Premiering at Horrorfest this week are three South African horror movies.
The one I happened to see is the Afda production Lyfstraf, a compact Afrikaans word that translates bumblingly into English as Corporal Punishment. (“Corporal punishment” conjures up some sick ritual, but “lyfstraf” sounds like the swish of a whip.)
Written and directed by Rudi Steyn, it looks bloody good for an out-of-pocket budget of about R75 000, and I mean bloody.
This is the second Afrikaans horror movie, Steyn told me modestly, but it might as well be the first. It’s surely the first teen-slasher pic in Afrikaans, or almost all in Afrikaans (the soutpiel talks English now and again), and it’s as much a masterpiece of making a lot out of slender means as were John Carpenter’s early movies.
The set-up is easily told. A shocking event haunts the matric farewell of this particular class of schoolmates, and after the dance a few friends find themselves back on the school grounds, then apparently trapped there ... and so on. The classic stereotypes are sketched in, but also given a little extra individuality: the jock, the beauty queen, the stoner and, oh, the one who looks a tad like Norman Bates.
Steyn and his collaborators put a deft new spin on what have become fairly refined horror conventions. The first source of originality is a script that is able to pack a purely dramatic punch when needed, aside from the thousand shocks a horror movie must choreograph and which Steyn et al manage with considerable skill. The second is, obviously, the white South African milieu, which has to be the ideal setting for a teen slasher — it’s like Steyn took Bagkat and eviscerated it.
If the regular roll-out of fairly trashy horror movies from abroad can turn a buck because their core audience goes to a new movie nearly every weekend, as one distributor told me, I can’t see why Lyfstraf shouldn’t be a hit.
Over at the Out in Africa gay and lesbian film fest, there’s a remarkable short movie that is also, in its way, a horror flick — Memoirs of a Killarney House Boy by Nadine Hutton, who has worked as a photographer on this paper and for others. Here she’s made a movielet on an iPhone, and it also looks bloody good.
The strangeness of the colours produced by the phone give the short an eerie, dreamlike quality from the start. They are a bit Lomo and also a bit like faded Technicolor, where the grass is turning a slightly sickly blue.
Myer Taub plays the house boy of the title, and we follow his brief trajectory through the high-rises of this Jo’burg suburb as we trace a path from absurdist melancholy to horror farce. Various other artists and artistes of Jo’burg Queer assist Hutton in registering this bleakly amusing vision (Brian Webber is Nadine Hutton), and it’s okay if you choke a little when you laugh.
Horrorfest plays at the Labia in Cape Town until November 2 and The Bioscope in Johannesburg until October 31, with the Makabra Ensemble performing their live soundtrack to the classic silent Nosferatu on Halloween at 8pm at the Labia. Go to www.horrorfest.info for more. Out in Africa is on at Nu Metro cinemas in Johannesburg and Cape Town until October 28. Go to www.oia.co.za for more.