Back to the Portage Theater (which is still having problems, by the way–the management fended off the purchase attempt from the church, only to have the property bought by the owner of the Congress Theater, who promptly served the management with a five-day eviction notice) for the Chicago Horror Film Festival. This one’s run by Willy Adkins and Spook Show Entertainment, the same group that organizes the Indie Horror Film Fest and a couple of other events.

It ran for three days (Friday September 28 through Sunday September 30), but I only attended Friday and part of Sunday; I also didn’t see any of the non-movie stuff (like the magic show and the screaming contest), so there’s only one post (instead of the three I gave the Indie Fest) and it’s all movies.

The House with 100 Eyes

House With 100 Eyes (Jay Lee & Jim Roof, 2011)

This one is really, really weird. It’s a found-footage (yes, I know) movie about a married couple who makes snuff films and they’re recording a crapload of footage that they intend to use for “special features” for what they assume will be their magnum opus.

There are a lot of stylistic choices that are just…I don’t know, strange. There’s a lot of sound distortion applied at various points, and while it’s clear what the actual filmmakers intend for it to do (heighten tension), it’s never clear what’s causing it in the fictional world of the movie. At one point it seems to be coming from one specific camera, at other points it’s across a range of them. Late in the movie, someone fires a gun; the audio level goes down and there’s a high-pitched ringing tone. Is that supposed to mean the camera’s ears were ringing? There are “secret cameras” installed all over the snuff couple’s house, but they’re placed oddly, not set up where you’d expect them to get the most action. (There’s a camera in the shower, but it’s mounted at a height and angle that only catches the tops of people’s heads.)

But the weirdest thing is the approach to nudity. The snuff couple’s cover story is that they’re shooting homemade porn, so they get their victims to strip and go at it, but the nudity is blurred out. I didn’t think twice about it the first time because it was the snuff husband beating off, but when it came down to the victims it really struck me as odd. And in at least two points in the film, it seems that the effects person forgets to blur something because you can plainly see the male victim wearing tighty-whiteys when he’s apparently meant to be naked.

These little things kill the entire experience, which is a damn shame because once you get past the initial premise it’s a decent enough story and the cast sells it really well.

Short film: Affections (Rob Barriales, 2011)

This one didn’t do it for me. I liked the basic setup–boy meeets girl, boy hooks up with girl, girl’s psycho ex kills boy, boy comes back from grave–but the characters were too stock and the actors too bland. The disease revelation kind of comes out of nowhere (talking about Day Of The Dead is not really foreshadowing) and I thought the flashback scenes needed to be delineated a bit better. (I did not recognize the first flashback scene for what it was until it was almost over.)

Short film: To Catch A Train (Jonathan Goldfisher, 2012)

A fun little action-oriented short. I was a bit turned off, though, by the reveal of the final twist–as a guy who’s been playing World Of Darkness games since 1993, the novelty of vampires vs. werewolves wore off a long time ago for me.

Plastic (Jose Carlos Gomez, 2010)

I’ve already seen this one, back at the Indie Horror Film Fest. It’s still a good movie.

Visible Scars

Visible Scars (Richard Turke, 2012)

The premise is a bit hard to buy into–the backstory is a bit on the complex side, so I’m not going to go into it here–but in theory, once it started rolling it should have worked a lot better than it did. The opening flashbacks take too long (and Tom Sizemore is awful in them) and contain the worst CGI fire I’ve ever seen. (Actually, let’s be more accurate: the fire looks real, but the CGI compositing is what really sucks.)

Once it started rolling I think it should have worked a lot better than it did. Despite a good primary cast (including brilliant performances by Alix and Kris Angelis as the antagonists), they couldn’t really make up for some stupid behavior on the part of the characters–in particular, while I kinda understand Stacy’s reluctance to tell her roommate that her boyfriend’s whupping the crap out of her, she doesn’t put much effort into making sure her roommate understands why the boyfriend needs to stay away from her. And Stacy’s descent into madness isn’t particularly credible, either.

The third act is typical slasher–I suspect most people’s opinions of the film are going to ride on how much they like typical slasher. I was kinda “eh” on it; I thought, given the setup and the characters, that the filmmakers could have done better.

Oh well, at least the female lead (Jillian Murray) is cute. I mean really, really cute.

Short film: The Girl In The Road (Brian W. Lockyer)

This is everything I want in a horror short: a concentrated burst of weirdness, insanity and terror, and a minimum of explanation. Great performance by Caleigh Le Grand in the title role–I’m always impressed when actors can keep up hysteria for extended periods of time. Great villains, too. I loved it.

Cross Bearer

Cross Bearer (Adam Ahlbrandt, 2012)

A lot of potential in this one that isn’t really lived up to. I loved the exterior locations, the visual style and the milieu in general–this is a great example of how to portray irredeemable sleaze. (That’s a compliment.) Isaac Williams has an amazing, wild-eyed charisma as the title character; I’m usually a bit bored by religious-nut serial killers, but this guy delivers the goods. I would totally be on board a psychological study of this guy. Unfortunately, he stops being a character and starts being a generic slasher about 20-30 minutes into the film. It really seemed like he did nothing but run around in a hood screaming “Whore!” for almost the entire second half of the movie, which was really disappointing.

Pacing is also severely off–this is another one of those “every scene lasts a couple minutes too long” movies (particularly the sex scenes–this is one of those films where the plot comes to a halt every time there’s a nude scene, and there are a lot of nude scenes), and a couple of scenes that don’t even need to be there. (The scene in which the heroine tells one of the supporting characters, who happens to be a filmmaker, that his films are filled with boring dialogue scenes like the one we’re watching right now…that made me want to punch someone. Also, you will not win my heart by bashing Eyes Wide Shut.) The third act is pretty much generic chase sequences, and I’m not entirely sure why Bunny does what she does.

On the other hand, it’s the only film I can think of that contains the line “You just puked on my girlfriend’s asshole!” and that’s gotta be worth something, right? Right?

Music video: “Drop Dead Gorgeous” by Sinister Fate (Willy Adkins, 2012)

Fun little heavy metal video. This is not the particular kind of metal that I’m into at this point–I’ve been grooving heavily on Sunn O))) recently, to give you an idea of where I’m at–but it’s still quite a bit of fun.

It's in the Blood

It’s In The Blood (Scooter Downey, 2012)

This is one of those movies where the two lead characters have a storied and troubled past, and there are numerous flashbacks to that past, and that past has a heavy influence on the present. The main plot–I guess what you’d call the “forestory”–is actually pretty good, a nice tale of surviving a monster attack in the wilds. Lance Henriksen’s in it, and while I’m not going to say it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen him put in, it’s exceptionally damn good–if this is one of what he calls his “alimony movies” he doesn’t show it. And the monster is a textbook example of how CGI goblins should be rendered–at least, when they do the long shots. Of course, they have to show the damn thing close-up and in full light so you can get a look at it and it just looks stupid.

The backstory, on the other hand, fell a bit flat to me. Too much effort put into pushing the life-lesson of You Gotta Move On. The filmmakers dedicated too much time to it–I’m kinda like Stephen King in that I’m more interested in what is happening and what’s going to happen than what has already happened. I also found the relationship between October and Iris a bit creepy…and for that matter, I kinda want to know where Iris came from.

Dark Place possibly AKA ShadowBox (Philip Adrian Booth, 2005? 2007? 2012?*)

This is, I’m pretty sure, the absolute worst film I’ve ever seen for Forced Viewing–beating out Sorority House Vampires from Hell, The Raven, and House of Mirrors.

The plot is totally incoherent, which is quite a feat considering how much narrative ground is literally covered over and over and over again. One scene is flashed back at least four to six times, and there are sequences like the following:

Dr. Nichols: Where are you?
Voice: Darkwood.
Dr. Nichols: Darkwood?
Voice: In Fern County.
Dr. Nichols: In Fern County?
(cut to a sign reading ENTERING FERN COUNTY)
(cut to Dr. Nichols scrawling the words IN FERN COUNTY on a piece of paper)

Don’t suppose there’s something going on in Fern County, do you?

Then there’s the overacting. I can’t think of a single actor that was credible in his or her role. The late Matthew McGrory ends up looking the best, chiefly because he doesn’t do much other than lope around with a sick grin on his face.

Even the costumes are insane. The film clearly takes place in the modern day, but only the two lead characters wear modern dress. Everybody else’s costuming is best described as “leftovers from the ‘Amish Paradise’ video shoot.” Then there’s the stupid, obvious, ill-fitting wig that the second-string villain has to wear–and the director keeps shooting him in silhouette, which makes him look like someone tore off his head and stuffed the world’s biggest .357 Magnum revolver down his neck, barrel first.

I’m just going to stop now. Even just thinking about this movie gives me a headache.

(And yet it won the Best Feature Film and Best Director awards…)

* The copyright date in the closing titles was 2012. However, IMDB gives the film’s year of release as 2007. There’s also a film called ShadowBox in IMDB, with a release date of 2005; it has exact same cast, crew and running time as Dark Place (and the Shadow Box is a location in the film).


Spades (John Wesley Norton, 2012)

Saved the best for last! My favorite film of the fest, a caper movie (one of my favorite non-horror subgenres) that starts out comparatively mundane and gets more sick, twisted and sinister as it goes on. Clever plot, great structure, fantastic production values and a knockout cast; Thomas A. Jackson as the enigmatic Sims is a particular standout here, one of the best villainous performances I’ve seen in a while. I could totally see a weekly cable show about this guy, and I’m sure it would suck a whole lot less than Dexter. If this one comes to a festival near you, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

And say…isn’t that Heather Dorff? You know, I think it is!

* * *

Next event for me is the Massacre–which used to the Music Box Massacre, but is being held at the Portage this year…assuming the property owner comes to an agreement with the theater management. Really looking forward to that one, especially for Witchfinder GeneralUn Chien Andalou and Hausu. See you there!

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