Starting October 13th, myself and three other great guys who make up the majority of the SuperfreakMedia team headed to Mayhem, to enjoy a weekend of horror, cult cinema and the bizarre. Having been to Mayhem a few times in the past I knew I was in for a treat over the next few days and this years’ festival did not disappoint! For the purpose of the Blog I think it’s easiest for me to break it down into the days I was there and go through some of my highlights. I forewarn you all now, this will be a lengthy post as I tried to review and mention each film I was lucky enough to get to see while I was there. I watched a hell of a lot while at MAYHEM and we were all really lucky to be a part of it all with the WORLD PREMIERE of SANDMAN, smack bang in the middle.
THURSDAY – OCTOBER 13th:
Heading to the first day of the festival, or rather evening I should say, I was way ‘too’ excited to go and pick up my Festival Pass for the next four days. I don’t know why but whenever I head to anything like MAYHEM and I have a lanyard around my neck I feel ‘all official’ – lame I know! Anyway, having collected my pass it was time for my first dose of weird and wonderful. To say MAYHEM is a film festival I thought it a brave move to open the event with something a little different. To begin there was live music and a dramatic reading of 2 tales from H.P.Lovecraft. The band we had the pleasure of hearing were The Duke St Workshop and quite honestly I was so impressed with the music they played us. Only playing three songs before the reading (although I wanted more) I was heavily reminded of the likes of CARPENTER BRUT or DANCE WITH THE DEAD, both electronic artists I absolutely love and listen to regularly. After their own music, Laurence R. Harvey (star of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 + 3) did a reading of H.P.Lovecraft tales, ‘From Beyond’ and ‘The Hound’ with TDSW playing drones alongside him. Overall I really enjoyed it and can wholeheartedly say I’ve never seen anything like it before.
After the opening came the films. We had 2 on the first night. RAW (Dir. Julia Ducournau) and the UK PREMIERE of HEADSHOT (Dirs. Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto). Neither were in English but being a huge fan of world cinema that really wasn’t an issue. I always feel with horror it can add to the sense of dread that you don’t always know what’s going on all of the time. I was personally really excited for RAW as I had heard the stories of people fainting and leaving the screening in Toronto earlier this year. Knowing it was about cannibalism and had come from France I did expect a certain level of the unconventional in terms of narrative and a whole load of gore. While I do think it was truly disturbing in places, a certain scene with a finger will not be forgotten for a long time, I didn’t think it was as shocking as the reviews were saying. If anything I think THE NEON DEMON, which I saw earlier in the year was far more disturbing on all fronts. I thought RAW was extremely clever and I think putting a tale of horror alongside a coming of age drama is always a killer combination. Right back to Stephen Kings’ CARRIE, puberty has provided us as horror filmmakers and horror fans with a variety of ways to corrupt the body and simultaneously horrify us. I did really enjoy the film and thought it was a really strong opening to the festival.
Following RAW we went straight into HEADSHOT. Starring Iko Uwais, myself and the ‘guys’ were really looking forward to this film as huge fans of THE RAID 1 + 2. Jonno in particular absolutely loves martial arts films and I went into this really hoping it didn’t disappoint and I wasn’t. The fight scenes were flawless and really well shot. Each punch and kick made the whole audience wince, each fight was so visceral and choreographed perfectly. The only negative I took away from it was the inclusion of a not so subtle romantic/melodramatic arc. I really don’t think the film needed it, I appreciate that it couldn’t have just been fight after fight but THE RAID films’ managed to craft a decent story around each of the elaborate fight sequences without losing momentum on a really distracting romance storyline. One fight in particular really stuck with me, involving a typewriter, a telephone, a guillotine blade and not forgetting a shotgun it has got be one of the greatest fights I think I have ever seen. The audience around me joined me at every point I winced as each bone crunching and blood drenched confrontation unfolded before us. HEADSHOT was a great film to close the opening night of MAYHEM, and although not as great in my eyes as THE RAID 1+2, it was a great action thriller that kept me thoroughly entertained throughout. I definitely look forward to seeing what Uwai does next!
FRIDAY – OCTOBER 14th:
After a great first night it was time for the second night to begin. Still starting near dusk me and the boys got together again for an evening of films., I know that we’d all been looking forward to one in particular and boy did it not disappoint. Kicking things off for round 2 we had Mexican film WE ARE THE FLESH (Dir.Emiliano Rocher Minter). I’m going to be frank and say that I absolutely hated this film. I do love that at a festival like MAYHEM there are always films that challenge you. It wasn’t the language barrier or the acting, it was purely the lack of gratifying content. I know that different cultures will approach storytelling in different ways, in fact that’s one of the best things about seeing films from around the world. I do however really dislike films that I don’t really feel have a point. This is not to discredit any of the hard work I know must have gone into the production design and cinematography of the film, these were the two most positive aspects of the piece. I don’t however see the need for a film to be out there that includes unsimulated sex between a brother and sister while an old man watches and masturbates to death. This was a low point for me for the festival. But I knew we had plenty more to look forward to on the way.
Following a rocky start we had 3 more films on the agenda, all of which I was looking forward to prior to the festival. First up was THE REZORT (Dir. Steve Barker). Think JURASSIC PARK meets DAWN OF THE DEAD. I really admired the ambition of this film and thought that it did really well to say it obviously didn’t have the budget of both aforementioned films. Laced thick with political and social commentary I really enjoyed this film, if a little cliché in places it was thoroughly entertaining and fully used up the potential of the zombie theme park concept. There was a brief Q+A with the director after the film and it was really great to hear how the film came to be and some of the challenges that were faced getting it to the big screen. This is always why I love the likes of MAYHEM because they put the filmmakers in front of fans of the genre and really let us understand a whole lot more of what goes on BTS.
Although there were another 2 films in the schedule for the day, I only stayed for one more and this was a personal favourite of mine out of the entire festival. Ending our second day, THE GREASY STRANGLER (Dir. Jim Hasking) was the perfect way to wrap things up. Having seen Hasking’s work in ABC’s OF DEATH 2 I knew I was in for something ridiculously strange. Full of bizarre characters and a wonderfully weird aesthetic I absolutely loved this film. Everyone in the audience was laughing so hard at everything we saw, the makeup effects were so wonderfully weird and the dialogue and delivery was spot on. I can’t sing enough praises for this movie and can’t wait to get my own copy to watch it again and again. Films like this are exactly the sort of thing I like to enjoy as a guilty pleasure and I knew everyone there had an absolutely great time watching everything unfold. For the days after at the festival I heard people quoting the film, I even found myself calling people ‘BULLSHIT ARTISTS’ like the characters do in the movie. THE GREASY STRANGLER was so entertaining and I can’t wait to see what is next from the people involved. Entering the screening I got a free poster, badge and sticker of the words ‘HOOTIE TOOTIE DISCO CUTIE.’ The poster will be proudly hung up on the wall and I will be forever singing ‘hootie tootie disco cutie’ to myself.
SATURDAY – OCTOBER 15th:
On to day three then, this was a pretty big day for all of us. More great films were on the agenda but also the WORLD PREMIERE of our very own SANDMAN as part of the ‘Scary Shorts Showcase.’ Since I can remember I have wanted to have a film shown as part of the MAYHEM programme so it was an absolute dream come true to attend the festival knowing one of our own would be in the mix. My nerves however were off the charts, but we can get into that later.
Starting this wonderful Saturday, I knew we had our first full day ahead of us. Kicking us off was Italian Superhero film THEY CALL ME JEEG ROBOT (Dir. Gabriele Mainetti) – I didn’t really know what to expect going into it but I knew for sure it was going to be fun. The film was everything I could have asked for and more. TCMJR was another real highlight of the festival for me. The cinematography, VFX and performances were all incredible and up to scratch with what I would expect from a Hollywood Superhero movie. I really wish more superhero films would take a leaf from this TCMJR’s book and go for that authentic gritty approach. It was really refreshing to see a comic book styled film packed full of violence, where peoples’ actions had very real consequences and you actually felt like the villain could win. I really, really enjoyed TCMJR and would love to see more, which I think we might, if the story is continued. This was such a great way to kick off the third day of MAYHEM and I love that the festival also makes time for Cult Cinema amongst the Horror and Sci-Fi.
Next up from the U.S. we had PET (Dir. Carles Torrens) which I have to say was the most conventional and professional looking film of the festival. I can really imagine seeing this getting a release in the future and will be sure to pick this up when it is released on DVD over here. Dominic Monoghan starred and played the stereotypical creepy loner, scarily well I might add. Starting out I thought we were in for something quite predictable but soon my suspicions were brushed to one side as the film flourished into a great twist which progressed into one of the most eerie endings I have had the pleasure of watching on the big screen. Not so much a spoiler but I really dig films that let their antagonists get away with ‘murder’ – in this case quite literally, I respect filmmakers and writers that take that leap and don’t give us something neatly tied up with a bow at the end. I was left with plenty of questions but the ambiguity of it all is really what made PET so good.
Having had two strong films previous I knew that the third film of the day might struggle to keep up with the high standard we were at. Seeing so many foreign exports in the festival so far it was great to have a UK feature next on the table. Hearing good things prior to the festival I was excited for THE GHOUL (Dir. Gareth Tunley) as I also knew Ben Wheatley was also involved in a producing capacity. I am a huge fan of Wheatley and the title of this film had me intrigued. The film opened really strongly with a great mystery I desperately wanted following up. The film soon however dissolved into madness and not the good kind and I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with the unreliability of characters and what we were watching. I know this was perhaps the point as the film fits perfectly in the psychological thriller category and mental health really is horrifying. I just feel that I’ve seen it done so better before and it ended in a place that to me really didn’t make much sense or seem worth the 80 minute run time. As one of the only home-grown features in the running I was a little disappointed, I do however see that the film is continuing to get praise from critics so perhaps it is just my opinion or lack of understanding for what the film was trying to do.
Now we’d reached the point in the night that we’d all been quite anxious about, the ‘Scary Shorts Showcase’ Accompanying us was pretty much everyone involved in creating SANDMAN back at the end of JULY so it was awesome sitting down in a big group surrounded by other genre fans waiting for the showcase to start. The SSS is really hallowed ground in my eyes in terms of short film quality and content, for years we have been rejected with what we have submitted and last year when we did get in we had to withdraw as MR CREAK was set to be shown on the BBC instead. The team and myself made SANDMAN with the sole intention of getting into MAYHEM. It was great and incredibly surreal to be there sat waiting for it all to start. In reflection the showcase was really strong and diverse, I think SANDMAN stood out for two reasons. Firstly we were obviously the lowest budget short to make the roster, every short had sponsors or investors logos at the end, ours however was made for less than £100 using only really what we had. I think we were all proud to see SANDMAN hold it’s own against the other shorts that had of course had more financial backing. Secondly I think something that really made SANDMAN a little different was the fact that we were one of perhaps only two horror shorts in the selection that really tried to scare the audience. Since the screening we have had compliments passed on about how effective the soundtrack and jump scares were throughout, so I can’t wait to hear what people think when it hits the net Halloween night. Now before this section of the blog gets any more self indulgent I think it’s important to mention some of my favourite shorts from the cracking selection. One of my most favourite things I think I saw in the entire festival was a short called THE PROCEDURE, it was short and snappy and had absolutely everyone laughing their head off at what I can only describe as the world’s most elaborate fart gag. Alongside that STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT was fantastic, a great blend of comedy and awesome practical effects, I know for sure that this was another audience favourite. Other honourable mentions go to THE HOME, which for me was probably my favourite short of the selection, it was really short and felt like a moment from a much bigger story but it truly creeped me out and I would love to see the story expanded some more! NASTY was another great short packed full of genre references with an 80s aesthetic I absolutely loved, and to cap it all off (no pun intended) was the closing film QUENOTTES. This French slice of terror took on the toothfairy or the French incarnation of this mythical figure, in the form of a demonic mouse. I really think the showcase as a whole was really strong and it was an absolute honour to be a part of it. I was so nervous throughout the whole screening, to say we went on second I think I was still having palpitations by the 6th film. This was probably the biggest screen and audience we have had our work shown in front of whilst we have been there. It was certainly and ordeal, but one I most certainly hope we get to experience again and again. Thank you to MAYHEM for the incredible opportunity.
Rounding off the day, at which by this point I was exhausted, I knew I only had one more film left in me. Going away from this last weekend I was surprised at how genuinely exhausting it can be sitting in a dark room watching films all day. Myself and Richard joked that it would be great fun to keep coming to MAYHEM, every week if we could because the atmosphere is just so great, you’d just need to take a couple of days off in bed though to recover. Even though there were two more films left to be shown I only made it through THE DEVIL’s CANDY (Dir. Sean Byrne) and boy am I glad I did. To say how tired I was I didn’t flag for one second as this film was absolutely terrifying. All I can say is that it really reminded me of a Rob Zombie film, similar to THE LORDS OF SALEM in some ways with it’s symbolism and reference to the occult, and I mean that as a huge compliment. It was one of the only ‘conventional’ horror movies in the festival and it did not disappoint in any way. Aside from the comedic antics of THE GREASY STRANGLER , this film was another great highlight for me. I already can’t wait to watch it again. I really appreciate when a film has the balls to include children in the horror and this film did not puss out in any way. Again I can’t sing more praise for this film and really hope it goes on to do well and gets a release here in the UK. I know for sure it will be a hit with horror fans.
Saturday was absolutely exhausting and contained so many great films, it was a really proud moment to share the screen with so many other great filmmakers and terrify some of the audience around us. It really is days like that, that really make it all worth it.
SUNDAY – October 16th:
The whole festival flew by so fast. I couldn’t believe it when I rocked up for the first film we were entering the last day. It was really sad knowing that it was coming to an end but I knew I was going to leave the festival re-energised and inspired to push harder with the films we create for consideration again in future years. Starting things of on our last day we had DON’T KILL IT (Dir. Mike Mendez) another UK PREMIERE. This one starred Dolph Lundgren and was from the makers of BIG ASS SPIDER, another guilty pleasure of mine. I think I knew from the outset to not expect ‘too’ much but the film delivered on so many levels. The performances were just as hammy and caricatured as you’d expect but that was all part of the fun. The nods to the audience and fans of the genre were not subtle, but they sure as hell didn’t need to be. I had an absolute blast with this film, and although the story was a little convoluted I thought for something that was so simple in concept, I loved this film a lot. It was hilarious and robustly over the top, but with like-minded people sitting around me it was a perfect treat for genre fans.
Next up we had CREEPY (Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa) a Japanese thriller. I admit I was a little apprehensive going into this one as it was by far the longest film in the selection at over 2 hours and was of course subtitled. This slow burn thriller was just the change of pace we needed though after DON’T KILL IT and I really, really liked the film. I thought all of the actors involved were brilliant, I thought the story was incredibly interesting and it packed plenty of twists and turns. It did leave a few questions unanswered, but I respected it for the way in which it convinced you of one thing and then completely pulled the rug from under you. Similarly in it’s ‘slow burn’ nature I feel CREEPY succeeded massively where the likes of THE GHOUL failed so miserably earlier on in the festival. I don’t know if this was the right response to take away from the film, especially with some of the characters and what they did on screen, but I really want to visit Japan. It looked like such an interesting place to live in, who knows one day I guess?
After CREEPY we had another film I had been really looking forward to when I had seen the full line up. I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (Dir. Billy O’Brien) starring Christopher Lloyd in a role I can guarantee you have never seen him in before. It was only after the film that I realised the film was adapted from a book, so as soon as I heard that and that it was a part of a series I wanted to go read them! The last day of the festival really was the strongest for me in terms of the films we got and IANASK was a definite highlight. The film had a great 70’s/80’s aesthetic, it packed in 2 of my favourite things – small town American Movies and the Supernatural, and was really well made. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and definitely want to see it again. I really wish more films like this were made because it really did have some moments that reminded of films I loved to watch when growing up, like E.T but with a more adult and graphic twist. Again this is another film from the line up I really hope goes on to do great things! Following the screening there was a Q+A with the Writer and Director and again I am super thankful to MAYHEM for giving filmmakers like myself and the guys’ the opportunity to learn so much more about the behind the scenes journey of the films we watch. I really hope I get the chance one day to be involved in a feature that has a similar story to tell, if not getting to direct my own.
Breaking up the films for a short while, MAYHEM then held their annual horror film movie quiz in the café at Broadway. This was admittedly the first year I had entered the quiz so didn’t know what to expect. The questions were pretty hard but somehow we seemed to score ok, by ok I mean more than 50% (12/20). We didn’t win anything but it was great to take part and I feel like I know some great trivia now about some truly bizarre films from the past, which of course can only be a good thing. Right?!
Closing the festival came THE VOID (Dirs. Jeremy Gillespie + Steven Kostanski) and what a worthy film to close the show! Ever since I heard about the IndieGoGo campaign to fund THE VOID I have been keeping a close on eye on how it’s been getting along and was thrilled to see it announced as part of the line up. The film did not disappoint in any way, I was surprised to see they actually had some recognisable faces on board, especially on a project that seemed so independent and ‘out there’. The makeup and creature effects were some of the best I have seen and really reminded me of THE THING and the classic EVIL DEAD series. Being a big fan of H.P.Lovecraft it was nice to have a modern feature explore the world he created in a contemporary way. The hospital setting for the most part of the film was genius and the film was packed with some truly shit your pants moments. I don’t think I can honestly say I have jumped so much consecutively than I have at this bloody festival. THE VOID continually upped the ante and not meaning to give too much away was bold enough to kill off characters that you actually cared about. I know from the Q+A that there is potentially a talk of continuing the story in the same universe in some way in the future. I was really glad to hear this because TV really sets up a universe filled with plenty of cool stories. I can’t wait to see what is in store for these guys next as I know this was a huge step up from the likes of MANBORG and BIO-COP with Astron 6. I really applaud MAYHEM for getting such a killer line up together and ensuring the festival really ended on a high.
Overall I had an absolutely amazing time at MAYHEM this year and already can’t wait to book again for next October. It was so great getting to personally be a part of it and see our work on the big screen sandwiched between some truly great films. I really applaud Chris and Steve who organise the festival each year and I’m really looking forward to what we can expect next year from these guys!
If you ever get the chance to come along to MAYHEM I highly recommend it, being some of the first people in the country, and even sometimes in the world to see a movie on the big screen is so special. If you love Horror, Sci-Fi or just films that are plain weird get your ass to MAYHEM next year and I will be sure to see you there!
Thanks as always and until next time…
DON’T BE A STRANGER: