OCTOBER 7, 2012
Even though I went all three of its programming days, I feel I didn't get to spend as much time at Shriekfest as I usually do, which bums me out. Granted I had a good excuse (on Sat and Sunday I left early to watch some of my favorite movies on 35mm at the New Beverly; on Friday I wandered across the street and visited the set of my favorite TV show), but since it's a film festival that specializes in truly independent features, it's not likely I'll get a chance to see some of the other films on the big screen again. Blah!
But most of what I saw, I liked, so that's always good. Time prevents me from writing up full reviews of everything, so please accept these capsule reviews of the others, and keep an eye on the Shriekfest website for updates about next year's fest! With HMAD coming to an end, I will have the time to do full coverage about these sort of events for my next venture, so I wanna see some good stuff!
Not really horror, but a thriller in the Cube/Saw vein about a group of five folks being trapped somewhere without knowing why. The title refers to Malcolm McDowell, who as we learn (relatively early) is the one behind their imprisonment, which is the final step of a grueling job interview to work at his mysterious company. The hook is that the door has four coded locks, and that the "applicants" inside will get a code each time someone dies. So it's a survival of the fittest scenario, with everyone wanting to prove that there's nothing they wouldn't do for their new boss. Lost-style flashbacks pepper the film to show each of the five candidates' job interview as well as what they were doing when they were kidnapped, and while the latter bits are largely unnecessary, the former is where most of McDowell's scenes take place (great role for him - he spends 90% of it in a nice chair, asking questions that are written down in front of him). Again, it's not really horror (though there's a pair of gory kills), but in the "trapped in a room" genre, it's one of the more enjoyable.
This is a mock doc that starts off fine; after an opening showing a crazed, naked man attacking cops with an axe (or mallet?), we cut back a few days and find out who he is - an author who is on a tour of haunted locations to promote his book. Traditional documentary style footage shows him talking to a few experts and going on radio shows and the like, all building up to when he gets to his final stop, which is obviously where bad things will happen. But once he gets there, the script implements a crippling flaw - he's the only one there (besides the ghost), as his crew won't be arriving until later. So there's no real threat, obviously he doesn't die because we saw him at the beginning of the movie, but there's no one else there for the ghost to mess with. Thus, the rest of the movie is little more than our hero wandering around with a flashlight, yelling "Who's there?" every time he sees something that we in the audience most often do not. By the time things escalate, I had already lost all interest, and F U for never bringing the movie full circle - how he ended up naked and fighting cops is never explained.
Short Block 2
After Muirhouse I ended up going to the Community set (!) for like 4 hours, so by the time I got home, slept, and got up, it was too late for me to make the first block of shorts, which bums me out because those tend to be where the biggest surprises are in store. But I got there for the 2nd block, and thank Christ because it had the two best things I saw at the fest. One was the all-TOO-short The Sleepover, which took place in a town called Derry that was menaced by a Jason/Myers-esque slasher. Our heroes are two kids: one believes in the existence of the killer, the other thinks it's just an urban legend. The humor is spot on, and there's a great payoff to the main kid's defense of his babysitter's credentials.
The other one was Survivor Type, a Stephen King "Dollar Baby" about a man documenting his descent into madness and self-cannibalism after being trapped on a tiny rock island after his cruise ship sinks. The actor is terrific, as is the makeup work that takes him from a rather handsome looking guy to one that might frighten a Skid Row crackhead. Some doses of dark humor and the grim ending make it all that much better.
They also played The Dump, a gem that I had seen before at Viscera Film Festival, and while it ran a bit long I enjoyed Dispatch, which came from Italy. Good or bad, short or feature, I'm always happy to see new horror productions coming from this former powerhouse supplier of fright fare. The others were fine; nothing was terrible but they didn't live up to those first two (I almost felt like the lineup was reversed - the 30+ minute Survivor Type should have been the "main event" i.e. last).
Mimesis (review HERE)
Short Block 4
Well today I was lazy. And it was my loss, because I can only assume (pray?) that Short Block 3 was better than this batch. A 40 minute Star Wars fan film, an incoherent revenge slasher that seemed like it was assembled from randomly chosen scenes from a feature... there wasn't much to get excited about here except for Burn, a terrific, squirm-inducing tale of a man who actually does what a lot of guys are afraid their girlfriend's dad will do to them (it involves one's manhood). A real crowd-pleaser among the female attendees, and anything that can make me uncomfortable is worth a mention. I also enjoyed the concept of The Tell Tale Heart, which seems to be part of a larger anthology about mental patients telling their version of familiar Poe tales. But they'd need to pare down this entry some, as it just went on too long, though I liked that they made the "Tell Tale" characters female.
Last Kind Words
This was a fine Gothic mystery/ghost tale, anchored by a solid turn from Brad Dourif as a potential murderer and the presence of Alexia Fast, who is almost impossibly alluring as the object of our hero Eli's desire. I suspect the movie went through some tinkering - there are three editors listed and about as many dropped subplots (where does Eli's girlfriend go? Why did Dourif risk his life to avoid paying the loan sharks when he had a big bundle of cash?), but the lush Kentucky exteriors and interesting approach to a ghost mythology made up for its loose plotting and occasionally sluggish pace. Didn't care much for the ending, though.
It's In The Blood (review HERE)
And that's it! I once again had to leave early, because Magnolia was playing at the New Beverly and there's no way in hell I'm missing one of my favorite movies on 35mm in order to watch something called Nailbiter. I did regret missing the awards ceremony, however, as The Sleepover and It's In The Blood both took home trophies and I'd have liked to have been there to applaud the loudest. And maybe Nailbiter was worth a look, as it won the Grand Jury prize for Best Horror Feature Film.
Then again, that friggin Star Wars movie won Best Sci-Fi Short - can't Lucas sue people for doing this sort of rubbish? If you have the time and money to do a 40 minute fan film, then you could have made a 20 minute movie about something original, no? It was competent enough, but come on! The last thing this world needs is MORE Star Wars nonsense. What we DO need are more original stories and new worlds to explore.
Luckily, originality wasn't in short supply; whether I liked them or not, everything else I saw was a unique concept or at least a really good spin on something familiar, and even if it wasn't always successful, I'd always rather someone swung and missed than stood there doing nothing until they could walk to base. And thus I say grats and "thank you" to all of the other filmmakers in the festival, and see you next year!