This edition SGM's Alan takes a rare trip down to London to celebrate 10 years of FAB Press publishing and the launch of the tome that is the 'Flesh and Blood Compendium'...
Before we even begin I have to be brutally honest and admit that I've never been fond of London. Old Londinium for me has always been the epicentre of everything that could go bad with city living…heavily polluted, vastly congested and worst of all are the minority of so called 'born and bred' Londoners that exude that arrogant 'Lawndawn' Pride that has them deluded enough to believe they're somehow culturally and intelligently superior to anyone north of London or even worse (god forbid) someone from the distant Celtic nations (yes that includes us 'Jocks', a title that sounds twice as venomous when spewed out in a thick drawling London accent). I'll save the rest of my tirade about these folk suffering from some sort of cultural penis envy as I think you may now realise that going to London is never one of my favourite journeys (give me Brighton, Bournemouth or Dundee any day over that place!)
Now, you may be wondering if I hate the place so much then why the hell did I bother going down there? Well for one good reason…the Flesh and Blood Film Festival, a weekend of shocking shorts and vintage greats to celebrate 10 years of FAB Press publishing the best in horror reading - how could I miss out on that?!
So one quick and painless flight later I arrived in London for the amusing ritual that is getting the underground tube system where for some reason folk don't dare look at each other, nor does anyone smile but who cares as I'm always happy to sit on those seats that for some unknown reason no one wants to sit down on (these folk are well strange). Once I find my hotel in South Kensington (which is very conveniently close to the festival venue) I grab something to eat then it's an early night to prepare for an early start (9am for christs sake) at the events Saturday opening…
Saturday morning, 7am…wake up to the dulcet drones of the heavy traffic right outside my window (as the hotel sits right on a very busy junction), stick my head out of bed into the toilet (yes the rooms are that small) to hack up my first London phlegm of the weekend. Indulge in some hotel standard powdered milk coffee to wash down some muscle relaxants (well I fucked my back mere days earlier and maybe the pills will help my brain also), grab a quick shower then head round to the Cine Lumiere to begin the weekends horrific viewing.
As I hand over my ticket I notice the grinning skinhead running a stall to the left of the main entrance and quickly surmise that this must be the man of the moment…and right enough after brief introductions I find that the instantly amiable soul smiling at me is indeed FAB Press head honcho Harvey Fenton. We exchange some niceties then after purchasing a copy of the book we're here for the launch of (I knew there was a reason for this event!) the 'Flesh and Blood Compendium' I skip off upstairs into the auditorium for the first movie…'The Manitou'.
'The Manitou' should be familiar to those of you (like myself) that were deeply submerged in the early days of the home video boom, when quite literally hundreds of horror videos deluged the rental market (most of which to be honest were pure bile but we rented each and every one of them steadfastly). 'The Manitou' is one of those films that got lost in the sea of movies at the time and perhaps understandably so as it is indeed quite a nauseous (as in bad) movie, but 'bad equals good' seems to be growingly the vogue to the genre DVD collector these days so perhaps now there is room for this one to be rediscovered. Basically, in the film Susan Strasberg develops a lump on her shoulder (old school UK genre fans may find it more appropriate to refer to this as an 'elemental') which although infact contains a foetus that is growing at a worrying speed the so called doctors decry it as nothing more than a humongous cancerous lump! Thankfully the film is swiftly saved from being a po-faced disaster with the casting of the ever charismatic Tony Curtis as an astrological fraudster who is determined to prove his pal Strasberg is the victim of something much more sinister and there's the added bonus of some of the most diabolically badly written dialogue adding to the fun for the suffering viewers. In the end we get what is actually quite an enjoyable genre blast from the 70's that plays very much like a co-production between Bruno Mattei and the team behind TV show 'Quincy' - a nice enough way to kick off any Saturday morning!
After a brief break it's noon and time for a screening that is perhaps the highlight for the Argento fans in attendance (and some have indeed travelled specifically to be here for this movie), yes the annoyingly rarely seen 'Four Flies on Grey Velvet' makes a scarce big screen showing…but not before Argento biographer Alan Jones introduces the film in his own (shall we say) inimitable manner. Least said the better I suppose as following some mild onstage ranting Jones swiftly exits to let Argento's 'fans' enjoy this special screening. I'd recently rewatched Argento's sub giallo tale of a rock muso in peril a few times so after checking out the first ten minutes or so I slipped off to have a chat with any likeminded bystanders downstairs…this welcomingly involved a brief introduction to the infamous genre critic Kim Newman (who does indeed seem like a lovely bloke) and another brief erratic encounter with the aforementioned Alan Jones (this time bitching about the Dawn of the Mummy DVD I clutched happily in my hands, fun movie…shame about the disc, but who was to know!) It was a beautifully sunny Saturday and I wasn't about to scowl inside a gradually overheating dark theatre so I slipped off into the sun to start delving into the weekends guest of honour (that is the 'Flesh and Blood Compendium') with plans to return for the afternoon screenings.
Maybe it was the sun, the fine genre reading I was splayed out with or just simply that the prospect of another viewing of po-faced gothic drama 'Daughters of Darkness' that kept me out of the theatre until the late afternoon screening of Piers Haggard's 'Blood On Satans Claw'. Long having been a staple of late night television here in the UK, 'Blood on Satans Claw' has never been for me the strongest of this particular sub genre (i.e. the delirious UK witchcraft movie) but the opportunity of checking it out on the big screen was too alluring an attraction to miss out on. Welcomingly director Piers Haggard was on hand to introduce his movie and for myself was the unintentionally amusing bonus that he seemed to be believe that the film was more than just another old entry into this fun sub genre of horror movies with such delightful claims as "this is not just another Hammer Horror movie" - no Mr Haggard, this is simply another Tigon flick! But sly chuckling aside, 'Blood on Satans Claw' was indeed fun to check out on the big screen, this tale of village kids possessed by the devil and sporting hairy square patches of Satans fur on their bodies had just enough requisite villager witchcraft paranoia and a trickle of nudity to keep most viewers sated - by no means the best of its field (Hammer did indeed do pure horror better I'm afraid Piers) but a pleasure to see on the big screen at long last!
Frustratingly the festival venue had a block on any films screening past 6pm each day (and this being the weekend too…maddening eh?) so after 'Blood on Satans Claw' screened I met up with a couple of folk for some brief chit chat then hovelled off to the much needed stash of painkillers, muscle relaxants and beer to give my growingly niggling back a well earned rest for the evening.
Sunday morning, I wake again not to the sound of the early birds chirping in the new day (as I would at home) but to the growing growl of the burgeoning traffic. Thankfully the sun is still shining and my back has forgot its troubles signalling for me a great day ahead! So following the delight that is the powdered hotel coffee I shower and whistle a happy tune as I stroll round the corner to the Cine Lumiere for todays cinematic proceedings.
Sunday morning at the Flesh and Blood Festival means short film fun…I'm a big fan of short films, not only as they give us a quick fix of what upcoming genre film makers are up to but having short running times also means that you're not committing yourself greatly if said work is…well…a bit of a stinker. Thankfully this mornings short film selection where on the main under the category of 'ones to watch' with some classy vignettes of varying deviant genre fun. First up was 'Insanity' - a truly global production in that the production team and cast originate from a far afield as from France to Argentina. But that's completely 'by the by' as the film itself, a stylish twist in the tale yarn of the perils of internet dating is an excellent kick start to the days proceedings and a highly commendable short shocker. Next up though short film cinema goes into style overload with the Argentoesque eye candy that is 'Chambre Jaune' (Yellow Room), an all too brief visual giallo delight that looks deliciously like a pop art tip of the hat to the murders in Argento's 'Tenebrae'. Directors Cattet and Forzani are definitely two to keep a close eye on.
Following the inevitable festival screening hiccups (well it wouldn't be a proper fest if something didn't go slightly awry), this time being the loss of sound for the next scheduled short features, things soon got back on track for the remaining shorts…next up was 'Fat 'n' Fluffy' - an animated extreme splatter rip geared towards those keen on South Park level humour (and one that will be familiar to attendees of last years 'Dead by Dawn' event), then came 'The Next Big Thing' - a solid enough sci-fi shocker that will put paid to anyones delusions about the potential of virtual reality (and have you squirming uneasily at the same time)…but the short film of the day has to have been the suckerpunch that is 'Cutting Moments', a short film that I had heard about following its heated screening at a Fantasia festival in Canada but I had not been prepared for the impact that this film would wreak. Douglas Buck's 'Cutting Moments' is a snapshot of a suburban family that have reached the end point of the complete family unit breakdown, very little is said between the mother/father/son group but the tension and terror is so tangible that it could be cut through by a knife…only in 'Cutting Moments' events are far more brutal and harrowing than anyone could ever imagine. I wont go into detail of what exactly happens in this stunning short as it would detract from the inevitable impact anyone new to the film would have but needless to say at this particular screening the theatre was silent throughout with only the occasional gasp heard towards the shorts finale and after the theatre emptied following the screening I stood outside for a cigarette and noted that every single person that had earlier been animated and vocal between movies was standing in silence reflecting on what they had just watched. That itself should speak volumes about what an excellent piece of film making 'Cutting Moments' truly is. Make a point to check it out.
Once folk had come up for air it was time for director Saxon Logan to introduce his rarely seen mini feature 'Sleepwalker', I say rarely seen but seemingly pretty much not seen at all is a more appropriate description. I have to confess that after reading Kim Newman's film notes on this one I was very much keen to check it out (well I tend to respect what he has to say about our beloved genre) but this tale of two stereotypical opposing couples bickering about class in a very simplistic 1980's Thatcheresque stylee soon left me cold. It felt too much like an old BBC2 ensemble drama with a sub plot about murderous sleepwalking chucked in to pander to an undemanding support slot cinema crowd from the old days of the double feature. So feeling somewhat deflated from the screening and with the prospect of Richard Stanley's 'Dust Devil' coming up next (a film that I never could make any connection with, believe me I've tried but I just feel like it has no soul) I slipped out in the sunshine again to grab some food, make some calls and freshen up for the weekends final movie and perhaps the highlight of them all…a rare big screen outing of an uncut print of Michael Armstrong's 'Mark of the Devil'.
To say that I was excited about seeing 'Mark of the Devil' uncut on the big screen would be an understatement, having it presented by director Michael Armstrong whilst sitting clutching our 'Mark of the Devil' vomit bags (which were handed out to all earlier) made this the ultimate experience for any fan of this classic…I was ecstatic! Armstrong's introduction was relaxed and entertaining though I would have loved if he had more time to discuss his career (when will 'Screamtime' get a DVD release?) but due to the theatres 6pm cut off restrictions the films start had to commence. If you haven't seen this orgy of vintage witchhunt violence then seek a copy out now, as the film begins we're introduced to the deformed Albino (the nightmare inducing Reggie Nalder) and his lackeys as they rape, pillage and murder all and sundry in the good name of the lord under the pretence that they are seeking out practitioners of black magic and witchery. Thankfully (or perhaps not) Herbert Lom and Udo Keir arrive on the scene to take charge of the witch hunt proceedings - Albino isn't happy and though many locals initially seem to be pleased all their arrival means is a more professional and innovative handling of the ultra violent witch hunt antics! 'Mark of the Devil' is a fantastic movie - Armstrong's direction is sumptuous throughout, the bubbling under genre greats cast give their all in their performances (though in honesty Keir only has to glare hypnotically in close up to impress) and the catalogue of varyingly brutal torture and perverse violence is heaven for any fan of genre movies. The perfect finale movie for a solidly entertaining and diverse weekend of horror fun.
So after some brief farewells to Harvey Fenton and company I drifted contentedly back to my hotel to ready for the next days flight home with mixed emotions. As an event, the Flesh and Blood Festival was an impressive one that I was very glad to have made the effort to attend, as a book launch it was more so exemplary. But at the same time I wished it had taken place anywhere but in London, something that sticks out like a sore thumb every time I'm in London is the complete lack of friendly social interaction by locals - even in the company of horror fans I only came across a handful that responded to any pleasantries (whilst the bulk just stood and stared…ominous, is it my friendly demure?!) Also, welcomingly FAB Press managed to keep the weekends pricing down to a very reasonable minimum (a mere £30) but I can't see my hurrying back down again for events such as the overrated and overpriced annual 'Fright Fest', well at £90 odd pounds for the pleasure of the company of a minority of deludedly elite superior 'critics' (that never seem to set foot out of the security blanket that is old Londinum) when you can spend a third of that here in Scotland (or Holland...or Spain or...) and mingle with a crowd of happy horror buffs who travel from all over the world for a jam packed weekend of horror fun is beyond me. I came down to London…I done my best to mingle (and mostly failed)...now how about you Londoners make the effort and come up here to Scotland see how much fun you can truly have…perhaps then you can share a drink with me and shatter all my old paranoiac 'Jock' delusions ;)
Oh...and yeah, the 'Flesh and Blood Compendium' book? It's a fucking cracker...but more on that in our Book Reviews section here at SGM very soon!
Special thanks go out to the following…Harvey Fenton (FAB Press supremo and a nicer chap you couldn't wish to meet, though I'm still waiting for that pint mate!)…Norman J Warren (a job well done, cheers for a great weekend)…Tristan Thompson (hmm, those CineXS events do indeed sound very alluring)…Justin Kerswell (from Hysteria), Jason Arnopp (Slasherama) and his good lady (cool to put faces to the online entities at last)…any of the (few) nice folk that I had a chat with about our beloved genre…and apologies to Nick from Dark Dreams and Andy from Mondo Macabro (two cool guys that I missed shooting the breeze with, we'll try again sometime soon I hope!)
For full details of all the FAB Press line check out the offical website by clicking here.Back to the Spotlight page