Screamfest 2011: And All The Rest...

OCTOBER 24, 2011


Well, another Screamfest has come to a close, and thus here I am with a recap of the movies that I saw but didn't write full reviews for. As with most festivals, most of these movies do not have distribution yet in the US, so there's not much point to writing mixed reviews (often with unavoidable spoilers) for movies that you guys won't get to see until said reviews are "buried" in the deep storied past of HMAD (indeed, some of LAST year's movies still haven't been picked up). So enjoy these mini-reviews, because that's all you're going to get!

And I start things off with a movie I already reviewed. Way to stay on point, BC. While my feelings on the movie haven't changed, I just want to point out that Screamfest/Mann's projected the movie at its correct 1.85:1 ratio, which not only made the viewing less distracting, but also improved the 3D presentation substantially. As a convert it will never be a top-tier 3D movie, but at least there was some depth to the images that was barely noticeable before. Once again, this proves why reviewing the 3D for a movie is somewhat pointless, as it will look different depending on whether or not the projectionist actually knows what he is doing.

As with (fellow Aussie) Lake Mungo, The Tunnel is a "found footage" movie that actually resembles a real documentary, with news clips, talking head interviews, etc. And like Mungo, it's pretty good, but has some crippling blunders holding it back. For starters, the survivors keep butting in with their present day recollections, making this seem something like a horror movie version of the show I Shouldn't Be Alive. You'll be caught up in their plight as they make their way around the dark, labyrinthine tunnels of the subway system, and then one of them will remind you that he/she survived by offering "It was so dark, we had to use the camera to make our way through!" or whatever. And that's the other thing - they spend too much time explaining things like recording sound, which comes off as padding. But once they get into the tunnels and things go bad, it's a terrifically tense experience, and even with the present day narration there's still some question as to who lives and dies as a disclaimer at the top points out that some people refused to be interviewed. Also, I loved that they put the cast and crew names at the top of the film, very rare for this sort of movie. Almost like they're saying right off the bat "No, you idiots, this isn't a real thing," in response to the schmucks who think Paranormal or Blair Witch are real.

Filmmakers should NEVER compare their movie to a great one before it begins. I was only mildly interested in Rosewood Lane before I sat down to watch it, but then director Victor Salva got up there and told everyone (paraphrase) "This is my Halloween". So I'm expecting a movie that's short on plot but long on terrific suspense and characters I like, but instead I got the opposite: a talky (yet still underdeveloped), structurally clunky horror film that sort of fits the "Blank From Hell" genre as Rose McGowan is terrorized by the local paperboy. For a movie named after the street it takes place, they never bother to show anyone else on the street dealing with the kid, focusing entirely on McGowan and her plastic surgery battled appearance, which the filmmakers occasionally attempt to hide by putting a Barbara Walters-style soft-focus over her face. There's one good scare early on in her basement, but otherwise its not scary in the slightest, and the ridiculous plotting often recalled My Soul To Take, with characters saying/doing things that simply do not resemble human behavior at all. It looked great (the budget was well under a million) and featured fun turns by greats like Ray Wise and Lin Shaye, but the wonky script just never came together in a satisfying way (a major character's fate is left entirely unexplained, for starters).

This showed at Fantastic Fest but I skipped it knowing I'd see it at Screamfest anyway, and I didn't hear too many raves there. And I can see why - it's a fun concept with game performances by the three leads (plus a hilarious turn from Joel David Moore as some poor sap who gets mixed up in the others' "game"), but it just doesn't have enough meat on its bones to sustain its entire runtime. This could have been an amazing 20-25 min "short", but as a feature it just grows a bit tiresome to watch these folks beat the shit out of each other for an entire movie (it's basically the fight scene from Mr and Mrs. Smith stretched to 90 minutes). Also, I'm not sure if it was a convert or native 3D (seemed native), but either way they overdid the depth effects, making everything look way too far apart and stretched. A car's hood appears to be 20 feet long, characters in close proximity look like there's 10 feet of space between them, and even things like human heads seem to be elongated. Not sure if this was a projection error or just a low budget production trying to look more "awesome" so it could compete in the marketplace, but either way it added nothing to the experience. My advice - wait for DVD and keep the fast forward button handy.

Amazing end credits and one particularly handsome zombie are really the only reason to see this one :) (Now on VOD! DVD on November 29th!)

If you, like me, felt that Motel Hell didn't offer enough Pighead Killer, Madison County should scratch that particular itch. Not much new in terms of story or pacing (Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its numerous copycats were clear influences), but it's a well made survival slasher, with some really great reveals (the film's killer has a tendency to subtly sneak into the backgrounds of shots) and a wonderfully gonzo final kill. And while I wasn't exactly crying at any of their deaths, the kids are fairly likable, and more importantly, the script admirably keeps them on equal footing - the order in which they die should surprise you. This was also the only screening of the festival that sold out (prompting an encore!), so grats to these young filmmakers!

With a tighter script this could have been a winner, but it's too damn loose - after an hour or so I still had no idea what the movie was ABOUT. Basically inverting the Buffy movie (a snobbish type discovers he is the chosen one meant to revive the vampire race, or something), the hero (co-writer Martin Yurkovic) is like a slightly more adjusted Stefon from SNL, which provides the bulk of the movie's fairly frequent laughs. But there's just no meat to it - Carmen isn't even turned for over a half hour, and then he just spends the rest of the movie using his powers to get back at people who annoyed him earlier that week, such as the bitchy waitress at the diner or a play director who refused to cast him. At the heart of the film is the friendship between Carmen and Tracey (Dreama Walker), and the 3rd act more or less revolves around whether he will follow his new vampire pals or stick by his best friend, which is fine - but don't start the movie off with stuff about ancient races and wars and such when this is all you care about exploring. Also, don't have a damn rape scene in the middle of a horror comedy that's so heavily skewed toward the comedic side of the equation!

What could have been an interesting long-form short instead gets the feature length treatment, and thus becomes a repetitive exercise that allows the audience to figure out what's going on long before the heroine does. There's a few good performances here, and it's always good to see Gregg Henry (in an extended cameo), but the concept is too thin to sustain the length. Bonus points for turning what I thought was just a low budget handicap (involving a particular vocal recording) into a plot point, however.

This is a frequently hilarious black comedy about a slasher who seems to be taking revenge on the folks who tortured him back in high school. But it's also an indie drama/comedy about an introverted man who discovers he has an 11 year old daughter that wants to reconnect. The mix doesn't always work (the kills are fairly front loaded - wish they were spaced out more), but it's certainly one of the more unique horror comedies in recent years, and features a terrifically funny turn by Barry Bostwick as the laidback (but still clever) sheriff tasked with solving the murder case. In fact everyone in the movie is pretty great; Kevin Corrigan as the hero (killer?) is as great as always, and Ariel Gade as the daughter gives one of the best child performances I've seen in quite some time. Certainly not for everyone, but I was charmed by it.

And that's it! Rites of Spring and Cassadaga were made by friends of mine so I'm not discussing them at length (I enjoyed them both, particularly Cassadaga's blend of an Asian horror type ghost tale and a Giallo), I missed Kalevet (Rabies) due to another commitment, and I've seen both Livid and Innkeepers at other festivals. Everything else got a full review.

I also watched the shorts, but wasn't really wowed by many of them. The two best I saw were ones I had seen before (All Men Are Called Robert and Incubator), and there were a couple others I enjoyed (Hail Satan, Singularity, Roid Rage, Patient Zero), but nothing blew me away like last year's Legend Of Beaver Dam. I will say that I was happy to see much less of an emphasis on twist endings, however - most were just straight (short) narratives, and just about all of them looked just as professional as the features. One was even on 35mm! I also liked that they had good slots this year; not only did many of the features have shorts attached, but they put one block in the prime Friday 8pm position, as opposed to the early Saturday/Sunday slots they usually get (which makes them easier to skip, especially if you plan on watching all of the features that follow). Good call!

Overall, I think it was one of the most consistent lineups yet. Nothing was a full blown stinker (even Stormhouse had its moments, and was certainly entertaining to watch with friends), and the filmmakers were providing the festival with professional formats, which meant everything looked great (previous years have had a couple of movies on lo-res DVDs, which looked like shit). I also enjoyed the closing night awards ceremony, which saw one of my favorites (Crawl) showered with awards for best actress, director, and cinematography (was baffled by The Tunnel's win for best special effects though - you barely saw the creature!). And as always, it was good to see some folks I don't get to see much during the year, and make a few new friends in the process. I also had a lot of milk shakes, so that's always good (for my taste buds, not my health).

See you next year!


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