Film Reviews

FrightFest 2023 – The Knocking / Mancunian Man

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

The Knocking

‘Eco-horror’. From the disturbingly intelligent ants of Phase IV to the mutagenic fungus of Unearth, it’s a topic that’s been tackled over multiple movies, running the gamut from animals gone wild to fungus infestations, and all manner of plagues and illnesses run rampant. The newest addition to this sub-genre is Finnish entry Koputus aka The Knocking and is the first film to be written and directed by the duo of Joonas Pajunen and Max Seeck (not to be confused with the 2021 horror Knocking, which has far fewer trees).

Presented in Finnish with English subtitles, The Knocking starts strong, with police arriving at the scene of a murder, finding a young girl trapped inside a cage. Roll credits over a series of newspaper articles looking at aspects of forestry policy and discussing what might have happened in this murder and why the girl was inside the cage. We then jump forward and find the three children now all grown up. Their missing mother having finally been declared dead following the murder of their father, they are bequeathed their childhood home and the forest attached to it.

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The three siblings Maria (Inka Kallén – The Wait, Kotikatu), Mikko (Pekka Strang – Naked Harbour, Tom of Finland) and Matilda (Saana Koivisto – Somebody Should Do Something, Now That You’re Mine) travel home to clear out the home and get it ready to sell. The relationship between these three is strained, in part because Maria and Mikko left home when Matilda was very young, and because the dialogue is just… odd. I don’t know if this is a translation issue, but sometimes the way these characters talk to each other makes it seem like they’ve only just met each other rather than having grown up together.

Wonky character dynamics and plodding pacing aside, the cinematography here is simply gorgeous. There’s a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) use of red light to denote when strange things are afoot and a character’s grasp of reality is perhaps a little shakier than they might think. The creature and gore effects are also very nicely done, save for one egregious use of that stupid jerky, frame-skipping movement that seems to be so popular in cheap, low-effort horror movies. There’s a rich lore on display here that, admittedly, takes a while to coalesce into anything meaningful.

The story plays out partly in flashback, slowly showing us the events that led to the scene that began the movie, and it’s pretty well done though sometimes the sudden shift from present to past can take you by surprise, and viewers may have a moment of temporal whiplash before they catch up with the plot again.

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The Knocking is, to put it mildly, an uneven film. The first two-thirds drag, with our characters mostly being grumpy at each other until someone confronts them about their grumpiness, whereupon they proclaim that it doesn’t matter and they’re not going to talk about it. It suffers from that trope that’s so common in horror movies where one character is injured or infected but somehow nobody else notices till it’s far too late. It also relies on people acting in ways that no actual person would act. Given what happens to one of the characters, a normal person’s reaction would likely be to show the folks around you and proclaim “I think I need to see a doctor!” instead of affecting an air of mild disinterest and hiding it.

The film is, however, absolutely redeemed by the final act. The last fifteen minutes or so, especially, are a delight to watch, tying up all the loose ends nicely and giving both a chilling conclusion to the story that will leave most viewers satisfied. Make sure you keep watching to catch the mid-credit scene that they sneak in there!

The Knocking had its UK premiere at FrightFest, and is out on digital platforms on 4th September from Blue Finch Film Releasing.

Mancunian Man

When I first saw the trailer for Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow I genuinely thought it was some kind of mockumentary. A documentary about a bodybuilding, song writing, movie-producing actor who also used to be a bouncer who wrote a book called Tuxedo Warrior and wanted to make a movie about a giant killer pike? You’re having a laugh. Right?

The documentary, directed by Jake West (Doghouse, Razor Blade Smile) chronicles Twemlow’s life, his many and varied interests, looks at the films he was involved in (most notably the ‘video nastyG.B.H.), and follows him from his modest, working class beginnings through to his untimely death by heart failure in 1993, caused by years of steroid abuse. The stage is set in the opening minutes where it’s revealed that Cliff used to lie about his age. He would add five years or so, just so he could claim that he looked good for his age!

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His road to the world of movies was far from a straight one. He worked as a cinema projectionist, a ferry operator, and even as an extra on shows like The Caesars and Coronation Street. He also wrote a massive number of jingles and background themes, many released under the name of Peter Reno, that went on to be used in movies like Romero’s seminal zombie flick Dawn of the Dead and TV shows in the UK including Crown Court.

He found success with the release of G.B.H., the story of a bouncer who is forced to fight a gangster outfit who are trying to take over all the night clubs. It’s a shame that he was never able to complete his killer fish film, The Pike, which would have featured a huge mechanical pike that, following in the footsteps of the infamous robot shark from Spielberg’s Jaws, didn’t work as soon as you put it in the water, on top of the water, or anywhere near water.

Background details, stories and anecdotes about Cliff, his life, and the making of the various films, are provided by family members including his sons, his ex-wives, actors and authors. My favourite story from the documentary is about Cliff’s legendary penny-pinching when it came to his movies, regarding his film Moonstalker aka Predator: The Quietus where he played big game hunter Daniel Kane.

Rather than driving around in the tricked out Land Rover Defender that his production manager had sorted for him, he struck a deal with a local car dealer and spent the entire film tooling around in… a Fiat Panda 4×4. With a bull bar on the front. Why? Because the car dealer said they could have it as long as they liked, as opposed to the Land Rover where there was a definite time limit on its use. In Cliff’s eyes, that made it the better deal, regardless of how ludicrous the end product was.

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Cliff Twemlow was a fascinating man, and this film shows him at his best and his worst, highlighting all the best aspects of his character and career while not shying away from the bad habits and bad decisions that ultimately led him down a dark road. Cliff absolutely deserves a place in the pantheon of low-budget, guerrilla-style filmmakers and hopefully this documentary will introduce him to an entirely new audience, as it introduced him to me.

That said, I’m still not entirely convinced that this isn’t all some sort of elaborate hoax. I’m on to you, Jake West!

Mancunian Man from Severin Films screened at FrightFest 2023.

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