So that was FrightFest the 13th ...

By Stuart O'Connor

Another Film4 FrightFest has come and gone. Well, the main event, anyway – we still have the Halloween Allnighter to look forward to in October, and then there will be Glasgow in February, and then the next long weekend in August 2013 ...

FrightFest 2012 was a real mixed bag, in many ways. There was, shall we say, an interesting lineup of films – some great, some not so great, and a couple dire. And the odd controversy. As always, the five-day event is a mix of long days (and nights) with a lot of film-watching mixed with the odd bit of socialising, drinking and chatting with the many, many filmmakers that come along as guests.

The festival opened with an interesting trio of films – The Seasoning House, Cockneys vs Zombies and Grabbers. The first is a very dark tale of kidnap and forced prostitution, centred on a young deaf mute who is a lot stronger than she first appears. It's a film that divided the audience – some liked it, others loathed it. I was somewhere in the middle. It's a tough watch, with a lot of sexual violence, but it's well made and has an truly amazing central performance from 18-year-old newcomer Rosie Day. She's a talent to keep an eye on for sure. Cockneys vs Zombies was a real change of pace – silly and funny, it did exactly what it said on the tin and was the first of two films in this year's fest to be penned by the annoyingly talented James Moran. And finally Grabbers, a wild and witty tale of Irish villagers battling a bunch of aliens ... with booze. Again, a film from an annoyingly talented writer, this time one Kevin Lehane. And again, he's definitely another talent to watch.

The rest of the weekend, as you may expect, went by in a bit of a blur. Lots of films every day, lots of questionable takeaway food, lots of pints at the Imperial pub around the corner from the Empire cinema, lots of schmoozing, quite a few interviews and way too much trying (and failing) to get a Wi-Fi signal.

Friday saw the first UK screening of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut, an almost three-hour version of the 80s film that kinda made me wish I'd gone to the NPS screenig for Total Recall instead. It certainly makes the story more understandable than the original version, but the sections from old VHS tapes (of which there were A LOT) made it a bit of an endurance test. Overall, it's a curious novelty. Friday also saw what was, for me, the worst film of the festival – Chile's Hidden in The Woods, a tale of incest, cannibalism and how NOT to do movie subtitles. Other contenders for the worst-film award at the festival were Under the Bed, Outpost II, The Thompsons and Before Dawn.

But let's not concentrate on the bad when there was so much good to be had at FrightFest this year. Picking my top film is a tough decision, but it's just gotta be American Mary, from the Twisted Twins – better known as Jen and Sylvia Soska. It's an astounding piece of work from the makers of the indie hit Dead Hooker in a Trunk from a couple of years ago. American Mary is such an astonishing leap forward in every way, that I cannot wait to see what they do next. Jen and Sylvia are also two of the nicest, sweetest and huggiest people I've ever met, and easily my favourite guests of the weekend (sorry, Ross). Also utterly lovely and charming were Seasoning House's Day, Leticia Dolera and Paco Plaza from [REC] 3: Genesis, Grabbers writer Lehane, Chained director Jennifer Lynch, May I Kill U? writer-director Stuart Urban – and, yes Stitches star Ross Noble. Also fun to catch up with over the weekend were Horror Channel presenter Emily Booth, and British directors Sean Hogan, Jake West and Johannes Roberts. Plus, of course, all the usual FrightFest regulars we know and love. You know who you are.

But back to the films. Apart from American Mary, the other showstopeprs for me were Maniac (which really divided opinion), Chained, Grabbers, Stitches, Sinister, Berberian Sound Studio and Tower Block. And an absolute highlight on the Sunday night was the remastered and restored print of the 1935 classic Universal monster movie, The Bride of Frankenstein. I'd never seen it in a cinema before, and I had never sen it looking that clean, that sharp and that beautiful.

Another Sunday highlight was the Short Film Showcase. I'd never watched it before, but I was so glad I didn't miss it this year – it was an amazing lineup. Opening with the haunting, sweet and beautiful The Halloween Kid from Axelle Carolyn, the rest of the collection of nine films (from France, Spain and Canada, as well as the UK) gave us the supernatural, demons, a fear of pregnancy, monsters of various size and the apocalypse. My absolute favourite was Gargolis! (Snails!) from Spain, a 16-minute homage to classic 50s monster movies with charm, laughs and a sweet touch of romance ... in a film about giant snals. Perfect.

Speaking of shorts, Monday night saw the premiere of Him Indoors, a very funny little flick written and directed by Paul Davis (the American Werewolf doco guy, who's probably sick to death of being called that). It stars Reece Shearsmith as an agoraphobic serial killer who's stuck killing the odd mailman or pizza delivery boy, until the gorgeous next-door neighbour (Pollyanna McIntosh) pops by. It's darkly comic, well written and with great performances from the two leads. Keep an eye out for it at a festival near you soon.

So that's the hightlights. One of the lowlights of the festival this year was the ongoing controversy, among some viewers, of the nature of some of the films on show. Many people complained of misogyny, of too many "rapey" films in the lineup (only three I saw had rape scenes in them), of the "constant" sexual violence towards women. Yes, there was a lot of violence in many of the films – but hey, that's the nature of some horror films. Women are often victims, but then, in many of the films, we see the women fight back – and prevail. Film is very subjective. Many of us adored the Maniac remake, while others simply loathed it, and got quite angry about it. The best thing about a festival such is FrightFest is that, if there's a film you don't like, don't worry, one you probably will like will be right along.

So thanks once again to Frightfest directors Ian Rattray, Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Greg Day, along with all the Empire staff, the terrific volunteers, the filmmakers and everyone who turns up for the five days of sitting on our arses, staring at a screen and drinking too much coffee. It was a wonderful (but tiring) weekend. Let's do it again next year, shalll we?

Frightfest 2012 montage

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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