GRIMMFEST’s 10th anniversary edition horror movie festival ran from 4-7th October 2018 at its new home, the ODEON Manchester Great Northern, UK. Mark Doubt attended and offers up his personal highlights from the genre festival’s offerings.
Wow. Ten years. When Grimm Up North (as they were known back then) started hosting independent horror in Manchester in 2009, if you’d have suggested to me they would even still be around in 2018 I’d have been skeptical. If you’d told me they would be putting on 4-day events in huge, packed cinema screens, featuring back to back new independent movies and bringing genuine genre legends over for audience Q&A sessions and signings, I’d have probably recommended you see a doctor.
But here we are. Ten years later. I’ve seen them put on entire seasons of works by John Carpenter at the Dancehouse Theatre, bring some of the most challenging and resonant new horror at the city’s giant Printworks complex, Evil Dead marathons at the wonderfully baroque Stockport Plaza (Simeon and team – PLEASE do an Argento day at the Plaza, it is crying out for one!) and now the festival opens at perhaps Manchester’s most lived-in, comfortable theatre, the Great Northern, for its 10th anniversary extravaganza.
This year featured (for the first time) an awards ceremony, and it was refreshing to see an all-women judging panel. There was a special guest of honour – no less than Barbara Crampton! Presenting no fewer than 3 of her movies, she was in Manchester for the entire festival. Grimmfest also made a genuine effort to show diversity in the offerings this year, which was to the festival’s credit as it made for a richer viewing experience.
Oh, and there were some horror movies, too! Here are some of the festival highlights:
The cult 80s hit, and the first of Barbara Crampton’s appearances at the festival. While the festival is firmly about celebrating new horror, it is nice to slip at least one classic in there (previous years have seen Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and slasher The Burning brought back to the big screen) and it was great to see this truly fun movie on the big screen.
TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (VUELVEN)
Issa Lopez’ modern day fairy tale, set in the barrios of Mexico and following a group of orphaned children as they adapt to life on the streets and try to survive in Mexico's ongoing violent drug war. This magical tale has already built up quite a following, and rightfully so. I was happy to get a chance to see it, and was not disappointed. It’s a legitimate classic, and will doubtless make an appearance on everybody’s “best of” lists at the end of the year, the decade, and beyond. Touching, tragic and terrifying, it is a perfectly balanced film that will delight horror aficionados and any fan of exceptional cinema.
Australian brothers Shane and Clayton Jacobson have drawn comparisons to the Coen Brothers for this morbid comedy, and frankly it is a lazy comparison. What we have here is an original, incredibly funny and genuinely emotional tale of a pernicious plan gone wrong, from a pair of talents who deserve to be celebrated. It simply has to be seen.
I’ve been awaiting Nicolas Pesce’s second offering with baited breath. His 2016 The Eyes of my Mother was an offbeat, grimy black & white affair that was both hauntingly beautiful and deeply disturbing, and it signalled the start of a truly original career form an exceptional talent. His sophomore effort, about a man who intends to murder a prostitute (played by Mia Wasikowska, in a fantastic performance), is good if not exceptional. In some ways, it does everything right – the film avoids ‘male gaze’ and we are spared the lazy, fantasy image of big city escorts that other writers and directors continually trot out. The story has some satisfying twists and turns, and is visually stunning. The only let down for me was a series of jarring homages to Dario Argento, which did not fit with the tone or content of the movie. In addition to using Goblin’s biggest Argento themes (Suspiria, Tenebrae), the film features nods to the baroque primary colour fantasy of 1978’s Suspiria, which didn’t work for me. I love Argento, especially his gialli (and no, Suspiria is not usually considered to be a giallo), and I love when new directors reference Italian horror cinema…but it just didn’t feel earned here.
Mick Garris’ big-screen follow up to Masters of Horror was a lot of fun. As screenwriter Lawrence C. Connolly (in attendance for a really fun Q&A session) put it: “It’s a shame these seats don’t have seatbelts! Enjoy the ride!”
He wasn’t wrong! This anthology did everything right, blending a number of short features from experienced horror directors together with a framing mechanism that didn’t waste a single second and yet was as entertaining as any of the main segments. Watch out for Alejandro Brugués’ opening portion, which sets up and then expertly disassembles more genre tropes than The Cabin in the Woods and all four Scream movies combined. It’s a rollercoaster of a segment and my personal favourite.
THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW
I knew nothing about this going in, and wasn’t expecting much, but Andy Mitton’s take on the haunted house subgenre captivated me. It does what every truly great Haunted House movie (think The Innocents; The Haunting) does, in that it focuses on the characters. The relationship between Alex Draper and Charlie Tacker’s estranged father and son is poignant and delightful, and everything else that happens is frankly secondary. If I have any criticism at all, it is that the film has four logical final scenes. Every time I thought it was over, it continued. Given that the film is a lean 76 minutes, this isn’t too much of an inconvenience.
I joined in the Q&A with the director and lead actor after the film:
MD: Unlike a lot of haunted house movies, all the really scary stuff in The Witch in the Window - and it IS really scary - happens in broad daylight. Well done! Was that a creative decision, or a practical one, or a bit of both?
ANDY MITTON: It was a bit of both.
One of the great things about independent film is by now everybody knows the beats - if you look at the Insidious movies a lot of talented people have honed those beats really well, so it was easy for me to figure out how to play the off beats. Where they drench it in shadow, I just drench it in sunlight, so I kind of feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.
Also it's a lot cheaper. There's nothing more difficult than lighting night scenes.
MD: Thank you. It’s very effective!
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH
Oh wow, what an appalling movie…I loved it! I guess Puppet Master has gotten in some trouble for its content, and while I’m not surprised (literally everything that happens in this movie is done in bad taste), I can’t really join in. It’s a film about Nazi Puppets that run around slaughtering people. It is also a GIANT BAG OF FUN and features Ms Horror herself, Barbara Crampton, in a key role. The gore is out of this world (there’s a never-ending series of death setups, each one looking to outdo the last), the humour is close to the bone throughout, and Italian music maestro Fabio Frizzi does his best work since Fulci’s House by the Cemetery (although I’m not certain his style fits this kind of movie). Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich will win no awards for good taste, but if you go in expecting anything other than a Puppet Master movie, I don’t know what to tell you.
Barbara Crampton gave a fantastic Q&A afterwards. She’s enjoying something of a career resurgence at the moment after unjustly being in the wilderness from about the minute she turned thirty, such was the industry’s terrible policies on female actors. Her recent work has been the best of her career – especially her role as a grieving mother in Ted Geoghan’s We Are Still Here a couple of years back. Barbara talked about women in the industry, why we need to put the condescending ‘Scream Queen’ tag to bed now and why movies written by committee are no substitute for an artist’s vision. I was lucky enough to meet her briefly, and tried not to gush too much! She really is fantastic.
I’m a huge fan of director Rob Grant. His documentary/mockumentary Fake Blood was a highlight of Grimmfest 2017, and it is A CRIME that it hasn’t been more widely seen. Arrow/Severin/88Films/Mondo/Somebody please license and distribute Fake Blood!
Alive is no Fake Blood. It is very well directed by Grant (who really should be getting offers from Blumhouse, he is so talented), but the story concept and screenplay leaves a lot to be desired. There is a central mystery to the film that is barely mentioned until the final fifteen minutes of the film, so when the twist is revealed, it is not so much a “What the fuck” moment as a “Why the fuck” moment.
What the film does have is a great set up, wonderful contained location and it drips with atmosphere. Thanks to great direction and clever use of sets and lighting, the film looks like it had ten times the budget it actually benefited from. Bloody fun with a daft as a brush ending, I enjoyed the film (or PARTS of it, ha ha ha) but I’m looking forward to seeing Rob work with better material next time out.
The festival promised an awards ceremony, which I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to see. Barbara Crampton received an Outstanding Achievement award which was very well deserved. She’s an 80s cult icon but she’s also a wonderfully talented actor and I’m looking forward to seeing much more from her in years to come.
There was an audience award, and I filled out my ballot papers at each screening I attended. I’ll be incredibly surprised if TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID didn’t walk away with top honours.
All in all, Grimmfest 2018 did not disappoint. The team put on a special show with a great line-up of genre films, as independent horror cinema continues to be the most exciting it has been in some decades. I’ll definitely be returning for Grimmfest 11 in 2019!
The son of a VHS pirate, Matt Rogerson became a horror fan at a tender young age. A student of the genre, he is currently writing his first book (about Italian horror and the Vatican) and he believes horror cinema is in the middle of a new golden age.
This week on Beyond The Void Horror Podcast is back with two movies that are the perfect 80s horror treat for this Halloween! Demons & Demons 2! Directed by Lamberto Bava & co-written / produced by the legend Dario Argento. It’s a episode chock full of trivia, gore and behind the scenes info on the franchise. You can listen here or you can Listen/Subscribe on iTunes here!