09 May 2014

HorrorHound 2014 Film Festival Recap - BY Chris Young

I was privileged to be able to attend this years’ HorrorHound Weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio. However instead of taking advantage of the great guests and cool merchandise, I spent most of the event in the film screening area so I could share some recommendations and pans with my horror peeps. The list is not all inclusive, but it should still give you an expansive taste of new and in many cases unreleased productions headed your way. Therefore, I present to you a brief synopsis of my experience for your edification, entertainment, or derision.

Dark Magic, Counter Magic By Eric Sterwerf

When I found out this entry was part of a 48 hour film challenge I didn't expect much. Having seen my fair share of student films and videos when I was in college, the result varied wildly. But I was very pleasantly surprised by this atmospheric short. In fact I’m fairly impressed by just how good it was. Through dream like imagery and without the aid of dialogue or narration it tells the tale of a magician performing the famous saw-a-girl-in-half trick, with disastrous results. But it doesn’t end there, and the denouement is mildly predictable (at least to this audience) yet beautifully shot and edited. I also have to mention the quality and appropriateness of the original score. Overall, a satisfyingly well rounded piece deserving of it’s multiple awards.

HI-8 Directed by Tim Ritter, Brad Sykes, Marcus Koch, Ron Bonk, Chris Seaver, Todd Sheets, Donald Farmer and Tony Masiello


Much like it’s bigger budget sister, VHS, this horror anthology was uneven, but had its highlights, in particular, one entry (concerning an 80’s tough guy homage with zombies and the residents of a nursing home) that was so funny I would recommend searching it out, if only for that. There were also quite a few stories, which is good or bad depending on your preferences. There was something for every taste and as far as I can tell there was little or no CG throughout. I could easily have seen two of the lesser shorts excised for time along with the uninspiring connecting narrative, but that’s a minor quibble with this otherwise worthwhile attempt at invigorating the indie low-budget horror scene with fresh ideas and talent.

Hi-8 teaser from Hi-8 on Vimeo.

In Fear Of By Scott W. Perry


This web based anthology series is a laundry list of clinical fears. Made up of short episodes titled with the medical name of the fear they explore, the list contains a nice variety of stories and styles. Some are avant garde while others can swing more towards the Twilight Zone or Tales from the Darkside. Overall the quality is high and the acting is professional. Already into it’s second season, this free web series is well worth checking out.

Wrath of the Crows By Ivan Zuccon


It seems this italian director is beginning to make a name for himself on the global indie horror circuit, and well he should, if this ambitious entry is typical of his work.

The film begins in a fascistic rural prison where we are introduced to a small group of prisoners of varying types but undisclosed offenses. Soon a sinister and mysterious femme fatale (played by a smoldering Tiffany Shepis) is added to the mix and things get weird. Everyone in this story has something to hide and there are plenty of reveals to keep things moving in an otherwise static environment.

The direction is sure-handed and the casting/acting is solid. Stylistically a cross between Fulci and Del Toro, it’s intriguing, atmospheric, and I look forward to seeing more from Zuccon in the near future.

Play Me By Brian Williams and Ellie Church


This gruesome little virtual snuff short is as simple as it gets. See girl wake up - see girl stalked - see girl get tortured to death. This was as literal an example of torture porn as you can get. Even Hostel at least had the trappings of a story and an arc of sorts for one of its main characters. The fact that I’m defending the almost non-existent plotline of an Eli Roth film should tell you something.

If you like this kind of thing, knock yourself out. This duo doesn’t aim for the bottom, they start there.

Time To Kill By Brian Williams


“Free beer” was the clarion call at the beginning of the evening premiere of this neo-grindhouse sleaze fest. Which was probably appropriate for the successful lubrication of the standing room only audience, which hooped and cat-called it’s way through the next 90 minutes, propelled by various prompts from the director such as: “There’ll be more tits in a minute!”

The heroine (Ellie Church) finds out she has 24 hours to live and proceeds to “Carpe Diem” her way through her remaining hours by settling old scores and grabbing some sexy gusto wherever she can. There is plenty of skin, fake blood and sleazy action to entertain a substance-soaked viewership. However, other than a mildly surprising twist near the end, I dare anyone to effectively explain to me how this classifies as horror. Have horror festivals finally turned into the SYFY of conventions, highlighting anything that isn’t strictly mainstream in hopes of casting as wide a net of attendees as possible? I suppose if it’s good enough for ComiCon…

The acting is uneven but never outright unwatchable. It’s fairly well edited and directed. This is not a film that was slapped together haphazardly, despite it’s low-brow intentions. It unashamedly knows what audience it is aiming for and wallows in it. If you like your sleaze a cut above the rest, this movie should fit the bill.

It’s Only Death By Rutherford Belleview and Mortimer Leech


A slim brunette wearing a wedding gown and a fresh bullet wound in her temple wanders into a “New Orleans” style shindig from beyond in this refreshingly old school music video highlighting a song by “The Widow's Bane”. Winner of Best Music Video at the Mile High Horror Film Festival, this band channels folk, Oingo Boingo and Dixieland Jazz quite effortlessly into a catchy delight they’ve coined “Zombie Death Polka”. The directors, who also happen to be leaders of the band, make good use of an old (abandoned?) location, clever editing, and the lead singer Leech’s natural creepiness. I can tell they made the most of limited time and budget. This macabre video made me want to seek out more of their music, which is the highest praise I can give to a music video. Well done!

Return To Nuke’em High Volume #1 By Lloyd Kaufman


Take the original Class of Nuke’em High, add money, time, new writers, and the direction of Mr. Lloyd Kaufman himself, and you get a surprisingly good first sequel to the original. The same story beats are pretty much all there, but each one gets a twist or update. The instigating catalyst of the local power plant has been replaced by a monolithic “organic” food provider, the protagonist couple is now lesbian (With purposeful nods to Blue is the Warmest Color), and the school gang dresses just as wild but walks around singing barbershop quartet tunes before they wreak havoc. The dialogue is tight, the jokes are plentiful and well timed, and the acting is great across the board. I saw this as the midnight showing and even though I’m not a Troma aficionado, I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish. I was even surprised when “To be continued” came up on the screen, due to the brisk pacing. If you’re a Troma fan you’ll want to catch this ASAP. If not, give it a try.

Service By Jerry Pyle

A woman hurriedly makes her way into a lavish estate with her young daughter in tow. She sets the girl up in a bedroom with instructions not to leave while she’s working. The woman then proceeds to get into a skimpy outfit while sporting a feather duster and starts cleaning. That’s when it gets really interesting and not in the way you think.

This film was one of the most polished and all around well made shorts I’ve ever seen. The script is lean and engaging. The acting is solid, and the production values are stellar, especially the cinematography. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable few minutes and I strongly encourage people to seek it out on the festival circuit.

Pity By John Pata

A man sits alone at night inside a parked car in the pouring rain, thinking equally dark wet thoughts. So begins...and ends a new short from the director of Dead Weight. Watching and listening to someone working through their tortured emotions for six minutes might seem like abuse reserved for terrorists, but it’s a tribute to the filmmakers that I was interested the whole time. The cinematography was quite good, also the acting, and the editing was striking. However, the unresolved ending pretty much turns it into more of a film exercise than a full fledged story. Still, it’s a good, successful effort and worthy of praise. See it if you can.

Baggage By Jeremiah Kipp

Benjamin has a job. Benjamin is very quiet. Benjamin has a significant other. contrary to the tagline, Benjamin is not normal, but therein lies the relative non-surprise at the end of Baggage, a new short from the director of A Chance in Hell. This piece is filled with lingering camera shots of the protagonist as he gets up in the morning, goes to work, etc. All the while clutching a medium sized satchel. I applaud the use of black and white, and the production is very good in general. However, it’s just a tad too long and doesn’t really deliver in any significant way. If you’re going to concentrate on atmosphere over story, you’d better make sure it’s memorable. But there’s nothing new here. Competence is a good thing, just not noteworthy.

Baggage Trailer from Action Media Productions on Vimeo.

A Wish For The Dead By Nathan Thomas Milliner

A man is spending all of his time in the waiting area of a local hospital. His loved one lays in a coma with little prospect of recovery in sight. Suddenly a heavily bandaged figure approaches him and offers him his heart’s desire.

Sounds like a half hour Twilight Zone episode doesn’t it? Well it’s not. Not by half. There were multiple stories running simultaneously during this basically dull and overlong entry. I found myself wondering how long it had to go until the end at several points. It felt very padded, like a short story someone tried to stretch into a feature. When the three stories began to converge I could see the plot device coming a mile away and wasn’t too pleased to have waded through all of the self-absorbed navel gazing just for that. Nothing in this film, not the story, editing, acting, or direction justifies sitting through to the end. Go watch the “Appointment In Samarra” episode of “Supernatural” instead. You’ll be glad you did.

Doc of the Dead By Alexandre Philippe

The general public is going crazy for a genre that would normally only be of interest to horror fans. This strange turn of events is put under a microscope in this documentary by the creator of “The People Vs George Lucas.” As one might expect there were lots of interviews with actors, directors, makeup effects specialists, and many others along the way. Of particular interest to myself was the earlier part of the film where it describes the strange irregular evolution from the original use of the zombie archetype all the way up to running flesh eaters. However, since this movie is more about the cultural obsession with the monster and not with the creatures themselves, it became a little too academic and overfilled with commentary towards the latter part and through to what felt like a somewhat weak ending. It’s possible this would have made a better one hour special, than a feature. I have to say it was a particularly unexpected pleasure to be treated to several short vignettes produced by Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media, which were uniformly funny and got the biggest response from the audience and myself. Another great bit was an interview with a company that specializes in preparing people for the Zombie Apocalypse. Besides these short bits of hilarity, it was all a bit by the numbers and while the film was never boring, it wasn’t particularly inspiring or worthy of a second look. Surprisingly meh.

House of the Witchdoctor By Devon Mikolas

A grad student and four of her friends plan on spending a weekend house-sitting while her parents are away. But before they can get through the first evening, two unwelcome strangers show up and make their lives a living Hell.

The first 20 minutes or so it’s hard to tell exactly what kind of movie you’re watching, simply because so many stories start out this way, anymore. However, before long it becomes readily apparent that this movie is an homage to such films as The Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave, with a twist, that reaches it’s nader within the last fifteen minutes or so. But this really isn’t a “twist” film. The meat and potatoes of the production centers on the psychological and physical abuse perpetrated on the attractive coeds. Acts of brutality and cruelty that are completely lacking in titillation or sensationalism.

I was quite surprised by the raw vulnerability expressed by such young actors. To a person, they were completely believable under the most awkward and demanding of circumstances. In fact, the entire cast was top notch, both the old pros (Bill Moseley for one) and the newbies. Special mention goes to David Willis, who was unrecognizable in his role as Buzz (one of the two main bad guys). He had the best lines in the film while managing to be funny and horrible at the same time.

The entire production was polished and well paced. There was real earnestness in trying to harken to the drive-in days of exploitation without creating some false sense of nostalgia. If you’re a fan, this is a higher caliber than most. Let’s hope Devon Mikolas keeps at it. He seems to be just getting started.

The Hourglass Figure By Patrick Rea

An over-worked housewife discovers an hourglass that grants her an extra hour in the day. But there are rules, and a price to be paid.

This was a very respectable little Twilight Zone style story that is innovative in the details if not in the overall concept. It moves along pretty quickly and ultimately races towards a satisfyingly grim climax. The production values are good and the practical effects are quite nice. Writer and lead actress Michelle Davidson carries the show and shows great range as she goes from harried to relaxed and ultimately panicked. Kudos to all involved.

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