ScreenDaily reports from the 16th edition of Film4 FrightFest, including festival co-director Alan Jones’ tribute to Wes Craven and an interview with Nina Forever film-makers Ben & Chris Blaine.
A shadow was cast over the final day of this year’s Film4 FrightFest, and this time it wasn’t because of the obligatory Bank Holiday rain.
The passing of horror icon Wes Craven was understandably the topic of conversation among FrightFesters on Monday [Aug 31], each with their own story to tell of Craven’s influence on how they came to either be genre film-makers or sitting in the crowd watching five days of the latest genre efforts.
Among those giving a heartfelt tribute was FrightFest co-director Alan Jones who described Craven as “erudite, charming and always willing to go that extra mile”. Jones recounted a time when he toured with the film-maker in the 90s:
“At the end of that, he was just about to start the TV show Nightmare Cafe and he said ‘I know you collect T-shirts, I’ll send you a T-shirt’, so I gave him my address but I never thought he’d send one. Two weeks later, I got a fantastic box with T-shirts and merchandise, and it said ‘thanks for everything, Wes’. He’s one of the very few people who’ve done that.”
Jones ended with a beautiful thought that got a warm round of applause from the FrightFest crowd: “Look up in the sky and on the last cloud on the left, you’ll see Wes Craven.”
While it’s too early to say if any of this year’s crop of FrightFest titles will endure like a Scream or Nightmare on Elm Street, a common theme was very Craven-esque with many films either subverting familiar tropes and audience expectations, or coming up with an entirely fresh take on well-worn sub-genres.
Ben & Chris Blaine, Nina Forever
One of the line-up’s most original offerings was the fresh, twisted and sexy Nina Forever which, having premiered at SXSW earlier this year, received its UK premiere on Monday [Aug 31]. StudioCanal holds UK rights.
Despite its genre-friendly set-up (effectively, a dead girl comes back to interfere in her ex’s new relationship), writer-directors Ben & Chris Blaine (former Screen Stars of Tomorrow) revealed that the original concept was unlikely to have seen it screen at FrightFest.
“Initially, it was just a story about grief and how people who aren’t there affect you more than the people who are,” explains Ben Blaine. “We thought it would be much more interesting if Nina [Fiona O’Shaughnessy] was there, dead but able to take part in conversations. As soon as you heard the dead perspective, we could mix the genuine sadness with a very dark sense of humour.”
Chris Blaine expands: “It allowed us to explore death in a different way that isn’t a ghost or a zombie. We realised the most interesting character was Holly [Abigail Hardingham], because why would you come back and help this guy through the situation?”
Nina Forever marks their feature debut, so did they each have different roles on set? “We do everything together. When we write, we share a screen so we’ve both got a laptop and we’re seeing the same thing, with either one of us typing at any one moment as the other talks. That liquid way of working is how it works all the way through. It’s never one person totally leading in one aspect,” notes Chris Blaine.
The final product seen - and adored - by the FrightFest crowd is “very different, but very much the same” as the duo’s original script, not least because the first edit clocked in at over three hours. (The film now runs a tight 98 minutes.)
“There are quite a few things that when you read them as part of a script, you experience them in a certain way and then we filmed exactly that. But when we cut it together exactly as written, it felt entirely different so we had to break it down again,” reflects Ben Blaine. “During the last pass we did on the edit, on all the parts that weren’t quite working, we went right back to the very first draft and thought how we solved it there.”
As well as having a platform at notable genre festivals like FrightFest, it’s the reception of the film that has most pleased the Blaine brothers about its run so far. “We were really expecting to get a lot of missed-the-point reviews, but everyone has been really on it. They understand the film, even if they didn’t like it. Reviewers have really helped define what it is, because it’s not a natural horror film,” enthuses Chris Blaine.
If Nina Forever has taught them anything, it’s that they’d prefer to be able to shoot their next film in sequence, which was originally the plan with Nina Forever before the “various things that happen” during a film’s production.
“Nina’s scenes happened halfway through the shoot, so it was quite tough for the actors to make that jump and hold the story together, and we’re very thankful to them that they did an amazing job,” says Ben Blaine. “It would have made their jobs easier which is always what you’re trying to do, making it as easy for them to be as good as they can be.”
Nina Forever wasn’t the only genre festival hit of 2015 to enjoy successful FrightFest screenings. RKSS’ Turbo Kid stole the show on opening night, while Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here and Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm dominated the main screens on Friday and Saturday night, respectively.
Other notable premieres in the main screen included Iain Softley’s tense survival thriller Curve (world premiere), Adam Schindler’s deliciously dark home invasion horror Shut In (European premiere) and Bernard Rose’s modern-day take on Frankenstein (UK premiere).
Meanwhile, the discovery screens were treated to the likes of Corin Hardy’s The Hallow (a sell-out on Saturday), Paul Hyett’s Howl (with a mini The Descent reunion as part of its Q&A), the world premiere of Steve Oram’s Aaaaaaaah! and Rodney Ascher’s terrifying documentary The Nightmare.
Alongside FrightFest’s ever-popular Short Film Showcases, the main screens were treated to six horror shorts from All 4’s A Moment of Horror series (which are no available here). Highlights included Christian James’ Night Feed, starring Alice Lowe as a parent who should pay more attention to what she’s feeding, and Michelle Fox’s terror-in-a-toilet-cubicle Killing Time.
And after five days of terror, it was perhaps fitting that this year’s Film4 FrightFest ended with the European premiere of horror anthology Tales of Halloween. With its ten-strong selection spanning different styles and sub-genres, featuring a host of established and upcoming horror names both behind and in front of the camera, it reflected the vibrant selection of this year’s festival.
It meant that for its second year at the Vue, one of FrightFest’s busiest line-ups was one of its strongest, showcasing that genre films are in a excitingly healthy state. So to FrightFest and to Wes Craven, thanks for the nightmares.