I was psyched to be able to see two of the programs at Horrorfest New York City 2013—although, I wish I could have seen them all! Here’s the lineup of short films and full-length features I saw.
Daughters is an 8-minute short, directed by Eric Magnusson, about a little girl who is terrified to stay in her room because of the “monkey man.” From dolls seeming to come alive to monsters under the bed, Daughters effectively uses creepy visuals to demonstrate night terrors and the feelings children have about being in bed alone. Visuals are essential here because the director has opted not to include any dialogue; the little that does exist is done silent film style, which really adds to the tone and atmosphere. The film also ends with what appears to be a blatant homage to the young Michael Myers kill seen in the opening of Halloween. But note that there’s something much deeper and more disturbing to this tale of a little girl afraid to stay by herself in her bedroom at night….
Director J. Feeney has a 15-minute box office smash here. The wickedly campy concept of a man-eating grocery cart offers a short that is indeed laugh-out-loud funny but also manages to deliver plenty of tension. With only four characters, this one is tight, with the lead actress setting the stage for a wicked female horror superhero if they should choose to make this into a full-length feature. It’s actually disappointing that it was only 15 minutes long!
How Olin Lost His Eye
This is the one that will fuck you UP. With only a 6-minute running time, director Damian McCarthy wastes no time in getting to the point—how Olin lost his eye. All we know is, there’s a little boy, there’s what looks like a boarded up derelict house, there’s a hole in one of the boards…and there’s something inside the house that Olin is determined to see. Did I mention that this one will fuck you up???
THE FULL-LENGTH FEATURES
I was very skeptical going into Play Dead. This is Todd Robbins’s live “spook show” filmed as a movie. My initial thought was that I’d rather just see something like this when it’s actually live, not recorded. But this filmed performance will make you want to go see Todd live. He makes a magic show out of the macabre. He’s devilishly humorous and morbid, yet incredibly thought provoking about death and the beyond as he uses audience members to perform what appear to be illusions. But are they? We do get to see some of the trickery used on the audience in scenes shot with infrared light (there are actual times when the theater goes completely black so the audience can’t see anything), but there are segments in which Todd Robbins really seems to have his involuntary volunteers from the audience communicate with the dead. Rather than recommend you see this movie, I seriously suggest you just go to his show.
The Bates Haunting
Nope. It’s not a film related to Psycho–despite the cover art that appears to show the Psycho house with Mother standing in the window and a No Vacancy sign out front. I asked the creators in a Q&A after the movie if they were concerned about using such a famous name in the title, and in the end, from what I could tell, they were pretty honest about being fine with tricking people into thinking they were getting a Psycho-related flick as long as the movie got seen. Awesome.
What’s actually going down here is that these filmmakers took a real life haunted attraction run by a family named Bates and built a slasher movie around it—actually filming it at the Bates’s farm and using members of the Bates’s crew. The spooky setting is definitely a highlight of the film.
It takes a while to realize it, but The Bates Haunting is actually a horror comedy. And there are indeed some funny moments in it. There’s also a gay character—although, he doesn’t last long (shocker). One kid is also dressed as a shirtless vampire at the beginning and later, we see half moon during a sex scene in the cornfields.
The lead male is charismatic and funny with one of the best lines in the whole film (concerning his fear of butt sex), while the lead chick sort of takes on a Nancy Drew role. Yep. This feels like a Nancy Drew comedy slasher. See, her friend died at the haunted attraction a year ago and now she’s back to find out why.
There are quirky editing and continuity issues–for instance, in some scenes, the actors appear not to realize the camera is still rolling (it’s like they thought someone yelled cut after they delivered all their dialogue and sort of fall out of character), but several dedicated comic performances and the haunted attraction atmosphere give the film its charm. I could see this one getting plenty of rotation on the Chiller Network or SyFy Network around Halloween time. Even so, my favorite low-budget film about a haunted attraction infiltrated by a real killer is still Scare Zone.
AND THE AWARD GOES TO…
After all the screenings, I stuck around to see Stuart Gordon accept an award for his horror directing achievements. Plus, I had the opportunity to chat with friends to Boys, Bears & Scares Bart Mastronardi (director of Vindication), and Alan Rowe Kelly (prolific indie horror director and actor), who recently teamed up to create the anthology Tales of Poe. Can’t wait to see it!!!