Frightfest 2001 review

Day One
If it’s the August bank holiday and it’s London, it’s got to be the FrightFest. Only in its second year, FrightFest has already established itself as the leading UK horror festival, four days of the latest genre movies spiced with shorts, sneak previews and personal appearances by many of the film-makers.

This year’s event has been particularly highly anticipated due to the excellent quality of the line up – UK premiere’s for some of the year’s hottest movies, including Dario Argento’s new movie Nonhosonno (2001), the controversial Japanese epic Battle Royale (2000) and the even more outrageous The Isle (2000) and the French Trouble Every Day (2001).

The weekend kicked off with something of a shock for we poor, weather-obsessed much-rained-upon Brits – not only was the sun shining but it was blisteringly hot (by UK standards anyway) and the forecast for the weekend was for more of the same. But while most of London geared up for a weekend in the park, or at the famous Notting Hill Carnival, the faithful gathered at the Prince Charles cinema, just off Leicester Square. Thankfully, the Prince Charles is just about the perfect venue for this sort of thing in central London – it’s easily accessible, boasts comfortable seating and, most importantly, it’s air conditioned.

Things got under way just a few minutes late, but given the large and enthusiastic crowd that had gathered outside, that’s no surprise. The festival kicked off with the three very tired organisers, Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray taking to the stage for the briefest of introductions before we settled in for the first film of FrightFest 2001.

The Bunker (2000) kicked things off in some style. A spooky, stylish gothic horror set in World War I, it was the first of a handful of British horrors being shown over the weekend that were raising hopes in some quarters that British horror was again in the ascendancy after decades in the doldrums. If there is to be a comeback and The Bunker is any indication of the films that might be to come, it’ll be a cause for some celebration.

The film was introduced by director Rob Green, whose short film The Black Cat (1993) had been shown at the Prince Charles back in 1995 during the Britfest horror festival, and by four members of his cast. Green noted that it was going to be word of mouth that made or break an independent British like The Bunker and jokingly asked that, if we liked it, we spread the word and if we didn’t we “shut the fuck up!”

I’m happy to report that The Bunker is exactly the sort of thing that British horror fans should be talking about – it isn’t perfect by a long way (it has a strong first half but seems to get a bit lost in the latter stages and it could have done with a few more solid scares) but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The performances were first class all round and during the the first half of the film, Green’s direction is unbeatable – the growing sense of paranoia and claustrophobia that grips the stranded German troops is brilliantly handled. Sadly, a few loose plot ends let it down but it was a promising first feature from Green who was seen, along with star Christopher Fairbank, milling with an appreciative crowd outside the cinema afterwards.

After a short break to get our breath back (during which time I hooked up with some old friends from a former life on the Isle of Wight and was briefly stopped by festival co-organiser Alan Jones to gauge reaction to the film we’d just seen) it was time for the second film and another British offering. Where The Bunker had been made on a miniscule budget and had effectively used a handful of well chosen sets and locations, Revelation was a heftier budgeted offering that travelled the world for its bewildering range of locations.

Revelation was the first film from Romulus Productions (creators of, among many other classics The African Queen, Oliver! and Room at the Top) since The Odessa File in 1976. Hopes were high then – but they were soon dashed. Writer/director Stuart Urban bravely stepped up to the mic to introduce the film and probably later wished he hadn’t bothered. This tedious, overlong and pretentious farrago won few friends among a crowd now suddenly (and inexplicably) deprived of its air conditioning!

Revelation is more of a religious fantasy than a horror film, which wouldn’t have been so bad if it either made sense or actually had a decent story to tell – rehashing bits and pieces from The Omen films, the Book of Revelations and Raiders of the Lost Ark didn’t really cut it I’m afraid. Throughout, the confusing, globe-trotting, generation-spanning storyline is explained to us via mini-lectures unconvincingly delivered by the cast in great gobs of exposition. One can’t fault its ambitions but the execution sadly did match the grand visions of all those involved. What the hell were actors of the calibre of Terence Stamp and Udo Kier (who is simply embarrassing here) were doing in this nonsense? Urban told us in his introduction that this was Revelation’s world premiere – on the basis of what we saw tonight, it might well end up it’s only theatrical showing. If this is what the future of British horror is going to be, we’re in big trouble.

Thankfully, there was more wit, imagination and energy on display in Anil Rao’s 5 minute short The Window (made, the director told us from the stage, for just £120!) than in the whole of the multi-million dollar Revelation. This haunting and distressing tale of two children being subjected to a never explained but clearly monstrous experiment is testament to what can be done with no money, a Mini DV camera and bags of imagination. On the strength of this – which was commissioned by no less than Luc Besson – Rao should be a talent to watch, especially if, as he suggested, it might inspire Besson to finance his debut feature. The Window was popular with a raucous crowd (Rao seemed to have bought along just about everyone he knew!) who had gathered for the final film of the evening.

I must confess that my first instinct was to give Kiss of the Dragon a miss – it was the only anomaly in the programme, a non-horror kung fu action flick that, at first sight, seemed to stick out like a sore thumb. But I’m a sucker for a good chop socky epic and it’s always good to see the excellent Jet Li in action so, based on the enthusiastic word from co-organiser Paul McEvoy and Neil Palmer, his partner in London’s leading movie shop, The Cinema Store, I (reluctantly) decided to round out the day and give it a go.

I’m glad I did. Though it certainly wasn’t horror, it was perhaps the highlight of the evening, a non-stop action fest with Li on top form. Director Chris Nahon keeps things moving along at a breathless pace, though, like so many western directors turning their hand to martial arts movies, he gets in too close and cuts too quickly to allow Li to really show off his best moves. Only in the jaw dropping sequence wherein Li takes on a whole gym full of French police armed with nightsticks do we get the long, sweeping medium shot camera set-ups that show off Li’s fast and fluid fighting style perfectly.

Kiss of the Dragon was a breath of fresh air after the bitter disappointment of Revelation and, by default, was the best film of the day. It’s Parisian locations give it a freshness missing from so many contemporary action films and if, at times, it resembles Leon (Luc Besson co-wrote and produced Kiss), well that’s no bad thing. A cracking end to the first night’s entertainment.

And so, just after one in the morning, Frightfesters trooped out of the Prince Charles cinema after their first day. It’s been a mixed bag so far, but the big guns are due to be unveiled tomorrow – Argento’s Nonhosonno receiving it’s UK premiere, likewise Cubbyhouse, an intriguing sounding offering from Australia and perhaps the most anticipated film of the day (for me at least), Guillermo del Toro’s ghost story The Devil’s Backbone. Oh and Scary Movie 2 as well, but then you can’t have everything. And on top of all that, during one of the breaks Paul McEvoy had hinted to me about some of the little extras to come, including trailers and previews for some of next year’s most highly anticipated genre movies.

But all that’s for tomorrow. For now, it’s 3:30 in the morning, a bath and bed beckons and in ten hours, we start all over again!

Day Two
With just four hours sleep under my belt, the second day of FrightFest 2001 dawned with the prospect of a particularly strong line up of films in the offing. Arriving at the Prince Charles in plenty of time I found a large and enthusiastic crowd already gathered.

Our enthusiasm was slightly dampened on hearing the news that the much anticipated Trouble Every Day would now not be shown due to what was being put down as “legal reasons” – it seems that director Claire Denis had mysteriously asked that the film not be shown and the organisers had no choice but to reluctantly pull it from the schedule. The good news is, though, that it’s being replaced, at the audience’s suggestion, by a screening of the excellent Canadian teen werewolf movie Ginger Snaps (2000).

Also disappointing was the first film of the day, the Australian Cubbyhouse. I’ve long had a soft spot for Australian horror and was hoping that Cubbyhouse was going to continue in the country’s great tradition of those strange, offbeat offerings we’d all enjoyed during the 70s and 80s (the early Peter Weir movies, Patrick (1978), Razorback (1984) et al). Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Starring Joshua Leonard from The Blair Witch Project (1999), Cubbyhouse is a tedious Satanism movie that merely steals all its best bits (and there aren’t that many of those) from other, better films. The two featured kids are the least scary ‘evil children’ ever seen on screen and the completely predictable ending was signaled virtually from the start. If he’s very lucky, director Murray Fahey might just see this one go straight to video where it belongs – it certainly won’t be getting many more big screen outings.

During the break, I found Jon Casbard (aka DJ Lovely Jon) working the crowd outside the cinema, tirelessly handing out fliers for for his forthcoming Jigoku gig at the ICA. This excellent DJ collective use Italian horror, giallo and cop movie soundtracks to stunning effect during their shows which are always accompanied by a faultless selection of clips and trailers from some of Italy’s most outrageous movies. The forthcoming show will again feature Spaghetti Western soundtrack legend Alessandro Alessandroni on guitar and seemed to be being received enthusiastically by the crowd – Jon ran out of fliers quickly and promised a return with more the following night for Battle Royale!

Sister Lulu was the next film on offer, a monochrome short about burial alive and a sadistic monastic order – OK, but nothing special. It was shown as a precursor to the big film of the day – Dario Argento’s latest, Nonhosonno. The film has been released to mixed reviews – some find it a regressive step while others (myself included) believe it to be his best film in over a decade. This was going to be UK fans’ first – and probably only – chance to see it on the big screen and it was one of the most highly anticipated films of the weekend. The organisers had hoped to get Argento himself over to introduce the film, but he was apparently sunning himself on a beach somewhere, taking a well earned holiday before starting work on his next film couldn’t make it.

Although I’d already seen Nonhosonno many times on the excellent Medusa DVD, I was still looking forward to seeing it with an audience on the big screen. Sadly, a fault with the Prince Charles’ sound system (quickly rectified it seems) gave the film an annoying hum throughout, though it only seemed to affect a small number of us sitting in the balcony. The print was also a bit splicy around the reel changes and the DVD remains the best way to see this excellent return to the brutal gialli of Argento’s early days.

As it’s done in so many other places, Nonhosonno split the audience. I didn’t hear any overtly negative criticism of it, but the degree of enthusiasm with which it was met varied. No-one came out disappointed though and even those who found the story a let down were impressed by Argento’s bravura technique (the outstanding murder on a train was singled out for particular praise) and by the sheer brutality of the film.

After the break, the hard-working staff of the Prince Charles gave us an unadvertised extra – a short, untitled skit they’d produced themselves, featuring Tim the projectionist talking about the ghost that supposedly haunts the projection booth as she puts in a camera-hogging appearance next to him. It was a nice gesture and mildly amusing – Alan Jones had already thanked the staff of the cinema earlier in the day, reporting that The Bunker‘s director, Rob Green, had been impressed by the quality of the presentation of the film the night before, claiming that he’d never seen the film look and sound so good. Ironically, no sooner had Alan sung the praises of the Prince Charles staff than the problems with Nonhosonno‘s sound set in – there were even a few seconds where the framing went awry following a reel change!

One of the big hits of last year’s FrightFest had been the inexplicably popular Scary Movie and continuing the tradition, it’s inevitable sequel, Scary Movie 2 (2001) was next on the menu. The film was introduced by the Wayans Brothers though in a way that many of the audience hadn’t been expected – the Wayans boys had been in the UK several weeks before FrightFest and, cleverly, they’d been taped introducing their own movie! I wasn’t looking forward to it, not being a fan of the first film, and it certainly lived down to my expectations. The first 15 minutes are great, a spot-on parody of The Exorcist (1973) that culminates in a three-way puke-fest as the the much vomited on priests get their own back on ‘Regan,’ but the Wayans’ collection of knob, tit and fart gags soon runs out of steam and the rest of the film is, predictably, awful.

Next up came Guillermo del Toro’s El espinazo del diablo (The Devil’s Backbone) and to get us in the mood, weekend pass holders were given a few freebies on their way back in, including sets of illuminated red devil’s horns! A quick raffle won some of us FrightFest programmes autographed by del Toro before his latest film – which sits between Mimic (1997) and the forthcoming Blade 2 (2002) in his filmography – was given its UK premiere. An intriguing collaboration between del Toro and Pedro Almodovar, this was the film I was looking forward to most today and I wasn’t disappointed. In a speech written by on a brief trip to London earlier in the week (he was “pissed off” at having to rush back to the States to complete editing of Blade 2 and couldn’t be with us today), del Toro acknowledged the debt of the great M.R. James on the film and certainly it’s in his style of gentle, understated horror.

Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, it tells the tale of a young orphan boy, Carlos, who finds that his new home, a strange orphanage in the middle of nowhere, is being haunted by the ghost of a young boy, Santi. With superb performances, a great score and del Toro’s best direction yet, El espinazo del diablo was the best film of the festival so far. Alan Jones, in his introduction, noted that this was the hardest film to get hold of for FrightFest but the quick and enthusiastic round of applause that greeted the end credits suggested that the hard work had been worth it – FrightFesters trooped out of the Prince Charles raving about its stunning photography, it’s moody atmosphere and the outstanding performances. A remarkable film that deserves a much wider audience.

And that’s where Day Two of FrightFest 2001 came to an end for me. There was still Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 to come but, having seen it many times and having never really been impressed with it, I decided that another night with just four hours of sleep was not a good idea and called it a day. There were plenty of hardy souls that were sticking around for the first UK theatrical screening of Tobe Hooper’s over-the-top follow up to his 1974 classic but for me, it was going to be difficult to top El espinazo del diablo.

Overall, Day Two of FrightFest 2001 was an improvement over the opening night. Even with the wonky sound during Nonhosonno (we also lost sound for a few seconds during El espinazo del diablo) it was great to see Argento on the big screen again and El espinazo del diablo more than made up for the predictably terrible Scary Movie 2. The only real disappointment was Cubbyhouse of which I’d expected much more. Still, a fabulous day and tomorrow holds the promise of Brotherhood of the Wolf, Dust and Battle Royale.

Day Three
One of the more intriguing aspects of FrightFest 2001 had been the chance to assess the current state of British horror, and although the opening night’s The Bunker had impressed, Revelation had been entirely awful. Today we were going to get the chance to see if The Bunker had been a one-off fluke as FrighFest presented an afternoon of British horror.

The day kicked off with a Beta SP presentation of Alex Chandon’s Cradle of Fear, a film that very nearly didn’t make it – a list of films being shown during the festival had to be submitted to Westminster Council under whose jurisdiction the Prince Charles falls (these were the same people who made such a fuss of refusing David Cronenberg’s Crash any space on screens in their area) and the only one they wanted to see a copy of was this. It was suggested that Alan Jones’ blurb for the film, in which he enthusiastically but with tongue very much in cheek, hailed it as “the ultimate blood-spattered snuff reality” had rattled the council’s cages, hence their inexplicable interest in the film – given the reputation that precedes two of the closing day’s offerings Trouble Every Day (now, sadly, not being shown) and The Isle, it’s just lucky that they didn’t get their hands on those!

Less luckily, they did allow Cradle of Fear to be shown – little more than an amateur film given some dignity by being shown here, this horribly overlong fiasco marked the ‘acting’ debut of Cradle of Filth lead singer Dani Filth, though his performance amounts to little more than wandering about in a variety of stupid contact lenses (oohh, scary…) and deadpanning a few lines of dialogue. Structured like an anthology film (the link between the stories is a mad hypnotist serial killer and his demonic son murdering the relatives of the people who put the father in a psychiatric hospital) all it really has going for it are the endless gore effects, which certainly kept the crowd happy – sadly, anyone expecting decent acting, good music or even a script that makes sense was to be disappointed.

In the decade since his first film, Bad Karma, Chandon has shown no desire – or even the required talent – to break away from his roots in 80s British horror fandom and Cradle of Fear is just another shot-on-video fan effort to be dropped into the same drawer as similar films films by Olaf Ittenbach and Andreas Schnaas, a drawer that certainly won’t be opened too often.

To its credit, one of the stories, about a young man’s obsession with a website offering visitors the chance to direct live, interactive snuff movies, was very good and should have been expanded, and Chandon’s direction has certainly improved since his last effort (the appalling Pervirella (1997)). But this is still strictly amateur hour, with the cast apparently chosen at random from the least talented people they could find and burdened with an embarrassing script that probably should win some sort of award for the most gratuitous and childish overuse of the word ‘fuck’ ever.

Before the screening, Chandon himself took to the stage to enquire if there was anyone present from the British film industry and promptly muttered “I hate you.” On the strength of this and his other work, I don’t suppose anyone from the industry is going to be losing any sleep over it…

Next up came an episode from the second series of the British TV anthology Urban Gothic and it went some way to restoring my faith in home-grown horror. Introduced by the show’s creators, Steve Matthews and Tom De Ville, The Sandman is a lightweight but very effective piece about the contestants in a TV endurance game show (they have to stay awake and in contact with a car in order to win) being stalked by the titular monster. Some nice tricks with time and continuity kept us on our toes and it bodes well for the new series that’s due for UK broadcast in October.

But it was straight back down to earth again with the second of the day’s British features and easily the worst film of the festival so far. Dust was introduced by star, producer and director’s wife Nadja Brand (who claimed it was the best film she’d ever seen – she needs to get out more…) and ‘star’, Jodie Shaw, a British tabloid topless model making her acting debut here. Given the reaction the film got here, it could be the end of her career too.

Described in advance as “Straw Dogs on acid,” hopes were high for Dust. But what we got was a muddled, incomprehensible piece of junk that prompted the most walkouts of any film shown so far – I counted at least a dozen and was told of more, including those some who bought tickets just to see this film! It’s a sobering thought that more people were willing to sit through Revelation, Cubbyhouse and Cradle of Fear than this trash. It may not have been so bad it we could actually work out what was supposed to be happening – the sound is so badly mixed that it’s impossible to understand anything anyone’s saying and director Adam Mason’s insistence on using a strange burst of white light every few seconds for no good reason results in a film that gave me nothing more than a blinding headache. Add to that the unlikable characters and poor acting and you’ve got the final nail in the coffin for British horror. Hopes that had been so high before the festival had started were cruelly dashed by this unwatchable rubbish – certainly I couldn’t find anyone, even those who, like me, gamely struggled through to the end, who could find a good word to say for it.

Fighting the urge to give up and go home for some much needed sleep, I joined the rest of the FrighFesters for the Universal Shorts, four 100 second long vignettes that didn’t sound too appealing but which proved surprisingly effective. There’s not a lot you can do in 100 seconds, but the Universal Shorts capably showed that with some imagination you can achieve more in that time than Dust managed in 82 tedious minutes. Best of the bunch was Kim Newman’s hilarious Missing Girl.

And then it was on to the first real treat of the day. The stunning Le pacte des loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf) more than made up for the disappointments of the first two films. A sprawling epic that has already become France’s highest-grossing genre film, Christophe Gans’ magnificent fantasy was the most beautifully photographed film we’d seen so far. Clearly inspired by Sleepy Hollow (but so much more interesting than Tim Burton’s film), it follows the attempts of a progressive 18th century naturalist and his Iroquois blood brother to track down the Beast of Gevaudan, a wolf like creature that has been slaughtering the natives. Part historical epic, part political conspiracy thriller and part full blown horror movies (with plenty of martial arts mayhem thrown in for good measure), Le pacte des loups is an unclassifiable movie that perhaps runs a little long (at 143 minutes it’s the longest film on offer over the weekend) but which nonetheless never fails to impress. Along with last night’s Devil’s Backbone, this has been the highlight of the festival so far.

For me, another of the highlights of the weekend was always going to be the chance to catch up with Kinji Fukusaku’s Battle Royale (2000), the controversial Japanese thriller that takes Survivor-like TV shows to ludicrous extremes. Stranding a group of teenage kids on a remote island, the film follows their misfortunes as they play Battle Royale, the government sanctioned death sport in which the the winner is the last one standing after three days.

Unlikely to be given a proper release in the States in the wake of real life classroom violence and shoot-outs, Battle Royale also caused a major furore in its native Japan and one can certainly understand why – hysterically funny, it’s also one of the most disquieting films I’ve seen in a long time. The bloody (very bloody!) murders of the teenagers by their one-time friends are often deeply shocking even while we’re guffawing at their over-the-top violence.

The film was, I’m glad to be able to report, completely sold-out and the crowd was noisy and appreciative throughout. It’s the kind of film that works well with an audience, as their reactions (some seemed utterly bewildered by it all, others lapped it up) add to the fun. The enthusiastic – if premature – round of applause that accompanied the closing scenes was well deserved.

Day Three of FrightFest had got off to the most disappointing start imaginable with Cradle of Fear and Dust and, from comments overheard in the lobby, I suspect that some of the organising team – if not all of them – hadn’t actually seen these films before booking them. Given the alarming number of walkouts during Dust, they might be well advised to brush up their quality control for next year. Thankfully, Le pacte des loups and Battle Royale more than made up for the first two films and everyone at least went home happy.

One more day to go and there’s still plenty to look forward to – I’m particularly keen on The Isle, the Resident Evil promo, Jeepers Creepers (described by Alan Jones as the best horror film of the year) and the chance to see Ginger Snaps again now that it’s replaced Trouble Every Day.

Day Four
The final day of the FrightFest dawns and there’s certainly no let up in the quality of films on show – indeed if anything, the final nine hours of the festival promises to be among the strongest yet and look likely to make up for the disappointments of yesterday afternoon. When I arrived at the Prince Charles cinema, I was greeted by organiser Paul McEvoy who had something to add to some of my comments I made yesterday. It seems that the version of Cradle of Fear we saw was considerably longer than that seen by Paul when it was added to the programme, which explains why the timing of yesterday’s events went to pieces early on. Paul also noted that on the basis of its screening at FrightFest, the film has been picked up for screenings at other festivals around the world.

More interestingly, the version of Dust that was shown here was also rather different to that seen by Paul in advance of the festival – apparently director Adam Mason spent the few days prior to the festival reworking the film and Paul seemed as surprised by what was eventually screened as everyone else. The bottom line is that I was a little harsh in criticizing the festivals alleged lack of quality control and I’m grateful to Paul for setting the record straight. It’s still a dreadful film, but it’s inclusion in the FrightFest programme seems somewhat more justified now and it would be interesting to see the film in the form that Paul saw it originally.

Thankfully, the foul taste left by Dust was washed away by the opening film of Day Four, Phil Claydon’s excellent Alone – at last, a British film that measures up to the festival’s opening film, The Bunker. Despite a few very vocal nay sayers in the balcony, the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy this excellent, fast paced and beautifully shot thriller that boasts a cracking twist ending – anyone who says they saw that coming more than five minutes before it happened is lying! The film follows the unbalanced Alex who’s obsessive-compulsive disorder leads to multiple murder and humiliation (including a wonderfully gross forced-feeding scene) that leaves viewers guessing until the very last second. The fact that the killer’s identity is disguised by having all of Alex’s scenes shot POV helps make the final scene all the more shocking and unexpected.

Claydon’s debut marks him as a promising new talent (he mentioned a second horror film in development and I for one can’t wait) and he won over a large section of the crowd by bravely offering to do a questions and answers session after the screening. Although he seemed a little nervous at first, he perked up quickly and even managed to deal with the dimwit who wanted to know what the point of the film was. In fact, I thought he was rather more diplomatic than this idiot deserved – come on, you’ve got a brain, use it, work it out for yourself! Obviously someone who was more used to being spoon-fed easily digestible Hollywood pap than provocative and challenging work like Alone.

The Isle arrived in the UK trailing much controversy behind it. Reports of festival goers around the world fainting, walking out and vomiting during screenings had raised expectations and Alan Jones’ warning that the film was not for the squeamish had the crowd salivating! And certainly it’s a shocking piece of work – what these people do to each other with fish-hooks beggars belief! Whether I actually enjoyed it or not I still can’t work out, but it’s certainly an interesting film and it’s inclusion in the FrightFest programme was a brave and welcome decision.

Set in and around a remote lake, it follows a mysterious mute woman who tends the strange floating fisherman’s cabins and who offers sexual services to the men who retreat there. She becomes involved with a tortured man who has murdered his unfaithful girlfriend and her new lover and fled to the lake to hide. Their relationship takes unhealthy turns when he tries to commit suicide by swallowing fish-hooks – in one of the most disturbing scenes of the weekend – and she makes love with him as he lies traumatised after she’s saved his life.

The shocking, confrontational sexual violence (what the girl does to herself with those same fish-hooks had everyone, male and female alike, groaning in sympathetic agony!) seems all the more galvanising for being set against one of the most beautiful and idyllic settings ever seen on film. The ending – which strangely put me in mind of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris – is obscure, enigmatic but haunting and although it didn’t quite live up to the hype that preceded it, The Isle remains a powerful must-see experience. Not that any other British viewers will be seeing it (legally) for some time yet – Alan challenged us at the start of the film to work out which four scenes had been marked for removal by the BBFC, a decision that has prompted the film’s distributors to change their minds about releasing the film in the UK.

The next film should have been Trouble Every Day, the controversial French shocker from Claire Denis but we’d already been told that for “legal reasons,” the film had been withdrawn. Just prior to a screening of its replacement, the Canadian teen werewolf movie Ginger Snaps, Alan Jones again took to the stage and spilled the beans – apparently Denis had asked for the film to be withdrawn from the programme when she found out that it was a horror festival. Apparently, she took offense to her “serious” work being shown alongside genre movies (she was presumably unaware that it was being screened alongside The Isle, Battle Royal, Devil’s Backbone, Brotherhood of the Wolf and other internationally acclaimed movies…) and refused to release a print to the festival organisers. The audience’s disappointment quickly turned to bafflement and simmering resentment. How to win friends and influence people the Claire Denis way…

Luckily, we didn’t need Ms. Denis’ high-minded arrogance as we had Ginger Snaps to look forward to. I’d already seen this stunning movie (described by Alan Jones as the “second best horror film of the year”) and was looking forward to seeing it again. If anything, it was even better the second time round thanks to a stunning print and the Prince Charles’ excellent sound system. The dreadful title and the inescapable fact that it seems – initially at least – to be a teen horror movie had turned some people off seeing it when it had its shamefully restricted theatrical release here in the UK earlier in the year and this was a rare opportunity for fans to catch up with this gem on the big screen. Having banged on about the film for months now, I was extremely gratified to see it going down so well with an appreciative audience.

Writer/director Paul Anderson, creator of some right old tat (Mortal Kombat, Soldier) but also the genuinely impressive and spooky Sky One TV movie The Sight, was on hand to present a showreel from his work in progress, the much anticipated Resident Evil: Ground Zero. The short promo – made specially for FrightFest – featured just enough mouth-watering footage to have most of the audience gagging for more and the news that we still had at least eight months to wait to see the finished product had us writhing in frustration! Anderson took to the stage after the reel – he’d flown in from the set in Munich just to attend the festival – and quickly won over the crowd by answering all questions with lots of good humour.

Jeepers Creepers was chosen as the festival closer and was Alan Jones’ pick of the best horror of the year. And he’s not far wrong. Although some of the shocks are a little predictable and mechanical, they undeniably work – I haven’t jumped this many times during a film for years – and the clever plot never gives too much away and constantly surprises. Starting like a remake of Duel, it pits a young brother and sister against a hideous demon that steals and absorbs body parts from hapless passers-by. The meaning of the title becomes clear halfway through with the introduction of a psychic with dire warnings for our beleaguered heroes, and the ending, though predictable, still packs a considerable punch.

Quite unlike any other of this year’s teen oriented horror films, Jeepers Creepers is by a surprisingly disturbing film (the scenes in the House of Pain are among the strongest in an American horror film for years) and apart from one aside about this being the moment in a horror film where characters do something stupid and everyone hates them, is refreshingly free of the now tired knowing attitude of the post-Scream slashers. Jeepers Creepers was the perfect closing film, a crowd-pleasing number that had everyone jumping and gasping right from the off and it sent the battle weary FrightFesters out into the muggy London night with satisfied smiles on their faces.

And that was that – another year done for the FrightFest crew who even at this late stage were outside busily working the crowd (thanks for the poster Ian!). Overall, it has to be judged a huge success – the selection of films was eclectic and interesting enough to keep the weekend pass holders there for just about the whole programme (I missed just one film but spoke to several extremely happy punters who bravely managed the whole lot!). There were more hits than misses as a quick summing up proves:

The Good: The Bunker (which seemed to get better as the weekend went on and I’m itching to see it again); Kiss of the Dragon; Nonhosonno; The Devil’s Backbone (easily the best film of the weekend – an instant classic if ever there was one!); Brotherhood of the Wolf (giving The Devil’s Backbone a good run for its money); Battle Royale; Alone; The Isle; Ginger Snaps; Jeepers Creepers

The Bad: Revelation; Cradle of Fear; Dust (all British, sadly)

The Indifferent: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2; Scary Movie 2 (surprisingly, it had a few good laughs at the beginning; unsurprisingly, it couldn’t sustain it)

Not a bad batting average there I think! By the time it was all over, organisers Paul McEvoy, Alan Jones and Ian Rattray looked suitably exhausted but they can rest easy tonight knowing that their hard work had paid off in spades. They all knocked themselves out over the weekend and were always waiting outside the cinema as audiences trooped out, eager to hear what we’d all thought of the films, a nice personal touch that’s been missing in a lot of festivals I’ve been to. Now they’ve got a year to recover before starting the whole thing all over again – well done guys and Paul, I’m sorry I kept spelling your name wrong!

One last thing – especially for Michael, here’s that FrightFest brochure signed by Guillermo del Toro. The one that I won. And you didn’t. Ha! (But you did get that Resident Evil baseball cap and I think I held my jealous rage nicely in check… until now…) (NOTE: there was a scan of the brochure here until images were removed due to other sites leeching our bandwidth!)

A big thanks to Steve, Pete, Kasia, Michael, Jon and Macer for their company throughout the weekend – see you all at Frightfest 2002!