Be afraid - be very afraid

The Frightfest horror and fantasy festival is back - and it's more terrifying than ever
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The Independent Culture

Frightfest, held over four days, is the UK's leading horror, sci-fi and fantasy film festival. It has brought its terrified audiences European or world premieres of films such as Donnie Darko, Insomnia and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The writer and critic Alan Jones set up the festival - initially called Shock Around the Clock - at the Scala cinema, in King's Cross, central London, in 1987. There had been nothing like it before in the UK.

Frightfest, held over four days, is the UK's leading horror, sci-fi and fantasy film festival. It has brought its terrified audiences European or world premieres of films such as Donnie Darko, Insomnia and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The writer and critic Alan Jones set up the festival - initially called Shock Around the Clock - at the Scala cinema, in King's Cross, central London, in 1987. There had been nothing like it before in the UK.

"I couldn't understand why, unlike almost every other European city, London didn't have its own festival," says Jones. "With its long tradition of Gothic literature and Hammer films, how could the capital turn its back on an essential part of cinema culture? It made my blood boil."

After a move to the Electric Cinema, in Portobello Road, west London, Shock Around the Clock became Fantasm when it transferred to the National Film Theatre. In 2000, Jones created Frightfest with the co-owner of the Cinema Store, Paul McEvoy, and the film booker/exhibitor Ian Rattray. The new festival's home was the Prince Charles cinema.

Jones has been fascinated by horror films for as long as he can remember. What's the scariest movie he's ever seen? "If we are talking mainstream, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And Psycho is a seminal film. But my favourite is an Italian opera of violence, Inferno, by Dario Argento."

This year's festival highlights includeAlexandre Aja's deranged bloodbath Switchblade Romance, which is, says Jones,"the most horrifying film I have seen in 10 years".It tells the story of two friends who are revising for exams at an isolated French farmhouse, when a psycho killer breaks in.

Another twisted delight is Fabrice du Welz's debut feature, Calvaire ( The Ordeal), in which a man is kidnapped, then tortured and humiliated by various means - including crucifixion. "We were tipped off about this film at Cannes Film Festival and were taken aback by its brutality," says Jones, who describes the film as " Deliverance meets Delicatessen". And closing night brings Brad Anderson's The Machinist, starringChristian Bale as a disturbed insomniac in charge of dangerous machinery. It's primarily a psychological thriller, but the movie also documents the aftermath of industrial accidents vividly.

The festival features 19 screenings altogether, and Jones is keen to stress that it is "not all gore and horror. It is a snapshot of what is going on across the board of horror, sci-fi and fantasy." To prove his point, there's Michael Winterbottom's Code 46, starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton. "It is a love story about genetic engineering and memory manipulation, with strong roots in film noir and Greek tragedy," says Jones. "I love science-fiction films in which directors use the real world, rather than special effects. Winterbottom shot this atlocations in the Far East. So the film looks futuristic - but it is real."

Frightfest, Prince Charles Cinema, London WC2 (020-7494 3654) 27 to 30 August

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