OCTOBER 3, 2009
On Saturday, Shriekfest offered up about 25 short films, which ran at the same time as the features. I only caught about half of them (and after watching Spike, I wished I had just stayed in the short film theater, but alas), but here are some highlights of the ones I managed to see.
My favorite of the bunch, and it wasn’t even really horror! Ryan Nagata’s film starts off with a guy doing a pretty epic Shatner impression, carrying on as James T. Kirk would on any alien planet that looked suspiciously like a Los Angeles canyon. Eventually he stumbles across an alien monster and has a fight with it (including the trademark “hit him with both hands clasped together” move). And just when you start wondering why you’re watching a Star Trek parody, we find out that the guys are actually LARPing. But there’s more to the story that I won’t give away. It’s a terrific short; funny as hell, incredibly professional-looking, and a perfect length (about 10-12 minutes). If Dean Parisot never intends to make a sequel to Galaxy Quest, perhaps Nagata can take the job?
The first of two (of the four he had in the festival) that I saw from director Jack Daniel Stanley is a nice little mind-fuck, with a grim ending and a terrific visual sense. It gets a bit too confusing for its own good at times (lot of “is this a dream or was that the dream and this is real?” moments), but by the end it all makes sense and Stanley has presented one of the better visual depictions for a guy’s cracked psyche that I have seen in some time.
A LITTLE MOUTH TO FEED
I didn’t catch the whole thing, but it was equally impressive from a technical/visual perspective as Stanley’s other film. The story (killer baby) is a tad stale to me thanks to Grace and my recent viewings of the It’s Alive movies, but it’s still a darkly humorous tale and shows that Stanley can handle humor as well as the psychological elements of his other tale. Keep an eye out for this guy.
I tend not to like shorts that exist solely to present a twist at the very end, but this one gets a pass due to A. a TERRIFIC twist and B. an admirably economic production. Only four people worked on the thing (assuming the credits are complete), and the performances are good, something that often plagues a short film (particularly when the star is the director, which was the case on a few others).
OK, full disclosure, this is my buddy Andrew’s movie. I have some issues with the pacing early on, but after seeing an earlier cut I can say that the film has been much improved (and plays great to a crowd), even with only about a minute removed. So I offer it as proof that some judicious editing can work wonders, and if certain filmmakers can learn how to sacrifice some of their precious footage (*cough- "Ti West" - cough*), they will end up with a better film. Plus, any film that offers the sight of Tiffany Shepis dressed as a 1950s advertising mascot is automatically worth watching. And I defy anyone to watch it without feeling the titular symptom, which makes this, in an odd way, one of the most effective genre films of the year.
A nice little Twilight Zone-y bit about a cynical radio host who gets called by God. It could use some shaving, but Allan Kayser is terrific as the host and its equally interesting on a visual level, considering the entire 15 minutes takes place inside a cramped radio studio (director Patrick Rea must have used every possible angle of the place).
It’s tough to sit down for a bunch of shorts in a row; I always prefer it when they are attached to the features. But compared to other festivals I have attended, the Shriekfest selections were largely impressive (even the ones I didn’t like were at least competently made) and a nice alternative to the larger feature room. Having never attended Shriekfest before I am not sure if this is how they always do it or if it’s something new, but it’s definitely the best way to present blocks of shorts. The problem with the way it is at Screamfest is that when you know you’re going to be sitting in the theater all night (and for the next week), it’s hard to muster up the enthusiasm to get down there early for the short programs (which always run first thing on the first Saturday of the fest). If they were running concurrently with the features in the next room, I would be inclined to at least see a couple of them.
On the flipside, Screamfest is in a movie theater in the middle of a mall and is thus much easier to spend a day at. Shriekfest is located in the screening room on a production lot, and thus there is nothing around to eat, which makes it even harder to spend more than 2 films’ worth of time there. Candy and such is provided, of course, but I would suggest hiring out a lunch wagon or something to be on the premises for attendees to get some real-ish food in their stomachs and thus make it easier to stick around for more films (the lot is located in a food-free zone of Hollywood too - closest fast food place is still something you’d have to drive to). At Screamfest, you can finish a movie, go get a sandwich (or a burger, hot dog, pizza, Mexican, etc,) and not even miss the trailers for the next one. Sure, it’s more expensive to attend, but the more comfortable I am means the more likely I am to enjoy what’s on the screen. I felt guilty about leaving before the films were over for the day, but goddamn, there’s only so many Snapples and mini bags of Chex Mix I can consume in a day. However, as the festival is in its 9th year (always at the same locale, best as I can tell), I guess it’s not a problem for anyone but me. But if for some reason the venue needs to change for next year - I hope they choose one based on the availability and proximity of tacos.
Grats to everyone who had a film (short or long) in the festival, an extra grats to those who won awards (including Spike! What do I know?), and grats to me for getting off my ass and finally checking out the festival! See you next year.
What say you?