It’s Saturday at the Derby Film Festival! Ich heiße SuperFantastiq!

by Elliot Davies

Green Room Derby Film Festival

With the Fantastiq portion of the Derby Film Festival in full swing, we have no choice but to watch some scary films. So let’s watch some scary films!

Fantastiq describes itself as a celebration of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. But they can’t fool me. Take a look at the programme. This is a horror festival! It’s horror to the core. If you cut this festival, it bleeds horror.

But that said, for a horror festival it’s pleasingly diverse. There’s something here to suit every taste, whether you like shock or schlock.

There’s plenty of things on the programme for those with an interest in the more extreme side of cinema. Indeed, there’s one being broadcast right now, at the time of writing. It’s called American Guinea Pig – Bloodshock (2015), and it’s so nasty that it probably won’t get an official release. Indeed, this screening isn’t even open to the public. You can only attend it if you have a festival pass, or if you also attend a book launch beforehand.

This is the UK premiere, and it’s very likely one of only a handful of times it will ever be screened on these shores. So naturally, I want to cover it. I just…don’t want to watch it. So I sent an associate instead. He’s a scholar and a psychologist, and all being well, he should have his thoughts together by about this time tomorrow. We wish him luck.

But me? I like atmosphere. Spookiness. I like sustained dread and the supernatural. In short, I like Hammer Horror. So I was pleased as punch to see Quatermass and The Pit (1967) on the programme.

Quatermass and The Pit Derby Film Festival

This is a classic that I’ve been meaning to see since about 1996. The titular pit is Hobb’s Lane Underground Station. Some ancient human remains are discovered during an excavation, and later a metallic object that’s thought to be an unexploded bomb.

It’s not a bomb. So what is it? Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir) has some theories. He believes that this extraordinary discovery in an almost-abandoned corner of Knightsbridge might have played a key role in shaping human evolution. He believes they’ve found the origins of life itself. And testing this theory requires making use of all manner of bulky analogue electronic equipment – the sort that requires about five switches and an impossibly tangled mass of wires just to turn on a monitor. It’s delicious!

This being a Hammer film, the pacing is slow but the film-making is honed to a razor’s edge. This is superbly lean and efficient storytelling. Everything happens for a reason. Everything’s in service to the plot, which is never anything less than totally gripping. And needless to say, the atmosphere is consistently eerie and absorbing. There’s a tension here. It feels haunted. Possessed, even.

But it’s not all measured scientific investigation. Before you know it you’ve got a giant ghostly locust looming over London, with gangs of wide-eyed telekinetic zombies roaming the streets. It’s a level of chaos, disorder and violence that’s seldom seen in a Hammer film, and it escalates at an unnervingly rapid pace.

The closing shot is perfect – Quatermass and a young scientist, Barabara, sat silently in the flaming ruins. They’re terrified, exhausted, and baffled. Well you would be, wouldn’t you?

Barbara is played by Barbara Shelley, who was supposed to be giving a talk at the Film Festival today. But as we mentioned yesterday, she had to cancel, as she’d been hospitalised. But good news! We were informed today that Barbara has made a full recovery, and has now been discharged from hospital. So even though so many of her films end on a disquieting note, at least this story has a happy ending.

Green Room Derby Film Festival

Green Room (2015) has already attained notoriety as “the film where Patrick Stewart plays a neo-nazi.”

We’re following hardcore punk band The Ain’t Rights on tour. They’re so hardcore they don’t even have a social media presence. This commitment to keeping it real will play a huge part in their undoing. After all, if you don’t have a Twitter profile to leave suspiciously quiet, will anyone notice should you ever disappear completely?

The band’s let down by a college DJ in Portland. He tries to make it up to them by getting them a gig at his cousin’s shack, out in the sticks. He warns them, though, not to discuss politics, and strongly suggests that they might stick to playing their “loud and violent” early material.

But instead, they decide to kick off their set with a snarling cover of Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Punks Fuck Off, which goes down about as well as you’d expect.

Well, things only get worse from there. Within minutes of walking offstage, the band’s trapped in the green room with a corpse, a furious nazi, and one overwhelmingly powerful unlicensed gun.

Patrick Stewart plays Darcy, the club owner, and he’s scary – quiet and avuncular with a boiling ocean of hatred simmering under his calm exterior. His accent is inexplicable, but his performance is so disturbing that you stop noticing almost immediately.

Green Room is brutal. It spends its first half-hour introducing us to The Ain’t Rights, and you know what? They’re not a bad bunch. They feel real. But this isn’t one of those cynical exercises in “get to know these kids because they’re gonna die!” These guys aren’t lambs to the slaughter. They’re just comparatively ordinary people who happen to find themselves in the worst possible place at the worst possible time.

Yes, we’re made to care about them, but that’s inevitable considering that almost every other character is a hateful moron. But even so, it’s not manipulative. These guys aren’t being built up just so the film can have more fun tearing them down. They’re not martyrs, and they’re not particularly heroic either. In fact, they behave in probably exactly the same way that you or I would behave if thrown into such a situation – with blind panic. Until the survival instinct kicks in, that is.

And from the moment things head south, Green Room is relentless. It’s unbearably tense, and so violent that you could feel the shock resonating across the audience – and this is the Fantastiq audience! It seems that even gorehounds recoil when they’re exposed to the realistic consequences of onscreen violence.

It’s grim, it’s bleak, and it’s often difficult to watch, but Green Room isn’t one of those torturous nihilistic horrors that will leave you feeling genuinely miserable afterwards. Afterwards, I was certainly shaken, but I didn’t feel like I needed a shower.

And for a film this nasty, that’s high praise indeed! I think.