Horror Channel FrightFest Diary

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STARBURST writer Jonathan Anderson regales us with his personal diary of events from this year's Horror Channel FrightFest...

I probably knew more about horror 10 years ago then I do now – all my money went on obscure horror videos and DVDs, but as I’ve moved around and downsized a lot and lost touch a bit, except for reading STARBURST, of course. Getting the chance to watch and review loads of films – horror films at that –was a great opportunity, so FrightFest was something I was looking forward to - plus I’d get to meet some great up and coming talent.

My FrightFest began on Friday evening. I’m running late so am pleased the new venue – Vue Cinemas in Westfield, is right next to the station. It’s normally in Vue Leicester Square but was moved due to cinema reservations this year. My first film is Pet. I’m a few minutes late and walk into the pitch-black Splice screen. No-one’s around with a torch, and I trip over someone in the darkness. I can’t find my seat, so sit in an empty one, turning off my phone. As I do so, a large gentleman behind me shouts ‘oi, turn it off’. Irony. Pet is dark and intelligent. I give it 7/10.

With a short break before White Coffin, I look for an area where I can write up the Pet review and/or charge my phone. Unfortunately there isn’t one. I contemplate a beer, but there doesn’t seem to be a designated ‘social spot’. Myself and someone on Twitter recommend this to Alan (Jones, one of the organisers), for next year. He thinks it’s a good idea. Apparently, The Phoenix pub would be the place to go in Leicester Square.

There’s a Wetherspoon downstairs, which is packed as it’s Friday night. Thankfully, Vue are serving beers and they’re only £3-4 which isn’t too bad for London. I make sure I find my seat for White Coffin. It’s surreal, intense, and reminds me of a ‘70s Italian horror in a way. That also gets 7/10. Tired and needing to get the last tube home (no 24-hour line where I live sadly), I head off.

I give myself a lie-in on Saturday as I’m knackered. I type up the first reviews and arrive at FF in time to watch The Master Cleanse, which is bittersweet and enjoyable. It’s another 7/10.

Finally able to relax and look around, I survey the buzzing crowd around me – it’s a sea of black t-shirts and long hair. It reminds me of Sonisphere. What is it about metal music and horror films? Stereotypes, eh? The shopping centre itself is a bit depressing. It does remind me of Dawn of the Dead though. Wetherspoons is still too busy to get a table for lunch, so I settle for a Morrison’s pasty and a beer. The nice folks from Shudder – a new Netflix of horror – give me a free t-shirt. My first freebie!

Seeing a trailer for a Ghostbusters ‘Cleanin’ Up The Town’ documentary has also got me excited – it looks amazing.

Next up is The Rezort. It’s pretty much what you expect – a resort where people shoot zombies after containing an outbreak. And then something goes wrong. I like it, and give it 6/10. Nothing has disappointed me yet, or blown me away. Yet.

I realise I haven’t watched anything on the Discovery screens yet, and take a chance on Beyond The Walls. It turns out it’s not actually a film, but a French mini-series. It’s absolutely captivating, and one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Essentially, it’s a about a woman who inherits an old house and find a parallel world behind the walls. But so much more. I walk out mesmerised, and give it 9/10.

I follow a crowd into the Horror Screen. I’m not meant to be in here but find an empty seat. Beyond The Gates comes on – I’m happy as this was my other choice. It’s a great nod to the ‘80s day of VHS and games like Atmosfear, and definitely one for horror fanboys/girls. 7/10.

I’m happy, a bit tipsy, and finally in the FF spirit. I contemplate staying for Knucklebones or the Duke Mitchell Party Event, whatever that is (I can hear people sigh), but sadly I have to get the tube home again.

On Sunday, I spend all morning and afternoon typing up reviews and doing research. I arrive in time for Reallive, which has a beautiful sci-fi theme to it and is reminiscent of Abre Los Ojos. It’s a slick piece of work, but is missing a little something to make it a classic. Still worth watching. 7/10.

The Notting Hill Carnival is on down the road, and I’ve never been in four years of living in London. I decide to go and experience it briefly, which is my first mistake. My second is leaving Notting Hill Gate station, where I am shepherded into a single-file system of people shuffling along, ironically like zombies, in some feral, drunken apocalyptic part of London. I’m sober, and this is hell. I decide to make the torturous walk back wondering if carnival is nicer in the daytime, and feeling sorry for Syrian refugees and people stuck in camps at Calais. I get back for Rob Zombie’s 31, which understandably has a lot of hype. Someone is using my seat for his bag, but there’s lots of spare seats in the back row so I sit in another. As I get comfortable, a large Scottish man walks up, pulls out his ticket, looks at me, then at the seat, and takes great pleasure in saying ‘you’re in mine’. I move.

Rob Zombie is divisive, and is loved or hated. I merely like him. 31 is what you expect – gory, fucked up, over-acted and full of crazy characters and dialogue. It also has a Spanish-speaking small person dressed as Hitler. 6/10.

On Monday I have to be at the IBIS hotel to interview Nick Jongerius, director of The Windmill Massacre (now The Windmill), and Charlotte Beaumont who stars in it. This is the only interview I had pre-arranged (and have been able to make) so I’m looking forward to it. I arrive at my local station – Colindale – and am shocked to see it’s closed for engineering works. TFL has fucked me again. I get a rail replacement bus and am running late. I email Tom Hewson from Fetch Publicity to say I’ll be late and request a later time. Unbeknown to me, he has no internet access but coincidentally gives me a call, and has a slot 30 minutes later. I arrive on time, with questions, phone and mic ready. The interview goes really well and Nick and Charlotte are talkative and friendly. Nick is Dutch and yet he’s terrified of windmills, which is how this film came about. The Netherlands is a bad place to be if you don’t like windmills. He has that underlying hint of craziness that many Dutch people have, which I love.

The interview ends 10 seconds short of my allotted time slot and I head to Esquires coffee to transcribe the interview, as Nick and Charlotte join the rest of the cast for red carpet and media at Vue. I'm there for well over an hour, much longer than the slice of blueberry cake (disappointing) and my very large 'medium' latte (nice) lasted.

Once again, I feel trapped inside this shopping centre, and pop out for fresh air and sunlight now and again.

I sit by the mini-arcade next to Vue and charge my phone up at a power socket. I spend 10 minutes agonising over whether to watch We Are The Flesh or Here Alone. I opt for Here Alone, as I feel it might appeal to my current mood. It’s another zombie movie (there are lots at this FF), but it has a fresh take, dealing with isolation and looking at things like sacrifices and decisions from a woman’s point of view. I made a good choice - 8/10.

Next up I take a chance on Blood Hunters - director Tricia Lee has been proactively engaging journalists to watch it, and I admire the effort. She's also from Toronto, where I lived and worked at TIFF and Pinewood Studios last year, and I feel a sense of loyalty to it. It’s essentially a monster movie, but with a focus on characters, redemption and relationships. It needs a polish, but is worth a watch. 6/10.

Now I'm a bit lost. I go to Wetherspoons for dinner, but again it's too busy. I lurk around the entrance outside; it's getting dark and sundown syndrome is setting in. I spot Jonathan Ross and Jane Goldman in Esquires, and contemplate saying hello and talking about comics. I used to work in Forbidden Planet where he often visited. I decide not to, as it'd be rude to disturb them. I contemplate going home early and getting some sleep, but I really want to see Train to Busan. I see if I can sneak into the 8.45pm showing but it's full. The cinema has suddenly packed out again and it's clear everyone else wants to see this film too.

This is a good time to be around. There are freebies galore! I get given a red, squeezable heart (a few cool, beating heart installations have been littered around Vue, adding to the ambience). Maybe it’ll replace my cold, dead one. I even get given a free FrightFest bag, which has a couple of DVDs in it. Later, staff walk around handing out some leftover DVDs from boxes. That’s Christmas sorted.

Train to Busan is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. As a zombie movie it’s batshit crazy – and it works just as well as a drama or an action movie. It’s full of incredible action scenes, brilliant characters and poignant moments. It’s the film World War Z could have been, as I say in the review. 9/10.

A party of sorts kicks off as cheesy pop music plays, juxtaposing the whole festival really. At midnight everyone is kicked out and we head to the Ibis for an afterparty. I should really go home, but I haven’t properly met anyone all weekend, and it’s a good opportunity to network.

The poor bar staff don’t know what’s hit them. I feel less sorry for them when I’m charged £5 for a pint. I meet lots of lovely people – directors, actors, writers, most of whom I’ve forgotten thanks to the lack of sleep and excess of alcohol. I chat to Tricia Lee (Blood Hunters director), Charlie introduces me to Kate Shenton (Egomaniac director), and Lawrie Brewster (The Unkindness of Ravens director), who’s a gentleman. I feel bad as I missed Kate and Lawrie’s films, but I hear they’re good. Kate even knitted hundreds of sock puppets for her screening (well, modified them from Primark). Much of the night is spent queuing up for the single (!) toilet, but that’s how you meet people, right?

A few hours later the lights go up, the noise goes down, and most people leave. I reluctantly accept FrightFest is over for 2016, and head home.

I enjoyed the experience but feel the location let it down a little – especially the lack of spaces to congregate away from the cinema itself.

In terms of big films and star names, there seems to be slightly less buzz than in previous years. Some journos muse it’s the new location. However, it allows more focus on rising stars, which is a nice payoff. And the cinema itself was great, and after having a whole cinema to themselves, would they organisers want to return to Leicester Square next year? We shall see. I’m definitely looking forward to the next one.

1. Beyond The Walls
2. Train To Busan
3. Here alone
4. Reallive
5. Pet
6. The Master Cleanse
7. Beyond The Gates
8. White Coffin
9. The Windmill Massacre
10. Blood Hunters/The Rezort/31 tied (if I have to pick... Blood Hunters)

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