It’s that time of the year when kids go scrounging in fancy-dress and any respectable hub of horror fandom put on a film festival, and here in my home county of Nottinghamshire, England, we boast one of, if not, THE best in the country.
The Mayhem Horror Film Festival started life five years ago as a single evening event that consisted of a number of short films supporting a preview feature, but over the ensuing years has evolved into a four day event that this year boasts nine UK preview screenings of films from all over the world, A ‘Fear Laboratory’ screening of Piranha 3D, late screenings of horror classics and to top it all off a Q&A and master-class with Monsters director Gareth Edwards.
Mayhem is the brainchild of filmmakers Steven Shiel (Mum and Dad) and Chris Cooke (One For The Road), along with animator Gareth Howell, all of who are huge horror fans. Unsurprisingly it is over six months in the making, and lovingly put together to reflect its curators’ horror tastes.
Steve Shiel put it best when describing the end result of all the hard work. “It’s great to get the chance to put on an event like Mayhem. Even though it’s stressful and a ton of work to get it together, I think all three of us really love the weekend and getting the opportunity to show some great films and hang out with horror film fans and filmmakers. The whole reason for putting the festival on was to try and create something that we, as horror fans, would love to go to. We’re just happy if people come.”
Being a fan of the genre myself, I got a full pass to the event. Here’s what went down.
Thursday 28th October
8.00pm. After a brief introduction by the curators the festival starts with a bang, with a screening of the hugely enjoyable Hong Kong film Dream Home (see full review for details).
10.30pm. The rape and revenge remake of the controversial I Spit On Your Grave played to a sold out audience. While this is a much slicker film than the original, neither are particularly entertaining, as, let’s face it, rape isn’t an enjoyable subject matter. Retribution is dealt out in a manner befitting the Saw generation, and though not especially shocking to the hardened horror fan, I Spit On Your Grave should live out its intension with the average public. Not the best horror remake of the year, but certainly not the worst.
Friday 29th October
7.00pm. The second day kicked off with Scary Shorts, an international collection of horror related short films. As anyone who has ever attended a short film festival will know, the selections vary wildly from the terrible to the sublime, and this selection was no exception. The crowd pretty much unanimously crowned the animated short Meow, by Cyriak Harris (find it on youyube at http://www.youtube.com/user/cyriak#p/u/2/QNwCojCJ3-Q), and the hilarious Papá Wrestling, by Fernando Alle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPZMmjRceqM), undisputed highlights of the segment.
9.30pm. The first of a killer fish double-bill was a special pre-premier-preview of the Australian lost-in-shark-infested-waters thriller The Reef. Admittedly, the lost at sea subgenre is not one of my favorites, but The Reef saved itself from being a total borefest by having the occasional change of scenery, unlike, say, the massively overrated Open Water.
11.30pm. The second of the killer fish double-bill was a ‘Thrill Laboratory’ 3D screening of the superfun remake of Piranha. This entailed Dr Brendan Dare fitting selected audience members with specially adapted 3D gas masks to monitor their breathing to study the effects of panic and fear on the human respiratory system, the analysis results being screened live in the cinema’s bar. Quite unorthodox.
Saturday 30th October
2.00pm. The headliner of the event, a screening of Monsters and a Q&A session with director Gareth Edwards. A lot has been made of Monsters in the mainstream press, and I’m glad to say it doesn’t disappoint. Subtle, moving and original, Monsters is the flipside to most monster movies and is surely set to make its director a star. During the Q&A Edwards fielded questions about making the film and the hardships he faced, and in doing so, proved himself a genuine and friendly guy. Many, as I was myself, will surprised that Gareth, an Englishman, worked with and was funded by a British production company, pretty much making Monsters a British film set in the Americas (Though it was originally conceived to be set in Thailand).
4.30pm. Next up was the UK premier of Stranded (Djinns) A French, period set ghost story. This tale of French soldiers in the Algerian desert suffers from just not being that haunting, a bit of a problem for a story of the supernatural. As the desert spirits send the soldiers insane, ergo turning on each other, I found I just didn’t care that much, the entire affair seeming rather dull.
7.00pm. Gareth Edwards presented a master class in the making of Monsters, and it was fascinating. He began by speaking of his professional origins as a digital FX man for the BBC, and his struggle to move into directing over a ten year period. On the film he talked of the shoot and subsequent creation of a new world by handling (seamless) effects himself, on his home computer, including tips for budding filmmakers. The event was sponsored and recorded by BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and Vertigo Films, so I won’t go into huge detail about it, as all the material will appear on a special edition DVD/Blu-Ray, I’ll only say that the amount of texture he’s woven into the film is staggering, and there’s no way you’ll notice the majority of it. The best kind of FX.
8.30pm. The classic Poltergeist played to a busy, and, in some cases, fancy dressed audience.
11.15pm. The retrospective double-hitter continued with the not so classic, über-schlocky Street Trash.
Sunday 31st October
12.00pm. The final day contained a whopping five films nearly back to back, the first being the fun-tastic AVN: Alien vs. Ninja, that, believe it or not, is actually sillier than the title suggests. The debut feature from Japan’s Sushi Typhoon keeps itself simple and more than a little tongue in cheek, the scenario involving a clan of attractive and cool looking ninja hang around in the woods fighting other ninja, and eventually a few crap looking aliens.
1.45pm. The last retrospective of the festival was Alfred Hitchcock’s latter day British effort Frenzy. To those who haven’t seen it, Frenzy is a few shades away from Hitchcock’s more famous outings. It features broader humor and much more graphic sex based violence, which for the time must’ve boarded on shocking.
4.00pm. Splitting the crowd more than anything else at Mayhem was Amer, a Belgium homage to giallo cinema, that worked its arty magic to its own detriment, or wonder, depending on your viewpoint (read which way I leaned in the full review).
6.30pm. The penultimate film was comic artist Kaare Andrews’ (currently working with Warren Ellis on Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis) directorial debut Altitude. Though small and impressive for a low budget film, the central concept of Altitude would have perhaps worked better as a shorter, episode length story for something like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.
8.30pm. And the festival finishes on a high note with the entrancing and original Mexican psychodrama We Are What We Are (see full review for details), after which was the bastard-hard Flinterrogation horror quiz, which genuinely was bastard-hard.
What surprised me the most about Mayhem was just how many people were turning out for the screenings. It was heartening to see the efforts of the organizers bare fruit as the atmosphere only got more spirited and friendly from the already high point it started at. This was in no small part down to the organizers themselves who provided a short, informal intro to each screening and liberally gave out prizes when least expected.
As is the case with these things, over the course of the event, the full pass holders grew more friendly and open, having much fun between the films, discussing things that they enjoyed and disliked, and why.
Mayhem set itself an incredibly high standard this year with a wonderfully varied line-up of films and events, and an exciting and positive atmosphere even during the films that were found (by me at least) to be wanting. Indeed, the bar is now right up there, and though a little too early to speculate on next year’s event Steve Shiel had this to say about the matter…
“We’ve already had some discussions about events and guests for next year, and made some preliminary inquiries. Too early to confirm anything, but Mayhem will be back next year. We’re also planning some interim events, including potentially our first all-nighter! Keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter as well as our website www.mayhemhorrorfest.co.uk for updates.”
I certainly will be, and trying my damnedest to be first in line for tickets.