Convention Review

The 20th Festival of Fantastic Films

Two decades on from when Harry Nadler and Tony Edwards first came up with the idea
and roped in local buffs, the Manchester Fest is still going.
Darrell Buxton reviews the 20th anniversary event at the Days Hotel
16th – 18th October 2009.


When the Festival of Fantastic Films kicked off way back in 1990, who would have dared to dream that this charming event, an inviting and friendly weekend spent among fellow fantasy fans, might reach its twentieth year? Well, despite casualties along the way, the Fest has indeed reached such a landmark, and despite its advancing years, seems to be in grand health.

2009’s gathering felt like the best fest for some time – well-attended by a positive, enthusiastic crowd, and this year’s guests were all top-notch, especially Emily Booth who surprisingly charmed everyone in the place. Some had expressed doubts about the late-night TV hostess and star of Evil Aliens ‘fitting in’ at Manchester, but she quickly proved herself to be very genuine and a real genre fan, perhaps the most knowledgeable (and keen to learn about areas she was light on) since John Landis memorably attended in the mid-90s.

I never got to interview one of my heroes, Derren Nesbitt, as had been vaguely promised in the dim and distant past, since Stephen Laws turned up for the first time in ages and did the on-stage honours instead. It was super to see that old quota quickie fave The Man In The Back Seat on the big screen with an appreciative audience, it still grips from beginning to startling end and mention of the movie here gives me a chance to give a quick plug for my book on British horror films 1960-69 ‘The Shrieking Sixties’ (due from Midnight Marquee Press in Spring 2010), in which Vernon Sewell’s tense little crime-thriller-with-supernatural-overtones is prominently featured. Derren was a splendid guest, his chat was crammed with anecdotes and I'm sure he has thousands more stories. He didn’t hold back on his opinions of fellow actors – from the front row, I reminded him of his role in the Dick Emery vehicle Ooh, You Are Awful, with Mr. Nesbitt responding with appreciative comments on how professional and helpful Mr. Emery had been; Derren’s opinions on Richard ‘Man In A Suitcase’ Bradford were somewhat different, and not exactly fit for publication on a family website… Some of us asked if Nesbitt planned an autobiography - astonishingly he is not, though it would be an enormous waste if he doesn't get his tales down on paper. I chatted to him at length about The Amorous Milkman and reminded him of his 1978 home invasion gem Give Us Tomorrow (which I watched again at home the night before the fest, and for which I was able to show Derren the entries in the Monthly Film Bulletin and 'Flesh & Blood' #6 - he took an appreciative look at the naked-from-the-waist-down female star of a Tinto Brass flick on the cover of the latter and said, "I recognise her - I never forget a face...").

Missed Ian McCulloch's interview but was later told that the interviewer, Gil Lane-Young, had managed to raise a former star from the dead during their chat, telling the audience that Roddy McDowall was still alive and working... one of the teams at the quiz on Sunday night named themselves 'Roddy McDowall Lives!' in tribute to Gil's faux pas. I would love a jacket like the white one John Hough was wearing. Chatted to him about Legend Of Hell House and was amazed to discover that he had never seen or even heard of The Stone Tape! (Peter Sasdy and his missus were sitting at the next table signing autographs as we discussed this...). What a delight, too, to encounter the lovely Jenny Hanley, who brightened up the weekend more than anyone and who revealed in her on-stage interview that she had once vied for a Sunday newspaper’s ‘World’s most beautiful woman’ title with such stellar competition as Raquel Welch and Diana Ross.

Had a smashing breakfast on Sunday with (amongst other regulars) Norman J Warren and Steve Longhurst, with Mr. Longhurst being cajoled reluctantly into telling us a few yarns about his work for legendary UK semi-pro filmmaker Michael J Murphy and having our table in stitches by the end of the morning - we all said he ought to be up on stage as a guest next year (wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Murphy alongside him?), and he is another who ought to be writing a book about his life and exploits.

Watched the mad Mexican Xmas fantasy Santa Claus in Tony Meadows' mini-theatre (always the place to see and be seen within the confines of the Fest!), plus an episode of Spectreman and a cut-down version of Yongary, Monster From The Deep; best film I saw all weekend, however, was the documentary Nightmares Red White & Blue. Yes another run-through the history of the American horror film but with some very unusual clip selections plus interviews with John Carpenter, George Romero and Darren Lynn Bousman that made me realise that there is hope for the world - Romero's discussions on 'The New Normal' and young Bousman's insights into US horror's place in society made me wish they'd both been live in the hotel so we could've had breakfast with them too. Do catch this one if you want to be reassured about the future of the fright genre.

Looking forward to the 21st fest in 2010 already. Adrian James, Julia Kruk and myself were pondering (over a late drink, naturally!) on Sunday night whether we are the only three people (bar the organisers) who have been to all twenty fests. If you know different, let us know. And join us again next time…

Darrell Buxton

Other news from the 2009 Fest is here in our seasonal newscast.

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