I planned to go to the Phoenix Film Festival/International Horror Film Festival last year. As mentioned in 2012 I love film and what better way to spend a weekend than watching movies? It was an awesome time the year before and I assume it would have been just as great the second time around.
Then tragedy struck.
Nobody from my family died. Nor did I suffer a horrific injury of my own. No I had to go to the Bass Pro headquarters in Springfield, MO for work. Or as I like to call it, Hell. No matter how many overpriced Jack & Cokes I had it is an awful experience I legitimately dread every year. That won’t be happening this year though. As soon as I could I figured out the schedule, got my tickets, and am ready to kick ass all over again. And by kick ass I mean sit on my ass to watch movies. So without further adieu let’s take a look at the 2014 Phoenix Film Festival-International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival.
I think I mentioned it before but I think horror-comedy is one of the toughest things to perfect. Not only do people seem to lean on the comedy too much but it also seems to be an overly saturated market. Unfortunately The Shower seems to follow this. It’s the story of a group of friends and colleagues getting together for a baby shower when a zombie apocalypse starts. While I dig the concept I can’t say it delivers. Not that it’s bad just that it’s fairly bland and uninventive. Despite some good jokes sprinkled throughout I didn’t think it was particularly funny or creative. Instead of getting creative with something like zombie children or zombie babies it relied on some fairly old zombie apocalypse jokes that felt done years ago. Shame because there are some decent effects for an indie feature. In a world where Dance of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead exist this just didn’t deliver in an already crowded subgenre.
Starring, written and directed by Clark Gregg (Coulson from Agents of SHIELD) this is a pretty follow up to the Chuck Palahniuk adaption Choke. Gregg stars as Howard, a former child star and failing child talent agent. After discovering the extremely talented Lydia he becomes her agent but things aren’t as they seem. What stood out most was how great the cast is. Knowing Gregg from the Marvel movies I was surprised how good he is at comedy and drama. Sam Rockwell is criminally underused as the scummy rival agent Aldo. If I have any problems it would be the symbolism throughout. I found it to be a bit on the nose and just wasn’t a fan. Regardless it was a good movie that is totally worth your time.
Dust of War
First and foremost, South Dakota has deserts. I don’t know why but this blows my mind but it does. Oh and the movie was alright. After an alien invasion the world is left in shambles. But there is a mysterious girl with… something that could turn the tide and save the world. It is up to two bounty hunters to protect her. So yeah it was kind of a hodge podge of tropes which is probably the worst thing about the movie. I also found that the action scenes, particularly those on the road, to be particularly choppy. I realize hand held cameras have to be used but it was still bothersome. The biggest star of the movie was the location. Again I was surprised how great the deserts of South Dakota made for a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I also thought the acting was fine throughout. Afterwards the lead who appeared at the screening mentioned that a Syfy TV series was being worked on and this seemed like the perfect fit for me.
The Morningside Monster
Alright so let’s get this over with. Small town, slasher killer, corny looking symbol, cornier acting, stupid twist, the end. Okay let me clarify. After a body is found in the woods a small time sheriff is quickly following a serial killer with an ancient Aztec (or glued on pottery) motif. Oh and did I mention his best friend is a history teacher who has traveled all around the country and has a wife with cancer? Yeah that may be of significance later on. Now in the movies defense it can be funny. Whether we’re talking about the worst drug dealers ever (who clearly haven’t watched The Wire) or torn open corpses clearly breathing there are moments of cheesy glory. The acting also is a mix of average and so awful it’s glorious. I think my girlfriend put it best, “It’s a mix of Syfy and Lifetime movie.” and neither is done right.
Rating- F (F+ if hilarity counts)
Discopath is a French-Canadian Nu-Grindhouse movie about a killer that is set off by disco music. This could have easily fallen into the Chillerama territory and worn out its welcome very early. Instead director/writer Renaud Gauthier pulls off a genius move and plays the whole thing as seriously as he can. Instead of going with the typical Grindhouse aesthetic stuff we get the oversaturated and bright look of a 70’s/80’s Italian slasher. Instead of the obvious jokes that can be made we get a fairly jokeless movie where the humor mostly comes from awkwardly written lines and French-Canadians trying to pull off a New York accent. Discopath is a good slasher with some great practical effects that is definitely worth checking out.
Horror Shorts B
Whispering Pines- Eh. I don’t think it was but just a bit typical werewolf/red riding hood stuff. Not bad but nothing to see here. D
Edward the Damned– Probably my favorite of the first batch of shorts. Apparently based on an old English legend it’s a weird body horror tale. Definitely worth a look. B
Tasha and Friends– A fun take on a kids show gone awry. Funny stuff and some good gore effects. B
Bright Eyes– A fun subversion of common slasher tropes. Worth a quick look. C+
The Carriage or: Dracula & My Mother– Honestly not sure how I feel about this one. I do think it’s creative and has a cool look. I also think that it runs a bit too long. C
My Love, Our Time is Now– A music video for an indie rock band that sounds like every other indie rock band. In the words of Tom Haverford, not a banger. D
One More For The Road– What starts as a sardonic thriller quickly becomes a bloody tale of revenge in this short. While not entirely original the writing and production values make this short worth watching. B+
The Bad Days– A decent zombie short. While it seems average I really love the twist at the end. Worth checking out. C+
Horror Shorts A
Happy Birthday Mr. Zombie- A horror/comedy short based around zombies? Say what? Skepticism aside this is a fun and original idea; why zombie birthdays would suck. An absolute blast. B+
VHS- As a lover of old media this was a blast. What struck me most was how closely it mirrored my first DVD experience. B+
Itsy Bitsy Spiders- Remember when Tim Burton was a brilliant director but wasn’t lazy and cast his wife in everything? That’s what Itsy Bitsy Spiders reminds me of. This story of a boy’s obsession with spiders has this dark and gothic look that doesn’t feel forced. Add an interesting story and some great special effects and you have the must see short of the festival. A
‘Til Death- A decent, dark comedy short. I just can’t get over how long the credits were. We got a good 45 seconds after the short-end applause. Ignoring that this was worth a watch with some good makeup. C+
Signal- Reminiscent of Glenn McQuaid’s part of V/H/S this was short, sweet and to the point. VHS based killers seem to still kick ass. B
One Please- In part 1 of the “Children are Evil” series of shorts we have One Please. This short is about an ice cream truck that takes a unique form of currency. I don’t want to spoil it but the effects make this brutal. Also always nice to see Michael Berryman gets work. C+
Beware of Children!- And here we have part 2 of the “Children are Evil” series. Like One Please this was a fun short. My only issue is that it ran a bit too long for my liking. Still good stuff. C
Love- I don’t want to overstate it but this is the perfect horror/comedy short. Short, funny punch line, and implied monster rape. What more could you want? B
Kenneth Miller’s Dust Jacket- Funny story. While this was being shown I would make snide remarks to the Mrs. Nothing too bad just little jabs at the poor continuity. When the lights come up and the Q&A starts the director was sitting relatively close to us. Well crap. As he introduces the producers we realize that they were sitting all around us. Well, I’m a dick. With all that said I don’t feel bad about anything I said. Of all the shorts this looked the most amateur and had the least original story. The film techniques were cliché, there was too much handheld camera and the effects were awful. What stuck out most was the lack of continuity. Little things like our lead getting dinner at a 99 cent store even though the lock says 1:15 AM. Or how about when she gets out of her car and leaves her lights on? My favorite though has to be the bag being for Wal-Mart despite it being from a random dollar store. These kinds of screw ups are tiny but they pile up and become unavoidable. The director clearly tried but it just wasn’t good. At least I got some laughs out of it. F+
Wait a minute; there are only 7 reviews here. Didn’t I see more movies asked nobody ever. Why yes I did and they will be covered in part 2 of this festival review and I will be covering Why Don’t You Play In Hell, The Sacrament and Oculus.