FrightFest 2013 Review – A Feast of Fear

Frightfest 2013 posterFrightFest 2013 was one of the best programmes the team have put together in the festival’s fourteen year history.

On Saturday morning Paul McEvoy said to me with equal parts surprise and delight that they had four screens running simultaneously, the demand for the movies this year was so great.

None of this is surprising; FrightFest has long been the festival with the reputation to which others can only aspire.  But, ironically surprise was the word of this year’s five day August Bank Holiday santa sangre.

Surprise from the very beginning as Bobcat Goldthwait took to the stage in the Empire, Leicester Square’s massive Screen1 and won over a crowd bemused that he had been awarded the honour.

“I know half of you thought I was dead,” Goldthwait deadpanned, “and I know the other half are wondering who the fuck I am.”

Goldthwait was bringing his Bigfoot movie Willow Creek to the festival.  It went down a storm on the Discovery Screen and required extra showings due to high demand.  During his intro the World’s Greatest Dad director proved his horror smarts and even got Jesus in there as “our first zombie story”.

The Dead 2 - Frightfest feature, Ford BrothersKicking off this year’s long weekend was The Dead 2: India, an accomplished zombie fable made on location with drive and sheer bloody-mindedness by the British Ford Brothers.  This movie was festival Marmite, but its unusual locations, compelling race-against-time story, heady moral questions and attempt to weave Indian society into the film’s fabric made it one of the weekend’s standouts.

Curse of Chucky was one of the biggest surprises, creator Don Mancini making the killer doll frightening again.  Sadly heading straight for DVD, this Chucky movie is 90 minutes of gory joy, where the scary parts are scary and the funny parts funny.  Or as one character puts it, “It’s just a children’s doll.  What’s the worst that could happen?”

You're Next - UK Quad posterUnsurprising is how fantastic You’re Next was.  A fiendishly inventive slasher with genuine shocks, it is a blast and should be seen by anyone who loves their horror.

Generally the quality of this year’s festival was bar-setting high. Even throwaway movies such as Hatchet III, The Dyatlov Pass Incident, No One Lives and Frankenstein’s Army were well-crafted horror ditties, given an extra shot of enjoyment when viewed with 800+ other horror fans.

Once more the FrightFest crowd proved themselves a great bunch to watch movies with, even if one eyebrow-arching story of shenanigans on Sunday must have been a FrightFest first… (ask the organisers for more details).

Studio horror came courtesy of Vincenzo Natali’s perfectly played ghost story Haunter, a sprightly tale that introduces twists early on lesser films would save for the end and then spins them into orbit and the much maligned R.I.P.D, which proved to be a (admittedly derivative) hoot.

And everyone should check out Odd Thomas – Donnie Darko given a Scott Pilgrim makeover from the director of The Mummy.  We said surprise was the watchword…

There were some unfortunate surprises.  We Are What We Are, despite the advanced positive word of mouth, was a let-down.  Good looking, with first class performances, but missing the social commentary from the Mexican original and the city setting crucial to the story, plus any sense of tragedy.

VHS2 - Gareth Evans, nurseV/H/S 2 also could not match the quality of the first outing, although Gareth In Fear poster - LoveringEvans & Timo Tjahjanto’s episode is top drawer terror.  Evans introduced the film by bringing along a two minute sequence from The Raid 2, introducing “Hammer Girl” and blowing the bloody roof off.

But, the good outweighed the bad this year.

The British chiller In Fear is perhaps a five star example of how to sustain an almost unbearable level of tension, while Big Bad Wolves is a violent crime thriller that closed the festival in style and is likely to be this year’s Headhunters.

One of the great elements of FrightFest is the Discovery screens, which typically leave you with a viewing list to catch up on over the following months.  This year’s highlights that lit up forums and social media were VHS documentary Rewind This!, 80s horror homage The Demon’s Rook and “Evil Dead in a toilet” Stalled.

Sad then this year’s biggest surprise was also the most unfortunate.  The massive Screen 1 at the Empire is to be dismantled and the 1,200 seat auditorium cut into two smaller screens.  A huge blow to film fans everywhere, a significant piece of British cinematic heritage has been lost and the splendour of film inevitably diminished.

HATCHET III / Director BJ McDonnellBut, like the horror icons it so often showcases, FrightFest won’t die.  It is set to breathe again this October 26th, with the famed All-Nighter at the Vue, Leicester Square.  Details can be found here, see you there!

Rob Daniel