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Dispatches from Forbidden Worlds: Day 3

Forbidden Worlds Film Festival goes out with a bang! Here’s our roundup.

After two wonderful days of fantastic film, it was time for the closing day of what has been a brilliant inaugural festival for the wonderful folks behind Forbidden Worlds. And with five stellar films on the docket, including a couple exclusives, it was a hell of a way to close it off.

The Dark Crystal

A screenshot of The Dark Crystal shows Jen, a humanoid puppet, looking out over a hill’s ridge, into the vast and undulating green hills below

Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s magnum opus is another one of those films you wish you could just live in. I envy the lucky kids who got to see this in theatres back in 1982, but seeing it in IMAX more than makes up for that.

The Dark Crystal is so wonderfully alien and gorgeous, a creative explosion that’s impossible not to just stare in awe at. The seamless integration of puppetry and set, and stellar voicework which has barely aged a day, which only gains from the grandness of IMAX and the minutiae it affords. A film full of silly little guys that are just remarkable to stare at, jokes which still land, and a truly unforgettable world. The sound design is magnificent, with the dire rumbles of the Mystics’ chants feeling totally encapsulating, bodily resonant in the bassy surround sound of the theatre. I want to dive into it, I want to meander in its forests and mingle with the Skeksis and the Podlings and all the lively creatures of this strange land. If other fantasy is fairytale, then The Dark Crystal is myth, a world beyond where all you can do is ogle, which in IMAX feels animated- full of life, alive.

Thrilling Bloody Sword

A screenshot of Thrilling Bloody Sword shows The Prince riding on the back of one of a hydra’s necks. It is very obviously a cheap puppet, and is throwing fire from its mouth

From the beautifully strange to the just plain bonkers. Thrilling Bloody Sword is a film that is eminently surreal, and despite a straightforwardly linear plot, borderline incomprehensible. And it’s so fun because of all that, in the way that the best bad film is. Plenty of thrills, lots of swords, barely any blood. Come for the ridiculous fight scenes and naff SFX, stay for the poorly translated and misspelled subtitles, niche cultural references and delightfully twee (intentional) comedy. One of those films we could just talk and talk through, as everybody was, guffawing at all the nonsense and chowing on popcorn.

Blade Runner (Final Cut)

A screenshot from Blade Runner shows Pris (Daryl Hannah) made up in white face paint with a black bar of paint across her eyes, looking numbly beyond the camera

I’ll admit that I had only seen the Director’s Cut of Blade Runner before the festival, but wow can I see why people so adore this film in its final form. An introduction by Film Noir UK and composer Daniel Pemberton (Ocean’s 8, Into the Spiderverse) set the scene for the quietest, most eloquently crafted version of Scott’s tale. Rich and sophisticated in a way that is admirable but sometimes at odds with my tastes, Blade Runner is nonetheless a spectacularly pretty and thematically dense piece of filmmaking that it was a genuine honour to see on the big screen.

The visuals and music are impossible to overstate, and in the theatre they demand themselves to the viewer in all their bright and frightening visages. But they account only for half of my experience.

Many of my feelings here are intrinsically linked to my experience of identity and gender, force and conformity, and so I have a kind of kinship (and, let’s face it, gender-envy) with Pris, a fading stray cat of a replicant, and a shared shaking anger of Roy Batty. I remember feeling, in those scenes where Pris dresses herself as a toy – white powdered face, black beam of eye makeup and clothes lacey, strong but delicate, – that had I seen this film earlier in my life I would have transitioned sooner, faster.

And so it means a lot to me, in those short moments of intimacy, even in a crowded room, especially in a crowded room. It was a tender, fragile experience, the last 45 minutes near perfect, near silent despite the full theatre. Tears in rain still hits like a truck.

Tenebrae

As another of Day 3’s big surprises, we were lucky enough to be the first audience for Arrow Films’ new 4K edition of Dario Argento’s classic giallo Tenebrae. And what a restoration it is! Colours pop and details catch the eye beautifully, crisp and bright and no less stylised for the increased detailing.
Every moment in this patently pulpy film feels self-effacingly sophisticated, much like Neal’s fictional novel, coalescing in the places where the suave black glove is a veneer for the blood trailing down its knuckles, blood which seeps in gorgeously bright rivulets to the spectacular grooves of the film’s immaculate score. And what a score, blasting from the speakers, shifting in instrumentation, changing into different masks like a killer in disguise.

Tenebrae is truly a masterclass in giallo (or anti-giallo) storytelling, and this new remaster is absolutely worth your while when it goes on sale this July- a moody, thrilling treat for the eyes and ears, full of the gasps and edge-of-your-seat tension for which Argento is rightfully renowned. You can pre-order the remaster here.

Forbidden World

A screenshot from Forbidden World shows a man in a white desert costume complete with eye goggles, facemask and ray gun standing before a gigantic, many limbed and toothy black monster

And finally, the film for which the festival was named. It could only end this way. It opened wonderfully: with a talk by director Allan Holzman and his wife Susan Justin who provided the film’s original score, detailing Holzman’s rise to the directing role, Justin’s musical process, and their various run-ins with producer and B-Movie legend Roger Corman. This provided some real insight into what it took to make a B-Movie in the 1980s, and the genuine effort put into something that is fundamentally an Alien rip-off: one that, I might add, succeeds on all levels of ridiculous camp.

Why Forbidden World hasn’t been used as a festival closer before FWFF is beyond me, since it makes an excellent and apt punchline to the whole ridiculous ordeal: brilliantly funny, expertly crap, containing some truly skilful work and sincere attempts at great filmmaking, coupled with a genuinely excellent soundtrack.

Forbidden World is the epitome of cheesy sci-fi, firing on all cylinders- from the gooey and nasty, to the gleefully silly; from self-aware to soft-core. It adds up to an intoxicatingly charming film, popcorn cinema that reminds us how good “bad” films can be, that we can enjoy them for their absolute sincerity, and absurd exaggeration. It’s not really “bad” at all, it’s doing exactly what it intended- giving people a hell of a good time, bringing them together.

Post-Festival Roundup

And that about does it for Forbidden Worlds! It’s been a great time hanging out and watching brilliant and strange cinema with some equally wonderful people. But I should talk about something before I conclude this with the obvious adulation.

A Brief Aside on Accessibility

I’d I have any criticisms of the event it is the lack of accessibility options. Disabled person that I am, I would have liked to have been informed of the accessibility requirements of events (i.e. A History of 3-D Cinema on day 2, the prevalence of stairs in the venue) beforehand, rather than having to intuit. Content warnings would also have been appreciated before some of the more intense films. This is a first festival, and I expect it will be a learning experience from here on, but it is concerning, and does exclude some moviegoers so I couldn’t leave this without at least discussing it.

Conclusion

Despite my criticisms, it’s been a fantastic week and brilliant final day. Thank you to the organisers, with special shout-outs to the staff of 20th Century Flicks and Timon Singh of Bristol Bad Film Club. You’ve all been absolutely lovely and given film nerds like myself a cozy and inclusive little place to belong for just a few days.

With any luck, Forbidden Worlds is a festival that’ll be able to continue far into the future. I’ll certainly be looking out for it.

But until then, watch this space for more news, reviews, and festival content!

Written by Riley Wade

Riley is an academic and writer based out of the East of England. They spend their time writing about queer bodies, filthy horror films, and monstrous gender. You can find most of their work on HorrorObsessive.com

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