Now in its fourth year, Manchester’s Grimm Up North’s ‘Grimmfest’ really seems to be establishing itself as a prime contender in the world of the Horror Festival. Director Simeon Halligan and Film Programmer Steve Balshaw certainly went to great lengths this year to ensure that visitors were presented with a wide range of independent and exclusive horror screenings, alongside an array of special appearances from both cast and crew members of the featured movies.
Things got underway in nearby Stockport on Wednesday 3rd October with an exclusive preview screening of Scott Derrickson’s new feature Sinister. This film stars Ethan Hawke as a true crime writer who moves into a house with a grisly past in the hope of gaining an insight into a story he’s researching. After discovering a box of old Super 8 footage, he finds himself confronted with more information than he could have possibly hoped for.
This was representative of one of the more mainstream offerings from the schedule, but was followed up with the second cinematic offering from Canadian twins Jen and Sylvia Soska. American Mary certainly got the crowd excited and remained the talking point of the festival for several days afterwards. Advancing in both technique and substance from their debut effort Dead Hooker in a Trunk, this is a movie which is bound to gain cult status in the near future. The evening finished with the grisly short Dysmorphia, which was a suitable companion to the Soska’s tale of body modification and grisly manipulation of flesh.
On Thursday the proceedings moved to The Dancehouse Theatre on Manchester’s Oxford Road. A suitably charismatic setting which doubles as a ballet school (unfortunately Suspiria was not being shown this time around). The Dancehouse comfortably accommodated the hundreds of eager ticket holders who swarmed around the entrance for the official opening night.
Billed as a ‘North Meets South’ event, it featured the World Premiere of Menaj Huda’s Comedown. Huda is the director of Kidulthood and West 10 LDN, which may give an indication as to the tone of the piece. A gritty, urban tower block is the location in which a group of teens converge to set up a pirate radio station, only to find themselves hunted down by a violent maniac. Think John Carpenter meets Shane Meadows and you’ll be on the right track. This was followed by the much hyped Cockneys vs. Zombies, which had the crowd in absolute hysterics. A film which is far smarter, funnier and entertaining than the title may suggest, it certainly set a high standard for the rest of the evening. The stars and makers of both films were there for Q&A sessions, with the delightful Alan Ford (Snatch) captivating the audience with his inimitable wit and storytelling skills.
The final film of the night was Jack Perez and Ryan Levin’s superb Some Guy Who Kills People, a comedy / drama / horror which manages to be poignant, funny and gory all at once. Starring Kevin Corrigan in a long overdue leading role, along with a stellar supporting cast of Barry Bostwick (Rocky Horror), Karen Black (Day of the Locust) and Lucy Davis (Shawn of the Dead); ‘SGWKP’ was a marvellous way to end the first full night of movies and was followed with an eventful and boisterous after party nearby.
Friday had the shortest lineup, but by no means the least significant, for it was when the audience were shown one of the most highly anticipated screenings of the whole event Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut. The loving restoration project heralded by Russell Cherrington and Mark Millar seeks to bring Clive Barker’s original vision to life. Butchered by the studios and disowned by its creator and stars, it’s a beautiful thing to see it get the attention it deserves, albeit 22 years later. Despite the rough appearance of the footage, it was clear to see what could have been and, indeed, what could be. As Cherrington himself stated in an interview ‘It’s now ‘Gone with the Wind’ with monsters’. Gone is the hastily edited slasher feature and in its place is something altogether more subtle and resonant. A group sing-along was held afterwards to wish Clive Barker a happy 60th birthday. Stars Nicholas Vince and Simon Bamford were in attendance, alongside Shaune Harrison, Mark Coulier and Mark C. Jones from the original SFX crew.
Up next was Grabbers, a remarkably funny monster movie set in Ireland in which the inhabitants of a small island off the west coast must avoid being eaten by sea creatures by imbibing as much alcohol as humanly possible. Roger Corman meets Father Ted in a glorious and original combination of mirth and slimy tentacles.
Saturday and Sunday were not for the part timers, with almost 13 hours of films and Q&A sessions taking place each day. The morning began with the suitably titled Columbian independent Wake Up and Die, a hypnotic and dreamlike tale of captivity, memory loss and obsession. Fans were then pleasantly surprised by the short The Other Side, the aesthetic of which is a testament to the skills of the Santoro Brothers and their production crew. The Hollywood sheen emitting from the piece is in stark contrast to the limited budget upon which it was all put together. Jake Santoro was present with some of the crew for a Q&A afterwards, during which he revealed some of the methods which they used to achieve such an impressive finished product.
What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than watching a classic Hammer Horror? The beautifully restored version of The Devil Rides Out delighted and thrilled, as did the subsequent audience with Patrick Mower, who shared some of his experiences of working with the legendary Christopher Lee and Charles Gray.
Dominic Brunt (until now best known for his role of ‘Paddy’ in long running UK soap Emmerdale, although this will most definitely change very soon) released his directorial debut Before Dawn a short while ago and the northern premiere was held on the Saturday evening at Grimmfest. This was possibly one of the most astounding films to be shown over the course of the entire weekend. A clever analysis of a relationship in turmoil, in which the zombie apocalypse just happens to be incidental. Before Dawn is what a Ken Loach monster movie would be like. Intelligent and incredibly well delivered, Brunt and partner / co-creator Joanne Mitchell are superb as the estranged couple whose retreat to the country has less than desirable results.
Spanish werewolf horror was next on the bill, courtesy of Juan Martinez Moreno’s Lobos de Arga (Attack of the Werewolves). A self-confessed geek and fanatic of the classic Universal and RKO features, his influences certainly rang through in this side splitting comedy of errors. Old school SFX and hilarious performances ensured that the audience were howling almost as much as the werewolves onscreen.
A selection of short movies followed, the highlight of which was, without question, Ryan Haysom’s unbelievably stylish Giallo tribute Yellow, in which an ageing policeman hunts down a vicious serial killer on the streets of Berlin. If you can imagine Dario Argento directing Drive then you’ll have somewhat of an idea of what to expect, but Haysom’s intelligent direction and style almost transcend comparison. A marvellous example of just how much can be achieved within a 25 minute time frame.
Crawlspace was a suitable choice to finish the evening, an explosive and riotous spooky Australian Sci-fi which contained elements of Event Horizon and Memento. People were well in need of some light entertainment at this stage and by the time the venue closed its doors at 1am, people looked bleary, but contented.
A few short hours sleep and everyone was back again for The Eschatrilogy, the ambitious and grandiose debut from Damien Morter. Delving into the world of vignette and anthology horror, this tale of plague, death and retribution is set in a chillingly dystopian environment as a destructive force, which has been dormant for millennia, seeks to exact revenge on a society grown weak, apathetic and cruel. This was another world premiere for Grimmfest and definitely started the day off with a bang.
The remastered edition of Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case was then proceeded by Below Zero, a fascinating example of method writing put into effect. Signe Olynyk locked herself in a meat freezer for 5 days to construct this take of writer’s block and paranoia. She was present with her creative partner / producer Bob Schultz to tell of how they created one of the last year’s most unique horrors and, in addition, how they provided Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes) with one of his greatest roles to date.
Rites of Spring was a Children Of The Corn / Wicker Man style tale which almost delivered but fell short of the mark in the final few reels. James Cullen Bressack’s Hate Crime was most certainly the most controversial feature of the day. A story of a Neo Nazi home invasion, in which they inflict brutal and horrendous ordeals upon an innocent Jewish family most certainly became a talking point of the evening for many. Shocking and visceral, it left many of two minds as to how they felt about it all.
Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman) was in the house to promote her new short film Him Indoors, a tale of an agoraphobic serial killer, starring Reese Shearsmith (League of Gentlemen), written and directed by Paul Davis. It generated many laughs and succeeded in cramming enough references in to satisfy the horror fanboys, whilst remaining funny enough to appeal to a wider audience. Horror author Wayne Simmons had a wonderful onstage conversation with Pollyanna afterwards, which was an event in itself.
Then it was almost all over. The closing film of the weekend was Connor McMahon’s Stitches, the movie debut of comedian Ross Noble, who plays a clown coming back from the dead to seek vengeance on the children who, inadvertently, caused his untimely demise. Gory, hilarious and very, very silly, this was a definite favourite with the crowd and it was all brought to a close by a wonderful Q&A hosted by Pollyanna McIntosh in which she spoke to Noble and fellow stars Tommy Knight and Gemma-Leah Devereux.
And then the house lights went down, the merchandise tables were folded away and the bar was closed. A thoroughly eventful few days had taken place and will live on in the minds of all who attended for quite some time.
Grimmfest can only evolve and become a bigger entity with time and they are certainly worth keeping an eye on. With regular screenings of cult films in the Manchester area, combined with events and now their own distribution company (their first release being the aforementioned Some Guy Who Kills People), they have proven that it’s anything but Grimm up North.
By Colin McCracken