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Jonathan Weichsel Written by Jonathan Weichsel
Jul. 26, 2011 | 10:28 PM

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2011 Viscera Film Festival Recap

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By Jonathan Weichsel

Let’s start this review with a story. Back when I first came to Hollywood, I was sitting at a coffee shop working on one of my screenplays. There was a woman sitting across from me, also working on a screenplay. She sighed and buried her head in her hands. “Tough scene,” I joked.

She looked up with a pained look and smiled. I asked her what she was working on. “I’m writing a romantic comedy.”

I asked her what some of her favorite romantic comedies were. “I hate romantic comedies.” I asked her why she was writing a romantic comedy if she hates them. “Because I am a woman, and that’s what they expect women to write in Hollywood.” I asked her what kind of movies she likes. “Horror.”

If I knew then what I know now I would have told her about Heidi, and about the Viscera film festival, and this huge movement of women horror filmmakers sprouting from the ground up in Hollywood. But I was new then, and didn’t know anything. The transaction, however, struck me at the time as very sad. 

The Viscera Film festival is the longest running and best festival celebrating women filmmakers in the horror genre. The 2010 festival was like, nine hours long and seemed to be making the point that there are so many talented women horror filmmakers in Hollywood and around the world. The 2011 festival was much leaner, clocking in at three hours, and made a point of reinforcing how amazing their films are.

The festival started with trailers for feature horror films directed by women. The trailers all did their job, which is making me want to see the films, but the standouts were American Mary, The Blood Shop, and L.A.G.P.

American Mary is The Soska Sister’s first feature since Dead Hooker in a Trunk, which is one of my favorite films of the last couple of years. From the trailer, the film seems to have something to do with plastic surgery, looks like it has a more serious tone than Dead Hooker, and looks really, really creepy.

The Blood Shop, written and directed by Annette Slomka, is a Grindhouse film in the style of Robert Rodriguez. The film is about a body shop where grizzly murders take place, but has roots in the filmmaker’s childhood. Her dad owns a shop in Detroit, and when he was welding it would always scare her as a child. Slomka got the idea for the film when she was home for Christmas.

L.A.G.P., which stands for Los Angeles Ghost Patrol, is a horror film in the style of Paranormal Activity about a reality TV shoot gone wrong. Before I even saw the trailer I spoke with Director Susan Bell and asked her why I should watch L.A.G.P. She replied without a beat, “Because it will scare the shit out of you.” Based on what I saw in the trailer, I agree.

As awesome as the trailers were, the short films were really the meat of the festival. My favorite short was 12-15-96, which also won the award for best film.

12-15-96 is a drama about two serial killers who are best friends. They are driving through the desert together, and we can see that their friendship is starting to unravel. By the end of the film, their friendship is over for good. The film features drama in the style of Quentin Tarentino, in that it is a lengthy scene that slowly builds to a crescendo, and has clever dialogue that only tells you half of what is really going on, so I wasn’t surprised to learn when I spoke with writer-director Mae Catt that Tarentino was a huge influence on the project.

For Catt, the horror of the film comes from the characters. During a chat about the film she said, “Their normalcy is horrific to us but it’s still their norm.” I asked Catt what some of her favorite films are. “Evil Dead, Re-Animator, and From Dusk Till Dawn.” Catt made the film because she always wanted to know what the second half of From Dusk Till Dawn should have been like, before the characters walked into a zombie film. So, she came up with the idea for a film about serial killers who were all friends. Catt hopes to turn 12-15-96 into a feature. I can’t wait to watch it.

A Fever and a River is an experimental short made for $25 dollars by Rachael Deacon. The film is full of symbolism and violence straight out of Un Cien Andalou or the Cremaster Cycle. I’m not saying A Fever and a River is as masterful as either of these works, but it is a first film, and its heart is in the right place, and its images come from the right place. Like all the best films in the festival, it made me want to watch more.

Aftershock is a short, scary zombie movie about a woman trapped in her house during a zombie invasion, deciding whether to commit suicide or fight. Director Lori Bowen explained that the reason you don’t see the zombies in the film is because zombie movies are about humanity, or the lack thereof. 

Doll Parts is an awesome film about a serial killer who picks up female hitchhikers to rape and kill them. He picks up a seemingly innocent girl, and starts attacking her, but she transforms into a killer doll. I asked Filmmaker Karen Lam what inspires her to make horror films. She replied, “Women aren’t as nice as they seem. Looks are deceptive. I make movies to get women to embrace their inner demons.”

Blood Bunny, a faux-trailer made by animator Molly Madfis, is an animated parody of slasher films where the killer is a bunny. The film was funny, and I wasn’t surprised to find out that Molly had a great sense of humor. When I met her I said, “You must have a lot of knowledge about slasher movies to make an homage/parody of them. What are your some of your favorites?” She replied, “Friday the 13th Part 4, Friday the 13th part 7, and Black Christmas. Actually, cross out Black Christmas. Friday the 13th Part 4 and Friday the 13th Part 7 is funnier.”

Box, directed by Nikki Wall and starring festival director Heidi Honeycutt, is a very graphic film about a woman who gives herself an abortion so she can sacrifice the fetus (or something like that). Nikki’s husband Matt is a prolific director, and I hope Nikki keeps on making films like this.

Lump is a medical thriller directed by Faye Jackson, about a woman who keeps on getting lumps in her breast that need to be removed. It ends with an unbelievable twist that I really shouldn’t give away. Well, whatever. The surgeon is removing the lump and then putting it back in over and over again, so she keeps on having to get the same one removed.

The Many Doors of Albert Whale, by Marichelle Daywalt, is about a man who puts a spell of holding on a demon. The spell can only be broken if two doors are open at once, so he is very careful to shut each door immediately after opening it. The demon is played by the always awesome and amazing Tara Cardinal.

The festival ended with Daddy’s Girl, a very charming coming of age tale about a young girl who kills her father, grinds him up, and serves him to her family at a family reunion. Really, the film was very charming and sweet.

As you can tell, I had a great time at the Viscera film festival. As one audience member pointed out at the Q&A, the films were all more professionally made than the films screened at many larger festivals. They were all fresh, original, and exciting. They were also edgy, thought provoking, and unique. And, they were all a lot of fun.

Let’s make a distinction for a minute between mainstream horror and underground horror. Mainstream horror tends to be bland and generic. Some really smart director will make a really great and unique film, the film will go on to become a hit, and then for the next ten years every single theatrically released horror film will totally rip it off and steal it’s plot, while removing any context, theme, or meaning from the story.

Underground horror films are made by true horror fans, and aren’t afraid to be too smart for a mainstream audience. They are also made for true horror fans, fans who appreciate the horror genre, and know that a horror film can contain character development and subtext, and who actually expect to see these things in the films they watch. 

The Viscera film festival is a celebration of women in horror. It is also the best underground horror festival out there.

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