This past weekend Cap'n Howdy had the distinct pleasure of attending the 13th annual Nevermore Film Festival in Durham, NC. How it was I made it thirteen years without knowing this festival existed, twelve of which I lived less than an hour away, I do not know. I've been to downtown Durham - although never to its Carolina Theatre - numerous times, and while I was vaguely aware of a horror film festival that happened there, I could have sworn it was in the fall. Either way, I'm happy to report that I did make it this year and it was chock full of pleasant surprises.
I'm going to focus this article on the short film collections (They're Coming to Get You, Barbara! and Pandora and That Damned Box) from Saturday and provide reviews for the features I saw on Friday later this week. For those curious, I saw Absentia (a great low-budget horror film / fairy-tale), Some Guy Who Kills People (a loopy black comedy along the lines of Heathers) and The Whisperer in Darkness (an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation from the creative team behind 2005's The Call of Cthulhu). I've previously covered Ti West's The Inkeepers and Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps*, and didn't see Marathon Man or the double feature for Rosemary's Baby and The Sentinel. Uwe Boll's producer credit kept me away from Eaters, although the buzz around it was that it was silly, though not "good."
While I didn't catch Wrath of the Foreign Invaders, the third collection of short films, I will try to track down those films online (either from their websites, YouTube, Vimeo, or anywhere they might be uploaded). They're Coming to Get You, Barbara! was a collection of short films anywhere from 6 to 15 minute running times, and Pandora and That Damned Box contained longer shorts, usually around twenty minutes. All of the films are worth checking out, and even the ones that didn't knock me off my feet are worth locating. Let's take a look at the Barbara lineup:
Carpool - an entry from the 48 Hour Film Festival about a young woman pushed too far by her obnoxious boss, and then anyone else who gets in the way of her car. Very short, but mines a lot of humor as the violence increases. Carpool was one shot away from being a classic, and while I can totally understand the impossibility of getting that shot, it missed living up to its title by just a smidge.
Devilling - a disturbing short film about a mortician with an unhealthy obsession, but not with the dead. No, it's much more unnerving than that, with an ending that left the audience silent. Very creepy, very dark, and very well made.
Incubator - remember the urban legend about waking up in a bathtub with your kidney missing? This film deals with a different scenario, one that pushes the term "body horror" into uncomfortable territory, to say the least. This was by far the most viscerally extreme film I saw, and while I'd love to find it, I'm not sure how excited I am to watch it. Great special effects, great sound design, and it ends exactly when it needs to.
Flush with Fear - if you ever thought to yourself, "they can't possibly find a way to make a demonic toilet work," the makers of Flush with Fear respectfully disagree. With clever homages to H.P. Lovecraft and Sam Raimi, it manages to be simultaneously funny and creepy. Believe me, you'll be hesitant to read any bathroom stall graffiti after Flush with Fear.
The House of the Yaga - told entirely using narration over paintings, this short film tells the Baba Yaga story in a way you haven't heard it before. It's a haunting take on the fable, and its execution is novel and really quite cool to watch.
Psycho Therapy - I only didn't love this because it seemed like this film was going to go one of two ways, and it did. It didn't go the way I was expecting, and the second half of the short is firing on all cylinders (it's a fantastic mini-slasher and the actors really sell the ending), so I enjoyed it. The beginning takes a while to get where it's going, but once the patient heads home things improve dramatically.
Dummy - is this the tale of a ventriloquist dummy that has a mind of its own? Is it the story of a blowhard director's inability to make anything work in a film about a ventriloquist dummy with a mind of its own? Or is it both? Played strictly for laughs, Dummy has a few out-of-left-field touches that had me chuckling all the way to its chainsaw-wielding conclusion. I'd love to put a link up for it, but I can't any links to it anywhere. It isn't even mentioned on the producer / director's IMDB page. Sorry.
Desert Road Kill - a film about a family who pick up a hitch-hiker in the middle of the desert who may or may not be a killer suffered (for me) because it was apparent that the film had a twist and what the twist was. Like Psycho Therapy, it's saved largely because of its novel approach to the ending, which extends into the credits. It made the experience more palatable, although to be honest you're going to be less likely to see where things are going unless you watch TONS of horror movies. That's going to improve the experience overall, I'd say.
Pandora and That Damned Box is comprised of four shorts, all of which you should find. Two of them are fantastic, and the other two are effective, if imperfect. Let's take a look, shall we?
Worm - the film is told almost entirely by the interior monologue of a high school teacher who is considerably more disturbed than we think. As the story rolls along, we move further into depths of his psychosis, his desires, and eventually, what he keeps in his briefcase. It's climax and denouement don't quite live up to the build and the tension built preceding it, and there was a general sense in the audience of being underwhelmed. It's a shame, because the ending, while appropriate and (probably) more realistic, doesn't deliver on the promise of the rest of Worm.
Impostor - I really liked Imposter when I didn't know where it was going. It's very unclear based on the poster what the short film is about, and for a while the character study of a man who wants to be anywhere and anyone other than who he is is promising. Then his identical twin brother arrives to stay with him, and then things become crystal clear. The hapless hero has a crush on his neighbor, and his brother immediately hits it off with her. When the Lothario twin runs afoul of a waitress' boyfriend and ends up in the hospital, Imposter becomes an episode of Tales from the Crypt with a twist that has a lot in common with Dexter. It's all very well done, and the cinematography and performances are great, but I just couldn't quite get behind it.
Enter the Dark - Okay, the producers who keep making Paranormal Activity films need to watch this short film. Enter the Dark is an eerily effective variant on "found footage" movies, alternating between an objective third-person camera and the night vision on a camcorder. A guy at his wits end invites a friend over to help him confront the "spirit" terrorizing his apartment, and the skeptical buddy quickly becomes a believer when coincidences make a turn to deliberate messages from something else in the apartment. Everything about Enter the Dark works: the tension, the spooky messages, the slow build, and the final, haunting ending with a well-earned "jump" scare. This would have been my favorite film of Nevermore entirely, had it not been for the next short...
The Headless Lover - holy crap! I mean, just wow! This short from Denmark, the first of a series for The Book of Horror, is a Tales from the Crypt inspired slice of horror comedy. While the site specifically mentions Crypt, I'd say that The Headless Lover, a twisted tale of infidelity, lounge singing, burlesque dancing, and the need to, um, "finish," is more in the vein of Creepshow. There are specific shots and effects in the short that reminded me a LOT of Creepshow, and if this is any indication of where The Book of Horror is headed, that's a welcome comparison. Alternately gross, hilarious, and extremely violent, the twisted narrative and cartoony effects are a winner from beginning to end. I HIGHLY recommend you click on the link and watch the film (subtitles are included).
So that covers the short films, which are the kind of discoveries you can only make at festivals (I can attest that it is NOT easy to find these films online, even with direct searches). It's one of the reasons I was so gung-ho to see those particular collections. I'd also like to mention that vintage commercials that played between films in the Carolina Theatre, ranging from toy ads for robots to Carnation Instant Breakfast spots that promised "as much nutrition as two strips of bacon." It's given me many ideas for ways to augment the Horror and Summerfest experience, and I look forward to putting them into practice this summer.
* Okay, that doesn't really count. I'll rectify that soon.