As I write this, I’m marveling at how much an ordinary Film School Reject’s life can change in a couple of weeks.
A couple Saturdays ago, I was kickin’ it in Hollywood at the first-annual LA Horror Fest and having the time of my life. Now I’m freezing my proverbial nutsack off in my home state of Minnesota, toiling in what feels like perpetual darkness thanks to that straight-up bullshit we know affectionately as “falling back.”
Thankfully, I still have the memories of the sunshine and (cinematic) bloodletting to keep me warm. And, hey, if I learned anything at the Fest, it’s that you’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet. Or in my case, the pea-green vomit with the succulent artisanal fruit jam. Trust me. This will all make sense in seconds. Just give me a moment to connect the dots.
The Spawn of Stone
Seven features screened at the LA Horror Fest and the Best Feature Award went to Greystone Park, a found-footage horror flick set in the crumbling hulk of a haunted insane asylum. What sets Greystone Park apart? Well, the main selling point might be the director’s pedigree: It’s the first feature from 28-year-old Sean Stone, as in, the son of Oliver.
Oliver himself has a memorable cameo, sharing ghost stories (and a burbling hookah) with his son and a circle of friends. On a dare, Sean (who acquits himself fairly well as an actor as the film’s lead) and a couple of his buddies break into Greystone Park with a camera. The rest, as they claim, is history.
To be honest, I found Greystone Park to be kind of a mixed bag. The story is a bit thin, but the cast is solid and the principal location has an authentic menace that only decades of rot and ruin can produce. Unfortunately, the film shares a similar premise to one of my all-time favorite horror films — Session 9 — and it suffers in comparison to Brad Anderson’s 2001 genre classic. To Sean’s credit, the decision to go with the found-footage premise isn’t just a gimmick. It makes an awful lot of sense for a guy whose filmography to date has mostly consisted of documentary shorts. It’ll be interesting to see how Sean develops and finds his own voice as a filmmaker. He told the audience at the screening that he’d like to tackle a comedy (!) next.
Infinity and Other Short Subjects
In addition to the features, the Fest had a solid lineup of shorts that ran the gamut from Poe adaptations to zombie serials. (In the interest of full disclosure, my own short Some of Angela was an official selection — check out the trailer if you have 61 seconds to kill).
The Best Short award went to Christian Ackerman’s Hell’s Belles. It’s a solidly entertaining and hilarious tale of two young women who tool around in an old Cadillac hearse and respond to reports of spirits in need of a good banishing. If you’re a fan of Joss Whedon’s horror/comedy blend, check it out.
If you like your horror a bit less tongue-in-cheek, I also recommend Randy Crowder’s short, Infinity. It’s a haunting tale about a woman trapped in a living hell. And that’s all I want to say about it. Infinity is truly a memorable bit o’ mindfuckery, and if you get the opportunity to see it, it’s best to let it take you by surprise.
Howdy, Captain Howdy
The highlight of the festival for me was spending some time chatting with Fest guest Eileen Dietz. In case you’re not a devout devotee of The Exorcist, Dietz was Linda Blair’s body double in some of the film’s more violent scenes. She was also the model for an early makeup test which wound up appearing in the finished film as near-subliminal flashes of the demon Pazuzu (aka Captain Howdy).
I don’t know why I’m always delightfully surprised to discover that actors who’ve made their names doing terrible things in horror films are actually pretty cool in real life. Eileen is no exception. She was very down-to-earth and clearly enjoys meeting her fans.
Dietz told me she prefers the theatrical version of The Exorcist to the 2000 extended cut (I have to agree) and confirmed that a 30th anniversary blu-ray is coming next year. I don’t know that I’ll replace my current digibook blu-ray copy, especially now that it’s been signed by Captain Howdy herself.
Jam of the Dead
Perhaps the most surreal moment of the Fest was meeting a nice young woman, her face painted in the style of a Mexican Day of the Dead skull, who called herself Mami Jolly (pictured above) and sold homemade fruit jams.
What the hell does fruit spread have to do with horror? When in L.A., apparently, you don’t ask such questions. But it turns out Fest founder Thomas Schroeder has a goal of turning the event into more than just a film festival. He wants to make this into more of a full-on convention and, to that end, brought in an eclectic mix of vendors and live performers this first year.
And it sounds like you won’t have to wait a whole ‘nother year to kick it with the Fest’s friendly freaks. Schroeder plans to stage another festival this May. Why? Well, as he zealously informed everyone he could, “May is Zombie Awareness Month.” Sounds like a good excuse for a party to me.