Glasgow Film Festival: FrightFest
As the Glasgow Film Festival rolls to a climax this weekend, Henry Northmore explores the thrills on offer at FrightFest and asks just why we liked being scared by movies quite so much
There’s something primal about being scared, that jolt of adrenaline that makes us feel alive. Going back to the monsters of Greek and Roman mythology to scary stories told round the campfire, the horror genre is one of the oldest recorded forms of storytelling (after all Beowulf was a grand tale of beasts, dragons and gore). In those dark days terror was a far more real concept; but, even in our cosseted modern age, writers like Stephen King and films like The Exorcist or The Shining have a big impact on popular culture.
Universal’s classic series of 30s fright films (Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula et al) swiftly followed by Hammer’s lurid and bloody colour entries (The Curse of the Werewolf, Hands of the Ripper, The Brides of Dracula, etc) were massively popular. Then the 80s gave rise to iconic antiheroes such as Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th), Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Michael Myers (Halloween). Endless sequels diluted the genre until it was reinvigorated by Scream and once again in the wake of Saw. Today, horror is more extreme and more mainstream than it has ever been before.
But what draws us to the dark side? Perhaps the people behind FrightFest have some answers as they return to the Glasgow Film Festival to once again terrify us with a selection of gruesome offerings, as their festival within a festival expands to two days for the first time in Scotland. ‘For me I like getting scared, knowing that I’m going home at the end of the night,’ explains FrightFest co-director Ian Rattray, who alongside Paul McEvoy, Greg Day and Alan Jones orchestrate the terror at FrightFest. ‘People like to be scared shitless, but when the lights come up at the end, you’re still there and you’re all in one piece,’ laughs Rattray.
‘I think there’s something daring in a way,’ continues Glenn McQuaid, Irish director of I Sell the Dead (a horror/comedy homage to the world of Hammer about two grave robbers, starring Ron Perlman and Dominic Monaghan). ‘Certainly when I was younger you’re daring yourself to see how far you can go. I also think people just need to explore fear. I mean most people don’t encounter fear or horror in their day-to-day lives. So to present it in a package to people that they can switch on and switch off is enticing.’
‘The world isn’t always a pretty place, so it’s nice to have some catharsis through the world of horror,’ adds director Paul Solet, who brings Grace to the fest, a dark tale of a mother who is desperate for a child but loses her baby at eight months. Determined to carry the foetus to term, when she gives birth to the apparently dead child it returns to life. ‘The miracle is not without consequence,’ says Solet. A dark and disconcerting premise that led to two audience members fainting when it was screened at this year’s Sundance.
‘Audiences should be uncomfortable in a horror film,' according to Solet. 'If they’re not, we didn’t do our job. The reality is, while this is a disturbing film, anyone who is paying any attention will recognise that it isn’t an exploitative film. Quite the opposite. There’s nothing gratuitous, everything is warranted by the story, by the characters.’
Horror attracts a very loyal following, a knowledgeable and impassioned audience. ‘The audience is a good half of the FrightFest experience,’ explains Rattray. ‘There is something really beautiful about the horror audience,’ agrees McQuaid. ‘They’ll stick it through thick and thin. You can also become a bit of a trainspotter with horror and know your directors, your scream queens and that kind of thing. It’s a very rich universe. I think for anyone who’s got any love of the macabre, it’s an easy thing to tap into.’
As Solet points out, part of the appeal is that horror has few limits and free reign to delve into the fantastical: ‘The genre provides an arena in which you can take an otherwise mundane idea and explode it open and explore it exponentially. We take this genre very seriously, like a religion, because it allows for a purity of storytelling that can’t be achieved anywhere else.’
Joining Grace and I Sell the Dead at this year’s FrightFest is Deadgirl; Vikings vs aliens in Outlander; serial killer flick Walled In; the small town creepiness of Dorothy; big budget ghost thriller The Unborn and bizzaro porno meets horror comedy, One-Eyed Monster. As per usual it’s an interesting and varied line-up that should provide two sleepless nights of gore, chills and the blackest comedy.
FrightFest, GFT, Glasgow, Fri 20 & Sat 21 Feb.