I’ve been a fan of horror for most of my life, especially when it comes to films. Even at the far-too-young age of 10 or 11-years-old, I was readily consuming VHS copies of movies featuring vampires, zombies and Freddy Krueger. Whilst not perhaps the most advisable diet of visual media for a youngster to live on, what this did do was fire my imagination into overdrive, and help towards forming my eventual wish to become a writer myself.
It’s Grimm Up North
With all that in mind, when I was offered the chance to attend the annual Grimm Up North Festival in Manchester at The Great Northern (Grimm Fest for short), I said yes faster than you can say “Here’s Johnny!” and so began a day full of terrifying delights in the nation’s greatest city.
Grimm Fest has been going for a number of years now, priding itself on showcasing the latest and greatest in independent genre cinema – with a particular focus on horror. This year’s programme boasted 4 days’ worth of feature films, shorts, Q&As, and even a range of awesome merchandise. If you’re a horror fan, then this is the festival for you.
The Scene of the Crime
This theory was proven from the moment I entered the Great Northern Odeon cinema, as I was met by the sight of hundreds of like-minded fans eager to get their fix. Themed t-shirts, costumes and even tattoos were not an uncommon sight. Whilst I was a little more lowkey in my choice of attire, I’d definitely come to the right place.
The walls were adorned with posters for all kinds of horror films. Classic horror, 80s slashers, and modern masterpieces were all well represented in large, colourful prints throughout the impressive venue, further adding to the feeling of stepping into another world entirely. A fitting experience for a festival of this kind.
As I ventured further into the belly of the beast, the all-encompassing horror was taken even further to the edge, through a series of exciting merchandise stalls. Here there was truly something for everyone – badges, t-shirts, hoodies, socks, cushions, action figures, art, DVDs and much more. All of this bloody goodness was, of course, themed around every horror element you could think of. Whether you’re into mainstream franchises like Stranger Things or the more obscure corners of the genre, you’d be well represented here.
Following a significant browse of these evil goodies, it was time for the main event – the screenings. A film festival wouldn’t be that without a variety of work thrown up onto the big screen, and this one delivered in blood-soaked spades.
Silver Screen Scares
I attended the Friday screenings, making my first Grimm Fest experience a Russian horror called Quiet Comes the Dawn. The general premise was this: A young woman is haunted by horrific lucid dreams that seem to have a connection to her past. After her brother commits suicide under similar circumstances, she enrols into an experimental dream therapy programme that allows multiple people to share the same lucid dream, in order to help each other solve their issues.
If this sounds familiar, it is with good reason. This is a film that uses many well-worn elements from more prominent past examples. The shared dream space has echoes of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and perhaps even a bit of Inception. There’s even a cult conspiracy angle, a trope used throughout the history of modern horror cinema.
The film struggles a bit in the first third, as it attempts to set up the lead character’s backstory with no real subtlety. However, once we move onto the main event – the aforementioned shared dream space – it becomes much more confident and distinctive in its world-building, setting a mood that lingers after the credits roll.
Quiet Comes the Dawn is not a wholly original horror movie by any stretch of the imagination, but so much of storytelling comes down to reusing older elements in a unique way. This film does enough of that in its 2nd and 3rd acts to warrant any horror aficionado taking a look.
This was followed by a series of 8 short films, a few of which were seriously impressive in their craft and visceral impact. One such short was The Party, which manages to combine wry humour with powerful & timely social commentary. What starts out as a quirky offbeat comedy piece takes quite a sharp turn in its final stages, shifting dramatically into a modern-day witch tale that has much to say on sexual assault. Well written with fantastic performances and a significant message, this short film felt more important than anything else screened at the festival.
Another impressive short was The Lost Films of Bloody Nora. This was a gorgeous short, which plays out like a dark fairy tale and a love letter to cinema itself. Nora is a young, lonely girl living with a controlling father. When she finds an old film camera, she is given a new lease of life, spending her time making her own movies and finding a new kind of companionship as she does so. Without giving too much away, the film’s tragic (and surreal) ending achieves an effect that is profoundly emotional and horrifying in equal measure. It’s a beautiful piece of work.
A Horrifically Memorable Experience
This was just a taster of the many screen delights on offer that day, not to mention the festival programme as a whole. If you love horror and genre films, then be sure to check out the Grimm Up North festival next year – you won’t be disappointed. Chances are you’ll be disgusted and a little scared at some point, but that’s all part of the fun.