On Sunday April 26th the Cottage Road Cinema in Headingly hosted the first ever Leeds Horror Festival (or best known to festival regulars the eighth Leeds Zombie Horror Festival). Run by Emmerdale favourites Dominic Brunt and Mark Charnock (AKA. Paddy and Marlon), this year’s festival gravitated away from the zombie sub-genre and branched out to celebrate a whole selection of movie monsters from demons to werewolves.
The event was in aid of a fantastic cause, World Animal Protection; tickets were priced at £15 and all proceeds went towards the charity. Six films were on offer from cult classics to iconic and beloved genre favourites, there was even a UK premiere (a first for the festival). Many attendees came in creative fancy dress costumes paying homage to well-known characters from the films screened displaying a great effort. The event celebrated the best in horror, catering for a day of blood, guts and gore! Exclusively for Love Horror, here’s a reflection of the day’s events:
To kick things off the 1957 black and white, British feature Night of the Demon was screened. The festival marked my first viewing of the film so seeing it on the big screen was pretty special. Atmospheric and creepy in tone, the RKO produced Night of the Demon was a superstitious piece centring on an American Psychologist played by Dana Andrews investigating a suspected satanic cult said to be responsible for the murder of an English Professor. The film’s notoriety is derived from a turbulent production which saw producer Hal E.
Chester clash with the film’s director Jacques Tourneur and writer Charles Bennett. Rumour has it that Chester decided to reveal the appearance of the monster over the objections of Tourneur, Bennett and Andrews, taking away the mystery as to whether the demon is real or not by inserting the image in during post-production.
Despite this the film held up extremely well with an eerie mood throughout, the special effects for its time, namely the demon itself still looks remarkably good and it was the perfect way to set the stage for the demon-themed films that followed throughout the day.
Next up was Lamberto Bava’s cult classic Demons (1985). This Dario Argento collaboration from the mid-eighties is much more fun watching with an audience than on DVD due to its cult appeal. With its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, Demons (titled Demoni in Italy) has a thumping synth-style soundtrack from master composer Claudio Simonetti accompanied with popular hits from the time, including music from AC/DC and Billy Idol.
Demons is set in a cinema so what better place to screen the film than a festival completely breaking the fourth wall. Cheryl a naïve university student is coaxed into attending an ambiguous cinema screening at the Metropol Theater by a masked man. Along with a group of unsuspecting movie-goers, they get more than they bargained for when they are subjected to a strange horror film about demonic possession that spills over into real life.
One audience member unaware decides to try on the weird mask on display in the theatre foyer causing a scratch to appear on her face just like a character in the movie they’re watching! Before long the safety in numbers dwindles as one by one the audience are turned into demons set to walk the earth! Demons also holds up pretty well, its pure gory fun and not to be taken too seriously. The special effects go all out to be as gore-fuelled and gross-out as possible, keeping in with the trend of eighties horror.
The third film of the day took a different tone as we were treated to 1973 controversial chiller The Exorcist on the big screen. Mark Charnock introduced it as “the best horror film ever made” due to it being one of the only horror films to be nominated for an Oscar, which is still a rarity to this day with horror films being classed as low-culture. While at the time the tale of the demonic possession of Regan McNeill (Linda Blair) was ground-breaking, the festival screening appeared to generate more laughs than scares as the audience seemed amused by Pazuzu spouting obscenities out of the little girl’s mouth.
I had not viewed the film since I was fourteen years old, back in 2003 I found the film to be effective, disturbing, slow-burning and completely absorbing and despite the laughs that occurred during the film I completely feel the same way now. It’s a powerful film; Ellen Burstyn brings in a phenomenal performance as Regan’s long-suffering mother Chris.
My mother Janie who attended the festival with me hadn’t seen the film since its initial theatrical release making this second viewing more of an endurance test. For her it was always a film she never wanted me to see due to affecting her at the time. When she first saw the film back in the 70’s, hysteria was rife as religious people would beg cinema-goers not to watch it more than likely adding more tension to seeing it.
Following the festival screening the impact had understandably lessoned but when The Exorcist came out there was nothing quite like it and in many ways now we have been spoiled within the genre. What stood out about the film the most was the use of sound, the noises projected from Regan’s room sounded animalistic creating a sense of nervous anticipation as characters approached her in the claustrophobic bedroom. For me, The Exorcist will always be one of the best films of its era as it broke new ground and dealt with uncomfortable subject matters, especially when the villain inhabits a child’s body.
Unfortunately we ended up missing a great chunk of splatterific, Norwegien nazi-Zombie sequel Dead Snow 2, quite ironically due to hunger needs! However I was lucky enough to catch the film last year at Sheffield’s Celluloid Screams Horror Festival. Arriving in toward the end, Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead proved again that it is the perfect festival film due to its blend of comedy and gore. The screening enabled to keep in with Leeds’s zombie theme and for us brought in some Welsh pride as the closing song is Bonnie Tyler’s eighties anthem Total Eclipse of the Heart accompanying a very funny scene. Dead Snow 2 should be watched with a group of horror fans and plenty of alcohol in order to bask in its craziness!
On one hand the opportunity to catch a UK premiere of a brand new shiny film is exceptionally cool, not so much when the film is Aussie slasher Charlie’s Farm.
Slasher films are one hell of a guilty pleasure and even in some of the worst there is still an enjoyment factor (Jason X, anyone?!). This was unfortunately not the case with Charlie and his farm! Characters are mind-numbingly stupid and despite all warnings from the clearly convincing town’s folk, the group of equally dull, shallow and obnoxious clichéd characters (one played by Tara Reid) ignore it and are determined to have a sleepover at Charlie’s farm.
Why? You ask, because people have been brutally murdered there so why the hell would you not want to pay a visit?! Moving aside my sarcasm for a moment, it becomes incredibly disheartening when derivative, lazy and poorly written crap like this lands distribution and actual talented and creative filmmakers struggle to get their films to see the light of day!
There is nothing redeeming about this awful piece of garbage even a shoehorned appearance by the Camp Crystal Lake and Hatchet Faced Legend himself Kane Hodder. There is one amusingly brilliant death scene which offs probably the most annoying character out of the bunch but that’s about the only compliment I can manage to give this. Charlie’s Farm is throwaway, predictable and insults the intelligence of the seasoned horror audience. Prior to this each film was met with a round of applause, this one did not. Thank goodness we had An American Werewolf in London up next!
This one really speaks for itself. I can’t begin to count the times I’ve watched An American Werewolf in London but there’s one thing I do know is I never tire from it. Werewolf is a post-modern classic and a true masterpiece balancing incredible special effects, strong characterisation, accompanied by an entertaining script and it even has some truly unsettling moments (see. London Underground scene and Nazi werewolves attack). David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter and John Woodvine give brilliant and memorable performances.
Jack’s decaying corpse make up is exceptional however the film’s central highlight to this day is David’s transformation scene. Its slow and painful doing two things, bringing in empathy for David as our anti-hero but also amazement at how extraordinary the scene looks even over thirty years later.
There are too many memorable and quotable lines, “Beware the Moon”, A Naked American Man Stole my Balloons” and “Queen Elizabeth is a man! Prince Charles is a faggot! Winston Churchill was full of shit! Shakespeare’s French!” as David attempts to get himself arrested in Trafalgar Square to name a few! Let’s not forget the clever use of its soundtrack, each song featured includes the word ‘Moon’ in it, from Blue Moon to Bad Moon Rising! An American Werewolf in London has stood the test of time and remains a classic amongst horror enthusiasts. No Werewolf film has ever come close to it and there was certainly no better way to close the Leeds Horror Festival 2015.