FrightFest Round-Up: "Starry Eyes" Invades Britain!

Submitted by Dennis on

Herein lies an account of the adventures of Kevin and I in London for the UK premiere of Starry Eyes. I usually treat this (ahem official!) movie website like... well, an official website for a movie. But I wanted to try and experiment with the blog format here and put together some more personal posts. Our London trip was FrightFest, a film festival originally conceived by Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray and Alan Jones. Dubbed by Guillermo del Toro as "The Woodstock of Gore," FrightFest UK is hosted yearly by Film 4 and has grown to become one of the most respected and important genre festivals in Europe. In past years, it's hosted the UK premieres of films like Pan's Labyrinth and House of the Devil, so it was a big honor to have our film be selected.

After an 11 hour flight across the U.S. and then, to add insult to injury), across the Atlantic Ocean too, we touched down at Heathrow Airport on Thursday morning. This was the first time back in London in nearly twenty years for the both of us. I studied abroad at Regent College back in 1996 for a semester and fell in love with the city, so the drive in from the airport filled me with feelings of nostalgia and longing. A lot has changed about London since the '90s, but it remains one of the most beautiful cities in the world for me. Curving, tree-lined streets give way to ancient architecture and rolling green lawns of the city's many public parks, every several blocks. In a moment of ultra-Britishness, our cab had to pause in traffic at one point for a procession of king's guards to march across the street. 

We finally arrived at Leicester Square, the location of both our hotel and the actual movie theater hosting the festival. Many film festivals have a difficult time in that, the theater(s) that host their event are either off the beaten path, spread out within the city, or in a part of the city that just can't support a good night life. FrightFest, fortunately, doesn't suffer this fate, as Leicester Square is chock full of restaurants, bars and shops-- not to mention three separate movie theaters, two casinos and a park!

Leicester Square. Photo by PinGallery (DeviantArt)
*Photo by PinGallery, from DeviantArt

Our first day in town we slept about six hours. Then that night we headed over to the opening night part for The Guest, a film I saw earlier this month in LA that is probably already in my top three of the year. At the party we teamed up with Spencer Hickman (Death Waltz Records) as well as festival programmer Evrim Ersoy. These two are mates by now (look at me, talking like a saucy Brit!), so they made the night a blast. The free drinks didn't hurt either.

Day 2, Spencer gave us a list of nearby stores to check out and we were up early to go explore London. Our journey included The Cinema Store (where the below, autographed photo from Aliens hung on a wall, tempting my wallet), Gosh Comics and Sounds of the Universe Records. The only film we got to see this day was Preservation, but it was great to actually get to see a... you know... film at a film festival. That evening we met up with Spencer again, as well as filmmaker Sean Hogan (The Devil's Business), who has an upcoming documentary on comic publisher 2000 A.D. coming out soon,. Together we checked out a burger joint called The Bun and Patty which was totally worth the hour long wait to get in. The night culminated with us re-teaming to have drinks with Evrim and crew at a local pub near the theater which served Titanic, one of the greatest stouts I've ever tasted in my life.

ALIENS
*This was hanging on the wall at The Cinema Store

Day 3 was nuts. This was not only the actual day Starry Eyes was premiering (in three separate screenings scattered throughout the day), but it was also the day our UK partners, Metrodome, had designated for all of our media. So in an effort to convey how grueling the day was, I'm going to type it all in one giant breath:

We woke up and had our complimentary breakfast from the hotel which was one of the highlights of the whole damn trip. Seriously, look at this damn plate.

Complimentary breakfast from the Radisson Hotel
*Complimentary breakfast from the Radisson Hotel

We then met up with Woody Southcott, our publicist from Metrodome (UK distributor who bought the film), who had a series of interviews lined up for us. But before that we had to run over to the theater and do the introduction for screening #1 of the day with Paul McEvoy, a festival programmer for FrightFest and one of the most entertaining people you'd be lucky enough to have the pleasure of meeting. We were concerned that a lot of people wouldn't turn out for a 10:45am screening, but our fears were soon tossed when we arrived to a theater at least 75% full. After a quick intro, we headed back to the hotel for three back-to-back interviews (each lasting about 20 mins). Then back to the theater for our first post-screening Q&A. After that we had to intro screening #2, and then it was onto the Filmmaker's Lunch, hosted in the penthouse of the hotel. Here, we got to hang out and catch up with our old festival pal and fellow Dark Sky Films director, Adrián García Bogliano (Here Comes The Devil, Late Phases). We were also at the same table as Nacho Vigalondo (Time Crimes, Open Windows), which is always a treat.

After the filmmaker's lunch it was back to the theater--- Wait, nope! We had another interview to do. And while it didn't go long, it put us right up to the mark with doing our next Q&A for screening #2 and so, wow, we almost didn't make back on time. We ran there but got to the theater after the end credits had already rolled and the audience was pouring out. The festival coordinator literally had to yell to people that the directors were here and that the Q&A was still on. After that, you guessed it, it was onto the introduction for screening #3. By then, I was running on fumes. The both of us hadn't slept well the prior night, due to some cackling teens outside the hotel, screaming from about 4-5am. So by the time we were standing before a near sold out 445p screening of the film, I was swaying on my feet and fighting to keep my eyes open. It was in this state that I got to meet a friggin' icon in the green room; a little writer you may have heard of named Alan Moore. I've heard lots of infamous stories about Moore, but in the brief minute we spoke to him, he was affable and forthcoming. We told him our film pokes fun at the movie industry and he let a vicious grin slip onto his face. 

Photo taken by Jonathan Hughes (he's also the dude in the middle)
*Photo taken by Jonathan Hughes (he's also the dude in the middle)

After a quick non-rest in the green room, it was downstairs to the lobby for the "media wall." For those that don't know this term, it's that thing you see people doing at events where they stand on a red carpet or before a white wall branded with all the sponsors of the film festival. Then a line of photographers (with flashes) yell "Here!" "Over here" "Turn this way" and snap about a thousand photos of you in the span of 60 seconds. After that, the microphones come out and you go down the line answering the same questions over and over. I may sound like I'm belittling this process but it's quite the opposite. If you're going to travel across the world to a film festival for your movie, you want to talk about that movie as much as possible. Every little bit of media helps, so it's an honor and a privilege to get to talk about it to so many nice people. The only problem was, I was fading at this point. In the videos online for our media wall (below), you can see how zombified I appear. But the minute this was over, we had to run back upstairs to the theater for our third and final post-screening Q&A.


*We pop up at the 4:58 mark.

It was an exhausting but wonderful day. The praise for the film was overwhelming and we were getting a ton of love on Twitter from some of the most intelligent movie fans I've ever encountered. We celebrated by joining an old friend of mine, Alex Cassun, and his wife (also named Alex), for dinner and drinks. This was a special occasion for me as Alex and Alex met on ChuckPalahniuk.net, a website I co-created and manage for the best-selling author of Fight Club. And crazy enough, though I've known Alex for over a decade, this was the first time we actually met in person! Spencer joined us again and the five us went to a great restaurant called The SoHo Kitchen, where I had one of the worst steaks I've ever tasted in my life. To counter this, I had a an Espresso Martini, one of the best drinks I've ever tasted in my life. (too much hyperbole?)

Pictured: Alex Challoner, Alex Cassun, Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch and Spencer Hickman
​*Pictured: Alex Challoner, Alex Cassun, Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch and Spencer Hickman

After this, we tried to rest in the hotel but it was a fleeting dream. So I downed a can of Red Bull and we went out one last time to party. This time, the master of ceremonies was our pal Evrim Ersoy. The event was called The Duke Mitchell Film Club and Evrim dubbed it a "party that was going to be off the chain!!!" Translation? A group of lucky people were going to be locked in a theater for a night of some of the worst film clips ever. (and by worst, I mean "best.")  Think Everything Is Terrible!, UK-style and you're about halfway there. The party was broken up by sneak-peaks of upcoming films (presented by the filmmakers themselves), prize giveaways, whisky shots, dancing, and lots of crowd interaction. Everyone from John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Harvest) to Nacho Vigalondo to Adam Greene (Hatchet, Frozen) to Spencer Hickman showed something. Spencer's portion was a highlight for us, as he showed a series of three music videos dedicated to movies that were so awful and amazing, they transcended human comprehension. 

The first to be shown was the video for "Move Your Dead Bones," a dance song for the movie Beyond Re-Animator which was the only bonus feature on the DVD. Kevin and I were the only people in the audience that had actually already seen this video and our love of this song knows no bounds.

The second video was by a band called .357 Lover (featuring Corn Mo!), that has an unhealthy obsession with the movie Event Horizon. Seeing is believing...

Last, was this inexplicably long dance scene in the movie Night Train To Terror for a song called "Everybody But You" by Joe Turano. See if this song doesn't become trapped in your brain..

Spencer had to take off after this, but not before being coaxed (forced?) into showcasing his own break-dancing skillz. Again, seeing is believing...

Day 4 was a quick one. We finally got to see Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's Among The Living, a film we've repeatedly tried to see at other fests, but unfortunately kept missing, due to scheduling conflicts... and then it was back to the hotel and into a cab for the journey back to the airport and back home.

It was exhausting and yet, probably too short an experience, but FrightFest will remain one of the highlights of the year for us. The film got such a strong reception and we met so many amazing people, many of which will probably become life-long friends. Everyone from the fest treated us like royalty and every day and night was just filled with highlights. We want to point out and thank all the people that made this journey so pleasurable: Paul McEvoy, Alan Jones, Ian Rattray, Katherine O'Shea, Greg Day, Woody Southcott, Spencer Hickman and Evrim Ersoy. If we met and hung out, and you're not on this list, I apologize. Please know that you're in our hearts and minds and that we can't wait to see you all again.

Here are some quick blurbs from the many reviews we got this past weekend.

"Think Melrose Place: The Cronenberg years." 4/5 stars

http://www.thehollywoodnews.com/2014/08/23/frightfest-2014-starry-eyes/

"The finale is an unexpected jolt to the system with some terrific body horror bringing the curtain down brilliantly on a razor-sharp shot across the bows of Tinseltown." 4/5 stars

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/whats-on/film-news/frightfest-2014-review-starry-eyes-4095877

"Alex Essoe gives a star-making performance with the character, running the gamut of emotions from timid actress, to empowered film star to psychotic killer to something else… All in the space of 90 minutes!"

http://www.nerdly.co.uk/2014/08/23/frightfest-2014-starry-eyes-review/

"This is about as far removed from run-of-the-mill horror fare as you can imagine – and is all the better for it." 4/5 stars

http://www.movieramblings.com/2014/08/25/frightfest-review-starry-eyes/

"Alex Essoe is a revelation and Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer look to be upcoming masters of this genre." 4/5 stars

http://www.flickeringmyth.com/2014/08/film4-frightfest-2014-review-starry-eyes-2014.html

"Starry Eyes is a finely crafted horror movie and study of one woman's quest to obtain stardom at any cost or opportunity. Here, becoming a movie star is depicted as a literal transformative and transcending process."

http://www.horrorflickers.com/2014/08/frightfest-2014-review-starry-eyes.html

"Starry Eyes is a fantastical, modern day scary fable warning you that going that extra mile isn't necessarily the path to success and glory."

http://www.britflicks.com/blog.aspx?blogid=12574

"Alex Essoe’s dedication to the role is absolutely captivating, and without hyperbole it is one of the most impressive leading lady debuts I’ve ever seen."

http://indiegroundfilms.com/2014/08/24/frightfest-day-2-reviews-starry-eyes-coherence-the-babadook/

"Playing heavily on its message on the price of chasing fame, its third act turns incredibly bloody as Sarah decides that fame is what she desires above all else. Carried spectacularly well by the lead, Alex Essoe, it's both a cautionary tale and a blood-spattered head trip." - 4/5 stars

http://www.horrortalk.com/frightfest-2014/4748-film-4-frightfest-2014-day-3.html

Next up, France and Germany and beyond!