Another Halloween is almost upon us! October is the spookiest month of the year, and the best. And with October comes the annual Shriekfest Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival! One of my favorite things! And this year was its’ Sweet 16 birthday. I ask festival creator and director, Denise Gossett, every year how many more will there be? And she deftly evades the query because, hey, it’s just too much to think about. That works in our favor, however, because if she isn’t thinking about when it ends, then it WON’T END. Yay!
This year was a great one at Shriekfest. Pretty much everything was good, if not great. IT’ll be a tough one to give highlights since there were so many. But I can’t write 10 pages here so I’ll try to recommend as much as I can in the space allotted.
Friday night I saw two of the three films (I only missed one film all weekend) and we start with Occupants. It’s directed by Russ Emanuel and written by Julia Camara.
A documentarian ropes her husband into participating in setting up cameras throughout their home for a project. But things get weird when the cameras start picking up images of their doppelgangers in a parallel universe.
This is a cool idea and the actors were solid and likable. Won the award for best sci-fi feature. Give these people some more money to make a bigger version. I’d love to see that.
Next up was Teleios, a sci-fi film with some serious production design, written and directed by Ian Truitner. A deep space mining ship has been adrift in space for two years off Saturn’s moon, Titan. It appears the crew has killed each other, but the reasons are unknown. A rescue crew of genetically modified ‘superior’ humans is sent to find answers, or survivors.
This is an ambitious script, and the production design to match. It looks great, and the cast is of some people you may recognize, like Sunny Mabry (Once Upon a Time, Snakes On A Plane), Michael Nouri (Damages), and Lance Broadway (Colony, Olympus Has Fallen). Everyone here is very solid and though I talked to a couple people that thought it was a bit hard to follow, I just thought it was being ambitious – in a good way. I like science fiction that makes us think.
Ok, Saturday starts with the shorts programs! I love these – even more this year than last. I’m going to hit you with my favorites, but keep in mind, everything was worth seeing.
The Captors, written and directed by Chris Baugh: an aging con man assembles a team of kidnappers in a bid to extort money from a bank executive. But when their wealthy turns the tables by presenting them with an unexpecting dilemma, things take a turn for the worst.
Great twist and performances; more thriller than horror, but does exactly what a short film should do. Look for this one, for sure.
It’s All In Your Head, written and directed by Greg Jeffs, is a great little film about the monster in the closet. Oh, it starts out familiar, but it will flip on you. Creepy, fun, on a budget, but will loose nothing for it. 6 minutes of good stuff.
Next is Flyspy, written by Simon Hewitt, directed by Daniel M Smith. A young genius deviant uses a radio controlled drone fly with a camera in its’ head to spy on his ex-girlfriend. That turns out to be a bad idea.
A really original story with come cool effects AND combined use of virtual reality (VR) technology makes this one well worth the view.
Eat is next, written & directed by Carl Shanahan. Four children hope to make it through a family meal without incident by adhering to the strict etiquette set by their intimidating mother. The children also have another concern… what’s being served?
A creepy, disconcerting, examination of the ritualistic nature of dinner and how, particularly family, regularly gather to take part in a meal. This one resonates with me in particular because of how my father and step-mother were the kind of people that considered dinner a very important time for the family to be together and share events of their day. And then there’s the part where my step-mother would make me eat brussels sprouts. Ack.
Daniel McDonald brings us The Voodoo Dick. A man buys his wife a magical toy, but things go horribly wrong. If you ever wanted to see a one of those bad dirty jokes be made into a film, this is your chance! Pretty darn funny.
And now, Program two from Saturday starts with The Light Thief. Eva Daoud wrote and directed this supernatural thriller about the Passion of Love and those who Steal It.
Beautifully shot and some great performances and visual effects help this heartffelt story come to life. I could see this maybe being extended in to an interesting feature.
Busy voice actress Kari Wahlgren writes, with David H Jeffery directing, Girl # 2, one of my big faves of the weekend. When a terrifying killer is on the loose, sorority sisters Jenn and Stacey must fight to survive a night of horror. Will they become victims or come face to face with another evil?
This short starts out pretty straight forward and then takes a hilarious turn. So funny!
Next is The Scared One, written and directed by Romaine and Thibault Lafargue, from France. I met Romaine and he was a nice guy experiencing Los Angeles for the first time.
From his bedroom window, a boy watches his father put up a scarecrow in the garden. That night, the boy, unable to sleep, looks out the window to see the scarecrow is missing. He hears noises coming from out in the hallway. The nightmare begins…
This short is shot in black & white, makes excellent use of sound effects, atmosphere and production, and is delightfully creepy.
Then we have Blight, written by Matthew Roche and directed by Brian Deane. A young priest is sent to combat dark supernatural forces a remote island community.
This has some great production quality and acting, and a nice surprise that I didn’t see coming. Another one that could easily be an intro to a feature film that I’d like to see.
OMG, another one of my true stand-outs is How Deep Can I Go?, written and directed by – and starring – Kai Smythe. Using hand drawn cardboard sets and props, Hairy Soul Man explores how deep some humans will go for love.
This is produced like a music video, the song being the title, of course, but holy crap this is hilarious. Look for Hairy Soul Man on Facebook. Fun, sort of cheesy ’70’s vibe horror video.
As for the features Saturday night, I rather enjoyed I Had a Bloody Good Time At House Harker, Directed by Clayton Cogswell, and screenplay by Jacob Givens, with story by Noel Carroll, Clayton Cogswell, Jacob Givens, and Derek Haugen.
In order to save a home that has been in their family for generations, the descendants of Dracula’s slayer hire a vampire-actor to scare the town; things get out of hand when the “vampire” turns out to be the real thing.
This is a comedy with a bunch of blood. Fun! And that’s what I had watching this; Fun. It’s pretty much a hoot. Everybody in it seems to be having a great time and that makes me have a great time, too. Not a perfect film, but I laughed a bunch while blood sprayed on a lot of stuff on screen. That’s just the way I like. it.
Next up was Dead Awake, written by Jeffrey Reddick (Final Destination) and directed by Phillip Guzman. This is the winner of the Best Horror feature for the festival.
A young woman must save herself and her friends from an ancient evil that stalks its victims through the real-life phenomenon of sleep paralysis.
This film looks great and has a great cast. It’s also a really cool idea to make a film based on this condition. The idea of sleep paralysis is already creepy and scary, so using that to make a horror film was inspired.
Closing Saturday night was Paramedics, written and directed by Rodney Wilson. What happens when those who are you supposed to care for you, are the ones you should fear the most?
Two paramedics, sort of a George and Lennie from Of Mice and Men thing (one intelligent, the other big but mentally challenged), capture people and harvest their organs for sale. But when they capture a certain woman, they get more than they bargained for.
This film went in a direction I didn’t expect. It also has at least one moment that made ME uncomfortable, at that’s saying something.
Sunday begins with…more shorts! Again, another fantastic group of shorts that make it difficult to pick favorites, but I’ll highlight some.
The Call of Charlie, directed by Nick Spooner, written by Guy Benoit, John Simpson, and Nick Spooner, is wonderful.
A trendy Los Angeles couple sets up a blind date for two of their friends, one of whom is an ancient evil deity vibrating with pure malice. Unfortunately, on the evening of the rendezvous, two interlopers unexpectedly arrive at dinner to make the situation all the more awkward. A macabre comedy of manners, influenced by Luis Buñuel, David Lynch and/or H.P. Lovecraft. Alternately amusing and disturbing.
The short version of that synopsis? Cthulu goes on a bind date. Genius.
The next delight is called The Cleansing Hour, written by Adam Horwitz and directed by Damien LaVeck, winner of the best horror sort for the festival.
Two failed filmmakers, Lance and Drew, have found success running a webcast that streams LIVE exorcisms. However, each episode is an elaborately staged hoax, created to dupe their global audience. But, when their latest subject turns out to actually be demon-possessed, they are forced to reckon with their online charade– live in front of millions of viewers.
Excellent production and acting, with some faces you may recognize. The Cleansing Hour is again, a short that I could see turning into a feature with the right script. Really great.
Sunday shorts continue with Monsters, written by Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, and directed by Steve Desmond.
Jenn lives in an underground bunker with her family, protected from the monsters that now ravage the world. This is the day that she goes outside…
Another great short that has a surprising ending. Also well-acted by all, including a seldom seen Ione Skye!
The Maiden, written and directed by Michael Chaves, is a little film about a real estate agent trying to sell a haunted house, and it’s scary, funny and definitely worth a look.
Next up was Be Still My Heart, written and directed by Chris Russell.
A woman suffers a near death experience and falls in love with the Grim Reaper. Her warped sense of love transforms her into a serial killer, as she dispatches body after body to get glimpses of her one true love. What would you do if true love came with a toe tag?
True love has rarely been funnier. this is really fun!
From fun to disturbing, we next have The Disappearance of Willie Bingham, written by Michael Fawcett and directed by Matt Richards.
A retired civil servant reflects on his part in a dark and macabre series of events that altered another man’s life forever and will continue to haunt him till his dying day.
Imagine if the law said that if you commit a crime, you are subject to surgical procedures, and the victims, or remaining relatives of the victim, get to choose what kind of surgery. Yeah, it’s pretty messed up. Powerful, and totally worth a look.
Next up is Flush, written by Matt Cooper and Wil Witwer, and directed by Matt Cooper.
A business traveler with bad karma meets an unlikely assailant.
This one takes us back to funny. You know when sometimes those motion activated public toilets flush on their own? Yeah, be wary of that.
The first feature of Sunday night was Peelers, written by Lisa DeVita, and directed by Seve’ Schelenz.
A small town strip club owner must defend her bar, her strippers and her life when violent infected patrons show up on the final closing night and all hell breaks loose.
Ok, this one is a little on the fence for me. Generally speaking, this film is only ok, not great. However, only because of soem of the tone. There are parts where it seems to take itself a little seriously – maybe plays it straight – and then has moments of pure hilarity. I don’t know if those moments are intentional or not, but either way, this film supplied me with some of the biggest laughs of the weekend. There are some scenes here that were truly inspired. I think I would have loved every second of Peelers if they had just stuck with that sort of humorous tone throughout. It would have been a stellar horror-comedy.
As it stands, I think it’s worth seeing. Yeah, it’s a little cheesy at times, it plays much of itself a little too straight, but it’s worth seeing for select scenes throughout. I mean, you’ll never think of Winnie the Pooh the same way ever again. SO FUNNY.
And we cap off the weekend with Capture Kill Release, written by Nick McAnulty, Jennifer Fraser, and Farhang Ghajar, directed by Nick McAnulty and Brian Allan Stewart.
A couple plots to murder a random stranger just for the thrill of it, but things turn ugly when one of them decides not to go through with it.
Let’s face it, thing turn ugly before one of them has second thoughts here. But that works out great for horror fans. This has some solid actors and an already great premise. It’s like, when two people seem to be joking about doing something and then it turns out one of them was serious. Then it’s like, “Wait, we’re actually doing this? For real?” And the answer is a resounding “Yes”. We’re gonna need more tarps. And bleach. Yeah, probably bleach. And gloves. Have fun!
Capture Kill Release was the winner fo horror feature for the fest.
Shriekfest is always a blast and festival director Denise Gossett knows her stuff. She also has the biggest heart in the industry and would love to be able to make everyone a winner if only to make sure everyone understands how important it is to do what you love, to not be discouraged by the seemingly endless supply of people telling you “No”, or not returning your calls from auditions or ideas.
Be an INDEPENDENT film maker, then. Make it yourself. Believe in your vision and make it happen. We need more original ideas and unique film makers. And let’s face it, the horror genre needs that as much as any. You can’t have too many intelligent, fun, original horror movies.
Keep in mind that you can go to http://www.shriekfest.com/ to see SOME of this years short selections online, and maybe get some info as to how to see others. Please support your local independent films!
Until next year, kids, have a perfectly horrific and happy, Halloween!
~ Neil T Weakley, your average movie-goer, telling everybody to get Spoopy!