NYC Horror Film Festival – Night One.
Hello again acolytes & those of you who haven’t seen the light as of yet. The Black Saint is back after a short hiatus with news & reviews from the NYC Horror Film Festival taking place at the fabulous Tribeca Cinemas from Nov.10 – 14th. There are lots of new films to be seen & tons of shorts as well. All of them dealing with our favorite genre, what makes our hearts beat a little faster, our blood race a bit quicker & if we’re lucky…our breath stop for a hot second or two, MOTHERFUCKING HORROR!! Festival director Michael Hein & Programming director Joseph B. Mauceri have set up what looks to be a great weekend of films to enjoy & Mr. Hein in particular has been nothing but the ultimate host during the festivities. Seemingly attached to a bottle of beer everytime I see him, he is a whirling dervish of activity who doesn’t seem to settle down until he’s sure that everyone is content. His battle cry before every screening “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor” gets the crowd pumped & it’s so obvious he loves every minute of what he’s doing…he’s nearly giddy with glee before & after every film and his enthusiasm is infectious to the max! You gotta love the guy, you really do. Even in the face of some technical difficulties opening night he never wavered in his enthuiasm & made sure everyone was informed as to what was happening & sincerely apologetic to all. You know he cared & that really counts.
But enough of all this (well warranted) praise for our hosts. What about the movies? Well, let’s begin with Thurday nights shorts collection shall we? The first short presented was a little ditty called “Inferno”. Directed by Jarid Boyce “Inferno” tells the (20 min.) tale of a young couple (Scott Peat & Natalie Smyka) who live in a dilapidated shack in the desert. She is very ill, with what we’re not told but she’s not looking very chipper when after a particularly bad night he awakens to find a black bag on their dresser. He then receives a phone call from a very mysterious sounding man promising that he will save the young woman if he promises to bring the case to him. But there is one caveat: he is told to “never open the case, no matter what happens”. The problems with this short were few but stood out immediately for me. Firstly, the “Mysterious” voice on the phone is a direct “Saw” ripoff. It sounded so much like Jigsaw that Lionsgate could sue if they felt like it. Hell, he even spoke like good ole’ Jiggy did, speaking of how one can “redeem” himself for past transgressions if they did as they were told. Secondly & more importantly, the ending made no sense to this viewer and upon further investigation after the screening most if not all of the audience. In it’s favor it did have the best special effects of any film screening that night, feature length or short. It’s just too bad that they were wasted on a really derivative & ultimately incomprehensible film…
The second short of the evening, was a small step up in quality but ultimately a failure in my opinion. Denis Rovira’s “Lazarus Taxon” comes to us from Spain and takes place in “Our probable future” which apparently isn’t going to be too cool. It appears that global warming has melted the polar icecaps completely & the Earth is covered in water completely. We are inroduced to a man frantically rowing a boat across the water with his daughter, who is dying, along with him. He is looking for a small parcel of land where there are surviviors & more importantly..a cure for his rapidly dying child. Unfortunately for him (& her), when they arrive on the small bit of land he finds the “cure” might be worse than the disease itself. The acting is good in this one, the cinematography was excellent, what little production design needed is adequate so what’s the problem you ask? Well, I figured out how it was going to end as soon as they landed on the island. And the film is only 14 min. long so I had to wait for them to go through all their motions to get to the ending that I knew was coming halfway through it’s scant running time. But it is great to look at & the bleakness of the whole situation just oozes off of the screen so there is something to admire there. Who knows? Maybe you won’t figure it out like I did. I am The Black Saint & I’ve been around a long time people. I’ve seen this type of story told countlessly over the years in films long & short but perhaps you haven’t. If so, you might enjoy this one.
The third short of the evening was “Stephen King’s Flowers For Norma” based on his short story “The Man Who Loved Flowers” and directed/written by Juan Pablo Reinoso. It tells the (13 min.) tale of a young man who’s going to meet up with the love of his life in 1963 New York & the people he passes by on the way to meet his beloved Norma. And of course, he’s got to get her favorite flowers as well. This was the only short of the evening with some veteran actors in it. William B. Davis, Tony Plana & Chris Mulkey are among the faces our erstwhile protagonist meets up with on his way to his beloved Norma. They obviously don’t have too many lines to say but they give the film the feel of a bigger budgeted production simply with their precense. The young man is played by Sam Rosen & his job is to basically beam as he’s walking down the streets of NY to meet up with the love of his life. He does this with aplomb & those of you who have read the short story know what’s in store for him. Those of you who haven’t read the story should be suitably surprised by the way this one ends. Reinoso has done more with a 13 min. running time than more established directors have done with the standard 90 – 100 min. running time & some of Mr. King’s stories. His is a name to keep an eye on.
But my favorite short of the evening was “Written By” which was written by & starring Trevor Boeltor & Matt Duggan as two screenwriters who are about to get dropped by their agent because of a missed deadline. They beg her for one more chance & have an idea for her: Lock them in a room with nothing but the two of them, some booze, a typewriter & a laptop and one more thing, a creepy little clown doll that one of them has to have with him constantly…..Lock them in the room for two days & they will have a completed screenplay for her when she returns. This one is initially played for laughs and it gets them in it’s scant (15 min.) running time. But when the sh*t hits the fan as it always does in these situations it does quickly & bloodily. It gets progressively worse for both of them & there’s still the matter of the little clown doll watching them both silently with a frown on his face. It’s a funny bit of grue with a genuinely funny but unsettling finale that satisfies our funny bones & chills all the rest of our bones at the same time. Director Karni Baghdikian handles the reins adeptly & never lets what could go way over the top to be both scary & funny at the same time. Lots of fun to be had here.
This leads us to the opening feature of the festival. Director Stevan Mena’s “Bereavement”. A prequel of sorts to his earlier film “Malevolence”, it tells the story of 6 year old Martin Bristol who is abducted from his own backyard by a deranged lunatic & forced to partake of his captor’s homicidal tendencies. I’m just gonna go ahead & say it right now, a new standard has been set for the psycho genre with this film. All other films from here on in will have to try to top this one & it won’t be easy! The amazing thing is that Mena has touched upon all of the standard tropes that we’ve come to expect from this type of film yet they seem fresh & new here. I don’t want to call the script formulaic because it’s not. But it does touch upon the required expectations one expects from a psycho film: deranged lunatic, damsels in distress who always seem to do what they shouldn’t, family members who go into abandoned buildings looking for said damsels in distress, etc..The biggest difference between this film & all others of this type is the caliber of actors Mena has recruited (Michael Biehn, John Savage, Brett Rickaby, Alexandra Daddario) & the fact that while his script does call on the actors (Daddario in particular) to do things people just wouldn’t do, you can still understand why they’re doing them. This is because of a little thing horror screenwriters seem to neglect a lot called CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. He has given each character an intriguing backstory & as we get deeper into the movie we give a f*ck about them. They’re not just cookie cut out characters that are there to flash their privates & die horribly a few minutes later. As a matter of fact, when was the last time you saw Michael Biehn in a horror movie? Right. I never saw him in one either & he is a quality actor who has never (in my opinion) given a bad performance in any film he’s been in. Why he isn’t a superstar is one of Hollywood’s greatest mysteries to me. Any character he plays is imbued with a sort of inner fury. It’s in his face, look carefully at it. It seems to be always taut, as if he’s ready to explode at any moment. even during his tender moments..Oh sh*t, I just realized he was in “Planet Terror” wasn’t he? That wasn’t a horror movie either in my opinion. It was a homage & he was f*cking awesome in that one as well.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brett Rickaby & Spencer List as Graham (the psycho) & Martin (his kidnapping victim) and their performances. Rickaby was at the screening and said a few words about his character afterwards & in all honesty I was still scared of the guy. He is that convincing in the role. At first look he reminded me of a psychotic Larry Fine of The Three Stooges but here was nothing even remotely funny about him, he is truly terrifying & never goes over the top although he could’ve. As a matter of fact a lesser actor would’ve but his performance is pitch perfect. And young Spencer List is a revelation as Martin who goes from complete innocence to utter depravity & he does it all with his eyes. There is a slow degradation of his character in the film & the youngster nails every scene he’s in. You have to ache for him as his childhood is slowly drained from him in the most inhuman way possible & his fate, while expected, is still heartbreaking to behold. I should mention that his real life sister, Peyton List, is also in the film as Biehn’s daughter & she too is spot on & provides what little humor there is in the script with youthful abandon.
And there is very little humor in Mena’s script. It is a lean, bare boned engine primed to horrify us and it suceeds. As the film progresses it gets darker & darker. There is bleakness in every frame of it & it doesn’t end on a happy note like a lot films of this genre do. It is grounded in realism and it’s because of this realism that the film worked so well for me. Shit isn’t always sunshine & lollipops in the real world, you know what I mean? Stevan Mena knows and understands this and he isn’t afraid to show us the uglier side of the human condition. He is a brave director & shocks us not because he can but because the shocks are integral to the story he has written. No compromise, no surrender. You gotta respect that sh*t people.
I really mean it when I say that “Bereavement” is the new gold standard in the “Psycho Killer” genre. That might sound a bit pretentious at first but it really is an amazing movie with an amazing cast & a nearly perfect script. I say nearly perfect only because in all honesty, what is perfect? I do have issues with the choices some of the characters make in the film but at the same time I nderstand that without these choices the film would be 40 min. long & nowhere near as exciting as it is. Mena covers himself nicely by having the audience get to know & care about the characters a bit more than normal. “Bereavement” has to be seen by anyone who considers themselves to be a fan of this type of film & even if it isn’t your usual cup of cinematic tea you should see it anyway & realize what’s been wrong with films that you’ve seen in this genre in the past. A stunning achievement.
That’s it for the first night my beloved acolytes. I’ll be back with a report on Friday night’s shorts & main features soon. Until then remember to say your prayers……
The Black Saint