Since its inception 17 years ago, FrightFest has established itself as the unholy Mecca of genre film festivals in the UK. Every year bloodthirsty fright fanatics from the UK and beyond arrive in their hordes to be dazzled, disturbed, shocked and enthralled at the latest offerings to be plucked from cinema’s darkest depths all over the world. If the festival’s popularity and longevity has proven anything throughout the years it’s the masterminds behind it all – Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray, and Greg Day – are on the pulse when it comes to finding and unearthing the latest ghoulish gems, and if it wasn’t for their devotion to making sure punters are spoiled for choice with brand new scare fare every year, it’s highly possible that we could be sitting here today unaware that some of these films even exist.
FrightFest is great for several reasons – the community spirit, meeting filmmakers and casts, splashing the cash on irresistible additions to our collections, just to name a few – but its continued drawing power lies in the fact that, every single year, genre aficionados are catered to with an eclectic selection of devilish delights that tickle our macabre taste buds. Whether it’s bloodletting and splatter, supernatural chills, psychological thrills, offbeat oddities, or the kind of fare which defies classification, attendees can rest assured knowing that there is something there for everyone, and this mindset has carried over to FrightFest Presents.
The brainchild of Paul McEvoy and Alan Jones, in collaboration with Icon Film Distribution, FrightFest Presents has allowed the brand to extend its reach beyond the multiplex. It was a long time in the making for the dastardly duo, whose previous forays into expanding the brand to home media didn’t exactly go according to plan. “We tried to do a DVD company before with Revolver about 10 years back, but that didn’t work out.’’ Jones tells Diabolique. “We also did it again with Wild Bunch, [who wanted] our English sensibility and said they’d give us free rein. It crashed and burned after two films.’’
That said, Icon has proven to be the perfect home for the FrightFest brand. In addition to both parties having a mutual respect, Jones and McEvoy’s early exposure to future releases gives them an advantage which suits the company. “They knew that we were getting to see stuff very early through the festival.’’ says McEvoy. “And we really like the people at Icon – they’ve released some amazing genre films like It Follows, The Babadook, The Guest, all the Nicolas Winding Refn stuff – so we knew it was a perfect partnership.’’
However, the agreement also suits Jones and McEvoy, as they’ve been entrusted with the autonomy to handpick releases they know will go down well with rabid horror fans – something that Revolver and Wild Bunch didn’t understand. Recalling how the partnership came into fruition, Jones states how imperative it was for them to call the shots when it came to releases. “We told them […] you don’t have to listen to us – you’re going to have to listen to the fact that we show these films at the festival, we know the audience reaction and know how well they’re going to do.’’ Icon’s faith in the pair’s expertise has paid off, with every release finding success. “We’re now 15 films in from that deal and not a single one of them has lost money. As a result of that, I think we’ve more or less proved our case.’’
Most other labels wouldn’t take a chance on some of the releases FrightFest Presents is putting out, however. Titles like Steve Oram’s bonkers Aaaaaaaah! (2015) – which depicts a modern society where human beings act like apes – or Jaron Henrie-McCrea’s quirkily surreal sci-fi Curtain (2015), were only ever going to appeal to a niche type of genre fan – like the type who are drawn to the FrightFest brand in the first place. But it’s not all about the weird and mind-boggling – all our macabre moods are catered to. Take Isaac Gabaeff’s The Sand (2015) for instance, an unabashed gory creature feature that only seeks to entertain with its bloody carnage. Michael Thelin’s Emelie (2015), on the other hand, takes the old babysitter in peril formula and adds a disturbing twist, bending convention just enough to appeal to those seeking originality, while remaining accessible enough for those craving easy to digest shocks.
McEvoy states that FrightFest Presents is a “reflection of the festival.’’ The wonderful eccentricity and unpredictability supports this statement. In fact, it’s highly likely that the core audience discovered these movies in the first place because they played at a past event, though McEvoy does stress that they’re interested in any film they consider special. Jones continues, “When Paul and I see something, we know instantly if it’s going to work for our audience or not.’’
The future looks exciting for the brand as well. Having just released one of the most buzzed about movies in recent years – Anna Biller’s critically acclaimed occult Technicolor thriller The Love Witch (2016) – and upcoming releases including the disturbing faux-documentary Population Zero (2016), as well Sean Brosnan’s outstanding Southern Gothic revenge tale, My Father, Die (2016), the brand looks continues to make waves with their releases, all of which boast their own individual quirks and unique identities. Additionally, FrightFest, in collaboration with FAB Press, will be releasing a brand-new book by esteemed horror journalist Michael Gingold. The FrightFest Guide to Monster Movies is the follow-up to Alan Jones’ The FrightFest Guide to Exploitation Movies, and will chronicle genre cinema’s history with creatures from the legendary Universal Monsters to city-crushing kaiju – and everything in between.
While the festival is an internationally-renowned institution of genre cinema, the FrightFest brand continues to expand in other mediums, establishing itself further as a burgeoning contender with each new release. While the library is still small, you get the impression that every single film has been handled with care and passion, which only affirms their status as a label who favours quality over quantity. What the future holds remains to be seen, but the one thing we can expect is the duo’s continued devotion to finding and releasing the types of films they believe in. “We’ll take it film by film.’’ Jones says, clearly focused on taking their time to find the crème da la crème. “We’ve seen a couple of films that we want, so let’s hope that works out. We never stop watching the films in case there’s that one that’ll work for us.’’ Wherever the brand does go next, it’s certainly worth joining them for the ride.