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FrightFest 2014 Diary – Part 2: What was seen and worth seeing

By Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

Cast and Crew of The CanelFor me, this was a quality year. However, I get the impression I actually missed the poorer films either by good discovery screen choices, buying extra main screen tickets or by doing something else; like interviewing Jessica Cameron and Ryan Kiser for their film Truth or Dare [keep an eye out for that interview and review on the site soon]. Or you could just get caught up with talking all things Sinister and its sequel with the writer of the film, C. Robert Cargill. In past years for me it was always about the films. This year, I really wasn’t bothered if I missed the odd one here and there. I even skipped Sin City: A Dame to Kill For to go and see The Congress at Cineworld as it wasn’t showing in Manchester; and after seeing Sin City 2 last night, I was glad I did!

I’m not glazing over the films here – and we do intend to post more detailed reviews over the coming days – there are just far too many films to cover and do them and the festival justice.

The Guest was a superb opening film, one I thoroughly enjoyed. Possibly one of the best opening films I’ve seen. The closing film, The Signal, was one I wasn’t really feeling and instead went to the Phoenix bar for the party. General consensus was while it was a good film, it shouldn’t have closed the festival.

I do like a good horror comedy as they usually work very well with this audience: Zombeavers, WolfCop, Dead Snow 2 and Life After Beth. Both Zombeavers and WolfCop had their share of funny moments, but I felt both were just not funny enough. In fact, I was really quite disappointed with WolfCop in the end. Dead Snow 2 however was the funniest thing I saw. Packed with laugh out moments, this was when the festival vibe got me. The Arrow screen audience responded superbly to the film with big laughs, cheers and applause; that’s the Frightfest way! This was my 2nd favourite film of the weekend. Life After Beth had a superb cast was extremely well written and very funny at times, another festival favourite of mine.

Werewolves seemed to be one of the themes this year, with Late Phases, WolfCop and Blood Moon. I missed Blood Moon and never really heard too much about it, while Late Phases I saw and really enjoyed this. A blind vet takes on a werewolf to revenge the death of his dog – brilliant fun!

Honeymoon was a decent start to Friday. Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway carried the film quite well. Julia was a rape/revenge film taking its inspiration from Asian revenge films with overtones of Drive thrown in as well. Great soundtrack for this one, and one I liked very much. The Canal, another strong film, follows Rupert Evans as his character’s life and mind start to fall apart after his wife goes missing. Calum Heath, who plays Evan’s son, was superb.

Another disappoint for me was The Babadook. While Essie Davis gives possibly the finest female performance of the festival, the film wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t get “this year’s Sinister“, which is what it’s marketed like; actually it’s much more like The Canal. I really need to see it again.

Films I would have liked to have seen but ended up missing were Digging up the Marrow, Housebound, Deadly Virtues, Blood Moon, and The Drownsman, though I’ve not seen or heard anyone talk about that one. There was also R100 (which is actually repeated on Film4 on the 3rd September), Exists and Bad Milo. I know it sounds wrong to some but many people really enjoyed the musical Stage Fright; I do like musicals!

Truth or Dare was the nastiest piece of work I saw and I fully enjoyed it for that reason. Jessica Cameron is one sick woman! However, she popped my interview cherry and I thank her for that; a superb guest all weekend; so full of energy and all things horror! I get the impression she really enjoyed FrightFest!

Starry Eyes felt like a disappointment after it ended but it’s gotten better the more I think about it – not much, but it was good. The Harvest had a tremendous cast in Shannon, Morton and Fonda, Morton was brilliant, another of my favourites. Among the Living was one I was looking forward to and one which didn’t disappoint me. It had touches of Spielberg and King but with a French horror twist and a decent score.

Open Windows and Faults were big surprises for me, especially Faults. A dark comedy with Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in top form , as Orser tries to save Winstead from the cult ‘Faults’ which has her in its grip, another strong film. Open Windows, whilst a lot of fun, possibly may not hold up to repeat viewings. But Elijah Wood continues to make interesting film choices and Sasha Grey does a decent job in this one.

Now before my number 1 film, another that I had high hopes for was V/H/S: Viral. While better than V/H/S, it wasn’t as good as the sequel. My main problem was the wrap around story which didn’t seem to link the main films or have any connection with them at all. Plus, it was near enough impossible to work out was going on. The 3 main segments I did like, but in the end it could have just been a Creepshow film. I should have just seen the short film Showcase instead!

My favourite film of the weekend was The House at the End of Time, a horror film from Venezuela – the first one – and wow! What a film; and one of the jumpiest films at the festival! From the cast, which includes Ruddy Rodriguez (a former Miss Venezuela) to the kids who were both very good, to the sound design (which was incredible) and the very well told, very clever story. Outstanding!

The Duke Mitchell film club brought along a film, Coherence, which many people really enjoyed and one I will be looking out for. They also did a Film Party after it, where many of the guest directors, producers and even actors brought a little something to share with the crowd. For 90 minutes we got terrible music videos, trailers, shorts and party games. It was superb, very funny and a great break from all the films. They hope to repeat it next year and I for one will be going.

One last mention has to go the fans. They are brilliant. Some keep themselves to themselves but you could just start talking to anyone and you could end up in a conversation for hours. I’d often go for the drinks and they would have to come and find me, because I got talking to someone at the bar, sometimes I didn’t even make the bar!

The after festival party was at the phoenix where the plan was to leave at 3am it was 5.05 am when we eventually walked home, maybe a little drunk; but still on a high having experienced my favourite FrightFest in 8 years! I will be back next year!

Coming up next at some point this week will be our interview with Truth or Dare director Jessica Cameron and star Ryan Kiser. We’ll also take a more in depth look at some of our favourite films from FrightFest. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, All Cheerleaders Die and The Den reviews are already live on the site!

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FrightFest 2014 Diary – Part 1: Challenges and changes

By Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

New VenueEight years ago I first came to FrightFest, back when it was still in the Odeon at the bottom of Leicester Square, where I did 2 years before it moved venue to The Empire at the top of the square. Here the festival stayed for 5 years; each year it grew in audience and also the amount of films being shown at the event. I really enjoyed the festival during its run at the Empire. Their screen 1 was superb and with 1000 plus horror fans sometimes the atmosphere was astonishing. Due to Empire’s move to an IMAX screen after last year’s festival closed, we were the last people ever to see a film in that screen 1.

This year the Vue cinema, still at the top of the square, became home for FrightFest and, with it, the festival’s biggest changes and challenges. Over 600 passes are for the full weekend and the biggest screens at Vue hold just over 400 seats; the solution was to have 3 main screens, Horror, Film4 and Arrow. My pass was for the Horror screen though I had wanted the Film4 screen, but I’m not sure if that made too much difference in the end, aside from being with the regular FrightFesters. Films would rotate round each screen except for the opening film, The Guest, and closing film The Signal; both would start at the same time while the rest of the screenings would have staggered start times, which actually worked really well. It kept the flow of people moving around the cinema quite nicely. Another reason was to allow guests of the film to be able to do Intro’s and Q & A’s for each showing. Maybe this did have an impact on the number of guests attending the festival as they could be at the event for 5 or 6 hours instead of a few hours for 1 screening; or maybe I just missed a lot of the guests. I don’t seem to have as many pictures with people as I normally end up with, that’s for sure.

Alongside the main screens were 2 discovery screens, both holding double the amount of seats that these screens in the Empire would have. At first I thought that this was possibly the festival’s biggest problem. You could potentially lose over half of the screen’s audience to discovery screens or not wanting to see a film and sometimes by just missing them like I did twice by talking to people in the bar! On the Friday I was just missing that great atmosphere that 1 screen gave the festival. By the first evening showing of Dead Snow 2 on the Friday – funnily enough not in my screen but the Arrow screen – the FrightFest vibe was starting to take hold and I began to really start enjoying myself. The weekend just kept getting better and better.

There were some hiccups. To get discovery screen tickets I had been issued a bar code and the idea was to scan in the bar code at the tills and pick your discovery tickets. These became available after the first film and I got to the till pretty quickly. I am in a group of 6 and we had organised ourselves before the festival so we knew which films we needed tickets for and how many. The problem when they tried to scan in the bar-code, it had faded and it was over a perforated fold, it was extremely difficult to get the scanner to read any of our 6 tickets. It would eventually pick it up, but it took 40 minutes to do 2 films. In the end the manger re issued the bar codes with no perforated paper and we ended doing 6 more films in 20 minutes. Having held up the queue long enough we bailed and went back the next day to pick up the rest of the tickets. Once over that initial problem the new system worked a lot better than having to queue up at 8am every morning and actually only a few showings fully sold out. A lesson learned for next year, print the bar codes at the festival and don’t panic over screens selling out!

Really though I have to say that the Vue worked better than the Empire for a number of reasons. The biggest fault at the Empire was that the foyer contained the media wall, the merchandise shop, the bar area and confectionery stand, it became quite claustrophobic at times. Stopping to talk, get a signature or photo just added to the confusion. While the Vue being on numerous levels meant that the media wall was in the foyer with the confectionery tills, the merchandise stall was next to the bar on the first floor, the bar area was a decent size and a great place to socialise where you never felt you were getting in the way of anyone. I also feel the actual screens gave me a better experience. I usually sat in row D at the Empire and on many occasions struggled with subtitled films as I couldn’t read the subs due to people’s heads. Not a problem at the Vue, even from row D. Empire’s main discovery screen was tiny (around 100 seats) and sometimes didn’t sound very good at all. Vue’s Discovery screen 1 was superb, much bigger screen, and boy was it loud, which is what I like.

So the venue change, the format change and the discovery screen ticket allocation all improvements on last year for me. While discussing these topics with one of the main organisers we suggested only have discovery screen films on during the day programmes, allowing the main screens to be nearly full during the evening; something to think about.

As for the films? Well, you’ll just have to wait for Part 2 when we’ll give a brief summary of what was seen and what was worth seeing.