Monday, January 12, 2009

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Final Thoughts

In total: Eight movies, no monsters. You had two curses, one slasher, two sets of rednecks, one set of zombies, one mad doctor, and one set of doppelgangers. The zombies weren't even really zombies--and their whole purpose and motivation was murky to say the least. (Were they eating people? Were they using them for interior design purposes?)

Other things not seen: Ghosts. Demons. Alternate realities. Haunted houses. Aliens. Vampires. Were-creatures.

Seven of the eight took the cheap 'n' easy horror movie-ending out. That is to say, in six of eight movies, everyone dies. In the seventh, the main character goes insane and the "monster" isn't really dead.

There were very, very minimal effects this year. I missed having one film that really went over the top, like last year's The Deaths of Ian Stone and the previous year's Gravedancers. Even while Unearthed had a laughable CGI monster, nobody even tried this time. I guess in some ways that's good.

Autopsy was ballsy with its effects, uber-cheap though they were. There are some simple rules for low-budget horror making that these guys don't seem to know:

1. Don't be boring.
2. Don't be forgettable.

I'm assuming they fall into #1 by mistake. I'm sure they know not to be boring but miscalculate. But they don't seem to get how critical #2 is--even at the expense of your movie getting a laugh that you didn't want or seeming campy.

Ultimately, it's the imagery of the horror movie that makes it stick in the mind and makes you want to watch it again. It's why most of Roger Corman's movies--even the good ones--don't tend to get a lot of mention. It's why the Saw movies get attention when much gorier movies don't.

The first ADHF, for example, had the imagery of the violent poltergeist in Gravedancers and the authentic "corpse tank" in Unrest, and the second one had the world-shifting effects of Ian Stone, the orange-ish hot-n-sweaty cast to all of Mulberry Street and even a floating, demonically possessed Blythe Metz in Nightmare Man.

The only flick that really brought the funk this time was Autopsy. Ridiculously creepy hospital lighting, naked scary guy unemboweling, and an organ mobile. Nothing else came close. Butterfly Effect was the best movie but its best imagery was in the sex scene.

One scene--the closing scene--is what turned Friday the 13th from just another Halloween knock-off to a mega-franchise. I sort of assume that that's why so many filmmakers seem eager to trash their entire film for a good "twist"--but they're doing it wrong. The twists aren't good. And note that Halloween's best imagery is not at the end, but in the middle. Frankenstein has a cool closing image--but it's the lab scenes that make it. Psycho's shower scene, Invasion of the Body Snatcher's ('50s) chase scenes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('70s) funky dog-with-human-head, the crab-walk in the Exorcist, Alien's face-huggin', chest-'splodin, inner-mouth extendin'...

You get the idea.

One of my all-time favorite horrors is a mess called Dead People. It was a disastrous shoot, I'm told and the film was butchered to incomprehensibility, but there are some scenes in it that are unforgettable: a supermarket where normal looking people are feeding directly out of the butcher's display, a movie theater where the two normal people sit down and then (from the screen's POV) you see a bunch of other people file in who are all clearly "wrong", etc. (They're restoring the movie now; I can't wait to see the new print.)

But it's that kind of thing that keeps the horror movie fan going back.

We ran into a couple of women today that recognized us from last year. They expressed a concern as to whether there'd be a fourth horror fest. That's always been my concern, since the theaters are far from packed. (We never saw more than 20 people.) This year there was no advertising that I saw.

Worst of all, though, I'd have a hard time recommending it to someone else. It's a crap-shoot. Though the movies are at least professionally done for the most part (and even cheap ones look better these days and have way better acting), this year I'd only comfortably recommend two at all. (Last year I could recommend seven of the eight to the right people.)

Them's not good odds.

I'll keep going if they keep having 'em, though. There are lots of things I like about them:

First, you don't need a big budget to make a good film (horror or otherwise). Bug is estimated at $4M on IMDB, for example. A lot of these guys are working in that range--though Nightmare Man's total budget was about $250K and Mulberry Street was closer to $50K, I'm told. Great new things can come out of low budget flicks.

Second, you get to see who the working actors are. Richard Jenkins may get an Oscar this year for The Visitor, but he's still working it in Broken, as is Lena Heady. Robert Patrick and Jenette Goldstein get to ham it up in Autopsy. This works the other way, too: Maybe Rachel Miner and Rider Strong never make it out of the B-movie ghetto, but that doesn't make them less enjoyable to watch. (Hell, look at Bruce Campbell, who's been stuck there going on 30 years.)

Third, they're a good antidote to "important", "arty", award-bait flicks: The filmamkers can't really indulge themselves--no budget--and their big goal is to hold you for the entire film, so they aren't going to be stretching out past 90 minutes. (As Roger Corman famously said, "Monster's dead, movie's over.") Not to say that some of the movies don't have pretensions, but there are distinct limits.

Just for your edification, I've listed below the films shown in the three After Dark Horror Festivals. I'll link them up to my reviews later. For now I must sleep. And dream.

Year 1: Dark Ride, Gravedancers, Unrest, Rinne (Reincarnation), The Abandoned, Penny Dreadful, the Hamiltons, Wicked Little Things

Year 2: Unearthed, The Deaths of Ian Stone, Borderland, Lake Dead, Mulberry Street, Tooth and Nail, Nightmare Man, Crazy Eights

Year 3: From Within, Butterfly Effect, Dying Breed, Slaughter, Perkins 14, Autopsy, Broken, Voices


  1. I'd love to know which ones from the previous festivals you'd recommend getting--are they the sort of thing you can find on Netflix or are they too low-budge?


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