Monday, 16 November 2015

Abertoir 2015

"sea-facing room"
Wow, what a mad week! Film festivals are always mad, but this one took place in Innsmouth, where we discovered a whole new dimension in terror. We'll never think of a "sea-facing room" in quite the same way again. Nor will we ever drive home from Aberystwyth in the dark again.

It was our first time at Abertoir, and we couldn't have been made to feel more welcome. Everyone was lovely and helpful and they treated us like family. And by that I mean family you actually like seeing, not your weird, drunk uncle who tells you to pull his finger and rants about the monsters who live in his toilet.

Lord Summer Ale
The Aberystwyth Arts Centre is a magnificent venue and it never felt overcrowded. (The Vue in Leicester Square often resembles the early scenes in a nuclear war movie where everyone's panic-buying water and batteries.) The bar was cosy and - best of all! - was happy to serve some special Abertoir cocktails. John, Graham Humphreys and I drank enough "Matools" to drown a shark-fighting zombie. Fruity! Green! Delicious! The local brewery also produced some special ales just for the festival.

Pub Quiz
There was also an exhibition on The Art of Arrow, featuring work by Graham Humphreys and Gilles Vranckx, as well as a talk/interview with both artists and a representative from Arrow Video. We had a look at their stall in the lobby, but there was nothing to buy because - wow! - we own absolutely everything they've released! Graham even sat out in the lobby for a while, working on his newest painting, and it was a real treat to get to see him in action. In between, of course, we all bought each other Matools and chatted about the films. (Our team also won the pub quiz, which we only learned on the last day, after being told there had been a colossal screw-up with the score counting. We HAD felt rather baffled when we didn't even crack the top 3. Ah well. Maybe next year our genius will be recognised by all! Mwahahaha!)

Abertoir cocktails
But let's rewind. The festival started on Day 1 as it meant to go on, with THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES showcasing the talents of the fabulous Vincent Price. There was also an exhibition of wonderful memorabilia on loan from Peter Fuller. Dr Phibes rose again on Day 4, and we all screamed and screamed again on Day 5 and said our farewells with a COMEDY OF TERRORS on the last day. In amongst all the films was a really wonderful talk by Peter Fuller and Vincent's daughter Victoria, followed by "Dinner With Vincent Price" in the Great Hall, a meal put together from recipes in Vincent's very own cookbook. Everything was delicious!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. John and I got a chance to chat to Steve Oram on Day 1, just before watching his latest creation, AAAAAAAAH!, with a live commentary. It's like an acid-fuelled National Geographic documentary on the brutal, rutting, fighting, cannibalistic antics of... humans. No dialogue, only grunts and growls. Much pissing on fridges, cooking of testicles, and baring of breasts on cookery shows. It's a bit of an endurance test and I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it before.

Frizzi 2 Fulci
After that came an event we'd been looking forward to for weeks. We got to sit front and centre in the Great Hall while Fabio Frizzi and his band bashed out all the soundtracks to Lucio Fulci's most beloved films. The "little trip to the Caribbean" piece from ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS was an unexpected delight, but the star of the show was the encore, where THE BEYOND filled our ears. Just sublime. I'm still hearing all the music in my head.

Shark vs Zombie!
On Day 2, Gavin Baddeley gave a talk on "Those Evil English", explaining why Brits make the best villains and sharing some fascinating stories of mediaeval shenanigans. That was followed by the film THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, which held the "best of the fest" spot for me until Day 6. It's a wonderful character study and a disturbing journey into paranoia. And how refreshing to see a modern American horror film where you don't want all the characters to die horribly! It's both scary and touching.

After that came TALES OF HALLOWEEN, which went down much better with the Abertoir crowd than the FrightFest one. Pollyanna McIntosh still steals the show with her sexy/frightening madwoman act, although the little "Twick or Tweat" alien from Mike Mendez's "Friday the 31st" segment is a close second. What could possibly follow all this lunacy? Why, a little Australian comedy called DANGER 5, complete with live commentary by creators Dario Russo and David Ashby, who brought along a bag of ingredients to concoct some very special drinks of their own, which some audience members were brave enough to down. We weren't sure if we were going to like the live commentary, as we hadn't seen the show (or even heard of it), but it was so anarchic and maniacal it actually enhanced the whole experience. We went back to the hotel that night and ordered the DVD. Can't wait to watch it all properly, although we'll miss the crazy anecdotes. At least we got to chat about Nazi dinosaurs and "Bitch Killer" with the DANGER 5 guys over what would otherwise have been a civilised breakfast. I can't help but wonder what the family next to us thought!

Day 3 gave us a short film competition with some really great entries. Short films tend to be a bit of a mixed bag, but we all got to score these and I was delighted to hear that my favourite one, "Sanguine Craving", had won. Such a clever, funny and unexpectedly sweet little piece.

And DEADMAN INFERNO! I almost forgot! It was yakuza vs zombies and a lot of fun, with endearing characters and some great zom-com gags!

On Day 4 I got to see one of my all-time favourites on the big screen - PROFONDO ROSSO! Rather shockingly, about half the audience had never seen it before, and it was interesting to hear their reactions. I think it truly is a giallo masterpiece. The final film of the evening was billed to us as a knockabout comedy, but was actually quite terrifying. ATTACK ON TITAN featured giant humans with no genitalia and mouths with too many teeth who stomped around and bit the heads off the normal-sized people trying to fight them. At one point there was a giant baby and I just knew it was going to come after me in my nightmares. Comedy??? Maybe "comedy" as Ramsey Campbell understands it.

fun with clowns
FATAL FRAME was just my kind of thing. A Japanese ghost story set in a weird, dreamy girls' school where Ophelia is treated like a saint. Kind of a Japanese PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. Not perfect by any means, but the otherworldly universe it existed in was hypnotic. I loved that the girls sang Ophelia's song as a hymn.

THE WITCH was another bloody scary film. Religion always scares me, and here the brutal Puritanism of the lives of an outcast family was more disturbing than the witchcraft they were so afraid of. These simple, honest people prayed every night, insisting that they were horrible sinners who deserved the fires of hell simply for existing. Well, they were looking for hell. They found it. Excellent and highly disturbing. In the words of Gary McMahon: "a stone-cold masterpiece". If you were going to make a horror film to terrify a 17th century audience, this is exactly what you would make.

more fun with clowns
While all this horror was taking place inside, the weather was creating its own horror outside. THE DESCENT was supposed to be screened in conjunction with a trip to the Silver Mountain. We'd all be taken down into the mine and then sit outside under a "warm" marquee to watch the film. "THE DESCENT in a tent." Well, the hurricane that landed in Aberystwyth (my weather app said "breezy") tore the marquee to pieces and health and safety said no to the adventure. Everyone still went down the mine (and apparently got scared by zombies), but they returned to the main venue to watch it in comfort. I didn't want to face the cold and wet, so I had to miss out on seeing one of my top 3 horror films on the big screen. Instead, John and I watched the fury of nature from our window, as waves leapt over the railing and filled the road outside with gravel and foam.

Day 6 brought us FRANCESCA, an ode to the giallo that was so spot on it could easily pass for an original 1970s film. We cheered at every J&B sighting and thought the ending was sublimely wacky.

We had to miss Robert Lloyd Parry and the final film, BONE TOMAHAWK, but we were glad we stayed for THE INVITATION. That's my personal "best of the fest". It's about a group of friends in LA and a dinner party that takes a turn for the weird. To say any more would be criminal. The least you know going in, the better. It really unnerved me and 24 hours later I can't get it out of my head. Who knew the director of the lacklustre AEON FLUX had such darkness inside? I'm definitely a fan now!

And so another fantastic festival comes to an end. It was an ordeal getting there and often an ordeal getting out the front door (with gale force winds trying to slam it shut in your face!), but overall we had a brilliant time and we can't wait to go back! Only next time I think we'll dress up. We've got a couple of costume ideas in mind. Oh yes. Watch this space.

"Twick or Tweat!"