Saturday, February 23, 2013

Nevermore Film Festival Recap (Day Two)

 Welcome back to Cap'n Howdy's coverage of the 14th annual Nevermore Film Festival. Today was a lineup I'd been looking forward to - another collection of short films (from North America this time), a partially "found footage" film about ghosts, and the double feature of a classic (Dawn of the Dead) and a newer film that might end up with its own "cult" following down the line (John Dies at the End).

 The Cap'n started the day with They're Coming to Get You, Barbra!, a selection of ten north American shorts that ran the gamut from scary to funny to darkly whimsical and bizarre. Here's a brief description of each, with accompanying links (they were actually harder to locate online than their foreign counterparts):

 T is for Trash - from what it looks like online, "Trash" began its life as a submission for The ABCs of Death, but I'm glad that Nevermore included it as a short in its own right because it deserves to be seen in its own context. If its possible to call something "a bizarro world take on Boxing Helena," Trash fits that description. When you think you have a rough idea where the story is heading, something very unusual happens, and I have to say I liked it.

 Till Death Do Us Part - a clever horror comedy dealing with a couple having cold feet on their wedding day, exacerbated when their exes show up for the ceremony - as zombies. Did I mention the film is set in 1985? It's not a crucial detail, but it adds to the humor a bit.

 The Stolen - less of a horror movie and more of a dark fairy tale, one that happens to include fairies. A little girl helps a boy after her brother locks him in a cage, and he promises to grant her wish. The final image, while sudden, is effective and unsettling.

 Sandwich Crazy - the first of two short films in the lineup made with the involvement of Hobo with a Shotgun director Jason Eisener, Sandwich Crazy is a twisted Faustian tale about a man with no ambitions, a magic microwave, and talking, bleeding, vegetables. You'll laugh, you'll gag, you'll laugh some more. (Note: the link does not take you to the actual Sandwich Crazy short - I can't find it anywhere online - but another short film that uses some of the same puppets and has a similarly bent sense of humor.)

 Blue Hole - "inspired by a true story," this short is about a lake that the Devil lives in, and if he drags a loved one down, the only way to get them back is with a sacrifice. Three couples learn the hard way that not every bargain is one worth making...

 Take That - is the story of a veteran with an overbearing wife and a friend who wants to make his evening. When he decides to finish up at work, his buddy calls the service anyway, and our hero gets more than he ever wanted to deal with. I wasn't gaga with this film, but it did at least make an effort to keep the protagonist virtuous.

 Torturous - in this twist on "torture porn," a career counselor finds himself in a Hostel-esque room with a "drill" specialist, one not too happy with his job. Can he talk him into a change of career before it's too late? This leans more heavily on the comedy, but there's one impressive gore effect that helps keep the stakes high. The ending is great.

 Klagger - I enjoyed this low key film about a surveyor who walks into a building scheduled for demolition only to discover he's not alone, and the other party isn't interested in talking things over. It has a nice twist at the end and some effectively utilized country music to add to the atmosphere.

 Game - the second Eisener involved short has the edge over Sandwich Crazy for me, only because it takes your expectations of what kind of film you think you're watching and turns it on its head. It shifts from being a straightforward, fairly stark "killbilly" story into something much stranger. I don't want to spoil it, so I hope at some point the short will be available to watch online.

 Lot 66 - returning NC director Robert W. Filion brings us the tale of a man afraid in the dark, alone in his new house. Everything seems to be going well enough until he starts getting messages from a stranger who claims to be wandering around the house... and then the power goes out. It was a little heavy on stylized CGI and the ending reminded me of current events, which contributed to my ambivalence towards the short.


 The second feature for Saturday was The Casebook of Eddie Brewer, a British film that blurs the line between "found footage" and traditionally narrative horror. Eddie Brewer (Ian Brooker) is a paranormal investigator being followed by a film crew for a special on hauntings, and they join him for two major cases: one involving a mother (Bella Hamblin) and her daughter Lucy (Erin Connolly), who have been experiencing phenomena reminiscent of a poltergeist. Eddie suspects that Lucy's "imaginary" friend, Grimaldi, might be responsible, but to what end?

 Eddie is also called into a renovated building being used by the government because of strange sounds coming from a "hole" in the basement, but it becomes clear that the activity isn't limited to that area. Before long, the staff are dealing with an increasingly hostile force, one that has a particular interest in Brewer, and may have something in common with Lucy's "friend."

 Unbeknownst to Brewer, the documentary producer (Natalie Wilson) has arranged for skeptic Dr. Susan Kovac (Louise Paris) and a team of paranormal investigators to join him at the end of the investigation. Brewer, who works alone and with outdated equipment, is infuriated, but the confluence of events involving Lucy and a message that Grimaldi sends the investigator leave him no choice but to join the rest for a wild night of paranormal activity.

 I was rather impressed with The Casebook of Eddie Brewer, which alternates between the footage being shot by an unseen cameraman (director Andrew Spencer) and a third person, omniscient perspective. Appropriate to the narrative, the bulk of actual "ghost"-related events happen when the documentary camera isn't on, bolstering the case for Kovacs and increasing the doubts of the crew that anything is actually happening, even as it becomes clear to the audience that something horrible is afoot. It takes a moment to adjust because both styles use the same camera, but Spencer is careful to mark points in the film when it's clear which perspective we're watching from.

 The way that the two investigations dovetail is also handled in a clever way, if not one that is always clear near the end. When Casebook goes all out, beginning with the arrival of a psychic medium, Spencer manages to keep the various narrative threads and suddenly swollen cast together in a sensible way, and the imagery is chilling without being too outlandish for the limited scope of the story. Of the two feature films I hadn't seen prior to coming into Nevermore, I'd say that The Casebook of Eddie Brewer was my favorite.


 After returning to the lobby for a snack and to meet up with friends for the double feature, I settled down in Fletcher Hall to see George Romero's Dawn of the Dead on the big screen for the first time. I'd seen it at home and in classrooms and at parties, but I've never seen it in a theatre, and it turns out that's because it's not an easy thing to do for festival programmers. Producer Richard Rubinstein has, until recently, fiercely resisted Dawn of the Dead being show, but he finally agreed and Nevermore's most requested vintage horror film was ours for the viewing.

 I don't want to say much more about Dawn of the Dead because I've written about the film before here in the Blogorium, but I'd like to share something curious that happened when I saw this with a large audience.

 Dawn of the Dead is, perhaps, the best "zombie" movie in the sometimes cluttered subgenre, even if I prefer Night of the Living Dead. It's a close first and second, but while I side with the stark simplicity of the first film, Dawn of the Dead is continually rewarding with repeated viewings, as without fail I find something I'd never noticed. And this time it wasn't even the "neglige" zombie (and geez, she must have been cold)* - no, this time I was exposed to a different side of the humor inherent in Dawn of the Dead.

 Having seen it in small groups and in academic settings, I was used to what I thought were the bulk of the "jokes" in Dawn of the Dead, many centered around consumerism and the juxtaposition between commercialism and the undead. What surprised me more were the periods when the audience, in unison, reacted to scenes I had always read as somber or bleak with laughter. For example, when Roger and Peter are discussing Fran's pregnancy and the possibility of ending it (while Fran is in another room), the audience began laughing, and laughed even harder when Romero cut to Gaylen Ross' reaction shot as she overhears them. I had never considered the moment funny, but the inherent comedy in that uncomfortable conversation opened my eyes to yet another reading of the film. Perhaps Dawn of the Dead is even more intentionally comedic than I had thought.

 You're not going to go wrong watching this movie with a large group of strangers, especially ones not familiar with the gruesome Tom Savini-created special effects. If you can see Dawn of the Dead in a theatre, if that opportunity ever presents itself, I highly recommending doing so.


  The final film of Day Two, and the second part of the double feature, was the festival's debut of Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End. Several years ago, they included Bubba Ho-Tep in their programming, so audiences were looking forward to seeing what the director of Phantasm had in store for us after ten long years (I'm counting John's debut on VOD as its release date, because I saw it in December of 2012).

 I wrote about the film briefly during my 2012 recap, and finally had the chance to see it with a crowd equally composed of folks who had and had not read the David Wong-penned novel the film is adapted from. Unfortunately, I didn't get to talk to many people who hadn't read the book after the film ended, but everybody seemed to enjoy the alternately disgusting and hilarious story of two slackers who save the world from an alternate universe's resident demon, Korrok.

  What I didn't mention last time was the inspired casting of Paul Giamatti as Arnie and Clancy Brown as Doctor Marconi, who along with Chase Williamson's David and Rob Mayes' John keep the film moving at a brisk pace. I also enjoyed the cameos by Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck, and especially the Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm, whose character hints at a set of antagonists dropped from the story during the adaptation from novel to screen. I'm still sad that Fred Durst isn't in the film.

 As I mentioned to friends after the film was over, given some of the changes and the relatively low budget of John Dies at the End (he doesn't, by the way. SPOILER), I can't imagine how This Book is Full of Spiders (Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It!) could ever happen, but I'd welcome it. And I'd watch it. The continued adventures of Dave, John, and Amy in the demonic cesspool that is Undisclosed** are something I look forward to more of, whether on paper or the big screen.

 By the way, if you want to see John Dies at the End now, it's available On Demand. If you're thinking of just pirating the film, David Wong has a special warning for you:


 This ends my coverage of the Nevermore Film Festival, but if I can cajole some of the good folks I attended with to add reviews of some of the movies I didn't see (Found, Dead Weight, the long-form shorts), I'll put them up some time soon. It was a great time with lots of fans of horror, and I'm looking forward to the 15th anniversary next year!

 * Seen easily in the parking lot when Fran is watching Peter and Stephen move trucks in front of the entrances, and again later in the film.
** By the way, it's not "Undisclosed" in the movie - it's identified as Sherwood, Illinois.

No comments: