As this year’s Mayhem Horror Film Festival is just around the corner, we met up with two of its founders, Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil, to talk about the festival and this year’s eagerly anticipated line up. Chris is a Nottingham based director who also previously curated Bang! Short Film Festival at Broadway and his debut feature film One For The Road was released in 2003. Steven Sheil is another local director who has a celebrated catalogue of horror shorts behind him as well as his first feature, the unsettling horror, Mum & Dad.
The festival is now in its fifth year, how did it all get started?
Chris: When I worked on Bang! Film Festival, we used to get loads of horror films sent in and I thought it would be brilliant to put on some sort of showcase. Me, Gareth and Steve got together and decided we’d do shorts and get a supporting feature on. The feature would support the shorts instead of the other way round.
Steven: Originally we talked about doing a horror all nighter didn’t we? That was the plan.
Chris: Yeah, it was impossible to get a horror all nighter out of the way though, so we thought we’d put a package of shorts together and people would show up to watch the shorts and then we’d show a feature and eventually we’d get an all nighter. But instead we ended up with a weekend long festival. Then that became a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and then Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
Whatever it is you’re doing is working then…
Chris: It’s a case of slowly getting a reputation and letting people know that it’s here, it’s a good event and the films are massive previews that won’t be out for a year in some cases and virtually all of them won’t be out until next year. With that in mind, if you’re interested in the genre it’s a chance to kind of see what’s going on way ahead of the crowd. We’ve got premieres this year and if you have got an interest in the genre, even just a broad one, then come down as we’re not just trying to do a gore festival.
There’s a lot of those festivals where its like “Here’s a load of gore” or biased towards one idea of what the audience might be, whereas we want it to include people who are new to the genre, people who have always loved the genre, people that love splatter and gore all mixed up together and take them on a journey together and show them a whole load of films including classics, not just new stuff. It’s about variety.
Steven: It’s trying to take the current temperature of horror and to show things that give a good spread of what’s going on in horror from around the world. This year we’ve got films from Hong Kong, Japan, Belgium, France, America, the UK, Japan and Mexico.
Chris: The big UK film is Gareth Edwards’ brand new film Monsters’, it’s getting a really early screening here with the director, but also we’ve got Alfred Hitchcock’s return to the UK to make Frenzy. Frenzy deals with that perennial horror theme of sex and death; it’s still shocking today even though it was made in the early seventies, and for Hitchcock it’s quite pushy. It’ll be immediately followed by Amer, a Belgian film that’s homage to Italian genre filmmaking and it’s really beautiful. The two of them are companion pieces, dealing with the themes of sex and death, psychology and violence. They’re really quite fascinating, so if you’re into classic movies, then you can stay and suddenly see something bang up to date that makes you think about the way those themes have developed and played with by filmmakers.
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With so many films out there, how do you go about setting the line up?
Chris: There are three of us that select the films; I don’t know how many films we’ve ended up watching this year but it is a lot. It’s finding films that you’re really passionate about that makes the festival what it is for us. We’re very lucky that a lot of the films we have chosen have gone on to become award winning films in their genre. Dream Home’ and We Are What We Are have won awards, so the bookend films of the festival are these incredible examples of the genre and in between we programme with a sense of how things run on. For example, we’ve got three monster movies across the weekend. Monsters obviously and Altitude which both deal with tentacled monsters funny enough. Maybe this is the new monster for the decade, creatures with tentacles… But in between them is a fantastically silly monster movie, Alien vs Ninja - the plot is in the title really. We go to the extremes with the remake of I Spit On Your Grave, then we take people down to things that are really quiet and subtle and contemplative, we want there to be that contrast.
You mentioned you have a wide variety of cinema from all over the world, what country do you think is producing the best horror films at the moment?
Chris: It’s really hard to say, there was a big trend of Asian cinema from Japan, Korea, Thailand and Singapore turning out these amazing films recently and we’ve screened a lot from them.
Steven: There was France for a while. We’ve got the UK premiere of an amazing French film, Stranded, on Saturday at 4.30pm. It’s theme asks what should we be scared of - is it the violence inside us or the violence that’s outside there that can threaten us? It’s set in the sixties in French occupied Algeria so there’s an amazing historic setting and then this really creepy unsettling ghost story that impacts on the war story that’s going on there - quite incredible. I do think French cinema recently has seemed to be about amazing cutting edge violence and this film is a psychological horror film that’s really very impressive and turns a corner for French genre filmmaking.
In terms of other countries, in the past two years the UK has produced some really good horror films. Compared to ten, fifteen, twenty years ago when there was hardly anything coming out of the UK in terms of horror, we’ve now seen a massive boom and even though we’ve only ended up with one film this year from the UK we’re always on the lookout for new British horror. We’re ending the festival in Mexico with We Are What We Are which is kind of a social realist crossed with a cannibal movie that’s about a cannibal family which is not really what you expect when you think of cannibal films. It’s a great film that’s winning awards already at festivals around the world and it’s probably one of the most anticipated films of the festival.
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What should people be excited about at this years festival?
Chris: My favourite film of the festival, if I had to pick, would be Dream Home, which we start the festival with, a Hong Kong horror film. It works as a satire on the current crisis with money and housing, that makes it sound like it would be boring but it’s one of the most incredible, violent splatter films that I’ve ever seen. I’m also really looking forward to sitting back on Sunday afternoon, having some lunch and watching Frenzy. Amer is going to look beautiful on the big screen and there’s loads of interest in Monsters, maybe because of the coverage it’s had in Empire and Total Film. I’m really intrigued about the idea of making really low budget British cinema so maybe that’s one of the stand out things. If anyone is interested in filmmaking in any way, shape or form I think they should come and see Monsters.
Steven: Also one of the other elements of the festival is that we’re really lucky to have the Broadway cinema and be able to use the facilities that they’ve got. We always try to make the festival a bit more inclusive and have special things going, such as we’ve got a special 3D screening of Piranha 3D, the first ever 3D horror film to be shown at Broadway. As part of that Thrill Laboratory are going to be doing some experiments where they fit people with 3D gas mask apparatus which will measure the rate and pressure of their breathing so that they plot their responses to the film in real time.
Chris: There’ll be some people who will be measuring the difference in rate of breathing between on screen violence and on screen Kelly Brook.
Steven: In a bikini…
Chris: …and out of a bikini! It’s also got a serious scientific purpose about being able to look at where and how films work most effectively in the genre and he normally applies his technology to things like theme park rides so it’s quite fascinating that he’s trying to do it with horror films. As well as that, we’ve got the big fancy dress party in the bar on Saturday with prizes for the best fancy dress and we’re screening Poltergeist as well. If people want to come in fancy dress to Poltergeist there’ll be prizes and maybe you can theme it and come as something invisible and unseen.
Steven: Then we’ve got the quiz on the Sunday after the screening. We're trying to do stuff that brings everything together and make it quite an open and inclusive festival for all the fans. Take your mind off the government cuts by coming to see other people getting cut.
Mayhem Film Festival runs from Thursday 28 October to Sunday 31 October at Broadway.
Mayhem Film Festival website