For its 10th anniversary year, London’s horror film festival, FrightFest, relocated to the sumptuous location of the Empire cinema, which holds court over Leicester Square from its central position on the North side of the square. This gave the festival its most prestigious venue yet, showing there’s money to be made in horror films even after a decade of increasingly uninventive entries in the genre and offered the fans a huge main screen for the main programme as well as a more intimate downstairs screen for the ‘discovery’ strand. The building also has a foyer with sofas, which made it a lot easier for ticket buyers and filmmakers to hang out between the screenings and chat about what they’d just seen.
This convivial atmosphere contributes to the feeling you get at FrightFest that a significant amount of the audience comes back every year to resume friendships and conversations they can perhaps only enjoy online the rest of the year. The foyer certainly was always a hive of activity with radio and TV interviews being recorded in one corner and a merchandise stall in another offering fans the chance to have posters signed by the likes of John Landis whose American Werewolf was screening at the festival.
Aside from the domination of zombie movies in the line-up, there was also a definite Nazi theme this year: they were included in the plot of a quintet of films, from the sins of the (grand)father trope in Millennium: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to the mad scientists of The Human Centipede and Shadow and of course the Nazi zombies in Dead Snow plus the blink and you’ll miss it cameo of monstrous storm troopers in one of American Werewolf‘s dream sequences. The Nazi leitmotif was even commented on in the short comedy films that had been made especially for the festival and accompanied some screenings. If Quentin Tarantino can find box office (Nazi) gold in the subject, we shouldn’t begrudge others the same on a weekend that was only a week shy of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.
Like all film festivals, there were so many titles in the line-up that of course not all were guaranteed to be great and some rested on the reputation of their stars or earlier career of their directors, but even when the films proved to be so bad they elicited laughter from the audience – Dario Argento’s Giallo, for example – the experience of watching a horror film with an audience of appreciative genre fans on a massive screen made it worthwhile…
Here’s to another 10 years of FrightFest.
In anticipation of FrightFest’s Halloween extravaganza, we review some of our personal favourites from this year’s festival, two of which are out in UK cinemas in October.
Triangle (released Oct 16)
From the director of Creep and Severance comes a satisfyingly chilling thriller in which a young woman is caught in a circular nightmare and is led to go through the same events over and over again. Although anyone who saw the excellent time-travel Spanish thriller Timecrimes may have an unpleasant sense of déjÃ vu, Triangle offers enough genuine tension and striking images as well as a real sense of existential claustrophobia to make the audience forget that the plot is not only derivative but also sometimes a little muddled. Melissa George gives a fantastic, intense performance as the woman in trouble and infuses the film with emotional depth. VIRGINIE SÃ‰LAVY
Pontypool (released Oct 16)
In 1938, Orson Welles created a radio adaptation of his British namesake’s The War of the Worlds, which famously ‘panicked’ America into believing Martians were invading their fair shores. Pontypool updates and subverts that idea by having the observers of a zombie-like outbreak hole up in a radio station and stay on air to inform other possible survivors about the situation, leading to a phone call from an incredulous BBC World Service reporter and the dissemination of a possible cure over the airwaves. In my opinion, this was the finest film of the festival, showing how you can create a haunting atmosphere with a small cast of great actors and an intriguing, infectious premise. Appropriately, the recorded soundtrack of the film was broadcast, with slight alterations, as a radio play, which works almost as well without the visuals. At a Q & A after the screening, the producer said a sequel was on its way and since the plot of Pontypool is based on only one page from the out-of-print novel it’s adapted from, I’m fascinated to find out what happens next. ALEX FITCH
The Human Centipede
Danish Artist Tom Six has managed to create a truly original horror film with his bizarre, off-the-wall, yet touching The Human Centipede (the First Sequence). Focusing on the effort of Dr Reiner to create a human centipede using three unwilling volunteers, Six infuses the film with a Cronenberg feel while managing to retain the human drama rather than focusing on gross-out moments. Actor Dieter Laser as Dr Reiner is a true revelation – a mad doctor clearly inspired by Udo Kier. The film is a staggering success, and one can only hope Six manages to go ahead with his intended sequel for which he promises even more bizarre action. EVRIM ERSOY
Trick ‘r Treat
Released after a two-year hiatus, director Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat may be the only true successor to Halloween in creating an ode to a the celebration of fright that can viewed every year. Taking his cue from the portmanteau pictures of Amicus as well as EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt, Dougherty brings a fresh angle to the genre by using a fractured timeline Ã la Amores Perros. Strong performances from actors such as Brian Cox ensure that the acting is well above average while the stories send the necessary shivers up the spine. The mischievous sack-headed figure of Sam, hovering around the edges of the film and keeping a vicious eye on the proceedings, might be the new Halloween icon for a new generation. A delight to watch and a future classic! EVRIM ERSOY
Alex Fitch, Evrim Ersoy and Virginie Sélavy
The Film4 FrightFest All-Nighter takes place on October 31 at the ICA Cinema, London: six UK premieres featuring poltergeists, vampires, zombies, mutants, backwoods monsters and an incredible torture show! More details on the FrightFest website.