FrightFest Organisers Pre-Festival Interview 2012

Filmwerk insisted (“begged for weeks”) on getting the chance to have a quick word with the four guys who are FrightFest before the curtains are opened. Filmwerk has an affinity with FrightFest in that they share the same birthday! OK, so FrightFest is 11 years older than we are, but it still makes the event seem special to us in that, on a yearly basis, we get to go behind the scenes a little on the making of the festival as well as covering the event when it looms round on the August Bank Holiday weekend.

In the two years that have passed we have upped the ante each year from doing quick interviews and coverage of the event to digging deep into the festival’s 13 year history, consistently harassing the organisers for pre and post festival interviews, providing coverage of the attending talent, posting updates on the fabulous artwork as well as the schedule.

This year we are going even further with our photo coverage of the “sleepy queue” and we have our FrightFest podcast to look forward to as well.

But now it’s time to hear from the men who are delivering what is still clearly the best film festival for any fan to attend in the UK. So let’s see how Alan, Paul, Ian and Greg are feeling about it this year.

Paul McAvoy & Greg Day

So this is the 13th year of FrightFest, and you have 48 films booked compared to 39 from last year?

GREG: No it was 42 last year.

PAUL: There is still room actually. There might be a couple of extra ones going in.

Oh really!  A couple of potential surprises?

PAUL: We have a screen for an extra day. They accidently booked us a screen for an extra day so there’s two movies that I’d like to put into the festival. Which I haven’t told Alan about yet, he’s probably gonna kill me!

Have you had any trouble with any of the films that you have booked for the festival?

PAUL: In what way?

Has there been any films that you would have liked to have booked for the festival that you were not able to get?

PAUL: Yeah there’s been one that has been in the balance for a few weeks which was The Tall Man, Pascale Laugier’s new film. It still could come into the frame. Again, we’re in a good position to turn movies down but if anything does go horribly wrong; we’ve got replacements. And that was one of them that we couldn’t get the green light on by the time for the announcement basically. And also You’re Next which I’ve done a hundred and twenty odd emails and phone calls on which I would love to have shown, but the movie’s not going to be coming out now until next year. So we couldn’t have it. But we might get it for Glasgow, or even for FrightFest August of next year.

Have any of the films that you have booked that are on the schedule been difficult in terms of getting them finalised that you are really happy with?

GREG: There was a tight squeeze on Tupla. For a while Fredirico [Zampaglione] was nervous about the idea of delivering, because they only finished filming it last month. So he was extremely nervous, but just before we needed to finalise it he was able to tell us that he would have the finished version.

PAUL: It’s really exciting. And that’s one of the things I love is when the film makers know the deadline now to deliver their film. This has happened many times before. Jake West with his Video Nasties documentary, he literally worked for 100 hours solid prior to his screening on finalising it.  And he was a nervous wreck doing it, but after the screening he actually said “I’m really pleased that absolute finite deadline to work to.” Which obviously was a pain at the time. So it’s the same this year. There’s been a few movies that we’ve seen very early cuts of, but we’ve been guaranteed that they will be finished in time for the festival.

You’re expanding. You’ve got three screens instead of two.

PAUL: Which is nice. We can actually cherry pick a couple of the movies that we screened and played very well in Glasgow that still haven’t come out in the UK. So, for example, Crawl which is terrific.

And you’re carrying over what might be seen as becoming sort of a trend with the live commentary as well which will be with Inbred?

PAUL: Yeah Inbred. Alex [Chandon] is going to bring along some of the musicians from the movie. So it’s gonna be like a sing-a-long. It’s going to be a real laugh, it’s gonna be great. And again, Inbred won’t have been released in the UK at that time.

Can you tell us about any of the talent coming? Obviously now we know that Dario Argento is coming.

PAUL: Yes Dario, obviously we have got both of the original REC creators coming in with different movies. REC 3 with Paco Plaza, Juame Balaguero with Sleep Tight. Obviously there is a massive Italian contingent.

GREG: Frederico Zampaglione will come in, the Manetti Bros.

Will you get Clive Barker for his Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut?

PAUL: I don’t know about Clive, he’s not very well.

GREG: We’ll announce that later if he is. But the Italian contingent is interesting as we have the past the present and the future of the Italian horror scene with Dario, Frederico and the Monetti Bros. It’s going to be an interesting atmosphere really.

PAUL: The guest list is still to be finalised, but you can guarantee the whole cast and crew of The Seasoning House, the whole cast and crew of Tower Block, the whole cast and crew of Cockney’s Vs. Zombies. And obviously Tulpa is going to be a gala Saturday night. We’ve got 12 hot Italian models.  All the girls that get killed. Frederico is going to have them with him. So that’s going to be a real glamarama festival. Plus obviously all of the surprises. There’s some really sensational surprises which aren’t to do with the films that we are showing. But there will be some sneek peeks at stuff.

Any hints as to what will be the Dario Argento “classic” that you will be screening?

PAUL: We don’t know. Again, we are still waiting to hear about Dracula 3D. One minute it’s in, the next minute it’s not. So we don’t know. We’ve got the slot for it, and if not we’ll put something totally different in there, non-Dario. Or we’ll do a vintage piece. Maybe we’ll do Suspiria or something like that. Or Dracula if it comes into the frame.

So!  What are your hot tips for this year?

PAUL: I know you were gonna say that. Well one of the little under the radar ones, Hidden in the Woods is brilliant. I love it so much. Maniac is terrific in terms of the technical side of it. Really gory, really good. Berberian Sound Studio is a masterpiece. But I don’t want to over-hype anything, ’cause people go “Oh it wasn’t that good.” So I think what it is with this line up with all these movies is that there is something for everybody. So even if you don’t like something you’re probably gonna like or love the next one. And also with the three screens you can pick and choose as to what you actually fancy on the day. So variety!

GREG: My two tips would be Sleep Tight because it’s unusual, psychologically unusual kind of horror narrative. And Before Dawn because of its emotional intensity. There’s a couple who are splitting up, having to deal with zombified everything for want of a better phrase. So they were two that I saw that I was genuinely surprised by.

How many zombie-centric films do you have on the bill?

PAUL: Well, we have cherry-picked the best ones. Zombies and found footage were two of the trends that I saw when watching all of the screeners. I saw like 400, 500 films. There was a lot of zombie stuff and a lot of found footage stuff. Obviously we knew for quite a long time that we had V/H/S. And that’s the one that everybody should see, and that’s the one that everybody wants to see. And it was interesting in the screening of V/H/S where we all came out and my favourite sequences were different to Alan’s, which were different to Ian’s. So it’s going to be the same with this audience. Some people are going to like some bits of it, but it delivers.

GREG: I think an interesting zombie experience, because they’re not quite zombies, you’re not quite sure, is Remnants. Because they start to act as if… sort of a semi-homage to Night of the Living Dead in the sense of its apocalyptic-post-nuclear holocaust. So in a way the zombie spirit is shining in a few films without them actually being fully blown zombies. But I counted five already.

PAUL: But then the people that love zombie films are gonna love Cockney’s Vs. Zombies. Which is a real crazy, funny, audience pleaser.

Finally, Paul are you still organising the Short Film Showcase and what can you tell us about that?

PAUL: Yes. I’m still working on it ’cause stuff is still coming in and I’ve to fine-tune it and make it the best it possibly can be.

Do you have a rough figure of how many films?

PAUL: No idea yet. I know the time I have got which is around 90 to 100 minutes in total. I’m really pleased with it, but for god’s sake, when we’ve only got 90 or 100 minutes it’s good to keep your short film short! Don’t make them 20, 21, 25 minutes. Too long. Keep it short and sweet. 6 to 8 minutes. That’s my advice.

GREG: And they are sponsored by the Horror Chanel this year!

PAUL: Yeah the Horror Chanel. Massive supporters of the festival!

Ian Rattray

For the aspects of work you have to attend to, have there been any difficulties this year with bookings?

IAN: Not really. There’s been one or two where the issue was that the distributors were bringing them out before the festival. The Aggression Scale was one which would have been a shoe-in but because it is out before the festival we have it instead for the free film for the sleepy queue.

And that’s nice that the people queuing get a free film. Do you know what the state of the tickets sales are now?

IAN: At 1pm on sleepy queue day there was 50 weekend passes left.

And it’s online and telephone booking now as well?

IAN: Yeah and you can stand and watch them disappear off the screen.

Now last year I was asking you guys about how you were thinking of expanding the festival in the years to come.  And this year we can see that already as you have an extra screen, and the number of films has shot up.

IAN: And we have a wee bit of capacity if something comes out of the blue. We can put it in. Could well be.

What are you’re hot tips for this year?

IAN: I’ve got three favorites.  Cockney’s Vs. Zombies. It’s just a hoot. I really enjoyed it, it’s just fun. And it’s got all of these 60s and 70s icons in there. Honor Blackman, Richard Briers. It used to be my staple on Christmas morning the Christmas edition of The Good Life. To meet these people in real life is a real thrill, and they are coming, yes!

And that’s screening on opening night?

IAN: Opening night on the Thursday. It’s a really strong night. Interesting, Grabbers is on that night. And it’s an interesting concept. It’s basically the monsters can’t harm you so long as you’re drunk. I can see the drinking games coming!

For sure.

Ian: One of my other two favorites is Elevator which is on in the Discovery screen. I popped it into the DVD machine not expecting much and it’s just really well done. I’ve seen other people stuck in lifts before. But this is done really, really well. And then the other one I am really looking forward to is The Nightmare Factory, the documentary on Greg Nicotero. We have had him as a guest years ago, a lovely man. And to actually go behind the scenes and see what he actually does is a fascinating hour and a half.

Interesting that you say that, I hear that there is a FrightFest documentary in the works?

Ian: (laughs). Yeah.

Alan Jones

Tell us more about the expansion to having a third screen?

ALAN: I think one of the reasons why we have taken on the third screen is not just to have retrospectives, but to actually be able to play something again if it proves popular. I mean last year we had Rabies and it went through the roof for us.

That’s right it got an extra screening last year.

ALAN: Exactly, so I think there’s a couple of movies this year that people are going to want to see and the word of mouth is gonna build.  For example Remnants is particular one that will work and will get word of mouth going because it’s a great film. We loved it.  As soon as we saw it we said “We have to have this.” So it’s going to expand.  Perhaps next year we will have to go to a fourth screen. It’s an experiment, but I think it’s a good one worth taking.

It is an interesting way to expand.

ALAN: Yes we want to expand it. But I don’t want to lose that whole family atmosphere. And you could see it in the sleepy queue. I literally started at 5 in the morning and didn’t finish until 9 o’clock because I wanted to talk to every single person, ‘cause they know us. They know me, and they know my work and they’re part of it. It’s a really important thing to foster and I think it’s really important that we don’t lose that feeling.

It definitely is a key thing to have: you guys actually here interacting with the people. And also keeping it here at the Empire as opposed to going to a much larger venue with even more screens.

ALAN: Yeah. The next step up I guess would be the Odeon Leicester Square. That’s a scary thought. But hey we are doing okay here. I like the Empire. The way it feels. I like the layout. There’s the big screen. Nice big foyer. I think it works.

And you have around 50 weekend passes left after the sleepy queue.

ALAN: Yes but that doesn’t count the single passes or the day passes. We actually increased the number of weekend passes from last year as well. I think it’s just great the faith the audience has in us. They want to see these movies. They are not being catered to by any other event, so I think it’s great.

Tell us about some of your favourites?

ALAN: Chained was the one for me that was the most important one that we get. Then I saw The Seasoning House and I insisted it be the opener because it was just so great. Chained is my absolute favourite. I love Hidden In The Woods. It’s a Chilean exploitation movie. It really works, got a great energy about it. Very unusual to see that sort of thing. There’s American Mary, there’s The Possession. I love Tower Block, our closing. Grabbers, Irish monster movie. We’ve got some really good stuff. Tulpa!  The whole Italian thread is really working for us this year.

Speaking of which, this is an even more special year for you as Dario Argento is coming and you have been an onset journalist for him since the early 80s. Also, you’re re-releasing your very own Argento book.

ALAN: Yes, I asked Dario. When was on the set of Dracula I said “Look, the book is out of print. It’s selling for enormous amounts on eBay, it’s ridiculous.” So I told Harvey Fenton who runs FAB press, “let’s do it again. I can take it right up to date.” I was given unlimited access on Dracula, the book ends with that. The original volume stopped at Do You like Hitchcock? So I have taken it from there through to Mother of Tears, Giallo, the two Masters of Horrors so it’s completely up to date. I was in Cannes when I saw Dracula literally peeling posters off the walls for illustrations. Dario was happy to come along and help me promote it. I still love Dario so much and he is one of the most important horror directors of all time. I’m glad he’s coming to this. He only ever came before to a very small event that we had for Mother of Tears. But he hasn’t seen what it’s like here at the Empire. So it’s going to be very good. He’s been terrific about it so I’m happy we’re doing it.

Is the book launching at FrightFest?

ALAN: Yes. The day Dario arrives will be the day we launch it.

Are you going to be signing copies?

ALAN: Well I mean if people want me to sign it then sure. Dario is there to sign it, he knows what he has to do, so fantastic. It’s at the printers as we speak!

Have you updated any of the previous material?

ALAN: No. I took a leaf out of Kim Newman’s book. When he did Nightmare Movies, he left the original volume as it was. He did not go back, he did not refresh anything, he did not change things, he didn’t alter his opinion. I’ve done exactly the same thing here. I have gone through it and I changed a couple of typos, I wanted to change that. I’ve done a new intro. But how I’ve worked it this time is. If you see a film in Italy it’s in primo tempo and secondo tempo. Because they have a break in the middle.  So basically primo tempo is exactly the same book; secondo tempo has a new introduction and then we go on from Do You like Hitchcock? and, in fact, end on the Suspiria remake. Because I know people are slightly interested in that. They need to know what’s going on with that. So that’s where it ends. And I thought that worked as that’s how they release movies in Italy.

Tickets are still on sale for the festival so head over to

Filmwerk will be onsite covering as much as humanly possible, but in the weeks leading up to the festival we will be posting some reviews of the films showing onsite as well as posting our Pre-Festival Podcast where we look at what we are excited about!

 Steven Hurst

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