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All the Fun of FrightFest 2012

FrightFest 2012FrightFest 2012 has been and gone and I have got through it all to emerge worn out, bleary-eyed, and totally and utterly delighted that I went. I’ve written about FrightFest before, but each one is a different experience because, not surprisingly, each features a different programme of films.

This year’s kicked off on the Thursday night with Paul Hyett’s The Seasoning House, considered by some to be the best film of the festival and a very grim way indeed to get things going. Before I go on, I’ll just mention here that as well as the movies themselves, each tends to be preceded by a little film clip.  These are a combination of gory shorts by sponsors of the festival (eg Film4 and The Horror Channel) and a whole load of little specially made snippets that remind you to “Turn Off Your Bloody Mobile Phone”. Now, there’s no real need on the part of anyone involved here to do anything other than flash a card up before each film to let us all get the message, but it’s to the credit of those involved that all of these display a degree of creativity that make them little gems of gory enjoyment in themselves. Sexy ladies in white nurses uniforms and black rubber gloves invite you to sit in the Hostel chair. A mobile phone ringing causes dart player David Schofield to recreate his famous line from An American Werewolf in London as the misplaced arrow ends up buried in someone’s eye. Well done to everyone involved for these tiny film bites, all obviously made by people who love and respect the genre as much as the audience does.

Mr Hyett’s grim Balkans brothel-set war movie was followed by the infinitely jollier and more upbeat Cockneys vs Zombies. It doesn’t look as if this is going to get a widespread cinema release which is a shame, but it’s out on DVD at the end of October and anyone with a sense of humour and a fondness for British television nostalgia (and especially Richard Briers) will have an absolute blast with it.

Was it possible to get any sillier? People who decided to hang around for midnight movie Grabbers were soon to find out. Father Ted meets Aliens is actually a pretty good description for this old fashioned monster movie that boasted some decent acting, scary monsters, and a pleasing Tremors-type vibe. “This is the only chance you’ll get to see Grabbers in this form” we were told. Quite what that meant I’m still not sure, although a major plot point involves having to get completely trolleyed to avoid alien contamination means that by about an hour in subtitles will probably be needed if the film is to be shown anywhere other than its homeland.

Ireland has steadily been producing quality horror films for a couple of years now. No-one told me about it and so it’s only recently that I’ve been catching up. Another Irish midnight movie at FrightFest was Stitches and its star, Ross Noble, was along to introduce the film as well as provide us with half an hour of standup comedy he admitted he couldn’t possibly do anywhere else as it was too tasteless. Brave Frightfesters all, we weathered the orphan eye socket gags and actually had a pretty good time with Stitches, in which Mr Noble stars as a children’s birthday party entertainer who dies in a horrific kitchen accident during one of his afternoon performances and then comes back from the grave several years later to kill off the children (now teenagers) who humiliated him at his final performance. Both Ross Noble and Stitches were jolly, unassuming fun. The film has some nice touches, especially the cult that exists to bury clowns and the crypt where their bodies all ended up, which, along with the clown-based murders (watch the film to see what I mean) were probably the highlight of the film.

A big difference between this and last year’s FrightFest was the quality of the midnight screenings, and it’s a testament to their entertainment value that Lady Probert and I stayed to watch all of them this year, crawling back to our room at well past two in the morning every night. As well as the two pictures I mentioned we were treated to Dead Sushi, my review of which you can read if you click the link back there. Dead Sushi really isn’t for everyone, but after Sinister, the scariest film of the festival and the scariest film I’ve seen in years, it was the perfect tension reliever after two hours of Scott Derrickson’s tour de force in American horror filmmaking. I can’t remember having had such a hilarious, thigh slapping, laugh out loud time with a film in many years but its combination of finger puppet sushi bits, gallons of blood, tuna-headed men and sudden and inappropriate robot dancing may all be a bit much for most people.

The other midnight movie was something of a change of pace. William Lustig’s 1980 film Maniac starred Joe Spinell in a film so sleazy, so unpleasant and yet at the same time so effective that I thought there was no way it could be equalled. That is until I saw this new version starring Elijah Wood. It’s every bit as disturbing as the original and because almost the entire film relies on a subjective camera (you only get to see Wood in reflections in shop windows, mirrors, etc) you’re even more inside Frank’s head than you were in the original, and it’s a place you really don’t want to be. Maniac (2012) was another FrightFest film that, like The Seasoning House, left you feeling as if you had been put through both an emotional and psychological wringer. It’s a real endurance test, and most people (by which I mean the public and film critics at large rather than you, dear Bloodstained Balcony readers) are going to really hate it. I thought it was excellent and I have a feeling that, just like The Seasoning House, it might be rather difficult to get hold of an intact print, at least in this country. And someone has to release the soundtrack, which has to be one of the best 1980s synth homages I have ever heard. Composed by someone signed simply as ‘Rob’ on the film it deserves to be on CD right now.

Another great soundtrack accompanied my favourite film of the festival. Christopher Young provided the music to Sinister and I would never have guessed it was him until his credit came up at the end. One of the most moody, grim and atmospheric pieces of music to accompany a film that I’ve ever heard, when Sinister finished I told Lady P that there was no way we were going to have that music in our house. Of course now I want the CD and will relentlessly search for it until the music is in my possession and is being played late at night with all the lights turned off, the wind rustling the curtains and the possibility of the horrible demon thing lurking around every corner. Lovely.

So yes, Sinister was indeed my favourite film and I did indeed feel more scared watching it than I have in thirty years of pleasurable horror movie viewing. I’ll be very interested to watch it again, either in its cinema release or on DVD, to see if the movie has the same effect outside of FrightFest. Because the one thing everyone goes to FrightFest for is to watch movies with like-minded people. It was a joy to laugh my head off at Dead Sushi, to smile and be quite touched by [Rec]3 (I’m going to keep on saying how much I liked this for as long as the naysayers keep being outraged by it), and emotionally battered by The Seasoning House. I loved the collective sense of ‘this is a bit shit really isn’t it?’ of Outpost II, and the ‘for God’s sake how one note blood and rape and screaming can you get?’ of Hidden in the Woods.

But it’s the vibe of a great horror film that brings FrightFest into its own.

Sitting in not just a packed cinema, but a cinema packed with horror fans while Sinister worked its magic and created an atmosphere so palpable with dread that I was cringing in my seat will, I know now, become one of my all-time favourite FrightFest memories, like sitting in the front row for Final Destination 5 last year and being so blown away by the 3D bridge collapse. There are more reasons I go to FrightFest than I can possibly count, not the least of which is that these days I have someone to go with, but I hope all of what I’ve just said explains why I’ll be in the sleepy queue next year to make sure I get a bloody good seat for a bloody good festival. Paul McEvoy, Alan Jones, Ian Rattray and Greg Day thank you all so much – I had a blast and I cannot wait for next year.

JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT

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