The Devil’s Dozen – Clive’s Top 13 Frightfest 2015 movies

Clive has done the blog proud this year, with a rundown of his top shocks from the 2015 Frightfest lineup. If you didn't make it, then here's your crib sheet for the best of the worst coming to the discerning horror fan over the next few months!
Continue reading The Devil’s Dozen – Clive’s Top 13 Frightfest 2015 movies

The Word is Out On Frightfest From The Gruesome Twosome

This weekend is one of the most important in the horror calendar. The August Bank Holiday is home to Frightfest, the five-day smorgasbord of shivers, the feast of fear, the cornucopia of chills that sits at the bleeding heart of London’s Leicester Square.  

Frightfest the 13th is bigger than ever, with nearly 100 films spread over five days and three screens. So the question is, how by all the nether gods do you navigate all that? What’s your gameplan, pilgrim?

Fret not, fear fan. There is a way.

Continue reading The Word is Out On Frightfest From The Gruesome Twosome

The Women: Genre And Gender


Horror, SF and fantasy, according to common knowledge, are not female friendly genres. Bad enough that the prototypical image of the genre fan is the sweaty overweight dysfunctional geek – that’s hardly representative. By making that image male, the picture is distorted even further away from the true. As a regular visitor to Frightfest, I’m happy to confirm the large number of women that attend that are just as vocal in their enjoyment of the movies as the men. The authors of the two biggest fantasy franchises on the planet are women – JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer. Common knowledge is, as is usually the case, bass ackwards from the truth.

However, the depiction of women in SF, fantasy and horror needs a refresh. There are still far too many victims out there, female analogues waiting to be rescued or assaulted. When kickass women do appear, they’re frequently Buffy clones or, in the case of Hitgirl, children. It’s either that or the avenging angel of I Spit On Your Grave or Ms. 45. The wronged as killing machine, using their femininity as a weapon or a cloak from which to strike out at their abusers. It’s an old, tired tale.

I’ve seen a couple of movies lately that change that sorry state of affairs. Both films feature strong, uncompromising central performances from their lead actors, and both explicitly reject the myth of the female as victim in genre films.

Pedro Almadovar’s The Skin I Live In has a cool, controlled surface. Underneath that, lunacy boils and writhes. I need to be careful here. The central conceit on which the plot pivots is not one that should be easily spoiled, and it’s one that threatens to derail my whole argument before I even get started (feel free to give me a kicking in the comments).The film is part Pygmalion, part Frankenstein, part Eyes Without A Face. It tells a common genre tale – the mad scientist attempting to cheat God and death by resurrecting a lost love. Antonio Banderas is suitably driven and remorseless as the plastic surgeon, rebuilding a burn victim in the image of his dead wife. But all is not as it seems with the beautiful Vera. Played by Elena Amaya (pictured left) with a mix of vulnerability and shocking power, she seems at first barely human. A mannequin, meek before her master’s demands. As we discover her past, and all she has lost at the hands of Banderas, Vera shrugs off the weakness, becoming something fierce and strong. Her own creation, transcending the scientist’s plans, remade by sheer force of will. She ends the film as her own woman.

Lucky Mckee’s The Woman, which had it’s UK premiere at Frightfest, tells a similar tale, then rebuilds it from the bones up. A feral woman is discovered and captured by a suburban lawyer, who plans to “civilise” her. He locks her in an outhouse, hoses her off and dresses her in clothes with easy release fastenings. It’s clear what his intentions are from the beginning. Yet the Woman of the title, played with ferocious magnetism by Pollyanna Mackintosh, is no victim. She will never succumb to him, and is content to wait as the lawyer’s family collapses under the weight of revelation that her arrival sparks. Her release, and her revenge, are inevitable. Part monster, part hero, the Woman is never less than the mistress of her own destiny.

Frightfest was a bit of a showcase for this cliche-busting approach this year, with films like Susan Jacobson’s The Holding (with yet another fine central performance from Keirston Wareing) showing how genre doesn’t have to mean generic when it comes to gender. This is a good start, but we shouldn’t be complacent. Although I started this post in a bullish mood about equality in the realm of the fantastick, we’ve had a summer where DC Comics’ big relaunch was marred by the realisation that there were hardly any female creators on board, and a call from author Juliet Mckenna to promote equality in genre writing. There’s a way to go before we can get the balance right, but as Juliet points out, SF, fantasy and horror have always questioned unthinking prejudice and the status quo. Films like The Woman and The Holding are encouraging indeed, pointing the way to new, strong voices and bold, uncompromising stories.

The Sunday Spiritual: Together In The Dark


One last thing, before I let Frightfest go for another year. Many people would balk at the prospect of spending five days in a cinema watching horror films. I’ll admit, I’ve only ever done a single full day, and that very nearly wiped me out.

But of course, Frightfest is not just about the films. Because it’s impossible to watch everything on offer, you simply have to take a break, get a drink, have a chat. There are seminars, Q&As, quizzes and plenty of opportunities to meet up with film-makers and like-minded fans. If anything, the extra-curricular activity is as much the point to Frightfest as the movies. It’s the community that’s built up around the love of the genre that makes this festival so special. The fabled Sleepy Queue, when the hardcore stake their claim on the weekend seats, usually forms in the early hours of the morning before the tickets go on sale. That has to tell you something about the attraction of Frightfest.

I will always try to make the effort to see at least a couple of films with the Frightfest crowd. Seeing horror with a bunch of people that love and appreciate the genre with all it’s foibles and eccentricities always makes for a more interesting experience. Seeing a good horror film with the Frightfest crowd is a genuine pleasure that I don’t think you get from any other type of film. Going to the cinema is, like any other communal experience, a heightened state of mind. I believe you get more out of a film when you see it on a big screen with a like-minded audience. At Frightfest, that feeling is amped up still further. It’s not just about the film. It’s about the audience, the gathering, the congregation. Together in the dark, loving the ride.

Frightfest part 3: The Quiz Of The Week

My call for contributions led to a suitably … esoteric response from ace storyboard artist and illustrator Jaeson Finn. He tweeted his top five to me, one at a time. Twitter’s 140-character limit meant that he couldn’t put the titles up as well, meaning that I had to guess which films he was on about.

So, hey, why not, I’m reproducing Jeason’s top five below in the form of a quiz. Answers in the comments, please. Get them all right, and you get a properly certified and not at all cribbed from Marvel X&HTrophy (worth it’s weight in pixels).

Have fun. You get me again next week, and I’m starting off with a look at two films I’ve seen recently with very strong and very unusual female main characters. But for now, live, from the Interwebs, it’s the Quiz Of The Week! Take it away, Jaeson!

Continue reading Frightfest part 3: The Quiz Of The Week

Frightfest part 2: Attack Of The Leading Man

As promised, we are subject to a takeover from the mighty (and mightily-bearded) Clive Ashenden, who went above and beyond when I called out for contributions for the X&HT coverage of Frightfest. Over to you, oh my Leading Man…

On Thursday 25th August hundreds of genre pilgrims descended on the Empire Leicester Square for the annual celebration of all that is best in Horror cinema: Film4 Frightfest.

On Monday 29th August after 5 days, 36 films, and numerous short films, trailers, Q&As, interviews, and special events; they staggered back out into the moonless night, pale and red-eyed, and babbling tales of eldritch things and widescreen terrors.

And your humble correspondent was amongst them. A little personal history before we plunge into the dark meat: This is Frightfest’s twelfth year and my tenth as a weekend passholder. In 2005 my horror short “Snatching Time” (co-written by X&HT’s own Rob Wickings) was screened before “Broken”.

Last year the teaser trailer I wrote and directed for “Habeas Corpus” – the horror anthology movie on which (together with Rob, Brendan Lonergan, Simon Aitken [“Blood+Roses”], and Paul Davis [“Beware The Moon”]) I am attached to direct one of the stories – was screened before “Primal”. So I have a long standing connection and love of the biggest and best horror film festival in the UK, as both a filmmaker and horror fan.

Due to the dual screen format of the festival, it wasn’t physically possible to see all of the films shown.  But I managed to catch 24 films, and I’m going to highlight the ten best. So gentle readers, if you feel ready to enter some very dark places, take my clawed hand and I’ll be your guide to the best of Frightfest 2011.

Continue reading Frightfest part 2: Attack Of The Leading Man

Frightfest: The Hit List (part 1)

As any horror fan knows, this Bank Holiday Weekend just past belonged to Frightfest, the biggest, nastiest, loudest and scariest horror film festival in the country, and one of the greatest on the planet. I’d love to tell you all about the shenanigans that went on this year, but due to work commitments I could only pop along for two films. Fortunately, I has contacts. So I asked my buddies in the Corpus Crew to help out.

Today, lists of favourites from Simon Aitken and Brenden Lonergan. Leading Man Clive gets tomorrow all to himself as he’s written a bleedin’ essay, bless his black and twisted little heart. Aaaaanyway.

Simon Aitken, director of Blood And Roses and star of his own X&HT Spotlight, gives us his top five:

5. Troll Hunter
4. Tucker & Dale Vs Evil
3. Rabies
2. Kill List
1. The Innkeepers

Ti West’s haunted house chiller The Innkeepers was genuinely scary. There was a nice build up at the beginning of getting to know the characters and the inn, that when the ghostly goings up started to happen you really cared. Also sent a nice chill up your spine. I highly recommend it.

Brendan Lonergan, special effects guru to the cogniscenti (seriously, look out for his work in John Carter at Christmas, and on a certain highly anticipated prequel/reboot that I’m not sure I can mention), agrees with Simon on his pick of the fest:

The Innkeeper is my number 1 Film. It’s the reason why I love Horror; a great antidote for all of this people skinning people alive and sawing peoples heads off shit (sorry, I’m just really sick of it).

Followed by Tucker and Dale vs Evil.

Third is Final Destination 5.

Saying I enjoyed Kill List would be wrong, a bit like saying you enjoyed Schindlers List. The wrong adjective, but a damned fine movie never the less.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, I liked also. It was nice to see more monster movies this year.

Oh, and I forgot The Woman. A very good movie, but once again, I watch movies for enjoyment, not to be constantly reminded of how shit the world is, you can get that on the news (but that’s just me).

Fright Night was kinda fun, but whenever I think of the original, the remake becomes one big crappy wasted opportunity.

Panic Button was also kind of fun. So I’ve given you my top five, and a couple of extra thrown in for good measure.

There you have it. If you have any thoughts or experiences you’d care to share on this year’s FrightFest, go ahead and comment. Thanks again to Simon and Brendan. Drop by tomorrow for more Frightfesty fun, as Leading Man Clive takes over X&HT!