Friday 23 October 2020

Report from the 2020 Mayhem Festival (Skeleton Edition)

Guest reviewer Satu Sarkas-Bosman gave us the lowdown on Nottingham's Mayhem Film Festival back in 2018, and I'm pleased to include her roundup of the slimmed down 2020 Festival, which was founded in 2005 by film makers Steven Sheil and Chris Cooke, and has evolved into a marvellous mixture of horror, science fiction and cult cinema.

What a strange year this has been so far, our usual horror gatherings and festivals are all on hold or reach us online, therefore it was a pleasant surprise that Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil decided to go ahead with a much pared down version of the usual four day feast. Three feature films and one short film showcase over 4 evenings; it was sold out, suitably distanced and even our facemasks did not dampen the atmosphere.

The first Festival offering was Boys from County Hell directed by Chris Baugh (The Captors, Bad Day for the Cut) and his tale of an ancient Irish vampire. This horror comedy introduces us Eugene (Jack Rowan) and his father (Nigel O'Neill) and their fractious relationship. Eugene, together with his friends Claire (Louisa Harland) and William (Fra Fee), portray brilliantly the utter boredom of being stuck in a small village.

Eugene's father's freeway construction project causes plenty of bad feeling in the village, especially since it will destroy the cairn where the legendary Abhartach, a vampire like creature, allegedly sleeps.

Tragedy ensues resulting in blood being spilled and the creature waking from its slumber. There is plenty of bloody kills, humour and a particularly satisfying looking creature. Refreshingly there is no stake through the heart, crosses or any of the usual armoury when battling bloodsucking creatures.

The cast is excellent, the story moves on in a satisfying pace and gives you a fun way to spend an October evening.

Unfortunately I missed Psycho Goreman the latest offering from Steven Kostanski, former Astron-6 member and the director of The Void and Manborg. I heard, from a reliable source, that if you are a fan of his work this will not disappoint you.

The third evening gave us Mayhem's 'Shorts Showcase' which is always close to my heart. Troll (Dan Lord) and Heat (Thessa Meijer) gave us truly short and delightful bites. Behind the Door (Andres Borghi) is a familiar story of the consequences of a desire to speak to the dead. As for the rest:

Dead End (Jack Shillingford) gives you a shiny Landrover, foggy atmosphere and a werewolf: enough said.

Peter the Penguin (Andrew Rutter) appealed to my sense of the surreal, especially if you like penguins...

Changeling (Faye Jackson) dealt with motherhood, transformation with an intriguing atmosphere but part of the soundtrack was so high-pitched that you wished for it to be all over.

There Will Be Monsters (Carlota Pereda) was a clear statement of what should happen to those who attempt to take advantage of a very drunk woman.

Ferine (Andrea Corsini) unfortunately was my least favourite of the night, a very predictable take on a feral existence.

No one is Coming (Matthew and Nathaniel Barber) had that 80's feel to it, a lone woman (or is she..?) in a remote cottage.

Muse (Azhur Saleem) was a very well put together mix of sci-fi and decay: I would gladly have the paintings featured on my own wall. What indeed happened to those visiting the artist's home?

Abracitos (Tony Morales) had a feel of a Spanish ghost story; a phone call in the middle of the night shakes the world of the two sisters.

Farce (Robin Jensen) had a lot say about greed, decadence, large penises and true love. Sami man is determined to save his reindeer herd and have the woman his heart desires.

Live Forever (Gustav Egerstedt) was a musical number where the victims of horror films can tell you in a song the reason for their demise. This is great if you ever want a sing-a-long at a horror festival.

And finally...

This was the absolute highlight for me, The Oak Room (Cody Calahan) is adapted from Peter Genoway's stage play and beautifully written. The atmosphere from the outset draws you in.

There is a snow storm outside and when Steve (RJ Mitte) walks in to the bar, Paul the bartender (Peter Outerbridge) is not happy to see him. There are two distinct storylines here, happening in two separate bars and the finale links these tales together. I am not going to reveal the story here at all since all of it is interlinking and significant in its own way. 

This film is driven by a dialogue, the kind of storytelling you can expect when someone can really spin a yarn. It is evocative, engrossing and yet the characters feel very human. The acting is excellent; Peter Outerbridge, RJ Mitte, Ari Millen, Nicholas Campbell and Martin Roach all provide strong performances. 

The soundtrack is extremely effective and parts of it reminded me of the powerful tunes of Sicario. This film also made me think of Pontypool; it has the same feeling of a dark tones, suspense and uncertainty of the outcome.

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