Long time readers of Fanboy Confidential will know US to be long time appreciators of the best horror film festival in the world, Nottingham’s Mayhem Horror Film Festival (now horror, sci-fi and cult movies). Always playing through Hallowe’en weekend at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema and headed by the ever friendly double-hitter of Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil, Mayhem this year reached it’s tenth anniversary. Starting life as a presentation of horror shorts from the world over, it soon grew into a four-day event choc full of preview screenings, retrospective presentations and special guests.
This being a special anniversary, the boys really pushed the boat out with ten days worth of events, first by pioneering the Teen Mayhem event, which hosted several horror and sci-fi films for younger audiences along with fun workshops, then several days of Mayhem X, in which a film originally rated X was screened each day on the run up to the main event.
Unfortunately we were unable to get to all these events but we did attend all the screenings for the festival proper, and are most delighted to say that this year’s Mayhem boasted a consistently brilliant line-up of films. None of the films at this festival can be described as sub-standard, and the vast majority were entertaining at the very least, the quality in-between ranging from entertainingly daft to inspired, but I shan’t prattle on here, as is our want a full rundown of the event and a heads up on what’s worth keeping an eye out for is what’s called for.
Thursday 30 October
7.00: In previous years the Canadian filmmaking group, Astron 6, have proved to be Mayhem favourites with screenings of their feature, Manborg, and short, Bio-Cop, so this year the team appeared in person as guests of honour. Opening with a presentation of their short films, the crowd were treated to films that mixed cult genre with utter ridiculousness, with such titles as Lazer Ghost 2, Goreblade, Cool Guys and Divorced Dad.
9.00: Next came a preview screening of their latest feature, The Editor. A silly ode to giallo cinema, this story of a down on his luck editor whose co-workers systematically become victims of a violent killer is brimming with exploitatively gratuitous gore and nudity, an irony-based soundtrack dub and a genuinely impressive, colour drenched aesthetic. In discussion later, the guys explained that their crew eventually evaporated to the core few that are responsible for their less visually pleasing shorts, making the final outcome all the more impressive; they went on to speak humorously about their career to date and the making of The Editor. Lovely chaps with a body of work well worth seeking out.
11.30: Ending the first evening was the UK produced Let Us Prey. An impressive opening credit sequence gave way to what ultimately turned out to be one of the duller screenings of the event. With a decent cast and interesting premise of a mysterious stranger being locked up with other inmates at a small-town police station, revealing the hidden sins of all and standing present as each becomes violently insane, the film plays out a little too slowly, which, combined with the muted palate, causes it to drag somewhat. Not a car wreck by any means and with several points of interest, Let Us Prey just happened to not be this writer’s cup of tea, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others found it to be much more entertaining.
Friday 31 October
6.00: Friday opened with one of Mayhem’s sci-fi presentations in the form of the low-fi yet remarkably intriguing, Coherence. Starring Nicholas Brendan (who you’ll remember as Xander of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Coherence flings a cast of dinner party attendees into a mind bending and paranoid event of multiple dimensions and alternative selves. While basically set in one house over one evening and looking about as visually ambitious as an episode of FRIENDS, it in actual fact holds more originality and smarts than most sci-fi films with a hundred times the budget.
8.00: With the outwardly confusing trope of being a kinda remake, kinda sequal of a film that was kinda based on a true story, The Town That Feared Sundown, fairly billed as and Zodiac meets Scream is a rather lesser film than both. Beautifully directed by American Horror Story’s Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and featuring some excellent scenes of murder, the story itself is forgivably lean but climaxes in a twist that is at once nonsensical, unnecessary and not the least bit shocking. Great looking and fun but forgettable.
10.30: Rounding off Friday was the demented Tobe Hooper classic that needs no introduction, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Totally and a little worryingly restored, this 40th anniversary presentation actually suffered no loss of gritty/griminess in its ‘cleaned-up’ state. As people who have seen it can testify, this film can never be said to be enjoyable in the traditional sense of the word, but visceral and disgusting it is, and with the addition the volume that a cinema sound system is capable of combined with that all important restored soundtrack made this all the more a traumatic viewing experience.
Saturday 1 November
12.00: Blasting Saturday right off the launch pad was the amazingly entertaining Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead. Beginning immediately where the first instalment left off, many have compared this with Evil Dead 2 in its general direction; an apt comparison really, considering how funny and epic it gets. Following the horde of Nazi zombies awakened in Dead Snow as they attempt to complete the mission they were assigned before death, their one surviving victim finds himself with the ability of raise corpses, so awakens as battalion of Soviet WW2 soldiers to help stop the rampaging Nazis. It’s extremity of inappropriateness and violence only assist the excellently scripted humour in taking this film right up there with the best comedy/horrors, and just when you think the joke’s been played out, it hits you up with something fresh and tops it off with genuinely stand-out instances of action. Highly recommended to any and all comedy and horror fans.
2.00: On a much more serious note was Starry Eyes, the tale of what some will go to in the hope of acquiring fame and fortune in Hollywood. Somewhat ironically missing that Hollywood sheen, Starry Eyes looks set to be a bit of a self-important drag, but the slow build-up pays dividends when it takes a turn for the strange and sick. Combining the relatively bland imagery with the high concept then introducing the festival’s first instance of gross body horror and ultra violence left a lasting impression. Possibly not for everyone but very good nonetheless.
4.00: In a rather novel turn, this year Mayhem hosted not one, but two films that hailed from New Zealand, the first being Housebound. Humorous and twisty, this suburban tale centres on a juvenile delinquent who is placed under house arrest with her mother, which would be bad enough but it just so happens that the house might be haunted. Fun, funny but running on a little long, Housebond makes full use of the New Zealish talent for pulling things down to earth, adding a normalcy to the most extraordinary events. Its dialogue is better than its plot but it is certainly worth a go.
6.30: As is tradition, Saturday night saw the selection of Scary Shorts (films, not attire). Coming in from the world over. This year’s selection tended towards the strangely ambiguous over narrative correctness, and featured voice stealing boogy men, wall vaginas, morgue perversion, killer worms and human marionettes amongst other things.
9.00: Accompanying their trippy Irish film, The Canal, were director Ivan Kavanagh and producer Anne Marie Naughton. A nightmareish and twisted tale of murder, ghosts and insanity, The Canal proved genuinely unsettling and had much in common with one of my own favourite horror films, A Tale of Two Sisters. The weirdness escalates as the film reaches its somewhat ambiguous climax but its director’s intention for it to stick with you after the credits roll are pretty successful. It has already seen release in The States and is set for release in the UK next year, so you look it up and get spooked out.
11.30: Finishing with another retrospective, but this one quite a lot less disturbing than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The 1987 Italian attempt at a stylish slasher flick, Stagefright, would more aptly be described as entertainingly stupid… or crap. Not one for the none horror aficionados, its empty plot that sees a maniac lock himself into a studio with a bevy of dancers has no shortage of camp men and dance numbers. After its worryingly choreography opening it does keep things pacey, which holds it together, and the occasional hilarious moment doesn’t hurt.
Sunday 2 November
12.00: Starting on yet another remarkably high note Mayhem presented the debut British festival screening of Predestination. Rather surprisingly really as it came from the Spierig Brothers, who previous brought us the super stylish but mostly disappointing Daybreakers. A time travel film of the highest order, Predestination plays out in a number of stylishly shot, period based but flashback assisted conversations. An inclusion of brief action set pieces adds intrigue, but the winding plot constantly takes one step back for every two steps forward, revealing more about each character until the inevitable but mind warping conclusion is finally unveiled. You might find yourself guessing where the film is heading to a certain extent, but not entirely, and unlike many time travel films it holds to its rules with gusto, only requiring a single leap of logic for the whole thing to come together. I actually found it kind of brilliant, so look for its theatrical release.
1.55: Doing just what its predecessor did, ABCs of Death 2 presents 26 tales of death based on words in alphabetical order. Varying vastly in style, medium, quality and presentation, the film ends up being, as you might imagine, quite a mixed bag. As is apparent from my tastes, I found the funny and sick ones to be the best and the overly intellectualised or ‘heavy’ ones to be the worst. You have every right to disagree. Animation director, Robert Morgan, was present to represent the film and talk about his entry, the disgusting and trippy, D is for Delouse.
4.30: The second of Mayhem’s New Zealand films was the critically acclaimed What We Do In the Shadows. Co-created and starring Flight of the Conchords’ Jermaine Clement, it is a mocumentary giving us the inside skinny on the lives of four vampires that live together. Ridiculous, hilarious and very genre savvy, we are again shown how those New Zealanders love to make the extraordinary rather less so, popping the balloon of pomposity to the degree that making another gothic vampire film with a sense of seriousness will be very difficult.
7.00: After their runaway success at last year’s Mayhem event, the band known as the 8mm Orchestra knocked it out the park again with an original score, written specifically for the unnerving 1953 nightmare story called Daughter of Horror, and performed live accompanying the screening of the silent film. A film truly edgy for its time, Daughter of Horror (Dementia cut) is the murderous fever-dream of an abused woman on the cusp of sanity. The raucously loud accompaniment made it a real sensory assault that took it beyond the average cinema or gig experience.
9.00: Following the impossible horror quiz in the bar, the last film of the festival was the follow up to the cult hit, Monsters. Not so much a sequel as another tale based in the Monsters world, Monsters: Dark Continent takes the same path of being a British film populated by American characters, but this time switches the genre to flat out Middle East based war film. Just as ambitious as the first with FX work no less impressive for its slight budget, and with the central conceit that this story just happens to be taking place in a world that has a backdrop of monsters, it somehow manages to lose some of that predecessor’s magic. It’s intentions of visually portraying emotions gets the story into a repetitive sequence of scenes that get old quite quickly, shaved by thirty minutes it could have been very entertaining film but as it is I suspect it might get lost in today’s marketplace. Shame really, because the final few scenes live up to the emotion then become visually startling and really quite beautiful.
So there you have it, for consistent quality, the best line-up Mayhem has ever put together, and that’s not just my opinion; as usual everyone at the festival were friendly and chatty and massively respectful, with a turn out rate higher than ever, and pretty much everyone I talked to agreed.
At this point the festival has become a Nottingham institution and a fixture on the calendar of the increasing number or repeat attendees, a blessing and a cures, I suspect, for the organisers at least, as outdoing themselves for next year’s festival is going to be a punishing task.
Good luck boys, Fanboy Confidential will be there.