The Dukes celebrates the spirit of Halloween with a carefully curated programme of films, workshops and discussions.
At The Dukes Theatre in the heart of Lancaster, an idea proposed by a collective of film enthusiasts and Lancaster University film alumni came to life on Tuesday night. Thus arose ‘Dark Dukes’, five days (26th – 30th October) of the terrifying and disturbing in the world of cinema. Classic horror films, analysis of the archetype of the vampire, blood-chilling indie titles and frights for the whole family are examples that define the festival as a true-to-genre extravaganza.
The programme was curated by Johnathan Ilott, Film Programmer at The Dukes, with the help of Professor of Literature and Culture at Lancaster University, Catherine Spooner, an expert in Gothic literature. The festival also runs alongside the British Film Institute’s season “In Dreams are Monsters”, celebrating the archetypes of monsters in horror. “This year is an anniversary of so many iconic vampire films: 100 years since Nosferatu, while the book, Bram Stoker’s Dracula turns 125 years old this year,” Johnathan states.
A central part of the festivities is a number of workshops created with the help of members of Lancaster’s cultural world. ‘Lancaster Hauntings, Hangings and Horrid Happenings’ (October 26th) shines a light on the dark pages of Lancaster’s past, presented by Gregory Wright, a Lancaster Walks, Talks and Tours guide.
‘The Ghost Story Writing Workshop’ (October 27th) is intended to help local writers and enthusiasts alike hone horror stories of their own with the help of writer and playwright Adam Z. Robinson. ‘100 years of the Vampire Film” (October 29th) details the evolution of the archetype often seen in media with the expertise of Professor Catherine Spooner.
The winner of the ‘DIY Film Challenge’ will be picked on the 29th of October: a short, three-minute film with an underlying “monstrous” theme, judged by a panel of industry professionals.
Other classics featured include Vampyr, Nosferatu and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as well as hidden gems such as The Stone Tapes and The Lost Boys. Contemporary offerings are represented as well, independent films that mightn’t otherwise have been played on the big screen: The Feast, Hatching and Piggy as well as others.
SCAN were privileged to have been in attendance for the exclusive Tuesday night screening of Poltergeist, a 1980s supernatural horror film which totally embodies the genre and decade in which it was made, and Lee Haven Jones’ 2021 Welsh tale of greed and gluttony, The Feast. Both were screened in The Dukes’ fantastic 360° theatre, The Round.
In Poltergeist, a quiet, suburban household in a planned community has its reality ripped to pieces and its sanctity invaded by paranormal forces, complete with endearingly retro (and Academy Award-winning) special effects and virtuosic, dramatic lighting.
It’s a horror classic, the eighth-highest-grossing film of 1982 and ranks at least somewhere on most lists of the best scary movies. That would be for you to decide – what constituted a truly frightening film in the ‘80s is probably different to modern times and while Poltergeist demonstrates much more flair and skill than its competitors both new and old, it probably won’t have you flying out of your seat or hiding underneath your coat. I’ll put it this way, I’m far from resilient in the face of cinematic fear, but never felt the need to avert my eyes.
What it lacks in frights, though, it makes up for in know-how. The story’s acts are a little unbalanced, but the script is both engaging and comedic in the relevant places, neither tone impinging on the other in a way that feels inauthentic.
Perhaps Poltergeist benefits most from the influence of Steven Spielberg, who is credited as a co-writer and producer, but who is also alleged to have taken de facto directorial control. Spielberg was contractually prevented from directing any film during the preparation of E.T. but seemed to circumnavigate this legal hitch by effectively puppeteering credited director Tobe Hooper. Both men deny this but, at least visually, the American auteur’s fingerprints are all over the film.
On Wednesday evening, in the mysterious cavern of The Round, where an eerie atmosphere looms that houses eyeless monsters and demons on its balconies whose victims’ heads lie around them, SCAN were there to witness The Feast.
Featuring sexual horror and some delicious gore that might be hard to stomach, The Feast is a Welsh tale of a wealthy family that holds a feast for their neighbour to lure them into a business partnership. But no one is ready for the consequences of their environmentally exploitative practices. What has Cadi to do with all the weird occurrences? What are the brothers’ secrets? Why are Gwyn’s ears hurting? I guess you have to watch to find out.
The Feast is a literal eat-the-rich satire that skilfully utilises horror elements to exaggerate the real-life horror of gluttony. Greed consumes humanity and causes characters to show animalistic behaviours. The metaphor in the film is, at times, on the nose, but it effectively conveys its message through explicit horror.
The audience follows Cadi, a quiet caterer who brings us into the wealthy estate. Cadi is uncomfortable with Gwyn’s hunting and their special connection with nature. Her character contrasts with the family and the businessman who sees nature as a money-making opportunity. The contrasting dynamic between them festers and morphs into an unexpected horror feast.
The Feast displays a strong directing voice from Lee Haven Jones, who is recently longlisted in the Best Debut Director category for British Independent Film Awards. The meticulous production design is framed delicately on the screen. The prominent use of sound design creates discomfort for the audience effectively. Some wild editing choices might not be for everyone, but they display a unique new voice from an emerging director.
‘Dark Dukes’ runs until this Sunday and their schedule is packed, so there are still plenty of opportunities to experience this wonderfully curated local festival and get your fix of pre-Halloween horror entertainment. All the events are listed on their website, https://dukeslancaster.org/.