Celluloid Screams 2012, Day 1: NIGHTBREED: THE CABAL CUT - It's Alive! It's Aliiiiive!

Sheffield residents like their pop culture, apparently - not too surprising when you take into account the city's history. (It was the birthplace of the mighty Warp record label, for one, which begat any number of world-famous electronic artists and influenced countless more.) Celluloid Screams is a relatively small festival in the grand scheme of things but visitors were consistently packing into (even selling out) screenings at the Showroom.

This was a quiet, fairly cosy but very professional venue - the charm of some storied little independent place but the polish of the better big chain cinemas or upscale arthouse establishment. The crowd was a little lighter on long hair, metal or grindhouse tees - a few more sharp suits or grey heads. No compromises with the lineup, though. This was still horror through and through, from artistic or mainstream films to nerve-shredding psychological thrillers to full-on splatter, and whatever their demographic the audience seemed to eat it right up.

celluloid screams_sightseers still_detail.jpgThe gala opening was a big draw - I was not the biggest fan of Ben Wheatley's previous movie, the devilish hitman thriller Kill List, when I saw it at L'Etrange last year but I admired his obvious skill as a writer and director enough I was curious about his blackly comic followup Sightseers. This is far lghter territory, the story of a reclusive woman whose new boyfriend invites her on a caravan tour of the North of England, only to reveal his obsessive devotion to the countryside has a much darker side than was initially apparent.

Todd praised Sightseers at Cannes, and while I don't entirely share his enthusiasm I got on with it far better than Kill List. No awkward third act lurch into insanity here, just jet-black, merciless, very English comic horror which the Showroom crowd were all over. I didn't feel the characterisation really moved very far beyond pretty easy Brit-comedy gags, when one or two superb conversations (one of Wheatley's strengths) showed the film could have gone a lot deeper. Two great performances, though, gorgeous cinematography and hey - it was certainly very darkly funny.

celluloid screams_nightbreed still_detail.jpgThe latest screening of the restored version of Clive Barker's Nightbreed (the "Cabal" cut) also pulled quite a crowd. Barker's original novel was one of my first introductions to horror (certainly deeper, more nuanced horror rather than the crowd-pleasing nastiness in something like James Herbert's The Rats), and I'd never seen the notoriously butchered studio version of the film so I was curious how his story, in its intended form, held up - a damaged psych patient with a violent past, accused of murder most horrid, flees to the fabled sanctuary of Midian, a buried necropolis where monsters go to seek forgiveness.

Good but not great, basically. Barker crams a tremendous amount of his novel onto the screen and the original concept is as brilliant as ever. But while Nightbreed is a surprisingly decent film even in this rough-and-ready form (the new footage comes from ancient VHS tapes, and some of it is near unwatchable) it's also a painful lesson in the shortcomings of 90s action cinema, from the wooden performances and script tweaked for laughs to the sex scenes with both participants still clad in tightie-whities. The editing is often phenomenal, but the original film is plainly nowhere near the work of genius the restoration team seem to think.

Day two featured the retro horror anthology V/H/S, a love letter to 80s medical-themed body horror in Cell Count, a surprise screening of Irish urban fantasy Citadel and more besides. Second roundup is on its way.

Celluloid Screams 2012 ran from 26th-28th October at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield, in the UK.
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