Whitby’s annual horrorfest had British horror well-represented this year, starting with Judas Ghost (2013), written by author Simon R. Green, is a Brit psychological horror set in a claustrophobic village school hall where schoolchildren have been in hysterics for no reason. An elite team of ghost hunters,with the no-nonsense motto: “take no shit from the supernatural”, move in to film everything that goes bump in the night and get dispel it as needed. The cinema verite style is interspersed with flashbacks of the team's previous successes with various previous cases types, such as the poltergeist and “beast”.
This A-Team of the Undead has the well-dressed and flamboyant showman and leader Jerry (Martin Delaney) who announces sarcastically that he hasn’t brought his latest snappy suit to “this shithole” to waste his time on a non-happening spook. There’s a nervous techie in charge of recording all supernatural goings-on; a professional psychic checking for any evil vibes; a mysterious expert brought in to help out.
The village hall’s doors start disappearing and reappearing, locking the team inside and a ‘70s style wall phone suddenly appear and rings endlessly. Jerry entertainingly answers this ominous call from the other side with a cheery: “Hello – room service!” Later, as things start getting out of control, he greets the appearance of a bloodstained ghost with a chirpy: “Can you hear me, dead man?” and, unfazed, begs the undead soul to smile for the cameras.
But things go steadily downhill from here, as a trapdoor appears with a stench of blood, as Jerry's smart new suit becomes bloodstained and the team starts disintegrating.
Filmed on a tiny budget of £200,000 in three weeks, this is Brit indie horror at its best. Director Simon Pearce spoke about why he chose to film in chronological order to help the actors, and chose such a mundane setting as the village hall, rather than the more traditional haunted house/deserted hospital/shadowy woods location. Proof that filming with unknowns in a minuscule budget makes for a better movie, this is funny, creepy, and unpredictable.
Another successful short was The Legend of the Chained Oak (2014) – although too easy to peg as the British Blair Witch. A young TV crew are attempting to docu-discover the truth about the local oak which rumour has it is haunted by a witch’s ghost. The three horror buffs introduce themselves to camera as they drive to the rural location, and things seem to be going well while the rest of the crew arrive and bicker a la Josh, Chris and Heather. Despite the fact there does seem to be a very large film crew, including a reality TV star, given that they are going to hunt down only one witch. At dinner, while recording some background footage, they are freaked out to discover what seems to be a shadowy face in the window. After excitedly rewinding the footage to check (very Rec), they are even more panicky to see this is in fact the case – even if ghost hunters should be delighted by this evidence they have something to film.
Next day, the crew set off in the woods to find the titlar tree, which goes well until “Mr Reality TV gets us all lost” as one disgruntled team member puts it. This also seems more likely in Maryland than the UK, but once they finally find the tree, the crew recite a charm supposed to bring the witch back to life, and one starts panicking that they felt someone touch them. Again, you would assume they be pleased they were getting great footage.The casting has all the characters bit too long in the tooth (20- to 30-somethings, rather than teenagers) to be spooked by this minor legend, and also to protesting they can’t face the latest scary noise in the night.
The leader unwisely decides to take a piece of the tree as a horror souvenir, which turns out to be a bad idea, as during the second night sees their house’s dolls’ house suddenly developing a life of its own (in a tiny, neat touch of horror scarier than the witch itself). The end is a bit clumsily shot, as the leader is suddenly seen from the audience’s perspective as he returns to the oak to replace the piece of the haunted tree, rather than being filmed by a team mate as the rest of the film has been.
Overseas horror was also well represented, with Treehouse (2014) featuring a dysfunctional Amercian familyin rural woodlands, shot like a travel docu (all beautiful mountains in crystal-clear autumnal light). Beneath the wooded scenery is the real horror of is a Shining-esque dad, all scarred from wartime horrors and tormenting his family, and a gun, plus some psycho locals with a grudge. All these inbred nightmares makes the unlikely sight of fleeing vague figures in the dark woods seem almost harmless. The real fear is the titular treehouse, which “ain’t for kids” as the hero find when he crawls on top of the treehouse and sees his classmates’ bodies hanging in the trees above him. Director Michael Barlett had a interesting idea, but wasn’t quite developed enough to be coherent.
Other good shorts included Dead Sea, (2014) a biohazard-horror-meets-family-drama along the lines of The Bay, and I am Monster (2014) a glossy but genuinely disturbing necophilia short.
Yields was a 2011 J-horror-comedy where an anassuming young man turns into a effective serial killer when he realises it will improve his chances with the ladies, and Moratorium (2012), with a van filled with survivors of a zombie apocolypse, trying to find somewhere safe. Horror from all parts of the haunted globe was well represented at this year’s festival.