REVIEWS: Forbidden Worlds Film Festival - The Big Scream II

Forbidden Worlds Film Festival returns with The Big Scream II, a screening of horror classics at Bristol’s Imax. Nathan Hardie explores why horror is perfect for event cinema.

Words: Nathan Hardie, @hardiewrites

Images: Robert JC Browne

Horror is a genre that fits perfectly within the confines of event cinema. It’s a space where someone can feel scared around others safely, hopefully ensuring less need to re-watch episodes of a comfort sitcom afterwards.

Some evoke more unintentional laughter than an average comedy could, yet still hit powerful, poignant moments of a drama. There’s room for romance, coming-of-age and science fiction without feeling overwhelmed knowing there are still two films left in the marathon.

Image: Robert JC Browne

Encapsulating all of these themes (and somehow more) were the movies shown at the Forbidden Worlds Film Festival: The Big Scream II. An offshoot from their main programme in May, the 2-day October outing allowed the team Timon Singh, Tessa Williams, Anthony Nield and Dave Taylor to share some spooky cult classics at the Bristol Aquarium IMAX. Although it’s Jim’ll Paint It, the festival artwork provider and Microsoft Paint expert, who chose a strong opener with Night Of The Creeps.

Chris Romero (Jason Lively) is a typical nerdy, heartbroken freshman. Whilst lamenting to best friend J.C. (Steve Marshall), he catches sight of sorority girl Cynthia (Jill Whitlow) and falls head over heels again. They decide that joining a fraternity would impress her most, even if that means digging out a corpse as an initiation. Instead, Chris & J.C. find the college’s cryogenic chamber (which must be an Ivy League thing) and accidentally release alien parasites that have laid dormant for twenty-seven years.

Director Fred Dekker hit the nail on the dead zombie’s head during his introduction by highlighting that “tone is always really important in movies, particularly in horror comedies”. Self-awareness is rife throughout the film, a “hobo stew” of referential tropes and knowing winks to fans of the genre.

However, the grounded characters prevent Night of the Creeps from turning farcical. Keeping tongue-in-cheek quips to a minimum means cinephiles can take the story seriously, feel the emotional beats, and the picture remains laugh-a-minute.

Image: Robert JC Browne

Firmly knowing the feature’s audience is also Arachnophobia’s strength. Frank Marshall primarily collaborated with Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis as a producer in the eighties. Understanding the family-friendly aspects of the Indiana Jones and Back to The Future trilogy, alongside the tonal balance in Joe Dante’s Gremlins and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, helped Marshall to capture the same essence for his directorial debut. 

He equated it to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds: “People like to be scared but laughing, like a roller coaster. No one wants to be terrified”.

The casting of Jeff Daniels as the protagonist embodied this notion. His comedic nature fits the big-fish-small-pond bill of a family man moving his doctor practice to the countryside, fearing the creepy crawlies living in the barn. When those spiders appear deadlier than usual, Daniels ups the fear factor whilst amusingly butting heads with the eccentric townspeople.  Marshall knew eight-legged creatures were scary enough without extra special effects, using over three hundred real Avondale spiders on set. However, having MythbustersJamie Hyneman’s giant animatronic arachnid added to the film’s overall fun.

Image: Nathan Hardie, @hardiewrites

In comparison to what else the festival had on offer, spiders and zombies could be deemed somewhat vanilla. Guillermo del Toro’s first English-language picture, Mimic (2011 director’s cut), filled New York City’s subway system with supersized cockroaches disguised as men in trenchcoats. 

Kyle MacLachlan seemingly prepared for his role in Twin Peaks through Jack Sholder’s The Hidden. Playing FBI agent Lloyd Gallacher, he teams up with Detective Thomas Beck (Michael Nouri) to chase after law-abiding citizens who have gone off the rails for no earthly reason. 

Furthermore, antagonists don’t get much weirder than the jealous, murderous car of John Carpenter’s Christine or a baby-devouring tree in William Friedkin’s The Guardian (1990). Considering both directors had made iconic horror previous to these – Carpenter’s The Thing and Friedkin’s The Exorcist – it’s interesting to watch their less revered projects on the big screen.

Ironically, critical backlash upon release of The Thing is why Carpenter directed Christine, ensuring some guaranteed paid work. This revelation came after screenwriter Stephen Volk provided a brutally honest assessment of working with Friedkin, unable to separate his experience from The Guardian’s final product.

With so many unique approaches to horror shown at The Big Scream II, it reinforces why the multifaceted genre is ideal for event cinema. Enriched by introductions, sharing when it’s scarier behind the scenes than in the final cut, there’s no knowing what’s coming around the corner. 

What can be relied upon is that if the team behind the Forbidden Worlds Film Festival is involved, the audience is in for a treat.

You can find more information about the Forbidden Worlds Festival via their website, Instagram & Twitter. Their YouTube channel also hosts interviews with filmmakers and others about some of the classic films they have previously shown. 

Robert JC Browne, is a photographer, Bristolian & employee of the legendary film emporium 20th Century Flicks. You can see more of his work on his website and X.

Nathan Hardie is our film & theatre writer and is also developing a career as a film critic and scriptwriter. Find out more about Nathan and the projects he’s been working on here.