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DarkFest Diary!




November 26, 2017, will forever be a day that many will remember for DarkFest, The Dark Side magazine’s first (of a hopefully annual) film festival event at the Genesis Cinema, Stepney, London. The day brought together all manner of genre lovers, from authors and writers to filmmakers, actors and fans, for almost twelve hours of films, fun, 'beverages' and networking. 

      Eagerly attended by hundreds of horror fans, DarkFest presented Horror Express (1972), Night of the Demon (1957), Lady Frankenstein (1971), Suspiria (1977) and Corruption (1968) on the big screen for the first time in years. The event also showcased two shorts films and a short documentary from the Severin Films' release of the And Now the Screaming Starts blu-ray, featuring The Dark Side’s own Allan Bryce alongside Severin’s David Flint, wandering the grounds of Oakley Court near Windsor where parts of And Now the Screaming Starts, as well as a myriad of other movies, were actually filmed. 

      The guest line up was eclectic, bringing together the likes of Hammer Horror and 'Bond' girls Caroline Munro, Martine Beswick, Madeline Smith and Valerie Leon to reunite with some of their loyal fans, as well as authors who have chronicled their careers in print. Munro starred in such films as Dracula AD1972 and Captain Kronos–Vampire Hunter (1974), Beswick appeared in One Million Years BC (1966) and Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), Leon acted in many of the Carry On films as well as the 1971 horror Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, while Smith is known for her work on The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974). The friendly and accessible 'Hammer Glamour' contingent was a hit with visitors who felt a real sense of nostalgia when speaking with them.

      DarkFest was also the venue for the launch of Denis Meikle's Hammer: The Haunted House of Horror, published by The Dark Side's Ghoulish Publishing arm. The book is a full-colour, fully-illustrated and updated revision of the acclaimed A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer, Denis's original definitive history of of the horror film company famed for its Thames-side base at Bray Studios, and the launch saw many copies fly off the Dark Side shelves and gave fans the chance to have their copies signed in person, as Denis was also in attendance for most of the day. Hemlock Books was itself a participant at the event and its titles were on offer at Bruce Campbell's busy emporium on the mezzanine floor, including the latest issue of retro cine-mag The Fantastic Fifties.  

      Also joining in the various activities were a couple of Hemlock's own authors - Simon Fitzjohn (pictured below left) and Dev Shanker (pictured below right). Simon's most recent work is a Hemlock Horror Companion on '70s' 'slasher' icon Pete Walker and Dev (a respected GP in everyday life!) is the author of a new Companion on '80s' frightmeister Wes Craven. Both were in London especially for the event and enjoyed a welcome break from the proceedings at the nearby Blind Beggar pub, notorious in the '60s for its connection to the gangland activities of the Kray twins. (Needless to say, little of that ambience survives in the pub's present incarnation, where big-screen Sky Sports was a more dominant feature than warring gangsters; the same holds true for the whole of this now-'gentrified' part of London's East End.) Much of the chat centred around why a DarkFest hadn’t happened before in The Dark Side’s 27-year history!

      Cult film director Norman J Warren also joined the throng to chat with fans about his movies Satan's Slave (1976), Terror (1978) and Inseminoid (1981) Warren came onto the British horror scene in 1968 with his debut feature Loving Feeling and went on to make some well-loved, lowbrow cult films, alongside the likes of Pete Walker. His films, like Walker's, are mostly recognised for their detachment from the Gothic horrors of the period, bringing to the screen a new kind of gritty, morbid and all-round more grotesque viewing experience - which was partly due to a relaxation in censorship at the time. The fans at DarkFest took him to their hearts, requesting selfies and signatures from the now-75-year-old director.  

      The short films that featured were from writer-directors Luther Bhogal-Jones and Emma Dark. Luther’s, entitled Creak!, was a pre-Lights Out story of a similar nature about a thing that goes creak in the night. Emma’s film Salient Minus Ten was a sci-fi/horror which peaked with great cinematography but lacked a little in narrative value. Hopefully the next DarkFest will include more shorts from upcoming British filmmakers.

      The Genesis Cinema itself is a brilliant venue, with mood lighting and a large bar and eateries, and it proved perfect for the kind of atmosphere that an event like DarkFest tries to engender. There were stalls selling all kinds of merchandise, from memorabilia to books, magazines and movies, and the scene buzzed from beginning to end. Despite the freezing cold of the day outside, everybody was in great spirits, helped in no small measure by DS editor Allan Bryce and his wife Yannie, who instigated the event and went out of their way to make everyone feel exceedingly welcome.

      With such a success on their hands, there is already talk among the Dark Side crew of hosting DarkFest twice a year, in May and November, so who knows what the future holds for this newcomer on the UK genre scene. What is certain is that while the American market for all things horror-related languishes with the closure of ever more magazine titles, the British scene seems to be going from strength to strength - thanks primarily to the dynamic teams behind The Dark Side, Hemlock Books and the many other independent publishers (like Eric McNaughton of We Belong Dead) who are doing their utmost to keep fans supplied with a constant stream of high quality publications celebrating the cinema's most enduring and fascinating genre: horror!