Now that we are wrapped in the bony clutches of October, it’s time for an update of the always wonderful Shriekfest 2011! I find myself always looking forward to this festival every year. I love the first weekend of October as much as Halloween itself.
Now that we are wrapped in the bony clutches of October, it’s time for an update of the always wonderful Shriekfest 2011! I find myself always looking forward to this festival every year. I love the first weekend of October as much as Halloween itself. I get the chance to see lots of amazing short films and features. And it puts me in the Halloween spirit. This year was indeed a great year, too. Something interesting this year: the shorts were all varying levels of good. Last year there was a more clear distinction between some being really good, some being not so good, and then a bunch of decent ones. This year everything was better, with a few real stand-outs. And as far as the features, frankly I liked five of them. I think that’s a record. I’d have to say the quality was all around better this year. That’s a promising sign for the future of film making. Let’s hope, right?
Ok, let’s start with Friday night. We started with Opus. Seven strangers show up at a house in the desert to star in a horror film. Then they get murdered one by one. But first there are some awkwardly worded conversations and various overly long shots and then a strangely unsatisfying ending. Meh.
Then we have The Feed. This is about a paranormal investigation of an old haunted movie theater. It’s just like a episode of Ghost Hunters. These people use special equipment to see if there are any ghosts in this place. Of course they find some, and the atmosphere is creepy for sure. But despite that, some of the ghost effects are kind of average, and it takes me out of the film. And I’m already getting tired of the reality form of horror. It’s a style that needs to be given a rest. But hey, tell that to the Paranormal Activity people.
Then we finished the night with The Millenium Bug. I was looking forward to this, and I must say I was not disappointed. A family is kidnapped while camping by a vicious, inbred family. But none of them have any idea that something monstrous is about to erupt from beneath the forest floor. Yeah, what starts as a kind of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, later turns into a giant monster movie. Who likes Kaiju? I do! And as a point of interest, there is no CGI in this film. It’s all practical effects. Granted, the gore effects look low budget- and they were- but they do the job and are really fun. And the monster is awesome. A really unique creature that looks great. I was really impressed with the quality of the effects with such a low budget- under a hundred thousand for the whole film. The green screen compositing was actually better than some of the stuff in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. No, really. All in all, this was a really fun film. I’m glad I saw it.
Saturday afternoon brings us to the first series of shorts. Being so many of these, I won’t go through each one, but rather give you the highlights. Murderabilia is the grim story of a compulsive collector trying to track down a belt that was involved in a brutal murder. Despite this being a little long at 30 minutes, I still enjoyed the atmosphere and the story. I don’t know if it was intentional, or just my perception, but I liked the ambiguity of whether this collector knew the victim or not. I wonder if anyone else felt that way.
Divination shows us a fake psychic that discovers that you can’t rob the loved ones of the dearly departed and not pay a price. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this, until the uh, ‘explosive’ ending.
Then we have Summer of the Zombies. A newly turned zombie struggles to navigate the world of the undead. Just one word: vegan. That’s all I’ll say. This was pretty funny stuff.
Saturday features: More comedy than horror, The Moleman of Belmont Avenue suffers not one bit for it. Why? Because it’s actually hilarious. Two inept landlords reluctantly take it upon themselves to hunt the subterranean creature that is eating their tenants’ pets. Perhaps a few minutes too long – they could have tightened it up in the middle, and with one or two random subplots that go nowhere – it still provides some very funny stuff. With one more pass on the script with some very small tweaks, this would have been really quite great. But as it is, it’s still really fun.
Ok, I skipped Rage, as I had a feeling I wouldn’t really miss anything. According to people I spoke to afterwards, I made the right choice. Moving on.
Next up was The Hike. This is a pretty straight forward chase/hunt horror film. A group of women get together for a weekend hiking and camping trip. They get hunted and tortured by some guys in the woods. Apparently Lionsgate has already bought this one. It’s not bad, but not amazing either. It seemed a bit slow in the middle, and for a film that’s only 88 minutes long, that’s saying something. It does, however, have an ending that I didn’t entirely expect. But it’s not enough to fully recommend it.
Oh, Isle of Dogs. Here’s a film I really wanted to like more than I did. A London crime boss finds out his wife is having an affair so he hunts down her lover, and a bloody game begins. This is in the vein of a British crime thriller. The money is there, the acting talent is there, but it feels like two different movies. For most of the film, the shots hold too long, the tone is more subdued. But then the last 15 minutes are an amped up, gory, cheeky, funny delight. I get the impression that the financial backers may have wanted some things that made the film feel this way. If were all more like the last 15 minutes, I’d have liked it a lot more.
And then we have the sheer delight of The Dead Inside. Directed by Travis Betz, who made the film Lo a couple years ago, this is a unique film; a supernatural musical. Yes, I said musical. A couple begins to suspect that the woman is being possessed by a spirit. There are a few layers here; a zombie story, the story of this couple, and of the invading spirit. It’s completely unique and it’s quite wonderful. I can’t recommend it enough. The director has informed us that it may soon be on DVD, so keep an eye out for it.
This brings us to Sunday. More shorts! Again, just the highlights. In The Living Want Me Dead, a slacker looking to make some quick Christmas cash subjects himself to medical testing. Unfortunately, the result is that he turns everybody he encounters into rage-fueled maniacs who share a single target – him. Really funny, and smartly handled. And lots of gross vomit and mouth-foaming.
Certified takes us along a postman’s first day as it takes a terrifying turn when a precocious young girl tells him of her family’s horrible tragedy. Excellent acting, directing and a funny script make this an fun short.
Negative Image is about a paranormal photographer looking to get himself back on the front page. This is actually quite spooky. I love that spine-chilling feeling and this has that in spades.
The last great short was St. Christophorus: Roadkill. The tag line is just: “Had a bad day?” Yeah, no one has a day as bad as the guy in this film. It’s wonderfully dark with some truly wince-inducing moments. This is German-made, and they have a unique way about them. Ok, they make pretty fucked-up films. But that’s to our benefit. This is a fun, horror film with an amusing resolution.
Now for the Sunday night features. I skipped The Orphan Killer because again, didn’t look like something I’d be interested in. Frankly, when your tagline is “The new horror icon of the 21st Century!”, I’m immediately turned off by your presumptuousness. If it’s going to become the new horror icon, let your audience decide that. And again, I was informed later that I had made the right choice.
The next film is one that really stood out. Not a horror film, but more in the sci-fi genre, is Pig. The best way to describe this film, if I were pressed to, would be a cross between Memento and The Machinist, with a sci-fi twist. It’s very well shot, acted and produced. Seriously, it looks great. And it keeps you guessing all the way through. With subject like personal identity and memory, and our own nature to seek answers, this is an intelligent, intriguing film. A man awakes tied up in the desert with no idea where – or who – he is. I can’t really tell you much else about it for fear of spoilers, but I most definitely recommend this film.
And we end the weekend with another outstanding film called Absentia. This has been making the festival circuit this year, winning some awards, and rightfully so. Two sisters begin to connect an ominous tunnel to a series of missing persons cases. With a very natural style, of shooting and acting, this film manages to be very creepy, and tests our judgment of what we see on screen as reality, or delusion. The dramatic elements get you involved with these characters, and the complicated emotional relationships get strained by what may, or may not be real. This was another real stand out.
All in all, a really great year at Shriekfest with some quality shorts and features. And frankly, good instincts on my part this year. Yeah, last year the one movie I missed to take a food break was Transfer. I later found out that that was the one film that everyone loved and I shouldn’t have missed it. Well, not this year, people! Seems I made all the right choices this time. Yay, me! And let those good instincts be passed on to you. If you get the chance to see any of these films and shorts, do it.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, already looking forward to Shriekfest 2012! MANY thanks to Denise Gossett and her husband Todd for always bringing their best efforts to Shriekfest!