The Great Western Adventure Part 2: Horror Show
We checked in with the festival and received our passes. Once we were official, we stood in line for the kickoff meal. The sacrificial pig was delicious. His meat coursed through our veins as we talked about our weekend to be. Some people were just winging their decisions on what films to see, but my days were carefully planned out. After two weeks of researching the films, I felt my choices were pretty solid.
Once the pig was devoured and greetings were made, the walk to The Nugget theater began. We made our way in droves to the first event. Our first outing was "Squirm," a short film showcase filled with extreme horror. No one in that audience was disappointed. I've never seen so much genital mutilation in such a short amount of time. The highlight had to be when a teenage girl and her parents walked out of K.W. Roach's stark and beautiful Dead Fuck. I guess the naked girl having sex with a decomposed corpse was a bit too much for the family. What I didn't understand was that the family had already sat through a giant kidney-stone-monster eating its way back inside its father and a teenager having sex with a vagina alien that was stuck in his bedroom wall. Lesson learned: ripping open a penis and killing an alien-human infant are okay taboos to break, just don't include any necrophilia - that's going too far. With the family gone, I felt bad that they missed out on a woman giving birth to millions of tiny spiders in full detail, forced cannibalism with a seamen syrup, and amateur sex reassignment surgery. All in all this was a perfectly curated shorts block. We laughed and cringed when appropriate. It was a great beginning to the weekend.
The Mirror or Suburban Gothic
While I was interested in a film dealing with the James Randi Foundation and the search for true paranormal occurrences, the horror-comedy won. Suburban Gothic featured the greatest Ray Wise performance to date. His racist father character is so extreme and ignorant that just seeing him on screen makes you laugh. He's a high school football coach and when he invites players from the team home for a celebration, he apologizes to the black players because he forgot the grape pop. Looking past Ray Wise, we have a great comedy but not so much a great horror film. Richard Bates Jr. has shown us with his debut film Excision that he has an impressive working knowledge of what thrills an audience, but with Suburban Gothic the tacky special effects deter from the great comedic elements of the story. Even though Kat Dennings is her normal disenfranchised self, she at least channels her inner Marla Singer. The star of the film is Matthew Gray Gubler who puts most hipsters to shame with his emotionally stunted stoicism in the face of horror and crazy "city" outfits. Suburban Gothic is worth it just for the comedy.
Creep or ABCs Of Death 2
This was an easy decision since ABCs was on demand. It would have been great to see it with an audience, but in the end after seeing both films, Creep is in many ways superior. I have a full review over at Horror-Movies.ca that you can check out here. Creep is just pure brilliance in so many ways. Patrick Brice has truly outdone himself with his debut film. From the opening twenty minutes you can tell that it was a labor of love. In interviews with Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice they have stated that the characters came out of a constant filming during the pre-production phase. Not until later in the process did it become clear that the story was going in a dark direction. Creep is absolutely a contender for the Top 14 Horror Movies of 2014.
Friday night ended with a drink at The Sheridan and a nice walk through the darkened streets of Telluride. I was told to watch out for bears! Saturday began with food and coffee from The Steaming Bean - both very lovely. The films began at 10:30AM and would continue till 12:30AM. I knew I would be chugging caffeine just to keep going, but that's the way it is supposed to be at a film fest.
"Horror, Ha Ha!" Shorts or Bag Boy Lover Boy
When given the choice between shorts and a feature, I'll tend to choose the feature film. As a writer, it provides you the opportunity to write for a wider audience. So for completely selfish reasons I chose the full length films. I did hear that the horror comedy shorts were really good and judging by the low attendance in Bag Boy Lover Boy, most people wanted to start their day off with a laugh. We went the opposite direction with Bag Boy. In Andres Torres' first film, he displays a New York very different from how recent films portray the city. He goes back to the seventies grittiness of the streets, not the well lit shopping mecca that Times Square has become. This reflects in his main protagonist Albert (Jon Wachter), a hot dog vendor, who is a strange mix of lovable and disgusting at the same time. His diabolical nature rests beneath a rather child-like mind. It is only when he is dragged into the deplorable world created by photographer Ivan Worthington (Theodore Boubukos) that Albert's carnal side comes to the surface. Ivan creates misogynistic and masochistic art for the highest bidder and he uses Albert as a model. Albert dreams of becoming a great photographer, so he emulates Ivan with terrifying results. It reminds me of some weird mash-up of Martin Scorcesse and Hershall Gordon Lewis - which is a good thing.
Ejecta or Backwater
Dialogue based horror about a man recounting his close encounter or a couple camping in the woods and terrible things happen? I may have chose the wrong film. We went to Backwater thinking it would be a fun, people-in-peril, scary shit happening in the woods kind of film but we were wrong. I'll always be a supporter of indie filmmaking and Christopher Schrack does a lot with the $40K budget, but his story is filled with plot holes and inconsistencies. I am happy that he was able to secure distribution through Amazon.com, but I felt as though he had too many ideas that he wanted to compress into his short run time. The end of Backwater, which I will not totally give away, had a total of five endings and each one fell short - including one that incorporated a found footage aesthetic which was not previously mentioned. The sound design for the film, which I hope will be corrected when the film is released, consisted of ear shattering bass that was recorded within a car interior while driving. This did not provide for suspense, but it did give everyone a headache.
Closer To God or Gravy
The festival programmer, Ted Wilson, championed Billy Senese's Closer To God. So, even though Gravy looked like a fun cannibal variation of Funny Games, we were more inclined to see Senese's film. I'm glad I saw Closer To God and had the privilege of a Q&A with Senese and the star Jeremy Childs. Closer is a pressure cooker, you feel it slowly building all the various layers of plot until it reaches its apex and releases the steam with an explosion. The story is a modern day retelling of Frankenstein, but instead of stitching a corpse together and using lightning to bring it to life, they just use cloning. Jeremy Childs plays Victor - like Victor Frankenstein - but that's an obvious one. Less obvious homages to the classic tale include enraged sign carrying protesters against cloning, as the angry villagers. Also, Victor's first clone was a throw away that seeks to destroy him, this is another intentional nod to the Mary Shelley classic. Closer To God is disturbing and taboo breaking for the modern world, like Frankenstein was when it was originally released.
Among The Living or The Houses October Built
This was the toughest decision of the entire weekend. In other words, what an incredible time you must be having when your biggest problem in life is choosing between two potentially great horror films. There were a few hours before either film started and we all spent time researching each one. The French extremism of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury - the minds behind Inside (2007), Livid (2011), and next year's Leatherface (fingers crossed) - or an unknown found footage film about haunted houses. My first instinct while composing my list two weeks prior to the show was Among The Living, then it changed to Houses. I kept feeling as though I had seen Bobby Roe's documentary of the same name (alas, I have not), so I imagined Houses would be a great experience in the theater. We finally all chose The Houses October Built and it was a sold out show. The group that we had amassed during the weekend, took up nearly two rows of seats. Before we entered the theater, they were handing out promotional masks for the film - which were awesome. I love promo items and these masks were perfect for a photo shoot - and that is what they did. Once we were all seated they took pictures of the theater and all of us had our masks on. It was a fun experience and the film was really good. I was genuinely scared for a lot of the scenes, but the film was released on demand after the festival whereas Among The Living is still nowhere to be found.
"Fear Itself" Shorts or Spring
I didn't know much about Spring going in. It was a last minute addition to the fest and I didn't have time to research it. I had seen the trailer and that was it. Now, had I looked the film up I would have been even more excited. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead created the wildly interesting and ambiguous Resolution (2012), which I've seen multiple times. Each time I see that film it becomes more bizarre than the last, which I never thought was possible of any film (except maybe Terry Gilliam's Brazil). Spring is a different beast for these directors. The story is a slow moving love story with a monstrous secret. It instantly reminded me of Only Lovers Left Alive in its tone - not much else. Lou Taylor Pucci is great as the American whose life falls apart and he moves to Europe to mess up his life even more. Nadia Hilker is the love interest and she's fantastic to watch. The film is Stuart Gordon body horror mixed with the film Love Story.
Our night was over, and after 14 hrs of horror movies, what do you do? Go home and watch more. Those are signs of a true horror addict.
The Editor or The Boxtrolls
Another simple choice. The Boxtrolls was playing at any theater. I was really excited for The Editor and not a single frame let me down. I've seen Father's Day, but not Manborg. Still, I roughly knew what was in store. Mike Snoonian from allthingshorror.com introduced The Editor and made sure to let us know that the dialogue was out of sync as a stylistic choice not an issue with the screening. It provided for another element of humor while spoofing the Giallo genre. Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy do for the Giallo film what Scary Movie did for the post-modern slasher film. Though, in the case of Brooks and Kennedy, many are not familiar with the tropes present in trashy Italian thrillers. There are homages to The Beyond, Suspiria, Videodrome, Black Belly Of The Tarantula, Zombi, and When A Stranger Calls Back to name a few. There's also an 80's synth score that sounds like Claudio Simotti, blue and green gels over lighting, and many other references to Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. The Editor was made by fans for fans and every scene is perfect.
Wolfcop or Backcountry
Backcountry was another last minute add, but even if it wasn't, my heart was set on Wolfcop. It is exactly what you think it is, a movie about a cop who turns into a werewolf. It is also Canadian, which makes the spoken dialogue even better. Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) is an alcoholic cop - but not even a functioning alcoholic cop - until he is transformed into a wolf. Between the drinking and the wolf sex he learns how to actually stop crime.
After Wolfcop I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Strauss of Weng's Chop a quarterly publication dedicated to cult and horror cinema. He actually gave me a copy of their last issue and it has been incredible reading material. I think Weng's Chop is high on my contributing material wish list.
The last film of the fest and one of the scariest. Jennifer Kent's debut film is stunning, dark, and disturbing. She has created a modern myth and within the current remake craze, this is a feat all of its own. The Babadook itself is a terrifying faceless entity that possesses an already troubled host. He is first seen in a disturbing children's book - which should be released, I'd love to own this book - and through the fear of a mother and child is brought to life. The Babadook is not a Freddy Krueger or Michael Meyers, he is the actual boogeyman. This was another audience favorite of the weekend. I still find myself saying, "Baba dook dook dook!"
Once we came out of the theater, a sadness overwhelmed us as we realized the fun was over. We would all have to return to our lives and only memories of the horror marathon would last. Over the course of twenty-six hours we were given werewolves, boogeymen, Frankensteins, mutilations, scare actors, homages, giallos, creeps, laughs, and romance. All of it was made possible by Ted and Lynn Wilson, the festival directors. Brad McHargue of Dread Central and Mike Snoonian from AllThingsHorror made each introduction exciting and psyched up the crowd. Even after all the films were over there was a closing party at the Last Dollar Saloon that was organized by Colin Sullivan. Everyone wore werewolf masks and got drunk. I would say it was a once in a lifetime weekend, but I know I'll be back next year.
A special thank you to Telluride Horror Show's publicist Travis Volz, who did an amazing job circulating my festival preview, I'm always glad to help.