I've been attending the LA Film Festival for as long as I've lived in LA, and can attest to the following fact: they may be fairly selective when it comes to horror films (read: there are only a few out of the dozens of films they show), but their batting average is pretty solid. Let The Right One In, Embodiment of Evil, and any number of Larry Fessenden projects (either as director or producer) are among the films I saw there over the years, and later bestowed upon them my highest honor: I recommended them in my book! That thing might be a few pages thinner if not for the LAFF's inadvertent contributions over the years, and therefore I always make as much effort as I can to see their genre selections each year.
Of course, it was easier when they were located in Westwood and I lived in Sherman Oaks and was childless. Now they're in Culver City and I'm in Canoga Park (consult a Los Angeles map if that's Greek to you) with a kid I'd rather play with than spend more time driving back and forth than I will watching the actual movie. Back in the day I'd even watch some of the normal movies, whereas now I can't even make every horror one - getting older and having more responsibilities can really take a toll on your "I want to watch every horror movie ever made" plans, I tell you. But I'll get there as often as I can, and hope to make at least half of these as they not only sound interesting in their own right, but the aforementioned historical data makes them likely to be worth the effort.
Showing Monday, June 19th at 8pm
LAFF doesn't often program horror films aimed at wide audiences, but they seemingly make an exception for anything that might have James Wan's name on it. Not only did they premiere The Conjuring back in 2013, they also gave an early look to the Wan-produced Lights Out last year, which paid off as it helped build buzz for that surprisingly solid crowd pleaser, which grossed nearly $150m worldwide on a sub-$5m budget. That film's director, David Sandberg, is calling the shots on this Annabelle follow-up, which has retained screenwriter Gary Dauberman and thus might have more of those parental fears that helped me enjoy the first film more than most of my peers. Considering how much I liked Annabelle and Lights Out (and Wan, who is again producing) I am certain I'll enjoy this one, and will put my money where my mouth is by traveling Downtown (away from the rest of the festival at Culver City Arclight) to check it out rather than wait for it to come to my neighborhood theater later this summer.
Showing Wednesday, June 21st at 9:30pm
I feel it's been a while since I took in a good survival in the wilderness horror-thriller, so I'm hoping Desolation scratches that itch. First time feature director Sam Patton has come up with an interesting dynamic for this sort of thing: a woman who has taken her young son (plus her best friend, for good measure) into the woods to spread her husband's ashes, only for them to be terrorized by a lone (?) hiker. It's easy enough to get me on board by playing the "dead dad" card (though, to be fair, this might also make me easier to piss off if the matter isn't handled delicately), so that along with the Deliverance vibe should put this one right in my wheelhouse.
IT STAINS THE SANDS RED
Showing Tuesday, June 20th at 9:10pm
It's the gala one millionth zombie outbreak, but this, at least judging from the trailer, doesn't follow the Romero or Walking Dead playbook. Instead it seemingly focuses on a single character (played by Brittany Allen) who is stranded in the desert outside of Las Vegas with no supplies, as a single zombie gives chase. The trailer shows that their chase eventually hits a more civilized area, but that's no surprise - they couldn't possibly sustain a one on one narrative for an entire feature. But I bet it will be the most memorable part! This has already shown at a couple of other fests and has earned the kudos from Alan Jones, who is among the very few authorities in horror one can trust, and while I was no fan of this team's Grave Encounters I did enjoy their last film, Extraterrestrial, so hopefully this is another step in that right direction.
AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING
Kidding! That'd be funny though, right?
Showing Monday, June 19th at 9:35pm
A young couple on the rocks (is there any other kind in horror?) is trapped - but in their own home, with a guy they hit with their car on the way home from a New Year's party. Alex Essoe from the great Starry Eyes is the lead, so that's a good sign, and folks who accidentally "kill" someone and make bad choices after is a long-standing horror/thriller tradition that usually satisfies. And look at that house! Great cat and mouse possibilities with something that big - I am in dire need of some good chase scenes (I'm getting my fix from Friday the 13th, but it's not the same). Plus, a long time ago I wrote about the relative dearth of New Years' set horror films, so if this is good I would like to take credit for giving them the idea.
Showing Friday, June 16th at 9:45pm.
Richard Stanley co-wrote it and Barbara Crampton is in it. So who cares what it's about, I better be fighting off every other LA horror fan for seats!
But for the record, it's about a woman whose skin is crumbling away, with no known cure - except for, perhaps, stealing other peoples'. While I'm sure it hits similar notes to vampire/zombie films that pit the monster as the protagonist, the body horror element and new material from Stanley (writing along with director Norbert Keil) give it plenty of appeal. And while it's always great to see Barbara Crampton in anything, we know from history that it's even more fun when doctors and experiments are involved.
Showing Saturday, June 17th at 9:55pm
I've seen horror movies set on a chair lift (Frozen), a grave (Buried), and an ATM (ATM), and two out of the three are good, so odds are that despite being set almost entirely in a tent, Serpent can be a winner. The film concerns another couple on the rocks that is trapped in their tent with a Black Mamba snake, and if I know my horror movies as well as I think I do, I'm guessing at least one of them doesn't make it out alive. But even if it's a stinker, I gotta give first-time feature director Amanda Evans credit for taking this route, as it's a daunting task for any filmmaker to work within the confines of a single location, let alone one who doesn't have a dozen features under their belt already. Also, unlike most of the genre films showing at the festival, it taps into a universal fear, as anyone who has ever gone camping has worried about something crawling through the bottom part of the door flap that no one ever bothers to zip up all the way when they run out to go to the bathroom or whatever.
THE NEIGHBOR (EL VECINO)
Showing Monday, June 19th at 9:45pm
This seems more like a dramatic thriller than full-blown horror, but I can't help being intrigued by the premise (a man obsessed with his neighbors starts to unravel) as well as the production history. Apparently it was shot nearly six years ago and was also largely improvised, which is unusual for a thriller that isn't a found footage sort of thing. Could be a disaster, could be a masterpiece, but either way, like Serpent, I like that the filmmakers are taking risks, which should be far more common in the genre than I think it is. Kudos to LAFF for selecting unusual, likely not crowd-pleasing genre films to spotlight, and I hope local horror fans find their way down to Culver City to check out at least a couple of these.
The LA Film Festival runs from June 14th-22nd, primarily at the Arclight in Culver City but also spreading to other venues for special events. Tickets and passes are available at the official website HERE.