Shriekfest 2021 – Getting a little freaky, getting a little spooky, getting a little SHRIEKY

Photo by: David Hanger

Shriekfest is a Horror Film Festival that is a goldmine of both upcoming and veteran horror talents. Denise Gossett, the founder and organizer of the festival has helped many debut directors and screenwriters find an audience at Shriekfest, which is very much appreciated. There’s suddenly been a resurgence in the horror genre, but Gossett has been an advocate for horror for the past twenty-one years, which is to say that she has seen a lot of horror films to know exactly which ones are worth showcasing and which ones need better tweaking.

I was very excited to receive Press Passes for this event because as a huge horror enthusiast, watching horror films for thirteen hours straight is basically heaven. Not to mention that I really love the chill vibe that the festival has and how appreciative everyone is for being there to view their films and support them. Plus, I really have a soft spot for the Charlie Chaplin theatre at the Raleigh Studios. I’d give anything to watch ALL my movies there. Seriously, folks, if you haven’t seen a film there, you’re missing out.

That being said, I was so happy that this year the event wasn’t canceled as the previous year (pandemic and all – ya know the drill) because the films I got to see this year were incredibly good. The previous years, the shorts tended to be more on the campy side of horror (which I don’t mind cause who doesn’t love the OG Evil Dead am I right?), but I do love it when horror can also be on the uber dark and creepy side, so I was all for that.

I ended up watching 31 shorts and 2 features and I know many of the directors and screenwriters I spoke to asked me how I was going to remember all of them and I told them that I was taking notes of the film titles and what they were about, but that mostly after one day of viewing if I could easily recall my favourites then that means that those were the ones that really stood out to me and were worthy of my mention. Although, I have to admit that there were probably only one or two films I wasn’t too crazy about, for the most part, the shorts were extremely well produced, edited, written, and acted.

One of my favourite shorts was from the Spanish director Alvaro Vicario called Polter. The film was about a guy trying to get rid of poltergeist in his home. The film didn’t take itself too seriously, and the fact that it was fun and campy is what really honed in the ending for me. I really suggest you guys check it out if you can because it’s very well worth the ten minutes it takes to view it. Polter was followed by another very well acted and written short called, A Strange Calm. This short was very dark and sad as it followed two friends, Rosie and Mills who encounter a strange man while they’re out playing in rural California in the 70’s and end up getting abducted. The short was full of tension and dread and overall it was excellent. Now, the shorts seemed to get progressively darker as A Strange Calm was soon followed by Killing Small Animals which was a very disturbing short where the protagonist kills various animals throughout the movie, slowly graduating to bigger ones until the very end where she’s seen abducting a little girl. I wouldn’t say that the short was bad, but I wasn’t that keen on the storyline and wasn’t a fan of seeing various animals getting killed (guess it’s just not my kind of horror).

Meanwhile, The Rule of Three expertly explored how a young woman suffering from severe OCD has to try to overcome her demons while trying to survive a home invasion. The short was filled with dread and suspense and tied everything up in a way that wasn’t cheesy. Wide Awake in Bridgewater may have easily been my favourite short. It was mysterious and held an element of sci-fi that I really liked. An elderly man receives a phonecall from his teenage girlfriend and he tries to figure out what happened to her fifty years ago when she disappeared. It was easily the best written, acted, and edited short and had a satisfying ending. Seek was a fun, thrilling short about two sisters who stop at a rundown restroom only to find out that a strange entity haunts that area.

Love Bite was a refreshing and hilarious take on the zombie trope. A bickering couple soon find out to what lengths one of them will go to just to be proven right, despite the dire consequences that it will bring. It was easily very funny because it was also very relatable. I think any couple whose been together for awhile could easily see themselves in the couple. Being a huge fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street Nancy played by the incredibly awesome Heather Langenkamp, it was a pleasant surprise to see her star in the short Cottonmouth. The short easily flourished cause of Langenkamp’s star power, but it was also engaging as the viewers can’t help but wanting to know who or what is continuously drinking from a glass of water that the protagonist keeps next to her bed stand. Selfie was another short that I enjoyed, where a girl’s photoshopped self somehow manages to come alive and become the monster that she is.

The Otherside dealt with the very real horror of child trafficking and how the mother’s of the victims tend to be haunted by their grief and in this case, one mother in particular not only haunts but seeks revenge to those that do the same to other kids. And last but not least the shorts cycle ended on a high note with Half-Cocked where two doctors find a way to bring a man to life and make him immortal only to find out that that man isn’t appreciative since he had committed suicide. The film was definitely on the campy side of horror but it was a very funny and thrilling ride.

The two features I was able to view were Ten Minutes to Midnight and Redwood Massacre: Annihilation. Ten Minutes to Midnight was a campy fun vampire film about a radio show host (played by the ever charismatic and alluring Caroline Williams) who slowly manifests the signs of vampirism after she’s bitten by a rabid bat. Apart from being a fun film, the movie also focused on an important message, especially for women, how we’re often easily discarded after we’ve passed a certain age. That’s why I love horror, because it’s a genre that dares to tackle difficult topics that other genres simply gloss over.

The last film I viewed was Redwood Massacre: Annihilation that starred horror veteran Danielle Harris (which you may recognize her from the Halloween franchise). I was really excited to check this film out as I have an affinity for killers who choose to use a burlap sack as a mask. All in all, I did enjoy the film, although once we started to surpass the sixty minute mark and no one had died I started to fret when the massacre was going to happen (no need to worry, the promised bloodbath does occur and doesn’t disappoint).

Thirteen hours of film watching was an intense feat but can you truly call yourself a horror fan if you can’t do that? Am I right?

Stay spooky my friends.

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Film Review: Malignant

The opening scene in Malignant may be offputting. We’re shown a gothic looking hospital sitting on top of a high cliff with the ocean below, while a doctor known for dramatics orders her underlings to “Cut out the tumor,” as a young patient writhes and kills people either through force or telepathy.

Then the story shifts to Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) where a hardworking but very pregnant nurse returns home because she feels ill. Of course Madison has an abusive husband who dares to hit her while she’s overwhelmingly pregnant (and those scenes will never get easy to watch for any woman or decent human being). It doesn’t take long for her husband Derek to meet the most gruesome and deserved death ever. The only caveat is, the audience is lulled in this strange idea that maybe the dark entity that visits them was only after Derek, but we’re soon shown that Madison too is victim of the entity’s ire.

Director James Wan is famous for his use of string instrumentals during pivotal scenes. Now, Wan trades the strings for trippy 70’s giallo music ala Goblin mixed in with 80’s synth. And for the first half of the film you can’t help but think that this is exactly a modern day Giallo, with a killer that dons a black leather coat and leather gloves before he goes on a killing spree throughout Seattle.

Then the TWIST arrives and a major shift happens. I’m not going to tell you what the twist is because it’ll spoil the film and I actually suggest that you do not read any reviews prior to seeing this film so that you can dive in blind. But I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the twist only because it’s one of my fave subgenres in horror and am happy to finally see it being explored again.

I will admit that I wasn’t sure what to think when I first started watching the film but once the credits rolled, I was a fan of the craziness that unfolded during the three act of the film. So, if you’re an old school horror fan, I would totally recommend this film as it’s one wild, fun romp. I haven’t had this much fun watching a horror than Evil Dead and that’s saying a lot.

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Film Review: Gretel & Hansel

Oz Perkins has quickly become one of my favourite directors. Son of the late horror icon Anthony Hopkins, I first came to know of Oz Perkins when I watched The Blackcoat’s Daughter, one of my recent favourite horrors of the past few years.

So when I saw that he was going to tackle a fairytale, I was intrigued. The winning point for this film is that it’s incredibly atmospheric. From the very first scene you’re sucked into the world of the film and feel immersed in its Gothic forest wonder. Gretel is portrayed by Sophia Lillis who has been showing her acting chops in IT and also the miniseries Sharp Objects, and even in this role she doesn’t disappoint.

Personally, I love that we got to know more about the witch in question that lives in the woods. In the fairytale, we never really got a sense of who she was other than a hideous lady that cooked up children to eat them. Not that she doesn’t do this in this film, but we also get more of a backstory.

In a way, the film is very feminist as it proves that Gretel wasn’t willing to work for a nobleman who seemed more interested in her maidenhood than her abilities to clean and launder. I also liked that the witch wasn’t seen as particularly evil at first, because she was teaching Gretel many skills and looked at her as a possible stand in for a daughter figure. In a way, she was happy to share her power with her and to help Gretel nurture her own power.

But what really makes this film unforgettable isn’t all the feminist messages (there are many and it’s cool) but for the enchanting yet terrifying images. There’s something about the witch’s house that compels you to enter but also once you’re inside, you can’t help but feel like something is terribly amiss despite the tasty banquets that seem to appear on the table at all hours of the day.

Watch this film for its rich photography and if you’ve ever wanted a little more depth analysis of the Grimm fairytale, Hansel and Gretel.

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Film Review: The Dark & the Wicked

Being cooped up at a home with no signs of theatres opening up, I’ve had to rely on streaming services to watch any new movies that I would’ve watched on the silverscreen. That being said, this film kept coming up time and time again as being the creepiest horror of 2020, so of course I had to see if that statement were true.

The Dark and the Wicked starts out with a feeling of dread, and that feeling never subsides, it actually continues to escalate to a horrifying crescendo. The beginning scenes have the mother chopping up a bunch of veggies with a cleaver, and if you’ve ever feared that using a cleaver in a horror means you’ll end up losing some digits, well this film delivers on that fear in spades.

The premise of the movie is quite simple, two estranged siblings return home when they find out their father is on his death bed. The mother keeps telling them to leave, and the siblings feeling guilty for having pretty much abandoned their parents, don’t leave, not seeing her request as the warning it truly is. A strange nefarious entity has been plaguing their home and their parents, but the brother and sister don’t acknowledge its existence until it’s too late.

This movie delivered on the creepy atmosphere and jump scares, but if you’re looking for answers, you won’t receive any. We never know why the parents were targeted, except for a tiny hint where the father’s caretaker tells the sister that love is how you keep evil away alluding that evil managed to take hold of their parents because they lacked their children’s love. But you never learn how the siblings could redeem themselves and rid themselves of this evil, because this film offers no such comfort. Basically everyone is doomed from the very beginning.

It doesn’t bother me that the film didn’t have a neat little resolution, because some things can’t be undone.

Check this one out if you love creepy, visceral horror.

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Film Review: Antebellum

The past never stays in the past…..

I went into watching this film with a bit of misguidance, as I was convinced that the movie was based off of Octavia E. Butler’s novel, Kindred. In Butler’s novel, the protagonist Dana, a writer, time travels from her present in Los Angeles, to a slavery era Maryland. Antebellum, much like Butler’s novel, depicts the protagonist Veronica to also be a writer and who also finds herself living during the slavery era South (Louisiana in this case). The plots are very similar, that it’s a honest mistake that I thought Antebellum was an adaptation of Butler’s novel.

The movie’s twist, though, is much more chilling than time travel. And that’s all I can say without landing in the *spoilers* realm.

First of all, let me say what I liked about this movie, because I was left with very conflicting feelings. This was Janelle Monae’s first lead role, and to say that she rocked it, is an understatement. Her performance was very emotional and you can’t help but to root for her character, Veronica (but who is also referred to as Eden by the slave owners). I also loved seeing Gabourey Sidibe being her sassy classy self in the role of Veronica’s best friend, Bridget. I would’ve loved to have seen more scenes with her, as she’s always been a favourite of mine since AHS:Coven. The third standout role went to Jena Malone. I’ve always liked her and she’s always proved to be very talented, but lately, she’s really upping her game in these new villainous roles. In Neon Demon she was absolutely evil, but here in Antebellum she isn’t only evil, but incredibly chilling. I kid you not, anytime she was in a scene she managed to create more unease in the viewer and feeling of anxiousness than if a typical Hollywood monster or Boogie man had been in her place. Yes, I’m totally saying that Jena Malone will scare the fuck out of you more than Michael Meyers ever could.

Now, I know the movie was directed by an interracial gay couple, so theoretically both guys could’ve been capable of giving characters of both races (black and white) a more nuanced edge to their characters. But sometimes, they failed. As much as I love Gabourey Sidibe, her character Bridget was very stereotypical “loud Black woman.” Which isn’t bad per se, but in a movie that heavily deals with racism, then showing stereotypical Black characters we’ve seen again and again in both film and novels, wasn’t a bit of a let down. My second issue with the film is that yes, it’s a horror movie, but the horror portrayed in the film was mostly based around Black suffering, pain, and traumas, and to parade that pain for entertainment purposes without a true message or call to action at the end, well, then it just leaves you feeling uneasy (especially when the images of violence are very disturbing).

Overall, the film could’ve been better executed and I would’ve liked the world building surrounding the plot to have been more so, because once the twist takes place, then you’re left questioning the motives and actions of everyone involved.

Watch this movie if you want, I checked it out because I was curious and because I erroneously thought it was based on Butler’s novel.

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Shriekfest 2019 – Let Me Hear You Scream!

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Red carpet at Shriekfest

Shriekfest is a bi-annual and bi-coastal horror film festival that takes place both in Los Angeles and Orlando. This was my second time going to Shriekfest and once again it didn’t disappoint! Denise Gossett is the founder of this festival and has been very influential in giving many horror shorts and movies a chance to be seen and discovered by a myriad of people. This year I got to chat a bit with Denise and she’s a very lovely woman and a very busy one since she not only runs Shriekfest but will also appear in a TV series about astronauts very soon.

 

Just like last year, I was able to attend the third day of the festival (Saturday). Luckily, I got right on time to the studios as the first short Finley aired. Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE killer dolls in any shape or form, so a killer doll that kinda resembles R.L. Stine’s Slappy? I was ALL OVER THAT. It was by far my favourite short. This year, I noticed that some of the shorts explored some true horrors like domestic violence in short films such as She Fell and Listen. Although, I’ll admit that I preferred She Fell’s feminist message where the abuser gets what he deserves (the new program is very unconventional and effective). The Clapper was a classic horror short about an invalid girl who has to deal with an unknown presence in her house whilst in the dark.

 

The second half of the shorts started off with a bang with The Thing About Beecher’s Gate. A deputy that has recently transferred to the town of Beecher’s Gate, is ordered by the town’s sheriff to spend a night alone in a barn with only a shotgun as a rite of passage. This short was very intriguing and suspenseful. By far, this was my favourite short from the second half of the fest. We Got a Monkey’s Paw was a bit campy but fun. The two actors Jacqueline Jandrell and Zack Ogle had perfect comedic delivery and made the most amusing duo. Naughty was both a fun and twisted film about a little girl who gives a robber a run for his money. Just like last year, we also got to check out a music video. This year it was Aesthetic Perfection’s Gods & Gold, which is a very goth-inspired video with lots of old school vibes with a touch of glam.

 

What differed between last year’s event and this year is that they had a couple of hours reserved for a Meet & Greet. This gave everyone a chance to network, chat, and get some food. Which made watching the second part of the festival a little easier with the break in between. I took that time to explore Raleigh Studios, as it’s very fascinating to be on an actual movie lot studio.

 

I ended up staying for three feature films.

First was the viewing of The Field. A long-empty farmstead holds secret worlds, accidentally unlocked by an amateur photographer and his wife. This movie wasn’t that scary and had more of a sci-fi bent than horror. Initially, I was very intrigued by the premise of Norse witchcraft in the beginning, however, it was never fully explained in the movie why they were doing those rituals. That was what made the film fall short for me.

The second was the viewing of Volition. A man afflicted with clairvoyance tries to change his fate when a series of events leads to a vision of his own imminent murder. I really enjoyed this movie and again, it didn’t quite fit the horror bill for me. It had more a thriller sci-fi feel to it with time leaps and bending time. But it was a very original film that Tony Dean Smith directed, and I can give him props for having one of the most unique films at the festival.

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The third was the viewing of Max Winslow and the House of Secrets. This was one of the few films that actually had a very popular actor, with Chad Michael Murray (from One Tree Hill series and most recently playing an enigmatic cult leader in Riverdale) in the role of eccentric genius billionaire Atticus Virtue. Five teenagers compete to win a mansion owned by Atticus Virtue. To win the teens must face-off against a supercomputer named HAVEN who controls the mansion. The film had Escape Room moments and would be better suited for tweens and teens as it has scary elements but it never gets too bad. None of the main characters face any serious consequences but each character grows within the course of the movie, so at least you get good character arcs. I’d recommend watching this as a family movie more than a classic horror movie.

 

Viewing the movies from 11a.m.-11p.m. was a very intense but fun experience. I appreciate Denise for giving me the opportunity to attend Shriekfest once again! And this time around I managed to snag a tee before they ran out my size (small) since ya know, now I feel like a veteran of the event and all. Here’s looking forward to next year’s 20th anniversary, I’m sure it’s gonna be one hell of a horror ride!

DSC_0045 modified.jpgPhotos by: David Hanger

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Goodbye, Genius – A Farewell to George A. Romero

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Today, the horror genre lost one of the most influential people in its world, director George A. Romero, best known for being the “godfather” of zombies. Unlike any other horror movies in the genre, he often used his zombie movies to confront major political themes such as racism in Night of the Living Dead and capitalism in Dawn of the Dead. In his movies the zombies weren’t always perceived as the villains, while he’d often prefer to depict humans as such instead. You can see his affection towards the zombies in this quote, “My zombies will never take over the world because I need the humans. The humans are the ones I dislike the most, and they’re where the trouble lies.” Or when he stated, “I sympathize with the zombies and I’m not even sure they are villains. To me they are this earth-changing thing. God or the devil changed the rules, and the dead people aren’t staying dead.”

He not only heavily influenced the zombie genre, but even the horror anthology stories in works like Creepshow and Tales from the Darkside, which helped open the doors for shows like Tales from the Crypt and Freddy’s Nightmares.

I remember watching his movies and shows when I was six years old. Even at that young age I knew that there was something different about his movies than the other horror movies that I was watching at the time. His movies had intellect and a message. His movies made us see that the true evil in the world wasn’t coming from elsewhere, but rather from ourselves. We are the monsters. And as Romero himself said, “I always thought of the zombies as being about revolution, one generation consuming the next.” A statement that is very telling for our times, and one that will probably always ring true.

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Goodbye, Mr. Romero, your zombies and your legacy will never die.

By: Azzurra Nox