Returning for its 7th year, the now illustrious Manchester horror festival was looking to paint the Odeon Printworks red with an eclectic onslaught of bloody, chaotic and thrilling cinema. Screen 12 in the Odeon played host to 34 films screened over four days. Some were northern premieres, some were UK premieres and the closing night even boasted the World Premiere of Manchester born Andrew Goth’s mind-bending, sci-fi thriller DXM. Here’s how things transpired…
Thursday: Grimmfest 2015 officially opened on Thursday October 1st with its Gala Opening Night. The inaugural film this year was Corin Hardy’s The Hallow, a picture that has been making waves at festivals from FrightFest to Sundance. The crowd were treated to an introduction from the director himself and star Joseph Mawle (Uncle Benjen from Game of Thrones) where Hardy outlined his inspirations in a nice little quiz segment that revealed stylistic stimulus from films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Alien. Inspired by Irish folklore, The Hallow is the claustrophobic tale of a family who move to the rural Irish countryside, only to find that they are not exactly welcome. Evocative of The Descent, Hardy’s film builds tension effectively until all chaos breaks loose in the foreboding forest. The Hallow is a strong directorial debut that effectually blends adult fairy-tale with suspenseful horror. It looks like The Crow reboot is next on the cards for Hardy and it’ll be interesting to see how that develops.
Next up was ‘The Northern Showcase’; four short films that celebrated northern talent, and so we should- we’re in the bloody north, aren’t we? The Box was a ghost story starring Dominic Brunt with pitch black comedic elements, Snatchers focused on an ominous home invasion, Driven was a collaborative project between 16 to 19-year olds that showed a sat-nav not being as helpful as it should be, and finally Process was an exploration of dementia through a sci-fi lens. The Q&A afterwards was a nice insight into the films and the triumphs and tribulations of filmmaking up North.
The opening night closed with USA horror comedy Bloodsucking Bastards. Think The Office with vampires, and you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Bloody (pun intended) good fun.
Friday: The day’s horror antics were kick started at 12pm with German Angst, a dark three-part anthology that may well have had some people’s breakfasts churning in their bellies. Good horror is supposed to evoke some extreme reactions though, right? So kudos. Next up was a fitting tribute to recently departed genre icon Wes Craven with a charity screening of Scream. In a classy move from the festival organisers, a percentage of the ticket sales are to be donated to a cancer charity in honour of Wes. Again, kudos.
Following Scream was a hidden gem that you only find nestled in the programme at festivals like this. Landmine Goes Click is a Georgian thriller and a strikingly brutal inquiry into the nature of revenge, gender and human interaction. Thematically reminiscent of I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left, this was certainly a festival highlight. Crowd-pleasing He Never Died was next on the agenda. Starring punk legend Henry Rollins as Jack, the plot takes elements of vampirism, noir and black comedy to create something quite unique. Clearly a fan favourite, this is worth checking out. Also, Henry Rollins is just an absolute stone-cold, badass.
Producer John McDonnell gave a brief introduction to Cherry Tree stating only, “its got witches and centipedes in. Enjoy”. He didn’t lie either, there were in fact lots of centipedes and a few witches too. The plot though seemed to drag somewhat, but was complimented by some great SFX work and cast chemistry. Later was the Northern Premiere of eagerly anticipated Turbo Kid that masterfully blended action-comedy with 80s nostalgia. Big buzz around this one! For those troopers still awake, the night/early morning came to a close with David Yarovesky’s The Hive, which was a pretty solid effort at a psychological zombie flick with some nice visuals and an added scientific context for depth.
Saturday: Early afternoon viewing came in the form of body horror Excess Flesh that was at times uncomfortable, but stands as a pertinent examination of contemporary body image issues in society. Don’t expect Grimmfest to ease you in with a light film… Following this was another short film showcase with themes ranging from the paranormal in Whisper, to psychological rage in Cowboy Ben. The pick of these was probably dark_net, starring Jonny Vegas in a cavalcade of dark comedy and a splattering of blood for good measure.
Documentary The Nightmare was an interesting addition to the festival line-up. With a focus on the harrowing hallucinatory phenomenon of sleep paralysis, eight subjects share their experiences with the sleep disorder.
Next up was decorated SFX artist Paul Hyett’s (The Descent, Attack the Block, Eden Lake) take on the werewolf subgenre. Disposing of the silver bullet, snout and fur clichés, Howl is a fast-paced creature feature that explores character distrust and an ominous threat in the vein of The Thing… whilst stuck on a train! Inevitable comparisons will be made to Dog Soldiers but these should be seen as a compliment.
The UK premiere of Synchronicity progressed the evening along and what initially appeared to be a slow-starting run of the mill sci-fi flick turned out to play with temporal narrative conventions in a refreshing way. Deathgasm then gave us a glorious; splatter-filled gory horror with a metal soundtrack core running right through it. Finally, We Are Still Here was a nice homage to ‘70s/80s Italian horror with some good old-fashioned gruesome scenes and terrific practical effects.
Sunday: Grimmfest, like all good things, had to come to an end on Sunday, but not without a few more goodies up its proverbial sleeve. Sadly the first two films didn’t match a lot of the other weekend’s high standard. Hellions is a Halloween night film that never really manages to establish any sense of atmosphere and some of the allegory is so heavy handed it hurts. Following this was Antisocial 2, a film that deals with an insidious virus but often gets caught up in its own themes, confusing both itself and the audience as to what its real purpose is.
Faith was restored later with a 2K, Arrow restored big-screen outing for Clive Barker’s iconic Hellraiser. Cenobites and outstanding practical effects were a welcome addition to the festival and a Q&A with the Leviathan documentary crew and SFX artist Cliff Wallace cast some interesting light on the crafting of this classic.
Next up was a Christmas themed, interweaving collection of tales aptly named A Christmas Horror Story. Honestly, this is really good fun- You’ve got Bill Shatner as a booze supping radio host, Santa slaying possessed elves, Krampus deciding who’s naughty and who’s nice, evil children terrorising their parents and a college documentary that takes a creepy turn. Yuletide gore is every bit as entertaining as it sounds.
The festival was closed with the official World Premiere of the mind-bending DXM from Manchester-born director Andrew Goth. The film is an amalgamation of so many different themes and genres with sci-fi, religion, action, thriller and martial arts all getting a look in. As the Q&A with the filmmakers revealed, the piece was inspired by many real-life aspects of science and physics such as the double-slit experiment, Higgs Boson and the Hydron Collider as well as the single observer theory so many of the themes are grounded in reality. Unfortunately, the film suffers from an overwhelming sense of over ambition, as if all these grand subjects are suffocating the film’s ability to engage. Perhaps repeated viewing may reward the observer, but this overzealous blending of faith and physics tries to do too much and ultimately falls a little short…
Overall, Grimmfest was again a rousing success - great atmosphere, great people and great films. The festival feels like an inclusive platform for horror and cult film lovers to convene and celebrate the genres they hold dearly. Keep an eye out on STARBURST for reviews from the festival and bring on Grimmfest 2016!