OCTOBER 22, 2012
I'm big on tradition, and just about every year, on the opening night of Screamfest, I meet up with my pals Mike and Simon for a meal at Johnny Rockets, where we pore over the schedule, mock one another's tastes, ponder last year's movies and where they are now... it's a great time. But there was no Johnny's this year; the festival relocated from Hollywood to Downtown LA, which is much further from where we live, and more expensive to boot. So while the three of us still met up with some others at a restaurant near the theater, it just didn't feel the same, and I only saw those guys once a piece for the duration of the festival. Bummer. However, the downtown locale was no match for my goal of seeing EVERY HORROR MOVIE EVER, so as always, here's my full(ish) coverage of the 9 day festival! Enjoy!
Round two with this one, which I found just as fun a second time around. Sure, the plot is thinner than most slashers, but the intent was to deliver carnage and black humor in a movie that owed just as much to Argento as Bruckheimer. A blast, and will be great counter-programming in late November when its released (in the slot I said You're Next should have had - your loss, Lions Gate).
Nothing! For one of the first times ever, I missed an entire day at Screamfest, as they didn't have any movies during the day (unusual for a Saturday) and by the time they started at night I would already be at the New Beverly (I've always missed the Saturday night movie at Screamfest because of this). A bummer, really, because I love both of them so much - I felt like I was cheating on my spouse with an old girlfriend.
Fear Of Water
The first full day of this horror festival begins with a mystery thriller that doesn't even come close to genre material, focusing on the first ever murder on a small island. Our hero is a bright but insecure cop who butts heads with the big city detective who comes in to solve the case, and the movie is basically a procedural mixed with a character piece, with our hero learning to grow a pair and sort his life out as he connects the dots on the Laura Palmer-ish victim's murder. But while it may not be a horror film by any means (even "thriller" would be pushing it), it's a fine mystery, with an impressively complex (but not complicated) back-story that eventually lets nothing go to waste, with the final resolution tying in everything from major 3rd act reveals to throwaway lines of dialogue from the first few scenes. Highly recommended for mystery fans.
Short Block 1
Had to leave this one early so I could move my car before my validation expired (it would be 25 dollars instead of 5), but I liked seeing more stop-motion courtesy of Skeleton Girl, and another fine piece called Shhh that's actually based on Guillermo Del Toro's own childhood stories. There was also a stylish Giallo-ish thing appropriately called Yellow that would have made an amazing music video; as a short film it just felt repetitive and overlong.
Short Block 2
A big improvement, featuring more stop-motion (a strange, Twilight Zone-y piece called Odokuro), a fun zombie bit called Anniversary Dinner, and the best of the lot, A Boy's Life, which told the tale of a lonely boy, whose father was recently killed in military service, convinced of a monster under his bed. The Spielberg influence is evident (film buffs will recognize the title as ET's original moniker), and the actors playing the kid and the mother are terrific. Great ending too; in short - one of the best shorts I've seen in recent memory (at least, until Friday night!).
Another one that wasn't really horror, but close thanks to its Saw-ish setup of two people trapped in a room. However they don't have to prove themselves worthy of living - they just have to save their marriage. Our married protagonists (in separate rooms) are presented with a series of questions like "Do you trust your wife?" and "Will your husband do anything he can to make you happy?" and given Yes or No options. The wrong answer will result in a video clip showing the person that their spouse HAS been untrustworthy, and thus the film documents their growing mistrust of the other as other complications (a lack of water, sleep deprivation, etc) pile up around them. So it's Saw meets... Reservation Road? Look, it's a nutty concept, but it mostly works - could have done without the video game aesthetic that creeps its way into the 3rd act, but the solid leads (the stunning Ellen Hollman manages to be sympathetic even once we learn she's had at least one affair - not an easy task) and fun twist on the "lock some folks up" scenario make up for it.
Would You Rather
Like Among Friends, this movie mostly takes place around a dinner table and centers on folks being mutilated as part of a "game". But they're not friends here; they're random strangers selected by a mysterious billionaire who promises tons of cash and an easier life for whoever wins the game, which involves the titular scenario being played with deadly choices ("Would you rather stab the person to your left with this ice pick, or beat the person to your left with this torture stick?"). And said billionaire is played by Jeffrey Combs, so you know it's going to be an entertaining flick - he's really firing on all cylinders here, having a blast in a role that Vincent Price would have played if the movie came out in the 50s or 60s. The game's winner is obvious from the start, but it's fun seeing who goes first/who lasts the longest, and the pitch black humor (Bevans!) helps make up for the occasionally paint-by-numbers, Saw II style "survival of the fittest" plotting. And it offers TWO Community guest stars - Britta's war criminal one-time boyfriend Luka (Enver Gjokaj) is the male lead, and Cornelius Hawthorne (Larry Cedar) pops up as one of Combs' staff.
Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal (review HERE)
A lot of friends had really dug this one, but I just couldn't get into it. A lot of it reminded me of movies like Virgin Suicides and Welcome To The Dollhouse (not a fan of either), with a touch of Ginger Snaps - which was the only thing keeping me interested. Kudos to actress AnnaLynne McCord for playing the role in very unflattering makeup (she's usually a knockout; it's extraordinary how nearly unrecognizable she is), and in fact all of the performances were great (including Traci Lords as her mother), but I felt they were wasted on a somewhat aimless, tension-free story (not to mention an obnoxiously abrupt ending). I wouldn't discourage anyone from seeing it, however; sometimes I recognize that a movie works for its intended audience despite the fact that I'm not part of it, and this is one of those times.
Resolution (review HERE)
Under The Bed
The plot could have used another wrinkle or two, and there's a really odd plot hole (the movie is about two kids who believe there's a monster under the bed, and their stepmom sees the damn thing but never says anything), but this is a cool, The Gate-style mix of Amblin and monster movie, and unlike Super 8 it doesn't puss out and turn sappy in its climax. Instead, it turns gory, and kudos to the filmmakers for making a movie that goes from PG to R in an instant - sure as hell won't help them secure wide distribution. Kickass practical monster, too!
Thale (review HERE)
Wrong Turn 5 (review HERE)
It has faults, but you gotta love the concept (basically, Aliens meets Scanners), and even if that doesn't win you over, certainly a GIANT APE WEARING ARMOR will? In fact one of those faults is that they give us Battle-Ape in the first 20 minutes or so, but have him exit the film shortly after, when he obviously deserves his own movie. Still, it's paced well and has some nice twists, which makes up for some rather bland characters and the murky photography. And considering how bad the last "secret military base" movie at Screamfest was (Stormhouse), it was a near-classic in comparison. Worth a look.
Short Block 3 and 4 (review HERE)
Nightmare Factory (review HERE)
Outpost: Black Sun
The first Outpost was one of the most oft-requested HMAD titles, so it's kind of funny that I got an early look at its sequel, which nicely continues and expands the mythology set up in its predecessor. Some of the novelty is gone, obviously, but the multiple locations, focus on two non-military protagonists (though there's another squad), and potential threads for the 3rd film (already in post-production) give it its own unique flavor, though newcomers might be a bit lost. However, the dark/blue photography might even give Len Wiseman a migraine - can you put some goddamn color in the next one, please?
Shot in 2008 (!), this Dark Castle thriller about a cop looking for his kidnapped daughter who has been taken by a serial kidnapper/killer is a shockingly routine post-Seven/Silence of the Lambs procedural that wastes the talented cast (John Cusack, Jennifer Carpenter, Dallas Roberts) and our time. The only note of personality in the entire thing is the hilariously idiotic twist, the potential of which is sadly deflated by an abundance of foreshadowing (I figured it out 30 minutes in) that I can only assume was implemented to keep people from saying it came out of nowhere. And with Dark Castle parting ways with Warner, I suspect this one isn't going anywhere anytime soon (though it's coming out on Blu-ray in Australia later this year!)
Prince Of Darkness/John Carpenter Q&A
If you want my thoughts on the film, check out the non-canon review from a while back. But I thought I'd talk a bit about moderating the Q&A with Carpenter, which I think I did OK with considering that I wasn't aware that it would be BEFORE the movie until today. I had prepared questions for post-movie viewing, but obviously those wouldn't work if the audience hadn't seen it yet. So I prepared some more basic (read: boring, to me) questions in between the other movies, and got to double my nervousness in the process! Hurrah! Still, it went well, and I got in most of them before he requested we turn things over to the audience. As with before, he seemed to want to keep things brief, but I can't really blame him - if left unsupervised he'd be up there forever, and I apologize to the several folks who had their hands up when the time came for "one more question" (per Carpenter, not me/Screamfest, hahaha). Screamfest also honored him with a career achievement award and put together a tribute reel featuring footage from most of his movies (nothing from Memoirs!) and some goofy "Gangnam Style" parody with Lo Pan from Big Trouble In Little China. In short, it was a pretty awesome event (save for the ugly DVD presentation of Prince), and I was honored/flattered/petrified to be a part of it.
Nothing for me. Today was just encore screenings of the films that won awards (check out a list of winners HERE), and since I was just sick of going downtown, I opted to sit it out even though, as is tradition, the big awards winner happened to be the film I missed. Add in missing it at Fantastic Fest and I think it's safe to say I'm somehow cursed from seeing American Mary, but damned if I won't try (if it won five awards it must be at least PRETTY good, right?). Hopefully I'll kick myself for going to Beverly Hills to watch Bigfoot instead.
Overall, I gotta say, this was the strongest lineup I've ever seen at Screamfest; while nothing was an instant classic like Inside (2007) or Trick 'r Treat (2008), every single night offered quality, original horror films - in fact the only outright bad one was Wrong Turn 5, and that didn't even count since it was a free promotional screening that got tied into the festival. Even The Factory was far from "crap", it was just generic. And the short program on Friday night was, no hyperbole, the best short collection I've ever seen - I have NEVER seen even ONE batch, let alone two, that didn't have at least one stinker, but not only were they all solid or better, it produced some all time favorites.
It's just a shame that the audience for the festival was pretty much halved by the move downtown. Developers and publicists can claim that downtown is the next hotspot for LA, but in reality, it's a long, traffic-filled drive with horrendous parking situations, unless you opt to use the not very convenient public transportation (I had to skip an after-party one night and a Q&A on another in order to make the last subway back to the valley). Plus, it's not a good venue for a film festival, as there are limited dining options in the vicinity - no fast food joints at all, just (expensive) sit down places that the festival doesn't allow time for. I've long felt that Screamfest overloads its schedule and forces you to wolf down whatever you can get your hands on in the 20 minutes between films, but at least at Mann's there's a Johnny Rockets, a pizza joint, a Quiznos, a hot dog place... there's absolutely nothing of the sort at the LA Live Regal, unless you count the taco truck across the street. So only other option is to spread the screenings out, but then it's impossible to use the subway as the 2nd movie won't get out until well after midnight (the last train).
Hopefully it was a one-time experiment and it will come back to Mann's next year, or perhaps a new venue entirely. I think the Laemmle Noho 7 would be a fine choice, personally - it's adjacent to a cheap parking structure, there's plenty of dining options (and yes, a Starbucks), the subway is close for those who want to use it, and the concessions are cheap enough that even those who don't mind eating movie food nonstop can enjoy it without breaking the bank (a small soda at the Regal is 5 bucks). It was really depressing to see so many screenings not even close to full (even the Carpenter event was only about 2/3s sold), and that is 100% due to the location - how else to explain why Paranormal Activity 4 was nearly empty when I saw it there on a day where it was breaking records? NO ONE GOES DOWNTOWN.
Otherwise, a terrific year for the fest; the sort of lineup that got me excited for the future of horror - a variety of plots, stuff coming in from around the world (Norway, Australia, etc), and (thank Christ) not a single found footage movie. Ya done good, Screamfest!
What say you?