The annual London Horror Festival is a celebration of everything dark, gory and scary in film and theatre in the run-up to Halloween. Throughout October it will bring London’s scariest acts to the Etcetera Theatre in Camden, but to launch this year’s festival it hosted a range of cabaret acts as well as the annual Stage Fright writing competition.

This year the three finalist plays in the competition were performed by Wireless Theatre Company and recorded in front of a live audience. The winning writer, Pete Barrett, had the audience in stitches with his spoof-Gothic Bluebeard-inspired tale featuring the eccentric and grouchy aristocrat Lord Wensleydale (played brilliantly by the twisting and gurning Ben Whitehead – also a standalone cabaret performer himself). The format was flawed, however, as suspending one’s disbelief is almost impossible when watching actors read scripts into microphones, and some of the acting lacked urgency and depth.

After the interval, the scary-eyed and darkly alluring burlesque performer Good Ness Gracious got us right in the mood for some cabaret fun with a scarily literal rendition of ‘Under My Skin’, and a slightly unpolished but sexily confident striptease. The gorgeous bellydancer Rosie Kohl followed next with a beautiful and fascinating dance performance, and a heart-melting character, all rounded off with a wonderful visual gag.

Jody Kamali stole the show with his fantastic crap vampire character Victor, whose total rock-solid confidence in his own completely non-existent scare factor was face-achingly funny. He prowled the auditorium in his novelty cape, spitting incoherent syllables through his plastic fangs, looking for ‘a virgin’, to be then unconvincingly dismembered onstage, while frantically trying to untangle his head mic and retaining his imagined scariness.

Anyone who (like me) went along to the launch hoping for a genuinely frightening evening would have been disappointed, although the event was largely very entertaining. There were Halloween costumes aplenty and much dark humour, but at no point was the ‘horror’ in the festival’s name seriously pursued, which feels like a waste when the theatre is one of the most effective places for creating a truly creepy atmosphere.

The only skin-crawling moment of the night for me came at the end of Mary Beth Morossa’s wonderful set of macabre poems, which were reminiscent of the great creeper-outer Roald Dahl. She was the only performer to really give the audience the shivers, and the whole evening could perhaps have done with a little more commitment to horror rather than comedy, enjoyable as it was. Nonetheless, much of the talent demonstrated at this launch speaks of an exciting festival to come for scare-seekers and those with a taste for the gruesome and grim (The Twins Macabre, in particular, come with this reviewer’s personal recommendation), so don’t miss out if you like a good shiver up your spine.

For more information about the London Horror Festival, see the London Horror Festival website.