Shriekfest: And All The Rest...

OCTOBER 2, 2011


And now I bring you my traditional festival wrapup for the movies I saw but either didn’t like or don’t have the time to review in full. Shriekfest is actually one of the shorter festivals, so this one isn’t as long as the others (I also missed a few movies due to the New Bev all nighter), but I will say that I didn’t outright dislike anything in the lineup that I saw, which is a first. I wish I saw the shorts, but alas, I needed to sleep at some point.

Probably my least favorite movie of the fest, though not entirely the filmmaker’s fault – I’ve just seen too many “paranormal team experiences a real haunting” movies in the past year or so (I’m also growing weary of found footage stuff). However, it is nice and short, and they clearly put a lot of thought into the back-story, which involves a haunted theater. Before the haunting stuff starts, we are shown an “episode” of a travel show about the history of the theater, including several scary stories that aren’t really connected to the ghost story that takes up the bulk of the movie. I also loved that they really sold the “basic cable TV show” aspect of the presentation, as they cut away to three commercial breaks during the movie, complete with (fake) cheesy ads for local pizza shops and 2nd rate lawyers. It’s a well-meaning flick, just a bit late to the party and not particularly scary enough to stick out.

As I mentioned in my Opus review, the only problem with this one was that they shot it too soon; they should have held out for more dough and a more traditional shooting schedule. As a result, a pretty good script got hampered by a cramped, clunky production that resembles one of those lousy Pulse sequels more often than not, with botched composites providing a bunch of “Alice in Wonderland” style visuals where characters look too small or too big compared to their backgrounds. Still, I enjoyed it to a degree; the idea of combining redneck terror with a giant monster movie is kind of awesome, and I was quite impressed with their casual approach to killing heroic characters. Also, since they pointed it out about six thousand times, I should mention the monster was not CGI, but practical, so that’s always to be lauded.

Less laudable was their over-zealous promotion at the festival, with a guy bombarding everyone with fliers for the movie. We’re already there, dude – we know it exists! I was also nearly knocked over by one of their team wearing one of the “NO CGI” shirts as they paraded around the cramped area around the entrance. This sort of stuff is why I find it hard to pimp the festival to friends; it often feels like a glorified networking event, with everyone concerned about promotion and selling, and almost no one there to simply enjoy cool horror movies.

Really unsure what to say about this one. It’s essentially Duel (an acknowledged influence, as two characters pop up in a garage and discuss the film), albeit with a motorcycle rider instead of an unseen truck driver, but with two key differences. One, we actually learn the reason that the villain has such a vendetta against our hero, and two, the truck driver never raped Dennis Weaver’s wife. Now, while the scene is horrifying and ramps the intensity of the film up a bit, it doesn’t fit with the silly reveal of the motorcyclist’s motive in the slightest, rendering the entire last act (which includes the gory, out of nowhere chainsaw murders of the hero’s elderly neighbors) incredibly confused and fairly stupid, if you ask me. You can go for a campy tone, or you can go for the intensity and shock value of a rape scene, but you can NOT have both. It just doesn’t work at all, and I am baffled at what Chris Witherspoon (who was behind nearly every job on the film, and played the biker) was going for with his storytelling decisions. And it’s a shame, because the Duel stuff (i.e. everything until he returns home) is fairly well done, with a great setpiece in a parking garage and another in a bathroom providing the sort of taut but simple thrills that Spielberg’s movie delivered all those years ago. Also I liked that the killer (whose face we never see) had the same outfit as the killer from Night School – he even had that same curved knife!

This one had to do a lot to win back my favor, after an intro from the director that was merely a rundown of other festivals the movie was going to be playing (So what? We’re watching it now! Are we supposed to follow it around like Phish fans or something?) and then a lengthy delay of movie because they didn’t bother to check it beforehand. Also it started with one of those “let’s show the ending of the movie and then flash back and build up to it” things that always annoy me. But once it got going I was impressed by the kills, and like Laid To Rest or Sweatshop, that’s pretty much the only reason anyone would want to watch the movie. The story is ridiculous, and the killer talks too much (and his dialogue sounds like Pinhead fan-fiction to boot), but the practical kills are pretty great, and setting it inside a Catholic high school was an inspired touch. Any movie where the killer uses the “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!” refrain (the one that I had to sing along to every Sunday for more than half of my life) as a taunt to a priest he’s about to dismember is automatically worth a look. Advice for the director if he makes a sequel, though – instead of spending money on a helicopter (the footage of which is used over and over), how about investing in a decent fake police uniform for the hero? I half expected his NY Police patch to fall off in every shot, which would be a shame since he had no badge or any other item that would sell the idea of him being a cop.

This wasn’t a horror movie, but a pretty damn good dramatic thriller about an amnesia victim who may be losing his memory on purpose. I always love amnesia movies; watching characters uncover little clues about their past just works like gangbusters on me, so I loved that the movie was entirely about this “investigation”. While most would have him find out who he is and then focus on the whys for at least half of the movie, even after an hour or so he’s still sifting through photos and trying to fit the pieces together. The reveal is a bit clunky – it almost seems like they got bored and decided to wrap it up – but it’s certainly original, and even intriguing. Add in a good performance by Rudolf Martin (Dracula from Buffy!) and some surprising humor and you have a surprisingly solid addition to the lineup; the type of movie that would probably get a theatrical release if the actors were more well-known (or our theatrical system didn’t currently suck).

Again, I didn’t see any of the short blocks (there were three), and I had to go early on Saturday for the all nighter and thus missed The Hike (which has already been picked up by Lionsgate) and The Dead Inside, a horror musical (!) from the writer/director of Lo (and apparently starring a gorgeous brunette – the posters around the festival area were constantly drawing my attention). They also showed Isle Of Dogs, which I saw at Frightfest in 2010, and once was more than enough for that one.

I should note that they finally answered my wish and provided food – a food truck was there for most of Sunday, though I didn’t actually use it because I ate at home and didn’t feel like spending 5 bucks on a hot dog (the cheapest option). But still, at least they gave the option – as I’ve mentioned in my coverage of festivals past, it’s hard to convince folks to sit around and watch an entire day’s programming when all that’s available are sodas and candy bars from a cooler. There are a couple of small restaurants nearby but by the time you walk over, order, and walk back, the next movie will have started, so they’re hardly suitable options (food is technically not allowed in the theater, either). I don’t know if they ever consider a more suitable venue, but it seems the Cinefamily would be an ideal location – it’s more accessible, has that back area for folks to gather and talk shop, and has an actual concession stand. Then again, at least the theater itself is comfortable enough to watch 3-4 movies back to back, whereas I can barely make it through a single movie on the Cinefamily seats. So I guess either way I’d be bitching about something; might as well stick with what seems to be working.

At any rate, I enjoyed my time there, though I was a bit disheartened to see the lack of “colleagues” in the crowd. With so many major horror sites (all of whom have several stringers in the area) I should have recognized more than 2 other writers over the course of three days (neither of whom stuck around for long, for one reason or another). I’m a giant pain in the ass and a crank; I’m sure both the filmmakers and the festival staff don’t want me as the only one providing coverage of the films/the fest itself.


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