London After Midnight: Mayhem Horror Festival Review
With such a lot of great festivals to choose from this Halloween, it wasn’t an easy decision, but I had to choose – eventually I opted for the Mayhem Horror Festival in Nottingham, England, which ran from 29th October to 1st November. There was always a risk of regret, but I liked the look of their programme, and it was only a couple of hours drive away, so I was happy to take the chance. I’m so glad I did, the festival was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more……
I arrived in Nottingham on the 29th with my son Steve, and after throwing our things in the hotel, we hot-footed it down to the venue: The Broadway. My first impression was of an ordinary cinema. However, some time had been taken to ensure people knew they were in the right place – the Mayhem logos in the windows, for example.
I was quickly met by one of the festival directors Chris Cooke. The poor bloke had been suffering with a bad cold/flu which had decided to surface just when he needed it least. But in true Brit style he maintained a stiff upper lip, and soldiered on as if all was well with the world.
My notion that this was an ordinary cinema flew out the window as soon I sat down – man, those seats were so well upholstered, plump and spongy! Steve and I looked at each other, let out a happy sigh, and nestled in for the film.
The festival was certainly geared towards quality over quantity; in fact, I’m surprised to report that although some were worse than others, there was not one really bad film! In fact there were some damn good ones, and I quickly realised that their criteria for selection was ‘the more wrong it is, the more right it is’!
The schedule included old favorites like HELLRAISER, CARRIE, and THE HAUNTING, along with new fare like LA HORDE, a french “end of the world battle between gangsters, cops, and zombies” from Xavier Gens (exec producer of FRONTIERS) and HIERRO, a nightmarish film from debut director Gabe Ibanez, which features some of the team who worked on THE ORPHANAGE and PAN’S LABYRINTH. Other titles included MACABRE (a tongue-in-cheek splatter combo of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE ADDAMS FAMILY) and SOMEONE’S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR (in which bad drugs resurrect the spirits of crazed ’70s killers). The fest wound up with the off-beat GRACE, which portrays what happens when the titular mother brings her dead fetus to term, and it mysteriously ressurects…
I was very pleased to meet Steven Sheil and discussing the horrors his film MUM & DAD contained, including whether they were entirely necessary. We agreed they were (yes, even that ‘meat’ scene)!!
I was also lucky enough to meet Marc Price, the filmmaker behind the £45 Cannes sensation COLIN (whose gimmick is to tell the story from the POV of the titular zombie, from “being bitten to returning from the dead and wandering through a suburban zombie apocalypse”). Although I can’t believe his £45 claim, I found Price to be a very funny guy.
The highlight for me was meeting Mike Hodges, who was there for a Q & A session following a screening of his BLACK RAINBOW, his excellent but sadly overlooked supernatural thriller (the United States didn’t even bother to put it in theatres, shipping it off to Showtime – shame on them!). I enjoyed BLACK RAINBOW, and also his brilliant GET CARTER, but my main reason for being delighted to meet him was that he was also the man behind FLASH GORDON back in 1980. I’ve always had a soft spot for this film, as it was one of the first features my twin sister and I saw on the big screen back when we were kids. Over the years I’ve seen it countless times, as have my own kids. Yes, I know, the acting isn’t amazing, but it has some great action, fantastic direction, and some kick-ass funny lines – not to mention Brian Blessed’s perfect performance as Prince Vultan! Mike Hodges, I salute you.
I also volunteered to be the ‘victim’ in Mayhem’s first experiment in terror from The Thrill Laboratory. I was told I was meant to be the second person to take part, but the journalist who was due to go before me (who shall remain nameless) had a panic attack and did a runner! So I was first up, and I’m sure a great disappointment to the Thrill Lab guys, as I pretty much flat-lined at zero fear the whole time! It isn’t that the films weren’t scary; they were, and the people who did the test later, did get some more action on their stats. I’m so glad it worked out this way; it wouldn’t do for a die-hard horror fan like me to display fear. Fear is for mere mortals!! In any case, this was a fun addition to the festival.
Alas, I was unable to attend their Halloween party, and that’s a shame, because it looked to be a great shin-dig. Next year I’ll keep my diary clear.
I always like to give a special mention to my festival buddies, and sadly it was not until the last day that I met a great guy called ‘Bear’ and his friends Dee, and a girl who’s name I’ve shamefully forgotten; she was lovely too, so I’m so sorry for having a brain like a sieve – and maybe that goes some way to explaining why I was so diabolical at the quiz too! I’d also like to say a huge thanks to Chris Cooke for making Steve and me so welcome and for smiling through his illness with such good humour.
In summary, the Mayhem Horror Festival was a nice, steadily-paced festival, which whilst not brimming over with films, had a real high quality selection and certainly enough wrongness to gratify the most hardened of horror fans.