Founder/Festival Director/Programmer/Head of Staff: Tim Meunier
Although The Sacramento Horror Film Fest is only in its third year and is held under rather meager circumstances in a standalone one-house movie theater (the Historic Colonial), the director of the fest, Tim Meunier, not only keeps everything under control and running like a smoothly-oiled iron maiden, but his selection process must be quite stringent. I've seen a lot of shorts at several genre festivals this fall, and most of the time it's a pretty mixed bag. It's to be expected. But in this case, the shorts were long on quality.
There are a few really cool, different twists to the Sacramento Horror Film Fest: each movie (even the shorts) are hosted and intro'ed. Rather than doing it himself, Meunier hands the reins over to Cinema Insomnia's own Mr. Lobo (a sort of male Elvira minus the cleavage and the eyeliner), plus his lovely assistant The Queen of Trash.
The festival kicked off on Friday night with a zombie beauty contest. I hear it was a flesh fair and a veritable strip tease with intestines instead o feather boas. When I arrived on Saturday, everyone was a'twitter about that as well as special guest Chris Jericho's "anti-Repo!" rant and his drunken drooling over the contestants as he rambled on about his own film, Albino Farm. Seems as though I missed an awful lot. But the first thing I saw upon arrival, which was pretty cool, was the "Build-A-Zombie" workshop, presented by Morb-X. With the aid of a video, he explained how to create makeup for Halloween (or even an indie movie shoot) on a shoestring budget. After the video was finished, the floor was opened up for a Q&A during which the limitations of spirit gum were discussed in depth.
The shorts slate for the afternoon opened with a 4-minute music video, Strings of Clarity. Director Paul O. Stevens was on hand to explain the concept behind the bludgeoning industrial rock tune's accompanying imagery: In it, an old and lonely mortician descends into madness when he decides to build a wife out of the bodies he is working on. Stevens didn't say, but the stop-motion animation seemed Quay Brothers influenced to me. After that, the plotted short films kicked off as follows:
Alone (7 min)
This very The Strangers-esque short, complete with creepy home-invaders wearing similar masks, tells a story of mental anguish. Haunted by the murders of her family, a young woman struggles with survivors guilt and we're left with the question of whether her ghosts are real or imagined. Director John Gonzales was there for a short Q&A, then came…
Death in Charge (15 min)
A girlish Grim Reaper is mistaken for the babysitter and learns a thing or two about life when left to spend the evening with a precocious 9 year-old girl. This power-packed short offers a great setup and a gory payoff, with lots of gallows humor in between. Marina Benedict shines as Death, reminiscent of Vera Farmiga with her soulful eyes, wistfully pretty face and deadpan delivery. She's a standout, as is the clever, fast-paced and well-plotted script. Directed by Devi Snively
Methodic 1.5 (16 min)
This film really didn't make any sense to me at all, until director Chris .R. Notarile came out and explained that it was a companion piece to his latest feature Methodic, which was not shown at the Festival. Taking place in between the events of the first film and the forthcoming sequel, Methodic 1.5 tells the story of a parolee, given a second chance at life, who falls victim to the viral, infectious control of the evil Dollman. After that, Notarile set up and showed another of his films, the three-minute Backseat, a contemporary suspense-action-thriller based on the urban legend of a strangler who lays in wait behind the driver's side. In contrast to the other shorts I saw on Saturday and Sunday, both of these were pretty terrible. The music was mixed too loudly for the dialogue and other ambient sounds, there was not much of a narrative to either story (just showing stuff happening, and not giving any back story), and the cinematography lacked color and contrast.
The Auburn Hills Breakdown (16 min)
My favorite short at the festival was The Auburn Hills Breakdown, a witty comedy which puts a unique twist on the age old story of a family whose car breaks down on a lonely highway. Forced to take refuge with a horrifyingly hospitable yuppie couple are three horror film stereotypes: Junior (a Leatherface type), Ma (the mad matriarch) and Feral Girl (self-explanatory). It's hysterically funny to see the grungy killers stuck in a bright, airy Martha Stewart model home, made to eat gourmet cupcakes instead of human flesh in the "dinner table scene", and the ending freeze frame could not be any better. Directed by Geoff Redknap
Remote (19 min)
Temporarily connected in time, a man tries to prevent the murder of a young woman living in his house 30 years in the past. I'm a sucker for time travel serial killer flicks (there aren't all that many, but 1979's Time After Time pops to mind). Swapping between now and the 1970s, Remote handles the variables of search engines, date-stamping and the time-space continuum with slight-of-hand dexterity — and there's a gory throat cutting reminiscent of Jack The Ripper. Well-acted and nicely shot, there are lots of go visual cues given in advance of the surprise ending; kudos to director Marc Roussel for being to show-and-tell a good story.
Smooth Operator (7 min)
Some relationships can just tear you apart. This two-person play is simple enough — a woman is cutting into her boyfriend little by little, taking just enough to hurt but not enough to kill. It's funny, but disturbingly gruesome as well. There is really great, snarky, snappy dialogue throughout. Directed by Alyn Darnay
Le Quelounne (11 min)
From France, this is a disturbing and astringent little film… though memorable, I am not sure if I actually liked it or not. It doesn't have any relatable characters, yet it is presented with an accomplished assuredness, being one of the slickest looking shorts in the Fest. In the beginning, it shows how a professional clown, a corpse in his costume, is reanimated in his coffin by spilt soda pop. He claws his way to the surface, a famished zombie... I didn't think much of the story, but the closing credits are absolutely fantastic, so pretty and colorful in carnival graphics style. Directed by Patrick Bolvin
In addition to the shorts, I saw two feature-length films. Cryptic is a time-travel thriller along the lines of 2000's Frequency (review coming soon), and Repo! The Genetic Opera is a rock-n-roll horror musical. I've seen Repo! several times, but never quite like this. When I first saw the movie at a cast and crew screening comprised of about 10 people, co-writer/co-creator and co-star Terrance Zdunich was so anxious he couldn't stay in the room. He walked in and out at least three times; now, almost two year later, "Terry Showbiz" can not only watch the movie, he can laugh with it and bask in the audience's enthusiastic response.
Since its flaccid limited theatrical release, Repo! has taken on a surging midnight movie cult status, enjoying every-weekend showings across the country complete with Rocky Horror-styled shadow casts. At the Sacramento Horror Film Festival, the movie opened with a homespun but professionally presented burlesque act led by performance artist Jeslen Michelle. Flanked by half-naked ladies in chains and corseted dancers, Michelle belted out Faith No More's Surprise, You're Dead as she danced and stripped. But more tease than strip, she hid the goods as she exited the stage and opened the floor to BrieAnne Welch, an opera singer who did Chromaggia from the film. The accompaniment was a bit shaky, but the songstress was strong.
The local shadow cast, billed as Amber's Sweets, did a bang-up sing-along with Zydrate Anatomy, plus the ending bit – which I hear was impromptu… and very well done!
After the movie the stage was taken by Terrance Zdunich, his co-writer Darren Smith, and the hench-girls from the film, Alisa Burket and Andreja Punrkis. They did a Q&A, then a signing late into the night (by that time, I'd signed off).
The following day, Sunday, Terrance Zdunich conducted a well-attended seminar entitled From The Cradle to the Grave. He shared his process as an artist, mainly in illustration. He did a Q&A, then signed copies of his graphic novel, The Molting. Also on Sunday, genre producer Blake Reigle gave advice to aspiring filmmakers and talked about his directorial debut Beneath the Surface — a zombie-revenge movie which was featured at the Sacramento Film Festival in '07.
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