REVIEW OF THE 2004 FESTIVAL OF FANTASTIC FILMS
by Daryll Buxton

As fans of old-time movie serials will already know, chapter 15 is the one in which the toils and travails of our band of heroes are resolved, battles are fought and won, and everything turns out all right in the end. Could our very own 'Galactic Gil' and 'Tony Tomorrow' achieve a sensation at this 15th celebration of film fright, fantasmagoria and far-flung fancy, in hosting and staging a festival to top their previous endeavours?

Every bit as eager as a returning Saturday morning picture show crowd, many of the regulars were back at the 2004 event to find out. Not that any of us doubted the organisers for a moment - throw any number of challenges or obstacles at these guys or their stalwart behind-the-scenes back-up team, and they simply brush off the problems to make sure that the show goes on. As for ourselves, attendees both experienced and novice found we had to negotiate and acclimatise to a new venue for this year's festivities, but the Manchester Conference Centre won plenty of praise during the weekend - raked cinemas, comfortable seats, working elevators (those of you who remember Sacha's Hotel will know why I single out the lifts for particular attention!) and splendid bar and breakfast facilities had many fans keen to return to this same spot in the future.

Naturally, as in past years, fate had to step in at some point. I had been scheduled to present the live interview with British t.v. and movie legend Peter Graham Scott, producer of THE ONEDIN LINE, director of CAPTAIN CLEGG, driving force behind the marvellous CHILDREN OF THE STONES, on the final afternoon - no sooner had myself and party arrived at the hotel, however, than Tony relayed the shocking news that several members of Mr. Scott's family had been involved in a road accident, which sadly had proved fatal for Peter's son. In typical festival spirit, as many of us as possible signed a card offering our condolences on this tragic occurrence; equally typically, Peter sent along a message of regret that he could not attend for obvious reasons, but stating that he would love to be invited to the 2005 fest.

Even without this titan of television and film fantasy, the guest line-up was stellar even by previous standards. Writer/director Tudor Gates made a more than welcome second appearance, here again to discuss his work in Italy with Mario Bava and on Vadim's classic BARBARELLA, before reminiscing about his Hammer days and the Karnstein vampire trilogy he penned for the company. Interviewed by Wayne Kinsey, whose Hammer knowledge is seriously second to none, Tudor seemed at ease and delighted to be back among a friendly throng of devotees, and talked at length about the prospect of a fourth Karnstein movie, to have been entitled 'Vampire Virgins', as well as the troublesome aspects of working with the non-English-speaking Collinson sisters on his wonderful TWINS OF EVIL.

More Hammer vampires came under the spotlight when Gil spoke to the delightful Yvonne Monlaur, whose presence during the entire weekend gave an air of continental sophistication to the entire affair. Yvonne's own hesitant English only seemed to endear her to us all the more, and she can be added to the increasingly long list of guests who have had nothing but immense praise and respect for that gentleman of horror Peter Cushing, who protected her from the curse of Baron Meinster in Terence Fisher's majestic BRIDES OF DRACULA way back in 1960. Equally glamorous was lovely Madeline Smith, every inch the film star as she glided into the hotel around noon on Sunday, a vision in pink - Wayne again proved the perfect host, as Madeline spoke freely and candidly about her work on THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, UP POMPEII, LIVE AND LET DIE and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. Insisting that everyone should call her 'Maddy', she was keen to talk about any aspect of her life or career, from her somewhat sheltered upbringing, to her discovery while working at Biba in the 60s, and even her co-star Frankie Howerd's penchant for extras dressed as Roman soldiers! During a lively q&a session, she seemed pleasantly surprised to find out that a few of us were fans of Roddy McDowall's little-seen masterwork TAM LIN, and spoke of how greatly she admired Roddy's talent as a director on what turned out to be his only film behind the camera. Maybe this neglected gem of a movie could be unearthed and screened at the Festival some time?

By general consensus, though, the hit of the weekend was the Saturday night turn by Boba Fett himself, Mr. Jeremy Bulloch. Not so much an interview, more a brief intro by Gil followed by a well-honed but thoroughly entertaining hour of stand-up by the self-effacing Bulloch, full of anecdotes about STAR WARS conventions ("mah grandmother cuhldda played that part!"), the strangeness of seeing yourself being marketed as all manner of collectable plastic toys (Jeremy confessed to owning a vast selection of 'Boba Fett' merchandise himself!), his rare starring role in 1974 sex comedy CAN YOU KEEP IT UP FOR A WEEK? (appearing in a West End play alongside Dorothy Tutin at the time, Jeremy was appalled when his co-star announced she was going to see the film!) and his odd audition for Dennis Waterman's drama THE WORLD CUP: A CAPTAIN'S TALE (consisting of a full-scale game of football - whoever was left on the pitch at the final whistle got the part!). There was even an hilarious 'audience participation' section whereby three hapless volunteers were auditioned, Bulloch coercing them into mimicking the moves, stance, and dialogue of his EMPIRE STRIKES BACK character. Adrian James impressed us all with his Sylvester Stallone-like reading, although another familiar festivalgoer, Dave Gold, failed to make the grade and was described by Jeremy as looking like "a gardener"! Imagine our guest's surprise when he found out later that Dave and he had both appeared in Lindsay Anderson's O LUCKY MAN thirty years ago!

The usual auction hi-jinks took place on Saturday, with President Ramsey presiding as ever. With the rise of DVD, one might have expected a tidal wave of old-fashioned videocassettes (blimey, remember when they were 'the future'?) being off-loaded by upgraders, but fortunately Mr. Campbell avoided being buried neck-high in a pile of black plastic and magnetic tape. Despite the hotel instruction that no alcohol was permitted within the main auditorium, Ramsey managed to struggle through, replenished by the contents of a mysterious carrier bag smuggled in by his good lady Jenny. Honestly, dear old Captain Clegg would have been proud.

Local Salford music legends The Fall sang of "Futures And Pasts" on their debut album back in 1978, and this was very much the theme of the Festival's film programme for the weekend. The sterling work of enthusiastic film archivist Gerald Price has provided the backbone for the event's retrospective strand for many years, and he didn't disappoint this time out - among the old-time gems screened by Gerald and equally ardent projectionist Tony Meadows were such greats as THE UNINVITED, FACE BEHIND THE MASK, THE DEVIL COMMANDS and THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE, as well as several items from the trashier end of the vintage market, including CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON, DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME and TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE. Gerald's 16mm print of the latter was said to include the famous 'subliminal images' intended to provoke and stimulate the audience's mood - I must admit, I failed to spot the single-frame glimpses of knives, axes, skulls, and words such as 'BLOOD' and 'KILL' during the screening, but as our host explained, the whole point of the effect is that you don't actually register these sights, but merely sense that you have witnessed something you shouldn't have. Every year, the special guests at the Festival are presented with the Society Of Fantastic Films International Award, for services to fantasy cinema - Gerald Price himself was given a Soffia this time around, the committee showing their appreciation for all the effort he has put in, keeping the good old days alive and fresh in our minds, turning up year after year with reels of tantalising 16mm material for our entertainment. Anyone who can come rushing excitedly into the hotel lobby to announce a surprise screening of the short film DIZZY DETECTIVES (the 3 Stooges versus a gorilla) deserves such recognition!

As for the newer, more contemporary section of the programme, the independent and amateur films in competition reportedly offered an even higher standard than usual. Robert Pratten's LONDON VOODOO was a deserved winner in the 'independent feature' category - this dark tale of an urban environment being overturned by supernatural forces and ritual magic is the best British voodoo movie since Stanley Goulder's NAKED EVIL - and although I missed most of the shorts myself, I heard nothing but praise for the Italian movie E.D.E.N., which adds a thought-provoking climactic twist to its standard sf premise about a spaceship threatening destruction of the planet Earth. Also screened was the first feature produced by German DVD label Anolis Entertainment - aside from the spectacular work they've done on the Hammer back catalogue, as exhibited with an airing for FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, Anolis' very own TEARS OF KALI was presented as a midnight show on the opening night, to some acclaim.

One of the most encouraging elements of the weekend was the variety of new talent on display, be it young filmmakers or people exhibiting their skills in other artistic fields. From my own home town of Derby, director Owen Tooth and writer Adam Marsh both attended the festival to show their disturbing CONCEPTUAL in competition - I may be biased in my view, as the filmmakers are friends of mine, but I see a lot of short films and this stands as one of the best I've encountered in years, a simple tale of a girl wandering through a strange photo gallery, climaxing in a genuinely unpredictable finale which can literally be described as 'sick'!

I was equally impressed by James Riley, an impossibly young movie buff who presented an in-depth analysis of Herk Harvey's CARNIVAL OF SOULS and followed up with an early-hours double-bill comprising SPECTREMAN VS THE KILLER SMOG and THE ONE ARMED BOXER VS THE MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE to keep night owls transfixed midway through the weekend. James' confidence, coupled with an obvious love of offbeat and weird visual entertainment, bodes extremely well, and if he's back at next year's event I for one will definitely check out any presentations he may introduce.

Perhaps most striking of the new breed, however, was the promo video for a remarkable new drum'n'bass/dance track, 'Racing Green' by High Contrast, shown twice during the weekend. What's this got to do with Fantastic Films, you may ask? Well, the video features heaps of imagery inspired by Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING, containing frequent shots of a small boy frantically pedalling a tricycle around an empty hotel and confronting two mysterious and sinister-looking twin girls. Plus, more importantly, it's the work of one Lincoln Barrett. Those of us who were around in the early days of the festival will recall that our old friend Paul Barrett used to bring his young son Linc along - although Paul is still a high-profile presence each year, Linc has dropped out of the film scene to concentrate on building a successful career in music, and on the evidence of this work, recorded, written, and filmed by himself, his High Contrast project looks set to take off. According to Paul, the video has already been accepted for broadcast by MTV - let's hope for some well-deserved success for one of our own.

I'm sure everyone at the festival will join me in wishing to thank Tony and Gil, and the rest of the usual suspects, for another truly amazing weekend. Hope to see you all at next year's, same time, same place (?), same channel.

Daryll Buxton

Send Festival e-mail to Tony Edwards: AnthonyFEdwards@aol.com

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