london

I finally made it to FrightFest – and it was glorious

I have been wanting to go to the London FrightFest for years. Each year I add tickets to the cart, and every year, my anxiety kicks in and I never follow through. Last year, though, I had enough of missing out. I remember standing outside the Prince Charles Cinema, promising myself I had to go in 2018.

I finally did make it this year. And boy, am I happy I went.

The Arrow Video FrightFest is the largest genre film festival in the UK. Over the course of five days, two cinemas screen the best of horror’s new offerings (and a couple of classics for good measure). From documentaries, to sequels, to short films, and wholly original feature-lengths, FrightFest offers something for anyone who is a fan of the genre.

I could only afford to grab tickets for two screenings this year, but judging by people’s reactions on Twitter, I missed a fair amount of excellent films. You can check out the full line-up on the FrightFest website.

Thursday night, my husband and I went to see the fabulous Summer of 84directed by the same trio behind the much-loved cult film Turbo Kid. 

Summer of 84 is a clever play on the current 80’s nostalgia boom seen in things like Stranger Things. It’s one part Goonies, another part Stand By Me with a large helping of movies like The ‘Burbs and Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window.

During the summer of 1984, a boy and his three friends work together to track down the local serial killer who targets teenage boys. But they soon begin to suspect that the killer may be their own neighbour, a much-loved and respected policeman.

While the film might sound like something you’ve already seen, don’t worry. The ending makes sure to destroy you and any hopes and dreams you had left. It’s pretty rare that my husband and I leave the cinema with the same reactions, but we both absolutely loved it.

It was fun to see actress Tiera Skovbye in another role. I generally dislike her on Riverdale as Betty’s crazy sister Polly Cooper, but the girl proved she has some good acting chops here. Rich Sommer, who plays the suspect local cop, does a magnificent job of being both likable and suspiciously creepy. The rest of the cast (especially those core four boys) do a fantastic job of being compelling, which is so crucial to films like these.

It’s funny, it’s horrifying, and it’s really fucking good. Summer of 84 is definitely a film to check out.

On the Friday night, I dragged my friend along to the film Dead Night. Star Barbara Crampton herself was in attendance to introduce the film (she was in a number of movies shown across the weekend). She comes off as engaging and sweet as you’d expect her to be.

Dead Night is sort of on the opposite side of the spectrum from Summer of 84, which was very much grounded in horrors from our own reality. This film, on the other hand, was mind-bending and incredibly strange.

A family go to a cabin in the woods for a retreat for the father, who is ill with cancer. Everything seems fine as they settle in until they find a woman (Crampton) asleep in the snow. Soon after they try to get her help, they realise that they’ve made a grave mistake by letting her into the cabin.

In Crampton’s introduction to the film, she warned that viewers would have to pay close attention to details. This, apparently, meant to me that I should go to the bathroom in the first 40 minutes. When I asked my friend what I had missed, he said “not much.” But nonetheless, I understood absolutely nothing. It wasn’t until after the movie that my friend informed me that I indeed did miss some things.

Thanks.

Dead Night is one of those films that probably appeals more to people who like their films more open-ended. I like mystery, but this was a bit too unexplained for my liking. Crampton was as fun as ever, though, delivering all of her lines with absolute glee.

Movies aside, I loved FrightFest. There’s something about being around others with the same interests as you. Walking into the festival felt like going home. I’m glad I finally went, as I’m now convinced this is something I need to go to every year of my life. 

 

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Wicked Wednesday: The Exorcist at the Phoenix Theatre

Thanks to a friend who has seemingly endless connections and belongs to something mysteriously referred to only as “The Club,” I’ve been able to see a lot of West End shows for free. I’ve never been a theatre person, but London is filled with oddities that I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of experiencing. This week’s show brought me into home territory with The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty’s novel and film of the same name.

Seeing The Exorcist performed on stage marked my first horror play. The show was okay, but largely forgettable with strange pacing and inconsistent acting. Not that I’m any sort of expert on the subject (I’m not an expert at anything, but that’s besides the point). But one thing that did stand out to me was the practical effects.

Making a good horror movie is not easy. Even if it is “successful,” you’d be faced with one very large problem: nothing scares everyone. Making people suspend their belief takes a true skill, one that I would imagine is even more difficult when you’re on a stage.

The original 1973 film had a lot going for it. It had a wealth of locations and an absolutely fabulous cast. But it was shocking at the time. Filthy and uncomfortable.

My mom told me stories of how when she saw The Exorcist in cinemas for the first time, she had to leave to be sick.

Once something sets the standard, it can be impossible to replicate the feeling years later. While I think the original Exorcist film holds up incredibly well, many people don’t. And it’s for the same reason: the special effects. Regan, the young girl possessed by demon Pazuzu, has that iconic pea soup vomit and vibrant red blood.

The stage adaptation at the Phoenix was much more subdued. White vomit and an increasingly large wig to convey that the young girl was increasingly becoming more ill. I imagine it takes a great deal of stage magic to produce what this show did. At one point Regan tries to cut herself with a knife, and no blood is seen. She tries desperately to cut into her bone, but nothing happens.

But perhaps the most convincing effect was when the face of Father Damien Karras’ mother was superimposed over that of Regan’s. It was the time I felt the most “thrilled” by what was happening on stage.

It’s clearly not an easy story to bring to the stage. Many of the visual effects done electronically were missed because we just had really crap seats. But I still feel like the staging was fantastic.

Scaring a crowd of jaded viewers has to be difficult. But there were plenty of moments that The Exorcist truly creeped me out. It’s certainly a different feeling to watching it on screen, but it was definitely worth the experience.

London Film and Comic Con Summer 2015 – Friday Preview Day

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I was rejected for a press pass for this summer’s London Film and Comic Con. Just putting that out there first thing because I am still full of bitterness. Why would someone choose the Daily Mail over this fantastic blog? I mean, what the hell is a Reuters anyway? Okay, so perhaps it is easy to see why such an in-demand event would not choose me, but still – I’ve got sass.

Alas, missing out on a press pass (and not being notified until a week prior to the event) also meant I missed an opportunity to buy tickets to the nearly sold-out London Film and Comic Con. Thankfully there were still a few tickets left for the Friday Preview Day to be snatched up by me and my constant-con-cohort Virginia over at Corleones and Lannisters. Thankfully, there was still much to be seen on Friday.

And it was no surprise that this summer’s convention had such in-demand tickets. The con had a plethora of high-profile guests like Sigourney Weaver, Michael Gambon and a whole slew of Game of Thrones cast members. Oh and just a little 30th anniversary reunion of Back to the Future. But I’m sure no one has ever watched the movie to care or anything like that…

Jokes aside. The reunion of Back to the Future was also there support The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The campaign called ‘Up to 88!’ is fundraising all weekend to help the foundation reach its goal of $88,000 by October 21, 2015 – Back to the Future Day. At every corner of the convention there was solidarity and support for this wonderful foundation. People who donated were given a poster that was exclusive to the convention in London. The convention also sold exclusive ToonStar Toys which donated a portion of the proceeds to the foundation.

In its 11th year, the London convention moved to its new home at the Kensington Olympia. This was a much-needed move as they had very much out-grown their old haunt at Earl’s Court. New digs also brought new problems, but things seemed to move quite smoothly for a first try.

But there is something so much bigger and better we need to talk about here. We need to talk about Billy.

The Panels 

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Zach Galligan and faithful side-kick Gizmo

I GOT TO SEE ZACH GALLIGAN. ZACH GALLIGAN, EVERYONE!

Oh the fangirl in me had to restrain myself to not squeal in delight when the actor walked on stage for this panel with a small Gizmo plush. My friend and I have noticed a trend that most 80s actors have ceased to grow older (see last October’s LFCC for Ralph Macchio proof). Galligan looked absolutely amazing. The actor was joined on the panel by his on-screen mother, the wonderful Frances Lee McCain. The two hadn’t seen each other in almost two decades, but got along as wonderfully as old friends.

The discussion at the Gremlins panel was lively and friendly, and it even got a bit naughty (lots of sexual innuendos – all greatly appreciated for a good laugh). When an attendee asked if Galligan of McCain ever thought the puppets were life-like when acting with them, the responses were all gold.

“The sound editing on Gremlins was amazing. I didn’t get to hear any of Howie Mandel’s voice saying ‘bye Billy’ or anything,” said Galligan. “When I acted with the puppet, all I could hear was machine sounds. Acting with Gizmo was like working with an escalator.”

They were both thoughtful with their responses. Galligan had an unique view on a possible Gremlins sequel. One that was positive more than ornery or negative. He made valid points on puppetry vs CGI that made me even second-guess my own opinions on the matter. They were very gracious to fans for their love and engagement. A refreshing take on the cult-adoration. This was one of the most engaging and entertaining panels I have seen at any convention thus far.

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Zach Galligan and Frances Lee McMcain pose for a quick photo

The last panel of the day was simply titled ‘horror panel’ which is even less descriptive than I am. But there were some real legends on the stage on Friday, including the one and only Tom Savini. Joining the iconic special effects make-up artist were Canadian stunt man and Jason Voorhees Ken Kirzinger, Saw II director Darren Lynn Bousman and actor J Larose.

While there were some horror fans in attendance, it seemed as though the emcee had no idea what was going on. I do have to say he was quite good on many other panels (as he hosted the Q&A’s at the last LFCC and did a fantastic job with the Gremlins panel), but he seemed a bit out of his league – he even forgot J Larose’s name and the poor actor sat in silence for most of the panel, which is a shame because he’s a really cool guy.

Most of the discussion seemed a bit stuck on repetitive questions, unfortunately. But interesting people will always deliver good answers regardless of the monotony in the conversation. I wish the panel would have been directed a little bit better, but alas most of the discussion was centred around favourite this and favourite that.

I really have no right to complain because I didn’t have the guts to ask my own question during the panel (which was of course about Deranged). While I love interviewing people, asking questions in large groups where I have a funny accent really isn’t my idea of fun.

Perhaps the most interesting story of the hour-long discussion was Bousman’s talk about how he got his film Repo! The Genetic Opera into theatres and into the hearts of cult movie lovers. After Lionsgate gave the film little promotion and a very limited release, Bousman took it upon himself to get the movie out there. He drove across the US paying theatres to show his film until it gained the momentum it has today. It was a great story to hear from a director so passionate about his film and not giving a flying fuck about the studio.

I don’t think it was the fault of LFCC that the panel was a bit bumpy. It was fantastic to see some horror legends up on stage, but they really ought to be where they belong – in a horror convention. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a better fit at the moment than a comic convention (in London anyway, there is always the Sheffield HorrorCon where Savini was the previous weekend). Maybe next time I can be hired to ask questions. I have zero personality, but at least I will never forget the name Larose.

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Despite the impressive array of guests, this summer’s LFCC definitely had hit a few bumps in the road. The lack of rooms to watch panels was a bit of a mistake. Having more talks and more places to wander would be a great improvement. That was one thing MCM Comic Con has a leg up on – there is always something to do.

The new layout also meant that it was difficult to find anything. There were a few posters on the walls with the daily schedule and a vague map, but something more would have been nice. MCM Comic Con always gives a really in-depth programme for their weekend party. Plus the layout had become very confused, which was a little surprising considering how well everything had been planned when it was held in Earl’s Court.

That being said, this convention is really bigger and better than ever. That’s exactly what it said on the press release I stole, but I actually mean it. This convention was an absolute monster in size. We were there from about 2 until close at 8 and I’m not even sure if we got to explore every part of the convention.

IMG_1193I also got to pick up a few things at this convention. The first was a selection of three comics written by John-Paul Kamath. These independent comics were a great buy (but more on that later). He was extremely friendly and clearly passionate about his work. Meeting artists and writers at conventions has now become one of my favourite ways to spend my time at conventions. These comics are definitely worth picking up. Check out their website at The London Horror Comic and Graveyard Orbit.

The second purchase had to be something Gremlins because at this point in my life, this movie obsession has seriously taken on some kind of disease in my brain. The poster I bought at this convention is done in the now very popular minimalist style. I bought this in hopes that it wasn’t too offensive for my husband that I would be allowed to hang it up in our flat. The verdict is yet to be reached…

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a name of the creators anywhere on the poster. That and the vendor didn’t give me any flyers. So if anyone can IMG_1195point me in the right direction, please do. I would love to give credit where it is due. They make loads of movie posters and its all on great heavy-grade paper for a much more high value feel.

On a different note, the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) was a wonderful breath of fresh air (literally – it smelled in the main area). Working as one, yet seperate, the YALC boasted some major names in young adult literature, such as Judy Blume and Robert Rankin. This was a much more quiet area of the convention. It was a wonderful place full of books and chocolate cake.

The one disappointing part was seeing several of the comic artists squashed in upper floor with the YALC and the video games. I make it a point to buy either art or independent comics when I go to these conventions. Seeing them cut off from the main area was a bit sad, but thankfully many people seemed to have ventured out of their way to seek out the artists.

While I might still be a bit sore about missing out on a press pass, I do have to admit I enjoyed the convention. There was still so much more to see. Definitely worth seeing every day. Just remind me to buy my tickets ahead of time from now on.

American of London graduated – in London

I don’t typically write posts about my private life, but I thought an update was well over-due.

Yesterday was the graduation ceremony for my course and I officially gained a Masters of Arts degree in Journalism. This was possibly the longest span of time I ever had to wait for something to end (I did nothing with my university for the past three months). Aaaand it has me left feelings….”meh.” Unlike my undergrad at UWM, I don’t have the same passion and obsession for journalism that I used to have. But now with uni off my shoulders I feel like I can finally start working towards what I want without being judged.

That being said, my writing is pretty much on hold for now. I started an internship today to help pay for my visa application, and it’s not exactly doing what I want as a career. Unfortunately this also means I have less time to write and certainly a lot less space in my week to be working in journalism. But I will be trying as hard as ever to keep my mind turning and the words flowing because nothing would be worse than to give up entirely on a dream.

Because there just aren’t enough great female journalists in music, and there aren’t enough writing about what needs to be said. I want to publish my book on the Paisley Underground one day and…probably start writing it too. There is just so much I want to do and it may seem like I’m not moving very fast, but everything will happen with time.

Wicked Wednesday

It goes without saying that the British Museum is one of the greatest sights in London. Tourists and residents alike fill the building everyday in what can only be described as a sweaty mass. My boyfriend and I go frequently to discover new rooms and the current periods in history we need exploring. This past weekend after the Saxons and Byzantines, we stopped at the museum’s new free exhibit Witches and Wicked Bodies.

Witches and Wicked Bodies is a fantastic array of etchings from the Renaissance to the 19th century. The various pieces of work fill a long dim room. Unfortunately there is no eerie music for atmosphere, but the works speak for themselves. Witches throughout time were ill-treated as many misunderstood groups. So much so that we are left with scenes like this:

Many people are familiar with more popularised time periods like the Salem Witch Trials, but fascination with witches and their magic goes beyond those stories.

The display is separated into time periods, as museums often do, but it is a key to understanding different degrees of acceptance and persecution throughout the centuries. In Edinburgh they threw women in the river to see if the women would float (if the drown they were innocent, obviously, and then dead). Master of rococo painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, Claude Gillot’s etching Les Sabbats, from c. 722 was a perfect example of overblown baroque styling. There are witches on brooms and a skeletal horse – even a horned man standing above a sacrifice.

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Visit to see the Goyas alone. His drawings almost carry a dark magic of their own. If you’re into witches of a different kind, visitors can see literary works in art like Henri Fuseli’s poster for Macbeth and the harpies attacking Odysseus. Beyond the magic those who see the works can also notice a theme of misogyny. The exhibit is also a fascinating look at perhaps how far we haven’t come.

It seems perhaps obvious to have spooky themed exhibits on display (the British Library currently has a display of gothic literature), but that doesn’t make them any less fun or enlightening.

“The most British moment of your life”

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As the last days of my life as a student wind down, I’ve had to sit and think about where my future will be. Even after months of thinking all I can really answer is: no fucking clue. The idea of leaving my city (yes London, you belong to me) literally makes my stomach tighten and drop.

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post UK about an Aussie’s thoughts on leaving a city that is so alive while simultaneously being the very thing that can destroy you. Despite these difficult times, nothing feels more desperate than wanting to stay here. There are plenty of things to hate about this place, but there is no where else in the world like London.

Instead of feeling like I’m going to die the day January 31st rolls around and my Visa expires, I’m trying to remember moments that keep me motivated. This is actually incredibly difficult to do when doom feels almost eminent.

There’s a story I often think of at times when things feel desperate. It happened over a year and half ago when I was visiting my boyfriend during the winter break of my undergraduate degree.

It was January and it was pretty cold (England has a damp cold that even Wisconsinites can’t understand). My boyfriend and I had just finished a pint at a pub in Greenwich. We were standing outside looking at the clipper Cutty Sark. It was at that moment that a bin man was rolling his broom and cart past with the radio faintly playing Squeeze’s “Up the Junction.” He turned to me and those words have since been etched into my mind:

“This is the most British moment of your life.”

And I couldn’t possibly think of anything I loved in life more: that cold, dark city filled with heavy beers and bin men that love even the cheesiest of Squeeze tunes. No matter where I end up in the end, no place will ever make me feel the same way.

Not going to quote Peter, Paul and Mary.

As usual, time has gotten away faster than I could have ever imagined. What then felt like ages ago is now tomorrow: I am leaving to visit home. Indeed, we are taking the ‘London’ out of ‘American of London.’ For two weeks this blog should be ‘American back home in that place she hated growing up in’ or ‘American can finally go to the dentist’ or even the thought provoking ‘Person.’ Regardless, in a day I’m getting on a plane and being shipped back off to the Midwest. Frightening.

I’ve always believed that music sounds different according to your geography. Take Junior Murvin in the States, UK or Jamaica and each time ‘Police and Thieves’ is on it will mean something entirely unique. Where we are shapes the social context. Magically changes the sound. So I complied a list of songs that sounded like home (or what I remember it to sound like).

This may or may not be what I actually listen to when I go home. Chances are it will be all 80s pop and hair metal (80’s Night Downtown, am I right?). Each song was chosen with a purpose. I had to start everything off with Fankie Yankovic’s version of the ‘Beer Barrel Polka.’ Nothing is more painfully Wisconsin than that song. ZZ Top and Tommy James were picked to represent my dad and mom respectively.

But most of the songs were chosen because they remind me of that space and clean air of home. I’ll miss London a lot while I’m gone, but it will be so good to be in America again because that’s where McLean sounds the best.