Monster Fest 2017 Film Reviews: ‘Tarnation’ and ‘When You’re Strange’


As Sam Raimi showed us with his 80s, practical FX-happy horror classic, The Evil Dead, when you take a a cast and crew out to a remote cabin in the woods, you’re guaranteed to get a film made, one way or the other. The star of that film, Bruce Campbell, goes on and on in his autobiography about the real horrors of filming on a shoestring budget cut off from civilisation, but the sense of dedication and community in the film more than makes up for it.

Daniel Armstrong’s film Tarnation wears its influences on its sleeve. There’s the group of friends staying at a cabin in the woods (a ‘dirty weekend’) the tough, no-bullshit heroine Oscar (played by Daisy Masterman, sporting a convincing British accent apparently decided upon one day before shooting) and the array of absurd props, among them a John Carpenter-inspired possessed head scampering around on tentacles, a murderous black unicorn with a penetrative phallic horn and deep, bubbling baths of blood.

In the Q&A following the film, Armstrong talked about making the film during nights after work, getting friends and family involved for the prop design and, as Masterman confirmed, being a grumpy director on set. Watching the film, you get a wonderful sense of the cast and crew’s love for each other and their work, especially in a packed cinema with members of the cast unable to restrain their excitement. It brings to mind early cultish horrors like Raimi’s, as well as the kind of camp, idiosyncratic horror of an early Peter Jackson movie like Dead Alive.

There’s gore, sex, possession and even a fistfight with a boxing kangaroo. It’s loads of fun and, if nothing else, likely to inspire the phrase, ‘What in tarnation!?’

When You’re Strange (Shorts)

Call me naïve, but, I think, if cinemas regularly screened short films like they do feature films, word would get around and there’d eventually be a dedicated group of short-film viewers, beyond the wannabe filmmakers who seek them out at festivals.

At least, if the quality of the short films was as high as it was during Monster Fest’s When You’re Strange.

The session kicked off with some anxiety-making body horror in Merinda Staubli’s ‘Helminth’, a film localised entirely within a woman’s bathroom. Showering, she discovers a tear the fabric of reality—underneath her nipple.

‘Frenchies’ followed, directed by Kuan Fu Lin and was real standout. During its 13 minute runtime, Lin manages to skewer xenophobia and repressed liberal racism in cities, through the arrival of well-meaning neighbours with French bulldog heads on human bodies.

Other standouts included ‘Don’t Ever Change’, in which Don Swaynos manages to wrangle comedy out of mass murder and a particularly off-kilter scene in which an old woman bludgeons a young man to death (because he asks her to), while Eileen O’Meara’s ‘Panic Attack’ delivers the delirious experience of overthinking yourself into a panic attack via surreal animation that dissolves and morphs as the narrative plays out.

Many of these short films suggest great things from their filmmakers; they’re like concentrated shots of entertainment, each differing in flavour yet offering a similar buzz.

– Tom

Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.

Monster Fest 2017 ran from November 23 – 26. More reviews and coverage from the festival to come.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Monster Pictures.
Image Credit: Monster Fest.