Director: Chris Collier
Cast: Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray, Greg Day
Watch FrightFest: Beneath The Dark Heart Of Cinema online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
You can get tickets and passes to FrightFest 2019 at http://frightfest.co.uk
One of the great things about horror is that despite being a genre designed to scare, disturb, unsettle and provoke, the community that surrounds it is warm, welcoming and friendly. Nowhere is that better displayed than in the queues and audiences for FrightFest, the UK’s leading horror film festival and an event that’s become a must-visit destination in the cinema calendar. FrightFest: Beneath the Dark Heart of Cinema is a documentary that profiles the festival, its history, its organisers and its attendees.
If that sounds like a puff piece of promotional film-making, you’re not entirely wrong: there’s certainly an element of awareness-raising in the air. But that drive to boost the profile of the event is born not of a commercial mindset but an affectionate one; this is a love letter not an advert.
Director Chris Collier finds a neat point around which to frame his portrait: the final screening at the festival’s former home of the Empire in Leicester Square, before it was closed and converted into a Cineworld. It’s a beginning and end wrapped up into one, a moment in time to take stock and revisit years gone by. That means we go all the way back the early days of the event when it was held at London’s Prince Charles Cinema, and the difference in scale and production is really quite striking; the queue to get passes in person has grown from a couple of eager fans to a sizeable snake winding its way down the road.
But while it’s interesting to see previous filmmaker guests talk about their times at the festival as its grown over the years, it’s most intriguing to learn more about the four men behind the festival: PR veteran Greg Day, seasoned journalist Alan Jones, booking and distribution expert Ian Rattray and programmer Paul McEvoy. It would be easy for a movie to simply pay tribute to their ambition, one thing that has remained constant throughout FrightFest’s run. But Collier digs surprisingly deep into the bonds between the quartet, and gives us a glimpse of the tensions that can fray them. They may not have been friends in another life, but they are nonetheless united in their love of the festival. They also acknowledge that some years – 2012, in particular – were less successful because of the prominence of abuse within the selected films. We also hear about some of the less effective screenings, from the unintentional reception for Tulpa to the suddenly cancelled plans to show A Serbian Film.
This foursome is balanced nicely wth contributions from people on the other side of the ticket barrier, and what emerges is how a sense of community and friendship has been fostered by the festival, even as it’s changed venues and scaled up – a reminder of cinema’s inherent power to bring people together. Newcomers and outsiders may well find themselves wanting to be part of the fold, but it’s perhaps all too fitting that the best audience for this slight but sincere documentary are those who already know, and are members of, that extended family; as the festival approaches its 20th year, that dark, all-embracing heart is still beating.