Preparing a FrightFest feature for the Sky Movies website last week got me thinking about the festival, now celebrating its fourteenth year.
It’s remarkable to think of the many memories I now have because of crazy days across the August bank holiday weekend.
I became a FrightFester at the first event in 2000, when I had more hair on my head and fewer inches around the waist. That year I only saw the documentaries Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre and Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror. Alan Jones introduced both and prior to An Eye for Horror revealed he’d seen the script for Mother of Tears and a frisson of excitement travelled through the room.
Time ultimately told a sorry tale of how dreadful the closing chapter of the Three Mothers trilogy was, but at that moment the potential of having another Suspiria and Inferno was electric.
And this is what FrightFest does best; thrills the audience with fresh discoveries, hidden extras (the weekend is a veritable DVD Easter Egg of unannounced goodies before and after movies), and a community spirit that elevates both masterpieces and dross.
One of my favourite FF screenings was the barmy Kiefer Sutherland horror, Mirrors. By the time Kiefer had threatened an old man with torture, held a nun at gunpoint and uttered the immortal line, “Don’t look in the water, it causes reflections!” the audience were giddy with excitement at just how daft this was all going to get.
If anyone from 20th Century Fox walked in on the final cut to black, when the film received a roaring ovation, they’d have thought they had a horror phenomenon on their hands.
Better still are the five star movies watched with a thousand people who understand cinema etiquette. FrightFest is a festival where the audience does not tolerate endless chatter or the glow of an iPhone midway interrupting the experience. On the few occasions I’ve had to ask someone to keep the chat down, it’s been nice to know 500+ people have my back.
And it’s just fun to hangout with like-minded people for five days of cinematic mayhem; you’ll have some of the most informed horror discussions of your life here, and it’s great when organisers Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy, Greg Day or Ian Rattray or a visiting celeb joins in.
Also handy is that FrightFesters are an easy breed to spot. Even without a weekend pass around their neck, they’ll be the ones wearing the iconic Dawn of the Dead t-shirt, or a Tenebrae t-shirt, or a Hatchet t-shirt, or a FrightFest t-shirt obviously.
This spirit drives FrightFest’s success. I’ve spoken to men and women who have taken a punt on an FF movie simply because the atmosphere, characters and costumes outside the Empire, Leicester Sq were so intriguing.
I’m aware it’s odd to get misty-eyed when recollecting a film festival that has shown Martyrs, The Girl Next Door, Maniac, Kill List, The Divide and other toughies.
But, here five memorable non-film FrightFest moments to prove it’s not all doom and gloom.
4. A portly chap standing up, taking off his t-shirt and having a Lynx-bath at his seat, to the disbelief of those sitting around him. Personal hygiene reminders now appear on every pass.
3. Having an impromptu Argento appreciation meeting with other FrightFesters in the Odeon West End auditorium. We were psyched because Do You Like Hitchcock? was actually okay…
2. Post-movie drinks at the nearby Imperial pub with friends old and new to discuss the merits of what we’d just seen.
1. A woman settling down for a screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince only to realise she was in the wrong screen and about to watch The Human Centipede. She asked me the plot, then asked if I was joking and left…
God knows what my appearance will be in another 14 years. But, I’m betting FrightFest will still be looking great.