Interview with Frightfest’s Paul McEvoy

Frightfest 2012 (or ‘Frightfest the 13th’ as it’s also known) is but a matter of days away. As ever, Love Horror HQ is buzzing with excitement about it, so to pacify our (and our reader’s) ravenous appetites for Frightfest thrills, we caught up with one of the co-founders of this world renowned horror event – Paul McEvoy.
Together, we talked about Frightfest past, present and future.

It’s the 13th Frightfest coming up. How did it all start?

Well how it all came about was that I was at the Cinema Store (which is still in existence). I saw that there was a gap in the market. There was nothing that fulfilled the want see the latest genre titles, shorts and special other bits like give out t-shirts and DVD’s. So I contacted a friend of mine, Alan Jones who I knew from running the Shock Around the Clock events. I went to every one of those, and they were really the precursor to the whole Frightfest experience.
There was also Ian Rattray who I’d met at Cannes who was very adept at shipping prints from around the world and doing all the technical stuff that I didn’t have a clue about. And those were the two initial partners that I got involved with and they were excited about the idea too.
Our first year was at the Prince Charles, and thinking back to it, we had a good line up. There was everything from Audition to Pitch Black and loads of really good stuff.
We stayed at the Prince Charles for a few years and showed films like Switchblade Romance and Old Boy, but soon we outgrew the venue which had about five hundred seats as the festival really exploded over the years. We moved to the Odeon for a couple of years which had about eight or nine hundred before going to the Empire which gave us even more seats – thirteen hundred, plus the two discovery screens.

Did you ever imagine that it would become this successful?

We obviously had no idea of how big it would get and how important it would be in the calendar for film makers and the audience – obviously the audience are the most important thing. So it’s grown bigger than we ever thought it would.

Paul with the other key players at Frightfest. Left to right: Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy, Greg Day and Ian Rattray

What was the main driver for you personally? Your love for horror, or the idea of Frightfest as a business?

It’s the passion for the genre that has driven me on, although not just specifically horror. I love all movies of all genres, particularly though, the horror, science fiction, fantasy and thriller films.
If I wasn’t co-organising Frightfest, It would still be a festival that I would want to go to. I would still be queuing for tickets and sitting ten rows from the front, bang in the middle, watching all the movies and talking to all the guests.
I think I need to keep in mind that I am the audience, then it becomes easy. A lot of festivals that I’ve been to worldwide don’t keep the audience at the heart of the experience and guests aren’t allowed to interact with them.

What has been the biggest challenge that Frightfest has faced?

Each year presents its own challenges, highs and lows. Elation when we get the film that we really want to screen, and sad times if for whatever reason a film’s not ready or doesn’t get through to us in time.
We can of course overcome this to an extent by showing the films later on in the year at our Halloween or Edinburgh events.

There haven’t been any challenges to threaten Frightfest though. Over the thirteen years we’ve used our passion to overcome obstacles that were thrown at us and now – touch wood – there’s not really anything that can throw us.
When we first started, there wasn’t really any competition and over the past couple of years there has been an explosion of other film festivals up and down the country. But I think that’s been a good thing as they’re showing some great films too.

You must have met many icons of horror over the years. Which of those meetings have been the most memorable?

We’ve had so many great directors, producers and actors attend Frightfest.

There was George Romero, who was incredible. We did the first screening of Night, Dawn, Day and Land of the Dead, which was terrific, particularly when welcoming him. Now he’s a friend of mine and of the festival
Also Guillermo Del Toro, as we premiered a lot of his earlier works like The Devil’s Backbone. He also allowed us to have the first screening outside of Cannes of Pan’s Labyrinth, which was just terrific.
We’ve actually stayed in contact with pretty much everyone that we’ve had at the festival, and many of them come back, sometimes just to watch the films because they love the atmosphere so much. Adam Green is one of our regular attendees (although he can’t make it this year).

You’ve obviously seen a serious number of horror films. Which films have you found to be the most disturbing?

Well I can pinpoint three. One of which we showed, one of which we wanted to show, and one of which… Well, I don’t think we’d have been able to show it.
Martyrs A Serbian Film DVDwas the first one that Alan and I saw in Cannes back before it played at Frightfest. It just rocked us, it blew us apart. We vowed to each other when we came out of the screening (where there was only a handful of people watching it) that we had to have it at Frightfest. I remember when I was introducing the film with Pascal there, I said that it was one of the most extreme films that I had ever seen at the time.
It’s unforgettable, brilliant and brutal.

The second one obviously is Serbian Film which we really wanted to screen but there were some troubles with the council and the BBFC, so that was a real pain.
But it was a brave, brutal and very shocking work. We were expecting that some of the audience reactions would have been quite explosive. Some people would have absolutely loved it, and some would have totally hated it.

The third one is a movie called The Bunny Game, which is black and white. A very low budget, independent American horror. But it actually gave me nightmares. It’s so raw and so real that I would recommend it, but only with very high realisation because it’s quite an endurance test.
When we saw that, potentially again for Frightfest, we expected that we’d run into severe problems with it.
It’s certainly a film to kind of seek out, with some reservations.

Where Frightfest is concerned, do you have any regrets?

In terms of programming, there’s always been something that makes us think ‘oh my goodness, we should have done that instead of that’, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred we seem to get it spot on. Sometimes we think that we should have put something on the big screen instead of the discovery, but every audience is different, so it’s hard to tell which films are going to go down really well. That’s the great thing about the genre, the greatly contrasting audience opinions.

This year’s Frightfest is bigger and better than ever. What are you looking forward to most?

The opening night is going to be terrific. We’ve got The Seasoning House, which is the new Paul Hyett picture. Make-up artist, designer, effects guy, it’s his first feature and I love it. I think it’s a masterpiece. It’s like Pan’s Labyrinth, meets Martyrs, meets Die Hard. So we’re thrilled to be presenting the world premiere of that.
Then we’re following it with some light-hearted relief with Cockneys Vs Zombies, with a stage full of the cast and crew of that. Obviously, that’s James Moran returning to the festival again. He wrote Severance and he directed one of the special John Carpenter promo things that we did last year.
And there’s also the screening of Night Breed: The Cabal Cut, the re-edit of Clive Barker’s misinterpreted masterpiece.
But there’s lots of stuff for people to discover. It’s all about giving people what they want to see and showing the variety that the genre has today.

Paul McEvoy
Image courtesy of Julie Edwards

Looking further into the future, do you have any other exciting plans for Frightfest?

We’re currently programming for the October event in the West End of London which will be just before Halloween. Then we’re doing a bunch of regional Frightfest events which will be all night events. They’ll be up and down the country – we’re just confirming the venues for those.
And then in February as part of Glasgow film festival. We’ll be screening some great films there, because we love Glasgow and we get a totally different audience that doesn’t come to the London Event.

So what’s next after that? An international event? Frightfest New York perhaps?

We’ve been offered the opportunity to host things abroad but to make the UK event as good as it is, we have to devote so much time and effort into making it brilliant, so to dilute it further could potentially affect that. We don’t want to lose site of the UK based events. But in the future, who knows?

Frightfest 2012 runs from 23rd to 27th August. We’ll be giving it lots of coverage, but you can find further information on Frightfest at the official site:
Film4 Frightfest

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