Horror is back! While football never did manage to make it home, after a 2020 edition of Arrow Video FrightFest rolled out entirely online, 2021’s event returns for an in-cinema event at the Cineworld Empire Theatre, Leicester Square. Five days of world horror cinema awaits.

The past 18 months have been hell for us all. And if you’re not yet comfortable with returning to Arrow Video FrightFest and watching movies with your fellow horror hounds Alan, Greg, Ian and Paul, the festival’s directors, are making sure fans don’t miss out, as from 1-5 September, the gang has set up a digital event, Best of the Fest, selecting films shown during the Bank Holiday weekend and adding a couple of bonus flicks exclusive to digital. So, don’t feel bad if you’re not there in person this year. It’s perfectly understandable.  

Kicking things off on Thursday 26th August: Neill Blomkamp’s VR-influenced chiller, Demonic (2021). Like a lot of directors whose projects and productions shut down during the global pandemic, Blomkamp found a way to truck on and shoot his movie. The District 9 and Chappie helmer delivers something a bit different from his usual brand of social-themed sci-fi fare, with a unique take on the demonic possession subgenre. It’s a great choice of opener. Closing this year is Rob Jabbaz’s The Sadness, a pandemic-themed frightener in which a virus mutates into a ‘mind-altering’ plague. It sounds in the worst possible taste, but that’s what horror is all about – making us uncomfortable, confronting the terrors of the world and, given the world we currently live in, it might prove entirely cathartic, as nothing is ever as bad as in a horror movie … right?  

With 60+ films on offer, the usual mix of World, European and UK premieres, the roster caters for all palates. For the fifth year running, in collaboration with Screen International, Arrow Video FrightFest bestows a rising genre star with an award. This year’s nominated talent includes Prano Bailey-Bond, Leroy Kincaide and Eric Steele. Our money’s on Bailey-Bond, for her phenomenal debut Censor. The winner will be announced at 18.45 on 30th August, in a Black Mass-style ceremony commencing with a live goat sacrifice. Tickets are free and available to book via the FrightFest website.  

The programme itself is split into the Main Screen and Discovery Screen, along with the accompanying Short Film Showcase, which has increased its presence and importance to the structure of the fest, in recent times. In the Main strand, you’ll find new works from Sion Sono (Prisoners of the Ghostland), comic book legend Alan Moore (The Show) Mickey Keating (Offseason), Dominic Brunt (Evie), Scott Derrickson (Nightprowler, his new short film), Alex Proyas (Mask of the Evil Apparition, another short) and Richard Bates Jr (King Knight).

Not to sound like a broken record, and we say this pretty much every year, but it’s always worth checking out the ‘Disco Screen’ (as FrightFesters refer to it), as there you will unearth tomorrow’s genre stars and find oddities that are just a bit too different for mainstream taste. For instance, Disco Screen opener, Night Drive, is really one to check out, if you can wait for the release of the Blomkamp.  

Also showing in the Disco strand is Kier-La Janisse’s epic 3-hour documentary, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror. Exhausting (in a good way) and exhaustively researched, the Canadian genre maven has made something truly definitive on the topic. Another documentary on horror film history to recommend to those still busy compiling their watchlists and schedules, is Philip Escott and Sarah Appleton’s The Found Footage Phenomenon, which takes viewers on a fascinating and informative trip down found-footage memory slain and its bloody technological tributaries.  

Elsewhere in the Disco strand, Stephen Simmons’ The Parker Sessions is an exemplary no-budget schizoid nightmare with impressive sequences and nerve-shredding sound design, and, while Greywood’s Plot appears to have been made for $5 dollars and change, the level of invention and crazy storytelling shows cool ideas and commitment can transcend the limits of budget. It’s cheap as chips, but kudos to filmmaker Josh Stifter, for his ambition and making a truly gonzo horror flick, best described as ‘Kevin Smith meets Doctor Moreau.’ Rounding up our Disco recs is Seb Cox’s werewolf-themed coming-of-age story, Are We Monsters, and Italian horror, As in Heaven, So on Earth, both of which feature imaginative and gorgeously artful animated sequences. And if you fancy something a bit different from the usual blood and guts, Aleksandra Szczepanowska’s Chinese-language Touch melds the dynamics of 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama to 1980s bunny boiler thrills.  

Arrow Video FrightFest runs from Thurs 26th August to Monday 30th at the Cineworld Empire, Leicester Square. The digital event, Best of the Fest, runs from 1st to 5th September. For tickets, digital event and Covid 19 health policy information, click here.

Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio