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

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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

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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

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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.