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Grimmfest Reviewed

Rachel Winterbottom takes the rough with the smooth at this festival of film

Written by . Published on October 7th 2013.

Grimmfest Reviewed

MANCHESTER'S annual horror festival Grimmfest has reached the ripe old age of five this year and its unique offerings of new and classic horror were spread over five days and three venues, from Thursday 3rd to Sunday 6th October. In the comforting grunge of the Lass O’Gowrie to the art deco splendour of The Dancehouse theatre and the Stockport Plaza, fans of horror, sci-fi and every grim little genre in between gathered for a whole host of films and shorts from all over the world.

Every true horror fan worth their ghost-repelling salt knows that you have to be resilient with this genre and, more importantly, deeply forgiving.

Grimmfest 6Glamourous MakeoverThe festival also included Q&A sessions with filmmakers and cast members, premieres and a make-up and SFX workshop with World War Z’s Shaune Harrison. As with the majority of other events hosted by Grimm Up North throughout the year, this was a fantastic opportunity to examine the entrails of the film industry and learn directly from the innovators and moguls constantly breathing new life into the genre.

As always at this inclusive festival, every screening was applauded, from the very good to the very worst, because everyone there was united by a love of the genre and celebrated it accordingly. This was in spite of – perhaps even because of – the quality of films fluctuating wildly throughout. Every true horror fan worth their ghost-repelling salt knows that you have to be resilient with this genre and, more importantly, deeply forgiving. This is why I approached the six hours’ worth of films that constituted the Saturday night line up with an open mind.

The first film, Kiss of the Damned (2012: written and directed by Xan Cassavetes), starred Milo Ventimiglia (from TV’s Heroes) as Paolo, a scriptwriter who encounters a beautiful vampire, Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume). In a blaze of passion, she turns him, and then teaches him how to hunt animals, rather than humans. Their domestic bliss is threatened by the arrival of Djuna’s seductively sadistic sister, Mimi, who leaves a trail of bodies in her wake.

Although Cassavetes is somewhat laudably trying to reinstate the vampire genre as erotic rather than teen romance, this has a flimsy plot that centres on characters with no discernible personality traits. There are glimpses of a better film amidst the pseudo-dreamy sequences – the coked-up agent, the manipulative sister – but it’s hard to care about any of the relationships when they threaten to break at the offer of a bared breast or an exposed neck. It’s still better than Twilight though.

Grimmfest 4Conspiracy theoristThe second film was more sci-fi than horror; found-footage pacy thriller The Conspiracy (2012: written and directed by Christopher McBride). Using their real names (presumably for that added authenticity), Aaron Pool and James Gilbert play two documentary filmmakers who uncover what they suspect is a genuine conspiracy after the seemingly nutty guy they’re making a feature about disappears.

As the pair get closer to the proverbial ‘Them’ who feature in every major conspiracy going (9/11, Kennedy’s assassination), McBride ably mounts the pressure as Jim becomes more obsessed and Aaron fears for his family’s safety. This was an enjoyably intriguing and unsettling film – rather than frightening – that was let down by a flat ending that didn’t satisfy the expertly built up tension.

Grimmfest 5Big Bad Wolf?The third film, Big Bad Wolves (2013: written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado), was an Israeli torture comedy. As can be concluded from the niche genre, the humour in this is so dark you’ll feel alarmed at yourself for laughing. I’d recommend it for the brazenly bizarre premise alone. A religious studies teacher is suspected of torturing, sexually assaulting and killing a number of young girls but released on a technicality.

Disgraced police detective (Lior Ashkenazi) and a vengeful father of the killer’s latest victim capture the teacher with the aim of getting him to say where he’s put the girls’ heads. Cue scenes of extreme torture, baking and humorous capers. The tonal shifts in this film are severe enough to give you whiplash. The fact that you aren’t sure throughout whether the teacher committed the crime works to both unnerve you and fill you with guilt each time you laugh (and you will laugh).

Whatever the filmmakers’ intentions were, farce, paedophilia and torture don’t mesh well and this is uncomfortable viewing. Although, you’ve at least got to admire them for being bold.

The night was rounded off with John Dies at the End (2012: written and directed by Don Coscarelli), a comedy horror that was wildly different from its predecessors. Based on Jason Pargin’s marvellous book of the same title, the film begins with a turkey-headed meat monster and giddily descends further into chaos.


Grimmfest 2Something in the soy sauce?


The narrative is framed by the lead character Dave (Chase Williamson) explaining to a reporter (Paul Giamatti, who lends the film a misleading sense of gravity) what happened after he and his stoner friend John (Rob Mayes) took Soy Sauce. This is the nickname of a new drug that enables the user to see things they really shouldn’t – like monsters, the future, and other dimensions. The two college dropouts are left to save the world from an invasion of the body-snatching variety. Nothing much makes sense, but logic isn’t high on the agenda of this inventive, surprising, daft and often hilarious film.

If anything, the diversity of the festival's films demonstrate the versatility of horror and why you should support Grimm Up North in their noble endeavour to bring the sickest, scariest, funniest and most innovative films in the genre to our attention.


Grimmfest 1Sick, scary and very funny


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