#4: Frightfest 2014: Care In The Community

Art & Culture

When Italian prog rockers and occasional disco outfit Goblin When Goblin took to the stage at the Union Chapel in Islington on Monday (August 18), where they played live it marked the next stage to George A Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, ahead of, on Tuesday, performing their score to Dario Argento’s Suspiria as the film plays, it marks the next stage in the story of FrightFest, a horror film festival that has grown far beyond its original roots and had a huge influence on the horror community and further in the UK and beyond. 

It was the first live event put on by the FrightFest team and the latest string added to the bow of an organisation that now takes in not just the London-based festival itself, but a wealth of other activity, taking in assorted screenings and sneak previews, a Glasgow event, a poster arm and more. 

Beyond FrightFest itself, the organisation has also had an influence on numerous other fledgling operations too – it’s also inspired a raft of others. 

Record labels, film distributors, publishers, websites and a lot more have all been inspired to launch in the wake of FrightFest’s inception on 2000. 

At the end of the Video Nasties documentary featured in the last Raygunesque, it’s suggested that one of the few positive elements to come out of the tabloid press-fuelled backlash against horror films in the wake of incidents such as the tragic Bulger killing was the way it helped bring genre fans together, creating a sense of community. 

Anyone who’s witnessed the growth of the five-day FrightFest event, taking place over the August Bank Holiday weekend (it’s at the Vue cinema complex in Leicester Square this coming weekend, taking over numerous screens and airing more films than ever) will know that it’s more than just a bunch of films showing one after another. It’s become a launchpad for films and other enterprises, a focal point for an ever-growing community that takes in not just fans, but people working in and around the industry, filmmakers, artists, writers and people running their own horror-related businesses. 

So when did FrightFest become more than just a festival? Well, it seems the signs were there right from the beginning. 

“Right from day one back in 2000, there has always been something different about our audience, or FrightFesters as are known,” explains Ian Rattray, one of the event’s founders and current team of four directors, alongside Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Greg Day. “Initially, it was a little things like the same familiar faces at the front of the queue each year when tickets went on sale at the Prince Charles Cinema. 

“Our one seat for all films policy encourages social interaction because they spend five days together. Another sign was the ever-increasing length of the ‘Sleepy Queue’ that forms outside whatever cinema we are located at each year the day that our tickets go on sale.”

If those were all signs of its growing not just influence but it was a tragedy that really highlighted the community spirit. As Rattray explains: “It was a funeral of all things that brought it home to the four of us what a unique beast we had created.  The very unfortunate death of one FrightFester, who had been with us from the beginning, cemented this in our thinking when literally hundreds of FrightFesters from all over the country turned up spontaneously for his funeral. It still moves us to this day.”

That community spirit, a gang mentality, continues this day. Outside the auditorium itself, at the bar, on the pavement having a cigarette or in the Imperial pub or Phoenix Arts Club later on, plans are hatched, opinions are sought and businesses are built. There may be the odd bit of mickey-taking, sure, but there is a built-in support network. “I think it does come naturally, because, in spite of the rows and put-downs, we all really like each other,” offers FrightFest’s Greg Day. “The key has been to always be honest and think of the fans, the audience first. Plus I think it helps that we all have complementary skills and areas of expertise.”

Take the Death Waltz Recording Company, the brainchild of Spencer Hickman and itself a hugely influential record label. While FrightFest may not have directly influenced its formation, it provided a useful sounding board for Hickman, who had built friendships up with its organisers and crowd over the years, having himself run a horror festival some time before. 

“FrightFest was quite a big part of us launching,” he says. “I came up with the idea [a vinyl label devoted mainly to horror soundtracks, with limited edition coloured vinyl, lavish packaging, newly-commissioned artwork and more], talked to my mates at FrightFest, I remember having a conversation with Paul McEvoy. I really wanted to release House Of The Devil, when [director] Ti West was over for FrightFest with his next film, The Innkeepers, Paul introduced me to him, I told him my idea and he said it was amazing, he’d love to do it.”

Ironically, House Of The Devil will be one of Death Waltz’s next releases, having taken a while longer to make it to the pressing plant thanks to lengthy contract negotiations and the likes.

“All the FrightFest guys have been really helpful,” continues Hickman. “They’ve introduced me to a lot of people, they’re never shy in sharing information. It stems from that sense of community, you’re never scared that someone’s going to fuck you over. We’re all working in the same field.”

Hickman subscribes to the theory that this came as a result of censorship problems in the 1990s. “That period in the UK is interesting,” he notes. “It helped create lasting friendships, people were encouraging each other, giving each other feedback, putting people in touch with each other and that’s still going on. We all became friends and those friendship have lasted. 

“There’s a definite community.”

TheHorrorShow.TV, video-on-demand operation and now a physical label (its first release, The Woman, is out around this year’s FrightFest) is another operation that’s been inspired by FrightFest.

“FrightFest was massively important in the development of TheHorrorShow.TV,” says director David Hughes. “We handed our fliers at FrightFest 2012 to see if we could find people with short films and features which they might like to put out via TheHorrorShow.TV ~ and two years later we have 200+ films from over 20 UK distributors and 20 more individual rights holders, and will be hitting FrightFest 2014 with a major promotional campaign, including a free film for every visitor.

“The community has been massively important [too],” adds Hughes. “The fans are the most dedicated among the UK horror community, and FrightFest accounts for a good portion of our ad/pub budget every year. We couldn't do it without them.”

Hughes is, the same as the fans and organisers themselves, a FrightFest fan. “We've known the FrightFest guys personally for almost 20 years,” he says, “and we've been there as fans from the beginning. We love the events and have the same passion for horror films that they do.”

Another key operation that has grown alongside FrighgtFest is the Arrow Video label. It offers bespoke, newly commissioned as well as original artwork, and lovingly remastered versions of classic horror films. The label’s Francesco Simeoni believes that many of those involved share similar ideals and this is reflected in their output. 

"I think anyone with a strong interest in horror is very much on the same wavelength,” he says, “with new artwork for our releases and horror soundtracks, posters like ours and FrightFest originals, merchandise and so on. The horror-community is tight-knit and friendly, there’s a sharing of ideas and talent across this group of people which I think benefits everyone and ensures the fans are always being treated to high quality product.”

As Simeoni notes, it’s not just positive feedback that’s welcomed either. “One of the great things about the FF community and the horror community in general is how vocal they are, we always enjoy hearing feedback whether it’s good or bad and through that community we’ve learnt a lot of lessons and that’s enabled us to push to the forefront of the home video market from a quality point of view because the fans tell us exactly what they want.”

FrightFest has also now expanded its brief beyond the festivals and has launched FrightFest Originals, its own poster operation. Drawing on the same pool of talent used for the likes of Death Waltz Recording Company and Arrow Video sleeves, it offers new takes on artwork for classic horror films. 

“The creation of FrightFest Originals was a natural extension to the brand,” says the organisation’s Ian Rattray. “It adds value and it’s all part and parcel of making our events that little bit different.”

And now there’s also the gig-promoting side, with Goblin. As Rattray notes: “This is something that we’ve wanted to do for quite a while, but quite frankly, it’s not something we had any idea on how to do. We’d heard all the horror stories about getting involved with the wrong people and the wrong ideas, so we stayed away.  

“This year we were approached by someone that we trusted and had a track record of putting such events on, so it was a real no-brainer to say yes.”

So where next then? FrightFest admits it is looking at the digital distribution arena (“we are in talks with several companies”) and is keen to further extend beyond its London and, latterly, Glasgow homes. 

“Where does FF go next?” says Day. “Out into the country! Although, through our Halloween event, we have already put down our regional roots, there is potential and opportunity to expand.”

Check www.frightfest.co.uk for more details. 

Tim 'Raygun' Murray