The Phoenix Fear
Film Festival

Held: Paper Heart Gallery, Phoenix AZ - 29th December, 2006

It's always been a dream of ours to have a film festival, and we finally got our wish on Friday, with the first annual Phoenix Fear Film Festival. Now, Arizona already has a horror event - October saw the "International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival". But our genre seemed the unwanted little brother there: I mean, Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror a showcase film? [Though that certainly counts as horrific.] So, we opted for our own, indie version, devoted solely to non-studio movies. We'd a fine time selecting entries, as you can imagine. People send us films to watch and a submission fee? We should have one of these every month! :-) Though, I should point out, running a film festival is far from a license to print money: we were deliriously happy not to be too badly out of pocket, even with no media adverts and guests who were either local or paid their own way to attend. But like TC: it's a hobby, and you expect to pay to enjoy those.

The quality of work received was genuinely impressive, with only one film - which we'll kindly keep anonymous - not meriting real consideration. In the end, we crammed six features, eight shorts, a sneak peek at Troma's Poultrygeist, plus a live performance from Hardwire into the day. At first, it looked like a disaster, as there were hardly any paying customers present for the first film, but - to our great relief - more arrived steadily, throughout the day, and we ended up with a good turnout. More info and pics of the actual event will be found on the festival website by next week, so here, I'll stick to covering actual content. Three of the day's features have been reviewed previously:

Below, you can find reviews of the other three features, and notes on the eight shorts. Roll on next year - we learned many valuable lessons from our debut for 2007's event: not least, start planning more than three months in advance... :-)

December 2006

See also...

PFFF: the festival where the
awards have a point. Literally.


Dir: Dennis Devine
Star: Osa Wallander, Rebeka Montoya, Elisa Eliot, Kali Hawk

When Paige Hopkins (Wallander) begins working at a halfway house for dysfunctional teenage girls, she seems all sweetness and light. But it becomes clear that she may be far more troubled than any of her charges, with her history easily a match for any of them when it comes to abuse. Slowly, the saccharine veneer begins to crack at the edges, and as the unravelling accelerates, she becomes a threat to all those who cross her. Things come to a head when one inmate comes to realise the truth, and threatens to expose her to the authorities. Meanwhile, Paige's past has made an unwelcome return, imperilling her from a different direction.

This is probably more psychological thriller than horror film, with blood restrained between the opening sequence and the climax. But it's no less effective for this, thanks to a great performance by Wallander, who looks like Nicole Kidman's evil sister. She can switch from an angel to a demon in the blink of an eye, and while the fakeness of her good side is entirely obvious - I presume deliberately - to the audience, it's still very convincing. The writer used to work in a place like the one shown, and this might be why much of the dialogue and situations ring true, albeit in exaggerated form, naturally. My main problem is a couple of the subplots don't quite work: there's a suicide early on, which is creepy to watch (a naked girl slicing her wrists in the shower), but we hardly know her, so it has little impact, and nothing much results either. Overall, though, it's a very solid piece of work, that knows its limitations, and works effectively within them.

December 2006

See also: [Index] [Next] [Previous] [TC Home Page]

The Deepening

Dir: Jim O'Rear and Ted Alderman
Star: Ted Alderman, Jim O'Rear, Debbie Rochon, Gunnar Hansen

Troubled New York fireman Ted (Alderman) suffers from post-traumatic stress after working on 9-11. In search of a fresh start, he relocates to a small fire department in a quiet rural town. The bad dreams he endures, however, do not subside. Instead, they turn into reality, because the population of the town begins to decrease. It's up to his friend Jim (O'Rear) to find out who is the killer: is it the sleazy colleague with a grudge against Ted? Creepy Dr. Chambers (Hansen)? Or is Ted's trauma coming back to haunt his new location? This is intended as a throwback to the 70's proto-slashers, which mixed sex and violence with more enthusiasm than subtlety - and on that level, it's straightforward, with some gory kills and no shortage of nudity.

However, there's a reason why cinematic horror has moved on since those days, and this left me yearning for something with more innovation, or even real thought of any kind. It might also have been wise if O'Rear and Alderman had delegated some of the tasks to others, rather than writing, directing and starring in their film, as some of the weaknesses apparent in all three areas might have been caught by a different pair of eyes. We did like Jim's dialogue, which is snappily sarcastic. But why are firemen apparently obsessed with listening to the Christmas Eve speech from Apollo 8, which crops up more than once on the soundtrack? [We noticed because it's sampled in VNV Nation's Genesis!] That kind of thing proves an unwelcome distraction, and in a film of such simplicity, you really don't need that.

December 2006

See also: [Index] [Next] [Previous] [TC Home Page]

Watch Me

Dir: Melanie Ansley
Star: Frances Marrington, Sam Voutas, Katrina J. Kiely, Celeste Barry

Spam. We all get it. We all hate it. But it's not usually lethal. However, this Australian film is about one attachment that is more than an annoyance. It's called “Watch Me”, and if you do as it says, you'll encounter a red-headed woman in a yellow dress, then end up dead, with your eyes sewn shut, before the email forwards itself to everyone in your address book. Tess (Marrington) stumbles across it, as part of a college project - but as her friends end up brutally murdered after opening the message, she must team up with a trafficker in underground films, Taku (Voutas), to find the secret behind the attachment, and stop its progress. At first, we were mocking this one as "The Gring", for it seemed little more than a hodge-podge of ideas lifted from Japanese horror films. But the more it went on, the more we realised we were actually enjoying it, regardless of the apparent lack of originality.

A big plus is Ansley's nice visual sense, that adds significantly to the tension as things progress. It's not a long film - less than 80 minutes - so of necessity, the story is established quickly, and things then unfold at a solid pace. The score is also worth noting, the mix of piano and harsher electronics certainly proving atmospheric. Marrington's performance in the central role is decent, rather than spectacular, and Voutas probably has the more interesting character; while, initially, Taku seems little more than a degenerate slime-ball, by the end he's become much more sympathetic. By the end, we'd discarded all sarcasm and were simply enjoying the well-written, creepy tale. We'll let Ansley off with a light tap on the wrist, providing she promises to do something original next time. If so, we certainly look forward to seeing it.

December 2006

See also: [Index] [Next] [Previous] [TC Home Page]

The Shorts

Dir: Various
Star: Various

While the commercial market for short films remains questionable, they remain a valuable tool for demonstrating artistic talent, and we had some great examples of the format at the festival. The first movie screened was Kenny Selko's Alone (right), about a woman trapped in a sorority house, as much by her own fears as anything else. It featured beautiful cinematography as well as a good use of music to create atmosphere. This was shown along with The Tortured Man, which had no shortage of creepy visuals, but probably would have benefited from a more coherent story, and slightly less "borrowed" music [unless The Smiths gave permission?] No. My Other Possessed Zombie Girlfriend undoubtedly wins the award for best title for the year, but Flesh-Eating Ghouls From Outer Space walked away with the festival prize for Best Short. And deservedly, too: so much warped imagination has rarely been crammed into less than twenty minutes. It's a puppet-based tale of alien invasion, Twinkies and TV reporters. Oh, and did I mention its a musical?

Into the Flesh + Serial Cleaners were both local-based productions, with some overlap of cast and crew, and were short, even by short standards, lasting less than five minutes each. But the latter, especially, was impressive at telling a complete story despite the brief running time. The Eyes of Edward James was our Canadian entry, from Rue Morgue publisher Rodrigo Gudiño, and showcased a nice use of POV camera, to tell a story that might not have happened yet. Finally, Human No More had a disturbing, yet deeply confusing, first-half, that redeemed itself with an excellent finale, and a powerhouse performance from Tony Simmons. Like all the shorts shown, it couldn't be described as perfect, but these eight films certainly proved a refreshing reminder that imagination is alive and well in horror, no matter what tired sequels and remakes Hollywood may prefer to make.

December 2006

See also:
[Index] [TC Home Page]