DRAG ME TO (HEAVENLY) HELL: Sin City Horror Fest Day’s 2 & 3

DRAG ME TO (HEAVENLY) HELL: Sin City Horror Fest Day’s 2 & 3

Feb 4, 2018

DAY TWO: THE SHORTS

Block 3: ‘CREATURES’

IS THAT YOU?

Very much in the same vein as Michael Dougherty’s now celebrated cult classic, TRICK ‘R’ TREAT, this is a quick and nicely nasty short about a young girl on crutches nursing a bum leg, and her mom, who is a complete “koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs-level fan” of All Hallow’s Eve, right down to dressing in costume to dole out the candy. Things take a very dark turn, when one of the trick-or-treaters turns out to be something a lot more…and a whole lot less than human.  Another story that outlines the perils of what could happen, if you DON’T obey the rules and traditions of Halloween night…Very well done.

“V”
Directed by D.M. CUNNINGHAM

What plagues the nightmares of monsters when THEY sleep? ‘V’ answers that question in a very funny way, but the problem is the chuckles die out with an overly grim ending.  But if you happen to be a fan of dark endings, it’s not going to spoil it for you at all.  (And you can guess what “monster” is being featured in this short by the title.  It’s a no-brainer…pun literally intended.)

HOPE
Directed by ADAM A. LOSURDO

There were quite a few amazing zombie-themed shorts here, and one really great feature in particular.  But if there was a contest for the best one, HOPE would be running neck-and-neck with A FATHER’S DAY.  (Interesting to note as well that neither short was made by U.S. filmmakers).

In an interesting twist on the sub-genre, humans, not zombies, are the aggressors in this story, with zombies not only being non-threatening, but actually BULLIED!  One of the things that stands out with this short (one of many) is an opening and closing narration you could SWEAR was being performed by the great Sam Elliott. (Turns out it’s a sound-alike voice actor named Joe Pike, and he gets Sam’s style and inflections dead-on – pun intended – adding to the humor.)

Losurdo’s all-Norwegian cast of actors tells the sad story of Karl, (HERMAN LJUNG OPEDAL), a zombie who was a soda jerk when the plague showed up to change his life forever.  Now his life consists of aimless wandering, and trying to avoid getting a beatdown like other zombies…especially from two particularly nasty little brats on dirt bikes.

But Karl’s shambling existence gets a lift, when he meets female zombie Hope (TONJE BRATTAS), who immediately takes a shine to him, as he does to her. Then, predictably enough, things take a dark and horrible turn for our two amorous re-animations, leading to the strangest, funniest “happy ending” ever. If you never thought you’d find yourself rooting for the ZOMBIES, outside of THE WALKING DEAD, this one’s going to come as a pleasant surprise.

LOVE NEVER DIES
Directed by RYAN BARRY

If the course of true love among HUMANS never runs smooth, what about the undead? If there were a series called “LOVE AMERICAN-ZOMBIE STYLE”, director Barry has given us a vignette that would have to be part of its pilot episode.

A lonely zombie shuffling along aimlessly, as zombies do, and gets tangled up in a shopping cart. Falling asleep (something I DIDN’T know they did), he dreams of a lovely, lumbering lass to call his own.  But alas, upon waking, we all get to learn a lesson: spend too much time daydreaming about “the one”, and you might miss your chance.  A very cute short, kind of WARM BODIES without the star power, budget, or…yeah, warm bodies.

CROAK
Directed/Written by MATT BARRETT

Two roommates, one a stoner and one who’s ‘straight’, have come to an impasse. But just when you think you’re watching the story of two ex-room-mates/ex-buds going their separate ways, this thing takes a freaky turn into Stuart Gordon/Herbert West territory…except that the doofus here is hardly an intellectual match for Herbert, as he uses chemicals stolen from the job he got fired from, to take out his anger on some poor yard frogs, whose only sin is doing what frogs do, (hence the title.) Not only a dick move, dude, but the WRONG move…in more ways than one.

A FATHER’S DAY
Directed/Written by MAT JOHNS

If you never thought you’d find yourself feeling sympathy for ZOMBIES, of all things, prepare yourself.  And bring Kleenex.  This packs an even more emotional wallop in just a few minutes than the zombie/human relationship at the center of IT STAINS THE SANDS RED. I was left wanting to know more about the characters in this one.  You can EAT IT, WALKING DEAD.  This one’s got your number…

WASP MEN FROM MARS!
Directed/Written by GERRIT THOMPSON

If you’ve never seen CREATURES FROM THE PINK LAGOON before, or anything similar to it, you’re going to be a bit surprised by the twist WASP MEN takes on the Fifties genre of “Earthlings vs. Aliens.” Everything is here, from the handsome jock and the high school cheerleader, to the jock’s nerdy bookworm buddy.  But this gets a 21st Century upgrade, and I’ll bet you can guess what it is.  Good performances from all the actors, and an ending that you WON’T be expecting.

BACK INTO THE DARK
Directed by BEA LANDERS

Beautifully executed stop-motion short, that seemed more to me like some kind of visual ‘tone-poem’ ala David Lynch’s early work, rather than a linear story with a beginning, middle and end that you can easily track. Maybe I’m wrong, but like HELL HAUNT (which comes much later in the festival), it’s one of those you’d probably have to watch more than twice to make heads or tails of…if you could do it even THEN.

BEYOND CORNFIELD STREET
Directed by JULIO GARCIA ESCAMES

Recalling the scenario of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, two sisters are barricaded in a house against…something that wants to get in and get at them, we have no idea what. There’s only a few guesses at what it could possibly be, and most viewers will find that they had it right the first time. The visual effects would have been a lot more impressive if they hadn’t been so murky (maybe it was a processing thing), but the performances make up for it.  A nice intro to Escames’ work, and I’d love to see what he does with an even bigger budget.

ELDRITCH CODE
Directed by IVAN RADOVIC

Mixing the Lovecraftian ethos of summoning “the Old Gods” via the use of technology is not a new idea at all, (witness Stuart Gordon’s excellent FROM BEYOND), and ELDTRICH CODE knows this, so it tries to compensate for that by making the melding of the two things as impressively bizarre as possible…and succeeds for the most part.  But casual viewers who are not at all fans of H.P. are going to be left scratching their heads.  If Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS left you cold, you probably will want to skip this one.  If not, dive right in.

Block 4: ‘COMEDY’

BAG MAN
Directed/Written by CONNOR STRADER

This practically no-budget comedy has that “let’s get shitfaced and go make a movie” look and feel to it, but that’s exactly what filmmaker Connor Strader intended.  It’s an exceedingly silly takedown of the “Creepypasta” and “Urban Legend” genres, about a ‘legendary’ serial killer who goes after people…who don’t separate their recyclables when they take out the garbage.  Ponder that for a second, because it should tell you all you need to know about whether or not you’ll get into it.  I appreciated the goofiness and what it went for.

STAINED
Directed by PHIL HAINE

When it comes to scatological humor, the Brits and the Aussies are about neck-and-neck with us Yanks for a no-holds-barred way of employing it in movies.  (The Asian filmmakers are in a class all by themselves when it comes to this.)  If you thought Jeff Daniels’ notorious toilet scene in DUMB AND DUMBER was something, STAINED – as the title implies – is yet another example of the Brits declaring, “Here, mate, hold my pint…”

We witness the tea time ritual of one Harris (MIKE SHEPHARD), a character who would be right at home in a Simon Pegg/Nick Frost sketch.  That ritual is abruptly sullied and interrupted by Harris’s need for attending to his bodily functions.  But – and haven’t we all encountered this sooner or later – when he discovers he’s out of toilet paper, it introduces a messy – and hilarious – dilemma into the mix.  Not to mention that Harris’s delicate sensibilities are further assailed by the presence (in his mind) of the ‘ghost’ of his current situation, a foul, stinky demon who calls himself “Fecal George” (CHRIS SPYRIDES), a character probably more at home in an early Peter Jackson movie than a Monty Python sketch.

This was the perfect scenario for a short, and lovers of straight-up toilet humor will find that STAINED hits the spot…so to speak. I found it kind of sneaky in a good way, though, because with the brand of humor it employs, you won’t believe the lane change that the ending makes, and it’s a stunner.

GUT PUNCH
Directed by CHANCE WHITE

If Lovecraft were being channeled by the team that gave you THIS IS THE END, but on a much, much lower budget.  Three ‘dude-bro’ types who partied WAY too hard the night before, find themselves facing two formidable problems…the hangover from Hell, and three lovely lasses who might be from somewhere even worse than that. V/H/S and SIREN star Hannah Fierman (V/H/S, SIREN) has a guest role in this…and it’s great to see her doing comedy! It ends on a cliffhanger, so here’s hoping for GUT PUNCH II!

DARK ROAST
Directed/Written by TOPHER HANSSON

Take the punkish sensibility of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, mix in one-part SCREAM and another part FINAL DESTINATION, and this could have easily been subtitled “ANARCHY IN THE COFFEE SHOP.”  A pair of baristas, who also play in a band together, hope to get off work in time for their gig.  But on this particular night, that is going to be the LEAST of their problems, as one freak accident after another has the bodies of cafe customers piling up higher than a chocolate cream Napoleon!  Funny and goofily gross, this one is perfect, because it comes in hysterical and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

RESTRICTED DIET
Directed by CANDACE MABRY

This was a cute short, and it made me wish I’d had the foresight to write something like this. When her roomies jet for a girl’s night out, a young lady discovers that she’s managed to pick a “GHOUL’S Night In” to stick around their place.  A hungry vampire comes a calling, but when Dracula-Lite finds out that she’s not…yeah, they go THERE.  So, why wouldn’t a white vampire go neckin’ on a sistah? Funny in that “KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE” kind of way.

CLOWN-O-GRAM
Directed/Written by MICHAEL EVANS

If fear of clowns is your phobia of choice, this short’s not going to help you out one damn bit.  NEVER answer your door for clowns that give off a creepy-but-pitiful vibe.  And if you do, DON’T make the mistake of feeling sorry for them! A nice variation on home invasion by the “men in big shoes and red noses”, but just as it convinces you it’s a comedy, it takes an exceedingly shocking dark turn towards the end.

HOLIDAY FEAR
Directed/Written by NICHOLAS SANTOS

Think of a couple – a Final Girl and Guy – at the end of a SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT kind of scenario…and now it’s time to make sure that the psycho killer in the Santa suit who is down, STAYS down for good.  Now…add a bit of National Lampoon-style humor and stir well.  Guys who are horror nerds will relate to the punchline of this short, which is funny as hell.

DIRECTORS ON DIRECTING
Directed by DAMIEN PATRIK

The very fact that anyone looking at this title would wonder: “What the FUCK is this doing at a horror film festival? And WHY?” Well, that’s a part of this hilariously off-beat short that takes one of horror’s now-beloved tropes and runs with it, giving it a whole new spin that not only makes it shocking again, but HYSTERICALLY funny.  It’s also a telling satirization of those very shows, where talking heads love to spew self-reverential, self-centered masturbatory monologues about themselves, to the point you want to shoot YOURSELF to be put out of your own misery…even if you happen to LIKE the director(s) in question.  Director Patrik has one hell of a calling card here, and I can’t wait to see what he achieves with a full-blown comedy/horror, or just straight-up horror feature.

HOLY F**K
Directed/Written by CHRIS CHALKLEN

Everybody’s seen THE EXORCIST, and all of the possession-based flicks that have tried to snatch its crown since.  This one has something else in mind.  A battle-tested priest encounters a demon inside of a man that needs to be exorcised, but things take a VERY weird turn…probably the kind of turn you would only read about in the Playboy (or Playgirl) Advisor.  The two leads in this one were funny as hell (pun intended) and completely up for anything…obviously!

EVIL SYNTH
Directed/Written by HARRISON CARR

Basically, this is one of those ‘WITAF???’ head scratchers, where you’re not sure if the cheesiness of the production was intentional.  (There’s scenes where an ‘evil synthesizer’ keyboard floats…and you can see the wires!) Let’s just leave it at that…

DAY TWO: THE FEATURES

GNAW
Directed by HAYLAR GARCIA
Screenplay by JIM BRENNAN, HAYLAR GARCIA and KATHRYN GOULD
Produced by JIM BRENNAN, HAYLAR GARCIA, PAYTON DUNHAM, PATRICK HACKETT, MICHAEL HASKINS, IGNACIO LACOSTA, BETSY LEIGHTON, STEPHAN SHELANSKI, RICHARD TURNER
DP: ANTON FRESCO
Music by MARIO GRIGOROV

A time-honored horror sub-genre is the ‘fish-out-of-water’ story. Nice family, besieged by the dangers of city life, decides to move out to the sticks to ‘get back to nature’.  NEVER works out well. Nice couple just starting out, moves into that old fixer-upper they’ve bought for less than a song…because it’s the gateway to Hell/portal to another dimension/doorway to let evil spirits into our world/take your pick.

One of my big favorites, though, has always been the actor/actress moving to New York or L.A., striking out on their own to start their career…or trying to take it to the next level, only to find…well, what they find. Recently, STARRY EYES was the big critical and audience favorite to mine this all-too familiar territory, and put a fresh spin on it.  And now we’re introduced to another new take on this story: GNAW. You can already tell from the title that this isn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill “actor/actress makes good” story.  Far, far from it.

The intro seems odd at first: a middle-aged woman, who we will come to know later as Stella (SUSAN BELLONE) enters a shop of antiques and curios – the starting place of many a great horror tale.  Looking around, she spies a gorgeously ornate box, with the cutest little figure sitting on top of it…a gremlin?  A faerie? Doesn’t matter. It manages to be so irresistible, she makes off with it without paying.  Bad move, Stella, and not just for the shoplifting part.

We are then introduced to our beautiful young girl starting over, Jennifer (PENELOPE MITCHELL), moving into your usual L.A. enclave of assorted fruits, nuts and flakes.  But at least one of them, her neighbor, Terry (a great turn by TENACIOUS D’s KYLE GASS) is not only harmless, but actually nice to her.  He even introduces her to the permanently cranky apartment manager, Claudette (SALLY KIRKLAND, doing what she does best.)

At the risk of dumping in way too many spoilers here, let’s just say that over the course of the story, Jennifer eventually meets Stella, and comes into possession of that box from the beginning of the movie.  To say that shit gets real from there is like saying that Maria Carey’s not the chanteuse she used to be.

GNAW, besides hearkening back to those terrific movies of the 70’s that were much more invested in character-driven stories than ooey-gooey special effects, (though when they did have them, they were used for maximum shock and horror), introduces us to a new character that makes the transformed Gremlins seem downright loveable. Though with this story, think more “TRILOGY OF TERROR” Zuni doll…with an even worse attitude. Director Haylar Garcia does a splendid job knowing when and how to ratchet up the tension and scares, and when certain jump scares do show up, you never feel like it’s “cheating” with the obvious tropes.

The performances are great across the board, especially from the principals. Mitchell’s likable Jennifer is someone you definitely root for from the very beginning, and Gass’s Terry is that neighbor you wish you had more of living in your complex. Kirkland is now a character acting legend, who doesn’t do a lot of work these days, and you do kind of wish she had a bigger role. But she’s amazing with what she does, as always.  And a special shout-out has to go to CHRIS JOHNSON as Boyd, the man in Jennifer’s life you will absolutely love to hate, and hope he gets a really great comeuppance.  And the script, by director Garcia with co-producer JIM BRENNAN and KATHRYN GOULD (who also plays a police detective) generously provides a doozy.

Be warned: GNAW is going to make you think twice about the way you shop for antiques.  And one considerably icky sequence made me want to go home and burn my mattress and my sheets. (I won’t say why, but you’ll recognize it when you experience it.)  For my money, if I had to pick “the best of the fest”, GNAW comes in a close second only to MERCY CHRISTMAS for laughs, scares and just the sheer kind of involving story that we horror fans love.

MERCY CHRISTMAS
Directed by RYAN NELSON
Screenplay by BETH LEVY NELSON and RYAN NELSON
Produced by BETH LEVY NELSON, RYAN NELSON, TARQUIN ALEXANDER, KEVIN CULLIGAN
DP: KENNETH NEIL MOORE and RYAN NELSON
Music by CHRIS BILLS, MARK LEONARD and DANIEL LAPERVANCHE

There are movies at a festival like this that you enjoy, and then there are movies that get you so PUMPED, so EXCITED, that you cannot wait to tell anyone and everyone about them, so that they don’t miss out.  Sin City excelled in how they managed to program several of these, and at the very top of the list is MERCY CHRISTMAS.

Consider this a spoiler-free review, so that hopefully you can excuse how vague it’s about to become.  But know this: certain films are always so much better when you know next to nothing about them going in, and happily, the filmmakers knew better than to give all the goodies away in the teaser trailer. It’s one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen, in fact, for something this good!

There is another longer trailer, of course, that gives away a bit more detail, but once again, I would urge you to avoid it.  What I CAN tell you is this…if, as a dyed-in-the-wool film fan, you recall how dark that Chris Columbus’s original script was for GREMLINS, and you were a little disappointed by the final product, then get ready to have your dreams – and SCREAMS – come true! Not only does MERCY CHRISTMAS “go there”, but sails blithely past PC conventions and family-friendly contrivances. If you love fucked-up Christmas films like SANTA’S SLAY, KRAMPUS and SCROOGED, then consider this your present for 2017!

Here is one detail that I CAN give you in the midst of all this ranting and raving.  Did you ever see OFFICE SPACE?  Remember Milton, the ‘red stapler’ guy played with such dead-on perfection by Stephen Root?  Nobody who saw that movie ever forgot him, (I think we’ve all worked with a ‘Milton’ at one time or another.)  Well, get ready to move Milton to another part of your memory banks, to make room for “MICHAEL BRISKETT.”  There hasn’t been a character like this in more than a hot minute now, and Steven Hubbell gives a career-making performance as Michael.  Finding out that this was his first major role blew everyone at the festival away. I have a feeling that Steven’s days as an “unknown” will quickly be over, once this movie goes wide.

In fact, I predict the same kind of career blow-up is going to happen for everyone in the cast, and many of the kudos for that have to go to the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Beth Levy and Ryan Nelson, who co-wrote and co-produced what will go down in history – just like Rudolph – as a movie for everyone…those who love AND those who hate Christmas!

SPECIAL PRE-FEATURE SHORT:

WE SUMMONED A DEMON
Directed/Written by CHRIS MCINROY

Ignoring the old adage “be careful what you wish for”, two dude-bro buddies decide to try and summon a demon…which it turns out they are like totally successful at doing.  Only problem is that they made one mistake in the ritual, and if they don’t figure out what it was, it’s REALLY going to cost them.  And NO. I’m not spoiling it here, because you never know when you might catch up to this one at a festival somewhere.  Maybe.  Like a little happy slice of DEATHGASM…but a LOT less frenetic.

PUPPET MASTER (FEATURING POST Q&A W/DAVID SCHMOELLER)

A film that needs no introduction to genre fans at all.  The first in what became one of Charlie Band’s Full Moon Films feature franchises, the late, great William Hickey has a brief but considerable appearance originating the role of “Andre Toulon”, the titular marionette-maker, whose “children” literally can go on without them…and do! Which is highly unfortunate for a house full of psychics led by Paul Le Mat (ALOHA, BOBBY AND ROSE, MELVIN AND HOWARD). Seeing it on the big screen again was a novel treat, but not as awesome as having the director himself in attendance for a special Q&A, and also to receive the Fest’s first “Lifetime Achievement Award” of sorts.  Can’t wait to see who gets the honor next year!

RUIN ME
Directed by PRESTON DEFRANCIS
Screenplay by TRYSTA A. BISSETT and PRESTON DEFRANCIS
Produced by REBECCA G. STONE
DP: JESSE EISENHARDT
Music by HOLLY AMBER CHURCH
Executive Producers TRYSTA A. BISSETT, PRESTON DEFRANCIS, AARON GALLIGAN-STIERLE, PAMELA GALLIGAN-STIERLE, DAVID HENDLEMAN and THOMAS STIERLE

Nothing says ‘horror junkie’ like people who are into the ‘extreme’ brand of horror attractions: escape rooms, mazes, haunted houses that feature all kinds of torture, where people agree to being subjected to the kind of shit that you only imagine in horror movies, but would usually NEVER want to go through yourself (the death part is moot, of course.)

But RUIN ME introduced me to something I’ve never heard of before: the “Slasher Sleepout.’ Yes, basically, it’s exactly what you think it is: a chance to voluntarily become a cast member in your own version of FRIDAY THE 13TH or WRONG TURN, (and you know how ‘well’ things usually turn out for those people).

And that is how RUIN ME begins: Alex (MARCIENNE DWYER) and Nathan (MATT DELLAPINA) are on their way to the ‘Slasher Sleepout’, because Nathan’s buddy who was supposed to come with, begged off sick, and Alex has – with a little reluctance – taken his place. But Nathan also believes that the experience will be a way for them to tighten up their relationship. (Again – in movies where that’s one of the reasons for going out to that cursed camp or mysterious mountain, it NEVER winds up being a good idea.)

Once they reach the rendezvous point, they – and we – are treated to a cast of pretty much the stereotypes you find in any slasher film.  There’s the Goth couple, Pitch (JOHN ODOM) and Marina (EVA HAMILTON), who seem to be trying WAY too hard to be “shocking” and “edgy”; Larry (CHRIS HILL), the gregarious, chubby, bearded ‘nice guy’ who’s the “Randy Meeks” of the group, who seems to know all the rules, yet still doesn’t always handle tight situations well, and Tim (CAMERON GORDON), the creepy-to-a-fault introvert who wouldn’t say “shit” if he had a mouthful, but who also is so obvious that he could NEVER be the potential killer that offs everyone in their sleeping bags.

This is the group that gets trussed up, blindfolded and dumped out in the middle of nowhere for the “Sleepout”, without cell phones, directions or a single clue as to what to do next.  And that’s where things pick up quite a bit.  Because as Alex, Nathan and others learn from the Goth couple, finding the hidden clues is what this kind of horror-themed event is all about, and the script excels at putting the group in those kinds of situations.

But more than that – the clues, like the people participating in this whole thing, are never what they seem, and RUIN ME takes that trope and runs with it.

AWARDS CEREMONY

Really, self-explanatory.  The complete list of all the award winners is still available by request, for those who really want to know who the “Best Kills” or “Best Actor In A Short” were. Contact sincityhorrorfest@gmail.com for a breakdown of who got what…

DAY THREE: THE SHORTS

Block 5: ‘KILLERS’

THE BOX
Directed/Written by ADAM COLLINS

I always look forward to shorts from the UK, Ireland and Scotland, because you never know what you’re going to get, but nine times out of ten, it will always be interesting. The same applies here, as a lone driver headed home, makes the VERY iffy decision of picking up a hitcher during a bad downpour. A stop for gas at a local station is when things REALLY get dicey.  And interesting. The blackout ending is definitely one of those “WTF?” moments that will stick with you…but in a good way.

HIDDEN DAYLIGHT
Directed by ADRIENNE LOVETTE

A desperate man goes to see a psychic, to help locate his missing wife, who may have become the victim of a serial killer in the area, who’s been preying on young women.  Two things make this one of the shorts that has you sitting up and taking notice: as the blind psychic asks the man questions about his relationship, his whereabouts, etc., what he tells him and what the audience sees are two entirely different things; a story device I really appreciate when it’s used properly, as it is here.  The second thing is where this goes: it’s a darkly funny, witty twist I wasn’t anticipating – kind of a different take on the convention established by movies like SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON.  The ending does what a good short is supposed to do…it leaves you wanting more, wanting to know what happened afterwards.  I could see this expanded into a feature, and I hope that happens.

BITCH, POPCORN AND BLOOD
Directed by FABIO SOARES

First, this one scores immediate brownie points for casting “V” alumna JANE BADLER (who played lizard queen “Diana”) as the “BITCH” of the title, and she looks STUNNING.  In fact, the production designer, art director and costumer decided to match her, because there are few other films on the schedule that are this vibrant, where the colors pop off the screen so vividly, you almost think it’s a new form of Technicolor stock…though it’s really digital.

The odd script puts the heroine in hiding at a bar that apparently specializes in two kinds of popcorn (“Salt or sugar?”), drinks and…lap dances?  But two thugs who arrive, let our girl know that her concealment is over.  We’re never sure if Badler actually IS her mentor, or just her alter ego who shows up when ass needs to be kicked.  Let’s just say that it is, and in spectacular fashion. The plot may seem kind of nonsensical – an excuse to watch a pretty girl blow away people in Bruce Willis-body count numbers.  But at least she and Jane do look great doing it.

YOUR DATE IS HERE
Directed/Written by ZAK WHITE & TODD SPENCE

Remember the old game Milton Bradley board game, “Mystery Date”? Filmmakers White and Spence do, and they’ve brought it back…with quite the demonic twist.  A mother and daughter are playing an old board game that was stashed away, but it’s a whole lot more unsettling than the original game it’s based on. And the feeling of dread is butter-thick, when the “date” in question actually arrives.  You could imagine this extended into a full-blown feature, just to see how the rest of the horrific ‘date night’ would go….

HELL HAUNT
Directed by RICHARD LUKACS

There’s always going to be one or two shorts, or even features, that’ll leave you scratching your head and asking: “Okay…what was the point of all THAT?” This was one of those, I’m afraid, which is sad, because it was great to look at, and I could appreciate how much work went into the art direction and design. BUT…it also seems like that’s where most of the work went. I think there was an attempt here to be ‘meta’ – a horror film is premiering where a killer dresses up as the killer in the movie, to murder all the cast members as the movie is playing, in kind of a mass-killing-by-shadowcast?  That’s about as much as I got from it. I think I’d have to watch it again to try to make heads or tails out of it, but as far as my memory banks are concerned, HELL HAUNT didn’t ‘haunt’ me.  Instead, it just left me confused.

5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1
Directed by JESSE MICHAELS

If you’re familiar with Gaspar Noe’s shattering IRREVERSIBLE, or Christopher Nolan’s jaw-dropping calling card, MEMENTO, you won’t be confused by stories that are told in a non-linear fashion.  Which is a good thing, because – as the title implies – this one is told BACKWARDS.  A brilliant conceit, as we go from watching three friends salute a fourth dead friend, and we get treated to how they got justice for him by setting up his murderer, all the way back to the dirty deed itself, that robbed the man of his life…with just a little supernatural persuasion thrown in just for the ‘oomph’ factor.  Really liked this one.

THE BARBER’S CUT
Directed by MARK BROCKING

If Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright had the notion to remake RE-ANIMATOR with just a dash of SWEENEY TODD thrown in, it would probably look something like THE BARBER’S CUT. Patrons who stroll into a local barbershop to get their ‘ears lowered’, instead find themselves getting their HEADS lowered from their necks, and for some odd reason, in his hidden lab downstairs from the shop, the murderous barber uses a serum to…REANIMATE the severed parts? Which brings us to our ‘heroes’ – the talking, SCREAMING heads of a man and woman in the fridge, who slowly begin to figure out an escape plan, after the initial shocks of being both undead AND dismembered have kind of worn off.

I got the feeling watching this one that it was more or less a reason for the visual effects artists to show their stuff in a short that also doubles as a “sizzle reel”.  But based on what’s there, they should be getting a lot more work soon!

BANSHEE
Directed by ADAM O’BRIEN

Very well-done version of “the monster in the closet” theme. Two sisters at bedtime: the older one admonishing the other one to go to sleep…or else.  Big sister threatens to show the creepy drawings that little sis has been doing, insisting that she’s just drawing about dreams she’s been having, about a ‘monster’ in her closet.  Naturally, as it always goes in these things, the older sibling doesn’t believe her, and WON’T…without proof.  And like they always say…be careful what you wish for….

THE BLACK BULL INCIDENT
Directed/Written by ROB WRIGHT & SI WRIGHT

If you didn’t like SIN CITY or the sequel, (or CREEPSHOW and its sequels). you probably want to stay as far away from this as possible.  Everyone else, enjoy the ‘noir-ish’ feel of a story told with comic book panels coming to animated life, to unspool the story of a longshoreman who, with his buddies, have a run-in with some pretty vicious blokes out looking for trouble.  And I mean the flesh-eating, gut-munching kind.  Yep, it’s yet another zombie story, told SIN CITY style, but without any live action elements at all.  Which is actually a lot better than it sounds.  I’m glad to know that the filmmakers Wright (who are NOT related) are actually working on this as an ongoing series, so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for the next chapters to arrive.

DAY THREE: THE FEATURES

THE CHILD REMAINS
Directed by MICHAEL MELSKI
Screenplay by MICHAEL MELSKI
Produced by CRAIG CAMERON and MICHAEL MELSKI
DP: KEN LE BLANC

Another “based on true events” feature – but with the credibility backing it because it actually IS based on true events, a couple (SUZANNE CLEMENT and ALAN HAWCO) take a holiday at a charming little B&B out in the countryside.  She’s an investigative journalist who literally had a nervous breakdown, and is now looking for a temporary escape from the unrelenting pressure of her job. Her husband is nothing but supportive, and it seems like this retreat from the city will be just the thing for both of them.  But this being a horror film, of course the inn where they’re staying would have to have a dastardly secret past…that’s to be expected.  What ISN’T is that the journalist has a deep connection to the place that she never even knew about…and the place isn’t the only thing holding a buttload of secrets and lies within its antiquated walls…One of the nicest surprises of any feature I saw was spotting an old favorite actor of David Cronenberg’s in this one, iconic Canadian character actor Geza Kovacs, (SCANNERS, THE DEAD ZONE).

And so ends my journey with the first annual horror fest’s descent upon Las Vegas! It was a great weekend all round, and I was sorry that I couldn’t stay for the last three features, which I understand were terrific across the board, (but a John Carpenter concert waits for no man!)

My heartfelt thanks again to Darren, Mike and Drew for showing this old horror fan a great time; to Tony Strauss for showing up and showing out to represent Weng’s Chop; to all the wonderful new compadres I found in some of the filmmakers and fans who attended, and most of all to Sam the manager and the staff of the Eclipse Theater, which is more than worth your while to visit, whether you live here or you’re just passing through.  To say that I look forward to the next SCHF is a pretty gross understatement!