THIRD ANNUAL SIN CITY HORROR FEST IN LAS VEGAS, NV – WINNERS (I)

SIN CITY HORROR FEST 2019: “BEST OF THE FEST”

The following is a completely subjective review of the offerings presented by this year’s third annual SIN CITY HORROR FEST, from the weekend of September 13TH to the 15TH.  The shorts aren’t ranked in order of “Best-To-Worst”; they are, in my mind, the ones that still lingered with me even a day or two after seeing them, and they deserve what I thought should be the Top Ten Spots, if I were judging.

SHORTS: TOP TEN

1. CERDITA (PIGGY) – WINNER: BEST SHORT; BEST ACTRESS: LAURA GALAN

Whether or not Spanish director CARLOTA M. PEREDA intentionally left off the English subtitles for this one, it didn’t need them, anyway. The gist of what’s happening is all too clear in any language.  For Sara, cruelly nicknamed “Cerdita”, it’s an act of sheer bravery to put on a two-piece bathing suit and dare to venture into the scummy waters of the local swimming pool, and we soon find out why. She’s mercilessly teased and pretty much assaulted by a pretty, petty group of “mean girls”; probably the same ones she goes to school with. Meanwhile, unnoticed by any of them, a serial killer has just finished up with his latest victim – and he’s looking for more.

This one goes exactly where you think it will, and yet the ending is oddly satisfying. It would certainly make a dynamite PSA about bullying.

(THIS FILM IS CURRENTLY STILL ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT. To see the trailer for CERDITA (PIGGY), visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c643XSTJoCU)

2. ATOMIC ED – Director NICOLAS HUGON’S short is a nifty French-Canadian live-action “graphic novel”, in the vein of TURBO KID, with a little STRANGER THINGS mixed in. Ed is an engineering savant and a martial arts enthusiast. He’s also in love with the girl who used to be his babysitter when he was much younger, but now she’s on the arm of the local asshole bully. But the outbreak of a sudden, unexplainable and deadly virus is about to turn Ed into the kind of guy he didn’t think he could be…and turn his friends and everyone else into something that can’t be classified as human.

(THIS FILM IS CURRENTLY STILL ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT. To see the trailer for ATOMIC ED, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya3YDlM860o)

3. ZEBRA – Like one of Stephen King’s funnier dark stories. Think of ABFAB’S Patsy and Edina as two old broads in their eighties, living in a nursing home, and with a yen to commit serial murder, make them Aussies, and you’ve got it. Director PETER SPANN has made an incredibly funny black comedy that warrants development into a feature, especially with the two female leads, who are hysterical.

(To see ZEBRA online, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=974OgMgPGic)

4. THE DARLINGS – WINNER: BEST SCORE

“The Darlings” seem to be an edgier, live-action version of Josie and the Pussycats: an all-female glam punk band who are always hungry for performing, partying…and pizza.  On an appropriately creepy full-moon night, their manager has booked them to play at a private party in a big secluded mansion…coincidentally on the same night that a former singer/songwriter-turned-cult leader, “Cheer-Up Charlie” (sound familiar?) has just broken out of the mental facility where he was imprisoned.  You won’t know where this is going, until it gets there.  Seasoned horror vets won’t be all that surprised by the climax, but it’s still a lot of fun…and yeah, it won the Best Score award for a good reason!

(THIS FILM IS CURRENTLY STILL ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT.  To see the trailer for THE DARLINGS, visit https://vimeo.com/313943557)

5. SAIGONE – Sometimes, a short will give you some kind of back story to explain what the fuck is going on, and other times, you get ‘nada’. SAIGONE is one of the latter kind, and all the better for it. Exquisitely shot and edited, it’s the tale of girl-meets-boy…both in separate cages, out in the middle of nowhere. Their captor? An elderly guy with the coldest eyes and most evil disposition you could possibly imagine…when he’s not rocking out to Vietnamese pop songs. Yes, seriously.

(Unfortunately, no reference links were available for this entry at time of publication.)

6. SHE MUST VANISH – Writer/director KYLE MARTELLACCI, who also did the nice short I MAKE CORPSES, which you can see at PromoteHorror.com, hits one of my sweet spots with this one. I love witchy thrillers where spells are cast for good, or for evil, or both in some kind of battle for power, and this is the best of its kind at this festival. So well-acted, directed and shot, it’s another one of those you hope at some point will be given the rare opportunity for development into a full-length feature.

(THIS FILM IS CURRENTLY STILL ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT. To see the trailer for SHE MUST VANISH, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iblTL3fqhm8)

7. ALWAYS – WINNER: BEST DIRECTOR, SAM ZAPIAIN; BEST ACTOR, DAVID KURTZ; BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY, RYAN GALVAN

A nightmarish, poignant cinematic metaphor for what it’s like to deal with adult diabetes. Fest winner for Best Cinematography – with very good reason.

(Unfortunately, no reference links were available for this entry at time of publication.)

8. BOO – No, “BOO” isn’t a ghost story. It’s a tale about addiction, and the woman in this case – her nickname being ‘Boo’ – coming from a meeting, where she’s just received a SEVEN-YEAR chip for maintaining the credo of “IT WORKS IF YOU WORK IT.” But of course, on a night she should be reveling in this achievement with her friends from the group, Boo is about to face the biggest challenge to her sobriety EVER. Can she deal with it? You’ll just have to watch it to find out.

(THIS FILM IS CURRENTLY STILL ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT.  To see the trailer for BOO, visit https://www.cyclamenfilms.com/meetmyboo.)

9. HOUSE HUNTING – WINNER: BEST EDITING

This is one that goes beyond found-footage…and it’s terrifying as hell.  Built on the premise of the onset of a new internet video phenomenon: people who sneak into other people’s homes and use cameras to photograph them in secret. It’s not just home invasion, it’s worse – it’s a complete violation of personal boundaries, that you don’t even know are being violated. Until your friends tell you to go check out YouTube, and you find yourself the star of a video you didn’t even know was being taped.  The premise is so creepily compelling, that this one has now been picked up by Warner Brothers for possible development into a feature!

(Unfortunately, no reference links were available for this entry at time of publication.)

10. THE MUFFIN MAN – WINNER: BEST KILLER

Remember when Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez put out GRINDHOUSE, and they did a contest for Fake Grindhouse Trailers, the best of which would be featured as the “opener” for the film? (The original winner, I believe, was HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN by Jason Eisener, which eventually became the Rutger Hauer movie.) Well, if this gem isn’t enough to warrant bringing that contest back, I don’t know what the fuck is. It’s as brutal, nasty, corny, over-the-top…everything you’d want in a grindhouse-style trailer! Do you know “THE MUFFIN MAN?” If you do, don’t ask him for anything that’s “gluten-free.” Just pray that what he bakes for you is DEATH-FREE!

(To visit THE MUFFIN MAN, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIgdxAoxYfw)

THE FEATURES

SCHFLV has a limit on features, so it’s much easier to rate them.  (I was unable to stay for the Sunday night screening of TABITHA: WITCH OF THE ORDER, so unfortunately, that’s a title I’ll have to see and review separately at a later date.)  But as far as the ones I did see, I can honestly rank them in order of the impression they made on me.  The rankings of the features here, I must add, are completely subjective.  It wasn’t the easiest call to make, since every feature in its own way was indicative of the level of excellence that the SCHFLV guys look for, and have been fortunate enough to find these past three years.

#5. NEVER HIKE ALONE (A FRIDAY THE 13TH FAN FILM)Directed by VINCENTE DI SANTI

Say the phrase “fan film”, and usually it’s enough to inspire cringing and lots of eye-rolling responses, especially when they’re as awful as they can possibly get.  But good news! NEVER HIKE ALONE isn’t one of them!

A pleasant diversion from the recent legal SNAFUS entangling the FRIDAY franchise, director Di Santi’s “love letter to Jason Voorhees” stars DREW LEIGHTY as social media sensation “Kyle McLeod”, whose specialty is taking on the Great Outdoors, and photographing his adventures for his fans in real time.  His latest hike takes him into uncharted territory, where he decides to cut his traveling time in half, through an area clearly marked with a “NO TRESSPASSING” sign. (There’s Red Flag Numero UNO.)  It gets really dicey, once he realizes that the actual place he’s ventured into is…the spot where a certain camp was once located, and has been attached to some pretty gruesomely legendary stories…stories which he soon discovers were all too true.

With a minimal cast (including a franchise icon whom fans will love seeing), Di Santi manages to keep the suspense taut and gets maximum scares out of the scenario that don’t feel cheap or unearned.  He also does triple duty here, not just by writing and directing, but also by putting his own spin on Jason, in a way that other “Jason” actors (especially Kane Hodder) would gladly stamp with their ‘Seal Of Approval’.  And the ending implies a possible sequel…one I personally wouldn’t mind seeing one little bit.  New Line could do a lot worse than to give Vincente a shot at doing whatever the next installment in the franchise is…he’s certainly proven himself with a film that excels beyond what normally passes for a “fan film”.

(THIS FILM IS STILL ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT. To see the trailer for NEVER HIKE ALONE, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnJBgzez2ZQ)

#4. THE HEAD – Directed by MICHAEL KEENE

WHERE do I even begin?

WARHOL.  WATERS.  WISEAU.  Names that you’ve come to know, and even love, as masters in the area of “outre” cinema.  MULTIPLE MANIACS. DESPERATE LIVING. PINK FLAMINGOS. FLESH.  TRASH.  HEAT.  BAD.  THE ROOM.  Titles that have stood the test of time as some of the most genuinely out-there, notable pieces of ‘fringe’ filmmaking that people have written dissertations and even their Masters’ thesis about. Even that last one, where Wiseau seemed to come in late on being “IN” on the joke.

Well, there’s no denying it – writer/director Michael Keene is in on it from the very beginning, and if you’re not familiar with any of the cinematic artists I just mentioned, chances are that his new film, THE HEAD, won’t be for you.  AT ALL. Note I said that in caps.  There’s a good reason behind that.  No matter if you can recite the entire script of FEMALE TROUBLE, you still may not be ready for what Keene has in store for you.  But you’ll certainly know it within the first few minutes.

Think of a film like Alex Cox’s REPO MAN. Slava Tsukerman’s cult masterpiece, LIQUID SKY. John McNaughton’s trippy, blackly comic sci-fi horror opus THE BORROWER.

Now, try to imagine what any of those films would have looked like, if the filmmakers responsible for them didn’t have a dime for a budget.  And no, I don’t mean barely two pennies to rub together. I mean ZIP, NADA, NYET. Oh, and the only thing they had to shoot their projects on was a VHS camcorder from the Eighties.

If you can envision that, you almost have Keene’s film in mind.

And in spite of the fact that the movie on the face of it seems absolutely pointless to the very edge of absurdity, it does have a plot.  And that absurdity is the point.

Boy-meets-head. Boy-falls-in-love-with-head. Head-completely-ruins-boy’s life.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

And that’s still oversimplifying the glorious outrageousness of Keene’s vision. Besides being a loving tribute to all of the ballsy lensers of the Eighties, who had nothing but a vision and let nothing stop them in the realization of it, THE HEAD pops a big, punked-out middle finger up at big-budget, pretty-to-look-at, completely empty multiplex blockbusters, by daring to be, for lack of a better way of putting it – an “anti-movie” movie.

And showcasing some of the best punk thrash cuts that Las Vegas has to offer, it may not have won the Festival award for Best Score, but I sure as hell want that soundtrack!

(If you’re feeling in the mood for some….uh, I mean THE HEAD, you can find the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTfNcR1-U7Y.)

#3. “Z”WINNER: BEST FILM, BEST SCORE (BRADLEY STUCKEL), BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY, BEST SOUND DESIGN – Directed by BRANDON CHRISTENSEN

The frustrated film marketer in me IMMEDIATELY came up with a tagline for the poster, if there would have been one: “Some Childish Things WILL NOT Be Put Away.”) If you like “evil child” thrillers like INSIDIOUS, ORPHAN or THE PRODIGY, Z will be right up your alley.

The son of two typical parents (aren’t they always?), are amused at first when their boy develops a relationship with a new imaginary playmate he calls “Z”. But amusement turns to grave concern and then outright terror, when “Z” begins to bring out unpredictably violent tendencies in their little boy.  Tendencies that indicate that “Z” might be a demon…or maybe something even worse.

An excellent, terrifying psychological thriller with some unexpected twists, “Z” is hardly the first outing for director Christensen, who has scared the pants off of horror fans before with STILL/BORN, and was one of the creative minds behind Colin Minihan’s excellent retake on the zombie apocalypse thriller, IT STAINS THE SANDS RED.

((Unfortunately, no reference links were available for this entry at time of publication.  But it has been announced that “Z” will be released to VOD streaming platforms in December of this year.)

#2. ONE MUST FALLWINNER: BEST DIRECTOR; BEST SPECIAL FX; BEST ACTOR & BEST KILLER (BARRY PIACENTE) – Directed by ANTONIO PANTOJA

You may remember from some years back, an excellent and very weird film called CURDLED.  In that movie, a woman working on a crime-scene cleaning crew developed a morbid and growing romantic fascination with the serial killer whose messes they were hired to clean up.

ONE MUST FALL puts a very different spin on that scenario.  Two down-on-their-luck office drones replace their dead-end jobs by signing up with a crime scene cleaning crew. But a question not asked very often does arise: what if during the process of cleaning up, they discover that the perpetrator of a crime has never left the crime scene?

They soon learn the terrifying answer, as they’re preyed upon by the city’s first reported serial murderer.  And he is one for the books.

The cast is game for all of the grueling paces that director Pantoja puts them through, but you won’t walk away from this one without the memory of actor Barry Piacente stained on your brain indefinitely, as the grandiose and remorseless serial murderer who gets off on torture and murder…and those who cross his path will be lucky if he gets right to the ‘murder’ part!

(THIS FILM IS CURRENTLY STILL ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT, BUT HAS BEEN SET FOR RELEASE.  To see the trailer for ONE MUST FALL, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAT6l5npavI)

#1. STRAIGHT EDGE KEGGERWINNER: BEST SCREENPLAY (JASON ZINK); BEST KILL (DEATH BY BEER BONG) – Directed by JASON ZINK

There’s nothing I love better than a movie that truly takes me into cultures with their own languages and customs that I’ve never been aware of…especially when they’re right here in our very own country. And STRAIGHT EDGE KEGGER does that and then some.

As an MTV-head, I know my punk ‘basics’. The Clash, Blondie, The B-52’s, The Go-Gos, DEVO, most of the bands that started out punk and eventually went “new wave”. I learned more later by seeking out the more hardcore but still well-known groups: The Sex Pistols, The Dead Kennedys, Human Sexual Response, L7, Black Flag, etc.

I’d heard quite a bit about the sub-genres and the sub-genres of those, but I knew nothing about the “straight edge” movement before this film. So I was surprised to learn a few things, especially in the form of a punk ‘drama’ that takes a turn into “survival thriller” mode.

Brad (CORY KAYS) is the co-founder of a “straight edge” group within the local punk scene.  For the uneducated – of which I was one – “straight edgers” are about celebrating the music, without the anarchistic, nihilistic trappings: no booze, no drugs, no white supremacist skinheads, no assholes, period. It all seems to be on the up-and-up at first, but the co-founder/now-ringleader James (JULIO MONTENEGRO JR. in a riveting performance) has taken things to a ‘zero-tolerance’, almost fascist level, even beating up on the lead singer of a band while onstage, when they decline his request not to play a song called “Boozehound.”

I recently saw a film whose tagline was “Be careful what you believe in.” I think that sentiment would’ve been more fitting for STRAIGHT EDGE, considering the surprising turn the movie takes.

Increasingly disenchanted with James’s growing militancy in actions and attitude, Brad falls in with unrepentant partyers Sean (SEAN JONES, who could be the older, boozier brother of Zach Galifianakis), and Sean’s neighbor, “Maybe” (EVEY REIDY), who Brad falls hard for.  Seeing his protégé “going over to the dark side” snaps something off in James, and this is where the film takes its most frightening turn, when the straight-edge leader demands proof of loyalty in ways that will turn deadly for a lot of people.

So maybe the line I mentioned needs just one small adjustment: “Be careful who you believe in.” STRAIGHT EDGE KEGGER turns quickly into a riff on YOU’RE NEXT and GREEN ROOM, but in a more terrifying way.  Because the danger and violence comes not from people who you expect it from – home invaders or Nazi skinheads – but from the kind of guys you’d least expect it from, all in the name of ‘keeping it clean.’  The performances here are great, with Kays, Reidy, Jones and especially Montenegro being the standouts.  Writer/director Zink is surefooted in both his writing and direction, setting up a scenario that is scarily realistic, with a message that couldn’t be more relevant than now.

I predict that STRAIGHT EDGE KEGGER will be one of those films that soon develops a very strong and growing cult following, once it goes into wide release.

(THIS FILM IS CURRENTLY STILL ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT. To see the trailer for STRAIGHT EDGE KEGGER, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCruOb4CYZg)

Posted by Samuel Glass

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Rakefet Abergel

To see more about Boo visit MeetMyBoo.com and thank you !

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