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Shriekfest 2011 Favorites
By Jonathan Weichsel
The 11th annual Shriekfest horror film festival ran from September 29th to October 2nd at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. Shriekfest, founded and directed by Denise Gossett, is one of the longest running horror film festivals in North America. The festival features some of the most cutting edge films in the horror and sci-fi genres. This was my third year in a row reviewing Shriekfest.
I watched all eleven feature length films that screened at the festival. What follows are my four favorite films from the weekend.
The Dead Inside:
Writer-Director Travis Betz’s film Lo blew me away at the 2009 Shriekfest. It was a dark, beautiful gothic love story that stuck with me and continued to haunt me long after the festival ended. The film still haunts me. So I had very high expectations for his new film The Dead Inside. Not only did Betz’s new film meet my expectations, but it exceeded them by a lot.
This might be a shocking statement coming from a guy who writes horror reviews, but if it hasn’t been written before, let me be the first one to write it: Travis Betz is a genius. He is an important filmmaker. His films are important.
We have become accustomed to watching films that seem like mechanical exercises in story telling. Betz’s films are the perfect antidote to this. His inventive films are full of dark passion and a childlike whimsy. The overarching theme of Betz’s films is love. But his view of love is different from that of most filmmakers. Betz sees love as beautiful while it lasts, and tragic when it ends.
The Dead Inside, a supernatural musical, is about Wes (Dustin Fasching) and Fi (Sarah Lassez), two artists who live together and are in love. Wes is an artistic photographer who has to work shooting weddings in order to make ends meet, something he hates doing. Fi writes a popular series of zombie novels, but has a serious case of writer’s block. Specifically, Fi has her two zombie protagonists in a house attacking a woman, and can’t figure out how to make them open a bedroom door where their chosen victim is hiding.
Fi sings about her struggle with writer’s block, Wes sings about his dissatisfaction with his job, and they both sing about their love for each other. The tone here is really sweet, but the film gradually takes a turn towards the dark. Fi starts mutilating herself, and Wes admits her to a mental hospital. Once she is released and comes back home, Wes realizes that she has not gone crazy, but is possessed by a ghost with a tragic and mysterious past.
But no plot description can do this film justice. The Dead Inside is beautifully shot, with each shot seeming both natural and meticulously planned. The love story is engaging, and really makes you feel for the two central characters. Even the most cynical and jaded viewer will feel something, and if you are actually dead inside, this film will make you feel alive.
Pig, written and directed by Henry Barrial, is a twisty little mystery about a man who wakes up in the desert with a hood over his head, his hands bound behind his back, and no memory of who he is.
He is taken in and nursed back to health by a woman who lives alone in the desert with her son. The two travel to Los Angeles together in order to uncover the mystery of his identity.
In Los Angeles, the man uncovers clues to his existence. Some of these clues seem planted, while others seem organic. Many clues contradict each other, some pointing in one direction, others pointing in a wildly different one. Mysteriously, at seemingly random times, his journey ends and he wakes up in the desert again, with no memory of anything that has transpired. Whenever he wakes up in the desert, a number flashes on the bottom left of the screen, 1.2, 1.3, etc. Pig ends with a sci-fi twist, which is hinted at right at the top of the film when we see a snippet of the man in an orange jumpsuit reading a legal waver into a camera.
Pig is an excellent, well-crafted film and has been playing the festival circuit for awhile. Many critics compare it to Memento, but while both are great films that deal with amnesia, there are more differences than similarities. Memento is a puzzle-box of a film, and while Pig presents a compelling mystery, the presentation is more straightforward. Memento takes memory and how it influences our perception of reality as its major theme. Pig, on the other hand, is about identity, and how our memories affect how we perceive ourselves.
The Millennium Bug:
Pig and The Dead Inside are both thought provoking, intelligent films. The Millennium Bug, on the other hand, is pure adrenaline fuelled fun. The film, written and directed by Kenneth Crane, can best be summed up as the family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre vs. Godzilla, but this description doesn’t really do this strange little film justice.
The Millennium Bug is a big special effects blockbuster, made for $50,000 dollars with no CGI. Instead of CGI, the film uses miniatures, models, rubber monster suits, and great art design to create a spectacle unlike anything else being made today.
The Millennium Bug is about a man, his daughter, and his new wife going on a honeymoon/camping trip in late 1999. The man is concerned that the Y2K computer bug will wreak havoc, and he wants to be away from civilization when that happens.
Things go bad when the family is kidnapped by an inbred family that lives in a dilapidated house in the woods. The inbred family wants a fresh bloodline to mate with, so that they will stop producing mutant offspring. Meanwhile, a cryptozoologist is out in the woods looking for a giant insect creature that only wakes up once every thousand years. The creature awakens, and starts attacking everybody.
In terms of scope, the film is the most ambitious I have seen at a horror festival, but what makes it work is the film’s attention to detail. I love all the little things in Millennium Bug, like the mold on the furniture and walls of the house. Little details like this anchor the craziness going on onscreen, and give a sense of a fully realized world. The little details are also a large part of what make you want to watch it over and over, just to see things you might have missed the first time.
Like Pig and The Dead Inside, The Millennium Bug has a weird little plot that eschews the traditional Hollywood formula, but still works. It is a fun, gory flick, full of weirdness and excitement. I bought a DVD at the festival so I could watch it again. You’ll want to watch it a couple of times too. A decade from now The Millennium Bug might be considered a classic, and I don’t mean the cult kind.
Isle of Dogs:
Isle of Dogs is a stylish, twisty little film. Part neo-noir crime drama, and part home invasion thriller, the film adopts its visual style from Italian Giallo films and American Noir.
Isle of Dogs is about a man who is having an affair with an authoritarian crime boss’s wife. When the crime boss learns of the affair, he tells the man that he must murder the woman, or else he will be killed. The wife, however, turns out to be real tough to kill.
The majority of this film is nearly perfect. The acting has all the flair one would hope for from a noir thriller, the costumes and sets are appropriately sumptuous, and the camera picks everything up with class and style.
The crime-thriller aspect of Isle of Dogs is compelling, but the film really picks up during the extended home invasion sequence. The man has a clear reason for needing to kill the woman, even though he doesn’t want to, and the woman turns out to be way tougher than expected. The film takes an unexpected turn towards the comedic at the end, and reminded me of the ending of a Stuart Gordon film. Gordon is one of my favorite directors and surely an influence on Director Tammi Sutton due to her Full Moon background. Some viewers might complain that the film falls apart at the end, and in a way it does, but so does every Giallo I’ve ever seen, and it’s really all a matter of taste.
Isle of Dogs is a compelling and engaging thriller, and a must see for fans of Italian Giallo or neo-noir.
Hi Jonathan, Thanks for this list… all the films look like quality…
Sadly I missed Shriekfest this year and I really want to see Mark’s film PIG which I’ve heard alot about.
If you get a chance please check out a “spec” Trailer for a feature Horror-Thriller I’m planning titled “Expressway To Your Skull”
And thanks again for your wonderful blog!
- Mad Wolf ProductionsPosted by MadWolf on 10/12 at 11:02 AM
Great list. I was unaware of the Shriekfest, thanks for the info and will be keeping a look out for it in the futurePosted by DJH on 01/03 at 04:10 AM