Mayhem And Magic: A Festival Report

Oliver Morris explores the new normal of the 2021 Mayhem Film Festival and finds it better than ever.

It’s been a fortnight since Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema hosted Mayhem Festival, but it’s never too late to post our thoughts on the event. Usually, Mr Reprobate himself would be reviewing the festival, but a clash of appointments and the ongoing viral unpleasantness kept him away this year, so it’s up to me to write up the proceedings instead…

Mayhem Festival has been running since 2004*, initially as a short film festival and more recently as a bare-bones ‘Skeleton Edition’ in 2020 when mass gatherings were still frowned at rather than encouraged by our feckless rulers, and this year saw the festival directors (Chris Cooke, Meli Gueneau and Steven Sheil) trying to bring a degree of normality – at least within the context of a festival showing cult and horror movies – back to our screens. Over the years, Mayhem Festival has deliberately shifted from being a horror film festival to a wider-ranging genre film festival, offering a somewhat more esoteric and personal selection of films than some more purist events. This year’s festival was no exception, going from the Friday afternoon archive film (and Martin Scorsese favourite) The Queen of Spades to the thriller-with-a -twist Night Drive via a Saturday night midnight screening of Winnipeg’s favourite The Phantom of the Paradise.


After a difficult eighteen months in which cultural experiences were thin on the ground and the Mayhem Festival was severely curtailed (with just four films over four days), It was great to finally be back at the Broadway Cinema for the entire weekend.

What worked? The allocated seating meant that you didn’t need to immediately join the queue between films just to ensure you sat where you wanted – and we’re all creatures of habit with individually preferred seats at the front, back or side – and the longer breaks between films that allowed you more time to chat to other festival attendees or go and get food and drink. There is always a balancing act at a film festival between the films – which are the excuse to be there – and the social aspects that are arguably more important. Without the former, no one would be there but we should never underestimate the importance of the social aspect of these events. You can, after all, watch films at home or in the cinema any time and in many ways the movies are actually the least important part of the event, with most people booking tickets long before the schedule has been announced.


What didn’t work? The bar at Broadway had been redesigned during the lockdown and the new layout has meant that the queues to get to the bar have got worse (is this even possible!?) rather than improved. The infamous Broadway bar queuing phenomenon – where people would line up stretching out of the door while huge sections of the bar stood empty as if punters had never visited an actual pub and didn’t know how the system worked, has been dealt with by formalising the queue, which just seems to slow everything down. Hopefully, this will be tweaked over time.

But what about the films you say? Here were my highlights of the festival:

  • Alien On Stage – A big-hearted documentary about an am-dram team of bus drivers bringing Ridley Scott’s Alien to the stage, this might have seemed a curious or risky choice as a festival opener, but given the events of the last year and a half, it was the perfect feel-good crowd-pleaser to kick off with, rather than anything intense or ‘difficult’.
  • Midnight and Spiritwalker– a pair of South Korean movies that continue the Mayhem tradition of finding fascinating, unusual and just plain mad global cinema. The former is a twisted thriller about a serial killer playing a game of cat and mouse with a deaf mother and daughter and the latter is a fascinating action sci-fi film best described as ‘John Wick meets Quantum Leap‘.
  • Lamb – this slow-burn horror story is just amazing; go and see it, but avoid reading anything about it and definitely stay clear of the trailer, which bizarrely gives away important plot turns.
  • Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes – a high-concept time-travel sci-fi comedy from Japan. If you liked One Cut Of The Dead – and who didn’t? – then you’ll like this.

Notable mentions go to the Alan Moore-scripted The Show and the extremely divisive Adams Family (no, not that Addams Family though the name credit is clearly not coincidental) production Hellbender. Apparently, I’ve been told to say that the Flinteroggation quiz was sorely missed but given the editorial control of The Reprobate, I’m going to keep schtum…

Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes

This year was a triumphant return, building on the success of previous years and incorporating necessary restrictions in a way that improved the running of the event – hopefully, some of these changes can continue to be a part of the event once things are fully opened up. Roll on Mayhem Festival’s 18th birthday in 2022!

*The Mayhem coordinators can’t agree when the festival started. If it’s wrong above, sue them, not me.


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