The organisers of the A Night of Horror (ANOH) Film Festival know when they are on to a good thing. Since it debuted five years ago as a one-night event (hence the name), it has expanded but maintained a policy of programming current shorts and features. This year, for example, the world of the mythical snuff film is explored in Jorje Krippe's #12; a strand of hardcore shorts carries the banner 'Crazy Mofos'. Audiences keep responding, despite detractors who point to the lack of non-English content (15 features are programmed but the only wholly-international entrant is Chile's Descendents; a mere 8 of the 70 shorts are foreign language) and bemoan the absence of the genre's buzz titles. (Where is Hélène Cattet's and Bruno Forzani's Amer, Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film, Quentin Dupieux's Rubber or André Øvredal The Troll Hunter?) Regardless, tickets to the 2011 opening night screening of Carlo Ledesma's Australian thriller The Tunnel sold out in half a day. Also premiering this year is the festival's first 3D title, Eric Valette's US/German co-production Hybrid; complementing the screenings will be a 'Screenwriting for Horror' Forum.
Here's a rundown of the films on offer:
Director: Scooter Downey
Starring: Sean Elliott, Lance Henriksen
B-movie icon Lance Henriksen (The Terminator, Aliens) adds considerable gravitas to writer/director Scooter Downey's movie trope mash-up, a combination of psychological horror, father-son melodrama and the monster movie. An earnest lead performance by Sean Elliott as 'October' (a ridiculous name that hints at the pretentious nature of the production) and slow-motion, sunlit flashback sequences that resemble shampoo commercials almost derail a film that sets the tone for some genuine scares that it only occasionally delivers.
Gore-o-meter: A putrid leg amputation rates highly, but torture scenes filmed in sepia are unconvincing; the creature reveal is effective.
The Last Lovecraft: The Relic of Cthulhu (2009)
Director: Henry Saine
Starring: Kyle Davis, Devin McGinn, Matt Bauer
Milking its carefree self-awareness for maximum laughs and utilising wonderfully old-school monster makeup (guy in killer fish mask and scaly wetsuit? Check!), Henry Saine's crimson splattered homage to the maestro of the macabre, H.P. Lovecraft, is a tonne of fun. The current crop of low-budget horror filmmakers who take themselves very seriously should be made to watch Cthulhu (pronounced 'K-thoo-loo'). Its mix of Bill & Ted-style buddy banter and the Roger Corman produced Humanoids From The Deep (1980) makes for a crisp, crackling 79 minutes. Barak Hardley as tubby geek-warrior Paul steals every scene he's in.
Gore-o-meter: Mostly implied, Saine favours the after effects rather than the actual act; a fish-monster's devouring of a cadaverous offering is pretty icky.
Director: David Blyth
Starring: Kate O'Rourke, Te Kaea Beri, Campbell Cooley
A cinematic sledgehammer that bludgeons through the grief-stricken, psycho-sexually fuelled insanity of the abused and maladjusted, David Blyth's brazenly sick, self-indulgent work of surrealism will prove insurmountable for all but the most open-minded horror-philes. It begs for a debate on the very nature of cinema: As the submissive victim of an S&M-obsessed dominator, does the actress become the character? Blyth's exploration of mental illness and mortality is horrible, incomprehensible, challenging and ultimately compelling. Veteran British cage-rattler Ken Russell calls it “a masterpiece!” Me? I'm not so sure.
Gore-o-meter: Off the scale. It features castration, the imbibing of urine and menstrual blood, eye-gouging, and a bondage-themed birthing scene... shall I go on?
Midnight Son (2011)
Director: Scott Leberecht
Starring: Zak Kilberg, Maya Parish
Writer/director Scott Leberecht's absorbing debut is a smouldering vampire coming-of-age love story steeped in hipster style and underground indie coolness, and digitally shot to capture LA's darkest corners (ala Michael Mann's Collateral), Driven by star-in-the-making lead Zak Kilberg (his 'Jacob', a bloodsucking Romeo to Maya Parish's Juliet-like 'Mary', will connect with displaced 20-something guys and swooning girls in equal measure), Midnight Son is a sad, scary, superb piece of low-budget filmmaking. Character actor Tracey Walter makes a welcome big-screen appearance.
Gore-o-meter: “I burn really easily,” says Jacob. He's not kidding – sun-ravaged vampires aren't pretty; a shut-in kept alive for 'milking' is gross; a great final image is deeply romantic but horribly bloody.
Absentia (2011, pictured)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine
Two beautifully empathetic central performances and a premise that becomes freakier as the film progresses allows for Mike Flanagan to dig deeper into the mythology of suburban folklore that he explored in 2003's Ghosts of Hamilton Street. Absentia is a captivating mystery and, at key moments, a terrifying thriller. But audiences had no right to expect such an emotion-charged payoff; this reviewer certainly didn't (sniff). You've got to think back to 1999, when a little boy wept because he could see dead people, for the last supernatural chiller to so effectively engage its audience.
Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009)
Directors: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Starring Rikki Gagne, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Despite an opening tracking shot that would make Brian De Palma proud, the Soska sister's grindhouse ode aims for attitude and small town grittiness (it was filmed in Vancouver) but skimps on scripting and consistent acting. Scenes run too long (many appear improvised) and are pitched so high, one begins to envy the titular callgirl (played with ...Bernie-esque aplomb by Tasha Moth). It earns points as an exploitationer that would've played well to stoned drive-in patrons in the early '70s, but amounts to little more than lots of energetic shrieking and heavy make-up.
Gore-o-meter: A hotel room bloodbath sets the tone: innards splayed by a machete, lots of point-blank bullet hits, some chainsaw action; one girl's eye pops out.
Descendents (aka Solos, 2008)
Director: Jorge Olguín
Starring: Karina Pizarro, Cristobal Barra, Patricia López
Though some stylistic choices grate (orange-filter skies are so 1985!), Jorge Olguin's fantasy-horror hybrid is the festival's most politically-charged entrant. The innocents-in-a-warzone plot reflects the volatile history of its homeland, Chile. As George Romero would attest, zombie-like hordes provide metaphorical potency when paired with a smart script and thoughtful direction. Its detailed production design looks stunning through Juan Carpintero's monochromatic lensing; the credit sequence is an inspired collage of children's drawings and a little girl's wise narration; ambitious special effects are mostly effective.
Gore-o-meter: With a cast full of child actors, one hopes the undead rampages and squib-bag hits were filmed succinctly because there are lots of both.
Blood Junkie (2010)
Director: Drew Rosas
Starring: Nick Sommer, Mike Johnson, Sarah Luther
The campground sex-and-slasher shockers of the 1980s are comically re-enacted in Drew Rosas' send-up, though its leisurely-pacing and dopey dialogue may adhere too closely to the genre for today's audiences. After an effectively creepy opening, a good 45 of the film's 75 minutes passes before anything remotely scary pops up again. Satirising the production values, music and fashion of the period is akin to shooting fish in a barrel, but it's done well; the twist ending and subversive message delivers, though it's all a bit one-note. It's a product of the infamous Troma Studios (The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke 'Em High), which begs the question – why no retrospective?
Gore-o-meter: A final 10-minute onslaught of major ickiness – throat-cutting, skull-smashing, entrail-extracting – will appease some, but it's a long time coming.
Read an Interview with the filmmakers of The Tunnel here