The 32nd Festival of Fantastic Films
Ian Taylor reviews the event at the Pendulum Hotel
Those who recall the last year’s review of the long-running ‘friendly festival’ will know that the 2021 event was a considerably smaller affair due to the sad passing of Gil Lane-Young. Gil was the remaining active member of the festival’s original team of organisers. For over three decades, the event had become a favourite fixture on the UK scene of horror, science fiction and fantasy. The Fest had steadily grown in attendance to well over 200 by the turn of the millennium but, following Harry Nadler's passing, slowly declined, to become a relatively small event, in 2019 attracting not quite getting on for hundred or so fans. Then we had two CoVID years. But its small size has tended to work in its favour because the guests (and there have been a great many impressive names to join us from the world of film, television and literature) freely mix with everyone in the central bar and restaurant, and view the featured films shoulder-to-shoulder. The question this year was, could the festival start to re-grow post-Gil? The answer proved to be an emphatic ‘yes’, with around a dozen dedicated people forming a new FoFF Committee and enabling the event to rise as a phoenix from out of the flames.
Gil and the team of himself, Harry Nadler, Dave Trengove, and the still supportive Tony Edwards can take pride in the efforts of Kate Edwards Tulloch, Tony’s daughter, who has been known to festival-goers since her youth. It was she who determined that the show would go on last year and has overseen a strong rebirth, aided and abetted by the likes of author Mark Morris and others including Darrell Buxton, Kevin Mullins and Stephen Fenerty.
Everything was so well organised, from the steady build-up of marketing and publicity through the year, and up to the warm greetings we all received as we arrived.
Fest logo 2022
The festival logo had received an upgrade (one which emphasised the science fiction elements as much as the horror) and the new-look programme guide was a truly professional job courtesy of Steve Kirkham of Tree Frog Communication. Now all that was required was for the entertainment on offer to echo the standards of presentation – and it certainly did.
Darrell Buxton clearly revelled in the opportunities opened up to him in the role of Main Programme Co-ordinator. The chosen pictures not only complemented the guests in attendance but also catered for all tastes.
Thus, the appearance of Hammer films actress Judy Matheson was complemented by a screening of Vicente Aranda’s 1969 art house chiller The Exquisite Cadaver [Las Crueles], featuring one of Judy’s earliest and most substantial roles. In fact, it was the first time that Ms Matheson had seen the film on a big screen since its European premiere back in the sixties!
Modern scream queen Dani Thompson was celebrated through the screening of her film Powertool Cheerleaders Vs the Boyband of the Screeching Dead (2022), contemporary film-makers Dean Kilbey and Marc Coleman talked about their memorably low-budget monster comedy Man-Fish (2022) before a screening. Described as what Del Toro’s The Shape of Water would look like if shot on Canvey Island on about 0.01% of the budget, this production, and its makers, left a very favourable impression.
Jeremy Dyson also delighted in his question-and-answer session. The co-writer of television’s The League of Gentlemen was interviewed immediately following a screening of his 2017 anthology hit Ghost Stories (trailer here).
Science fiction and fantasy was also well catered for in Stuart Scott’s Retrospective Room. As ever, within humble surroundings and upon a small screen, Stuart won everybody over with a beguiling selection of the great, the good, the awful and the downright surreal. This year’s joys included The Incredible Petrified World (1959) (trailer here) , Antonio Margerhiti’s Italian space opera Battle of the Worlds (1961) [Il Pianeta Degli Uomini Spenti] (trailer here), evergreen B-film favourite The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962) (trailer here) and the bewildering 1982 effort from Turkey, The Man Who Saved the World [Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam], something that must be seen to be believed but even then won’t make much sense! A much more sober exercise in film was This is Not a Test (1962) (trailer here), it being aided by its low budget in feeling like a horribly realistic cold war nightmare.
Having noted that the guests in attendance covered an agreeable range of decades and genres, not to mention their roles, it is worth applauding some of those who went down best of all: the archly entertaining David McGillivray, writer of many of Norman J. Warren and Pete Walker’s most popular 1970s shockers, and Frazer Diamond, the artist and writer who came to talk about his legendary father Peter Diamond, the stuntman, fight arranger, actor and director who worked on almost 1,200 projects, including Star Wars, Highlander, Superman II, An American Werewolf in London and Doctor Who.
To give an idea of the range of screenings involved, the Friday programme started with a Bela Lugosi double bill of One Body Too Many (1944) and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952). The final screening of the weekend was Disney’s one and only The Black Hole (1979) (trailer here), here receiving a very positive reappraisal.
Other changes to the festival saw the reintroduction of the old favourite Delta Film Awards competition for new films. This was divided into three sections: Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction with an added Runners-Up showcase.
Ian Taylor and Adam Nevill
Another change this year was a turn towards more literary pursuits. Authors Ramsay Campbell (Fellstones) and Mark Morris (The Wolves of London) were present, as ever year, but this year it was a pleasure to also listen to interviews and panels with Adam Nevil (The Ritual), Stephen Laws (Chasm) and Stephen Gallagher (Chimera).Excitingly, there was also a discussion panel celebrating Nigel Kneale’s centenary and helping to launch the long awaited reprint of his 1949 short story collection Tomato Cain, plus another launch panel for the non-fiction book Chopped Meat, a tome focused on British Horror and Fantasy films and television of the 1970s.
Safe to say, this Festival will return again next year, as strong as ever.
The 'Chopped Meat' book discussion panel
Eric McNaughton, Ian Taylor, Darrell Buxton, Mark Morris, David McGillivray.
Editorial note: Charles Partington, lifelong friend and business partner of Fest founder Harry Nadler, sadly passed a few weeks before this year's Fest. Elsewhere, we have a tribute to Charles Partington. This also cites the Delta SF Group after which the Delta Awards, referred to in the above review, were named.