Before the event kicked off proper, there was a special preview night at Manchester’s plush Odeon at the Printworks complex. A glorious double bill began with a special screening of A Nightmare on Elm Street – celebrating its 30th anniversary. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, and the film still holds up as both scary and funny. Of course, the Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) character had not yet become the quip-spouting parody that would make him a favourite with the public. The other half of the evening was devoted to an early screening of the fabulous Australian film The Babadook. It certainly set the standard for the rest of the festivals, as it was genuinely frightening and boasted fabulous acting from the two leads. That one is a young child is even more startling. As Robbie, a troubled kid with behavioural problems which straddle autistic and ADHD, Daniel Henshall is brilliant, completely believable and utterly sympathetic, despite his condition making him do some terrible things. The film is on general release towards the end of the month.
The first day of the festival proper was split between two venues, with Gorilla hosting the morning and afternoon session, which was dedicated to ‘Women in Horror’. Among the films shown were Jessica Cameron’s directorial debut Truth or Dare, a nasty but fairly enjoyable affair, which was coupled with the short She. Written and directed by Chelsey Burdon and Mark Vessey, it’s a powerful drama concerning a couple whose relationship has hit the rocks. Curse of Chucky star Fiona Dourif is the abused wife who takes revenge on her husband played by Phillip James. In a horrific and deeply sickening way. It’s certainly an uncomfortable watch for men, but is really well made and shows the young pair have a future worth keeping an eye on. The evening session at The Dancehouse was filled with equally great films. Opening with the world premiere of the ‘feminist vegan horror film’ The Herd in which Pollyanna McIntosh heads a farm in which the livestock is young women. Kept in cages and perpetually pregnant to harvest their milk, it’s a shocking and powerful representation of the treatment of dairy cows that will open the eyes of many viewers and maybe even change a few opinions. Director Melanie Light and writer Ed Pope were unable to attend the screening, but the film was represented by actors McIntosh, Jon Campling, Sarah Jane Honeywell, Dylan Barnes and Charlotte Hunter joined assistant art director Alex Cf on stage for a question and answer session. Pollyanna also starred in the next film, Let Us Prey, and she once again appeared on stage with fellow cast members Liam Cunningham and Hanna Stanbridge as well as director Brian O’Malley. They managed to regale the audience with tales of the filming and were very entertaining, as was the film. Ending the night was Suburban Gothic, the latest film from Excision director Richard Bates Jr. Starring Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler who is perfect as the quirky law school graduate who has a tendency to see ghosts. More a comedy than horror, but still containing enough spooky elements, it’s a complete change of pace from the director’s earlier film and is incredibly entertaining and laugh out loud funny.
Friday’s line up began over at the Odeon with the ‘Head Fuck’ stream, which contained four twisted films which went some way to melt the crowd’s minds. However Friday was the big event for the majority of the attendees as Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin took to the stage to play a live score to Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Seeing the classic film on the big screen (at an actual ballet school too) with the band playing the soundtrack was something else. The extra power the live performance gives to the film is spectacular; adding a whole new dimension. The night ended with the Argento cut of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which also featured a Goblin score, just not live sadly.
Opening the Saturday schedule was a short film showcase. While there were shorts playing with some of the other films, there were not as many with the features as in previous years. By having the cream of the crop screened together in a ninety-minute block means it’s less likely of missing any that you’d particularly would want to see, but also brings its own problems. The different ratios of the films caused several false starts, but it was handled as swiftly as possible with the minimum of fuss. There were some brilliant shorts on display. Highlights included the Lovecraft-inspired Vomica, directed by Andy Green and set in WWII, Ben Steiner’s The Stomach, which managed to be both grotesque and fascinating. The story involves a unique spirit medium whose way of contacting dead loved ones lies in his stomach. With some great special effects, it’s one to watch out for. The award for ‘best short to bring your breakfast up to’ went to Andy Stewart’s Split. It’s a superb piece of body-horror in which a man literally begins to see the physical effects of the emotion of his girlfriend leaving him. The second of a trilogy of shorts by the Scottish director Stewart that all follow a theme of elements of mental illness and sickening body-horror, following Dysmorphia and the upcoming Ink (which screens this month at Sheffield’s Celluloid Screams). Very much in the style of David Cronenberg without being derivative, all three films are worth checking out if you get the chance. It’s always great to see a film making an audience squirm, especially at midday on a Saturday. The Forgotten, ghost horror-comedy Housebound and Coherence followed, but the film of the day was the brilliant What We Do in the Shadows, a riotous spoof of vampire films. But this is no Scary Movie, oh no. A ton of fun from start to finish, it’s destined to be the Spinal Tap of horror films. Starry Eyes was an adequate follow-up, but those who stuck around to catch Zombeavers were no doubt left wondering why they bothered.
Sunday morning saw an early start for those not too hung over/shellshocked/recovering from zombiefied water rodents with the fringe screening of Open Graves over at Gorilla, then the final trip around the corner to the main venue The Dancehouse. Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead proved the first film was no fluke as it mixed gore and laughs with ease, but amped up the fantasy element with the sole survivor of the original group slaughtered by the resurrected Nazis becoming an unlikely action hero. He’s joined by a small group of American geeks who represent The Zombie Squad (which is an actual thing). Very funny and some gloriously OTT gore, it’s great to see a worthwhile sequel for once. Life After Beth went down well, but disappointed was the feeling when it turned out the planned screening of Der Samurai had to be rescheduled due to it not playing properly. In its place, a past favourite was played, namely Lucky Mckee’s The Woman. No one was complaining at the choice, and several members of the audience admitted to not having the chance to see it before so at least it made a few new fans. They could have renamed the festival the Pollyanna McIntosh fest, but that would not necessarily be a bad thing as she’s such a fantastic actor and genuinely nice person (keep your eyes open for our interview with her soon). Things got hairy with Wolf Cop dividing the audience again; some loved it while some thought it was a howler… Which just left the last official film, The Canal, which had supernatural elements and some inspired moments, but felt like an extended short and got lost a little along the way. Not a disaster, but certainly could have been better. Steve Oram and Kelly Byrne took part in the Q&A afterwards, and considering it was Kelly’s first experience doing a post-screening chat, she managed to overcome her visible nerves. With some audience members staying on for the delayed screening of Der Samurai, the rest of us made our way to the post-festival watering hole, the glorious FAB CAFÉ, where everyone got rather merry and the Grimm organisers let their hair down and breathed a sigh of relief that everything more or less went well and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
Little hiccups are entirely to be expected, and although there was a few, they were handled with good humour and swiftly sorted. Which is all you can ask for. The organisers, and the whole team deserve some great praise for putting the event together, and giving horror fans who can’t afford or can’t make the London-centric events a chance to see some great films and hang out with their fellow fans. Friends are made chatting over a few drinks post-screenings and everyone appeared to enjoy it. There were a few grumbles about people who had bought full festival passes having to pay a nominal amount to attend the fringe events, but these charges were forced due to the costs of the venues, a sad reality of business but the cost was kept to a minimum and certainly nothing like the bigger events charges. Grimmfest keeps going from strength to strength, and with the team doing regular screenings almost monthly throughout the year, things can only get better and bigger. Here’s to next year, but before then there will be a series of sci-fi screenings in conjunction with the BFI in November. Check out our earlier report for more details, and keep an eye on STARBURST and the Grimm up North website for all the latest news.