The second to the third of October this year saw the fifth anniversary of the Grimm up North film festival in Manchester. Dedicated to cult and Horror cinema, its been a staple of my life for the last four years. (I missed the first year by virtue of not knowing it was on) I’m a huge film fan as anyone who knows me will testify and I especially love the kind of films shown at Grimmfest as it’s more commonly referred to.
Film festivals are nothing new of course. The festivals at Cannes and Berlin have been going on for years. FrightFest in London, which is more specifically tailored to these kinds of films has been the major horror festival in the UK for some years now. It was about time that Manchester got its own festival and since 2009 Grimm has been delivering the goods admirably.
Located for most of its run at the Dancehouse theatre on Oxford street, a wonderful theatre with a great Gothic atmosphere. (one year they relocated to a multiplex, it was more comfortable but lost a lot of the ‘personality’) Grimmfest offers the option to either buy tickets for individual screenings or, like I do, get a full festival pass and see EVERYTHING. This is the real endurance test and one I have passed every year of attendance. All day, every day in a cinema watching countless weird and wonderful films. Some people like to spend their holidays on the Beach, this is how I spend mine.
This year, as usual I arrived early in Manchester by Train with my friend Adam, both of us carting our heavy luggage. Normally Grimm doesn’t start until the evening but this year they were holding screenings all day at the Lass o’gowrie pub located just down the road from the danchouse. It’s a great little pub with a nice selection of Ales and some retro arcade cabinets including an original Pac-man. The dilemma for us was that the hotels don’t allow check in until the afternoons so with heavy luggage in tow we headed straight to the pub to begin the four days of film. We did miss Wednesday nights preview night but we always miss that one. It’s held over in Stockport and is quite awkward to commute to.
To Jennifer: First up for the fest was this ‘found footage’ film from the director of HATE CRIME, a film that caused some minor scandal at a previous Grimmfest. Hate crime was a nasty piece of work about a group of neo-nazi skinheads doing a home invasion on an upper middle class Jewish family. Director James Cullen Bressack is a young director and doesn’t have the self restraint to know when his work is going ‘too far’ as a result Hate Crime is still without meaningful distribution. I sat down to watch To Jennifer with some hesitation. Were we going to be thrown another nasty, harrowing piece of work straight away?
Actually no. It’s a much more restrained piece of film making with more emphasis on character development. The film starts off with a young lad starting a film to his girlfriend Jennifer who he thinks is cheating on him. As the film progresses it emerges that what we think is going on is very far removed from the truth. To Jennifer was a nice surprise, flawed in places but a real step up from the directors previous work in storytelling and maturity.
The Gloaming: One of the great things about film festivals is that it lets you watch a variety of short films. Normally shorts are the preserve of you tube, but any film festival worth its salt will programme a few to play in-between features. This first one was enjoyable enough, with some great creature effects but was more just a short atmosphere piece. The narrative, location and characters were not well established and the dialogue was in Gaelic without subtitles so about 99.9% of the world wont have a clue about what’s going on.
Next exit: This next short was much better. A tongue in cheek horror about the dangers of sat-nav mixed in to a tale about organ harvesting was great fun to watch. Like the best short films it told its story within the time constraints well, the characters were reasonably developed and it looked great. The story was fun as well.
Home sweet home: A couple who have recently moved out to the arse-end of nowhere return home to find someone is in their home stalking them. A taut, superbly directed little chiller is a master-class in how to direct a low budget horror. Three characters and one location over 85 minutes Home sweet home is a tense and claustrophobic horror that really kept the audience gripped. Its co made by French and Canadian producers and the French director David Morlet previously made a very underrated zombie film called Mutants. This is a film well worth checking out if you get the chance.
Girl at the door: Another great short film. This one is Groundhog day as made as a supernatural revenge thriller. It’s about a man literally haunted by a one night stand. Like Next exit it tells its story economically and uses the short time it has to deliver its story and characters effectively. It’s got a twist ending you will guess almost immediately but the film still works well enough.
Attack of the Brainsucker: Another short. This one uses a homage to fifties B-movies to develop a story about the real world cases of the misuse of pre frontal lobotomy by the medical establishment. A lot of short films we saw were content to simply tell a short story. It was nice to see one dealing with actual real world horror for a change. Nicely done as well.
Angst, Piss and Drid: The final short on Thursday at the Lass ‘Gowrie. This one is from Norway and is a gory and twisted tale about two young serial killers falling out of love. Harrowing and funny at the same time, this was a well made short film and set the mood for the final film at the Lass…
House with 100 eyes: A low budget horror set in Los Angeles, this one is a tale of a suburban couple keen to make it big shooting snuff movies at their home. It’s an excellent critique of You Tube culture, with the main characters that really exemplify the concept of the Banality of evil. The tone of the film is erratic to say the least. Just when you think you have a handle on where the film is coming from, a pitch black comedy, the tone suddenly switches to absolute horror and real discomfort. It was a tough watch for some in the audience but its the sort of weird, clever, oddball cinema that the programmers at Grimm have a real gift for unearthing.
After the afternoon of programming at the Lass’ there was a two hour break that gave me and Adam the opportunity to head to the hotel, drop off our luggage and head out for a bite to eat. The gaps in the programming give us the opportunity to sit and discuss the films we have seen. We opt for a local wetherspoon’s. It’s Thursday so curry night. After the Curry we head to the dancehouse theatre where the evenings entertainment continues…
Crazy for you: The evening kicks off with a comedic short about a serial killer who meets the girl of his dreams and decides he needs to stop his nasty habit of murdering people every time he see’s polka dots. It’s an entertaining and genuinely funny little black comedy and director James Moran is there to answer questions after the next feature.
The Borderlands: Another ‘found footage’ film, this one is possibly one of the most effective examples of the style I’ve seen. A group of investigators from the Vatican head to a small church in the south west of England to investigate ‘miracles’ Instead they find an ancient pre-Christian horror that has lain buried beneath the church for centuries. Like Wicker man in its use of Pagan British folklore as a source for its horror, The Borderlands is a highly effective slice of horror that relies a lot on suggestion and the viewers imaginations. It also boasts some of the most impressive sound design from any film in the festival. Highly recommended.
After that the makers of Borderlands and Crazy for you come to the stage for a Q&A with the audience. Another perk of film festivals it lets the audience engage with the film makers and find out more about the films their seeing.
After that it’s time for the final film of the evening…
ON AIR: A fun German homage to American horror. This one is about a German pirate DJ being terrorized by a serial killer intent on playing mind games. The DJ must play along with the nut case in order to save the woman he has hostage. Not especially scary, the film has some great plot twists and was a great end to the evening. Borderlands managed to scare enough of the audience that anything that followed was going to feel a little underwhelming, but On Air was entertaining enough that I plan to watch it again.
After we get out of the Dancehouse the first port of call is the IL PADRINO kebab house. Oxford street is student territory so there are plenty of reasonably priced takeaways all competing for the student pound. Good quality and low cost its one of the traditions of the festival for both Adam and myself to head to the kebab house before making our way across town to the hotel.
The next morning is an early rise to take advantage of the ‘continental breakfast’ (basically toast and coffee) before heading out to do a little early morning DVD and blu-ray shopping around Manchester. I picked up a couple of Arrow bargains in Fopp before it was time to head over to the Lass O’Gowrie for the start of the days films..
My Amityville Horror: Possibly one of the most infamous ‘haunted’ house tales around the Amityville story still provokes a lot of discussion. The multiple films that have been made on the alleged true story have helped reinforce its notoriety. This documentary on Daniel Lutz, a young boy when the events occurred is fascinating and insightful and offers a new perspective on what we know about the story. It’s more about Lutz himself than Amityville, about his perception of events, the nature of memory and the effects of growing up as a survivor of one of the twentieth century’s most notorious paranormal incidents. Even if your not a horror fan or are one of those people who has never heard of Amityville this is still a fascinating film.
Smiley: The biggest disappointment of the festival. The trailer for smiley and the creature design for the monster have become a major YouTube sensation. It’s sad to say though, its a case of great trailer bad film. Banal is possibly the best description of the film. It rehashes plot twists from late nineties slasher films and does it poorly, the monster concept tries to go for Candyman for the internet generation but the film isn’t a patch on Bernard Rose’s classic. It’s not even up there with the increasingly poor quality Candyman sequels. Very unimpressive.
The Plan: Perhaps I was simply in a bad mood after smiley but this short film left me cold. Its a somewhat pretentious and dreamlike tale where I honestly had no idea what was going on. Nice imagery I suppose.
Antisocial: Like the dreadful smiley, this film tries to bring a classic monster tale into the age of the internet. Unlike Smiley however it mostly succeeds and was very entertaining indeed. It’s a zombie story where the infection is spread through social networking. It’s a concept that’s a tough sell but the film makers pull it off and as a result Antisocial ended up being one of the freshest Zombie films I’ve seen in a while. Highly recommended.
We unfortunately miss the make-up workshop with SFX whizz shaune Harrison. We need to use the gap in the schedule to make our way back across town and change hotels. The slightly tatty looking one were at is fully booked all weekend but fortunately we snagged cheap rooms at a nearby Holiday Inn. The rooms are much nicer, the beds are comfy and there is a full English breakfast thrown in each morning. Once were settled we once again head back across town to the Danchouse for the evenings films.
Hellraiser 2: Every year there is at least one screening of an old classic. This year fans got a choice of one of the Hellraiser films and the overwhelming vote was for part 2. Not the choice I personally would have made, its a much more inconsistent film than the first. A large portion of the first third seems to rehash the first movie and it takes some liberty’s with the mythology. That said its still an entertaining film in its own right and was nice to see on the big screen. It’s followed up with a Q&A session with two of the actors who played Cenobites and was a real treat for the fans.
Next up was a Q&A session with Shaune Harrison. We missed his demonstration earlier in the day but his talk about working on practical effects and how the industry changed with the advent of computer generated imagery was genuinely fascinating and informative.
The Guest: Another short. This one was a well written and punchy little tale about a wanted man who takes a young woman prisoner and gets way more than he bargained for. A fun little short, the director Bryan Ryan was in attendance to answer a few questions.
Jug Face: Final film for the evening managed to alienate some of its audience. The rest seemed to love it. It’s a bout an isolated backwoods community who worship a strange creature in a pit in the woods. Every so often the creature demands a sacrifice and possesses a local man to have him craft a clay jug in the likeness of the next sacrifice. A young woman in an incestuous relationship with her brother discovers the jug with her face on it and decides to hide it. This triggers off a devastating set of events. Director Chad Crawford Kinkle delivers a moody and atmospheric horror that relies far more on great writing than gore. The characters are well developed and interesting and the score is excellent and sticks in your head long after the film is done. It also delivers a great opening credit sequence that manages to deliver the entire back story in a way that economical and well delivered. It prevents the film from being bogged down by tons of exposition. Also worth noting is the producers credit for Lucky McKee, a talented film-maker in his own right who has delivered smart creepy classics like THE WOMAN and MAY.
After a Pizza at Il Padrino we make our way back to the hotel. Its always good when the final film really delivers and Jug Face did just that.
The next morning we wake up late, not sure why but we get ready in a hurry and head straight to the Lass O’Gowrie for the mornings screenings.
Modus Anomali: Thanks to the football there’s just the one screening at the Lass. It means unfortunately missing out on the Chris Fowler Q&A. He’s an excellent writer and it was one of the things I was looking forward to, but after Modus we need to head straight to the Dancehouse. Modus is the one and only Asian film of this years festival. Previous years had seen quite a few films from Korea and Hong Kong. Modus is a dark story that uses the well worn tool of amnesia for its set up. A man wakes up in the woods with no clue who he is or where he is. Following a set of clues he soon discovers he’s being hunted by a mysterious killer who may have his kids. The film manages to deliver a really neat twist to the tale that rescues it from becoming to stale and generic. For a while the sense of having seen it all before starts to creep in, then it throws a shocking reveal and the film suddenly redeems itself. Not a perfect film perhaps but one that’s well worth a look. Weirdly despite being Indonesian its shot with English Language. I can only assume to give it more international appeal.
We head straight over to the Dance House for the next two shorts. A little gutted we missed the Chris Fowler Q&A. Glad we did in the end though as the next two shorts screened were fantastic.
Out there: Once again Amnesia is used as a narrative tool to leave the audience as confused as the protagonist. Here a young man wakes up and finds the entire world has gone to hell. The film cuts back to the story before the man wakes up and we see him in his seemingly idyllic relationship with his girlfriend. This short skilfully ties everything together to present a cynical look at a relationship that comes under strain in the worst possible circumstances. This is a great short film with a creative use of sound to build up atmosphere and excellent use of location. Worth checking out.
Sleep working: This second short presents a convincing and terrifying look at a future where new technology allows people to work while asleep allowing a workforce that can work seven days a week, twelve hours a day. Having worked plenty of low pay, long hours jobs this would probably classify as a porno for certain companies but as a worker this was a chilling tale with a nasty sting in its tail.
The directors of both shorts came on stage for an informative Q&A on the making of both shorts. Both directors were happy to discuss the making and inspiration for their work and provided some interesting insights into the film-making process.
The Human Race: Next up was the genre-bending film from director Paul Hough, son of esteemed director John Hough http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0396421/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 who also acts as producer here. A group of 80 strangers find themselves transported to a mysterious location and forced to run a Marathon. The rules are simple and failing to abide by them is deadly. There can only be one winner so things get deadly rather quickly. Like the films its inspired by (Running man, Battle Royale) The Human Race presents a dark tale of human behaviour in the face of possible death. Seemingly nice people turn very nasty and more than a few of the runners find themselves murdered by their fellow racers. This is a very interesting slice of Sci-Fi/horror that is worth seeking out. It has a genuinely interesting script, great acting and though the ending was a little disappointing the film was gripping right from the get-go.
Samuel and Emily vs The World: Another short. This one is about a young couple doing whatever they must in order to survive in a decimated post apocalyptic world overrun by Zombies. This was a great, dark little film that told its story effectively. It uses location and effects economically to create a world on a small budget and it works. The director was in attendance to introduce the film and as with the previous short we also got an informative Q&A afterwards.
Found: This feature length film is about a young twelve year old horror movie obsessive who discovers his older brother may be a serial killer. This is an excellent film that avoids cheap scares in order to present an increasingly dark tale of a boy whose world is slowly falling apart. Found is an excellent character study and human drama. It can get very dark and bloody in places but only as a natural extension of the story it is telling. The ending is genuinely haunting and this is a film I’m happy to recommend to fans.
Kiss of the Damned: Vampires have had a rough time of late. Once upon a time they were considered one of cinemas greatest monsters. The recent Twilight films have reduced them to simpering, shiny teen idols with any sense of horror or dread. Kiss of the Damned is a nice change of pace. A very grown up tale of a writer who falls for a mysterious woman who turns out to be a vampire. Very European in style, it does romanticise the Vampire. It does so, however, Lyrically and effectively without softening their monstrous nature. If your at all familiar with the works of Jess Franco or Jean Rollin then you will have some idea where this film is coming from. It boasts beautiful cinematography and an excellent score.
There is enough of a break after KOD to head down to Il Padrino for a pizza. We eat quickly and head back to the Dancehouse. Such is the nature of film festivals that on occasion Dinner is a rushed affair.
The Conspiracy: Another found footage film. This one is a documentary being made on conspiracy culture that becomes progressively darker as one of the film-makers becomes drawn in to the subject he is investigating. It really does a fine job of studying the conspiracy culture that is huge in America and looking at how simple coincidences can become more in the mind of the paranoid. In the end it allows the audience to be drawn into the paranoid world it is presenting and leaves you asking questions about how much is real. Not as good as The Borderlands, this is still a cut above a lot of found footage films I have seen.
Big Bad Wolves: Israeli cinema is perhaps not as world renown as other countries national cinema. It was a pleasant surprise then, a year ago, to encounter RABIES a dark horror that took a cynical look at human nature and behaviour. This year Grimm provided us with the directors follow up effort Big Bad Wolves and I’m pleased to say its even better. A serial killer is abducting and murdering children. The police are fairly certain they know who did it but are having a hard time proving it. After getting filmed torturing their suspect, the footage is uploaded to YouTube and goes viral. The officers are dismissed from the case and it looks as if the suspect is going to get away with it. However, the lead detective takes it upon himself to continue the investigation and then both he and the suspect are kidnapped by the grieving father of one of the victims. What follows is a twisted psychological mind game which uses the doubt over the suspects guilt as a tool to play with audience perception and sympathy. BBW is an excellent film, witty dark and beautifully shot with a killer twist in the tale. Highly recommended.
John dies at the end: Finally for the evening we get the midnight screening. Midnight is the perfect time to watch weird and outrageous films. The midnight movie is a long standing phenomenon that launched many cult films over the years including El Topo, Eraserhead and Pink Flamingo’s. The festival has made it a tradition to deliver one midnight movie experience each year and this year we get the latest film from Don Coscarelli director of the Phantasm films and Bubba Ho-tep amongst others. Coscarelli was a cinematic child prodigy, directing his first feature while still a teenager. With Bubba Ho-Tep he proved he could adapt a seemingly ‘undadaptable’ short story. This time around he’s adapted the weird as hell début novel from Cracked writer David Wong. There’s no point trying to describe the plot to the film. It’s very much a ‘you have to see it’ kind of deal. What I will say is that Coscarelli has done a fine job bringing the work to the screen and fans of the novel are very pleased with the results. It’s a perfect midnight movie but worth seeing even if you decide to give it a watch at a more sociable hour.
With that we head back to the hotel through the Saturday night night life of Manchester somewhat dazed. We hit Il Padrino first of course. Tired as hell, I drift of as soon as my head hits the pillow and have some very unusual dreams. One of the side effects of midnight movie watching!
The next morning we have breakfast then head round Manchester for a bit. It’s Sunday morning and lots of places are still closed. After a while we head over to the Lass O’Gowrie for the first film of the day.
Thanatamorphose: So your still groggy from the beers and late night movie screenings. You settle down in a dark room to check out a film while its still relatively early and you find yourself watching this. Thanatamorphose is a dark, Canadian tale of a young woman in an abusive relationship who discovers one day that she’s beginning to decompose. It’s like Kafka and Cronenberg collaborated on a pet project and delivered this grim, low budget tale of someone’s mental decay manifesting physically. It’s harrowing, gruesome stuff and there were more than a few walkouts. After it was done, the people who managed to sit through it staggered out into daylight wondering what exactly was it that they had just witnessed. It’s a well crafted film but approach with extreme caution!
We head over to the Dancehouse for the rest of the evenings screenings. My mind is somewhat reeling from what I’ve just seen so I take a minute to compose myself before heading in.
The Butterfly room: This actually came as something of a relief after the previous films bleak nastiness. This one stars Barbara Steele, something of a legend in the cult film community for her work in Italian cinema with great directors such as Mario Bava. In this film she plays an ageing woman living alone in an apartment block and collecting butterflies. She’s somewhat unhinged and looking for someone to ‘mother’ and the little girl next door fits the bill perfectly. This is an odd little film where characters are seldom what they seen and has a plot that keeps offering surprises for its audience. Made by someone with a clear love for the classics of cult cinema its a classy well directed and entertaining slice of cinema that’s worth seeking out.
Wither: The EVIL DEAD is something of a legendary cult movie that launched the career of director Sam Raimi who went on to bigger things ultimately helming the Blockbuster Spider-man films. When a remake was released earlier this year, fans like myself went rushing to cinemas to see it leaving somewhat disappointed that the end result fell short of expectations. It was something of a surprise then, to see this low budget Swedish Homage to the evil dead and find a film that would have worked far better as a remake to the original classic than its bigger official cousin. Plot wise its fairly similar to the Evil dead with a group of teens heading off to the cabin in the woods for a weekend only to unleash demonic forces that possess them one by one leaving their friends into a desperate battle for survival. It’s very entertaining if somewhat unoriginal and fans of the evil dead films are advised to give this a try!
Stalled: A zombie film for anyone whose ever been to an office Christmas party. A maintenance man finds himself trapped in a toilet stall after a zombie plague decimates the rest of the staff. Played as a dark comedy the film follows the maintenance man’s desperate and often ludicrous attempts to escape from a bathroom full of Zombies. Stalled is a witty and enjoyable film that had the whole audience laughing and cheering. A real crowd-pleaser.
The Body: Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones) plays a hitman who finds Halloween is the perfect night to dispose of a corpse only to find his plans interrupted by drunken revellers. A short black comedy that really hits its marks this was a lot of fun as well and worked perfectly straight after Stalled.
Shellshocked: Last year Dominic Brunt (Emmerdale) wowed Grimm with his début BEFORE DAWN. A bleak and terrifying Zombie film set in the Yorkshire Dales. This year he presented another, shorter crowd pleaser set during world war 1 where an English and a German soldier find themselves trapped and forced to work together against a more deadly menace. The question being, can they set aside their differences in order to survive? Another top quality short for Grimm, Shellshocked was a witty and clever film with a pessimistic view of human nature. I enjoyed it.
After the last three had screened we got another Q&A with all the creative teams involved. We got to hear some more interesting insights into the creative process and got a few laughs along the way as well.
The Machine: The final film of the festival is a dark, dystopian sci-fi about computer programmers working on artificial intelligence only to find their work being perverted by the military looking for combat applications for their discovery. When one of the researchers is murdered her colleague uploads her consciousness into the machine and develops the first functioning A.I. However as the millitary becomes more aggressive in its approach things begin to unravel and the first A.I uprising begins. Using modern film techniques THE MACHINE delivers an experience that feels like it’s a film ten times its budget. Intelligent, thought provoking and with great action scenes hopefully when this gets an official launch it’ll be the breakthrough hit its deserves to be. Either way, keep an eye out for director Cardog W. James who should have a very bright future ahead of him.
So that was it. Another year down. Time to head back to the Hotel, get some sleep and then back to Barrow. Waiting in anticipation of next year.
Anyone interested in Grimm should check out their site. http://grimmfest.com/grimmupnorth/
They hold smaller screenings all year round. I don’t often get the opportunity to attend all of these thanks to work commitments and finance but i’m making it my new years resolution to find a way next year. Either way though if you enjoy films, especially cult films. Check them out!