FrightFest: Beneath The Dark Heart Of Cinema


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

FrightFest: Beneath The Dark Heart Of Cinema
"Collier has created a portrait of the festival that will delight its longstanding fans yet which is thorough and insightful enough to be of interest to outsiders too."

It began with a small group of genre fans putting together a festival because they thought London should have one and no-one else was doing it. It has gone on to become one of the most famous horror festivals in the world, a testing ground for some of cinema's biggest names and a breeding ground for new talent. If you're a genre fan living far away from it and you think it doesn't have much to do with you, think again - the networking that goes on at and around the festival affects which films become available to the wider public, and without it some wouldn't get made a all. But how did Frightfest become so important? What is it about an August weekend in London that gets everybody so excited?

Chris Collier has been videoing events for Frightfest for many years. Often this kind of relationship ends up compromising documentary makers - it's hard to be fully objective about people you know personally - but this film gets away with it, thanks in part to judicious editing by co-producer Craig Ennis. With full access to all the key players and an amazing archive of footage to draw on, Collier has created a portrait of the festival that will delight its longstanding fans yet which is thorough and insightful enough to be of interest to outsiders too. One can imagine younger fans showing it to their reluctant parents to explain why they want to attend.

Early on, the film establishes that Greg, Alan, Paul and Ian - the four men who have shaped and supported the festival throughout its life - probably wouldn't even know each other if it didn't exist. They are not natural bedfellows, and the various conflicts between them over the years have created some measure of bitterness. Difficult as this has made things for them, it's something of a gift to Collier, because it gives the film a central dynamic with a lot more potential than the simple process of listing key films and celebrities who have appeared there. The festival's struggle to find a suitable, lasting home provides a further thread, giving the film shape.

Alongside the key players, Collier interviews a number of fans who explain what the festival means to them and interweave their own stories with the larger one - demonstrating, in so doing, the sense of interpersonal connection that has become central to its success. The focus is very much on ordinary attendees, not filmmakers, though enough of the latter appear to demonstrate the intermingling that is also a key festival characteristic. Adam Green is ubiquitous in such films - it would be hard to keep him out - and big hitters like Guillermo Del Toro appear in archive footage.

Well paced and packed with entertaining anecdotes, the film unspools so easily that one barely notices just how much information has been packed into it. Though careful not to overstay its welcome, it provides a thorough exploration of its subject with a fair degree of insight. Most importantly, it captures the spirit of the thing. Stick around until the end of the credits for one last dippy story that sums that up perfectly.

Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2018
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A documentary about the FrightFest festival and its contribution to supporting horror, science fiction and fantasy cinema.

Director: Chris Collier

Writer: Chris Collier

Starring: Greg Day, Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray

Year: 2018

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: UK


Frightfest 2018

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