As is our yearly want here at the British wing of Fanboy Confidential, Hallowe’en weekend brought a massive quantity of horror film goodness in the form one of the world’s best and most fun horror film festivals, Nottingham’s Mayhem Festival.
Organised and presented by the ever-amiable Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil, this year’s event saw such increased audience numbers that the majority of the event was shifted from the usual medium sized Screen 2 of Nottingham’s famous Broadway cinema to the theatre sized Screen 1.
With this increased footfall was a heightened sociable buzz and a general sense camaraderie between the flicks, but, thankfully, with the same respect and attention present during the screenings and Q&As.
Spanning over four days, we were present for the entirety of the event, so here’s a rundown of what went down and a heads up on which films were worth keeping an eye out for.
Thursday 31 October:
5.45: The festival kicked off on Hallowe’en night proper with the first film of a double bill from respected British director, Nicolas Roeg. Puffball, Roeg’s 2007 film, concerned itself with the perils of sex, pregnancy and folkish voodoo. It’s fair to say that this writer isn’t as big a Roeg fan as many, so, while I found the first act intriguing enough, it’s eventual direction of random vagueness held little interest.
8.30: Next came Roeg’s classic, Don’t Look Now, screened in Nottingham’s massive and beautiful St. Mary’s Church. Again, this tale of loss, paranoia and psychic blind women has never really been my cup of tea, but the setting was breathtaking, and any ways of making a film experience especially memorable are always welcome.
Nicolas Roeg himself was present at both screenings for introductions and Q&As. He was a very personable fellow and politely insightful, but it has to be said that he is getting on a little, to put it lightly, and as such didn’t so much answer any of the questions he was presented with but rather went on his own tangents about his experiences and thoughts.
11.30: The final film of the evening was the latest effort from director, Vincenzo Natali (Splice, Cube). Haunter, starring Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) sets up an intriguing premise that is equal parts Groundhog Day, The Others and The Shinning. Executed with beautiful aesthetics, Haunter stumbles a little come the final act resolution, making it the weakest of Natali’s works to date, but it’s still well worth a watch.
Friday 1 November:
6.15: As with Nicolas Roeg’s work, colourful, French abstraction isn’t really my bag either, so it was with a sense of trepidation that I approached the screening of The Strange Colours of Your Body’s Tears, in which a man’s searching’s for his missing wife spiral into a kaleidoscopic melee of bizarre and graphic exploits. Surprisingly I didn’t hate it, though ‘like’ probably can’t be applied either; the sensory barrage was certainly an experience but at the end of the day, there’s only so many close ups of eyes and over-baring sounds a soul can take.
8.15: Delivery, however, was much more to my tastes. Starting out as a pitch perfect facsimile of a cookie-cutter, American ‘reality’ show following around a couple-with-child until its eventual birth. It transpires that the show never made it past this pilot episode and the rest of the film consists of the unused footage from the series; this, of course, being a horror film, develops into a set of scenarios that might suggest that this unborn child is somehow possessed. It IS slow burning but the ending is shocking, old fashioned and well worth it. The film’s director, Brian Netto was on hand for a Q&A in which he spoke intelligently about the film, reality shows and the ‘found footage’ sub-genre in general.
10.30: Bringing Friday to an end was the Canadian exploitation homage, Discopath, a period set film in which a young man is driven to brutal murder every time he hears disco music… It’s really quite as daft as it sounds.
Saturday 2 November:
12.00: Starting on a high note, director James Sizemore’s The Demon’s Rook impressed with it adherence to practical make-up and visual FX. This story of a young boy being trained by a demon to protect the world against other demons is slight of narrative and features some truly dodgy acting but makes up for it in ingenuity and sheer love of the genre. Especially recommended to fans of creature features and those with a hatred for CGFX.
2.00: Kiss of the Damned, an erotic/gothic vampire affair, was another that I placed into the not-as-bad-as-I-was-expecting category. Directed by legendary actor/director John Cassavetes’s daughter, Xan (!), and starring Milo Ventimiglia (who you may remember as Peter Petrelli from TV’s Heroes… or Rocky Balboa’s son) and with a guest appearance by the rage inducing (in me at least) “actor”, Michael Rapaport, this could be the kind of film you’re looking for if you’ve decided you’ve outgrown Twilight and require some decent sex scenes amongst the philosophising on what truly constitutes the ‘monsters’ in society and all that other gash that makes up vampire stories that take themselves too seriously and aren’t badass.
4.00: The second ‘found footage’ film of the event, The Borderlands, this one a British production that revolves around a Vatican team charged with investigating a ‘miracle’ in an desolate church, went further in proving that there’s still life in this oft bemoaned sub-genre. The Borderlands walked a fine balance of genuine laughs and scares and was satisfying throughout. The cast, director and producer were all available for a sweary and spirited Q&A.
6.30: The annual collection of short films from across the world AND close to home, Scary Shorts, was a tremendous amount of fun, and included a homicidal animated teddy bear, the creation of zombies by Jesus and subsequent destruction of which using his mad combat skills, the best decisions ever made in horror films, a Bio-Cop, a slew of exploding heads and, I’m proud to say, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short produced by my own good self.
8.30: The unexpected highlight of the festival came thanks to the fest’s slight change in direction to accepting sci-fi into the proceedings. The Machine, a British indie, sci-fi extravaganza, bucked the idea that our fine nation is incapable of producing cinematic science fiction of depth. Low in scale but visually innovative, The Machine tackles that old sci-fi chestnut of machine sentience and the concept of self as a robotics factory produces a humanoid machine that goes beyond anyone’s understanding. Mashing-up ideas from such films as The Matrix, The Terminator, Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell and Battle Angel Alita, and incorporating seamless CGFX well beyond its means, The Machine is one of the best indie sci-fi films not only from Britain but produced ANYWHERE in recent history. Highly recommended to any and all fans of sci-fi and indie cinema. Director, Caradog James and producer John Giwa-Amu spoke eloquently and passionately on all matters filmmaking, science fiction and science fact. Seriously, keep your eye out for it on its general release next year.
11.30: Closing the epic Saturday was Tobe Hooper’s (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist), appallingly scripted, Lifeforce, which sees naked space vampires terrorising earth in some small way. There are lots of bosom shots and plenty of arguing in offices and labs but little else. Fun for a midnight screening, but I wouldn’t suggest you run out and purchase it.
Sunday 3 November:
12.00: Begining with a bang again, but against the usual Mayhem tradition of a light hearted film to start the final day, a retrospective screening of the fantastic but incredibly heavy Wake in Fear shook the crowd awake. An Australia based film that illustrates how a life can be irrevocably damaged by an uncontrolled and debouched bender of alcoholism, gambling and kangaroo hunting, Wake in Fear is not a horror film in content, indeed, it’s hard to categorise at all, but it is gut wrenchingly visceral and frightening on a real world level. If you need any more convincing to seek it out then know that it isn’t all doom and gloom, there’s some real humour in there and Donald Pleasance’s career best performance.
2.15: Painless, a classy Spanish production that unravels a mystery with a double timeline structure that culminates in a emotional climax, plays on harsh factors of Spain’s past and mixes it up with potentially supernatural, potentially sci-fi elements that combine to form a touching and intriguing narrative. Think somewhere in between Guillermo del Toro and Christopher Nolan.
4.30: Leaving very little lag time, BAFTA’s presentation of another British Horror film, In Fear, used the tried and tested formula of stalk and torment tactics to build tension and, indeed, fear. Unfortunately I’d have to use a comparison of two films that I don’t like that much to describe it (Eden Lake meets The Hitcher), so, as you might guess, I wasn’t its biggest fan. That’s not to say that it didn’t have good elements, it is certainly well put together and there are moments of tension, but, alas, it’s nothing you haven’t seen plenty of times, it brings nothing new and when we meet the villain of the piece I tend to think that even I could beat him up… and I’ve never had a fight in my life.
7.30: Another highlight of the weekend came with this presentation of the classic Lon Chaney silent film, The Unknown, that tells the story of an armless knife thrower falling in love only to become wracked with murderous jealousy. What made this screening special though was its totally original sound track, written by and performed live by the 8mm Orchestra. Loud, pulse-pumping and entirely entertaining, This screening of The Unknown outdid even the Don’t Look Now screening for sheer sensory involvement. Fantastic stuff and one to be outdone next time methinks.
9.00: Next was the always-impossible Flinterrogation, AKA the film quiz that’s SO hard you actually expect not to get anything right. Everyone was in a jovial mood though and the hour passed quickly and enjoyably.
10.00: Bringing the whole festival to a satisfying and morally grey close was the Israeli film, Big Bad Wolves. Coming from the same team that brought us Israel’s first horror film, Rabies, a few years ago, Big Bad Wolves is a pitch black comedy that starts ambiguously but builds to a tense standoff of kidnapping and torture for potentially worthy reasons. How the tone is permeated with levity is almost miraculous considering both the subject matters (best you learn them as you watch the film) and its levels of graphic violence, but succeed in this it does, raising it in stature to another highlight of the festival.
Yet again, and speaking from the experience of an attendee of many a film festival, Mayhem uniquely brought the goods and left everyone in attendance wanting more (one suspects numbers will only creep up again next year). The films were a mixed bag to be sure, not everything was for everyone, but horizons were broadened and new gems were discovered. We wouldn’t want it any other way.