Frightfest 2011

WHAT THE HELL IS FRIGHTFEST?

Seriously, you don’t know? Fair enough. Well, Frightfest is an annual horror film festival held in central London over the August bank holiday weekend and brings together some of the newest, freshest horror films to hordes of ravenous horror fans. Originally conceived in 2000 by Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray and Alan Jones, it was initially held at everyone’s favourite cinema The Prince Charles on Leicester Square. It has moved home twice in a decade and is now held in the absolutely massive Empire Leicester Square.

you don’t know? Fair enough. Well, Frightfest is an annual horror film festival held in central London over the August bank holiday weekend and brings together some of the newest, freshest horror films to hordes of ravenous horror fans. Originally conceived in 2000 by Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray and Alan Jones, it was initially held at everyone’s favourite cinema The Prince Charles on Leicester Square. It has moved home twice in a decade and is now held in the absolutely massive Empire Leicester Square.

Frightfest has premiered, previewed and exclusived hundreds of films, including the classic likes of Pan’s Labyrinth, Pitch Black, Donnie Darko, Oldboy, Severance, controversial boundary-pushers such as Audition, Martyrs and The Human Centipede and absolute bollocks like Dead Cert and Lesbian Vampire Killers. They’ve had guests as varied as Guillermo Del Toro, George A. Romero, John Landis, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, icons and auteurs, new faces and ancient ones. Even Uwe Boll turned up for some reason.

Frightfest also hosts a number of other events throughout the year, including the Halloween all-nighter and Frightfest Glasgow in February, along with special events such as Hostel day and An Evening With Jessica Alba (seriously). I attended the “D-Day” Neil Marshall special event at the Odeon West End in 2008, which showed Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday. It was an awesome evening, and most of the cast were there from all three films. Sean Pertwee is a great guy. Fact.

So Frightfest 2011 came along. Every year I’ve toyed with the idea of doing the entire thing – 5 days of horror mayhem in central London – but for whatever reason have only ever grabbed the individual tickets, which held mixed and frustrating results. NOT THIS YEAR. I bought tickets for me and my lovely lady Jess as our first year anniversary present (awwww, how cute – shut up) and properly “did” Frightfest.

This little feature is just a little taster of what Frightfest is like, mostly a round up of the films and special events. To understand it, you need to attend it. It’s an amazing event, perfect for horror fans –  I’ve never felt so comfortable in a cinema in my life.

DAY ONE

Bowling up to Empire with our Frightfest 2011 lanyards on, I quickly realized you were suddenly on a different level to those with single tickets. The lanyard told everyone you were a dedicated Frightfester and it was like a sign that said “come and talk to me!”. It’s a club I was honoured to join.

We parked ourselves in our seats EE 7 & 8 – the same seats for the entire 5 days – and were pleased to find our neighbours weren’t psychotic, noisy, smelly, insane or a bit rapey. We had a lovely French couple called Matt & Aude next to us and a friendly British pair called Adam and Patsy in front of us. It was a good crowd and not a trace of absolute arsehole amongst them, which was nice.

First up was Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a Gullermo Del Toro (yeah!) produced monster movie starring Guy Pearce (erm…) and Katie Holmes (seriously?!) about a family beleaguered with night creatures intent on gobbling up children. It was a mixed bag of a film – not quite scary enough, not quite funny enough, not quite deep enough – but dripping with Del Toro’s influence. It was a decent start, and beautifully made.

Although Del Toro couldn’t be at Frightfest, he sent a lovely video message, which was ace.

Then Final Destination 5 turned up after this, again video messaged beforehand by the always-great Tony Todd and The Walking Dead’s Emma Bell. FD5 was surprisingly awesome – bloody, hilarious, stupid, nasty, brutal and thoroughly enjoyable – and it was a great start to the festival. And the 3D was actually decent!

Final Destination 5 review HERE

I didn’t see Theatre Bizarre as I had work the next day, and couldn’t stomach the idea of getting home at 3am… so I’m opinion-less on this one…

DAY TWO

Again, I had my “real job” to do during Friday, so missed out of the swathe of Friday’s films (Rogue River, The Holding & Urban Explorers), arriving instead just in time for The Glass Man at 7.05pm.

The Glass Man is a very classily made piece, with flickers of Dead Man’s Shoes to it, and a genuinely superb central performance from Andy Nyman; exceptionally portrayed and fantastically supported by James Cosmo. Just a classy piece of work.

Next up was one of the festival’s highlights – Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil – an absolute riot of a film, stunningly made, cleverly scripted and lovingly acted by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. A great film and highly recommended!

Again, I didn’t stay for the final film of the night. Vile started at 11:55pm… and considering I’m not a huge “torture porn” fan, I swapped mutilation for sleep. Thankfully I wasn’t visited by Freddy Kruger to ironically punish me…

DAY THREE

Saturday, and my first full day of Frightfest madness – starting film at 11am and final film begins at 11.30pm. As I said, madness.

Troll Hunter kicked off the Saturday and it was a fantastically fun piece of work. Well made, lovingly silly, awe-inspiring and bloody LOUD. A great start to a long day.

The tongue-in-cheek, self-knowing genius of Troll Hunter was swiftly followed by The Wicker Tree. I LOVE The Wicker Man – an absolute classic, very well made and very abysmally remade. Tree’s original Director/ Writer Robin Hardy hasn’t made a film for 38 years, and suddenly The Wicker Tree arrives. Was it good? I didn’t think so. It was far too light, slow, meandering and as obvious as a brick in the bollocks. A real shame.

Panic Button was next – a British horror / thriller set on an airplane where contestants play an online game or face serious consequences. It begins smartly and has a lot to say thematically, but towards the end it tips into absurdity and fails miserably to compel. A decent if forgettable piece.

Fright Night 3D was next – I avoided this, having caught a preview a couple of months ago, but it’s a great remake and genuinely enjoyable – and Colin Farrell is superb (yes, I just said that).

Fright Night 3D review HERE

Next up was The Woman. If anyone has seen Lucky McKee’s May or watched Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, you’ll perhaps be prepared for this film. If not, it might be a bit too harrowing to take. Genuinely excellent, but with a tough and demented storyline, The Woman was one of the festival’s highlights. Difficult to watch and a truthful, uncomfortable study of character and family – excellent work.

The day ended with Chillerama – I once again avoided this last show, due to me being “a pussy”, apparently.

DAY FOUR

Sunday, bloody Sunday. Probably the most mediocre of all the days of the week, and this was sadly represented by the majority of the films on display.

Avoiding The Divide in favour of breakfast, apparently I missed out on “nothing special”.

Next up with the Short Film Showcase and Andy Nyman’s Quiz from Hell 2 – more on these later!

The first actual film I saw on Sunday was The Innkeepers, which is Ti West’s subtle ghost story set in a soon-to-be-closed hotel. It was effectively creepy, scary, intriguing and beautifully acted by all those involved. The ending is disappointingly naff, but it sews itself together cleverly.

Saint followed quickly – an insane take on the St Nicholas myth from the makers of Amsterdammed. Not quite as brilliant as hoped, but an enjoyable if flawed slice of madness, as the insane burnt ghost of a raping priest delivers a bucket of Christmas badwill with a horde of orcs and a brain-leaking white horse. Crazy, lovingly crafted, but incredibly inconsistent.

Then Kill List arrived. Hailed as the best thing since God made popcorn, this Total Film sponsored, goody-bag emblazoning horror / thriller screamed “love me” from the rooftops. Reported as terrifying by some bloke from Total Film before it started, the pedestal was made… and it promptly fell of it. Kill List is certainly a decent, well-made film, but not terrifying or anything close to immaculate.

Kill List review HERE

Detention rounded off the day, but I’m satisfied with being a giant loser and went to bed again instead. Not in the Empire cinema, mind…

DAY FIVE

What seemed like a thousand days since Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark opened the festival, the final day was here. Exhausted, we hauled ourselves into the cinema once more for five feature films of awesomeness. This was my favourite day of the festival.

Originally Day Five was supposed to kick off with Guinea Pigs, but this was pulled and replaced by A Night in the Woods. I’m not allowed to say much about this film, as the director didn’t want us to… so I won’t. Seriously. I’m saying nothing good about it. At all. I’m keeping quiet.

*silence*

Deadheads was next – a comedy romp about two “alive” zombies looking for a lost love. This was a very strange, childishly dumb, mostly pointless sack of lightly comic horror. Enjoyable for the most part, it certainly won’t damage Shaun of the Dead’s mantel as best zombie-comedy-romance…

Monday proved to be an excellent day as Switzerland’s first ever genre flick hit our screens – Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps. This is a superbly crafted, cleverly made epic of a film that is disturbing, scary, funny, strange and simply brilliant. A great piece of work. Why have the Swiss waited so long, dammit?!

Next up was another favourite of mine – Inbred. West Country inbreds versus inner-city rehabilitation kids. Unashamedly rude, bloody, gory, violent, insane, sick and utterly wrong, Inbred knows what it is and provides a gruesome and hilarious horror to laugh and cheer to. Some people will hate it, some people will love it. I loved it.

With a sad sigh, we came upon the final film of the festival, A Lonely Place to Die. This Melissa George starrer was a relative unknown to me, and although it starts fantastically well, the final third of the film spirals horribly out of control and ends up being a soulless mess. Enjoyable, but a giant mess.

And that was that. 5 days, 16 feature films, 16 short films, one impossible quiz and far too many bags of popcorn. Roll on 2012!

JOHN CARPENTER TRIBUTES

Precluding all the Frightfest 6 O’clock-ish shows were some lovingly-made John Carpenter short film tributes, and kicking off the festival was Jake “Doghouse” West’s riff on Escape from New York.

Jake West does Escape from New York – take one female Snake Plissken, one walled-off central London, a countdown to Frightfest and bucketload of weird extras , and you’ve got West’s insane short. Silly, funny, bizarre and brutal, it was a tasty little start to the festival proceedings.

Sean Hogan does The Thing – this was a surprisingly quality piece of work, lovingly made in one room with three men, a flamethrower and some dangerous accusations. Smart and with a cunning twist, this was perhaps my favourite of the bunch.

Marc Price does They Live – choosing to homage the absolutely superb alley-fight between Keith David and Roddy Piper, the “glasses” they fight over this time are 3D specs. Self-knowing and brutal, Price’s take of Carpenter’s underrated classic is short but sweet.

James Moran does Halloween – the Severance-writer cameos in his bizarre take of Halloween 33, where a geriatric Michael Myers finds himself annoyed by everything – as old people generally are – and takes out his frustration with deadly violence. Loomis’s insane daughter attempts to catch Myers but accidentally shoots people in panic, including a Moran-shaped roadsweeper… Great fun and utterly bizarre.

Ben Wheatley does Assault on Precinct 13 – but that isn’t a horror! you may scream. Hush! He’s added zombies. Stealing MyAnna Buring and Neil Maskell from Kill List, Wheatley’s zombie attack on Sun Hill is fun, funny and a giant bloody mess. Enjoyably ridiculous!

Noticeably absent from these films were tributes to Vampires and Ghosts of Mars. Such a shame. Perhaps the directors knew they could never top the genius of those two “classics”. Ahem…

Was there any point having these? Difficult to say. They were nice tasters and enjoyably stupid – echoing a theme running through the festival – but it might’ve been better to have actual short films instead of these made-to-order shorts. Who knows.

Guess we’ll see what they bake up next year.

ANDY NYMAN’S QUIZ FROM HELL

Quiz from Hell by name…

Andy Nyman – star of The Glass Man and all-round great guy – hosts the second annual Frightfest Quiz From Hell. This was my first foray into the hellish question-based fun, and boy was it DIFFICULT.

There were two trivia rounds, which I did quite well on, one poster mash-up round which was genius (and I also did reasonably well on), a “what happens next” round which was surprisingly easy and… then… the “Motherfucking Soundtracks” round. Oh dear God no.

Motherfucking Soundtracks features 20 clips of music from horror films (songs, scores etc…), with question 1 being 20 seconds music clip, question 2 being 19 seconds etc… all the way until question 20, which is ONE SECOND LONG.

Needless to say I absolutely fucking sucked at this. Motherfucking Soundtracks indeed.

Nyman was the perfect host and it was a great additional to the Sunday afternoon, and pulled in a surprisingly large audience for the short film showcase. Great pairing of events.

SHORT FILM SHOWCASE

Short films – they’re horribly unrepresented and undervalued. Luckily the good people of Frightfest watch, pick and choose to screen a select few for our viewing pleasure. On display this year were 8 very different films, some good, some brilliant, some absolutely bloody terrible. The top three were:

The Last Post: Axelle Carolyn’s directorial debut is about an old woman who is visited by a mysterious figure that no one else can see. Perhaps the most mature of the showcase, it is a quietly tender piece, spooky, saddening and very well acted. A thought-provoking masterpiece floating in a sea of absolute madness…

Brutal Relax: in competition with Banana Motherfucker as the most insane short film at the festival, Brutal Relax is about a prone-to-psychotic-episodes nutcase attempting to take a relaxing holiday on a beach. Sadly some sea-monsters disturb him, killing everyone, and he promptly goes nuts and attacks them back – ripping them limb from limb. Hilarious, insanely bloody and such fun.

Banana Motherfucker: you will have never seen anything like this. A grave-disturbing film crew unleash the fury of the forest… and are subsequently attacked by evil bananas. It is completely insane and very funny and surprisingly bloody, and goes places you’d never expect. Lovingly crafted and utterly bonkers. Great fun!

THE DISCOVERY SCREEN

A relatively new thing to Frightfest is the “second screen”, called the Discovery Screen, where films not deemed fit enough for the massive Empire screen get put on for people to discover. Did I see any? No. I was busy watching the films deemed worthy of the massive screen! Rightly so? I have no idea.

From what I’ve heard, the Discovery Films were a reasonable lot, with the stand out being Rabies (which sold out twice, then had a third screening by demand!). It’s an awkward thing having two “stages” so to speak, and the event is slowly turning into Reading Festival… kind of…

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Frightfest isn’t just about watching films, and the majority of the films on display had Q&A’s with the cast and crew. Kill List and Inbred were perhaps the “most supportive” crowds… in a loudly raucous way.

There were also snippets, trailers and special preview bits from a number of other forthcoming titles, including an exclusive Outpost 2 trailer, a slapped-together-at-the-last-second Strippers Vs. Werewolves “trailer” and the brutal execution of Billy Murray in a clip from Stalker.

Highlights included an apology from producer Jonathan Sothcott for Dead Cert (yep! Seriously) and a surprisingly brilliant few scenes from Cockneys Vs. Zombies – could be absolutely genius. I hope so, anyway, because I’m in it… as a “Docks Zombie”. Oscars await me!

Frightfesters were also lucky to find boxes of handouts randomly appearing at regular intervals throughout the festival, mostly containing DVDs of previous Frightfest films (including Dead Cert!), T-shirts that were presumably kicking around the Empire (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest? Random) and even a Swiss Embassy wristband!

Frightfest isn’t just about films – it’s a celebration of horror and a scrum for that one copy of a decent giveaway!

IN CONCLUSION…

Frightfest was a mixed bag, but much more open and accessible than the previous few years glut of morbid, depressing torture films. The themes that spread throughout the Main Screen were horror-comedies, found-footage and cults. Sadly no found-footage cultist comedy movies, though…

The highlights for me were:

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Inbred

The Woman

Trollhunter

Sennetuntschi: Curse of the Alps

But having talked to a lot of the friendly Frightfesters at the event, I realized everyone hated and loved every film in equal measure. I know some people who LOATHED Inbred, for example. Someone even liked The Wicker Tree

Oh, and if you like this sort of thing, celebrities I spotted included John Simm, Simon Pegg and Jonathan Ross along with FF-regulars Neil Marshall, Jake West, James Moran, Axelle Carolyn, Andy Nyman and a tonne of cast and crew involved in many of the films on show. The organizers are amazingly approachable and happy to chat “the shit” about films. A really amazing atmosphere all round.

Is Frightfest worth £160? Yes. Hell yes. Every single gore-soaked, hilarity-filled, terrifying second of it!

Frightfest is an exhausting event, and Red Bull is a must. Next year I’ll ensure I’m not desk-jockeying on Thursday and Friday, have the Tuesday off to collapse and recover, and definitely make sure I take advantage of the Phoenix Artists Club on the Monday – the post-festival drinks are apparently legendary… and will remain that way for me until next year! I can only imagine.

Next up for Frightfest? The Halloween All-nighter.

Bring it on.

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