The delights of genre cinema are born from human imagination. The stories are nurtured by individuals who optimistically hope and believe across the years of their lives that a single film will devour that their tales arrive at the intended destination – to discover and touch the sensibilities of the audience.
If films are born out of the imagination then so the same could be said for the festivals that showcase them – festivals such as FrightFest that are crafted according to an ethos shared by four men who genre cinema continues to owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude – “‘Run by fans for the fans”, to find those great new voices in genre and see what difference they can make, and to ensure the FrightFest spirit of community endures.
But those who champion and showcase films, supporting their endeavours to find an audience on their ongoing journey from the intimate confines of its maker’s world, to a space spanning continents is one that ensures the future of cinema.
Ahead of the latest edition of FILM4 FrightFest, HeyUGuys took the opportunity to get under the skin and into the minds of two of these aforementioned visionaries – Greg Day and Alan Jones to paint an intimate portrait of FILM4 FrightFest.
Greg Day: We came, we turned the lights off, and we scared the shit out of them.
Alan Jones: Three people bored with nothing to do over the August Bank Holiday, who wanting to avoid the Carnival started a horror fantasy festival for likeminded fans – it worked!
Can you recall the moment you first discovered horror or more broadly genre cinema?
Greg Day: Watching Ray Milland in The Frogs aged fourteen in a flea-pit cinema in Hastings.
Alan Jones: I clearly remember when I was nine years-old walking past the local Essoldo cinema in my hometown of Portsmouth, and stopping dead at the lurid poster of Seddok, Son of Satan. I’ve been transfixed by horror imagery since then, and the first horror movie I ever saw, Horrors of the Black Museum cemented my devotion.
Greg Day: Avoiding killing each other, and learning how to look as if everything was planned.
Alan Jones: Making sure we had the right ‘tossed salad’ of films, distributors understood what we were trying to do, listening to the fans, and making certain the early FrightFest spirit of community remained throughout the years.
How important is the festival circuit for filmmakers and distributors alike? If the festival circuit ceased to exist, what would be the impact on the landscape of modern cinema?
Greg Day: It is increasingly more important because for a lot of filmmakers it represents their only chance for their film to be seen on the big screen. It’s a launch pad, and for distributors a chance to get a lot of healthy PR.
What would be the impact if the festival circuit ceased to exist? A desolate landscape indeed; a celluloid apocalypse! It could make a good zombie movie.
Alan Jones: Vital, especially now cinemas are geared towards only playing blockbusters, and VOD etc means certain ‘great’ films don’t get the audience they truly deserve. If the circuit didn’t exist it would be a cultural disaster, and so many filmmakers would not go on to have their burgeoning careers.
How important is it to take the time to celebrate not only genre cinemas present and future, but also its past?
Greg Day: You should never forget your roots, and in the horror genre these roots are deep and formed with great respect and kinship. We also must not forget how many great directors and performers started their careers in the genre.
Alan Jones: Half the directors, producers etc wouldn’t be working today if the likes of Romero, Argento, Carpenter, Craven, Cronenberg – so many more – hadn’t existed. Every movie carries a history with it that its fans can recognise and appreciate. So it’s good to remind newcomers who think gore started with Lucio Fulci what they should be celebrating, and plugging gaps in their knowledge whether it be AIP, Hammer, Val Lewton, Amicus, The Exorcist, Universal monsters, Nosferatu and the rest.
Since the first FrightFest how would you characterise the way in which both genre and horror cinema have evolved?
Greg Day: It’s much more global now. This year we are showing our first Venezuelan horror film, and twenty years ago who would have thought we’d have Hebrew horror? Perhaps there’s more real-life violence in the world that filmmakers draw from, and as technology advances then so we make more and more mostly bad found-footage films. I’ve also noticed that home invasion and apoco-survival movies are on the increase. A sign of the times maybe..?
Alan Jones: The genre has gotten bigger because so many people realise a) the only special effect a horror film needs is imagination, b) it’s still the best way to enter the film industry, c) everyone can access the camera/editing/VFX technology, d) more women have gotten the fright bug. Horror cinema has evolved in fascinating ways because of the invention of such sub-genres as found-footage and cyber-slasher that continue to push the limits to even further extremes.
What are the most frustrating examples of films you were proud to screen, which then struggled to find distribution and the potential to discover an audience outside of the festival circuit?
Greg Day: Definitely Simon Rumley’s Red White & Blue for me. It’s so frustrating because in my humble opinion it’s the work of a genius filmmaker. But it’s a very dark film; almost pitch-black, and most distributors can’t work in the dark.
Alan Jones: So many: The Dark Tourist, Dark Touch, Missionary, Grace, Tuno Negro, Grimm Love… even a masterpiece like Detention got thrown away despite being streets ahead the best film of 2011.
Looking ahead to this year’s line-up, which films in particular stand out as the must see films, and which do you expect will be the divisive ones?
Greg Day: In terms of quality for me: The Samurai, The Babadook, The Guest, Alan Moore’s trilogy Show Pieces.
Starry Eyes is great and has a very shocking head-crushing scene, but this year we don’t have a Martyrs or the threat of A Serbian Film. One thing I am personally pleased about is how much horror comedy we have.
Alan Jones: The standouts are: The Guest, The Signal, The Samurai, Open Windows, Housebound, Alleluia, Doc of the Dead, The Babadook. Divisive? Nymph, The Harvest, Shockwave Darkside 3D.
What have the challenges been in the change of venue this year to the Vue, which is no stranger to FrightFest as it hosts the All-Nighter?
Greg: Don’t go there…
Alan: Mainly changing the structure of the festival, because three auditoria at the Vue still can’t seat as many people as the one main Empire screen did. Also making sure everyone has a fair crack at the Discovery Screen titles with more seats than ever available, and making sure the talent gets shared around. We’ll let you know if we cracked it by August 25!
With this not being the first time FrightFest has relocated, does the change in venue offer you an opportunity to expand and evolve the FrightFest vision?
Greg Day: Yes, in some ways, and it keeps us on our toes.
Alan Jones: It’s always good to take a step back every now and again, and reassess our position. Our moves have always been forced upon us to some degree, and that’s not such a bad thing, as it has made us take a long hard look at the problematic areas and solve them. Our vision is, of course, global domination, and we’ll get there slowly but surely.
How do you compromise the desire to grow the festival with a reverence for tradition?
Greg Day: We always remember our mission statement: ‘Run by fans for the fans.’ If we got tired of doing it, then we’d stop doing it.
Alan Jones: There’s the rub. Every festival I’ve ever attended has had to move with the times – the market changes and the advances in technology. FrightFest is no different, and we always take our lead from the fans. If they are happy so are we, and if there’s a change they may not like, then let’s try it out and see what happens. Our audience is loyal, vocal and not afraid to give us their opinions. It is the perfect formula to match the changes to tradition.
This year sees a record number of female directors showcasing their work. The discussion of the place of female filmmakers in the film industry continues to be source of debate. Looking ahead are you optimistic about the opportunities for female filmmakers and what do you hope the female writing and directorial presence will bring to this year’s FrightFest?
Greg Day: More glamour and less sweaty arm-pits. Seriously, I don’t take the debate to heart. It shouldn’t matter – it’s about vision, originality and having the drive to do it.
Alan Jones: We’re getting there when it comes to a female focus. The more women who do it like the Soskas, and who radiate their enthusiasm for the genre, the better. What I have noticed from this year’s line up from the fairer sex is that they deliver even more gore and shocks than you’d imagine! No holding back at all – fantastic!
There is the usual support of genre shorts. What do you think is the place of the short in modern film?
Greg Day: It’s a good calling card and it teaches you how to beg, borrow, steal, lie, get into debt, make friends and forge important, creative partnerships.
Alan Jones: Many producers come to our Short Film Showcases looking for future talent. A short acts as a calling card, so everyone get out there and make one.
If someone was to describe FrightFest as being about finding great new voices in the genre and seeing what a difference they make how would you respond?
Greg: They are absolutely right. There is no better feeling than watching bright new talent at work. I felt that when I first met the Ford Brothers and saw The Dead.
Alan: That’s precisely what we set out to do, and we couldn’t be happier about it. Yesterday’s Monsters is tomorrow’s Godzilla – is there any better way to sum it up?
The genre audience is known for being a particularly intelligent one. Is the collaboration or dance between filmmaker and audience what makes film special?
Greg Day: The Filmmaker must be both a servant and a master to the audience. If you understand that then that means I’ve understood the question!
Alan Jones: Every genre filmmaker tries to make the audience jump with new shocks, new frights. That’s what they want to do, and that’s what we expect.
Looking back what moments stand out to you as FrightFest’s greatest successes?
Greg Day: George Romero surrounded by zombies in the cinema lobby, the audience singing happy birthday to David Soul, rescuing Selma Blair from a stalker, and Guillermo Del Toro calling us ‘the Woodstock of gore.’ Also showing films like Pan’s Labyrinth Let the Right One In, Cheap Thrills, Martyrs and Zombie Women of Satan, and seeing Andy Nyman on stage doing The Quiz from Hell.
Alan Jones: Launching Pan’s Labyrinth on the global stage, showcasing Martyrs before anyone knew what a game-changer it was, being the first festival outside of Scandinavia to show The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a full year before the European release, previewing Insomnia before anyone had even heard about Christopher Nolan, and Donnie Darko.
If you could take away one memory from the last fourteen years what would it be?
Greg Day: Going on stage with Alan, Paul and Ian for the first time and receiving a warm round of applause. It was the moment I knew I had been accepted into the FrightFest family.
Alan Jones: Moving people to tears with my Pans Labyrinth introduction.
If you could pick only one film from each year that for you epitomises FrightFest what would they be?
Greg Day: I’ll stick with the film I’ve already mentioned!
Alan: 2000 – Audition, 2001 – The Devil’s Backbone, 2002 – Donnie Darko, 2003 – Cabin Fever, 2004 – Old Boy, 2005 – Wolf Creek, 2006 – Pan’s Labyrinth, 2007 – The Orphanage, 2008 – Martyrs, 2009 – The Human Centipede, 2010 – Monsters, 2011 – Detention, 2012 – American Mary and 2013 – Big Bad Wolves.
Our thanks to Greg and Alan. See all of our FrightFest coverage here.