Soho Horror Film Fest: PRIDE EDITION
Ellis Reed gives a roundup of his favourite films from the recent virtual festival...
The Soho Horror Film Fest is one of the newest and most ‘punk rock’ stops on the festival circuit, acting as ‘a platform for marginalised filmmakers’ and ‘a safe space for everyone’. Normally found at the Karma Sanctum Hotel, the organisers have adapted to life under lockdown, running virtual events on a pay-what-you-can basis.
The latest of these was Sohome Horror Pride, streaming from 2 to 4 July as a slightly delayed celebration of LGBTQ+ cinema. Even if you don’t belong to any of those communities, events like these are great opportunity to sample a vast smorgasbord of talent that might otherwise pass you by. We took the opportunity to watch some of the films on offer, so here’s a roundup of our favourites.
Midnight Kiss (USA, Carter Smith, 2019) is perhaps the most mainstream film on offer, coming from series 2 of the Hulu anthology Into the Dark (USA, Blumhouse Television, 2018 – present). The script was written by Erlingur Thoroddsen, who’d always wanted to write a gay slasher film and got his opportunity through the show. His story follows a group of gay men to a desert retreat, where they plan to celebrate New Year with their single female friend. Also on the cards is a sexy game where, as per tradition, they challenge each other to find a new person to kiss at midnight.
Even before they arrive, a masked party-pooper starts to kill them one by one, for reasons that only become clear in the dénouement. The killer wears a full body ‘pup play’ suit and sends texts from the victims’ phones, making it seem as if they’ve simply dropped out of the party. As a result, the dwindling group don’t even know that they’re in danger till the final act, which gives the non-horror plenty of time to breathe.
Slashers are guilty of reusing stock characters, so it’s refreshing to find a fairly high profile one that looks elsewhere for inspiration. When he first put pen to paper, Thoroddsen had spent a year and a half in Los Angeles, where he found himself fascinated by the ‘LA gay’: ‘If you spend any time in West Hollywood,’ he told iHorror, ‘you’re going to see these people at brunch on Sundays.’ Instead of the cheerleader and the jock, we get the flamboyant male model, the straight female friend, the Grindr addict, etc., etc., making for character dynamics that you rarely see in genre entertainment. Most important of these is the unfinished business between Cameron (Augustus Prew) and his controlling ex Joel (Scott Evans), but it’s definitely an ensemble piece with multiple engaging threads.
As far as horror goes, it’s far from gory – it focusses more on the rich interpersonal drama – but there’s one particular death that might have you looking twice at your next bottle of champers. All in all, a slick, solid horror film. Recommended.
Death Drop Gorgeous (USA, Michael J. Ahern – Christopher Dalpe – Brandon Perras, 2020) doesn’t have as much Hollywood polish – it was made for $20,000 – but it’s still a great horror comedy, based in and around a Providence gay bar.
Like Midnight Kiss, it’s a slasher, but the two films couldn’t be more different. Here, a mysterious killer is picking up victims on an app called Poundr, leaving the bodies round the back of a local drag bar. The film has a cast of thousands, including real drag queens, but the heart of the film is a hilarious performance by Gloria Hole (Michael McAdam). When we first meet her, she’s been shuffled to the obscurity of Tuesday night, making room for newer queens like Janet Fitness (Matthew Pidge). McAdam definitely steals the show, delivering a pitch-perfect performance with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments; Gloria’s act is based on creaky old musical numbers, and there’s a truly mortifying scene where she tries to update it, lip-syncing to a pop song with the refrain ‘Hashtag: I swallow’. In terms of cringe, it’s only outdone by one of the kills, which involves a glory hole and some horrific practical effects.
Death Drop Gorgeous is very entertaining and deserves to be a minor cult classic. The production has a couple of rough edges – according to Dalpe, ‘the most important stunt was convincing everyone we were filmmakers’ – but not where it matters, so check it out when you get chance.
Oh, and FYI: a ‘death drop’ is when a performer ‘dramatically falls backwards into a struck pose on the ground, usually to end a dance’. You can watch a drag queen doing a very good one here.
Holy Trinity (USA, Molly Hewitt, 2019) is a supernatural comedy rather than a horror, but it’s a very engaging one, with Molly Hewitt writing, directing, and starring. The cast and story draw on subcultures that get very little attention in mainstream film; Trinity (Molly Hewitt) is a likeable dominatrix, who discovers that she can speak to ghosts if she huffs the contents of a magical spray can. Unsure if this is a gift or a curse, she goes on a personal journey, seeking advice from a large cast of colourful characters, until a viral video thrusts her into the limelight.
If it sounds dark, it’s anything but. Holy Trinity is set in a breezy, reality-adjacent world that absolutely pops with colour, both in terms of the superb sets and the people who fill them. It’s a sort of ‘Bizarro World’ version of Chicago, where everyone is LGBTQ+ and the euro is the currency of choice. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between the sexual themes, including nudity, and the bright, wholesome tone of the film, which viewers are likely to find novel and bracing (and if you don’t, it certainly doesn’t overwhelm the feature).
Many of the minor characters seem to be non-actors effectively playing themselves, and it sometimes shows, but that’s a big part of the film’s charm. By the same token, some might find the pacing slightly baggy, but the film is what it is – a singular artistic vision – and it’s very hard not to love it. Overall, Holy Trinity was probably my favourite film of the ones we saw, and it’s an exciting debut that’s worth seeking out.
Our final pick is the strangely named Playdurizm (Czech Republic, Gem Deger, 2020). Demir (Gem Deger) wakes up in a flat with no memory of how he got there. Stranger still, his new housemates Andrew (Austin Chunn) and Drew (Issy Stewart) tell him that he actually lives there and is suffering from amnesia.
As with Holy Trinity, the director stars in his own film and also co-wrote it. It’s a surreal but very assured chamber piece, and probably a lot more interesting if you go into it blind, so I won’t say too much about the plot. There are ample clues that something’s ‘off’ with Demir’s new world – it’s tinged with a synthwave aesthetic, especially when Andrew and Drew go off for a drive – but what the world is, and how Demir got there, make for a very satisfying slow reveal.
And if you’re worried that you’ve wandered into a pure art film, rest assured that it’s not one of those movies where you still have questions by the time the credits roll, although you spend a lot of the runtime trying to decipher it. (Speaking personally, I was doubly confused because the film opens with a quote by the painter Francis Bacon, and I got in a bit of a muddle where I thought ‘Bacon’ was the name of the pet pig who lives in the flat!) It’s a very interesting film with a surprising finale, definitely worth ninety minutes of your time.
 https://www.sohohorrorfest.com/ retrieved 14/07/2021
 https://www.ihorror.com/bts-with-erlingur-thoroddsen-on-hulu-and-blumhouses-midnight-kiss/ retrieved 16/07/2021
 https://instinctmagazine.com/review-death-drop-gorgeous-horrors-a-drag/ retrieved 17/07/2021
 https://sohohorrorfest.com/sohome-horror-fest-pride-2021/death-drop-gorgeous retrieved 17/07/2021
More To Explore
Author Richard Daniels (‘Occultaria of Albion’) presents ‘an entertaining and occasionally terrifying journey into an alternate realm filled with strange conspiracies, ghosts, UFOs and more’ at Louth Town Hall on 23 September…
Pre-orders are now open for Death Lines: Walking London’s Horror History by Lauren Jane Barnett