I was unfortunately unable to attend the festival at all on Saturday (I was particularly sad to have missed the Buffy the Vampire Slayer panel with James Marsters and Nicholas Brendan), but I arrived bright and early Sunday morning for a recording session with the Movie Meltdown podcast. We met with Christine Elise McCarthy (perhaps most famous for her roles as Kyle in Child's Play 2 and Emily Valentine in Beverly Hills, 90210) and her boyfriend Miles Miller to talk about her career and her new short film Bathing and the Single Girl, as well as an in-depth discussion of the excellent French film Man Bites Dog. (This episode of the podcast can be found through the Movie Meltdown website; it will likely be posted this Friday, July 6.)
Following the discussion, I headed into the screening rooms to catch a couple of shorts: What They Say, a rather lackluster film in which a troubled young woman finds solace in cutting, but ultimately takes it too far; and the excellent Kaleidoscope, based on the Ray Bradbury story of the same name, in which four astronauts hurtle through space in escape pods and must come to grips with their own mortality.
These shorts were followed by The Book of Zombie, a film I was quite eager to see, due to the fact that most of my family are Mormons, a religious which I find endless pleasure in seeing poked at for fun. The film is set in a town in Utah in which all the Mormons suddenly become zombies, while the non-Mormon population must find a way to survive. The best weapon against these monsters? Caffeinated soft drinks. The film is, naturally, quite silly, but it is held together by a pretty decent script and surprisingly good gore effects considering the presumably small budget.
Next on my list to see: Hacksaw: Documentary of a Psycho Killer. I had the opportunity beforehand to speak to the filmmaker, Toby Johansen (there was plenty of time, since this particular screening room was thirty minutes behind schedule). He created Hacksaw six years ago, when he was only sixteen, and recently decided it needed more blood and gore. He told me about how he knew there were a few existing films posing as documentaries about serial killers, but he wanted to try a different take. In the story of this film, the serial killer, Dillon Mason, is the filmmaker, recording his revenge against all those who treated him like crap because of his debilitating skin cancer. Johansen warned me that this film is extremely dark and potentially very disturbing.
I'm fairly jaded when it comes to horrific things on the screen, and so I didn't find the film particularly disturbing, but one not so used to such things may find it difficult to watch. The scenes in which the killer makes his kills and revels in the corpses' aftermath are often quite chilling. The film suffers, however, from Mason's over-long rants to his victims, much of which is nearly impossible to hear due to poor sound quality. Still, Johansen is onto something and has a definite burgeoning talent.
I stuck around to see the next two films – the “long shorts” (30 minutes) Still Meadows and A Chance in Hell – but no one came to change the DVD. Growing impatient, I left for a bit and came back a little later in time to catch A Chance in Hell; presumably Still Meadows was skipped (remember, the schedule had fallen quite behind).
In A Chance in Hell, Nazi experimentation unexpectedly creates a mutant – a zombie (think fast-moving, pissed off zombie, a la 28 Days Later) – and a squadron of American soldiers must try to escape the horde. The film is extremely well-made, but the lighting is so low that the viewer can hardly tell what's happening on-screen half the time. Add to that the fact that the audio on the projector was quite low – I was sitting in the second row and could barely hear it – and it was easy to just lose interest in the film. It's too bad – there was clearly some filmmaking talent here.
Thus ends my experience at this year's Fright Night Film & Fandom Fest. My concern is that the focus was more on fandom and less on film; as one who is much more interested in the film festival aspect, this was quite a disappointment. As I indicated, film was neglected, schedules became muddled, and not much was done to promote the films. In addition, more signage throughout the convention space would have been immensely helpful – the screening rooms took a bit of work to locate, and there is one that I never actually found, despite looking fairly thoroughly.
However, I imagine that anyone who came specifically for Fandom Fest – which seemed to be most people – came away quite satisfied. Along with the many large rooms filled with artwork, minor celebrities, and books and DVDs, huge lines snaked down the hallway awaiting a chance to meet with Sean Astin or Bruce Campbell or Luke Perry or the cast of The Walking Dead, among others. Everybody seemed satisfied and happy to be there, and thus I can only conclude that it was a very successful weekend for this year's Fright Night Film & Fandom Fest.
Illustration: Sara Lewis
Photos: Laura Wood