The banner above the entrance to Leicester Square's Empire Cinema says it all; a rallying cry for horror fans to enter and partake in a festival of cinematic bloody carnage that are some of the best modern and classic horror films ever committed to celluloid (well maybe not all of them). Yes Fright Fest has arrived, and one of London's most prestigious movie theatres has opened its doors to the "Woodstock of gore". This year not only marks Front Row's debut attendance at Fright Fest but a first for me personally as an avid film buff and horror fanatic. With my festival pass in hand I was ready to be enthralled, exhilarated, engaged and entertained, as well as have the proverbial fecal matter scared out of me.
Day 1 actually consisted mainly of just the evening with an introduction by actor and director Bobcat Goldthwaite (more familiar to many as Zed from the Police Academy films) before launching into the first film of the event, The Dead 2; India. Having not seen the first film it seemed pointless to sit through the sequel; word across the whisper gallery praised the film as a superior to its predecessor. One to watch on DVD.
Whilst waiting for the much anticipated European premier of Curse of Chucky followed by a preview screening of You're Next, a quick glance at the festival guide revealed a schedule bursting with 50 screenings of films (95%of which were premiers) from all over the world. Reading the showing times for all three screens left me somewhat dizzy with all the excited anticipation of swine in swill but also heady panic of which film to watch and when, worried that I might make the wrong choices. Currently this is still an issue and once I have cracked my system of cramming in as many films as possible in much the same way one approaches an exam I shall patent and share with you all. The remainder of the time was spent bantering with other like minded horror fans on a variety of topics from deadly drinking games to a loathing of Michael Bay whilst trying not to inflict a starstruck stare at Human Centipede II star Laurence R. Harvey passing among the crowd.
This was also my first time watching any film at the Empire cinema. The main theatre is impressive with a seating capacity of over 1300 cinemagoers, and a screen following a panoramic curved wall and towering over the immediate rows like King Kong from the Chrysler building, but without the chest thumping or attacking bi-planes. The size and style of the auditorium took me back to childhood days of similar styled cinema screens in Bristol's Odeon before the mid 80s makeover, and the late local wartime picture houses that were the Gaiety and Whiteladies Road with their theatre style art deco screens now sadly absent from modern day multiplexes.
Curse of Chucky and You're Next were both highly impressive films but for very different reasons. Curse was a reminder that a familiar horror franchise can maintain a high standard of entertainment and You're Next breathed fresh life (or should that be violent death) into the modern day home invasion horror. What made the screenings enjoyable however was sitting in a theatre of hundreds of horror lovers laughing and clapping at the films' most inventive and entertaining (and yes violent) moments. I cannot remember the last time I watched any film in the cinema which was greeted at the end with a thunderous round of applause. This however could be attributed to the presence of key cast and crew from the films at the screening and a loyal fan base showing its appreciation.
A great start to what promises to be a cinematic marathon of horror screenings that will probably wield more cutting instruments than a metallurgist's hobby room and splatter enough blood and guts to rival an abattoir. Fright Fest is on, a bar has been raised high and I cannot wait to see how this will unfold.