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Phil Ilson
The Halloween Society

In early 1994, Matt James, the drummer from Spin, was running a Thursday evening indie music night at the Vox Club in Brighton Terrace, Brixton. I had been DJing down there for him, and I remember the stirrings of the Cool Britannia explosion as I was approached by some sixties dressed girls to play some Pulp or Blur – bands that I had heard of but didn’t really know; I was into my alternative American indie-rock such as Pavement and Sebadoh! With the sudden take-off of everything British, Matt’s band (with a name change to Gene) started to gain in popularity and he abandoned running the night, but had suggested that myself and Tim talk to the club owners about doing a film night like Exploding Cinema. We weren’t keen on the open submission idea, so we got a selection of our own films plus friends music videos and did two events over a couple of weeks, called 20th Century Vox. We managed to get into the Time Out listings and also promote the show at the Peeping Toms film night, a forum run by filmmaker Kaprice Kea in Soho’s Gerrard Street.

Co-incidentally, in April 1994, I started work in the British Council Films Department, after seeing an internal circular while I was working as an Office Angel temp in their Accounts Department. My new job was to send short films to international festivals, and all of a sudden I was exposed to this whole unknown scene of ‘short film’. I took some tapes home, including Andrew Kotting’s ‘Smart Alek’, made some calls about showing these films and was pleased with the positive response.

After the two Brixton events we thought that Soho should be the new location for any film-related event, as it was the supposed centre of the British film industry. So, the first Halloween Society film evening took place upstairs at the Crown and Two Chairman pub in Dean Street, screening shorts from VHS on a video projector to a sheet gaffer taped to the pub wall. We went back to the name of Halloween Society purely because it was there – it conjured up an image of a secret society who met in darkened rooms, in our case, to watch short films. That first show screened ‘Smart Alek’. We also introduced a compere – a comedian Mike Watton (stage name Eddie Sponge), who we’d met on the Deptford Vic Reeves comedy scene and who became the third Halloween face for many years to come.

Still from Smart Alek by Andrew Kotting (1993)
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