It’s a new year….we’ve all mumbled our way through Auld Lang Syne and survived Christmas dinner. But as 2019 rears its sleepy head and the nights start getting colder, it matters not that Halloween is long behind us — for the Liverpool Horror Club, it is always the Season to be Gory.
Founded by Ilan Sheady, Chris “Zombie King”, Stuart Jopia and Mariam Draeger, Liverpool Horror Club is an organisation dedicated to providing a premier alternative to the regular cinema going experience. My first outing with the group came last November at Sanctuary Bar on Lime Street. I managed to interrogate Ilan Sheady once the crowd thinned out. He summed up what the community means to him and what makes it so important: “The Liverpool Horror Club as a concept came up around four or five years ago” he said. “It found its feet just over a year ago. Since then, we’ve been doing more movies. Sometimes as much as two events a month.”
That particular evening’s entertainment was a screening of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale. But mine was an apprehensive first encounter. I wasn’t ready for the level of engagement people had with the movie. There was a lot of laughter and jeering at the screen, but any doubt I had that the audience might not have enjoyed the film was swept away when the credits received a standing ovation. “I know this is the first horror crowd you’ve been with” Ilan consoled me, “but the more you go to horror festivals or screenings, the more you realise that people come here to enjoy themselves more honestly and light heartedly. People feel more comfortable amongst themselves; laughing at the movies, cheering, clapping at the end because they know they’re being catered to for a change.”
And, indeed, it was quite a welcoming environment once I’d warmed to it, especially when the time came for the post-screening parlour games. An inventive take on ‘rock-paper-scissors’, each member of the audience was ascribed a different weapon as depicted in the film. The last survivor standing was awarded a Blu-ray copy of a schlocky German slasher. Fun and games aren’t the only reason genre fanatics should cheer for the Liverpool Horror Club- they prove to be one of the only consistent sources for those more cult and niche film screenings in the horror category.
Ilan explained: “I think a lot of horror films you see in cinemas are tailored to mainstream audiences, so when you go to these festivals and independent screenings that are literally targeting you as a ‘super fan’, you know this is meant for you. All of this effort is made for you, so you can’t not cheer and clap!” The effort certainly shows. Ilan continued: “So we had this screening of Frankenhooker the other month, which we’re all huge fans of being kids of the 80s, and we spoke to Patty Mullen [the titular Frankenhooker] who lives in New York at the moment. She was happy to take an hour out of her day to do a live Q&A with us. We do these events as a celebration of movies. It’s not just “let’s watch a film” because we can all do that at home, we can all go and just buy the blu-rays.”
Now that I am, quite frankly, hooked, it would have been remiss of me not to attend their screening of David Slade’s 30 Days of Night at Renshaw Street’s relatively new Outpost, a trendy little bar and veggie/vegan restaurant. Ilan introduced the screening and was joined by writer and comic-book expert Luke Greensmith, who rattled off wisdom with all the comfort and confidence of a preacher at pulpit. Luke and Ilan talked about how the film stands as a rare example of a faithful horror comic/movie adaptation, and what it is that makes 30 Days of Night a worthy addition to the genre.
If you are unfamiliar with the text, 30 Days of Night is a vampire picture with a distinct tonal difference. Instead of the more traditional depictions we see of frail maidens lusted after by creepy white dudes like Bela Lugosi, Max Schreck or Robert Pattinson, these cold-blooded killers look and act more like a shiver of sharks than a troupe of debonair Draculas. It’s the last day of sun for a whole month in Barrow, Alaska. A degenerate drifter (in a show-stealing performance by Ben Foster) ushers in the long night by causing trouble in the town. A pack of vampires soon follow the wave of destruction and the town is well and truly in the dark as all communication is cut off and a massacre ensues. Survivors band together to wait out the hunt in a month of darkness.
It’s a pretty good flick, one that wears its influences from earlier creature-feature freeze-fests like John Carpenter’s The Thing proudly. And if the adage “only as good as your villains” is to be believed, then Danny Huston’s turn as the leader of these razor-toothed demons is enough to carry the film.
30 Days of Night’s high-concept premise is more than satisfactorily executed. My only gripe is that the unfeasibly well groomed Josh Hartnett and Melissa George are a tad too vapid in their roles as romantic leads, and the quite ham-fisted expository dialogue makes you fear for whiplash due to the force at which your eyes periodically roll back into your head. The legend goes that Alfred Hitchcock took a knife to half of whatever screenplay he was working on, forcing the film to rely more on the show don’t tell principal. It feels like that would have been a technique well served in 30 Days of Night, a movie that’s already quite the visual treat.
However, if you get hung up on cheesy dialogue then horror mightn’t be your bucket of blood to begin with. “If you’re a horror fan, these events are blatantly made for you, this is the community we tried to build from scratch” Ilan told me. “Horror fans, we’re not catered to, but now we are. We’ve given people confidence to sit amongst each other. There’s people who come here, like yourself, who’ve never sat in a room like this with other horror fans. Now they know that, yes we are freaks, but it’s good to be a freak! It’s good to see these crazy movies where people die in silly ways and it’s great to clap and laugh at that!”
February is Women in Horror Month. The Liverpool Horror Club will be at Constellations, Greenland Street, on Saturday 9th celebrating a genre that, although often the cause of much controversy, is very much ahead of the curve in issues of representation. The evening will be chaired by a panel of special guests from the industry and the screening will be Mary Harron’s American Psycho. Come and check out the ‘little shop of horrors’ and appreciate the cool artwork by Ilan’s own Uncle Frank Productions. Make sure to save the date so you can be there and be square.
Check out Liverpool Horror Club on FACEBOOK!