Over the past weekend, a horde of horror and genre fans took over cinema screens in Leicester Square to consume a line-up of new releases with over 75 films to choose from. Daily Info's very own cinema expert took the plunge and spent the whole weekend wallowing in grisly tales and ghoulish romps that made up the 20th edition of Frightfest.
Playing out over four screens, Frightfest offers something for every kind of genre fans. Grounded thrillers (such as the exemplary austerity-era closing night film, A Good Woman is Hard to Find) mingled with more heightened horror fare. The line-up including some of the bigger releases on the calendar (although it felt like there were a few noticeable absences - such as a certain sewer-dwelling clown...) with the likes of Crawl, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Ready or Not all getting a festival airing. But the films that left the best impressions were the smaller releases that otherwise might not have received the attention they did. More obscure fare and some fascinating debuts all drew audiences, hungry to find the next cult classic to smugly tell people they knew about before it was cool.
I managed 22 films across my five days, pinging between the screens. You can do what I did, buying one of the coveted festival passes and a seat in the big Imax screen that Frightfest used as its epicentre. Or you can go for a day pass or individual tickets to films. The choice is yours, with Frightfest being open to all. One of the strengths of the festival is that it comes with twenty years of experience. This means everything runs smoothly, with an army of staff and volunteers to help any attendees. This seems to permeate into a friendly atmosphere, with countless fellow audience members willing to chat and hang out between films. I went on my own and what seemed a daunting event blossomed into one of the most enjoyable weekends I've had.
It feels right to end this journey through the depths of the horror genre with the five films that stood out and are worth seeking out when they receive a release:
5. Ready or Not
This deliciously fun film played as part of an outstanding Sunday double with Daniel Isn't Real (more on that later) and went down a treat. This horror comedy follows a newly-married bride who finds herself in the middle of a deadly game as her in-laws hunt her. Often funny and surprisingly tense, Ready or Not plays like You're Next with added laughs. A cracking ensemble is led by the wonderful Samara Weaving with the film building to a fabulously cathartic climax.
UK release date: 27th Septmber 2019
4. A Good Woman is Hard to Find
Frightfest opened and closed with a pair of great thrillers. And whilst Come To Daddy was an infectiously violent brew, A Good Woman is Hard to Find had a potent punch to it. The most successful of the films that attempted to tap into modern concerns, this was a work coercing with a rage at austerity-era politics. Sarah Bolger gave the kind-of performance that elevates the work she's in as a young mum coming to terms with the murder of her husband on a Belfast estate. To say proceedings escalate feels like an understatement.
UK release date: 25th October 2019
3. A Serial Killer's Guide to Life
Playing out like a cross between Sightseers and Thelma & Louise, A Serial Killer's Guide to Life struck a chord with me as it took satirical aim at the self-help industry. Following Lou, who is taken under the wing of life guru (and serial killer) Val, the film goes on an often hilarious journey through the self-help community of the South East of England. With a terrific central duo (Katie Brayben and Poppy Roe) and a sweetness behind the violence, this is a British comedy that I hope finds as wide an audience as possible.
UK release date: early 2020
One of the more cathartic watches of the festival, Harpoon sees horrible things happen to horrible people on a boat, and I loved every minute. An infectiously sly sense of humour, powered by a terrific narration from American comedian Brett Gelman, make this a riot from start to end. It's the kind-of three hander that a festival like Frightfest feels designed for, and the kind of film that makes you feel good about yourself.
UK release date: late 2019
1. Daniel Isn't Real
For a horror festival, there were surprisingly few films that properly scared. There were those with unnerving moments, good jump scares or a potent, nightmarish atmosphere. But the film that left an imprint that lingered long after it finished was Daniel Isn't Real. Acting as a sort-of demented Drop Dead Fred or potentially this generation's Fight Club, the film explores Luke's troubled relationship with his imaginary friend Daniel. Initially playing out as a twisted comedy, the film darkens into something more profound and even cosmic, exploring mental illness and toxic masculinity to a chilling effect. Patrick Schwarzenegger (son of Arnold) stands out as Daniel, who oozes a predatory coolness, giving the young actor his Tyler Durden moment. A genre must-see and a treat to watch on one of the biggest screens in London.
UK release date: yet to be announced
Frightfest will return, likely with Daily Info's film expert going along for another terror-drenched weekend of horror. What more could you ask for. In the meantime, keep an eye on our listings to see when these flicks will land in Oxford!