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Grimmfest Reviewed - Cockneys V Zombies

Rachel Winterbottom finds northerners laugh at different zombie slaying that southerners

Published on October 8th 2012.

Grimmfest Reviewed - Cockneys V Zombies

GRIMM up North’s Grimmfest, Manchester’s annual international horror and cult film festival, took place this year in the resilient glory of the Dancehouse Theatre from 4-7 October. It featured four days of films, special guest Q&As and competitions, all in the name of scaring audiences silly.

British cinema goers aren’t often the applauding type, but the Grimmfest audience makes an exception – there was laughter, cheers and applause at the onscreen slaughter; it was both heart-warming and mildly alarming.

Now in its fourth year, you only have to look at the impressive guest list to see that this is a more polished occasion than in its inaugural year at the less dramatically appealing Printworks. So when we were packed into Dancehouse’s warm little bar before the first viewing I was delighted to find it festooned with fake cobwebs and plastic skulls; Grimmfest might have its own production company now but it still knows its low-budget horror.

A good old double feature kick started this year’s festivities with the screenings of Studiocanal’s Comedown (a world premiere) and Cockney’s vs Zombies, each followed by a Q&A session with the films’ writers, directors and stars. I love horror because it has to constantly reinvent itself to stay relevant; the vast tonal divide between these two showings is a perfect example of how versatile this gory little genre really is.

By the director of Kidulthood, Menhaj Huda, Comedown is much like the director’s previous film; gritty, urban and starkly realistic, only with added murder. A gang of teenagers break into a derelict apartment block to set up a pirate radio station and get mashed on cheap booze and drugs. One of these is Lloyd (Jacob Anderson, Episodes), who wants to put his criminal past behind him now he has something to loose: his pregnant girlfriend, Jemma. Unfortunately, thug Jason (Adam Deacon, Kidulthood), has other ideas and spikes his drink. Then Jemma goes missing, a rival gang member is knifed by a hooded assailant and the thoroughly mashed group have to fight their way out of the building or die, horribly, trying. Worse. Comedown. Ever.

What’s great about this film is that it’s the British answer to the all-American teen slasher flick. All the same ingredients are there, like the infuriating characters (the dumb one, the slutty one, the borderline psychopathic one…), but the setting is so different the plot feels fresh. It is well-acted by its naturalistic cast and, despite being a horror, actually feels real.

As a genre film, it doesn’t disappoint – the deaths are suitably gruesome (nail gun to the face – nice), and as the characters’ exits are cut off one-by-one, the claustrophobia well and truly sets in before it’s time for the tightly-written, breathless finale. My main criticism would be that it is so obvious who their pursuer is that it seems utterly pointless hiding their identity – still, give me a faceless killer over a CGI monster any day.

The Q&A session afterwards was informative and casual – if slightly awkward, given the sweetly youthful Jessica Barden’s (who played Kelly) lack of knowledge (she didn’t watch the film) and the fact that the interviewer stood with his back to half the audience.

Cockneys vs Zombies promised to be much lighter fare - main picture above. Written by James Moran (Severance, Tower Block), a man who knows comedy horrors should still be depraved at heart, this film shouldn’t be put in the Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus bargain bin just because of its tongue-firmly-in-cheek title.

The plot is simple enough: brothers Andy and Terry decide to rob a bank with their tough-as-nails cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan) so they can use the money to save their granddad Ray’s (Alan Ford) old people’s home from being knocked down by developers.

They exit the bank to discover the East End has been overrun by the stumbling dead and the army has put the entire area in quarantine to contain the virus. Queue plenty of gory by-the-numbers zombie slaughter along with some gratifyingly inventive ways to kill a zombie.

This film delivers the right balance of humour and tense thrills with lashings of blood and low budget (but well-executed) horror. With its title it might appear to be a one-concept film but it’s got a lot of heart and you thoroughly root for the Cockneys, both young and old. The novelty of seeing OAPs fighting off the zombie hoards with anything that comes to hand (cereal, sauce pans) doesn’t ever die.

The Q&A attendees included the legendary go-to-gangster and wonderfully enthusiastic Ford (Snatch), who told us his part was specially written for him, and the softly-spoken Moran; both stayed to sign anything fans gave them (including hips, apparently).

British cinema goers aren’t often the applauding type, but the Grimmfest audience makes an exception – there was laughter, cheers and applause at the onscreen slaughter; it was both heart-warming and mildly alarming.

Afterwards, Moran told me that the Manchester audience had laughed at different parts to our southern brethren; I like to think that the unanimously hysterical reaction to drop-kicked zombie baby was down to our more subtle Northern humour.   

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