Written by Daniel Benson
Published on Tuesday, 01 July 2014 08:58
Click image to enlarge.
The Rough Guide to Frightfest 2014
Frightfest, no doubt about it, is the UK's leading genre festival. Taking place each August Bank Holiday weekend since 2000, and growing in popularity and scope with every passing year, it attracts fans and celebrity guests from all over the world. After many successful years at the Empire Cinema in London's Leicester Square, the organisers have chosen to move to the Vue Cinema and expand the festival from three to five screens. For 2014 Frightfest takes place between Thursday 21st August and Monday 25th August (inclusive).
Getting organised for the weekend can be a daunting task if you've never been before (or even if you have), so we've put together a guide based on our own experiences that may help you to survive this behemoth of a weekend. Be under no illusions: watching five days of films back to back can be a feat of endurance, albeit a hugely enjoyable one, but a few simple pointers can make it a little easier. Ready? Let's go.
Frightfest operates a 'single seat' concept for its passes, which means if you hold a day, weekend, or full festival ticket then you'll be in the same seat for the duration. Learn to love it, it'll be your home for the weekend. Tickets are available in three options: The first, and arguably the best option, is the weekend pass which gives you full access to all screenings over the weekend. Day passes give the same access, restricted to the day (or days) you choose. Finally, there will be tickets available for individual films, but if you want the full Frightfest experience you really need to be spending some time there. You can check the full programme of events in the Frightfest Schedule. Ticket prices are as follows:
- Festival Pass £170
- Thursday Day Pass – £29
- Friday Day Pass – £58
- Saturday Day Pass – £58
- Sunday Day Pass – £58
- Monday Day Pass £49
- Single Film Ticket - £13
You can purchase tickets online through the Vue Cinema Box Office, over the phone on 08712 240 240 (Calls are charged at 10p per minute from BT land lines. Charges from other networks and mobiles may vary) or in person at the cinema. Weekend and day passes were released for sale on Saturday 28th July at 10.00am in person and 12.00pm online. After much difficulty with online and phone sales, full Festival Passes for the Frightfest weekend are sold out. Some day passes still remain, but are being held until the payment issues are resolved. Individual film tickets go on sale from 19th July. Full details of ticket options/prices on the Frightfest website.
|Some of the wide variety of films showing at the 2014 festival
Unless you're lucky/unlucky (delete as appropriate) enough to live in central London, you're probably going to need somewhere to stay, right? An affordable option taken by many Frightfesters is High Holborn Halls student accommodation, which lets out its rooms during the summer break. It is basic, with some rooms having shared facilities, but one of the cheaper options. Its biggest advantage is its proximity to Leicester Square (approximately a 15 minute walk) and the large groups of festival-goers who'll be walking back after the last film offering safety in numbers to lone film-fans. It's very popular and is often booked out over the Frightfest weekend. You can book HHH, if there are any rooms left by now, on the LSE Website. Other student digs around London are available through LSE although they may not be as handy for the cinema.
Slightly further down the scale would be one of the many London hostels, although you'll potentally sacrifice the privacy and security of your own room for the lower price of sharing a dorm with strangers. You can search and book hostels through Hostel Bookers.
If you prefer a few more home comforts and can stretch the budget a bit, then a hotel is a much better option and one that I go for each year. The downside to hotel booking is the closer you get to central London, the higher the price usually is. A neat way to cut the cost of your hotel stay is booking through Hotwire, a 'secret hotels' site that keeps the exact details of the accommodation secret until after you've booked. You can order its search results by distance to your preferred area, making it easy to choose a hotel that falls within budget and within a reasonable distance.
If you're not within easy walking distance of Leicester Square, or you just want to get around London, one of the quickest options is by the London Underground. To keep your costs in check, purchase an Oyster Card on any of the stations and top it up with cash as required. It usually works out much cheaper than buying individual tickets for each journey. You can also use it on the London Bus network, which may be handy if your only late travel option is a night bus. If you have Google Maps on your smartphone or tablet, then using the public transport option when searching a route will show you the bus options and the nearest stops to your start point and destination.
If you're like me and can't fathom the sprawling mess of a London Underground map, then an app like TubeMapp by MX Data (iPhone, available from the App Store for free) is an ideal way to plan tube journeys. Simply input your starting and terminating stations and it'll tell you exactly which line to take and any changes you need to make.
If you're foolish enough to take a car into London, be prepared to sell a kidney. Unfortunately, due to the change of venue, there is no discounted parking offer this year.
In addition to the parking, remember that the London Congestion Charge applies in Central London Mon-Fri 7am - 6pm. For more details go here.
|Psychological German horror Der Samurai will play the Main Screens
With the mundane necessities out of the way, let's talk about what to expect after you stumble into the Vue on the Thursday evening. When you look around the lobby, you might be forgiven for thinking that there's some kind of posh event or a wedding being held there. There'll be an abundance of suits and evening gowns, waistcoats and polished shoes, maybe even top hats and canes. Fear not, this is a Frightfest tradition; many fans choose to dress in their finery for the opening night mostly for fun, but also to show respect to the forthcoming festival. There's no requirement to dress so smartly of course, and the same people in top hat and tails will probably be decked out in jeans and t-shirt for the remainder of the weekend. Dress however you're comfortable.
The World is Your Oyster
Or at least a good portion of the Vue Cinema is. Frightfest 2014 will boast five screens showing back to back films throughout the weekend. The three main screens will present a rolling schedule of the bigger profile films and premieres, plus on stage introductions from celebrity guests.
2014 sees two Discovery screens of significantly increased capacity. Gone is the previous year's option to see a film you've missed in the 'Rediscovery' screen, as both Discovery 1 & 2 have their own schedule. Getting tickets has been improved too; In previous years you needed to queue early morning for a very limted number of Discovery tickets. As well as the increased seating capacity of the screens this year, the option to get tickets has been moved to the evening before the screening for any particular film. At 6.00pm the automated machines in the Vue lobby will have tickets available for the next day's films. To get a ticket for a Discovery film, simply scan the barcode on your ticket at the machine and choose a seat. They're free to pass-holders, but you may find there are queues for the machines if any films are particularly anticipated.
One of the biggest conundrums for festival-goers is what to see and when. Thankfully user Chris Reynolds at the Frightfest Forums, has created a marvelous Gantt chart that shows all the films' start, finish times and durations in relation to each other. Should make things a little easier when you have a visual guide to when things are showing. You can see the chart here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/57527475/frightfest_gantt.png
As an alternative, long-time Frightfester Richard Street (go read his film reviews, they're really rather good) has produced a PDF schedule that separates the films by colour for easy tracking. You can find his planner by clicking here.
When you find your seat, congratulations, you've now discovered the relatively small patch of upholstery that's going to house your bum for many, many hours. Get to know it intimately, for it shall serve you well over the weekend. You'll also notice other, like-minded individuals who you're going to be spending a lot of time with, so get to know them too. If you're a lone attendee, then breaking the ice with your row-mates is a good way to have a less insular experience. The vast majority of Frightfesters are friendly folks, who'll happily chat away and debate the merits of the films with anyone who cares to strike up conversation. Don't be a wallflower, be a friendly waffler - but save it for between the screenings.
Start times for films are usually pretty good for running to schedule, so turn up on time so you don't create a Mexican wave along your row while getting to your seat. Disturbances during the films are frowned upon and quite apart from anything else it shows a lack of consideration for your fellow film fans. Keep the noise to a minimum and that includes noisy food wrappings and conversations about what's happening on screen. And if you have a mouse bladder, try not to quaff too much before a screening, or you'll be up to go to the loo in the middle of a film too. The Vue's screens are licensed, so it's permissable to take your beers (purchased at the bar) in with you, although the previous advice about keeping the peace still stands; once you pop, you can't stop.
TURN OFF YOUR BLOODY PHONE - Those new to Frightfest will not be aware of how strongly this is frowned upon. It's only common sense, the message gets louder every year (this year continues with an ident competition based on the theme) and yet still people choose to whip out their smartphones and check messages during films they might not be that interested in. Those that ignore this rule will find out to their detriment how strongly the crowd feels about it. If you check your emails during a film, expect to be heckled, often with some choice language, or even removed from the cinema if you're a persistent offender. Show the films and the crowd the respect of keeping your phone in your pocket. There's plenty of time for texting in between screenings.
Personal hygiene is a tricky subject, so let's just say that Lucio Fulci t-shirt you wore on day one isn't going to smell too clever by Saturday evening - especially if you don't use the facilities in your accommodation. It sounds almost ridiculous to say it, but there are always a rare few who tend to hum a bit more as the weekend goes on and it's not pleasant if you have to sit beside it. Pack a few extra shirts, start your day with a shower and a squirt of Lynx wouldn't go amiss. It attracts the ladies don't you know?
|Kiwi zombie comedy I Survived a Zombie Holocaust will play the Discovery Screens
Breaks between films can vary between 15-20 minutes to an hour or so. The toilets in the Vue will be crowded during the shorter breaks, so it might serve you better to use the public toilets in Leicester Square (although there's a charge). On the longer breaks you might want to venture out and grab a bite to eat. There are a number of fast food places around the square, but it's really not great to live on junk all weekend. Fortunately, food is one of the most ubiquitous commodities in London and you're only a few minutes away from many different choices.
Chinatown is literally just behind the Vue and offers an array of eateries from sit-down meals, to buffets. Reviews vary, so pick your restaurant carefully. There's also a Japanese restaurant, The Tokyo Diner, close to The Prince Charles Cinema, which offers decent food at reasonable prices - and as per Japanese culture, no tipping. Other eateries popular with Frightfesters are:
Chipotle (Mexican) 92-93 St Martins Lane, Covent Garden, WC2N 4AP
West End Kitchen (English food), 5 Panton Street Piccadilly Circus, SW1Y 4DL
Mr Kong (Chinese), 21 Lisle Street WC2H 7BA
I'd also suggest visiting a Tesco Metro, such as the one at Covent Garden (22-25 Bedford Street, WC2E 9EQ) where you can stock up on easy and reasonably healthy food and drinks at wallet-friendly prices. Within the cinema, the usual snacks are available such as popcorn, hot-dogs and nachos. The most useful thing on sale is the Costa coffee, many gallons will be drunk to keep people awake over the weekend. There's usually a Frightfest discount arrangement for cinema food, but really, who wants to live on that for five days?
Lobby, Guests, Organisers
In the shorter breaks, the lobby becomes an extremely busy area - often much to the surprise of the 'regular' cinema-goers. It can also get quite warm in there, so feel free to step out for a breath of fresh air (or carcinogenic smoke if that's your bag). If you happen to be skipping a film, then the lobby becomes a relative sea of tranquility where a few other horror fans will be hanging out, and you may even get to bump into one of the festival guests or the organisers Ian Rattray, Greg Day, Alan Jones and Paul McEvoy. Don't feel cautious about approaching anyone, the organisers love to hear feedback from the fans (although they may be rushing about between films, sorting out last minute problems) and the celebrity guests are there to mix with their audience. You'll also find that the press interviews are frequently done during screenings in the roped off area of the lobby, so keep your eyes peeled and you never know who you'll spot.
If the urge to spend takes over, there's always a reasonable-sized merchandise stand set up by The Cinema Store where you can part with your hard-earned cash for horror movie books, DVDs, Blu-rays and other memorabilia. And if that whets your appetite for more spending, their retail store is only a few minutes away.
Once the final film of the evening closes you'll have the choice to either trudge back to your accommodation or continue the party at the official after-hours venue of Frightfest: The Phoenix Artists Club. Each night it's the venue for post-festival drinks and merriment, where you'll definitely be rubbing shoulders with horror luminaries from London and beyond. Beware if you're not an early riser though; the last film usually ends around 1am and with an hour or so of cheeky snifters at The Phoenix you'll be eating into valuable sleeping time. The Phoenix also hosts the massive end of festival party which will be a sight to behold and a major hangover in the making.
If your option is to head home and rest, be aware that you're in a major city late at night. In the years I've been attending Frightfest I've never had any issues and there's usually lots of people around in the brightly lit streets. Stay on the main roads and walk or travel with a friend if you can. London's no more dangerous at night than many other capital cities, but a certain amount of common sense should be exercised.
Once the festival wraps up on Monday 25th August you'll have a slight feeling of emptiness in your life as you part from the kindred spirits and barrage of screen violence that's been fed through your eyeballs for the past five days. You'll be tired, your backside will be numb, you'll have eaten too much crappy food, drank too much of the wrong things and your bank balance will be looking as unhealthy as a tray of stale cinema nachos. But damn it, you'll have had the time of your life.
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