In Haunt

- By J.J. Wray

Grimmfest, Manchester’s own horror film festival entered its 10th year in 2018, running from the 4-7 October at The Great Northern Warehouse’s ODEON cinemas. Fittingly, many believed it to be one of the best so far, with a line-up fit to rival any horror film festival this year! The atmosphere around the festival from top to bottom was fantastic. Everyone was enthralled by the material on offer, and thunderous applause followed every feature or short film.

A variety of the favourite types of horror were showing across the festival: graphic gore, possession, gothic, horror comedy, haunted house and body horror, amongst others. But there were also defiantly different films on display too, such as Anna and the Apocalypse – a zombie apocalypse comedy horror musical! A special mention also goes to the completely undefinable short Neckface.

I was present for a great array of horror genres, and instantly it became apparent only the pinnacle of each genre was on offer. My only wish: I would have been available for the entire festival!

A final note I feel compelled to mention, is that the child acting on display was unbelievable. Tigers are not afraid, Summer of ’84, I’ll take your Dead, and The Witch in the Window were films that stood out for this in particular.

Thursday

Await further Instructions

One of the best and most engaging films I saw. This was a very deep, thoughtful film that takes the viewer on a real roller-coaster. As I interviewed Writer Gavin Williams and Producer Jack Tarling, which will be featured on HAUNT, Await further comment… on this film.

Girls with Balls

This French horror comedy flips several tropes on their head with a female volleyball team pursued by ‘cannibal hillbillies’. Possibly the funniest film I saw during the festival, with many hilarious points, and one scene involving a dog that left me laughing out loud well into the next scene. Very few films can do that!

Friday

Tigers are not Afraid; Vuelven (Come back)

A Mexican film with social commentary on the drug-wars of Mexico (and also applicable further afield in northern South America). Due to the drug wars, we are introduced to a near ghost town where Estrella, aged 11, lives. Quoted by Festival co-director Simeon Halligan as ‘what Guillermo del Toro would have made had he stayed in Mexico’, I feel this is very apt. It’s an urban Magical Realism fairytale, which any fan of Pan’s Labyrinth would thoroughly enjoy.

Summer of ‘84

A nostalgia trip for the ‘80s. Visually and culturally striking, as well as holding an ‘80s vibe which carried on into my favourite aspect - the soundtrack. During the summer holidays a teenage boy (conspiracy theorist enthusiast) and his group of misfit friends suspect their neighbourhood policeman as the local serial killer. The key theme was whether or not you really know your neighbours and what goes on in their households, which was sprinkled into the secondary characters lives very effectively without deviating too much time away from the main plot. This was a great film with a very chilling ending.

Saturday

Shorts Programme 2

This shorts (short films) programme celebrated female creators of horror. Individually and as a collective, they were some of my favourite parts of the festival.

Neckface - A bizarre take on ‘Bridezillas’ and how a perfect wedding can go wrong on the day. Truly funny and genius.

Marta - A woman obsessed with horror films decides she wants to be a serial killer… but her first attempt does not go to plan. The dialogue and acting between Marta and her chosen ‘victim’ is cinematic gold, and the humour, tragedy, and emotion all hit very powerfully.

La chambre noire (The black room) - Set in 1910 France, this had incredible atmosphere of impending doom, as a young girl feels a dark presence in the house whilst her mother succumbs to a ‘consumption-like’ illness. In terms of atmosphere, this was one of my favourites of the whole festival.

The Whistler - A girl babysitting her younger sister, tells a bedtime horror tale, but the terror soon becomes her own.

The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under the Stairs - A tale of an older woman who lives alone and in fear of her neighbourhood. Desperately trying to repress her fears, she finds a quick-fix solution. Described by director Faye Jackson as ‘a modern fairy-tale’ (hence its fable-like title) it definitely has that feel, whilst also being grounded in a very real modern-day terror many older individuals have.

Round Trip - A policeman and a convict find themselves in a confusing mess in the outback of Australia. Only sixminutes long, but a fun trip from the first second to the last.

Sybil - The character Sybil works at an Undertakers, but harbours unusual obsessions. A brilliant, eerie window into a disturbed mind. I interviewed the Writer/Director Joanne Mitchell, and the Actor/Writer Tracy Sheals, which will be available soon, also on HAUNT.

Nightmare Cinema

An anthology of five horror shorts from some very accomplished horror directors, all linked by a quirky and interesting host. These included a body horror/plastic surgery story, possession in a corrupt Catholic school, and my personal favourite Egress: a heart-wrenching black and white short concerning a mother’s descent into depression and disassociation during a difficult time in her life.

The Witch in the Window

Essentially a ‘Haunted house’ film, but masterfully grounded in character depth and motivation seldom seen to such an extent within any genre. This is centred on a father and son relationship that is incredibly authentic. During the Q&A following the screening, actor Alex Draper (the father) was asked how that relationship was brought so strongly to screen, and a question to Director Andy Mitton was how the child actor Charlie Tacker was discovered. There is also a very powerful, unsettling long-take scene in the middle of the film worth watching for any horror fan.

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich

Puppet Master returns, though this time the dolls are Nazis! This film was full of ‘80s-style practical gore effects and, of course, humour. A thoroughly enjoyable watch for fans of old school gore and inventive ways for characters to die - everything you would expect from a puppet master film and more. Barbara Crampton, special guest of this year’s Grimmfest, was also in this film, and shared some words after the showing.

Satan’s Slaves/Pengabdi Setan

The true beauty of film festivals is to celebrate top quality films, and bring them to audiences that may not see them otherwise. Indonesian horror has been vibrating on the global horror scene for a while, but at Grimmfest I was finally able to catch my first Indonesian horror film. This film takes on themes of family and Cultism. A very good film with twists and turns, whilst creating a real sense of sympathy for the family unit through its drama, struggles, and hauntings.

Sunday

The Devil’s Doorway

I can’t praise this film enough, it blew me away! On a personal note, I’ve found possession films to be increasingly unremarkable, but this was by far the best possession film I have seen in the past decade. Of course, there is much more to this film than possession, especially considering it is set in an Irish Magdalena Laundry (a horror unto themselves and worth a wider reading). This setting gave the film distinction and intrigue from the outset, but its direction and pacing was also skilfully crafted. Shot largely on film to create the 1960s feel, it’s also a ‘found footage’ film, and given the setting, it was reminiscent of Grave Encounters - which is high praise for me. Director Aislinn Clarke answered a few questions after the showing, and it was evident how thoughtfully she had approached every aspect of this film. Finally, though the whole cast were brilliant, the performances of Lalor Roddy and Helena Bereen were exceptional. This is a must-watch for any horror fan.

I’ll Take your Dead

This is the story of a young girl living on a farm with her father, who has found himself in a sticky situation - he is the go-to man to dispose the bodies of those killed in urban gang violence. In a similar vein to The Witch in the Window, it has supernatural elements, but is primarily character-driven, and the on-screen chemistry between the three main characters really makes this film.

Anna and the Apocalypse

High School Musical meets Shaun of the Dead! This film is as entertaining as it is unique, and a fitting crescendo to the festival. Effective characters of all types, and enjoyable performances all round. A British Christmas zombie apocalypse horror comedy musical! What more can be said?!

I, for one, cannot wait for Grimmfest 2019!

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