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By Emma Thom on

Fantastic Films Weekend 2010 in review

As Fantastic Films Weekend, our festival celebrating horror film, draws to a close for 2010, Emma picks some highlights.

Day 1

A 60°F June morning was a far from allegorical setting for the launch of the 9th Fantastic Films Weekend on Friday, but nevertheless, here we are on the last day of what has been a great weekend with some fantastic turn-outs for our film selections.

I only managed to make it to a splattering of events, but I had resident horror fan and dedicated FFW attendee Sarah Crowther acting as reconnoiter—more from Sarah later.

The main event on Friday was the Fantasma symposium of speakers discussing everything from Italian horror to British sex films. Mark Goodall from Bradford University introduced the event, which he organised in partnership with the museum due to the recognition of a growing community interested in and treating the subject seriously.

British sex films

First up was Ian Hunter, who talked on the subject of British sex films—an apt subject as we welcomed a veteran director of said genre, Stanley Long, to FFW2010 earlier on today. Despite once being described as having ‘no redeeming features whatsoever’, Hunter pointed to the genre’s importance, as it was sex films which propped up the British film industry during its collapse in the 1970s.

Ian talked us through the key genres, and showed how, like horror films, they responded to changing social trends, for example, the emerging discourse of a consumerist attitude toward sex, and how they often played out a conflict between an older repressed, and younger permissive generations.

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue

From the carnal to the incorporeal: the next guest was David Robinson talking on his paper ‘The Infected Idyll: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue’, a film which is showing tonight.

David spoke about the film in terms of the cultural anxieties of the age, all of which are hinted at in the ‘crass juxtaposition’ of the opening scene, and concluded with a reading of the film which posits an enduring conflict between urban and rural. The film, although set in England, is European, and is evidently worth seeing for the confused geography and variety of regional accents alone!

I ducked out just before Russ Hunter took centre stage with his whistle-stop tour of Italian horror films, which I’m not sorry I missed since he had apparently chosen some particularly gory clips to entertain us with just before lunch!

Jeremy Dyson

Last speaker of the day, and star of the event in my book, was Jeremy Dyson. I’m only really familiar with Dyson’s work on The League of Gentlemen, as I’m sure most of you are, but what a sweet-natured and engaging man he is!

In ‘Shadows and Fog’, Jeremy considered the feelings evoked by watching horror and fantasy cinema from childhood, and explored the question of how terror sensations are created within cinema and television productions, when they are often so difficult to articulate. What is it that makes I Walked With a Zombie chill-inducing, while Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King leaves him cold? Obviously the answer doesn’t lie with special effects and a huge budget, instead ‘what you need to get this sensation is a space between what’s being shown and what’s being represented’.

Dyson took some questions from the crowd, and the use of CGI came up on more than one occasion. On this subject, Dyson was enthusiastic:

I think we’re living in amazing times. It has to be looked back on as a golden age… we have incredible resources, but you can be swamped with choice. This is the challenge now, how you navigate that [choice]. It would be foolish to be Luddite about it.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin

Fantasma concluded with a screening of Secret Rites, and this was only one of a few films on offer on Friday, as the symposium was the focus for Day 1. I asked our resident horror geek about what she had seen, and giallo being Sarah’s favourite genre, top of the list was always going to be Lizard in a Woman’s Skin:

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is the film that nearly caused the incarceration of its director, Lucio Fulci. The notorious director only escaped jail time thanks to the testimony of his special effects artists who produced the mannequins of the film’s gore-soaked dead dogs that the court had believed to be real.

Ironically, Lizard is one of Fulci’s less visceral films, instead a psychedelic trip into giallo as a woman struggles to separate dream and reality following a gruesome murder.

A busy house at the museum certainly enjoyed the festival’s first foray into Fulci—and can look out for more from the horror maestro at future fests.

Day 2

Michael Armstrong on David Bowie

On Saturday afternoon, the Screentalk with Michael Armstrong was preceded by a screening of The Image, which stars a young David Bowie in his first role. In this video clip, Michael talks about his working relationship with David, and how the filming was beset with difficulties.

The writer-director in our midst is a prolific and eloquent storyteller—indeed, the ‘conversation’ was almost a monologue—and I was genuinely fascinated by what he had to say.

When asked about his influences, Michael told us he was enamoured with fairytales, folklore and mythology from an early age. He believes that ‘the only carnal sin [in art] is to bore’.

Michael was fervent on the issues of actor training—‘Acting is a craft, as skill… [a part] is not something [actors] can ‘make their own’’—and the screenwriting business today—‘They now start the screenplay with the merchandising’—neither of which received high praise from a man who is well-versed in both.

The decline of the British film industry during the 1970s, combined with the Eady Levy on box office receipts, meant that British films needed to fill a quota, so new production companies were given opportunities, and ‘horror was their best bet…independents gave opportunities to young filmmakers, which was a very exciting time’.

Today, however, the film industry:

‘is very nepotistic and based on networking… it’s like television, it’s very cliquey, and if you’re not part of the clique you’re an outsider.

‘The problem in the UK has always been investment, and that falls on producers. The good ones go to America. We lack film-thinking, creative producers based in the UK.’

Michael told the story of the making of Mark of the Devil, which had some audience members crying out with laughter. The original script included some ghastly character names amidst an unnecessary proliferation of S&M torture scenes and unintentional plot metamorphosis. On top of which, the filming in Germany with translators gone AWOL meant that it was a real Tower of Babel production.

Perhaps surprisingly, Michael describes himself as a very anti-violent man. His aim in making Mark of the Devil was to ‘make people feel sick… to show the crassness and unpleasantness… One tends for a comfortable life to put these things aside… This film shows the cruelty of what man is doing to man’. He told us about screenings of the film in America, which were accompanied by nurses waiting to attend to fainters, and vacated auditoriums smelling of vomit.

So I wasn’t going to stick around for the film itself, and decided instead to go and watch the zombie-tastic 28 Weeks Later.

Sarah’s Horror highlights

I asked our resident horror expert, Sarah, what she had managed to watch that day amid all the hobnobbing.

First film of the day for Sarah was The Giant Spider Invasion, which was ‘very kitsch, got big laughs, and was a good warm-up for Birdemic… a giant furry spider on wheels with some horrendous acting’.

Sarah attended the two director-accompanied films on Saturday evening: David Gregory’s Plague Town, and James Nguyen’s Birdemic. Both guests were affable in the bar before and after the films, staying to chat and discuss their offerings with festival attendees.

Sarah says: ‘David was a guest at the museum ten years ago when he brought a double bill of Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Last House on the Left, so it was like welcoming an old friend. The film had some spectacularly creepy touches—he has clearly learned from the masters throughout his career as horror documentary film-maker.’

Birdemic was, by all accounts, the star of the show but for all the wrong reasons. Audience members were inexplicably given coat-hangers on their way in, which was clarified when characters attempted to fight off killer birds with this as their chosen weapon. It certainly invited some great audience interaction in the style of Rocky Horror.

Sarah tells me there were cheers and howls of laughter; however the director absolutely believes it’s a romantic thriller and is quite surprised it’s been taken on at horror festivals. He is currently in talks with Hollywood about doing a sequel, which he hopes to bring to our screens in 3D! You heard it here first.

Day 3

First film of the day was Psycho. The screening was preceded by an original trailer featuring Alfred Hitchcock, which I would have liked to have seen, but alas, 11.00 was not a sensible hour for me to get into Bradford that day.

Sarah managed to make it in a little earlier and watched Patrick, a rarely screened Aussie horror which pays homage to Hitchcock in its visual style.

Stanley Long on Roman Polanski

On Sunday evening, I attended the Stanley Long Screentalk. Stanley is a veteran of British sexploitation movies, credited variously as director, producer, writer and/or cinematographer during a 46-year career in movies. He is responsible for the ‘Adventures of…’ series, and dipped his toes into the world of horror with The Sorcerers, The Blood Beast Terror and Screamtime.

Stanley also worked on Repulsion with Roman Polanski. In the following clip from the Screentalk, Stanley discusses the infamous writer-director and his pranking tendencies.

During the conversation with Benjamin Halligan, Senior Lecturer at the University of Salford, Stanley also talked about the science of making people jump (though he doesn’t reveal the tricks of the trade), his healthy attitude toward sexuality in films, and the obstacle of today’s health and safety laws.

Stanley offered this advice to budding film-makers:

‘A small budget film starts with the script; it has to take the budget into account from the start… You wanna know how to make a low budget film? Keep it in one place.’

Which invited a fitting conclusion from Benjamin:

‘It’s not the size of your budget, but what you do with it.’

After the Screentalk, Stanley stayed to sign copies of his new book X-Rated: Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker.

Sarah’s Horror highlights (part 2)

I spoke to Sarah the following day about what she’d seen during day 3. She only managed to catch the last half of Robocop, a museum archive print which received high praise for its quality.

Here’s what Sarah had to say about The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue:

[The film] proved a fitting closure for the Fantastic Films Weekend, which celebrates rare, classic—and dare we say kitsch—horror and fantasy alongside new and exclusive releases.

Although shot in England (the film’s key scenes were filmed in St Michael’s Church in Hathersage), the 1974 film has the very European feel of 1970s zombie films. Indeed, director Jorge Grau is Spanish and the cast hail from all over Europe.

Interestingly, the film’s original title Don’t Open the Window is rumoured to have inspired Edgar Wright’s 2007 fake trailer Don’t which featured in Grindhouse.

Tony’s festival review

I asked Tony Earnshaw, FFW Artistic Director, about his festival highlights. He offered the following:

Two veterans of the once booming ‘60s/’70s UK horror scene were reunited at the 9th Fantastic Films Weekend. Exploitation king Stanley Long and writer/director Michael Armstrong recalled the gory, glory days of movies like The Sorcerers and Mark of the Devil, both of which screened during the weekend.

Personal faves included Jorge Grau’s tremendous zombie shocker The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue and a spankingly good re-release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Undoubtedly the film of the festival was the rarely-seen portmanteau gem Three Cases of Murder, featuring Alan Badel in three roles and a deliciously sinister rendering of Roderick Wilkinson’s short story In the Picture.

Festival regulars also lapped up Horror Express, a perennial favourite and one of many titles forming part of the museum’s growing and unique print archive.

That’s all for FFW2010. Thanks to all the regulars and new faces for your support!

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