Thursday, 30 August 2012

Frightfest The 13th: The Whole Bloody Affair


From humble beginnings at the Prince Charles cinema in 2000, Frightfest has established itself as the UK's premier horror and genre film festival.  Since my first casual visit in 2008, it has also established itself as an annual event I look forward to with unapologetic excitement.

Despite its later relocation to the grand surroundings of the Empire cinema in Leicester Square, apparently the largest screen in Europe, this celebration of the wild, the deviant and, occasionally, the frankly insane still manages to feel like an illicit and subversive treat.

Even if I can only attend for a day or two, it’s always a pleasure to soak up the atmosphere as I try to catch that one big festival hit that heralds the arrival of a wild new talent, be there for the surprise appearance of a genre legend or share in the rare moviegoing experience that blindsides an audience into stunned silence or laughter.  An incidental word of advice to those trying to do the same: take a look at the list of films I plan to see and select the exact opposite.  At film festivals, much like the rest of my real life, I seem forever predestined to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Back when I was at college, almost every gig-going road trip I chose to decline for some spurious reason ensured that the exciting new band I willfully missed would be just about to make the big time.  I hope that one day Radiohead recognise my no-show at the Leeds Town and Country in 1995 as a key element in their stratospheric success.  I think I saw Porcupine Tree instead and look what happened to them. Sorry guys. 

Anyway, for Frightfest 2012 I decided to challenge my pop-culture King-Midas-in-reverse curse and booked three and a half days straight.  With my long suffering and artfully misanthropic friend Kenton as festival co-pilot and unofficial Mat wrangler, we braved sleep deprivation, alcohol induced catastrophe, cosplay, thunder, lightning and the grueling horror of the night bus to tear off the biggest and messiest chunk of horror cinema we could manage.

Grabbers 
I was only able to make it in time for the last of the trio of festival openers on Thursday: the Irish monster movie Grabbers.  A friend was involved in the production and so I joined him beforehand with some of the assembled crew at The Harp – possibly my favourite central London alehouse.  This ensured I was able to ease myself into the appropriately booze softened mindset for the tale of a small Irish island community coming together to tackle a monstrous threat in the form of an invading giant space squid.  When it’s discovered that a high-blood alcohol level will kill the aliens, the drunken fight back begins with an all-night lock in.


Tremors is the obvious influence but there’s more than a measure of Gremlins too, the latter being delightfully homaged during a (literal) pub crawl by a batch of the newborn nasties.  Also in common with its inspirations, it’s a whole slimy bunch of fun, is very well paced, has some believable chemistry between the leads (Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley) and features a wonderful supporting cast of eccentric alcoholics. 

Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut 
Friday morning delivered shameless fan service with a screening of the reassembled Cabal cut of Nightbreed followed by an interview with giallo legend Dario Argento.

Since its original release in 1990, Clive Barker’s Nightbreed has always had a reputation as a compromised beast.  Suffering from last minute reshoots and losing over an hour of footage, most commentators assumed the original cut to be lost forever.  However, following the recent discovery of two complete workprints on videotape, Mark Miller and Russell Cherrington worked tirelessly from Barker’s script to reintegrate this footage into the theatrical version and create this 153 minute ‘Cabal Cut’.


The core story of a man who believes he is a serial killer searching for the mythical city of Midian – a place where monsters can be accepted – is largely unchanged but characters are expanded, more time is taken getting to know the protagonists and further exploration of the mythology of the Nightbreed menagerie themselves lends the film a quite different, epic fairy tale atmosphere.  The Cabal Cut presents a much richer and more satisfying narrative, with Anne Bobby’s character in particular given a stronger and more central role.

The Cabal Cut was surprisingly enjoyable as a cohesive movie experience, despite at least half of the feature degrading to grainy VHS with a distinctly grimy “porn movie” quality.  I hadn’t revisited the movie in perhaps a decade but as the change in filmstock telegraphed excisions it was fascinating to reflect on the brutally awkward edits originally forced on the feature.

The Q&A featured the restoration directors along with a handful of the amiable cast.  They notably included Hugh Ross, who played Narcisse, an eminently quotable fan favourite.  His anecdotes strayed into Hellraiser territory with a touching reflection on how a small emotional breakdown whilst in the makeup chair was “a waste of sufferings”.  This is possibly a cautionary tale for all those actors who find themselves tangled up in Clive Barker’s phantasmagorical nightmare visions.

This Cut is very much a work in progress.  I spoke to some festivalgoers who had never seen the original version of Nightbreed and subsequently found the Cabal Cut a challenging experience to sit through.  This is a shame, but highlights the amount of restoration work still needed if this is to be anything but a curiosity.  If you want to know more, you can visit the Occupy Midian website to lend your support to the completion a proper release.

Total Film Icon: Dario Argento
If Dario Argento needs an introduction then you probably wouldn’t have stayed in the audience for this extended interview and I doubt you’d be reading this review in the first place. Argento is an Italian film director, producer and screenwriter. He is best known for his work in the horror film genre, particularly in the giallo subgenre and for his influence on modern horror movies.  He is not often known for his relaxed and revealing interviews.  Nevertheless, Total Film scribe Jamie Graham successfully steered his sometimes challenging interviewee towards some entertaining anecdotes and navigated carefully through the minefield of the last couple of underwhelming decades to focus on the Argento’s classic period.


There was some brief perfunctory talk concerning his most recent outing, Dracula 3D.  The most entertaining and potentially libelous anecdote involved Rutger Hauer, a young Russian girl and a bush.  As I don’t have the legal safety net of mistranslation, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.  He did also make an interesting case for the potential of 3D, citing how impressed he was by a rare 3D screening of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.  He spoke about his influences and the selection of his top 100 horror films for Italian television – six of which were his own.  When asked whether David Gordon Green could top the original Suspiria with his upcoming remake, Argento responded with a genuinely bemused “Go ahead and try.”  He also joined the audience in resounding laughter when Graham quoted Green as saying he wanted his remake of the famously psychedelic movie to be “more psychedelic”.

Predictably, the audience questions descended into a kind of love-in for the Maestro.  Whilst it was nice to see him appreciated, I felt some more actual questions might have been preferable – although Ken pointed out that I was watching with rapt bambi-eyes myself.  Regardless of whether this was the case, Argento’s appearance added a sense of gravity to the proceedings, much the same as Ali’s cameo during the Olympics but with a more hopeful glimmer that maybe – just maybe – Argento could yet make that elusive glorious comeback.

V/H/S
We skipped Hidden in the Woods and - following the rather negative reports of those that attended - demonstrated uncharacteristically good judgement in doing so.  I’d like to say this was a carefully calculated move but it was more a result of an increasingly desperate need for food, drink and at least a glimpse of daylight.  Following a giallo inspired pizza and wine break we returned for the most hipster screening of the weekend: the mumblecore found-footage anthology V/H/S.


The anthology framing device here is that a clutch of boorish low-rent criminal types are hired to break into a house to steal a specific videotape.  Inconveniently, they discover a dead body, sitting in front of a bank of television screens, alongside a vast stack of VHS cassettes.  As they search for their prize they watch some of the mysterious tapes and discover they contain five short found-footage films from five different up-and-coming directors.

Whilst not the worst movie we saw, the hype surrounding V/H/S meant it felt like the most disappointing.  It was overlong and much of the exposition was spent in the intolerable onscreen company of obnoxious frat boy shenanigans.  The hit-and-miss nature of the episodes soon gets tiresome, although there are inventive stylistic touches and Ti West’s Second Honeymoon at least allows us some character insight and a reasonable punchline.  For the most part, however, the stories don’t seem to go anywhere or have any particular point other than as a shaky-cam stylistic exercise.  Perhaps the worst culprit is the wrap-around tale itself, which – like its own (not quite) deceased antagonist - simply gives up and goes home before the final story.

Anthology segments need to be extremely tightly written to succeed but the majority didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense except to be unsettling and weird.  Unsettling and weird can be fine for its own sake, if you have the time to build atmosphere or indulge in experiential filmmaking, but in short vignettes you really need to get to the point quickly with a neat payoff or a shock twist.   

The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young, the Joe Swanberg directed segment that plays out solely through the medium of Skype, is the strongest inclusion by far.  This is an engaging two-hander with a charismatic lead, a sense of mystery and some genuine scares.  It uses the stylistic touches of the found-footage medium to excellent and inventive effect, delivers a satisfying twist yet still keeps a little mystery for itself.  The problem here was that it came toward the end of the two-hour feature, too late to instil any enthusiasm for the two remaining tales and instead serving to highlight everything that didn’t quite work in the rest of the movie.  To conclude on positive note: the AV-mash up montage over the end credits was pretty cool but on the whole I think I preferred the awesome poster to the movie itself.

[REC]3: Génesis
The closer for Friday was Paco Plaza’s [REC]3, the next installment in the effective and inventive Spanish zombie series.  The first two [REC] movies were bloody and bleak with an interesting spin on zombie tropes, primarily concerning the inclusion of religious elements that present the zombie plague as a kind of viral demonic possession. [REC] and [REC]2 were also presented as found-footage and I naturally expected much the same from the three-quel. However, if V/H/S felt like a dour funeral for the found-footage format then [REC]3 is its riotous wake.


This episode is intended to occur at roughly the same time of the first two movies.  Here, Clara and Koldo are a young couple of newlyweds celebrating at a grand Barcelona mansion.  Via a neat but unfortunate twist for the wedding party, the zombie plague soon invades the reception.  Separated in the chaos, Clara and Koldo (Leticia Dolera and Diego Martín) fight alongside a plucky band of survivors in a desperate battle to reunite against the odds.  All manner of madness ensues, with standout scenes involving a chainsaw, a food blender, a hearing aid mishap and a delightfully odd nod to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Unexpectedly funny and romantic in spirit, it has both splatter and genuine heart in generous measures.  Clara emerges as the most kick-ass vengeful bride since Kill Bill and the story wittily eviscerates the conventions and tone of the series while staying true to the mythology.  The opening scenes are delivered in the found footage style of a wedding video before that format is suddenly ditched in favour of a more conventional cinematic approach in a deft transition undertaken via a neat, somewhat meta scene involving the wedding cameraman.

While some of the audience seemed unhappy with the new direction of the franchise, it should be pointed out that what the made the [REC] series so refreshing was the irreverence with which it approached some of the conventional zombie horror tropes, so it shouldn’t really be a shock that Plaza has applied that same irreverence to the series itself.  I’m now very much looking forward to co-creator Jaume Balaguero’s [REC]4 .

Eurocrime! 
On Saturday morning, like the loose-cannon renegade I am, I was up early to catch to catch this documentary on 70’s Italian crime cinema…because that’s how I roll.


During the 1970s, the Italian Film Industry released hundreds of poliziotteschi movies.  These began as quick, cheap and grimy knock offs of popular American cop and crime thrillers, such as Dirty Harry and The French Connection, but their popularity would result in a trend to rival that of the preceding Spaghetti Westerns and Gialli.

Eurocrime tells the story of the poliziotteschi through anecdotes from genre luminaries including Franco Nero, Enzo Castellari, Henry Silva, Richard Harrison and John Saxon, all of whom speak openly and with tangible affection for the genre.  It is funny, fascinating and - in the case of the anarchic approach to stunts and guerrilla location work - genuinely thrilling as you realise just how many of the punches, car crashes and even bullets fired in these scenes were real.

Regardless of any initial interest in the genre, the gradual entanglement of politics and real life organised crime in these productions provides a fascinating parallel social history.  Tellingly, Ken had no experience of the poliziotteschi genre yet still enjoyed the documentary on the strength of the story it had to tell.  With some slight trimming and a little polish of the graphics, Eurocrime has the potential to be a breakout documentary hit with a wider audience.

Outpost: Black Sun 
Next up was Outpost: Black Sun – a zombie Nazi action movie.  Ken was responsible for wanting to see this one as it seemed to push all his military action, apocalyptic and…er…zombie Nazi buttons.  I’d made him sit through Argento so it was the least I could do and, besides, how could a zombie Nazi action movie not be fun?

Sadly, Outpost: Black Sun is exactly how.

It’s well shot with two strong leading performances (including Grabbers’ Richard Coyle) and makes great use of its limited budget, until you realise every scene seems to take place in the same little patch of forest, repeated over and over with different lighting effects.  Admittedly, once at the eponymous Outpost, we are momentarily excited by the appearance of some corridors, until we realise that we will now be running around these identical corridors for the remainder of the movie.   


During a later session of recriminations and apologies, Ken pointed out that this was a clear case of ‘Doctor Who from the Seventies syndrome’ – when the show became a tour of all the quarries in the UK.  It’s all taken very seriously too, with little fun, outrageousness or excitement to compensate.  In parts, it almost seems to think it’s Munich, but it’s not Munich because – ultimately - it’s about zombie Nazis trying to take over the world.  A movie about zombie Nazis could be many things but really it shouldn’t be this boring.

Next up was a break with Jim from the Midnight Video podcast for an impromptu listener meet up at The Chandos in Leicester Square.  Midnight Video is always an entertaining listen and co-presenters Jim and Phil have an easygoing chemistry and infectious enthusiasm that seems to generate unsolicited excitement for even the most terrible relics from the movie graveyard.  They also make some great discoveries too.  The Chandos is one of a handful of Sam Smiths’ pubs in the centre of London, a brewery chain that eschews advertising, gimmicks and flashy promotions to concentrate on serving a fine selection of their own beers and spirits at an affordable price.

With that Eurocrime inspired product placement section of my review safely over, we headed back for the evening screenings, beginning with Under The Bed. 

Under The Bed 
Neal Hausman (Jonny Weston) has returned home to reconnect with his estranged father, stepmother and brother, Paulie.  The reunion soon turns sour, however, when it seems that the mysterious monster under the bed that had tormented him years before – and may have been responsible for the death of his mother in a housefire - has turned its attention to his younger sibling.

Under The Bed seemed to divide people, but I enjoyed this slice of good old fashioned Spielbergian family drama.  The first two thirds of broken family tensions and fraternal bonding are effective and rather touching before the final reel spins off into more brutal and hysterical fantasy horror territory.  Some people felt a little alienated by the sudden change in tone but I found the conclusion was all the more effective for coming from the distant leftfield.  It also ensured that by the time the characters were established as actually being in mortal and decapitative danger, you really did care about them. It also helped that the young brothers at the heart of the story are convincing and sympathetic in a way that child actors often seem to find so hard to achieve.

Some of the characters are underused and there is a problem with languid pacing in the middle of the movie, but it’s quite atmospheric and, in the uncertainty over which direction you feel the story is going to take, channels the odd mood of its closest cinematic antecedent – Poltergeist – rather well.

At this point, Ken was evidently missing his fix of apocalyptic misery so he went to see Remnants at the second screen.  Apparently it was very good – in a depressing yet moving kind of way - which made him happy.  I stayed in the main screen to watch Tulpa.

Tulpa 
Alongside the glamorous cast and crew, Alan Jones announced the screening of Tulpa with a cry of “giallo is back!” There was much anticipation that Federico Zampaglione’s movie would be a contemporary rebirth or revival of a much-maligned genre that had long descended into parody.


The murder mystery plot will seem familiar to those with even a loose working knowledge of the giallo and its conventions.  A beautiful successful businesswoman, whose nocturnal thrills take her to the mysterious underground sex club Tulpa, finds both her bedroom and boardroom colleagues being elaborately murdered in a series of stylish set pieces.  With few suspects left standing, she begins to wonder if she herself is unwittingly responsible for the crimes or whether there may even be some supernatural force involved.

Tulpa lovingly repackages and amplifies the tropes of the giallo, turning the violence and eroticism up to undici. The sexual content in particular is given more attention than in the classic era of the giallo.  Unfortunately, some of the more frustrating aspects of the genre have also been inherited, most notably in the terrible English language dubbing and the baffling translation of a script I would suspect was already leaning toward the wacky.

At first, this seems entirely self aware - with a stylishly executed bedroom-bondage murder followed immediately by a scene of boardroom exposition that introduces our heroine.  This first scene of generic corporate dialogue is delivered in the awkward and stilted English language dub we all know and love but subsequently switches to Italian subtitles when the Chairman complains of the necessity of having to deliver such meetings in English. This is a delightful moment at which it seemed the film had directly addressed this key failing in the serious giallo and then promptly dispensed with it in a smart and witty fashion.  Just one scene later, however, it sadly proves not to be the case as the unintentional comedy of the English dub returns for the majority of the feature and dominates and drowns out any subtlety of parody the film has of its own.  Even worse, the dub was in turn drowned out by the roaring laughter of the Frightfest crowd and it was hard not to cringe in embarrassment for the assembled cast and crew.

The problem is that beneath the unintentional laughs of the dubbing, the film clearly has a wit of its own, but that subtlety – as evidenced in the opening scene described above - was lost as one outrageously wooden line followed another.

Some of the worst treatment is reserved for poor Michela Cescon, who plays Lisa’s friend Joanna.  Her performance was overdubbed with a peculiar British accent that was reminiscent of a woman with a brain injury in an awful Richard Curtis movie.

In this respect, there’s very little difference in it’s deficiencies to the classic giallo of thirty years ago.  If an audience can willfully look beyond this in Argento I’m not sure why it seemed to entertain so much here.  Perhaps it was because there was an expectation this would be a neo-giallo of sorts, a reinvention or rebirth of the giallo, when if fact it could better have been appreciated if approached as a lost film or unreconstructed homage.

The distraction of all this is a shame as there is much more to enjoy here. It is sumptuously shot, there are deviously inventive death scenes, a terrific baroque score, a charismatic lead performance from Claudia Gerini and a snakes eye perspective of a transexual chase through the sex club. At its conclusion, Tupla is also blessed with the wackiest giallo deus-ex-machina since Alice the chimpanzee saved the day at the conclusion of Phenomena.  Holy hermaphrodite scanners, Batman!

At times it is wonderfully inspired, at other times it is woefully misguided, but either way it was sublime entertainment to watch in a packed and boisterous cinema.  There are two movies here in a way.  I would love to see an Italian language version to fully appreciate Zampaglione’s style and true intent but on the other hand the Frightfest dub will always remain an awfully quotable guilty pleasure. 

Maniac 
Finally, the day closed with the hobbit-bothering Alexandra Aja produced remake of William Lustig's sleazy cult 1980 slasher of the same name.  Elija Wood leads as Frank, the owner of a mannequin shop who is dealing with his repressed sexuality and troubling maternal issues by brutally stalking, killing and scalping women in a barren New York netherworld.

Maniac is a startling technical achievement and I found it deeply disturbing.  Aside from two key scenes, it is shot entirely from the killer’s point-of-view.  The audience is both captive and complicit – forced to share the experience of Frank’s empty and dislocated life with every dreamlike and meandering incident of his daily routine threatening to explode in another gruesome act of violence with soul crushing inevitability.  With a bombastic synthesiser soundtrack reminiscent of Drive and scattered with increasingly surreal vignettes as Frank’s weak grasp on his reality collapses, Maniac is arthouse meets grindhouse.


This subtext of art meeting sleaze is made explicit when Frank meets Anna, a photographer whose subject is mannequins.  The young artist, fascinated by Frank's craft and seemingly seduced by his outsider status, tries to draw him into her uptown world.  His awkward inexplicable courtship – and futile attempts to curb his murderous impulses – forms the final painful act of the movie.  The first person perspective really pays off during the last act as we find Frank has become both our protagonist and antagonist.  We know Frank is a monster, but he is a human too, not a space squid or zombie or demonic entity hiding under the bed.  We find ourselves not sympathising or empathising or even truly understanding Frank but we are desperate to find some hope, some meaning, some purpose to what we have seen.  Of course, it shouldn’t be a spoiler to reveal that there is none to be found here.  Some felt Tulpa was the best worst movie of the weekend but Maniac is in some ways the extreme of this.  It is not an enjoyable experience and it’s not a film I could ever say I like: it is nihilistic, bleak, gruelling and unquestionably nasty – not to mention deeply and troublingly misogynistic – but I have to admit it is astonishingly powerful.  I didn’t even feel comfortable making any scalp-referencing ‘wigging out’ or ‘hell toupee’ twitter puns and that is saying something.

By Sunday, I was starting to feel cimema fatigue but determined to finish my cinema marathon on a more upbeat note.

Berberian Sound Studio 
To say Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio polarised opinion would be an understatement.  This arthouse love letter to 70’s Italian exploitation cinema stars the oddly compelling Toby Jones as Gilderoy, a meek sound engineer from suburban Dorking.


Gilderoy relocates to Rome to work on a horror movie, The Equestrian Complex.  We see the perfectly realised opening credits of this movie, but the rest is left for our imagination to draw from the aural soundscapes as we follow Gilderoy working alongside the Italian crew to overdub and provide the sound effects of their mysterious supernatural thriller.

At first, it’s seemingly played for droll ‘fish out of water’ laughs as the homely Gilderoy struggles to engage with the passionate and intense working methods of the Italians.  But as the production slows to a crawl, tensions rise and Gilderoy finds himself seemingly trapped in the claustrophobic confines of the titular studio, life begins to imitate art. Supernatural and giallo scenes begin to play out in the ‘real world’, incidents repeat themselves and Gilderoy is trapped in this cyclical limbo for so long he begins to talk in Italian.

With a fine absorbing soundtrack by retro-futurist electronic outfit Broadcast, rich period production and a detailed, lingering and near pornographic approach to the technical delivery of movie audio mixing, I enjoyed every moment of the running time right up to the sudden white-out ending.  At this point, I suddenly realised I had no idea what had just happened.

Was it a Kafka-esque meditation on the frustration of claiming expenses or was there something more diabolical behind Gilderoy’s metatextual unravelling? If we choose to interpret this as a self referential take on the filmmaking process, it could be viewed as a more sober arthouse take on Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion, only with less Steve Buscemi and more violence to cabbages.

I think the problem was that it was presented alongside much more conventional horror movies and referenced the genre with so many knowing and beautifully reconstructed moments of homage that we are tricked into expecting a final reveal to tie everything together. But it is not a conventional horror movie and, on reflection, I think any definitive ending would have negated the wonderful dream logic of the rest of the movie.  The most appropriate way for it to conclude was for it to remain a puzzle and invite its viewers to return again and again to indulge in its audio visual delights.

Sinister 
Sinister was a slick supernatural serial killer production starring Ethan Hawke as Ellison, a crime writer who has moved his family into a "murder house" so that he can investigate a case of mysterious serial murders that may save his fading career.  As these serial murders have all involved identical family units to his own, not to mention the box of snuff movies he discovers in the attic, you will probably guess this wasn’t a good idea.


It’s a straightforward ghost train ride and it does exactly what it sets out to do, although it was also surprisingly mean spirited, which was somewhat refreshing for a mainstream American production and came as a perversely pleasant surprise.  Along the way Sinister delivers some genuine jolting shocks, had some admirably subtle sound design and some welcome, but sparingly used, comic relief.

There are more than a few confusing developments and plot holes but Hawke’s performance makes Sinister work.  He delivers a serious and layered performance in the face of increasingly ridiculous supernatural proceedings.  He also overcomes an unlikable character – and weird goatee – to create a lead you come to sympathise with.

It was plainly written by genre fans and there are a couple of playful and knowing touches that set it apart from the crowd – notably the fact that, at the first indisputable sign of a supernatural presence in their house, the family immediately pack up and leave unhindered that night like any sane family would.  It’s a nice touch and would have worked in any other haunted house movie of it’s ilk – just not this one, obviously. 

In Memoriam 
Although the festival rolled on into the Monday, Sinister was my final movie for this year. This meant that I still managed to miss a number of well reported screenings, including both Jaume Balagueró's Sleep Tight  and Jen and Sylvia Soska's American Mary.  I've also failed to mention some of the peripheral highlights.  Among these was a screening of Lee Hardcastle's claymation version of The Raid (with cats) and Simon Pegg presenting Special Effects wizard Greg Nicotero with the first Frightfest Variety Lifetime Award. Of the sneak preview footage screened, the most interesting seemed to be Neil Jordan's upcoming revisionist feminist vampire epic, Byzantium, and Ben Wheatley's black comedy, Sighseers. Overall it was a very enjoyable few days, as much for the company as for the movies.  In the programme, Frightfest speaks of its audience as family and it’s something I’ve come to really appreciate over the years.  It’s funny to find such a sociable group of people being brought together by their love of often anti-social movies, but even at their most cantankerous, sleep deprived, outraged or hungover, it’s the sense of shared enthusiasm by everyone involved that ensures I’ll keep coming back.

Some soulless reanimated zombies...
and the Frightfest 2012 poster
I love horror and genre film mostly because I love film. It’s a view that is shared broadly by filmmakers as much as viewers.  Many of the highest regarded writers and directors working in cinema today – be it artistically or financially - began their career in low budget horror or genre pictures.

Genre hero turned mainstream success Sam Raimi expands on this: “[Horror film audiences] are very savvy to film technique. The horror audience is the most original audience out there. They don’t want sequels, they don’t want what most of the audience wants. Most of the time audiences want to see versions of what they’ve seen before. Horror audiences are like, ‘no. Show me something I’ve never seen before! I want to be freaked out!’ My hat’s off to them. They’re a really original audience. Even more than the art film crowd they’re the ones who break new ground and accept new techniques from filmmakers on the cutting edge. Not the indie guys, but those guys. The low-budget horror fans.”

Even just within the dozen or so movies I’ve reviewed above, the diversity and invention of the genre is clearly evident.  Events like Frightfest recognise the contribution of the fans and even allow the audience to share a little ownership over these movies.  It creates a sense of community that charms guests and attendees alike.

In such company, it’s all too easy to suddenly and accidentally find yourself overestimating the importance of movies – but ultimately it has to be a healthy form of escapism, being able to spend at least some time not worrying about the very bad things happening in the real world and enjoy watching the very bad imaginary things happening onscreen for a while instead.


Faces of Frightfest: Paul McAvoy, Greg Day, Alan Jones and Ian Rattray have run the festival since its inception.  Irrepressibly energetic, amiable and enthusiastic, they still introduce every feature, moderate interviews and chair Q&A sessions as the pubic face of Frightfest (pic: film4.com)

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