Not many film festivals have an official patron saint, but Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales (which closed on Sunday night, November 15th) does and it’s Vincent Price. Each year it shows at least one of Price’s films, and in 2011 the festival celebrated the Vincentennial, which would have marked the actor’s 100th birthday.
That’s when Victoria Price, the horror icon’s daughter, made her first trip to the Welsh festival: “I was invited in 2011 by Gaz [Bailey], who is the organizer, and I had such an amazing time. So when I knew I was coming to the U.K. and Ireland to do the Legacy Tour, I reached out to Gaz, and I knew it was the 10th anniversary of the festival and my dad is their patron saint, Vincent Price is the patron saint of Abertoir, so it seemed like we should celebrate together.”
And what a celebration it turned out to be. First, Price fan/historian Peter Fuller brought a collection of memorabilia (including an Edward Lionheart doll and Shrunken Head activity game) to share. Then Victoria Price did an amazing hour-plus tribute to her father with some wonderful personal photos and stories to share.
“I had the privilege of having an amazing father that I loved very much and who I think was an extraordinary human being in how he lived his life, his philosophy of life, how generous he was, how much he gave back; and I really wanted to continue to share with people his philosophy of life. In exchange for doing that, I get to hear stories from thousands of people of how much he meant to them, and that’s a huge gift to be able to share that love,” Price said.
The festival also held a Dinner with Vincent to serve a meal prepared from the actor’s famous and massive cookbook. Attendees could also see such Price’s horror films as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, and Scream and Scream Again.
Price makes the perfect patron saint for Abertoir not only because the actor made so many classic horror films but also because – as his daughter made clear in her talk – he was a man of passion and joy. Abertoir above all else is about finding passion and joy in the horror genre and then sharing it. Plus, having Price as their patron saint emphasizes the value they place on appreciating the genre’s past as much as its future.
Festival co-director Nia Edwards-Behi said, “In terms of our film programming, we pay due care to celebrating old classics of all sorts, and they’re treated with the same excitement as the new films we show. I also think that due to our relatively small capacity we’re able to offer a very friendly and welcoming experience.”
So welcoming and friendly that at the festival’s closing night ceremony, Danger 5’s Dario Russo presented a gift of a huge autographed poster from the show to Gaz Bailey, the festival director. Then longtime attendees of the festival revealed that they had commissioned artist Graham Humphreys (who was exhibiting his posters at the gallery in the arts center) to create artwork featuring Bailey and Edwards-Behi.
Both gestures were deeply appreciated by the organizers Edwards-Behi said, “Yes, it’s really touching to receive things back from our audience and from our guests like that. It’s a testament, I hope, to how much effort we put toward everyone having a really good time, but also it’s testament to how lucky we are that we attract such wonderful, kind, and generous people to our event.”
This year Abertoir also brought back Italian film composer Fabio Frizzi to present his Frizzi 2 Fulci concert tribute to horror master Lucio Fulci.
Frizzi played music from his scores to such Fulci films as The Beyond, Zombi 2, and The City of the Living Dead. But he also included three new scores to short films he’d composed for including a fantastic looking Saint Frankenstein from actor Scooter McCrae.
At 64, Frizzi seemed invigorated not only by his tour of the U.S. and Wales but also by new technology and new opportunities like making short films with filmmakers he’s met on the Internet.
Frizzi explained how it usually goes: “The Internet is like this, ‘Hello, Mr. Frizzi. I’m a huge fan of yours…’ Maybe every week I get this. But there are some situations that are different. The three short films I play from during the concert are linked to Fulci, why? Because every one of those are fans to Lucio. I think human beings can adapt themselves to what is changing, but it is not easy. And you need a predisposition to do this. I always loved computers ever since the Commodore and the very first Apple. I was on the Net in Italy; I was really one of the first. And I always thought it was a great opportunity. Everything is part of doing your job. The white paper is totally the same thing as an upgrade of software that helps you. But you must also have some ideas in your head if not you cannot do anything.”
The Frizzi concert highlights another thing that makes this festival stand out: It is a multi-arts venue, which allows it to do things like a music concert, poster gallery exhibit, and theatre show as well as screen films. This year, the theatrical staging was actor Robert Lloyd Parry doing a one-man show as M. R. James reading two of his famous horror tales.
To add a little more fun to the screening of The Descent (which is also celebrating its tenth anniversary), the festival arranged for a trip to a local mine so attendees could experience the darkness, cold, and claustrophobia of the film’s spelunking first hand. The plans were to show the films outdoors in a tent by the mines, but 80-mile-an-hour winds prompted a move to the safety and warmth of the Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s indoor cinema.
The Descent took home the Best Classic Feature prize, which was voted on by the audience. Runners-up were Deep Red and The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
The Best New Feature Award went to Japan’s horror-comedy Deadman’s Inferno, in which yakuza had to battle zombies in an affectionate and gore-filled homage to both Japanese action films and zombie movie tropes. The intense indie American western Bone Tomahawk took second place, and Hong Kong’s deliriously nihilistic and oddly endearing Robbery took third.
The runners-up represent something of a trend Edwards-Behi welcomes to horror: the slow burn.
“Many of the films I’ve liked best this year have been real slow burn thrillers – films like They Look Like People, The Invitation, or Bone Tomahawk, for example. It’s been refreshing to find films that really take their time over building characters and stories and treating the genre seriously.”
The Danger 5 Season One marathon took the festival’s Overall Best Prize as the audience’s favorite.
Abertoir also showcases short films, which is important because it’s part of the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation (EFFFF), and the winning short gets to move on to the next level of competition.
The Best Short Award went to Spain’s dark serial killer comedy Sanguine Craving. Rounding out the pack were Vintage Blood in second, Ultravioleta in third, and Invaders in fourth.
Being in the EFFFF also provides a great support system for a smaller festival.
“The EFFFF is a great network of festivals across Europe, and beyond, that celebrate and promote European fantastic cinema,” Edwards-Behi stated. “The European notion of the ‘fantastic’ is really appealing to me because it’s such a broad umbrella term. Our remit is very much rooted in horror, but the appeal to the broadest of it as a genre. Being a member of the federation is a real honor and can really help us out, for example when we are trying to negotiate for a film.”
Bailey repeatedly mentioned at the festival how difficult it was to get the American films The Witch and Bone Tomahawk. But Bailey’s enthusiasm and determination seemed to have been a combo that helped convince distributors.
But Edwards-Behi pointed out that negotiating with distributors isn’t the only challenge a film festival faces in an age of VOD and multi-platform releases.
“The main challenge is the speed with which something can now be released online,” Edwards-Behi said. “Our policy is to only show pre-release films, and yet, this year two films we screened had in fact received U.K. VOD releases after we had secured our screenings of them. It can get a little frustrating in that regard because one of the purposes of a festival is to showcase new films and to encourage people to see new films on the big screen. If they’re already on VOD, that becomes a bit more difficult.”
Abertoir may be small, but it offers a high quality experience because of that intimacy. For one, you can speak with the festival directors at any time. Then, guests like Danger 5’s Dario Russo and David Ashby, as well as artist Graham Humphreys, hung out all festival long and attended many films alongside horror fans so it was easy to chat with them. Things like that, along with strong film selections, are helping to build the festival’s reputation and popularity. In fact, this year festival passes sold out for the first time.
“This was really exciting for us, especially coinciding with our tenth anniversary,” Edwards-Behi said. “What was really humbling was that we were only a few passes away from selling out when we finally announced our full line-up, so people were very trusting of us when they bought their passes!”
Victoria Price told the audience that she has never liked the horror genre and hated seeing her father either do terrifying things on film or have horrible things done to him. But she has embraced the fans of horror.
“Horror fans really get who my dad was; they’ve kept his legacy alive,” Price said. “He was certainly not the most famous actor of his generation by any stretch of the imagination, but his legacy has lasted. He is iconic and beloved and remembered because of the horror fans. But I also feel like the horror fans have embraced me even though I am not a fan of the genre and with so much love. And honestly, horror fans are just the most awesome group of people. They are kind and they are sweet, they’re funny and they’re smart, and they’re very dedicated to their genre so I feel it is an absolute privilege to be as embraced as I am by horror fans.”
Abertoir not only creates a horror community for fans to meet, but it is run by people with a genuine passion for sharing their love of the genre in its broadest sense with others.
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