It came from Outer Space to the Color Out of Space, the 14th extra-terrestrial edition of the renowned Welsh horror festival went above and beyond (literally) presenting six days of sci-fi mania to its dedicatedly loyal audience.
As always with Abertoir, the event didn’t stop with sci-fi, as festival directors Gaz Bailey and Nia Edwards-Behi programmed a diverse line-up of UK premieres, an off-site screening, a mystery film, a comedy theatre performance, the challenging pub quiz and remarkably ascended into space! It’s safe to say that Abertoir always goes the extra mile to create a unique festival experience that caters for all genre tastes.
This year, Abertoir welcomed a whopping 13 guests, including cult filmmaker, Norman J. Warren with a screening of the bonkers, Inseminoid (1981), alongside the film’s composer and collaborator John Scott. Frantically funny comedian Robin Ince performed a comedy show in Theatr-Y-Werin encapsulating the fun side of horror and Death Line and Poltergeist III director Gary Sherman presented a masterclass on the secrets of practical effects plus a Q&A following a screening of Death Line (1972). 2019 proved a strong year in terms of the guest line-up, providing an in-depth insight into the making of both new and classic genre films.
2019 marked the 40th Anniversary of a renowned classic, Alien (1979) which screened on the festival’s closing night featuring the results of an ambitious space launch containing an introduction by Ron Shusett (one of the film’s writer’s). This is one of the most impressive achievements in Abertoir’s 14-year history and was utterly out of this world!
In previous years, Abertoir has displayed an affinity for celebrating the centennial years of horror’s most treasured actors. In 2011 the festival marked 100 years of Vincent Price, then in 2013 payed tribute to Peter Cushing. In 2019 it was the turn of Donald Pleasence, synonymous to horror fans as the determined, serial-killer chasing Sam Loomis in John Carpenter’s iconic slasher movie Halloween (1978). However, as us horror fans are aware there was much more to Donald Pleasence than his signature role which was illustrated in a wonderful talk conducted by Tristan Thompson, which you can watch snippets of here:
In this article, I take you through my top three brand new feature films of the festival then the short films that Abertoir 2019 had to offer.
Top Three Feature Films
This is the Synchronic appreciation section. Back in October, I was fortunate to have unexpectedly seen Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s latest mind-blowing feature film at Celluloid Screams when it was revealed as their second ‘secret film’. Abertoir also had one film shrouded in mystery this year and they couldn’t have chosen a more perfect title, which complimented their over-arching sci-fi theme. Synchronic centres on best friends and paramedics, Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan), their friendship and lives are put to the test when they discover a succession of deaths connected to a mysterious, mind-altering drug named, synchronic. There are so many layers to the story, and it is best approached with as little knowledge about the plot as possible. Benson’s screenplay is moving, emotional, humorous and suspenseful with brilliantly written characters that the audience can effortlessly connect to. Anthony Mackie is the film’s shining star, delivering an incredible performance playing the head-strong, brave yet flawed protagonist. Synchronic is a stunning film which explores a captivating mythology while remaining a very human story at the same time and was wholeheartedly deserving of a repeated viewing.
Read my first impressions review of Synchronic here:
2. Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson
Abertoir’s sleeper hit this year was a documentary centring on an exploitation film icon which also happened to be scheduled in the 11am Friday slot and ended up coming in at a mighty 2nd place in the audience vote for ‘New Features’, the film in question is, Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson. Confession time, grindhouse/exploitation filmmaker, Al Adamson is a name that I am unfamiliar with, but wow, I was blown away by his story of how he developed his cult status within the genre through creating a multitude of low budget B-movies set to entertain a generation of gore hounds who enjoy their movies on the sleazy side to the heart-breaking circumstances surrounding his devastating murder. The documentary is a fascinating insight into the rise and fall of a filmmaker and remains an unbelievably shocking true crime case. Director David Gregory (Lost Soul) approaches the subject matter respectfully, the first half is a celebration of Adamson’s golden era, making all kinds of bonkers movies with those closest to him. It’s a story of family and friendship as much as it is about movie-making. However, the second half accompanies a sadder tone, citing the death of Adamson’s wife from cancer and the lead up to his tragic murder. Gregory has done an impeccable job in creating a well-structured documentary that gives an intricate insight into his subject’s life.
A professional young couple, Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) seek their first home together. Following a visit to a quirky estate agent, they set off for a viewing at a brand-new housing development unaware of what is about to befall them. Gemma and Tom become trapped in a maze-like neighbourhood filled with identical houses with no means of escape. Vivarium is a psychological, mind-bending thriller with elements of science fiction that keeps its audience on their toes throughout its duration. Vivarium plays out as an unrelenting nightmare as the core characters attempt to navigate the unusual scenario, they have become embroiled in. The film also features one of the creepiest children in recent horror memory which adds to the unnerving tension that the film builds up. With a strong set-up, Vivarium remains compelling but unfortunately loses momentum as it leads up to the climax, leaving behind too much ambiguity resulting in an unsatisfying payoff. Vivarium certainly created a very divisive Abertoir audience but proved an interesting talking point. With that said, Vivarium is wholly worth seeing for its claustrophobic and agitated atmosphere, stellar performances and in the way, it plays on genuine human anxieties.
Top Three Short Films
Katie Bonham directs her most accomplished short film to date, with the spooky, psychological, Midnight. Shot over the course of one day, this seven-minute short centres on a mysterious house and the characters it inhabits, told through an interweaving narrative. Katie Bonham accomplishes intricate storytelling within a short space of time as well as alluding to an uneasy atmosphere, keeping the viewers on tenterhooks as to where the narrative will lead. It’s advisory to go into Midnight knowing as little as possible beforehand to witness its full suspenseful impact. Midnight is resourceful and effective independent filmmaking at its best and it’s wonderful to see Katie’s filmmaking career go from strength to strength.
2. Rain Catcher
Michele Fiascaris’s sublime Black Mirror inspired, neo-noir, Rain Catcher was the winner of 2019’s Méliès d’Argent award and the Abertoir short film award which was no surprise given how impressive this 15-minute sci-fi/horror hybrid was from the production values to the edge-of-the seat storytelling. Rain Catcher fixates on a young photographer who is seemingly haunted by a strange man who keeps appearing in his images. Will Rain Catcher (Dudley O’Shaughnessy) get to the bottom of the inexplicable mystery or is something sinister about to catch up with him? Rain Catcher is experimental, surreal and exceedingly gripping.
Steven Sheil (Mum & Dad) presents a claustrophobic and intense scenario in his 10-minute, chilling short, Unmade. A woman is haunted by the spirit of her deceased husband, therefore visits a medium in the hope to communicate with him beyond the grave, one last time. Will events go to plan or will this be a reunion that she will regret? Unmade plays out as a tense character driven piece, the atmosphere is stifling with the short contained to one room alongside connotations of contacting the eerie spirit world. This is exactly what supernatural horror should be, overwhelming, heart-racing and downright unnerving.
While these were only the highlights, keep your eyeballs peeled for my forthcoming vlog in collaboration with Darren Gaskell in the new year, which gives a full, detailed overview of the festival.
Abertoir 2019…Over and Out!