We horror fans don’t have much to look forward to these days. What’s that on the “coming soon” calendar? Remakes. Sequels. Sequels to remakes in 3-D. Things masquerading as horror films that don’t even scare the 13 year old mall-dwelling airheads they’re patently aimed at. Straight-to-DVD movies about useless CG monsters that give the overriding impression the world of special effects has actually regressed from the hi-tech visuals seen in Rent-a-ghost . Oh, and pencil in the apocalypse for sure if Adam Mason makes any more “horror” movies after taking a 90 minute shit on his own audience for The Devil’s Chair. Bastard.
The genre is in a weird state of stagnation where the only thing we can bank on is Saw XX by the year 2023, when we will (in any case) all be dead from whatever tabloid-frenzy mass-sickness happens to be doing the rounds (our money is on myxamotosis spreading to humans, and our hopes are that Noel Fuckin’ Edmonds will be the first to fall victim, an episode of Deal Or No Deal climaxing with the TV “legend” bleeding from his eyes, nose and cock before lowering his trousers and shitting pellets the size of footballs).
The one hope, the only hope, the annual ray of sunshine in the gloomy outlook is August’s annual epic ‘Frightfest’ event in Leicester Square, staged at the fancy Empire for the first time in 2009. Our regular hosts are Paul McEvoy (the one who looks the roughest by final day), Alan Jones (the camp one who loves to reminisce on who he’s rubbed celebrity shoulders with) and Ian Rattray (the Scottish one). If you’ve never been, you’ve missed out on an event that has gone from strength to strength and which regularly, even in a time of apparentnk Henenlotter last year to introduced Bad Biology ; the impromptu presence of a tramp-like Rob Zombie and his hot-ass wife Sheri Moon in the year of House Of 1000 Corpses ; the rousing reception afforded the loveably pathetic Day of the Dead 2: Contagium; or the time Guillermo Del Toro referred to the English of The Orphanage filmmakers as recalling that of an Egyptian prostitute.
Here’s ten more reasons why Frightfest has been such an essential part of the horror fan’s diary. We don’t want to get sentimental about its greatness but, seriously, it really does beat masturbating into an egg cup while sobbing over some fuzzy teenie porn clips on the dark side of the internet.
10 .Jones and McGillivray act like reunited 70s sitcom stars. (2007) Not many Frightfest years go by without an appearance by David McGillivray, screenwriter of some of the darkest, ickiest, most thoughtful British horror films of the 1970’s, and the man responsible for turning granny Sheila Keith into potent figure of lip-smacking movie fear. He’s the first to admit that, following his period as a homegrown horror icon, he spent the best part of two decades writing buggery jokes for Julian Clary, and his spry, self-mocking sense of humour shines through in his on-stage banter with old chum Alan Jones.
Just one factor setting Frightfest apart from other horror festivals is the fact that it has time to accommodate this pair of ageing publicity whores exchanging innuendos and puns like a couple of faded queens brought together by popular demand. McGillivray would probably turn up if Jones opened an envelope labelled “smut”, but instead he’s usually got a short film to unspool courtesy of his production outfit “Pathetique Films”. Some of them, including In Place of the Dead (pictured) feature the loveable old chap imaginatively cast as a gay Englishman.
9 .Jimmy Saville Tells Children Everywhere About Road Safety In between the movies lurk all manner of weird and wonderful pleasures. At one of the early Frightfests at the Prince Charles, this particular writer recalls taking a leisurely piss and looking up to see the director of Memento directing his own monumental cock at the adjacent urinal. This director, Christopher Nolan, went on to make The Dark Knight but said cock tends to be overlooked since he went Hollywood.
Even more arresting and amusing are the sporadic “Trailer Trash” interludes in which ancient exploitation movie trailers for gems like Island of the Fishmen and Au Pair Girls share screen time with equally ancient public information films and cinema ads. Anyone who attended the 2002 festival may still be chuckling at the memory of seeing spleen-rupturingly hilarious pro-seatbelt ad featuring a creepy / funny Jimmy Saville smugly retorting “clunk, click, every trip” as he describes the dangers of going seat belt free. This enables him to gloat over the dire fate of a small child, turned into a comically hideous, drooling mess by one such un-belted trip. Presumably the following week on his TV show one letter read “Please Jim will you fix it for me to have a new face”.
8 .Jack Bauer Vs. A Rag bag of Horror Cliches (2008) Great movies are enhanced by the experience of watching them with a full, appreciative festival crowd cheering, whooping, jumping in unison and buzzing excitedly as the credits roll. Awesomely bad movies can sometimes be equally improved by the festival experience, and Frightfest has had many classic examples, including Day of the Dead 2: Contagium. Some movies are irredeemably bad, of course - witness the stony silence that has largely greeted recent Argento flicks when shown at the ‘fest.
Watching Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors alone at home is enough to drive anyone to drink, crack and underage prostitutes. Shown at the 2008 Frightfest on closing night, however, elevated it to something approaching a camp classic. A Hollywood remake of a Korean spook flick, the mentality of its script is summed up by the moment in which lunatic hero Kiefer Sutherland advises his wife, with due sincerity, “You gotta be careful with water - it creates reflections!”. What’s next? “Watch out for nightime, it gets dark?” “Beware owls, they hoot!?”
Portraying a walking cliché (burned out ex-alcoholic ex-cop with tragic past) Sutherland responds by pretending he’s in an amped up episode of 24, SHOUTING regularly to hilarious effect, intimidating old people in their own homes (“Don’t make me threaten you!”), waving guns at elderly nuns and acting like a complete madman at home. Elsewhere, Amy Smart yanks off her own jaw in a bloody but oddly hilarious bath-tub sequence, pigeons fly out abruptly for the sake of a “boo” scare and the plot ropes in Jason Flemyng for a Basil Exposition role to pad time before the inevitable Trip To A Creepy Monastery.
7 .Hatchet Live! (2007) Over the years Frightfest has enabled us regular working class scrotes to rub shoulders, share a drink with and, on occasion, discreetly molest the stars and filmmakers responsible for the unspooling movies. Some are more charismatic and approachable than others, and few have been as engaging as Adam Green, promising young director of retro-slasher Hatchet and latter-day Hitchcockian mind-fuck Spiral. Both movies, although not universally adored, have considerable merit, and Green’s recurring presence at the festival, regardless as to whether he has a movie to plug, is a warm, funny and friendly one.
Following the enthusiastic audience reception afforded Hatchet upon its 2006 Frightfest premiere, Green was invited back in 2007 to do a live on-stage commentary with Alan Jones, intended (but not used) for the UK DVD release. Distracted by the flick’s regular boob shots and amusingly scathing of the Hollywood trend for lame PG-13 remakes, he was also memorably open about the film’s fate at the hands of the MPAA. Referring to the US censor board, accurately enough, as “fucking cunts”, he related how his battle for an R rating involved defending his cartoonishly gory flick against a committee of the “golden girls”. Ultimately, while nastier studio-funded films like Saw 3 squeaked by relatively unscathed with R ratings, the lighter, sillier Hatchet had to lose some footage for its US release.
The same year, Green was on hand to introduce Spiral, during which he told a heartfelt, inspiring, wholly wonderful story of his unlikely friendship with Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. This guy is a prime example of the ancillary pleasures of Frightfest.
6 .Uwe Boll Live! (2007) The year 2007 also brought with it Uwe Boll, a guy whose largely negligible flexography had, by this point, undeservedly earned him the tag of worst director ever, even though we live in a world where Guy Ritchie continues to live and make films. In a bold step that paid off though still provoked wildly opposing opinions, the Frightfest lads brought Boll over to accompany a double bill of his latest (and finest) work, the Troma-ish black comedy Postal and the nihilistic Seven inspired serial killer misery fest Seed.
Many loved the self-consciously bad taste humour of Postal while some found the use of animal cruelty footage in Seed indefensible at any level (this reviewer felt that the extended one-take set piece of a woman’s face being repeatedly bludgeoned with a hammer was too short to wank off to). Just as diverting as the movies themselves were the on-stage Q&A sessions with the filmmaker in which he proved to be far funnier and more appealing than his reputation as a dumb schlock merchant suggests.
Given the content of the movies, it’s unsurprising that they provoked extreme reactions. Boll responded well to a Postal hater (in the minority) who suggested that offending everyone doesn’t make anyone a good filmmaker, even though few in this kind of audience were genuinely offended. And he gave a considered response to a persistent, seemingly endless audience member’s post-Seed attack on the film’s plot and violence. A scary-looking guy in the front row told this annoying dude to shut the fuck up, echoing the sentiments of most.
5 .A Ten Minute Cure for Constipation Alongside the higher-profile main features, Frightfest has given us a surprising array of memorable short films over its ten year history. Adam Mason’s Ruby set the smug tone for the rest of his audience-hating genre career by revelling in torture and then telling us off for watching it. Mike Mort’s awesome Deadly Tantrum was a delicious slapstick Brit take on the power tool movie with perhaps the greatest slasher comedy punch line in history : “That’s Geoffrey, a disgruntled turkey impregnator from Newport!”.
In 2005, scarier than any of the full-length movies was Brendan Muldowney’s The Ten Steps, shown with the eerie The Collingswood Story and a genuinely terrifying 10 minute exercise in the terror of the unseen. Focusing simply on a teenage girl babysitting her bratty brother and having to venture down to the fuse box in the cellar when the power cuts out, this low key but bone-chillingly effective gem climaxes with an endless descent that carries on throughout the credits. If you were there for The Ten Steps, just remembering these last minutes will probably still raise those little black hairs in the palm of your hand.
4 .Late night showing of Monster Man (2004) In 2004 the festival’s Saturday night UK premiere of Hellboy with surprise guests Selma Blair (looking as bored as fuck) and Ron Perlman (sardonic and hilarious) proved to be a hard act to follow, with the following movie, a low budget, unheralded horror comedy named Monster Man, getting its start time delayed until well after midnight thanks to the over-running autograph sessions. The late night slot proved perfect for a movie that instantly won over the audience with its eager-to-please, breezily tasteless approach to familiar genre territory.
A gross-out comic take on themes from Wrong Turn, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, et al, it was smarter than it initially looked and got the kind of rapturous midnight-movie reaction most wannabe-cult flicks can only dream of. The banter between its two well cast leads (a crude Jack Black look-alike and a Velcro-obsessed lanky geek) was its main pleasure, though it also boasted an array of diverting movie references including the revelation that “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane refers to the pussy of a girl Charles Foster Kane once screwed.
Also memorable from Michael Davis’ movie were a central villain named “Fuckface” (because his face is fucked up), a literal eating-pussy gag involving road kill, a disembodied torso yelling “Fuuuuck you!” and super-hottie Aimee Brooks doing Star Wars impressions before she cums.
3 .Dead Day at the Odeon (2005) The first year Frightfest moved to the higher-profile Odeon in Leicester Square provoked leg-room grumbles from anyone taller than Warwick Davis but it sure opened in fine style, with zombies wandering aimlessly around Leicester Square, threatening nerds with pitchforks and harassing passers-by as fans queued for autographs from special guest George Romero.
This was all in aid of the opening Dead Day’, a chance to revisit on the Odeon’s big screen Romero’s original, never-bettered zombie trilogy - each of which still possessed considerable impact. The evening’s premiere of the long-awaited Land of the Dead perhaps inevitably struggled to live up to expectations for many, but Romero and regular collaborator Greg Nicotero (amusingly over viewing his make-up effects career and apologising for Cursed) were delightful guests.
Romero, astonishingly tall and thin with a groovy silver ponytail and glasses the size of Swindon, was charming and intelligent on stage as he reflected on four decades in the horror filmmaking business, including his studio experiences with Land. Best of all were his succinct views on Hollywood’s efforts to remake his back catalogue: “I don’t care…”.
2 .Del Toro (2006) Few Frightfest premieres have been as warmly received as Pan’s Labyrinth, a show-stealing opening night film if ever there was one. The movie felt like an instant classic very quickly and the returning presence of Guillermo Del Toro, two years after hijacking a Saturday night at the Hellboy premiere was a highlight of this or any year.
Del Toro is among the most entertaining directing dudes in the business, equipped with a sharp, dirty wit and a delightful cynicism about the studio circles in which he operates in between making more personal homeland pictures. Following the thunderous applause at the end of Pan’s, Del Toro took to the stage to touchingly discuss the film’s autobiographical elements while explaining how the eyeball-skewering of Zombie Flesh Eaters inspires him joyously to this day.
Typical of Del Toro’s sense of humour was his account of the film’s response at Cannes. It got a standing ovation, but the director explained how it would never win any of the festival’s prizes because movies featuring creatures would never be taken as seriously as films about “a double amputee who fucks his couch”. Too true.
1 .The Douche Brothers Adam Green has already made it into this list once so forgive his reappearance here - but few festival experiences were as crowd-pleasing as last year’s pre-filmed skits featuring Green and Joe Lynch, whose own Wrong Turn 2 had been screened in 2007. Green and Lynch eventually appeared on stage on closing night but until then a separate sketch was shown each evening, all introduced with a cute pastiche of the old Warner Brothers’ logo, with the filmmaker duo calling themselves “Douche Brothers” in the first of an endless series of self-deprecating gags. The mini-movies were characterised by the kind of fan boy warmth and cheeky schoolboy humour that makes the two guys so endearing in person.
Each of the sketches riffed on the wonderful “Do you wanna see something really scary?” prologue of Twilight Zone The Movie, with surprising and hilarious results. Each fresh one seemed to receive an even bigger cheer than its predecessor from the crowd, and the madly grinning Lynch’s gleeful promise of “something really scary” became a running gag as entertaining as the guys’ varied choice of music to groove along with while driving from the USA to Leicester Square (!).
The twist on the opening night skit involved the gorgeous Danielle Harris (with a dick), while Day 2’s punch line involved Jason Vorhees following a marvellous off-colour joke at the expense of 2007’s uber-grim The Girl Next Door . The legendary exploding head gag from Maniac featured in the third movie, and few Frightfest moments are as delicious as Adam and Joe exuberantly singing along to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” in the fourth.
Adding to the excitement of closing night 2008 was a faux-tribute to the two directors, having both allegedly perished in an embarrassing hotel room sex act. Mick Garris, Tom Holland, Joel David Moore and Neil Marshall were among those roped in to take the piss in an enthusiastic fashion.
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the film’s central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.