Nottingham’s annual five day fright-fest, Mayhem, commences on Wednesday (31st October) at Broadway Cinema, returning with one of its strongest line-ups to date. Felix was lucky enough to catch up with one of the directors of the festival, Chris Cooke, to find out what’s in store for those horror aficionados brave enough to venture down to this year’s festival. 

Could you give us a brief summary of how Mayhem started?

Mayhem started a while back now, we’ve been going 7 or 8 years, and it started out as a short film night, because I was working as one of the directors of a different festival and there was just a perforation of new, young horror directors and we gave them a showcase which then lead to the first Mayhem showcase. Then we thought let’s do short films and some features. Then it became a night, then three nights and now five. It really started because Steven and I just loved horror films – we would do all nighters, bring films, eat and drink and try to stay awake to watch the last one – it had a great atmosphere – we wanted something that recreated that atmosphere but we also wanted to celebrate the genre and invite film makers because we had an interest in that too – we wanted to have an interactive approach with guest directors and writers. Originally we wanted to do an all nighter, but doing it over a weekend makes sure people aren’t too exhausted. It’s also a variety, it’s not a night of just vampires or zombies, we wanted to represent the variety that horror has to offer.

How do you go about choosing a line-up?

We do a massive call out for features and shorts and we get in touch with film distributors and we track film festivals, sometimes going to Cannes and I spend hours watching as many films that get sent in as possible.

So you’ve seen all these films?

Yes I’ve seen all the films on at Mayhem plus hundreds more, and my eye sight is going, I’ve been staring at a screen for 6 months watching film after film. I think we have the strongest line up yet, but that’s really for the audience to decide. We do allow for different tastes, but we try to programme it so that there’s a tremendous amount of variety. Like the Thursday for example, we have Wheatley’s Sightseers – an incredibly violent film which contrasts perfectly with new Irish film Grabbers, and that creates a fantastic double header – there’s a huge difference between them and they represent the best in new British horror

Why did you choose The Shining to be part of the line-up?

It just represents a personal favourite for all three of us. Every Sunday of the festival we like to put on something from the archive. They’re the kind of films we sit in the pub talking about, like Eyes Without a Face or Hitchcock’s Frenzy, and we just love The Shining. We decided to put on the extra long 144-minute film for the fans – and I’ve never seen it on the big screen, so it’ll be a great experience. Similarly with Altered States that Kino Klubb are going to present on the Friday – Ken Russell died recently; he’s a great director, one that deserves celebration – and this is one of his best genre films and it’s just insane, it’s a great late night treat, and those are the two archive treats we have this year.

And talking about this great revival of British horror films – if you have any interest in filmmaking at all, go and see The Casebook of Eddie Brewer or Guinea Pigs, they’re both film that should inspire younger filmmakers and thrill audiences.  Eddie Brewer is a low budget ghost story that’s really tense and then Guinea Pigs is an alternative slasher film and involve the national film and TV school – it involves new filmmakers, so that’s very exciting and reflects modern anxieties too.

What film are you most excited about audiences seeing?

Well we’re closing with Dead Mine, Stephen Shields’s follow up to Mum & Dad – it’s set in a jungle – that’s a really exciting film to come see. My three films would be Dead Mine – it’s the European premier as well. The Secret of Crickley Hall – BBC’s flagship TV series coming out this autumn. Joe Aherne, creator of Ultra Violet and writer of the Christopher Eccleston Doctor Who series, is coming in to talk about writing horror for TV – I’ve seen the first episode – it’s brilliant. The most emotionally engaging ghost story I’ve seen in a long time. My third pick would be American Mary – it’s something quite rare for horror films these days – deals with something original. It’s set in the body modification underground – people want some sort of altercations – maybe they want their genitals altered or maybe they want horns – it investigates this world and takes you on a fantastically strange journey.

Could you tell us more about An Experiment in Fear?

Don’t want to give too much away, but not everyone can take part in it, you tick a box on the download application form and you’ll be selected by a group of people, they’ll then take you down to Broadway studio where you’ll be subjected to a brief experiment in fear. That’s all I can say. So if you’re intrigued, come along – if you like screaming.

So who’s running this experiment?

I can’t say – they’ve asked me not to – it’s something they wanted to do for a while – something where they take the audiences off and play with their minds. Just played with them. They’ll be about two groups of around fifty people and they will never be seen again. Don’t print that.

You’ve mentioned the wide range of British horror coming to Mayhem, but what about the international selection?

Rabies, the first official Israeli horror film, is a fanatic, playful alternative slasher film, which twists from beginning to end and is a really fresh take on the genre. Manborg is absolutely hilarious and was the first film we picked. It’s low budget, it’s heart warming, but at the same time it’s intelligent and it just riffs off films from the 80s; half man half robot stuff, it’s brilliantly tongue in cheek. One of the funniest homages to sci fi/action horror that I’ve ever seen. It’s a brand new film shot by a collective called Astron 6 in Canada who have recently made a film called Fathers Day which homages 80’s ultra violence.

And Dead Sushi means you can get some great recipe tips at the same time that you get to watch people being eaten by food. Best film from Japan this year.

What are Mayhem’s plans for the future?

We’re always planning to expand and we’re always planning to do the same thing. We always want audience to come along and get involved and sit back and watch great films these are all preview films, they’re not out till 2013 or the end of the year so we want to give people the best in brand new horror films and in short film – the shorts are very important to us – we love that, and we want more and more filmmakers to carry on sending us their stuff, but at the same time we want to branch out and collaborate more with people like Kino Klubb and Kneel Before Zod and we’re going to do a Christmas special with the pair of them – a completely weird Christmas mash up of cult cinema.

Do you think the festival will grow and perhaps overspill into other cities?

I’d love it if we got so big we were as big as Nottingham, I love Nottingham, we get some fantastic support from Broadway, it’s a great venue. You know I don’t live here, I don’t work here, but it feels like a second home and they’re really welcoming, amazing bar, brilliant bar. Good local environment. And people are coming to Nottingham to see Mayhem, that’s got to work.

Who’s your favourite guest?

I never have a favourite, you know what I mean? It’d be rude. (pause) I think Joe Aherne is really fascinating, so I’m going to say him, director of The Secret of Crickley Hall, he’s had such a really rich career in TV and beeen part of all these films – imagine being part of the first series of the Doctor Who revival! So I’m looking forward to seeing him here. I don’t know who else…

Ben Wheatley, perhaps?

He’s fantastic, he’s got a huge following,  he’s a really interesting British director. We also got John Wright with Grabbers so we’ve got loads of guest filmmakers this year – rich pickings for anyone who’s a fan of movies generally – what ever your interest in film is, hopefully Mayhem has something you can enjoy, I hope.

So you’ve watched a large amount of horror movies over the years  you’ve become hardened to the scares. Can you name a film that has properly terrified you recently?

I was watching The Casebook of Eddie Brewer on my TV with the lights off, low budget remember, and I wish I hadn’t turned the lights off, and I had to get my feet up off the floor because there was a gap under the sofa. What if something grabbed my foot? I love those kinds of films that make you do that. I love shocks and horror and I think horror is a really rich and diverse and broad genre. Ghosts. Ghosts do it for me.

Last year during one of the films, people dressed as zombies came up from under the chairs – is anything like that going to happen, or are you not allowed to tell us?

Every year we tend to have some kind of experiment as scientific as possible. Last year we had a live ghost hunt under cellars in Lee Rosey’s that’s supposedly haunted, with a live feed going into the screen – genuine ghost hunters with special skills hunted for a ghost. With Piranha 3D we had some gas masks developed for us by the thrill lab so they could run experiments about the way people breath during horror films.

This year it’s completely different, I have to put a veil of suspense over it which I think helps add to the horror.

Just out of interest, do you have a favourite horror film?

I suppose I do yeah. My favourite is probably Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw  original, I think it’s a beautifully crafted piece of filmmaking it’s not just the work of one man it feels like a collaborative effort. The soundtrack is beautiful, the editing is intense. It’s just really, really disturbing. Everything comes together, a benchmark horror film.

Another thing that’s well worth catching, on Halloween we have screenings of Robert Powell and Christopher Lee reading MR James. It’s free, it’s in the cinebar. It’s a tradition isn’t it? Reading ghost stories around Halloween? Afterwards we’ve added a special preview screening of a film that’s not out till March – Maniac. Starring Elijah Wood and shot in point of view, we see the eyes of the killer as he kills. If you get a weekend pass, it’s included in the price. We did it last year with the end of the festival with Human Centipede 2, and now we’re doing something equally as shocking. Now we have Human Centipede 3 to look forward to, apparently it’s going to have 500 people in the chain…

Felix Taylor

Tickets are available from the Broadway Box Office, or online at:

http://www.broadway.org.uk/groups/mayhem_horror_film_festival

And for more information on the films themselves visit the official website at:

http://www.mayhemhorrorfest.co.uk/

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