The horror, the horror... movie fans celebrate lure of gore

Horror film festivals are springing up everywhere – one of the newest is in Yorkshire. Tony Earnshaw on the third Celluloid Screams.

It’s hard not to be seduced by Rob Nevitt’s passion and enthusiasm.

An aficionado of the horror film, he’s also the creator of an array of short films all with a devilish twist as well as the director of Sheffield’s horror film festival Celluloid Screams. I suspect it’s the latter that makes Mr Nevitt most proud. He’s onto his third outing, having led and curated the programme since it was launched in 2009.

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Sheffield, like Leeds and Bradford, enjoys a reputation as a city of multiple film festivals. Doc/Fest is the best-known; Sensoria is the newest. But it’s Celluloid Screams that has justifiably acquired a cult reputation. It’s rapidly turning into the north’s premier annual horror event.

It boasts a combination of surprise films, special guests – like 2009’s Ian McCulloch, the star of disparate fare such as The Ghoul (with Peter Cushing) and Zombie Flesh Eaters – and a smattering (or should that be splattering?) of new cinema from around the world. Throw in established retro classics and Nevitt, 32, seems to be reaching out to all tastes.

“Our film programme has three aims, the main one being to showcase the diversity and breadth of the horror genre but additionally we select a small number of classics that, hopefully, remind the audience why they fell in love with horror in the first place,” says Nevitt from the Showroom Cinema in between a final frantic wrap-up of bookings and tortuous rights clearances.

His comments echo what many fans tell him they want to see. Thus he scoured private film archives for 35mm prints of what he describes as “two horror heavyweights”: John Carpenter’s original Halloween from 1978, and Stuart Gordon’s gloriously icky Re-Animator, from 1985.

There are films from Canada, France, Spain, Japan, Germany, Argentina, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, the US and the UK. Nevitt talks of “the global reach” of horror, adding that he wants to prove that there are “challenging, interesting and utterly terrifying films being made outside of the formulaic product that clogs up the multiplexes”. The festival opens with Inbred, a gory and entertaining shocker filmed in Yorkshire and starring Jo Hartley from This is England.

“It’s a brilliantly un-PC and thoroughly gross experience from start to finish,” smiles Nevitt, who is delighted that Hartley and other members of the cast will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.

Other guests include Keith Wright and Richard Guy, the duo behind Harold’s Going Stiff, a sweetly surreal (and occasionally brutally comic) tale of a man slowly turning into a zombie. It was filmed largely in South Yorkshire.

Maverick filmmaker Richard Stanley will be honoured with screenings of his African opus Dust Devil and new anthology The Theatre Bizarre. Artist/animator Ashley Thorpe, from Exeter, will present his “penny dreadful” The Hairy Hands, based on a Devon folk tale.

Of the new releases Nevitt is keen to promote Tomie: Unlimited, “a work of absolute jaw-dropping lunacy” from Japan and Cold Sweat, from Argentina. Nevitt calls it “possibly the great discovery of this year’s festival, and absolutely bonkers. It took some getting – it was a real game of persistence to secure it. Eventually the director himself agreed to let us show it.”

There’s also the issue of the annual surprise film. In 2009 Celluloid Screams pulled off a significant coup by playing Paranormal Activity. This year he has chosen to close the event with his secret movie.

“It’s one of the bleakest films I’ve watched for a long time, and based on a true story. We’ll be sending people off into the night with one of the grimmest films I’ve ever seen. But you’ll have to come along on the night to find out what it is.” As a filmmaker himself with a quartet of projects to his credit, it is only natural that Nevitt has allowed his work to feed into his life. Now lecturing in video production at Wakefield College he recently screened to students his latest film, Reel 4 – a faux documentary about a CCTV operator who sees Sheffield being overrun by ghosts, zombies and weird clowns.

“One female student watched it and said ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I’m happy with that.”

The Celluloid Scream brand continues through the year with monthly screenings.

“The best thing about the festival is seeing the audience’s reaction. When you witness a sold-out festival crowd’s euphoria to a film you’ve programmed, you can’t ask for more.”

Programme details

Dust Devil: to celebrate Richard Stanley visiting the festival, there is a rare screening of his second feature film. Oct 22, 11.30am.

Re-Animator: Based on HP Lovecraft’s 1921 story, the 1985 film was long censored for one particular scene – re-instated for this screening.Oct 22, Midnight.

Halloween: John Carpenter’s 1978 movie, starring Jamie Lee Curtis, spawned sequels and inspired a generation of horror movie makers. Oct 23, 11.30am.

Harold’s Going Stiff: Impressive zombie comedy on a tiny budget from director Keith Wright and producer Richard Guy. Oct 23, 4.45pm.