Horror film fans from all over the world descended on Empire Leicester Square for the 13th annual Film4 Frightfest.
Over five days, horror fans sat down to (and occasionally slept through) dozens of new horror cinema releases, including UK and world premieres, in a feast of terror, gore and cinematic violence.
Organised by four passionate, committed genre fans, Ian Rattray, Paul McEvoy, Greg Day and Alan Jones, Frightfest has grown from humble beginnings to become one of the most important film events of the year, with directors and stars keen to test their best scares on the legendary Frightfest audience.
This year's festival featured an appearance by horror legend Dario Argento, whose super-violent and stylised giallo films clearly inspired some of the new releases on the film schedule.
The Frightfest timetable included just about every type of horror film imaginable, including zombies (Outpost 2, Near Dawn and Cockneys vs Zombies), vampires (The Thompsons, We Are The Night), ultra-violence (The Seasoning House, Maniac), found footage (V/H/S, Sinister) and, of course, killer food products (Dead Sushi).
IBTimes UK joined the audience's committed ranks to take a tour through the very best, and worst, of new horror cinema.
Best in Show
Modern horror has a tendency to focus on violence, sadism and gore, making those films that decide to focus on tension, mood and plot a rare pleasure.
Sleep Tight, a Hitchcockian psychological thriller with a twisted plot that flaunts its lack of convention and genericism, was a huge hit with the Frightfest crowd.
Luis Tosar stars as Cesar, the superintendent of an apartment building. Outwardly friendly and caring, Cesar is actually a very depressed individual, whose obsession with one of the building's tenants grows and evolves as he makes his own hidden mark on her life.
To say any more would give away the details of what was a constantly surprising and unsettling experience bolstered by fantastic performances and assured direction. Sleep Tight,takes its time, toying with its audience just as Cesar does with his tenants, with each new twist ratcheting up the tension. Spectacular.
In marked contrast to Sleep Tight's less-is-more approach, Maniac, an update of a classic 80s slasher, positively revels in violence as it leads audiences to question their own complicity as voyeurs.
A technical masterclass, Maniac is shot by director Franck Khalfoun almost entirely through the eyes of its titular mass killer, Frank, played by Elijah Wood. Through Frank's eyes, the audience watches, stalks, follows and murders women, fulfilling his compulsion for female companionship and acceptance.
Wood is a revelation in a role that puts any Frodo typecasting behind him. His childish, innocent face and voice make his brutality all the more horrific, while the film's imagery is some of the most brutal and intense to hit the screen in recent years. I would expect the BBFC to call for some cuts before it goes on general release.
Maniac was certainly not an easy watch but it was a powerful piece of filmmaking with a sumptuous score and a committed artist vision. A brave reimagining of an exploitation classic.
Lightening proceedings considerably, the amiable and endlessly likeable comedy creature-feature of Grabbers was a great example of an original concept done well.
An alien species that feasts on human flesh crash-lands on a secluded Irish Island. Fearing for their lives, the locals realise that the aliens are poisoned by alcohol. This leads to the obvious plan - get drunk and fight back.
It's a wonderful idea but one that could still be botched in execution. However, director Jon Wright and writer Kevin Lehane never lose focus of their story and characters, making Grabbers a hilarious cocktail of slapstick, action, tension and the odd scene of romance.
Special credit has to go to Ruth Bradley as Garda Lisa Nolan, one of the most realistic and entertaining drunk characters in film.
Sinister could very easily have been a generic re-tread of tired horror tropes, with its mixture of found footage and bump-in-the-night subject matter. Instead it was one of the best films of the festival and certainly one of the most scary.
Ethan Hawke brings his A-list gravitas to the role of a true crime writer who moves into a house where a whole family was murdered (as you do) in order to research the crime. He discovers a box in the attic full of super-8 films, which show him that he has stumbled upon something far more horrific.
Sinister prompted shouts of surprise and nervous laughter from the Frightfest audience. This is an audience that many would consider immune to scares, making Sinister's effect even more impressive.
The creepy atmosphere, great performances and perfect pacing made Sinister a hugely satisfying and chilling experience that left many people brushing their popcorn out of their hair. The final coda seemed a touch rushed, but that's nitpicking at what was a solid exercise in original scares. Avoid the trailer and watch this one on the big screen.
Worst in Show
Under the Bed
It's hard to know where to start with Under the Bed. The film revolves around the classic childhood fear of a creature living in the darkness under the bed and a pair of brothers who set out to confront it. As an idea, it's not a bad one.
The resulting film, however, makes so little sense that it verges on parody. The characters' decisions make absolutely no sense (maybe throw away the bed, or at least flip it over?), the plot has holes you could ride a bike through and scenes that aimed for tension became slapstick exercises in shoehorned exposition and leaps in logic.
Under the Bed was a hilarious experience, though this was not the intention of director Steven Miller. This is a film that could easily be turned into a drinking game. Drink every time a character says or does something stupid and you with be in A&E within an hour.
Tulpa started as any good Italian giallo horror homage should - with a serial killer chopping off a man's genitals. Unfortunately, this is the highlight of a film which, although well shot and lit, misses its own targets in its efforts to pay homage to other films.
Unfortunately for director Federico Zampaglione (who wore black leather gloves to the premier) and his entire cast, all of whom attended the Frightfest world premiere, the film prompted a hysterical reaction from the festival crowd.
Tulpa misses its horror targets by such a distance it regularly hit comedic ones instead. Characters deliver dialogue like they are reading it painted on the side of a far-off building, the dialogue was frequently ridiculous - e.g "no one knows anything about him ... except that he's a hermaphrodite" - and the plot sees a haphazard tying together of plot strands into a ludicrous anti-horror plait.
Despite their failings, it's impossible not to feel a fondness for films like Under the Bed and Tulpa. They may have missed the mark but they are clearly made by passionate people, whose love for the genre sees them squeeze every inch out of their tight budget to achieve their flawed visions.
There is no such charm to be found in the generic dross of The Possession, a paint-by-numbers exorcism story that somehow, inexplicably, brings nothing new, interesting or entertaining to the party despite a budget that would dwarf the majority of the festival's other entries.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan gradually realises that his young girl is becoming possessed by an evil spirit through a series of turgid, telegraphed scare scenes that culminate in a Jewish exorcism that manages to be less raucous than the average bar mitzvah.
Although many films missed the target at Frightfest, they at least appeared to be aiming at something. The Possession is so lazy it doesn't even try to be original - the worst crime possible for a horror film.
One of the joys of the Frightfest experience is the sheer number of screenings available, with films shown all day on three screens. Outside the screenings themselves the atmosphere is welcoming and friendly, with actors and filmmakers mixing with fans and hearing their thoughts.
Other films well received by the Frightfest crowd included Cockeys Vs Zombies (great humour marred by the occasional misstep), Jennifer Lynch's Chained and the found footage short story collection V/H/S.
Although the festival had its share of misses, the levels of invention and passion still being shown for the genre show that it is in no danger of stagnating, while a short film collection made it clear that the next generation has no shortage of talent.
Tickets and Frightfest schedule for the 2013 event will be available here at a later date. However, if you do attend, make sure you turn your phone off during the film. This is one crowd you do not want to make angry.