Dark Fest shows a resurgence in horror genre (with reviews!)

Cory Hope, Arts and Entertainment Editor  Ω

In conjunction with the Kamloops Film Festival, the first annual Dark Fest also took place over the weekend of Mar. 9 and 10, featuring four feature-length films as well as a short film and a preview of director John Fallon’s upcoming film, Dead Shadows.

Although attendance was relatively low for the majority of the screenings, the resurgence in interest in horror films is tangible.

Having been generally turned off mainstream horror films for several years now, it’s an exciting time to see the genre coming back from the hyper-realistic torture-porn style of cinema that has been all the rage (no pun intended), and returning to a form of its former glory.

The exploitation, or grindhouse, style films are known for being gory, but the style of violence generally depicted within them is more cartoonish in nature, not taking itself seriously enough be offensive. They rely on splatter and effects that have a carnival ride appeal to them.

You might laugh out loud and be uncomfortable at the thought of what you just witnessed, but it’s not likely to be truly disturbing.

Okay, maybe the violence at the beginning of Deaden might be right up there as far as disturbing, but outside of that 10-minute period, Dark Fest was a joyride of good old-fashioned horror movie fun.

And that, to me anyway, is what horror films are supposed to be.

Scary is good, and gory is as well, but the adventure, the fear of the unknown thing that goes bump in the night, the monster under your bed that your parents are too afraid to truly look for lest it should eat them whole — it’s all been missing, and has been exchanged for brutal graphic violence with the barest thread of a story to keep it all together.

In short, mainstream horror films just haven’t been any fun for quite a while now.

The good news is that the same brand of horror movies has never really gone away – it’s just been sitting on the sidelines for so long that it has been essentially forgotten about.  Fans of the genre have long been chided for watching “B” grade films.

So many of the movies made within the horror genre have gone straight to video or DVD that it has become more of a habit to troll the Internet looking for information about the films and then go in pursuit of them online or in video stores than it is to wait for them to ever come into the theatre. (It has been increasingly difficult to find these films, but Movie Mart has you covered – be warned though, it’s probably in a section marked “Hair-standing-on-enders” or something like that by now.)

It looks like the genre is getting the reboot.

With the ingenuity of independent filmmakers and the relatively inexpensive equipment that is available, more and more of the films are getting made, and if there wasn’t an increase in audience numbers as well, odds are many of the independents would never get made.

This genre of films might not make it back into the theatres in full force any time soon, but isn’t the model of the theatre suffering anyhow?

Maybe the horror genre has got it down right by keeping it smaller, and catering to their audience.

Maybe the films that are kept on the fringes will lead the way into the next big thing, and they can rule there until Hollywood comes over to mess things up again.

Dark Fest: Hobo with a Shotgun

When a hobo played by Rutger Hauer rides the rails into Hope Town to build himself a better life, he finds a town overrun by crime.

Seeking only to buy himself a lawnmower so he can start his own company and make an honest living, he instead finds himself on a mission to clean up the streets, “one shell at a time.”

That’s essentially the plot of Hobo With A Shotgun, the Canadian exploitation film starring Rutger Hauer.

If you’re asking yourself who that is, I highly recommend you put this paper down right now and find yourself a copy of The Hitcher.

Not the 2007 remake but the original 1986 version.

Sure the 2007 version is good, but it doesn’t have Rutger Hauer in it, so watching that will not help clarify who Rutger Hauer is.

Hobo With A Shotgun is the feature-length film based on a fake movie trailer of the same name.

The trailer was originally produced for an international competition to promote the grindhouse revival films by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez in 2007.

After winning the competition, the Hobo With A Shotgun trailer was incorporated into the release of the grindhouse films, and in 2010, filming began on the feature-length version.

It was the opening feature of Dark Fest 2012 in our very own Clocktower Theatre.

While the attendance was sparse on Friday night, there were enough people there to provide a variety of responses to the screening.

At least one person was laughing out loud with pure delight at the over-the-top special effects, and I heard at least one person say things along the line of, “Oh my god. That’s awful,” at almost precisely the same points. It’s grindhouse.

Splatter and gore is the name of the game, and Hobo With A Shotgun plays it really well.

With its over-saturated film quality and retro music and credits, Hobo With A Shotgun pays a wonderful homage to the grindhouse films of the past.

It certainly isn’t a genre that is ever going to appeal to the masses, but it’s a lot of fun for those who are willing to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Dark Fest: Deaden

The first eight minutes of Deaden have caused numerous people to walk out of the theatre — most of them women.  Deaden writer John Fallon explained that to the crowd at Dark Fest during a brief talk before the screening of his film, claiming that after the first eight minutes were over, it settles down and becomes a more mellow film, and that he’d appreciate it if everyone would give it a chance.

If I said the first eight minutes were brutally violent, I might be understating it. This is not the feel-good movie of the summer, the sleeper hit, or something to show the kids. What Deaden is, however, is an imaginative take on the revenge film, shot on a shoestring budget over 13 days. It does to the revenge film what Clerks did to the comedy: it proves you don’t need huge financial backing to make your movie work.

After the first eight minutes, Deaden does calm down, but perhaps not to the degree of being “mellow.”

In fact, some of the kills made later on in the film are quite — vengeful. Certainly nothing that compares to the opening sequence, but some pretty disturbing things go down in the name of revenge during this movie.

While I have read several reviews of this movie, it seems that they are essentially divided into two camps: those who compared it to the production quality of multi-million dollar movies and complained about it, and those who saw beyond the production quality and saw the story for what it was.

The latter camp, generally speaking, enjoyed the movie.

At a time when big-budget movies have become so banal that I can hardly be bothered to go to the theatre more than about four or five times per year, it is refreshing to see storytelling like Deaden.

I’d like to see what Fallon could do with some serious financial backing behind him, but until Hollywood decides to start making new movies again, instead of focusing on “safe” remakes and sequels, I’ll just have to steer clear of the theatres.

That’s okay, though. It might be a bit more difficult to find the independent films, but more often than not it’s worth the extra effort.

Dark Fest: Skew

It’s about time something good came out of The Blair Witch Project. Skew director/writer/editor/producer Sevé Schelenz became inspired to make Skew after seeing Blair Witch, and in my opinion he blew it out of the water.

Skew is the story of three friends who head out on a road trip to go to a wedding, but find themselves plagued by misfortune along the way.

Simon (played by Rob Scattergood) has purchased a video camera to record their adventures on the trip. After seeing strange things happen through the camera, Simon starts to become more intrigued and more dependent on the camera.

Unlike many of the films shot through the point of view of a Handycam over the last ten years or so, Skew is not a “found footage” film. It is a story told through the camera, but the camera is used as a vehicle and a character.

Rather than simply being a bunch of footage found on the camera, the camera itself becomes an important part of telling the story.

The other important aspect of Skew that separates it from the genre of “found footage” film is that it’s actually a really good, creepy film.

The production quality seems to be better than what it should be half of the time as well, especially during scenes where the camera has been left on a table and is recording without the characters’ knowledge.

While the acting in these types of films usually plays out a little bit too much like actors acting like they’re trying act like they’re not actors acting but regular people in front of a friend’s camera, which makes them slightly uncomfortable, the cast of Skew comes off as completely natural for the majority of the film.

Skew opened my mind to the genre of first-person films, which I have never enjoyed up until this point.

Schelenz has taken what I thought was something of a pointless fad and legitimized it.

Maybe I’m just late jumping on the bandwagon, but I’d like to think I was just waiting for something worthwhile, and Skew is it.

Dark Fest: Some Guy Who Kills People

If there is any justice in the world, Some Guy Who Kills People will get a major theatrical release. Of course, if there were any justice in the world, Firefly wouldn’t have been cancelled and people who want to spend thousands of dollars on their car stereos would be forced to maintain a better standard of music before any installation could legally proceed.

As the final movie of the very first Dark Fest, I somehow expected Some Guy Who Kills People to be a mindless ride of splatter. What I absolutely did not expect was to watch an intelligent, witty, well-produced movie that had me literally laughing out loud.

Some Guy Who Kills People is the story of Ken Boyd, played by Kevin Corrigan, who has just been released from over 10 years in a mental institution, and desperately wants revenge on his high school tormentors.

In the spirit of remaining spoiler-free, I’m going to say that people die, and not divulge anything pertinent to the plot here, because I really want you to want to see this film.

It’s not a grotesque film. In fact, I think it’s a less graphic film than many of the action films I’ve seen as of late, so the laughter in the theatre wasn’t borne of nervousness as it was during some of the other features during Dark Fest. It was legitimately funny.

Especially funny in this movie were the cops, with their ongoing puns at the crime scenes, as well as the over-the-top religious, Ned Flanders-esque step-father of Amy Wheeler (played by Ariel Gade, who was probably 12 or 13 at the time of filming, and was a delightful actress – god, did I just use the word “delightful” in a review piece? Pass me my cane and prune juice, please).

One thing about this movie I found really odd was how impossible it was to pin down a year for it to be taking place. While there were a few flip-style cell phones being used, which would place it somewhere between about 1998 to present, the computer monitors were all crt-style, and the crime scene photographers were using film cameras, which should have placed the movie closer to the 1998 mark technology-wise. However, during the flashback scenes, one of the bullies was wearing an Ezekiel sweatshirt, and Ezekiel wasn’t around as a clothing company until 1994, so the earliest the movie could have been taking place would have been 2004, in which case the cops would have been using digital cameras.

How’s that for anal-retentive attention to detail?

I’m not going to harp on it. If I watch a movie and the only complaint I have about it is some minute detail regarding a clothing label that probably wouldn’t have been noticed by – well, almost anyone (patting myself on the back for that one), I’m thinking they’ve got a great film on their hands.

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