Well, here we are suddenly into October and the gory magic that is the Halloween season! The Walking Dead season premier has aired and it paid off beautifully with an action-packed, zombie gore-filled episode. And opening October, was another wonderful Shriekfest Horror/SciFi Film Festival and Screenplay Competition. Nothing like a whole weekend of Horror movies to usher in the Halloween season, right? And now I’ve been happily covering this festival for about six years.
There’s always a great selection of features and shorts at Shriekfest. Ok, I know I say that every year, but hey, it’s true. Even though there were a lot of great submissions, I’ll just hit the highlights. Hey, there’s only so much space here, you know? I certainly recommend going to Shriekfest.com to check out the schedule from the weekend so you can look for all of the films and shorts.
Friday night offered up a pretty wide variety of films. Alice D, a sort of haunted mansion horror story; Nightmare Code, an interesting thriller based on facial recoginition programs. This also happens to be the winner of the best in the Thriller category. Great concept by first time director Mark Netter. Also on Friday was Hungerford, a sort of aliens taking over human hosts to conquer Earth. Young British director, a whole 19 years old, Drew Casson, has created a found-footage film that, even though has way too much of that hand-held camera effect, and having a moment or two of suspending your disbelief, and a bit cheesey ending, is still remarkably effective. The four young actors are natural and quite believable. They really sell it. There are some minor CG effects that are excellent, and even the practical effects are good based on what is clearly not a large budget. Remember, the director is 19 years old. Kind of impressive.
Saturday started with a set of shorts, among which was One Please, starring Michael Berrymen. I won’t say too much so not to spoil it, but it’s delightfully macabre. Let’s just say that this family must use a gory form of currency in exchange for treats. I believe a sequel is already in the works, crowd funded. Yay for crowd funding! One Please was great. Look for it online!
Next was Alone, about a woman, Erin, spending her first night at home alone in many years. she is clearly locked safely inside, but every creak and little noise makes her believe she is not alone. Solid performance by this actress, and great build up of tension. This was a cool short.
Job Interview is a cool little short about a woman’s promising job interview that gets weird after the interviewer begins asking increasingly bizarre and pointed questions. This thrilling little slice comes from Germany. Germans make some pretty crazy films. In a good way.
And speaking of Germans, another fun short was Wrong Place, Wrong Crime. A woman in red, a masked man on the run, and only one place to hide. This was a comedic thriller that made the best use of a broom closet. Fun!
Later we have Let Me See Your Eyes, winner for best horror short. A proud hermit and a desperate stranger match wits in a post-apocalyptic game of survival. Excellent Art Production, performances and dialogue put this one location short above others.
Next up is Drudge. The one sheet is intriguing, which is good, because “Drudge” is not a terribly provocative word for this short. However, there is some money here and this is a character that could easily be made into a franchise type deal. What is supposed to be a romantic night for a couple turns into a nightmare when Drudge shows up. This is one of those shorts that may well be a sort of promo to show companies to get funding to make a feature. There really isn’t any specific narrative here, just a scene where Drudge shows up and does his thing. It’s pretty slick, and I could see it going somewhere if this characters’ backstory is interesing enough.
Winner of the best sci-fi short is The Developer. A hungarian short, this is a cool, visually beautiful film about a man that can sort of create photographic images with his mind. The tagline is: “A city where nobody wants to live. An assignment that never should be accepted.” Very stylish and fascinating. There’s a trailer on the Shriekfest website. I dug it.
I have to mention this next one for the sheer insanity of it. Mack Blaster: The World in the Crosshairs. Bloodthirsty bounty hunter Mack Blaster slaughters his way through a nihilistic future to ultimately fight his nemesis, Ringo “Der Schlachter” Mack Man. This is one insane mash-up of various genres. There’s some Robert Rodriquez, some Tarantino, some grindhouse, westerns, and a lot of over-the-top gore and blood. Like buckets of it. And it’s pretty hilarious. And it’s made by…Germans!
And no Shriekfest is complete without a fun British horror comedy. Cannibals and Carpet Fitters is just that. Two carpet fitters go on a job to a house where carpets are the least of their problems. Chock full of English humor and cannibalism. Yay!
Saturday night brings us the feature Time Lapse. Three friends discover a big machine that takes photos 24 hours into the future. They decide to use it for their own gain, until disturbing and dangreous picture begin to develop. this filmis generally pretty good. But with all time-manipulation stories, you have to be really careful that you don’t get too convoluted or miss any holes in the logic. Here, there may be one or two moments like that, but it’s a little grey, so you just trust the story and go with it. Other than that, this is a cool film, and the performances are solid, the location is great, and the machine is brilliantly designed. Definitely worth checking out.
Sunday brings more shorts! We start with one of my faves, Eat The Cat. It’s 35 seconds that ends with a BIG laugh. I loved this short. A man is trapped inside a room with a cat and no other source of food, will he eat it? I’m not telling! Unless you ask me to.
Then we have Text Wisely. I don’t think any other film at the fest surprised me as much as this did at the end. Hilariously unexpected. Home alone, Shelly is expecting a friend for lunch, but an unwanted intruder shows up instead. The chase is on! I guarantee you won’t see this one coming.
And then there’s Honey. “A kidnappped man is tied to a chair in a dark basement. When his kidnapper approaches, he finds he was kidnapped for a very insidious reason…” Ok, though I think any kidnapping is probably for an insidious reason, this is one you’ll like. Directed by Matt Rosvally and starring Matt and Ed Gale (he’s the original Howard the Duck & more!).
Oh my, then there is the disturbing magic of Edward the Damned. Possibly my favorite short of the weekend (maybe other than Eat The Cat), this film was truly unsettling. Edward is hiding something under his wig. But during the day he seems like a perfectly normal bloke. But one night his hideous secret will see the light of day. And let me tell you, the way it’s done is so creepy…I mean, if I think it’s creepy, then surely you will, too, because I can take a LOT of creepy.
If you were thinking, “Man, I sure would like another crazy short made by Germans”, well, I have news for ya. Yes, the short Happy B-Day is yet another German short, and it’s delightfully darkly funny. “When a young man starts his early morning run in the snowy woods, he could not in his wildest dreams have expected the birthday surprise waiting for him there.” This is such a funny, macabre short. It was so not what I expected, but I loved it just the same. Everyone should watch their step when in the snow.
Sunday night, the final feature was Berkshire County. The most interesting thing about this film is, not only did it win Best Horror feature, but it is the first Horror feature winner directed by a woman. I know, right?! How is that possible? Because we need MORE female voices in this genre! More power to Canadian Audrey Cummings for making this. Berkshire County is standard enough: “Kylie Winters, a bullied and self-loathing teen, reluctantly agrees to babysit at a isolated country mansion on Halloween night. When a small boy in a pig mask appears at the door trick-or-treating, she must go beyond what she ever thought possible to survive the night.” But as standard as it sounds, there is some cool subtext, genuine tension, and scary antagonists here. In parts, it reminded me a little of the film The Strangers. It was pretty fun and I’ll be interested to see what this director has in store for us after this.
Shriekfest is still just as unassuming and un-Hollywood as ever. For most part, the films selected are truly independent. The budgets are low, the passion for film-making is high, and sometimes that combination gives you features and shorts that might not be as slick or mass-market ready than what you see in the theaters. But what you see in the theaters is not always worth all that gloss and money. Often it’s these passion projects that wield the better results on screen. But even so, you sometimes have to use a different scale of judgement. Are all of these entrees at the festival fantastic? Perfect? No, but they represent some originality and enthusiasm that we don’t see enough of in the dreck in theaters.
HUGE props and respect for Denise Gossett for creating and maintaining Shriekfest all these 14 years. She won’t do it forever, people, no matter how much we want her to. But with any luck, when she does finally relinquish this festival, she’ll pass it on to someone with as much passion, love and caring for Shriekfest – and independent film-makers – as she has.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, already looking forward to next years Shriekfest. But don’t tell Denise. She probably wants a break. 😉