The 25th Festival of Fantastic Films
Darrell Buxton reviews the event at the Pendulum Hotel,
Halloween 2014 saw Manchester's legendary/SF/horror celebration reached its 25th manifestation. Tony Edwards' and Gil Lane-Young's mad monster party marked the auspicious occasion in fine style with an array of special guests the like of which you won't find elsewhere. Big names from the heyday of Italo-exploitation (Ruggero Deodato, Me Me Lai, Giovanni Lombardo Radice/'John Morghen') mingled with Hammer glamour in the form of Caroline Munro, Judy Matheson, Yvonne Monlaur and Janina Faye, while fan-turned-cult-superstar Laurence Harvey attended to chat about Human Centipede II and the upcoming third instalment in Tom Six's sick series. Robin Stewart of Bless This House fame and Jennifer Lim from Hostel completed the stellar line-up. Sadly the billed Francesca Ciardi and Luigi Cozzi both cancelled at the eleventh hour. (Did the latter bail out on learning that Ms. Munro was in attendance, I wonder? Famously, she is reported as being still owed money from her participation in Cozzi's 1990 film The Black Cat...)
With entry fees slashed to a discount £25 for this milestone in the festival's history, how pleasing it was to see attendee numbers more than doubled, with the massed punters old and new providing a lively, buzzing atmosphere reminiscent of the event's mid-90s peak.
BBFC representative David Hyman looked positively petrified as he took to the main stage to deliver a talk about the board's work. He shouldn't have been so nervous, as he had the nous to theme his lecture around differences in certification as opposed to the more contentious banning/cutting of material, and received a healthy respect and reception from us all. An array of familiar yet, in context, riveting film excerpts illustrated his points perfectly, and it's a shame there was insufficient time in the programme to allow him to speak for longer. His truncated presentation meant that we were denied clips from All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (a particular favourite with me) and comparisons between the '12' and '15' certified versions of Hammer's The Woman In Black. The sequence from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, with the attempted butchering of Snow White and her subsequent flight into a forbidding and danger-filled forest, belied the film's 'U' rating and might just have been the scariest few minutes I viewed at the entire festival.
'Jack The Ripper in Europe' was the title of another attention-grabbing lecture, this one by academic Richard Dyer (Professor of Film Studies at King's College, London, no less). Our host scored huge points with me for being aware of Ripper obscurities such as 1915's Farmer Spudd And His Missus Take a Trip to Town (in which the bumpkins of the title visit Madame Tussaud's and waxworks, including that of Jack, come to life before their eyes) and Das Ungeheuer Von London City, the 1964 krimi in which The Ripper seems to have resurfaced in an about-to-swing contemporary London. Dyer cited German film fare as showing Jack as a ghostly, dreamlike figure (proving the point by screening the wildly experimental climactic episode of 1924's Waxworks); French cinema was said to treat the killer as a sexual animal, while dear old Blighty examined The Ripper as a focus of conspiratorial/class system debate. Borowczyk's Lulu, Pabst's Pandora's Box, and Rolf Thiele's 1962 Austrian version of the same stage sources, No Orchids For Lulu, all featured as visual punctuation, and I was thrilled when the good Professor Dyer gave a hefty name-check to the '70s sex comedy What The Swedish Butler Saw (a copy of which nestles in the 'dodgy' section of my own DVD collection...). Oddly, when asked by festival regular Adrian James to select his own favourite Ripper screen outing, the Prof confessed that actually he did not like any of the films all that much!
My own contribution to the proceedings occurred just after breakfast on Saturday, as I interviewed Jennifer Lim before a surprisingly substantial and fresh audience. Jennifer is perhaps best known as the 'eyeball girl' in Eli Roth's torture porn groundbreaker Hostel, but our chat revealed further strings to her genre bow, having played one of the grotesque landlord Pop's terrified tenants in BBC TV's The League of Gentlemen, appeared in a small role in Michael Winterbottom's austere and dystopian Code 46, worked alongside 21st century genre titans Matt Smith and Eva Green in Clone, and enjoyed a major part in 2013's visually stunning head-scratcher Piercing Brightness in which aliens at large in Preston take a tip from the space visitors of Invasion (1966) in adopting Far Eastern form. Jennifer was delightful to talk with, and responded positively and enthusiastically to my potentially controversy-skirting questions regarding the ethics of casting based on ethnicity and race. She seems to have had a great time working on Hostel and gave a robust defence of the largely disliked Piercing Brightness, claiming Tarkovsky as an influence on this studied and ambitious slice of British art house SF.
Wayne Kinsey was present at the Festival in two major capacities, selling copies of his latest Hammer tome Hammer's Film Legacy - from Quatermass to the Devil's Daughter and performing the lion's share of the interview duties, including taking on Judy Matheson, Caroline Munro, Yvonne Monlaur and Janina Faye in exhausting quick succession on Sunday morning! Janina chatted with impressive recall about her appearances in those two controversial early-60s shockers-with-a-message Never Take Sweets From A Stranger and Don't Talk To Strange Men, while Judy sang the praises of director Vicente Aranda and co-star Capucine, both of whom she worked with on 1969's exotically-titled The Exquisite Cadaver (interviewer Kinsey, a pathologist by trade, admitted the name of the film had leapt out at him from a list of Ms. Matheson's credits!). Wayne also handled an entertaining talk with Robin Stewart (best known as Sid James' son in the ITV sitcom smash Bless This House) - despite the guest's reliance on an emergency oxygen supply during the weekend, often seen around the venue with tubes shoved up his nostrils, Robin was a jovial presence and his twinkling, naughty, defiantly non-PC approach to life endeared him to the throng. He seems to have enjoyed being cast in Hammer's Eastern excursion Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, but wished he'd kept quiet about his limited martial arts training since the stunt fighters on the film figured him to be an expert, and dished out the blows accordingly!
Calum Waddell took to the stage to welcome the Italian contingent, with the more than welcome return of Giovanni Lombardo Radice and, following a screening of the violent jungle/native tribe yarn Cannibal/Last Cannibal World, the double act of director Ruggero Deodato and starlet Me Me Lai. Somewhat hesitant discussion ensued, with deficiencies in the English language skills of the Euro visitors preventing any in-depth anecdotes, but Ruggero had the Fest crowd eating out of his hand by the end, keeping up a running gag about his rivalry with fellow Italian exploitation film director Umberto Lenzi (or 'fu¢k$ng Lenzi', as Deodato described him every time he had cause to mention his name!).
Managing to even out-do the Italian visitors in terms of gross-out controversy, the screening of Tom Six's outrageous Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) saw more than a few walk-outs from audience members unable to handle the film's procession of jaw-dropping concepts. The film's star, Wigan's own Laurence Harvey, was quite a hit with attendees over the weekend - very much a fan of extreme cinema himself, he fitted right in and was spotted in animated conversation with punters throughout much of the weekend. During the Q&A session in the wake of his interview, I piped up with the suggestion that he ought to follow in the footsteps of Anthony Hopkins and Toby Jones in portraying Alfred Hitchcock on screen; Laurence responded by referencing the two Capote films released in quick succession starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mr. Jones, and revealing that he and Jones had often been in competition for roles early in their careers, before Toby's meteoric rise to his current fame. Laurence will also appear in the third Human Centipede instalment, along with Dieter Laser from the first film, but was reluctant to give away too much further information: we sensed possible contractual reasons, but look forward to part three anyway (which we do at least know will be set in a prison and will feature an almost unthinkable 500-person 'centipede'!).
With a vast increase in attendance and a celebratory air to the weekend, there's a positive vibe regarding the future of the Festival of Fantastic Films. Gil Lane-Young appeared ready for negotiations with the hotel venue, and promised us all news before the end of the year. There is a loyal following for this long-established jewel in the convention calendar, so keep everything crossed that it will return in 2015.
Editorial note: With its 25th manifestation now over, and with the Festival's 25th Golden Anniversary of its establishment next year (2015) at the 26th Fest, we owe it to spare a thought for the man pivotal in starting it all, the late, great Harry Nadler who is still remembered by the core SF2 Concatenation team and the Manchester and District (MaD) SF group with much affection.