Abertoir 2011: blood, guts, gore and more

Thursday 27 October 2011, 13:05

Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain

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The horror film genre seems to be in the ascendency in Wales of late. Zombie gore fest Colin from Welsh director Marc Price made headlines for its £45 microbudget, David Howard's Flick starring Faye Dunaway was mostly shot in south Wales and most recently Cardiff director Chris Crow's 2011 film Panic Button has been winning plaudits aplenty.

Abertoir 2011 poster

Abertoir 2011 poster

Even Welsh Hollywood actor Michael Sheen has been involved in some vampiric action, in the film adaptations of the hugely successful Twilight series by author Stephanie Meyer.

The Abertoir Horror Festival in Aberystwyth is perhaps testament to the popularity of horror films within Wales and the wider UK.

Abertoir is Wales' only horror film festival and since it was established in 2006 it has been gathering a loyal crowd of followers. So much so that in order to cram everything in to this year's festival, the organisers have had to extend the 2011 event by an extra day to accommodate all the screenings and events.

These include 25 films, some of which will be UK and world premières, plus there's a host of special guests, talks, masterclasses, live music, theatre and exhibitions.

I recently caught up with two members of the organising team behind the festival, Gaz Bailey and Rhys Fowler, and they filled me in on the festival. (I think they could tell I wasn't a die-hard horror fan, but they humoured me nonetheless.)

I put a few questions to festival director Gaz:

How did Abertoir begin?

Abertoir came about out of my love for horror films and being based in mid Wales, which was the furthest point from any horror festivals in the UK! My fortunate position of being in charge of programming at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre cinema, and the fact that Wales deserved to have a horror event, all played a part in creating Abertoir.

Back in 2006, Robin Hardy was doing a book tour with Cowboys For Christ, his novel follow-up to his cult film The Wicker Man. We managed to get him to come to Aberystwyth on Halloween, so I decided to tie in a screening of The Wicker Man. With such an exciting event occurring in Aber, I got carried away and added more and more films, a cheesy title and before long our festival was born.

Robin Hardy speaking at the 2010 Abertoir festival. Image courtesy of Abertoir

Robin Hardy speaking at the 2010 Abertoir festival. Image courtesy of Abertoir

How has the festival developed over the years?

The festival has developed mostly thanks to the wonderful venue we have been in. Horror isn't just about the latest new films, there are a lot of literary and theatrical origins to explore and the multi-purpose Aberystwyth Arts Centre provided us with the perfect chance to expand the scope of things on offer from the usual strand of films and Q&As that most festivals tend to follow.

We've now had three years of live music concerts, with Daemonia, The Damned and Zombina and the Skeletones all providing music for us. This year we have three bands on the same night - The Laze, Ghostfire and Devilish Presley.

Zombina and the Skeletones performing at Abertoir 2010. Image courtesy of Abertoir

Zombina and the Skeletones performing at Abertoir 2010. Image courtesy of Abertoir

We've had theatre ranging from Doug Bradley's excellent one-man show An Evening With Death, through to good old fashioned story-telling and even some Grand Guignol theatre. We've always had a sense of fun, and in the past have even recreated the old gimmicks of William Castle's films, such as installing a skeleton on a string to emerge from behind the screen during The House On Haunted Hill, and - my favourite - buying vibrating alarms for deaf people and hiding them in the seats during a screening of The Tingler, which sent the entire auditorium shaking!

We've also had support from the Film Agency for Wales who have allowed us to develop the program into something unique. This year for example, we have an art installation, an exhibition of Vincent Price movie posters, a pub quiz and even a tongue-in-cheek debate on censorship.

Yet for all of this, it's nonetheless a festival run by fans for fans, and we do our best to put every penny of our funding to keep it an affordable, accessible and exciting festival for people in Wales. And the fact that so many of our audience travel in from all over the UK to attend is something I'm still delighted and humbled by.

For those who've never been to Abertoir, what can people expect from the festival?

We pride ourselves on our friendly atmosphere, so for first timers, expect fun, expect to make friends, and expect the unexpected. Even if you don't know anyone here, you will by the end. We even have return visitors from Guernsey and Scotland making the trip again, a testimony that by the end of the six days, the atmosphere feels like a group of friends watching movies together having a good time.

You've recently announced the line-up for this year's festival in November. Tell us about some of the highlights.

Adding an extra day this year is exciting; we couldn't resist finding an excuse to spend more time doing something we love! As well as all the UK premières that we're having, I'm particularly pleased to be having the world première of Devil's Bridge, an independent Welsh-made horror film by Chris Crow (Panic Button), about a group of English guys who get on the wrong side of a crazed nationalist farmer.

Devil's Bridge film poster © Dogs Of Annwn

Devil's Bridge film poster © Dogs Of Annwn

We've got a whole host of exciting highlights, I think our theatre show about the life of Aleister Crowley should be fascinating but more elaborate is our music night, themed around the Vincent Price film The Masque Of The Red Death.

Vincent Price would have been 100 years old this year, and I was overjoyed when Victoria Price, his daughter, agreed to come over to our festival to do a special presentation on her father's life. We've always featured a Vincent Price movie since the festival started, so this is quite an honour for us.

Victoria Price. Image courtesy of Abertoir

Victoria Price. Image courtesy of Abertoir

How did you persuade Victoria Price to travel to Aberystwyth? And is it true that she and her late father Vincent have Welsh ancestry?

Victoria has written a detailed book about her father's life, and has spent many years being his biographer. Obviously, this year has been the busiest for her, and I expected that New Mexico to Wales in mid-November might not be the most tempting prospect. But I wrote anyway and was astounded when she replied to me full of excitement at the thought of being invited to Wales!

Price is a Welsh name, and Vincent Price's ancestors apparently came from here. Victoria's mother Mary, Vincent's second wife, was born in south Wales too so Victoria is excited to be coming over and digging into her family's Welsh roots.

Can you explain about your short films competition, and what the awarding of a Short Film Méliès d'Argent means?

We're incredibly proud to have been accepted into the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation, a network of European festivals whose aim is to promote the "fantastic film genre". Along with Leeds and Frightfest, we are the only other UK festival representing the UK. Our short films competition, of which we had almost 130 submissions this year, will award a Short Film Méliès d'Argent.

This is only awarded to member festivals throughout Europe and after our winning film has been awarded the prize, it also goes through to the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival in Spain, whereby it will automatically be in the final nominations for a Méliès d'Or, the highly respected European prize for best short film. Seeing the winner from our festival in mid Wales going through to the giant Sitges festival itself is a true honour, no matter who wins!

What are your plans for the future of Abertoir?

We love what we do, and we'd love to do more of it! We want to do even bigger and better things, and are currently thinking about the next step forward. We've grown a lot in six years and are quite happy with growing further.

Abertoir 2011 runs from Tuesday 8 to Sunday 13 November. Browse the full programme of events at www.abertoir.co.uk.

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