Frightfest 2006 - 10/28

Halloween, as stated before, is my favorite time of year – where, for a whole month, it seems like the entire world seems to share my interest in horror. There’s ghoulish delights on display in store windows, TV sitcoms crank out Halloween-themed shows, and there’s a massive deluge of horror flicks on just about every channel on the tube, with some – movie channels of both the premium and basic cable/dish variety – showing non-stop marathons. Having seen most of these already, there’s something comforting in visiting them again – almost like catching up with old friends you haven’t seen in a while. This past week, AMC has been running their annual “Monsterfest”, during which I was able to catch a number of the old classics and their sequels (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, etc), as well as the flicks I grew up on (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Child’s Play and Hellraiser).

For me, the actual day of Halloween usually involves working a full shift then going home to camp out in the living room with Satanica as we await the parade of trick or treaters. The actual Halloween horror-rama in our household actually takes place on the Saturday before Halloween at our annual Frightfest horror movie marathon & costume party!

This year, Satanica went all out with the food goodies – we had Monster Toes (cocktail weenies wrapped in tortilla shells), Worms on a Bun (sliced hot dogs), Deviled Eyeballs (devilled eggs), and Candy-Corn Colored Cheese Pizza. This year, we went all out on our costumes, applying liberal amount of spray-paint, blood and latex to transform ourselves into run-over construction workers. Our guests began to arrive in their own costumed concoctions – Star Wars Geek, Escaped Mental Patient, the Highlander Connor McLeod, Clark Kent aka Superman, Crack Whore, and Starbucks Girl!

After a round of refreshment we kicked off the show with a group of trailers for vintage Peter Cushing movies, including: Hammer’s version of The Mummy, The Beast Must Die, Corruption, The Vampire Lovers and Dracula A.D. 1972. Then, it was off to the races with our first short film of the night, Mario Bava’s “The Drop of Water”, the final segment from his 1964 feature Black Sabbath. Made in Italy but shot in English, Black Sabbath was imported to the United States by Roger Corman’s American International Pictures which made some edits and switched the order of the stories. Thus, the only cut that has been made available on DVD is the version for purists – the complete Italian cut, which, unfortunately, is dubbed in Italian. “The Drop of Water” begins, appropriately enough, on a dark and stormy night when a hospice nurse Helen (Jacqueline Pierreux) is summoned to the home of an old crone who has passed away. The maid is spooked, as her mistress was conducting a séance at the time of her death and died while in a trace – and now the old woman’s face is frozen in a contorted grimace. While cleaning the body, Helen steals an ornate ring worn by the dead woman and is soon haunted by an amplified sound of dripping water… and eventually haunted by even worse.

Bava’s trademark style is ever present in the piece, utilizing his penchant for bathing shots in primary colors to the hilt. The wax dummy used for the specter of the old woman is truly spooky, an image that will stay with the viewer long after the film has finished.

Our first feature of the night was Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, a very American take on the vampire genre that unfortunately opened shortly after the big budget, glossier The Lost Boys had sated audiences thirst for bloodsuckers in the summer of 1987. Near Dark tells the story of Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), a farm hand in modern day Oklahoma, who becomes infatuated with pretty interloper Mae (Jenny Wright) and soon finds himself in a tough spot after necking with her gets him a bite on his neck and a serious allergy to sunlight. Roasting in the early dawn sunlight, Caleb is abducted by Mae’s traveling companions into their dark Winnebago. It is here that we are introduced to the story’s vampire clan: Severen (Bill Paxton), the most frighteningly out of control member of the group; Homer (Joshua Miller), a vampire of indeterminate age trapped in the body of a 13-year old boy (most likely inspired by the Claudia character of Anne Rice’s vampire novels); Diamondback (Jeanette Goldstein), the bleach-blonde mother figure; and the taciturn and intimidating Jesse (Lance Henriksen), the leader of the group. As one review at the time pointed out, you can practically smell this grimy group as they travel across the dusty back roads in search of victims, stealing cars, and bunking in flea-bag motels.

Caleb is given one week to make his first kill, under Mae’s tutelage; he alternately tries to flee from and join the “family” as the story develops. Director Bigelow, then the wife of James Cameron (from whom she borrowed three of the cast members of Aliens – Henriksen, Goldstein and Paxton), stages some exciting set pieces, including a showstopper as the group brutally terrorizes a roadhouse bar and another involving a shoot-out with the cops.

What makes Near Dark stand out from the pantheon of vampire movies that have come before or since is its grafting of distinctly American iconography onto the genre, while it jettisons many of the trappings associated with the European mythology, save that these characters drink blood, have superhuman strength, an aversion to sunlight and an indefinite life span. The only comparison that springs immediately to mind is the vampire Western Curse of the Undead (1959) about an undead gunslinger terrorizing a small town – but that film drew more from Spanish mythology and Catholicism to fuel its vampire mythos. Recently, the 2001 film The Forsaken revisited some of the themes established first in Near Dark, with its pack of 20-something fangless vampires and vampire hunters prowling the dusty Southwest.

Kathryn Bigelow went on to direct the Jamie Lee Curtis-starrer Blue Steel, the Keanu Reeves / Patrick Swayze surfing actioner Point Break, the James Cameron-scripted Strange Days, and most recently K-19: The Widowmaker. Bill Paxton went on to become a leading man in movies like Twister and Mighty Joe Young, but when he finally got his chance to direct, he went back to the horror genre with the excellent Frailty. Lance Henriksen is no stranger to the genre, either – having starred in the underrated Pumpkinhead, Aliens and Alien 3, served time on X-Files’ creator Chris Carter’s cousin show Millennium, Scream 3, Mimic: Sentinel, AvP: Alien vs Predator, and hundreds of other cheap-ass made for video or cable TV flicks.

Between movies we took a break to head upstairs as Baygean gathered everyone together for photographs, both as a group and individually, for a project in her digital imaging class.

Afterwards, we soldiered back to the basement for 15 minutes of black and white trailers for all the old Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolf Man flicks, segueing into our second short film of the night, the Satanic Brazillian subject Amor So de Mae (Love From Mother Only). According to director Dennison Ramalho the script was co-written by an actual voodoo priest who is currently serving time in prison for murder! The film introduces us to Filho (Everaldo Pontes), a middle aged man who burns with lust for local witch Formosa (Debora Muniz – a porn star who spends much of her screen time here nude). After a graphic sex scene in the woods, Formosa explains that she is leaving their small town since Filho won’t commit to her, instead choosing to live with his aging mother. After cavorting nakedly with two guys in her satanic-symbol decorated shack, Formosa becomes possessed in a striking scene in which she slices her own tongue and demands Filho depart and murder his mother. Possessed by the demon himself, Filho sets off to carry out the gruesome deed.

More than any film of the past thirty years, Ramalho’s film evokes a suffocating atmosphere of true satanic evil. Recent Hollywood attempts at bringing the Devil back into main stream horror films, such as End of Days and Lost Souls, look laughable in comparison. Here, Ramalho runs his film in reverse, inserts subliminal cuts, and utilizes a spectacular sound design to maximum effect. Highly recommended, but not for the squeamish. Amor So de Mae is available on Synapse Film’s Small Gauge Trauma disc.

Our next feature film was the London Underground thriller Creep. The U.K. has a great history of horror, tracing its lineage back to the heyday of the Hammer and Amicus film studios in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and classics like the original Wicker Man. Creep was produced in 2004 during the first wave of Britain’s new horror renaissance, which included Shaun of the Dead, Dog Soldiers and My Little Eye. Director Christopher Smith wisely chose to exploit the London Underground subway system as a setting for his subterranean horror tale, the setting being utilized previously in Gary Sherman’s Death Line (aka Raw Meat) and for a memorable sequence in John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London.

Party girl Kate (Franka Potente) heads off on a quest to shag a visiting George Clooney and passes out on the subway platform, missing the last train. When she awakens, she finds the station abandoned. An attempted rape is interrupted when her attacker is ruthlessly yanked into the tunnel by a superhuman assailant. Thus begins a night of horror as Kate, along with homeless tunnel dwellers Jimmy (Paul Rattray) and Mandy (Kelly Scott), discover the true nature of the thing that lives in the labyrinthine darkness.

Creep is a well executed monster movie, albeit with a more human monster than one hopes for after the build-up (this fellow - bald and pale, with an inhuman screech – is a left over medical experiment). There is at least one gratuitous and supremely uncomfortable scene of torture/surgery amidst the liberal amount of carnage, all orchestrated beneath an oppressive industrial score composed by The Insects (whom I misidentified in an earlier post as having scored the French slasher High Tension). Potente has the difficult task of shouldering the entire film as she appears in virtually every scene, and plays a bitchy character to boot. Once she’s on the run from the Creep, however, we empathize with her plight on a purely survival level.

Director Smith went on to direct the horror comedy Severance which is due out next year. Leading lady Potente turned heads in Run Lola Run and the German horror film Anatomy and its sequel before migrating to Hollywood thrillers like Blow and the two Bourne Identity/Supremacy films. Co-star Vas Blackwood, who plays a doomed sanitation worker, may be recognizable to viewers as the head gangster of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Moving toward the final movie of the marathon, we entered into another trailer block / smoke break, this one consisting of trailers for Tombs of the Blind Dead, Visiting Hours, Bad Dreams, and Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 (“It’s garbage day!” – classic) before showing a fun 80’s episode of Steven Spielberg’s television series Amazing Stories, called "Mummy Daddy". The production value of all of the Amazing Stories are high, and the series was notable for attracting directors such as Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Robert Zemeckis, but the quality of the stories varied wildly from week to week. Modeled after comics and pulp magazines of the 50’s, the stories fit within no set genre – some could be sci-fi, some fantasy, some drama, some horror. For Halloween in 1985, the series aired this episode, one of the best of its entire run.

In the Louisiana bayou a movie crew is shooting a mummy movie based on a local legend of Ra Amen Ka, a supposedly real mummy that terrorized the town in the 1920’s. Lead actor Harold (Tom Harrison) learns that his pregnant wife is about to give birth in a nearby town, and takes off – forgetting he’s in full mummy makeup – to meet her. Needless to say, in a town full of rednecks (populated by great character actors like Bryon James and Tracey Walter), trouble ensues every step of the way. Ultimately, Harold stumbles upon a blind old man deep in the woods who guards the coffin of the real Ra Amen Ka… who is still very much alive.

The episode, directed by William Dear (Angels in the Outfield), is light on the horror and heavy on the fun, fast paced and energetic as it pays homage to monster movies of old while providing new chills. The whole story is inspired by a true life incident that happened while Boris Karloff was shooting Ghost of Frankenstein, where he allegedly rushed off to the hospital for the birth of his child while in full monster makeup.

For the last movie of the night we went with Feast, the film whose production was chronicled in the third season of Project Greenlight, the reality/competition program conceived and overseen by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. After two seasons produced forgettable indie films Stolen Summer and The Battle of Shaker Heights, the PG people decided to get into horror in order to make the show viable, and to that end enlisted the participation of Wes Craven to contribute to the selection of the script and director. Satanica and I were fortunate enough to see a rough cut of the film last year at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and we waited a full year to discover what would become of the film. After a brief one weekend theatrical run (consisting only of midnight showings) this past September, the film made its DVD debut just in time for Halloween.

Feast takes its cues from past films such as Rio Bravo, Assault on Precinct 13 and From Dusk Till Dawn, trapping a group of strangers in a bar defending themselves from a monster attack. In this case, the monsters are big, ugly sumbitches who appear out of the desert without warning, wearing animal skins for disguise (setting up the final act reveal of the makeup department’s Alien-inspired work), and humping anything they come in contact with… that’s right, these are some horny monsters. When one of their number is killed, they simply get it on in the parking lot and make another.

This may give you an insight to the general overall tone of the movie. Feast is a fast paced, tongue in cheek flick that wants to be the next Evil Dead or Dead Alive. It splashes gore around like the stuff is going out of style, but it tries too desperately for laughs for its jokes to always hit the mark.

The bar is populated by familiar faces such as Balthazar Getty (Lost Highway), Krista Allen (a host of direct to video Emmanuel movies, Baywatch: Hawaii), punk rocker Henry Rollins (Heat, Bad Boys II), and Clu Gulager (Return of the Living Dead, also the director’s father), with a brief appearance from Affleck/Damon friend Jason Mewes (of Jay & Silent Bob fame).

The thing that struck me the most about Feast (aside from its obviously well-below-the-Hollywood-norm budget) is its willingness to exploit and explode just about every genre cliché. Aside from giving Feast its humor and freshness, this also adds an air of unpredictability, as we are never sure which characters will survive the night. The performances are good and the film is good at what it does. An unfortunate side effect of its high energy, low calorie design is that the film becomes ephemeral as soon as it’s over. Twice now I’ve seen it, once at Fantastic Fest (the fourth feature in one day) and now here at my own Frightfest (the third feature in a marathon), and I have trouble recalling the specifics about it the next day. Very few moments linger afterwards, with the exception maybe of the little beast humping the mounted deer head, Judah Friedlander’s slimy decomposition, the reveal of the toothy monster, and Krista Allen’s rage-fuelled 4,000 blows.

When our Frightfest guests arrived I handed out answer sheets for this year’s Frightfest Trivia Game. Usually the trivia questions are derived from the movies themselves, but since last year either the questions were easy or everyone was really sharp, I decided to try a different tact this year. This year, the trivia game covered the entire 5 year run of Frightfests, asking questions dating back to the first Frightfest in 2001.

The questions are as follows:

What was the name of the ghost in Ring/Ringu?
How many movies, shown at Frightfest, have had remakes in the past 5 years?
What was the name of May's doll?
True or false - in Amityville 3-D the house is haunted because it's built on an Indian burial ground?
Aside from The Beyond, what other Frightfest feature was directed by Lucio Fulci?
Name the two heavy metal rockers who appear in Trick or Treat?
Re-Animator's score sounds suspiciously like the score to which classic horror movie?
Name the chemical which brings the dead to life in The Return of the Living Dead.
Give the first names of the two sisters from Ginger Snaps.
King Kong & Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson directed which Frightfest feature?
All of the following are characters from The Hills Have Eyes except: Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Ruby, Pluto.

Unfortunately, our guests have both bad memories and obviously don’t read this blog and it was an unmitigated disaster. We did have prizes for the top three winners though – Crack Whore won a plush Frankenstein that sang ‘Monster Mash’ when squeezed for 3rd place; Star Wars Geek won posters of Saw III, Bug and Cemetery Man for 2nd; and Clark Kent aka Superman won a Zombie Infestation Survival Kit for 1st place.

As is the Frightfest tradition, we handed out Frightfest-brand CDs for all those who saw the marathon and survived. For posterity, the 2006 lineup consisted of:

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Excerpt) – Johann Sebastian Bach
Cry Little Sister (Theme from The Lost Boys) – Gerald McMann
Deception - The Cruxshadows

Little Red Riding Hood - Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs
I Walked with a Zombie - Wednesday 13
Christina Death - The 69 Eyes
All My Lovers - Black Tape for a Blue Girl
Drool (Mother) - Switchblade Symphony
Hell - Squirrel Nut Zippers
Bloodletting (The Vampire Song) - Concrete Blonde
Boris the Spider - The Who
Libera Me (from Interview with the Vampire) - Elliot Goldenthal
Nymphetamine - Cradle of Filth
Halloween - Siouxsie and the Banshees
Black Magic Woman - Santana
Twilight Zone - Golden Earring
Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Boogeyman - Henry Hall