A Visit to the Abertoir

Itís perhaps understandable that readers may think we keep poor Stu Willis chained like a gimp to a TV monitor to ensure he keeps those great DVD and Blu-ray reviews coming but to prove he does (occasionally) see sunlight, hereís Stuís thoughts on his recent visit toÖ

Abertoir ABERTOIR 2011

So, what on Earth could compel a person to travel to Aberystwyth Ė miles from wherever youíre coming from, most likely Ė in the middle of November?

Not much is the most likely answer. But, for the benefit of years to come, I implore people to read on. There is an exceptional reason to make the hike, whatever the weather ... and its name is Abertoir.

The brainchild of SGM friend Gareth Bailey, Abertoir is a horror festival held in the townís art centre (itself a part of their huge Universityís campus). 2011 saw the annual festivalís 6th outing and, as per usual, it offered excellence throughout.

For a start, itís unusual to come across a UK festival that runs for so long. This yearís Abertoir fest was spread across 6 Ė yes, 6! Ė days and nights. I know what youíre thinking: thatís a lot of drinking money. Well, get saving now...

There is so much to recommend about the festival that itís difficult to know where to begin. The films? The guests? The extras? The venue? The town? The sense of community?

I think the decent thing to do is discuss each of the above in isolation.

So, the films. Wow. What a fantastic line-up of the old and the new. Whatever your fetish within the horror genre, youíre most likely going to be catered for by AbertoirĎs superb programme (although, sadly, their plans to screen THE BUNNY GAME were seemingly scuppered by it being banned by the BBFC).

Abertoir

Of the films that did get shown, there was a magnificent variety on offer, from festival opener THE HOUSE OF LONG SHADOWS (Pete Walkerís controversial 1983 flick, co-starring John Carradine, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing) to the world premiere of Chris Crowís wholly gratifying DEVILíS BRIDGE.

In-between, early arrivers were treated to a screening of HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2: FULL SEQUENCE. I didnít make this unfortunately, but I spoke to a fair few people who did and itís safe to say the reactions were mixed at best. Which is a shame because lead actor Laurence R Harvey was in attendance for the screening and was reportedly a very nice chap indeed.

Because I missed the first two days of the fest, I sadly didnít get to see a few interesting-sounding films. The best of which, judging by audience feedback, was SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE, a serial killer film laced with dark humour and produced by John Landis. It sounds very good.

The festival ran from Tuesday 8th November through to Sunday 13th November. Arriving on the 10th, the first film I caught was Spanish jolter KIDNAPPED. It was technically brilliant but owed a little too much to FUNNY GAMES, I thought, to deeply impress. But if youíre looking for a well-crafted film that wallows in misery, look no further.

In contrast, that nightís closer HORNY HOUSE OF HORROR offered absurd amounts of energy and gore in a way that only the Japanese at their most twisted can. With FX from Yoshihiro Nishimura (HELLDRIVER; TOKYO GORE POLICE), it was every bit as demented as you could hope for.

Abertoir

Friday brought a screening of Dario Argentoís FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET. The classic film went down well and the HD presentation served as a good taster for Shameless Entertainmentís forthcoming blu-ray release, despite a couple of composite Italian-language scenes lacking English subtitles.

Staying with the Argento theme, we also got Andreas Marschallís MASKS, an incredibly blatant rip-off of SUSPIRIA. Young woman (the unbelievably hot Susen Ermich) attends artistic academy, realises the teachers are sinister ... aw, the premise is similar but the visual style even more so. However, it doesnít matter: this is a superb film from the director of TEARS OF KALI, ably demonstrating that what he lacks in originality he makes up for in delivery. His film looks beautiful and delivers. And, letís face it, if Argento canít impress on this level any more (he canít), then why not let someone else do it?

Friday also saw a screening of Alex Chandonís INBRED. This went down very well, and for me represented one of the strongest homegrown efforts of the festival. A feature review appears elsewhere on this site.

The highlights on the Saturday were undoubtedly the premiere of DEVILíS BRIDGE, and the prequel to John Carpenterís THE THING. Which is called, er, THE THING.

DEVILíS BRIDGE attracted a big audience because itís shot in Wales, and it turned out to be a really satisfying film. Essentially another foray into DELIVERANCE territory, it benefits from strong characters and excellent direction. Above all, Joshua Richards as Bill delivers a screen killer so well fleshed out and realistic that he ranks alongside Travis Bickle from TAXI DRIVER and the butcher from I STAND ALONE. I highly recommend it.

THE THING ... well, youíre on to a loser the minute you fuck with peopleís memories of Carpenterís version, frankly. But the prequel played in the centreís main cinema (a really big theatre, I was impressed), which meant it looked and sounded amazing. The film itself wasnít shit ... it was actually a lot better than Iíd anticipated. But, the ghost of Carpenterís film hovers all over it. It entertained me, but I wonít be watching it again.

Sunday, the festivalís closing day, brought Robin Hardyís THE WICKER TREE (which I avoided, but people I collared after its screening described it as "hilarious") and THE PERFECT HOST. I wasnít expecting much from the latter, but itís an excellent black comedy starring David Hyde Pierce (yup, Niles from TVís ĎFrasierí). I donít want to give too much away about this film: itís great fun though, dark and delicious, and the less you know about it the better Ė just let its ridiculous twists take you on its ride.

It won the audience award for best feature, by the way.

Other films that played throughout the festival included TOMIE: UNLIMITED, URBAN EXPLORER, MIRAGES, VILLAGE OF SHADOWS, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, MIDNIGHT SON, THE ENEMY, THE DIVIDE, THE SELLING and THE DEAD INSIDE.

There was also a plethora of short films offered from all around the world. I believe the most popular of these was the Spanish zombie-fest BRUTAL RELAX.

Abertoir

On to the guests. The guest of honour was Victoria Price, and this leads me to mention special rare big-screen showings of a couple of other films (alongside LONG SHADOWS) that played over the course of the festival, in honour of what wouldíve been here father Vincentís 100th birthday: THE HAUNTED PALACE and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH.

Victoria was an extremely gracious, intelligent and engaging guest who closed the festival with a wonderful insight into life with her iconic father. She was also around and about before then though, chatting to folk and getting involved in the festivities with little in the way of inhibition.

Also in attendance where directors Alex Chandon and Chris Crow, both of whom indulged in Q&A sessions with the audience and stayed around to chat more informally over drinks.

Extras? What do I mean by extras? Well, not many horror film festivals in the UK offer such luxuries beyond showing films and booking a few relevant guests, so itís a fair question. But Abertoir goes those few extra miles ...

How about, for example, esteemed Satanist Gavin Baddeley turning up to present a 1-hour show on sorcery in cinema? Or John Burnsí celebrated one-man stage show examining the life and times of Aleister Crowley? Or the eerie Ďart installationí that freaked non-Abertoir attendees out with its paranormal shenanigans (hi Jake)? Or a pub-style quiz, based around horror films, with prizes? A simple idea, but a brilliant one at that.

Beyond these, we had no less than three bands performing live for us on the Friday night: the amazing The Laze (who recreated classic Italian horror/giallo scores perfectly, and deserved a longer set); punk bands Devlish Presley and Ghostfire. The bar was open and the music was playing loud: Gareth and co had gone to the effort of dressing the bar up as a Masque in velvet drapes, and quite a few guests turned up in fancy dress Ė with a prize going to the best one, presented by no less than Victoria Price herself.

It was a great night, and fun was had by all.

Stu, Keri, Marc - Team SGM!

Elsewhere, the attention to detail that the organisers put in to this festival was also evident in their grindhouse night (where comedians lead the audience through a piss-ripping viewing of a shit film Ė this year it was ZOMBIE LAKE). And what about the screening of Jean Epsteinís 1928 version of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, with live musical accompaniment from pianist John Sweeney? Come on, you must be impressed by now?

Oh, and special mentions must also go out to the effort the organisers Ė alongside Gareth, Iíll give shout outs to Rhys Thomas Fowler, Nia Edwards-Behi and Rebekah Smith Ė for their incredible attention to details such as programmes, posters, flyers, day-specific booklets and even beermats at the bar carrying the Abertoir logo. Wow.

The venue, then, is spectacular. Upon first visit, itís very light and airy and doesnít seem compatible to a horror festival. On the contrary, itís marvellous. Itís huge, well-attended and has the friendliest bar staff you could hope for. Bar prices were fair (you even got 10% off if you displayed your Abertoir pass Ė wahey!). Bear in mind though, the arts centre is about a 20-minute walk from town Ė and itís all uphill.

Aberystwyth as a town is lovely. Truly it is, even in November. Itís one of those cosmopolitan, student-heavy places where everyone is friendly, the streets are remarkably clean and the beach is potentially one of the most scenic in the UK. Itís small: you can traverse the centre in 30 minutes. But you can get any type of food you want, and thereís a great 24-hour bar on the seafront called Inn On The Pier (which we all piled into after the festival, naturally).

All of which leaves me to comment on the sense of community at the festival. The only other horror festival Iíve been fortunate enough to attend is DEAD BY DAWN in Edinburgh, for two years running, albeit a few years ago now. Iím desperate to get back there.

The main reason Iím desperate to get back there is because I met people Ė Al, Cookie etc Ė who I class to this day as genuine friends, and always will do. I accept that this may sound strange to people who havenít done the festival thing yet, but for those who have ... hopefully you understand.

Anyway, Iím now equally desperate to get back to Abertoir for much the same reasons. It too has a wonderful sense of community, and I was genuinely delighted to meet up with Tristan Thompson and Gareth again, as well as meeting SGM cohorts Keri and Marc for the first time. Also, I want to give mentions to Paul, Matt, Ian, Tim (hi, DM!), Charlie, Kev, Alex, Chris, Marcu (spelling?) ... and my good mate Chris from Kill Me With Movies who I travelled with. I look forward to meeting all of these people in this environment again.

So, there you go. Abertoir 2011 offered an astonishing array of films, old and new, along with some truly mind-blowing extra features that other festivals simply donít stretch to. Everyone who attends is committed to going again, and theyíre all really nice people too. The accommodationís cheap and the town is gorgeous.

Start saving for Abertoir 2012! You wonít be sorry!


Back to the Spotlight page