Film4 FrightFest

21-25 August 2008

Odeon West End, London


2008 is promising to be a vintage year for Film4 FrightFest, with what is possibly their strongest line-up to date. The festival has always endeavoured to represent the full spectrum of the horror genre, from trashy gore to arty, poetic fantasy and this year the mix is exquisitely calibrated, from the cerebral time travel thriller Time Crimes (set to be remade by David Cronenberg) and smart Korean serial killer tale The Chaser, to teenage zombie comedy Dance of the Dead and splatter fest Tokyo Gore Police. Some of the films showing are particular favourites of ours, including Fear(s) of the Dark, a collection of short animated films by leading graphic artists which explore our deepest phobias (look out for our interview with Charles Burns in the autumn print issue!) and Let The Right One In, a subtle, moving evocation of the world of childhood through a pre-teen vampire tale.

The festival opens on Thursday 21 August with the British film Eden Lake. ‘They don’t want me to use the word controversial but I think I’m going to have to because it does tap into the zeitgeist’, says Alan Jones, FrightFest co-director and programmer. ‘Every day you read about hoodie horror knife crime in the newspapers and it is a reflection of that. It’s James Watkins’s first time as a director and I think he really shows great promise. It’s a very tough film to watch, it’s very bleak, but the acting is superb. I’m very pleased with the British strand of the festival. If FrightFest has any sort of mandate at all it is to showcase upcoming British talent; we’re in London, it’s an important part of what the festival does, and we’ve got seven movies this year that are all pretty good.’

At the other end, FrightFest will close with the Roger Corman-produced Death Race, which is loosely based on the 1975 also Corman-produced Death Race 2000 (which we’ll be covering in our autumn print issue). ‘You have to be careful with your closing film, it can’t be something too downbeat, you want to send the audience off on a high’, explains Jones. ‘We were originally thinking of closing with Martyrs, but we thought, god no, they’re gonna come out of that like zombies wanting to slit their wrists; whereas Death Race is action-packed, it’s fun, it’s silly. It’s very well done, it’s got a massive budget and it’s got Jason Statham in it.’

With Death Race being such a big-budget film, can it really retain the element of political satire of the 1975 film? ‘Very much so’, was Jones’s response. ‘I think that’s one of the reasons why the genre is surviving. I still think horror and fantasy is the best way to put across contemporary concerns. Most of our films do that this year. They’re all pretty strong on the allegory side and Death Race keys into that as much as the other films.’

The highlight of this year’s line-up for Jones is Martyrs, a seriously disturbing-sounding French torture film. ‘When we saw Martyrs in Cannes I just knew it was the fantasy film of the year. It is very daring, it’s so uncompromising that we bent backwards to make sure we got it. I know the audience is going to react to that. They might not like it but they’ll definitely say they’ve never seen anything like it before. For me it’s the best film of the year in how it approaches a very very provocative subject matter.’

But when I say I’m really looking forward to seeing the film, Jones warns me, albeit jokingly: ‘Be careful! I’m a bit worried about that film. There was a time when we used to give people warnings. We had a situation last year when one of our films, The Girl Next Door, caused two people to get very upset, because of the child abuse subject matter. But I’m wary of doing that because the moment you say this is the most shocking film you’ve ever seen, the audience is going to come back to you and say, “it wasn’t as shocking as you said it was going to be”. And if I go on stage and say, “I didn’t like this but you might do”, they all come out and say, “it was really good, why didn’t you like it?” So if you set the audience up to react one way or the other, you’re on a hiding to nothing… It’s best to shut up and let them watch the film! (laughs)

So do FrightFest organisers actually worry about how people might react to some of the most shocking fare on offer? ‘Not really, they’re horror fans. I mean, if a horror film is too horrifying, what are they expecting? (laughs) The audience knows what to expect going in, they want to be horrified, I do! I go to virtually every single horror film because I want to be frightened, I want to be scared, I want to jump, and if I don’t get that I’m disappointed. But I can guarantee there’s gonna be a lot of that going on at FrightFest!’

Virginie Sélavy