Cathedrals will fall, the river will run red... and THE BIRD will be SLAUGHTERED!

Allan Lear’s review of Grimmfest 2017!

– By Allan Lear

Grimmfest 2017 took place over the first weekend of October in Manchester. Starting in the Thursday evening, the festival treated its attendees to over three full days of horror cinema from around the world.

Grimmfest took place in the Vue Cinema in Manchester Printworks, which was an excellent location for a long-haul festival.  The Printworks is chocka with restaurants and bars – a dedicated attendee could practically eat in a different place for every meal.  As the schedule was pretty packed, being able to dive next door to the Harvester came in pretty handy.  The Vue itself – formerly the Odeon – is an unusual cinema, its layout being delineated by the old industrial building it inhabits.  Rather than splaying out in all directions like a regular multiplex, it is piled upon itself in a tower block of film.  Grimmfest was generously given two floors to sprawl across; one with the cinema screen were viewings were held and another where all the merchandise was laid out.

The merchandise stalls missed out, in a way, from having the screening room on the floor above.  Rather than milling naturally around between screenings, flicking through recently-released Arrow DVDs and examining cool T-shirts, the attendees tended to hover around outside the screen and not bother to pop down to go through the goods on offer.  The fact that the cinema had gone to the trouble of staffing the concession stands on both floors probably didn’t help in that regard, although it certainly helped to keep queues down when a few brave souls did venture downstairs to use the toilet or, less frequently, examine the wares. 

To tempt the more intrepid away from the safety of the flock, there were a few free goodies around the lower floor as well.  My wife and I spent a happy half an hour in the games section where we competed fiercely at the old-fashioned House-of-the-Dead-on-the-Wii set-up, but for the younger and less easily satisfied there were brand new virtual reality games to try out.  It was always busy when I tried to have a go.  There was also a lovely replica electric chair, which was the centrepiece of a competition to win a collection of Stephen King books by taking the scariest picture in the chair.  I didn’t enquire whether that would be a complete collection of Stephen King books, but I hope not, because most people don’t have enough shelf space to house an entire log cabin with folksy horror fiction scrawled on all its beams. 

The Grimmfest team scheduled half an hour between films during which time the attendees were asked to leave the screen, ostensibly to test the projection of the next scheduled feature but probably also, and with great sense, to force people to go to the toilet between films rather than during them.  There was some finicky nonsense over seating – people with day passes had to sit in one block while people with weekend passes sat in another, and some of the people on press freebies got a bit uppity about this.  On Saturday I attended with my press pass but my wife had a day pass – kindly provided by the organisers – which left us with the question: where do we sit?  Well, naturally, we sat wherever we pleased and not a word was said.  But for the love of god, if you’re an internet correspondent on a freebie, shut up and sit down.  You’re not Kim Newman.  Get over yourself. 

Speaking of seating, the cinema was plushly-appointed and comfortable, which was necessary for a weekend-long party like this.  There was some complaining on the Saturday when the cinema ran out of coffee, but talk about whinge.  It was right after the screening of Leatherface.  People literally walked out of watching a woman get chainsawed in half and started kicking off about a lack of instant Nescafé like it was the worst thing ever to happen.  You’d think that sort of juxtaposition would birth a little perspective, but there we are. 

The other thing apart from seating and decaffeination that might grate over the course of a weekend is the similarity of films, and this was a point where Grimmfest really scored for me.  You can’t watch twenty slasher films in a row without your arse falling off with boredom, so the films we were treated to really mixed it up.  There was straight horror, there was sci-fi, there was comedy; there were features, shorts, and those in between; there was live-action and animation; there were mock-docs and prequels and things with rogue punctuation in the titles; there were British and Australian and Japanese and French and fucking Finnish films on display.  God knows the horror scene contains plenty of retrodden ground; to be exposed to such a wide variety of films in the course of one horror festival went a long way towards keeping me happily ensconced in my seat. 

The other big draw was the support.  At least one film a day was followed by question and answer sessions with some of the major players involved.  Of particular interest was the opening film, Habit, filmed and set in Manchester and premiering at the festival for excellent local Brownie points.  Star Roxanne Pallett was in attendance despite a heaving schedule on the day, as was director (and festival organiser, conveniently) Simeon Halligan.  With a diverse line-up of actors and techs all present, a wide-ranging conversation was the order of the day.  Friday’s treat was Charlie Carrick, star of Trench 11, discussing how he came to star in a WWI horror on the centenary of Ypres. 

Saturday we were doubly blessed.  Double Date was followed by a Q&A with actor/writer Danny Morgan and producer Matthew Wilkinson, and Morgan was as charming in person as his character is in the film.  We were also treated to appearance by Rob Grant – not the former Red Dwarf dude, but the brain behind docu?mocku?mentary Fake Blood about how violence in film impacts on society.  Grant visibly enjoyed continuing to baffle the audience with questions of how much of the film was real and how much staged, and he was articulate and thoughtful in his answers. 

Finally, on the Sunday we had British horror Borley Rectory, finally launched from over half a decade in development hell, ushered in by director and cast including Sara Dee.  The weekend was wrapped up by Him Off The Emmerdale, Dominic Brunt, presenting his film Attack of the Adult Babies alongside Shaune Harrison, a make-up effects man of Star Wars and Hellraiser pedigree. 

Most of the Q&As were handled by Simeon Halligan with moral support from the sidelines by Steve Balshaw and his hat.  It’s intriguing when a film-maker asks the questions, because you find out a little about his focus when filming.  Halligan had a tendency to ask questions about how locations were found, which makes sense given the fact he was screening a film shot in the very locale where we stood.  Myself I tend to questions about acting choices and abnormal psychology, because those are the parts of the film I’m interested in; but no doubt when one is a director, one has had a fucking great bellyful of hearing about acting choices. 

I found my first Grimmfest to be a busy schedule, slickly run, which is the hardest of all combinations to pull off; the crew’s eight previous years of experience has obviously stood them in good stead.  On this evidence I suspect that their tenth anniversary in 2018 will be a festival to catch. 

Full details of the running order for Grimmfest 2017 can be found at http://grimmfest.com/grimmupnorth/2017/09/grimmfest-2017-full-line-up/ – the link contains trailers for all the films for anyone interested. 

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