Once famously described as being the ‘Woodstock of Gore’ by Guillermo del Toro, FrightFest has become a horror institution that has placed the UK firmly in the dark heart of any horror fans across the globe.
Thanks to the perseverance of the FrightFest team, no change or challenge has bee great enough to slow its journey as it approaches its twentieth year.
Five questions for the founders
In this second feature speaking to the founders of FrightFest, film distributor Ian Rattray recalls some of his most memorable moments from the past double-decade.
How will the four founders celebrate reaching 20 fantastic years of FrightFest?
The odd celebratory glass of my favourite red wine may be drunk, although I can neither confirm nor deny that.
Did you guys ever doubt that you could keep FrightFest going?
It was after we moved from the Prince Charles cinema to the Odeon West End. We had been there for three or four years and we got the news that the cinema was going to be redeveloped. We couldn’t go back to the Prince Charles because we had outgrown the cinema by a couple of times and for a couple of months, we were at a bit of a loss on what to do.
Fortunately, I was able to convince the head booker of the Empire Leicester Square that we would be a good bet over the August bank holiday weekend. After that move, we’ve never looked back. As things worked out, The Odeon Leicester Square soldiered on for another three or four years. That step was the making of the festival, and we’ve never looked back.
What are the key lessons you have learned after delivering a superior horror festival for 20 years?
An easy one. Rather than trying to do everything ourselves, it is to hire people who know how to do it. This has reduced our stress levels by a considerable factor and allowed us to enjoy rather than dread the event.
What has been the most terrifying film to grace the FrightFest screens?
Martyrs. I never want to see that film again but watching it couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen.
And what is your most memorable FF moment from the last 20 years?
Our first year at the Odeon West End when we had George Romero as a guest. This was just before Greg joined us. Paul, Alan and I were on stage doing our usual welcome to the festival bit. Paul and I stepped back, and Alan continued on and introduced George Romero. He walked down from the back of the cinema, and the audience rose to a man and woman and there was this outpouring of what I can only describe as love. The hairs on the back of my next stood up, and the atmosphere was just electric.
Incidentally, that year also furnished me with my worst moment. Just before the start of the last film I was under pressure to find seats for the producer of the film that was about to play. The PR lady who was looking after him suggested that I move some people out of their seats to make way for him and his entourage.
For me, that’s a red rag to a bull. Moving people who have supported us for years buying their tickets was in my opinion not on. So, I turned to this lady and in a voice that it turns out could be heard all around the cinema told her not to tell me what to do at my festival. Five hundred people went silent. If there was ever a time when you wanted the floor to open up and swallow you, that was it.