FrightFest Team Pre-Festival Interview

Just in case you didn’t know, the team that created and run Film4’s FrightFest consists of Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray, Alan Jones and Greg Day.

Sitting down at the Empire cinema in Leicester Square to talk to the team about this year’s FrightFest, we look at their approach to this year’s festival, some of their favourite choices, and a few surprises to come along when it hits in late August this year.

Tell us what you have this year that’s in your approach? And what’s new for the fans?

ALAN: I’m going to tell you that last year we took on board a lot of the comments from the audience and they said “for god sake boys, lighten up.” So for this year we’ve actually put in a couple of humorous movies. We’ve put in Dead Heads, there’s Tucker and Dale Vs Evil, there’s Detention. These have got a very light horror note about them. They are still horror movies, but they have got a sort of hip sense of humour running through them. And we’ve placed some in the right places for maximum effect between other sort of really gruesome and shocking stuff. That’s the difference this year isn’t it boys? And Rabies is fun too. That’s got more of a humorous thread.

So what’s been particularly hard to set up for this year?

ALAN: Yes, not getting the Human Centipede 2 which we were gonna show of course until uh…(laughs) [For those not in the know, Human Centipede 2 was refused a certificate from the BBFC at this time.]

GREG: Yeah, that’s a good point actually. I was thinking one thing that came out off the back of last year with all the issues we had with A Serbian Film was whether or not we felt able to kind of just continue the way we always felt, which is booking the films and not be too aware of a repeat experience with the council. And thankfully this year we have got a few controversial films in, but we haven’t had the same problems.

PAUL: By the same token, we never ever self censor ourselves. If there was anything that we felt very passionately about, then okay we do have to take into account the government perception. But if we were very passionate about something then we would definitely try and show it to the audience.

ALAN: We have to say that Westminster City Council has been very good to us this year, and I would want to put that on record, ‘cause they’ve been great.

GREG: That’s in the appeal court at the moment. Just to sort of continue on that theme. It seems to us that there is a newer climate about horror in terms of the BBFC and it will be interesting when we have our debate on the future of American horror. Whether the whole idea of censorship in horror will come into that debate. Because obviously last year the fans were very aware of films being banned and it’s something that seems to have got worse. So the festival in some way will touch upon it again. And it’s something with FrightFest we have to be aware of.

That leads into my next question which is can you namedrop any films you would have liked to have got, but didn’t?

Greg: Human Centipede 2!

I guess that’s the obvious one. Are there any other commercial films that are coming out that you tried to get, Kevin Smith’s Red State or The Thing?

ALAN: Well The Thing was never in contention ‘cause that’s going to be out in October/December. Universal would never show that. Those films are only ever shown on the week of release anyway. Red State. E-one [PR company] know full well that we went to them with the idea of showing it with Kevin Smith. They said to us that “Well look we can’t really work it out.” Those chose a different avenue to go. I hated the film, I will tell you now. Paul liked it. We were actually arguing about it a lot when we saw it in Cannes. I don’t miss it not being around at all, although I know the fans want to see it.

PAUL: I think politically it was Kevin Smith wanting it to be at the Edinburgh festival. But then he didn’t realise that Edinburgh was a few months ago. And unfortunately E-one in the UK wanted us to have it; they couldn’t get an answer from America and Kevin about us showing it. So it had to fall by the wayside, because obviously we have deadlines in terms of, for everybody: For the brochure, for the fest tickets, everything. So yeah, it couldn’t be confirmed in time.

ALAN: We would love to have shown The Cabin In The Woods but unfortunately that’s been bumped back. So I’m pleased we didn’t get that ’cause that would have been taken out. I think they’ve put that back to next April.

GREG: I think one of the things that people may or may not be aware of is how much luck there is involved in programming. And it’s a lot to do with timing. Ok yes relationships, yes fair enough. But, if the timing isn’t right and the film isn’t coming out at the right time then.

PAUL: And release dates change all the time. I mean we were looking at a FOX movie right up until a few weeks ago, The Darkest Hour. Which has just been put back to next year.

ALAN: A good example is our opening film Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark. We didn’t think we could have that  as they were releasing it in the middle of August. Suddenly, the whole release date’s got put back because of the American side of things. So Suddenly it came into the frame, so it is a very movable feast the way it goes.

Ok I want your predictions. Which films on the bill are really going to go down a storm with audiences?

PAUL: Yeeees! YEEEES! There’s so many. I think Kill List is going to be sensational. And it’s not really on anybody’s radar yet, although it’s creeping there. But I think people are going to be more than satisfied once they see it, because it’s such a great, great piece. I think to be honest a couple of the real crowd pleasers is going to be Tucker and Dale Vs Evil which I think is going to play a storm. And Dead Heads – because we’ve got the whole cast and crew. There’s gonna be like 10/ 12 of them on stage. It’s going to be a fantastic screening. And they are both very light horror movies but they really deliver; they are really smart and  they take a different direction. Those three for me, although there are so many more.

IAN: I agree with Paul, I think Tucker and Dale is going to play a storm. I think The Woman should play well. The surprise is going to be something like INBRED. That’s really going to surprise people. We haven’t seen a finished version, but what we saw was very good.

ALAN: I think people are expecting that to be rubbish, but it’s not.

IAN: I think that’s going to come out of the festival with a very big buzz.

I was under the impression that you all watched the films entirely before booking them?

GREG: Oh we have.

IAN: That one was supplied in a rough cut version

PAUL: It was 95% finished.

IAN: The opening scene wasn’t there.

ALAN: There was a couple of special effects. You can’t do it that way. To lock down films the way we do, we have to see them in advance. The Devil’s Business was another one, they were going to tweak after we had seen it. But the moment we saw it, we just knew we had to have that one too. I think Ian is absolutely right. INBRED is the one that is going to take people by surprise, because they don’t actually expect that to be good. And it is. Based on his previous movies that nobody really liked, let’s be honest, INCLUDING ME!

PAUL: I championed him from the beginning!  Cradle of Fear which we showed many years ago. Early days.

IAN: it was 2003.

Is Emily Booth still in the opening of the film?

PAUL: I couldn’t erm…

GREG: Yes she is.

She told me in an interview last year that that’s what the plan was.

PAUL: OK. That’s the only part we haven’t seen from the film. He filmed it 2 or 3 weeks ago. The version that we saw was without her.

ALAN: Can I just mention 2 films. A lot of people really love Rabies, which is the Hebrew slasher movie which is really a surprise.  But for me, one of my favourite, favourite films is Detention. The Joseph Kahn movie. It’s so funny, it’s so brilliantly done. I love that movie like you wouldn’t believe. I think is so fantastic.

PAUL: And the best afternoon of the festival of course is Andy Nyman’s Quiz From Hell 2. And the Horror Channel Short Film Showcase…[Paul works for The Horror Channel.]

IAN: I wonder why that is (Laughs)

PAUL: …which is just so full of brilliant stuff. It always is a pain for me to whittle it down from 300 to 20 to 10. Which is what it is. It’s 10 short films and they are amazing this year.

That’s less than last year isn’t it?

IAN: Yeah well we’re cutting back (laughs)

PAUL: It’s not about the amount,

GREG: The Quality.

PAUL: It’s about the minutes (laughs).

IAN: We were very strict in keeping them into a certain amount of time.

GREG: Some of the short films are about 10 minutes long.

PAUL: They are just brilliant. It’s the best afternoon of the festival I think.

GREG: I’m going to be a bit radical here and mention two films…

PAUL: Are they clients of yours? (Laughs all round). Would it be THE DEAD? (laughs)

GREG: No it’s two films in which, One I’d seen which I really love which is The Devil’s Business. I really love the acting in it. There’s another thing that shines out this year aside from the comedy section is the quality performances. Andy Nyman shines in The Glass Man, but I think The Devil’s Business is a performance that is just wonderful. The other film which I haven’t seen but i’m going to mention it as I keep getting emails about it and people keep saying “I want to see that” is Midnight Son. So they are the two films I would actually tip as from a critical perspective.

You have, for the second time, a live commentary. Is this something you might continue as a regular feature for the festival in the years to come?

IAN: We did the first one with Hatchet.

ALAN: I did it on stage.

GREG: It was popular wasn’t it. The reason we’re doing it again is it’s something that works. I have to say something about how different this is going to be. I know a lot of what happened behind the scenes on The Dead. Obviously because Howard and John Ford have told us. I promise you it’s going to be very, very, entertaining. The other thing about it is that it’s Howard and John together. And they’re brothers who let’s just say don’t get on, a lot of the time. And so I think if you put together the dynamic of their relationship, plus what went on behind the scenes – all the stuff that happened. I think it’s going to be very amusing and funny.

PAUL: I think it will be a fantastic one off, Free event. Remember we are not charging for it. Of course we would have shown it on the big screen, but we screened it, world premiere last year.

So you have your commentaries, artwork, opening closing galas, trailer trash, short films, promos… Are these things that you would like to continually use as the festival grows?

ALAN: No, we’ll just do what we think is good at the time of doing it. Nothing’s ever going to be set in stone.

PAUL: It will all evolve organically won’t it. We will go with the ebbs and the flows.

ALAN: Yes, FrightFest is still your “One Stop Shop for Shock” [all laugh]. But, we will add extra things in when necessary.

GREG: The thing about frightfest every year is that every time I think about the challenges doing or changing anything is… Actually the weirdest thing about it is if the audience has grown up with us as organisers. The odd thing is we are sort of guided by them. You know you can’t deliver all of it. But if you can deliver about 80%…

IAN: There are expectations, and sometimes the expectations run a little bit ahead of what we can supply.

PAUL: We always supply Ian. We never let down the audience.

IAN: 80/90% of the time I think we actually get what people want to see. And what they want to do.

PAUL: And one of the changes this year is that, Adam green and Joe Lynch as i’m sure you are aware did The Road To FrightFest pieces for us. Which now is going to be turned into a FrightFest thing but they are going to be putting it online.

GREG: The other thing we are going to replace it with, we can’t announce what it is yet that we are replacing it with just yet.

PAUL: Really, but it’s in here? [taps on festival guide]. That’s what I’m trying to say. It’s all there in Black and White.


[realizing the big secret has been printed in the programme all laugh]

GREG: Well…

PAUL: So anyway! So this year instead…

[Complaints start being muttered among the team]

PAUL: It’s there! So for this year we have four, potentially five pieces– because of the riots, one of them may have been cancelled. This year we have the director of Kill List, Ben Wheatley, doing something specifically for us, along with Jake West who’s done another thing for us. Sean Hogan and Marc Price. So Kill List man, Ben Wheatley has done Assault on Precinct 13, which three out of the four of us are in.

Who’s not in it?

GREG: I’m not in that one, but I star in Jakes.

PAUL: Jake’s done his riff on John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. And Greg is the Mayor of London. Are you the Mayor of London?

GREG: no I’m the PR President of London. Much more important.

PAUL: And Sean Hogan has done The Thing which none ofus know much about at the moment. So that’s going to be a surprise. And Marc price has done They Live.

GREG: it may also be useful to add, but, John carpenter has given us an intro as well.

IAN: [to Greg, pointing at the programme] It’s in the programme?

PAUL: [also pointing] It’s there.

GREG: Yeah I know, but it’s not been online yet.

IAN: it’s in the fucking programme.

PAUL: Yeah that’s what I’m saying [laughs].

GREG: Steven, It may be worth running this tomorrow as you will be ahead of the game as I’ve not even talked to Geoff about doing the press release yet! [all laugh]

IAN: Well it’s there isn’t it!

PAUL: That’s what I’ve been saying to you. So these guys exclusively have filmed riffs on Carpenter’s movies. And they have taken them in a totally different direction as you’ll see.  And each day of the festival we are going to show these.

Well that’s handy to know. I better read that page of the programme on the way home on the tube tonight.

GREG: Absolutely – I don’t think any other journalist has picked up on it.

The festival is pretty much selling to capacity. So is it job done from that aspect. How do you make it bigger from here, if at all?

IAN: That’s a very difficult question to answer isn’t it? The whole thing started off as a hobby for three friends at the time, and now four of us. We all have our day jobs. Each summer for me it eats up more and more and more of my time. Which I don’t feel bad about. I enjoy doing it. But at some stage a decision is going to have to be made. What are we going to do with it? Do we go for global domination or do we just kind of relax and take our time and see where it goes?

ALAN: We’ve always been lead by the audience. I think we just have to take it from that. I mean for the time being this is fine. It is very, very, hard work. I don’t won’t anyone to be under any illusion of that. At the moment we can cope with it.

PAUL: I wouldn’t want it to get any bigger in terms of venue size. This is the best sound and picture quality that we can get.

GREG: Maybe one way forward would be to dominate more of the EMPIRE over the five days. There are options. And don’t forget the thing about FrightFest as a brand is that we don’t have to worry about changing this event. We just create new events in the year. So the worry isn’t about what we do about here over the August bank holiday. It’s what we do elsewhere during the year.  So there’s lots of options to keep FrightFest on its toes by creating events, different kinds of events around the country at different times.

PAUL: the Glasgow thing is going brilliantly. Incredible Audience, a different audience as well.

GREG: We are also getting all sorts of enquiries about how people can borrow the brand  or associate themselves with the FrightFest brand. So from a business opportunity point of view it doesn’t have to rely on the 5 days during August. I know that’s our flagship event and perhaps it should always be that. But it’s not about changing this; it’s about expanding in other ways.

Is there any aspect you’d personally like to alter or change?

ALAN: I’d like to get rid of Ian and Paul. [all laugh]

Or anything you’d like to refine?

PAUL: Coffee

You lot looked like you could do with some by the end of last year’s 5 days!

GREG: Well we are only four people. So we do really rely on the fans to tell us what they think. In a way it’s always the arrogance of thinking that it’s our festival and we can do what we want. It’s a humbling experience sometimes.

PAUL: All the way through it’s always been about the fans as I’ve always said in all of the interviews. It’s not about us, it’s not about the directors, it’s about the fans. It’s about them, what they want to see. It’s an interactive and beautiful experience.

GREG: We’re a bit like party hosts. We are allowing the film-makers to meet the cold faces of the fans.

IAN: FrightFest is a very unique atmosphere. Lots of other film festivals are about the films, about the directors, but FrightFest is about the fans. And we spend time over the whole weekend talking to the fans, which I would challenge many other film festivals to do the same and they might learn a bit.

FrightFest kicks of on Wed 25th August.


Steven Hurst

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