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SCREAM FEST LA NEWS:

Screamfest LA Winners

October 23, 2006 -- Here's the lineup of Screamfest LA winners:

Best Film: ISOLATION
Best Director: Billy O’Brien, ISOLATION
Best Actor: Mark Senter (pictured), THE LOST
Best Actress: Essie Davis, ISOLATION
Best Short: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU
Best Editing: THE BEACH PARTY ON THE THRESHOLD TO HELL
Best Cinematography: THE MARSH
Best Score: FROSTBITE
Best Makeup: FROSTBITE
Best Special Effects: FROSTBITE
Best Screenplay: CHILDISH THINGS by Alex Greenfield

Meanwhile, the New York City Horror Film Festival gave out its awards Sunday night as well. It's winners were:

Best Feature: FINGERPRINTS
Best Actor: Robert “Opal” Oppel, RAPTURIOUS
Best Actress: Gina Ramsden, LAST RITES OF THE DEAD
Best Screenplay: Marc Fratto, LAST RITES OF THE DEAD
Best Cinematography: THE MARSH
Best Special Effects: THE MARSH
Best Short: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU
Audience Choice: EDDIE LOVES YOU
Special Honoree: Tony Todd

As those fests wind down, the Toronto After Dark Film Festival is still in full swing this week. Click here for more on that.

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Screamfest Wowed by 'Hatchet'

October 23, 2006 -- The final dispatch from Screamfest LA finds "Hatchet" warmly received by the audience there. It should hit screens in 2007, albeit with some major gore cuts.

SCREAMFEST DISPATCH #7: Final Screaming and Screenings

By Steve Biodrowski

The final two days of screenings at Screamfest LA were filled with plenty of screams.

DRFITWOOD is gore auteur Mike Sullivan’s attempt to get serious. “My previous films are what I call ‘splat-stick,’ he told the crowd before the screening. “Instead of a pie in the face you get a severed head in the face. But people ask me what really scares me. That is when people try to keep me from being who I am.” Sullivan went on to tell a story about a teenage friend, a drummer, who was sent by his parents to an “attitude adjustment” camp. “It stole his soul,” Sullivan said. “Those places are more frightening than any vampire or Freddy Krueger.”

Based on this idea, Sullivan wanted to make a “Teenage Cool Hand Luke” or “Teenage Cuckoo’s Nest,” but his producer suggested a “supernatural Cool Hand Luke” instead. The result is actually pretty effective – a melodrama about a boy given over by his parents to a corrupt correctional facility that is haunted by the ghost of a former inmate. The movie benefits from its serious style, abetted by the work of producer Bud Smith, who previously edited THE EXORCIST.

“The subliminal cuts [in DRIFTWOOD] are stolen from THE EXORCIST, but there are many more of them,” Smith said. He went on to recount that the film’s tightly paced 90 minutes are the result of convincing Sullivan not to shoot every scene in the script. “We had a rough cut that was 90 minutes, with 15 ‘scene missing’ cards in it. I asked Mike what he was going to cut out to make room for those fifteen scenes, because a two-hour running time would have killed this movie. We finally convinced him we could cut around the missing scenes.”

After the DRIFTWOOD screening, most of the cast and crew headed over to a party at the Knitting Factory, but a few hardy souls remained behind to watch the West Coast premier of ISOLATION. This turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The movie was quite good, but the production (some sort of digital video) was terrible. Not only were the heads of the actors cropped off, but for the first fifteen minutes we were treated to the site of the image being constantly readjusted (shrunk, expanded, squeezed, etc) without ever fixing the problem.

It’s a testament to ISOLATION’s effectiveness that we remained glued in our seats instead of storming out in protest. The story’s premise sounds entirely inauspicious: a genetic experiment on a cow farm creates a killer mutant calf, but the film is totally effective. An Irish production, ISOLATION has a grungy, utterly convincing lived-in feel, completely lacking Hollywood gloss. It has the look of some dreary foreign art house film, which creates an atmosphere in which the horror is genuinely shocking.

THE MARSH is another ghost story, this one starring Gabrielle Anwar as an author of Tim Burton-style children’s books filled with spooky rhymes and paintings. Apparently her inspiration comes from her chronic nightmares; when she discovers an actual location that conforms to the place she sees in her dreams, she sets off to explore. The film has good production values and some nice CGI effects (the ghosts don’t just manifest; the human characters see the surrounding room morph into a past version of itself), but the story is slow and the ultimate explanation for the haunting is muddled. The talented Forrest Whitaker shows up as a psychic consultant, but there’s little he can do to save the film, which features the lamest method of exorcising a spirit ever recorded on scream: the spook is lured back to the other side with a blanket he owned while alive – oooh, scary!

THE QUICK AND THE UNDEAD, as the title suggests, is a combination of George A. Romero and Sergio Leone; it’s set in a post-apocalyptic new West where bounty hunters earn bucks for gunning down zombies. The idea is a bit more amusing than the execution, but actor Clint Glenn does look remarkably like a young Clint Eastwood while squinting his eyes in close-up, and you have to give the film credit for its amusing conceit. The movie should come out on DVD, courtesy of Anchor Bay, later this year.

HATCHET may be the bucket of blood that splatter fans have been waiting for. The poster art for proudly proclaims that the film is “old school horror” (circa 1980) “It’s not a sequel. It’s not a remake. And it’s not based on a Japanese one.”

The film has been gaining a reputation on the festival circuit. Writer-director Adam Green told the eager audience. “Since we first showed it in March, this print has been all around the world, and I’ve been with it. Right now, I feel about like the print looks.” He pumped up the audience by adding, “Our best response has been in London, because those fuckers are crazy, but since this is the end of the tour and we’re back home, I think you can beat them. Let’s rip the roof off this place!”

That was the first – but not the last time – the audience erupted into applause. The movie that unspoiled was an unapologetic throwback to slasher films from two decades ago (like FRIDAY THE 13TH, it’s about some kids stalked by a mad killer in the woods), but HATCHET far exceeds its inspiration models, thanks to solid scripting and great acting that make the gore scenes really hurt. Robert Englund (Freddy Kruger) has a cameo as an early victim, and Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees) plays the mad, mutant, and possibly supernatural psycho-killer.

Set in the Louisiana bayou, the film has atmosphere to spare, and even the obligatory legend explaining the killer’s existence is presented with panache. In fact, the film is almost too effective, becoming frightening rather than fun as the hapless characters (tourists on an ill-fated guided tour through a swamp) are picked off one by one in hideously graphic fashion.

HATCHET is scheduled for theatrical release early next year, but don’t expect to see the complete version in your local multiplex. The MPAA is certain to demand some major cuts, but I suspect the film is strong enough to withstand the censors scissors without losing too much of its effectiveness.

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The Word on 'Pumpkinhead' and 'Gravedancers'

October 22, 2006 -- The last dispatch from "Screamfest LA" looks at the new "Pumpkinhead" film, along with the rather interesting "Gravedancers."

Screamfest LA Dispatch # 6

By Steve Biodrowski

As one might expect from a festival devoted to independent horror films, Screamfest LA has had its share of psycho-killers, homicidal families, and zombies; after all, they’re easier to achieve on a low budget. But there have also been nifty ghost stories and monster movies, which require a little bit more from the special effects department. Wednesday night gave us two of the latter: THE GRAVEDANCES and PUMPKINHEAD: ASHES TO ASHES.

THE GRAVEDANCERS is about a trio of college friends who reunite for the funeral of their former comrade. They make the mistake of taking the advice found on a mysterious sympathy card, a poem suggesting that life is for the living, who should dance on the graves of the dead. Somewhat predictably – but very effectively – this precipitates a trio of hauntings, one for each offender. The movie kicks off with a nice shock sequence, perhaps slightly reminiscent of SUSPIRIA’s killer opening, then moves into a nicely handled building for the first act, establishing the characters and hinting at the presence of unseen ghosts through camera movement and sound effects, before pulling out all the stops in the later portions. If at times, the film gets a bit too special effects heavy, creating an atmosphere that feels more fanciful than frightening, it mostly works as a creepy nail-biter, with only a couple of graphic moments in what would otherwise warrant a PG-rating.

During the question-and-answer session afterward, director Mike Mendez told of the projects long gestation period, going all the way back to 1999. The script had been at various production companies, with the budget going up or down, until it finally got made with relatively minimal resources, requiring some rewriting before shooting began.

As a result, there was an attempt to get as much as possible in camera, on the set, but then the film got lucky in post, landing a deal to handle the 35mm film’s effects in the digital realm, and allowing several scenes to be enhanced with CGI. “I wanted that HALLOWEEN gloomy look,” the director said of the live-action shooting. “Then we ran the whole thing through the computer and adjusted every shot.”

The look of the film’s grinning ghosts is at once distinctive and familiar, conflating a variety of inspirations, including Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH and Disney’s THE HAUNTED MANSION (the ride, not the film). Mendez said the concept came from a bad dream: “I had a nightmare where I was going upstairs and turned around, and this ten-foot thing was behind me, smiling. There was something scarier about that. You know what a growling dog is all about, but there’s something more unusual about this thing that’s happy to see you, in a threatening way.”

THE GRAVEDANCERS, like THE HAMILTONS, will screen as part of the After Dark Horror Festival in 35 major cities on November 17 through 19. The DVD release is scheduled for March. Mendez’s next movie will be, he hopes, 100 DEMONS, which he calls “sort of John Woo’s EVIL DEAD – the ultimate demon action movie.”

Next up was PUMPKINHEAD: ASHES TO ASHES, which Sci Fi Channel will air on Saturday, October 28. This is an obvious attempt to ignore any intervening sequels and stretch all the way back to the original, with Lance Henriksen reprising his role (now a ghost) and with Douglas Roberts playing Bunt Wallace, the adult version of the boy seen in the first film. The sequel pretty much sticks to the formula of the original, but this time the object of revenge is a full-fledged murderous villain, not a bunch of stupid kids who make a mistake. The script tries to squeeze a little extra suspense out of the situation by having Pumpkinhead’s target, Doc Fraser (HELLRAISER’S Doug Bradley doing an absolutely flawless Southern accent), deduce that he can stop the monster by killing the people who summoned it.

The movie actually works pretty well, judged by the standards of made-for-television movies. The monster is handled nicely, and Henriksen’s scenes, far from being an obligatory cameo, do add some spooky resonance. Unfortunately, the film comes up against is budgetary constraints in the CGI department, with some laughably bad, computer-game-like shots of the monster crawling on roofs and leaping off buildings.

After the screening, director Jake West admitted the shortcomings and blamed the budget and the 23-day shooting schedule, which also resulted in a low gore-quotient. “We didn’t have the ability to throw gore around,” he explained. “Although this was a bigger budget than any of my previous films, the schedule was short – that’s just the nature of doing something for television. So all our effects efforts went into making the Pumpkinhead suit. We went more for emotion than gore, which I tell myself is more mature,” he added with a laugh.

West also joked that actor Bradley, after years of wearing the Cenobite makeup, was “delighted” to play a human character and “see someone else called on set four hours early every day to put on the makeup.”

After the Sci Fi screening next week, PUMPKINHEAD will head to DVD. Although no deal has been inked yet, two offers are on the table.

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Interesting Finds at Screamfesta LA

October 22, 2006 -- This week has seen an interesting mix of horror films at Screamfest LA, rangy from sleazy slasher films to ghoulish ghost stories. Not all of them have been great, but there have been more than a few gems worth watching.

Screamfest LA Dispatch # 5

By Steve Biodrowski

FINGERPRINTS, like South Korean writer-director Beong-ki Ahn’s GAWI (a.k.a. NIGHTMARE, 2000), mixes supernatural and slasher elements to a similarly schizophrenic result. Although at times effective, the mixture is a bit like a soufflé laced with Thunderbird wine: you might like one or the other, or even both – but not together. The story follows a high-school girl moving into her family’s new home after spending some time in rehab. Turns out there’s a local legend about a busload of school kids who were killed by a train: supposedly, any car that stops on the tracks will find itself magically propelled by the invisible ghosts of the victims, the only evidence being their fingerprints. It turns out there’s more to the story, including a cover-up of a nasty town secret and psycho-killer stalking people who might reveal the truth. The film benefits from a strong performance by the young Leah Pipes in the lead, supported by more seasoned performers in supporting roles (Lou Diamond Phillips as a teacher-counselor, Sally Kirkland as an old woman whose sister was killed in the crash, Geoffrey Lewis as the town drunk). Problem is the story is predictable: you won’t need to perform any Holmesian analysis to deduce the identity (a simple process of elimination will do), and the killer, when finally revealed, seems incapable of the graphic violence shown earlier. Still, the ghosts are handled well, making the film reasonably spooky even if it falls flat as a mystery-thriller.

THE HAMILTONS is odd film poised halfway between the art house and the grind house. It has a vaguely satirical tone, showcasing an orphaned family that’s trying to hold itself together and keep up appearances while occasionally kidnapping people and holding them captive in the cellar for food. In other words, they’re basically no better than the Texas Chainsaw family, but they look normal enough to fit comfortably into any suburb. The story is told from the point-of-view of the Hamilton’s youngest son, who narrates and documents his life through a small video camera, creating a mock-documentary tone that helps compensate for its low budget (it was shot in fifteen days).

After the screening, the film’s directing duo, who go by the name of The Butcher Brothers, laughed when I asked if they were inspired by CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, a documentary about a family whose father is accused of child molestation. “That’s the first time we’ve heard that,” one said. “But that was part of our pitch – ‘Capturing the Friedmans as a horror film.’” They went on to explain that they wanted to do their own interpretation of a horror film while avoiding the usual clichés, which is how they hit on their novel approach.

THE HAMILTONS will screen as part of the After Dark Horror Fest that hits major cities on the weekend of November 17-19. Although happy with the response their film has engendered, the Butcher Brothers seem to see it mostly as a stepping-stone to bigger and better work. Their next effort in development is THE KILLERS, which they described as a throwback to ‘70s horror like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

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'Hood of Horror' Strikes Screamfest LA

October 20, 2006 -- It appears the new Snoop Dogg horror film "Hood of Horror" isn't a "Tales From the Hood"-level classic, but a fun ride nonetheless, according to our man on the ground at Screamfest LA, currently taking place in Los Angeles. Screamfest LA Dispatch # 4

By Steve Biodrowski

Well, the trumpeted “red carpet premier” of SNOOP DOGG’S HOOD OF HORRORS rolled out with little pizzazz on Wednesday. There was no red carpet, and the screening, scheduled for 7:30pm, did not start until after 8:00pm, apparently to allow more time for the filmmakers to show up in person. Meanwhile, paying customers were continually being kicked out of the upper balcony V.I.P. section of the theatre and told to go downstairs (the simple expediency of roping off the section apparently went untried that evening). One bemused fellow ended up sitting next to me, chuckling over the fact that (he claimed) he had recently sat down shoulder-to-shoulder at a Washington, D.C. function with Senators Arlen Spectre and Joseph Biden – but he wasn’t good enough to sit next to Snoop Dogg! In any case, the precaution was a wasted effort, as the celebrity rapper was a no-show for the evening.

Eventually, Tim Sullivan (director of the upcoming DRIFTWOOD, which screens later this week at Screamfest) took the microphone and explained the origins of the production. While finishing work on his directing debut, 2001 MANIACS, Sullivan found out that his music supervisor, Jonathan McHugh, was looking to develop film projects for his roster of musical talent. Sullivan came up with the concept of HOOD OF HORRORS because he was “surprised that no one ever did a follow-up to TALES FROM THE HOOD.” McHugh offered the project to Snoop Dogg, who signed on, giving the project the name value it needed to become a reality. Neither Sullivan nor McHugh thought anyone else would suffice. “What were we going to do?” Sullivan asked the crowded theatre. “Queen Latifah’s Hood of Horrors? I don’t think so!”Sullivan and McHugh went on to produce and write the film, collaborating on the script with Chris Kobin and Jacob Hair; the directing chores were handed over to Stacy Title.

Sullivan then announced to the audience that the Screamfest screening was the film’s actual premier; although HOOD OF HORRORS had previously screened at a Los Angeles film festival earlier this year, that was an incomplete version. Tonight, we were supposed to be seeing the final cut, with completed titles and music, in 35mm.

I say “supposed” because what “unreeled” before us sure looked like a dingy video copy. Even worse, it looked like they were showing a standard format film with some kind of anamorphic lens on the projector: the image was stretched out horizontally, making all the characters look short and fat.

The movie itself hardly merited better treatment. It’s an old-fashioned anthology, with three short horror stories - all set in the hood, naturally. It gets off to a slow start with a none-too-brief animated sequence that sets up the mythology: Snoop plays a former gang-banger-turned-angel-or-demon, one among many who keep an eye out on those who take the wrong path in life. The stories are all pretty basic and predictable in the old “Tales from the Crypt” style: some character gets an opportunity, blows it big time, and pays the bloody price at the end. There’s a certain cartoony fun to these simple morality stories, but mostly they serve as an excuse for some pretty laughably lame gore; my favorite being the liquor bottle through the head – not something that’s going to give me any nightmares. The plots are also a bit repetitious (two of them feature characters who are revealed, in flashback, to have committed murders).

Snoop Dogg cuts an impressive figure as our guide to the hood, but he’s not a great actor, and his entourage (a couple of ‘hos with spooky contact lenses and/or fangs) look like runners-up in an amateur Halloween costume contest. Fortunately, the supporting cast shoulders the acting burden well, with old pros like Ernie Hudson (GHOSTBUSTERS) and Jason Alexander (SEINFELD) breathing a little life into the film.

Needless to say, a Snoop Dogg rap is featured on the soundtrack. You would expect a music video to go along with this, but you might not expect the video to be tagged on to the end of the film. That’s right: after the stories are all over, you get to see a montage of the footage you’ve just seen, intercut with Snoop Dogg’s performance. It’s not bad, actually, and it might have served as a nice end credits sequence, but instead we go back to that cut-rate animation that started the film – as if we didn’t get enough of that before the opening credits.

Whatever the shortcomings, SNOOP DOGG’S HOOD OF HORRORS will get theatrical distribution, according to Sullivan, but it’s hard to image that this will serve as much more than a platform to promote the eventual DVD release.

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Big 'Find' of Screamfest is 'Automaton Transfusion'

October 19, 2006 -- "Automaton Transfusion" looks like it's the big "find" of this year's Screamfest LA, still taking place in Los Angeles as we speak.

Screamfest LA Dispatch # 3

By Steve Biodrowski

The big discovery at the Screamfest LA festival in Hollywood has to be writer-director Steven C. Miller’s AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION. This is another low-budget (shot on digital video in nine days) entry in a seemingly depleted genre – the apocalyptic zombie film – but it rocks with an incredible energy thanks to hardcore metal music, incredibly over-the-top gore effects, and an awesomely impressive dedication to playing its horror straight, instead of going for the cop-out tongue-in-cheek attitude many low-budget filmmakers favor to hide their shortcomings. Honest to god, this is a movie that makes you feel sorry for the poor bastards caught up in the horror, instead of eagerly cheering for them to become zombie chow.

There’s barely a plot, but who needs one? The movie just sets up the situation and then runs on adrenalin. After a couple of isolated zombie attacks to set the mood, a bunch of the kids from the local high school go to a party, but a trio of guys head out to a late-afternoon show at a club in the city. Along the way, they’re stunned by an absence of rush-hour traffic on the freeway and even more stunned by the complete absence of people in the city. It’s not long before they’re chased by a horde of zombie cannibals, and the rest of the film follows their attempts to get back home to save their family and friends.

The movie pushes the outer envelope of on-screen violence: besides the obligatory shotgun to the head routine, one cheerleader has her jaw ripped off; and a pregnant girl suffers an unwilling abortion, then lives just long enough to see a zombie devouring her fetus.

But what’s really shocking – well, maybe not shocking but certainly surprising – is how much juice the film gets out of its young cast. It’s always nice to see movie teenagers acting like real people instead of the idiots we usually see in Hollywood horror films. But more than that, making them the leads adds another turn of the screw in a story about the end of the world as we know it – it’s a situation that would put any adult through the proverbial gauntlet, and it’s even more intense watching these kids try to grapple with a something that’s just too big to control.

The movie ends with an outrageous, BACK TO THE FUTURE-type “to be continued” cliffhanger that will leave you eagerly anticipating a sequel. After the screening, I told writer-director Miller I was amazed at how much he managed to get in the camera in just nine days; he gave total credit to his cast-and-crew for working eighteen-hour days. He also said that the film is looking for a distributor, and he hopes that happens soon, so that he can get to work on the follow-up. Here’s hoping Hollywood comes knocking on his door. He achieved so much with so little with his debut; it’s incredible to imagine what he might do with an actual budget.

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Major 'Feast' at Screamfest LA

October 19, 2006 -- Here's a dispatch from our man at Screamfest LA, covering the screening of the well-received "Feast," one of the best fear films of the year apparently.

Screamfest LA Dispatch # 2

By Steve Biodrowski

Well, things have picked up considerably at Screamfest LA, with several interesting films unspooling on the big screen this week.

Probably the biggest, best-looking, and most professional production is one that, ironically, is already out on DVD: FEAST. An R-rated version of the film played some midnight screenings around the country a few weeks ago; Screamfest screened the unrated version on the same day it was released on DVD, with the cast and crew in attendance for a question-and-answer session afterward.

FEAST is a real movie-movie that revels in undermining genre expectations and going way over the top with its outrageous gore (not to mention disgusting monster sex). Each human character is introduced with a subtitle giving a generic name, an occupation, and a life expectancy (e.g., “Name: Hero. Life Expectancy: Pretty Fucking Good”) and then, as often as not, blowing the prediction out of the water.

After the screening, director John Gulager (son of actor Clu Gulager [RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD], who plays the film’s bartender) spoke about the film’s origins and distribution. The movie got made because it won a contest at Project Greenlight, a company set up by actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. In return for financing, Gulager and his crew had to allow the filmmaking process to be shot for a reality television show, which aggravated all the usual on-set tension.

“There are conversations that you have to have, because you’re making a film, that should be private,” he said, “but we knew they were going to be on television. And then we would be interviewed about what we had said.”

Gulager also lamented the distribution plan for the movie. “It sucks!” he said, adding, “We could never figure it out. We’re getting a lot of airplay now, and it’s great that it’s coming out on DVD, but fuck, man, why couldn’t they do that for the midnight screenings? Nobody knew it was out. Now we have 140 35mm prints available for college screenings across the country.”

FEAST certainly deserved a better shot in theatres than it got. Ironically, Screamfest screened it immediately after SLITHER, which also came out on DVD Tuesday – a film that got a major theatrical release from Universal Pictures and then fell flat on its face at the box office because its sensibility is entirely of a midnight-movie cult variety. FEAST might not have been a blockbuster, but it had a shot at being a sleeper hit if distributor Dimension Films had gotten the word out.

The silver lining to the story is that the project has opened doors. Writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton are not developing a murder-mystery television show and have another feature film planned, with Gulager involved. Gulager declined to discuss details, saying only that he has “another movie with Dimension, but I can’t say what it is. It’s a secret.”

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Report From Screamfest LA

October 16, 2006 -- Screamfest LA started on Friday the 13th, and Esplatter has exclusive coverage from our man at the scene, Steve Biodrowski.

Screamfest LA is in its sixth year. It’s bigger and more upscale than rival Shriekfest, which took place last month in Hollywood: Screamfest takes place in an actual theatre (at the Grauman’s Chinese complex) instead of a tiny studio screening room; it has slick advertising, a glossy program, and a fairly high-profile sponsor (MonsterHD, a new, high-definition, all-horror station); and some of the films it screens actually get theatrical distribution (e.g., DARKNESS and THREE EXTREMES). With all this going for it, you expect it to draw a higher caliber of films, but a couple of early screenings leave one wondering whether the horror genre isn’t stumbling back into its grave like a vampire during daylight savings time.

The title BEACH PARTY AT THE THRESHOLD OF HELL suggests a spook of old horror movies like HORROR OF PARTY BEACH or at least something along the lines of Lucio Fulci meets Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello; instead it’s a tongue-in-cheek low-budget futuristic fantasy about a tiny group of survivors trying to jump start a “New America” two decades after nuclear annihilation. THE LOST is about hot-headed loser who gets away with murder in the opening scene, then goes about his life for the next two hours of screen time, before erupting into a homicidal rampage for the final act. The problem is not so much that the films are not terribly good (although there is that); it’s more that they’re not horror. Is the genre really so depleted that we have to resort to post-apocalyptic pseudo-satire and a melodramatic thrill-killer thriller?

BEACH PARTY comes with a bit of a buzz attached. It screened at another Los Angeles film festival earlier this year, and the film’s poster features a laudatory quote from Scott Bowles at USA Today, calling the film a “visual stunner” that combines elements of Quentin Tarantino and MAD MAX. The film clearly has a clever strategy in mind, which is to adopt an off-hand, matter-of-fact tone toward its outrageous situations, but the idea wears thin from overuse, and the pacing is interminable. The filmmakers (actor Kevin Wheatley wrote the script, co-directed, and played the lead) tell us from the beginning that the whole thing is a big joke, yet all the scenes are cut together as if there is some genuine suspense at work. The performances reveal genuine talent, and Jane Seymour and Daniel Baldwin pop up long enough to provide a little name value, but the characters wear out their welcome, and the camera really loves to linger over the actors’ every twitch, tic, and grimace. (One of the film’s villains breaks down and sobs twice during the movie; it’s sort of funny the first time, but not twice.) Apparently, BEACH PARTY merited inclusion at Screamfest because of the copious blood spilled, which includes one ripped-out spine, one chainsaw death, a hatchet through the head, a gouged eye, and one heart pulled from a chest. The film is (perhaps optimistically) entitled Part One, and afterward Wheatley assured us he is scripting the next two chapters in the trilogy. Whether they come to pass may depend on the fate of the first film. According to producer Jamie Bullock (who also stars as “Cannibal Sue”), there are some offers on the table, but the filmmakers may hold out for self-distribution, in order to retain all the rights to the property.

THE LOST is a bit more engrossing, although it too ultimately overstays its welcome. The script, adapted by producer-director Chris Sivertson, is based on a novel by Jack Ketchum, who is listed as one of the executive producers in the credits. Unfortunately, Sivertson seems to have retained too many subplots from the book, creating a muddled narrative lacking in focus. The film’s highlight is the genuinely creepy performance by Marc Senter as Ray Pye, a genuine creep who, we are told, puts crushed beer cans in his shoes to make himself taller. In the opening scene, Ray shoots a couple of women in the woods; then the rest of the film takes place four years later, involving his girlfriend, his best friend, a police detective still seeking to solve the unsolved murder, a new girl he meets at work (who happens to be having an affair with the detective’s ex partner), and another new girl with whom he has a brief affair while trying to hold onto his girlfriend while trying to launch another affair with the girl at work while trying to evade the questions from the police while…while…while…

With its excess of characters and plot threads, the movie plays like a soap opera until Ray finally goes nuts in the last five minutes and starts shooting everyone. The conclusion is perhaps violent enough to qualify as horror, but up to that point, the film’s inclusion in the genre is doubtful at best. The movie does evoke PSYCHO (Ray works at a motel presided over by his domineering mother), but Ray is simply not as interesting a figure as Norman Bates, and as good as Senter’s performance is, he’s still just a skinny punk who’s only threatening with a gun in his hand (you keep waiting for one of his victims to punch him out). The movie does get under your skin (“disturbing” was the word heard on the way out of the theatre), but the most disturbing thing about it is that it plays like a sick loser’s psycho power-trip fantasy: although Ray’s an obvious creep, beautiful women find him attractive, and the film can’t get enough of showing them take off their clothes for him. With a 2005 copyright date and no distributor yet, THE LOST probably won’t be coming to a theatre near you any time soon, but it has just enough going for it to make it appeal to the more twisted terror tastes whenever it finds its way to video.

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World Premiere of 'Tripper' Set for Friday the 13th

October 10, 2006 -- "The Tripper" from David Arquette has its world premiere at Screamfest LA this Friday at the Mann's Chinese 6 in Hollywood. "The Tripper," which is a bloody political satire, revolves around a group of friends who escape to a modern-day Woodstock concert for a weekend of debauchery, only to be stalked by a fanatical killer determined to finish what he started years earlier. The film stars Jamie King (Sin City), Thomas Jane (The Punisher), Lukas Haas (Alpha Dog), Jason Mewes (Clerks), Balthazar Getty (Feast), Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Brad Hunt (2005 Screamfest winner for Best Actor in COOKERS). Also with cameos from David Arquette (Scream), Courteney Cox (Scream)and many more.

Check out the film's MySpace page here or click here for tix.

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Shriekfest Announces Winners

October 9, 2006 -- Shriekfest, a precursor of sorts to Screamfest LA, announced its winners today. Shriekfest took place on Sept 22-24 and Sept 29-Oct 1st at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. Shriekfest screened 58 films and had 27 screenplay finalists. "The Other Side" directed by Gregg Bishop took the Grand Jury prize for best Narrative Feature, "Unrest" directed by Jason Todd Ipson took the 2nd place feature win. The winner of the Best Screenplay went to "The Next Plane" written by Christopher Moro. For a complete list of all of the winners please go to www.shriekfest.com .

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Shriekfest Shocks Hollywood

October 3, 2006 -- Not to be confused with Screamfest LA -- but ultimately related as it takes place in the same neck of the woods in the same time of year -- Shriekfest is one of the largest horror film festivals in the country. Here's an exclusive update from Steve Biodrowski on highlights of the 2006 Shriekfest Festival, which took place in Hollywood, Calif.:

The big winner for Best Feature Film at this year’s Shriekfest Film Festival in Hollywood was THE OTHER SIDE, an independent feature film that wowed audiences at a screening on Saturday night and elicited rounds of applause on Sunday when the award was announced – pretty impressive when you consider that many if not most of the audience were fellow filmmakers entered in the competition.

Competitiveness aside, THE OTHER SIDE was the obvious choice, even in a field that included several other impressive titles. Gregg Bishop’s action-packed opus – about souls that escape from hell and are tracked down by almost unkillable “Reapers” intent on bringing them back – may be the EL MARIACHI of horror films: a low-budget calling card that opens doors to Hollywood, allowing for a big-budget sequel-remake down the road. (One of the running gags during the Q&A after the film was which stars would replace the excellent cast of the original, with names like Ewan MacGregor and Michael Clarke Duncan thrown around.) There is no distribution deal for the film yet, but Hollywood would have to be crazy to let this own go direct-to-video. It’s like a horror movie version of THE TERMINATOR, THE HIDDEN, and SUPERMAN II all rolled into one: it delivers the goods – action and special effects – but also tells a complex story without ever dragging the pace to a standstill.

Other stand-outs include UNREST, a gruesome supernatural slasher film that follows some first year med students who come to believe that the soul of their autopsy cadaver is not at peace. Jason Todd Ipson’s film took second place in the Feature Film category, thanks to its convincingly authentic feel (Ipson himself went through medical school before turning to filmmaking.) Shot without stars (not even the traditional cameos that low-budget films use to get some name value on the marquee), UNREST was in danger of being overlooked by distributors, until Lions Gate picked it up for distribution this November.

PENNY DREADFUL, directed by Richard Brandes, was the most slick, Hollywood-style production at the fest, so it’s not surprise the film took home the award for Best Cinematography. It’s a combination of psycho-thriller and slasher horror, about a young woman with a phobia of automobiles (Rachel Miner) who is forced to take refuge in a car while being stalked by a mad killer in the woods. Mimi Rogers lends some star value to the production, as the girl’s therapist, but it’s Miner’s show all the way; her performance lifts the movie several slices above the standard slasher fare. This film is also supposed to get some theatrical play in November.

Also on view at the fest was NIGHTMARE MAN, the latest from cult auteur Rolfe Kanefsky. It’s a deliberate attempt to create an unapologetic cult horror film, filled with nudity, violence, and gory special effects. It’s pretty effective, especially early sequences of the leading lady menaced in a car – scenes that bore a striking (though completely coincidental) similarity to PENNY DREADFUL – a fact that caused no end of amusement for director’s Brandes and Kanesky during the Q&A sessions after their films. (Both movies even shot in the Big Bear Lake area.) . Despite the early similarities, NIGHTMARE MAN is ultimately quite different, thanks to its ever-shifting tone. Kanfesky said his goal was to take the audience through three decades of horror film stylings in a single movie, starting with ‘70s titles like TRILOGY OF TERROR, shifting to ‘80s efforts, and winding up with wilder, more tongue-in-cheek ‘90s stuff like ARMY OF DARKNESS.

NIGHTMARE MAN had previously played for a week in a single theatre in Los Angeles, but it is still in negotiations for distribution. Warner Brothers handled video distribution for Kanefsky’s previous film, JACQUELINE HYDE, and there is an offer on the table for NIGHTMARE MAN, but producer Esther Goodstein is waiting to see if some good foreign deals come in first.

Finally, no accounting of the 6th annual Shriekfest would be complete without a mention of “Itsy Bitsy,” which took top honor in the “Super Short” category. It’s a wonderfully creepy – and also extremely funny – film about a couple, about to be engaged, who are disrupted by the presence of an aggressive three-foot-long spider in their apartment. With solid CGI and clever gags, this is a tiny gem from a talent who should get a shot at a feature film.

Shriekfest is an annual festival dedicated put on by Denise Gossett and Todd Beeson. Its goal is to give horror, fantasy, and sci-fi filmmakers “the recognition they deserve.” It emphasizes young, upstart filmmakers and low-budget, independent films, often looking for distribution

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Full Screamfest LA Schedule, Plus Free 'Feast' Screening

September 29, 2006 -- At long last, the full schedule for Screamfest LA is unveiled, with links to buy tickets. Plus, a free screening of the horror film "Feast" is taking place Oct. 17. Click here for info on that. Meanwhile, here's the schedule:

Buy the Full Festival Pass here (screenings only)
Buy the Full Festival Pass here (includes all parties)

Friday October 13:
7:30 The Tripper (World Premiere)
(Regular Admission Tickets here; Ticket with After Party here)

Saturday, October 14:
Noon Spirit Trap (UK) (Buy Tickets)
2:00 Shorts (Buy Tickets)
5:30 Announcement Forthcoming
7:30 The Beach Party on the Threshold of Hell (Buy Tickets)
9:30 The Lost (West Coast Premiere) (Buy Tickets)

Sunday, October 15:
2:00 Shorts (Buy Tickets)
5:00 Rest Stop: special Sneak Peak (Buy Tickets)
7:30 Frostbiten (Sweden) (Buy Tickets)
9:30 Announcement Forthcoming

Monday, October 16:
7:30 Announcement Forthcoming
9:30 The Hamiltons (Buy Tickets)

Tuesday, October 17:
7:30 Announcement Forthcoming
9:30 Feast: Unrated Edition (Tickets FREE here!)

Wednesday, October 18:
7:30 Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horrors (Red Carpet Premiere) (Buy Tickets)
9:30 Automaton Transfusion (World Premiere) (Buy Tickets)

Thursday, October 19:
7:30 Announcement Forthcoming
9:30 Announcement Forthcoming

Friday, October 20:
7:30 Driftwood (World Premiere) (Buy Tickets)
9:30 Isolation (West Coast Premiere) (Buy Tickets)

Saturday, October 21:
3:30 The Marsh (Buy Tickets)
5:30 The Quick and the Undead (World Premiere) (Buy Tickets)
7:30 Hatchet (Buy Tickets)
9:30 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Buy Tickets)

Sunday, October 22:
6:30 Awards Dinner (Tickets included in full fest package)

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Closing Night Films Announced for Screamfest LA

September 25, 2006 -- Closing night films were selected for the biggest horror-movie fest in the country: "Hatchet" and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon." Screamfest LA will present "Hatchet," directed by Adam Green at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 21: "When a motley crew of tourists on a Haunted Swamp Tour wind up stranded, their night of comedic spooks quickly roller-coasters into a horrific nightmare as they struggle to escape the swamp alive...and with all of their pieces. A spectacular throwback to 80's horror and the film that's been bringing audiences to their feet at film festival's worldwide, HATCHET is filled with laughs, scares, and over-the-top death sequences you'll have to see to believe." Click here for tickets.

At 9:30 p.m., "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon" will screen. "Aspiring documentary filmmaker Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) and her crew arrive in the small town of Glen Echo and broadcast a few fett from notorious Vernon Farmhouse. With the battered abandoned home as the backdrop, Taylor explains that it will be there, where the next brand of unspeakable terror will emerge, thrusting the town of Glen Echo into that pantheon of plagued communities." Click here for tickets.

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'Tripper' to Strike Screamfest LA

Sept. 18, 2006 -- Rachel Belofsky, founder of the annual Screamfest Horror Film Festival, is pleased to announce the selection of David Arquett's directorial debut film THE TRIPPER into competition for the 6th annual event, which is to be held October 13-22 at the Mann Chinese Theaters in Hollywood, California. THE TRIPPER, which is a bloody political satire, revolves around a group of friends who escape to a modern-day Woodstock concert for a weekend of debauchery, only to be stalked by a fanatical killer determined to finish what he started years earlier. The film stars Jamie King (Sin City), Thomas Jane (The Punisher), Lukas Haas (Alpha Dog), Jason Mewes (Clerks), Balthazar Getty (Feast), Paul Reubens (Pee-We's Big Adventure, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) with cameos from David Arquette (Scream), Courteney Cox (Scream) and many more!

"We are extremely excited to present the World Premiere of David Arquett's directing debut," says founder Rachel Belofsky, "horror fans are going to have a blood-soaked good time." For more information, check out ScreamfestLA.com.

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Automaton Transfusion' to Screen at Screamfest LA

Aug. 30, 2006 -- Rachel Belofsky, founder of the annual Screamfest Horror Film Festival, is pleased to announce the selection of Steven C. Miller’s Automaton Transfusion into the 6th annual event, which is to be held October 13-22 at the Mann Chinese Theaters in Hollywood, California. Visit the official website for festival details: www.screamfesla.com In Automaton Transfusion three teens find themselves in a town over run with zombies. Deciding to fight back, they go on a punch you in the throat, action packed, non stop ride through the city, woods, and schools.

Automaton Transfusion, which was shot for a mere $30,000, has become a one of the most talked about independent horror films since The Blair Witch Project. Critics have been raving about the film, “Automaton Transfusion is going to be this years Hottest film. With a brilliant Director, an amazing cast and talented crew. The movie will fulfill your taste for gore and blood, but also entertain you with young beauty and talent,” writes Horror-Movies.ca, “In the recent rash of zombie films in Hollywood, I've been dying for something fresh, Steven C. Miller's Automaton Transfusion is that breathe of fresh air… Miller delivers one of the best zombie films in decades!” – Bloody-Disgusting.com

Automaton Transfusion joins Adam Green’s Hatchet, which stars Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees), Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) and Tony Todd. Screamfest Horror Film Festival has been called “The Sundance of Horror” by many journalists.

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'Hatchet' to Play Screamfest LA

Aug. 22, 2006 -- Rachel Belofsky, founder of the annual Screamfest Horror Film Festival, is pleased to announce the selection of Adam Green’s Hatchet into the 6th annual event, which is to be held October 13-22 at the Mann Chinese Theaters in Hollywood, California. Visit the official website for festival details: www.screamfesla.com

In Hatchet a group of tourists on a New Orleans haunted swamp tour find themselves stranded in the wilderness, their evening of fun and spooks turns into a horrific nightmare.

Hatchet displays an extremely solid cast which includes Kane Hodder (best know as Jason Voorhees in many of the Friday the 13th films), Tony Todd (Candyman) and the infamous Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street). Up and coming actor Joel Moore (Dodgeball, Art Scool Confidential) also stars next to Tamara Feldman, Deon Richmond, Mercedes McNab, Parry Shen, Joleigh Fioreavanti, Joshua Leonard and Patrika Darbo.

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Largest Genre Film Festival in the U.S. Takes Place October 13th - 22nd 2006

Aprol 17, 2006 -- Rachel Belofsky, president and founder of SCREAMFEST LA Horror Film Festival and partner Stan Winston announce a call for entries for its 6th annual Screamfest Horror Film Festival and Screenplay Competition. The festival takes place October 13th - 22rd at the prestigious Grauman's Mann Chinese 6 at Hollywood and Highland in Hollywood.

We are very excited to see our filmmakers and writers furthering their careers as a direct result from Screamfest. Several of the winning screenplays have been sold. The festival has secured representation for several filmmakers and they are now attached to studio projects said Rachel Belofsky, the festival's founder and president. Three of our winners were afforded the opportunity to direct shorts for Ghost House Pictures, putting their work directly in front of Sam Raimi. This competition provides them the exposure they so richly deserve and gives audiences the chance to experience their work in a first-class setting.

The largest film festival held in Los Angeles, Screamfest (a non-profit 501 ( 3 ) ( c ) organization), is an internationally recognized showcase for independent filmmakers and writers of the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres.

Film entries are being accepted in the categories of Best Feature, Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Special Effects and Musical Score to name a few. In addition, there are special categories for Best Animation, Best Short, Best Documentary and Best Student Film. The normal deadline for film submissions is July 15th, with a late deadline of August 15th. Screamfest accepts film completed after January 1st, 2003.

The deadline for screenplay submissions is June 15th, with a late deadline of August 15th.

Founded in 2001, Screamfest is dedicated to discovering the new blood of horror and honoring the masters. This year's festival sponsored by Monsters HD network, IFilm, Hot Topic, Inktip.com and Screenplay.com (a Write Brothers, Inc. Web site). For more information visit www.screamfestla.com .

For further information please contact Rachel Belofsky at (310) 358-3273.

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