Collins’ Crypt: Cinemayhem Horror Festival Report

Brian attended the inaugural Cinemayhem Festival and reports back on all the films!

It's the firstest of first world problems to be sure, but I hate that all of the horror film festivals in Los Angeles seem to think that October is the only time to do it, which leaves me burnt out (and 10 lbs heavier since I'm "stuck" eating theater or fast food so often) by the time the month is only half over. Sure, I can just follow the lead of many of my friends and just skip everything, figuring that a screener will make my way eventually, but F that - I love this stuff too much to let the opportunities pass me by. If I weren't so hellbent on going to every day of Screamfest, I may never have gotten to see movies like The Clinic or The Burrowers (or amazing shorts like Eaglewalk) on the big screen with a huge crowd of appreciative fans, so I bite the bullet and sacrifice my health and gas budget to make it to it and every other fest that hits the area during that crazy month.

But it's still tiresome, and thus I was stoked that a new horror fest was being put together for March, which is perfect timing. Without it, I'd be getting too antsy for another batch of indie horror not a lot of people have seen yet, so it's a great little halfway point appetizer of sorts, tiding me over for the lengthy stuff ahead. Titled Cinemayhem, the festival - curated by Heather Wixson from Dread Central - promised to honor the past, present and future of independent horror cinema, which meant a healthy mix of world premieres and old favorites, plus one or two films that are currently on the festival circuit making LA stops during a time that they wouldn't have had another opportunity to do so.

I was there for just about the entire time (because of course I was), so here's a rundown of the films they showed and my two cents on each. Keep an eye out for most of these upcoming indies!


The Sleeper
I'm not sure if this one covers the "past" or the "present" part of the festival's tagline, but the important things to know are a) it's pretty great and b) it's available on DVD now! Made in 2011 on a budget lower than any of the films it is paying tribute to, this is a terrific little old-school slasher that honors Black Christmas and other campus-set slashers of yore, with a pitch perfect period setting (1979) and a refreshing lack of the ironic detachment that often sinks these sort of things. No, if not for the fact that it was shot digitally, writer/director Justin Russell could claim that this was actually a 30 year old movie and I doubt anyone other than the actors would be able to prove him wrong.

Breath Of Hate
I don't know what to make of this one. Told out of chronological order and hampered by some questionable acting, I *THINK* it's about a philosophical psychotic who steals a house from a realtor, and hires a trio of hookers to entertain him, only to find himself smitten and challenged by one of them, a "heart of gold" type who was of course looking to break free of this business. But there are ghosts, hallucinations, sequences that never really fit into the narrative once we get to the end and try to start making sense of it... just a mess, really. However, it also offers the character of Cleb, one of the bad guy's underlings who seems to have walked in from a different movie entirely. If I hear a better line than "I want to play a dinosaur" this year, I don't know if the part of my brain that loves out of nowhere nonsense can handle it. For him alone I would recommend the film, but don't be surprised if you end up hating it.

Whenever I think I have a film figured out and I turn out to be wrong, I'm automatically a fan, and can more easily forgive a few of its flaws. Coldwater's pace can be a bit languish at times, and a certain element of the plot only works if a character has a very unnatural reaction to a visiting neighbor (James Duval), but I liked being misled, and enjoyed this unusual, largely original take on a home invasion thriller. A solid effort from director Dave Parker (who last gave us the enjoyable Hills Run Red), and kudos to star/producer/co-writer Ivan Djurovic for keeping audience interest (and pulling off a tricky character reveal) when he's pretty much the only one on-screen for 75% of it. Also: great location! The success of Paranormal Activity has resulted in a new wave of movies set entirely in one house, but so many of them are bland, traditional suburban homes - this one has a lot of character.

Another minimalist film, featuring only two on-screen actors for the majority of its runtime and pretty much only one location - an isolated backroad where an unseen sniper has a disharmonious married couple pinned down. The husband (Ace Marrero) is outside and freezing, the wife (Katie Stegeman) is still in the car and very pregnant, and neither of them know who the man is or why he has targeted them. Similar to films like Phone Booth or Buried, the director has the challenge of keeping things visually interesting (and the pace from getting too slack) without much opportunity to move around or even show his villain much, but writer/director Eric England pulls it off, and keeps the runtime brief before we can start to poke holes in the logic. I do wish that the voice of the sniper was mixed differently as it sounds more like a guy on a phone than a guy in the woods (until he revealed himself I thought it was intentional, but he's only like 50 feet away), and the end is a touch abrupt, but I always dig when a premise that sounds almost too simple can be effectively translated to a feature length narrative.

ABCS of Death
I actually skipped out on an encore viewing of this (having seen it at Fantastic Fest); not for critical reasons - Monday happened to be my birthday and thus Saturday night was the celebration, so I drank beers, ate cake, and chatted with lots of pals at the expense of enjoying D for Dogfight again on the big screen. It was not an easy decision!


Short Block
Lots of fests have short blocks, and I tend to get a bit restless during them - I prefer to see shorts attached to the features, giving single ticket holders a little more bang for their buck. But as long as they're good it's okay, and I'm happy to say I enjoyed just about all of these. I had seen a couple before (including the awesome Killer Kart), but the new ones mostly won me over, such as Meat (a comedic account of two hunters who accidentally hit a unicorn with their truck) and Split The Check, a tale of six friends arguing over how to split up a pricy dinner bill that turns tragically (read: hilariously) violent. But my favorite was Familiar, a long (23 minutes) story about an unhappy husband/father whose voiceover informs us of how miserable he is and how he plans to get revenge on his wife for her "crimes" (boring him with work stories and the like). I don't want to get into specifics, but it gets more interesting than that, and I don't know if I've ever seen a more effective use of voiceover in a horror tale. It probably could have been a few minutes shorter, but otherwise I was highly impressed with how this one turned out.

Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon
As stated earlier, part of the point of the festival was to honor past indie successes, and few recently have been as impressive as Behind The Mask, a brilliant take on slasher material that also predated the faux-doc explosion brought on by Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield. If you still haven't seen this one, feel free to go ahead and fix that mistake post-haste. A sequel has been trying to get off the ground for a while now; hopefully it'll happen but maybe it's for the best if it doesn't - it'll be a damn tough act to follow.

This prison film that focused on a gay/transgender cell block of the LA prison system wasn't horror in the slightest, but I knew that going in. What I didn't know is that it was a colossally misguided, tone-deaf trainwreck that will someday rank alongside the work of Lee Daniels in the annals of "What in Christ's name were they THINKING?" cinema. I was actually at a loss for the entire runtime; from the hero who doesn't really do anything during the movie, to the despicable prison guard/drug addict/rapist who is played for laughs, to the baffling murder plot that never once becomes the least bit interesting and is resolved with all the panache of an establishing shot, I really don't even know who this movie could possibly appeal to. And if I ever see a film with a plot point as hilariously dropped as the pair of shivs used to kill an inmate, I'll eat my hat. It's technically well made and the acting is fine, but that script (or the re-editing of it)... let's just say fans of ironic viewing should have a field day.

I got my third viewing! And this time I got to moderate a Q&A and get some of my questions answered, so I was pretty stoked. You can read the afore-linked article if you'd like my full thoughts on this gem, but suffice to say it was a fine choice to close out the festival, and it included a pretty great (if a touch long) short called Kirkdale that was shot on film (!) and presented a gory, creepy take on an "inmates are running the asylum!" story.

Hopefully this won't be a one-time experiment - I had a damn good time and the lineup was terrific (plus the Muvico theater where it was held, while a bit far out of town, was quite comfy and they have a full bar/restaurant to enjoy between screenings). Keep an eye on their official site for updates on future installments!