Review: Mayhem Film Festival 2016

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I rolled into Mayhem this year on the back of a frantic week and a heavy night of socialising, which meant a mere three hours sleep was had before Mrs Reprobate was up and about, and I had to haul myself from London to Nottingham. One upon a time, I could do such things with ease. These days, rather less so. And I’ve been feeling increasingly alienated from the horror scene of late, which meant that this year, I wasn’t feeling the sense of excitement that has usually grabbed in in the run up to Mayhem. The thought, too, that this doesn’t feel like a vintage year for the horror film was also dampening my enthusiasm somewhat – there was no film in the programme that jumped out as a ‘must see’ this time around.

But if anything could help shake my current sense of ennui with horror cinema and horror fandom, then it would be Mayhem – consistently the most entertaining weekend of the year. And so I eventually rolled into the Broadway Cinema bar at around 6.15, in time to grab a pick-me-up beverage and get the lay of the land before things kicked off with the Duke St. Workshop and Laurence R. Harvey performance, which is reviewed here.

Ironically, the thing about film festivals is that, for me, they are very little about films. From the days of Shock Around the Clock and Black Sunday, through the Festival of Fantastic Films and beyond, it’s always been the peripheral things that have appealed. Of course, I understand that if you are not on a press pass or similar, you might feel different and want to get your money’s worth. But I think the money’s worth comes from the social atmosphere at least as much as. The chance to hang out with old friends, mix with the guests (should they choose the public bar instead of the green room) and generally soak up the atmosphere. Despite my misgivings about many aspects of modern, social media driven horror fandom (and that, I’ve finally decided, is the subject for a separate bridge-burning article), this year was going to be no different in that respect – there would be plenty of people here that I’ve known for years and don’t see that often.

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So that is why – as well as the thought that sitting in a dark room watching two subtitled films while already exhausted was a decidedly bad idea – I skipped the much-hyped Raw in favour of chatting to Mr Harvey and the boys. Inevitably and entirely expectedly, the star of The Human Centipede 2 and 3 was a lovely chap. It was the right decision, but the wrong film to choose – Headshot, which I somehow stayed away through, started out averagely and got progressively worse as it went on. It takes a certain skill to make an action film like this boring, so kudos to the Mo Brothers on their achievement.

The only other guest I spent any time chatting to was Steve Barker, director of The Rezort, who identified himself mid-conversation about God Knows What. Inevitably, I hadn’t seen his zombie film, having a prior appointment with a pair of art gallery openings. He also seemed a lovely chap, even though we went though a point of me criticising directors and producers who all turned out to be his mates. One was Andy Starke, whose The Greasy Strangler I’d just walked out of after 45 unbearable minutes, so my complaints at that point – all artistic, none personal – were, I feel justified. Of course, the audience were laughing like drains at the film, and many people have proclaimed it the festival highlight, which just proves there’s nowt as queer as folk. The Greasy Strangler was atrocious – the same lame joke repeated continually, like a bad comedy sketch stretched out indefinitely. It made that afternoon’s  We Are The Flesh – a muddled, empty collision of weirdness and graphic sex – seem good, but nothing else would. Determinedly ‘transgressive’ but ultimately empty, We Are The Flesh didn’t seem to even shock anyone. Awash with erections, ejaculations and blow jobs, but Nymphomaniac it ain’t.

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I did meet the director of The Ghoul, as festival co-director Chris Cooke did the terrible thing of introducing us to him just as we entered the screen. “Great”, I told Mrs R (who had joined us on the Saturday morning), “now if his film is awful, we can’t slip out in case he is in the bar and he thinks we are a pair of utter bastards” (directors don’t tend to sit through their own films at these events). As it turns out, The Ghoul might have been the festival highlight. I’m not sure I actually liked it, as such, but it’s the one that hung around my head the most, even though at times it seems to be deliberately trying to be annoying.

Saturday turned out to me my busiest day, as I actually got to watch a whole three films, and hated none of them. Pet, for one awful moment, seemed like it was exactly a story I wrote several years ago, before taking an interesting and genuinely unexpected turn, and The Devil’s Candy was the sort of no-nonsense horror film that is apparently an endangered species now. Admittedly, two days after watching it, I’d forgotten who/what the ‘monster’ was – so the chances of me remembering anything about it in six months are slim. I would’ve watched Blood Feast again under any other circumstances – God knows, I love that film and was intrigued to see it with an unsuspecting audience – but it was more sensible to take some socialising time, hanging with FAB Press head honcho Harvey Fenton, the chaps from Arrow, Severin’s Carl Daft, film critic and festival veteran John Martin and others in the bar, putting the genre if not the world to rights.

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Sunday morning opened with Don’t Kill It, which more than one person told me was their favourite film. Unfortunately, we’d arranged a Sunday lunch with Mr Daft, which inevitably turned into an organisational nightmare before finally triumphing at The Cross Keys, a pub a brief walk from The Broadway where a decent three course roast was available and much more tempting than movies. By the time this was over, we’d also missed Creepy and were only just in time for I Am Not A Serial Killer, which I’m afraid did not work at all for the Reprobate team. Mumblecore horror with a stupid ending (apparently, this is less of a lurch in the original novel), it felt like it had been on for several hours. Others loved it, so what do we know?

After a predictably chaotic quiz hosted by me (I like to tell myself that if it all went smoothly, everyone would be disappointed), the films wound up with The Void. I’d found the closing films on the last couple of years to be a bit dull and so a bit of a downer to end on, but this was rollicking stuff – non-stop action and old-school horror that collided Lucio Fulci and Hellraiser – and meant that the festival both opened and closed with touches of Lovecraft.

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And thankfully, things ended early enough this year for the bar to still be open and so allowed some socialising and chattery to close things out. This might not seem important, but it really is, especially if people have had limited time between films- and this was a great chance to wind it up with conversation and acquainting. I can’t say that it did anything to alleviate my doubts about horror fandom – the Mayhem audience is renowned as the friendliest in the horror fest world, and I was socialising with friends anyway. But it was a necessary reminder that while the horror scene might have more than its fair share of real life monsters, there are still decent, honest and charming people out there. It’s hard to remember that the real world is rather different from the atrocities of social media.

Film festivals are always a mixed bag of films, and as the wildly differing opinions on various titles showed. But they are always much more than the sum of their parts. This year might not have had the stand out titles of other years, but that is not what it’s all about. I went into this year’s Mayhem feeling a somewhat jaded about the state of the horror genre and its fans, and I won’t pretend to have been cured of that. But the fact that I could still eventually have a great time, and find it to be a welcoming place, speaks volumes about how much fun it is.

DAVID FLINT

 

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