FrightFest does one all-night film festival a year, usually timetabled to coincide with Halloween. While most FrightFest events take place in either London (August) or Glasgow (February), the Halloween one gets rolled out across the country, allowing people who can’t get to the big city events the chance to join in some of the fun. This year the FrightFest all-nighter kicked off in London on 26 October, with the same programme (minus one film) being repeated in Glasgow, Basildon, Sunderland, Poole and Newcastle the week after. The Bristol FrightFest took place another two weeks later. I’m not sure why but it meant that Mrs Probert and I were able to go (we were at World Fantasy on the other dates) and it seems it was convenient for others as well. Usually the cinema is half full but this time there were very few empty seats – a fine indication that there’s an increasing contingent of horror fans willing to deprive themselves of sleep to watch all kinds of weird stuff. First up was Patrick, a remake of the 1978 Richard Franklin horror picture about a bed-bound telepathic teenager who affects the lives of those in the hospital in which he is a patient. The remake follows the plot of the original fairly closely, and it’s a pretty good updating. In fact, the first hour or so is superb if you fancy an over-the-top, almost operatic treatment of this kind of story. The setting is a gloomy old hospital in the middle of nowhere. Mad doctor Charles Dance has filled it with patients in a persistent vegetative state, and doesn’t seem to have that high a grant to keep the place going as it’s so dark there he obviously can’t pay the electric bill that often. Nurse Sharni Vinson (from Adam Wingard’s You’re Next) gets a job there and soon discovers Dr Dance has a special patient called Patrick, whom he likes to shoot up with drugs and apply electro-convulsive shock therapy to. Exactly why he’s doing this is, in the best daft horror movie tradition, never explained. Meanwhile Sharni discovers that Patrick can move things with his mind, and he’s thinking of making a move on her (sorry) as well. Patrick all goes off the rails a bit towards the end, but up until then it’s really very good. Director Mark Hartley has a fine eye for some splendid over the top imagery (Vinson’s screaming mouth reflected in a shard of broken mirror, and some of the most dramatic camera angles I think I have ever seen just to show someone walking into a house) and the performances on the whole are pretty good as well. A quick poll of those present at the screening who remember the 1978 revealed a quite understandable preference for Susan Penhaligon as the object of Patrick’s attentions, but Charles Dance is just superb as the loony doctor. Also of note is the score, which is easily Pino Donaggio’s best in years (and is much better than his somewhat derivative music for Brian de Palma’s sadly disappointing Passion). I hope the album is out soon.
From the not exactly sublime to the completely ridiculous, the next film was Discopath, an ultra low budget Canadian horror about a man who goes insane and kills people whenever he hears disco music. It’s 1976 and everyone’s disco crazy, just not as crazy as Duane Lewis. In a French Canadian version of New York, complete with fake accents, he’s invited by his random roller skating girlfriend to get down at the local nightclub. But, scarcely having put on his three-piece suit and open-neck shirt, Duane find himself chasing the girl under the club, stabbing her to death and leaving her body pressed up against the underside of the glass dance floor (a very nice shot). Duane escapes and gets a job as a handyman in a Montreal girls’ school where, oh dear, two teenage lovelies decide to put on disco music in their dorm while they indulge in a spot of mid-1970s exploitation groping, only for Duane to put an end to their target audience-pleasing antics by hacking off their heads. Hopefully by now you’ll know whether or not you want to hunt down Discopath. Unlike Patrick, which has secured a UK distribution deal for early next year, I’ll be surprised to see this one getting any kind of release. It’s very rough around the edges indeed, but there’s a lot of (hopefully intentional) hilarity and director Reynaud Gauthier, who plays Duane’s father in a very giallo-style flashback, is apparently tackling that very genre with his next project. Good luck to him – I’ll certainly watch it.
After Discopath it was time for the traditional ‘Retro Premiere’. Last year Alan Jones introduced the new Blu-ray transfer of Zombie Flesheaters by recounting the tale of when Lucio Fulci threw up on him. Paul McAvoy had no such nugget with which to usher in the restored version of Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil, but the uncut print looked very nice, and there was an interview with the director screened after it. I’ve certainly watched Mark of the Devil enough times to know that it wasn’t a film I especially wanted to see again, but at 1.30am there wasn’t much of an alternative.
In a remarkably international programme (so far we’d had films from Canada, Australia, and Germany) the next offering was from Austria. A literal translation of The Station‘s original title would be Blood Glacier, which, as well as being a lot better, is exactly what the film’s about. Well, that and giant cross bred monsters like fox-woodlice and ibex-moths. It’s all due to climate change: the atomic bomb/toxic waste of 21st century SF cinema. It’s just ever so slightly in the future and workers at an Alpine research station come across a huge red-streaked glacier. Samples taken reveal it to contain a microbe with the quite remarkable SF movie power to combine the DNA of any creature with any living organism that it eats. Cue a whole host of bizarre creatures that proceed to lay siege to our heroes in their battered little cabin as darkness falls. The Station is a lot of fun, with mercifully little CGI and a lot of lovely ‘life-sized’ monster models.
The final movie of the night/morning was Nothing Left to Fear, which by all reports was a pretty decent old school American horror movie. I’ll be looking out for that one as by 5.30am I was starting to flag and it was time for Mrs Probert and I to make our way home, knowing that even though it became a battle to keep our eyes open, even though I ran out of orange chocolate eclairs too early on, and even though we really shouldn’t have been drinking Pinot Noir at 3am, it was all worth it, and we’ll definitely be back next year
Something that won’t be back, however – at least not for the foreseeable future – is this column of mine. It’s hard to believe I’ve been writing it for nearly two years, and I’ve had a huge amount of fun rambling on about anything and everything horror film-related that’s come to mind. My thanks to Michael Wilson for asking me to contribute in the first place, and to the entire This Is Horror team for being such a lovely bunch of people to work with. I am sure TIH is going to go from strength to strength and who knows, maybe someday I will return. For now, however, I’m stepping back from the Bloodstained Balcony to concentrate on my fiction writing. Until we meet again – thank you so much for reading, be nice to each other, & I’ll see you all soon.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
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