to say much. Herd is much like the early Romero work, as it’s actually trying to bring something new to the table as it dives into trauma and homophobia.

After a brief opening scene that sets up the dangerous infection narrative, we meet the films two principal leads, Jamie (Ellen Adair) and her fiance Alex (Mitzi Akaha). The two of them have recently suffered the loss of their daughter, and their relationship is suffering as neither is able to communicate with each other properly and deal with their grief. In order to try to fix things they leave the big city behind to take a camping trip, canoeing down the river. When the tension between them comes to a head they have an accident on the boat, and both fall over the edge, with Alex’s foot getting stuck under a sunken log and snapping. Jamie pulls her out of the water, and tries to get her to safety.

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As they try to find help they come across a group of men out on the road, one of whom at first mistakes them for ‘heps’ and tries to shoot them. It’s then that the women learn that the infection they’d heard rumours about on the news has turned into a full blown outbreak, and that their lives are very much in danger. Whilst Alex is eager to trust the men, who offer to fix her leg and take them to a secure compound, Jamie is less eager to, realising that their trip has brought them to her old hometown, where her abusive father ran her out after finding out that she’s gay. Now the women have to contend not only with the dangers of the infection, but also the prejudices of a small town.

For those that fall into what could be considered the ‘standard’ and most common groups in our society – cisgender, heterosexual, white, able-bodied people – there’s often very little thought that goes into the safety of those who fall outside of that standard. They often don’t have to think about whether or not they’d be safe in certain situations, so often don’t consider that it might be an issue for others. I’ve seen family come to a shocking realisation when my sister mentions she has to rule out certain holiday destinations with her girlfriend, and the look on people’s faces when they recommend me places to go which I have to inform them would see me killed is quite unique. Herd seems to be wanting to do this with the zombie genre, trying to show audiences that the expected human drama isn’t the only thing that you’d have to worry about, but that old bigotries would continue on even at the end of the world.

Herd handles this surprisingly well, and the way that Ellen Adair plays a woman haunted by the abuse from her father is wonderfully done in places. The compound that the group takes the two women to is her father’s mechanic shop, and as such she’s forced into the environment of her abuse, with the memories coming up to the surface unbidden. For anyone who’s suffered trauma, who’s had the experience of that trauma coming crashing back, these scenes will feel very familiar. The film manages to not focus solely on this, however, and there’s enough drama with the infected, with warring survivor groups, and the troubled relationship between the leads to keep the contents of the film varied and interesting.

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The film also plays around with the zombie genre in a decent way when it comes to the infected, and as it progresses and we learn more about the infected, it becomes clear that this isn’t the dead walking, but people suffering with a disease, and as such the film gives them some interesting rules. The creative team manages to subvert a lot of the zombie conventions, particularly towards the end, and I think that fans of the genre will be pleasantly surprised.

A very well made and decently performed movie from a first time feature film director. Steven Pierce has previously worked on a number of short films, but Herd shows that he’s more than capable of moving up to feature films with great skill.

Herd screened at FrightFest 2023 and will have its UK Home Entertainment release on 23rd October.

To Fire You Come At Last

To Fire You Come At Last is one of the shorter films on offer at this year’s FrightFest, running at around 45 minutes in length. The shortness of the film works well for this historical folk horror, as it keeps things moving at a decent pace as the simple premise tries to get under your skin.

Set in 17th century England, the film centres on four men who have to transport a coffin along a long, remote walk in order to reach the churchyard. Local superstition surrounds the ritual, with stories about the devil and his minions haunting the walkway at night, and how those that transport the dead will be assaulted by various horrors.

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As such, the men in the village refuse to help out at such a late hour, knowing that they’ll be out after dark, no matter how much money grieving father Squire Marlow (Mark Carlisle) offers to pay them. With only three men willing to help, Marlow’s underling Pike (Richard Rowden), his deceased son’s friend Holt (Harry Roebuck), and local drunk Ransley (James Swanton), Squire Marlow has to take up one corner of the coffin, and the four men set out onto the moor as the sun begins to set.

What follows is a series of conversations about the recently lost man, and how the four men transporting the body related to his life and passing in some way. The revelations here build up a picture of a tragic life; one where it seems like each of the men played a part in not only making it worse for him, but in his sudden and untimely death. The main issue with this is that these moments enter high drama, only to fizzle away to nothing. For example, Squire Marlow learns that Ransley used to expose himself to his son when he was a child, and as you can imagine this leads to a violent confrontation. But needing to finish moving the body the group then goes back to their task, with Marlow and Ransley chatting away as normal. It undermines the drama of the scene before, and makes the characters feel like they’re reacting in the moment and don’t really have much depth to them. The fact that this happens more than once adds to the tonal whiplash of these moments.

There are some moments of horror here too, however, and as the film goes on things get more bizarre and more horrific, with some creepy scares cropping up from time to time, though with them mostly being towards the very end of the film it’s possible to forget that you’re not just watching a period drama, but a horror film. By the time things do start to happen it almost comes as something of a relief as it means the film has finally gotten interesting.

Shot in black and white, the film at least looks decent. The lack of colour and the characters standing out as bright shades of white and grey in an oppressive sea of blackness helps with atmosphere, and in keeping the film looking interesting. The lack of colour is also used to decent effect when the horror is on screen too, with white spectral figures in the darkness working well.

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To Fire You Come At Last isn’t a bad film, but it never feels like a great film either. The script has some faults in places, especially in the managing of character drama and balance of horror elements, and there are times when it leaves you waiting for something to happen. It also feels a bit mean-spirited at times too, relying on the cruelty of sexual assault more than once, and deeming one man deserving of death for falling in love with someone’s ex. Despite these issues, there’s a decent enough film here to keep you entertained for a short while, and the 45 minute length helps it to feel shorter.

To Fire You Come At Last premiered at FrightFest 2023.

Enter The Clones of Bruce

There are a few men that you can point to and say that they made an entire genre of cinema popular, but Bruce Lee is one of these. Thanks to his work, martial arts films became hugely popular in the US and Europe, and his untimely death only helped to make him even more popular, as fans and the general public were caught up in both the drama of his death and thoughts about what could have been if he’d have lived. With a huge demand for more martial arts movies, and for more Bruce, filmmakers in Hong Kong made a bold decision: to bring Bruce Lee back to life. Thus began an era of Bruceploitation, where multiple men stepped up to bring the star back to screens.

Enter The Clones of Bruce is a new documentary feature that takes a look at this era in Hong Kong cinema, which resulted in bootleg sequels, fake biopics, and claims of long lost movies from Bruce Lee, most of which introduced a new pretender to the throne. The film focuses on the years immediately following the death of Lee, and charts the ever growing rosters of imitators and the movies they made. And the film does a decent job at tracking down a large number of these replacement Bruce’s, and bringing them onto camera to talk about the wild days of Hong Kong film making where it seemed anything goes was the rule.

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It’s interesting to see the progressive wackiness of events, of a style of film making so bizarre that it simply couldn’t happen today thanks to tighter copyright laws, as well as people being less willing to milk the dead in the same way. It seems that as soon as one replacement Bruce made his way onto screens other production companies were doing the same, with anyone even remotely resembling the man being put in a Bruce Lee haircut and large sunglasses. And some are so vividly different that it’s ridiculous it was even tried (Hong Kong film makers banking on white audiences not being too good at telling Asian people apart, it seems).

Because of how surreal the entire thing was, and how ridiculous the movies they made were, Enter The Clones of Bruce seems to walk this fine line between documentary and comedy, though not by choice. You can’t dive into this subject and not have the end result feel a bit silly, because the events were. Especially when multiple Bruce Lee replacements get brought together in one movie to play his clones, or when a movie had Bruce Lee going to the afterlife to fight people like Abraham Lincoln, James Bond, Clint Eastwood, and Dracula.

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The film also shows us the global impact of Bruce Lee’s passing, and how there were huge demands for more movies, not just in the US but France and Germany too. The film makers speak to several experts on the subject, including people who were involved in the marketing of these movies in Europe. One of the more interesting and eye opening parts of the film shows us how these films were originally marketed, with images of Bruce Lee fighting on the posters, claims that he’d directed them, and even photographs of him in his coffin appearing before legal action resulted in them replacing his images with the real actors, and removing false claims of his involvement.

For those who like the ridiculous, who enjoy finding weird and wonderful pieces of history, and those who have an interest in quite cheesy Hong Kong cinema, Enter The Clones of Bruce is a delightful examination of a unique and unrepeatable moment of film history. It may even add a whole lot of new films in your to-be-watched pile.

Enter The Clones of Bruce screened at FrightFest 2023.

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