‘Tis the season to be screamin’, as Screamfest L.A. rolls into the Chinese Theater in Hollywood again with a selection of brand new horror releases that includes not just imminent indies and majors (Tales of Halloween and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension are due out very soon)but also as-yet-undistributed gems, many of which (if festival tradition holds) will get pick-up deals shortly thereafter, some on Screamfest’s own branded home entertainment label.
I’ve been covering the festival for a good decade or so through various different outlets, but this year I’m actually hosting a couple of the post-movie Q&As (note: I opted to do these particular ones only AFTER seeing the relevant films and liking them) so come on out and say hello if you’re in the Los Angeles area. I’ll be the guy in a black T-shirt.
Let’s start by discussing what I’ve seen.
Tales of Halloween
Opening this Friday in theaters and on VOD/iTunes, Tales of Halloween clearly wants the same kind of cult following that Trick ‘r Treat enjoys, though with 11 stories rather than 3, it’s tougher to maintain the same kind of consistency. Employing multiple directors – Saw sequel-meister Darren Lynn Bousman and Dog Soldiers‘ Neil Marshall are the biggest names in the bunch – it moves briskly through multiple tales of evil, supernatural things afoot in one town on Halloween night. From pervy demons next door to vengeful ghosts and a Jason Voorhees wanna-be who runs afoul of a cute clay-animation alien, most are at least mildly amusing, though for my money Lucky McKee’s dissection of an abusive marriage feels the most like a director actually looking at this project as his next full-on film rather than a side-project made for video. That said, Lucky’s an old friend so I could be horribly biased (though I didn’t care for his last co-directed film much, if that means anything), and admittedly it doesn’t fit into the loose “continuity” of the thing as well as many of the other segments, because it is so individual and artfully weird.
The movie’s best in-joke is to cast John Landis as the father of an uncontrollable, insatiable demon who is delighted to have the hellspawn taken off his hands by kidnappers. You might call it “Satire to the Max.”
Anthologies are always tough to pull off smoothly – even the classic Creepshow has some down time – and Tales of Halloween is no different. As a conceptual piece, it could use slightly tighter connective tissue, but as a fun sort of fright flick to watch with friends, it does the job.
The title character in this Turkish import is one mean Mama who could give Pamela Voorhees a run for her money. Disinherited from her family home for reasons that will later become apparent, she refuses to leave, and when the property is rented out anyway, simply murders the real-estate agent and every potential tenant, usually with her sharpened knitting needles.
Enter the latest young couple, one of whom is very pregnant and has very nearly miscarried after a scuffle with her ex. As they realize they are not alone – and even that Naciye is not their only problem – we get to see flashbacks to the wild woman’s origins, which take what has previously felt like a generic slasher into more twisted, pervier territory. Slow to start but unrelenting in climax, the movie never quite allows you the “out” to treat it as escapism, which makes it legitimately horrific before all is slashed and done.
I’ll be moderating the Q&A after Thursday night’s 7:30 p.m. show.
They Look Like People
A bold choice for Screamfest in that it’s only very peripherally what most folks will think of as horror, They Look Like People plays like mumblecore that gradually gets twisted into paranoia like something George Noory or Alex Jones might discuss on late-night radio. And if you have loved ones who are major unironic fans of those gentlemen, you’ll get this right away.
Christian, a New York yuppie who constantly listens to self-esteem speeches on a headset, is trying to become the sort of alpha male who’s unafraid to ask his boss out on a date, but when he finally does, his plans are complicated by the arrival of old friend Wyatt, who wants to crash with him for a couple of days. A date becomes a double date, and a minor accident turns it all into an awkward night at the E.R. We see this progress for a little bit, and you could find yourself wondering if you’re at the wrong festival for a while.
Then Wyatt gets a menacing phone call, reminding him of a war that’s about to begin between humans and infiltrators who have taken human form by infecting the eyes somehow. The voice is disguised, but says it will reveal the true speaker soon, and then they’ll never talk again. Wyatt starts prepping like a survivalist, believing Christian is still unaffected but impossible to trust with this secret. especially since Wyatt is self-aware enough to realize he could just be schizophrenic.
With so many dubious media sources deliberately spreading apocalypse and conspiracy talk nowadays, it’s no stretch to imagine most of the events in this movie actually happening – nor, sadly, for it to be accused of fostering similarly paranoid thoughts. You may not guess the ending as easily as you think, but I will say that it’s an emotionally satisfying one in unexpected ways.
I’ll be conducting the Q&A on Tuesday, after the 7:30 p.m. show.
This would appear to be the same movie that was called The Confines at LAFF – I’m a little bummed to see it overlap, just because that doesn’t usually happen. But it’s good and you should watch it, so I’ll just quote my original review here:
See if this sounds familiar – you are a new night security guard in an empty building, with just one partner. One of you watches the monitors, while the other must patrol. To save power, the lights around the building go on and off in different patterns at strange times, and some monitors may occasionally go bad for no reason, necessitating the throwing of a breaker switch. Plus there are hints of dark misdeeds from once upon a time that involved children, and strange whispering noises in the night.
That’s right, folks. What we basically have here is a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie without the animatronic bear….
Reminiscent of the excellent, underseen Session 9, The Confines expertly blends well-timed jump-scares with an overall creepy atmosphere that loses no power even on the digital screener I was given. With primarily just three characters – Mark Margolis plays a homeless interloper whose name may as well be “Red Herring” – it held my interest throughout. Despite a seemingly silly (and hugely “convenient”) third-act reveal, on a par with the Venus probe in Night of the Living Dead, all is ultimately resolved an reconciled in an emotional ending that’s likely to either move or infuriate you, with no room in between.
After the pagebreak, let’s look at some of the fright flicks I haven’t seen but am excited to…