Mayhem Horror Film Festival 2010

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DAY ONE & TWO

Halloween sees a number of horror film festivals running in the UK: London has the Frightfest annual all-nighter, Manchester has Grimm Up North, and Nottingham has the Mayhem Horror Film Festival. Taking place in Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema from October 28th to October 31st, Mayhem packs in a number of preview screenings, combined with old classics, short films, and QA sessions.

Day one could probably be classed as female retribution night: comprising Hong Kong Cat3 delight Dream Home followed by the recent US remake of I Spit On Your Grave. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the Hong Kong feature – from the clever way its plot unravels, through to Josie Ho’s magnificent performance in the central role, and some inventive and deeply unpleasant kill effects. Perhaps then, the bar was set a little high, as ISOYG didn’t rate quite so highly.

For me, the film trivialised (and failed to effectively build upon) a gruelling and difficult first half by deteriorating into a backwoods Saw clone. Each string or fishing wire powered trap tops the next for sheer ludicrousness as the heroine becomes some sort of MacGyver-esque spirit of vengeance in the second half.

Day two started with a short film showcase, and then undoubtedly became marine terror night. Mayhem patrons became the first UK audience to see Andrew Traucki’s follow-up to his excellent Black Water, The Reef, followed by a screening of Alexandra Aja’s 3D fish-travaganza Piranha 3D.

The short films were brilliant to watch, as always. Stand outs for me were the Prano Bailey-Bond & Jennifer Eiss offering Short Lease, and Evil Hypnotist’s The Furred Man. It was also great to see Fernando Alle and André Silva’s Papa Wrestling again.

Look for a full review of The Reef on the site soon, but for me it lacked tension and any real unique selling point feeling very much like a retread of Open Water. I didn’t get to see Piranha on its theatrical run, so I’m thrilled to have seen it here. It’s a masterpiece of tongue in cheek camp horror. Terrific cameos from Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd, Kelly Brook sending herself up brilliantly, some tense set-pieces, and a frankly startling amount of fish-induced gore and bodily dismemberment turn this into a real treat for gore and genre fans.

So far the Broadway Cinema have been fantastic hosts, and the event organisers are doing a great job introducing each film and chatting with guests.

DAY THREE

Day three of the Mayhem Horror Festival opened with a film that’s been high on my “must see” list for a while: Gareth Edwards’ Monsters.

I’d heard good things and bad, and kept hoping I’d get the chance to catch a screening. Expectations were high. Mayhem’s previous films were shown in Broadway’s Screen 2, but for day 3 the proceedings shifted to the much larger screen 1 to accommodate the pretty impressive turnout for Monsters.

I’ll not go into too much detail on Monsters, but I will say I loved it, and it deserves to be seen on as a big a screen as you can manage (so the move to Screen 2 was much appreciated). I’m incredibly grateful to the organisers, Broadway, and Bafta for setting the screening up and, the highest praise I can probably bestow, I can’t wait to somehow see the film again. Fingers crossed for a great Bluray release to do it justice.

Director Gareth Edwards took part in a QA session afterwards and came across as a very warm, friendly chap who couldn’t quite get his head around where he’d ended up. Kudos too to the interviewer for moving things forward but not getting in the way of the responses. Edwards told some interesting stories about the film’s development, but one of the most interesting ones for me was to do with Quentin Tarantino. Edwards described being at the Broadway Cinema years ago for a screening of Reservoir Dogs which Tarantino also attended. He said being back almost felt like coming full circle. Later, he referenced Tarantino again, and said the director had been asked about a balloon that comes into shot in Reservoir Dogs. The audience member wanted to know the significance of the balloon. Tarantino explained there was none: “Sometimes in life, there are balloons, and you should put them in your films”, Tarantino said. Edwards said there are many balloons in Monsters, and for me that’s something that adds to its charm.

The QA was followed by a screening of French period ghost story Stranded (aka Djinns). Look for a full review of Stranded elsewhere on the site soon, but for now I’ll describe it as John Ford’s The Lost Patrol meets The Keep meets R-Point.

After that, Gareth Edwards returned for a Bafta Masterclass on the making of Monsters. He recapped his past history working for the BBC, how he managed to get the go ahead for Monsters, and showed off some behind the scenes visual effects work. This was a fascinating hour, and Edwards clearly has a lot of enthusiasm for what he does. He talked a lot about getting a 2 disc DVD release cleared by Vertigo and including a lot of what he was showing in this session, and I really hope this happens. It’s great to see the original footage without the effects he created, so you can appreciate the subtlety and vision involved.

After that was the first of the day’s retro screenings: Poltergeist. I’d not seen this for years, certainly never in my adult life, and seeing it again now as a parent scared the crap out of me at times. The print was pretty old and faded (mental note: really must grab the Bluray) but I got into this way more than I expected to. Some of the effects have dated badly, but the majority of it holds up well. I did notice, for the first time, how overblown and ill-fitting the score is though.

The day’s final film was Street Trash. I hate to admit I didn’t hang around for this as I’ve been meaning to watch the DVD and instead opted for an early night.

DAY FOUR

The 4th and final day of Nottingham’s Mayhem festival kicked of with The Japanese gorefest Alien Vs Ninja but sadly I arrived too late to catch that bloody treat.

Instead my day started with a rare screening of Hitchcock’s Frenzy. It’s not the great man’s finest hour but it is great fun, marrying the disturbing tale of a sadistic murderer with some of Hitch’s legendary black humour. The print was in terrible condition, and we even lost audio at one point, but watching this with such an enthusiastic audience really brought out the film’s cheeky (and at times disturbing) sense of humour.

Next up was more sex and death, this time in homage to the classic Italian giallos. A visual and auditory feast, Amer is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen. From the opening hyper-stylised credit sequence to the closing title card Amer is a lovingly crafted amalgamation of all that was great in the lurid thrillers of Italian cinema’s horror heyday. And if you know your Bird with a Crystal Plumage from your Don’t Torture a Duckling there’s much to enjoy but I think Amer suffers from being a little too referential and alienates the uninitiated. Regardless, it’s a tremendously assured debut from directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Altitude promised B movie thrills and for the most part delivered. A group of stereotypical American students – the jock, the musician, the geek… you get the idea – are flying to a rock concert but things don’t exactly go according to plan. Think The Breakfast Club meets the classic Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet and you’ll have some idea what this has to offer. There’ll be a full review coming soon but this was enjoyable despite its shortcomings.

The final film of the day was Mexican cannibal movie We Are What We Are (wouldn’t We Are What We Eat have been a more appropriate title?). As I’d seen the film already at this year’s FrightFest and found it quite dull – a Mexican family spend 90 minutes arguing over who (literally) to have for dinner – I decided to give it a miss.

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