The 24th Festival of Fantastic Films
Darrell Buxton reviews the event at the Days Hotel,
Regulars at the long-running Festival of Fantastic Films (FoFF), staging its twenty-fourth weekend programme in September 2013, might have been forgiven for casting an eye over the event's guest line-up and rolling their eyes. Eight promised guests, all fairly sizeable names and at least one a veritable superstar in their day – in the past the festival's bad fortune has often led to similar star parades diminishing somewhat as the opening Friday approaches, with unforeseen cancellations, withdrawals etc. forcing the organisers into hastily re-jigging the bill. Now do not get me wrong, they never fail even in the face of extreme adversity and the FoFF always offers a truly wonderful three days; but it must be disconcerting and disheartening when, as happened a few years back, someone like Alex Cox has had his name and face splashed all over the advertising and programmes only to pull out late on. This year, however, our resigned world-weary anticipation of the worst came to very little, to our amazement and delight, leaving us looking forward to being entertained by a fabulous selection of genre figures with a varied background and involvement in cinematic fantasy.
Of course, something disastrous just had to occur, and as we arrived, news came through that Hammer starlet Yvonne Monlaur could not attend, having broken her leg! Sad news, but Ms. Monlaur hopes to visit at a future date, and to our amazement, this setback did not open the catastrophic floodgates. Which meant that the following were all present to thrill and entertain us, be it on stage in live interviews, or hob-nobbing over a pint or white wine at the hotel bar. Roll call: Madeleine (Vampire Lover) Smith; Michael (Haunted House of Horror) Armstrong; Nicholas (Hazell) Ball; Umberto (Cannibal) Ferox Lenzi; Shane (Scott - Thunderbirds - Tracy) Rimmer; Caron (Evil of Frankenstein) Gardner; and, a real coup for the Fest, the still-gorgeous Barbara Bouchet, Euro legend of the 1960s and 1970s who lit up the screen in everything from Casino Royale to Black Belly of the Tarantula in the era of swinging, sassy, sexy cinema.
As usual, alongside this procession of talent, the festival offered a full multi-streamed programme of films, the international competition for short films vying to win the coveted Delta Award and, the aspect of this particular weekend which sets it apart from Johnny-come-lately rivals around Britain, the opportunity for fans to mix with one another and with the special guests around the venue. It is at breakfast every morning, or in the bar area into the small hours, that we all re-connect year on year, deep in conversation with the likes of Norman J. Warren or Ramsey Campbell, or with fellow fans from these shores and from overseas.
Gratifyingly, attendance numbers seemed increased and healthy, possibly offering a firm future for the festival. Longevity may have its merits, but of course it also means that the enthusiastic team that devised and kicked off the whole thing back in 1990 (and whose friendships and involvement in fandom date back to at least the early 1960s) are, like the rest of us, aging externally (while steadfastly refusing to 'grow up', as the grown-ups call it, inside!). The FoFF has the feel of an extended family get-together, however, and this time out it was marvellous to see first-time newcomers being invited into the fold, and the sheer joy and fun of the proceedings clearly rubbing off on them.
At my first Festival, the inaugural 1990 bash at Parker's Hotel, I probably saw some 14 or 15 films, had a couple of pints, and maybe spoke to three or four punters. In 2013 I chatted to mates old and new, on a variety of subjects, over a variety of drinks, went out for enjoyable meals peppered with further fascinating conversation, watched Ramsey perform his annual one-man panto hosting the Saturday afternoon's frantic auction, sat in as an audience member on half a dozen guest interviews, performed hosting duties myself in my best 'Michael Parkinson' manner on the seventh interview (with Nick Ball, one of the friendliest and most easy-going on-stage chats I have had the pleasure to conduct), took part in an exciting fantastic films quiz that, as always, went right down to the wire, shopped till I dropped at the afternoon film fair, chatted about David Bowie and Eskimo Nell to an ever-entertaining old acquaintance Michael Armstrong as he held court before a wide-eyed throng of enthralled fans, was playfully yelled at by Barbara Bouchet for daring to sneak out thirty seconds or so before the end of her interview, and was astonished when Giallo Pages editor/Italian exploitation expert/man about town John Martin, living Liverpudlian legend and one of the kings of the 1980s UK fanzine scene, turned up out of the blue (I had not encountered John for some fifteen years yet we seemed to immediately recommence our last chin-wag as though it had been fifteen seconds...).
Films? I watched one! (the none too hot British horror movie All The Fun of the Fear, as unwieldy as its title although well-produced, utilising an unusual location - an old theatre in the midst of being refurbished as a lap dancing establishment - adding a slice of old-fashioned gratuitous nudity, and at least attempting a twist, albeit a daft, full of holes one, to its conventional 'killer stalks unwitting victims' scenario).
Next year will be the 25th Fest, and organisers Gil Lane- Young and Tony Edwards are apparently planning more guests (possibly Hammer-centric, possibly as many as eleven!), a reduced but still substantial film programme, and the same sense of wonder and fun that we attendees have come to accept as standard. Here's to the 25th Festival, and hopefully beyond.
Other news from the 24th Festival of Fantastic Films here.
Check out current convention news in the 'Eurocon/Worldcon' and 'Fandom' subsections linking off our seasonal sci fi news page.