Toxic Shock Syndrome

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"Whenever two or three horror fans are gathered together in myname, they will hold a festival, and the name of the festival shall beShock Around the Clock"
     -- The Book of Jaworzyn, Chapter 13, Verse 10.

Four hours before the doors opened up, people were already queueing up for the most eagerly anticipated event since whatever-the-last-eagerly-anticipated-event-was. Not that I was there at 8am, I only asked someone at the front. Having spent 30 minutes trying to find somewhere to park, the editors of TC and 'Sludgefeast' arrived about ten to eleven, joining the advance party dropped off earlier to hold a place in the queue. Some frantic competitive 'zine selling to the bored masses in the queue followed, honours ending about even, though I wasted half the income thus obtained buying other bits and pieces. I had just sold to the back of the queue when the doors opened and we were allowed into the new venue of the Electric cinema on Portobello Road.

The opening film was Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound. Next up was Blue Steel, reviewed in TC5 (I must admit the audience here seemed to like it more than I did), but preceded by a BBFC certificate, which provoked loud jeers from the audience. For some reason, this annoyed Stefan Jaworzyn, who came on afterwards and ticked us off in a pretty condescending manner - he seemed to think we were booing the film, when I, and I assume most people, were showing dislike for the BBFC. In any case, his reaction was a bit much given co-organiser Alan Jones' quote in Time Out: "We do not show certificated or cut versions". This was a lie, as 'Nightbreed' was definitely censored. Now, to be fair, I've always found both organisers very helpful and friendly in any personal dealings I've had with them, but they are perceived by many as egotistic and superior, not wanting to be regarded as one of the 'fans'. This is a shame - with the access to films and guests they have already, if Shock could borrow the attitude of Black Sunday they'd have one hell of a festival. As it is, they don't seem too bothered after the event sells out. End of polemic, back to the films.

The first real treat of the festival came on next - a preview reel for Highlander 2 - the Quickening. Always difficult to get an accurate impression of such things, but it looks very expensive and very impressive. Set in 2024, after the collapse of the ozone layer, it stars Lambert and Connery again - how the latter fits in is unsure, given his demise in the original and his non-appearance in the promo reel - battling against Michael Ironside.

Every festival has it's dog, and Shock's was the next film, Carnival of Souls. Made in 1962, before 90% of the audience was born, this newly-minted print may well be slavered over by the art-house horror crowd for things like 'subtle black & white cinematography' and 'eerie, atmospheric restraint'. I found it dull, repetitive and almost totally predictable - imagine a Herschell Gordon Lewis film without the gore, and the acting toned down to the mediocre and you get my impression. Under different circumstances, I might have enjoyed it, but not here - I'd rather watch modern crap than antique crap!

I could cope with it, however, biding my time for Miracle Mile, originally dropped but reinstated when the reaction at Black Sunday was so good. This film has provoked total unanimity across all audiences - again, undoubtedly the hit of the festival and I have yet to hear anyone say they find it less than superb. Personally, I found it even better on a second viewing - the beginning dragged less and the ending was more harrowing this time, knowing the outcome in advance. All I can do is repeat the advice given last time: go and see it.

Clive Barker swept in, signed some autographs, charmed the audience by making totally slanderous and 100% unprintable comments about Margaret Thatcher, and swept out, leaving us to watch Nightbreed. A welcome break followed, and then Dario Argento arrived, via a sidedoor to avoid the massed hordes of his worshippers. He got up on stage,said a few words in his limited English and was then lost to view for half an hour under a scrum of autograph-hunters. I went to the toilet. Came back in time for Two Evil Eyes'.

Hardware came in at no.6, see last issue for details - although audience opinion on it was definitely mixed, I still find it an astonishing film given the miniscule budget (less than a million pounds), and the relative inexperience of Richard Stanley, the director. He's only 24, give him twenty more years and he could be up there with Argento. Unfortunately,it looks like the film will be heavily cut, losing about 10 minutes, in the States anyway, after the distributors and censors have had their wicked way with it.

No such problems with the next film, because it has no distributor inthe UK and is unlikely to get one, since it would be shredded by the BBFC. Mind you, if 'Bad Taste' can get through, maybe Peter Jackson and the censors share a sense of humour, in which case his latest epic, Meet the Feebles, might yet be seen.

Maniac Cop II - zzzzzzzzzzz..... And I think most other people chose this one to catch up on a few winks, in preparation for Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (I wasn't the only person to look at the program and wonder what film 'Acre III' was, not having noticed it was merely the leftover from 'Texas Chainsaw Mass-' on the previous line!). Directed by Jeff Burr of The Stepfather, it's far better than the flaccid TCM II, returning to the spirit of the original, while fortunately dispensing with the flares. A couple driving through Texas encounter the family of cannibals, now extended to include a mother and a young daughter (that's another child who'll grow up totally warped!), and come off second best, at least initially. A healthily nasty streak runs through it, andit's another one you are unlikely to see here, although I believe the Scala are planning to show it.

And that was that, for another year. 20 hours, 10 films, virtually all of them worthwhile at least for one viewing and we departed, leaving behind some vaguely miffed staff looking at the rubbish generated by keeping 450 people in a small space for 24 hours. The decision to move it to the Electric was a mixed blessing, the seats did have slightly more leg-room and the sound system was definitely better, but the place got far too hot very quickly and there was a lack of room to stand around and chat between, or even during, films. All in all, a worthwhile weekend, even if at #25 they're in danger of pricing themselves out of the market.


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