Saturday the 20th January is a key date for NYX as its when our very first piece of original programming happens and its something very special; FrightFest Saturday Scares with Alan Jones. Here he chts about this and his incredible career.
NYX: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a journalist?
AJ: No, I loved horror and fantasy movies from the age of ten, or rather the idea of them because obviously I couldn’t go to the cinema and see anything of that nature. I read horror novels non stop, stole shocker posters pasted up on the billboards at the end of my street, cut out all the wonderfully lurid adverts from newspapers and pasted them into scrapbooks. I was literally waiting for the moment I could pass for sixteen years of age so I could get into X films and start watching all the movies I was desperate to catch up on. I was fourteen when i could do that.
NYX: Can you describe how you got your “big break” into journalism?
AJ: To cut a very long story short - although I detail it more in my autobiography ‘Discomania’ published in July - in the early 1970s I worked as a receptionist at the Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill Gate. It was, and still is, a mega-celebrity watering hole and I partied with everyone from ABBA and David Bowie to Queen and Jack Nicholson. One of the guests was sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison who caught me one night writing up film reviews. From 1966 I kept diaries of every film I saw, which provided the basis for my ‘FrightFest Guide to Grindhouse Movies’ published two years ago. Before I could stop him Harlan was reading some entries and he told me he liked my style and that he knew an editor in the USA who could use my ‘talents’. That was Frederick S. Clarke, the editor of the seminal magazine ‘Cinefantastique’. And by the most amazing of coincidences my best friend at the time, and he still is, Mike Childs, then a producer at Capital Radio, was offered the London Correspondent gig for ‘CFQ’ as it was always referred to in the business, because the person who was in that role was an acquaintance who had to retire from the position. Mike asked me to join him in the endeavour, we shared a byline for a couple of years before his producing commitments, with Lulu, Tony Blackburn etc, meant he handed everything over to me. Fred loved what I did, I learnt everything thanks to him and bylines in ‘Starburst’, ‘Shock Xpress’ ‘Fangoria’ etc all followed.
NYX: You quickly became a pioneer of genre cinema with your insightful reviews and features, how hard was it building up your almost encyclopaedic knowledge?
AJ: Like every genre fan it’s an inherent thing isn’t it? I learnt everything by seeing the movies, reading such great books at Carlos Clarens’ ‘Horror Movies’ and magazines like ‘Castle of Frankenstein’ and ‘Monthly Film Bulletin’. No internet, no video, if you missed a movie you hoped it would turn up in late night shows in rep or at the Scala cinema. The times I travelled to the Odeon Croydon to see dodgy exploitation double bills…. Back then no one was properly reviewing these movies so it was a blank slate I worked from and that’s why I’m proud of my early reviews. I usually got it right without any outside help clouding my judgement!
NYX: You are renowned for your honest reviews, has this ever affected your friendships with creatives in the industry?
AJ: Yes, but if it does affect it that much, they weren’t friends in the first place. So many people when they say they want you to be honest don’t want that at all. I lost Dario Argento for a year because I hated PHENOMENA so much. He got over it. My close friend rock video pioneer Russell Mulcahy too. He took me to Argentina on location with HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING and was really shocked when I slated the finished result. No one died. Then there was the director whose film played in competition in Cannes and on the night of his 15 minute standing ovation at the Palais I told him I thought it was boring. Oh well! Because I am still a featured reviewer for ‘Radio Times’, still the UK’s biggest-selling magazine, I can’t lie to directors/producers/cast at FrightFest that I loved their movie if they are going to read a two-star review a few months later when it’s finally released. But I’m still here, a film critic for nearly fifty years now, so I think my direct approach is the correct one. I’ve seen others fall by the wayside because they are too sycophantic, too scared of upsetting the studio PRs in case it limits their preview access. More fool them. All you have is your integrity. I tell everyone who submits films to FrightFest that I will always tell them the truth. It’s the only way I can operate.
NYX: You’re hosting NYX’s very first original series, FrightFest Saturday Scares with Alan Jones, how did that come about?
AJ: They asked me. Simple as that. You’d have to ask the NYX powers that be that question really. But NYX are plugged into the genre zeitgeist in a way very few niche Fast Channels are, it’s the reason they were a FrightFest sponsor in 2023 so they could learn more about their target demographic. I respected that a great deal so I had no qualms about becoming part of the viewership building process. NYX gets what we are doing with the festival - curating the best movies of the year from a wide variety of diverse new voices. They also curate the best from an impressive array of historical and current titles so we are both sides of the same coin.
NYX: Was it difficult to choose the movies to include in this series?
AJ: Not at all. Each of my choices means something special to me, either in terms of pure fandom or love of the director or because I was on the set watching it being filmed or knowing the people involved. I have been on location with thousands of films since the very first one - STAR WARS in 1977, and that was because Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford stayed at the Portobello Hotel during shooting. What a fantastic start that was and could I have been any luckier? I want to impart my knowledge and point the viewer to aspects they may not know about the movies in question and make them as enthusiastic about it as I am.
NYX: Do you have a personal favourite film which you present?
AJ: Well, they are all personal favourites, that’s the point isn’t it? But if you are holding a scalpel to my throat, wearing black-gloves, I would have to say Mario Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE because it was the very first X film I saw at the cinema. And when I look back in hindsight, it set the seal on my entire life because it engendered my love of Italy, Italian directors, artistic gore and I owe everything to it, something I was very pleased to tell Mario’s son Lamberto when I met him for the first time.
NYX: How would you sell this series to the casual viewer?
AJ: Even if you are a connoisseur, an aficionado or a casual NYX viewer I guarantee you will learn something you never knew about classics, guilty pleasures and bona fide masterpieces and hopefully see them in a totally new light.
NYX: FrightFest is 25 years old this year and is still the biggest celebration of the genre in the UK, you must be proud of how respected this brand has become?
AJ: Absolutely. I couldn’t be more delighted. Who knew when we started FrightFest back in 2000 as a meeting place for genre fans in London, run something along the lines of the fabulous Sitges event in Spain, that we would become a brand leader, a champion for independent fantasy, be vitally important to sales agents and be in the Top 20 Greatest Film Festivals of All Time Lists? And all organised and staged without any public money. Everyone from directors, producers, stars and fans tells us how fantastic their experience is at FrightFest and as long as we keep that sense of community I see no stopping us extending our reach. We have so much exciting stuff planned for our 25th Anniversary this year, I can’t wait.
NYX: So, what are you up to at the moment?
AJ: Apart from watching roughly 20 movies a week for FrightFest, and the other festival I am now Artistic Director of, the Trieste Science+Fiction Festival, I have two books launching this year. One is the aforementioned ‘Discomania’ autobiography, which contains reviews of every Disco movie you cannot afford to miss (105 of them!), why they are musically important, and what memories of my Punk and Horror careers they spark. Many people don’t realise my role in the Sex Pistols revolution or the scandals attached to working for Vivienne Westwood and Macolm MacLaren at their SEX shop, so I’ve written about that for the first time within the Disco/Horror brackets. The other book is a volume of every review I wrote for ‘Starburst’ magazine during my 30-year tenure as their main critic. I resisted doing this for years until I read them all again and realised they didn’t just represent an entire history of an important three decades, but also changes in the genre and how my writing evolved. Both books are published by FAB Press. I’ve just filmed my segments for the documentary I WAS A TEENAGE SEX PISTOL, a Disco conversation with my S’Express mate Mark Moore for the 4K restoration of THE MUSIC MACHINE, Britain’s answer to SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and next week I’m recording a commentary for OPERA, the most important Argento film for me personally as it was the first one I ever covered on location in Rome. Then there’s the Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals… And filming more ‘Saturday Night Scares’ for NYX of course….
NYX: Alan Jones, thank you very much.