Last weekend saw Grimmfest, the annual Manchester festival of all things horror run by the team at Grimm Up North. This year's film line up was one of the strongest they've had, and they complimented it with a generous selection of guests and a laid back, friendly atmosphere which welcomed this pair of Starburst writers.
The festival kicked off with a preview night in Stockport on the Wednesday, with an early screening of Sinister, American Mary and the short Dysmorphia before moving to the grand and wonderful surroundings of Manchester's The Dancehouse.
Thursday night was sponsored by Starburst and saw the world première of Menhaj (Kidulthood) Huda's Comedown, a very gritty tale of a group of wannabe gangster teens holed up in an abandoned London tower block after installing a pirate radio antenna. After filling up on beer and pills, the group soon discover they are not alone, and when pregnant Jemma (Sophie Stuckley) goes missing, boyfriend Lloyd (Jacob Anderson) admirably refuses to leave without her. Not only do they have a homicidal maniac to deal with, they all are suffering from one hell of a bad trip. The film is well made, but soon falls into the standard stalk and slash tropes, albeit in the unique setting of the squalid run down flats. There are some fantastic effects, especially with a very convincing tower block, which had to be created due to London's Olympic clean up. Director Huda was present for the post screening Q & A along with producer Dominic Norris and stars Anderson and petite Jessica Barden, who controversially admitted not being at all interested in the horror genre as it terrifies her.
Next up was Cockneys vs Zombies which defies presumptions and turns out to be a fantastic slice of British comedy horror. Full of elaborate and gruesome effects, with a cast of largely septuagenarian veterans, all familiar faces complimented by a likeable young cast and more laughs than anything of recent years. It is truly criminal that it has had little more than a nominal cinema release here, but it should and deserves to do really well when the DVD is released soon. Writer James Moran and star Alan Ford were interviewed on stage by our very own Paul Mount, aided by local DJ Mike Sweeney, and entertained the impressive turn out as much as the film. The night was rounded off with the first of several screenings of the big hit from last years festival, Some Guy Who Kills People.
Star Alan Ford (left) and writer James Moran (far right) talk Cockneys vs. Zombies with DJ Mike Sweeney
The big film for Friday night was Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut, the 1990 Clive Barker film, restored near as possible to the original shooting script by Russell Cherrington, who was in attendance to tell us (or warn us) about the quality of much of the footage inserted into the film. On the big screen it looks awful, which is a shame as the film has a cult following even in the regular version, and with the extra footage it becomes a completely different film, but at two and a half hours it was a bit of a slog. It is admirable that Cherrington has so much passion for the project, but unless the original film footage turns up or is made available, it is unlikely this will see the light of day outside of these road show festival screenings.
Much easier on the eye and far more entertaining is Grabbers, and it was really nice to see some of the effects creatures and severed heads brought along by the FX guys. Hopefully someone will release this film soon, as it deserves a wider audience, and definitely benefits from a big screen showing, it is the sort of film that has the potential to cross over into mainstream success.
The FX of Grabbers
Saturday kicked off nice and early with the UK première of Columbian film Wake Up And Die (Volver a Morir), which was like a torture porn version of Groundhog Day. With just two characters, naked for the majority of the film, it was an intense and visceral start to the day. The short film The Other Side which followed, directed by The Santoro Brothers and staring Nick Moran, had a simple set up and twist that has been done before (think Haute Tension), but was well made and stylish. The stunning poster artwork by the legendary Graham Humphreys (The Evil Dead, Basket Case) promises a much better film however.
Hammer classic The Devil Rides Out gave Grimm an opportunity to bring to the stage Patrick Mower, who made his feature début in the film, and he turned out to be a very entertaining guest, and very keen to talk about the film. Highlight of the day by far was Before Dawn, the directorial début for Dominic Brunt, who like Mower is more famous from TV soap Emmerdale.
The Devil Rides Out's Patrick Mower
Before Dawn's Dominic Brunt, Nicky Evans and Joanne Mitchell
A lifelong zombie fan, Brunt has made a powerful drama with genuine, moving situations and planted it straight in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The Q&A which featured fellow cast members Joanne Mitchell (Brunt's real life partner) and Shameless star Nicky Evans as well as members of the crew. It was a fabulously entertaining affair, complete with Brunt's admission of being terrified of being in the audience during the screening and the odd gender faux pas. If ever a film deserves to do well it is this one, but I do worry that the masses of soap fans will not know what has hit them once the blood starts to flow, as it gets incredibly violent at times.
Attack of the Werewolves (Lobos de Arga) followed, the Spanish take on the lycanthropy genre going down well with the crowds, and then it was down to a disappointing hiccup, when it is revealed the planned evening headliner Gallowwalker (starring Wesley Snipes and Patrick Bergin) had to be cancelled due to the only copy in the UK being unplayable. At this point, old age was taking its toll, and we called it a night, so as to come back for Sunday's schedule fresh.
The Eschatrilogy opened the proceedings for the final day, with director Damian Morter and crew in tow, and the decision to move the film from the smaller Studio screening room to the main stage proved the right one, as it was very well attended despite the early start. The film has undergone a little tightening up since it was reviewed for Starburst last month, and it still looks great, especially on the big screen. Frank Henenlotter's classic '80s cult movie Basket Case played to a packed house, including many who had not seen it before and who came away fans.
Damian Morter, director of The Eschatrilogy
Offbeat psychological horror Below Zero had its UK première next, with producer Bob Shultz and writer Signe Olynyk on hand to reveal more about the extreme measures taken while writing the film, namely being locked in a slaughterhouse meat locker for five days. Next up was a film that we had not heard of before, Rites of Spring. Starring the wonderful AJ Bowen (A Horrible Way To Die) it tells two stories, one of a kidnapping and ransom deal, and another of a series of kidnaps that are for a ritual sacrifice that must be performed each year. While it started well, and looked fabulous, once the two plot strands joined it lost its way, and featured the only “Is that it?” ending of the weekend.
Pollyanna McIntosh made an appearance in support of the short film, Him Indoors which stars Reece Shearsmith as an agoraphobic serial killer. It’s written and directed by Paul Davis (who made the brilliant American Werewolf documentary Beware The Moon), and while he was unable to be there himself, there was a link between him and several of the weekend’s films. James Moran mentioned he was going to be working on Silent Night of the Living Dead – Davis' first feature due to begin production soon, and he played the tall monster in The Other Side. Pollyanna was a fantastic guest, fielding questions about all her career (especially last year's big hit The Woman) not just the short and was very friendly and chatty.
Pollyanna McIntosh, star of The Woman, talks about her short, Him Indoors
Which just left the night free for a preview screening of the forthcoming killer clown flick, Stitches. Starring comedian Ross Noble, Sarah Jane Adventures star Tommy Knight and Gemma-Leah Devereux (who also had a small part in Comedown, meaning the weekend had come full circle, so to speak). The film is a lot of fun, if a little flawed in places, and even a technical hitch involving the sound mix on the copy screened didn't hamper the full auditoriums enjoyment. The Q&A was as funny as you'd expect from a seasoned comedian such as Noble, and he clearly had the time of his life with the part, and revealed he would be more than happy to make ten more instalments, the last of course being in space.
Pollyanna McIntosh with the stars of Stitches, Tommy Knight, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Ross Noble
So the weekend drew to a close, and despite the odd bug here and there, which is only to be expected really, everything went well and a good time was had by all. From a personal position, it was a tough call sometimes choosing between films showing in the main room and the smaller studio, the ones we missed seemed to have been at the more extreme end of genre, so maybe that was for the best as this year's line up was more light and crowd pleasing, but still full of gore. The Grimm Up North gang have really raised their game, and as long as they can keep getting the quality of films that was seen this year, there is no reason Grimmfest could not become serious competition to FrightFest. There was nothing else to do, of course except party the night (and indeed early morning) away at Fab Cafe, where it was nice to see some of the stars of the evening enjoying themselves too. If you missed it, you really missed out. Don't make that mistake next year.