For the past eight years, zombies have descended on the outer suburbs of Leeds. Not particularly an apocalyptic event, but in the form of a series of charity film festivals run by Dominic Brunt and Mark Charnock. Both massive zombie fans, the Emmerdale stars (they play Paddy and Marlon respectively) have realised the old revived corpse can only be resurrected so many times. So rather than knocking a great idea on the head, this year the event became the First Leeds Horror Film Festival.
Once again, it was all to aid charity (namely, World Animal Protection), and replacing the undead were a motley selection of classic horror titles, along with one UK premiere. It’s a wise decision to branch out into the other subgenres, and also to avoid chasing the same sort of programming of the big ‘name’ festivals that attempt to pull in audiences with hyped-up titles and the promise of star names who may or may not show up. No, this is a friendly, homely-feeling event with no pretentions where everyone is made to feel welcome and only red carpet is on the floor of the luscious, old-style cinema.
The Cottage Road Cinema plays host once more, having been the venue for all but the first of the boys’ endeavours. It’s a lovely, friendly and inviting picture house, located on a quiet street in the Headingley area of Leeds, with an equally cosy pub just opposite which fed and watered the gathered fans between films (and sometime during, for those who felt the need to skip a flick or two). There were still plenty of people dressed up, and given the day’s headline film, the recurring theme was definitely lycan.
The line-up of movies began just after midday with the superb Night of the Demon (1957). A genuine classic, it was brilliant to see this atmospheric classic on the big screen again (albeit not in the HD BFI version seen in cinemas a year or so ago). From the reaction of the audience, there may well have been some people who hadn’t actually seen the film at all. There was no denying that it stands up well after all these years, and to repeated viewings.
Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985) followed; in which things get quite meta, as the characters on screen become possessed while watching a screening of a horror film. The film’s highlight character, Tony the Pimp (the brilliant Bobby Rhodes) had everyone in stitches with his badly-dubbed screaming of “Smash everything”. The theme continues with the unfortunate case of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) as she takes a turn for the evil in The Exorcist (1973). While still popular with many people, it’s also a good time to take a much-needed refreshment break.
The screenings continue with the day’s sole zombie film, the riotous sequel Dead Snow 2: Red or Dead (2014). While the first film blended gore with laughs, the second – with the action following on directly – is played more for outlandish laughs, while keeping the OTT splatter effects, and had the crowd in hysterics.
The new film for the day was Charlie’s Farm (2014), a slasher-type film set in Australia, in which a group of thrill-seeking (read: stupid) friends decide to camp out on the remains of a farm. The draw being that the owners used to kill backpackers and were then murdered by the local townsfolk. Only the son, Charlie, escaped the slaughter and has somehow survived, picking off any foolish people who might stray in his path. You know you’re in for a ‘treat’ when you see Tara Reid’s name in the credits, and she doesn’t disappoint. In so much that she’s pretty terrible. The film itself has its moments but suffers badly from the characters making absolutely ridiculous decisions and a rather skewed pacing. This makes the ending (which, to be honest, couldn’t come quick enough) feel very rushed. The gore quota will mean some people will enjoy it when it’s released on DVD/Blu-ray in June, but it’s no classic.
Which meant everything rests on the final film. Fortunately, there’s no trouble here, as it’s John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. Ever since its release in 1981, the film has wowed audiences, and in Leeds, it proved once more that it can still do that. Seeing it on the big screen after so long actually feels like watching it anew, something that is always pleasant to experience; particularly with a film that’s as famous and popular as this.
And with that, the hordes filtered out onto the streets; some heading home, some nipping back in the pub to see if a small Guinness would suffice. Run by people passionate about the genre, the festival will hopefully return for many more successful years, and – particularly with the charity element – is one well worth supporting. The big question is, how do Dom and Mark top this years’ line-up?