Identity is everything. Amid the FrightFests and Grimmfests, the Mayhems and the Celluloid Screams, the Fractured Visions, Abertoirs and Cine-Excesses, it is hard for a new genre festival to carve out its own niche: to jump out when least expected and grab the attention.
The Soho Horror Film Festival is ‘amateur’ in the true sense of the word – a labour of love from curator Mitch Harrod, with inclusion at its bloody, beating heart. For an essential part of its mission is to be open and welcoming to all, which allies it closely (if certainly not exclusively) to LGBTQ filmmakers and audiences, while allowing it to queer notions of what horror is and can be. Over the past few years, Harrod has built from scratch a loyal following who are drawn to the eccentricity – literally, the off-centredness – of the programme’s eclecticism, often far from the mainstream, at the genre’s outer edge. This is, of course, the coalface of horror’s future. Meanwhile Harrod takes real care to ensure that the short films which accompany the features complement them through close thematic associations. This is painstaking, pensive programming.
The festival’s identity has also constantly shifted. When it launched in 2018, it took place in the Karma Sanctum Soho in Central London – hence the ‘Soho’ part of the festival name. After one more live manifestation at the Karma Sanctum in 2019, Covid hit the country with lockdowns – and Harrod was quick to respond with a series of ‘Sohome’ virtual events which allowed housebound horror hounds to gather online for regular weekends of their favourite genre. These events, free but open to donations, were an incredibly generous gesture, filling a massive gap in the ‘market’ at a time when nobody could venture beyond their front door to watch films, and making this bijou, DIY festival suddenly the most important unifying horror event in the country. ‘Sohome’ also brought SHFF to a broader British audience that might never have been able to get to London. A community had now been formed.
In 2021, Harrod revived his annual live November weekend event, while relocating to the Whirled Cinema, built into a Brixton railway arch in South London. So the Soho Horror Film Festival is no longer in Soho. This however merely reflects the fluidity of the festival’s identity, which is a monstrous, misshapen hybrid in other ways too – for the live event will take place this year 11th-13th November in Whirled once again, while a separate virtual event (with a completely different programme) will take place online the following weekend, 17th-20th November. Information, full details on all the films on show and tickets can be found here.
© Anton Bitel