Last weekend, the beautiful and historic Plaza Theatre played host to Atlanta’s premiere showcase of independent horror and psychotronic cinema, The Buried Alive Film Festival. This year, yours truly was one of the judges, so I saw everything in advance, but sitting in a dark theater for two days watching hours and hours of fright flicks with a flask of whiskey and a bucket of popcorn is my idea of heaven, so that’s exactly what I did. What gave me a horror-d on, and what didn’t quite measure up? Well, before I break it all down for you, I have three things to say. First, if one of these sounds like your cup of blood, then by all means, google it. Some of these can be viewed online, some have trailers online, and almost all of them have sites where you can find screenings. Second, right after Halloween next year, keep an eye on SOC (or HERE) for all of the details on how you can join me in scary silver screen paradise. Third, as always… SUPPORT INDEPENDENT HORROR! Now, on with the flicks.
The Window Into Time – When a scientist is asked by an old classmate to recreate a substance described in an ancient manuscript, there are bizarre and dire consequences. This Lovecraftian story of science meeting mysticism has a lot going for it. It was well acted, and the animated elements were interesting, sometimes reminding me of a Tool video. The story is entirely told in voice-over, which is fine by me because it is a cool story, but if you aren’t going to have any dialog then you should keep things moving a bit quicker than this flick did. It could have been trimmed by 2-3 minutes and been much more effective. As it stands, I dug this creepy slow burn flick, but thought it burned just a little too slow.
The Timeslip – A businessman crosses a busy city street … and suddenly finds himself trapped in another time. Gone are the buildings, cars and people. In their place is a never-ending forest and an unknown danger. You know, Buried Alive almost could have had an entire programming block dedicated to “shaky-cam footage of people running through the woods” movies. Unfortunately, I didn’t dig this one. It was half over before anything happened. It’s a guy walking through the woods, then the “menace” shows up, and it’s a guy running through the woods. I spent the whole time waiting for something big to occur, but the payoff never came. The cameraman REALLY needs to lay off of the caffeine or cocaine or whatever is giving him the shakes. That one shot of the businessman in the rain with his briefcase did make me laugh really hard though.
Doppleganger/Idle Worship – I put these two together since they were made by the same filmmaker (Theo Pingarelli), and share the same style and thematic elements. In both a skeleton arises and begins searching for others like him (Doppleganger) and something to worship (Idle Worship), with both searches ending in calamity. I loved these. I could watch a whole series of “The Misadventures of Skeleton Guy” shorts. Nothing is ever spoken, but the music conveys everything you need to know. Skeleton Guy (he doesn’t have a name, that’s just what I dubbed him) is a remarkable creation. It’s hard to give a character emotion and evoke empathy for them without having them speak, but he doesn’t even have the benefit of facial expressions. Yet, such emotion is conveyed through his movements that you immediately identify with this simple skeleton figure. That speaks to Pingaelli’s skill as an animator. I hope to see more in this series, which is a sentiment I heard echoed by many in attendance.
The Transmission – While a storm rages outside and Henry drinks his bottle of absinthe, he receives a television transmission – from his dead wife. The first of the locally made shorts to be shown, The Transmission was also the best of the Atlanta offerings. Visually, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It melds actual Super 8 footage with high-def to create a nice dream-like feel. The acting is good, and the nods to classic horror flicks are an added bonus. It has some comedic elements, but they never overpower the spooky atmosphere. The only thing I didn’t dig was the incredible amount of grain, which may or may not have been added. It was distracting. There was a Q and A with the director at the festival, and his explanation of how some of the effects were done on such a low budget really impressed me.
Decapoda Shock – Winner: The Mind-F**k Award. An astronaut returns to Earth after a fatal accident on a distant planet. When he discovers he has been the victim of a sinister plot, he decides to take vengeance on those responsible for the death of his family. This short was the talk of the festival. The Atlanta horror scene has a new folk hero in Lobster Spaceman. Again, that’s not the character’s actual name, but it’s what he was referred to as by most of the attendees. This flick fuses absurdity, humor, horror/sci-fi tropes, social commentary, animated sequences, and enough pure “that the f**k am I watching” to absolutely blow your mind. The audience roared with laughter, and erupted in cheers and applause as the credits rolled both times it showed. There’s a reason why Lobster Spaceman is front and center on the festival shirts. The two Buried Alive screenings were the third and fourth time I’ve watched it and I was equally psyched every time. Apparently Spanish director Javier Chillon has another short out there, and it just jumped to the top of my “stuff to track down” list.
Game – Winner: Best Horror Short and Best Actress (Andrea Lee Norwood). In a chase through the woods, these hillbillies have no idea what kind of woman they are hunting down. From the great white north comes the second “shaky cam in the woods” flick. The difference between this one and the other two…this one is awesome. It’s well acted, features a really good creature design and makeup, and has a great ending. The scenery is beautiful too. About halfway through, there is a cool twist that struck me as very EC comics style, and that’s never a bad thing. A really fun short, despite the cameraman’s Parkinson’s. Pay attention through the credits, you’ll be glad you did.
Torturous – Winner: Best Comedy Short. A case of mistaken identity brings a career counselor into the world of a professional torture artist. It’s no secret that when it comes to comedy, I’m a very picky man. People send a ton of bad indie horror comedy. Most of it is of the goofy/silly/sophomoric variety. Don’t get me wrong, that can be done well, but it’s not usually my thing. That’s why it was so refreshing to see a smart, well written, character and dialog driven comedy that made me laugh throughout. The way this flick plays with the conventions of torture flicks is razor sharp. Speaking of sharp, there’s a little nicely done gore too. Great stuff. It contained my favorite line of the festival; “I’m the drill guy, not the meathook guy!”
The Raven - December 1959: Poe, a young writer, has locked himself inside his seedy Hollywood motel room. Astray in his projected memories, he gets a visit from a dark bird named, Nevermore. This flick had some really nifty stuff going on visually, especially near the end, and the central performance was good; but for the love of Poe, give The Raven a rest. We all know the poem, and The Simpsons already did it better than we’ll probably ever see again. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore Poe, but The Raven is just plain overused. As I said, there were some cool visual touches here, but I think we should call a moratorium on The Raven until someone can offer up something truly unique instead of the thousandth variation on a guy yelling at a bird.
Ethereal Crysalis - Enter the multidimensional maze of the Ethereal Chrysalis, where the doors of perception become the annihilation of all rational thoughts. This was the runner up for the Mindf**k Award. As I told some people at the festival, this is the kind of flick I can see my friends and I taking hallucinogens, watching repeatedly, and arguing for hours about what it means. This is a visual feast of bizarreness, from the evil flying french fry to the bugman thing to…um…I’m not sure what a lot of that was honestly. It might be the best representation of dream logic on screen I’ve ever seen. It takes a LOT to get me to call a flick weird, but this one was freakin’ weird.
The Features –
Abed – Winner: Best Feature Maggie lost her husband, Quint, during the early days of the living dead plague. She now lives a life of quiet horror and desperation, for her mother-in-law will do anything to help the family adjust to this new world… even the unspeakable. At this point, if you can show me something involving zombies that I haven’t seen before, I’m a happy guy. When you do it with this kind of intensity and humanity, I’m enthralled. I’ll go ahead and tell you now that you aren’t prepared for where this one is going. It’s pretty damn hardcore, but it’s done with a gravitas that makes it as mentally and emotionally extreme as it is visually and thematically. The acting was great, especially Vicki Deshaw-Fairman as Mama. The zombie makeup looks phenomenal as well. I’ll put it this way; normally the Plaza horror crowd is pretty raucous. As this one played, however, there was stunned silence, which was only broken by a little nervous laughter and a girl behind me repeatedly saying in a disgusted voice “this movie is SICK!” I loved this movie. It’s currently making the festival rounds, so if you see it showing near you, trust me, see it!
Manborg - A soldier, brought back to life as a cyborg, fights alongside a band of adventurers against demon hordes in a dystopian future. From Astron 6, the sick bastards that brought you Father’s Day, comes this hilarious post apocalyptic sci-fi/ horror/ action hybrid. There is nothing about this flick that isn’t ridiculous. It’s so over the top that you have no choice but to just go with it. The effects are spectacular and awful at the same time. Then, when you realize that it was made for less than $2,000, it becomes one of the most impressive feats you’ve ever seen. The whole thing is played with that straight faced “yeah, this is cheesy as hell, and we know that, but we’re sure as hell not gonna wink-wink-nudge-nudge at you” comedic style. It’s the dumbest, most entertaining thing I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t know if the visuals would play as well on a TV as they did on the big screen, but Manborg is most definitely worth a look. Incidentally, “You Dick” in the Manborg voice might have been the most repeated line of the festival. It’s accompanied by a faux trailer for Bio-Cop, which I REALLY want to see as a feature.
The Breakdown –
Two Severed Thumbs Up –Doppleganger/Idle Worship, Decapoda Shock, Torturous, Abed, Manborg
One and a half Severed Thumbs Up – The Transmission, Game
One Severed Thumb Up – Ethereal Crysalis, The Window Into Time
One half Severed Thumb Up – The RavenOne severed thumb down – The Timeslip