The Highs and Lows of Screamfest 2011

This month, Screamfest invaded Los Angeles and Shock was there to get an early look at the sundry horrors lingering on the release horizon. While I, sadly, didn’t have time to see everything at the festival (the small price to pay when you run all aspects of a genre site), I did catch a handful of films which I weigh in on below!


In Short: A struggling crew on an oil rig loses its job security when the employees are asked to leave. They stick around for one last drilling session in hopes of actually striking oil. Instead, they discover a monstrous new life form. Bodies begin to pile up and if you’ve ever seen Leviathan or Deep Star Six, you know where the story goes.

The Verdict: Unintentionally silly and overdramatic. While there is an interesting group of characters on screen – from the perv to the ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding leading lady – there’s not enough forward momentum to carry the story at the pace a film like this should have. The creature is over-designed and is nothing more than CGI mass of flesh, claws and teeth that flops around the screen. The rest is a Resident Evil-inspired, confusing mess.


In Short: Radio talk show therapist Sonny Blake moves back in to her childhood home after the death of her father. But all is not right in her neighborhood. The residents of her cul-de-sac appear to be terrified of the paperboy who fixates on Sonny and makes her life a living hell.

The Verdict: The film isn’t director Victor Salva’s finest hour, which is disappointing considering his past works such as Powder and Jeepers Creepers. Rosewood begins on a strong note, establishing the right sense of mystery surrounding this sinister kid on a bike, but any good will the audience has for the film is lost when Salva – who also penned the script – begins to pile on puzzling plot turns, amateurish set-ups and baffling reveals. It all culminates in a whopper of an ending that makes no sense and leaves one giant question unanswered (and it’s not even about the paperboy). Salva has one or two good fright gags up his sleeve, however, and McGowan does her best with the role. But she – like much of the cast – looks as confused about the story as we are.


In Short: Mike wakes up in the midst of a zombie outbreak. The catch? He’s a zombie, too, albeit one who can think and speak – pretty much do anything a living person can do – except his complexion is a tad messy. He teams up with Brent, another one of his kind – both victims of a government experiment – and together they embark on a trip to find Mike’s love, a girl he lost three years prior to his undead rebirth. The only problem is that they’re being tracked by a zombie clean-up crew.

The Verdict: Easily the best film I saw at the festival this year. The laughs are spot-on, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, it’s got a ton of heart and it plays like some of the best buddy/road trip comedies of the ’80s…except the fellas here are undead. I wish a bit more emphasis was placed on what made Mike’s girlfriend so special (we have to take his word for it) so that we could stand behind his journey. But that’s just a small problem in an otherwise terrific film. The brothers Pierce direct with confidence on a low budget and efficiently create a palette of fun characters. Someone has to snatch this one up for distribution soon!


In Short: Set shortly before the events of Wrong Turn, a group of people head out on a snowmobiling trip, wind up lost, take shelter in an abandoned asylum (hmm, someone has been watching Cold Prey) and find trouble with the franchise’s three inbred mutants. Oh, and we get to see where they came from in an opening sequence flashback, in case you cared.

The Verdict: More garbage from the director of the Wrong Turn 3 – itself an inept, unwatchable sequel. If you feel like punishing yourself with another stalk ‘n kill session featuring Saw Tooth, Three Finger and One-Eye, then this is for you, just don’t expect it to be inventive or clever in any way. This is a by-the-numbers sequel with dipshit characters doing incredibly stupid things. I’ll give it this, the film carries a range of effective practical FX and a surprise ending.


In Short: 20-somethings travel to the eponymous backwoods haven to examine its grisly past, furthermore, interview an author who documented it all in a book. Upon arrival, the locals act suspicious and the author is nowhere to be found. The pig head-wearing killer the author’s book is based on, however, is very much real.

The Verdict: I’m not saying this is what writer-director Eric England did, but Madison County feels like it was reverse engineered where the killer was conceived first and the idea for the story arrived shortly after – a major faux pas with a film of this type. The maniac here is a merciless, silent brute named Damien and he doesn’t take any prisoners, but he sadly doesn’t have any characteristics that define him. The sequence of events that unfold is rather lackluster as well. If anything it’s a nice throwback to early ’80s films like Madman or The Burning, but we’ve seen three decades of similar fare and there’s not much to distinguish Madison from the pack. I did appreciate the unpredictable nature in which the victims were picked off. And I was amused by some of the inappropriate banter they shared. England clearly loves the genre and he’s got talent, I think it’s just best suited for stories that transcend the norm.


The Verdict: Read a full review RIGHT HERE.


In Short: A flamboyant young man named Carmen learns he is the reincarnation of a vampire king. Two servants of said king put the bite on Carmen, hoping to see their leader return to guide the vampire race into greatness. Carmen has other plans, abusing his newfound powers and seeking revenge on those who have done him wrong.

The Verdict: This is a five minute joke stretched to 90 minutes. Laughs are sporadic, Carmen is annoying and the story really doesn’t go anywhere. Once Carmen “turns,” the narrative operates on a predictable level: Someone insults Carmen, he retaliates and says something funny. Vamperifica repeats this cycle through most of the film without any genuine threat facing its protagonist. Even more puzzling is its conclusion in which focus is removed from Carmen to lay the groundwork for a sequel…which I definitely have no interest in.


In Short: Ken, a recently-released mental patient, is released back into society and make an attempt to get back into the swing of “life.” But is he responsible for the deaths of those who put him in the loony bin in the first place?

The Verdict: You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to answer the above question. About five minutes in, you know what’s going on leaving you to appreciate other elements of the story, like the hilarious performance by Barry Bostwick (the film’s sheriff). Kevin Corrigan is rather subdued here, maintaining a rather low energy that may fill the viewer with ennui. The father/estranged daughter relationship he shares with co-star Ariel Gade, however, is what works above all in the film. The balance of laughs, heartwarming drama and horror antics make Some Guy very uneven. Still, I thought it was a decent, but not entirely successful, genre blend and probably one of the best films from Jack Perez, the guy who gave us Wild Things 2 and Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.


In Short: The British army imprisons an entity in an underground bunker and calls upon a medium to investigate the supernatural being. This experiment spirals out of control and quickly turns deadly.

The Verdict: Such a solid idea wasted on incompetent storytelling. Characters mumble their way through scenes, the pace is stilted and nothing really occurs until the third act when the situation turns unintentionally funny. I don’t mean “giggle” funny, but laugh out loud “you’ve got to be f**kin’ kidding me” funny when a basketball becomes, well, possessed. What could have been a creepy Session 9-like experience is nothing more than drag. Avoid at all costs when it comes your way.


In Short: When her younger sister is killed in an accident, Lily relocates to the town of Cassadaga, Florida, the psychic capital of the world. There, she partakes in a séance and involuntarily welcomes the ghost of a murdered woman into her life. Plagued by horrific visions, Lily must now find out who is responsible for this woman’s death. This ultimately puts her face to face with a serial killer nicknamed “Geppetto.”

The Verdict: With Dread, director Anthony DiBlasi made an impressive directorial debut. The maturity he brought to that film is present throughout Cassadaga, however, it’s a meandering supernatural yarn in need of tightening. A romantic subplot eases into the story and abruptly disappears. The concept is not entirely fresh either; it could have easily been a sequel to Stir of Echoes. DiBlasi knows how to get great performances out of his cast and the “Geppetto” sequences hit all of the right disturbing notes. I just wish there the story had a sense of urgency as Lily’s predicament grew worse and that it remained focused on being a thriller rather than a Lifetime drama.


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