INTERVIEW: Director Simeon Halligan Talks Horror Projects and Grimmfest 2018

Grimmfest 2018 will take place from the 4th – 7th October at Odeon Manchester Great Northern.

Get tickets to Grimmfest here!

As Grimmfest 2018 gets underway, we caught up with its founder and director, Simeon Halligan, to talk about his past and upcoming projects and find out what we can look forward to at the Manchester-based festival this year.

Kirstie: You’ll be screening your debut film Splintered at this year’s Grimmfest. What made you decide to show it now?

Simeon: We’re screening on the Monday, on preview night, so it’s not in the main body of the festival.

The first reason is because I’ve been working with one of the editors who I shot it with originally in 2008. We could take the footage that we originally shot on the Red camera and remaster it into 4K, which is amazing because we weren’t able to do when we first shot it. We were actually the first feature film in the UK to use the Red camera, as back then it was very new technology.

During post production on that film we were exploring new technology to a degree. There were limitations to what we could do with the material. Now, we can go back and remaster the film. We’ve ended up recutting the whole film and working on the soundtrack as well. In many ways it’s a whole new experience.

It’s very different, it’s shorter, we made lots of changes. We found some footage we hadn’t used before. Of course, it’s now in 4K quality, so it’ll be interesting to see what it looks like on the big screen.

There’s a film festival in Germany called HARD:LINE who wanted to a retrospective of my work in September, so they’re screening all my three features, Splintered, White Settlers and Habit. That’s quite exciting for me. It’s another reason to dig out Splintered and have a fresh look at it.

I think it makes sense to put it on because it’s the film that started the whole thing. If it wasn’t for Splintered, we never would’ve created Grimmfest. It grew out of that film, in a way.

Splintered (2010)

Kirstie: How do you hope people will respond to it?

Simeon: It’ll be really interesting to see what people of it. I’m quite curious to see what people think of it if they remember the original. It has played on the Horror Channel a lot in the UK over the past six years, so a fair few people may well have seen it. It’ll be interesting to see what people think of this new cut because I think it’s a lot better than the original cut. I think it shows progression in my ability, even though the material is pretty much the same.

It’s dated in some ways – mainly things like technology. People using mobile phones. It was only 2008, but the characters using mobile phones look really archaic and ancient.

It’ll be interesting to see what people make of it. We cut nearly fifteen or twenty minutes out of the film. Most new cuts end up longer. But I think as you become a better filmmaker you recognise what you didn’t quite get right at the time. As a new director – I’d directed short films, but I’d never directed a feature before – so I think that there were a lot of things that we didn’t get quite right the first time round.

I think a lot of them stemmed from the script. I’ve learned a lot about developing screenplays and what’s essential when you’re directing. I think there’s a lot of stuff in that film that could be taken out and the film won’t suffer for it, and it’ll make it a tighter and better movie.

Habit (2017)

Kirstie: How is your new film Habit doing?

Simeon: It came out this year. We premiered it at Grimmfest last year and then it did a whole bunch of festivals throughout October and November, which was great. Then it won Best Feature and Best Screenplay at New York City Horror Film Festival, which was very cool. Then it got a UK release this year, a couple of months back now. It had a small cinema release and now it’s out of DVD. It’ll be out on Sky Movies on 1st October.

It’s very different from the first two. It’s based on a novel, it’s set in Manchester, so a suburban setting compared to my first two films which were set in the wilds, in North Wilds and a farm in the Scottish borders. They were both about people getting lost in the wilderness, whereas Habit is very much about the horrors of the city environment. It’s about a guy who finds himself getting sucked into this bizarre underworld of Manchester.

It’s a different kind of movie. I’m really proud of it. It’s not a straightforward horror film. It’s more of a character piece, and a drama, but with horrific undertones, I suppose you might say. It starts with the feel of a gritty real drama, but takes a right hand turn into strangeness.

We had a great cast for it. The two lead actors were excellent. There was Elliot James Landgridge, who was in a movie called Northern Soul, which was quite successful a few years back. He’s a great actor. And he played against Jessica Barden, who was recently in a thing called The End of The Fucking World, which you might have heard of from Netflix and Channel Four.

They’re both fantastic actors and we had an ensemble of actors around them who were very talented. People like William Ash, who has been in things like Waterloo Road. And we had Sally Carmen who has recently been in Coronation Street and was in Shameless. We had Louis Emerick. So a lot of these actors who are really known for TV work in the north. We wanted to go for that Northern cast because the piece was very much about Manchester.

It’s still out there and selling internationally. I think it’s gone onto Hulu in the States.

Kirstie: How is your new film, The Besieged, going?

Simeon: The Besieged is kind of Dog Day Afternoon meets The Thing. It’s like a bank heist movie that becomes a monster movie. It’s going okay. We’re still trying to secure the finance for it, which is one of the hardest things in filmmaking. We’re still trying to pull it all together, but we hope that we can start shooting the film this year. But it’s getting tricky. We’re getting closer to the end of the year, but we shall see. It’s a gradual process, but it’s exciting.

Kirstie: Have you got any other projects coming up that people should look out for?

Simeon: We’ve got a whole bunch of other films in development, but it’s going to take a while to get made. So probably The Besieged will be the first one that will go into production.

There’s another project that has got two titles, we can’t decide which one to go with, The Past Life or The Regression. There’s a really cool script being developed about a guy who witnesses a past life regression through hypnotism. While many people go through that experience and witness glamorous past lives, this guy witnesses a series of murders from the 1980s through the eyes of the killer. He discovers that these were real murders that happened, but no killer was ever found. He uses the hypnotism process to try to work out who the killer was, and discovers that the killer might still be around and might be coming for him.

I’m looking forward to getting moving with those.

Director Simeon Halligan

Kirstie: Is there anything else we should be looking out for at this year’s Grimmfest?

Simeon: It’s hard to pick anything out because they’re all so good.

Tigers Are Not Afraid is an amazing film. It’s a Mexican movie by a director called Issa López. She has been picked up by Guillermo Del Toro and he’s going to produce her next two movies on the back of this film. It has a touch of that Del Toro vibe to it. It’s about these kids on the streets of Mexico. It’s quite gritty and almost like a documentary. But you’ve also got this weird dark fantasy element mixed into it. It’s probably the most emotive film that we’re screening at the festival. I think everyone should see it.

In terms of movies that I think are really scary, there are two films that I think would scare me the most.

Those are The Devil’s Doorway, which is set in Ireland with a director called Aislinn Clarke. It’s kind of a riff on the found footage genre. It’s set in the 1960s and about Father Thomas Riley and a young priest who comes with him to a convent to investigate statues of the Virgin Mary that have been crying blood. It gets darker and weirder. It’s shot as if its on 16mm, so it’s got that handheld feel to it. It’s very cool. We’ve got the Northern premiere of that.

We’ve also got The Witch in the Window, which is another supernatural one. I find supernatural things quite scary. It’s a tight supernatural thriller, which has at least two or three moments that made my skin crawl, they really freaked me out. And that doesn’t happen very often because I see a lot of horror films. It’s an American movie by a guy called Andy Mitten, whose going to come and present the film. It’s well worth looking out for. I think it’s going to be going on Shudder pretty soon.

Everything is good. I can’t think of one bad film we’ve got at the festival.

Summer of ’84 is really good. It riffs on the feel of films like The Goonies, with that ‘80s feel but it gets very dark. It’s got a group of lads that you identify with and you go on a journey with them, but it takes you into very dark territory. I think that’s going to be one that people really love. It played at FrightFest and I think was a big success there.

We’ve got two shorts programmes. We’re screening more shorts than we’ve ever screened this year. We had so many short films submissions that we felt we needed to screen more. There are so many short films out there and they don’t always get so much of a look in at the big festivals. It’s hard for me to pick out particular films because there are so many good ones.

I’m a big fan of a film called Dead Cool, which we’ll screen on our Friday shorts programme. It’s about ten minutes long and beautifully made.

I’m also a big fan of Sybil, which is a new movie from Joanne Mitchell. She’s been in a couple of my films, she’s an actress and producer and really into horror stuff. She tends to work with her partner Dominic Brunt. They’ve made things like Before Dawn and Attack of the Adult Babies. Sybil is a short movie that she’s directed and it’s really great.

That’s two of many, many short films that we’re screening and they’re all very, very good.

The Witch in the Window (2018)

Kirstie: Is there anything else you want to spotlight?

Simeon: The Cleaning Lady is very good, which is screening on the Sunday. We’ve got the Northern premiere of that, directed by John Knutz. I don’t know how you would describe it. It’s a slow burn, following the relationship between a woman and this disfigured woman who comes in to clean her house. As it progresses, you realise that this girl who seems very innocent is actually a very dark and strange character. It leads you into a very strange place. That’s a really captivating film.

I’ll Take Your Dead is a movie by a guy called Chad Archibald. He’s Canadian and he is very prolific. He’s made loads and loads of movies. We’ve screened his films in the past, movies like Bite and Let Her Out. He does a lot of genre stuff. I’ll Take Your Dead is the latest one. We’re screening the UK premiere and we’re that’s really exciting for us. It’s about a guy and his daughter who live on a run down old farm. Dodgy people who need to get rid of bodies – gangsters and people like that – bring them there to dispose of. There’s a sense that he’s haunted by the ghosts of the people that he destroys and melts and chops up and gets rid of. It’s a weird premise, but actually a really interesting piece about the relationship between him and his daughter and the people who step into their world.

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, of course, is completely bonkers. It’s kind of a reboot of the original Puppet Master franchise, written by the guy who wrote and directed Bone Tomahawk and Born in Cell Block 99. It’s directed by a couple of guys who brought a film to the festival a couple of years ago called Wither, which is a really intense and gory horror movie. It had a real influence of Evil Dead to it. They’ve directed this new Puppet Master film and it’s pretty nuts. I think it’s going to be popular with our audience. It goes places that you can’t believe, in a puppet movie.

I haven’t covered every movie, but I’ve covered nearly all of them now.

The Cleaning Lady (2018)

Kirstie: It sounds like you’ve got an incredible line-up planned.

Simeon: Yes, we really have. And I should also mention, on our preview night, we’ve got something that’s slightly different for us. There’s a TV show called Creeped Out,which is on CBBC, but it’s developing a real cult status even with adults. It’s really well written. We’ve got the creators, who are big horror movie fans – it’s kind of a horror anthology movie programme for kids. So we’ve got Bede Blake and Robert Butler, who created it, coming to talk about it. We’re going to pick two episodes from the last series and they’re going to bring some exclusive content for the new season, which is going to be out later on this year, I think.

It’s directed by people like Bruce MacDonald, who is an amazing director. It’s got a real calibre to it.

Office Uprising, that’s another one, we’ve got the UK premiere of that one. It’s an American movie starring a guy called Brenton Thwaites, a rising talent. It’s probably the best film I’ve seen set in an office environment, like The Belko Experiment and there was one called Mayhem last year. Office Uprising is the best in my opinion. It’s really funny. It’s dark. It’s very critical of American society and attitudes towards race and arms, as its set in a company that makes weapons. It’s a lot of fun. That’s another one that’s worth checking out.

I’ve nearly covered them all now.

And it’s not just movies this year. The festival is at the Odeon Great Northern this year, so a new venue for us. There will be a big hub space with lots of stalls selling stuff, and gaming as well, like virtual reality gaming and all horror oriented. So there’s plenty to do, if you don’t want to watch movies all the time.

There are loads of offers on at all the local bars so people can hang out and have a drink and chat to some of the filmmakers and guests.

We’d like to say a massive thank-you to Simeon Halligan for taking the time to speak with us! Don’t forget to get tickets to this year’s epic Grimmfest. You can also keep up to date with Simeon and Grimmfest on Twitter.


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