Event Review: GRIMMFEST 2013

PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth

Gradually proving to be the horror film festival of northern England, Grimmfest has come a long way since 2009. This year's event took in three venues and thirty-nine films, as well as several Q&A sessions and demonstrations.

Festivities began with a preview night at the beautiful Art Deco Stockport Plaza Cinema. First up, was Hansel and Gretel Get Baked which takes its cue from the old fairy tale we all grew up with, but giving it a thoroughly modern twist. Instead of the usual gingerbread house, here the witch (played wonderfully by Twin Peaks' Lara Flynn Boyle) is a marijuana dealer, growing her own to a potent level. After an annoying start where it doesn't know whether it's a stoner comedy or pastiche, the film settles down to become a routine if inventive, haunted house chase. The out-of-town venue, and relatively early start may have put some pass holders off but, despite early misgivings, it was worth the effort. Interestingly, Frightfest showed the same film under the puzzling original title, Hansel and Gretel: The 420 Witch. Following this was a screening of the “final cut” of The Wicker Man. With director Robin Hardy in attendance (on his birthday, too!), this was, as you would expect, a well attended screening. Nothing new can be said about the film; it is personally one of this writer's favourites, and although this cut provides nothing new in the way of footage, the discovery of the original elements (at least for this interim version) is a cause for celebration, if only to be able to see the film in glorious HD, in the right chronological order and with the extra, important, song “Gently Johnny” included. It's a shame, then that the restored sections still look like grainy inserts. It doesn't stop it being one of the greatest movies ever made though. Topping the evening was the world première of local boy Mat Johns' brilliant short Radio Silence,  and the northern première of Curse of Chucky, which is the welcome return of everyone's favourite psychotic doll. Part re-boot, part sequel this is a surprisingly worthy addition to the franchise.

On Thursday, we start the festival properly. This year, instead of running two film streams side-by-side, the organisers have split the screenings between two venues, with the Lass O'Gowrie pub providing the morning/afternoon entertainment, before the main bulk of films over the road at The Dancehouse. This means that they can show films earlier on Thursday and Friday (where normally the event would not start until early evening). These fringe screening proved so popular that two separate screens were set up, one downstairs in the main bar and one in the small theatre space upstairs. The only problem with using this venue, however, was the external noises leaking through, which could be a little distracting. First up was To Jennifer, the latest from James Cullen Bressack, whose Hate Crime divided audiences last year with its extreme violence and contentious content. This film holds a unique selling point as it was filmed entirely on an iPhone, which doesn't cause as many problems as you'd expect. It's certainly no more off-putting as the average 'found footage' film. Home Sweet Home is the first film to shake up the gathered horror fans. A home invasion movie with a neat twist and plenty of gore, it set the bar high for the films to come. Opinions were divided on The House of 100 Eyes, which presents itself as a very black comedy, but then beats the viewer over the head with some very sick and twisted images and themes. The film follows an average All-American looking couple, who just so happen to make snuff porn as a hobby. It's hard to imagine the film playing to the mainstream as it's so tonally disturbing, but it's a well made piece of satire, and will no doubt become a cult favourite.

It's clear from this morning session that the festival has managed to find some of the best short films out there, something which continued over the course of the event. The high standard of films such as Bryan Ryan's The Guest, Gavin Williams' Sleepworking, Ben Goodger's Next Exit and Sid Zanfortin's Attack of the Brainsucker proves there's lots of talent out there, just waiting to be discovered; and it's thanks to events like Grimmfest that these film-makers flourish.

Moving over to the main theatre at The Dancehouse, the gathering crowd were treated to The Borderlands, which was actually an above average shaky-cam ghost story, which has the Vatican's investigation department looking into a priest's claims that his church is the site of a “miracle”. Returning guest James Moran was along to show his latest short, Crazy For You, which starred Arthur Darvill as a reluctant serial killer who falls in love with the stunning Hanna Tointon. Tense and exhilarating German serial killer thriller On Air closed the first night in style. Night owls were free to party until the small hours over at the Lass, with “Movieoke”; a twist on the standard karaoke in which punters can voice classic film clips instead of sing. Wanting to be fresh for the following day of fear, we head off to have pleasant nightmares.

Friday begins with the interesting, but over-long, documentary My Amityville Horror and the frankly rubbish Smiley, but both bring a very healthy turnout, filling both screening areas of The Lass. Things soon pick up with the entertaining Canadian virus/zombie flick Antisocial, which makes one wonder why it's taken so long to make a film about a Facebook type social network which inadvertently infects its users with their latest upgrade. A prosthetic make-up demonstration from Shaune Harrison, who worked on many films, including World War Z and Harry Potter, which was fascinating to watch. Two policemen entered the pub shortly before the end of the workshop, and one can only wonder what they thought was going on! Shaune also appeared later in the evening, along with some of his creations, for an equally engrossing and informative Q & A. Following a special screening of Hellraiser 2: Hellbound, Barbie Wilde and Nicholas Vince took to the stage to answer questions about appearing under all the Cenobite make-up. Friday was topped off with the English première of the fabulous Jug Face. Despite the late start, the film had a great turn-out and quite rightly, went down really well.

Modus Anomali, an Indonesian cat-and-mouse survival film with a twist, opened the proceedings on Saturday. Over at the main theatre, The Human Race ran out of steam mid-way before ending in the most preposterous way. Found was another film which was tonally ambiguous. This was a stunning story of a boy coming to terms with his older brothers dark secret. As much about growing pains as murder, the final act is a brutal, sombre piece of filmmaking. Kiss of the Damned, and enigmatic vampire film from Xan Cassavetes (son of the famous auteur John) provides a cerebral element to the old blood-sucking legend and is very much reminiscent of the works of Jean Rollin. Maybe a little too ponderous for the mainstream, it's a film which will gain a cult as years elapse. The Conspiracy, a pseudo-documentary was surprisingly captivating, while  Big Bad Wolves left the audience both shaken and amused and is well worth checking out. We were also treated to a teaser trailer for the still-in-production film White Settlers, directed by Grimm's Simeon Halligan. Starring Pollyanna McIntosh, this shows lots of promise.

Once again, those with no bed to go to are treated to a wonderful treat, as John Dies at the End manages to mind-fuck those who have not already destroyed their brain cells with booze by this time.

Bleary-eyed and waning somewhat, Thanatamorphose does nothing to help those suffering from fragile Sunday morning stomachs before we hit the final stretch. The brilliant The Butterfly Room is quite rightly a crowd pleaser, providing a little old school horror glamour, with Barbara Steele (Black Sunday) as the lead, and cameos from I Spit on Your Grave's Camille Keaton, PJ Soles (Halloween), Adrienne King (Friday the 13th) and Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street). It's a twisted film which keeps shocking right until the final moments, and would have suited a later timeslot, really. The Swedish gore-fest Wither features rabid/rage type zombies, while Stalled carries the more traditional type. It went down really well with the audience, who were no doubt in need of some light relief from the constant onslaught of violence. Which is not to say the low-budget (almost) single location horror comedy doesn't include its fair share of crimson. Paul Davis' last short, Him Indoors was quite rightly a big hit at last years Grimmfest and this year the director was on hand in person with The Body. Alfie Allen plays a serial killer using Halloween celebrations as a cover for disposing of his latest victim. More subtle than the previous film, it still manages several dark laughs. Returning guests Dominic Brunt and wife/writer Joanne Mitchell were in attendance to show their new short, Shellshocked. Set in a bunker in WWII, where two opposing soldiers face-off with each other before they realise they are not entirely alone. Finishing the event with a more cerebral, sci-fi way, was The Machine, an intriguing story of an AI programme involving wounded army veterans and a beautiful prototype which develops amazing self-awareness.

With nothing left to do than party into the small hours at the glorious FAB Cafe, another Grimmfest was over. Remarkably well organised, and very friendly, this event goes from strength to strength. Film festivals are really only as good as the films they show, and the guys from Grimm Up North do their best to provide a varied and entertaining programme. While it may be easy to copy the 'big boys' of the London scene, this event has its own voice and should be applauded and supported for it. See you next year!

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