FrightFest 2006. The 6th Anniversary of the UK’s best annual horror festival took place between 25th and 28th August 2006 at the Odeon West End cinema. Read the review of Day One below or click on the other links to see reviews for the other days.
Soulmining: With Thursday’s charity premiere of Severance acting as the perfect curtain raiser to the festival, FrightFest opened proper with a Friday afternoon of three classic horror films ahead of Pan’s Labyrinth, its “official” opening night film.
Following on from last year’s Dead Day (George A. Romero’s living dead trilogy of films) this year’s retrospective slot turned the spotlight onto three classics from the Hammer vaults – The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Countess Dracula and Twins Of Evil – with pristine new prints made available especially for the occasion.
The Hound of The Baskervilles (1959)
Soulmining I wasn’t overly fussed about catching the day’s Hammer programme which was perhaps just as well when I awoke after the Severance party with the hangover from hell. That was my morning wiped out right there.
Zomblee I too was suffering the consequences of far too much red wine at the previous night’s Severance party…
Rawshark Yep, sorry, I was in pretty much the same state also. As much as I would have loved to have seen The Hound of the Baskervilles on the big screen, there was just no chance of me making the early start of 11.45am considering the state I was in.
So, a no-no to the Hound then (which was a bit of a shame, as I heard later that it was introduced by Mark Gatiss), but by about 1pm I felt just about good enough to move off the sofa, wipe the sweat from my brow, grab a box of 40 ‘GIVES YOU THE WILLIES!” T-shirts, and brave the underground to make it up to FrightFest 2006 in time for the second Hammer of the day, Countess Dracula.
Director Terence Fisher
Cast Peter Cushing
Countess Dracula (1971)
Soulmining I managed to get myself to the Odeon West End in time for Countess Dracula but was still feeling very hungover so instead spent the duration of the film sat in the centre of Leicester Square talking to an elderly lady from Oregon while nursing a large bottle of water.
Zomblee Having missed Hound of the Baskervilles, Ingrid Pitt’s somewhat unconventional bathing methods proved to be just the tonic to gently ease us into a weekend of blood and guts mayhem. Countess Dracula is a real Hammer gem about a ”devil woman” who, in an effort to look young, bathes in fresh virgin’s blood with the assistance of an unfeasibly large sponge. Look out for the great turn from Maurice Denham as aging bookworm Master Fabio, and try to sit through the opening frames depicting Sandor Elès’ galloping along in a ridiculously large hat without laughing.
Rawshark Somehow I managed to make it to the West End and found my way to what was to be my home for the next four days (seat D28). I gladly sank into the cinema’s darkness for my first ever viewing of the Countess Dracula, and what a great hangover cure it turned out to be! Ingrid Pitt is on great form as the ageing / youthful Countess Nadasdy who bathes in virgin’s blood to maintain her beauty. Her performance is sexy (with or without make-up), hypnotic and she steals all the best lines (”Peel me a peach!”). She’s doomed of course, but by the almost tragic wedding ending, we’d been treated to lots of the red stuff, heaving bosoms, and had many a laugh, both intentional and un-intentional. Better than Paracetomol.
Director Peter Sasdy
Cast Ingrid Pitt
Twins of Evil (1971)
Soulmining I met up with a number of FrightFest regulars who were also planning to skip this film so joined them for a bite to eat in the aptly named Crypt café adjacent to Trafalgar Square.
Zomblee Another fine piece from the Hammer vaults, Twins of Evil has horror stalwart Peter Cushing doing a nasty turn as a raging witch hunter, leading a group of like-minded big hat enthusiasts around the place and burning innocent girls. Of the two Hammers I was lucky enough to see, this is the one that raised most laughs, the not-so-merry band of witch hunters going down an absolute storm by raising their torches up in the air while shouting ”Burn her! Burn her!” in the finest of pre-Python traditions.
Rawshark I hadn’t seen this one before either, so it was a double-bonus for me to catch Twins of Evil, and indeed much audience laughter was had early on with Peter Cushing and his fellow-witch hunters. The ‘Playboy’ magazine twins (Mary and Madeleine Collinson) may not be the greatest actors who ever lived, but they certainly fill out their roles with ample screen presence in this highly entertaining period vampire romp. Damien Thomas is good hammy Hammer value as Count Karnstein, and Peter Cushing is bang on form as the witch-hunting Gustav Weil. Blood, vampires and naked breasts. Good, clean fun. Right, who wants a WILLIES T-shirt?
Director John Hough
Cast Peter Cushing
Soulmining: Before Pan’s Labyrinth launched the evening’s entertainment Rawshark was busy trading outside the cinema doing good business with his original FrightFest-approved GIVES YOU THE WILLIES! T-shirts.
Gives You The Willies! – The official EMB ZH/FF06 T-shirts
It was soon 6.30pm and time for the big event of the night - Pan’s Labyrinth. Guillermo Del Toro received a rapturous welcome as he took to the stage to introduce his film, the first public showing since its Cannes screening received a 22-minute standing ovation. Guillermo was joined by producer Alfonso Cuaron (director of the forthcoming Children Of Men) who explained his working relationship with the director.
As the lights dimmed we got our first treat of the weekend – a FrightFest trailer put together by sponsors Zone Horror which faithfully recreated an old seventies Charley Says public information film. In this hilarious clip Charley and the young boy are playing in the park when the Grim Reaper approaches and invites the boy to FrightFest. The boy is about to go with him when Charley stops him with his usual miaow… and so the boy and the Grim Reaper tie Charley to a tree and chop off his head. Honestly, this was hands down the funniest thing I saw all weekend!
Followed by trailers for Saw III and The Wicker Man, the latter of which was greeted with a chorus of boos and a loud cry of “sacrilege” from the guy sitting along the row from me.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Soulmining Pan's Labyrinth arrived on a huge wave of expectation; after wowing the crowds at Cannes could it repeat the trick here at FrightFest? The answer was a resounding yes, with Del Toro's companion piece to The Devil's Backbone proving to be his most personal, most creative and most rewarding film to date. Mixing the all too real life horrors of the Spanish Civil War (personified by Lopez's chilling Captain Vidal) with Ofelia's adventures in Pan's fantasy realm, this is a charming and affecting film graced by a hugely talented cast and a director working at the top of his game. Not only the best film of the festival, but the best film of 2006 thus far.
Zomblee Exquisitely crafted masterpiece from Guilermo del Toro sees a young girl (Ivana Baquero) caught between Spanish Civil War atrocities, a dying mother and a world of macabre fantasy. Perhaps not your average Frightfest material, this extraordinary exercise is more proof that del Toro is getting better and better. Compelling, shocking and moving, Pan’s Labyrinth will stun you with its sheer originality, assured hand and totally mesmerising performances from the central cast, in particular Sergi Lopez as the penetratingly sadistic Captain. This is perhaps the only occasion in a film festival where grown-up horror fans find themselves crying at the plight of a little girl. Magic.
Rawshark With hangovers quickly receding and a great afternoon’s Hammer warm-up, the real meat of FrightFest 2006 kicked off properly with the official opening film, Guillermo del Toro’s marvellous, magnificent and majestic masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. Screening for the first time outside Cannes, Pan’s is unquestionably del Toro’s best film yet, a stunning mix of full-blown fantasy and genuine heart-wrenching tragedy with dollops of brutal violence and creepy creatures thrown in for good measure. Believe the hype – quite probably THE film of the year!
Director Guillermo del Toro
Cast Ivana Baquero
Soulmining: Guillermo Del Toro returned for a lively Q&A with Alan Jones after the screening in which he talked about working with the various actors and how he’s relying on our word of mouth to help market the film in November. You got it Guillermo!
Guillermo del Toro takes questions from the audience after the screening of Pan's Labyrinth
After a short break it was the turn of director Adam Green to take to the stage to introduce the next film of the evening.
Soulmining Adam Green is a horror geek like the rest of us and his affection for the genre is etched all the way through Hatchet like a stick of Brighton rock. From the tits 'n' booze soaked Mardi Gras opening through to Victor Crowley's gleeful killing spree, all served with lashings of the red stuff, this is like discovering a long lost Betamax video from the early eighties. Throw in a sprinkling of genre veterans (Robert Englund and Tony Todd) and a knowing nod towards Friday 13th and you've got the perfect recipe for a slice of sweet slasher pie. Watch with a few cold beers and this will satisfy the stomachs of horror fans everywhere.
Zomblee Adam Green has wanted to make Hatchet since he was 8 years old, apparently. I’ll wager he had just watched The Burning, and maybe a few other slashers from that time, because this fun little flick is so clearly indebted to those axe-wielders of yesteryear. Boasting a genuinely funny-as-fuck script that works better if teenage slash fodder flicks don’t irritate you too much, it places its terrific cast deep in the Louisiana swamplands whereupon they become prey to the local legend of Victor Crowley, played by hulking ex-Jason, Kane Hodder. Smart, snappy and endearingly old skool.
Rawshark After the emotional wrangling of Pan’s Labyrinth, it was inspired programming to slot in Hatchet as the next film of the night. Adam Green’s fun and affectionate throwback to 80s slasher movies may start slightly dodgy (a murky swamp, yet another Robert Englund cameo), but as soon as our eight ‘victims’ leave behind the voodoo and breast shots of New Orleans and venture into Victor Crowley’s hunting ground, sparks really begin to fly. Fairly stylish, very funny and extremely gory, Hatchet was a genuine crowd-pleaser with the added bonus of rather fetching eye-candy in the form of Tamare Feldman. Bring on Hatchet 2!
Director Adam Green
Cast Joel Moore
Soulmining: Adam Green returned for a Q&A directly afterwards and told some amusing anecdotes including how he’d manage to get Robert Englund involved after getting a rare Marilyn Manson t-shirt for him! He also revealed that he’s just been attached to direct Dead West, a western/zombie movie.
Hatchet director Adam Green
Rawshark and I caught up with him for a quick chat in the foyer, then it was back into the auditorium for the first short film of the festival – a fairly routine zombie piece entitled Gasoline Blood.
Soulmining After the double whammy of Pan's Labyrinth and Hatchet, scheduling a subtitled Swedish vampire flick in Friday's midnight slot was a risky venture. Thankfully Frostbite more than delivers the goods, with its original setting, likeable characters and Blade-like effect (although perhaps best to forget the woeful costume in the film's finale!) Like our homegrown Severance, this should be commended on the skillful way it meshes horror with comedy, utilising some great sight gags and a witty script - not to mention the talking dogs! It loses a star for its slightly disappointing ending when things just run out of steam, but otherwise is a fresh take on a familiar genre and is definitely worth sinking your teeth into.
Zomblee Way too tired. Sleepy. Bed for me.
Rawshark A Swedish vampire movie you say? Brilliant! Opening with an extended wartime scene as several German troops come under attack from some demonic creatures, Frostbite then cuts to modern-day where we meet doctor Annika and her daughter Saga who are moving to a new town for work. Of course, it’s not long before some partying teens decide to take the red pill and start growing fangs and all hell breaks loose. Well-made and often inventive (it’s a cool new angle on the vampire myth), Frostbite is a great Swedish horror film with some delightful comedy moments. And let’s face it; any film that features a talking Rottweiler is going to get no less than 4 stars from me.
Director Anders Banke
Cast Petra Nielson
Soulmining summary: So, despite a shaky start with the Eat My Brains team all suffering from the night before, Friday provided an outstanding opening to FrightFest in the shape of the amiable Guillermo Del Toro and Pan’s Labyrinth, a cinematic gem which all the other films were going to find hard to beat.
Backed up with the bloody/comedic duo of Hatchet and Frostbite, this was an exceptionally strong night’s entertainment and boded well for the rest of the festival.