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The Rough Guide to Frightfest 2013
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. The venue is the Empire Cinema in London's Leicester Square and its massive Screen 1 will be filled to capacity for the majority of the weekend. For 2013 Frightfest takes place between Thursday 22nd August and Monday 26th 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.
Normally at this time of year, information on tickets - especially full weekend passes - would be close to pointless as they'd almost certainly be sold out. After seeing demand rise each year the festival organisers have made more weekend passes available than ever before, and at the time of writing, there are still passes available at the very reasonable cost of £170. There are also passes available for individual days (check the Frightfest Schedule for the programme).
You can purchase tickets online through the Empire Box Office, over the phone on 08714 714 714 or in person at the cinema. Tickets for individual films will be released on Saturday 27th July at 11.00am. Full details of ticket options/prices on the Frightfest website.
|HorrorTalk's Ilan Sheady strikes a pose with Frighfest 2012 guests, The Soska Twins and Katherine Isabelle|
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 The Empire (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 Empire.
Slightly further down the scale would be one of the many London hostels (not the Elite Hunting Club type!), 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. One saving grace is that Frightfest normally organises a discounted parking rate with a multi-storey close to The Empire. This year, the deal is as follows:
From Thursday 22nd Aug to Monday 26th Aug inclusive, at the Whitcomb Street Car Park FRIGHTFEST TICKET HOLDERS can park for a discounted rated of £10 Per Day (normally £5 per hour).
To claim this offer, Frightfest Ticket Holders will need be aware of the following:
- On arrival at the car park you be issue with a standard white entry ticket.
- Take the white entry ticket with them to the Cinema and exchange for a YELLOW Single Day Ticket at the box office for the price of £10 (FF ticket will need to be shown).
- There is no need to validate the yellow ticket at the pay point, simply insert the ticket into the barrier on exit.
- The above process will need to be carried out for each individual day.
In addition to the parking, remember that the London Congestion Charge applies in Central London Mon-Fri 7am - 6pm. For more details go here.
|Horror fans chill out in front of the imposing Frighfest 2012 poster display.|
With the mundane necessities out of the way, let's talk about what to expect after you climb the stairs into The Empire 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 Empire is. Frightfest 2013 will boast three screens showing back to back films throughout the weekend. The Main Screen will present the bigger profile films and premieres, plus on stage introductions from celebrity guests. Discovery 1 shows a more independent and international flavour of horror, while in Discovery 2 (aka Rediscovery) you can catch some films from Discovery 1 at different times (very useful if you have schedule clashes with the Main Screen) as well as some recent favourites from other Frightfest events. To get a ticket for a Discovery or Re-Discovery film, simply take your pass to the counter in the morning and ask for one. They're free to pass-holders, but make sure you arrive in time to get tickets as some films develop a buzz and the seats get snapped up really quickly.
New for Frightfest 2013 is the Frightfest Xtra screen. Details are thin on the ground at the moment, but it's expected to be home to popular past films and 2013 festival films that need extra screenings due to demand.
One of the biggest conundrums for festival-goers is what to see and when. Thankfully a user at the Frightfest Forums, who goes by the name of Benj, has created this wickedly clever online planner where you can create your own personailised film itinerary. Bear in mind it's a work in progress, but seems to work incredibly well, even giving you the break durations between screenings. It stores a cookie with your choices, so you can bookmark the page and refer to it whenever you're online. There's also a forthcoming feature that will alow you to print out an itinerary if you prefer to keep a paper copy on your person. In real life, Benj is Benj Clews and runs the Four Word Film Review website. Great work Benj!
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. Screen One is 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 even has 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?
|Empire's Screen One will be your home for the weekend. Learn to love it like a friend.|
Breaks between films can vary between 15-20 minutes to an hour or so. The toilets in The Empire 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 Empire 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:
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?
One of the new offers for 2013 is a 50% discount for anyone with a Frightfest pass at Leon De Bruxelles, which is within five minutes walk of the cinema. Looks like there's going to be a lot of Moule Frites consumed by the weekend crowd. If you prefer something more meaty, then local sausage emporium Herman-Ze-German is offering a 20% discount to pass holders on its range of wurst and German food at its shops in Villiers Street and Old Compton Street, both of which are a short hike from the Empire.
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 26th 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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