GENRE'S INNER SANCTUM: 2019 SOHO HORROR FILM FESTIVAL They said they'd be back. Rightly emboldened by the success of last year's inaugural Soho Horror Festival, the triumvirate behind the terror - horror aficionado Mitch Harrod, director /producer Charlie Steed and actor/artist Barrington de la Roche - promised that the festival would return, and this year it has, with a vengeance. Taking place once more way down in the hole beneath the Karma Sanctum Hotel on London's Warwick Street, this time the event expanded to three days (15-17 November), with a larger showcase of 14 features and 16 short films. These were all curated for variety and , as last year, carefully coordinated so that the shorts complemented the theme or mood of the features with which they were associated. In other words, a lot of thought - love, even - has gone into not just the selection of films, but also the order in which they have been programmed. This makes for an unusually well-modulated weekend: it all somehow feels balanced, despite the marked diversity of a schedule, with everything from arachnid invaders (Itsy Bitsy) to irradiated priests (Deathg to Metal), from comics-loving killers (Artik) to hand-cut animated devils (Attack of the Demons), from a woman on a rape-revenge rampage (Swing Low) to a teenage girl in love with a dino robot (Tammy and the T-Rex), and from gendered SF set in psychedelic deep space (Blood Machines) to an altogether more grounded documentary on the bad timing of the AIDS-infected Eighties for gay horror to come out (Scream, Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street). Here are my five favourite shorts and features from the weekend. Short films: Most of these shorts had a simple, winning formula in common: take an utterly familiar horror premise, so that you can sketch it in economic shorthand; and then add an original spin or special twist that defamiliarises and refreshes everything. 5) With In Sound, We Live Forever (2018), writer/director Joseph Giuliano shows us the hauntingly abandoned aftermath of a horrific crime, while raising the ghost of what happened there entirely through the (very precisely engineered) soundtrack, while leaving the visuals to our imagination - until the end, when sight and sound are reunited, and the unfinished assault resumed. 4) In Aaron Pagniano's We Got a Monkey's Paw (2018), occult-obsessed Zack (co-writer Zack Ogle) offers to help his college room mate Jakki (Jacqueline Jandrell) out of her essay crisis with the help of black magic, and the two go on a hyperfast, superfunny time-travelling adventure to undo the chaos their occult dabbling keeps creating, with rapidly ramifying results. 3) Lucas Amann's semen-stained Peopling is a grotesquely unhinged domestic drama about a mother and son(s) caught in an endless cycle of parthenogenetic reproduction, disappointment and substitution, all unfolding in a two-bedroom apartment located somewhere in the messed-up landscape between Psycho and Eraserhead. 2) Easily, at 25 minutes, the longest of the weekend's shorts, J. Zachary Thurman's Finley follows the deeply incompetent attempts of a creepy cursed ventriloquist's dummy to murder a house full of co-eds, and along the way skewers every clichéd trope of the 'killer doll' subgenre. 1) It's hard to live up to the punning brilliance of a title like Vinyl Destination, but Daniel Cummings' 2018 short delivers one funny narrative surprise after another in rapid succession. The set-up is simple: two housemates (played by Cummings and Nate James Bakke) inadvertently let the devil into their home after playing a cursed record backwards - except the backmasked instructions they receive are not what they - or you - would expect. This is the sweeter side of Satanism, placing the strange dynamics of male cameraderie on the record. Feature Films: 5) Two films tie for fifth place, both pastiches of sorts: Charlie Steed's An English Haunting comes with a somewhat misleading title - for while it is set in an old, isolated English manorhouse filled with lingering spirits, look hard into its dark gothic spaces, and you’ll see the decidedly un-English ghost of Lucio Fulci, as well as shadings of The Shining and Sinister. The result is Dark Temple Motion Pictures' best film yet. and In Daniel de la Vega's Punto Muerto, Anatomy of an Impossible Crime is both the title of a novel written by one of the characters, and a fair summary of the film itself. For in this detective story (set at a convention of detective story authors), there is a Schroedinger’s cat, a locked-room mystery (or several) and a critical murder. It is a metaliterary pastiche of Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Louis Feuillade that never sees any need to solve its enigmas in any other way than implicitly, and if giallo (literally 'yellow') is also a (paradoxical, anachronistic) influence, the explicitly yellow colour of the killer's glove cannot be seen in all the beautifully lit, noirish monochrome 4) Bruce McDonald's Dreamland is set in a jazz-inflected dystopia of pure genre that is also a landscape of the mind, and stars Stephen McHattie in a double rôle as both a conflicted mob hitman (looking like Joe Spinell), and as a junkie trumpeter (think Chet Baker meets William S. Burroughs). This oneiric adventure is not only from the same team who brought us Pontypool (2008), but might just be regarded as an escapist sequel to that film - or at least to its post-credits coda. 3) The multi-directed anthology Scare Package goes beyond the uncanny valley of the ultra meta, destroying all genre tropes along the way, as its different episodes, interwoven through a framing story about a VHS rental store, lovingly deconstruct the clichés of Eighties straight-to-VHS horror. 2) Like his earlier Still/Born (2017), Brandon Christensen's Z finds an imaginary form (and mythos) for deeper psychological subtexts (here the persistent legacy of abuse and trauma). A distraught mother (the incredible Keegan Connor Tracy) struggles to cope as her eight-year-old son's behaviour is adversely affected by an imaginary friend with whom she is herself more familiar than she at first remembers. This tense, disturbing psychodrama represents an unholy wedding of The Entity and Daniel Isn't Real. 1) "They’ve chosen you from the furnace of affliction." Produced, written, directed, shot, scored and edited by Jordan Graham (Specter, 2012), Sator is a slow-burning psychodrama in which Adam (Gabriel Nicholson), living alone in a remote cabin in the woods, becomes the latest in his family to be overtaken by the sylvan demon - or is it inherited madness? - known by his grandmother (Graham's own grandmother June Peterson, who died shortly after the shoot) as 'Sator'. Beautifully lit and framed, and thoroughly intense, this unfolds in an elliptical series of flashbacks which reveal a family with a long legacy of strange, cultic behaviour. Playing out like a boondocks Hereditary, Sator is quite simply one of my favourite horror films of the year.Jury Lead - Anton Bitel
Do go in the basement: the inaugural Soho Horror Film Festival Deep in the bowels of the Karma Sanctum Hotel on London's Warwick Street, something was stirring. Over the weekend of the 10-11 November, a new genre event was spawned, emerging in grotesquely developed form. The Soho Horror Festival is the brainchild of director /producer Charlie Steed, actor/artist Barrington de la Roche and horror expert Mitch Harrod, and its inaugural incarnation boasted 12 features and even more short films, all lovingly curated by Harrod to maximise the eclecticism of a mix that went from fun (Max Groah's Bong of the Living Dead) to extreme (Lucio A Rojas' Trauma) and back again (Rebekah McKendry and David McKendry's All the Creatures Were Stirring). In a showcase so rich and varied, the task of picking favourites is especially difficult - unfair, even - but here are my 'Top Five' shorts and features from the weekend. Short films: 5) Robin Kasparik's I AM THE DOORWAY employs a POV format and trippy sci-fi frame to show mental illness from the inside as a terrifying space odyssey. It is as beautiful as it is disorienting and disturbing. Equal place with Chris Cronin's eerily atmospheric OSCA'RS BELL, in which a father, his son and their pet dog Oscar go a-camping on the edge of the woods, only to encounter a Carpenter-esque predator that wants in on the family. 4) Woods. A campfire. Co-eds. An urban legend. A vengeful slasher. You will know the tune of Anthony Cousins' THE BALLAD OF SQUIRT REYNOLDS, but you might be surprised to hear it set to (diegetic) music and lyrics, and played out with such a knowing sense of gleeful silliness. 3) Joshua Long's POST MORTEM MARY is a throughly creepy piece of Australian period gothic in snapshot, as a mother and daughter who take photographic keepsake portraits of the dead find one little girl determined to cling on to life. 2) In THE HELSINKI MANSPLAINING MASSACRE, Ilja Rautsi's witty feminist update of the Tobe Hooper classic, a horror-loving woman at a crossroads in her life comes crashing into a nightmarish world of old-school male chauvinists, and realises that her boyfriend is a part of the problem. Still, anything can be fixed with the right tools, and there is no trajectory that cannot be reversed in the cause of liberation. 1) In Laurel Vail's WHAT METAL GIRLS ARE INTO, a trio of female friends (one played by the director) face off against their AirBnB host (Matt Mercer!) and his two male friends in a desert cabin. Where the latter are serial rapists and killers - and kinda annoying dicks to boot - the former die as hard as they rock, refusing to play victim to anyone. The ensuing battle of the sexes is a super-smart, ultra-funny reversal of familiar horror tropes, as well as a devil's-horn hand sign raised against misogyny. Feature Films: 5) A desperate romance set in the near-future, Pavel Khvaleev's exquisitely crafted, strange and singular SF INVOLUTION transforms a global apocalypse of bestial regression into a moving elegy of love and loss. 4) In Luke Jaden's festival opener BOO!, a Detroit family is haunted over Halloween not only by supernatural home invaders, but also by the greater curse of its own unresolved mistakes and inner dysfunction. The ending, though at first seeming abrupt, is throughly integral and well sign-posted by everything that has proceeded, and comes with a disturbing honesty about the dire consequences of lovelessness and neglect. 3) A sequel in name only, Mike Testin and Matt Mercer's low-budget, balls-to-the-wall DEMENTIA PART II sees an ex-con handyman (Mercer again!) confronted with every anxiety we have about the elderly as he must clean the pipes of a batty old lady (Suzanne Voss) who keeps confusing him with her late husband, and wants him to satisfy her abiding appetites. In the mirthful mayhem that follows, anything goes, and you won't see it coming. Academy award for Voss, please! 2) If you want to know how you get from De Sica's Bicycle Thieves, via Kurosawa's Yojimbo, to a post-apocalyptic campus satire that is also a sly allegory of America's polarised red-on-blue politics, best watch Trevor Stevens' rambunctious co-ed comedy ROCK STEADY ROW. It is no chore either, with its brilliant mix of action, comedy and lo-fi world-building, and its setting in a run-down university that operates by its own surreal rules. 1) Screening as part of the Festival's Queer Fears Gala, Tilman Singer's LUZ reverse-engineers familiar genre materials to the point where they become nearly unrecognisable in their new and disorienting narrative structure. Shot at a clinical distance, the film observes a session between young Chilean cab driver Luz Carrara (Luana Velis) who has just wandered in a daze into a German police station, and the consulting psychiatrist (Jan Bluthardt) assigned to uncover what has happened to her. In fact the doctor harbours a deeper secret than his patient, and as the hypnotherapy takes hold and the rôle play begins, from a mesmerising confusion of transference and projection there emerges a bizarre love story, transcending time, gender, culture and the rational laws of the physical world. This is a true original, heralding the arrival of a new film-making talent, as fully-formed as the Festival which celebrated him.Jury Member - Anton Bitel
2018 Audience Awards We thank everyone for voting so dilligently and incisively across the weekend, and it was wonderful to see such a varied but consistently positive response to our selections. The votes have been tallied and verified, and our 2018 Audience Award winners are as follows: -SHORT FILMS- Bronze - WHAT METAL GIRLS ARE INTO Silver- OSCAR'S BELL Gold- MONSTAGRAM -Feature Films- Bronze- VIDAR THE VAMPIRE / TRAUMA Silver- ROCK STEADY ROW Gold- DEMENTIA PART IIAudience
Charlie is the director/producer of indie British horror films Escape From Cannibal Farm, The House of Violent Desire and The Barge People, made through his production company Dark Temple Motion Pictures.
Programmer / Director
Mitch Harrod is a dyed in the wool horror fan. His first words out of the womb were "What's your damage, Heather?" ... He's gone on to write, edit and produce horror short films and writes press for Halloween haunt attractions. Mitch loves Horror more than Lorelai Gilmore loves Christmas
Barrington is an actor, artist and co-founder of performance art company Dark Theatre. He describes himself as a dark magician, has had many conversations with the devil, has the ability to contact the dead and enjoys yoga and gardening
We are delighted to announce a new beast, some COVIDeo Nasties if you will, coming to a screen (very) near you this Saturday May 9th. 4 brand new fear inducing feature films and shorts, exclusively for Soho Horror Fest, and streamed straight to your home.
An exclusive performance of an extract from Nicholas's one man show
Director's Cut Premiere
Screening with FIRST BITE + MELVIN & THE MICROPHONE + AT THE EDGE OF THE NIGHT
Screening with REGRET
"Highway To Hell..."
THUNDERBIRD + GOODBYE HONEY + Spit Grades Podcast + Valentines Surprise: LAS FURIAS
"At Your Mercer"
BROWSE + DEMENTIA PART II + Strong Language Violent Scenes Live Podcast ft Matt Mercer!