Now in its third glorious year, the blood runs thick in East London once again with this annual event for horror fans. If you are into the Saw films, and modern jump scares, this is not for you. Classic films from yesteryear are the flavour here. With bigger film festivals losing a little something in the atmos-fear factor, Darkfest is a family affair with a 'local' feel. For supporters of print media, this is a delight, as Darkside mag is not only the longest running, but also the best (and most popular) horror mag in the world.
Upon entering, you get the cosy feel of being down the pub, not the Slaughtered Lamb in this case, however, and there are stalls set up as soon as you climb the stairs. Away from the rest of the Genesis cinema there is a cubby hole of special guests and boxes upon boxes full of the kind of films you can't pick up in HMV, or stream on Netflix. Brazilian witches, Polish Vamps, alien zombies; whatever your fancy there is a DVD for you, if you dig deep enough.
Once done with the goodies; having picked up a limited edition Jean Rollin 3 discer from Encore entertainment, the IT steelbook, a scramble around in the old horror/skin mags, and a 1970s TV annual (that the child in anyone who was around for that period would give their pocket money bag of sweets for) you stroll on in for the first film of the day.
Due to London transport, the short film section was missed this year, but in time for Satanic Rites of Dracula is enough. This 1973 effort has taken a long time to earn respect for doing something different with the format, and actually is quite an effective film. It has to be said, even if you consider yourself a diehard Hammer Dracula aficionado, to be objective they got junkier as they went along; bats on wires are what people remember nowadays. Well, go back and give this one a try again, and you might be in for a surprise. For a lifetime, it has only been available on public domain foreign DVD copies, from worse than VHS quality tapes. Now it has been cleaned up, and is available on the Premium series on Warner Bros Blu-ray; it looked simply fantastic here on the big screen. Lee's Dracula has a chance to shine in a new light, as a powerful business man whose desire is to wipe every living person off the planet in a plague for the ages. Hey, they got back Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, so there must have been some worth to the script. It harks back to older films with a dungeon full of vampire women, and has glamour in the form of future Avenger Joanna (lovely) Lumley. Quick break, just enough time for an obligatory toilet visit, another scan around the room where the guests are, and get a photo print autographed by Marianne Morris. She is so modest about her place in the pantheon of horror history, and a charming woman to boot. Coffee on the go, and rush back up into the screening room for the 2nd show of the day:
1974's Vampyres. An unbeatable erotic masterpiece that, once seen, is never forgotten. A personal favourite, and an atmosphere-dripping English set film from the cult Spanish director José Ramón Larraz. A simple story of a caravanning couple, in the rural parts near an old mansion that is being squatted in by a pair of luscious ‘vampyres’, one of which is played by the aforementioned Marianne Morris, in her prime. Much nudity and bloodletting follows, in a sumptuous display of style over content. You’ve gotta love it.
A quick food run, and another well-timed toilet visit before the stand-up stylings of former 70s pinup icon Robin Askwith. Last year he had his set before Horror Hospital; now we have Tower of Evil to follow his comedy. If there was ever a man who could spill anecdotes out of himself, it is Askwith; an hour flies by and he is physically removed from the stage before he causes (more) libellous situations. You learn more in that quick hour than you could by reading a good book on 1970s (1972 specifically! Ha) film industry - Fellini, Pasolini, and Confessions of a...anyway, moving on.
1972 produced a lot of Robin Askwith films, but the only one dubbed over by an actor with a terrible American accent was Tower of Evil. Having watched this many times, but not now for several years, it takes you back to a time of crazy cinema that could not exist in contemporary circles. It is that ‘let’s put on a show’ attitude where nothing seems as calculated as modern films. Fun was had, and the film has Candace Glendenning in, so we can’t complain. Making like that episode of Doctor Who with fan favourite Tom Baker, where they are stranded on a remote island with something that goes bump in the night, only with more bare naked flesh. 70s cinema, full of tits and dicks, all over the shop they were. Which nicely leads into the final film of the day
Peeking around the corner, into the 1980s, but still chock-full of male and female nudity. An American Werewolf in London, and in attendance is the porn actress Linzi Drew. She has a small, but expansive role in the film, and seems to be on the minds of many viewers when the title is suggested. See you next Wednesday? Not much needs to be said about this recognised classic of the genre; the perfect blend of laughs and screams, and FX that were well ahead of their time. More jump-out-of-your-seat moments than any other horror film of its generation, it set the bar for others to follow in that decade. In many ways it has still not been beaten for comedy and horror played against each other (possibly only Evil Dead 2 in serious competition).
Four films, shorts, an award ceremony that had winners including Kim Newman, Caroline Munro, and influential artist Graham Humphreys, an ever-flowing bar that produced an overspill of plastic cups well into the night, plus all the guests who happily have a chat with you as opposed to those comic-CONs where you pay one hundred smackers for a ‘star’ to rush you along after they have signed your poster. Gawd bless this festival and may it last forever, with talk of a spin-off sci-fi event too, it’s something to be celebrated.
The only bad to report was the overzealous cinema worker who confiscated the fruit pastilles from a bag with the words ’No food in the screening rooms’, admittedly making a certain someone laugh, and the lone representative who could not have been less interested, spending the entire day texting on her phone in clear view of the whole audience.
Thanks to Allan Bryce, he’s been making horror film fans happy for more years than…well, a while now. He, and a few choice others, put this day together. Long live, and bring on Darkfest 4.